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The Strange Tale of the Mystic Who Battled Demonic Hobgoblin Imps

There have been myriad odd individuals throughout history, and some of these truly stand out. The man named Alexis-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier was born in 1765 in Carpentras in the south of France, born to a wealthy family and heir to a large estate, but mostly known for being an author, mystic, and demonologist in his later years. So far, so eccentric, but Berbiguier was perhaps even weirder than your typical demonologist, in that he claimed that he had been constantly tormented by imps or hobgoblins since his youth, and had sworn to dedicate his life to wiping their scourge from the face of the earth.

It all apparently started when he was a young man, when Berbiguier claimed that he had an encounter with a type of female oracle or prophet called a sibyl. He said that he had met two sibyls to seek consultation, but the meeting obviously did not go according to plan. He somehow angered the two oracles, who then went about making sure that he would be followed about and terrorized by a type of demon called a Farfadet, which could most aptly be variously translated into “Sprite”, “Imp”, “Brownie”, “Leprechaun,” or “Hobgoblin.” These creatures have a strong presence in French folklore, usually described as looking like tiny little dwarfs with wrinkled brown skin, disheveled hair and beards, and dressed in tattered clothes. Although trouble makers, they are not traditionally portrayed as particularly malevolent, but Bebiguier must have gotten a bad batch because they set about making his life completely and utterly miserable.

According to Berbiguier, the leader of these imps was named Rhotomago, who in turn answered to none other than Beelzebub, which is a bad sign, and they went about constantly tormenting Berbiguier with all manner of mischievous tricks and sometimes even outright attacks. Even Beelzebub would purportedly occasionally make appearances or write taunting letters to him. No matter where he went, they were never too far behind, following him all over the country, never giving him a moment’s rest, and he would write of this constant menace:

I have suffered much, and am still suffering. For twenty years demons, sorcerers and farfadets have not allowed me a moment’s rest: everywhere they pursue me: in the town and country, in church and at home, and even in my bed. My head is sound, and no defect mars the good condition of my body. I am made in the image of our Saviour. Why, then, have I been chosen as the principal victim?

In order to combat this threat, Berbiguier gathered an arsenal of magical protections and weapons to defend himself, chief among these being Sulphur and thyme, which he claimed warded the imps off, as well as other herbal remedies, a bull’s heart pierced with thorns, pins and needles, amulets, and charms. He would claim to have found ways to capture the imps in bottles, brushes, pins, or sponges, and to have even have found ways to kill them, which gave him the idea that it all had a purpose, that he was God’s righteous fist on earth to combat and defeat these demons. He got so good at it that he began adding to his name the title de Terre-Neuve du Thym, meaning “of the New World of Thyme,” and calling himself Le Fleau de Farfadets, or “the Scourge of the Imps.” He would also constantly make pleas to understandably skeptical officials and leaders that the demonic threat needed to be taken seriously, once imploring in a written declaration:

To all the Emperors, Kings, Princes and Sovereigns of the Four Parts of the World. Milords, Fathers of nations, you who represent the heavenly God of peace and consolation on earth, unite your efforts to my own to destroy the power of Demons, Witches, and Imps, that devastate the unhappy dwellers of your countries. You see at your feet the most unfortunate of men; the torments with which I have struggled for these twenty-five years are the best titles that I can bear before your paternal gaze. Ah! The diabolical persecutions of the Imps would have long since been ended on Earth, had one of your subjects had the courage to reveal them to you. It is in order to unmask them that I have dedicated my work to you, that you may not be heedless to my torments, and that you will work to end them now that they are known to you.

Through it all, Berbiguier would rant about the threat of the imps to anyone who would listen, and although this was at first all mostly scoffed at or met with raised eyebrows, he would only further derail and become more unhinged over time. He took to lighting fires of Sulfur and thyme around Paris and accusing people of being the hobgoblins in disguise, which started to worry the authorities who were increasingly seeing him as a potential threat to himself and others around him. Berbiguier was eventually arrested for public disorder, and did not help his case for those who believed him to be insane when at his trial he produced some ornate brushes and a bottle and said to the court:

These brushes, gentlemen, contain the souls of the hobgoblins who came to attack me last night. Look at this bottle — well, it contains millions of hobgoblins. Oh, laugh as long as you like, but, were it not for me, you would not be so much at your ease, nor even the judges upon the bench.

It may come as no surprise that he was found to be insane, and committed to the Hospice de la Salpêtrière in 1816, where he became a patient of Dr. Philippe Pinel, a pioneer of psychotherapy. He used all of his free time to write a 3-volume series of manuscripts called Les Farfadets ou Tous les démons ne sont pas de l’autre monde, or in English “The Imps or All the demons are not from the other world,” which was published between 1818 and 1820. It includes his autobiography chronicling his struggles with the imps, as well as detailed instructions for how to ward them off, banish them, or capture or kill them, most of it rambling on and on, and accompanied by elaborate illustrations. While he languished away at the hospice, he also became convinced that the staff, caretakers, and even Dr. Pinel himself were actually imps and demons in disguise, sometimes even claimed to be high level demons. For instance, he believed that one of his doctors was the demon Moloch, and that a local druggist was really Lilith. Despite this, Berbinguier was eventually released, but he never really did stop talking and writing about all of the imps and demons around him, and went to his grave still believing himself to be haunted by them, but not before an unsuccessful attempt to destroy all of his written works for reasons unknown.

Who was this strange man who had so dedicated his life to fighting these dark supernatural forces? Were these hobgoblins or imps even real in any sense at all outside of his own deranged mind? Could there have been something to this or is it just the rantings of a lunatic? It has been debated over the years whether he was simply psychotic or otherwise afflicted with deep mental issues and experiencing hallucinations, but whatever the case may be, it all sure is a wild ride at the very least.