By B.L. Setab
Photos: Dan Skye
Model: Diane Fornbacher
It is difficult to understand a 15th century person through the lens of another time, but Joan of Arc was a real person filled with the same fears, likes, dislikes, and traditions as the people of her period. She was born to a peasant family in 1412 A.D. in a small village called Domremy in the French-speaking duchy of Lorraine. The village still stands, and the flow of tourists, fans, and scholars who visit to pay homage to the “Maid of Orleans” has never abated.
Like most children of Domremy, Joan did not attend school and grew up illiterate. Her father, Jacque d’Arc, was in charge of official duties in local affairs, and the d’Arc family was elevated in the hierarchy of this poor village. However, despite their rank, they lived humbly in a small cottage. Joan spent many of her days in the fields and woods tending cattle. Life in 15th century France was rugged, but Joan was a hardy girl who was used to taking initiative. She undoubtedly learned the ways of logic from her father, who regularly made political decisions on the local level. Her mother, Isabelle, was a proud, rational, and hardworking woman who did her best to educate Joan at home.
What distinguished Joan from the other young girls in her village was her power to hear mysterious voices and experience visions. From the age of 13, she received messages from her “angels” a few times a week. As she grew older, the messages were more frequent and insistent. At last, the voice of God spoke to her, telling her to go help the dauphin (son of a French king), who had been denied the throne by the English but would become Charles VII, King of France. Joan succeeded in convincing him that she had a divine mission to save France.
To understand this peasant girl who would grow up to be a savior of France, Joan’s environment must be examined. She lived during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). English troops had taken northern France and had been raiding nearby villages, including Domremy. The French wanted the Dauphin Charles to rule, and the English sought reign over France. Joan of Arc would come to lead the French army against the English and see to it that Charles was, indeed, crowned King of France. But her heroism and the adoration of her country did not prevent the Catholic Church and the Holy Inquisition from putting her on trial twice and burning her at the stake as a heretic/witch.
She was by no means the only woman to have fought in battle. Sweden’s Queen Christina and Spain’s Catalina de Erauso were among other women soldiers and sailors who dressed as men in order to participate in warfare. Mythology from other cultures also speaks of a litany of female warriors, including the goddess Diana/Artemis and Daphne, who lived in the woods as a huntress. The image of Winged Victory is depicted as female. Perhaps the most widely known of legendary women warriors are the Amazons of Greek mythology and the Nordic Valkyries.
Interestingly, most female warriors who enter the golden halls of myth are artistically represented as carrying bows and arrows. In A Dictionary of Symbols, Juan Eduardo Cirlot writes: “[The bow] is…the emblem of the god’s power… the bow and arrow, as attributes of Apollo [and Diana] stand for the sun’s energy, its rays and its fertilizing and purifying powers.”
Even though Joan carried her infamous sword, which purportedly was given to her by her voices/visions, during her career and shortly thereafter, she was artistically rendered with a bow and arrow. Since symbolism is deeply rooted in the collective unconscious, these works of art reflect the archetypal status with which Joan has been crowned in the ancient galley of legend. While she is certainly a heroine in history, she remains an enigma in the collective unconscious and dimension of myth. Understandably, scholars have struggled to detail Joan’s life, as most accounts are superficial and saturated with Christian lore.
The Pagan Joan
Though Joan was only 19 at the time of her death, it must be understood that in her century, there was no concept of “adolescence” as a stage of development as we understand it. Social influences and psychological development were understood differently. Her youth was probably a less important factor in her behavior than some scholars have suggested.
While Joan lived (1412-1431), the people of France considered her to be a prophetess and a savior. The Catholic Church and its right arm, the Holy Inquisition, would come to believe her to be a witch – according to clerical definitions of the time, in league with the devil. These two polar extremes of thought regarding Joan continue to this day, but with a few changes that reflect our times. One end of the intellectual continuum asserts that Joan was a crazy zealot – that she suffered from a psychological disorder, as evidenced by her visions and voices. The other extreme of current thought suggest that she was a saint but, as George Bernard Shaw wrote in the introduction to his play Saint Joan: “There are people in the world whose imagination is so vivid that when they have an idea it comes to them as an audible voice, sometimes uttered by a visible figure.”
But Shaw’s explanation of Joan tells us more about him than it does her. Clearly, Shaw was touched by Joan. But something in his own psychology pushed him to demystify her so that he could accept her archetypal status. Therefore, he took refuge in an unsupported evaluation of her. I must say that in all my years in the mental-health field, I have never heard about, read of, nor met an individual who hallucinates while at the same time exhibiting sane, organized behaviors.
