Naia, the sorceress of The Old Castle

A postcard personality of the XXth century:
Naia, a Breton sorceress of The Old Castle, at Rochefort-en-Terre,
Morbihannais, in Brittany.


An interview with Naia, by Charles Géniaux, the sorceress of The Old Castle at Rochefort-en-Terre, a small town with a Middle Ages charm; in the morbihannais, populated by people of Brittany and the Bretons.

Naia is sitting in her niche, holding a big stick rail
– “Ah! Ah! my son! you wanted to see the sorceress!”

I explained my desire to interview her.
– “Yes, said-she in a low voice, you come to laugh at me later with the others!”

I protested, and I explained to her that I was a writer, and that I wanted to photograph her.
– “No, No, not today; I can’t.”

After a time, she went on to say
– “So, you will speak of me in the newspapers, and you will make a sketch of my face? Tell them also that I am not a silly old women, like the sleepwalkers in their cities. I have the power, me, and Gnami is stronger than death!”
– Gnami! Who is that Gnami you speak of?
– “He is The One Who Can, The One Who Wants, The One Who Does Not See!”
While she was speaking, I closely examined the sorceress. She seemed to be a strong women of sixty years. Her features, he wrinkled forehead, could have been of a hundred years, however her fleshy and solid hands belied the precocious aging of the top of the face. But I will never forget the eyes of this curious spell caster.

My notes indicate, they were white, big, haggard. I wrote white, I should say milky, obscure. I would of concluded Naia blind; but, by an inexplicable phenomena, this fog that masked her pupils did not prevent her at all from noticing details of things at a distance.

Her hair, still black, dropped abundantly down upon her shoulders. Her costume, of a romantic look, was composed of a very clean, enormous shawl and of a dress made of coarse wool. As this sorceress must have laid herself down to sleep in the stones or straw, I would badly guess wrongly her outfit, and to the contrary I found myself before an austere and correct lady.

You that have the omnipotence, said I, you must obviously possess fabulous riches?
She replied as if delivering a sentence: “He that can do everything has no need of anything.”

Upon saying that, she signified for me to leave, perfectly! as she got-up, but she made me a solemn promise to make herself available for the pictures that I wanted to get of her.

The following week, at the appointed time, I arrived at the chateu de Rieux. I heard a laughter and these words: “My son! my son! I guessed you were here, and I’m coming-out to meet you!”

The surprise rendered me speechless, when I saw, to my right, Naia. Her arms raised to the sky, in the posture of a scary invocation. She was amused at my bewilderment. I finally got the idea to snap a few pictures of this scene she offered me. This made her laugh, and with good humor she added: “As you can see, I am not a bad person. Promise me to say that when you will speak of me. Ah! Ah! Come and see what they called Naia’s cuisine. Over there, do you see that ancient chimney of the chateau? Well! these fools believe that I prepare in this place my meals, I that does not eat!

– Never, are you sure of that? I doubted that.

“What for? she answered superbly. Do angels eat? We have no need for that neither!”

After having posed for my pictures, we returned to her niche where I first met her. I became convinced that I was in the company of an intelligent and educated women; this sorceress who lived out in the country-side – even read newspapers, and her comments were of good sens. A moment later, the sorceress slept peacefully, mouth closed, in an abandoned posture. Intrigued by this, I took my pencil and paper. When I heard three voices speaking to one another, from behind the wall. A little later, I heard my name pronounced three times, from behind and up above me; as if coming-down from the trees surrounding the ruins. This time, I kept my eyes glued upon those of Naia, who rested innocently. I shook her to awaken her, she was not surprised by the adventure. Impassible, she finished:
“You were dreaming, my son!”

That said, I questioned her about her horoscopes. In a sibyllic language, she spoke of black men dressed in white… I willingly remembered a trip I had made to Algeria. Then I adamantly begged to perform before me, the test of the fire.

No, no, she did not want to. This is reserved for the initiates.

After great insistence, I placed lit matches in her hand, and I can guarantee the absolute insensibility of her skin when touched by fire. She creaked timbers, she let them burn in the palm of her open hand, and, started over and over again, she established a tiny stake that consumed itself while blackening only that part of her hand where it was.

Naia observed the lines in the hand of a young country girl. “Oh! you will not ketch me at fault, my son”, she said maliciously. “And I will tell you, if you want, all your secrets in the matter of love. Ah! you see, suitors come to see me, from all-around here and from elsewhere. They are looking for powers so to be loved; and girls also, chambermaids, girls who watch over the cattle, who dream to be chosen by a son of a farmer, in hopes of becoming a bourgeoise and mistress of the house”.

When the doctor of the village came-by, looking for his girlfriend who was a friend of Naia. The doctor agreed to tell me what he had learned about about Naia:

“She was born in Malensac, of a father who was a bone-setter. He was an empirical and a charlatan who healed country folks. Naia, intelligent, had a developed education. Her insensibility to fire comes from a trick employed by acrobats, flame eaters: an insulating product deposited on the epidermis. I believe her to be a talented ventriloquist. Your mysterious voices came out of her stomach. Out here, in the countryside, we doctors wage a war against these clever foxes who kill many sick people by persuasion. Permit me this personal anecdote. I had this elderly patient who was still vigorous, who still had many years ahead of him. The unfortunate had a naughty nephew who bribed Naia; she organized a nocturnal apparition.

“You will die on Palm Sunday, when the third bell will ring during High Mass”, she told him.
“The spectacle was frightful. In a vain attempted, I lavished upon the poor old man – my best care. A horrible terror griped him, and he yelled-out: “Doctor, I don’t want to die!”.
“But you will not die!”, I insisted.
“From minute to minute, without it being possible to establish any sure diagnosis concerning this extraordinary case, the old man became weaker; he became the prey of a monstrous vision. On the first ring of the bell, he jumped-up at me and grabbed my neck, trying to strangle me:
“Have pity! I don’t want to die, save me!”
“Nearly brutally, I tried to pursuay him he would still live for many years to come; that I was certain of it!. On the second ring, he let go of me, and when the third bell rang, the poor devil was dead, his eyes so dilated by hideous thing he saw, that I had great difficulty closing his eyelids”. After such a conversation, Naia then seemed to me to be a tragic significance and evil.

Now that I am back in Paris, I thought it interesting to pin-down the curious silhouette of this sorceress, one of the last in existence in the country of the Bretons, and this is why I write this memory of my voyage there.

Translator’s notes: Was Naia a real sorceress or was she one of those who took advantage of unsophisticated, superstitious country folks there? Perhaps perhaps not. Taken from that account told by Charles Géniaux, it would seem as if. Perhaps Naia’s powers as a sorceress were real after all? After so many ears, if all she had done was deception and trickery, the population there would have settles their score with her way before that.

Most certainly down through the years, Naia had indeed helped the people there and all around, with her knowledge and years of experience, and this, notwithstanding her little streak of malice and revenge. It was good that the days of the witch trials were done and over with.

This was an extract of “LA VIEILLE FRANCE QUI S’EN VA” (The old France that is going), by Charles Géniaux.

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