Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

Prolog

Mid-year 1745

“Louis Debaraz, you are accused of the following crimes against God and your fellow men; the performance of a Black Mass in which you, a Catholic Priest, voluntarily participated in profaning yourself in a ritual of aberrant sexual nature for the purpose of acquiring unholy wealth. You are further accused of diabolism, acting as Satan’s advocate to seduce others into his web of deceit and of openly cavorting with witches. Following an investigation of the charges waged against you and presented before this court, you are hereby found to be guilty. In repayment for the crimes of heresy, sacrilege and darkest profanity, it is the duty of this court to sentence you to death. If you have any last words, you may speak them now.”

“With this, my last breath, I spit forth my bile and curse upon your court. I renounce your God whose grace is so noticeable by its absence. Satan, you who art my lord and ally, I commend myself to your keeping and implore that *Melusine be reborn from your loins to take vengeance upon the children of my accusers. Have her lay at each door the sign of her spoor so all will know that it is the mark of the beast!”

“Even now Debaraz, you dare to defy God and refuse to repent. Therefore it is the judgment of this court that you be taken forthwith and bound to a stake so that you may be purged by flame. Sentence is to be carried out immediately and may God take pity upon your soul!”

In all of France, Louis Debaraz, a misguided man by any measure, had once served as a priest and was the last person of record to be condemned to death as a witch. However, it was not long afterwards that by the will of His Majesty Louis XV, encouraged by the rise of the ‘parti philosophique’, the witch trials were brought to an end and the burning of witches banned.

There continued to exist in the land those persons who would practice the art of ‘sorcière’ and to do so in seclusion, but no longer would it be assumed that all who practiced the magical arts were in the service of Satan.
Many were thought simple herbalist, such as my wife, Anne, or manufacturers of charms and talismans.
Unfortunately there were those who continued to consider all witches to be dangerous.

After the ban on burning, condemning a person as a sorcerous threat could still result in their arrest and imprisonment. There they would languish until such time as they might be proven harmless, or as it was in many cases, perished by causes arising from imprisonment.

For myself, I would question who among them was truly the more dangerous, those that actually practiced the occult arts, or those so swift to condemn them. Regardless, my journal of events begins nineteen years after the last witch burning and for most, the memory of Louis Debaraz had long been laid to rest.

The year is now 1764 and I am fifty-six years of age. It is summer in the south of France and this is where my story begins.

CH. One