Joan of Arc – Auger Witch or insane heretic?

The woman who would go down in history as “the Maid of Orleans” was born in France in January of 1412.  Her mother had a very difficult pregnancy and delivery, barely surviving the experience.  She had been terribly sick during the pregnancy and her husband feared that should would not survive.  He brought in a local midwife, who happened to be a highly skilled, if not very powerful, Earth witch.  The woman assisted in the delivery, and brought mother and baby daughter through in the best condition that could be expected. She spoke to Monsieur d’Arc and casually commented on the fact that if there were more Earth witches in the area, the delivery could have been much better, and lamented on the fact that so many of the local witches had died in recent years, falling to odd fevers.

Though the family did not learn of it for some time, the midwife herself died only a few weeks later. Her family feared she had contracted the Black Fever, as it was still known to exist in some isolated areas. The Black Fever, however, should not have caused her to lose control of her witchery as she did. Her death was mourned by the community she had served, but then passed off as simply one of the tragedies of life.

When she was twelve years old, Joan had her first vision of a divine being.  At least, that is how she explained the experience, referring to the entity as Saint Catherine of Alexandria.  Over the course of a very short period of time, she added many other names to the ones she saw, including “Saint Michael the Archangel”, “Angel Gabriel”, and “hosts of heavenly angels”.

Given that there was no significant history of witchery in their family, and that the girl had no familiar – which was known to be the single most indicative sign that one was a witch – no one suspected that Joan’s “visions” might be anything other than what she claimed them to be.  The era was rife with religious fervor, and for a virgin maiden to see heavenly personages was not removed from the worldview of the people around her.  The facts that she claimed to see a bright light just before the appearance of the visions, and that the ringing of bells often triggered such visions added to the perceived sanctity of her visions.

One of the most significant factors in Joan’s visions was that on at least two occasions – so stated in Royal Decree – other people saw the angels in her presence.  This surely, said the common wisdom of the time, proved that the child had commerce with the heavens.

Modern scholars of witchery claim that Joan had Talent as an Auger.  Not only is this one of the rarest of witch Talents, but it occurs most frequently in certain geographic areas, and France is not one of those. As no one at the time believed Joan to be a witch, she and those of her acquaintance quite simply believed her to be in communion with Heaven.

During the years of Joan’s early adulthood, war raged and grew between France and England. While this war was far from new, it reached some of its greatest ferocity during this time. Joan claimed that the angels and saints of her visions had instructed her to “go to France” making it clear that what was meant was the original royal domain of the nation.  Always before, the only advice the angels had given her was that she should be a good and pious woman, but now they began stating that God supported the claim that Charles was the rightful heir to the throne and that the English claim to France was unsupported by the divine. They began to instruct Joan in the ways of war and politics. Finally, they instructed her to seek an escort to the royal court.

Being, as she saw the matter, a pious woman of true faith, Joan followed the instructions. Some historians would later that say that this was the step that would eventually spell doom for the Maid of Orleans. Being told by one of her “visions” that “only men may command in battle, you must become a man,” Joan began to dress as a man and to exhibit male mannerisms.

After many days of travel, Joan arrived at her destination and was escorted in to see King Charles. She immediately began speaking to the king of his own personal concerns, and prayers he had made to God. During her time with His Majesty, she was reported to be looking over his shoulder or to one side, as if listening to someone other than the king. It is now believed, of course, that she was listening to instructions and information from a variety of spirits, including those who would have been in the king’s presence during his prayers and could have conveyed such knowledge to the girl.

To test Joan’s orthodoxy and to see if she were truly blessed by God or a raving heretic, the girl was taken to the city of Poitiers, where refugee professors for the University of France tested her knowledge of theology for three weeks. During all their questioning, she answered everything they asked with precision and a vocabulary and understanding not expected of a barely-educated farm-girl. As when she spoke to the king, Joan only rarely made eye contact with any of these learned men, always looking over, behind, or to the side of them. In their ignorance of what she was doing – an ignorance many now believe she shared – they thought her to be humble, shy, and respectful to those of higher station.

