St. Augustine questioned seriously whether Apuleius could have been changed into an ass by a Thessalian sorceress, and theologians have long debated about the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar into a wild beast, which things merely prove that the eloquent doctor of Hippo was unacquainted with magical secrets and that the theologians in question have not advanced far in exegesis.
We are concerned in this chapter with different and more incredible marvels, which are at the same time incontestable. I refer to lycanthropy, or the nocturnal transformation of men into wolves, so celebrated in rural tales of the twilight by the histories of were-wolves. These histories are so well attested that, with a view to their explanation, sceptical science has recourse to furious mania and masquerading as animals. But such hypotheses are puerile and explain nothing. Let us seek elsewhere for the secret of the phenomena which have been observed on this subject, and begin with establishing;
- 1, That no one has ever been killed by a were-wolf, except by suffocation, without effusion of blood and without wounds;
- 2, That were-wolves, though tracked, pursued, and even wounded, have never been killed on the spot;
- 3, That persons suspected of these transformations have always been found at home, after a were-wolf chase, more or less maimed, sometimes dying, but invariably in their natural form.
Let us, next, establish phenomena of a different order. Nothing in the world is better borne out by evidence than the visible and real presence of P. Alphonsus Ligouri beside the dying pope, whilst the same personage was simultaneously seen at home, far from Rome, in prayer and ecstasy.
Further, the simultaneous presence of the missionary Francis Xavier in several places at one time has been no less strictly demonstrated.
It will be said that these are miracles, but we reply that miracles when they are genuine are simply facts for science. Apparitions of persons dear to us coincident with the moment of their death are phenomena of the same order and attributable to the same cause.
We have spoken1 of the sidereal body which is intermediary between the soul and the physical body. Now, this body frequently remains awake while the latter sleeps, and passes through all space which universal magnetization opens to it. It lengthens without breaking the sympathetic chain which attaches it to our heart and brain, and it is for this reason that it is so dangerous to awaken dreamers suddenly. As a fact, too great a start may break the chain in an instant and cause death immediately. The form of our sidereal body is conformed to the habitual condition of our thoughts, and it modifies, in the long run, the characteristics of the material body. This is why Swedenborg, in his somnambulistic intuitions, frequently beheld spirits in the shape of various animals.
Let us now make bold to say that a were-wolf is nothing else but the sidereal body of a man whose savage and sanguinary instincts are typified by the wolf; who, further, whilst his phantom wanders over the country, is sleeping painfully in his bed, and dreams that he is actually a wolf.
What makes the were-wolf visible is the almost somnambulistic excitement caused by the fright of those who behold it, or else the tendency, more particularly in simple country persons, to enter into direct communication with the astral light, which is the common medium of visions and dreams. The hurts inflicted on the were-wolf really wound the sleeping person by the odic and sympathetic congestion of the astral light, and by the correspondence of the immaterial with the material body.
Many persons will believe that they are dreaming when they read such things as these, and will ask whether we are really ourselves awake; but we will only request men of science to reflect upon the phenomena of gestation, and upon the influence of the imagination of women on the form of their offspring. A woman who had been present at the execution of a man who was broken upon a wheel gave birth to a child with all its limbs shattered. Let anyone explain to us how the impression produced upon the soul of the mother by a horrible spectacle could so have reacted on the child, and we in turn will explain why blows received in dreams can really bruise and even grievously wound the body of him who receives them in imagination, above all when his body is suffering and subjected to nervous and magnetic influences.
To these phenomena and to the occult laws which govern them must be referred the effects of bewitchment, of which we shall speak hereafter.1
Diabolical obsessions, and the majority of nervous diseases which affect the brain, are wounds inflicted on the nervous mechanism by the astral light when perverted, that is, absorbed or projected in abnormal proportions. All extraordinary and extra-natural tensions of the will predispose to obsessions and nervous diseases; enforced celibacy, asceticism, hatred, ambition, rejected love, are so many generative principles of infernal forms and influences.
Paracelsus says that the menstruations of women beget phantoms in the air, and from this standpoint convents would be seminaries for nightmares, while the devils might be compared to those heads of the hydra of Lerne which were reproduced eternally and propagated in the very blood from their wounds.
The phenomena of possession amongst the Ursulines of Loudun, so fatal to Urban Grandier, have been misconstrued. The nuns were really possessed by hysteria and fanatical imitation of the secret thoughts of their exorcists, which were transmitted to their nervous system by the astral light. They received the impression of all the hatreds which this unfortunate priest had conjured up against him, and this wholly interior communication seemed diabolical and miraculous to themselves.
Hence in this tragical affair everyone acted sincerely, even to Laubardemont, who, in his blind execution of the prejudged verdicts of Cardinal Richelieu, believed that he was fulfilling at the same time the duties of a true judge, and as little suspected himself of being a follower of Pontius Pilate as he would have recognised in the sceptical and libertine curé of Saint-Pierre-du Marché, a disciple and martyr of Christ.
