Naļa, the witch from Rochefort en Terre
Many people are shown on postcards, but most of the time, the description is too short to really learn something interesting about their life. Their name and sometimes what they make them famous may be mentioned. The book written by Charles Géniaux helps to know more about some characters shown on the series CMCB in Brittany. Naļa the witch is one of them...
Witchcraft in Brittany
"Naļa, the witch"
a story by Charles Géniaux
I was arrived a few days before in Rochefort en Terre, a charming city located in Morbihan. At the hotel Lecadre, in the dining room decorated by painters like Joubert, Grolleron , Bloch, Stevens, we were speaking about Brittany, traditions, local belief and superstitions, miracles et magic spell.
"There is a real witch in our city" said the owner of the Hotel...
- You are kidding, madam?
- I am very serious, she answered, and I would even tell you that I do believe in her magic power. She is named Naļa. Although I am myself 50 years old, I have always known her as an old woman! As I was a young girl, she told me everything that ever happened in my life.
- Oh! Mrs. Lecadre, are you sure of that?
- We will go and see her to be told our future, said the artists present in the room.
Some American and English tourists were ready to leave the hotel for a long trip to go there right now and meet the mysterious Naļa.
"It's useless, answered Mrs. Lecadre, the witch leaves half a mile from here.
- Which street? What number?
- It is not really a house...
- in a castle, isn't it?
- Exactly, in a castle! More precisely in the ruins of the Castle of Rieux."
Everybody knows in the region this famous castle settled on the hill of Rochefort en Terre.
Further to this discussion, everybody tried to find Naļa, but according to the farmers, she was no longer in the region. However they said that she would come back .
A couple of weeks later, the witch was no longer the favorite subject to discuss at the hotel. Then I started to investigate, considering that this story was really an interesting subject.
By going here and there, asking one and the other, step by step, this is what I was told:
"Among the very old people, everybody would have told a similar story: as they wer young, they all met the witch and were all fascinated by her stories and magic tales. She had always been a familiar figure of the region, always dressed with the same black dress, not new, nor old, always walking the same singular way, she had in a few words always looked the same. Even her face would have not change. Therefore, many people were believe that she was immortal.
with the local dialect & accent, they explained :
"This woman is not made like us, there is evil in her, and even before the standing stones were erected in Britanny, she was already limping just the way she is now.
Everybody would tell you that this strange woman would never eat and drink, and the had never seen entering a shop to buy food or drink, as normal people do.
At last, and this is really diabolic, a family from Rochefort told me that she was seen the same day in two different places, very far, by two brothers. The first one met the witch in Malensac, nearby the old slate quarry, and the second at the market of Malensac, and she had even called the second to tell him:
"Hep! I can see your brother, back from Rennes; I can see him in Malensac, tonight you will meet in Rochefort."
" I assured her that she was rambling on, I did not expect my brother to be back so soon."
It has to be noted that this strange woman is really a phenomenon. She must be very very careful when traveling. Nobody never met her on the roads or in the fields. And although most farmers would go to the castle to meet her, nobody would accept to travel with her or receive her at home, by superstition.
An other farmer told me his story with the witch:
"as I tell you sir, you know, I had a problem with a very small land. I went to the vicar for advice. "I do not care with this" he said. Then I went to the the witch. As soon as she saw me she said:
"Hello, John of the crime"
"I was about to fight, as I do not like this name people of the village call me, then she said:"
"Hello, John of the religion", she said again, this is an other name people are used to call me.
"My real name is John Élain!" I answered.
"Seat here, guy, and tell me your problem"
"As I was telling my story, my tong was entering inside with what I could see. First, she maid a fire with such fume that I was sneezing all the time and my eyes were terribly scratchy. Then she throw some herbs in the fire from her apron's pockets, and the fire started to speak. You can believe me, sir, fire was crying as a bird's nest. Naļa took the red charcoal in her hand as bunch. I could not say anything"
"Carry on, Élain; I'm listening to you" she told me.