As Joan went about reforming the French army, the force of her personality and the sheer vibrant charisma of all she did brought her a reputation as being a “living saint”. Despite the humility she had previously attempted to convey, she began to embrace the title. While never stating that she was, indeed, a saint, at no time did she deny the term nor ask that it not be used. Anecdotes from that time state that she had begun to act as if she were not even part of the group she grew to command, but distant from them in some way.

Not long after this, Joan’s behavior began to arouse suspicion in those around her. In the claim that would be seen as the moment that led to her eventual downfall, she stated that she and some other virgins had gathered in the local church and prayed over a dead infant so the child could live again long enough to be baptized. The doubt over her claim came with her statement that the child had indeed returned to life but died again almost immediately after being baptized. Only those women who were with her, of course, could testify to the event, and their statements of what had happened were far from in accord with one another.

After this event, her troops began to view Joan with more fear than respect. While always a figure of awe and divine majesty to them, Joan’s open claims to supernatural power of her own – literally the power to raise the dead – had turned her into a figure of fear and dread.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their fear of her, Joan’s troops rallied and fought like no soldiers had fought before. They brought victory to France, and led to the coronation of Charles.

The beginning for France was the beginning of the end for Joan. Overconfidence inspired by the almost non-stop promptings and speech of the various angels and saints led Joan into courses of actions that soon brought her to being injured in battle and captured by the English forces.

The charge brought against Joan was heresy, which while religious in nature was still seen as a legal violation. Joan’s apparent piety touched the hearts of the judges, and she was sentenced to prison after having recanted her heresy as the overly enthusiastic actions of a deluded and hysterical maiden. One of the strictest conditions of her sentence was that under no circumstances was she to ever again dress and/or act as a man. She agreed to this.

Very shortly afterward, Joan’s brothers arranged to break her from prison. This plan was dictated by several of Joan’s unseen advisors, who insisted that her work needed to continue and she could only do the holy deeds required if she were free from prison. By this time, her own will had been completely eroded by the incessant prompting of the various beings, and she immediately complied, forcing her brothers to make plans as instructed. Part of the plan was to have her dress as a man again so she could walk out with them. This plan, needless to say, did not succeed. Joan was arrested again, and this time the charge placed against her was “relapsed heretic”. Once convicted, there was no option other than a death sentence.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.

In 1920, an investigation by the Catholic Church found that the region of Joan’s birth was still infested with pockets of contagion of the Black Plague. By that time, it was also known that the Hexern virus had been riding many strains of the Black Plague and had brought about the death of many witches. Scholars now believe that Joan was a witch with the Talent of the Auger, the ability to pierce the barriers between worlds and to call spirits into the mortal realm. How could this have gone unknown, since witchery was well-known then? If the child were infected while still in the womb – the mother was very sick – the virus would have been situated to manifest when the baby’s witchery came forth. No familiar would have ever bonded with the girl, as no familiar would have allowed himself to be bound to a witch who was already sickened with an illness that would claim his life as well.

Further, the beings Joan saw and spoke to are exactly the sort that were most often called up by the few Augers of European lineage at that time. Almost all such workings were done in a religious context, for fear that the power of man would be insufficient to deal with such beings and that the blessings of God was required.

Was Joan of Arc really a witch who fell victim to insanity brought on by the Hexern illness? Was her loss of will truly the result of unending spiritual visitations or merely the last stages of a fatal illness? Sadly, while history and science now indicate that this was indeed the case, no firm answer will ever be found.

Sid says:  Oh, wow. Joan of Arc/Jeanne d’Arc has always been a favorite legendary/historical figure of mine (along with Pope Joan), and I actually think I like PCEarth Jeanne even better! This is an amazing piece of PCEarth history, along with some significant insights into the effects and the reach of the Hexic demon. Our world grows ever more complex, deeper and richer with every blog post, short story, and discussion.

Mickie says:  So many possibilities and as much of a mystery as the Joan of Arc of our world!  We’ve been working to build the history of Perfect Coven Earth, tying it to our history’s famous events and personages, but making sure the magic of PC Earth is alive and believable.  Writing these stories and histories and giving them a supernatural or magical twist helps us define this world we’ve created and understand it better.  It’s also a nice reference library for building new characters.