The Possession of Barbe Hallay
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Barbe Halley was born in France in 1645 and immigrated to Quebec City, New France on June 16, 1659.
The world Hallay found herself in is very different than what we know today. New France was small, with only around 1,700 people, and Quebec City held a little over half of them. These several hundred people lived on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, surrounded by unexplored hinterland. The summers were colder than the summers in France, but the winters were much worse. During those six months, the river would freeze and they would be isolated from any outside food, materials, goods, or help. Their little pocket of civilization is all they had between what they understood, and what they did not.
Adding to the challenges of living in New France was that of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois. French missionaries first believed the Indigenous peoples were Christians who had forgotten their way. They believed the Lord's light touched all the corners of the planet, so these people must have heard of Christ. Similarities between Christian stories and Indigenous stories, like that of Noah and Massu, punctuated that point. The missionaries believed it was their divine right to bring the Indigenous people back to divine truth, not the version they had mistakenly followed all these years.
Of course, this wasn't true, and the Indigenous people weren't too keen on the idea either. This religious misunderstanding, plus the occasional bloody hostilities between the two groups caused the French missionaries to begin a more political approach. If the Haudenosaunee didn't want to become God-fearing Frenchmen, they could be allies against the English Protestants instead.
It should be important to mention that not all interaction between the Haudenosaunee and the French was violent, or religion-oriented. The French helped treat the Haudenosaunee when they were sick from disease, and the Haudenosaunee brought the French food during the winter freeze. They traded furs, fruits, guns, wool, ammo, tools, and anything else they could. While there were definitely skirmishes, as with most conflicts, it's the people with power that have disagreements, not the average person.
Hallay arrived into this dynamic and transforming society as a teenager. Her father had been living here for several years already. According to Mairi Cowan's The Possession of Barbe Hallay: Diabolical Arts and Daily Life in Early Canada, Hallay's age was somewhere around twelve or thirteen years old, but Find a Grave says she was closer to fifteen when she arrived in 1659.
Within one year of arriving, she was employed as a domestic servant in Beauport, about six kilometers from Quebec City. She participated in regular womanly duties of the house, such as cooking, cleaning, and washing, but also helped with the animals, gardened, and did laundry. It was a common position for a woman her age and it helped her get the experience needed to run a house.
However, one day a man named Daniel Vuil knocked on the doors of Beauport. He had come to marry Barbe Hallay. According to him, an agreement was made between Hallay's father and Vuil that in exchange for land, Vuil could marry his daughter. However, Vuil was a grain miller -- and an especially dishonest one at that. He was also well known for his short temper, his dishonesty, and his greed. He was also a Protestant.
Hallay, meanwhile, was somewhere between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Today, that's much too early to be getting married, but at the time, although it was still fairly young, it was still legal. Hallay passed the age of consent when she turned twelve. Because of this, Hallay had the legal right to refuse Vuil's offer of marriage, and she chose to do so. Vuil left Beauport enraged.
Marie de l'Incarnation wrote about this failed proposal in her letters, stating that Vuil was "irrité", a word that could reasonably be translated to "irritated", but is significantly worse. It's best defined as the feeling of provoking a rage so extreme it can lead to punishment and death. What he did after Beauport is up for some debate. Some believe he conspired with some local witches, or magicians, as he was known to frequent time with them. It's also possible he acted alone. Whatever he did though, the story goes, he was responsible for conjuring an entity out of the depths of hell to terrorize Hallay into marrying him.
Back at Beauport, several people began witnessing the hauntings. Records show that Hallay was become "afflicted" with "some malfeasance", with de l'Incarnation going as far as saying she was "vexed with demons". Some of the hauntings reported were that of disembodied drums and flutes playing, and stones chipping off walls and flying across rooms. Hallay also reported seeing dark phantoms, which appeared day and night, either as men, children, beasts, or specters of hell. Sometimes Vuil would appear too, either by himself or with some of his other magicians. de l'Incarnation even wrote of strange warning signs during the possession, such as a comet, a burning canoe in the sky, and a baby crying within a child's womb. It isn't certain if Vuil's incantations had anything to do with this, but de l'Incarnation certainly believed they were connected.
Marie de l'Incarnation wasn't alone in this belief. Bishop François de Laval, the namesake of Laval University, believed it too. He was aware of Hallay's case and originally had sent priests to help exercise the demon. However, they had no avail, and he chose to try it himself. After also being unsuccessful, he began collecting evidence against Daniel Vuil to take to the criminal justice system. His case included the diabolical infestations of Hallay, Vuil's involvement and the probability of witchcraft. However, when he presented the papers to the governor, the governor refused. He and Laval had some personal issues going back years, and the governor made it his mission to make things difficult for Laval. Shortly after (or perhaps because of) his refusal, the governor was summoned back to France. His replacement would move forward with the case against Vuil.
