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Early Belief in Sorcery
According to occultist Éliphas Lévi, the practice of magic in
pre-Roman France originated with the Druids and was nearly
identical to that of the Draids in Britain, from which it derived.
It is unlikely that Roman magic gained any footing in Gaul, but
there is little evidence of whether this was or was not the case.
In his book The History of Magic (1913), Lévi states that in the
early Frankish period of the Merovingian dynasty, Fredegond,
wife of Hilperic, king of Soissons, destroyed many people apparently
through sorcery, or malevolent magic. She also experimented
with black magic, the calling up of spirit entities,
and protected many practitioners of the art, Lévi says. On one
occasion, she saved a sorceress who had been arrested by
Ageric, bishop of Verdun, by hiding her in the palace.
The practice of magic was not punished under the rule of
the early French kings, except on those occasions when (usually
through poisonings) it intruded into the royal caste and thus
became a political offense, as in the case of the military leader
Mummol, who was tortured by command of Hilperic for sorcery.
One of the Salic laws attributed to Pharamond by Sigebert
stated ‘‘If any one shall testify that another had acted as hèrèburge
or strioporte [titles applied to those who carry the copper
vessel to the spot where the vampires perform their enchantments]
and if he fail to convict him, he shall be condemned
hereby to a forfeit of 7,500 deniers, being 180 12 sous. . . . If
a vampire shall devour a man and be found guilty, she shall
forfeit 8,000 deniers, being 200 sous.’’
The Christian church also legislated against sorcerers and
vampires, and the Council of Agde in Languedoc, held in 506
C.E., pronounced excommunication against them. The first
Council of Orleans, convened in 541, condemned divination
and augury. The Council of Narbonne, in 589, excommunicated
all sorcerers and ordained that they be sold as slaves for the
benefit of the poor. Those who allegedly had dealings with the
devil were condemned to whipping.
Some extraordinary phenomena are said to have occurred
in France during the reign of Pepin le Bref (714–768) the air
seemed to be alive with human shapes, mirages filled the heavens,
and sorcerers were seen among the clouds, scattering powders
and poisons with open hands. Crops failed, cattle died,
and many people perished. Such visions may have been stimulated
by the teachings of the famous Kabbalist Zedekias. He
presided over a school of occult science, where he withheld the
secrets of his art and contented himself with postulating his
ideas about elemental spirits. The spirits he stated, had been
subservient to him before the fall of man. The aforementioned
visions might have been caused by mass belief that sylphs and
salamanders were descending in search of their former masters.
Lévi wrote as follows
‘‘Voyages to the land of sylphs were talked of on all sides as
we talk at the present day of animated tables and fluidic manifestations.
The folly took possession even of strong minds, and
it was time for an intervention on the part of the church, which
does not relish the supernatural being hawked in the public
streets, seeing that such disclosures, by imperilling the respect
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due to authority and to the hierarchic chain of instruction, cannot
be attributed to the spirit of order and light. The cloud
phantoms were therefore arraigned and accused of being hellborn
illusions, while the people—anxious to get something into
their hands—began a crusade against sorcerers. The public
folly turned into a paroxysm of mania; strangers in country
places were accused of descending from heaven and were killed
without mercy; imbeciles confessed that they had been abducted
by sylphs or demons; others who had boasted like this
previously either would not or could not unsay it; they were
burned or drowned, and, according to Garinet, the number
who perished throughout the kingdom almost exceeds belief.
It is the common catastrophe of dramas in which the first parts
are played by ignorance or fear.
‘‘Such visionary epidemics recurred in the reigns following,
and all the power of Charlemagne was put in action to calm the
public agitation. An edict, afterwards renewed by Louis the
Pious, forbade sylphs to manifest under the heaviest penalties.
It will be understood that in the absence of the aerial beings the
judgments fell upon those who had made a boast of having seen
them, and hence they ceased to be seen. The ships in air sailed
back to the port of oblivion, and no one claimed any longer to
have journeyed through the blue distance. Other popular frenzies
replaced the previous mania, while the romantic splendors
of the great reign of Charlemagne furnished the makers of legends
with new prodigies to believe and new marvels to relate.’’
Mysterious legends grew around the figure of Charlemagne.
It was said that the Enchiridion of Pope Leo III, a collection
of written magic charms, was presented to Charlemagne.
Lévi illustrates the condition of affairs in
Charlemagne’s France
‘‘We know that superstitions die hard and that degenerated
Druidism had struck its roots deeply in the savage lands of the
North. The recurring insurrections of Saxons testified to a fanaticism
which was (a) always turbulent, and (b) incapable of repression
by moral force alone. All defeated forms of worship—
Roman paganism, Germanic idolatry, Jewish rancour—
conspired against victorious Christianity. Nocturnal assemblies
took place; thereat the conspirators cemented their alliance
with the blood of human victims; and a pantheistic idol of monstrous
form, with the horns of a goat, presided over festivals
which might be called agapœ of hatred. In a word, the Sabbat
was still celebrated in every forest and wild if yet unreclaimed
provinces. The adepts who attended them were masked and
otherwise unrecognisable; the assemblies extinguished their
lights and broke up before daybreak, the guilty were to be
found everywhere, and they could be brought to book nowhere.
It came about therefore that Charlemagne determined to fight
them with their own weapons.
‘‘In those days, moreover, feudal tyrants were in league with
sectarians against lawful authority; female sorcerers were attached
to castles as courtesans; bandits who frequented the Sabbats
divided with nobles the bloodstained loot of rapine; feudal
courts were at the command of the highest bidder; and the
public burdens weighed with all their force only on the weak
and poor. The evil was at its height in Westphalia, and faithful
agents were despatched thither by Charlemagne entrusted with
a secret mission. Whatsoever energy remained among the oppressed,
whosoever still loved justice, whether among the people
or among the nobility, were drawn by these emissaries together,
bound by pledges and vigilance in common. To the
initiates thus incorporated they made known the full powers
which they carried from the emperor himself, and they proceeded
to institute the Tribunal of Free Judges.’’
Lévi’s observations must be taken with a grain of salt, however.
