1919: Seven Thule Society hostages

Add comment April 30th, 2019 Headsman

A century ago today, seven hostages taken from the German pre-Nazi Thule Society were executed by the short-lived Munich Soviet just before it was crushed by right-wing militias.

The Thule Society (logo at right) was a Bavarian volkisch club with a profound interest in stuff like crackpot race theory and Teutonic mythology; its very name alludes to a legendary territory hypothesized since antiquity to lie at the fringes of the world, often associated with Scandinavia and with the origins of the Aryan race.*

Society members figured in the founding of the German Workers’ Party (DAP), the party which became the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), better known as the Nazis. Former Thuler Hans Frank was among those eventually hanged via the postwar Nuremberg trial.

One will readily imagine where this lot stood in relation to the Soviet Republic that was declared in Bavaria in early April, and the sentiment was fully returned. As right-wing Freikorps paramilitaries intent on destroying the Red Bavarian statelet surrounded Munich, the Communists seized seven Thule Society members — notably Countess Haila (or Hella) von Westarp and Gustav Franz Maria, Prince of Thurn and Taxis and held them in the basement of the Luitpold Gymnasium.

On April 30, 1919, all these seven were executed by order of the Communist sailor Rudolf Egelhofer, together with either two or three captured Freikorps prisoners, an affair known as the Münchner Geiselmorde (“Munich hostage-murder”).


Countess Haila von Westarp

The very next day, the Freikorps broke through Munich’s defenses and commenced the bloody rout that destroyed the Munich Soviet.

The Thule Society as a body survived and briefly prospered after its brush with the revolutionaries’ muzzles — the eventual Nazi party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter was previously a Thule Society-owned periodical called the Münchener Beobachter — but it fizzled out into a memory during the 1920s.

Still, this esoteric nursemaid to the infancy of national socialism features prominently in histories of Third Reich occultism; aficionados might wish to browse some of its iconography in this Pinterest gallery, or just punch their distinctive name into your search environment of choice and feel that third eye opening.

* The element Thulium is named for Thule, because it was discovered by a Scandinavian chemist. More recently, the word made the news when astronomers controversially christened the most distant observed trans-Neptunian object “Ultima Thule”.

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1921: Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg

Add comment September 15th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1921, the Mad Baron* of the Russian Civil War was shot in Novosibirsk.


“Before fleeing the Red Army, Whites torch the grain”: civil war propaganda poster from this spellbinding collection.

Were you a Bolshevik propagandist during that war, interested in portraying the tsarist rearguard as literally a gaggle of psychopathic foreigners, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg was some kind of godsend. (Here’s his English Wikipedia page | German | Russian)

A German-descended lord in Estonia whose family owed its ennoblement to the exercises of the “crusaders and privateers” (the baron’s words, perhaps holding more of self-promotion than truth) up the family tree. One ancestor was supposedly a notorious Baltic Sea pirate.

Ungern — he’s often known simply by the one name — had the courage of rash irascibility; as a tsarist officer in the years ahead of the Great War he was notorious for his hard drinking and penchant for fighting duels.** Expelled from his regiment, he wandered in the transbaikal and beyond, picking up the Mongolian tongue and Buddhist occultism into the bargain.† He returned to fight in the European front up to 1917 like a loyal Russian, and got court martialed for attempted murder after one of his furies, but his destiny lay in the East.

The man was a ferocious monarchist and a disdainer of the “morally deficient” West — unto which he would make a terrible scourge when the hated Communists seized the state. Ungern had been at that time collaborating with Grigory Semenov to raise non-Russian troops from the peoples on the fringes of Moscow’s empire; now they would become with those troops warlords holding out against the Reds, Ungern returning to establish himself in Mongolia — indeed, as the power in an unsettled frontier itself between two revolutions. Prior to his execution in 1921, he was the dictator of Mongolia, the power behind the throne of the very last khan — and that wasn’t the half of it for Ungern also positioned himself as an avatar of the very God of War.

Certainly he strove to justify this colorful apotheosis by dint of a legendary bloodthirstiness, now that he had armies and states into which to pour his violent passions instead of merely rival barracks-mates.

