What Is an Oubliette?
People often wonder exactly what this twisted prison was and how it was used. Often accounts of them come up in history or myth. Many recall the oubliette from the David Bowie movie, Labyrinth, for example, or the book Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place by Vanta M. Black.
Let’s explore the reality, myth, and legend of oubliettes.
What Does Oubliette Literally Mean?
Oubliette is a French word and it translates to: a forgotten place where criminals and undesirables were thrown and left to die. It was a deep pit often found in castles and keeps. Dating back centuries, it frequently had sharp spikes and a narrow opening with a wider base which made it harder to scale back up.
The victim may or may not be impaled when they hit the bottom, it was a mater of chance. Usually the fall or spikes would not cause immediate death. Instead, the doomed would suffer for days if not weeks before death mercifully took over.
The Oubliette at Leap Castle in Ireland
Leap Castle in Ireland is home to one of the world’s most famous oubliettes. Hearing about it started the wheels turning for Vanta M. Black and was the spark that ignited her book Oubliette. The history of Leap Castle is deep and dark.
For example, the Bloody Chapel is home of its oubliette. The O’Carrolls, a family who once owned Leap Castle used the oubliette as a dungeon where they would throw prisoners to let them die. The entrance is a narrow hole that leads to a platform, and from there another pit extends down.
The O’Carrolls were brutish and treated their enemies violently. Stories are told of the O’Carrolls hiring other nearby clans to act as mercenaries to murder other clans. Rather than paying them for a job well-done, the O’Carrolls invited them to a feast at Leap Castle, where the unsuspecting allies were poisoned and thrown into the oubliette.
During the 1920s, the oubliette cleaned out. Remains from over 150 bodies were rolled out in wheelbarrows. A pocket watch from the mid-1800s indicated how recent the oubliette had claimed souls.
The Oubliette at Leap Castle Is Haunted by an Elemental Demon
There are also stories of an “elemental” spirit at Leap Castle which is associated with the oubliette. The volume of death and despair allegedly summoned this otherworldly entity. One of the most renowned descriptions of it is Mildred Darby’s. Her family once owned Leap, and she was a dabbler in the occult. Some say her meddling provoked the elemental to appear. Her account of it describes the creature this way:
“The thing was about the size of a sheep, thin, gaunt and shadowy in parts. Its face was human, or to be more accurate, inhuman, in its vileness, with large holes of blackness for eyes, loose slobbery lips, and a thick saliva-dripping jaw, sloping back suddenly into its neck!”
One myth has it that before Leap Castle was erected, the elemental entity was summoned by Celtic Druids during a pagan ritual. It was brought into this realm of reality to act as their guardian. However something went wrong, and it became an evil force that now haunts the castle and its oubliette.
Escaping an Oubliette
Escape was futile. Oubliettes were often designed to be narrow at the top, making it slope so scaling up was impossible. They were also deep, making it so the victim was likely injured during the fall and unable to climb back out.
Even if one did escape, they were often guarded like an ordinary dungeon or prison cell, so there was little hope for freedom.
Why Were People Thrown into an Oubliette?
Were they guilty of a crime or wrongly accused? Were they victims of turbulent historical times or did they create their own
destiny? What deliciously intertwining events could lead to someone being cast into such a cruel place?
The answers to these questions vary. Most likely many souls damned to a demise in an oubliette were prisoners of war or committed some kind of crime. They may have been a rival, or just an innocent who needed to be done away with.
The novel Oubliette explores several of these scenarios. Using historical references and legends, the many stories in the book all revolve around unfortunate
victims of an oubliette in a French castle. In reality though, no one can ever know for certain what would make a person so evil as to condemn another to a wicked, slow, painful end in an oubliette.