We are in the time of year when the witch receives an enormous amount of attention but in yesterday’s Brittany the witch had no impact on Hallowe’en at all. So, if the region’s witches were not a feature of Hallowe’en celebrations, what were they?
In the 17th century, the division between natural and supernatural differed markedly from our modern-day notions. The concept of the natural world was not restricted to things corporeal and observable but included the incorporeal and unobservable. It was not considered irrational to believe in the existence of spirits causing natural effects and it was widely accepted that demons and witches existed in nature, acting according to its laws.
A handwritten book of spells set down in Brittany during the 18th century contains a varied collection of spells and enchantments to be used in order to gain good fortune, riches or love. These spells provide a fascinating insight into the popular mentality of the rural population of Brittany before the Revolution.
Considerable importance was once attached to milk in Brittany; it played a vital role in the people’s diet and livelihood. A number of once popular superstitious beliefs surrounded it; including practices to preserve cows from the evil spells cast by witches.
Popular belief in the power of witchcraft survived in Brittany, as elsewhere in France, deep into the last century but the spells and curses of the witch were often as benign as they were malignant.