Unwanted house guests are always a pain. When the guest is the Devil, the annoyance factor is naturally exacerbated. One of the most striking paranormal cases of the early 17th century was, unsurprisingly, described by contemporaries as a visitation by demons, but we today would see it as a remarkably complicated poltergeist affair.
In either case, it led to a very unhappy home life for one French family.
The main source for our story is a Calvinist pastor named Francois Perreaud (or Perrault,) whose "L'Antidemon de Mascon" tells of his ordeal at the hands of Satanic forces. Poltergeist cases usually center around a prepubescent or adolescent child, but in this particular instance it was Perreaud himself who found himself the focus of the "demon's" wrath. He grew convinced, in short, that he had been targeted by means of witchcraft.
Perreaud had originally lived in the village of Buxy, but in 1611 he accepted an invitation to preach in the Burgundy town of Mâcon (or Mascon.) He had been a widower with two children, but just before moving to Mâcon he remarried, to one Anne Farci.
Perreaud was well-liked by both the Protestant and Catholic communities in Mâcon, and life ran on pleasantly enough until September 19, 1612. After being out of town for nearly a week to attend a religious meeting, the pastor returned to find his wife and her maid in a state of near-panic. On the first night Perreaud was away, Anne went to sleep, only to find her bed-curtains were shaking weirdly. All the doors and windows were shut, and she saw nothing else unsusual. The shaking eventually stopped, but the next night, Anne so feared a repeat performance that she had her maid sleep in the bed with her. As soon as the two lay down, the bedcover was yanked away by invisible hands and the maid was thrown out of bed. The maid tried to open the bedroom door, which led to the kitchen, but found that impossible. It was as if someone was blocking the door from the other side. She managed to call to a little boy who lived in the house with them to come and open the door. He did so easily. The maid went into the kitchen, where she saw that the dishes and other utensils had been violently "throwne about." Similar disturbances happened over the next two nights, accompanied by a loud noise "like one usually makes during a carnival procession, or when one makes a sound to detain bees during summer."
Perreaud took this news rather incredulously, but he assumed that someone was playing a particularly vicious prank against the household. He examined every inch of the house for intruders, securely locked all the doors and windows, led his family in evening prayer, and went to bed, confident that no mortal force could possibly cause them trouble. Anne and her maid remained sitting by the fireside, spinning.
As soon as Perreaud stretched out in bed, one might not be exaggerating to say that all hell broke loose. A frightful din broke out in the kitchen. He heard unearthly rumblings and knockings, accompanied by the sounds of plates, pots, and pans being hurled against the walls. Perreaud grabbed his sword and went to investigate. He was greatly perplexed to find no one in the kitchen. The moment he returned to bed, the uproar returned. When he again entered the kitchen only to find it deserted, it began to dawn on him that something rum was up. "I began to realize," he wrote, "that this could be proceeding only from an evil spirit and so I passed the rest of the night in a state of astonishment which anyone can imagine for himself."
The following morning, Perreaud consulted with the elders of his church, as well as his Catholic friend Francois Tornus, about the best way to handle this infernal visitation. It was decided that every evening, some of them would sit up with Perreaud, and await developments. For some time, the house was silent. Then on the night of September 20, the men heard whistling, in a "very loud and shirll tone." This sound morphed into a voice that was "very distinct and understandable, although somewhat husky." It sang, "Twenty-two pennies, twenty-two pennies," then repeated the word, "Minister" several times. The dumbfounded Perreaud gasped, "Get thee behind me, Satan, the Lord commands you."
Satan didn't think much of the Lord's commands. The voice kept saying "Minister, minister," until the exasperated Perreaud snapped, "Yes, I am indeed a minister and a servant of the living God before whose majesty you tremble."
"I am not saying otherwise," the spirit-voice replied.
Perreaud and his friends soon realized the "uncleane spirit" was a real smart-aleck. In response to their prayers for supplication, the voice recited the Ten Commandments, followed by the Our Father, the Apostles' Creed, and other prayers. It also sang Psalms. The message was clear: "Don't expect your God to get you out of this one."
Once the spirit began speaking, it proved to be tiresomely chatty. The voice recited a good many unsettlingly accurate personal details about Perreaud's family. The spirit also asserted that Perreaud's deceased father had been poisoned. It even gave the name of the supposed murderer and the type of poison used. (Perreaud appears to have ignored this revelation.)
The spirit claimed that it was from the Pays de Vaud, which was at that time infamous for its witch hunts. Between the early 16th century and 1680, some 1700 "witches" from Pays de Vaud were executed. ("It was a region where they grilled sorcerers well!" it laughed.) Significantly, Perreaud's father and grandfather had both preached in that area.
Perreaud's invisible guest continued to spend evenings conversing with the pastor and his visitors, revealing its intimate knowledge of the lives of everyone present. It asked a launderer named Claude Rapai to recall a time when some cloth had disappeared from his shop, and added gleefully, "I did that!" Another launderer, Philibert Guillermin, was reminded of similar bizarre events in his home. ("I did that, too!") The voice spoke of private personal quarrels, and scandalous incidents in and around Mâcon. This Fortean gossipmonger even shared the interesting information that one Philibert Masson had not, as everyone assumed, died in an accident, but had been murdered by his wife. According to Perreaud, all these incidents related by the spirit were either demonstrably true or all-too-believable.
This garrulous entity also indulged in what Perreaud described as "banter and buffoonery." The spirit told goofy shaggy-dog stories, made teasing schoolboyish remarks to the maid, and expertly mimicked the voices of various Mâcon residents.