It is unlikely that the Sabbat was celebrated to such an extreme.
Also, the Vehmgericht was founded 450 years after
Charlemagne’s reign.
From the reign of Robert the Pious to that of St. Louis
(1215–70), there is not much to stimulate the student of occult
history. In St. Louis’s time flourished the famous Rabbi Jachiel,
a celebrated master of the Kabbalah. There is some reason to
believe that he possessed electricity, because a radiant star was
said to appear in his home at night, the light so brilliant that
no one could look at it without being dazzled, and it gave off
rainbow colors. It appeared to be inexhaustible and was never
replenished with oil or any other combustible substance. When
the rabbi was annoyed by intruders at his door he struck a nail
fixed in his cabinet, producing a blue spark on the head of the
nail and on the door-knocker, to which, if the intruder clung,
he received a severe shock.
German scholar and scientist Albertus Magnus lived during
the same period.
The twelfth century had seen the founding of the Knights
Templars of the Temple of Solomon, a French-based religious
order of military men dedicated to protecting pilgrims on their
way to the Holy Land. The order prospered until its prosecution
by Philip the Fair (1268–1314), who accused the order of
various occult crimes, including the worship of the devil in the
form of the idol, Baphomet. Another prosecution for sorcery
was that of the sadistic Gilles de Laval (1404–40), lord of Rais,
the prototype of Bluebeard. Laval was a renowned sorcerer
who, with two assistants, practiced diabolical rites at his castle
of Machecoul, celebrating the black mass in an alarming manner.
He slaughtered children as part of a ritual he hoped would
assist him in his search for the philosophers’ stone. Jeanne
d’Arc, under whom Gilles had fought at the siege of Orleáns,
was suspected of sorcery but was actually condemned as a heretic.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
As early as the thirteenth century, a charge of sorcery was
made as a means of branding the Waldenses, who were accused
of selling themselves to the devil and of holding sabbatical orgies.
About the middle of the fifteenth century France began
to oppress suspected sorcerers.
In 1315 Enguerraud de Marigny, a minister of Philip the
Fair who had conducted the execution of the Templars, was
hung along with an adventurer named Paviot for attempting to
kill the counts of Valois and St. Paul. In 1334 the countess of
Artois and her son were thrown into prison on suspicion of sorcery.
In 1393, during the reign of Charles VI, his sister-in-law, the
duchess of Orleans, who was the daughter of the Duke of Milan,
was accused of driving the king mad by sorcery. The ministers
of the court resolved to pit a magician against her, and a certain
Arnaud Guillaume was brought from Guienne as a suitable adversary
to the noble lady. He possessed a book Smagorad, and
said the original was given to Adam by God to console him for
the loss of his son Abel. Guillaume claimed that the possessor
of this volume could hold the stars in subjection and command
the four elements. He assured the king’s advisers that Charles
was suffering because of a sorcerer’s malice but in the meantime
the young monarch recovered, and Gillaume fell back into
his original obscurity.
Five years later the king had another attack, and two Augustine
friars were sent from Guienne to cure him. But their conduct
was so outrageous that they were executed.
A third attack in 1403 was combated by two sorcerers of
Dijon. They established themselves in a thick wood near the
gates of Dijon, where they made a magic circle of iron that was
supported by iron columns the height of an average man, to
which 12 chains of iron were attached. The King’s subjects were
so anxious for his recovery that the two sorcerers were able to
persuade 12 of the town’s principal persons to enter the circle
and allow themselves to be chained. The sorcerers then proceeded
with their incantations, but without result. They were
arrested and burned for their pretenses.
After the duke of Burgundy ordered the duke of Orleans
murdered, he attempted to justify his crime by alleging that the
dead duke had attempted to kill him by means of sorcery.
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Witchcraft Persecutions
By the year 1400 belief in the nightly meetings of the witches’
Sabbat was widespread. In Paris alone, in the time of Charles
IX, there were said to be no less than thirty thousand sorcerers,
and it was estimated that France contained more than three
times that number during the reign of Henry III. Not a town
or village was exempt from accusations and trials. The accused
belonged to all classes, and generally met the same fate, regardless
of rank, age, or sex. Children of the tenderest years
and nonagenarians alike were committed to the flames. The
terror of being publicly accused as a sorcerer hung like a black
cloud over the life of every successful man because it was a
charge readily available to an envious enemy who wished him
destroyed.
England had no edict regarding witchcraft at this period,
but in France and other Continental countries (especially Germany)
a law had been taking shape. By the end of the fifteenth
century there was an international belief in the efficacy of sorcery
and a conviction that witchcraft was a religion of devil worshipers.
In the 1480s the pope gave his official approval for the
Inquisition to move against the supposed witches, and two Dominican
fathers wrote a textbook describing them, their crimes,
and the method of proceeding against them.
During the early sixteenth century witchcraft trials were rare
in France, and there are few cases recorded before the year
1560. The first instance would almost be humorous if it were
not a taste of things to come. In 1561 a number of persons were
brought to trial at Vernon, accused of having held their Sabbat
gathering in a ruined castle. The ‘‘witches’’ were accused of
having arrived at the castle in the shape of cats. Witnesses were
deposed who claimed to have seen the assembly and to have
been attacked by the pseudofeline conspirators. After a good
laugh and the proper expression of righteous indignation, the
court dismissed the charges as worthy only of ridicule.
In 1564 three men and a woman were executed at Poitiers,
having been forced to confess to various acts of sorcery. They
said they had regularly attended the witches’ Sabbat held three
times a year, and that the demon who presided at it ended by
burning himself to make powder for his agents to use in mischief.
These first executions were followed by a series of others
in the 1570s.
In 1571 a mere conjurer who played tricks with cards was
thrown into prison in Paris, forced to confess that he was an attendant
on the Sabbat, and was executed. In 1573 a man was
burned at Dôle on the charge of changing himself into a wolf
and devouring children. Several persons who confessed to having
been at the Sabbats were condemned to be burned that
same year in different parts of France. In 1578 another man
was tried and condemned in Paris for changing himself into a
wolf, and a man was condemned at Orleans for the same supposed
crime in 1583.
