Friday, February 22, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The realms of the underworld and sexuality intertwine and weave a tangled web that continues to burrow into our psyche like the persistent and arrogant roots of the weeping willow will do into the foundation of a home. It's a slow process that moves in mere fractions of an inch but, if left unchecked, it just may drive one mad.

And speaking of madness, let us take the next few weeks to discuss some strange, and very chthonian, bedfellows of old: the incubus, the succubus, and their cousin and today's topic, the dream lover.

One of the best illustrations of the dream lover - who is by no means a dream and is often a shape shifter or revenant in the literature - comes from that old '80s favorite, the movie Excalibur. Early on Queen Igraine, that Dark Ages sex kitten who flairs the passions of Uther Pendragon, believes she has been visited by her husband one night while he is supposed to be away fighting Uther's hordes. To Igraine's horror, she discovers that her husband was in fact killed in battle the very night he crawled into their bed. Who then made love to her? As we all know, Uther wearing a magickal skin placed over him by the wizard Merlin.

Such protestations of women - that their far away husband appeared to them in the flesh and impregnated them - pepper the history of the witch craze. Most of these unfortunates were accused of adultery or, worse still, welcoming a demon into their beds. But once in a while the tribunals were kind and the dream lover was awarded his do: the paternity of the woman's child.

This latter is the case in a curious story written in 1698 by Professor Johann Klein of the University of Rostock. The story centers around a gentlewoman named Lucile or Lucienne de Montleon. Madame de Montleon lived in the French speaking province of Switzerland and her husband, Seigneur Jerome Auguste de Montleon had been away at war for some four years when Madame suddenly turned up pregnant.

As Madame fretted over this situation, word came to her chateau that her husband was dead. Fainting away, Lucile spent the rest of her confinement in bed. She did manage to bring forth a strapping son within the year and, pulling herself up by her corsets straps, presented him to the city council as her husband's son and heir. Her claim as far as the unusual timing of the birth was simple: her husband had made her pregnant in a dream. When she received push-back on her claim - there were doubtless others who would have liked nothing better than to take over the Seigneur's land and income - Madame asked that the matter be heard in court.

The initial findings of the local judges did not go as Madame had hoped. Most called her an adulteress and two labeled her mad. Apparently unshakeable in her resolve, Madame de Montleon appealed her case to the Parlement of Grenoble. There not only two midwives but a doctor from the local University testified in Lucile's favor. They unanimously told the court that impregnations via dream were as common as flowers in spring among the peasant classes. Just because they were rarely heard of among the gentry, didn't mean that they weren't possible among the gentry.

The Parlement, taking all testimony into consideration, found in favor of Lucile de Montleon. Her son, whose name the good doctor does not share with us, was named so heir to the Seigneur.

What Johann Klein does share is a rather blue denouement to this already colorful story. According to Klein the case became something of an international sensation, to the point that the faculty of law at the Sorbonne in Paris looked over all the evidence and testimony reviewed by their colleagues in Grenoble. They concluded, as men often will, that the Parlement was simply helping a lady out of a difficult situation. After all, what educated man, or right thinking woman, could every believe in a dream lover...

Header: The Lunatic of Etretat by Hugues Merle c 1874 via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

That is a pretty amusing story, Pauline. Another amusing thing (to me, at least) about that scene in the movie Excalibur is that Queen Igraine is played by the director's wife...

Pauline said...

Well, I guess everybody needs a gig.