For collectors of occult books The Dictionnaire Infernal is a rare prize. For writers and visual artists who need a little help coming up with a new monster to include in their work the Dictionnaire Infernal is an invaluable catalogue of the macabre and horrible.
The book was written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and published 1818. De Plancy was an atheist, a friend and contemporary of the rationalist Voltaire. The first edition was described as “… a Universal Library on the beings, characters, books, deeds, and causes which pertain to the manifestations and magic of trafficking with Hell; divinations, occult sciences, grimoires, marvels, errors, prejudices, traditions, folktales, the various superstitions, and generally all manner of marvellous, surprising, mysterious, and supernatural beliefs.” De Plancy believed at the time he wrote the first edition that the church conncocted stories of demons and hell to scare people into believing.
By the time the 6th edition of the popular book came out in 1863 de Plancy, much to the dismay of his collegues, had become a devout catholic. He commissioned artists to create 550 illustrations of the creatures the book describes. Usually the first edition of a book is the most valuable. In this case, the 6th edition is by far the most sought after.
Read the full 6th edition of the text (in French) including all 550 illustrations at the French National Library.
See the 69 images used in later versions.
Catherine Deshayes, also known as La Voisin, began her career as a palm reader and midwife/abortionist to supplement the meager income her husband earned as a jeweler. By 1860 when she was burned at the stake for witchcraft she had become one of the most notorious poisoners in history.
To improve her business, La Voisin added spells and potions to the fortune telling and midwife services she offered her clients. She sprinkled her concoctions with liberal helpings of toad bones, mole teeth, spanish flies, iron filings, human blood, and mummy dust (human ashes) along with more potent and often lethal secret ingredients. Aided by Étienne Guibourg a priest who performed black masses and the magician Lesage, her highly theatrical business thrived. High ranking members of the French aristocracy relied on her when they wanted to secure powerful lovers or eliminate their rivals.
Throughout the decade of the 1670’s several suspicious deaths heightened the aristocracy’s already considerable fear of poison. In response to the growing panic, Louis XIV ordered the investigation and arrest of fortune tellers, alchemists, and anyone else who sold potions.
La Voisin’s career came to an abrupt end when she was arrested in a raid. The French court accused her of being a witch and a poisoner and she was sentenced to burn at the stake. Before she was executed, however, she named the many members of the aristocracy who had used her services. Among the clients she implicated included the king’s mistress and the Duke of Luxembourg. Although she presented no evidence, her testimony ruined numerous reputations.
Found guilty of witchcraft, La Voisin was burned. Two full years after her death the scandal raged on. So many people had been implicated in the that the King rescinded his order to rid France of poison and put an end to The Poison Affair.