Wolves were prolifie in France and people often connected
their ravages with witchcraft. The belief in what were in England
called werewolves (men-wolves) and in France loupsgarous
was ancient and widespread.
In 1578 a woman was burned at Compiègne after she confessed
that she had given herself to the devil, who appeared to
her as a great black man on horseback, booted and spurred.
Another supposed witch was burned the same year; she also
stated that the Evil One came to her in the shape of a black
man. In 1582 and 1583 several ‘‘witches’’ were burned.
Local councils of the time passed severe laws against witchcraft,
and a significant number of victims were put to death in
France under such accusations. In the course of only 15 years,
from 1580 to 1595, in the province of Lorraine alone, the president
Remigius burned nine hundred witches, and as many
more fled the country to save their lives. About the close of the
century, a French judge stated that the crime of witchcraft had
become so common that there were not enough jails to hold the
prisoners or judges to hear their cases. A trial he witnessed in
1568 induced physician Jean Bodin to write De la Demonomanie
des Sorciers (1580), which became a standard French textbook
on the subject of witchcraft.
Among English witches, the devil was generally said to come
in person to seduce his victims, but in France and other countries
this seems to have been unnecessary. Once initiated each
person became seized with an uncontrollable desire to make
converts, whom he or she carried to the Sabbat to be duly enrolled
as witches. According to Bodin’s imaginings, one witch
was enough to corrupt five hundred honest persons. The infection
quickly ran through a family and was generally carried
down from generation to generation, which explained satisfactorily,
according to his commentary on demonology, the extent
to which witchcraft had supposedly spread in his day. The
novice received a burlesque rite of baptism and was marked
with the sign of the demon on some unexposed part of the
body. The first act of compliance with the devil was then performed,
and it was frequently repeated, the evil one presenting
himself to the converts as a member of the opposite sex, as
Bodin tells it.
Toward the end of the sixteenth century, infatuation with
witchcraft had risen to its greatest height in France. Not only
the lower classes but also persons of the highest rank in society
were liable to suspicion of dealing in sorcery. Such charges were
publicly made against King Henry III and Queen Catherine de
Medici and early in the following century became grounds for
state trials that had fatal conclusions.
In 1610, during the reign of Louis XIII, the cause cŒlèbre of
the marechale d’Ancre occurred. Among Marie de Medici’s servants
was a certain Eleanora Dori, who married Concini, a
prodigal spendthrift. As guardian to her son, Marie de Medici
was ruler of France and considerable power was exercised by
these favorite servants. Because of this favor the peers of France
joined together against the upstarts, but with little result at
first. Concini was named marechal of France, with the title of
marquis d’Ancre.
His wife, who was very superstitious, became sick, which she
blamed on sorcery. The result was that d’Ancre was assassinated
by the nobles during a hunting expedition. The mob
dragged d’Ancre’s corpse from its grave and hanged it on the
Pont Neuf. His wretched widow was accused of sorcery and bewitching
the Queen.
The exorcists who had helped her free herself from illness
advised her to sacrifice a cock, which was thought to be connected
with the Devil. Also the astrological nativities of the
royal family were found in her possession, as were several occult
books, and a great number of magic symbols. After being tortured,
she was beheaded and burned. Strangely enough the
anger of the Parisian mob then turned to general commiseration.
Many other interesting cases occurred in France in the seventeenth
century, including several cases of reputed demoniac
possession among the Ursulines at Aix (see Louis Gaufridi),
the nuns of Louviers, and the nuns of Auxonne. The case of
the nuns of Loudon resulted in the burning alive of Urbain
Grandier.
The Rise of Modern Occultism
The eighteenth century in France is rich in occult history.
At a time when the Enlightenment was destroying the older supernatural
magic, a new magic was beginning to evolve that
made use of scientific information. While the eighteenth century
was the low point in practice of the occult in Europe, the
founders of modern occultism were emerging. Perhaps the
most striking personality of this age was the Comte de Saint
Germain, who was credited with possessing the secrets of alchemy
and magic. His family connections were unknown, and
he spoke as if he had lived for many centuries. Another mysterious
adept was an alchemist calling himself Lascaris, who literally
sowed his path through Europe with gold.
Then followed Cagliostro, who attained a fame unrivaled in
the history of French occultism. He founded many Masonic
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lodges throughout the country, Freemasonry being credited
with spreading the democratic beliefs underlying the French
Revolution and the democratic upheavals across the continent
during the next century.
A school of initiates was founded by Martinez de Pasqually,
which appeared in some measure to have incorporated the
teachings of the later European adepts. Another important figure
at this time was Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, known as
‘‘le Philosophe Inconnu’’ (the unknown philosopher), who
came under the influence of Pasqually, and later that of the
writings of the mystical Jakob Boehme, whose works SaintMartin
translated. Jacques Cazotte was one of the first men associated
with both magic and the Revolution. Much of the Revolutions
inception is owed to those mysterious brotherhoods of
France and Germany, which during the eighteenth century
sowed the seeds of equality and Illuminism throughout Europe.
Loiséaut, a parishioner of Sainte-Mandé, formed a mystical
society in 1772 that met in great secrecy, awaiting a vision of
John the Baptist, who supposedly came to them to foretell the
Revolution. The spiritual director of this circle was a monk
named Dom Gerle, one of the first mesmerists in Paris, who was
said to have foretold the dreadful fame of Robespierre through
the seeress Catherine Théot. He was expelled by the members
of the circle, who acted on the advice of member Sister Françoise
André, who wanted to preserve the crown for the future
reign of Louis XVII.
The appearance of Marie Lenormand, as a prophetess at
the end of the eighteenth century, may be said to have ended
a chapter of the occult history of that age. With the beginning
of the nineteenth century the influence of Austrian physician
Franz A. Mesmer (1733–1825) had led to a widespread interest
in animal magnetism, which in turn culminated in the growth
of Spiritualism. The Baron du Potet de Sennevoy did much
to advance Mesmer’s views which by this time were being seriously
pursued by Cahagnet and others.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the new occultism
was well established in Paris. A story by Alphonse Esquiros titled
The Magician (1838) led to the founding of a school of
magic fantasy, which was assiduously developed by Henri Delaage,
who was said to have the gift of ubiquity and who collected
recipes for acquiring physical beauty from the old magicians.
