The Devils of Loudun Page 52

Next in order is the sensitive soul, “which is as far beyond the other in dignity as a beast is preferred to a plant, having those vegetal powers included in it. ‘Tis defined as an ‘Act of an organical body, by which it lives, hath sense, appetite, judgment, breath and motion.’ . . . The general organ is the brain, from which principally the sensible operations are derived. The sensible soul is divided into two parts, apprehending or moving. . . . The apprehensive faculty is subdivided into two parts, inward or outward. Outward are the five senses, of touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting. . . . Inward are three—common sense, phantasy, memory.” Common sense judges, compares and organizes the messages brought to it by the special organs of sense, such as the eye and the ear. Phantasy examines more fully the data of common sense, “and keeps them longer, recalling them to mind again, or making new of his own.” Memory takes all that comes to it from phantasy and the common sense and “stores it away in a good register.”

In man imagination “is subject and governed by reason, or at least should be; but in brutes it hath no superior, but is ratio brutorum, all the reason they have.” The second power of the sensitive soul is the moving faculty, which in turn is “divided into two faculties, the power of appetite, and of moving from place to place.”

And finally there is the rational soul, “which is defined by philosophers to be ‘the first substantial act of a natural, human, organical body, by which a man lives, perceives and understands, freely doing all things, and with election.’ Out of which definition we may gather that this rational soul includes the powers and performs the duties of the two other, which are contained in it, and all three faculties make one soul, which is inorganical of itself, although it be in all parts (of the body), and incorporeal, using their organs and working by them. It is divided into two parts, differing in office only, not in essence: the understanding, which is the rational power apprehending; the will, which is the rational power moving; to which two, all the other rational powers are subject and reduced.”

Such was the theory in terms of which our ancestors thought about themselves and tried to explain the facts of human experience and behaviour. Because it was very old, and because many of its elements were theological dogmas, or corollaries of dogmas, the theory seemed axiomatically true. But if the theory were true, then certain notions, which today seem obvious to the point of self-evidence, could not be entertained and were for all practical purposes unthinkable. Let us consider a couple of concrete examples.

Here is Miss Beauchamp, a blameless but rather sickly young woman, full of high principles, inhibitions and anxiety. From time to time she plays truant from herself and behaves like a very naughty and exuberantly healthy child of ten. Questioned under hypnosis, this enfant terrible insists that she is not Miss Beauchamp, but someone else called Sally. After some hours or days Sally disappears and Miss Beauchamp returns to consciousness—but returns only to her own consciousness, not to Sally’s; for she remembers nothing of what was done, in her name and through the agency of her body, while the latter was in control. Sally, on the contrary, knows all that goes on in Miss Beauchamp’s mind and makes use of that knowledge to embarrass and torment the other tenant of their shared body. Because he could think of these odd facts in terms of a well-substantiated theory of subconscious mental activity, and because he was acquainted with the techniques of hypnosis, Dr. Morton Prince, the psychiatrist in charge of this famous case, was able to solve Miss Beauchamp’s problems and to bring her, for the first time in many years, to a state of physical and mental health.

In certain respects the case of Sœur Jeanne was essentially similar to that of Miss Beauchamp. Periodically she took a holiday from her habitual self, and from being a respectable nun of good family became, for a few hours or days, a savage, blaspheming, utterly shameless virago, who called herself now Asmodeus, now Balaam, now Leviathan. When the Prioress returned to self-consciousness, she had no recollection of what these others had said and done in her absence. Such were the facts. How were they to be explained? Some observers attributed the whole deplorable business to deliberate fraud; others to ‘melancholy’—a derangement of the humoral equilibrium of the body, resulting in a derangement of the mind. For those who could not, or would not, accept these hypotheses, only one alternative explanation remained—diabolic possession. Given the theory in terms of which they had to think, it was impossible for them to come to any other conclusion. By a definition which was the corollary of a Christian dogma, the ‘soul’—in other words, the conscious and personal part of the mind—was an atom, simple and indivisible. The modern notion of a split personality was therefore unthinkable. If two or more selves appeared, concurrently or alternately, to occupy the same body, it could not be because of a disintegration of that not too securely tied bundle of psycho-physical elements which we call a person; no, it must be because of a temporary expulsion from the body of the indivisible soul and its temporary replacement by one or more of the innumerable superhuman spirits who (it was a matter of revealed truth) inhabited the universe.

Our second example is that of a hypnotized person—any hypnotized person—in whom the operator has produced a state of catalepsy. The nature of hypnosis and the way in which suggestion acts upon the autonomic nervous system are still imperfectly understood; but at least we know that it is very easy to put certain persons into a trance and that, when they are in this state, some part of their subconscious mind will cause their body to obey the suggestions given by the operator, or sometimes by their own supraliminal selves. At Loudun this cataleptic rigidity, which any competent operator can induce in any good subject, was regarded by the faithful as a work of Satan. Necessarily so; for the nature of current psychological theories was such that the phenomenon must be due either to deliberate cheating or to a supernatural agency. You might search the writings of Aristotle and Augustine, of Galen and the Arabians; in none of them could you find any hint of what we now call the subconscious mind. For our ancestors there was only the soul or conscious self, on the one hand, and on the other God, the saints and a host of good and evil spirits. Our conception of a vast intermediate world of subconscious mental activity, much more extensive and, in certain respects, more effective than the activity of the conscious self, was unthinkable. The current theory of human nature had left no place for it; consequently, so far as our ancestors were concerned, it did not exist. The phenomena which we now explain in terms of this subconscious activity had either to be denied altogether, or else attributed to the action of non-human spirits. Thus, catalepsy was either a humbug or a symptom of diabolic infestation. When he attended an exorcism in the autumn of 1635, young Thomas Killigrew was invited by the friar in charge of the proceedings to feel the nun’s stony limbs—to feel, to confess the power of the Evil One and the yet greater power of the Church Militant, and then, God willing, to be converted from heresy, as his good friend Walter Montague had been in the preceding year. “I must tell you the truth,” wrote Killigrew in a letter describing the event, “I only felt firm flesh, strong arms and legs held out stiff.” (Note how completely the nuns have ceased to be regarded as human beings with a right to privacy or respect. The good father who performs the exorcisms behaves exactly like the proprietor of a side-show at a fair. “Step up, ladies and gentlemen, step up! Seeing is believing, but pinching our fat girl’s legs is the naked truth.” These spouses of Christ have been turned into cabaret performers and circus freaks.) “But others,” Killigrew continues, “affirm that she was all stiff, and heavy as iron; but they had more faith than I, and it seemed that the miracle appeared more visible to them than to me.” How significant is that word ‘miracle’! If the nuns are not shamming, then the corpse-like rigidity of their limbs must be due to supernatural causes. No other explanation is possible.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies