Agrippa

Variations: Égremont, Vif

Agrippa

In Brittany, the Agrippa is one of the most feared and malevolent grimoires, a living book with a mind of its own. Its name in Tréguer is derived from that of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, but it is also known as Égremont in Châteaulin and Vif (“Alive”) around Quimper.

An agrippa is enormous, standing fully as tall as a man. Its pages are red, while its letters are black – although some variants exist with black pages and red text. It contains the names of all the devils, and how to summon them.

Agrippas are living, malicious creatures, and resent being read. An untamed agrippa will display only blank pages. To get the letters to appear, the agrippa must be battled, thrashed, and beaten like a stubborn mule. A fight with an agrippa can last hours, and victors come out of it exhausted and drenched in sweat. When not in use, an agrippa must be chained to a strong, bent beam.

Only priests can be trusted to keep agrippas, as they have the training and the force of will required to master it. They use it to deduce the fate of the dead by calling upon all the demons in order; if none will admit to having taken the deceased’s soul, then they were saved. Long ago all priests had agrippas, and a newly-ordained priest would inexplicably find one on his table. However, agrippas have since found their way into the hands of laymen, and the temptation to use them can be very strong. A priest will not be able to sleep well as long as one of his parishioners has an agrippa.

Uninitiated readers of the agrippa will always smell of sulfur and brimstone, and walk awkwardly to avoid treading on stray souls. A man with an agrippa will find himself incapable of destroying it – a task that will become increasingly desperate, as possession of an agrippa will prevent entry into Paradise. Loizo-goz, a man from Penvénan, tried to rid himself of his agrippa by dragging it away to Plouguiel on the end of a chain, but came back home to find it had returned to its usual place. He then tried burning it, but the flames recoiled from the book. Finally he dumped the agrippa into the sea with rocks tied to it, only to see it climb out of the water, shake its shackles off, and make a beeline for its suspended perch. Its pages were perfectly dry. Loizo-goz resigned himself to his fate.

Eventually a priest will arrive to save the owner of an agrippa. He will wait until the unfortunate is at death’s door, whereupon he will come to his deathbed. “You have a very heavy burden to carry beyond the grave, if you do not destroy it in this world”, he tells him. The agrippa is untied and brought down, and while it tries to escape, the priest exorcises it, and sets fire to it himself. He then collects the ashes, places them in a sachet, and puts them around the dying man’s neck, telling him “May this weigh lightly upon you!”

Other times a priest will have to save a man whose reading of the agrippa took him too far. A Finistère parson found his sacristan missing, and his agrippa open wide on the table. Understanding that the sacristan had summoned the devils and been unable to dismiss them, he started calling upon them one by one until they released him. The sacristan was blackened with soot and his hair was scorched, and he never told a soul of what had transpired.

References

Le Braz, A. (1893) La Légende de la Mort en Basse-Bretagne. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Luzel, F. M. (1881) Légendes Chrétiennes de la Basse-Bretagne, v. II. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Seignolle, C. (1964) Les Évangiles du Diable. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.

Carcolh

Variations: Lou Carcolh (erroneously)

Carcolh

The French town of Hastingues, it is said, is built over an enormous cave honeycombed with entrance tunnels. Deep within that cave dwells the Carcolh (“snail”), also inaccurately known as “lou Carcolh” (“the snail”). The word is itself derived from the Spanish caracol, and does not have any special meaning, as evidenced by the béarnese riddle u houmiot qui s’emporte sa maysou darrè deu cot? Lou carcolh (“A little man who carries his house behind his back? The snail”).

Nobody knows how long the carcolh has lived there, or how old it is. It is a gigantic, slimy, shaggy serpent, with a shell as big as a house, and long prehensile tentacles.

The inhabitants of Hastingues hid their treasures underground before the Spanish invasion. Many have ventured into the cave in search of those treasures, and vanished without a trace. The carcolh does not move much, but its tentacles seize anyone who approaches it, dragging them into its shell to be consumed at leisure. At least one witness saw the carcolh drinking, and managed to escape before it saw him. He then blocked up the tunnel he had entered by, and swore never to return there again.

References

de Charencey, C. (1903) Etymologies Francaises et Provencales. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, v. 12, pp. lix-lxiv.

Foix, V. (1903) Glossaire de la Sorcellerie Landaise. Revue de Gascogne, v. 3, pp. 362-373.

Peyresblanques, J. (1977) Contes et Légendes des Landes. J. Pémartin, Dax.

Rolland, E. (1877) Devinettes ou Enigmes populaires de la France. F. Vieweg, Paris.