Reports of Ungern’s sadism almost beggar belief and might have profited by extra embroidery since both the man and his enemies inclined to show him in the most implacable light imaginable. As James Boyd points out in “‘A Very Quiet, Outspoken, Pleasant Gentleman[sic]’: The United States Military Attache’s Reports on Baron von Ungern-Sternberg, March 1921” in Inner Asia, vol. 12, no. 2 (2010), much of what we think we know of his behavior traces ultimately to the less than reliable (albeit firsthand) pen of a traveler named Ferdinand Antoni Ossendowski.

The latter was a Polish wanderer who went to Mongolia. Ossendowski became Ungern’s friend, but he’d already been born a prose-purpler. Ossendowski’s account of his and his soon-to-be-ex-traveling companion first encountering “the terrible general, the Baron” would curl your hair.

After a talk with Kazagrandi the Baron invited Colonel N. N. Philipoff and me into his presence. Colonel Kazagrandi brought the word to me. I wanted to go at once but was detained about half an hour by the Colonel, who then sped me with the words:

“Now God help you! Go!”

It was a strange parting message, not reassuring and quite enigmatical. I took my Mauser and also hid in the cuff of my coat my cyanide of potassium. The Baron was quartered in the yurta of the military doctor. When I entered the court, Captain Veseloffsky came up to me. He had a Cossack sword and a revolver without its holster beneath his girdle. He went into the yurta to report my arrival.

“Come in,” he said, as he emerged from the tent.

At the entrance my eyes were struck with the sight of a pool of blood that had not yet had time to drain down into the ground — an ominous greeting that seemed to carry the very voice of one just gone before me. I knocked.

“Come in!” was the answer in a high tenor. As I passed the threshold, a figure in a red silk Mongolian coat rushed at me with the spring of a tiger, grabbed and shook my hand as though in flight across my path and then fell prone on the bed at the side of the tent.

“Tell me who you are! Hereabouts are many spies and agitators,” he cried out in an hysterical voice, as he fixed his eyes upon me. In one moment I perceived his appearance and psychology. A small head on wide shoulders; blonde hair in disorder; a reddish bristling moustache; a skinny, exhausted face, like those on the old Byzantine ikons. Then everything else faded from view save a big, protruding forehead overhanging steely sharp eyes. These eyes were fixed upon me like those of an animal from a cave. My observations lasted for but a flash but I understood that before me was a very dangerous man ready for an instant spring into irrevocable action.

He is a warrior in the 20th century’s great ideological battle, yes, but it is difficult to capture in an excerpt like this the spellbinding and queer monster that Ossendowski presents us, a European landlord able to bend Asiatic mythology to his person until charges who were convinced that Ungern could not be slain were “rushing about in long blue coats; Mongols and Tibetans in red coats with yellow epaulets bearing the swastika of Jenghiz Khan and the initials of the Living Buddha.”

Ossendowski would describe the Baron’s savagery in lurid reverence in his Beasts, Men and Gods

Thus lived this camp of martyrs, refugees pursued by events to their tryst with Death, driven on by the hate and contempt of this offspring of Teutons and privateers! And he, martyring them, knew neither day nor night of peace. Fired by impelling, poisonous thoughts, he tormented himself with the pains of a Titan, knowing that every day in this shortening chain of one hundred thirty links brought him nearer to the precipice called “Death.” also permit Ungern to have his own say for himself.

— but also sympathetically channel Ungern’s self-vindication:

“Some of my associates in the movement do not like me because of my atrocities and severity,” he remarked in a sad voice. “They cannot understand as yet that we are not fighting a political party but a sect of murderers of all contemporary spiritual culture. Why do the Italians execute the ‘Black Hand’ gang? Why are the Americans electrocuting anarchistic bomb throwers? and I am not allowed to rid the world of those who would kill the soul of the people? I, a Teuton, descendant of crusaders and privateers, I recognize only death for murderers!”

Ungern’s khanate became increasingly squeezed between the Red Army and Chinese nationalist forces, and he was finally driven out by a mutiny to eventual capture by the Soviets — who found the white War-God alone in the deserts that had answered his mastery, clad in the saffron robes of his deposed estate. There was none of his rage on display at his short trial; Ungern full well knew his fate, and when mockingly offered his life by the judge if he would humiliate himself by singing the “Internationale,” the defendant cleverly countered by daring the judge first to sing the tsarist national anthem. As it should for any mystic, Ungern’s enigma outlived his fleshing form.

