JACQUES. The land of my youth was forged by the hand of God, where fast flowing rivers roared in green gorges and the mountains were white with never thawing snow. Our village stood in a remote valley, girded by a ring of crags called “The Cauldron”, famed for brewing violent storms. Hill rose upon hill, enlivened with goats that strayed on frightful precipices, grazing on gorse and purple heather. The lower peaks were crowned with mighty forests of oak, beech and chestnut; and the verdant slopes enriched with olives, lemons, pomegranates and flax. The fertile glades were perfumed with aromatic herbs and full of chirping fowl, venison and boar. Bubbling springs gushed into crystal lakes that teemed with exquisite fish; stupendous waterfalls thundered from rocky heights into emerald ravines; and abyssal flows carved wondrous caverns in the depths. Never was there a land so blessed or rich. Mines of wealth wound deep into earth, and the smith’s hammer rang through the hills all night long. When pilgrims passed through that place, they were always moved to tears of rapture; but now they’d weep with grief, for the groves have gone, the slopes are barren, and the trees burnt up for charcoal.
That lost Eden has all the glory of a dream, as does the fable of my birth. Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes, daubed with slime and pitch.(i) But I was found in a pail at the bottom of a well. A crone pulled me out on the feast of Stephen and adopted me for a son. Her name was Margot, and we lived in a small plot now lost to the plough.
Our hovel stood beside a blasted oak on the edge of a meadow. Lightning strikes the oak more than any other tree, and our Lord will often descend into it from His firmament, splitting the trunk in a blinding flash. Needless to say, a blasted oak is sacred, and its riven flesh imbued with heavenly power. Ancient and gnarled, this smitten tree was the heart of our home whose crucks were cut from its limbs. But the tree never died; for lightning still smouldered in a golden bough where the thunder-blossom hung in orbs. They say Christ’s cross was made from such a tree and that mistletoe was worshipped by the druids. A fitting abode for a devil like me…
The house was built by Margot’s grandfather in the reign of Philippe le Bel, and Margot was born inside, right on the hearth stone. The fire had burned bright since that day, but as the last of her line, she knew the embers were fading. I was her investment for the future: a pair of strong hands to kindle, sow and reap. ’Tis clear that Satan brought us together: for only a witch could have raised my feeble form.
My first memory is of the green wood and the cuckoo calling Spring. But as soon as I could walk, I learnt to fear the sun. My pale skin burnt within minutes of exposure. The sensation of Light on my flesh, even on gloomy days, was like a fire. Dawn’s rays were daggers to my eyes; noon’s zenith burnt and blistered. Creation blazed with colour, but I was deathly pale – an albinotic freak. So the seasons were hidden from my eyes. To shield me from heaven, Margot spun a sackcloth cowl. We made a sinister pair, winding through the wastes to mass.
The priest said my paleness was a sign of demons, and my red eyes proved I was evil incarnate. His simple flock was easily scared, but he assured them protection in taking the Host. Thus the unruly rustics were subdued into communion. According to his sermon, I could not partake because my demon forbade it. Further, the sacrament might prove fatal. On these grounds, he refused me the Pax. His lies made Margot rage. One stormy Sunday, she marched me up the nave, and commanded him to perform his Holy duty. Her pretense was my undoing… Before the entire laity, I took the body of Christ and lived. But as I swallowed the apse was struck by lightning – a sure omen of God’s fury. The priest was vindicated; the congregation fled.
Margot said that if the Host really was Christ’s body, he would never let himself be eaten by the priests; and even if Christ’s body was as big as a mountain, the priests would have eaten it in a pie long since.(ii)
In my sixth year I turned into Him. Two calcareous growths appeared on my head – the buds of my monstrous horns.(iii) They began as elevated boils, which increased in size until they burst, and discharged a quantity of matter resembling mashed turnip. Two cavities remained from which some flaky matter could be raised by my finger nail. The craters increased in size, causing me much pain and uneasiness, especially upon a change of weather. Margot applied a poultice morning and night but this only had the effect of making my horns grow faster. They first appeared as small brown beans with smooth glossy tips. Within three moons, they had grown to resemble the broad beaks of ravens, black and striated, with thick extensive roots. Around each base, the skin was thin from stretching, with crowns of warty nodules, transparent as isinglass.
At seven years my cornua were three inches long and had begun to curl downward. The rest of my face was covered in hairy cankers. Have you ever pulled a turnip from the ground, only to find it cloven and gnarled, and covered in fibrous lumps? Well, I looked a bit like that. Not very pretty. And not something you would want to meet on a dark night.
The distortion was due to sin. My demonic form inspired dark tales. Some thought me a goblin and Margot a witch. Our presence brought bad luck. Spoilt milk, blight, hail, flood, fire – these were our works. The villagers stayed clear – except when they were ill. For a witch cures all: brews for fever, balms for sores, or spells for lust and love. Margot’s medicine was famous but few would admit their prescription. When the priest had tooth ache, he wailed like a cat at our door:
“Good woman, have mercy! God has shown me the error of my ways. I shall give Jacques the Pax. Pray, take my pain and bring your son to mass!”
Margot took him in and rubbed clove oil on his gums. He left purring with a potion in his pocket, then cursed us from the pulpit the following day.
Feared as a witch but revered as a healer, Margot was also a skilled midwife. In the winter of my sixth year, when drifts were rafter high, she delivered twelve babes. Women came all hours, holloring in the throws of labour. I hid in the cupboard and watched. The act of birth never ceased to enthral, and as each head crowned into the world, I would pray it look like me; but it always shared God’s image. What befell those babes, born at the hands of a witch? They were baptised in holy water, but I was baptised in fire.
Through baptism, the souls of men recover the rights which they once enjoyed in Eden, before the fall of Adam. ’Tis said that those who have been baptised, must, like the people led by Moses, keep in mind the laws of God and His munificence. But of all the baptised men I ever knew, not one obeyed the ten commandments, and each extolled their rights over those of their neighbour. I have yet to meet one man that is dead to sin and alive in God. For all men live in the world, and the world is the enemy of God. But who shall renounce the world and live? I have watched the priests and their acolytes, carrying vessels of baptismal water and sprinkling the faithful. Alas, that water could not cure me, nor cleanse my soul of sin. Find me one baptist that has renounced the world, and I will kiss his feet. All the goodmen are dead. Now the world awaits His second coming: The Light of Heaven, whose brightness is greater than the sun; He who conquered Death, and whose shoes no man is worthy to loosen.(iv)
Shut your eyes. I am the The Old Testament scapegoat who will carry away your sins into the wilderness… All men are fallen. But some are more fallen than others, and ’oft there are many hindrances standing in the way of salvation. How simple then, to be tempted by that old Serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world: He who was cast down unto earth with his angels, all of whom were thrown down with him.(v) Creation is fallen through Eve. Nay, Mother Church is a liar. For no son of Adam, whatever his pretensions to the principals of virtue and justice, is worthy to be ranked higher than Lucifer or His fallen angels. I have met many manifestations of His mysterious power: subtle spirits of high intelligence and covert intent. But none more so than the faeries…
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1997
i. Exodus 2:3.
ii. The words of Odin, a mason in the middle Ariège. Fournier’s Register, i.215-16.
iii. See ‘Cornua’ in ‘On Diseases of The Skin’ by William Erasmus, 1847, pp.350. The rest of the facial charcaterists I attribute to a condition with similar symptoms as Neurofibromatosis.
iv. Luke 3:16
v. Apocalypse 12:9.