Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Trials: The Werewolf of Poligny, 1521

December of 1521

A trial against Pierre Bourgot and Michel Verdung

The trial carried out in Poligny, France, against Pierre Bourgot and Michel Verdung is one of the most famous werewolf trials. It was led by a Dominican brother Joan Bodin. Johan Wier (Weyer/Wierus; 1515-1588), the defender of witches, claimed that the confessions were obtained under duress. Despite that, the accused were found guilty and burnt on a stake, to Bodin’s great happiness.

Pierre confessed that around nineteen years earlier, on the day of a faire in Poligny, there came over the town a storm so violent and wild that not only had the faire been destroyed, but also the herd animals he had been looking after had scattered in all directions and he did not know where to find them. Along with fellow townsfolk, he then tried to find and round up the missing herd, but he lost his way and arrived at a certain place. There, on the road, he met three riders all clad in black. One of them asked him: “Where are you going, friend? You seem much troubled by something.” “It is true,” Pierre answered, “and the reason for this is that during the wild and violent storm my sheep scattered here and there and went missing and because I do not see any light of hope to find them, my spirit is broken.” The rider forbid him to despair, promising that if he pledged himself to him and became his servant, never again would his herd be attacked by wolves or other beasts, suffer any damage and not even one of his sheep would die. After that he added, to gain as much of the man’s trust as he could, that he would find the missing sheep; apart from that, he promised to give him some money. Pierre agreed to these terms, swearing that he would return to the same place in four to five days’ time.

And so, he returned to searching for the sheep with his fellow townsfolk, found the herd he was looking for and after four days returned to the same place where he had met the rider. The rider asked if Pierre had decided to become his servant, but when the latter wanted to know exactly who it was that he was dealing with, the former said, “I am a servant of the great devil of hell, but do not fear this.” And so Pierre offered his services to the demon on condition that he keep his promise of looking after the herds and provide him with other benefits. The rider then told Pierre to stop believing in God, Virgin Mary and All Saints that resided in heaven, baptism and confirmation. Having done so, he extended to him his left hand for him to kiss, black and cold as though it belonged to a corpse. Pierre fell to his knees and, revealing his head, swore allegiance to the devil, calling him his master. He did not even resist reciting a credo.

Thus he devoted himself for two years to the service of the devil and did not cross the threshold of the church at any other time than at the end of a mass or at least after the blessing with holy water which he did not want to be touched by. He had been ordered to do so by his master who until then kept his name a secret, but finally revealed it to be Moyset. During that time Pierre was not informed how his mare would be protected, as it seemed that the devil was only fulfilling the promise of keeping his sheep safe – whenever they were attacked by wolves, they did not suffer any harm. 

With the passage of time, having freed himself of the need to herd sheep, Pierre began to neglect the devil’s orders with ease, went to church, amd recited the credo. In such a way he carried on for eight or nine years until he was once again commanded by Michel Verdung in the same place to obey his master, and he agreed on one condition – that the master would give him, as he had promised, money.

For that, they met one evening in the forest in the vicinity of Chastercharlon, where Pierre saw other strangers conducting dances and entering them. He also saw a green candle in someone’s hands, from which emanated a dark-blue light. Among many different things that Michel had promised him was also a promise that if he joined his faith he would be able to run with incredible lightness whenever he wished to. Pierre agreed to this only on condition that these promises be kept and that he would get his money. Otherwise, as he said, he would think that all of it was just a fraud. Michael swore that he would see to it that Pierre got a large sum of money. After that, he anointed the naked Pierre with an ointment he had brought. Then, Pierre noticed he was immediately turned into a wolf and he was struck with horror at the sight of his limbs covered in fur and changed into a wolf’s paws. In spite of being afraid, he noticed he could run faster than a breeze of wind – something he could not have achieved without the help of his master. 

Not long after that, he and his master began their flight to raid, though Pierre did not see his master until he was restored to his human form. […] After about two hours following this metamorphosis, once again anointed by Michel, in the blink of an eye they returned to their former shape. They received the ointment from their masters, Michel Guilemin and Moyset, Pierre’s master. As soon as he was so tired he could barely stand from running, Pierre went to his master to complain. The latter answered him that it was nothing and at once saw to his healing.

Once upon a time it happened that Pierre, anointed on Michel’s orders and turned into a wolf, grabbed with his teeth a six or seven-year-old boy in order to bite him to death, but the screams and the ruckus forced him to flee; he came back to where he had left his clothing and there, according to Michel’s guidelines, he retook his human appearance by rubbing herbs over his skin. He confessed that, with Michel, they continued trying to do similar things and that one day, in the form of wolves, they killed a woman who was gathering peas. At that time, they unexpectedly came across one mister de Chusnee and, wanting to kill him as well, assaulted him numerous times, but to no avail. Both of them related that, being in the state of lycanthropy, they murdered a four-year-old girl and devoured her whole, except for one arm; they also confessed that Michel’s taste was met by flesh, even though he ate it in small amounts and that it did not upset Pierre’s stomach even though he ate it almost all the time. They admitted to cutting the throat of one girl, drinking her blood and biting through her neck; thus they murdered their third victim, in whose belly Pierre’s hungry jaws had torn a hole. Another time, Pierre told of having killed an eight or nine-year-old girl in a vegetable patch by biting through her neck. […] In addition, he confessed that he had butchered a goat in a nearby field belonging to one Pierre Bongre, bit through its throat and cut it with a knife. Michel, as a wolf, was sometimes clothed, Pierre was naked. To their confession they also added that they happened to come into sexual contact with female wolves with almost as great a lustfulness as if they were copulating with their own wives. Apart from that, they confessed that they had been given an ash-coloured powder that, when rubbed into the skin of the left arm, allowed them to disappear if they encountered any animal.

However, it is worth remembering that both of the accused answered the same questions in a confused and often varying from each other ways.

On the basis of: De Lamiis, J. Weir

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