While Shaw’s description of Joan is quite interesting and valid in many ways, it unfortunately almost entirely dismisses the fact that paganism, a part of her society, must have influenced her deeply. It is very likely that pagan practices, which included the use of psychoactive plants, played a central role in Joan’s visions, voices, and subsequent behavior.
Take the other polarity about Joan: that she was a zealot. Psychological applications would diagnose her as psychotic. But her sterling battlefield successes indicate that she could have been a “hallucinating sane person.” At best, this theory is nonsensical and counterintuitive. Therefore, the two polarities about Joan are both contradictions, a tendency often found when scientific-like paradigms attempt to toy with that which they have no tools to measure. Moreover, these evaluations are a sad reflection of just how strong of a hold “consensus reality” has on our thought. We have been brainwashed to dismiss anything other than Judaic/Christian values.
Fortunately, between these two opposing ideas, one central figure stands out. Margaret Alice Murray, an Egyptologist and anthropologist, shed some bright light on the myth that is Joan of Arc. In The Witch Cult in Western Europe, she writes: “The actual feelings of the witches towards their religion have been recorded in very few cases, but they can be inferred from the few records that remain.” (Murray used the word “witches” as an umbrella term, as she does paganism.) Her research indicates that the practices of witches were widespread in the northern region of France and throughout Western Europe and that some of the earliest documents originate from Lorraine in 1408.
Murray delves into records about witchcraft and paganism. She discovers that many pagans used psychoactive plants and that, in certain rites, a “witches ointment” was used. She claims that the ointment was well known by villagers and that Joan had to be familiar with it. To think otherwise is akin to assuming that Joan was raised by wolves deep inside a remote cave, devoid of human contact.
Murray also cites church records that describe the behavior of one Brother Richard toward Joan while she was in prison. (Remember, the Church believed witches could literally fly.) When he first encountered her presence, he made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water. Then Joan said, perhaps jokingly, “Approach boldly, I shall not fly away.”
Most likely, the effects of this psychoactive mixture were what gave rise to the church’s belief that witches could fly. The ointment was a brew of some highly toxic and potentially deadly plants, including belladonna and datura, and other ingredients. Ergot, a naturally occurring fungus on grain and one of the precursors of LSD, was also commonly used. Ergot grows in such a way so as to resemble horns (the church would later demonize this and put horns on their devil). Many old European fairy tales speak of ergot as the “horned goddess of the corn.”
Most reports suggest that the belladonna and datura nature-spirits favor women. Men often have bad experiences with these inebriates and can even die. In Psychedelic Shamanism: The Cultivation, Preparation and Shamanic Use of Psychotropic Plants, Jim Dekome writes: “Belladonna alkaloids are primordial earth-forces (always symbolically female) which have been brutally and systematically repressed in human consciousness for literally thousands of years… her archetype appears in the collective psyche as dangerous… out to revenge herself on the patriarchy that usurped her power… the belladonna alkaloids are specific catalysts for evoking feminine energy… the wild and untamed female before she became a male chattel, domesticated… consider that Western male descriptions of [these] trips are almost universally negative… yet… female witches and New World [male] shamans maintain a respectful affinity for the plant.”
Translated, belladonna means “beautiful lady.” However, women can also die from improper use of belladonna and other psychoactive plants. Fortunately, our ancestors were superb herbal pharmacologists. (Interestingly, small amounts of belladonna are used in some pharmaceuticals today. Some of these drugs are specifically for women. One, called Bellerga, is prescribed for post-menopausal women to control “hot flashes.”)
There is no doubt about the efficacy of these prescriptions and their ability to produce physiological effects. Belladonna could produce excitement, which might pass into delirium. Combined with a drug that produces irregular action of the heart, it might produce the sensation of flying. Typically, pagans mixed these ingredients into an ointment that was rubbed on the skin. This ointment must have been prepared in some sort of pot or bowl. This is probably where the church got the idea of the “witch cauldron,” which they claimed contained dead babies and other ridiculous, hellish and unsupported imaginings of the collective church mind.
The witch cults claimed that these inebriant plants and fungi properties put one in touch with a daimon or nature-spirit. A daimon could be used as one’s personal familiar or spirit guide. (The meaning of the Greek word daimon is akin to a “guardian angel.”) Pagans believed that daimons were spirits who inhabited nature. They believed that through the use of psychoactive, they could directly commune with these spirits.
This, of course, was heretical to the church, which was relentless in its campaign to stamp out pagan practices. To further this dominance, the church changed the word daimon to demon, which obviously gave it an entirely different connotation. The church believed that demons were toys or helpers of Lucifer. Before the church established itself as a ruling entity, pagans certainly had no concept of Lucifer, an entity who lived in a bizarre and perverted abode called hell.
