|EVIDENCE OF SATAN IN THE MODERN WORLD|
Here are presented chapters 4-8 of Evidence of Satan in the Modern World by Leon Cristiani. [now available from TAN books.] The accounts purport to be of exorcisms that really happened. If true they cannot be explained away as mere psychological oddities. Particularly valuable are the accounts of exorcisms given in chapter 8, as they purport to be taken verbatim from the notes made by a witness to them as they were taking place.
4. Antoine Gay
6. Spellbound in Piacenza
7. Magic in the twentieth century
8. The exorcisms
THE PARTICULAR CASE OF ANTOINE GAY [1790-1871]
IN view of the extraordinary events which are to be related in this chapter, it seems particularly advisable to state the sources from which they are drawn.
Under the rather enigmatic title Le Possede qui glorifia l'Immaculee, J.-H. Gruninger, a writer from Lyons, has recently (1952) recorded the life and sufferings of Antoine Gay. His documentation was drawn from a booklet written by one Victor de Stenay and published by Delhomme and Briguet in 1896. The name, incidentally, was a pseudonym adopted by M. Blanc, the local president of the Association of Saint-Francois-de-Sales. As a basis for his booklet M. Blanc relied on a notebook compiled by M. Houzelot, an engraver from Paris, who frequently visited Lyons on business. Further he had a large number of letters, certificates and reports on Gay's possession, which he had himself collected, and the life of Fr. Chiron--who had taken a deep interest in Gay--written by the Abbe Zephyrin Gandon and, in addition, the recollections and evidence of many persons who had actually known Antoine Gay.
This case gave rise, it must be said, to the most heated discussion. Many who knew the man considered that the fact of possession was undeniable, and that he could only be relieved by exorcism. But there were doubts and opposition, and the exorcism never in fact took place. There is good reason to believe that this was due to a special dispensation. The author of the book we are about to discuss is convinced that the trials endured by Antoine Gay had a divine purpose, or, as we should call it, a finality, similar to that shown in the case of Helene Poirier.
As in the case of Bernadette Soubirous, this purpose might be seen as the intention of proving the existence of the supernatural in a world increasingly given to doubt and incredulity. In other words, the answer to the often quoted saying of Baudelaire: 'The Devil's deepest wile is to persuade us that he does not exist.'
The trick could lead us into mortal danger. The Devil desires nothing better than to be free to act without being recognised. But God does not permit this. He is obliged, willy-nilly, to reveal himself. The facts we are about to repeat are a case in point.
Antoine Gay was born at Lantenay, in the department of Ain, on 31st May 1790. He was baptised the next day and we have his certificate of baptism which records that his father was notaire royal, or public notary, at Lantenay, a little village in the canton of Brenod in the district of Nantua. The boy received a very sketchy elementary education but became an excellent carpenter, and after doing his military service under the First Empire, settled in Lyons. As a man he was reasonably good-looking, tall, dark, and with regular features expressive of gentleness and calm. The anti-clerical outbursts of the French Revolution had no effect on his religious development. He was very pious and even, in early youth, had cherished the desire to become a monk. For unknown reasons his entry into a monastery had to be postponed, and it was only in 1836, when he was forty-six, that he applied for admission to the Abbey of La Trappe d'Aiguebelle, to which he was admitted as a lay brother. He was obliged to leave as the result of a nervous disorder, whose true character was not yet apparent. Those who came to know him later are convinced that this nervous disorder was none other than possession. The demon that possessed him was to admit later that he had been there for fifteen years, without anyone, and least of all Gay, knowing anything about it. When he left La Trappe, however, the signs of possession became increasingly clear. By 1837 Antoine Gay was prey to terrible sufferings. The Devil had laid hold of him.
It is reasonable to require some proof of such a statement. Let us consider what documentary evidence exists.
We have, first of all, in Gruninger's book, a copy of the certificate issued by Fr. Burnoud, former Superior of the Missionaries of La Salette, and addressed to Mgr. Ginoulhiac, at that time Bishop of Grenoble, as follows:
'We have examined Master Gay of Lyons three times, each session lasting from one to two hours. We consider it very probable that this man is possessed by a devil. Our opinion is based on the following grounds: (1) he has disclosed several secret things which he had no means of knowing; (2) there were visible signs of discontent when we pronounced various formulae and prayers of the ritual in Latin. As it is undeniable that Gay does not know Latin, we can only attribute these contortions which, in view of the circumstances, had something preternatural about them, to the presence of a higher intelligence; (3) we questioned him several times in Latin and since the replies were made in French through the mouth of Master Gay, this seems to indicate a knowledge of Latin on the part of that higher intelligence; (4) the good faith, virtue and sincerity of Master Gay are vouched for in numerous testimonials delivered to him by worthy and reliable persons. If these testimonies are true, Gay is not playing tricks: in that case, he must be possessed....'
However, the conclusion reached by M. Burnoud in this document is only that of 'great probability'. Nevertheless he continued to follow the case with interest. In a letter written by M. Houzelot to M. Blanc we find, in fact, the following lines: 'I saw Fr. Burnoud, when he was priest-in-charge of Vinay: he told me that after having examined M. Gay very carefully, he was convinced that he was truly possessed .'
A medical certificate
The following is a medical certificate signed by Dr. Pictet, on 12th November 1843:
'We, the undersigned, doctor of medicine, residing at the Croix Rousse, certify that Master Gay was presented to us for examination by the Abbe Collet and by M. Nicod, vicar of the town, in accordance with the instructions of Mgr. the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyons, that he should be put under medical observation. Having therefore observed M. Gay scrupulously every day for four months, at all times and in all situations, such as at church, at mass, accompanying him whilst he made the Stations of the Cross, in public and personal conversation, at table, on walks, etc., we have not been able to discover the least sign of moral or physical weakness. On the contrary, he enjoys perfect health of body and mind, an uncommon strength of judgment and reasoning, which never shows the least deterioration, not even in the extraordinary crises which occur so frequently and so unexpectedly under the influence of some occult power, which we are naturally unable to detect by medical means, and which activates his body and speaks through his mouth, independently of his will. 'We certify further that having by prayer and by a total abnegation of ourselves, our science and our own reason made common cause with M. Gay to implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we remain convinced that his extraordinary state can only be attributed to possession. This conviction is reinforced by the fact that during our first interview with M. Gay, that extraordinary thing which speaks through his mouth revealed the inmost secrets of our heart, told us the story of our life from the age of twelve onwards, giving details that are known only to God, our confessor, and ourselves. And we have seen the same thing happen with other persons, many of whom have been converted.'
Why no exorcism?
After such a certificate it seems more than astonishing that the Archbishop did not see fit to authorise an exorcism. In fact, in spite of all the evidence, this was never done. Taking everything into consideration, one can only conclude that this was the will of God. We should, in fact, accept the repeated assertions of the principal devil that possessed Gay. He never tired of proclaiming, not perhaps without an element of boastfulness, common to all devils, 'This case of possession is the most extraordinary that has ever happened.'
The extraordinary thing about it was that the devil was there, so to speak, on duty. He was obeying God's orders, and God did not allow him to be driven out, for that very reason.
In the letter from M. Houzelot to M. Blanc, mentioned above, we find the following lines:
'I have seen priests ask the devil very difficult questions. He resolved them immediately, as they themselves have admitted.... I have seen the devil weeping as he was forced to admit the truths of the Christian religion, or to give good advice, or proofs of possession. "The greatest suffering that God can inflict on me," he would say, "is to be obliged to destroy my own work." '
It is therefore understandable, we think, that God should never have allowed exorcism in this particular case. It would almost, if one might presume to say so, have been unjust of God to inflict the torment of exorcism on a devil who was there, although involuntarily, inobedience to divine omnipotence. At any rate, whatever the reason, Gay was certainly never exorcised, in spite of the fact that all who met him were convinced he was possessed.
Ups and downs
It should not be assumed that the authorities who witnessed these strange spiritual adventures cherished any feeling of aversion or distrust towards the unhappy Antoine Gay. On the contrary, as Dr. Pictet's certificate shows, they were convinced of his great merits. In the autumn of 1843, that is to say, after Dr. Pictet's long observations, Gay's friends tried to have him readmitted to the Trappe d'Aiguebelle, where he had been seven years earlier. First of all the Abbot was asked to perform the exorcism. But he raised objections, on the grounds that he was in the diocese of Valence, whereas the subject was from the diocese of Lyons. The Abbot was, nevertheless, convinced of the fact of possession and sent Gay to his friend, the almoner of the Friars of Privas, in the neighbouring diocese of Viviers. Gay remained there twenty-two days, in the course of which he gave many indications of possession, but he finally returned to Lyons, no exorcism having taken place.
From 1844 to 1847 he was to be found in Lyons, at 72, rue des Macchabees, not far from the church of St. Irenee. He could sometimes be seen wandering about the town, gesticulating and uttering strange words. One day he was arrested as a lunatic and taken to the Antiquaille, where he remained three months, to be released thanks to the kindly intervention of the celebrated Bossan, the future architect of Fourviere. But there was still no exorcism. In 1845 two worthy priests had indeed presented Gay to the Archbishop, Mgr. de Bonald, who had received him kindly and promised to make the matter his personal concern. But, for no known reason, there it remained.
A new development occurred when Gay found a fresh protector in the person of a very saintly man, Fr. Marie-Joseph Chiron. Fr. Chiron, whose memory is venerated throughout the diocese of Viviers, was particularly suited to the task. He had, in fact, founded a community one of whose aims was to look after the mentally disturbed. He never believed that Gay was mad, but considered that he was possessed and resolved to devote himself to helping him, in so far as God would permit.
Meanwhile Gay had become a tertiary of the Franciscans, under the name of Brother Joseph-Marie.
In 1850, Fr. Chiron left with him for the monastery of Vernetles-Bains, in the diocese of Perpignan, in order to present him to the Bishop and obtain permission to exorcise him. Again this did not take place, and no one knows why, unless we accept the hypothesis that the Devil was actually there 'on duty'. During this journey there occurred an episode which sheds some light on a mysterious world.
The dispute at Perpignan
In Perpignan Fr. Chiron was taking an interest in a woman with three children who had been possessed for twenty years. A whole parish had seen her running at great speed at a level of about two feet from the ground--a performance which we find repeated by another possessed woman.
Whilst Fr. Chiron was in this woman's house, he was shown another unfortunate woman, nicknamed Chiquette, but whose real name was the Catalan for Francoise. Chiquette, who was thirty-six, was dumb, but she was possessed by a devil called Madeste, who was far from dumb. A dispute of extreme violence immediately arose between Madeste and Isacaron, the devil who inhabited Gay. Fr. Chiron has related the story himself:
'No sooner had he encountered the presence of Isacaron than a remarkably violent dialogue arose between the two fallen angels. The two devils sounded like mad dogs. They spoke a totally unknown language, very softly and we understood nothing. I was later informed by Isacaron, who translated the dispute for me, that it was on a question of precedence, as to which was the greater of the two. They insulted and poured scorn on each other. I was often obliged to stand between them to prevent their coming to blows.
'The two possessed, it is needless to say, had never met each other, but the devils in possession knew each other well. Six times during the following days there occurred the same violent disputes, in the same unknown language, and in the presence of several witnesses.'
These events created a profound impression on Fr. Chiron. In a letter he wrote a few days later to the Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, he recounted them in detail, concluding very reasonably: 'Such facts are inexplicable except as cases of possession.'
After these events Antoine Gay and his protector returned to Lyons to wait until the end of summer before going to La Salette.
A visit to Ars
The reputation of the Cure d'Ars was so great, and Ars so close to Lyons, that it was natural that Gay should be presented to the Abbe Vianney. The Archbishop of Lyons, Mgr. de Bonald himself, issued instructions to M. Goussard, one of Gay's intimate friends: 'You will take him to the Cure d'Ars and stay with him several days.' So, in 1853, they went to Ars, the pilgrimage lasting fifteen days. M. Houzelot, always deeply interested in the case, went with them. This was at the end of November. The following Sunday, 8th December, the little parish of Ars was to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
It is relevant to note here that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been proclaimed and was not, in fact, promulgated until 8th December 1854.
Then an entirely unexpected event occurred. Antoine Gay was found kneeling at the foot of a statue of the Virgin, his arms extended in the form of a cross, and his eyes filled with tears. From his lips there streamed forth a solemn declaration which could only have come from the infernal spirit that possessed him, since Antoine Gay himself had not the theological background to pronounce such an impressive discourse:
Homage to Mary from a devil
O Mary, Mary, masterpiece of God's handiwork: God has made nothing greater than thee! Incomparable creation, admiration of all the heavenly host! All honour thee, all obey thee and acknowledge thee as Mother of the Creator. Thou art raised above the angels and above all the court of Heaven: thou art seated near to God, thou art the Temple of Deity, thou hast carried in thy womb all that is strongest and greatest and most powerful and most loving! ...
Mary, thou hast received in thy virginal womb Him who created thee, thou art Virgin and Mother, there is none to be compared with thee. After God, thou art the greatest; thou art the Strong Woman, there is more glory to God in thee than in the heavenly host ....
In thee there has been no stain, Anathema be they that deny that thou art Virgin and Mother; thou wast conceived without sin, thou art immaculate ...!
I praise thee, O Mary, but all my praises of thee ascend unto God, the author of all good. After the Sacred Heart of Jesus there is no heart to be compared with thine. O loving heart! O tender heart! Thou wilt not abandon even the most thankless or the most guilty of mortals. Thy heart is overflowing with kindness, even to the unfortunate who merit chastisement alone, yet thou obtainest for them grace and compassion: the worst of sinners is converted by thee!
O, if all the inhabitants of the earth should know thee! If they could understand thy tenderness, thy power, thy goodness, not one of them should perish! All that turn to thee in trust and hope and pray to thee continually, whatever their state may be, thou wilt save them, thou wilt bless them eternally.... I am compelled to humble myself at thy feet and implore thy pardon for all the outrages I inflict on the one I possess!
I confess today, one of the most solemn feasts of the whole year, that thy divine Son compels me to say that it is the most solemn of all the feasts.
Thus spoke Isacaron, the devil of impurity, through the mouth of Antoine Gay, and the words were noted by M. Houzelot, who has handed them down. After this enforced confession, we understand more clearly why Mary, five years later, should have answered Bernadette's plea to reveal her name, by saying: 'I am the Immaculate Conception!'
The Abbe Toccanier, assistant to the saintly Cure d'Ars, was present when this memorable panegyric to the Blessed Virgin was pronounced by Isacaron.
It occurred to M. Houzelot to ask Isacaron to dictate more slowly all that he had said, so that he could write it down, and the devil complied. The Abbe Toccanier could not conceal his emotion. 'There has been nothing like it since the Fathers of the Church,' he declared to the onlookers. Incidentally, on another occasion, he undertook a theological discussion with the devil, and was amazed at his capacity for close and accurate reasoning, in the most orthodox terms.
Still no exorcism
The possessed man had, however, come to Ars with the hope of being delivered of his troubles. It was hoped that the saint would be able to exercise the same power over Antoine Gay as he had done over so many others.
Although at this time the Abbe Vianney was much in request and difficult to approach, Antoine Gay was brought to him several times and the Cure took him into his house. One evening in particular, the good Cure was astonished to see Antoine Gay fall down suddenly at his feet, as if he had been brutally struck down by some unknown force. But at the same time the possessed man shook his fist at him and shouted at him in threatening tones: 'Vianney, you are a thief! You are stealing from us the souls we have had such difficulty in winning! '
On hearing this the saint was content to make the sign of the Cross over Gay's head. The devil was heard to utter a cry of horror.
However, it was decided that exorcism should take place. The Cure was totally convinced that he was really dealing with a case of possession. At his request the Abbe Goussard therefore went back to ask Cardinal de Bonald for permission to employ exorcism.
'The Cure d'Ars,' replied the Archbishop, 'has no need of my permission; he knows very well that I grant it: or he should perhaps approach Mgr. de Belley.'
Without delay the Abbe Toccanier wrote to Mgr. Chalandon, then Bishop of Belley, and immediately received the required permission. And yet exorcism was once again postponed and finally omitted. Why? The Cure d'Ars felt it would be better to perform the ceremony with great solemnity at Fourviere, in the sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin.
But time passed and no decision to this effect was made. Antoine Gay was taken back to Lyons without having been delivered from his intolerable companion. Here again it is difficult not to believe that God did not wish for any termination: firstly, Antoine Gay was steadily gaining in spirituality by means of his ordeal, and secondly, the devil within him had to complete the task he had been assigned. Let us consider this latter point first.
A page from St. Grignion de Montfort
It may at first seem astonishing to find a devil, such as the one that possessed Antoine Gay, accepting so humbly the role of pronouncing a solemn eulogy of the Blessed Virgin, both at Ars and on several other occasions during the forty years he tormented the unfortunate man. But it is sufficient to recall the remarks of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort in his celebrated treatise Concerning True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Speaking of the hostility between Mary and Satan, the saint writes:
'God has only fashioned and shaped one enmity, and that an irreconcilable one, which will endure and even increase, until the end: it is that between the Virgin Mary and the Devil, between the children and servants of the Blessed Virgin and the children and accomplices of Satan; so that the most terrible of the enemies of Satan created by God is Mary, his Blessed Mother. Even from the days of the Earthly Paradise, when she was still only a thought in the mind of God, he endowed her with so much hatred of this accursed enemy of God, so much concern to expose the malice of this old Serpent, so much strength to overcome, cast down and trample on his impious pride, that the Devil fears her more, not only than men and angels but, in a certain sense, than God himself. It is not that the wrath, the power and the hatred of God are not infinitely greater than those of the Blessed Virgin, since Mary's perfections are limited: it is because, in the first place, Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being overcome and punished by the little, humble servant of God, her humility humiliating him more than the divine power; and secondly, because God has given Mary such great power over devils that, as they have often been obliged to admit, in spite of themselves, through the mouths of possessed persons, they are more afraid of one of her sighs of grief over some poor soul, than of the prayers of the saints, and more daunted by a single threat from her than by all their other torments' (loc. cit. No. 52).
And this is precisely what we have heard confirmed by the words of Antoine Gay, the mouthpiece of the devil Isacaron.
We shall now hear further evidence from the same personage in the role imposed on him by Providence.
A pathetic struggle
Those who heard Antoine Gay, and they were many, have all confirmed that he gave evidence of a strange duality. This duality was not only between him and the devil that possessed him, but also between the various modes of speech used by that devil himself.
It was easy to distinguish the natural tones of the true Antoine Gay. He always expressed himself in a gentle voice, slowly, and with obvious goodness, and always in terms of the utmost courtesy.
