Thursday, 29 December 2011


Readers residing in or visiting Switzerland, may wish to go to Chateau Chillon, famous for its literary connections, to attend the exhibition Witch-hunting in the Pays de Vaud, from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

'The Pays de Vaud was the site of major witch-hunts between the 15th and the 17th centuries. During this period, there were more than 2'000 death sentences!

On a larger scale, Switzerland within the current borders if the time holds not only the record for the longest-lasting repression of witchcraft but also for the largest number of people persecuted fro this crime, in relation to the population. In almost three centuries, 5,000 people were accused and 3,500 of them were put to death, mainly by fire, with 60 - 70% being women.

Chillon Castle was an important detention centre for individuals suspected of witchcraft, either when awaiting trail or carrying out their sentence. During the term of the Bernese bailiff, Nicolas de Watteville, from 1595 to 1601, some forty-odd people were executed at Chillon, La Tour-de-Peilz and Vevey. And 27 more in 1613! Their Excellencies of Bern noted «with regret and sadness» «the extent to which the negation of God and submission to the evil spirit was growing among our subjects in the Romand (French-speaking) country».

Given these facts, the renowned Vaudois fortress is an apt location for this exhibition. Based on documents primarily related to Chillon, then to the region (Riviera-Vaud-Western Switzerland), the exhibition highlights this little known facet of Vaudois history.

The purpose of the museography and the catalogue is not to make people shudder – although shudder one does when contemplating the terrible suffering the poor souls had to undergo. Through texts and images, the exhibition illustrates a portrait of simple madness, madness that at times leads to making pacts with the Devil and, on the other side of the coin, the madness of the inquisitors who could consider a hollow tooth housing for an impure spirit!'

Accompanying the exhibition, a series of films is screened by the Swiss cinemateque Sorciers and sorcières au cinéma, which includes several well-known films somehow related to the subject, even featuring Mario Bava's vampire film, La Maschera del Demonio.

Not included is Otakar Vávra's Czech Kladivo na carodejnice from 1970. Known in English as The Witches' Hammer and in German as Hexenjagd, it is the interesting and at the same time unpleasant story of the witch hunter Heinrich Franz Boblig's infamous persecution of supposed witches in Groß-Ullersdorf (Velké Losiny) in Northern Moravia in the 1680's. Worth watching in its own right, and no doubt the persecution resembles the paranoia people may have experienced on that side of the Iron Curtain, the film is also interesting because it is set in the vicinity of the areas where incidents of magia posthuma were encountered (and only a few years before von Schertz published his book on the subject). So you may imagine that some of the persons involved may at other times have heard of or dealt with corpses suspected of harming the living...

The film is available on DVD in Germany and in the USA, but it can currently be watched in toto on youtube with English subtitles.

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