The Mushroom Cloud
Most books dealing with Joan’s life gloss over evidence that connect her with paganism, and rely on a Christianized biography. However, Murray concludes that Joan was most likely involved in a Dianic religious cult, widespread in her day. Dianic cults practiced an ancient, benevolent, fertility-based religion. Unlike other scholars, Murray has the good sense not to dismiss this fact as unworthy of exploration. She was the first modern scholar to validate paganism as likely having had an impact on Joan’s personality. Unfortunately, due to the skepticism of our scientific age and the near-total domination of Judaic/Christian values, Murray’s profound work has been dismissed by many other professionals, who fail to attribute any credibility to reports of Joan of Arc’s paganism.
So what were the most probable causes for the personality and behavior of Joan of Arc? My interpretation begins with Murray’s assertion that pagan rites were practiced and that Joan was an initiate. But it is my contention that these rites, and the plant inebriates used therein, could, indeed, produce visions and voices, resulting in prophecies realized and the wondrous mystical occurrences experienced by Joan and witnessed by others.
However, my belief is that, while Joan was a pagan, her religion was not Dianic, as Murray suggests. Rather, it was a Druidic religion, possibly mixed with a few Dianic traditions and perhaps even a smattering of Catholicism. (In Joan’s day, it was dangerous not to at least pretend to be a Catholic, and it was not unusual for the Catholic liturgy to be incorporated into pagan rites, just to be safe.) Those Druidic rites – which included use of psychoactive mixtures – may have been responsible for inducing Joan’s voices/visions, behaviors, and prophecies, and possibly enhanced her capacity to heal quickly from the serious wounds she incurred in battle.
The Druids were a “sacred-oak” cult, widespread in Europe during Joan’s life, and inebriates were central to their rites. The Druids believe that nature-spirits or daimon, which included fairies, resided in the oak tree. Often the oak was referred to as the Fairy Tree because fairies, or elementals/daimon were said to be seen there.
The fact that Joan lived in a social environment of paganism is paramount to understanding her personality. The church knew very well of the pagan rites that were taking place in her society. At her trial for practicing witchcraft, she was questioned about the oak tree near her home in Domremy. At this oak, villagers would gather and hang mistletoe, a Druid custom and an indication of Joan’s strong Druid association. Though Joan made it quite clear that she would not necessarily tell the truth to church officials, she did say that she sometimes hung mistletoe on the oak branches with the other villagers. The belief in fairies and dancing around the tree were both aspects of Druid ceremonies and beliefs.
Moreover, an oak tree stood on her father’s property where she lived. She was interrogated about it during her trial. In Joan of Arc: Fact, Legend and Literature, Jerome R. Landfield and Wilfred T. Jewkes retell how Joan was asked “if there were not in her part of the country a wood called the oak-wood; for there was a prophecy which said that out of this wood would come a maid who should work miracles.” She was also questioned as to whether she saw her visions at the Fairy Tree.
There are numerous Druid connotations linked to Joan. During her trial, Joan did eventually admit to attending the Fairy Tree ceremonies with other villagers. On one occasion, Joan reported to the church officials that she could not remember if she danced at the tree with the others. At another point in her trial, Joan remarked that she did hear voices near the fairies’ fountain, which was near the tree, but that she forgot what they said to here there. She was finally forced to admit that she had first met the voices near the spot.
Joan changed her story many times as the trial continued. Psychologically, this is to be expected for several reasons. Druid initiates often took an oath never to speak a word to any Christian about their practices.
The Amanita muscaria mushroom is widely found under oak, birch, beech, and pine trees. According to Carl A.P. Ruck, Clark Heinrich, and Blaise Daniel Staples, such trees are venerated. In The Apples of Apollo: Pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist, they write: “The Amanitae, moreover, grow only in mycorrhizal symbiosis with the rootlets of certain trees – the pine, birch, and oak chief among them – making these the shaman’s Tree or Cosmic Axis, the Tree of the enthnogenic fruit.”
It would be fair to say that fairies and nature spirits were more likely to be visible to someone under the influence of strong psychoactives. The Druids held sacred anything to do with this mighty tree. This certainly included the ingestion of the psychoactive mushrooms that grew there.
