By “Bell, Book, And Candle”
LEAVES FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF A MISSIONARY PRIEST.
Theosophist, April, June, August,1883
Not with the object of vindicating the Asiatic people from any charge of superstition that may lie against them, but only to show that in Western countries under all their boasted enlightenment, the selfsame belief in demoniac obsession obtains as among them, we have heretofore cited cases which have appeared in current literature similar to the very curious one we now quote. The narrative is taken from the Catholic Mirror, a most conservative journal of the Romish Church in America; in fact, as it announces itself: “Official Organ of the Archbishop of Baltimore, Bishops of Richmond and Wilmington, and the Vicar-Apostolic of North Carolina.” What it admits is, therefore, not to be coughed down or put aside; its voice is that of authority. The strong mediaeval flavour which pervades the present story adds a greater zest to it. Its chief value to the intelligent psychologist is in showing (a) that the phenomenon of so-called obsession survives to our day, despite scientific progress; (b) that the possibility of overcoming the abnormal condition by means of rituals and prayers (mantrams) is claimed by the Church to be true; (c) that the selfsame abnormal psycho-physiological symptoms show themselves in Christian and heathen countries, where almost identical remedies are employed. In the one case the power of exorcism is claimed as a divine gift from the Christian god, and in the other as coming from the god Rama, conqueror of Rawan; that is all. And if exorcism be impossible by Hindu priests in India, it must be equally impossible by Romish priests in Canada or at Rome. For Hysteria is the obsessing devil in both instances.
We have a certain respect for sceptics who laugh with equal scorn at the credulity of phenomenalists whether inside or outside their own Church. But our feeling is quite the reverse for those who, while making merry at the expense of all others for credulity, are ready to swallow identical stories if alleged by their own ecclesiastics to be miraculous. The most staggering recitals of occult phenomena that have been taken from “heathen” sources into our journal, do not surpass, if they equal, the report of this missionary priest in the elements of credulity, blind faith, and impossibility; and yet, the occultist will no more deny the essential facts of this case than those of the others. We will watch with amused curiosity the tone that will be assumed by our critics in speaking of this affair. The reader will bear in mind that henceforward it is the editor of the Catholic Mirror who is telling the story. Such comments as we may have to make will be confined to the footnotes:
[Only selections of the article are made here (first from the introduction to the Notebook), along with notes by H.P.B.]
The following extraordinary narrative was related in our (C.M.’s) presence some years ago by a venerable and worthly priest . . . for several reasons we hesitated about publishing it, and it is only after a critical investigation, and consultation with persons whose judgment is entitled to the highest regard, that we have decided to do so. There can be no doubt that cases of diabolical possession are sometimes met with, and we believe this to be a genuine one. . . .
Many persons hardly believe in the devil at all, from believing so little in God.1 Although the reality of diabolical possessions is a truth which the Holy Scripture abundantly establishes, there are many who scout the idea of devils being permitted to be on this earth of ours. They call it a superstition . . . Satan may be looked upon as a mere abstract idea, to be taken as the personification of evil, but this is not Catholic doctrine by any means. Archbishop Vaughan has said somewhere: “As men get misty in their notions of the God-man, they become vague in their belief in him whose power that God came to crush.”2 . . . It is not necessary to attribute to the agency of the devil whatever is mysterious or phenomenal, and that cannot immediately be accounted for otherwise. Catholics are guilty of no such folly. In cases of possession, the Church prescribed rules to determining their genuineness. The fact that forms of exorcism have been employed by the ministers of religion from the earliest ages of Christinity, and that they are still retained in our Rituals, is proof enough that the Church believes that the devil can, and sometimes does, exercise power on earth in a palpable manner; that cases of demoniacal possessions have taken place in the past, and that they still occur. It was prohpecised by our blessed Lord that the casting out of devils would be one of the signs that shall follow them that believe.————3
[The narrative of the Notebook now begins; we again give selections along with notes from H.P.B.]
. . . Arriving safely in New York, I proceeded directly to the Archbishop . . . On the following morning a man stopped me on the street, and asked me very politely if I was a Catholic priest, and, upon my replying in the affirmative, he exclaimed:
“OH, THEN, IT IS TRUE—TOO TRUE: IT IS THE DEVIL!”
In reply to my request for an explanation of this strange expression, he said: “Oh, Father! my daughter has been possessed by the devil for many years; I see it all now!”
“You must not believe that so easily,” I replied.
“How can I doubt it,” he answered, “when only last night she told me that a ‘black coat’ had come to——, and repeated it this morning, saying: ‘You must go; you will find him; you must bring him. Oh!’ said she (or rather the devil), ‘how foolish I have been to take possession of this girl! Now I shall suffer; he comes to torment and expel me.’4 . . .