In his works The Reform of Philosophy and Yes or No, J. M. HoeneWronski
claimed to have discovered the first theorems of the
Kabbalah and later beguiled rich persons of weak intellect into
paying him large sums in return for knowledge of the Absolute.
Spiritual Healing
The celebrated Curé D’Ars, founder of the D’Ars ‘‘Providence,’’
and many other noble works of charity, was born Jean
Baptiste Vianney in the vicinity of Lyons in 1786. At school he
was remembered as a somewhat dull student. Circumstances
opened the way for his becoming a priest, although he had only
enough Latin to say mass and no learning beyond the routine
of his profession. His amiable nature and unaffected piety won
him friends wherever he went. After some changes of fortune
and the rejection of two good offers of rich positions, he accepted
the pastoral charge of the little agricultural village of D’Ars,
now in the arrondisement of Trevoux.
Very soon his reputation for beneficence drew to him a
much larger circle of poor dependents than he could provide
for, and it was then that he began his extraordinary life of faith,
supplicating in fervent prayer for whatever means were necessary
to carry out his divine mission of blessing his unfortunate
fellow creatures. In this way the sphere of his benevolence and
the wonderful results of the prayer he employed to maintain it
reached remarkable proportions.
But a more wonderful thing was to happen in the blessed region
of D’Ars. The sick began to experience sudden cures while
praying before the altar or making confessions to the curé. The
fame of this new miracle soon spread abroad, until the Abbé
Monnin declared that more than twenty thousand persons annually
came from Germany, Italy, Belgium, all parts of France,
and even from England to see the curé, and that in less than
six years, this number increased to an average of eighty thousand.
Diseases of every kind that had been pronounced incurable
were cured at once. The curé gave himself up to his work,
heart and soul. His church stayed open day and night, and the
immense crowds that surrounded it had to wait for hours and
sometimes days to reach the healer.
No one was allowed to take precedence over others except
in cases of extreme poverty or extreme suffering. Princes, nobles,
and great ladies often drove up as near as they could to
the church in grand carriages and were astonished when they
found out they too had to wait in line.
The curé only allowed himself to sleep four hours a night,
namely from 1100 to 300, and when he woke the church was
always packed. Omnibuses were established to convey patients
from Lyons to D’Ars, and the Saône was crowded with boats full
of anxious pilgrims.
Spiritualism and Animal Magnetism
The Comte d’Ourches was the first to introduce automatic
writing and table turning to France. Baron Ludwig von Guldenstubbe,
in his Practical Experimental Pneumatology; or, the Reality
of Spirits and the Marvellous Phenomena of their Direct Writing
(first published in French in 1857) gives an account of his discovery
‘‘It was in the course of the year 1850, or about three years
prior to the epidemic of table-rapping, that the author sought
to introduce into France the circles of American spiritualism,
the mysterious Rochester knockings and the purely automatic
writings of mediums. Unfortunately he met with many obstacles
raised by other mesmerists. Those who were committed to
the hypothesis of a magnetic fluid, and even those who styled
themselves Spiritual Mesmerists, but who were really inferior
inducers of somnambulism, treated the mysterious knockings
of American spiritualism as visionary follies. It was therefore
only after more than six months that the author was able to
form his first circle on the American plan, and then thanks to
the zealous concurrence of M. Rousaan, a former member of
the Sociètè des Magnètiseurs Spiritualistes, a simple man who
was full of enthusiasm for the holy cause of spiritualism. We
were joined by a number of other persons, amongst whom was
the Abbé Châtel, founder of the Eglise Française, who, despite
his rationalistic tendencies, ended by admitting the reality of
objective and supernatural revelation, as an indispensable condition
of spiritualism and all practical religions. Setting aside
the moral conditions which are equally requisite, it is known
that American circles are based on the distinction of positive
and electric or negative magnetic currents.
‘‘The circles consist of twelve persons, representing in equal
proportions the positive and negative or sensitive elements.
This distinction does not follow the sex of the members, though
generally women are negative and sensitive, while men are positive
and magnetic. The mental and physical constitution of
each individual must be studied before forming the circles, for
some delicate women have masculine qualities, while some
strong men are, morally speaking, women. A table is placed in
a clear and ventilated spot; the medium is seated at one end
and entirely isolated; by his calm and contemplative quietude
he serves as a conductor for the electricity, and it may be noted
that a good somnambulist is usually an excellent medium. The
six electrical or negative dispositions, which are generally recognised
by their emotional qualities and their sensibility, are
placed at the right of the medium, the most sensitive of all
being next him. The same rule is followed with the positive personalities,
who are at the left of the medium, with the most positive
next to him. In order to form a chain, the twelve persons
each place their right hand on the table. Observe that the medium
or mediums, if there be more than one, are entirely isolated
from those who form the chain.
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‘‘After a number of séances, certain remarkable phenomena
have been obtained, such as simultaneous shocks, felt by all
present at the moment of mental evocation on the part of the
most intelligent persons. It is the same with mysterious knockings
and other strange sounds; many people, including those
least sensitive, have had simultaneous visions, though remaining
in the ordinary waking state. Sensitive persons have acquired
that most wonderful gift of mediumship, namely, automatic
writing, as the result of an invisible attraction which uses
the nonintelligent instrument of a human arm to express its
ideas. For the rest, non-sensitive persons experience the mysterious
influence of an external wind, but the effect is not strong
enough to put their limbs in motion. All these phenomena, obtained
according to the mode of American spiritualism, have
the defect of being more or less indirect, because it is impossible
in these experiments to dispense with the mediation of a
human being or medium. It is the same with the table-turning
which invaded Europe in the middle of the year 1853.
