Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Inquisition: Burning at the Stake

While my role in purifying our church from the influence and evil of witches and heretics has been limited to persuasion and retribution, I have been present to see many executions of the condemned. Such executions can be swift and merciful, but traditionally, executions are an agonizing public display and warning to others. The most common form of execution for condemned witches, and sometimes heretics, is burning at the stake.

Such was the case with a young woman arrested for witchery in Avignon. Marie Roget was accused by her neighbor of cavorting with demons, and using their power to sour her milk, destroy her garden and seduce the man that was courting her. Marie was arrested and held for two days prior to her examination by the magistrate. There was significant evidence that she was a witch, as she had clearly had sexual intercourse with a demon, such were her private parts torn and bleeding.

We examined her naked body for further signs of the devil, and found it. She was hung by her wrists to provide us access to her bare flesh in all places, however private, and we examined her body in great detail with an examining probe (a sharp iron knife capable of pricking the flesh easily). A brown mark, the mark of satan, was found on her inner thigh. This mark was numb, as proven when we plunged the sharp examining probe into her flesh. Thus equipped with confirmation of her witchery, she was condemned to the rack to extract a confession.

During the examination, Marie Roget attempted to deceive us by offering to confess to whatever we wished. No such confession can be admitted, as only a true confession of true crimes can be accepted. It is well known that witches will not truly confess without the use of torture which breaks their will and dedication to their demon masters, and lets the truth pour out in a torrent which purges the soul.

An interesting observation of how the rack effects the body of the victim; in virtually every other form of restraint or torture, the victim has some freedom of movement. They may be tied, chained or otherwise restrained, but there is always room for them to struggle, wriggle, strain and pull against their bonds, as the pain is applied. But with the rack, the extreme pressures on the limbs and body creates a form of peaceful stillness on the body.

Marie hovered in the rack, several inches above the table as her limbs were stretched beyond their capacity to withstand. Even when her joints slowly gave way to the unrelenting pull and separated, there was almost no movement in her body. Her head, yes... it struggled and moved from side to side, face showing the agony she was enduring. But no other part of her body moved even a half inch.

Placing my hand on her body, starting with her shoulders (which were by then torn asunder), I remember stroking her chest, breasts, ribs, stomach, and down to her hips, feeling her naked flesh stretched taught and unmoving under my hand. I marveled at the beauty of the rack, and how it inevitably brought such heretics to confess, unburden their souls, and renounce their evil.

Marie's execution was set for Saturday. I ordered that she be pulled out of the hole into which she had been flung in the prison dungeon. She would have died there within a day, and she needed to survive and be strong so she would not immediately succumb to the smoke and flames. She was placed in a warm cell and given food, water, and other simple items to help her recover, in anticipation of her execution several days hence.

The day came, and I decided to attend the execution. The ritual was to include more than one witch. Two others had been convicted and were to be burned that day.

The execution place was a large square in the center of the town, in front of the castle. It was ideal because of its size and central location. Most people do not realize that the human body does not catch fire, or keep burning easily at all. In fact, the human body does not burn at all; the process of burning a witch is actually more the act of applying intense heat and flames to the body to roast and burn the flesh. This takes a large quantity of wood, stacked high and packed well so that the flames are large, hot and cover the witch completely. Too little fuel and the witch's body is burned in some locations but the flames recede before the job is done. The witch continues to live in agony from her burned flesh for some time unless she has her head cut off or is hanged.

Three wood stakes, with three wooden ladders to hold the witch above the fuel and flames. Wood had been gathered and stored to the side of the square, in readiness. Crowds from the town were arriving to see the spectacle. As a visiting dignitary I was able to procure a seat in the front of the crowds, where all could be seen easily.

When Marie was brought in, she was still naked. Her clothes had long since been torn into rags, and used elsewhere in the prison. Her skin showed only minor scratches from being held in the prison, but there was much bruising and redness about her joints, the lingering effects her ordeal on the rack. She was completely unable to walk, though it appeared she had some movement in her arms. As with many witches about to be purified in the flames, she declared her innocence loudly as she was pulled toward the pire.

A heavy rope went around her waist, her arms tied above her, and she was attached to the rough wooden ladder that would hold her in place while she was burned alive. Her well shaped body hung from the ladder, legs dangling uselessly, ropes digging cruelly into her abdomen.

The crowd cheered as the ladder was moved into place - her naked form hanging above the heads of the crowd.

She was quiet, calm, almost accepting. I had seen this before, once a witch had been put through the trials they realize that they have been discovered and that there is no life left for them, they actually desire an end to their ordeal.

Bales of sticks were piled below her, in a circle. The bales were tied with twine, about two or three feet across. The sticks were no thicker than a finger or thumb. This was the inner core of the pire which would catch fire best and easiest, and would give life to the larger bundles of wood that were brought out to lay on top.