Traîcousse

Variations: Trécouche

Traicousse

The Traîcousse, also known as Trécouche (pronounced tré-coutche) is a vile creature that can be found lurking in the ponds and waterways of the Southwestern Ardennes and the Semois, especially Hautes-Rivières in France and Bohan in Belgium. As a water bogey, it is invoked to discourage children from entering rivers.

In appearance the traîcousse is most like a large crab, a meter in diameter, with a flattened, rounded body covered with palm-sized brownish scales. Its bloodshot eyes are the size of a human fist. Its mouth is huge and bristles with sharp shark-like teeth, while countless pincer-tipped legs allow it to move and grasp its prey. In some areas the traîcousse has become an ugly river witch.

The deepest part of the river, where the current is fastest, is where the traîcousse lives. It digs itself into small cavities and rocky ledges as it waits for prey to come near. Anything that approaches is seized and dragged under, never to be seen again. Missing livestock, fishermen, and children are its doing.

Every now and then the traîcousse will vomit up the skin and bones of its prey, which rise to the surface in a macabre mix of foam and blood.

References

Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.

Tijskens, J. (1965) Les Noms du Croquemitaine en Wallonie. Enquêtes du Musée de la Vie Wallonne, nos. 117-120, tome X, pp. 257-391.

Peteu

Variations: Peteu de Vergisson, Bête Faramine, Oiseau de Vergisson, Esiau de Vregesson, P’teu, Pteu

Peteu

The picturesque town of Vergisson, in France’s Saône-et-Loire, was once home to the Peteu. This was a great and monstrous bird, with broad wings and whiplike feathers surrounding its razor-sharp beak. It was spiritually descended from the emouchet or kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), but also of the humble kinglet, whose name in the Maconnais dialect is répteret, répeteret, or repteu, which in turn is shortened to pteu.

The peteu would fly from the Rock of Solutré to the Rock of Vergisson, soaring over its domain in search of prey. When it spotted something, it folded its wings, dove, and carried off its prize. The peteu devoured sheep, pigs, goats, cows, horses and their carts! Its loud wingbeats terrified livestock and sent them running all the way back to their stables. Most heinous of all, it dove at Mr. Bruys de Serrières, who was quietly writing his History of the Popes, and defecated onto his manuscript before flying away. There was no end to the peteu’s evil.

It was Émilien Protat who organized a hunting party to rid Vergisson of the bird’s tyranny. The small but courageous group of men made for the Rock of Solutré where the peteu was last seen. When the raptor flew over their heads, blocking out the sun, the quick-thinking Émilien fired his rifle into it. The peteu fell to the ground, but would have taken Émilien’s head off had he not rammed his rifle into its mouth and fired.

The hunters returned to Vergisson in triumph to have their quarry plucked and roasted. Imagine their surprise when the peteu, stripped of its feathers, weighed no more than four ounces!

Peteu skeleton

References

Ducrost, A. (1888) Le P’teu ou L’Esiau de Vregesson Qu’ere ine Bête Faramine. Annales de l’Academie de Macon, s. II, t. VI, pp. 379-397.

Protat, G. (1966) Le Peteu de Vergisson ou la Bête Faramine. Protat Frères, Macon.

Stray Sod

Variations: Ar Iotan, Egaire, Fairy Grass, Faud Shaughran, Fair-Gortha (potentially), Herb of Distraction, Herbe à Adirer, Herbe d’Egarement, Herbe d’Engaire, Herbe de Fourvoiement, Herbe Maudite, Herbe d’Oubli, Herbe à la Recule, Herbe Royale, Herbe des Tournes, Lezeuen Eur, Lezuenn er Seudann, Tourmentine

Tourmentine

“Stray sod” is a general term used here to refer to any plant that, if trodden upon, causes travelers to lose their way. Stray sods have been reported primarily from France and Ireland, and come about in a number of ways. Usually they are specific herbs with magical properties that grow along footpaths. At other times they form over the graves of unbaptised children, or are patches of grass enchanted by fairies. They themselves may be fairies or inhabited by fairies.

No matter the origin, the result is always the same. A solitary traveler at night will inadvertently step on a stray sod, and no matter how good their sense of direction, they immediately lose their path. All landmarks seem to vanish, all roads are dead ends. The unfortunate victim is compelled to wander aimlessly through the night, trudging through hedges and thorns, crossing rivers, slogging through marshes, and feeling their way through thickets. The spell is broken at daybreak, when they find themselves with their clothes torn and stained, their hands and feet bleeding, and miles away from home.

