I return to George Garden’s An apology for M. Antonia Bourignon in four parts, published in London in 1699.
The portrait of Antoinette Bourignon above comes from the National Portrait Gallery:
The NPG simply lists this as anonymous, 18th century. It is one of the English copies of this portrait: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-P-OB-51.082.
The NPG do not note that the quotation that has been added above the portrait is rather interesting in itself, being from Paradise Lost Book VI, 29ff:
Servant of God, well done, well hast thou fought
The better fight, who single hast maintaind
Against revolted multitudes the Cause
Of Truth, in word mightier then they in Armes;
And for the testimonie of Truth hast born
Universal reproach, far worse to beare
Then violence: for this was all thy care
To stand approv'd in sight of God, though Worlds
Judg'd thee perverse…
Abdiel has deserted and rebuked Satan: at his arrival back in heaven, he is welcomed by God saying this from a golden cloud.
But my interest is in the episode when Bourignon discovered that every girl in the orphanage in Lille she had founded in 1653 was a pacted witch. In Garden's hagiographic life, this is a defensively written episode. Settled belief in Bourignon (which adversely affected Garden's career), means that this has to be a very late expression of belief in pacted witches, attending sabbats, seduced by Satan.
The rest of the post will be the full account as given in Garden’s book. I have done some re-lineation of the text, lightly modernised spellings (‘-ed’ for -’d endings), and added some speech markings. My own comments will use a different font and colour. I have inserted these as sectional headings.
Belotte, the first young witch to reveal herself in the orphanage
About three years after she was thus shut up, one of the Girls of Fifteen Years having done some Fault, was shut close up for a Penance in the Prison of the House. Within an Hour after she came into the Work-House where all the rest were, though the Provisor had locked her up within Three Gates, and was gone to the Market, and had the Keys at her Girdle. A[ntonia]. B[ourignon]. upon enquiry, finding all this to be true, asked her ‘How she got out?’
She said, ‘A Man had taken her out.’
And after dinner having called her to her, and she giving the same answer.
She asked If she knew him.
She said, ‘Very well, it was the Devil.’
At this A. B. trembled, saying, The Devil is a Spirit, not a Man.
The Girl said, ‘He comes to me in the form of a Man, and I calling him to help me when shut up, he opened the Door and took me out.’
A. B. asked if she had known this Man of a long time.
She said, ‘Yes, all her Life, that her Mother from her Childhood had carried her to the Sabbath of the Witches, which is kept in the Night, and that she being a little Child, this Devil Man was then also a Young Boy, and grew up as she did, being always her Lover, and caressed her Day and Night.’
A. B. could not conceive this, for she had never heard of such things.
She immediately wrote for the Three Pastors, the Overseers of the House, to whom the Maid declared that she had given her Soul to the Devil, and denied God, and to confirm the Gift had received a Mark in her Foot, which she did freely when Twelve Years of Age, though long before this Lover had still entertained her and carried her to the Sabbaths of Sorcerers in great Castles, where they met to eat, drink, dance, sing, and do a thousand other Insolencies.
She put her out of the House the same Day, fearing least the other Girls should be corrupted. It grieved her to see the Devil had such Power, and yet she could not believe that this Bellotte (for the Girl was so called) was a Witch, for she still thought they were filthy and deformed Creatures, as she had heard they transformed themselves into Cats or other Animals. She prayed to God to discover her unknown Sins, and continued in her pious Exercises, believing she had purged the House of such Persons.
The second and third witches are discovered
About Three Months after, another Girl of Fifteen Years was going to be imprisoned for Stealing, she said the Devil made her do it; and she was immediately put out of the House that it might be purged of such. But Three Months after, another of Eleven Years was going to be whipped for the same Fault, and she said ‘Do it not, and I will tell who made me do this Evil.’ And A. B. taking her to her Chamber, she said it was the Devil; that being Young and playing with the Girls of the Town, they asked her if she would go with them to the Dedication, that she should have good Cheer and a Lover, how soon she was Content, the Lover came on a little Horse, and took her by the Hand, asking if she would be his Mistress; she consenting, was carried through the Air with him, and the other Girls, into a great Castle, where they had all sort of Feasting and Mirth, that she has been there ever since, Three or Four times a Week: That at the Age of Ten Years she gave her Soul to the Devil, renounced God and her Baptism, and received a Mark in her Head, which was afterwards found to be insensible; for they put a Pin the length of ones Finger into her Head without her feeling any Pain.
