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The witches of La Lomagne

Often in the deep stone darkness of the country, be it France or Scotland, one touches the thin veil between the past and the present.

At times, as I've written before, I walk out of here and the veil shimmers, and in a sideways glance I half expect to see the Roman legions or the reckless ride of medieval messengers en route to Toulouse.

It doesn't happen every day, or even every quarter – only when the sky has a certain colour; the silence a peculiar listening sound; the horizon an odd twist to its line that surely wasn't there yesterday.

Occasionally, as I lie in a heat haze under my ancient chestnut trees, my tinnitus-ridden ears relax and pulse to a beat of long gone heavy horses clipping forth in a paved courtyard; of a swish of a scythe or the hum of peasants murmuring as they work.

Sometimes the awareness of a parallel past life is so strong, I jerk up from my sunbed and semi-slumber convinced that my heat-induced dream has become reality and I've slipped away into history.

It can take moments – seconds – to realise I'm here, snoring, drooling, in my sun-steeped reverie in yet another day in my house in France.

And so I continue, moving in and out of Las Molieres as normal; chiding myself for my fantasies, calming those same fantasies to enable sleep to come and life to have a steady pace.

Friends arrive and all my doors and windows are opened. We sit out under the most extraordinary skies with thousands of stars so beautiful one could almost cry to see them.

And some of them sense the occasional pulse of another time, finding it rather thrilling and comforting. A few feel faintly discomforted on such "other" days but can't articulate quite why. They look at me strangely when I explain, then dismiss it as yet another manifestation of my eclectic beliefs as they finger their easyJet boarding cards to the 21st century.

Recently, in these odd days before spring, when the weather switches moodily between tempest and sudden warmth, I've had a few such moments.

Roslyn understands. Miriam and Genevieve too, and I have no doubt that my farmer neighbours would do their unsurprised "of course" nod if I talked to them about it.

For all of them, far, far more than me, are deeply in touch with this earth and its magic.

Since meeting my first sorciere, or witch, in a nearby village, it no longer surprises me when told of others, male and female, who practise all around here.

I thought at first that they were the last such inheritors of an era no longer viable in an internet world where magic comes at the click of a mouse.

How wrong I was. Last week the woman who once worked for me – who'd arrived here distraught and lost after her partner had dumped her with no financial redress – recounted the latest stage in the saga.

Her former "belle mere", mother-in-law as she called her, had phoned to pour out her worries about her son. His machinery had failed, his harvest hadn't sold, his health was not good – all manner of things were going wrong within the family.

Sylvie (we'll call her that) listened sympathetically out of respect for her belle mere, until the tone changed.

"Admit it, Sylvie," said the old woman. "It's you, isn't it? You've had him cursed. You've been to a sorciere to avenge yourself."

Appalled, Sylvie denied all, saying, as she told me, only God had the right to do such things, and throwing in karma and pages turning as well.

The belle mere did not believe her, and warned her that unless it stopped she would visit her own sorciere and throw it all back on her and her son.

"At that point," said Sylvie, as I listened enthralled, scarcely believing what I was hearing, "I told her if she brought harm to my son I would use every power on earth to harm her and hers. And I knew who to ask who would do it."

As she spoke, she fingered a necklace ending in the "hand of Fatima" to ward off the evil eye, so I should have expected no less. I've noticed it on several women here, discreetly secreted under a blouse.

I would have thought it all a one-off until another friend expressed his astonishment that his dour, mechanic neighbour regularly consulted a seer who told him the future.

"He offered his services to me," said J. "He seemed to find it quite strange that I had no need, no actual desire of such. Never mind no belief.

"It was almost as if everybody here does and I was somehow not in touch because I didn't."

Then – all this within the space of a week – I heard of another sorciere six miles away who had been taken unexpectedly to hospital.

She'd charged the village with minding her house and animals, or else -

There was a rota in place. One Brit was feeding her cats.

He quoted to me: "There are more things in Heaven or Earth, Horatio -"

In La Lomagne there certainly are.

cookfidelma@hotmail.com

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