The Sorceress, by Jules Michelet, , at sacred-texts.com
ONLY the victim lacked. All knew the most acceptable gift they could offer the châtelaine was to deliver the unhappy creature into her power. Right tender the gratitude she would have shown the man who had given her this proof of devotion, handed over to her mercy the poor bleeding limbs of her rival.
But the prey was on the alert. A few moments more and she would have been spirited away, imprisoned for good and all within the stone walls of a dungeon. She snatched up a tattered cloak lying in the cattle-shed to cover her nakedness, took wings, so to speak, and before midnight struck, found herself leagues away, far from any thoroughfare, on a desert heath all thistles and brambles. The heath skirted a wood, where, under the glimpses of an uncertain moon, she was able to scrape together a few acorns, which she munched and bolted like a wild beast. Centuries seemed to have passed since yesterday; she was another woman altogether. The proud beauty, the queen of the village, was no more; her very soul and its every outward manifestation was utterly changed. She pounced on the acorns like a famished wild boar, sat squatted at her food like an ape. Thoughts, scarcely human, were crowding through her brain, when she hears, or thinks she hears, a screech-owl's hoot, followed by a shrill peal of laughter. She is startled; but there! tis perhaps only the mocking jay that can imitate every sound, and delights in these deceptions.
The weird laugh is heard again. Where it comes from she cannot tell. It seems to issue from an old hollow oak.
But now she hears words plainly articulated, "Ah, ha! so you
are come at last. . . . Very unwilling you were to come; you never would have come at all had you not found yourself in the extremity of direst straits. . . . You must needs, proud lady, be whipped to the enterprise, and cry and whine for mercy, mocked, scorned, an outcast and a byword to your own husband. Where would you be this night, if I had not pitied you and shown you the in pace, the dungeon they were making ready for you in the castle crypts? . . . Late, late in the day, you come to me,old woman, old witch, they call you now. . . . You were young once, and you treated me ill then, me your little Robin Goodfellow that was so eager to serve you. . . . Your turn now (if I will have you) to serve me, and kiss my feet.
"You were mine from your birth up; the roguery you hid so well, the diabolic charm you could not hide, made you mine. I was your lover, your husband. Your own has shut the door in your face. But I will be kinder; I welcome you to my domains, my free and open plains and spreading forests. . . . What do I gain, you ask? Have I not long had you in my power at propitious seasons? Have I not overwhelmed, possessed you, filled you with the flame of my desire? I have changed, renewed the very blood in your veins. There is not an artery in your whole body I do not circulate through. You cannot tell yourself how completely and entirely you are my bride. But your wedlock has not yet been solemnised with all the formalities due. I am a stickler for propriety, a gentleman of scruples. . . . We must be made one for all eternity."
"Great sir, situated as I am, what can I, what should I say? Oh, indeed I have felt, I have felt only too plainly, since many a day, that you are my destiny, my only and inevitable destiny. Artfully have you caressed and favoured and enriched me, to bring me to ruin at the last. Yesterday, when the black hound bit my poor naked limbs, his teeth burned in my flesh . . . and I cried, 'It is he!' The same evening, in the Castle Hall, when that Herodias debauched and overawed the board, someone was there
ready to pander to her hate and promise her my blood . . . and it was you again!"
"True enough! but tis I likewise that saved you, and led you hither. And why did I so? Because I would fain have you all my own, with none to interfere between us. Frankly, your husband was an offence to me. And you, you would be for ever bargaining, making terms. Quite other is my way; my maxim is, all or nothing! That is why I have tormented you a trifle, disciplined, chastened you, to ripen you for my embraces. . . . I am particular, and pick and choose; I do not, as folk think, accept every silly soul that may be ready to give itself to my power. I am for select souls, at the right toothsome crisis of fury and despair. Look you! I must needs tell you, I like you well, as you are today; you are more desirable than ever before, you are a delectable soul for Satan. . . . Ah! how long, how long I have loved you! . . . But to-day I am hungry, hungry for you! . . .
"I will deal largely and liberally with you. I am not one of those husbands who make bargains with their future bride. If you would merely be rich, rich you should be on the instant. If you would merely be a queen, step into the place of Queen Jeanne of Navarre, it should be done, and none should say me nayand verily the King would lose little in the pride and wilfulness of his spouse. Tis a greater destiny to be my wife. But there, say what you would have yourself."
"Great sir, I want nothing but the power of working ill."