Every young woman in the orphanage is a witch
The Pastors having examined this Girl, thought not fit to put her out of the House, till it were discovered from whence his Evil might arise. She was kept in a Chamber apart, and Peter Salmon, Pastor of St. Sauvear, undertook to examine her daily, and to endeavour her Conversion; and asking her one Day, if there were any other in the House like to her, she said there were Two who went with her daily to the Sabbath. They being called, and spoke with separately in private, confessed ingenuously that they were in Covenant with the Devil. These Two said, there were yet other Two in the House, and being desired to name them, each of them named Two different Persons, who being called, confessed, each of these naming yet Two different Persons who were of the same Crew: So that from Two to Four, from Four to Eight, it was discovered that all the Two and Thirty Girls which were then in the House, were all in general, and each one in particular bound to the Devil, of their own Free-will, having contracted it diversely; some from their Fathers, others from their Mothers, some had learned it by little Girls in playing together, as they declared both to A. B. and to the said Pastor, who put in Writing all they said to him.
The pastors think that the young women can be saved, as they were so young when they made their promises to the devil. Eight months of failed efforts follow; their repentances are not sincere, so alluring are the pleasures offered by the devil
A. B. was in no little Perplexity to be shut up in a House, from whence she could not get out, with Thirty Two Persons who declared they had given their Souls to the Devil, and that she must eat and drink with them, or what they made ready. She proposed to dismiss them by degrees, but then feared to be guilty of the Mischiefs they would do to others, for they confessed they had made both Men and Beasts die. The Pastors thought it fittest to keep them; said there were Hopes they might be converted to God, having been engaged to the Devil before the Use of their Reason, and promised to come every Day to admonish and exercise them, and pray for their Conversion. This was done for the space of Eight Months, in which the Girls made great shews of Conversion, by Tears, repeated Confessions, Prayers, and attending to the Admonitions given them, but without Sincerity. Their Hearts were wedded to the sensual Pleasures which the Devil gave them. So that they had not the Desire to change or leave those wretched Pleasures; as one of them, of Twenty Two Years, said one Day to A. B.
‘No’ says she, ‘I would not be otherwise, I find too much Contentment in it to leave it, I am always caressed: I have been so from Eight Years to Two and Twenty.’
At the devil’s sabbat, where there are crowds of people, male and female
Pastor Salmon wrote down their Confessions, they declared plainly they had daily carnal Conversation with the Devil, that they went to the Sabbath, where they eat, drank, danced, and committed other Sensualities. Each had their Devil in form of a Man, and the Men theirs in form of a Woman; that they never saw more numerous Meetings in the City than at their Sabbaths, of People of all Ranks, Young and Old, Rich and Poor, Noble and Ignoble, but above all, of all sorts of Monks and Nuns, Priests and Prelates, and that everyone kept their Rank there, as they are in the World. Many of them shed plenty of Tears when A. B. spoke to them of the Judgments of God, of the Joys of Paradise, and the Pains of Hell; and when she asked some of the most sensible of them, If those Tears were sincere; they said,
‘They proceeded from a Grief of having denied God, and given up themselves to the Devils; but this lasted no longer than they were spoke to, or thought upon their miserable State, and then presently the Devil came and asked them if they would leave him, and the Pleasures they had together, and so caressed them, that they renewed their Covenant with him, forgetting all their former good Purposes.’
More on why the efforts to reclaim them for heaven fail, and how their participation in divine service merely helps disguise their wickedness
She asked, If the Admonitions, Exorcisms, and Prayers of the Pastors did not deprive the Devil of Power to keep them subject to him.
They said, ‘The Devil mocked at these things, and did ape the Pastors: When they kneeled to pray, he did so behind them, and with a Book mumbled the same Words. When they preached, he used the same Gestures, and also threw Holy Water, and Incensed as they did, aping them always in Mockery.’
She asked, How they could pray or sing so many good Prayers all Day, being in Covenant with the Devil.
They said, ‘He prayed and sang with them, because their Prayers were without Attention; and instead of singing Praises to God, their Intentions were to sing Praises to the Devil, in which he gloried and valued himself’.
She asked, How they could approach the Table of the Lord, and receive the Sacrament.
They said, ‘The Devil incited them to do it as often as they could, and the greatest Penance she could ordain them was to make them abstain from the Sacrament, which covered their Wickedness, and made them pass for good Persons before Men: Besides, the Devil did his most mischievous Deeds with the Consecrated Bread.’
She said, All this would assuredly lead them to Hell.
They said, ‘They knew it very well; but the Devil promised them the same carnal and sensual Pleasures there, that they had with him in this World.’
She asked, If they knew indeed that it was the Devil that entertained them so, and if they knew there was a Hell, and a Paradise before they came into her House.
They said, ‘Yes; for the Devil taught them that, and had often catechised them, and taught them there was a God, a Paradise, a Hell, and a Devil; that they who did his Will, could never see God, but should be his Companions in Hell to all Eternity.’
How they became witches so early in life
She asked, How they could belong to the Devil from their Infancy.
