In Spring 1574, there is plotting everywhere and the troubles which are shaking the kingdom demand an urgent solution for the future. What is going to happen to the young monarch? Will his mother, Catherine de Medicis, renounce all authority over the kingdom?
Cosme Ruggieri, the Queen Mother’s astrologist, convinces her, for whom her dynasty’s interests pass before all else, to hold the darkest of ceremonies of divination, the ceremony of the talking head…
On the night of 28 May 1574, we are at Vincennes inside one of the castle’s nine towers, the one still called today the Devil’s Tower. The Queen Mother is there, with two of her inner circle and her son who, breathless, is shivering with fever and can barely stand. An altar has been erected and is covered in a black cloth. A statue, draped in a triple black veil, represents the Mother of the Shadows, the goddess of suicides and madness, the divinity for whom the Mass is to be served.
Candles, also black, light this altar on which there is placed an ebony chalice, filled with coagulated blood and two communion wafers, one white, the other black. The man who is going to say this Mass is an apostate monk, converted to magic…
Into the middle of this lugubrious meeting a little boy of ten advances. He is a kidnapped Jewish child who has been prepared for a long time for this communion. He has been dressed in a white gown, is as beautiful as he is innocent and is waiting to receive God. The magician begins the service by planting on the altar a long dagger, the handle of which represents a snake, then he recites invocations to the Virgin, launches anathemae to the God of the Christians, and consecrates the wafers to Satan. The child, who doesn’t know what is happening, joins his hands and closes his eyes to receive the white wafer on his tongue. But he has barely taken communion than one of the infernal priest’s assistants plunges a dagger into his neck. Then it is the dull clang of a sword which rings on the altar stone: the child has just been decapitated and the magician brandishes this poor, little, innocent head and places it on the black wafer in a big, silver paten…
The young sovereign has been forewarned. It is at this precise instant that he must lean over and ask the head a question. The head would answer him, and reveal all the future to him.
Trembling, this unnatural Prince approaches and asks his question in an unintelligible voice. They wait. Appalling silence. Finally, a sigh escapes the child’s dead lips and they think that they hear that this sigh signifies:
“I am forced to do it!… I am forced to do it!”
That is all. Then the sound of a body falling. It is the King, already agonizing, who has just fainted. Salts are applied and he is brought to his senses. He struggles and lets out appalling screams:
“Take that thing away from me! Take that thing away from me!… “
He is rushed back to his bedchamber. He is now delirious, he sees blood everywhere, he is sinking into a river of blood. He spends the next two days like this in terror and hallucinations then dies on 30 May. He was barely twenty-five years old. At the autopsy, it is seen that his heart was all shrivelled, as if it had been exposed for a long time to fire…
This is a true story. The bronze bewitchment was reported by the Spanish Ambassador to France, Don Francis of Avala, who on 8 June 1569 told the story to Phillip II, with the precision that “every day, the Italian watches the nativity of the three persons and his astrolabe, then tightens and loosens the screws”…
As for the Mass of the decapitated head, it was related in detail by the great jurist Jean Bodin, the author of La Republique and founder of modern Economics. He was also the Secretary of the Duke of Anjou, Catherine de Medicis’ last son, therefore well-placed to know about it. Jean Bodin had only one fault: he absolutely believed in witches and recommended that the most rigorous punishments be meted out to them…
Stories of talking heads have always been part of the florilege of magical beliefs, although we don’t know their origin. It is also known that Gerbert, the Pope of the year 1000, was reputed to have built a talking head, which had the gift of revealing the future. But this was, of course, only a legend founded on this pontiff’s vast knowledge in Astronomy and Mathematics. In the XIIIth Century, Albert the Great is said to have also had such a head as well as an automaton, capable, it was believed, of human behaviour. This belief was also part of the bewitchments of the Middle Ages and has its origin in the immense scientific knowledge of Albert, to whom Chemistry owes discoveries of the greatest importance: gold refining, the treatment of sulphur, the action of acids on metals, etc. Like Gerbert, he passed for a wizard and the confusion that was made at the time between science and magic also explains that were attributed to him the paternity of the Grand and the Petit Albert, the collections of popular magic, the success of which persisted , in the Occident, for half a millenium.
To conciliate evil powers, Catherine de Medicis wore permanently at her neck a big talisman made from human blood, billy-goat blood and metal which had been melted during a favorable astral conjunction. She lived surrounded by magi, deviners and astrologists, and it is on Ruggieri’s indications that she had built in the Soissons hotel an octogonal tower orientated on the cardinal points, whence her favorite magician could observe the stars and do his horoscopes. A column of this still exists, nearly thirty metres high, included in the walls of what is today the Bourse de Commerce in Paris…
Ruggieri would survive almost thirty years longer than Catherine de Medicis and would remain the unmoveable oracle of several great princes of the kingdom. Charles IX’s brother, Henri III, also given to black magic, would use him to send spells to the ligueurs and their chiefs, the Guises. Not without success, since the two most illustrious representatives of this Roman Catholic family, for a long time more powerful than the kings of France, are assassinated, at the end of numerous acts of bewitchment. The Guises returned the favour: every day, the faithful were ordered to Notre-Dame to pierce wax effigies representing the royal family, there… Henri III had brought from Spain at great expense all the grimoires of magic which are in fashion at Phillip II’s Court… to make counter-spells!
The whole of France would believe that the regicide dagger which killed him in 1589 had been placed in Jacques Clement’s hand by larvae, magically formed during hate ceremonies.
Hate ceremonies are one of the essential ingredients of black magic, the final goal of which is vengeance, the awakening of interior negative powers, with their cortege of unhealthy desires, as opposed to white magic, of which the aim is to heal and to uncover secrets which can transform life in a positive manner.
Ruggieri was to be found at the side of Concini and Marie de Medicis, after the assassination of Henri IV, who didn’t much like his magic which he called “effeminate foolishness”… To Concini who would occultly govern France for three years, he taught magic and was even more popular at Court after he predicted Henri IV’s assassination, having already tried to bewitch him. Implicated in a witchcraft trial, he once more survived, but was very wary from then on and would live from the sale of almanachs which were very popular with the little people, who were superstitious. He wrote them under the name of “Querberus”.
Finally, he died very old, and despite the insistence of his protector Concini, the Archbishop of Paris refused him a christian burial, having his body thrown into the road. The wise man didn’t care anyway, for he believed in neither God nor the devil but only, as the good Florentine that he was, in the power of the greats, and in daggers and poison.
Ruggieri was the standard-bearer of that generation of clever adventurers who appeared in France, destabilized by the Wars of Religion. But more than his magic, it was his intelligence and his strength of character, without counting his absolute cynicism, to which he owed his career. More than any other, he was able to make his own these words from the frightening Leonora Galigai, Concini’s wife, who at the moment of being condemned to death, declared proudly to the judge:
“My spells were the power that strong souls have over weak souls!”…