"Ah, a charming, a right charming answer! . . . How well you merit my love! . . . Truly that comprehends everything, both the Law and the Prophets. . . . Seeing you have chosen so wisely, you shall be given into the bargain all the rest to boot. You shall know all my secrets. You shall see the foundations of the earth. The world shall come to you, and pour out gold at your feet. . . . More, here I give you the true diamond, my bride, the brilliant of first water, Revenge. . . . I know, you gipsy, I know your most hidden wish; our two hearts beat as one in this. . . .
[paragraph continues] That is the thing will ensure me final and certain possession of you. You shall see your lady enemy on her knees before you, asking mercy and beseeching, happy if only you would hold her pardoned, doing the same she did once to you. Yes, she shall weep . . . and you shall say No! with a condescending smile, and hear her cry in her agony, 'Death and damnation, ah me l' . . . Then comes my turn to act."
"Great sir, I am your servant. . . . I was ungrateful once, I confess. For indeed you have always been over good to me. I am yours, I am yours, my master and my god! I want no other. Gracious is the light of your countenance, and your service a sweet service of delight."
With this she falls grovelling, and adores him from the ground! . . . First she does him homage according to the Templars' rite, symbolising the utter abnegation of self and self-will. Her master, the Prince of this World, the Prince of the Gales of Heaven, breathes himself into her being like a rushing mighty wind. She receives at once and together the three sacraments, reversed and desecrate,Baptism, Priesthood, and Marriage. In this new church, the exact opposite of its counterpart, the Church of God, everything is reversed. Patient and submissive, she bore the cruel initiation, 1 her spirit borne up and comforted by the one word, "Revenge!" Far from the infernal levin exhausting her energies, making her weak and ailing, it made her more strong and terrible, and brought fire from her eyes. The moon, that had modestly veiled her face an instant, shuddered to see her now. Swollen out horribly with the hellish vapour, with fire and fury, and (a new circumstance) with an unholy longing of desire, she showed for a moment enormous in her excessive proportions, and of an awe-inspiring beauty. She gazed around her, . . . and nature itself seemed changed. The trees had found a language of their own, and told her tales of ages long ago. The
herbs were simples now. Plants that yesterday she kicked away contemptuously like hay, were become beings that spoke to her of healing.
Next day she woke in full security, far, far out of her enemies reach. They had sought her fruitlessly, finding only a few fluttering rags of the fatal green robe. Had she in her despair leapt into the torrent? Had she been carried off bodily and alive by the Demon? None knew. In either case she was damned, there could be never a doubt of that. The Lady of the Castle was comforted not a little they had not found her.
Had they met her, they would hardly have known her, so mightily was she changed. Her eyes alone remained the same, not bright and flashing, but filled with a strange, appalling, sombre glow. She was afraid, herself, of terrifying others; she did not drop them, but she looked askance, to mask their sinister effect by the obliquity of her gaze. Suddenly grown dark of skin, she might to all appearance have passed through the flames. But such as gazed more heedfully, felt that the flame was rather an internal onethat an unclean and consuming fire glowed in her bosom. The flaming bolt Satan had driven through her, still glowed within, and threw, as if from a sinister, half-veiled lamp, a grim, but still perilously enticing, reflection. Men drew back shuddering, but did not quit her, and their senses were stirred and troubled.
She found herself at the entrance of one of those caves of the troglodytes that occur in such numbers in certain hills of the centre and west of France. It was the border marches, then a wild stretch, between the land of Merlin and the land of the Faery Queen. Open heaths, stretching limitless on every side, bore present witness to old-time wars and everlasting forays, the terrors of plunder and violence that kept the countryside yet unpeopled. There the Devil was at home; of the scattered inhabitants, the most part were his fervent disciples, his devotees. For all the fascination the rugged brushwoods of Lorraine, the dark pine forests of the Jura, the salty wastes of the Burgos, may have exercised
over him, his favourite haunt was perhaps these western borderlands of France. It was not merely the home of the dreamy shepherd, of the satanic accoupling of she-goat and goat-herd, but the scene of a close conspiracy with Nature deeper than elsewhere, of a more intimate comprehension of healing drugs and noxious poisons, of mysterious relations, the connecting link of which has never been fathomed, with Toledo the learned, that university of diabolic arts.
It was the beginning of winter. His cold breath, stripping the trees, had piled up heaps of leaves and twigs of dead wood. All this she found ready at the mouth of her gloomy shelter. Traversing a stretch of forest and a quarter of a league of heathy waste, one came down within hail of a group of hamlets a runlet of water had brought into existence. "Behold your kingdom," the voice within her whispered. "A beggar-woman to-day, tomorrow you shall be queen of all this countryside."
58:1 This will be found explained later. We must beware of the pedantic additions of the moderns in the seventeenth century. The tinsel ornaments fools tack on to so awful a reality only serve to lower Satan to their own poor level.