They said, ‘This came from their Parents. When Fathers or Mothers give themselves to the Devil, they give all that is theirs, and it is rare to see, when they have been offered by their Parents to the Devil, even before they are born, that they withdraw after they are come to Age, for the Habit in Evil becomes natural to them; and the Devil entertaining them from their Infancy with Caresses and sensual Pleasures, he so gains upon them, that they
would not quit him for anything, after they have been so allured by his Sensualities, such as all Men could not give them: For he contrives to make them eat all sort of Meats savoury to their Taste, all sort of Liquors pleasant to their Throat, all sort of Music to their Ears, of Odour to their Smell, of Ticklings to their Flesh, so that being brought up thus, it is almost impossible to desire to leave them; and therefore, say they, we would not change our Condition, for we find more Pleasure in it than Men can give us.’
A revealing glimpse of the conditions of life in the orphanage: Bourignon tells the girls in effect that ‘If you were really feasting on non-illusory food with Satan at night, you would not eat your dry bread so hungrily in the morning’
She bewailed their Misery, and shewed them all was but Deceit and Illusion: For Instance, that they had not eaten nor drunken at their Sabbaths, they would have been very hungry in the Morning, and eaten with good Appetite great Lumps of Butter, yea, dry Bread when given them. And if they had been eating such dainty Meat, they would have disrelished such gross Food.
They said, ‘They had nevertheless the taste and pleasure of all these, and therefore would not leave them.’
Unless you compromise with the devil, he will stop you marrying and having children – this seems to be the outcome in these young women’s minds of Bourignon’s strong advocacy of celibacy and virginity
She asked, How it was possible that Parents should thus offer their Children to the Devil, and not to God who created them.
They said ‘Those who are thus bound to the Devil, will have no other God but him, and therefore offer him all they have that is most dear, and even are constrained to offer their Children, else he would beat them, and hinder them from being married or having Children; both which he can hinder by his Adheren[illegible]. That when a Child thus offered comes to the Use of Reason, he then asks their Soul, makes them deny God, renounce their Baptism and Faith, and promise Faith and Fidelity to the Devil, after the manner of an Espousal. And instead of a Ring, gives them some Mark, as with an Awl of Iron, in some part of the Body, which Marks he renews as oft as they have a desire to leave him, and binds them more strongly by new Promises, giving them those new Marks for a Pledge that they shall continue faithful to him: And how soon they come to Age capable of having Children, he makes them offer the Will they have of marrying to his Honour, and therewith all the Fruit that can proceed from their Marriage, which they promise willingly, that they may attain their Designs; otherwise the Devil threatens to hinder them, by all sort of means from marrying or bringing forth Children.’
Garden concedes that there were sceptics. Bourignon herself began as a witchcraft sceptics, till she got undoubted proofs. Confessions re-affirmed, and recanted among the young women. The devil will marry them to good men, so as to have access to corrupt their offspring. There are indeed incredible numbers of witches, as is clear from reports from Scotland, New England [Salem] and Sweden [Blokula]
Some can hardly believe that all these Girls could have been in Compact with the Devil, far less that Declaration of A. B. as from God, that so vast a multitude of People on the Earth are in Compact with him. A. B. could as little believe it as any, for she thought none but the vilest Miscreants were such, till there were undoubted Proofs given her of it. The voluntary Confession of all the Girls, the preternatural Acts done by them in her Presence, their Agreement in their Confessions as to their Sabbaths, the manner of Devoting themselves to the Devil, &c. Their Declaration of all this to the Three Pastors, some of them still owning their Confession, (though others were easily persuaded to deny it again, finding they were caressed by the Magistrates for so doing) and the Attestation of the Truth of all this by the Three Pastors (Copies of which are in the La vie Continuée, and the Originals in the Hands of the Writer of it) are such Evidences as will satisfy all, but they who will not be satisfied. And as for the other, we need not think it so extravagant, if we consider that it is Satan’s earnest Desire and Ambition to have Men devoted to him by express Covenant; that the more he have of such, he is the more capable of doing Mischief to the rest of Mankind than he can do by himself without them; that he obliges all who are so, to devote to him all their Posterity; that he still labours to ally and marry them with the Good, that so he may corrupt their Offspring, that they who are thus devoted to him, being once habituated to all manner of sensual Delights, can hardly ever will to be reclaimed again; that in outward Appearance they differ nothing from others, but put on for the most part the greatest pretences to Devotion; that whenever any of them are discovered and tried, if strict Enquiry be made about them, their number appears incredible; witness the late Trials in the West of Scotland, those of Sweden, New England, and what the Learned Bodinus tells from his own Knowledge, That when Pardon was granted to a Sorcerer upon Condition to discover his Complices, he discovered so many of all Ranks, that at length he plainly told there would be One Hundred Thousand in that Country.