It is also probable that Joan preferred the A. muscaria and psilocybin mushrooms. For ancient cultures, psychoactive plants were an important part of religious practices. Accounts of effects of psilocybin mushroom use include a quickening of the consciousness, mental and spiritual revelations, and, sometimes, profound self-discovery. The visions, voices, bright lights and cosmic revelations that Joan reported are strikingly similar to the grand visions, voices, bright lights and cosmic revelations of other prophets throughout time. The Toltec, Aztec and Maya called psilocybin mushrooms Flesh of the Gods. Both R. Gordon Wasson and John Allegro have made the case that the origin of the Eucharist lies in mysterious rites involving the ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms. It has also been suggested that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis is a mistranslation for hallucinogenic fungus.
The late Dr. Timothy Leary, a Harvard University psychologist who championed LSD, asserts in The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead that “the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key – it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.”
After much research, Leary and his colleagues theorized that plant inebriates allow one to explore the DNA structures and the nervous system in the body which contain ancestral memories, knowledge of other dimensions, and potentially even the origin of the life force itself. As Leary once said: “You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond the range of your ego… beyond your notions of space and time.”
Perhaps Joan experienced that profound new awareness of which Leary speaks. She foretold of being wounded during battle and that Dauphin Charles would become king. She also claimed that voices told her where to find her fabled sword. The sword was found near a church. When it was cleaned, five crosses were discovered – just as Joan had prophesied. While the crosses may appear to be an association with Christianity, there have been hundreds of styles of crosses in history, most of which predate Christianity. Non-Christian people have often utilized a cross. In fact, it may be regarded as almost universal and, in very many cases, connected with some form of nature worship.
In 1429, when English soldiers bore down on Orleans, Joan predicted the threat from 200 miles away. There is no tangible way she could have known about that. On another occasion, she prophesied that the winds would change and the river current would stop, so that she and her soldiers could continue their journey. That occurred, as well. (Interestingly, an ancient shamanic belief holds that women are “knowers of the four winds.”)
Joan’s closest soldier friend and confidante was Gilles de Retz (1404-1440). Whenever Joan was injured in battle, he tended to her. When she was pierced by an arrow that entered her neck and came out her back causing profuse bleeding, she pulled the arrow out herself and was tended to by Gilles. A practitioner of alchemy, he undoubtedly was knowledgeable in plant usage. In any case, she soon returned to battle.
The Defiant Stance
Most plant-derived psychedelics are water-soluble. They leave the system relatively quickly, thus returning the individual to normal functioning. Still, this return to normal, organized behavior can be somewhat altered by excessive use of psychedelics. These alterations may explain Joan’s obstinate behavior toward the church and the inquisitors who tried her.
Joan’s voice/visions may have been daimon or elementals – or, from a psychological point of view, expressions of archetypal images from her subconscious, produced by psychoactive substances. Manley Palmer Hall and J. Augustus Knapp maintain in The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolic Philosophy that Socrates had a daimon that helped his intellect. Socrates was an initiate of a secret, mystery school, as was Plato, where a powerful psychoactive mixture was ingested. Like Joan, Socrates exhibited disdain for authority, and like her, he did not seem to take his trial seriously.
Many have speculated as to what would lead Joan to take the defiant stance she took in front of church officials, when she knew very well what the inquisition did to heretics. Psychological experts find that excessive use of psychedelics can lead to a disregard for authority.
W.V. Caldwell notes in LSD Psychotherapy: An Exploration of Psychedelic and Psycholytic Therapy that the most notable symptom is disenchantment with the values and practices of society. With excessive use, people can come to see the world and authority as a sort of grand puppet show. They tend to take their own inner revelations more seriously than outer, authoritative constructs. This would certainly explain why Joan said in her trial that she was more afraid of disobeying her “voice” than of disobeying the church. At her trial, she was asked whether her voices had sight and eyes. She answered: “You will not learn that yet. There [is] a saying that men are sometimes hanged for telling the truth.”
Although it is commonly believed that from the start, Joan said her voices were those of Christian saints, this was not the case. Under continuous questioning, and probably torture, she announced during her trial that her voices were those of the Catholic persuasion – Saint Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine. Prior to this, Joan had made no such claim.
During her trial, Joan was also asked what she ate when she heard her visions/voices – a clear indication that the officials were looking for plant use. Early in her first trial, she was ordered to answer what exactly she had had to eat and drink when she saw her visions. This, along with the officials’ incessant questioning about the Fairy Tree, is evidence that they clearly suspected her of ingesting inebriates.
Further obstinate behavior that Joan displayed included constantly changing her answers, refusing to answer some questions, refusing to take the oath of truth, and threatening church officials to be careful in what they asked her. She also tried to escape from prison on several occasions. On Joan’s second escape attempt, she jumped off the prison tower and fell some 70 feet to the ground. Miraculously, this jump left her unharmed. She was, however, knocked unconscious. She was found by her captors and returned to her cell.