When the principal of the three devils who had taken up their abode in him spokethat is, Isacaronhis voice became curt, imperious and passionate; he adopted a tone of authority, addressing everyone as 'tu', without compromise or discrimination, even if he were addressing the highest dignitaries of the Church.
In the words he used, however, one could distinguish two quite different scales of value. Sometimes he spoke, as one might say, in his capacity as devil--which was indeed necessary, so that his nature might be known--and then he would display his rage by grinding his teeth and blaspheming horribly. His hideousness was reflected in the features of the possessed man, and all who saw him in this state affirmed that he was hateful both to hear and to look at. This was the first scale, the infernal scale, to call it by its right name.
But when he was acquitting himself of the task laid upon him, when he was expressing himself as the slave of God, and playing his allotted role, he was not only orthodox in his remarks, but would speak in an unctuous, eloquent, sometimes even sublime tone.
In the course of a single dialogue both possessor and possessed would take it in turns to speak, and it was possible to see the heartrending conflict which was taking place in the heart and mind of Antoine Gay. For instance, he would be speaking, deploring his state, and giving proof of his very genuine piety. Suddenly, and without transition, Isacaron would intervene through his mouth. His voice would change, becoming raucous and producing an outburst of shouting, laden with insults and abuse. The man who had previously been all gentleness and humility suddenly became bitter, sarcastic and foul-mouthed.
Confessions of a devil
But what is astonishing, and almost unparalleled in previous records, is the admission of the devil himself that he had been given a mission, which he must fulfil whether he liked it or not. This was no single assertion, but one made ten times a day: 'I am compelled to praise thee, O sovereign Lord,' he cried. 'All creatures are compelled to acknowledge thee, to acknowledge thy power, thy goodness and also thy terrible justice!'
'I, Isacaron, prince of the devils of impurity, am compelled by Him who is everything, to see that all these many things are written down.'
At this time, in fact, the persons present, and particularly M. Houzelot, were constantly making notes of all that he said. And the voice continued:
'Must I then serve as an instrument for man's instruction, when my chief delight is in their destruction?'
'I am constrained to speak of things which seem to astonish even the wisest: I speak to the glory of the Almighty, to the shame and confusion of infernal spirits.
'It is Heaven's will, which all must obey, that I, the devil Isacaron, possessing the body of Gay, should speak through his mouth, and through his limbs, make horrible grimaces, utter terrifying cries. I, who am forced by God to give daily proof of my presence in this man.
'O great Master, how thou dost make me suffer. I am compelled to dismantle my ramparts, my strongholds. Cursed be the day when I entered this body. I should never have thought it possible that I should be thus forced to labour for the glory of the All-Highest, to labour for the conversion of souls!'
There is abundant proof that Isacaron wished to be relieved of his task, that he would have liked the exorcism to take place so that he could depart. One day, when someone was talking about Fr. de Ravignan, who had been appointed to succeed Lacordaire in charge of the Conferences de Notre-Dame, the devil called out through Gay's mouth: 'That is a man! That is a priest! You shall tell him to say a mass for the deliverance of the possessed, and to have my power over his body removed before his deliverance.'
The following scene was recorded by Brother Prime, of the Christian schools at Feurs (Loire).
Fr. Chiron, on his way from Lyons to Clermont-Ferrand with Antoine Gay, wrote to Prime that he would stop en route at Feurs, with a possessed man. When they arrived Brother Prime and the whole community stared at Fr. Chiron's travelling companion. What they saw was a very composed, obviously respectable and even affable man. The Brother could not believe his eyes. He whispered in Fr. Chiron's ear: 'Didn't you say you had a possessed man with you.'
But scarcely had the remark passed his lips when the expression of this obviously respectable man underwent a sudden change. 'Foaming at the mouth, his eyes bloodshot, his tone of voice made me blench,' wrote Brother Prime. "Don't you see me?" he asked. 'I believe,' added the Friar, 'that if Fr. Chiron had not supported me, I should have collapsed in terror.'
And it was always the same. Just when it was least expected poor Gay was suddenly involved in incredible contortions, throwing himself to the ground, or twirling on his heels without ever losing his balance. But although constitutionally a heavy man, he became endowed with extraordinary agility and suppleness. One day he aimed a kick with his left leg at the head of a very tall questioner, and recovered his stance as easily as an acrobat. Yet when scenes of fury were expected there was often another very sudden change. His eyes would fill with tears. The devil's voice became softer. From the same lips that had uttered such outrageous comments, there would issue a sermon, such as follows:
The evildoer is not happy. If one is full of oneself, one is full of a devilish spirit. We destroy men's souls through their senses. God makes use of men to test them. If you suffer affliction, receive it as an act of Grace. The Cross is preferable to all things. God carried the Cross for the salvation of men, and he makes those whom he loves carry it too.
The world believes that humility is weakness and incapacity: and I say that humility is power and grandeur. If you knew the misery of the reprobate, you would all be saints!
There is no language to describe the torments of the damned; there is no human mind able to comprehend them.
He who loves men more than God will not be loved by God. God allows misfortunes for the spiritual betterment of men; in order to bring them to himself and make them return to him. Never forget that crosses are better than honours.
We must understand that life is short and that we must endure our troubles in a spirit of penitence, as they came from God.
One cannot love God without loving one's neighbour. Happy are they who can leave all for God.
Ah, if only men could see how beautiful is a soul in a state of grace.
Happiness is not here below: he who possesses God possesses everything.
The rich should be the banker of the poor. God has put these riches into his hand to help his fellow men: he is God's business- man.
The rich man should despise himself and follow the teaching of our Saviour, who said: 'It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye, than for a man to enter the Kingdom of God when he is rich' (Mark X, 25).
But, strange to relate, Isacaron had no sooner pronounced these edifying remarks than he fell into a rage and began to blaspheme God, insult God's creatures, even insult himself. 'Woe to the proud,' he cried, 'Woe to me, Isacaron. It was pride, ingratitude, and disobedience that led to my rebellion and damnation.'
Here are some further reflections by Isacaron on various subjects:
On Pilate: 'Pilate, as a judge, knew that he was condemning an innocent man, and yet the Devil drove him to condemn the sovereign Judge, the Judge of judges. Pilate, by washing his hands, soiled them.'
On Mary Magdalene (from whom, according to the Gospels, Our Lord drove out seven devils): 'Mary Magdalene is a very great saint, in whom one can put one's utmost trust. As soon as she had the good fortune to know God, her contrition was so great, her tears so abundant, that no devil could make her sin again. She is a model for all true penitents, who should make her their special advocate with God, for God grants great favour to those who invoke her aid.'
On meditation: 'If you meditate truly on the life of our Saviour and of his Blessed Mother, I defy you to commit the slightest sin against God.
'Hunger, thirst, death, are nothing: only sin is to be feared.' On Christian perfection, replying to a lady who asked Isacaron to tell her the nature of Christian perfection, and the way to attain it, he said:
'To hold mortal sin in horror; not to commit even venial sins voluntarily; not to lose sight of the presence of God; to know how to humble oneself all the days of one's life, for pride is the worst of all vices; to set a good example and give good advice; to do penance, as the Forerunner demanded. And let him who is holy become still more holy.'
Prayer to Mary To conclude these aphorisms from so strange a source, here is a prayer to Mary, composed and dictated by the devil Isacaron.
O divine Mary, I turn towards you In total trust, For you abandon no one. You who have at heart the salvation of man, to whom God refuses nothing that you ask him, take me under your powerful wing. If you deign to grant my humble prayers, all hell is harmless against me. You who are, in some way, the mistress of my fate, my fate is in your hands. If you abandon me I am lost without help! No, you are too good to neglect those who hope in you. Pray to the Holy Trinity for me and I am sure of my salvation! Ah, if I could make you known to all dwellers on earth, if I could proclaim your power everywhere! That which I cannot do myself I beg the Heavenly Hosts to do. Let even devils be obliged to proclaim that you are the masterpiece of God's works, that the power of God lies in your hands, that you are terrible to devils, and that all is subject to you. You are the incomparable, you alone are Virgin and Mother, you gave the world its Redeemer. You stand apart with St. Joseph. Thus you are more to be revered than all the angels and all the saints: You are truly divine. I trust in you, in the firm belief that the infernal powers cannot triumph over me. So be it! All the angels, all the saints bless you for ever! So be it!
Having made this prayer, we are told that the devil suddenly became jovial and, alluding to the fact that Antoine Gay had been shut up for three months as a madman at the Antiquaille in Lyons, remarked: 'They can go and look in all the asylums before they find a madman who can dictate a prayer like that!
The end of Antoine Gay
It is clear that the life of Antoine Gay was something quite exceptional. There had been a remarkable case in the seventeenth century where possession had led to the sanctification of the possessed man, after the most terrifying ordeals. It was the case of Fr. Surin, a Jesuit, who suffered from demonic possession for twenty years, after taking part in the exorcisms of the Ursuline Sisters at Loudun. Antoine Gay's case is a little different, but both have one undeniable trait in common: their sanctification. Gay's later years were marked by a general neglect, even more terrible perhaps than possession itself. Fr. Chiron, who had taken so much care of him, died in 1852. The Cure d'Ars, who had also taken an interest in him, departed this world in 1859. Antoine Gay lived another twelve years, but there was no longer any one to come to his aid, at least in any lasting way. Yet he accepted everything with a marvellous resignation. His family was ashamed of him. Two of his sisters were antagonistic. The younger of the two prevented her two children from going to see their uncle. Yet when she was ill, Antoine Gay, out of the simple goodness of his heart, gave her 200 francs--in those days a considerable sum--for medical treatment. The devil was always there. Antoine Gay struggled tenaciously against his cruel enemy by a life of prayer and strict penitence. He lived like one of the Desert Fathers: fasting on bread and water, sleeping on a bare plank, wearing a hair shirt and scourging himself.
For the last six years of his life he was looked after in his humble lodging, 72 rue des Macchabees, by pious and charitable Lyonnais, particularly by one compassionate lady who remained at his side for many hours at a time. These visits were a great consolation to him, for the devil tormented him less in the presence of certain persons.
But he had one more ordeal to undergo, a trial which we find repeated in more recent cases: Isacaron, the master of his body, did not want him to go to confession, as he would have wished to do. Isacaron was adamant. He declared that Gay should not go to confession before he had been exorcised. One can only understand this insistence if we suppose that the devil was himself under some fortunate restraint. He was there, we have seen, 'on duty', and he was acting a role that was a peculiar torture for him. He would therefore have preferred to have been liberated by exorcism. And since this. exorcism did not take place, he hoped at least to destroy the soul of the unfortunate being from whom he could not escape, by keeping him away from the sacraments.
He was very precise on this point:
'You shall not go to confession until I am free!' And he added: "There has never been a possession like mine, and there will never be another.' Which we may well believe.
The devil, in fact, once prevented Antoine Gay from going to mass for a period of three weeks. One day Fr. Perrier came to see him, in company with M. Blanc. Fr. Perrier had formerly been at the Jesuit house at Lalouvesc, where he had met Antoine Gay. He had just been sent to Lyons, and visited the possessed man with a view to making his confession easier. But Isacaron once again insisted that Gay should make no confession until he had been exorcised and Isacaron liberated. The two visitors waited, but in vain. As long as they were there, Gay was unable to speak a word.
In 1869 Gay, then seventy-nine, returned for a few weeks to Lantenay, his birthplace, to settle some matter of a legacy which was causing a dispute between him and his family. In a letter to the lady in Lyons who used to come and see him, he wrote these pathetic lines: 'The devil is causing me more suffering than at Lyons. I want people to say many prayers for me, for my end is approaching. I don't know when I shall be able to get back to Lyons; obstacles keep cropping up, everybody takes the devil's side. My affliction is increasing. I beg you to present my humble regards to the Rev. Fr. Perrier. Kindly tell him that I commend myself to his prayers, and beg that he should not forget me when he celebrates the sacrament of the mass.. '
And as postscript, these words: 'The infamous Isacaron says to me: "Reply quickly." '
After this letter Antoine Gay returned to Lyons, where he soon fell into a pitiable state. People shook their heads with compassion as he passed. He could be heard to say: 'I cannot stay any longer in my miserable tenement.' His inner enemy allowed him no respite. He would weep continuously. Yet his faith remained. 'All that I can say or do,' he would say, 'is to appeal to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Joseph, to help me.' During the war of 1870-1871, which the devil had foretold through his mouth, he was more afflicted than ever. Isacaron obliged him to remain for hours on end with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross. He knew that his end was near at hand. On 4th June 1871, Mme T., the kindly woman who used to visit him from time to time, found him very ill, and stayed with him for an hour and a half. He kept repeating that his end was near, but that he would not be delivered from his enemy. For two months his state of weakness had prevented him from going to mass. The vicar of St. Irenee, who lived nearby, was warned of his condition by Mme T. Once again he tried to hear his confession. It was the 13th June, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. The priest's every effort was unsuccessful. 'Not before exorcism,' said Isacaron. And after these astonishing words, Antoine Gay, under demonic pressure, became dumb. The priest nevertheless gave absolution and extreme unction to the dying man, which he received with every sign of the deepest piety. A quarter of an hour later he died, in the presence of the priest, who rendered every assistance possible. For more than half a century this valiant Christian had lived in bonds of dose and painful proximity to a prince of darkness.
The registration of Antoine Gay's death is to be found in the parish church of St. Irenee, as follows:
'On the 14th June in the year 1871 I gave Christian burial to Antoine-Louis Gay, deceased on the 13th of this month, at the age of eighty-one', signed: Chazelle, assistant priest.
In addition to those who knew him well and had shown him sympathy, mention should be made of such persons as Pere Chiron, the Cure d'Ars, Pere Perrier, l'Abbe Toccanier and such eminent people as R. P. Collin, founder of the Manst Fathers, l'Abbe Chevrier, founder of the Prado, and many others.
CASES OF POSSESSION IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES
IN this chapter we propose to group together certain cases of possession spread over the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. We shall start, once again, at Ars. But now we shall consider its saintly Cure, not as the subject of demonic infestations, but as casting out devils by the power of his exorcisms.
First there is an incident witnessed by the village farrier, who gave evidence at the process of canonisation.
A possessed woman had been brought to Ars by her husband. She was in a rage, uttering inarticulate cries, so that no one could understand what she was saying. The Cure d'Ars, having examined her, realised that she was a victim of demonic activity, and said that she should be taken back and presented to the Bishop of her diocese. Suddenly the woman recovered the power of speech and began to curse:
'What's that? The creature shall go back? . . . Ah, if I only had Christ's power, I would swallow you up in Hell!'
'So you know of Christ?' the Abbe Vianney rejoined immediately. 'Well, then, take her to the foot of the high altar.'
Four men took hold of her, and in spite of her resistance, placed her at the foot of the altar. Then the Abbe Vianney took out the great reliquary which he always carried with him and placed it on the woman's head. She collapsed as if she were dead. After a moment, however, she stood up of her own accord and left the church with rapid steps. An hour later she came back, very calm, took some holy water, crossed herself and fell to her knees. She was completely delivered. She stayed three days more at Ars with her husband, amazing all the pilgrims by her great composure and piety.
The Cure's action was equally efficacious in the next case, that of a woman who came with her son from the region of Clermont-Ferrand. This woman had been afflicted for forty years, and it was considered that she was possessed of a devil. At Ars she gave evident signs of possession. She was observed singing and dancing a large part of the day, close to the church. This, of itself, might have been simple mania. But what was significant was that when someone caused her to drink a few drops of holy water, she became suddenly furious and began to bite the walls of the church.
A passing priest took pity on her and led her down a path between the presbytery and the church, to a place where the Abbe Vianney would see her as he passed. The saint, in fact, soon arrived and gave the woman, whose mouth was bleeding, his blessing. Immediately the unfortunate woman became quite calm, and the terrible crises she had endured for so many years never reappeared.
A third case came from the diocese of Avignon. A young woman teacher who gave signs of possession was brought to the Cure d'Ars on the order of the Bishop, who had personally studied her case. She was accompanied by a priest from the parish of St. Pierre d'Avignon, and by the Mother Superior of the Franciscan nuns of Orange. They reached Ars on the evening of 27th December 1857. On the following morning she was brought to the sacristy at the moment when the saint was vesting himself for the celebration of the mass. The possessed woman immediately began to cry out and try to leave the room.
'There are too many people here,' she protested.
'There are too many people?' answered the Cure. 'Very well, they can leave.'
And at a sign from him he was left alone, face to face with Satan. From within the church they could at first hear nothing but a confused and violent noise. Then voices were raised. The priest from Avignon, stationed near the door, overheard the following dialogue:
'You are determined to go out?' asked the Abbe Vianney.
'Because I am with a man I don't like.'
'So you don't like me?' enquired the Cure, ironically.
'No,' shouted the infernal spirit, and this 'no' was shrill and furious.
But soon afterwards the sacristy door opened, and all could see the young teacher, weeping for joy, and now modest and collected, with an expression of gratitude on her face. But then suddenly she was seized with panic and turned to the Cure:
'I am terrified lest he should come back.'
'He will not, my child,' replied the saint, 'or at any rate, not immediately.'
The girl was able to return to her home and start work again as a teacher in Orange. And he did not come back.
Another memorable example of the Abbe Vianney's encounters with Satan occurred on the afternoon of 23rd January 1840. A woman from the neighbourhood of Puy in the Haute Loire had just knelt down in the confessional of the saintly Cure. As he was urging the woman to start her confession, he suddenly heard a loud, bitter voice crying:
'I've only committed one sin, and anyone who likes can have that! Raise your hand and give me absolution! You've given me absolution before, you know, because I am often beside you in the confessional.'
The Abbe Vianney realised that he was dealing with a devil, but to confirm it, asked him in Latin the ritual question:
' Tu quis es?' (Who are you?).
'Magister caput' (the chief master) replied the other, and then continued in French:
'Black toad, you make me suffer too much. You are always saying you want to leave. Well, why don't you? Other black toads wouldn't hurt me so much.'
' I shall write to Monseigneur,' replied the Cure, 'to get you to leave.
'Yes, but I shall make your hand shake so much that you won't be able to write.... I shall get you! I've got stronger people than you! . . . And you, you're not dead yet! If it hadn't been for that . . . [a coarse epithet for the Virgin Mary] up there we should have got you long ago: but she protects you, with that great dragon [St. Michael, presumably] which is on the door of your church.... Say, why do you get up so early in the morning? Your purple gown [your Bishop] told you not to. Why do you preach so simply? It makes you look ignorant. Why don't you preach in a big way, as they do in towns?'
