top of page

Breath & Shadow

Summer 2021 - Vol. 18, Issue 3

"A Thousand Alarming Presentiments of Evil"

written by

Farah Rose Smith

“The dead, by their nature, are not able to involve themselves in the affairs of the living…”-Saint Augustine, De Cura pro Mortuis Gerenda, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Year 402

Caecilius of Eußerthal Abbey (c. 1019-c.1053) was a Cistercian monk who entered the convent of Eußerthal at the young age of fourteen with prodigious knowledge of Christian doctrine that exceeded the perceived limitations of his age. He began writing sermons at the age of nine, after the death of his mother in a mysterious fire, a woman of faith who was purported to have prophetic dreams of the Lord God before the coming of her perilous fate. His extensive writings, the original manuscripts of which may be examined under glass at the Cistercian preservation library in Düsseldorf, span from his interpretations of Christian doctrine to alternative, and sometimes blasphemous, interpretations of the lives of Saints. These blasphemes, along with nine volumes of

recorded accounts of deviltry, apparitions, and witchcraft in the Südliche Weinstraße, alongside accusations of usury and carnality, resulted in his expulsion from the monastery by Abbot Varinius. Despite the attempts of Caecilius to tell these stories through exemplums and repair his reputation, the Abbot saw his presence as having no value in terms of the moral edification of the people, and rather as causing a quickening gash in the stability of the district’s faith amid his pronouncements. Caecilius died not long after his expulsion at the age of 34 in a land dispute of unknown origin. Included here are selected chapters in translation of his final book of exemplums entitled “A Thousand Alarming Presentiments of Evil”, an exhaustive tome originally written in both Latin and Old High German, documenting the concerning supernatural events of the region during his lifetime.

Book IX, Chapter VI

In the year 1044, Bishop Martins relayed to me that in the municipality of Herxheimweyher, a small village of only ninety-seven people at the time of that which is written, the villagers had found among them three practitioners of devilry forbidden upon God’s soil. The three wretches poisoned themselves to escape the damnation of their prosecutors. The fine Bishop insisted that the corpses be burned, to prevent the young and foolish who were enchanted by magic to dismember the bodies for reliquaries. The Bishop did not, however, specify the proper nature of the discarding of the ashes, and so they were dumped in a field. Old mother Huber related to the Bishop that the eldest of her cows had wandered out to the fields at dawn and licked up an excess of dust, after which the poor beast went mad, and collapsed to its death at her feet after much moaning and despair. Might it be known that each and every shred of dust of the wicked

may enrapture the mind in dark designs, and the body in death.

Book IX, Chapter XII

It should be known among all holy practitioners that unappeased spirits of the dead linger at the margins of the human world. I once attended the funeral of a virginal innocent named Berdine who lived in Herxheimweyher. There was some folklore surrounding the girl, and I took leave of Eußerthal for an eve despite the furrowed brow of Abbot Varinius, to make record of the girl’s life. I have remained henceforth disturbed by the events I documented from the word of her elder sister Hilma and continue to struggle with Abbot Varinius to exert a safe spiritual harbor for the late Berdine, who undoubtedly faces being unjustly left behind upon the dawn of the resurrection.

In the words of Hilma of Herxheimweyher:

“Berdine was, indeed, the sweet, virginal innocent she was believed to be in the village, for a time. Mother and I began to notice dark circles around her eyes, and a gripping insomnia that led to poor meal taking and attendance of chores. I took it upon myself to become my sister’s keeper, taking on her chores and attending to her as she became sicker.

As her childlike form took on the hue of death, I sat beside her bed and read her verses. Thinking her to be in a stupor, I stopped. Suddenly she gripped my wrist and stared into

my soul, urging me to continue on reading, and to pinch her so that she may not fall asleep. I pressed her to tell me why, and being on the helm of the great transition, she relented and told me.

Berdine had been visited in her dreams by a handsome Knight, who was known in the village a hundred years prior, according to his word. She was enamored with this dream

suitor, meeting him in a place where she thought her chastity would be preserved. The dream Knight had convinced her that they were in love, and that only she could make it

possible for them to be together without suffering in the afterlife. The Knight showed her his purgatorial bonds; he carried twenty people on his back, the servants he had killed

while they were in his employ. Insisting he was a changed man, he asked Berdine to not only pray for his salvation, but to take upon herself some of his purgatorial suffering in the flesh.

Seeing the twenty corpses atop the handsome Knight’s back and shoulders, formerly hidden by a deceitful angle and curio of clouds, Berdine was frightened, and told the Knight she needed some time to consider his request. It was then that the Knight became furious, and his dream visitations turned to terrors. She must not sleep, she said in a whisper. She must not sleep ever again.

Berdine died from exhaustion hours after, her spirit expelled to the unknown as swiftly as she had been born. The entire village attended her funeral, but only I saw my sister’s apparition rise up from the pew and float up to the ceiling, phantom hands passing corpse after corpse onto her diaphanous back and shoulders.”

Book IX, Chapter XIX

In Gossersweiler, bloody rain has been known to fall on occasion, the origins of the hue unknown, save for the direction of the wind that brings such rain always coming from the South. Upon her return from Oberschlettenbach, Sister Renate relayed to me that the red rain was more fearsome and harrowing to travel through than any previous

incident of hued rain recorded in Gossersweiler. Sister Renate informed me that she had been wearing a white frock, which took on hideous patterns in the storm, stains of blood-red that appeared as sigils written by the devil himself. Sister Renate was taken by consumption within a fortnight of her return to Eußerthal Abbey.

