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Occult Auvergne: Witches and Fatsillères

I fancied that Auvergne was a country far, very far off, where strange things were to be seen, and where one could not travel but with great danger and under the safeguard of the Mother of God.

-François René de Chateaubriand

In many ways, Old Auvergne was the “Transylvania of France”, a realm that — like Dracula’s Carpathian abode — was located “beyond the forest” on the misty borderlands of Western Europe. Indeed, as nineteenth-century Auvergnat writer Camille Audigier highlighted, Auvergne was a land whose folk traditions were suffused with legends of revenants, werewolves, and magicians. Audigier was hardly the first person to discuss Auvergne’s occult geography; stories about regular witches’ sabbaths on the summit of the puy de Dôme had previously been reported in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet in his book Quelques coutumes et traditions de la Haute-Auvergne (1892), Audigier specifically described Auvergne’s witches as fatsillères. These “old women”, Audigier claimed, were said to be the remnant of “an ancient moon cult”.

The below is my translation of Audigier’s description of the fatsillères:

“The fatsillères were old women with a wonderful ointment. They would gather on Friday, in the middle of the night. Like the loup-garou [werewolf], they would rise while their husbands slept and, after coating their bodies with their wondrous ointment, mount on a broomstick to the Planèze cycle [a plateau in the Cantal mountains].

“The place of their meeting was always uncultivated; only the wild heather and thistles could remain. They danced in circles amidst the thistles, but anyone who went beyond the limits of the circle was immediately stricken with paralysis.

“At night, the fatsillères would turn into cats or dogs, smothering children in bed by falling asleep on their necks.

“One night, a farmer from Brezons [a village in Cantal] hit a white cat on the kidneys with a stick. The next day, having learned that the chatelaine was bedridden, he went to pay her a visit:

-“‘Oh you wicked man,’ said the chatelaine, ‘why did you hit me the day before yesterday?’

“‘It was you!’ cried the peasant. And, sorry to have beaten the great lady, he fled in horror.

“The belief in fatsillères is still very much alive on the borders of Aveyron [a region bordering Cantal]. It is said to be a remnant of the ancient moon cult, whose priestesses used to gather in the middle of a moor.”

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