THE SPIRITIST REVIEW - JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES - 1858

Allan Kardec

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Questions of legal Spiritism


The following information was taken from the Courrier du Palais, published by Mr. Frederic Thomas, attorney at the Imperial Court, in the La Presse on August 2nd, 1858. We transcribed it textually so as to maintain the witty style of the writer. Our readers will notice the pleasant dsformat that he knows well how to attribute to the most respectable subjects. After reporting a number of things he adds:

“We have a much more unusual case to offer our reader in a new perspective: we already see it showing up in the horizon, in the southern horizon. But where is it going to get at? Someone wrote that the sticks are burning but that is not enough for us. Here is the case:

“A Parisian read in the papers that an old castle was on sale in the Pyrenees; he then bought it and in the first beautiful days of the glorious season he moved in with his friends. They had a pleasant dinner, just going to bed after that. It was time to spend the night; a night in an old castle, lost on the mountains. On the very next day the guests got up scared, all showing frightened faces; they sought their host and addressed him with the following question, with a lugubrious and mysterious look: Haven’t you seen anything last night?

The owner did not respond – he was so frightened himself! He just nodded his head.”

“Then, impressions were exchanged about the previous night, all keeping their voices low: one had heard crying voices, another heard dragging chains; this one had seen displacement of the rugs and carpets, the other saw an arch waving at him; several felt gigantic bats landing on their chests. This is a castle of the White Lady. The servants stated that the ghosts had pulled their legs and that it also happened to the previous tenant. More than that! The beds moved around, the bells ringed on their own, as well as effulgent words would burst out of the old fire places.”

“The castle was definitely uninhabitable. Those who were most frightened left immediately. The most courageous stayed for a second night trial. Up until midnight all went well but as soon as the clock of the northern tower rang the twelve clangs of midnight the noises and apparitions restarted. Ghosts appeared from all sides, monsters with eyes on fire and crocodile teeth, waving hairy wings. All those things were screaming, jumping, squeaking their teeth, and making hell on Earth.”

“Now it was just impossible to resist to that second experience. This time everybody had left the castle and the owner is filing a law suit for losses and damage.”
What a strange case wouldn’t that one be! And what a triumph to the great evoker of spirits, Mr. Home! Can he be considered an expert in such a subject? Whatever happens, and since there is nothing new under the light of justice, this process that will be considered a novelty, is nothing new since there is an unsolved case that, despite being two hundred and sixty three years old, is not less interesting.

The case happened in 1595, the year of Grace, before the seneschal of Guyenne, a tenant named Jean Latapy filed a lawsuit against the owner, Robert de Vigne. Jean Latapy allegedly had to leave the house rented out by Vigne, since the old house in Bordeaux was uninhabitable. Therefore he demanded the court to void the contract.

What was the argumentation? Latapy very ingenuously presented those in his conclusions:

“The house was found infested by spirits that appeared under the form of children as well as other strange and frightening forms. They annoyed and disturbed the persons; messed the furniture around; made noises and uproar all over the place and violently knocked people down from their beds.”

“Robert de Vigne, the owner, vigorously opposed the cancellation of the contract, responding to Latapy as follows: You describe my house unfairly; it is likely that you are getting what you deserve and instead of criticizing me you should, on the contrary, thank me as I help you to reach Paradise.”

Next, how the owner’s attorney made his case through a singular proposition:

“If the spirits come to torment Latapy and afflict him, with God’s permission, he should endure the fair penalty and say with St. Jerome: Quidquid patimur nostris peccatis meremur, and not attack the owner, who is absolutely innocent. Instead, he should be grateful to someone that provided him with the means of saving himself in this world from the punishments that, due to his demerit, wait for him in the other one.”

“In order to be consistent the lawyer should have asked Latapy to pay de Vigne for his services. Shouldn’t a place in paradise be worth his weight in gold? But the generous owner was happy with the refusal to call the contract off hence, before trying this, Latapy should have tried to combat and expel the spirits through means provided by God and by nature.”

“Why didn’t he use the laurel, argued the owner’s attorney? Why didn’t he use the rue or salt in the fire and the burning coal; feathers or a compounded mixture of herbs, the so called aerolus ventulus; with rhubarb; with white wine; with salt hanging at the entrance door; hyena’s forehead skin; dog’s gall that they say has a marvelous virtue of expelling demons? Why didn’t he use Molly’s herb, the same used by Mercury to expel Ulysses that used it as an antidote against Circe’s charms? ...”

It is evident that Latapy, the tenant, defaulted with all his duties, by not throwing salt into the burning coal, by not using dog’s gall and some feathers. However, as he would also have to find hyena’s forehead skin, the seneschal of Bordeaux found that such material was not ordinary enough so that Latapy would not be excused for leaving the hyenas alone hence he determined, in a beautiful and charming way, the cancellation of the lease.