‘‘The author has had many table experiences with his honourable
friend, the Comte d’Ourches, one of the most instructed
persons in Magic and the Occult Sciences. We attained by
degrees the point when tables moved, apart from any contact
whatever, while the Comte d’Ourches has caused them to rise,
also without contact. The author has made tables rush across
a room with great rapidity, and not only without contact but
without the magnetic aid of a circle of sitters. The vibrations of
piano-chords under similar circumstances took place on January
20, 1856, in the presence of the Comte de Szapary and
Comte d’Ourches. Now all such phenomena are proof positive
of certain occult forces, but they do not demonstrate adequately
the real and substantial existence of unseen intelligences, independent
of our will and imagination, though the limits of these
have been vastly extended in respect of their possibilities.
Hence the reproach made against American spiritualists, because
their communications with the world of spirits are so insignificant
in character, being confined to mysterious knockings
and other sound vibrations. As a fact, there is no direct
phenomenon at once intelligent and material, independent of
our will and imagination, to compare with the direct writing of
spirits, who have neither been invoked or evoked, and it is this
only which offers irrefutable proof as to the reality of the supernatural
world.’’
Spiritualism was popular in France for the rest of the century.
Mesmerism
After public attention was drawn to animal magnetism by
Mesmer and D’Eslon, several distinguished scientists followed
their experiments with great success. Among them was the
Baron Du Potet, whose deep interest in the subject of magnetism
led him to publish the periodical Journal du Magnètisme.
Du Potet’s investigations began about 1836, and for the next
decade he chronicled the production of remarkable phenomena
and their attestation by scientific and eminent witnesses.
The baron’s magnetized subjects reportedly experienced clairvoyance,
trance speaking, healing, stigmata (raised letters and
figures on the subject’s body), levitation, and insensibility to
fire, injury, or touch. In the presence of the magnetized subjects,
heavy bodies were moved without human contact and distant
objects materialized through walls and closed doors (generally
termed apports). Sometimes the ‘‘lucides’’ (magnetized
clairvoyants) described scenes in the spirit world, found lost
property, prophesied, and spoke in foreign languages.
In 1840 Du Potet wrote that he had ‘‘rediscovered in magnetism
the magic of antiquity.’’
‘‘Let the savants,’’ he stated, ‘‘reject the doctrine of spiritual
appearances; the enquirer of to-day is compelled to believe it;
from an examination of undeniable facts. . . . If the knowledge
of ancient magic is lost, all the facts remain on which to reconstruct
it.’’
But of all those to whom French Spiritualism was indebted
for evidence of supermundane intercourse, none was more
prominent than Alphonse Cahagnet, author of Magnètisme Arcanes
de la vie future dévoilés (2 vols., 1948–49), which was translated
into English in 1850.
Cahagnet was a mechanic, though he was a sensible and interesting
writer. He said he was a ‘‘materialist’’ when he was
first attracted to the subject of animal magnetism, but he determined
to devote all his leisure time to a thorough examination
of its possibilities. When he found that he could induce the
magnetic sleep in others, he proceeded with a task generally
adopted by mesmerists—to substitute his own senses, mind,
and will for those of the sleeper.
Cahagnet discovered that he could cure disease and determined
to put all his energy into healing. However, a new obstacle
arose to confound his philosophy and theories some of his
subjects, instead of representing what he willed, began to wander
off to regions they persisted in calling the ‘‘land of spirits’’
and to describe people whom they emphatically affirmed to be
the souls of the dead.
For a long time Cahagnet fought what he termed these
‘‘wild hallucinations,’’ but when he found them recurring and
saw that many of those who came to witness the experiments
in magnetism recognized dead individuals in descriptions
given by the somnambulists, he was compelled to admit there
was another dimension to clairvoyance. After a long series of
experiments Cahagnet wrote The Celestial Telegraph; or, Secrets
of the Life to Come.
In her book Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884), Emma Hardinge
Britten quotes from the anonymous author of Art Magic
(1876)
‘‘The narrow conservatism of the age, and the pitiful jealousy
of the Medical Faculty, rendered it difficult and harassing to
conduct magnetic experiments openly in Europe within several
years of Mesmer’s decease. Still such experiments were not
wanting, and to show their results, we give a few excerpts from
the correspondence between the famous French Magnetists,
MM. Deleuze and Billot, from the years 1829 to 1840. By these
letters, published in 1836 [sic], it appears that M. Billot commenced
his experiments in magnetizing as early as 1789, and
that during forty years, he had an opportunity of witnessing
facts in clairvoyance, ecstasy, and somnambulism, which at the
time of their publication transcended the belief of the general
mass of readers. On many occasions in the presence of entranced
subjects, spirits recognised as having once lived on
earth in mortal form would come in bodily presence before the
eyes of an assembled multitude and at request bring flowers,
fruits, and objects, removed by distance from the scene of the
experiments.
‘‘M. Deleuze frankly admits that his experience was more
limited to those phases of somnambulism in which his subjects
submitted to amputations and severe surgical operations without
experiencing the slightest pain. . . . In a letter dated 1831
M. Billot, writing to Deleuze, says, ‘I repeat, I have seen and
known all that is permitted to man. I have seen the stigmata
arise on magnetized subjects; I have dispelled obsessions of evil
spirits with a single word. I have seen spirits bring those material
objects I told you of, and when requested, make them so light
that they would float, and, again, a small boiteau de bonbons was
rendered so heavy that I failed to move it an inch until the
power was removed.’
‘‘To those who enjoyed the unspeakable privilege of listening
to the somnambules of Billot, Deleuze, and Cahagnet, another
and yet more striking feature of unanimous revelation
was poured forth. Spirits of those who had passed away from
earth strong in the faith of Roman Catholicism—often priests
and dignitaries of that conservative Church, addressing prejudiced
believers in their former doctrine—asserted that there
was no creed in Heaven, no sectarian worship, or ecclesiastical
dogmatism there prevailing.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. FRANCE
595
‘‘They taught that God was a grand Spiritual Sun—life on
earth a probation—the spheres, different degrees of comprehensive
happiness or states of retributive suffering, each appropriate
to the good or evil deeds done on earth. They described
the ascending changes open to every soul in proportion to his
own efforts to improve.