Daniel Vuil was arrested in September of 1660 but denied the charges. He was then imprisoned in Quebec City in February of 1661 and went to trial in October of 1661. He was found guilty and executed. However, there is some debate over how he was executed, and why. The reports stated that he was "hanged, or rather shot" as if something occurred out of the ordinary that prevented the usual form of execution. He was executed alongside several other men, but their crimes were for trading liquor with the Haudenosaunee. The description of the crimes of the fated prisoners made no mention of witchcraft. It's possible they had nothing to do with the crimes Vuil had committed. However, there had been previous trials of people who committed witchcraft and were found guilty which hadn't led to capital punishment. René Benard dit Bourjoly was found guilty of "tying knots" to cause impotence in a married man, and his punishment was banishment, not death.
Trading liquor was also not a crime punishable by death. In April of 1661, Pierre Aigron was also found guilty of trading liquor to the Haudenosaunee, and he was a repeat offender. As punishment, he was just excommunicated.
There is also confusion as to why Vuil was held for eight months before he was executed. He was arrested for blasphemy but might have been executed for a different crime. It's possible he was arrested, released, arrested again, and then executed. We also don't know why he was shot instead of hanged.
With all that said, it was believed that once Vuil was executed, the demonic possession of Barbe Hallay would end.
It did not.
In December of 1660 -- two months before Vuil was arrested -- Bishop Laval had Hallay moved from Beauport to Quebec City's Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. Le journal des jésuites account her arrival at the hospital, and states she was infested by a "demon folet". According to Cowan, this description means the hospital staff believe the affiliation to be somewhat of a nuisance, and not an immediate spiritual danger. Cowan says a "follet" is translated best into an elf-like figure. Another description of Hallay's affiliation called it "esprit folet", which is similar to a hobgoblin or a fairy, similar to Robin Goodfellow or Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. These descriptions imply that the people who admitted Hallay believed her ailments were caused by a natural spirit, not a supernatural one.
However, a nun who worked at the hospital, Marie Catherine of Saint-Augustin, believed it to be something more sinister. Saint-Augustin was deeply religious and believed there were many dark forces against them in New France. During the 1663 Charlevoix earthquake, for example, Saint-Augustin envisioned imp-like demons attempting to flip the ground below New France to punish them for their sins. She also believed a sickness that was sweeping the community was caused by witches in the woodlands. In fact, she was also convinced that her soul was in a constant struggle with demons, and this could be seen by the frequent bruising they caused on her body.
During the day, Hallay would work treating patients in the hospital, but at night she would need to be treated herself. Saint-Augustin worked on Hallay, and was able to use her faith to fight against the demonic entity. Instead of attacking Hallay, the spirit turned its attention to Saint-Augustin, terrorizing, mocking and beating her instead. At one point, Saint-Augustin's entire arm would be black from bruises caused by the demon. According to Cowan, the demon would even appear before Saint-Augustin as an angel in an attempt to trick her and make her question her faith. According to The Centre Catherine-de-Saint-Augustin, Saint-Augustin was able to defeat the demon that terrorized Hallay at the hospital, but according to Cowan, Saint-Augustin was only able to bring about temporary relief. Instead, the final showdown between good and evil would occur back at Beauport the following year.
Sometime between the autumn of 1661 and the autumn of 1662 -- after Vuil's execution -- Hallay would leave Hôtel-Dieu Hospital and return back to Beauport. Away from the protection of Saint-Augustin, the demon began a new assault against Hallay. Every night the entity would attack Hallay in her sleep, and every night the woman of the house, Marie Regnouard, would sit with Hallay and use religious relics to fend off the assault.
On October 15, 1662, the entity attacked Halley again, this time violently. Regnouard brought her usual relics into the room with her but also included the rib bone of Jean de Brébeuf. Today de Brébeuf is a saint, known as the Apostle of the Hurons, but in 1662 he was only recognized as a martyr. de Brébeuf and other priests were captured in a Huron village by the Haudenosaunee and underwent ritualistic torture. However, de Brébeuf was stoic, and instead of fearing for himself, he was more concerned about his other captors. This impressed the Haudenosaunee and they began to cut pieces of him off to eat, and began to drink his blood. They did this so that they could absorb his courage and strength. They then poured boiling water over de Brébeuf's head as a mockery of the baptism and killed him.
de Brébeuf's body would later be retrieved and brought back to Quebec. Stories of his bravery and sacrifice made him instantly famous. His body was boiled in lye and his bones became relics. Some went back to France, while others remained in New France. One of these was his skull, which was in Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. Another was his rib, which sat in Beauport. This rib is what Marie Regnouard used for the final conflict with Hallay's demon.
