In the XVIIIth Century, it was believed that a woman sleeping naked on her bed could be fecunded by the South-West zephyr "charged with floating embryos".

The way in which, throughout the centuries, humans have imagined that they are engendered is a passionate subject.  A young History professor, Monsieur Pierre Darmon, wrote a History of it in which procreation appears as the most prolific of mysteries, a sort of immense, baroque tapistery, around the edges of which the imagination of theologians, jurists, philosophers and doctors has enormously embroidered.

Does sleep favourise the birth of male children?  Yes.

Does the foetus resemble the mother more than the father?  Of course.

The more lascive a woman is, the more fecund she is?  Oh dear no.

Are short women more fecund than tall ones?  Definitely.

Are women whose matrice is cold fecund?  Of course not.

Are women who give birth to a boy more fecund?  Assuredly.

These are very serious subjects of thesis, defended before the very venerable Faculte de medecine de Paris up until the time when, around 1770, Lavoisier gives the first foundations of modern chemistry…

In the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, it was believed that women who gave birth to monstrous children had been fecunded by a witch.

In the XVth Century, the monks Sprenger and Institutor write the first big treatise on demonology, Le Marteau des Sorcieres.  For two centuries, this guide – red with the blood of thousands of victims – will inflame all parts of Europe, in the hands of Inquisitors and Judges who have blind confidence in it.

During witchcraft [sorcery] trials, sexuality and generation always play a determining role.  One discovers there, in a tragic light, the idea that humanity has had, over the ages, of the role of the sexes and of procreation.

Mandated by the Pope to hunt witches [female sorcerers], Sprenger and Institutor assure that these women are capable of detaching by a spell [enchantment] the fascinus (the “object which fascinates”) of these gentlemen and of taking them away.  The witches place these little animals – these little sparrows? – endowed with their own lives, inside a nest.  The XVth Century text says:

“There, they wriggle and feed themselves with seeds, as several people have recounted.”

And our two grave demonologists recount the following story which they hold to be absolutely true:

“A man notices that, under the effect of a spell, the most precious of his goods has disappeared.  He addresses himself to a known witch and demands reparation from her by the practising of a graft which she knows how to do.  The witch makes him climb a tree and presents him with her collection.  In a nest, several objects of virility are jumping and dancing.  He chooses one, the most flattering.  The witch who, although diabolic, still has scruples, exclaims:  ‘Above all, not that one, it belongs to the parish curate!…’ “

When a woman gives birth to a monstrous child, for several centuries it was thought that it was because of a magical operation.  Therefore, the person responsible has to be found.  It is always a witch or a wizard who has impregnated the mother with bad germs.  And where do these monster germs come from?  They float in the air.  In any case, it is never the fault of the father…

Up until the middle of the XVIIIth Century, a quantity of scientific treatises can be found which doctorly explain that

“at the origin of all animal life, there are little, invisible beings, already formed, but lifeless, which are waiting to enter into contact with a liqueur which is subtle enough to vivify them”.

A woman can therefore procreate on her own, through enchantment or even simply a dream.

This is why, on 13 January 1637, the Grenoble Parliament declares Magdeleine d’Automont d’Aiguemere innocent of the sin of adultery.  This chaste spouse has just given birth to a boy.  But, her husband has been absent for four years.  However, the judgement underlines that

“having imagined the person and the physical contact of the said Lord d’Aiguemere, her husband, in a dream, she received the same sentiments of conception and of pregnancy that she would have received in his presence”.

The judges refer to Saint Thomas who said that, in the state of innocence, children were made by the intention of thoughts alone.

This judgement is accompanied by a highly scientific declaration:

“One supposes that, on the night of Madame d’Aiguemere’s dream, her window being open, her bed exposed to the West, her blanket in disorder, that the South-West zephyr, duly impregnated with organic molecules of human insects, of floating embryos, had fecunded her.”

***

To be continued.

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