The Devils of Loudun Page 59

According to the Franciscan, these devils were uneducated; according to the Jesuit, they had never travelled. Such explanations of their inability to understand foreign languages seemed a little lame, and for the benefit of those who were unwilling to accept them, the nuns and their exorcists added a couple of new and, so they hoped, more cogent explanations. If the devils could not speak Greek or Hebrew, it was because the pact they had made with Grandier included a special clause to the effect that in no circumstances would they speak Greek or Hebrew. And if that was not enough, then there was the final, the clinching explanation, that it was not God’s will that these particular devils should speak with tongues. Deus non vult—or as Sister Jane was apt to say, in her pidgin Latin, Deus non volo. On the conscious level, the blunder was doubtless attributable to mere ignorance. But in an obscure way our ignorances are often voluntary. On the subliminal level, that Deus non volo, that “I, God, do not wish,” may very well have expressed the sentiments of Jeanne’s profounder ego.

The tests for clairvoyance seem to have been as uniformly unsuccessful as the language tests. De Cerisay, for example, arranged with Grandier that the latter should spend the day at the house of one of his colleagues; then went to the convent and, in the course of the exorcism, asked the Superior to say where, at that moment, the parson was. Without hesitation, Sœur Jeanne answered that he was in the great hall of the castle with M. d’ Armagnac.

On another occasion one of Jeanne’s devils affirmed that he had had to take a brief trip to Paris in order to escort the soul of a newly departed procureur du Parlement, called M. Proust, to the infernal regions. Inquiry revealed that there had never been a procureur called Proust and that no procureur had died on the day specified.

A Letter from Sœur Jeanne des Anges to Laubardemont

During Grandier’s trial another of the Prioress’s devils swore on the Sacraments that Grandier’s books of magic were stored in the house of Madeleine de Brou. The house was searched. There were no books of magic—but at least Madeleine had been well frightened, humiliated and insulted, which was all that really interested the Mother Superior.

In his accounts of the possession Surin admits that the nuns often failed to pass the ESP tests devised by examining magistrates, or arranged for the edification and amusement of distinguished tourists. In consequence of these failures many members of his own order refused to believe that the nuns were suffering from anything more supernatural than melancholy and furor uterinus. Surin points out that these sceptics among his colleagues had never visited Loudun for more than a few days at a time. But, like the spirit of God, the spirit of evil bloweth where and when it listeth. To be certain of seeing it blow, one had to be on the spot, day and night, for months at a stretch. Speaking as one of the resident exorcists, Surin affirms that Sœur Jeanne repeatedly read his thoughts before he uttered them. That a highly sensitive hysteric, such as Sœur Jeanne, could have lived nearly three years in the closest intimacy with a highly sensitive spiritual director, such as Father Surin, and not have developed some degree of telepathic rapport with him would be indeed surprising. Dr. Ehrenwald1 and others have pointed out that this kind of rapport between doctor and patient is sometimes established in the course of psycho-analytic treatment. The relationship between demoniac and exorcist is probably even more intimate than that between psychiatrist and neurotic. And in this particular case, let us remember, the exorcist was obsessed by the same devils as had invaded his penitent.

Surin, then, was fully convinced that the Prioress could, on occasion, successfully read the thoughts of those around her. But by dogmatic definition anyone who could read another’s thoughts was possessed by a devil—or alternatively was the recipient of an extraordinary grace. The notion that ESP might be a natural faculty, latent in all minds and manifest in a few, never seems, for a single instant, to have entered his head, or, for that matter, the head of any of his contemporaries or predecessors. Either the phenomena of telepathy and clairvoyance did not exist, or they were the work of spirits, whom one might presume, unless the thought-reader were manifestly a saint, to be devils. Surin deviated from strict orthodoxy in only one point: he believed that devils could read minds directly, whereas the most authoritative theologians were of the opinion that they could do so only indirectly, by inference from the bodily changes accompanying thought.

In the Malleus Maleficarum it is asserted, on the best possible authority, that devils cannot possess the will and the understanding, but only the body and such mental faculties as are most closely allied to the body. In many cases devils do not even possess the whole of the demoniac’s body, but only a small part of it—a single organ, one or two muscle groups, or bones. Pillet de la Mesnardière, one of Richelieu’s personal physicians, has left us a list of the names and local habitations of all the devils who took part in the possessions of Loudun. Leviathan, he tells us, occupied the centre of the Prioress’s forehead; Beherit was lodged in her stomach; Balaam under the second rib on the right side; Isacaaron under the last rib on the left. Eazaz and Caron lived respectively under the heart and in the centre of the forehead of Sister Louise of Jesus. Sister Agnes de la Motte-Baracé had Asmodeus under the heart and Beherit in the orifice of the stomach. Sister Claire de Sazilly harboured seven devils in her body—Zabulon in the forehead; Nephthali in the right arm; Sans Fin, alias Grandier of the Dominations, under the second rib on the right; Elymi to one side of the stomach; the Enemy of the Virgin in the neck; Verrine in the left temple and Concupiscence, of the Order of Cherubim, in the left rib. Sister Seraphica had a bewitchment of the stomach, consisting of a drop of water guarded by Baruch or, in his absence, by Carreau. Sister Anne d’Escoubleau had a magic barberry leaf in her stomach under the care of Elymi, who simultaneously watched over the purple damson in the stomach of her sister. Among the lay demoniacs Elizabeth Blanchard had a devil under each armpit, with another called Coal of Impurity in her left buttock. Yet others were lodged under the navel, below the heart and under the left pap. Four demons occupied the body of Françoise Filatreau—Ginnillion in the fore-brain; Jabel, a wanderer through every part of the organism; Buffetison below the navel; and Dog’s Tail, of the Order of Archangels, in the stomach.

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