“You can interpret Ungern as you wish,” Leonid Yuzefovich wrote,‡

as a hero of the anti-Bolshevik struggle, a brigand-chief, a Eurasian in the saddle; as a predecessor to fascism, a medieval fossil, a herald of future global clashes between East and West, a creator of one of the darkest utopias of the twentieth century; as one of the tyrants that grow on the remnants of great empires, or as a maniac, inebriated with the crude extracts of great ideas. But whatever you think, in all these variants the fate of that Baltic baron who became the ruler of Mongolia, in all its frightening unreality conceals some answers to the crucial questions of the epoch.

* Not to be confused with the Black Baron, a stone-faced Germanic nobleman named Peter Wrangel who wound up commanding White forces in southern Russia during the same war. Wrangel (as “Vrangel”) enjoyed a prominent role as public enemy no. 1 in anti-White propaganda.


“Vrangel is coming!” (same site)

** In one such fray, Ungern-Sternberg picked up a nasty saber knock to the noggin. It’s been speculated that the unbalanced behavior of his later life owed a lot to that head injury: concussions are no joke.

† Biographical details heavily cribbed from Canfield Smith, “The Ungernovshchina — How and Why?” in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Bd. 28, H. 4 (1980), pp. 590-595.

‡ Quote via a review of The Autocrat of the Desert by Julia Latynina in History Workshop Journal, no. 39 (Spring 1995).

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1791: Alessandro Cagliostro condemned

1 comment March 21st, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1791, the Inquisition in Rome condemned magician Alessandro Cagliostro to death — a sentence immediately commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life, which turned out to be only four more years.

Cagliostro’s rich career as European courts’ thaumaturge of choice might have been decreed by the stars right down to his pitch-perfectly sinister moniker. Is this the shadowy diabolist whom the title character of in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is meant to evoke?

In fact, his birth name was Giuseppe Balsamo.

Naughty by nature from the time of his youthful expulsion from the Order of St. John, Balsamo — the hobgoblin familiar haunting the adult prophet’s cimmerian shadows — hailed originally from a penniless Sicilian family. (Though Cagliostro claimed for himself a suitably exotic childhood in Arabia and Egypt)

What he wanted in native wealth he more than made up for in enterprise — both for self-education in sorcery, alchemy, and other forbidden arts, and for leveraging his expertise in lustrous capers.

Hopping from court to court, Cagliostro carved out a career moving forgeries of spiritual or temporal potency alongside his legitimate profession as a doctor and chemist and his growing public profile as an influential spiritualist. He broke through as a young man in the train of a cardinal in Rome, using this in to market on the side fake artifacts alleged to have been pilfered from the Vatican’s mysterious Egyptian troves, as well as to seduce a local girl named Serafina whom he married at age 18. Serafina would be his lifelong companion on his adventures.

Cagliostro turned up over the ensuing two decades in Russia, Poland, Germany, and England, where he was inducted into the Freemasons in 1776. He’s been credited with creating masonry’s Egyptian Rite, and with energetically propagating it in the 1780s;* indeed, it was his adherence to Freemasonry — and his sacrilegious boldness opening a masonic lodge in Rome under the nose of the pontiff — that led to his 1789 arrest.

His seances and magic potions made him a great favorite of the Versailles court for a number of years, until a glancing association with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace so damaging to the reputation of Marie Antoinette forced Cagliostro’s expulsion from France.

Considering his Mephistophelian** reputation, now very well known in Europe, Cagliostro’s return thereafter to the belly of papal power seems most unwise. Perhaps (as this biographer supposes) it was the influence of Serafina, homesick after so many years separated from her native haunts. Cagliostro’s next ports of call were the Vatican’s Castel Sant’Angelo and (after an escape attempt) the lonely Fortress of San Leo — and even his end was so shrouded in mystery and conjecture that the subsequent conqueror Napoleon commissioned an official investigation to convince everyone that he’d really shuffled off the mortal coil.

Giuseppe Balsamo, attainted and convicted of many crimes, and of having incurred the censures and penalties pronounced against heretics, dogmatics, heresiarchs, and propagators of magic and superstition, has been found guilty and condemned to the said censures and penalties as decreed by the Apostolic laws of Clement XII and Benedict XIV, against all persons who in any manner whatever favour or form societies and conventicles of Freemasonry, as well as by the edict of the Council of State against all persons convicted of this crime in Rome or in any other place in the dominions of the Pope.

Notwithstanding, by special grace and favour, the sentence of death by which this crime is expiated is hereby commuted into perpetual imprisonment in a fortress, where the culprit is to be strictly guarded without any hope of pardon whatever. Furthermore, after he shall have abjured his offences as a heretic in the place of his imprisonment he shall receive absolution, and certain salutary penances will then be prescribed for him to which he is hereby ordered to submit.

Likewise, the manuscript book which has for its title Egyptian Masonry is solemnly condemned as containing rites, propositions, doctrines, and a system which being superstitious, impious, heretical, and altogether blasphemous, open a road to sedition and the destruction of the Christian religion. This book, therefore, shall be burnt by the executioner, together with all the other documents relating to this sect.

By a new Apostolic law we shall confirm and renew not only the laws of the preceding pontiffs which prohibit the societies and conventicles of Freemasonry, making particular mention of the Egyptian sect and of another vulgarly known as the Illumines, and we shall decree that the most grievous corporal punishments reserved for heretics shall be inflicted on all who shall associate, hold communion with, or protect these societies. (Source)

Thereafter widely denounced and renounced as a rank charlatan, Cagliostro at the very least rates as of the more outstanding adventurers of his time — a distinction that bequeathed him an impressive artistic afterlife from Alexandre Dumas to Christopher Walken.

Nor have his grander poses entirely wanted for supporters in posterity, particularly among adherents to the still-extant Masonic rite he initiated. (Aleister Crowley also suggested that he might have been Cagliostro in a previous incarnation.)

W.R.H. Trowbridge’s 1910 biograhy Cagliostro: The Splendour and Misery of a Master of Magic is in the public domain and available free online.

* Cagliostro might also have written a classic occult volume, The Most Holy Trinosophia.

** “Mephistophelian” might be the literally applicable word. When the mysterious Cagliostro’s possible identity as the exiled Sicilian swindler Balsano was first exposed, eventual Faust author Johann von Goethe happened to be in Palermo — and he took it upon himself to investigate personally by calling on Balsano’s family. (“You know my brother?” “All Europe knows him.”)

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1911: Sitarane and Fontaine, Reunion Island occultists

1 comment June 20th, 2011 Headsman

This date marks the centennial of perhaps the most famous execution in the history of Reunion Island: the June 20, 1911 guillotining of Sitarane and Fontaine.

Sitarane (French link) — his actual name was Simicoudza Simicourba — hailed from Portuguese Mozambique, supposedly from a long line of sorcerors.

A contract job brought him to Reunion, but he soon abandoned it for the black [magic] economy. A fellow purported necromancer named Pierre-Elie Calendrin pulled Sitarane and run-of-the-mill hoodlum Emmanuel Fontaine into a prolific little crime ring that terrorized Reunion around 1907 to 1909, amassing about a dozen murders.

And what murders!

Most of the sources on this circle are French, and they narrate weird occult criminality: reading tarot and sacrificing a black cock before a proposed adventure, drinking the blood of their victims to gain their strength.

Still, this was practical magic: Calendrin, Sitarane and Fontaine killed people so that they could rob them.

So it was with their dark arts, too: the sacrificed chickens were drugged and tossed to watchdogs; a mysterious powder blown through keyholes narcotized targets before the gang burst in to do its dirty work. It’s Sherlock Holmes in the Indian Ocean.

The three were finally surprised in the midst of one of their mercantile and monstrous sorties, and tried in 1910.

Although all three received death sentences, Calendrin — who as the trio’s leader would figure to have been the most culpable among them — had his execution mysteriously commuted to penal transportation to Guyana instead. Maybe he foretold the lottery numbers for a judge, or just cooked him a mean chicken dinner.

Sitarane died wailing a Comorian death-chant. Fontaine, more panicky, resisted the executioners and got his neck in a twist, resulting in a bad strike from the blade that lodged in his jaw.

But bad luck on the appellate circuit would mean a bit of immortality that the spared Calendrin could never obtain: today’s doomed — most particularly Sitarane — live on yet as popular saints with a special appeal to the underworld.


Sitarane’s jaunty red grave in Saint-Pierre attracts a lively flow of cult offerings from supplicants hoping to avail the powers of its resident thaumaturge … and of gawkers who do not fear to tempt the evil eye by photographing same. Allegedly, it’s the place to pray for fortune in the sort of nefarious scheme Sitarane used to get up to: folk contemplating a robbery or homicide are among those particularly likely to invoke their criminal forebear, as are those who fear such plots against them.

Image: Par Thierry Caro (Travail personnel) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ou CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The toxic hallucinogen Datura, a “witches’ weed” of long standing deployed over the centuries in all manner of potions and poultices, is known locally as Herbe à Sitarane.


(cc) image from mwanasimba

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1647: Domenica Gratiadei and her coven of witches

2 comments April 14th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1647 marked the execution of five supposed witches in Trentino.

Secular and modernist as this grim site‘s curators confessedly stand, we have perhaps given too little credence to those devout officers of the law who labored in those years to uphold the throne of heaven besieged by Satan’s varied earthly minions.

Montague Summers

In an effort to balance the record, we present this date’s account as rendered by a guy who took the supernatural a bit more seriously: Montague Summers.

Summers is a weird figure, but if he wasn’t really a throwback believer in Rome’s phantasmagoric early modern theology, he was the century’s most sublime performance artist.

Converting to Catholicism as an Anglican deacon, he went about in spooky clerical robes although his ordination status remains unclear to this day, immersed his capacious mind in supernatural arcana, and penned voluptuously eloquent books credulously treating the spectral evidence another era had given against sorcerers, vampires, lycanthropes, and suchlike habitues of the Monster Manual.*

I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was -– an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organization inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counselor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age.

Summers projected (perhaps intentionally) a mysterious and vaguely sinister persona and did not disdain to cultivate a friendship with nefarious occultist Aleister Crowley, his contemporary. There were even rumors of an unwholesome interest in pederasty.

We’re confident that none of this has done his sales a bit of harm. So who are we social pests and parasites of the blogosphere not to batten upon it ourselves?

The below is drawn from Summers’ The Geography of Witchcraft — and as the reader will perceive, Geography at least purports to treat the flying-off-to-infernal-orgy stock in trade of those bygone witch hunters as legitimate evidence of the lead crone’s “attendance at the Sabbat, sometimes, no doubt, an experience on the psychic plane, for she was undoubtedly a medium of unusual powers, and sometimes in actual fact.”

A typical case of Witchcraft, and one which owing to its prominence and the meticulous investigations of the authorities has luckily been reported in full, attracted considerable attention in the winter of 1646 and the following spring. It will, moreover, be found to present so many factors and features, which occur again and again in the contemporary trials of wellnigh every European country, that it may profitably be dealt with in some detail.

A certain old woman of Castelnovo, Maria Salvatori, nicknamed “la Mercuria,” who had long been suspected of sorcery, was arrested on 26 October, 1646, and formally examined. At first the two principal charges, sufficiently damning in themselves, seem to have been that at her communions she did not swallow the Sacred Host, but kept It in her mouth to spit It out secretly and reserve It for some abominable purpose, and also that by her ecbolic spells she had caused the young Marchesa Bevilacqua to miscarry in childbirth. She was again interrogated on 8 November and put to the torture of the cord when she accused Domenica, the widow of a certain Tomaso Camelli, and Domenica’s daughter, Lucia, the wife of Antonio Caveden, both of whom dwelt at the hamlet of Villa, of being rank witches. She also avowed she had taken a Host from her mouth to give to Lucia Caveden, who thereby confected a charm which caused the abortion of the Marcioness. She added that she had also bewitched Cristoforo Sparamani, the son of Cecilia Sparamani, and that a certain Delaito Cavaleri was a necromancer and a worshipper of Satan. A further interrogation followed on 15 November, as a result of which the court, consisting of Paride Madernino, delegate in all criminal and civil cases in the districts of Castelnovo and Castellano, and his assessor Giovanni Ropele, doctor utriusque iuris, promptly gave orders to GiuseppeCoriziano, “bargello di questa turia,” to arrest Domenica and Lucia. This was done, and on Saturday, 24 November, 1646, at Nogaredo, the proceedings against the witches were formally opened. “Processus Criminalis pro destructione lamiarum.” On 27 November Domenica Carnelli was questioned by the judges, but they got little enough out of her. Two days following Lucia Caveden was brought before the tribunal. She vehemently declared that the charges were all malice; the hag Salvatori was her enemy; and with many cries she called Heaven to witness her innocence, repeatedly exclaiming “per grazia del Signor Iddio no son una stria” But the next day she proved less firm and implicated yet another woman, Domenica Gratiadei, who was immediately thrown into prison, a number of suspicious objects being found in her house when it was closely searched by the officers. Certain pots of a dark unguent and a mysterious powder being produced in court, Lucia Caveden confessed that these were for the destruction of human life and cattle. Seeing that the game was up Domenica Gratiadei, upon being put to the torture, soon laid bare all the secrets of the infernal sisterhood. She had made this unguent with which she annointed herself to attend the Sabbat “trasformata in gatto,” she had cast the evil eye on Cristofero Sparamani, she had renounced her baptism, defiled the Blessed Sacrament, adored Satan with divine honours. The judges were filled with horror, and trembled at the hideous tale of diabolism these women poured forth. Cecilia Sparamani, a plain honest woman, was next summoned as a witness and told how her son fell into fits of no ordinary kind. The doctors had acknowledged their skill baffled, and in spite of the prayers of two Capuchin fathers and the exorcisms of Monsignore the Bishop of Brondolo, this preternatural sickness still persisted. She informed the court that as soon as summer came and the roads were passable she intended to take the boy to the shrine of S. Antony at Padua, to whom she had a special devotion.