One day, the spirit solemnly announced that it was going to the town of Chambery on business. It wanted to make out a will, in case it died during the journey! The voice asked the maid to ask Francois Tornus' father to act as solicitor, and made a great show of describing the various legacies it would leave to everyone present. When the entity became bored with this particular game, it turned to impersonations. The voice now claimed to be the valet of the original entity, who was now in Chambery. This "new" spirit laughed at the efforts of those present to find the source of its voice, and, like its previous incarnation, addressed various mocking remarks to the company. It then offered to leave if they would just give it something--anything at all.
"I wouldn't give you my nail clippings," Perreaud snorted.
"You're not very charitable," the voice replied.
All the visitor needed was a rimshot to be a demonic Don Rickles.
At this point, the story took an unexpected twist. Perreaud wrote that he had learned that at this time there was "a spirit" haunting the home of Chambery's premier president, Monsieur Favre. The Chambery-voice told Favre that he was from Mâcon, revealed private details about the president's family, sang ribald songs, and generally made the usual spectral nuisance of himself.
As if all this wasn't weird enough, the Mâcon entity turned positively Mephistophelean. Perreaud wrote, "It then thought up another trick, to tempt us through greed for money--this is why the Devil is called Mammon--by saying there were 6,000 ecus concealed in the house, and that if one of us would be willing to come with it and follow it, he would be shown where they were hidden." Perreaud piously assured his readers that he did not fall for this devilish bait, and would not let anyone else do so, either.
The entity tried its hand at conjuring tricks, rather like a music-hall act who realizes he's bombing. It offered to make itself visible in any form its audience wanted, human or animal. Perreaud griped that they had no wish to see the spirit, and did not want to hear any more from it, either.
This rude retort led to a vigorous slanging match between the two. Perreaud told the spirit it was cursed and destined for Hell. The voice pettishly said that when Perreaud went to bed that evening, it would pull off his blanket and drag him out of bed by his feet. Perreaud responded with a verse from Psalm 3--"I shall lie down and go to sleep, for the Everlasting sustains me." After exchanging a few more insults with Perreaud, the entity turned its attack to a friend of Perreaud's who was present, calling him a "stinking goat" and "hypocrite." "You pretend to be a brave man here, bringing your sword with you this evening. But are you bold enough to come here without a light? Then we'll see which of the two of us is the braver."
Weary of the squabbling, the entity tried its hand at telling the future. It predicted a persecution of French Protestants. It told Perreaud that his pregnant wife would give birth to a daughter. As for Perreaud himself, well, he'd be dead in three years. [Note: Perreaud lived forty more years.] In yet another instant mood change, the spirit grew wistful. It admitted that the prayers of everyone in the house prevented it from gaining control over them. On November 25, the spirit laughed and declared, "Ha, ha, I shan't speak any more!"
The spirit was true to its word. From that time on, it was silent. However, if the Perreaud family thought this was the end of the haunting, they were in for a very nasty surprise. The physical manifestations continued, on an even more annoying scale.
The family maid was a favorite target of abuse. The spirit would snatch candles from her hand, hang her clothes on top of bedposts, tie ropes on her bed which proved impossible for human hands to unknot. The entity was fond of childish practical jokes such as entangling the laces from Perreaud's boots into machinery used to wind thread, or knotting the thread itself so it was unusable. One day, Perreaud went to his bedroom, where he found all the bedding strewn over the floor. The maid redid the bed in his presence. However, the minute she had finished, invisible hands threw the bedding back on the floor. Books in Perreaud's study would be tossed to the ground. The spirit tied knots in the mane and tail of Perreaud's horse, and turned the animal's saddle back to front.
The bedroom of Perreaud and his wife was the chief focus of the entity's unwelcome attentions. At night, the spirit would disturb their sleep by whistling and making rapping sounds. Shoes would be hurled around the room. Perreaud wrote of one typical night when "Scarce was I in my bed, but I heard a great noise from the kitchen, as the rolling of a billet throwne with great strength. I heard also a knocking against a partition of wainscot in the same kitchen, sometimes as with the point of the finger, sometimes as with the nailes, sometimes as with the fist, and then the blowes did redouble. Many things also were throwne against the wainscot, as plates, trenchers, and ladels, and a musique was made with the brasse cullender, gingling with some buckles that were at it and with some other instruments of the kitchen."
The spirit was fond of making various noises. One day as Perreaud sat reading in his study, the entity harassed him by imitating the sound of "a great voly of shot." Sometimes it would replicate the sound of hemp makers, at others the ringing of iron bells. The latter noise could be heard not just inside the house, but all over Macon.
For a while, this remarkably busy poltergeist targeted a friend of Perreaud's, Abraham Lullier. It would hide items in Lullier's home, and once the household had wearied themselves with vain searches, magically replace the things in their original location. Sometimes, these items would just fall out of thin air. One night, Lullier and one Claude Repay, were walking down a street when they saw a woman spinning on a street corner, illuminated "by the moon shine." When the men approached the figure, she suddenly vanished.
The spirit's final major manifestation was its most physically violent one. The "demon" took to throwing stones, often as heavy as two or three pounds. This would go on for ten or twelve hours at a time. One day, Francois Tornus was at the Perreaud home. He whistled, in an effort to see if the spirit was present. The entity whistled back and threw a stone at him. Tornus, out of curiosity, drew a mark on the stone and threw it outside. The entity instantly threw the same stone back in. When Tornus tried to pick it up, he found it was hot. Of course it was hot, Perreaud wrote. "It had just come from Hell."
Thankfully, this entity appeared to have a short attention span. It grew bored with Perreaud, like a mischievous cat who eventually tires of tormenting a mouse. It disappeared for good on December 22.
Well, perhaps it disappeared for good. The next day, a large snake was seen coming out of Perreaud's house. Some neighbors picked it up with tongs and paraded it through town, crowing, "Here's the devil which came out of the minister's house!" The snake was identified as a viper, a highly unusual sight in that area.
And thus the Devil left Mâcon.