This page takes a look at demon possession hysteria. The primary (and perhaps best known) incidents that should be mentioned here are the Louviers Possessions, the Aix Possessions, and the Loudun Possessions. See the bottom of the page for information on psychological and scientific theories of such experiences.
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The possessions at Louviers took place at the Louviers Convent in 1647. Much like the Aix and Loudun Possession cases, Father Mathurin Picard (nunnery director) and Father Thomas Boulle (vicar at Louviers) were convicted on the evidence of the possessed nuns. Sister Madeleine Bavent, who was eighteen years old at the time, was the initial possession victim whose testimony threw the church into a panic. Supposedly, Picard and Boulle had taken the nuns to secret sabbats where they cavorted with demons. Namely the demon Dagon by Bavent's testimony. Similar testimony of the other nuns followed. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the nuns were suffering from the classic symptoms of possession.
Demonic Possession - The Classic Symptoms
Unnatural body movements.
Speaking in tongues (glossolalia)
Appearance of wounds that vanish as quickly as they appear.
As at Loudun - the exorcism rites at Louviers were made public. Accounts of the incident suggest the exorcism was anything but a holy ritual. The inquisitors supposedly created mass hysteria questioning everyone and harassing them all the same. Father Boulle was tortured during the exorcism.
PARLIAMENT AT ROUEN'S SENTENCE:
Sister Bavent was imprisoned for life, Father Boulle was burnt alive, and the corpse of Father Picard (who was fortunate enough to have died earlier) was exhumed and burned.
This has been deemed the most famous case of possession hysteria in history. In 1634, it was said Father Urbain Grandier inflicted possession onto the Ursuline nuns of Loudun. This is the case that questioned the actual existence of demonic possession, whether or not the nuns had indeed been suffering, and whether or not Father Grandier had died for reasons other than the possessions (namely political reasons). Accusations against Father Grandier began with Mother Superior Jeanne des Agnes who reported having illicit and demonic dreams featuring Grandier. No amount of penance kept Jeanne's dreams at bay, and soon - the other nuns had followed suit - succumbing to the hysteria of of the Mother Superior's dreams and having their own.
At this point, it is reported that Father Mignon, an enemy of Grandier, and his assistant took the alleged possessions as an opportunity to turn against Grandier. They began exorcising the nuns. Two of the demons namely responsible for these possessions were Asmodeus and Zabulon although there were others.
Grandier ordered the nuns isolated and wrote to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who in turn, immediately sent a doctor to examine the nuns. The doctor found the women physically sound and free from possession. Regardless, Grandier let stay his order that the nuns be confined to their cells. This quieted the hysteria for a few months, but then it started again.
This time, Grandier's enemies were working to have him arrested and convicted of witchcraft. Former lovers of Grabdier came forth with stories of sacrilege, adultery, and incest. Meanwhile, Jeanne continued feeding the hysteria - adding names to the roster of demons possessing the nuns. She even went as far as to go through a psychosomatic pregnancy.
The demons on the Loudun possession roster:
Asmodeus, Zabulon, Isacaaron, Astaroth, Gresil, Amand, Leviatom, Behemot, Beherie, Easas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Alex, Naphthalim, Cham, Ureil, and Achas.
Finally, Grandier was charged, tortured, convinced, and sentenced to be burned alive. The nuns were supposedly exorcised by Father Surin, a renowned exorcist who later succumbed to the very demons he banished, having gone insane. Invariably, the possessions at the Loudun convent continued (supposedly as a tourist attraction since the exorcisms drew so much attention) even after Grandier's death. The possessions finally stopped in 1637 when the fraud was uncovered.
The incident at Aix (burning Father Gaufridi alive) acted as the precedent setting case for the Loudun Possessions' conviction and sentence of Father Grandier twenty years later. This is also the first case where the testimony of a possessed person was taken into account during the conviction of Father Gaufridi. Prior to the seventeenth century, a possessed person's testimony was not used since demons were known to be liars.
As in the Loudun possessions, sexual themes played a large role in the possession testimony. Father Gaufridi was convicted by his own confessions (under torture) as well as the testimonies of the possessed nuns, Sister Madeleine Demandolx de la Palud and Sister Louise Capel. Both Father Gaufridi and Sister Madeleine recited their renouncement of god and the saints before the church.
The Verdict and Aftermath:
Father Gaufridi was burnt alive. Both nuns were banished from the convent. In 1613, two years later, the possession hysteria spread to nearby Lille. In Lille it was reported that three nuns were possessed. They accused Sister Marie de Sains of bewitching them.