The Devils of Loudun
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Pages (PDF): 56
Publication Date: 1887
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The Devils of Loudun is an account of the possession of the nuns of Loudun. In 1634 the Ursuline nuns of Loudon were allegedly possessed by demons. This is one of the largest cases of mass possession in history. Father Urbain Grandier, a local priest, was interrogated under torture, convicted of being responsible for the possessions (as well as sorcery), and subsequently burned at the stake. This is a 19th century translation of the primary account of the episode, originally written in French by Des Niau in 1634.
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THE following extraordinary account of the "Cause Célèbre" of Urbain Grandier, the Curé of Loudun, accused of Magic and of having caused the Nuns of the Convent of Saint Ursula to be possessed of devils, is written by an eye-witness, and not only an eyewitness but an actor in the scenes he describes. It is printed at "Poitiers, chez J. Thoreau et la veuve Ménier, Imprimeurs du Roi et de l’Université 1634." I believe two copies only are known: my own, and the one in the National Library, Paris. The writer is Monsieur des Niau, Counsellor at la Flèche, evidently a firm believer in the absurd charges brought against Grandier.
Magic appears to have had its origin on the plains of Assyria, and the worship of the stars was the creed of those pastoral tribes who, pouring down from the mountains of Kurdistan into the wide level where Babylon afterwards raised its thousand towers, founded the sacerdotal race of the Chasdim or Chaldeans. To these men were soon alloted peculiar privileges and ascribed peculiar attributes, until, under the name of Magi, they acquired a vast and permanent influence. Their temples were astronomical observatories as well as holy places; and the legendary tower of Babel, in the Book of Genesis, is probably but the mythical equivalent of a vast edifice consecrated to the study of the seven planets, or perhaps, as the Bab (court or palace) of Bel, to the brilliant star of good fortune alone. Availing themselves of the general adoration of the stars, they appear to have invented a system of astrology—the apotelesmatic science—by which they professed to decide upon the nature of coming events and the complexion of individual fortunes, with especial reference to the planetary aspects.
In Persia magic assumed a yet more definite development. The Chaldeans had attributed the origin of all things to a great central everlasting fire. The foundation of the Persian system, usually ascribed to Zerdusht or Zoroaster, was the existence of two antagonistic principles—Ormuzd, the principle of good, and Ahriman, the principle of evil. In Persia everything associated with science or religion was included under the denomination "magic." The Persian priests were named the Magnise or Magi, but they did not arrogate to themselves the entire credit of intercourse with the gods. Zoroaster, who was King of Bactria, made some reservations for the sake of exalting the regal power, and taught that the kings were illuminated by a celestial fire which emanated from Ormuzd. Hence the sacred fire always preceded the monarch as a symbol of his illustrious rank; and Plato says the Persian kings studied magic, which is a worship of their gods.
It was, however, in Egypt, that magic received its development as an art. The most famous temples in Egypt were those of Isis, at Memphis and Busiris; of Serapis, at Canopus, Alexandria, and Thebes; of Osiris, of Apis, and Phtha. Isis, the wife of Osiris, derives her name from the Coptic word isi, or plenty, and would seem to typify the earth; but she is usually represented as the goddess of the moon (Gr. kerasphôros, the horn-bearing). Isis was also employed as a personification of wisdom, and to a certain extent she may be regarded as a symbol of the eternal will, her shrines bearing the enigmatic inscription—"I am the all that was, that is, that will be; no mortal can raise my veil." Horus was the son of Isis, and was instructed by his mother in the art of healing. Horus, synonymous with light, is the king or spirit of the sun. Astrological science and magic were earnestly and eagerly studied by the Egyptian priests. It was their belief that the different stars exercised a powerful influence on the human body. Their funeral ceremonies may be quoted as an illustration, for they agree in sharing among the divinities the entire body of the dead. To Ra, or the Sun, they assigned the head; to Anubis, the nose and lips; to Hathor, the eyes; to Selk, the teeth; and so on. To ascertain the nativity the astrologer had only to combine the theory of the influences thus exercised by these star-related gods with the aspect of the heavens at the moment of an individual's birth. It was an element of the Egyptian as well as of the Persian astrological doctrine that a particular star controlled the natal hour of everyone.
Through the instrumentality of Orpheus, Musæus, Pythagoras, and others, who had travelled in Egypt, and been initiated by the priests into their mysteries, magic found its way into Greece, and there assumed various novel developments. The Greek sorcery was chiefly manifested in the peculiar rites of the Orpheotelesta, the invocation of the dead, the cave of Trophônios, the oracles of the gods, and the worship of Hekatê. The latter mysterious deity, the moon-goddess, was the patron divinity of the sorcerers. From her, as from one of the powers of the nether world, proceeded phantoms that taught witchcraft, hovered among the tombs, and haunted crossways and places accursed by the blood of the murdered or the suicide. "The Mormô, the Cereops, the Empusa, were among the goblin crew that did her bidding."
Rome borrowed her magic, no less than her art and literature, from poetic Hellas. The occult science does not appear to have been known to the Romans until about zoo years before the Christian era. But they had previously cultivated a modification of the Etruscan sorcery, comprising the divination of the future, the worship of the dead, the evocation of their lemures or phantoms, and the mystic ceremonies of the Mana-Genita, a nocturnal goddess of awful character. Numa was the great teacher of the ancient Roman magic, which probably partook both of a religious and medical character.
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