The Agrippa

While looking for something else in the forgotten corners of my hard drive, I stumbled upon some old notes I took while researching Breton folklore and legends. Ancient Brittany has been an occasional research subject of mine, originally thanks to a roleplaying game, though the interest quickly took on a life of its own. I hadn’t given it a single thought in several years, though. I find it somehow reassuring that this remains a subject on which the Internet is almost completely unhelpful.

Anyway, what follows is a slightly revised version of my retelling of a Breton tale that I found in a fascinating book of uncertain historical merit. It features Tadik Coz, an itinerant hero-priest that pops up in a lot of Breton folk tales.

In Brittany of old, one might often see Christian priests in possession of a strange and magical sort of tome called an Agrippa. The books contained knowledge about life and death, heaven and hell. With his Agrippa, a priest could look at someone as they were dying and determine the fate of their eternal soul. The books had other powers as well – powers that only the wisest and most pious of priests could be trusted to use safely.

One day, a young priest was sitting atop the hill of Menez Bre, perusing the Agrippa that had recently been entrusted to his care. He was pious but not particularly wise, and immediately gave his attention to those portions of the book he had been instructed to leave well enough alone. Before he knew what he was about, he had accidentally summoned a demon. The fiery-eyed creature, bristling with teeth and horns in unlikely places, leered at him hungrily. The young priest feverishly flipped through the pages, searching for a charm that would banish the beast.

“Want to send me back to Hell, eh?” it growled. “Oh, I’m bound for home, to be sure. But you’re coming with me.” With that, the demon scooped up the priest in one of its gangly arms, and clambered down the hillside. It headed west at a quick pace, making for the entrance to Hell that lies somewhere in the Black Mountains, east of Chateaulin.

Fortunately, Tadik Coz was just then strolling down the road from Morlaix to Guingamp. When he reached the vicinity of Menez Bre, he sensed that something was amiss. He sat down upon a rock, cracked open his own Agrippa, and divined from its pages the predicament of the poor young priest. Moving with divinely-inspired speed, he caught up with the demon deep in the forest and addressed it in a calm, confident voice.

“I say, that’s a pretty paltry prize for the Prince of Darkness, wouldn’t you agree?”

It shrugged. “Yes, I suppose it is. He’s awfully young and a little daft. But we take what souls we can. Anyway it’s none of your business, Tadik Coz. He fell into my trap and there’s nothing you can do. ”

Tadik Coz nodded. “Yes, I know. Rules are rules. But . . . supposing I offered my soul in exchange for his? It would be a trade much to your advantage.”

“Of course it would, but I’m no fool. What’s the catch?”

“After we make the exchange, if I can show you something you have never seen before, you must let me go.”

The demon frowned. “This ‘something’: you have it with you at this very moment?”

“I do.”

The demon thought. It was a very learned creature who had been to just about every place there was to be, both on earth and under the earth. It was fairly certain that it had seen all there was to see. It sniffed the air around Tadik Coz, but smelled nothing unusual – no ancient totem or holy relic that might have escaped his notice. Just a musty Agrippa and a satchel with some bread and fruit.

“Agreed,” rasped the demon. It dropped the young priest, who was still very much in a daze, and scooped up Tadik Coz with its other arm. “Now for your chance. Show me this thing I’ve not seen, or it’s off to Hell for the both of us.”

Nestled in the crook of the demon’s arm, Tadik Coz nonchalantly reached into his satchel and took out an apple and a small carving knife.

“Ha!” barked the demon. “I’ve seen apples before.”

With a clean slice, Tadik Coz split the apple in two.

“Ha again!” said the demon. “You think I’ve never seen an apple’s core? What a fool!”

“Ah,” said Tadik Coz, “But you’ve never seen the inside of this particular apple, have you?” And he held up the split halves, smiling.

The demon opened its mouth and closed it again. It peered angrily at the mottled meat of the apple. But it knew that it was beat. With an angry howl, it tossed Tadik Coz aside and ran away, deep into the forest.

Tadik Coz set the young priest on his feet with a stern admonishment, brushed off his traveling cloak, and continued on his way to Rennes.