It is not difficult to understand why Joan made these escape attempts. First she had long demonstrated a blatant disregard for authority, which may have resulted from a long history of psychoactive plant use. Second, she must have been terrified at the prospects of what the Inquisition could do to her.
Common tools of the trade included the rack, branding irons inserted into bodily orifices, twisters that pulled flesh off the bone, and thumb and toe screws. Placing an individual’s hands and feet into fire or boiling fat was also a common interrogation method. Sometimes, people were slowly baked to death over a low-burning fire. At times, they were half-baked, taken off the pyres, and thrown back into their cells, only to be put back on a stake in a day or two. Other times, as with Joan’s execution, people were burned alive in public. Torture had become a science for the Inquisition, and women were perennial victims. Churchmen claimed they were devoid of souls.
In spite of these realities, Joan remained steadfast in her opposition to church officials. One can only imagine her personal agony -- clinging to her own inner truth, bestowed upon her through psychoactive plant use, while the specter of a torture dungeon approached.
It is a myth that Joan had only male soldier friends, that female society was not a part of her social element. Growing up, she had girlfriends just like any other child. When she became a warrior and prophetess, Joan, indeed, had female friends and followers. One woman, in particular, Pierronne, was burned as a witch in Paris for taking a stand similar to Joan’s about the reality of her own visions. Pierronne was a fearless supporter of Joan even while facing church officials and the Inquisition. Some documentation exists that she, too, engaged in Druidic practices.
Betrayal and Death
Charles VII was crowned King of France in July 1429. Two months earlier, at the Battle of Orleans, Joan had cleared his way to the throne with a miraculous victory over the English. She continued fighting the enemy in other locations along the Loire River. Fear of her troops was so formidable that when she approached Lord Talbot’s army at Patay, most of the English troops fled the battlefield. At the coronation, Joan was given a place of honor next to the king. Later, she was ennobled for her services to the country.
In 1430, she was captured and sold to the English. They, in turn, handed her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen, France, to be tried for witchcraft, heresy and wearing male clothing, which was considered an offense against the church. (As a soldier, she hardly would have been wearing an evening gown.) It was Charles who had given Joan an army to fight the English, and her deeds had guided France to sovereignty. Yet, at her trial, he betrayed her by offering no assistance whatsoever.
On May 24, 1431, Joan was placed in a cart and taken to a wooden platform, which was constructed to be her burning stake. A large crown awaited her execution. Several notaries whispered to Joan to recant and save herself by signing a confession rife with promise to obey church dogma and have her sentence commuted to life in prison. Upon seeing the stake, she gave in and decided to sign the paper. Some accounts state that she even laughed a little as she placed her mark on the page.
She was then taken back to her cell, but within days, it was pronounced that she had relapsed into heresy. While in prison, she had worn men’s clothes. Joan was shackled and chained in her cell with five guards, who treated her cruelly. Her voices had directed her to take a lifelong vow of chastity, but scholars agree that she was probably raped while in confinement.
By this time, she had been a prisoner for a year, and the Inquisition was more than ready to see her burn. Joan had grown tired of the whole mess. She claimed to have heard her voices once again, telling her not to save her life by offering the church false confessions. She was now doomed.
On May 30, 1431, Joan was again taken by cart to the stake in the old marketplace in Rouen. Officials did not have her tongue cut out, as was the usual custom to ensure that the accused could not speak to the crowd. A monk stepped onto the stake with her, to try to save her life, in the belief that if he stood beside her, the executioner would not light the pyre. He was wrong. As the roaring flames reached Joan’s feet, she pleaded with him to jump off, which he did.
After Joan’s clothes were burned off, the executioner doused the flames, so the crowd could see her burned nakedness. Most accounts say she was still alive at that point. Then the executioner rekindled the fire until the flames roared again and burned Joan to death.
By all accounts, she died in utter agony. Some say that, at the moment of her death, a dove flew from her mouth. Symbolically, a dove represents the soul at the time of death. It is said that someone in the crowd cried out, “God help us, we have murdered a saint!”
In 1456, a second trial was held, and Joan was pronounced innocent of the charges against here. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
B.L. Setab, M.A., CH. T is a counselor and hypnotherapist who is interested in the use of the quantum mind and how it may be accessed through marijuana and other natural psychoactive substances. She has a keen interest in historical research from a psychosocial perspective and has concluded that consciousness and the brain evolved hand in hand with psychoactives. Her research into Joan of Arc and other historical figures and eras is consistent with this perspective. She is a member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.