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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/232

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218
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

confines of Christian civilization at the present day, a grewsome stuff more suitable as the staple of Othello's tales

"—of the cannibals that each other eat,
The anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders."

In the burglary just mentioned the murder and mutilation of the maid were incidental to the robbery, and probably an afterthought, but there are on record numerous instances of persons being waylaid and killed for the sole purpose of making candles out of their adipose tissue. No longer ago than November 15, 1896, two peasants were convicted of this crime in Korotoyak, a city on the Don in South Russia. Their victim was a boy twelve years of age, whom they strangled and eviscerated in order to make candles from the fat of the caul and entrails. It would be superfluous and tedious to cite additional examples of this outrageous offense against humanity and common sense, for, like the devils that entered into the Gadarene swine, their name is Legion.

A still more disgusting and dangerous superstition is the notion that supernatural powers are acquired by eating the heart of an unborn babe of the male sex, just as a savage imagines that by eating the heart of a brave foe he can become indued with his valor. The modern European cannibal believes that by eating nine hearts, or parts of them, he can make himself invisible and even fly through the air. He can thus commit crime without detection, and defy all efforts to arrest or imprison him, releasing himself with ease from fetters, and passing through stone walls. This horrible practice has been known for ages, and is still by no means uncommon. In the first half of the fifteenth century the notorious marshal of France, Gilles de Laval, Baron of Rayz, is said to have murdered in his castle near Nantes one hundred and fifty women in order to get possession of unborn babes. He was then supposed to have committed these atrocities from lewd motives, and was also accused of worshiping Satan. A mixed commission of civilians and ecclesiastics, appointed to examine into the matter, found him guilty and condemned him to be strangled and burned on October 25, 1440. In 1429, when he was thirty-three years of age, he had fought the English at Orleans by the side of Joan of Arc, and it was probably the desire to acquire supernatural powers in emulation of the maid that led him to perpetrate a succession of inhuman butcheries extending over a period of fourteen years, the real object of which seems to have been imperfectly understood by the tribunal which sentenced him to death.[1] Löwenstimm cites several instances of this crime. Thus, in


  1. A full account of the trial is given in a Latin manuscript preserved in the city archives of Nantes.