There were about 20 large bundles of wood placed below Marie. She hung naked above the activity, hardly noticing the wood being stacked below her. The pile of wood, when completed, was perhaps 5 feet high and 7 or 8 feet across.

A slight breeze rippled across the square, and blew the Marie's long hair slightly. The crowd was waiting now, anticipating, watching, observing her every reaction. She was sweating in the direct sunlight, her beautiful body slightly shiny from the moisture. Her bare breasts rose and feel in a slight jerks, as she appeared to be sobbing quietly to herself.

The prison master came forward with a torch, stood at the edge of the wood pire and looked at the condemned for a moment. With a single swift movement, he pitched the torch into the wood, where it lodged and slipped down. A small wisp of smoke curled up where the first sticks began to catch flame, and there was a collective murmur from the crowd as the execution began.

It took a few minutes for the flames to catch, during which Marie simply hung from her bonds, not reacting at all. Once the inner pile of sticks caught flame, smoke began rising and evoked a coughing fit. A ripple of heat could be seen rising, distorting the image of the smoke and her naked body as the flames from the kindling caught on for earnest.

Her naked body began to writhe at last, as the heat from below rose and enveloped her. She was sweating profusely, water trickling down all corners and surfaces of her body. Her breathing was rapid, and low moans were emitted from her lips. She struggled instinctively, the increasing heat demanding that she at least attempt to free herself. Her lower body could not move, paralyzed from the rack, but her arms pulled and shoulders yanked in attempt to free herself.

The flames from the kindling were not sufficient to reach her body. If that were all that was below her, she would roast to death in time, but the kindling was there to light the main bundles of wood. For about five minutes, she writhed and called out, crying for mercy as the heat began cooking her flesh. Her skin took on an angry red color, reflecting the tremendous increasing heat which rose from below.

At last the main piles of wood began to flame. This wood burned hotter, and higher. It also did not create as much smoke. I have seen witch burnings were the victim died of suffocation from the smoke long before the flames reached the body. This wood was excellent to the purpose. Marie's breasts heaved up and down as she breathed in the air desperately. The air might not have been filled with smoke, but it was very hot and her increasing cries and coughing were partially caused by her lungs cooking insider of her.

The flames licked her feet. Unable to move them, the struggles of her arms became frantic, as did her screams. She was screaming in earnest now, no longer pleading with words, which were beyond her. Simple animal panic emitted from her, long, agonized screams which alternated with shorter cries when the hot air seared the inside of her lungs. Her feet and lower legs appeared to be forming crackling blisters as the flames rose.

Once the larger wood caught flame, it was a short time before the flames reached up to envelop the victim's body. Her feet were blackened as the flames reached higher and covered her lower body. The flames reached up like fingers, running along her legs and hips, scorching the flesh, climbing up her body. Screams, such as they were, began to fail. Strength was leaving the witch, the purifying flames sucking life from her body in increasing increments. Her struggle had ceased by the time flames lapped at her breasts.

In a sudden whoosh, her hair caught fire, burning away in a matter of moments. A slight scream was heard at this, but she fell silent quickly after. The air was now so hot around her that breathing would no longer help her, as her lungs failed to function from the searing heat. Smoke from her flesh rose above the town square, and the smell of roasted witch filled the square.

Many citizens left the audience at this time, unable to watch the horror. I knew that this purification was necessary, expunging the evil within our midst could only be done in this way. And so I watched as her body blackened, her heaving chest ceased to move, and her flesh began to curl away from muscle and bone. The flames were so high now that little could be seen but a silhouette.

If Marie Roget was still alive at this point, 30 minutes into the burning, she was no longer a witch. Evil is consumed by fire, as her body was consumed. When the flames began to withdraw, the fuel below her consumed, her blackened body was once again visible. Emaciated, sagging, it sank down with the flames. Most of the flesh was burned away, with bone visible in many locations.

I did not stay to watch her remains taken down. It would take some time for the embers of the fire to recede and allow access to the center. In the meantime, the smoking corpse would remain as a reminder and warning to all who contemplated consorting with the devil.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marie: The Rack

Once again I awoke to the horrible heat, close air and hard ground of a basement cell of the prison. This time it was in the chamber to which I had been dragged, lighted with torches, larger than my cell.

There, off to the side of the room, was the simple wooden table that was designed to tear apart a human body. My human body. I lay on the ground, feeling the aches and pains of the abuse over the last few days and enjoying simply laying there. I was still naked, no clothes on my body whatever, but I was covered with a thin piece of cloth, like a threadbare blanket. Uneven rocks from the floor jabbed into my ribs and legs, but I lay perfectly still, staring at the rack before me.