On 18 December, 1646, Benvenuta, the daughter of Domenica Gratiadei, made a startling confession. She declared that she had been taken by her mother “as if in a dream” to a place where there was dancing and singing, where she had been welcomed by a large number of revellers, and especially by a young man, who having kissed and fondled her awhile afterwards had connexion with her. This was, her mother averred, Satan himself. When closely questioned as to these proceedings the girl could only reply: “Tutto mi sembra, come ho detto, un sogno: e parevami che sempre vi fosse il diavolo in forma di quel giovene.” It would seem from these very striking and significant words that the girl was a hypnotic subject, entirely under her mother’s control, and that on these occasions she passed into a semi-trance state. The case dragged on throughout the months of January and February, 1647. There were interminable interrogations, and a large number of persons were gradually implicated.

On 2 January 1647, Domenica Gratiadei gave a detailed description of the Sabbats she had attended. She and an old warlock named Santo Peterlino always led the coven. “The rest followed in the shape of cats; but the Devil went first of all.” They enjoyed banquets, dances, plays, music, songs, and afterwards all worshipped Satan, presenting him with Hosts which they kept from their last communion. Before attending the Sabbat she anointed herself with an unguent made of “the Blessed Sacrament, the blood of certain small animals, Holy Water, the fat of dead babies” which was mixed with horrible imprecations and blasphemies to confect the charm.

On 10 January, a strange figure, Maddalena Andrei, nicknamed “La Filosofa,” first appears in the case. She confessed that she had assisted in the making of the ointment and had also adored the Devil who frequently appeared to her, “brave, like a gallant captain, dressed all in red.” On 9 March, when Giuseppe Goriziano entered the cell of La Filosofa to summon her to court he found her lying dead upon the floor. The common people believed that she had been carried off by Satan, especially as the Archpriest of Villa, Don Giovanni Bragliardi, shrewdly suspecting that the unhappy woman had committed suicide, refused her sepulture in consecrated ground.

This long and complicated Witchcraft-trial at length came to an end in April 1647. The court was throned with an excited yet hushed crowd, when the judge Paride Madernino and his assessors the Counts of Lodrone and Castel-Romano delivered the sentences. Domenica Camelli, Lucia Caveden, Domenica Gratiadei, Catterina Baroni, Zinevra Chemola, Isabella and Plonia Gratiadei, and Valentina Andrei were condemned to death. Maria Salvatori, “la Mercuria,” and Maddalena Andrei, “la Filosofa” had expired in prison. The condemned were beheaded and their bodies burned. It would seem, however, that Isabella and Polonia Gratiadei and Valentina Andrei managed to escape and could not be traced. The execution of the rest took place on 14 April, 1647, when Leonard Oberrdorfer the common hangman carried out the judicial sentence.

