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Thursday, November 23, 2006

C’est le renversement de toutes choses

“Who was safe? No one. From the moment that the devil was taken to be the revenger of God, from the moment that one wrote, under his dictation, the names of those who could pass into the flames, each had, day and night, the terrible nightmare of the stake.” - Michelet

That the devil would be inside God as his hitman is, in a sense, part of the white magic mythology – that mythology that reconciled the pains of man to the benignity of the deity, with the assumption that God allowed evil as a part of the scheme for the greater good. For other stories (for instance, that God enjoyed evil as well as good, or even that the devil’s evils disguised his own dark good intents) – they sank to the nasty Gnostic bottom, where only the poets muck about.

The Devil inside God is God’s devil – and, LI would claim, there at the very origin of human organization. It is an Uncle Tom Devil, and I know it intimately.

These quotes are picked out of the the Gauffridi chapter in Michelet’s La Sorciere – to which, readers will notice, I all too often refer. Louis Gauffridi was a priest burned in Aix in 1613, after having been accused by two Ursuline nuns of having subdued an entire convent to the will of the devil. Michelet gives one account of this rather famous case of possession and persecution. It preceded the Loudun case, and served in some ways as a template.

Gaufridi, confronting the nuns, was nonplussed. The nuns in this case, Louise and Madeleine, were an interesting pair – Louise, possessed by a devil named Verrine, dared all things, having a demonic freedom granted to her to mock, to accuse, and in general to run over Madeleine (who, Michelet points out, had made the mistake of claiming too high a regard from the demons – an impudence that Louis’ behavior soon cowed out of her, as Louise seem to inexorably cow all who got in her way). Gauffridi was formally accused by Madeleine of presiding over sabbats with the usual sex and blasphemies, and despite his his standing, was inexorably pulled, by the competition between religious orders, and the impressiveness of Louise and Madeleine's devils, into a meat mangle from which there was no exit. And so he was imprisoned, questioned, denied all charges, and burnt, after which a pseudo-confession was circulated by the exorcists to blacken his posthumous reputation.

An old, barbarous story. What interests LI is the way in which Michelet grasps its essence – the way in which power, panic and rumor are the elemental spirits of this trial. LI can’t help but think of the twisted logic of our own GWOT era, in which all terrors are permitted to the terror-hunters. Louise and Madeleine agreed that the satanic convulsions and phrases they would banter – blaspheming the mess, parading through the streets proclaiming Belzebuub – were actually emanating from Gaufridi – Gaufridi was the master ventriloquist here, especially before he had been thrown into jail and made his confession. Louise, asked why she, possessed by a devil, would so betray Gaufridi, to whom she would seem to owe some discretion at least, replied, ‘why shouldn’t there be treason among demons?” Louise was, in general, a veritable participant-observer in the demon world, and was continually being quizzed by the inquisitors as to demonic moeurs. Michelet doesn’t include all of her responses, some of which are quite interesting. For instance, it turns out that Belzebuub cried out against printing. “Cursed be the first who began to write! cursed be the printer! cursed be the doctors who approve the works!”

Interesting, too, as evidence of how justice does not accrue to the victims, is how the pseudo-confession of Gaufridi gradually supplanted his actual pleas of not guilty as his name comes down, through the years, among the historians and artists who gradually want there to be this satanic priest who supposedly seduced through his very breath – which the devil made of such sweetness that no woman could resist. And so the Uncle Tom Devil had his way with Gauffridi in death and in the afterlife. As with so many millions of victims, one is left to ask in vain: “Where are all those beauties that those ashes owed?”

And on that grim note: Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!

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