‘‘They all insisted that man was his own judge, incurred a
penalty or reward for which there was no substitution. They
taught nothing of Christ, absolutely denied the idea of vicarious
atonement, and represented man as his own Saviour or destroyer.
‘‘They spoke of arts, sciences, and continued activities, as if
the life beyond was but an extension of the present on a greatly
improved scale. Descriptions of the radiant beauty, supernal
happiness, and ecstatic sublimity manifested by the blest spirits
who had risen to the spheres of Paradise, Heaven, and the glory
of angelic companionships melts the heart, and fills the soul
with irresistible yearning, to lay down life’s weary burdens and
be at rest with them.’’(The reference to the correspondence between
Deleuze and Billot is probably to G. P. Billot’s Recherches
psychologiques sur la cause de phénomenes extraordinaires, published
in two volumes in 1839, and the correspondence would have
ceased before that date.)
Spiritualism and Spiritism
Spiritualism emerged in France, as in Germany, out of the
awakening interest in psychic powers resulting from experiments
in animal magnetism. It appears that although Spiritualism
gained an immense foothold and exerted an influence
upon the popular mind, one of the chief obstacles to its general
acceptance was its lack of internal unity and the antagonism
among its leaders.
Two leaders who figured most prominently in the drama of
French Spiritualism, and in all probability exerted more influence
upon public opinion than any other members of its dramatis
personae, were Allan Kardec and A. T. Pierart, the respective
editors of the movement’s two leading journals La Revue Spirite
and La Revue Spiritualiste. Pierart and Kardec may also be regarded
as the representatives of the two opposing factions generally
known as Spiritualists and Spiritists, the former teaching
that the soul undergoes only one mortal birth and continues its
progress through eternity in spiritual states, the latter affirming
the doctrine of reincarnation and claiming that the human
spirit can and does undergo many incarnations in different
mortal forms. Kardec and his followers represented Spiritism,
and Pierart led the opposing faction commonly called Spiritualists.
Kardec derived his communications chiefly from writings
and trance mediums who proved the most susceptible to his influence,
and is said to have persistently banished from his circles
not only D. D. Home, M. Brédif, and other physical mediums
but all those who did not endorse his favorite dogma
through their communications.
In Nineteenth Century Miracles Britten noted how the schism
in French Spiritualism reached out across Europe. In France,
Kardec’s personal influence fitted him for a propagandist and
his opinions were generally accepted by his readers. Little or
no Spiritualist literature had been disseminated in the French
language when Kardec’s works were first published. He pursued
his beliefs with an indomitable energy that his rival Pierart
lacked.
The doctrines of the reincarnationists, although defended
ability by their propagandists—who included many of the most
capable minds of France—were not allowed to pass without severe
castigation by their English neighbors. In the London Spiritual
Magazine of 1865 the editor, commenting on the ominous
silence of the Spirite journals concerning Maldigny’s opera,
Swedenborg, states
‘‘It is worthy of note that the journals of the Kardec school,
so far as we have seen them, do not take the least notice of this
opera. The Avenir of Paris, which appears weekly, but greatly
wants facts, has not a word to say about it. . . . It is greatly to
be regretted that the main object of the Kardecian journals
seems to be, not the demonstration of the constantly recurring
facts of Spiritualism, but the deification of Kardec’s doctrine of
reincarnation.
‘‘To this doctrine—which has nothing to do with Spiritualism,
even if it had a leg of reason or fact to stand on—all the
strength, and almost all the space of these journals is devoted.
‘‘These are the things which give the enemies of Spiritualism
a real handle against it, and bring it into contempt with sober
minds. Reincarnation is a doctrine which cuts up by the roots
all individual identity in the future existence. It desolates utterly
that dearest yearning of the human heart for reunion with
its loved ones in a permanent world. If some are to go back into
fresh physical bodies, and bear new names, and new natures,
if they are to become respectively Tom Styles, Ned Snooks, and
a score of other people, who shall ever hope to meet again with
his friends, wife, children, brothers and sisters When he enters
the spirit-world and enquires for them, he will have to learn
that they are already gone back to earth, and are somebody
else, the sons and daughters of other people, and will have to
become over and over the kindred of a dozen other families in
succession! Surely, no such most cheerless crochet could bewitch
the intellects of any people, except under the most especial
bedevilment of the most sarcastic and mischievous of devils.’’
In the January 1866 issue a stronger article on this subject
was written by William Howitt, who protests Spiritualists toying
with the doctrine of reincarnation
‘‘In the Avenir of November 2nd, M. Pezzani thinks he has
silenced M. Pierart, by asserting that without Reincarnation all
is chaos and injustice in God’s creation ‘In this world there are
rich and poor, oppressed and oppressors, and without Reincarnation,
God’s justice could not be vindicated.’ That is to
say, in M. Pezzani’s conception, God has not room in the infinite
future to punish and redress every wrong, without sending
back souls again and again into the flesh. M. Pezzani’s idea, and
that of his brother Re-incarnationists is, that the best way to get
from Paris to London is to travel any number of times from
Paris to Calais and back again. We English believe that the only
way is to go on to London at once. . . . As to M. Pezzani’s notions
of God’s injustice without Re-incarnation, if souls were reincarnated
a score of times, injustice between man and man,
riches and poverty, oppression and wrong, all the enigmas of
social inequality would remain just then as now.
‘‘In noticing these movements in the Spiritist camp in
France, we should be doing a great injustice if we did not refer
to the zealous, eloquent, and unremitting exertions of M. Pierart
in the La Revue Spiritualiste, to expose and resist the errors
of the Spirite to which we have alluded. The doctrine of Reincarnation,
M. Pierart has persistently resisted and denounced
as at once false, unfounded on any evidence, and most pernicious
to the character of Spiritualism.’’
Allen Kardec died in 1869. Even though receiving communications
through physical mediumship was not favored by his
followers, physical phenomena of all kinds were recorded in
Pierart’s journal and others. Characteristic aspects of nonKardecean
Spiritualism in France may be found in such
sources.