I became aware of someone in the room with me. It was the tall thin man with a black robe I had seen in the examination room, the one that had consigned me to the dungeon for torture. He was quietly sitting in the corner, looking at me. I saw the slight shine of reflection in his eyes, though otherwise he did not move.

My leg made a clanking noise as I rose up; the chains on my legs were heavy but not attached to the wall. I had not been as free to move as this since I had been arrested. As I sat up, the dark man also rose and brought me a cup, offering it to me. An overwhelming thirst took hold of me, and I drank the water the cup contained, in one quick draught. The man filled the cup from a barrel of water and brought it to me again; and repeated this until I was completely filled and needed no more.

I sat and looked at the man suspiciously. He was being kind, but I didn’t know why. He didn’t seem like a kind man; he was simply another jailer. Except there was something harder in him… more methodical and dedicated. He knew what he was doing, and did it with reason.

He brought me bread, which I ate quickly. After eating ravenously and filling my belly with bread, I drank more water. Finally, after eating and drinking my fill, weariness overcame me and I leaned against the wall and fell asleep.

I was awakened by the loud sound of the heavy wooden chamber door slamming shut, and a bolt sliding into place. The dark man and a fat jailer stood before me, reached down and lifted me off the ground. I stood, stronger than I had been in some time. They led me to the wooden table, the rack, and forced me to my knees.

“Kiss the instrument of your salvation,” commanded the man in black.

My face was shoved against the rough wood, and I kissed it.

When released from this awkward ritual, I looked up and asked “Why have you been kind to me? Why have you fed me, and allowed me rest? Am I not condemned to suffer add die?”

“Yes… you are condemned. But we are here to save your soul, and only by obtaining your confession can we do that. These incompetant bastards,” (here he looked at the fat jailer, “have abused you so that you can’t even stand up to a simple interrogation. You needed strength, strength to endure the persuasion and cleansing power of the pain. Only by enduring this and allowing it to turn you and force the confession from you can you truly be free. You are strong enough now.”

In spite of the oppressive heat of that dungeon room, a chill ran through my body as he turned to the fat man and said, “let us begin.”

Having regained some strength, I tried to run for the door. I didn’t make it more than two feet before tripping on my irons and falling. Rough arms jerked me up, dragged me over to the table and threw me on top of it.

“Please, please, I will confess, to anything. Just tell me, I will confess, do not do this thing!!! I have seen that you are godly and that you have compassion for a fellow human, please allow me to confess and do not torture me!!!!” I pleaded, cried, struggling and writhing as the ropes were attached to my arms.

The fat man was tying my ankles to the bottom of the long table as the dark man explained, “No, a confession now would have no meaning. It would simply be lies, lies designed to free you. You must be submitted to the cleansing torture, broken, and only then can the confession be true and you shall be free.”

I lay on the table, my arms stretched above me, my legs pulled down to the end. I felt my nakedness quite strongly at that point, with my arms and legs pulled wide and exposing all of my body to the men that stood over me. Continuing to beg and cry for mercy, I offered the men all I could. What little gold I had, my small plot of land with a field. I even offered my body to them, to use as they pleased if they would just let me go. This seemed to enrage them, and it was at that point that they began turning the wheel.

At first, there was little discomfort. I could feel my body becoming taught, the slack being removed from it. The slight bend in my knees and elbows straightened followed by my hips and shoulders. I noticed the pain first as my back began to straighten – the back did not hurt, but the strain on my wrists, the ropes digging in began to really hurt. I continued crying out for mercy, doing my best to convince these men not to do what they were doing. They simply kept slowly turning the wheel…

The wheel turned very slowly, but its effects began to becom quite pronounced. My body was stretched to its limits, and actually began to rise up off the wooden table beneath. My hands and feet were numb, ankles and wrists in burning pain, and my muscles… this was new, and I had not realized at first what the pain of the rack would be.

My muscles were being pulled and stretched, and each small increase in pull was like a red hot iron being applied to my arms and legs. It was agony. It is impossible to describe, the searing pain that concentrated in my shoulders, my elbows, but ran like fire up and down my arms. My legs burned and ached, my hips straining and tearing.

I no longer felt the table, the only sensation was pain, the pain of my muscles being stretched and torn… my ribs were standing out of my flesh, my stomach depressed and thin as my body was pulled.

Struggling was useless, as the bondage was so tight I could not move, not even a tiny bit. I was stretched as taught as a rope on a sail distended by a heavy wind. My pleading for mercy ceased, and was replaced by sobs and screams.

The wheel turned again, and I began to realize that the agony I was suffering was just the beginning. The pain of burning muscles began to be overshadowed by the horror within my shoulders and hips. My screams subsided for a moment as I simply attempted to breathe. My head flopped back, hanging back as my body was several inches above the table. I could see my arms from this position, in a red haze of pain I saw the wheel turned and new searing pain flooded my body.