"Then I heard my dead wife, I could recognize her her voice"
"Come to me" she said
"Hope a while" I said, I am in occupation with madam"
"Then, Naļa ground her teeth and crushed charcoal in her hand."
"Help!, Help!" I cried frightened,
"Shut-up, farmer, and hear my voice" she replied
""Then she started to explain some scheme that a crafty lawyer man would have been lost but with her help, I finally won my trial..."
I thought it was my duty to publish the tell of the poor Élain; it gives a good idea of how the witch is receiving and helping the local farmers. As a summary, she is playing with fire to convince easy influenced people, so called clients.
I decide to know more, but I had to get more close to the witch, which was not easy, as she hated "sirs" and skeptical people. Obviously, she preferred to deal directly with naive farmers.
One day, I was waken-up early by a local young boy I had promised to give a few money if he could bring me to the witch:
"Sir, Sir, hurry-up, Wake-up, or I will loose what you promised...The witch is there, I know, because I saw her fume from the stone last night..., I am sure it came from her, she is back. Each time she is there, she is lighting a fire in the old castle."
"So, according to you, young boy, the witch would know the underpass leading to the castle, and she would leave there?"
A few minutes later, we were climbing the stairs four at a time up to the top of the old castle's hill. The weather was nice, and dewdrops could still be seen on the grass. Then, we started to slow down as we were arrived at the main entrance gate of the castle. At this moment, I realized that I was no longer followed by my young fellow, when I heard a voice telling me:
"Good morning, son! I was waiting for you. Sit down on this stone and let's discuss."
In a first step, I was astonished.
Naļa was seating at the entrance of a niche with ivy. She had a big wood stick in her hand.
"Ah! Ah! Son, you wanted to meet the witch!"
I explained her that I did want to meet her.
"I see, she said, you come to laugh later with your friends..."
I told her that I was a writer and I had like to take some picture of her.
"No, not today; I do not want"
After a while she added:
"So you want to tell my story in the newspaper and you will draw my face? Tell them that I am not so stupid. I am really powerful, and Gnāmi is more powerful than the Death.
- Gnāmi ! Who is this Gnāmi?
- He is the One who can. He is the One who wants. He is the One that nobody can see!"
As she was speaking, I was paying attention to her face and every detail of her body. It seemed to me that the was a strong woman, approximately 60 years old. Her features and her wrinkled forehead could have been the one of a centenarian. However, her strong arms were not the one of such aged women. I could never forget the eyes of this strange woman used to cast a spell.
They were big and white like milk. It could have seem that she was blind, but obviously, despite this fog on her eyes, she was able to see every single detail and even far. Her hair was black and long. She was dressed with a large and clean romantic style shawl and a wool dress. For somebody who is supposed to live in the stones and dirt, she was surprisingly well dressed.
"If you are so powerful, you must be very rich?"
Sententiously, she replied:
"The one can can everything does not need anything."
Then, she decided that the time was over. As she stood up to leave, she confirmed the appointment for the pictures I wanted to take..
The week after, on the day previously agreed, I went back to the castle with my camera. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and I was sorry that it would not be possible to take shots with such conditions. Suddenly, the sun came back, when I heard a laugh and the following words:
"Son! Son! I foretold your presence, and here I am!"
I got speechless with surprise, when Naļa appeared on the right, her hands up, in the frightening posture of an evocation. She was amused with my stupefaction. Finally, I had the idea to take a photograph of this scene. She was laughing, and with enthousiasm, she added:
"As you see, I am not nasty. Promise me to mention it when you speak about me. Ah! Ah! Come with me to visit what they call Naļa's kitchen. Over there, can you see the old chimney of the castle? Well, these stupid people pretend that I prepare my food there, whereas I do not even eat anything.
-Never, really, are you sure? I asked
-What for? she retorted . Do angels need to eat? We do not need also!"