The tirade continued for a long time, with fulminations against various bishops and categories of priests. But Satan had to admit, in spite of himself, that he had met his match in that stout servant of God, the Cure d'Ars. Mgr. Trochu, from whom the story comes, does not say how the battle ended, but we may suppose that it ended as satisfactorily as others had done.
In this case, we may note, there was both possession of the woman, and infestation of the Cure.
To conclude, there was the case of a possessed woman treated by the Abbe Vianney towards the very end of his life, on 25th July 1859. The following day he was to take to his bed, never to rise again. At about 8 o'clock that evening, a woman, 'said to be possessed' was brought with some difficulty to the Cure. Her husband was with her and they came to the presbytery together, where the Abbe received them. It is not exactly clear what happened, except that the woman was liberated. The little group of people waiting at the presbytery door saw her suddenly emerge, free and happy. One of them reported that 'we could hear a sound like a violent breaking of branches inside the courtyard. There was such a noise that everyone there was alarmed.' 'Yet,' added M. Oriol, in his deposition, 'when I went in after the evening service, none of the elder trees was damaged.'
Once again it was a case both of possession and infestation.
Possessions at Illfurth
From Ars, scene of so many cases of possession brought thither from all parts of France, we pass to Alsace. The Cure d'Ars had died on 4th August 1859. The facts of possession we are now reporting occurred at Illfurth between 1864 and 1869. Illfurth, a large village with, at that time, about 1,200 inhabitants, is situated about five miles from Altkirch on the junction of the Ill and the Largue, and on the Rhine-Rhone canal, in the region of Mulhouse.
The victims were two brothers, Thiebaud Burner, aged nine, and Joseph, who was only seven. Towards the end of 1864 they began to produce symptoms which puzzled all the doctors. In September 1865 the phenomena produced were quite abnormal. For instance, if the boys were sleeping on their backs, they could turn over and over, like living tops, at an incredible speed. But this was not all: they were sometimes overcome by an insatiable hunger. Their stomachs swelled to an alarming degree. They would explain this by saying they had something like a ball in their stomachs and that a live animal was running up and down inside them.
Neither was this all: sometimes when they were sitting on a chair, the chair, with them in it, was lifted up and held suspended in the air by an invisible hand. As we have already seen, M. Saudreau quotes such phenomena as precursors of possession. There were many witnesses to these facts in Illfurth, sober, well-balanced, educated persons, not liable to give credit to such extraordinary events without sufficient evidence. M. J.-H. Gruninger states that his own father was among the witnesses to these events at Illfurth, and used often to recount what had happened, which was a topic of discussion throughout the neighbourhood
Naturally enough, in an enlightened diocese like Strasbourg, it soon occurred to both priests and laymen that it might well be a case of possession. Investigations were undertaken on this basis, and there were attempts at exorcism, during which the devils were called on to state their names.
We have already heard the Cure d'Ars pronouncing, on a similar occasion, the sacramental words: Tu quis es? But when these particular spirits were summoned to declare themselves they demurred for a long time, no doubt finding themselves confronted by a lesser spiritual authority than that of the saint of Ars. Finally, however, it was discovered that there were at least two evil spirits in each child. The elder, Thiebaud, was being tormented by two devils who claimed to be called Ypes and Oripas. The younger brother was possessed by one devil called Zolalethiel and by another whose name was never discovered.
The indications of possession required by the Roman ritual were fulfilled in this case by the fact that they spoke many languages, or at least replied to questions put to them in Latin, English, French, German or in the local dialect. This knowledge of languages which they had never learnt was in itself significant. Another indication was their insurmountable aversion to holy water, or to any blessed object. A third was their prediction of forthcoming events. A careful watch over the two boys revealed nothing. They evinced a knowledge quite out of keeping with their age or education, in that they could always answer any question put to them, even on difficult or embarrassing subjects. Since this knowledge was obviously unnatural, it could only be supernatural, and in view of the circumstances, everything went to show that it was of diabolic and not angelic inspiration.
The facts of the case were soon known throughout Alsace, and the story spread to Paris. The Bishop of Strasbourg, as in duty bound, ordered an enquiry. Similarly the Sub-prefect of Mulhouse, at the request of the Prefecture of the Haut-Rhin, ordered the head of the local gendarmerie, M. Werner, to present a report on the case.
Werner thereupon visited Illfurth. If in any sense prejudiced, it was against a belief in such phenomena. He was convinced that any belief in the Devil, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was unpardonably childish. But he was soon undeceived. It was clear that something beyond his understanding was happening at Illfurth.
The ecclesiastical authorities, on the other hand, had long since come to the inevitable conclusion that exorcism should be used. It was now 1869 and the boys were fourteen and twelve respectively. Their 'bedevilment' had lasted five years.
Their deliverance was to be secured in two stages: one brother after the other.
Deliverance of Thiebaud
We owe our account of the exorcism, which took place in the orphanage of St. Charles at Schiltigheim, to a recent book by M. Suter, the Cure of Eichofen in Alsace, and Francois Gaquere, docteur-es-lettres, doctor of theology, and Canon of Arras. The book is entitled: Aux Prises avec Satan: Les Possedes d'lllfurth (Editions MarieMediatrice, Genval, Belgium, 1957).
The first thing to note about this exorcism is that the boy, although brought up in a Christian family, had a horror of sacred objects.
'For him,' says this book, 'a church was a pigstye; holy water was dirt; priests, just sky-pilots in black skirts; nursing sisters, old hags; Catholics, dirty twisters; children, noisy brats.'
This is obviously the devil speaking through his mouth. When the devil was present the child fell into a sort of trance, lying prostrate like a corpse. Although normally a good-looking boy, if somewhat pale and melancholic, at such times he looked like a neglected waif.
When he was taken to the orphanage he appeared calm and did nothing except play or walk about in the courtyard. Although he had never spoken French, he spoke it faultlessly in reply to questions, even answering in Latin if he was questioned in Latin, although he never took the initiative in using this language, which he had never learnt. He moved about freely except to the chapel. As soon as he approached this consecrated spot, even if he was blindfolded so that he should not know where he was going, he would stiffen, baying like a hound, and refusing to move. His expression became terrible. If sprinkled with holy water he would squirm like a crushed worm, and only became calm if he was allowed to go away. The day chosen for the exorcism was Sunday, 3rd October 1869. The boy had to be carried into the chapel by three men, M. Schrantzer, M. Hausser and the gardener, Andre. They strapped him into a chair, which was put on a carpet in front of the Communion table, and firmly held in place by the three men. The boy's face was towards the tabernacle. His cheeks were flushed, and the foam from his lips trickled down to the floor. He was turning and twisting in every direction, as if on a grille, and kept looking for the door.
The exorcist was Fr. Souquat, delegated to this task by Mgr. Raess, Bishop of Strasbourg. He was for a moment dumbfounded when, from the lips of this child whom he scarcely knew, he heard a brutal adjuration, in a harsh violent voice:
'Get to hell out of here, you bastard!'
Only temporarily at a loss, the exorcist, surrounded by many church dignitaries, pulled himself together and began the litany of the saints. At the words: 'Holy Mary, pray for us!' the devil uttered a terrible cry: 'Get out, you swine! I don't want it!' At each invocation he repeated the same words. He cried out even louder at the words: 'Holy angels and archangels, pray for us!' A little later, as the exorcist pronounced the words: 'Deliver us, O Lord, from the wiles of the Devil!' the boy shivered and his whole body began to tremble. He began to howl savagely, and his struggles became so violent that the three men had difficulty in holding him down.
After the litanies the Father went and stood in front of the boy and continued the prayers of the ritual.
The boy was still shouting 'Get out, you swine!' But when the exorcist came to the Latin words Gloria Patri et Filio the devil, through the mouth of the unfortunate boy, who knew no Latin, protested: 'I don't want to!' which was interpreted as meaning 'I do not want to glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' Before reading the Gospel according to St. John over the boy, as is laid down in the ritual, the Father made the sign of the Cross over him, over his forehead, his mouth and his heart, and this led to further howls. The possessed boy even tried to bite his hand. Then there began a dialogue, in German, between Fr. Souquat and the demon.
'Spirit of darkness, vanquished serpent, I, priest of God, order you in his Name to tell me who you are.'
'It's none of your business, you dirty beast. I will tell you when I want to....'
'That is your pride; those are the haughty words you used to the Almighty when he cast you out from Heaven. But I repeat, leave us, Satan, leave this church. You do not belong in the House of God, but in the House of Shadows!'
'No,' cried Satan, 'I don't want to: my time has not yet come.'
The exorcism lasted three hours. The priest was worn out and dripping with sweat. He had to suspend the ceremony. As soon as the boy was taken out of the chapel he quietened down.
That evening he made an odd remark to the Abbe Schrantzer, who had brought the exorcist in a carriage.
'You were quite right to slip him a medallion.'
'Slip who a medallion?'
'Why, the coachman, of course.'
The Abbe had, in fact, given the coachman a medallion of St. Benedict, but he was sure the boy had not seen him do so. So he questioned him again:
'How do you know? And what would you have done if I hadn't?'
'I should have upset the whole carriage, all the people and the horses too. I was galloping along beside you.'
'Well, you must admit we gave you a lot of trouble. Do you know who gave you the blessing?'
'Of course I do. He has already driven out one of our strongest.' Fr. Souquat had, in fact, exorcised a house of its devil many years previously. But how could the boy know that? These little details merely confirmed Fr. Souquat in his belief that Thiebaud was truly possessed. He prepared therefore for a second session.
The supreme moment
The following day, Monday, 4th October 1869, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, in the presence of many witnesses, the exorcism began again.
The boy was put in a strait-jacket and firmly strapped down in his red armchair. The devil was not thereby prevented from displaying his powers. The armchair was suddenly seen to rise in the air, in spite of the efforts of three strong men who were clinging to it desperately in an effort to keep it on the ground. They were thrown violently from side to side, whilst the possessed boy yelled horribly, jets of foam streaming from his mouth.
However, the chair settled down and the exorcism began. After two hours, having recited the litanies and said the preliminary prayers of the ritual, the priest rose from his knees and began to question the devil again.
'Now, spirit of evil, your time has come. In the name of the Catholic Church, in the name of God, in my name, as priest of God, I command you to tell me who you are.'
'It's none of your business, you dirty beast!'
'Those are words of pride: words that are spoken in Hell. You belong to the Abyss, and not to the Light! Return there, foul spirit!'
'I don't want to return: I want to go somewhere else.'
'Well, then, Satan, I command you to tell me how many there are of you!'
'We are only two.'
'What is your name?'
'And the other?'
'Then, foul spirits, I command you, leave this house of God; here there is nothing for you. Fallen spirits, leave us! I command you in the name of the Blessed Sacrament!'
'I don't want to! You can't make me, you swine, my time has not yet come.'
Once more the exorcist was bathed in sweat and shaking all over. The onlookers were no less moved, and some frankly terrified. However, Fr. Souquat took up the struggle again. Taking up a crucifix, he held it in front of the possessed boy.
'Wretched fiend, you do not even dare to look this image in the face, you turn your head away in order not to see it, and you defy the priest. I command you, leave us, and go back to your place in Hell.'
'I don't want to,' stormed the demon, 'it's not good there!'
'You should have been obedient to God, but you chose the path of misfortune. You preferred to be a spirit of darkness. Withdraw from the light and go back to the shadows prepared for you.'
'My time has not yet come. I will not go.'
Then taking a candle blessed by the Holy Father, the exorcist continued:
'Presumptuous Satan, I am placing this candle on your head to light you the way to Hell. This is the light of the Holy Catholic Church, and you are a spirit of darkness. Now go back to Hell, and rejoin your true companions.'
'I am staying here, because it's good here. In Hell it's not good.' Finally the priest took up a little statue of the Virgin Mary:
'Do you see the Blessed Virgin Mary? Once again she shall bruise your head. She will brand you with the names of Jesus and of Mary, so that they burn you for ever.... You will not give in? I have commanded you in the name of Jesus. I have commanded you in the name of the Holy Catholic Church, in the name of our Holy Father the Pope, in the name of the Blessed Sacrament. You are deaf to the voice of the priest! Well then, Satan! Now it is the Mother of God who commands you! She commands you to be gone. Foul fiend, flee from the sight of the Immaculate Conception! She commands you to leave!'
At this moment the onlookers began to intone the Memorare, in Latin.
Suddenly, in a deep, powerful voice, the devil called out:
'Well then, I am going . . .'
Then the poor boy was seen to writhe like a worm. A crashing sound was heard. The boy relaxed, leant forward and fell into a faint. The devil had left!
A terrified silence fell on the spectators. A minute before they had seen Thiebaud's flushed face, threatening and furious, and heard, coming from his mouth, the arrogant responses of Satan.
Now the boy was resting. He slept for an hour after his deliverance. When he was shown the crucifix, or sprinkled with holy water, there was no reaction. He quietly allowed himself to be carried to his room. After a time he woke up of his own accord, rubbed his eyes, and seemed amazed to find himself surrounded by a lot of persons whom he did not know.
'Don't you know me?' asked M. Schrantzer, who had talked to him the evening before.
'No,' said the boy, 'I don't know you.'
His mother was there and could not contain her joy. Her son, who had been afflicted with deafness by the devil, now enjoyed normal hearing, and was free. All present gave thanks to God for having endowed his Church with such great power. Mother and son returned to Illfurth, hoping that the younger boy would soon be delivered in his turn.
The deliverance of Joseph
Curiously enough, when Thiebaud returned to his home he remembered nothing. The four years he had passed in a state of possession had been obliterated from his memory. He no longer recognised his parish priest, the very pious Abbe Brey, who has been compared with the saintly Cure d'Ars, and who suffered like him from demonic infestations. He could not remember having seen the new Town Hall. He had brought with him from Strasbourg some blessed medallions, which he offered to his brother. Joseph threw them to the ground, saying:
'Keep that sort of thing for yourself. I don't want it.'
'Has he gone mad?' Thiebaud asked his mother, who was careful not to let him know that he himself had been in the same state, for he remembered nothing of it.
On Wednesday, 6th October 1869, the younger boy suddenly exclaimed:
'My two companions,'--it was understood that he meant Oripas and Ypes, the devils cast out of Thiebaud--'are weaklings. Now I am the master: I am the strongest. I shall stay here for another six years. I'm not afraid of any old priest.'
'Are you so strong?' asked the Mayor, a M. Tresch, an excellent Christian.
'Of course,' he replied. 'I like it here, and I'm very comfortable. I've settled down in a quiet spot, and I shan't leave it till I want to.'
The Abbe Brey, however, had immediately requested the Bishop's permission to undertake the exorcism. Whereas Thiebaud had reverted to the satisfactory behaviour of former years, going to church and school and confession, with no recollection of his four years of possession, Joseph's state became steadily worse. The Bishop's authorisation arrived at last, and the Cure fixed the date of exorcism for 27th October. This date was, however, kept secret, to prevent crowds assembling. It was a Sunday. Only a few witnesses had been invited and the ceremony took place in the chapel of the cemetery of Burnkirch, a quarter of an hour from the village. Together with the Mayor, M. Tresch, there were the boys' parents, the schoolmaster, the stationmaster, the headmistress of the girls' school, Professor Lachemann, and two gentlemen of the name of Spies and Martinot.
At six in the morning, when the mass began, the possessed boy began to kick and twist in every direction. His arms and legs had to be tied, but before the prayers at the foot of the altar were finished, the boy had managed to struggle free and kick the celebrant. M. Martinot then picked him up, and held him on his knee. The boy began to utter inarticulate cries, yapping like a puppy, grunting like a young pig. To the surprise of the onlookers, however, he remained calm from the Sanctus to the conclusion of the mass.
Having been unvested of his liturgical vestments, the Cure put on surplice and stole and began the exorcism. When he came to the ritual dialogue with the devil, the Abbe Brey summoned him to declare how many demons there were in the boy.
'There's no need for you to know,' was the curt answer. When the priest returned to the attack the devil tossed him the name of Ypes, one of the devils who had possessed the brother.
During the reading of St. John's Gospel, the possessed boy cried out:
'I will not go!'
There followed a torrent of insults. This continued for three hours. The onlookers began to feel tired and discouraged. But the good priest, himself exhausted and sweating, exhorted them to stand firm. All the while M. Tresch, the Mayor, had been holding the boy. Quite worn out, he passed him over to Professor Lachemann, at which the devil remarked:
'So you're there, too, Flatnose!' Meanwhile the priest, on his knees before the altar, had been praying for a moment or two, vowing to perform a novena if the exorcism were successful.
Descending the altar steps, he said to the boy:
'I adjure you, in the name of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to leave this child.'
Satan raged: 'Why does he come after me with his Great Lady? Now I am obliged to go!'
At these words a wave of emotion swept over the onlookers. All of them understood that deliverance was at hand, and that the Virgin Mary was to be its cause. The Cure repeated his summons.
'I am leaving!' screamed the devil. 'I am going into a herd of swine!'
'To Hell!' commanded the priest.
'I want to go into a flock of geese,' begged the devil. 'To Hell!' repeated the priest, adding, each time, the ritual adjuration.
'I don't know the way,' said Satan, 'I'm going into a flock of sheep.' 'To Hell . . .'
'Now I am obliged to go,' wailed the demon.
At these words the boy turned right and left, stretched himself, blew out his cheeks, had one last convulsive spasm, and then fell back, suddenly inert and silent. He was released from his bonds and his arms fell limply to his sides and his head lolled backwards. This only lasted a few moments. Then he was observed to stretch like a man waking from sleep, and to open his eyes, which he had kept shut throughout the exorcism. He seemed surprised to find himself in the chapel with people all around him.
From the beginning the devil had announced: 'If I am obliged to go, I will mark my departure by breaking something.' In fact, the rosary and the little pectoral cross which had been hung round the boy's neck, were found to be broken to pieces. Since he had been tied hand and foot, he could not have broken them himself.
The scene had profoundly shaken all the onlookers. They sang a
Te Deum, the litanies to the Blessed Virgin, the Salve Regina. Their voices were half strangled by sobs. More than once the Abbe Brey was almost overwhelmed by his emotion.
It was certainly a unique testimony. Near the village square at Illfurth, in a garden on the site of the boys' home, there is a beautiful monument erected to perpetuate the memory of these events. It is a tall column, decorated with stars, and surmounted by a statue of Mary Immaculate. On the pedestal there is a Latin inscription, which runs as follows:
'In perpetual memory of the deliverance of two boys possessed by devils, Theobald and Joseph Burner, granted by the intercession of the Blessed Mary Immaculate. A.D. 1869.' It was erected by subscription in 1872, and is still scrupulously maintained.
The case of Helene Poirier
Before going on to the remarkable case of the bewitched woman of Piacenza, we shall deal briefly with some other cases, particularly with that of Helene Poirier. She was a woman of excellent character, who endured the most terrifying ordeals, and who died in 1914 at the age of eighty. Her misfortunes are related in detail by Canon Champault in his book Une Possedee contemporaine (1834-1914) (Paris, Tequi). The author of this work had detailed and voluminous documentation at his disposal. He was at the time director of an establishment at Gien (Loiret), and had himself been eyewitness of many of the events which he relates. In addition, he had an ample supply of material collected by the two priests who succeeded him in the parish of Coullons, where the possessed woman lived. Further, the woman herself was for many years in Canon Champault's service, and he remained in touch with her until her death.
Helene Poirier was an honest country girl who worked as a laundress. No one can say why this simple woman was subjected, with God's permission, to an unending series of demonic persecutions. She was first obsessed, then possessed, the two words indicating different intensities of demonic manifestation. Since God would not permit such things to happen if they were devoid of all purposive quality, it is probable that they are intended to demonstrate the terrible dangers to which we should be exposed if the Devil had a free hand. We know that, fortunately for us poor humans, he is not permitted to do all that he would like.
But to return to Helene Poirier. Her life is, so to speak, a tissue of demonic activities, tricks, rough jokes, horseplay, beatings, levitations, and the like.
She was literally possessed, at least twice, over a period of six years, and in each case she was exorcised. In the interval between these crises she was the victim of more or less violent obsessions. For the greater part of her life she was a martyr to the Devil's activities and his incessant cruelty. Yet, on the other hand, she gave proof of the Abbe Saudreau's statement, that the courage and patience of the possessed person may be a source of great spiritual power.
In the second part of her life, Helene Poirier was granted marvellous compensations for this demonic persecution, by the intervention of her guardian angel, and visions of the Blessed Virgin and of Our Lord himself.
We can only give a brief summary of some of the innumerable instances of the violence of this diabolic persecution. Whilst she was still living in acute poverty with her mother, Helene would often receive, from an invisible enemy, kicks and slaps, even attempts at strangulation, all of which her mother had to witness without being able to help her. These were no fantasies of the imagination, for her face, her arms, her legs, would all bear for weeks the marks of the treatment they had received.
The Devil would appear to her in the most hideous shapes. He would overpower her by his weight, throwing her to the ground, --this happened frequently--and would breathe in her face.
There were numerous instances of levitation: in each case Helene was seized by the hair, always by some invisible power, pulled around the room, lifted from the ground and finally thrown, in a halfstrangled state, upon her bed. Once she was suddenly seized by the head and transported over the neighbouring houses, a distance of some forty-five yards.
At night she often had the same experience as the Cure d'Ars, of some infernal spirit shaking the curtains of her bed, and running the curtain rings noisily backwards and forwards for hours on end. Once Helene shouted for help and when help arrived there were more than twenty witnesses to this agitation of the curtains. Their names are given, so there can be no doubt as to the reality of the facts quoted.
Although Helene Poirier was able to work through all these afflictions to a high degree of saintliness, most of us would be content to pray that we might not be led to sanctity along such a terrifying path.
Two other cases of possession
In his book on the possessions at Illfurth, Canon Francois Gaquere has also included, though with less detail, two other more recent cases of possession.
There is first the case of a young Bantu girl, Claire-Germaine Cele, of Natal, who was twice possessed and twice delivered by exorcism, once on 10th September 1906, and again on 24th April 1907. This young African girl, who had been baptised in her cradle, was brought up by nuns of the mission. Her family background was one of conflict and frequent quarrels. As a girl her health was delicate and she was also very temperamental. Soon after her first Communion she ceased to partake of the sacraments. Her eyes shone with a sombre gleam. At night she was very agitated and she could be heard to cry like a madwoman, 'I am lost! My confession was sacrilegious! My Communion was sacrilegious! I shall hang myself!' One day she passed a note to the missionary, Fr. Erasme, in which she said she had sold herself to the Devil. On 20th August 1906, she appeared more tormented than ever. She was gnashing her teeth, barking like a dog, and calling for help.
'Sister,' she cried, 'send for Fr. Erasme. I want to confess everything. Quickly, quickly, the Devil wants to kill me! He's my master. I've nothing blessed any more, and I have lost all your medallions.'
Up to that moment it had been possible to believe that it was a simple case of mania. But several very definite symptoms emerged to show that it was a case of genuine possession. Germaine had a horror of all blessed objects and pushed them aside saying that they burned her. She knew of remote, hidden events. She understood all the languages used in speaking to her, and could repeat in Latin the long formulae of the ritual even correcting any errors made by those who recited it. Her devil was talkative, and enjoyed revealing the most intimate secrets and hidden sins of those who were present, which made most of them retreat hastily. Any invocation of Jesus or Mary enraged him. He displayed the most cruel ingenuity in his persecution of the poor girl. Sometimes he would lift her into the air, in spite of all efforts to hold her down. Sometimes he would inflate her chest or stomach, sometimes her head became monstrous, her cheeks inflated like balloons, her neck would lengthen and a hideous goitre would make its appearance. A lump would form under her skin and travel over every part of her body. At other times she would writhe on the ground, darting out her tongue like a serpent.
Yet if she was sprinkled with holy water, or blessed by a priest, all these symptoms would disappear.
On the whole the spectacle of the effects of possession had a very great effect on the onlookers. Many were converted and there was a great increase in religious observance. The exorcisms, which twice delivered the unfortunate girl, demonstrated the power of the prayers of the Church. The final exorcism was conducted by the Bishop himself, Mgr. Henri Delalle, Oblate of Mary Immaculate. During the ceremony an incident occurred which would be unbelievable if it had not been witnessed by so many persons. After two and a half hours of prayer the possessed girl was suddenly levitated six feet from the ground, and from this height called out to the dumbfounded Bishop: 'What's the matter, bishop? Why do you have to stand there gaping at me? Do as I do!' This accompanied by a shrill cackle that made the spectators' blood run cold. Yet, finally, she was set free. Her life afterwards was a model of piety, until she died, six years later, on 14th March 1913, of a chest complaint. The Devil never reappeared. Her ordeals, therefore, resembled that of the Illfurth boys, whose afflictions were not repeated, but who also died young, Thiebaud, the elder, at the age of sixteen, and the younger, Joseph, in 1882, at the age of twenty-five.
Possession at Phat-Diem
The second case of possession related by Canon Gaquere was a collective one. The facts are recorded in the admirable Bulletin de la Societe des Missions etrangeres de Paris, published in Hong Kong in the year 1949-1950. The writer of the articles was Mgr. de Cooman, now Vicar Apostolic of Thanhoa. The possessions occurred in 1924-1925 at Phat-Diem, in the province of Ninh-Binh, Tonkin.
The first victim was a young novice of the convent of the Amantes de la Croix, an indigenous congregation. It began with violent noises, blows directed at the novice by an unknown hand, volleys of sticks and stones flung, not only at Marie Dien, the novice in question, but at all who came to her assistance.
In cases of possession it is not always possible to locate the source of persecution. Later we shall give cases in which the origin of the possession can be clearly traced to the intervention of sorcerers who have made a pact with the Devil. In the case of Germaine Cele the origin lay in sacrilegious Communions. In the case of the two Illfurth boys, it was suggested that the cause could be attributed to a woman suspected of sorcery, who had made the boys eat an apple. In the case of Marie Dien, there was a young man of twenty, called Minh, who had made a pilgrimage to a well-known pagan pagoda to entreat the spirits for the girl's hand. On the 22nd September the Devil, striking Marie Dien about the face and mouth, declared:
'This is the fourth time they've been to the pagoda to ask for your hand. I shall end up by getting you!' The strangest forms of persecution continued for more than two years, spreading terror amongst the novices: alarming sounds, flying missiles, coming from no one knew where: stones, bits of wood, potatoes, empty bottles: or bird cries, the whinnying of horses, hooting of car horns, doors banging, sarcastic laughter, or heartrending sobs, in a word, all the phenomena we have already encountered in the manifestations at Ars.
But the most alarming thing was that the other novices began to be affected by some fantastic contagion. They began to climb the areca trees, a kind of palm tree with a slender trunk attaining a height of twenty-five to thirty feet. This craze was stopped by nailing little crucifixes to the trunk of each tree. There were fugues which could not be remembered later. But the presence of the Devil was clearly evidenced by the knowledge of languages and of secrets which it would have been impossible to discover in any rational way. It was finally decided to proceed to exorcism. There were no less than fourteen possessed persons, which reminds one of the historic case of the Ursuline Sisters of Loudun, in the seventeenth century. The battle was long and hard. The Devil departed, but returned in even more terrifying forms. Finally, however, he yielded to the exorcists. In December 1925 the novices of Phat-Diem found their peace assured. In 1949, whilst telling the story of these events, Mgr. de Cooman pointed out that since then atmosphere of tranquillity and piety had never deserted the convent of the Amantes de la Croix. Three of the formerly possessed novices had become the most admirable Mothers Superior. Marie Dien herself, the first to be persecuted, had later become an excellent Mistress of the Novices in the convent of Thanhoa, where she died in the greatest piety on 6th August 1944. This congregation, consisting at the moment of 300 professed nuns, has now, for the most part, taken refuge in South Vietnam, where they continue their mission.
SPELLBOUND IN PIACENZA
THE next case takes us to Italy, and again straight into the twentieth century. A very curious case occurred in the district of Piacenza, recorded in a little book by Alberto Vecchio, Intervista col Diavole --An interview with the Devil.
One May evening, in 1920, a Franciscan friar, Pier-Paolo Veronesi, was occupied in the sacristy of the church of the convent of Santa Maria di Campagna, at Piacenza, when a woman presented herself asking for a benediction. She asked if this could be given at the altar of the Blessed Virgin. The friar willingly granted this request, which seemed inspired by pure devotion. But he was rather surprised when the woman whose face was deeply lined with the marks of suffering, asked leave to speak to him for a few minutes in the sacristy. The friar supposed that she had some trouble, some painful task to perform, but he naturally could not refuse the few minutes' conversation she requested.
At first in a low voice, but later, as she gained confidence, with a little more assurance, she made the most astonishing avowals. At certain times, she said, an unknown force took possession of her, and set her whole body in movement against her will. She was then compelled to dance for hours on end, until she dropped down exhausted. She would sing operatic arias that she had never heard, she gave lectures to an imaginary audience in an unknown tongue. Often she felt an uncontrollable impulse to bite to pieces any object that fell into her hands. She would tear her husband's underclothes to shreds. At other times she would behave like a dog, to the great terror of all present, jumping from chair to chair, leaping on to the table, roaring, screaming, mewing, till the house sounded like a zoo. After such terrifying scenes in her own house, she would collapse with fatigue, and for days her body would be bruised and swollen, enough to inspire pity in all who saw her.
A final characteristic was that when she was having one of these crises, she would discover shortly afterwards that her parents, although they lived a long way off, had also suffered some disturbance, as though some mysterious fluid flowed between them.
'Believe me, Father,' she concluded, 'my life is a veritable hell. I have two little children, but in spite of them, I think only of death as a means of deliverance.'
The friar was considerably astonished by this story, but as he was almoner of a mental hospital, he came to the simple conclusion that he was dealing with a mentally unbalanced person. He contented himself with a few questions:
'Is all this quite correct?'
'Yes, there are many people who can vouch for it.'
'And how long has it lasted?'
'And what have the doctors said?'
'I have been to all the doctors in Piacenza, all the doctors I know, and they have all said, more or less plainly, that it was a case of hysteria.'
The friar felt reassured, for this was precisely the conclusion he had come to himself.
'Well then, you know the cause of the trouble?'
'No, because I know perfectly well that I am neither mad nor hysterical.'
'Well,' replied the woman, 'seeing that I could get no help from men, I felt the need to take refuge in God. In spite of much repugnance on my part, I have been into all the churches in the town, to pray and receive a blessing. Each time I have received the benediction I have felt better for a few days. But I have visited them so often that I began to be afraid that I should be taken for a madwoman, so I didn't dare to go any more. But something else happened.
'I had been told that up in the hills there was a parish priest whose blessings were particularly efficacious. I thought I would go and see him. One Sunday after lunch I set off with my husband and some relatives, in a carriage which the commune of St. Giorgio had lent me. The horse was a good one, and we covered the ground quickly. Suddenly he stopped and refused to go any further. They whipped him till they drew blood. He reared and kicked and struggled, but would not move forward. Then, without knowing what was happening to me, I jumped down from the carriage, although my relatives tried to hold me back, and I began to flyit's the only word I can use to describe itabout two feet from the ground, right across the fields and up the hill in the direction of the church spire in the parish we were going to. The congregation was just coming out from the evening service. They all saw me coming towards the church: dogs were barking, hens scattering in every direction. I reached the square, and everyone left it. With bowed head I slipped through the half-closed door of the church and threw myself down at the foot of the high altar, on which was a painting of St. Expedit. The priest, followed by the crowd, rushed in, and seeing what had happened, gave me his blessing. Then I came to myself, and for days afterwards I felt better.'
The story only served to confirm Fr. Pier-Paolo's suspicions.
'Yes, it's all very strange,' he remarked, uncertainly, 'it's all very strange.' Then he bade his visitor goodbye, saying- 'Listen, since the benediction helps you, don't hesitate to come here whenever you feel like it. If I am not here myself, one of my colleagues will always bless you.'
A significant episode
Several days passed. The woman came back for a blessing. But whilst Brother Pier-Paolo was in the course of pronouncing the benediction before the altar of the Madonna, the woman, who was leaning against a pillar near the choir, began to whimper, with closed mouth, like a dog having bad dreams. Then, with closed eyes, her head pressed back against the pillar, her hands clasped, she began to intone a tremendous chant. Her voice was rich, passionate, brilliant in tone, and all the children of the neighbourhood crept in to listen. When she had finished she began to speak in an unknown language, and although she did not change her position seemed to be struggling against some invisible power. Her voice rose to a pitch of fury, like that of a maniac in a paroxysm of rage.
At this particular moment another priest was passing through the church, Fr. Apollinare Focaccia. He listened first to the chant, and then to the imprecations in the unknown language.
That evening he remarked to his colleague:
'You noticed that woman?'
'Weren't you impressed?'
'To tell the truth, not particularly. As almoner in a mental hospital, I've got used to that sort of thing.'
'I think you should pay attention. I'm certain that woman is possessed.' 'Don't let's exaggerate,' replied Fr. Pier-Paolo. 'One shouldn't go looking for the Devil everywhere, like the people who use the Devil to explain things which have a perfectly normal explanation. And in any case, what we can't explain today science will no doubt explain tomorrow.'
'I can't agree with you,' answered Fr. Apollinare. 'Just think it over. How can you explain her being able to talk in an unknown language? We can see for ourselves that what she is doing is very mysterious, and this mystery comes from the Devil.' ' Dear Father Apollinaire, come and pay a visit to the psychiatric ward, and I will show you some very interesting cases which are not yet amenable to scientific explanation.'
'I shall be glad to do so, but tell me, have you ever seen a case that resembled this one, even distantly?'
'Then, with all respect to science, we are entitled to suppose there might be demonic intervention. This person seems quite normal. But there is a personality within her quite different from her own. You heard her sing. There isn't a single singer alive today who could sing like that. And what about all that strange torrent of abuse in some unknown tongue? Nothing will stop me thinking that she is possessed. I don't mean we've got to be positively medieval: we don't have to see witchcraft and sortileges everywhere. But I don't see why we should claim to know more about it than the Evangelists, than Jesus Christ, or St. Peter and St. Paul, who were extremely precise when they said the Devil was an actual being. You remember how St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, declared that devils were "in the air". We have known about this phenomenon of possession from remote antiquity onwards. That is why the Church created an order of exorcists. Take our own missionaries, who say the Devil is very active amongst peoples still living in the darkness of idolatry. Can we doubt that he also operates amongst the peoples of Christendom, now that so many of them have abandoned the faith of their fathers?'
Fr. Apollinaire continued to develop his argument. Fr. PierPaolo was a little shaken, but not yet convinced.
'All that is very true, dear Father, but I am not arguing about doctrine, only about facts, and I am not persuaded that this woman is truly possessed.'
The Bishop's opinion
The following morning Fr. Pier-Paolo, troubled by some scruples of conscience with regard to the previous evening's discussion, asked for an interview with his Bishop, Mgr. Pellizzari, and told him the story in full detail.
After thinking it over for a moment or two the Bishop replied simply:
'My dear Father, have her exorcised.'
'Excellency,' replied the priest, hastily, 'is that really necessary?'
'Yes,' replied the Bishop, without hesitation.
'And I have to do it?'
'You couldn't perhaps find someone else?'
'Either you or Mgr. Mosconi [the Vicar-General], but it had better be you, since you know the woman.'
'Forgive me, Excellency, but I have heard it said that during the exorcism the Devil turns against the exorcist, and invents all sorts of disagreeable stories about him. If this woman is really possessed . . .' 'But who will believe in what the Devil says? Don't you know that he is the father of lies?'
At last Fr. Pier-Paolo had to give way to the Bishop's wish. Returning home, he was considerably perturbed. He felt it was a dangerous adventure to confront the Devil. He was an excellent priest, but somewhat timorous, and not a little frightened at having to engage in a conflict of which the outcome was most uncertain. But the Bishop's order was explicit. He submitted, he prayed, he slept little and began to prepare himself for the task which had devolved upon him. In the morning he went to see Dr. Lupi, superintendent of the mental hospital, to whom he explained the problem at length. Dr. Lupi was so interested in the story that he asked if he could be present at the exorcism, which was precisely what the priest had hoped.
The first exorcism
The first exorcism took place on 21st May 1920, in a room on the first floor above the chapel. The possessed woman was accompanied by her husband, her mother, a friend of the family, and two ladies. The friar was assisted by a colleague, Fr. Giustino, whose duty it was to take note of the proceedings, and by Dr. Lupi, the medical superintendent.
On their knees in front of a small altar the two priests first recited the litanies of the saints, as laid down by the ritual. The possessed woman, seated on a rush-bottomed chair, stretched herself like a wild beast waking from sleep. Suddenly there resounded the Latin text of the first words of the exorcism:
'Exorcizo, immundissime spiritus, omne phantasma, omnis legio . . .' At these words the possessed woman took hold of the points of her shoes, rose in the air with a leap of extraordinary agility, landed in the middle of the room, relaxed her grasp and stood upright. Her whole body was totally transformed. Her face had taken on a hideous aspect. She began to scream insults at the exorcist, in a harsh, piercing and totally unfeminine voice:
'And who are you, to come and fight with me? Do you know I am Isabo, that I have great wings and strong fists?' Then another string of abusive epithets flowed from her lips.