When this happens it is advised to turn one’s coat inside out to counteract the spell. Other remedies include the usage of metal as abhorrent to fairies, or finding certain plants or benevolent spirits to regain one’s bearings.

The stray sod is known as the herbe à adirer (“herb of misplacement”) in Anjou, the herbe à la recule (“herb of turning back”) in Besançon, the herbe d’oubli (“herb of forgetfulness”) in Brittany and Lorraine, the egaire in Normandy, and the herbe maudite (“damned herb”) or herbe des tournes (“herb of turning”) in Saintonge. The ar iotan (“golden herb”) of Brittany is inhabited by a spirit that shines like a glowworm; touching a piece of wood or metal breaks its spell, as does changing horseshoes on one side. The lezeuen eur (“golden herb”) and the lezuenn er seudann (“herb of dizziness”) of the Morbihan cause their victims to walk in circles until daybreak. The herbe royale (“royal herb”) of Saint-Mayeux causes even horses to lose their way. The herbe d’engaire of the Berry grows in vast plains, and causes those who step on it to lose sight of the path entirely. The tourmentine (Potentilla erecta, formerly Potentilla tormentilla) of Forez, which causes disorientation for 12 hours, can be countered by the parisette (Paris quadrifolia), a plant whose fallen seeds guide travelers by pointing in the right direction.

The faud shaughran of Ireland induces a sensation of flying, of being incapable of stopping until one is over twenty or thirty miles from home. There is a herb that counteracts its effects, but it is known only to the initiated. The similar fair-gortha causes unnatural hunger and craving for food if stepped on. One man in County Leitrim turned his coat and hat inside out but was unable to find his way home, ending up miles away from his destination.

References

Barton, B. H. and Castle, T. (1845) The British Flora Medica. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Duncan, L. L. (1893) Folk-Lore Gleanings from County Leitrim. Folklore, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 176-194.

Rolland, E. (1904) Flore populaire, Tome V. Librairie Rolland, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1894) Les travaux publics et les mines dans les traditions et les superstitions de tous les pays. J. Rothschild, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1898) Les Forêts. Revue des Traditions Populaires, t. XIII, no. 12, pp. 641-661.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Wilde, F. S. (1887) Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, v. II. Ward and Downey, London.

Vouivre

Variations: Vaivre, Givre, Guivre, Wivre

Vouivre

Vouivres, the great fiery serpents of France, have been reported primarily from remote, mountainous regions, where they haunt springs, wells, caves, deep ponds, and ruined castles. They are known from Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Savoie, the Jura mountains, and neighboring areas, with possible relatives in the Aosta Valley and Switzerland.

The word “vouivre” is derived from the Latin vipera, or “viper”. Vouivres themselves are the spiritual descendants of Mélusine, stripped of her human features. They have been described as dragons, serpents, and fairies in the form of great reptiles; they are always the guardians of priceless treasures.

In its most simple definition, a Vouivre is a female dragon. Vouivres vary wildly in appearance, but are always female and associated with fire and water. The classic vouivre, as observed in Faverges, Fleury-la-Tour, Mont-Beuvray, Rosemont, Solutré, and Thouleurs, is an immense winged serpent covered with fire. Instead of eyes, a vouivre has a single large diamond or ruby in its head that guides it through the air. She removes it when bathing, leaving it blind and vulnerable to theft. Possession of a vouivre’s eye-stone would bring riches and happiness to anyone who stole it. The immense vouivre of Boëge guards treasure and wears a priceless golden necklace. In La Baume she is 4 meters long and covered in gems and pearls. She sometimes leaves gems behind where she lands. The Lucinges vouivre is a glowing red viper that whistles eerily in flight. The Gemeaux vouivre, which appeared between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, was hooded like a cobra.

In Brizon, she is equally likely to appear as a bird or a winged beech marten with a brilliant necklace as she is to have the form of a great serpent with wings and a diamond on its tail. Vouivres may not even look like animals. In Chevenoz she appears as a burning fireball streaking across the sky, in Saint-Jean-d’Aulps and Vallorcine she is a single-eyed tongue of fire, and in Le Biot she is a star whose appearance foretells war and strife. The Orgelet Castle vouivre looks like a red-hot iron bar in flight, and the vouivre of Sixt-Fer-À-Cheval is a plumed golden necklace that flies through the air.