Book IX, Chapter LXXII

During one of Bishop Martins' many visits to my quarters, he recalled that he met a young man named Albericht who asked to join the convent, moments prior to the refusal of Abbot Varinius on the basis of his history of usury. After Varinius had cleared away, Martins accompanied Albericht to the garden to offer some encouragement. One could take it upon himself to be a Priest in the municipalities, a less prestigious but valuable role, he said to the young man.

Albericht said that his only option was to be confined to a convent, to do God’s work in closed quarters, because he was known in all the municipalities of Südliche Weinstraße,

for his late parents were wealthy and he, an infamous swain about town. He could not bring himself to return for the following reason. His mother, who he said was nefarious

in her social dealings, died unexpectedly on the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, though she was unaware of her worldly transition. She continued to serve her son Albericht dinners cooked by spectral hands, of which Albericht testified as consisting of boiled spiders and snakes.

Book IX, Chapter XCI

Some events are not worth recalling when attention is paid only to trivial details, but it is the so-called trivial details of the following happening that make it a memorable case of warning for the living. An hour after matins, a local priest in a small municipality of

Südliche Weinstraße went out for a walk and professed to have seen two beautiful women pinned beneath a great larch tree. Recalling the Grecian word of dryads and nymphs, the priest kept his distance from the women, whose wailing swayed like grass upon the ground. He returned to the chapel to seek the help of the groundskeeper, who brought a saw along to set free the ill-starred girls. They found nothing beneath the larch tree, not human or animal or insect. The priest apologized to the groundskeeper, though there was no need. He told the priest that several weeks prior, a man’s wife and mistress took to a violent fight in the village, both perishing in the scuffle over what turned out to be a perilous and Godless man. “I reckon they’ll spend an eternity pinned to the ground, fighting over that devil” the groundskeeper said.

Book IX, Chapter XXVII

I was once told by a pious man that his dreadful wife, who saw fit to hit their thirteen children with iron pans and set fire upon their toes for missing chores, was ailing with consumption and made several demands upon her deathbed. She said to make sure the proper coins were exchanged so that she may gain burial in the cemetery behind the monastery, in a shaded place under the great magnolia tree where “perhaps the Lord's eye will miss her beneath the blossoms.” Despite her faithful husband’s adherence to her request, her place of burial became a sight of much horror and contemplation. The soil continually bubbled up and expelled her coffin and body from the ground, after which her corpse burst into flames. The passing orthodox remarked to

his pupil that “there is a soul that the Lord God would not permit to see the day of resurrection.”

Book IX, Chapter XXVIII

A certain wealthy Knight found that his first-born child was not his own, and rather the product of an unholy affair between his wife and some unnamed man of the Church.

Regarding the child as a living blaspheme, he swore to strangle it in its swaddling cloth if he set eyes upon it ever again. Despairing, the Knight’s wife, Osanna, brought the

unnamed and unbaptised child here to Eußerthal Abbey, pleading for sanctuary until she could make proper arrangements to escape the territory of the splenetic Knight.

Though at first sent away by Sister Ursula, Abbot Varilius met Osanna weeping in the garden and offered her the respite she sought.

Not a fortnight after her arrival, Osanna was found with her throat cut, her baby missing from its makeshift cradle. My fellow monks, nuns, and the Abbot, deeply shaken by this

horror, saw to it that greater precautions would be taken regarding the security of the Abbey. It was suggested that the village should be contacted to search for the child, but

Abbot Varilius said that it was likely too late, that the wicked Knight was undoubtedly in possession of the child and intent on fulfilling his dark promise. At matins the following morning, we all prayed for the souls of mother and child, that their suffering was complete upon the earth and that they would rest soundly until the day of our Lord.

Suspicions remained regarding the fate of the child. A Sister whose name I will keep, prone to prophetic dream visitations of the dead of which she would only relay to me, insisted that she felt not the child in the arms of God, but rather that it was alive, still in great danger. I brought my suspicions again to Abbot Varilius, who displayed a temper and frustration not befitting a man of the cloth. We all left the Abbot to his duties, though a number of us overheard strange pleadings from his quarters, prayers of desperation and fear that revealed him to be a man of wavering conviction.

Sister Bertha has attested to me that on the 13th night after the killing of Osanna, a female spirit was seen approaching the abbey from the direction of the dirt road leading

out from the woods. She was nude and bloody, with heavy breasts squirting coagulated, gossamer milk. Several accounts from the nunnery aligned with Sister Bertha’s

observations. On the eve of the 27th night after the killing of Ossana, her husband, the infamous Knight, came to the abbey, searching for her and the child. The nuns did not

permit him entry, per the instruction of the Abbot. He shouted blasphemes down the entry hall of the abbey, chiding the monks and Abbot to come out and reveal which

fiend had violated his wife in an act of treachery against God and himself. The Knight, demoralized by his own fury and the loss of his wife, left the abbey without answers. Suspicion has grown within the walls of the abbey, without end. Though our

contemplation has found a hideous answer.

Our dear Sister of prophetic dreams can attest to the sight of the infant corpse in the garden bed, his jaw shattered around a slab of limestone, and the crucifix of the Abott’s crosier in his azure hand.

Future excerpts from the written accounts of Caecilius of Eußerthal Abbey (c. 1019-c.1053) will be published ensuing the procurement of a professional and healthy translator.

Farah Rose Smith is a native of Rhode Island, currently living in New York City. Her fiction has appeared in Lackington’s Magazine, Darker Magazine (Russia), Spectral Realms, Vasterien Literary Journal, Nightscript, Dead Reckonings, and more. Her collection Of One Pure Will will be released from Trepidatio Publishing in September 2021.

bottom of page