During our ride [ to his home] he acquainted me with all the particulars of the case. . . . on one occasion, during the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, gave the girl some blessed tea to drink, when suddenly she broke out in a rage, slapped her mother and exclaimed: “Oh! I am found out—I must speak now! but thou shalt pay for it.” Then the father, gently interposing, said: “What is that?”—calling her by her name—“you strike your mother!”
“It is not——who is here, it is I,” was the answer, in a rough, hollow voice, and growling like a dog.
“Who art thou?” said the father.
“I am the devil,” was the answer, in similar tones. . . .
So much I learned of the facts that preceded my arrival. The mother then repeated what her husband had already told me about the girl’s reference to me during the previous evening.
I was truly surprised at this narrative, seeing clearly that the devil meant me. I said that I would see the girl, but first I recommended myself to God by kneeling down and reciting the VENI CREATOR. . . .
. . . I then returned to——, and wrote to the Archibishop, informing him of the facts of the case. He replied that he had already heard of the girl, and thathe had not the least doubt but that it was a genuine case of Satanic possession. . . .
On the sixth of April . . . I first directed my steps to the house of the girl. . . . to begin a preliminary exorcism; therefore, following the Ritual, I put on my surplice and stole, and began the interrogatories as follows:
“Now thou knowest that I have regular faculties, and therefore full power over thee; I command thee in the name of Jesus Chris to tell me when, where, how and why thou hast taken possession of this girl?”
“I will not answer,” said he.
“Thou hast not properly commanded me. . . . Thou must command me by the only word that can force me to obey.”
“What is that?”
“If thou dost not tell me, I will curse thee!”
“Oh, don’t! Must I speak? then it is in the name of the Catholic Church” (growling.5)
“I command thee, then, in the name of the Catholic Church, to tell me all things connected with this possession. . . .”
“It was on the third Sunday of May, in the afternoon, twelve years ago . . . the child of the—— . . . gave her something to eat which was bewitched; immediately on her eating it, we possessed her, which we could not have done, however, had the Sign of the Cross been made either on the child or on the food. We are twenty: I am the second, and the only one that has a right to speak; my name is Behemoth; the first one is Isacaron, he is here to watch me; and the third one is to report to Satan what is going on, his name is Astoro; the 4th, Aburo; 5th, Abaro; 6th Jonas; 7th, Lusko; 8th, Asaro, 9th Astaro; 10th, Discaro; 11th Dabuno; 12th Discario; 13th, Incario; 14th, Beelsehub;6 . . .
. . . The next morning I went to the Church, about amile distant, to open the mission; it was nearly full. I heard confessions, said Mass, preached, administered Holy Communion, and then returned to the house. When drawing near I heard the girl singing in a very loud voice, and her mother told me that during Mass she had been very much excited, singing all the time in a loud, hoarse voice, and at the top of her head. I entered the room where the girl was, and as soon as she saw me she said something that filled me with surprise and horror.7 . . .
. . . At another time . . . He [the devil] said, furthermore, that suicides, murders, etc., are sometimes the result of actual possession brought on by sin; also that many confined in lunatic asylums are simply possessed by devils, but hiddenly, and that, if they were exorcised, they would be forced out.
With regard to possessed animals. In the same place, and during this possession, I was asked by a person to exorcise soe of his horses who were possessed. He took me to his stable, showed me his horses, which were quiet, and gave me the holy waterÏ aspersed them with it, and lo! they began to get excited, as though worried by a thousand horse-flies.8
Sometimes possession is the fault of the victim, sometimes the result of magical dealings with the devil, and sometimes trials by permission of God without any fault on the part of the person, as in the case of this girl. This is easily explained in the answer of our Divine Lord to His disciples with reference to the man born blind. Rabbi, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (St. John, ix.)9 . . .
. . . [at a later date] I said Mass in the house by special permission; she was to receive Holy Communion. During Mass she uttered loud blasphemies, and became so frantic that her father and one of her brothers could scarcely hold her. At the time of Communion, it was with the greatest difficulty that she could be taken to the altar; and, while kneeling there, she continued to make grimaces and contortions. At last, I gave her Holy Communion, and she was taken back to her place. After my thanksgiving, I went into the next room with Father—— to take breakfast, the girl remaining in the room. We were standing to say the Benedicite, and, while raising my hand to make the Sign of the Cross, what was my astonishment! “Look down!” I exclaimed.
The floor was literally covered with little, white, living worms (maggots), and some were even climbing the walls.10
. . . We thought, indeed, it was some trick of the devil, and called in the girl, who came reluctantly; we asked her what that was on the floor. She (looking down sideways) said, “These are worms.”
“Where are they coming from?”
“I don’t know.” But she said it in quite a knowing manner. . . .
“But how is it there are no worms in the other room?” (where Mass had been said.)
“Because,” answered the voice, with great solemnity, “we are not worthy to be where Jesus Christ is.”11 . . .
. . . She was taken to her uncles house, at——, where she gave new proofs of possession. A medical doctor—a Lutheran—having heard of the case, requested that he might see the girl and speak to her; having obtained permission, he asked her if she knew Luther. “Yes!” came the answer: “he is with us!” The doctor withdrew immediately, without further questioning.12
Sometimes the devil speaks against himself, and works for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, which is always the design of God in permitting possessions.13 His replies are always in the language of the person possessed, so that all may understand.
It may be asked why the girl became possessed a second time, the demon having said that he had no further power over her. I can only say that probably it was not the will of God that she should go to the convent (the place was not congenial to him).
But, by praying, she obtained peace. Two years after, she became perfectly quiet; I paid her a visit, and she was almost entirely free. I conjured the devil, who was still there; he told me that he could do nothing against her, as she was continually preventing him by her prayers. She had indeed become very pious, and had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. About four years afterwards, I visited the place again, and found the girl a full-grown woman; she acted very naturally, and told me, as did also her mother, that she had not experienced any trouble for several years. During the conversation I conjured the devil interiorly, but received no answer, nor did I notice anything strange in her actions. The extraordinary affair was at an end.—Ave Maria.
Editor’s Note: This narrative, given by a good Roman Catholic padri, evidently sincere and truthful, and published in an authorized orthodox Christian journal, the Catholic Mirror, strikes for us the keynote of Christian theology. This is authoritative, good, sound, orthodox Christianity; and he who believes in it will not be damned, but on the contrary will be honoured and respected in society. That which Theosophy teaches is all the reverse. Our philosophy is hooted at, and the orthodox believers in a personal devil will turn away with a shudder of horror from the theosophic teachings. We are in the XIXth century, in the full blaze of civilization and science, we see.
1. We think it due to quite another reason. Those capable of sincerely believing in a just and omnipotent deity are unable to believe in a Devil. If anything has been calculated to make the Western world lose all faith in Religion, it is this absurd and cruel dogma which enforces upon all Christians belief in the Devil.—ED. Theosophist. [H.P.B.]
2. And why could he not have crushed the power of the Devil without moving from heaven? Why should “that God” have had to “come” to our earth? He was not here already, then, before the year one? So there was at least one entire globe where God was not present, despite the claim of his Omnipresence. And if he created everything in the heavens above as well as in the earth beneath, why did he create such a devil?—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
3. And the words: “In my name shall they cast out devils” (Mark, xvi, 17-18) are followed by these others—“they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” This is, we are told, what Jesus promised to “them that believe.” Having known Christian orthodox exorcisers and many other persons who “believed” most sincerely, we yet have never met one, least of all a padri, who would consent to either drink a glass of poison, or take a cobra by its tail. Why is this? The “casting out of the devils” is only one of the signs that should “follow them that believe.” Is it because faith is but one-fifth of what it used to be?—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
4. Now really that must have been an idiotic devil! For had he but kept quiet, no one, least of all the new comer, could have ever found him out; hence would not have turned him out of his chosen premises.—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
5. The “Catholic Church,” then, we are given to understand, is more powerful, and more to be dreaded by the Devil than God Himself!!—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
6. Oh, poor and silly devil!—A very suggestive fact, indeed, that none of the names of the demons and devils accepted by Christian theology have any other than a Jewish ring about them. All the devils in the Christian Hell seem to be Jews. This is rather flattering for the Heathen—Hindu, Buddhist, and Parsi. Notwithstanding the countless myriads, that agreeably to the Christian Churches must by this time, have gone to Hell, we do not find a single “Babu” or “Bhoy” among the obsessing devils, while here we have even a “Jonas.” Will the good padris, please explain?—ED. Theosophist. [H.P.B.]
7. The demon, or rather hysterical girl being a clairvoyante, repeated to him what he had heard at confession.—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
8. Now this statement of “possessed horses” and the effect of holy water upon them implies more than it says. It is positively charming, and reminds one of the Golden Legends in which the reader meets with a wolf and a dragon converted to Christianity and weeping over their sins.—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
9. Rather than believe in such a “God,” many good men have ceased to believe in one at all. It is against the interpretations of the words of Jesus of Nazareth and not the words themselves (which mean quite a different thing) that so many ex-Christians have rebelled.—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
10. Spontaneous generation? A clever and scientific devil that!—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
11. This answer would make the sceptically inclined infer that Christ must, in such a case, be very often absent from his Church, since it is sometimes near the very altars and during the ceremony of public exorcisms, that the devil has manifested himself most fiercely in those he gets possession of: witness the Nuns of Loudun?—ED. T. [H.P.B.]
12. Now this is the most charming hit possible at the poor Protestants. Behold, the Christian brotherly love and charity!
13. And if so, then such a devil must be as good as any missionary or priest? After this authoritative assertion, how shall we be able to know who is preaching—a padri or the * * *?—ED. T. [H.P.B.]