One of the more effective ways of slaying a vouivre has been making a spiked barrel to hide in. At Condes, a man managed to steal a vouivre’s diamond and hide in a nail-studded washtub; the infuriated, blinded dragon killed herself trying to get to him. While another man at the Aosta Valley slew a vouivre in a similar manner, other prospective thieves have not been so lucky. The vouivre of Reyvroz had a necklace of great value, which was stolen by a man in a spiked barrel; she died and the thief died soon after. The vouivre of Samoëns had her pearl necklace stolen in the same manner, but she constricted the barrel anyway and made the thief return the necklace; she then disappeared and was never seen again. In Manigod, where grass would not grow for a couple of years after the vouivre’s passage, a man who stole her diamond was killed, his barrel smashed, and the gem retrieved.

Finally, as with all dragons, vouivres are vulnerable to the power of saints and other holy persons. The vouivre of Saint-Suliac was cast into a deep cave by Saint Suliac after she killed one of his monks. The location became known as the Trou de la Guivre, the Guivre’s Hole.

In Thollon-Les-Mémises, among other places, “vouivre” has become a byword for an unpleasant, nasty woman.

Modern versions of the vouivre, perhaps conflating her with Mélusine, have embellished with her the features of a seductive woman. Marcel Aymé makes her a wild girl of the forest with an entourage of vipers, and Dubois makes her a beautiful fairy who sheds her dragon skin when bathing.

References

Aymé, M. (1943) La Vouivre. Gallimard.

Dontenville, H. (1966) La France Mythologique. Tchou, Paris.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Joisten, C. (2010) Êtres fantastiques de Savoie. Musée Dauphinois, Grenoble.

Monnier, D. (1819) Essai sur L’Origine de la Séquanie. Gauthier, Lons-Le-Saunier.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Mourioche

Variations: Guenne; Fausserole (possibly)

Mourioche

Nobody knows for sure where Mourioche came from. Some say that he (for lack of a better pronoun) was once a Breton man or a woman, versed in the dark arts, who sold their soul for a magical ointment. Other accounts make him a simple werewolf without control of his actions. Dubois whimsically claims he was once the court jester of an undersea kingdom, and was banished for bad behavior. There are even claims that he is the Devil himself.

It is more likely that Mourioche has always haunted Brittany, spreading his brand of cruel humor along the coastlines of Côtes-d’Armor and around Jugon-les-Lacs. He is a water-horse, and a shapeshifter; there is no end to the forms he has assumed, and he loves using his powers in creative ways. Mourioche is usually seen in the form of a yearling colt, pig, cow, or sheep, often with a pair of muscular arms.

Mourioche comes out at night, and preys on nocturnal travelers. Sometimes he is a horse standing by the side of the road, waiting for riders. His spine stretches as more and more people get on, then he gallops right into the lake, his laugh echoing in the darkness. At other times he wrestles passers-by, grappling with his brawny arms and throwing his victims into muddy ditches. He will jump onto men’s back and force them to carry him until they drop of exhaustion. He will follow people along the road, changing shape every time they turn to look at him, and making a sound like tearing canvas.

Drawn-out sadistic pranks are Mourioche’s favorite form of entertainment. A farmer of Saint-Cast once found Mourioche in the form of an abandoned ewe, and took him home to his barn. The next day, when he went to check on his new sheep, he found a cow; the day after, it had become a horse. On the fourth night, it was a sheep again, who laughed and said “Why do you check on me every morning? You’re weird!” It was then that the farmer saw that all his animals had been slaughtered. He reached for his shotgun, but Mourioche took off, destroying half the barn and abducting the farmer’s three children (who were never seen again). Mourioche is not without mercy, though, and he left behind a golden necklace.

Mourioche is not without his faults, however, and is baffled by anyone who doesn’t fear him. One man nonchalantly carried Mourioche all the way back home, and the shapeshifter fled when he called his wife. Another time Mourioche took a tailor on his back, who threatened to cut his ears off with his scissors. The tailor was returned to dry land very quickly.

In Matignon, parents would get their children to bed with a “hattaï, mon p’tit gars; Mourioche te prenrait!” (“hurry, my l’il lad, Mourioche will take you!). It is also said that of a frightened person that “il a eu peur comme s’il avait vu Mourioche” (“he’s scared as though he saw Mourioche”). To ward off Mourioche, one must curse him with “Mourioche, le diable t’écorche” (“Mourioche, the Devil flay you”).

The Fausserole of Saint-Cast is very similar, and may be another form of Mourioche. She likes to appear as a white beast, a dog or a calf, and has no qualms about tossing clergy around, as the rector of Saint-Cast found out.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Morvan, F. (1998) Vie et mœurs des lutins bretons. Actes Sud.

Sébillot, P. (1882) Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.