La Voisin ( –1680)
La Voisin, the center of a black magic ring in the court of
King Louis XIV of France, was a fortune-teller in Paris in the
1670s. She was the nexus of an international business dealing
in poison that reached to Italy and Spain. Her given name was
Catherine Deshayes, her common appellation being derived
from the name of her late husband, M. Montvoisin. Before he
died, she bore him a daughter. La Voisin described her specialties
as chiromancy (palmistry) and physiognomy.
In January of 1673, the Paris police began an investigation
that grew out of the charges of several priests that some of the
people they had encountered in the confessional booth had
spoken to them of using poisons to deal with unfaithful (or unwanted)
spouses. The investigation led to the discovery of the
trade in poisons, the arrest of a number of dealers, and the discovery
of a large cache of their stock. It also led to a fortuneteller
named Marie Bosse who made the mistake of selling
some poison to an undercover police officer. Under intense
questioning, Bosse began to implicate members of the French
nobility. Based on her accusations, the king authorized a star
chambre court that was set in secret and from which there was
no appeal. After the star chambre was established, La Voisin
was among the first people detained. She was arrested as she
left church services one morning in March of 1679.
As the story was revealed, for some years La Voisin had been
a distributor of magical potions and poisons to a large clientele.
She had an extensive network of associates and had been able
to place young girls among the ladies-in-waiting at the royal
court. She handled a wide variety of problems, including the
abortion of unwanted fetuses. She also provided magical services
for women having love problems.
The most extreme service provided by La Voisin was the facilitating
contact with several priests who, for a fee, would perform
a black mass (the first mention of such occurrences for
which there is a substantial record). According to later testimoLaurel
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896
ny from Fr. Guibourg, one of La Voisin’s associates, no less a
personage than Mademoiselle des Oeillets, Louis’ mistress,
came to him to have a mass said for her to retain the king’s
favor. He also confessed to having killed several babies during
masses for another high-ranking lady. Also implicated in the
records was Madame de Montespan, a former mistress who appears
to have tried to poison the king and his current mistress.
Following her arrest and that of several associates, La Voisin
confessed to a variety of crimes, but to nothing that would have
earned her the death penalty. Her accusers focused upon a
number of illegal abortions she reputedly performed. After
being held a year, she was subjected to three days of intense torture
during which her legs were systematically crushed. Still she
did not confess. However, in the end she was condemned to
death and burned alive on February 22, 1680. At the time of
her death, her involvement in the black masses had not yet
been uncovered, but multiple accounts of these events, including
the testimony of her daughter, were later attained.
After many years of stories circulating throughout Europe
of witches, Satanists, and black masses, largely believed to have
been created by the imaginations of Inquisitors, the case of La
Voisin appears to have been the first real case of events that
began to conform to the rumors. It would, of course, not be the
last, though rumors of satanic activity continue to far exceed reliable
reports.
Sources
Rhodes, Henry Taylor Fowkes. The Satanic Mass. New York
Citadel Press, 1955.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.
New York Crown Publishers, 1970.