French Spiritualism
The first well marked impulse that Spiritualism received in
France was owed to the visits of D. D. Home, the celebrated medium,
and subsequently to the large influx of professional mediums
who found in France an excellent field for the demonstration
of their gifts.
Home’s séances remain the most remarkable of their kind.
His manifestations were given almost exclusively in the presence
of persons of rank or those distinguished by literary fame.
During his residence in Paris, under the Imperial régime, he
was a frequent visitor at the court of Emperor Louis Napoleon.
FRANCE Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
596
A record of the manifestations produced through his mediumship
was kept by command of the empress and frequently read
to her favored friends. Among these memoranda is one published
in the papers when it occurred. It concerns a séance held
at the Tuileries when only the emperor, the empress, the duchess
of Montebello, and Home were present
Pen, ink, and paper were placed on the table and a spirit
hand was seen. It dipped the pen into the ink and wrote the
name of the first Napoleon, in perfect likeness of that monarch’s
handwriting. The emperor asked if he could kiss this
wonderful hand. It instantly rose to his lips, subsequently passing
to those of the empress, and Home. The emperor preserved
this precious autograph, and inscribed it with a note that
the hand was warm, soft, and resembled that of his great predecessor
and uncle.
As evidence of the wide popularity Spiritualism had attained
by 1869, Pierart quotes an article by Eugène Bonnemère from
the Siécle, a leading paper that editorialized against the movement
‘‘Although somnambulism has been a hundred times annihilated
by the Academy of Medicine, it is more alive than ever
in Paris; in the midst of all the lights of the age, it continues,
right or wrong, to excite the multitude. Protean in its forms, infinite
in its manifestations, if you put it out of the door, it
knocks at the window; if that be not opened, it knocks on the
ceiling, on the walls; it raps on the table at which you innocently
seat yourselves to dine or for a game of whist. If you close your
ears to its sounds, it grows excited, strikes the table, whirls it
about in a giddy maze, lifts up its feet, and proceeds to talk
through mediumship, as the dumb talk with their fingers.
‘‘You have all known the rage for table-turning. At one time
we ceased to ask after each other’s health, but asked how your
table was. ‘Thank you, mine turns beautifully; and how goes
yours on’ Everything turned; hats and the heads in them. One
was led almost to believe that a circle of passengers being
formed round the mainmast of a ship of great tonnage, and a
magnetic chain thus established, they might make the vessel
spin round till it disappeared in the depth of the ocean, as a
gimlet disappears in a deal board. The Church interfered; it
caused its thunders to roar, declaring that it was Satan himself
who thus raised the devil in the tables, and having formally forbade
the world to turn, it now forbade the faithful to turn tables,
hats, brains, or ships of huge size. But Satan held his own.
The sovereign of the nether world passed into a new one, and
that is the reason that America sends us mediums, beginning
so gloriously with the famous Home, and ending with the
Brothers Davenport. One remembers with what a frenzy everyone
precipitated himself in pursuit of mediums. Everyone
wished to have one of his own; and when you introduced a
young man into society, you did not say, ‘He is a good waltzer,’
but, ‘He is a medium.’ Official science has killed and buried this
Somnambulism a score of times; but it must have done it very
badly, for there it is as alive as ever, only christened afresh with
a new name.’’
Among the many distinguished adherents of Spiritualism in
France, most prominent were astronomer Camille Flammarion,
authors Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and Victorien
Sardou, the renowned writer of French comedy. Sardou
was himself a talented medium. He executed a number of
drawings purporting to represent scenes in the spirit world.
Among them was an exquisite and complex work of art entitled
The House of Mozart.
In addition to Home and the Davenport brothers, many
other famous mediums visited France, including Henry Slade,
William Eglinton, Elizabeth d’Esperance, Florence Cook and
Lottie Fowler. They stimulated interest in the scientific investigation
of claimed phenomena.
Psychical Research and Parapsychology
The formation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)
in Britain in 1882 led to scientific interest in Spiritualism all
over the world. One of the pioneers of French psychical research
was the physiologist Charles Richet, who was elected
president of the SPR in 1905. Another notable Frenchman with
an interest in the findings of psychical research was the
philospher Henri Bergson, elected president of the SPR in
1913. (Bergson’s sister was a devoted practitioner of magic.)
The engineer Gabriel Delanne had founded the Societé
d’Etude des Phénomènes Psychiques and studied various mediums.
In 1890 the Annales des Sciences Psychiques was first published
under the direction of a Dr. Dariex and Richet (an English
edition was published beginning in 1905).
In 1918, through the generosity of Jean Meyer, the Institut
Métapsychique International was founded and Richet became
its first honorary president. Meyer, a follower of Kardec, had
founded Le Maison des Spirites to propagate knowledge of
Spiritism, and he founded the Institut Métapsychique for psychical
research. In 1920 the Revue Métapsychique became the official
publication of the Institut and continued the excellent
work of the earlier Annales des Sciences Psychique. The Revue
Métapsychique is still the leading publication of its kind.
Richet’s interest in psychical research stemmed from the
work of Col. Eugen Rochas, who had experimented with hypnosis
and human radiation. Other workers in the field of
human radiations included Dr. Paul Joire, Hippolyte Baraduc,
Emile Boirac, Dr. Joseph Maxwell, Prof. Blondlot, Jules
Regnault, Louis Favre, and G. de Fontenay.
French workers in the field of psychical research included
Paul Gibier, Alfred Binet, Pierre Janet, Gustave Geley, Theodore
Flournoy, Eugèn Osty, René Sudre, and Rene Warcollier.
Another notable researcher was Cesar de Vesme, whose
Histoire du Spiritualisme experimentale (History of Experimental
Spiritualism, 1928) was awarded a prize by the Paris Académie
des Sciences. Geley experimented with the famous medium
Eva C., who specialized in materialization phenomena;
Flournoy investigated the strange talents of the medium Hélène
Smith.
In the transition from psychical research to parapsychology,
the Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherches en Parapsychologie
(GERP) was formed in 1971. GERP experimenters studied animal
parapsychology and possible cases of psychokinesis.