The priest, dazed, astonished, quite disconcerted, was for a moment reduced to silence. But soon he recovered strength, without knowing how, and called out loudly:
'I, priest of Christ, I command you, whoever you may be, I command you in the name of the mysteries of the Incarnation, of the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and by his coming for the Last Judgment to hold your peace, to harm no creature of God, and particularly none of those present, and to do everything I command you....'
Then, in an atmosphere of intense emotion, the following dialogue began:
'In the name of God, who are you?'
'Isabo,' cried the woman, her eyes flaming and her face flushed.
'What does this name mean?'
Instead of replying the woman began to bite at her hands and arms, and tried to catch hold of the priest's robe. Finally she said:
'The name means that he is so properly spellbound that no one can resist him.'
'How great is your power?'
'As much as I am given.'
'How much are you given?'
'A great deal.'
'Where do you get it from?'
'From the person who knows how to cast spells.'
'What sort of Italian is that?'
'I am not Italian,' screamed the woman, or rather the spirit that possessed her, with an expression of contempt, spitting out a new stream of insults, something that she did repeatedly in the course of the exorcism.
'Where do you come from?' asked the priest, unperturbed.
'You are talking to me as if I were your slave.'
'Tell me where you come from.'
'In the name of God, of the God you know so well, tell me where you come from.'
At the mention of God the woman turned her face away, like a bull which has been hit on the muzzle, and for a moment she remained motionless, refusing to reply. The onlookers were holding their breath, overcome by the solemnity of the scene.
'In the name of God, by the Blood of his Crucifixion, tell me where you come from.'
'From the distant desert.'
'Are you alone, or are there companions with you?'
'I have companions.'
After a momentary hesitation the devil replied: 'Seven,' and gave their names, as strange as his own.
'Why did you enter into this body?'
'Because of a violent love which was not returned.'
'Not returned by whom?'
'You are a fool.'
'Answer me! Who did not return this love?'
'This body!' screamed the woman, beating her breast violently.
'And why did you not return it?'
In a proud and disdainful voice the woman replied: 'Because it was not right.'
'So this body became your victim?'
In sole response to this question the woman screwed up her face into an expression of animal ferocity and from between her thin, tightly compressed lips there came a burst of terrifying laughter, which made the bystanders shudder.
'When did you enter this body?'
After many contortions there came the reply:
"In 1913, on 23rd April, at five in the evening."
The exorcist plied her with questions, until the spirit was obliged to admit that on that day he had entered into her, by means of a sortilege contrived by a wizard, in the form of a bolus of salt pork, washed down by a glass of white wine....
In the course of this exorcism the friar asked if it was true that the devil had equally invaded the rest of the family, and the reply was that he had done so.
'A case of telepathy,' suggested the priest.
'Idiot!' retorted the devil.
But when the exorcist ordered Isabo to leave the body he was possessing, he shouted: 'No!'
'Leave!' thundered the priest.
'I command you to go!'
'I am not going: I am Isabo!'
In a paroxysm of rebellion the woman freed herself from all constraint and with wild cries and outstretched hands flung herself at the priest, caught hold of his gown, tearing at his stole, and screaming like a beast in torment.
'It took seven days to get me into this body, and you want to get me out with a single exorcism!'
It was a critical moment. The doctor, impassive, kept his eyes fixed on the possessed woman. The friar sprinkled her with holy water, and she threw herself twisting and writhing on the ground, as if she had been sprinkled with burning embers.
'When will you leave?' asked the priest.
'What can I do?' asked the spirit, on a note of profound sadness, 'since whilst you are working to get me out, others are working to keep me in?'
'Leave!' cried the priest, putting one end of his stole on the woman's shoulder.
At contact with the stole the woman leapt to her feet like a gazelle and began to shout in terror: 'Take that weight off me!' and she ran towards the door'
The exorcism continued. The devil had declared that he would only leave if the mouthful of salt pork which had constituted the sortilege were thrown up. But although they brought her a basin, the woman could not do so. Several times she seemed to throw up something, and it was never the food taken at her last meal.
To the question as to which words made him suffer most, after many refusals and continued pressure from the exorcist the devil finally replied, in obvious terror, whilst the bystanders waited in hushed silence: 'Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!'
It was, in fact, observed in the course of subsequent exorcisms that these three words, that we call in the liturgy the trisagion, always produced a devastating effect upon the demon. Whilst he was uttering these words, the devil interspersed them with wails which filled everyone with terror. Even Dr. Lupi stood pale and trembling. This first exorcism lasted until the evening. The poor woman was utterly exhausted and Friar Pier-Paolo hardly less so. He pronounced a final adjuration to the devil, that he was to do no harm either to the possessed woman or to her family. Having promised this, with a sulky, furtive look at the priest, his eyes seemed to travel round the room in pursuit of some invisible cavalcade of spectres, there was one convulsion, and his manifestations ended. The woman appeared to emerge from a profound sleep. She was pale, but normal. She was no doubt suffering from great lassitude, but remembered nothing of what had taken place.
The session was over.
'Well, Brother Pier-Paolo,' asked Fr. Apollinaire, 'what happened?'
'This woman is truly possessed,' answered the exorcist.
He could not longer doubt, but he was alarmed at the power of his adversary.
'It is incredible,' he added, 'the extent to which the forces of evil can resist the influences we can bring to bear on them.' And with bent head he returned to his cell, in the hope of finding a little of the repose he so badly needed.
His colleague, Fr. Giustino, had taken note of all that happened, and it is from his shorthand record that Alberto Vecchio derived the story.
We are indebted to this same excellent guide for details of all the battles that were waged, from the first exorcism on 21st May to the last on 23rd June. There were no less than thirteen sessions in between. Later we shall relate the way in which the unfortunate woman was finally released. For the moment we should consider some of the information which was obtained in the process, as a result of the interrogation of the evil spirit.
In the first place the initial possession was due to a malefice contrived by a sorcerer of the district. The sinister power of such malefices could therefore hardly be questioned. Sorcery is a fact. And it is a fact still present in the country districts of France and Italy and no doubt elsewhere. It was discovered, incidentally, in the course of the exorcisms, that there were seven sorcerers in the district of Piacenza alone.
Secondly, we learn that sorcery makes use of something in the form of an infernal liturgy, in which certain magic formulae are able, by God's permission, to establish control over evil forces, compelling them to obey and to enter into this or that person, and possess them. This is one of the aspects of demonic reality that is still little understood.
Thirdly, we have efficacious means of resisting the assaults of the Devil, these being above all prayer, the sacraments, the sacramental usages, the invocation of saints and angels, the protection of the Blessed Virgin, and the like. In the next chapters we shall have evidence of the immense power God has granted by his Grace to Mary the Immaculate. In the very significant account of the life of Antoine Gay we have already learnt, from a devil's own lips, that Mary is in every sense of the word our Mother in Heaven, and that is, in itself, everything. Finally, it would seem that the names ascribed to the devils are completely arbitrary. If Isabo is to be credited, in the case of the woman of Piacenza it was the local sorcerer who had given her seven devils the more or less bizarre names of Isabo, Erzelaide, Eslender, etc. And each of these demons was different from the others, and they appeared, moreover, to have little sympathy for each other. But the most impressive fact of all lay in the ravages and destruction caused by possession when it was working at full strength in a human being. As to this, we have the testimony of the unfortunate woman's husband.
The husband's complaint
One day, when Fr. Pier-Paolo was preparing for the exorcism, and Fr. Giustino was occupied in replenishing the supply of holy water, which would be so indispensable to the ceremony, the husband of the possessed woman was heard to sigh: 'Let us hope it will soon be over!' 'I can well believe,' answered the friar, 'that you must have passed through some very difficult times.' 'Difficult? Terrible times, dear Father. I could tell you hundreds of stories, but one or two will be enough. Sometimes when I came home from work in the evening. I would find the fire had gone out, and the whole house was upside down. My wife would be hissing or mewing, growling, or dancing on chairs or table or any of the furniture. At other times I used to find her tearing up clothes and linen in a fury. Then, when she saw me she used to cry: "Quick, give me something to tear up. I've got to tear something up, spoil it, destroy it!" And she would be scratching and biting like a mad woman. . .!'
'If that's the case,' interrupted Fr. Pier-Paolo, 'there can't be much linen left in the house.'
'There's nothing left at all. She's destroyed everything. A little while ago I still had two shirts, the one I was wearing, and the other at the washerwoman's. Now the only way I can keep anything is to leave it with the neighbours. But it isn't as if that were all. Sometimes I used to find her under the table, all huddled up, her head sunk on her shoulders, like a beast caught in a trap, and yet all tense as if she was about to spring out on an enemy. If I called to her: "Therese!" she would answer in a hoarse voice: "I am Isabo, and it is I who give the orders!" At first I thought it was a joke: "Therese, I'm speaking to you," and she answered in the same deep voice, "I am Isabo, and I wear the trousers."
'Then she would come from under the table and start bounding towards me, fists forward, as if she were going to plant them in my face. And, of course, the usual stream of abuse. One day, when I was very tired and fed up, I told her straight what I thought of her Isabo, and then she threw herself at me, like a cat in a rage, and caught me by the throat. I had a lot of difficulty in getting free. She seemed to have a hundred times her normal strength.'
'And what did you do when you found your wife in such a state?'
'I used to drop all my tools,' the husband replied, sadly, 'get myself a piece of bread, and then I'd stay there sometimes until eleven o'clock at night, sometimes until midnight, trying to help the poor woman to come back to her senses.'
'And the children?'
'At first they used to get frightened and start crying, but they soon got used to it, as children do. If it was in the morning they would go out and play in the street. If it was in the evening, they would say:
"Mummy's beginning to dance: let's go to bed." And to bed they went.'
'And you had lost all hope of its stopping?'
'Yes, all hope. All the doctors said the same thing, if they knew what to say, at all. I had got so discouraged that I was afraid of losing my head and doing something desperate.'
'But now,' suggested the friar, 'we have replaced the prescriptions of the doctors by the authority of the Church, our Mother, and we can be sure of the result.'
'True, my Father. Now I feel confident and at ease.'
It was surely an achievement in itself to have given this good man fresh hope. But his very justified complaints indicate the dangers we might incur without the divine protection which keeps demonic activity away from the majority of men, and only permits the specific phenomenon of temptation, from which none is free.
The twelfth exorcism
We come now to the 21st June, the day of the twelfth exorcism. Three days before, the devil had declared that he would not leave before 23rd June, at five in the afternoon. But he was already much weakened, as was clear from the beginning of the exorcism. During the litanies of the saints and other preparatory prayers, the possessed woman behaved quite differently from former occasions. Instead of stretching herself like a wild beast preparing to spring, instead of casting sinister glances at the bystanders, and particularly at the exorcist, she remained seated, with sunken head, her chin on her breast, her hands clutching the arms of her chair, in an attitude of weakness, shame and remorse.
At the first words addressed to her by the exorcist she rose slowly then stretched herself painfully on the mattress which had been placed on the floor in front of her. Then she stiffened, and waited with closed eyes. All who were there were deeply moved by the sight of this poor woman, reduced almost to a corpse, and waited for her to leap up unexpectedly, as had so often happened before, or make some terrifying cry. The exorcist, a little uneasy at this calm, cast his eyes on the crucifix placed on the little altar, and made sure the holy water was close at hand in case of sudden attack. Then he began the usual exhortations:
'I command you to stay still and do nothing except answer my questions. Do you understand?'
'Answer me, do you understand?'
Still no reply.
'Are you silent because you cannot or because you will not answer?' Complete silence.
The exorcist was at a loss as to how to compel the silent demon to speak. He had an idea.
'If you cannot answer, lift one finger; if you will not, lift two.' At this injunction there was a hushed silence all around, and the woman was seen slowly and painfully lifting a single finger. She could not answer.
Everyone present was deeply impressed. The spectacle of the being whom the devil had so often rendered violent, authoritarian and imperious, and who was now so tired, humiliated and impotent, showing signs of such profound depression, was one that no one could forget.
The dialogue between exorcist and possessed went on, the woman replying solely by lifting either one or two fingers. Finally the exorcist commanded her: 'Stand up! Throw it up!'
He was referring to the malefice which she had swallowed seven years previously, and which she had to throw up to secure her deliverance. Many times already had he ordered her to do this. Although she had often vomited something, and although this was never anything she had just eaten, she had never thrown up the sortilege.
Once again she rose slowly, very slowly, leant over the basin and tried to obey, but in vain. The exorcist then had recourse to the trisagion, that powerful trisagion: Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! The onlookers echoed the words after him. The possessed woman obeyed, and threw up something, but not the sortilege. And it proved impossible to get anything more from her.
The final day
The great day finally arrived. Isabo had said the 23rd June 1920. One would see. Dr. Lupi was the most curious of all as to what would happen. Everyone arrived punctually for the final test. Dr. Lupi, more than ordinarily nervous, kept tapping on the floor with his stick. The preparatory prayers were more than usually fervent. The possessed woman dragged herself into the room, paler, more exhausted, more shamefaced than ever. She slumped down into her chair, her head lolling forward, in the position of man in the electric chair. At the first words of the exorcism she rose and lay down on the mattress, quite rigid and with closed eyes. Dr. Lupi was paying the closest attention, anxious not to miss any detail of the experience.
'In the name of God,' cried the exorcist, 'I command you to obey me in everything. Do you understand?'
'If you have understood, raise one arm: if not, raise two!' Slowly, and as if devoid of strength, the possessed woman raised one arm.
The tense dialogue continued. It was learnt that one of the devils who had left her the evening before, to torment a third person, had not returned. It was also stated that all the other members of the family, who had been more or less obsessed, were now free.
There were further discussions between Isabo and the priest as to whether all the devils would leave together. Then the exorcist, wishing to make an end, gave the long awaited orders:
'Stand and throw it up!'
At these words the woman, with some difficulty, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground, went and knelt close to the basin. She bent forward and with terrible efforts which shook her whole body, tried to vomit. The priest insisted, commanded, urged her to obey. The poor woman was looking like a corpse.
'Throw it up!' said the exorcist.
Her elbows resting on the back of two chairs, she tried, with pitiful spasms, to obey the order. Nothing happened.
'Let us recite the Sanctus,' said the priest.
At these words she succeeded in bringing something up, but nothing much. Her face seemed to be caving in, and she had to be supported to prevent her from collapsing.
The exorcist looked at his watch.
'It is thirty-five minutes past four. By all the authority given to me by God, I command you, foul spirit, to come out of this body immediately. If you come out at once I will send you into the desert, into the centre of the Sahara: if not, I win send you back to Hell!' A tremor ran through the little group. It was a moment of tragic drama. There is nothing that the Devil dreads so much as being sent back to Hell. This is a little known aspect of demonology. Even in the Gospels we find the devils preferring to pass into a herd of swine than to be sent back into the Abyss. At Piacenza, therefore, everyone was on the alert. Every person present held his breath, listening to the beat of his own heart.
Then, as she heard the priest's words, the obsessed woman slowly pushed back her thick mass of hair which fell almost like an immense wig to below her shoulders. Her eyes filled with tears. She looked stupefied and bewildered. The muscles of her face were slack, and her lower lip drooped listlessly downwards. There was nothing human left in that disfigured face, in the eyes brimming with tears, the half open mouth and the sunken cheeks. There was not one of those who saw her who did not weep with her.
Then came a voice, mournful, low and hesitant, saying: 'I am . . . going!'
The woman lowered her head to the basin and vomited up a large number of unmentionable things.
'Go! Go!' cried the exorcist in a wave of emotion
At the same moment the obsessed woman no longer felt the crushing weight of the stole nor the imposition of hands. Suddenly, in afresh, young, happy voice she cried out:
'I am cured!'
Her eyes travelled round the group with a smile of triumph.
'And the sortilege Isabo spoke of?' asked Fr. Pier-Paolo.
'No doubt it is in the basin,' answered the doctor, stirring the contents with his cane. 'Look,' he cried; and then suddenly he lifted all the contents of the basin up on his stick like a piece of material. Indeed, it spread out before the astonished eyes of the spectators like a beautiful veil, shot with all the colour of the rainbow. And once the veil was lifted, at the bottom of the receptable they could see the famous bolus, so often described by the demon during the exorcisms. It was a little ball of salt pork, about the size of a nut, with seven horns.
The spirit had kept its word. Even the doctor, at first so incredulous, was now convinced. The proof was there, beyond any shadow of doubt.
The possessed woman, now cured, was crying softly, but her tears were now tears of joy. There were also tears in the eyes of all present. The doctor was still busy investigating the basin. The friars turned towards the image of Christ Victorious.
The exorcist invited all present to kneel before the altar. The woman delivered from her evil spirit offered up her convulsive sobs. She had emerged from the most terrifying of all ordeals. Her initial error, no doubt, lay in consulting a sorcerer who claimed to be a healer, and who had been attracted by her. When she rejected his advances he had cast a spell on her, and we have seen what came of it. In the next chapter, curiously enough, we shall be dealing with an exactly parallel case, which occurred in a different country, and thirty years later.
In Piacenza this exorcism is vividly remembered by those witnesses who are still alive. It should be added that the Bishop who ordered the exorcism died shortly after its conclusion. There are certain facts which suggest that it might have been an act of demonic vengeance but, if so, such vengeance is in itself an admission of defeat. The Bishop had done his duty and even death cannot rob him of that merit.
MAGIC IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
A curious encounter
BEFORE starting on the subject of this chapter I should like, if I may, to relate a purely personal incident. Whilst I was engaged on the present book I received a letter from a priest whom I did not know, and who was completely unaware of the work I was doing. He had just read another book on the same subject, and had written to offer me his documentation.
'Suppose I had some material . . .?' he said. 'Well, I have. Come and have a look at it.'
Since it was difficult for me to go to him, he came to see me. His material was of immense interest. For the last six years he has been engaged in a constant struggle with Satan, and we have seen, in the case of the woman of Piacenza, just what a struggle that can be. If our century is inclined to question the existence of Satan, as of so many other things, this priest has evidence enough of his existence, his power, his activity, the means he uses, subject to God's permission, and the terrible state to which he can reduce a poor human being. I am authorised to give the name of this contemporary witness to the struggle against Satan. It is Fr. Berger-Berges, from Chavagneen-Pailler, in the Vendee.
Although he has published nothing himself, I am authorised to say on his behalf, that he is prepared to meet any audience to discuss the exorcisms which he has carried out during the last six years, some of which are still continuing.
Naturally we shall only be able to take a glimpse at his vast material, from which the following facts are derived. Discretion requires that the persons concerned should only be indicated by their initials, and the places in question will not, of course, be mentioned. Some of these exorcisms were relatively easy and yielded a rapid success. Others were more complex, very laborious and much slower in producing a result. In these latter cases, as in the case at Piacenza, it would seem that whenever the exorcism brought any perceptible relief to the victim, it was immediately nullified by new sortileges operating from a distance.