The possession of the nuns of Louvier is scarcely more than a copy of those of Loudun; the devils invent little and plagiarise one another. The process of Gaufridi and Magdalen de la Palud possesses stranger features, for in this case the victims are their own accusers. Gaufridi confessed that he was guilty of depriving a number of women of the power to defend themselves against his seductions by simply breathing in their nostrils. A young and beautiful girl, of noble family, who had been thus insufflated, described, in the greatest detail, scenes wherein the unchaste seemed to vie with the monstrous and grotesque. Such are the ordinary hallucinations of false mysticism and ill-kept celibacy. Gaufridi and his mistress were obsessed by their mutual chimeras, and the brain of the one reflected the nightmares of the other. Was not the Marquis of Sade himself infectious for certain depleted and diseased natures?
The scandalous trial of Father Girard is a new proof of the deliriums of mysticism and the singular nervous affections which it may entail. The trances of la Cadière, her ecstacies, her stigmatas, were all as real as the insensate and perhaps involuntary debauchery of her director. She accused him, when he wished to withdraw from her, and the conversion of this young woman was a revenge, for there is nothing more cruel than depraved passions. An influential body, which intervened in the trial of Grandier for the destruction of the possible heretic, in this case rescued Father Girard for the honour of the order. Moreover, Grandier and Girard attained the same results by very different means, with which we shall be specially concerned in the sixteenth chapter.1
We operate by our imagination on the imagination of others, by our sidereal body on theirs, by our organs on their organs, in such a way that, by sympathy, whether of inclination or obsession, we reciprocally possess one another, and identify ourselves with those upon whom we wish to act. Reactions against such dominations frequently cause the most pronounced antipathy to succeed the keenest sympathy. Love has a tendency to unify beings; in thus identifying, it frequently renders them rivals, and, consequently, enemies, if in the depth of the two natures there is an unsociable disposition, like pride. To permeate two united souls in an equal degree with pride is to disjoin them by making them rivals. Antagonism is the necessary consequence of a plurality of gods.
When we dream of a living person, either their sidereal body presents itself to ours in the astral light, or at least the reflection thereof, and our impressions at the meeting often make known the secret dispositions of the person in our regard.
For example, love fashions the sidereal body of the one in the image and likeness of the other, so that the psychal medium of the woman is like a man, and that of the man like a woman. It was this transfer which the Kabbalists sought to express in an occult manner when they said, in explanation of an obscure term of Genesis:—”God created love by placing a rib of Adam in the breast of the woman, and a portion of the flesh of Eve in the breast of the man, so that at the bottom of woman’s heart there is the bone of man, while at the bottom of man’s heart there is the flesh of woman,”—an allegory which is certainly not devoid of depth and beauty.
We have referred, in the previous chapter, to what the masters in Kabbalah call the embryonic condition of souls. This state, completed after the death of the person who thereby possesses another, is often commenced in life, whether by obsession or by love.
I knew a young woman, whose parents inspired her with a great terror, who took suddenly to inflicting upon an inoffensive person the very acts she dreaded in them.
I knew another who, after participating in an evocation concerned with a guilty woman suffering in the next world for certain eccentric acts, began to imitate, without any reason, the actions of the dead person.
To this occult power must be attributed the terrible influence resident in parental malediction, which is feared by all nations on earth, as also the imminent danger of magical operations when anyone has not reached the isolation of true adepts.
This virtue of sidereal transmutation, which really exists in love, explains the allegorical marvels of the wand of Circe. Apuleius speaks of a Thessalian woman who changed herself into a bird; he won the affections of her servant to discover the secrets of the mistress, and succeeded only in transforming himself into an ass. This allegory contains the most concealed secrets of love.
Again, the Kabbalists say that when a man falls in love with a female elementary—undine, sylphide, or gnomide, as the case may be—she becomes immortal with him, or otherwise he dies with her. We have already seen1 that elementaries are imperfect and as yet mortal men. The revelation we have mentioned, which has been regarded merely as a fable, is therefore the dogma of moral solidarity in love, which is itself the foundation of love, and alone explains all its sanctity and all its power.
Who, then, is this Circe, that changes her worshippers into swine, while, so soon as she is subjected to the bond of love, her enchantments are destroyed? She is the ancient courtesan, the marble woman of all the ages. A woman who is without love absorbs and degrades all who come near her; she who loves, on the other hand, diffuses enthusiasm, nobility, and life.
There was much talk in the last century about an adept accused of charlatanism, who was termed in his lifetime the divine Cagliostro. It is known that he practised evocations, and that in this art he was surpassed only by the illuminated Schroepffer.2
It is said also that he boasted of his power in binding sympathies, and that he claimed to be in possession of the secret of the great work; but that which rendered him still more famous was a certain elixir of life, which immediately restored to the aged the strength and vitality of youth.
The basis of this composition was malvoisie wine, and it was obtained by distilling the sperm of certain animals with the sap of certain plants. We are in possession of the recipe, but our reasons for withholding it will be readily understood.