Other experiments include those of Paul and Christiane
Vasse, who have studied plant germination and growth in relation
to mental effects.
The Laboratory of Parapsychology was founded in Bordeaux
by Dr. Jean Barry, who experimented with PK effects on
fungi virus. Other PK experiments have been conducted by engineers
G. Chevalier and De Cressac. Another modern researcher
is Dr. R. Dufour, who experimented with clairvoyance
and psychometry.
Among the more noteworthy modern developments was the
establishment of the Centre d’Eclairagisme headed by Yvonne
Duplessis, aided by a grant from the Parapsychology Foundation
in New York. The center specialized in the subject of eyeless
sight, first propagated by the great novelist Jules Romains,
and volunteers have discovered the ability of blind persons to
distinguish colors.
Radiesthesia and Out-of-the-Body Travel
An offshoot of interest in ‘‘human radiation’’ through the
research of Baraduc and others has been French interest in
such subjects as radiesthesia and astral projection. It has always
been difficult to draw a line between such subjects as psychical
research, Spiritualism, and radiesthesia, and in the past
many prominent French psychical researchers endorsed Spiritualist
beliefs and astral projection out of their belief in the reality
of the human soul or subtle body. Some researchers who
claim to have detected human radiation have also propagated
concepts of the subtle body; Baraduc claimed to have photographed
it.
Radiesthesia, a French term for dowsing and divining for
water and metals, is specifically concerned with subtle radiaEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. FRANCE
597
tion, not only human but also animal and mineral. French experimenters
have specialized in the use of the pendulum in
place of the divining rod, and a number of exponents of radiesthesia
were priests. Radiesthesiests developed the use of the
pendulum in prospecting over a map of an area in order to
trace minerals, water, or even detect the movement of individuals.
Another interesting application of radiesthesia is in diagnosis
of health and disease in individuals. In 1930 a society was
formed under the name L’ Association des Amis de la Radiesthesie,
including among its members were engineers and doctors.
The monthly journal La Chronique des Sourciers was issued
under the editorship of its president le Vicomte Henry de
France. It was superseded by two currently published journals
Radiésthesie and Les Amis de la Radiésthesie.
Closely associated with radiesthesia is the comprehensive
study of psychotronics, described as the study of the relationship
of man to the universe, interaction with other physical bodies
and matter, and fields of energy, known or unknown. The
Organisation pour la Recherche en Psychotronique publishes
the Revue Française de Psychotronique at Siége Social Bureau 644,
U.E.R. de Mathématiques, Universite Toulouse le Mirail.
A pioneer experimenter in out-of-the-body travel was a
Frenchman, Marcel Louis Forhan, whose book Le Médecin de
l’Âme was first published in English as Practical Astral Projection
in 1935, under the pseudonym Yram. Yram’s record of his personal
experiences antedated the 1938 book Astral Projection, by
Oliver Fox (Hugh G. Callaway), so important to the launching
of research on the topic in English-speaking countries.
Sources
Baraduc, Hippolyte. L’Âme humaine. Paris, 1896.
Cauzons, Theodore de. La Magie et la Sorcellerie en France. 4
vols. Paris, 1900.
De France, Henri Vicomte. The Elements of Dowsing. London
G. Bell & Son, 1948.
Delanne, Gabriel. Evidence for a Future Life. London Philip
WellbyNew York G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904.
Deleuze, J. P. F. Practical Instruction in Animal Magnetism.
Rev. ed. New York Samuel R. Wells, 1846.
De Vesme, Cesar. A History of Experimental Spiritualism. 2
vols. London Rider, 1931.
Du Potet, Baron. Magnetism and Magic. London Allen &
Unwin, 1927.
Geley, Gustave. From the Unconscious to the Conscious. London
William Collins Sons, 1920.
Flournoy, Theodore. From India to the Planet Mars. New York
& London, 1900. Huxley, Aldous. The Devils of Loudon. London,
1952. Reprint, New York Harper, 1971.
Joire, Paul. Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena. London
William Rider & Son, 1916.
Kardec, Allan. The Mediums’ Book (Experimental Spiritism).
London, 1876.
Michelet, Jules. The Sorceress. London, 1905. Reprinted as
Satanism and Witchcraft. Wehman, 1939.
Richet, Charles. Thirty Years of Psychical Research. London W.
Collins Sons, 1923. Reprint, New York Arno Press, 1975.
Summers, Montague. The Geography of Witchcraft. London,
1927. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1958.
———. The Werewolf. London, 1933. Reprint, New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1966.
Yram [Marcel Louis Forhan]. Practical Astral Projection. London
Rider, 1935. Reprint, New York Samuel Weiser, n.d.
Franck (or Frank), Sebastian (ca. 1499–ca.
1543)
Sixteenth-century visionary and freethinker. In 1531 he
published the treatise L’Arbu de la science du bien et du mal, dont
Adam a mangé la mort, et dont encore aujourd’hui tous les hommes la
mangent. According to this work, the sin of Adam is an allegory
and the Tree of Knowledge represents the person, will, knowledge,
and life of Adam.
Franck’s major publication was his Chronica, Zeitbuch und
Geschichtsbibel (1536), based on the Nuremberg Chronicle. His
Guldin Arch (1538) discusses pagan parallels to Christian sentiments
and caused Franck trouble with religious authorities,
who accused him of heresy. He was contemptuously criticized
by Luther as ‘‘a devil’s mouth.’’ And yet although Franck is usually
grouped with other spiritual reformers or mystics of his
time, because he rebelled against the rigidity of mainstream religion,
he was a universalist and claimed no authority or special
insight by virtue of some unique personal revelation. He did
not engage in fanciful verbal mysticism and had no predilection
for magic.
Sources
Franck, Sebastian. Paradoxa. Jena, Germany E. Diederichs,
1909.
Gillispie, Charles Coulston, ed. Dictionary of Scientific Biography.
New York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970–76.
Williams, George H. The Radical Reformation. Philadelphia
Westminster Press, 1962.
Wollgast, Siegfried. Der deutsche Pantheismus im 16. Jahrhundert.
Berlin Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1972.