The chief witches here naturally fall into four groups each constituted of one old and one young woman, Domenica Camelli and Lucia her daughter; Domenica Gratiadei and Benvenuta her daughter; Isabella Gratiadei and Plonia her daughter; Maddalena Andrei and her daughter Valentina. The chief of the coven was undoubtedly Domenica Gratiadei, whose vile confessions, a mixture of most horrid blasphemies and lewdest obscenity, convince her of being a wretch wholly devoted to evil, and an active propagandist of the Satanic cult. It was she who had debauched her own daughter to “the Devil,” that young man whose name and individuality do not appear, but who may be guessed to have been a noble of the district, using the witches for his own ends and, presumably, supplying them with money to carry out his dark designs. That the whole gang frequently attended the Sabbat, at which he was not unseldom present, there can, I think, be no question.

This case is recounted in much greater detail in Italian in this Google book; this page has another summary, also in Italian.

* “[I]n every way a ‘character,’ and in some sort a throwback to the Middle Ages,” the London Times blurbed Summers at his death (obituary in the Aug. 11, 1948 issue). But his “preoccupations with the supernatural, however, represented only one side of his nature. His solid services to learning lie rather in his copious editorial and critical work on the English Restoration drama — a field in which he possessed the most comprehensive and expert knowledge.”

Summers’ edited compendium of 17th century playwright Aphra Behn‘s works is available free at gutenberg.org.

For exemplars of the stuff more topical to this post, one can also peruse free online his The Vampire: His Kith and Kin and his translation of the notorious witch-persecution manual Malleus Maleficarum.

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1314: Jacques de Molay, last Templar Grand Master

9 comments March 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1314, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burned in Paris.


Illustration of Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney burning on Paris’s Île de la Cité.

In a boring materialist history, Jacques de Molay was simply the head of an overrich military order whose crusading raison d’etre had become passe* with the Templars’ expulsion from the Holy Land.

Scores of trumped-up heresy charges did the work of ecclesiastical assassination for this renowned brotherhood originally founded to safeguard pilgrims in the Holy Land. (There’s a fine podcast episode on the Templars’ history here.)

This appears to be some sort of legitimate history. How droll!

Ruthless French King Philip the Fair, who owed the Templar banks a ton of cash, mounted in 1307 a, um, surprise nationalization — with the magnificently coordinated arrest of hundreds of members of the order on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307.**

This was, on the face of it, quite an infringement by the secular power upon the Church, but since Pope Clement V was Philip’s very own sock puppet — to the extent of relocating the papacy to Avignon the better to attend to his master — it was all good. Plus, of course, everyone made out with a big pile of loot.

As the interested parties jockeyed over those confiscated estates, there ensued for the once-powerful, now-proscribed order a years-long saga of torture, burnings (of lower-ranking Templars), salacious Baphomet-worship revelations, juridical maneuvering, and, finally, a compromise life-saving confession which Molay and his associate Geoffroi de Charney dramatically spurned.

The cardinals dallied with their duty until March 1314, when, on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame, Jacques de Molay, Templar Grand Master, Geoffroi de Charney, Master of Normandy, Ilugues de Peraud, Visitor of France, and Godefroi de Gonneville, Master of Aquitaine, were brought forth from the jail in which for nearly seven years they had lain, to receive the sentence agreed upon by the cardinals, in conjunction with the Archbishop of Sens and some other prelates whom they had called in. Considering the offences which the culprits had confessed and confirmed, the penance imposed was in accordance with rule—that of perpetual imprisonment. The affair was supposed to be concluded when, to the dismay of the prelates and wonderment of the assembled crowd, de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney arose. They had been guilty, they said, not of the crimes imputed to them, but of basely betraying their Order to save their own lives. It was pure and holy; the charges were fictitious and the confessions false. Hastily the cardinals delivered them to the Prevot of Paris, and retired to deliberate on this unexpected contingency, but they were saved all trouble. ‘When the news was carried to Philippe he was furious. A short consultation with his council only was required. The canons pronounced that a relapsed heretic was to be burned without a hearing; the facts were notorious and no formal judgment by the papal commission need be waited for. That same day, by sunset, a pile was erected on a small island in the Seine, the Isle des Juifs, near the palace garden. There de Molay and de Charney were slowly burned to death, refusing all offers of pardon for retraction, and bearing their torment with a composure which won for them the reputation of martyrs among the people, who reverently collected their ashes as relics.’