Amongst all of the case histories I was offered, I have selected one only, which appeared particularly significant. It is the case of Mme. G., a married woman with one daughter. The file in question contains no less than 145 documents, covering the period 14th September 1953 to 5th February 1959, and is not yet closed.
We should first give some indication of the way in which the case began, and for this we shall rely on the notes provided by the victim's own husband. Although the present writer has put them into narrative form, the incidents are, in every detail, exactly those provided by the husband, retaining as far as possible his own words.
A deadly fatigue
'It begins,' says Mr. G., 'in September 1950. Our two-year-old daughter Annie was sleeping badly. Ever since she was born, my wife has had to spend many nights almost without sleep herself. She began to suffer from a general and disquieting sense of fatigue, so we consulted a doctor. The doctor noted the following evident symptoms: no interest in work, continual lassitude, loss of weight, vertigo, etc. He was, however, reassuring. The case, he considered, was not alarming. All that was needed was quiet, good food, and sleep. In other words, three weeks in a convalescent home or rest house.
'It sounded quite easy. But we were not covered by any social insurance. My wife had never left home. A stay away from home would mean a big expense. So we decided to disregard the doctor's advice. Three weeks passed. My wife's health remained the same.
One day, when I was in town, I met one of my wife's friends, who enquired after her. When I said she was no better, she said: "Why don't you go to B.? He cured my son when he was suffering from nerves, and I was very satisfied. My son is eating and sleeping well now, and his nerves give us practically no trouble." I was impressed by her confidence, and asked for B.'s address. He was, in fact, a healer, apparently very well known in the district.
' "He comes to S.J. every Saturday," she said, "and he sees people all day. Go and see him: it doesn't cost anything to try!" 'But the good woman added a remark without appearing to think it was important:
' "The chap rather frightens me. When I went with my boy the first time, he cut off a lock of his hair, took it between his fingers and rubbed it, saying: 'Yes, it is his nerves which are causing the trouble,' but whilst he was saying this I could see a sort of blue smoke rising from his fingers." '
'When I got home I told my wife all about it. The story of the blue smoke and the lock of hair did not worry her. She didn't believe in that sort of thing. It was therefore agreed that we would go and see him the following Saturday. By chance he did not come to S.J. that week for his usual consultations. My mother was still alive at that time, and she said to us: "My children, I don't want to stop you going to see this B. But, you know, I don't trust him. All his family are swine [sic] and he'd kill off half the population of S.J. if he had his way."
'But this warning did not stop us. 'The following Saturday we presented ourselves at the famous healer's.'
A session with the healer
'His wife opened the door to us and received us in a friendly way. We waited for our turn, and when the healer called us in, he asked us to sit down and began the consultation.
' "Your name and Christian name, Madam, and your date of birth?"
'When he had noted these details B. cut off a lock of my wife's hair. He held it between the thumb and first finger of his left hand, and with his right held my wife's wrist. There was a moment's silence. He rubbed thumb and finger together, and, without a word being said, there was suddenly a puff of blue smoke rising some inches above his hand. It was just like a cigarette which goes on burning on the edge of an ashtray. After a moment he opened his fingers and, strange to say, there was not a trace of hair left. "There's something wrong with your nerves," B. declared. "But don't worry. That's my speciality. Two or three sessions will put you right again." 'Then he took a flask containing some unknown substance, stuck his thumb into the flask, for not more than a few seconds--he was watching the time carefully with his watch in front of him--and then hastily withdrew it. Then he took hold of my wife's wrists and became suddenly tense, and as red in the face as a tomato. This lasted a few minutes, during which time he kept his head lowered. All of a sudden my wife shut her eyes and began to go to sleep. Thereupon the healer let go of her wrists and began to wake her up. B. declared that he had a pain at the back of his neck, for what he had been doing, he said, was very exhausting. He seized an ampoule of ether and squirted some down the back of his neck to restore himself. Then he squirted some down my wife's neck. She seemed a bit stupefied, and she said that her head felt heavy after those few minutes of peculiar sleep. The session was over. My wife felt a little better than she had done an hour previously. The healer gave her his private address, in case we wanted to go and see him there. But he also said he would be back at S.J. in a fortnight's time.'
'We left feeling that there was a good chance of a cure. But that very evening whilst we were having supper, my wife suddenly dropped her fork and laying her head on her plate, went to sleep. I could not make out what was happening. Two minutes passed, two very long minutes. Then my wife came to and said: "What does it mean? Everything suddenly faded out and I couldn't see anything. And now I feel quite dazed and worn out." A few moments later she felt better and declared: "Now I am hungry."
'The next day, and the following days, the same thing occurred. My wife would go to sleep during the meal. In the evening, just when she was going to bed, at about 8.30 or 9 p.m., she began jabbering strange words and sniggering in a strange way at the ceiling, as if she saw something there. She would walk round the table in a crazy way, pointing at things as if she were a dumb person trying to make herself understood. I used to try to stop her, but she would push me away as if I had become an unpleasant stranger.
'I could not make any sense of it, and I began to wonder what that person had done to my wife, by his "magnetism", as he called it. It couldn't go on like that. So, the Thursday after our first visit, we went to his house.'
'When we explained what was happening, the healer made the very strange excuse that he had been mistaken in the month of my wife's birth, and that with people born in that month one had to go very gently, although there was nothing to be alarmed about. We could go home again quite happily, because everything would go much better. 'As he said this, B. was radiant. We understood why, later. Satan had carried out his orders. Our return was his first victory. Then my wife went to sleep again, on the spot, in the presence of the healer. He made light of it, and contented himself with saying: "You will eat well, when you leave here, you will see, and you will sleep well tonight."
'And to tell the truth, on the way home my wife did eat, I think it must have been a whole hand of bananas. When she went to bed she slept like a log, which we understood later, because Satan had a hand in it. When she woke up in the morning, once more she felt completely dazed. Days passed and her state grew worse. She suffered terribly from headaches, which she had never had before. Sometimes she felt a terrible shock and began to cry at the pain it caused her. Then suddenly she would calm down, become tense, standing distraught, her eyes haggard and wide open, fixed on the ceiling, and with her arms outstretched. She would often say: "I think I am going mad." At other times she would be like one dead. I could not move her, for fear of breaking a bone. She neither saw nor heard me. This would last for an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes just a quarter of an hour. And there I was, quite helpless, not knowing what to do.
'Naturally the following Saturday, when B. came to S.J. for his consultations, we went to see him and complain. So we had another session, during which he held my wife's wrists. Then he gave her a bottle of tonic, which he said consisted of ox-blood and haemoglobin. He added some crystals which he said were also tonic, and stated that he would make his influence gentler still, although he assured us he was not forcing her in any way. But still my wife showed no improvement. Once more, on the Saturday before Christmas, 1950, we went to S.J. to tell him that he must, at all costs, do something. We were persuaded that it was all his doing, since he was using his magnetism.
' "My poor friends," he replied to our complaints, "I can't do any more than I am doing. But with you"--turning to my wife--"I really don't understand. It seems as if I were faced with a blank wall. When I try to do something, there is some force which stops me from treating you. I've treated lots of others, but I've never met such a wall! I can only make one suggestion: come and stay in the neighbourhood, then I can treat you more easily."
'This was the way the scoundrel was drawing us unconsciously into his net.'
In the net
'My wife was very undecided on the way home that day. But an hour later, at her request, we went back to B. at S.J. and she asked him to take her that very evening to the hotel, which was about a mile and a half from S.J. No doubt overjoyed, but showing no signs of it, the healer immediately telephoned the hotel to say that he was bringing two persons who wanted accommodation. That evening, at 9 o'clock, we set off. We stopped at the hotel from Saturday until the following Thursday without any improvement in my wife's condition. Christmas was approaching and my wife wanted to spend it at home. Her state of health was becoming more and more critical. She seemed lost, she didn't recognise me any more, and she would say to me: "I don't know you [and she said vous, not the familiar tu], I don't want to see you." What was worse she seemed to have lost all her affection for Annie, whom she used to adore. If she had a knife in her hand when she was cooking, she would go up to the little girl, as if to do her an injury. She felt she was being driven by some inner force. However, she resisted. But once the idea came into her head that she should strangle the child. She was still being driven by this strange force. Fortunately again she was able to resist. But she began to cry. She suffered intolerably from knowing that she was harbouring such terrible intentions against her daughter.
'In January 1951, one day when she was still in bed, she said: "Go and see B. Tell him he must come and see me. I'm fed up with the whole business. He's got to stop it." I did as she wanted. In the evening, after his consultations, B. came to our house. He asked to speak to my wife alone. Then he told her to come to his house, alone. So I took her to his house, and left her there alone with him, for about half an hour.
'When she came out, she seemed a bit confused. So I said: "What's the matter? You're looking very queer...." "Oh," she said, "it's that idiot of a B.; he want me to be his mistress." I replied: "Don't talk nonsense. Let's hear no more of it."
'The healer had not pressed her, particularly since the house was full of people, though his own wife was not there. But, as we shall see, the scoundrel had not given up hope.
'The month of January passed. My wife was still in a bad way, and she was particularly antagonistic to little Annie. It became such a terrible obsession with her that she could not hold out, and at the beginning of February she said to me: "You know, I must go to S.J. for treatment. I shall be closer to B. so that he can treat me, and I shall tell him to get me out of this. I can't stand it any more and I must get away from my daughter, because I'm afraid of doing her some harm."
'We realised afterwards, of course, that this was just the cunning of Satan, working to B.'s orders, in making use of her fears for her daughter to throw her back on B. who hadn't swallowed my wife's refusal of his first proposition.
' "Do you really think it will do any good to be near him? I don't trust him."
'But since she insisted, I took her back to the hotel where we had stopped before, and I left her there alone, because I had to get back to my work. There was a great deal of coming and going until the following Thursday. My wife had been there since Friday. On Tuesday morning B. came into her room while she was still in bed and made some quite shameless propositions. My wife was indignant, and told him so in suitable terms, then she added: "Leave me alone! I shall tell my husband everything!"
'At this renewed rebuff B. became threatening: "If you tell your husband you will regret it. I don't like resistance, and you'll be sorry for it."
' "What have you done," cried my wife, "to make me so ill?" ' "Look here," he replied, angrily, "I haven't made you ill; some fool must have done something to you."
' "Oh," said my wife, "well, that fool is you!"
'His only answer was to sneer: "I suppose I've just cast a spell on you, that's all!"
'My wife did not really understand, and went on: "I am going to telephone my husband this afternoon and tell him to come and fetch me."
' "Well, I tell you you are not to phone, and you are to stay here."
'Thereupon he left the room in a towering rage and went down into the restaurant cafe. At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon he came back and said: "Well, have you thought over what I said to you?" And then he offered her some nougat which he had got out of a sweet-machine. My wife took the nougat and flung it in his face, saying: "You're revolting! There's your nougat: I'm going to telephone my husband."
' "Well," replied B., "we shall see! You'll be sorry you refused." 'As a matter of fact, my wife had tried in vain, the whole afternoon, to get to the telephone booth, which was only about five or six yards away from her room, in the hotel itself. But it was only late that evening, when I rang up as usual to get the latest news, that she managed to drag herself painfully as far as the telephone and say, in a low whisper: "Come quickly and fetch me."
'It was all she had strength to say, but I understood what it meant. By 10 o'clock I was there, and I found her in tears. On Wednesday morning, in spite of her exhaustion, she managed somehow to put on her clothes. With some difficulty I managed to get her to the station, much to the helpless indignation of B. who happened to be taking someone to the station himself at that moment.
'In the train my wife told me what had passed between B. and herself, his humiliating persistence, his threats, and his audacious remark:
' "I can't do without you any more! I think you must have cast a spell on me!"
'There had, indeed, been a spell, but it came from him, and not from my wife, who had no idea of what it was all about.'
Effects of the sortilege
'But after our return we were soon to understand. He had said:
"I don't like resistance: you will be sorry for it!"
'Indeed, my wife began to feel the effects of his revenge immediately. She suffered more and more and had to take to her bed. This was in the first fortnight of February 1951. Her ill-health became a real torture; she could not get up, she could neither eat nor sleep and was slowly wasting away. I kept her alive with orange juice, and even that she could hardly swallow. I sent for the doctor, who gave her some injections, but we could see he thought she was in a bad way. I got four doctors in all to see her, but with no better result. One of them suggested sending her to a psychiatric hospital. But she announced, quite definitely, "I don't want to go there, doctor, I'm not mad, but I feel there is some force inside me which makes me suffer. You may think I'm going to go mad, but I'm not mad now."
'Towards the end of February, however, we both decided she should go to the convalescent home at Saujon, which was run by a psychiatrist, Dr. Dubois. There she was given all the usual treatment for nervous disorders: douches, electric shocks, and so on. But nothing happened. At the end of two months' treatment she had, however, gained one pound. The crises were less acute. This very relative improvement lasted until the month of August. But one evening, as she was going to bed, everything changed. She dropped the book she was reading, opened her eyes very wide, and cried out: "My head! My head! I'm going mad!" The crisis lasted about an hour. Then she said: "It's started again. That B. is up to his tricks: he's trying to drive me mad. It was like shocks inside my head."
'Her state suddenly grew worse, she could eat nothing and I felt quite helpless. We went to a woman healer who quietened her down for a time, but an hour after we got home it began again, only worse. It seems that there had been a series of attacks and counter-attacks between the woman healer and B. Finally we were so convinced of his responsibility that we decided to ask for a summons.
'We did so in September 1951. October and November passed without our hearing anything more about it. But in December we had notice to appear before the court, to be confronted with B. But on that day my wife, who had been ill all night, could not get up. So I went to the court alone, and explained everything to the Judge. All he said was: "If your wife cannot attend, we will postpone the hearing." I didn't feel inclined to accept this. The same thing might happen every time, and our action might go against us. I met B. in the corridor, and I said to him: "She shall come here, in spite of you!" And I managed to make her get up and I brought her in a taxi to the court, which was about a quarter of a mile away. In the presence of the Judge, my wife made her deposition. The Judge asked B. if he admitted the facts. He had gone white as a sheet, and seemed completely at a loss. He admitted all the facts, including the casting of a spell, and signed the statement. Even his lawyer had the wind taken out of his sails. B. obviously expected a prosecution, not so much for casting spells, with which the law is not concerned, but for the illegal practice of medicine. A policeman had, in fact, called at our house shortly after I had lodged my complaint. He had found my wife in one of her crises, with a haggard expression and her arms in the air. He confiscated some medicines B. had given us. "That'll be enough," he said, "to let us run him in for illegal medicine." 'B. suspected as much, for as we left the court he came up to me and said: "You don't realise what you've brought on my head: they'll sting me for 200,000 francs in fines." And without worrying about the way he was betraying himself, he went on: "Listen, withdraw your complaint, and for my part I've no reason to continue." So he was openly admitting what we had always believed, namely, that all my wife's troubles stemmed from him.
'Yielding to his entreaties, we both went back into the court room and told the Judge we were withdrawing our complaint, in the interests of my wife's health.
' "Right," said the Judge, "you are withdrawing your complaint, but the court reserves the right to prosecute B. for the illegal practice of medicine."
'When we got home we wrote a letter the Public Prosecutor, saying we withdrew our complaint, and notified B. of our action.
'The healer had achieved what he wanted. My wife passed a whole month without pain. But in January 1952 it all began again, worse than ever. My wife, exasperated, wanted us to go and see B. who was visiting his mother that day. It was his mother who received us, but since my wife insisted on seeing B. in person, he suddenly appeared. A violent dispute then took place in his mother's presence. Finally, since he could not get the last word, he tried to make my wife leave by taking hold of her arm. But she shook herself free and hit him on the nose. Then, as he caught hold of her again, she struck him once more, straight in the face. This time she drew blood, and his nose began to bleed violently. Then I intervened, and taking B. by the arm I told him to be quiet and leave my wife alone. He obeyed, pulling out his handkerchief, which was soon red with blood. He himself was scarlet with rage. As we were going to leave he came after us, saying: "I've been attacked in my own home! It's unheard of! I'm going to the police!"
' "All right," said my wife, "we'll all go together. You can lodge a complaint and you can also explain why I struck you."
'Still holding his handkerchief to his nose B. began to threaten: ' "As for you," he said, "you'll end up in a madhouse."
'By so saying, he revealed his plans for revenge. We soon reached the police station. The inspectors were smiling to themselves to see what had happened to him. He even had the audacity to ask the superintendent to tell my wife to leave him in peace.
' "Well," said my wife, "why don't you make your complaint? Then I will tell them why I hit you."
'Thereupon he collapsed ignominiously, and merely said: "No,
I'm not making a complaint, but for heaven's sake, leave me alone." And as we left, he fired this passing shot: "I must say, for a sick woman, you can hit hard."
The healer's revenge
We were to discover later the plans the healer was cherishing in order to take revenge on a woman who had not only resisted him, but had publicly defied and humiliated him. She was to end her days in a madhouse. He had a servant ready to hand to carry out his threats. This servant was Satan. And the sorcerer's work was made considerably easier by the fact that nowadays there are very few people who really believe in Satan. For most doctors, and for most other people too, possession is quite simply the same thing as madness. So, by casting a spell over my wife, and sending a devil to take possession of her, B. could pretty well count on her being quickly shut up as a lunatic. That would be his revenge, lying ready for him to use.
'The violent dispute I have described took place on 12th January 1952. We went home not suspecting what was in store for us. The first months were, of course, months of suffering for my wife, but there was nothing to indicate that her state was getting worse. But one night in August 1952 she woke up with a start, terrified and in tears. She seized me by the arm, as if terror-struck, and with a haunted look cried out: "I'm frightened. He's here. He's coming towards the bed; drive him away!"
' "But what are you afraid of?" I asked, trying to calm her down. ' "There! He's there! A beast with claws and the body of a serpent, but with B.'s head!"
'And she kept on calling out: "He's coming close to the bed. I'm frightened!"
'She was shouting in her terror and distress, and that lasted all night. In the morning she was exhausted. Her suffering continued. Two or three nights running the attacks went on. She was seized by a sort of delirium. She seemed to collapse into herself and suddenly, as if in a trance, she began to speak in foreign languages, laughing distractedly, and moving about restlessly for three-quarters of an hour or more. Then, when the crisis had passed, she would come to herself and say: "What has happened to me? I thought I didn't exist anymore. I couldn't see anything. Oh, how my neck aches!" 'And I, her husband, still not knowing it was Satan, I was miserable at my own helplessness. B.'s threats kept echoing in my ears: "You'll end up in a madhouse!"