According to three reports, all signed by Regnouard and other witnesses, Regnouard placed the rib of de Brébeuf beside Hallay, and Hallay's body immediately began to contort. The demon then spoke, using Hallay as a vessel, commanding Regnouard to remove the rib away as it was burning them (the demon and Hallay). Regnouard refused and demanded the demon tell her whose relic this was. The demon refused to answer, and Regnouard also refused the move the rib. Finally, the demon said it was that of a martyr who died at the hands of the Haudenosaunee. Regnouard demanded the demon speak the name of the martyr, and the entity screamed something incomprehensible.
Regnouard then commanded the spirit to leave Halley's body and the demon refused, saying the girl belonged to him. Regnouard then said:
"You have lied, dammed spirit that you are; you have nothing; she [is] mine. Our good God, her father and her mother gave her to me."
She then placed the rib against Hallay's heart, and the demon began to scream, begging her to remove it because it burned so badly.
Ignoring the pleas, Regnouard conjured the demon once more, as well as all the spirits of the relics she was using, and ordered the demon to depart from Barbe Hallay. She then saw something erupt out of Hallay's mouth, like a breath, but something visible, and then it vanished.
Barbe Hallay then awoke, crying, and praying, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph". These are the only words recorded during her entire experience.
She was possessed no more.
But, the evil released was not quite done. Once the demon vanished, something else appeared in the bedroom. At the feet of Hallay's bed were two witches. They spoke to Hallay and Regnouard, but Regnouard could not understand them. Instead of a voice, all she heard from their mouths was the sound of buzzing insects. Hallay translated for Regnouard and said the witches said they had come to take Hallay to their Black Sabbath. Regnouard stood before them and banished them as well, causing them to disappear as well.
Four and a half months later, a man in a cart tried to kidnap Hallay. He said he was also involved in witchcraft, and said some impertinent things to her. Hallay fought off the man and fled to safety. For eleven days after, something terrorized Hallay once more, banging in her room and throwing stones from her chimney. Again, Regnouard prayed for Hallay, and this time the spirits left for good.
Although Marie Regnouard was the person who fought against the demon at Beauport, many don't give her credit for defeating it. Both Cowan and Timothy G. Pearson's Becoming Holy in Early Canada: Performance and the Making of Holy Persons in Society and Culture mention the unfortunate reality of what occurred that night. Regnouard was the mother and primary caregiver of Beauport and was in charge of Hallay. However, her husband was a physician and a surgeon, and their close friend Marie Catherine of Saint-Augustin was a holy woman. They were more qualified than Regnouard to treat Hallay, and knew the proper protocols to do an exorcism. However, Hallay was a mother and cared deeply for Hallay. To her, that was reason enough to perform an exorcism.
However, the church doesn't recognize a laywoman with a good heart as being the active agent in curing Hallay's possession. Instead, the church recognizes Jean de Brébeuf as the true hero of this story. It was through his rib that his faith was able to heal Barbe Hallay. Although the rib was used by Regnouard, it was de Brébeuf who made the difference. It was because of this, and several other miracles, that he was canonized as a Canadian Saint on June 29, 1930.
Following the possession, Barbe Hallay would seek and find employment at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. In the 1666 census, a man named Jean Carrier also worked at the hospital. On July 16, 1670, Barbe Hallay would marry Jean Carrier by her own omission. They would have four children -- a bit lower than the average of seven for the time -- and live on a farm where they grew possibly oats or legumes. They had one gun, five cows, and fifteen arpents of land (one arpent is about 0.84 acres). They bought a bench at the local church and lived a long and peaceful life. Barbe would be buried at the age of fifty on June 18, 1696 in the Cimetière Mont-Marie de Lauzon. Jean Carrier would die much later, on April 20, 1711, although Cowan states he was still alive by 1715 as he signed a contract between their two sons.
The Possession of Barbe Hallay is one of the most interesting stories I've ever encountered in Canadian history and includes some major players from the country's earliest days. I found it very interesting to research, but I do apologize for its length. If you made your way through the whole thing, thank you for reading it all, and thank you for reading my Creepy Canada series. This concludes the series. I especially enjoyed how this story had almost every element from the other stories in it. It is the perfect one to wrap up the series. With that said, if you like stories like this, please check out Unsolved Canadian Mysteries where we release a new podcast episode every month just like it.
Also, please let me know your thoughts on this story, and let me know who you think the true hero of the story was. I would love to hear your opinions!
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Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, Paranormal, Quebec