A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Vol III

Not bad, but the for a real plot twist, check the Templars’ turn — most famously in Dan Brown’s leaden bestseller The Da Vinci Code, but more entertainingly rendered as nonfiction “speculative history” in Holy Blood, Holy Grail — as mystic guardians of Christological secrets.†

Their most sensational secret: the Holy Grail.

In this reworking, the Cup of Christ is not the San Greal but the Sang Real, God’s own royal bloodline, by way (for some reason) of the French Merovingian dynasty.

The Templars and Jacques de Molay himself, this story goes, are just part of a centuries-long vanguard of Christianity’s mystical underground. Say, is that Jacques on the Shroud of Turin?

Thither this blog dares not venture, but those with the requisite inclination towards the occult will find limitless explorations of the theme for ready sale. All we ask, gentle reader, is that you kindly cut us in on the action by using our handy affiliate links.

In what may be yet another mystical just-so story, Molay is said to have foretold, as the flames consumed him, the deaths of his persecutors.

Pope Clement, Chevalier Guillaume de Nogaret [the prosecuting inquisitor], King Philip! I summon you to the Tribunal of Heaven before the year is out!

The curse worked: none of those gentlemen lived to see 1315. Someone, somewhere, has also attributed every bum turn for the French crown since then to Molay’s anathema. There’s a legend that an onlooker at Louis XVI‘s execution dipped his handkerchief in Citizen Capet’s Sang Real and cried out, “Jacques de Molay, tu es vengé!”

* Other expeditions called “Crusades” did continue after the Templars, but Christendom’s occupation of the Holy Land was toast until Lawrence of Arabia days.

** The date of this action is a possible origin of the whole paraskevidekatriaphobia superstition.

† It is a fact that these guys liked sweeping their crusading conquests for supposed holy relics, like this Roman nail recently unveiled from a Templar fort that was reverentially “handled by a lot of people over a long period of time.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,France,God,Heresy,History,Milestones,Nobility,Pelf,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Soldiers,The Supernatural,The Worm Turns,Torture

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1792: Jacques Cazotte, occultist

2 comments September 25th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1792, Jacques Cazotte, a writer distinctly out of step with his times, was guillotined for treason in Paris.

The Martinique-born Cazotte (English Wikipedia entry | French) was into his 40s when he launched the writing career that earns him notice enough for this blog.

He wasn’t a liberte, egalite, fraternite kind of guy: Cazotte’s works, like Le Diable Amoureux (The Devil in Love),* were fantastical, Gothic — far from the rationalist fare of the Enlightenment.

And that wasn’t exclusively a literary posture.

Cazotte fancied himself gifted with prophecy — enthusiasts’ accounts have him prophesying the course of the Revolution — and preferred the mystical enlightenment of the illuminati to the Voltairean kind.** He viewed the onset of the French Revolution with horror.

When some scribblings to that effect were discovered in his papers, the mystical goose was cooked. The French Wikipedia entry credits his daughter with saving his life during the September Massacres … buying the 72-year-old only a few weeks of life.

Cazotte’s Le Diable Amoureux has the devil as a young man’s servant girl, endeavoring to seduce him. Here is Cesare Pugni‘s balletic rendition, Satanella, with its grand pas de deux, “Le Carnaval de Venise,” from the Kirov:

Cazotte finds his way to us, as the dark arts are wont to do, through more meandering channels as well.

Le Diable Amoureux inspired supernatural mystery The Club Dumas by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. That novel in turn was riffed by Roman Polanski for the weird 1999 flick The Ninth Gate (review), starring Johnny Depp. (Cazotte’s book is explicitly referenced in both its progeny.)

Although only tangentially related, this digression into the occult gives us leave to notice one of the many cultural ephemera of executions linked to no particularly blog-friendly date. The Club Dumas and The Ninth Gate make use of striking woodcuts of modern vintage but after a style of centuries past that help unlock the central puzzle.

Charged with esoterica, the topical-looking “hanged man” print comes clearly modeled after its tarot cousin … although the tarot version, in most instances, is hoped to be of less deadly effect upon the plot.

* Available free in the original French at Project Gutenberg.

** Voltairean rationalism had its own ways of getting in trouble. It may have been an age of ideas, but it was hardly safe to have them.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Hanged,History,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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