One can see from all this that neither the owner nor the tenant or the judges have any doubt about the existence of the spirits and the uproar created by them. It would then seem that over two centuries ago men were more credulous than today but we do better as far as credulity goes which is not strange: it is even necessary that civilization and progress reveal somewhere.


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Leaving aside the accessories that the storyteller used to decorate the issue, such a question still has an embarrassing side, as the law has not foreseen the case in which the rapping spirits would turn a house uninhabitable. Would it be a purposeful, malicious sale of this property? In our opinion there are pros and cons, according to the circumstances. Initially it is necessary to verify if the noise is real or simulated with any other intention, a prior question of good faith that pre-judges the others. Admitting the facts as real it is necessary to establish if they perturb peace. If, for example, things happen similarly to the events of Bergzabern *, it is then evident that the position is not sustainable. The old Mr. Sänger withstood all that because it happened in his own house and there was no escape, but there is no way that a stranger would settle in a dwelling where a deafening sound is constantly heard; where the furniture is scrambled around; where doors and windows open and close at random; where invisible hands throw things at people’s heads, etc. It seems that under those circumstances there is space for complaint and that, with justice, a given contract should not bear value, had those things been hidden. Thus, generally speaking, the 1595 process seems to have been well judged, but there still remains an important question that is up to the Spiritist Science to raise and solve.

We know that the spontaneous manifestations of the spirits may occur without a predetermined objective and also that they may not address this or that person; that there are places effectively haunted by rapping spirits that seem to select those places as their residence and against whom every conjuration is useless. Let us say, between brackets, that there are efficient ways for us to free from them but that such ways do not depend on the intervention of persons that knowingly produce similar phenomena since the spirits that operate through them are from a different order than those that need to be expelled. Far from keeping them away, their presence could even attract others. But we also know that in a number of cases such manifestations are addressed against certain individuals, like in the Bergzabern case. The facts demonstrated that the family, particularly the little Filipina, was their direct target, hence we are convinced that had the family left that house the new inhabitants would have nothing to fear. That family would carry their tribulations to the new address.

The question to be examined, from a legal point of view, is if the manifestations would have taken place before or only after the arrival of the new owner. In the latter case it would be evident that the owner had carried the perturbing spirits along and thus the responsibility would be totally his; if, on the contrary, the perturbations had taken place before and persisted, that is a proof that they were associated to the place and thus the responsibility would be of the owner. The owner’s attorney reasoned with the first hypothesis and his argumentation did not lack logic. It is still necessary to know if the tenant had brought along those unwelcome guests, a fact which was not established in the process.
As for the ongoing pending process, we believe that a means of doing good justice would be by establishing what we have just described above. If the pre-existence of the manifestations is proven and that the fact was hidden by the owner, we face the case of a misled tenant with respect to the quality of the object of the transaction. Well, by keeping the deal under those conditions it might be a means of causing harm to the purchaser by the depreciation of the property. It is at least a cause of considerable loss, forcing him to keep something that he will have no use for, like a blind horse that he had acquired instead of a healthy one. Nevertheless, the cause in question should have grave consequences. Be it by invalidating the contract; be it by keeping the contract due to a lack of proof, the fact of the manifestations will be recognized.

By rejecting the proposition under the allegation that it is based on ridiculous reasons, one is exposed to receiving, sooner or later, the contradiction of experience, as it has many times happened to the most eminent figures, by having rushed to the negation of what they did not understand. If our parents can be censored by excess of credulity, our descendants will no doubt reproach us for the mistake of the contrary excess.

While we wait, this is what is before our eyes and that we even attest. We refer to the chronicle published by the La Patrie, on September 4th, 1858:

“The Rue du Bac is in a shambles. One can still see devilish tricks there. The house number 65 is divided in two blocks. The one facing the street has two stairwells that face each other. For the last week, at several times of the day and night, in all floors of the building, the bells ring and agitate violently. When people come to attend the door there is nobody at the entrance. In the beginning they thought it was a joke so that everybody watched, trying to catch the instigator. One of the tenants carefully sanded one glass in his kitchen to vigilantly watch. While watching with great attention his bell was shaken. He looked through the hatch and saw nobody! He then ran to the stairs, nobody! He returned to the house and removed the cord of the bell. An hour later, still feeling triumphant, the bell started to ring gallantly. He saw it ringing and became mute, depressed. On other doors the cords became twisted, entangled, like wounded serpents. An explanation is still sought and the police was called in. But what is that mystery? They still ignore it.”

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* See the May, June and July issues of the Spiritist Magazine

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