Gasping, panting, screaming when I could, the pain extended from my ankles to my wrists. I truly felt that I was on fire, that my body was burning as the wheel turned further. The sweat was rolling off my body in waves, the surface of my flesh shiny with the moisture that trickled and dripped onto the table below me. I wanted to die, I begged to die, but the men simply turned the wheel another notch.

I knew exactly when my left shoulder gave way. There was a pop, but it was the explosion of pain that extended into my chest that brought me close to losing consciousness. Without the bones holding me together, the ligaments and muscles were literally torn apart inside my flesh. And without the support of my left arm, my right shoulder popped out of its socket moments later.

My breathing was constricted, the muscles of my body stretched and unable to draw breath in, but I screamed in a short, hoarse wail that was all I could muster. My entire upper body was being torn, my limbs slowly being removed, internal bleeding had begun, breathing was almost impossible, I could think of nothing but the pain, I was nothing but a massive bundle of pain and agony… it occupied my mind, my body, my soul… I no longer wanted freedom, I simply desired death.

The two rapid fire pops, my hips were torn apart. I screamed, and screamed, and choked on my own sweat and saliva as I tried to scream again. The release in resistance when my shoulders and hips gave way was immediately made up by additional turns of the wheel. The screaming nerves in my joints were torn.

I could see the flesh of my arms, an angry red and purple around my shoulders, gray further up the arms. I can’t feel the ropes any more, my hands seem to be gone, with no feeling, even though I can see them balled into useless purple-black fists.

Then the unthinkable happens. The men leave. The door is opened, and then shut, and I am alone, in my own hell of agony. I can’t move, I can’t plead, I can do nothing but suffer in this position. My shoulders and hips were ripped from their sockets, and it felt like white hot irons had been inserted into my joints. The pain from my shoulders and hips was flooding my body, as the pull began exerting itself on my internal organs… the muscles in my chest were no longer effective in helping me breathe, and my stomach, my diaphragm could not draw the air in effectively. The pain ran through my sides like hot lead, poured over me, and my spine convulsed with every gasp of breath.

No movement. No respite. No change. Slowly increasing pain, as muscles and tendons gave way, sickness as I lost blood to internal bleeding.

I vomited. It was a weak vomit, my stomach muscles could do little except try to stay adhered to my bone. But bile rose and came out, flooding down over my cheek and into my hair and the table below. Afterward I simply gasped, concentrating on breathing.

After some time, a black spots formed before my eyes, the agony became to much for my conscious mind, and I slipped away into blackness.

A heavy splash of scalding hot water awakened me. The burning of the boiling water was horrible, though the pain was a small increment to the pain that gathered in my limbs and body. I gasped to consciousness, and immediately screamed. The two men had returned, and were about to turn the wheel again.

What more could be done to me? Any more pressure, any more torque, and my arms would simply tear away from my body, I was convinced.

The wheel turned, and pain exploded anew as my elbows dislocated. I actually saw them, with my head tipped back. One moment they were there, the next the bump of bone in my flesh elongated and slide into two lumps, separated by an angry red and purple hollow of flesh. In this hollow, I could literally see the screeching agony of torn flesh and cracked bone.

The men had spoken to me, and I had not been able to understand. The pain was too great. I could not remember why I was here, I could not think rationally, I could not even really understand what was happening. I simply knew that I was made of flesh and bone that was slowly being torn apart.

I confessed, I know that. Somewhere, sometime, I was able to breathe enough to squeeze out whatever words they wanted. Nothing stopped when I did, the confession continued, and the torture continued. My knees held for a while, but I don’t think I was aware enough to know, the pain encompassed my entire body.

There came the moment when something ripped inside me, inside my chest or stomach. My back gave way, a loud cracking sound accompanied by excrutiating pain that engulfed my entire lower body and made me vomit once again. I smelled urine and feces; my own I know, though I did not know when I lost any of my body control. Soon after my spine separated, I lost all feeling in my lower body. I thought for a moment that I had been torn apart, that my lower body was ripped away… but the ever increasing tearing torment of my upper body continued.

How long this agony continued, I don’t know. It seemed a lifetime. In reality, perhaps a day. I didn’t even realize when it stopped, the pain continued on its own. But I do remember being dragged down a tunnel and being cast, limp, into a small hole dug in the stone. A heavy wooden door closed on me and I lay, suffering, unmoving.

I didn’t sleep. No sleep could exist with my body torn apart as it was, with the pain screaming up and down. I could not move my limbs and I lay in the hole exactly as I had been dumped there. Consciousness departed me eventually, but it was not sleep.