Witchcraft: Les Sorcelleries, March 1787

From the Library's Gazette de L'Ile de Jersey, 10 March 1787. If you're a Jersey person and you think you're cursed, you can call on the local white witch to save you.

The number of Witches and their victims is increasing at an extraordinary rate here. Several really ridiculous things have happened in this context recently. A man in St Brélade dreamed that a witch came to him and ordered him to poison himself at a certain time, and warned him not to tell anyone about it. So was the dreamer bewitched; he could not help but follow the apparition’s orders; but what make us doubt the renowned powers of this being, is that nature turned out to be stronger than the phantom and it told him to confess all to his wife. After due consideration, they decided to get help by calling on the formidable services of a Quéraude,1 or white witch, and they employed her to break the curse, no matter what the cost.

The Quéraude ordered that there should be long periods of fasting, potion-taking, &c &c. Eventually she shut herself up in a room with the bewitched man and four or five other people, swords drawn. What we call a courée,2 (the innards of an animal), was boiling in a big pot, the heart stuck with pins and nails. There were several bottles arranged in front of the fire; someone read from the Bible; others waved their swords about, sometimes sticking them point upwards into the hearth, to prevent the witch from coming down it;3 in other words, their behaviour was absolutely ludicrous. Several other people since, believing themselves to be bewitched, have visited a Quérau [male version] in the parish of St John, whose modus operandi is, we are told, a little different to that of our lady friend in the Town, but his aim is just the same, that is, to extract cash from gullible idiots.

These fraudsters hand out letters that protect you, so they say, from evil spirits, with orders not to open them. We have managed to get hold of one of these secret letters, the contents of which we now reveal to the public to show how stupid it actually is: here’s what you get for your ten écus.

Par- har- & Gal Tarsar & Monsan. God will write it for you wherever you may go. May God be merciful to us all and keep us from fear.4

If we ever hear again of such foolishness, we will name and shame the Quérau and the Quéraude, who are perfectly well known to us, and with the help of the grand Grimoire, we will make them eat their courée of offal, nails and pins and all, once we have boiled it in the bewitched person’s pee.

We could always find out who bought one of these letters as well and name them too. [From the French.]

1 In Guernsey Folk Lore, Edith Carey explains:

There are some families in Guernsey whose members have the reputation of being sorcerers from their birth. These individuals require no initiation into the diabolic mysteries of the Sabbat, Satan claiming them as his own from the very cradle. They are, however, furnished by him with a familiar, generally in the shape of a fly, so that the phrase avoir une mouque is well understood as meaning that the person of whom it is said is one of the infernal fraternity. Indeed, in talking of persons who are addicted to magical arts, it is reckoned highly imprudent to speak of them as 'sortiers' or 'sorcures' or to call them by the now almost-forgotten name of Queraud. By so doing you give offence, and, what is of still more consequence, you put it in their power to injure you. It is, however, quite safe to speak of them as 'gens du Vendredi,' or 'gens du hoc.' Mr. Métivier derives this word queraud, meaning enchanter, or maître sorcier, from the old French charay, caral, meaning magical type or letter.

He also derives it from Latin caragus, 'the bearer of the cauldron at the sabbath' [Poésies guernesiaises et françaises, 1883, p. 34.] A curse-breaker was known as a désorceleur

La vielle Lizabo était un'sorchière coum i n'y-en avait pouit à païne une autre itaïlle en tout Guernesey. A'n'creyait pouit seul'ment ès sorchiers, mais à s'comptait la prumière désorchel'resse de l'ile [Denys Corbet, 1886, in Jennings and Marquis, The toad and the donkey, Francis Boutle Publishers: London, 2011, pp. 294-295.

Minutes of the 21st Colloque of Guernsey, 26 June 1590 [Library collection]:

Vincent Nijon, accused of being a devin and having already been punished by the Court will acknowledge his sin in front of the Consistory and his repentance will be publicised to the people and they will be warned not to go to him for any kind of Divination.

Minutes of the 30th Colloque of Guernsey, 23 June 1592:

Vincent Nijon, who continues to tell fortunes [deviner] and occupy himself in curing fevers using charms, is to be sent before the Court. And everyone who used him or others of his ilk are to be called in front of their Consistory and must admit there what they have done wrong.

2 In Guernsey French la couoraïe, 'pluck or lights of an animal' (Marie de Garis). In Guernsey Folk Lore, Edith Carey included information on just this belief from Charlotte du Port, presumably a lady of St Martin's (pp. 404-5), under the by-line, Another counter-charm for witchcraft.

When a person has reason to believe that either himself or any of his belongings is under the influence of a spell, he should procure the heart of an animal—that of a black sheep is most efficacious—and, having stuck it over thickly in every part with new pins or nails, put it down to roast before a strong fire. Care must, however, have been taken previously to close up all means of entry into the house, even to stuffing up the key-hole. The heart no sooner begins to feel the influence of the fire than doleful cries are heard from without, which increase more and more as the roasting goes on. Loud knocks are next heard at the door, and urgent appeals for admission are made, so urgent, that few have the heart to withstand them. No sooner, however, is the door opened than all clamour ceases. No-one is seen outside, and the heart is found to be burnt to a cinder. The charm has failed, and those who tried it remain as much under the influence of the sorcerer as ever, with the additional certainty of having offended their enemy without a chance of pardon or pity on his part, knowing that they have exposed themselves to greater persecution in revenge of the pain they made him suffer; for it is universally believed that the wizards or witches are irresistibly attracted to the place where the counter-spell is being performed; and that, while it lasts, the tortures of the damned are suffered by them. What would occur if the spell were persevered in is not generally known, but it is thought that as the heart dried up before the flames, the sorcerer would wither away, and that, with the last drop of moisture, his wicked soul would depart to the place of everlasting torment.

See also p. 394. A sheep's heart is pierced with nails and hung in a chimney with the words 'Rostra, Casta Auvara, Chasta, Custodia, Duranee,' &c.

3 For similar, see Elie Brevint, himself of Jersey extraction, on avoiding nightmares. It was also advised to point the sword downwards to prevent the witch rising up from the earth.

4 Stephen Dewar, in his Witchcraft and the Evil Eye in Guernsey, Toucan Press, 1968, ends his appendix by saying:

Magical words used at religious services of witches in Guernsey included the formula recorded by Bodin [of Rouen] in the 17th century and still commonly reported to be used at the present day, run, 'Har, har, diable, diable, saute icy, saute la, iouë la: Et les autres disoyent, Sabath, Sabath.'