'I kept turning the words over and over in my mind, wondering what would happen to us.
'There was naturally no lack of advice from friends and neighbours but, of course, none of them thought of the presence of a devil. Various people persuaded us to go and see different healers. But none of them could help us, and they gave up the case when they learnt they were dealing with B.'
The doorway to salvation
'Whilst all this was going on, another daughter was born to us, in December 1952. In spite of her mother's terrible ordeal during the year, the child did well. One thing I should mention is that after those terrifying nights my wife could no longer endure the sight of a crucifix, or religious pictures, or a rosary--particularly not a rosary-in the house. During her crises she would talk of nothing but of throwing them all out. But this sudden aversion t,;) blessed objects did not open our eyes to the satanic element in these new developments. 'One day in February 1953, Providence--for it was surely an intervention of Providence, without any merit on our part--brought us to Fr. Berger-Berges. We told him our story, just as we had done to so many others. He received us with great kindness, but told us we would first have to get a medical opinion, to see if there was any natural cause or not; he said he could not take action until this had been established, but that he would be very ready to help us if it should prove necessary.
'A fortnight passed after this visit. At the end of February we decided, at a friend's suggestion, to consult the priests of Bellef.... 'Strangely enough, we had trouble with the journey, both coming and going. The taxi had one breakdown after another, something that had never happened to the chauffeur before.
'At Bellef. . . we told our story again. After half an hour the almoner handed us a little book, advising us to read it and follow its instructions. He, for his part, would do what was necessary. But, he pointed out, that it might take six months or more. It would all depend on the will of God, who had his reasons for sending us these trials.'
'All that we had suffered since 1950 had, unknown to us, been preparing us to accept what we were now asked to do. We listened to the priest's advice. We went home determined to follow it to the best of our ability. On the way home we again had one breakdown after another, and the chauffeur declared that this was the only time in his life that he had had so many.
'But for the first time for many, many days my wife felt calmer. The priest who received us had, we discovered later, performed a most effective exorcism at a distance. It was Satan himself who told us about it later. And yet, in these February days of 1953, we were still not thinking about his presence. But an astonishing transformation soon took place in us. Up to then we had hardly considered ourselves believers, and certainly not practising Christians. All at once, under the influence of a grace which we only learnt to appreciate later, we formed the decision to go to mass every Sunday, to partake of the sacraments and to communicate frequently. The advice we had been given was beginning to bear fruit. The divine action was one of prodigious strength. Our conversion took place very rapidly. We began to understand things we had not hitherto known about. And yet, when my wife wanted to attend mass, there was enormous difficulty. One has to have lived through something like that to have any idea of what it was like. But we stuck to it. Prayers were said for us. It was like a battle which had started between two conflicting armies, without our being aware of it.'
In the next chapter we shall deal with the most striking episodes in this battle, which was to last for many years.
Before the ceremony
THE moment husband and wife began to experience the effect of divine grace, Satan made his final effort to prevent the exorcism taking place. The reader will have perceived a certain similarity between this case and that of the woman of Piacenza. As with her, Mme G. had displayed symptoms which suggested an unbalanced mind. The intention of the sorcerer--for there were sorcerers in both cases--was to get his victim certified as a lunatic, in revenge, in both cases, for an unrequited passion.
There was, in the case of the G. family, some considerable delay. The bishopric showed little understanding. The Cure of S.J., who will reappear later, did not believe it was a case of possession, neither did a Benedictine almoner, and the Bishop was naturally influenced by them.
After many hesitations, insistence on the one hand and rebuffs on the other, the Bishop was informed that there was no competent priest available to perform the exorcisms, and the couple were advised to apply to Bordeaux. They did so, and went to Bordeaux in the hope of finding a solution to their problems.
Progress was very slow. Once in Bordeaux the couple were directed to a religious community of great experience where, after a very scrupulous investigation, it was decided that exorcism would be justified. There were, in effect, several exorcisms, without any decisive result. But since he could not stay any longer in Bordeaux, the husband renewed his appeal to his own Bishop, asking for help in his own locality. After much discussion, Fr. Berger-Berges was officially entrusted with the exorcism. He is a former Superior of the Grand Seminary, and thus a theologian, a competent and zealous priest, who understood the full gravity of the task allotted to him. He was prepared to draw on all the resources provided for him by the Church in such cases: prayer and mortification, a boundless confidence in God, in Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Mary Immaculate, in the Communion of the Saints, in the power of the formulae of the ritual itself. In order to follow the way in which he discharged his duties in so delicate and serious a task, we could have drawn on his personal notes of each exorcism, but we are authorised to make use of an invaluable document provided by the husband of the possessed woman, in the form of notes taken by himself at each session. We reproduce them, in this case, verbatim.
The first session
'On 14th September 1953 we arrived at the presbytery in F. M. le Cure invited us into his office. Fr. Berger had arrived a few minutes before. Just as we were going into the office, my wife began to dance around on tiptoe, frantic at the sight of Fr. Berger, for the "foul beast" that possessed her knew that the decisive moment of exorcism had arrived.
'We went into the sacristy and then into the church, but as we came and stood in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin, the "foul beast" tried to turn away, for it made him feel uncomfortable. But I tied my wife to a chair, and Fr. Berger ordered the devil to be silent. Then, having prayed to the saints, he began his interrogation:
' "What is your name?"
' "It's none of your business."
' "In the name of God and of the Church, I command you to tell me your name."
' "I am Satan! I am great! I am Someone!"
' "When will you leave this woman?"
' "When I want to."
' "Why did you come into this woman?"
' "Well, I didn't come of my own accord. I was sent."
' "Who sent you?"
' "It's none of your business."
' " Once more I command you to tell me."
' "Well then, that other fellow...."
'"Who is he?"
' "He has forbidden me to tell you."
' Then the priest took some holy water and sprinkled the devil. He cried with pain and immediately gave the name of the man who had sent him. It was W.B. [This was the magnetist-healer, whom his wife had consulted, and who was well known in the district.]
' "Did you make a pact with him?"
' "Yes," answered Satan.
' "Well, you are to fetch this pact and bring it here."
' "To the altar of the Blessed Virgin."
' Whereupon the terrified devil began to stammer: "No, no . . . I . . . I . . . can't."
' "Why not?" asked Fr. Berger.
' "Because B. doesn't want me to. We work together, and he told me to stand firm."
' "No matter," said the Father, "I want this pact and if you don't get it between now and tomorrow, you shall suffer until you do bring it."
"You're a good-for-nothing scoundrel," declared the devil.
' "Maybe," replied the priest, "but you are to go."
' "I haven't done anything to you. Leave me in peace!"
' "We shall see," said the exorcist.
'Then he made Satan look at the crucifix, and Satan cried out: "And that too! As if there wasn't enough already. And you bring out that puppet!"
' "That's enough," said the priest. "Now we shall see. You shall suffer, I promise you."
'And the priest began the prayers of the exorcism. The devil cried out, screamed, twisted, wept and begged him to stop. The priest did not relax. He commanded the devil to kneel down and worship God. This made the beast furious, so that he made his victim rise and stand on tiptoe. He would not give ground. But the exorcist took some holy water and ordered him to fall again to his knees. The rebellious spirit had to yield and kneel down, shouting abuse and swearing to be revenged. But the priest told him to be silent:
' "I am in command here. Will you leave?"
' "Only if I want to," replied Satan.
' "In the name of the Virgin Mary, I command you to leave!"
'This time the devil answered calmly: "Madam! O Madam!"
'Then the exorcist went on: "And in the name of C. [the possessed woman] who has overcome you, the would-be lover!"
'At that the devil became enraged and answered: "I forbid you to speak of that. You've no right to."
' "We shall see," said the Father, applying the crucifix attached to which was a little medallion belonging to C.
'The devil screamed with pain, and called out: "Not that! Not that! It hurts!"
' "So much the better," said the priest. "May it destroy you!"
'As he continued to press the devil more and more closely, the latter vented his pain and rage on the priest:
' "You wanted to take her from me!" [meaning C.].
'But after another moment of suffering the devil collapsed. Thereupon the exorcist reminded him that he must depart, or his suffering would become more and more terrible as the days went by.
' "Do you understand?" asked the priest. "Lift one arm as a sign that you understand."
'And Satan, at the end of his strength, raised the right arm.
'The first exorcism was over. My wife came to herself, a little confused, but soon she became normal. The session had lasted an hour and a half.
'I must say that at this first session Satan was violent and wanted to play the master, but he had to yield to someone stronger than himself--God's representative, Fr. Berger.'
It is hardly necessary to comment on this report which is so completely straightforward. We should, however, note that the husband makes a clear distinction between the times when his wife is perfectly normal, and the times when what he calls the 'devil' or the 'foul beast' is speaking or acting through her. From beginning to end of the exorcism the devil is speaking solely for himself when he tells of the pact made with the 'magnetiser' and the constraint this man, whom he names, can exercise on him to make him possess the woman. The fact of possession is demonstrated chiefly by the convulsions, the screams, and the suffering which appears to be inflicted by the contact with holy water, with the crucifix, and by the sight of the Blessed Virgin.
It would be unnatural for a person suffering from any normal illness to be so violently affected by such intrinsically inoffensive objects. According to the monks who carried out the exorcisms at Bordeaux, it had already been noted, particularly on 31st August 1953, that in similar circumstances the obsessed woman had had violent spasms, and the devil--the Enemy, as he is called in the exorcists' report--reacted in various ways, with pride, trembling supplications, fallacious promises. Further, the possessed woman's countenance had taken on a hideous cast.
We should also note the very striking resemblance between this exorcism and the one at Piacenza. We are again in the same environment, engaged in the same struggle, with the same failures and successes. The similarity will become even clearer in subsequent sessions.
Each session is such a tense and exhausting conflict that it cannot be prolonged indefinitely. For this very simple reason the exorcism has to be interrupted and postponed to the next session.
'16th September 1953.
'We arrived at the Cure's house. Fr. Berger was already there. Suddenly my wife began dancing in his presence, first on one leg and then on the other, as usual. I had difficulty in bringing her to the altar of the Blessed Virgin, because she tried to hide behind a cupboard in the sacristy. But I took her in my arms and set her down in a chair, strapping her to it, because the "foul beast" was up to his tricks, at his first sight of Our Mother in Heaven.
'Father Berger commanded him to be silent, and whilst he was praying to the saints and reciting the litanies, the devil, looking at him askance, began to shower abuse on him:
' "Old rogue! Old bandit! It's not true! You're a liar! I'm the one, I am!" and so on.
'Then the priest repeated the question of the previous session:
' "When, on what day, at what hour, will you leave?"
'After some hesitation, Satan replied: ' "It doesn't mean a thing to me. I'm quite comfortable."
'The exorcist asked him: ' "And B.? Did you ask him for the paper?"
' "Yes," replied Satan.
' "Where is it?"
' "Over there, under your good wife!" pointing to a little angel.
The priest looked: "There is nothing there."
'The devil chuckled at this trick, but the Father came back and said: ' "You are going to get the pact for me, for there is a pact, signed with his blood, isn't there?"
' "Yes," replied Satan, "but he doesn't want to give it to me, and he says I'm a good-for-nothing if I don't hold out to the end."
' "I must have this pact, do you understand!" said the priest, "and you know where it is. In his desk?"
' "No," said Satan. "He's taken it out and put it in a briefcase."
' "No matter. I must have it tomorrow: you will place it under this little angel. Do you understand?"
' "Yes, yes," replied Satan.
' "And meanwhile, you are going to suffer," said the priest, beginning the exorcism.
' "Eh, eh, he's even worse than the other," cried the devil, looking at the priest. "It's . . . it's . . . beyond a joke . . . what he's up to with me!"
' "I shall be up to still worse . . ." said the exorcist, "if you won't leave. And with or without that bit of paper, you will leave, I can tell you that! Why don't you leave this woman?" he went on, "and how long have you been there?"
' "Three years this September," replied Satan. "She came for treatment. At first it was all right, but then something went wrong."
' "Why?" asked the exorcist.
' "He has forbidden me to say."
' "I command you to tell me, although I know why. He wanted to get possession of this woman's body?"
' "Yes," replied the devil.
' "And when he didn't succeed, he sent you, and you dare to obey him: you are his slave! You are not ashamed? You, Satan?"
' "O, but I do the commanding! I'm the one," replied Satan, for he was so proud that he did not like to admit that he was obeying orders. He was impudent enough to say to the priest:
' "You! Get down on your knees and worship me!"
' "What?" exclaimed the Father. "You'll see. Down on your knees immediately and worship God!"
'And Satan obeyed. Then he began to suffer, howling with pain, tearing at his breast, yapping like a puppy, until the priest ended his prayer and presented him with a little image belonging to C. by applying it to the forehead, so that he howled again, at the end of his strength.
'The priest reminded him that he was to bring the pact, or he would go on suffering as long as he was in the woman. Exhausted, he murmured: "Yes, yes."
'Then the exorcist said to him: "Good. Till tomorrow, then We shall see."
'Thereupon the priest left the sacristy, the devil declaring: "I can't stand any more."
'My wife came to herself. Then we went, all three, into the sacristy, together with M. le Cure, and the Father explained the meaning of the session to M. le Cure, saying that the "foul beast" was under orders from B.
'At these words my wife started up, and the devil declared: "It's I who give orders, not he!"
'But the priest silenced him, and I drew my wife away. This session lasted forty-five minutes, and the devil was much calmer and less rebellious than at the first session.'
Later battles followed more or less the same pattern, although varying in detail.
An interesting point about the third session was the admission by the devil that he had been greatly helped in the first period of possession by the incredulity of a priest who would not believe in the presence of a devil in the possessed woman, and was therefore opposed to exorcism.
Again we quote the husband himself.
'18th September 1953.
'The weather was appalling, and the rain never stopped, but we decided to set out, and the exorcist never hesitated: he left in the pouring rain, for he wanted Satan to see that nothing would stop him when he had to do battle with the foul fiend.
'We reached the church and, as in earlier sessions, the devil began to play up, but that day he spoke German.[Needless to say, the possessed woman, a simple country woman, did not know a word of German.] . He tried to turn back, but the priest brought him to order.
But during the prayers to the saints--the litanies--the abuse began again:
' "Old rogue! Old bandit! Just listen to what he's saying! Won't he ever stop? What's the matter with him?"
Then the Father began the prayer of exorcism: then the devil howled and begged him to stop. Whereupon the exorcist asked him:
' "Haven't you brought the pact?"
' "What pact?"
' "The pact you had to get from B."
' "Oh, I'd forgotten all about it," said the devil. "You've got a good memory!"
' "Yes," said the priest. "So you haven't brought it. Well, allright. Now, are you going to leave this woman?"
' "No," answered the devil categorically.
' "So you won't go? Well, just wait, and you will see. You will understand...."
'The Father sprinkled him with holy water, and repeated the prayer which made the devil suffer so much. When he brought out the crucifix, the devil was still mocking:
' "Well, here's the puppet again!"
' "Wait a minute: you'll see! We've not done with you yet," said the priest, continuing his prayer.
'Suddenly Satan called out: "Ah, your D. [mentioning a local priest]. He didn't believe in anything like that. He prevented it as long as he could. As for me, I could see what was happening. He helped me a lot, he did: he didn't mean to, but he did." ('This statement,' says the report, which we reproduce textually, refers to D. in the parish of S.J. and the words were heard by three witnesses, Fr. Berger, the Cure and myself.')
'But after Satan had made this statement, the exorcist silenced him by saying:
' "That is not my business: what I want is for you to leave: in the name of the One who bruised your head, in the name of Our Mother in Heaven, who commands both in Heaven and on earth, and everywhere, you must obey!"
'Once more the priest placed the crucifix on the woman's breast, and added: ' "And in the name of C. [my wife], who also rejects you, go!"
'The devil howled, and twisted, and shouted at the priest:
' "I shan't forget you, trust me! You are making me suffer, you old sack of coals, but I shan't forget you!"
'The exorcist prayed, asking the Blessed Virgin to drive out Satan. Satan became enraged and declared:
' "Oh, he'll do it . . . he'll do it yet! He knows what to do to make me leave, the swine. Oh, you swine! I know I shall be forced to leave. And I didn't want to go!"
'Satan began to snivel:
' "I haven't done what I was told to do and now I've got to leave. I know I'm beaten, and it's all because of this scoundrel of a Berger who's found out everything: why did I have to run across him? I've been working so hard these last three years. Just look what I've come to, me, the great Satan, who rules over all the world! No, it's not possible, it's not possible. It can't have happened to me!"
'Once more Satan referred to the priest who had not believed in possession:
' "Oh, D. you're not a real pal. You ought to have stopped them getting up to their tricks. D. you're a good-for-nothing: you ought to go on stopping them."
'But the exorcist stopped him:
' "That's enough! You are going to leave, for the Virgin Mary has ordered you to: it's not from me any more, a little servant of God, but from the Virgin Mary."
' Turning towards the altar, the priest went on: "Come, Virgin Mary, make Satan depart: I am counting on you, Virgin Mary: your honour is at stake: one little gesture from you, and the Devil will go back to Hell...."
'The devil could endure this no longer: he was listening, and stammering:
' "Madam . . . Madam . . . I am frightened, Madam . . . We can't say anything to you, great Lady! It is forbidden to us!"
'His fears were obvious, as he himself had to admit:
' "I'm frightened! I am frightened! She is coming! She is descending from the clouds! No, no! Leave me a little while longer! Just a little while, Madam!"
'The devil leant forward in pain, and suddenly the possessed woman had a feeling of nausea, and tried to vomit. That lasted five minutes and then, in spite of his pain, Satan said: "No, I don't want to leave."
'Then the priest began to pray, placing the crucifix once more on the possessed woman. The devil's sufferings started again, and he said:
' "Stop! Stop! I will go, since you want me to!"
'Then the exorcist said to him: "It is the Virgin Mary, not I, who wishes you to go."
'The devil began to rage:
' "You don't frighten me! But I'm afraid of her, the Great Lady, of her alone, for I can do nothing against her: her will prevails."
'The devil was panic stricken, and could not move. He listened and answered simply:
' "I shall have to go! I shall have to! Yes, Madam...."
'Turning towards the priest he said:
' "It's all your fault, yes, it's all your fault, you old swine!"
' "I am flattered: I am proud of it, for Satan is in my hands, and I am making him suffer. You will never suffer enough, you foul fiend!"
' "Oh," said the devil, "you are my greatest enemy, Berger."
' "So much the better," said the priest. "I am quite satisfied. It is an honour to be called the enemy of Satan, for you know we are called 'The sons of Mary'. We are the community of Chavagnes, the Sons of Mary Immaculate--and Mary has bruised your head, old serpent!"