Magistrates and – surprisingly for an orphanage - parents are alerted and intervene. Bourignon’s character is unimpeachable
About the end of that time, an old Woman of Lisle importuned A. B. to take into the House a Girl of Nine Years, who being discovered to be one of the Coven, was immediately thrust out again, telling the old Woman that all their Secrets were discovered to the Regent of the Hospital. She run about immediately to the Magistrates, and the Parents of the Children, telling how their Reputation was quite broken by A. B. by saying they were Witches. She obtained of the Magistrates that Enquiry should be made into the Life of A. B. without her knowledge. And the Criminal Clerk took Informations upon Oath in the Town, and neighbouring Towns and Villages, all which served only to make her Innocence and Purity the more evident; for the Witnesses they had pitched upon as most animated against her, could depone nothing but what was good and praiseworthy, and could lay nothing to her Charge. Which he who received the Depositions admired; saying, he knew no Body, who if their Life had been examined from their Childhood, by Enemies, and with the same Rigour, could have undergone the Trial so unblameably, without being guilty of something. She was afterwards allowed Witnesses for her Exculpation, and when some of them were heard, he said, there needs no more, for there is almost enough already for to Canonize her, and declare her a Saint. All these Depositions are still in the Register of the Town of Lisle [Lille].
Investigations into a death. Nothing taints Bourignon, not even the girls will speak against her
On the 9th. of February, 1662, they sent the Lieutenant and Sergeants armed, and broke open her House, and carried her violently to the Town-house, with a great Noise and crowd of People, who imagined she was seized for a Witch, because of the Report spread about the Children, where they examined her most strictly Six Hours, and made her give an Account of all the Affairs that concerned the Hospital, which she did with such a presence of Mind, as made her remember all, and answer most pertinently; so they behoved to acknowledge they could not find any Fault in her. Yet they brought her before them after the same manner at several times, without granting her Request of calling her in the Evening to avoid Scandal. They caused bring the Children also to see what they could draw from them against her, but they could say nothing against her; only some of them said, a Servant-Maid of hers had chastised one of the Girls with a Wand, and not long after that she died. So they caused seize the poor Servant as if she had killed the Girl, and resolved to do so to the Mistress, under pretext that the Correction was by her Order; but four Persons declared upon Oath that this was most false and that the Girl died by eating to excess of green Fruits out of the Lodging. One of the Magistrates said to the Children, ‘She accuses you of Witchcraft, and going to the Sabbaths; Why do you not accuse her too?’ But the Girls, how wicked soever, trembling at such a black Malice, said immediately, ‘No, No, our Mother, (so they called her) is no Witch, she goes not to the Sabbath; Our Mother is a Saint, she is all full of God.’
A large number of the same girls that will say no ill of Bourignon had in fact conspired with the devil to poison her. Bourignon leaves, the Jesuits take over, exonerating the girls and indicting Bourignon
They conspired in the House to take away her Life by Malefices; the Devil had Meetings with Twenty Five of them, how to effectuate it, and with their Consent made an Unguent of divers matters, of which there were Balls given to put in her Broth. S. Saulieu was at the Meeting, for he also kept the Sabbaths, and stirred them up to make her away [Saulieu had demonised himself by a sexual pursuit of Bourignon, as noted in John Cockburn's attack on her in Bourignianism detected (1698), "famous Monsieur Saulieu, whom at first she took for a great Saint, pursued her so much, that she was forced to ask the assistance of others, to be delivered from him."] One of the eldest of them discovered it to her, and went with her to one of the Girl’s Bed and found the Ball. She advertised the Pastors, and they the Magistrates, and she was told if she was afraid, she might remove, and they would place another in her room. She stayed till she discovered Fourteen Children who had of these Balls to destroy her. She then chose a Regent and retired, entering a Protestation before the Magistrates, that she did not abandon the Regency, having left one in her Place. When the Magistrates examined the Girls, the eldest declared all the Truth, and the Magistrates laboured to make her unsay it, which she would nor. The others who denied all, they sent away cheerful, saying [?- illegible] one to another, the Magistrates are for us. Two Days after she retired, the Magistrates thrust the Widow out of the Regency. The Jesuits got the Oversight of it, there they placed one of their Maids, they admitted the Girls presently to Confession and Communion, making them pass for little Saints, and A. B. for Guilty.
She retired to Gaunt, and from thence to Mechlin, [Mechelen?] and formed a Process before the King’s Council at Brussels, against the Magistrates at Lisle, [Lille] for the Recovery of the Hospital, and though it did appear most evidently that she was Innocent, and that they had acted against her with inexcusable Violence, yet they would not venture to give Sentence for her against a Party so Powerful, and far, more Considerable before Men, than was the Innocence of a simple private Maid: So the Process remains undecided to this Day, and she could no longer abide in Safety in Lisle, unless in secret.