She authorized me to take some pictures in the area, and I noted that it seemed to give her some pleasure. Then when to the niche where I met her the first time and we sat. I got convinced that she was an intelligent and educated woman; This witch was also used to read the newspaper, and her words were of good sense. After a while, the discussion flagged. I wrote a few words on my notebook, when I heard two voices which seemed to come in our direction. I took a look; the voices were getting closer. But the mysterious visitors seemed to keep hidden behind the small wall. I stood-up to try to see more and went to see behind the wall: there was nobody. The witch was sleeping, her mouth closed. Despite my surprise, I kept writing on my notebook, when my named was pronounced loudly and behind me three times. It seemed that the voice was coming from the trees surrounding the castle. Then I watched carefully to Naļa, who was steel sleeping innocently. I moved her to wake her up and I told her the story. Her face kept impassive and she concluded:
"You dreamt, son!"
"Then, I pressed her to tell me something about her horoscopes. She took my hand, and with her words, told me about people dressed in black and white...My good will helped to recognize there the images of a trip to Algeria a few months ago. And I asked her to make the fire test with me.
No, she did not want. This was only for the initiates.
As I was insisting, I put fired matches in her hand. I can swear that her skin was completely insensitive to the fire. She was able to keep red embers in her hand and let them burn in her palm. She did that several time so that she had a small fire in her hand, with no special mark but the black of the charcoal.
"Oh! Do not imagine to see me fail! She said mischievously, and I could tell you more about your personal and secret love affairs. You could not imagine how many gallants come here to be loved; and also the girls, maids, or cowherds who all hope to marry the son of their boss to become a lady and owner of the house. Look at this nice girl coming from the farm of Rieux, she is a friend of mine. Jeanie is to marry the son of a man from the city. I promised her and she will be a lady.
"Jeanie! Jeanie! " she shouted, she greeted me timidly and accepted to answer a few questions. Then she was told the fortune by Naļa. Both of them did not move so that I could take a picture of this meeing.
A few days later, by chance, I met the doctor H*** from Questembert. This kind and clever man had already studied the case of this witch, considered dangerous according to him.
"She was born in Malensac. Her father was a bonesetter, a charlatan who treats the farmers. Naļa was intelligent, and was quite highly educated. Her insensitivity to the fire comes from an old trick known by all magicians: the use of an insulated layer protecting the skin. I do believe also that she is a skilled ventriloquist. The voice you thing you heard when coming from her stomach. In the country, we doctors, try to fight this kind of shrews; they kill many of the sick persons by persuasion. Let me tell you a personal anecdote. I was treating an old man, still strong for his age; He could still have leaved many years. Unfortunately, the poor guy had a bad nephew who paid Naļa to appear in the night.
"You are bound to die on next Palm Sunday, when the bells ring for the third time after the mass" she predicted.
"It was awful. I did try to treat him with the best medicines, but with no result. The poor old man was suffering with his stress and he was shouting:
"I do not want to die, doctor!"
"Do not worry, you will not die" I assured
"But minute after minute, the old man was feeling worse and worse, and I could not find any reason or treatment for this extraordinary case. The old man was getting weaker, due to this monstrous hallucination. Then the bells rang for the first time and he grabbed my neck, so that he could have strangle me:
"For pity's sake!" he said, "I do not want to die, please help, help!"
"I tried to convince him that he would leave many more years, and that I was sure of that!"
"Then, the bells rang for the second time, and he released his grip on me, and when the third time came, le poor fellow was dead; his eyes were so widely open with the evil visions he had, that it was hard for me to close his eyes."
After this discussion, I realized that Naļa had also an evil and malicious face.
Now, back to Paris, I thought it would be interesting to draw the portrait of this strange witch, among the last in Brittany. This is why I have decided to write this lines, as a memory of my trip.
To know more about the legends of Brittany:
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