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Dicember 2021: Day 18 (Balefire)

This Dicember post is a double-whammy for me, in that I get to tie it to my prior post on the Compendium Maleficarum. For those not up to date on their witchcraft terminology, a balefire is a (redundant, because bale means great fire itself) big bonfire. In period use it often referred specifically to the great fires of witches, who were famously alleged to host great feasts and rituals to consort with devils and ply their evil craft.

The Compendium Maleficarum, a book from 1608 on the subject of witches and witchcraft for those who would hunt them and prosecute them, makes much of these events. Throughout its length, many of the accounts within either deal explicitly with the events of such a balefire or tangentially refer to them as further evidence of the misdeeds of the accused. I thought I’d share a few of those here for your perusal, because the language used is intentionally lurid and the descriptions thrill the imagination, and should perhaps help you to describe such events at your table.

An account of the witch’s sabbat, which centers on a great and terrible fire.
Another account of the bonfires of witches, around which they perform filthy rites and carnal pleasures.

These are just two accounts among many; almost every page in this book contains one or two such tales presented as fact and cited as evidence of the crimes of witches, sometimes there are even more. It is blatant in its breathless sensationalism, but this comes as no surprise given what we know of history. Many of the stories either explicitly take place at an evil bonfire of witches and demons, take place at what is termed a witches’ mass or sabbat with the implicit expectation of a bonfire being present (as it is earlier explained these events generally are hosted around them), or are implied to have been in some way related to actions, activities, plots, or other magical mayhem planned or executed previously at such an event. The balefire is central to the witchcraft that terrified the Church.

A balefire and pagan festivity was the central event and location of a failed adventure module pitch I threw into the void once upon a time. I may revisit it someday, as I think it was pretty cool.

In the meantime, I’ll catch you on the next Dicember post!

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