'Then the exorcist prayed to the Blessed Virgin:
' "Come, little Mother, you won't leave the last word to Satan! One word from you, and the foul fiend will go. Unless you want Satan to suffer still more: tomorrow will be your day, O blessed Virgin --Saturday," and turning to Satan: "Well, will you go now, or do you want to wait until tomorrow?"
' "I don't want anything . . . I don't know."
' "Good," said the Father, "well, tomorrow you'll see! You'll understand, because you will suffer more and more. Till tomorrow, Satan!"
'So the priest concluded the third session. My wife came to herself, rather tired, but more lighthearted and at ease.'
This session had lasted two hours and a quarter, and was remarkable both for the declarations made by Satan and for his attitude to the Virgin Mary.
In all these sessions, apart from the interrogations and the dialogues with Satan, which were in French, all the exorcisms, including those which made such a striking impression on Satan, were in Latin, which was quite unknown to the possessed woman, but which were able to affect Satan.
'Today the weather was favourable and the sun came out. We went to the church and after I had strapped my wife to the chair, the Father began the usual litanies to the saints and, as on other occasions, the devil began to abuse him:
' "You scoundrel, you swine, you're starting the same old game, are you? It's not true: you're a liar . . . it's not me, I tell you, it's not me that did it: just listen to him! He never stops talking; he won't stop. You must be thirsty, you swine. Are you going to stop? I'm here, I am . . . I am beautiful!"
' "Ah, yes, you're beautiful," said the priest. "You're an old serpent!"
' "Just listen to him," said Satan, "now he's insulting me! Why don't you respect me? Ah, but . . ."
' "What?" said the priest, "Respect you? You, the foul fiend? Wait! You will see!"
'The exorcist said another prayer from the ritual: the devil screamed and cried:
' "Stop him! Stop him! Don't you see he is hurting me? Didn't you make me suffer enough this morning? [only instead of 'suffer' he used a very coarse expression] Do you have to go on? You're a swine, a criminal!"
'The Father commanded him to be silent, then asked:
' "Will you go, yes or no?"
' "Yes, yes or no. I don't know. I haven't made up my mind. It isn't the right moment."
' "So it isn't the right moment. Well, I command you, in the name of the Virgin Mary, to leave the woman immediately, for today is the day of the Great Lady herself."
' "I know," replied Satan, "but she hasn't told me to go today."
' "Liar, hypocrite, foul fiend," said the priest, "now you are going to kneel down at once to the Virgin Mary."
'After several refusals, the devil knelt down
' "And now," said the exorcist, "you are to say 'Hail Mary'!"
' "Ah, no! Don't go to extremes, or I shan't say anything."
' "You are to say 'Hail Mary!' "
'Then Satan stammered: "H-h-hail . . ."
' "And now," said the exorcist, "you must say 'Mary'."
'In a burst of anger the devil spoke:
' "Hail, M-M-Mary!"
' "Ah," said the priest, "he has just said 'Hail Mary!' "
' "It's not true, it's not true," shouted the devil. "I didn't say anything. And I don't want to go. It suits me here."
' "We shall see," said the exorcist.
'Then he gave me a sign, and I led my wife up to the altar. Satan was overcome with fear and began to tremble. There was silence.
'The priest showed him the tabernacle and said:
' "You see this? In the name of God and the Church, I command you to leave this woman."
'The devil did not reply. There was silence for about a minute. Suddenly the devil turned to the exorcist:
' "Did you hear? Tell me, did you hear? Didn't you hear what he said? It was to you he said it! He said: Your place is not here.
Did you hear it?"
'Again there was silence.
'Satan turned his face towards the altar: "Listen!" He trembled as he spoke:
' "But no! It's to me that he said it! It's not possible! He said to me: Your place is not here!"
' "True," said the priest. "Your place is not here. Go back to Hell, and leave the woman here."
'The devil began to tremble and weep. Suddenly, after a silence, an extraordinary thing happened; Satan, the proud, asked of his own accord that he should be left alone, and kneeling down before the altar prostrated himself to the ground and worshipped Almighty God. Lifting his face towards the tabernacle, he answered God:
' "Yes, yes. I hear."
'Turning towards the priest, he said: 'Did you hear? He has told me to respect and obey you."
'Then once more he bowed his head to the ground in adoration and stayed in that attitude for the rest of the exorcism, about half an hour. The onlookers were overcome with amazement. The great Satan, as he called himself, was kneeling in adoration of the Lord whom he must obey. And from the moment he received God's command, he did not move, but remained kneeling and listening with respect to the priest.
'This lasted for some time. Then Satan spoke:
' "Well, how long do I have to stay here? I want to go."
' The exorcist replied:
' "Go, Satan! Your place is not here. God has told you, and I repeat it: leave this woman to God and go back to your companions
' "Ah, but that's not the same thing: surely I've got the right to have a woman!"
' "You have no right," said the priest. "Go back to Hell, and leave this woman. Here she is at home, but you are not. Begone, Satan!"
' "I'm quite willing to go," said the devil, "but not alone." And addressing the onlookers: "Are you coming? Has anyone thought about me? I can't stay here."
'Once more the priest said:
' "Be gone you foul fiend! Hypocrite, liar, coward!"
' "Come now," said the devil, "be polite. I respect you because I can't do otherwise: it is forbidden, but I'm not afraid of you, you know!"
'The priest reminded him: ' "Look on the face of God!"
'The devil turned round and declared:
' "Ah, you know, he does make me a little afraid."
'But suddenly, in spite of himself, he prostrated himself and said:
Turning towards the priest: "Oh, sir! He has told me to call you 'Sir'. Well, well . . . Since that's the case, I, I the great one . . ."
'But he could not continue, and prostrating himself again:
' "Oh no, I cannot, I will not."
'Addressing the exorcist:
' "Did you hear that? He said: You must leave today. But it's not possible ... after I've worked so hard these three years.... Ah, your D. [the priest who did not believe in exorcism] he didn't see anything! You'd better buy him some glasses. He'd see better. They said she was ill! It was I who was there! They said she was in pain! That was me, again. And you didn't see anything. Not very smart, were you? Not to see it was the great Satan who was there! Now I can tell you: it was I, the great Satan, and I'm still here! Would you like me to show you that I'm still here?"
' "I know," said the priest, "that you are still here."
' "Oh, you!" retorted Satan, "you know everything, you! You discovered everything: but I'm still here, and I'm not afraid of you. And so I shan't leave."
'Satan raised himself to his knees, for he was still prostrate, and made hideous grimaces, pointing to himself and saying:
' "I'm still here, the Great One, the Master of the World!"
'But then, looking at the tabernacle, he was thrown to the ground once more, prostrating himself in obvious fear, his hands scratching at the ground. He twisted in pain, then suddenly collapsed on his back, gasping for breath for several moments. Then, as suddenly, he got to his knees again, but still wanted to master the situation. But in spite of himself, once again he had to prostrate himself, and the exorcist remarked:
' "You see, you, the Great One, you obey!"
'But the devil, looking at the carpet, replied:
' "Oh, I'm just looking at the carpet: it's a good carpet: I'll make one like it!"
'Although he still had his face to the ground in an attitude of adoration, he tried to carry it off by saying:
' "I must look at the carpet more closely. I'm getting shortsighted." Then, raising his head, "Well, since that's the case, I won't go. We'll soon see who's the first to have enough!"
' "Good," said the priest, "we shall see!"
'The prayer of exorcism, the holy water, caused Satan more pain, so that he could hardly articulate: "I am great!"
'But suddenly the pain was too much for him, and he collapsed again, on his back, struggling, gasping and writhing.
'Having made him suffer, the exorcist spoke to him:
' "So you will not leave! Well, we will start again tomorrow, and the day after that, if necessary. But I promise you, you will leave."
'And the Father withdrew, whilst Satan pulled himself up, saying:
' "I am the great Satan! I command the whole world!"
'Then my wife came to herself and approached the altar. Clasping her hands in prayer, she said: "Oh God! Oh God!" Then she genuflected and made the sign of the Cross, but Satan was still active and rebelled. She withdrew in confidence that God would save her from the power of the foul fiend.
'This session lasted three hours and a quarter. Satan was made to suffer, but the foul fiend will only leave when he is exhausted and at the end of his tether.
'During this session Satan was much calmer, he obeyed God's order to respect the priest, who allowed him no respite.'
Work in depth
For a moment we will stop quoting from the husband's notes. The devil was obviously losing something of his strength and arrogance at each session. Often he seemed to have left, but came back again, probably as the result of new malefices operated from a distance by the man who sent him.
But the exorcist did not content himself with purely ritual intervention. As every writer on the subject recommends, he took great pains to deepen the possessed woman's piety, to reassure her, to lead her to prayer and Communion, together with the husband. He considered that the couple's piety was his greatest asset in the struggle with the devil. Formerly the young couple had not been particularly devout, but now they were developing a deeper sense of religion. Towards the priest who had been at such pains to help them, they were full of confidence and gratitude. In fact, when he spoke of them, he was obviously deeply moved by this gratitude.
Whilst continuing with the exorcisms, which were now taking place at ever greater intervals, he had been trying to approach the problem in depth. Sometimes Satan reverted to the attack and the possessed woman displayed painful resistance. It gave her a great deal of trouble, but she was grateful for the prayers said on her behalf.
At the moment of writing the exorcisms are still continuing, taking place whenever it is felt necessary. Fr. Berger considers that there are many cases in which Satan cannot leave, although he would like to since the exorcisms are certainly painful to him. If he leaves, he is sent back again by the magnetist on whom he depends, and whose orders he must obey by virtue of the pact they have concluded.
This is, incidentally, an established fact. Canon Saudreau has particularly stressed this point: 'The spirits in possession are sometimes caught, as it were, in a trap: they are kept captive, by God's command, in the body they have entered. From time to time they express a desire to leave it, but they cannot. In such cases the purpose of the exorcism is not so much to expel them, as to keep them under control, to reduce their power and, finally, to make it almost impossible for them to do any harm.'
As an example of this type of captivity we shall quote, not this time from the husband's notes but from the exorcist's own report to the Bishop, dated 1st January 1955.
The exorcism of 31st December 1954
'After fifteen months and fifteen days of relentless struggle against the Fiend, we were searching for a means of giving full weight to the injunctions of the Church, at the last session of the year. We therefore decided, the G.'s and myself, by private arrangement with the Sister Superior, to hold the session in my chapel of St. Joan. I was hoping to get to the bottom of this obstinacy: if possible to find out why it occurred, or at least to get some further details by way of confirming what Satan had already declared.
'At 9 o'clock yesterday evening, therefore, a memorable session occurred, first in an atmosphere of revolt, then in one of slow responses, respectful and profoundly disturbing....
'On arrival at the garden which surrounds the chapel, Mme G. suddenly left her husband and, Satan taking possession, fled into the dark shadows between the trees . . . a hasty pursuit . . . G. managed to lay hands on the Fiend after an extremely violent struggle... the Fiend had to be dragged along . . . on reaching the chapel he tried to cling to the ground. G. managed, with great difficulty, to pick up the body, weighing three times its normal weight, and carry it into the chapel. The Fiend, having been brought by force into the chapel, tried to escape between the benches.... As a precaution, I locked the door.... Then I intervened with authority, using holy water. Finally I was able to make Satan obey the command to enter the sanctuary and to stand at the foot of the altar steps, facing the tabernacle, and close to the altar of the Blessed Virgin.... I ordered him to sit down.... He stood up for a moment in defiance.... Finally he sat down on a chair by the side of the steps, but began to protest in a loud voice. I commanded him to be silent. He obeyed and the exorcism began.
'But before reporting the exorcism, I would like to explain why I have dwelt at length on Satan's attitude of rebellion and resistance. It was the first time for more than a year, to be exact, since 25th December 1953, that Satan had tried to prevent his victim entering a church or chapel or any religious establishment. For a year Mme G. had been able to pursue her devotions without any such manifestation of violence. This sudden hardening of Satan's attitude can only be explained by the following facts: the previous evening, at my house, the G.'s had been telling me how B. in his dispensary at J. had been raging against Mme G. (Mme G. has an inner knowledge of any conversation relating to her, a phenomenon frequently observed in demonic possession), and had been shouting "What, isn't the bitch dead yet? I've had enough. Either she'll have to pass out, or I shall!"
'That is why Satan appeared with a sullen manner and that insolent smile you have seen yourself. This inspired me with the desire, on this last day of 1954, to conduct a very vigorous exorcism in order to bring Satan to heel, and to order him, through the exorcism, to depart. I also wondered if perhaps I had not made sufficient use of my authority to command. Perhaps the Fiend was not sufficiently afraid of me. So, turning towards Satan, who was there in front of me-Mme G. having lost consciousness--my voice dry and cutting, but full of indignation, I declared: "Tomorrow is the last day of the year and for you, unclean spirit, it is your last day in this woman. Do you hear me? Tomorrow evening, in this chapel, in front of your Master, and the Blessed Virgin, you will undergo the final exorcisms, and I promise you that, willy-nilly, you will leave!" At these words Satan disappeared, and Mme G. came to herself. It was therefore undoubtedly a feeling of fear, and an expectation of what was awaiting him, that made Satan refuse to enter the chapel, and provoked this unaccustomed resistance which the husband had such difficulty in overcoming.
'I began the exorcism.... The husband, as usual, was standing close behind me. It was about 9.30 p.m. I admit that at the bottom of my heart I was cherishing an idea which uplifted meperhaps it was indeed the hour of the Fiend's departure. I had decided that the only words I should say to Satan in the course of the exorcism, and delivered with such authority that no reply would be possible, would be "In the name of God and of Mary Immaculate, I command you to leave this woman!" These exorcisms were to be repeated three times, ending each time with the well-known words of the ritual: Humiliare...
'As soon as the exorcisms began, Satan displayed a truly impressive calm and respect--and I use the words deliberately. I would almost dare to say it was a religious attitude. And as soon as the Humiliare was pronounced, Satan, facing towards the tabernacle, prostrated himself with his head to the ground. And then, at the end of each of the exorcisms which made Satan repeat the gesture of adoration, I pronounced in a resounding voice the single injunction: "In the name of God and of Mary Immaculate, I command you to leave this woman!" Satan raised his head slowly at these words, and to our great surprise, since we were not expecting any answer or any sort of statement, he began to explain his presence in the victim. Here are his exact words, uttered after each of my adjurations:
(1) After the first recitation of the exorcism (in a slow, calm voice, obviously pain-laden and imploring, so that both G. and I were deeply impressed):
' "Leave . . . go from here . . . I cannot . . . you know very well that I cannot.... It's that man (B.) who makes me stay... I would have gone long ago if I could.... But that man ... won't allow me to go.... If you think I like seeing you come along with your book to torture me! And particularly since I know there's nothing to be done."
'I interrupted him curtly: ' "You lie! You are a liar!"
' "No, I am not lying."
' "Yes, you are lying."
' "No, I am not. I know I am a liar, but not now. If I don't leave, it's because I can't."
('The conviction and sincerity underlying his remarks was, for us, unmistakable.)
(2). After the second recitation of the exorcisms (a more discouraged attitude: he spoke in a low voice, as if exhausted.... For the second time he has heard my adjuration, pronounced in the same authoritative manner, brooking no delay).
' "I can't . . . I can't . . . I can't." (Here he leant back slowly, head thrown back, a gesture we interpreted as a desperate effort to quit the body. Then his head fell forward again.)
' "I tell you I can't [louder and more firmly] I shall leave when he has understood.... At present he hasn't understood, but he is looking. He'll have to be converted [sic] before I leave, and I know) that you will get him [These are Satan's actual words]. It is up to you [the Church] to do what you have to do. As for me, I shall be against you: I shall do everything I can to prevent you getting him."
(3). Third recitation of the exorcism, third adjuration to depart (same calm, respectful tone).
'"Just now he [B.] is in a state of violent agitation . . . he can't understand why the spell still hasn't worked . . . he's going to play his trump card.... If there is a spell, then one or the other has to throw his hand in.... He can't understand why the influences flow back upon him.... I can't tell him it's you, that he's dealing with a priest ... [here a short pause, then] Listen . . . to convert him, you must recite many rosaries, many ... many.... You'll be the one to drive me out, but it'll take time."
'Satan then disappeared: it was the final exorcism of the year 1954. Mme. G. came to herself, very slowly and absolutely exhausted.' The exorcist's report concludes with the following, very relevant remarks:
'Anyone, of course, is free to form his own opinion of such a session, but those who, like G. and myself, have for fifteen months been in almost daily contact with the visible presence of Satan, with his constantly changing attitudes, his methods, his lies and his truths, with his incredible deviltry, open or disguised, for us it was a declaration made at God's command. For us it contained all necessary instructions for ending this terrible spell, as Fr. Paile has called it, through the power of the Church.
'I believe, Monseigneur, that I shall not have to write to you again. You see what direction events are taking. Time is an important factor: in fact, a constant factor in God's mysterious design. No need to add that the G.'s intend to devote themselves more and more to the rosary, and they are counting on your generous help....' The battle is still in progress. But victory now seems assured. Thanks to the exorcisms the couple have been able to resume an almost normal life. There are long periods of respite. And when a crisis seems imminent the remedy is at hand, and the violence of the attacks has enormously decreased.
We may draw certain very important conclusions from all these numerous scenes of possession and of exorcism, which are here collated for the first time.
In the first place there are striking similarities between all these diverse individual experiences. Whether the exorcism takes place at Ars, at Illfurth, in Natal, in Vietnam, at Piacenza or, almost before our eyes, at the present moment, somewhere in France, there are always the same incidents and episodes of the same character, cries, shouts, grimaces, convulsions, resistance on the part of Satan and finally, after valiant efforts on the part of the exorcist, armed with the prayers of the Church, the inevitable triumph, often thanks to the explicit and visible intervention of the Blessed Virgin.
In the second place, it is impossible to mistake the cases of possession we have reported for cases of pure and simple mania. The reasons for this are clear. On the one hand, the prayers of the ritual are totally ineffectual in cases of natural mania. A maniac would never be relieved by exorcism, nor manifest the explosive reactions of a possessed person. And on the other, mania does not disappear overnight, as we have seen happen in the majority of the cases of possession we have described.
There is no similarity between the symptoms, the treatment, or the final result in cases of mania and cases of possession. Finally, in cases of mania we never find indications of the presence of a preternatural and obviously alien intelligence as is established in cases of possession, and which constitutes one of the indications required by the Church before an exorcism is authorised.
This leads us to an investigation into the activities of Satan in the modern world. The next chapter will, therefore, have as point of departure the conclusions we have already reached, and which we shall be able to confirm.
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