The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

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This is the title of a legendary romance published in Rome in 1858, by Rev. Father Bresciani, from the Company of Jesus,* author of The Jew of Verona. The subject of the book is the story of the former Canossa family, in the style of Walter Scott. That is why the author dedicated the book to the current descendent from that renowned family, the Marquis Otavio de Canossa, potentate of Verona and valet of H.M. Emperor of Austria. The events take place in the middle ages. The witches and wizards represent great roles in the story and the demoniac scenes are described with such an accuracy which would make the Scottish romancers jealous. The author seems less accurate to us in his appreciation of the modern spiritist phenomena of the talking tables, of magnetism and somnambulism. Well, here is what can be read in its Chapter X, page 170:

“More than one of my readers, and probably the majority of them, could be surprised by seeing all these devilish apparatuses in the preceding chapters, all the exorcism, witchcraft, hallucinations, and fantastic outbreaks which would fit well in the late night stories and wet-nurse tales.”

“Who would still believe these days in necromancers, witches, enchantments, fascination, potions, and dealings with the devil? Would you be willing to return to the fairy tales from Martin del Rio,** the gauche superstitions of the people and the ghetto ladies, from legends which give the shivers to the chubby peasants who fear the headless mule and keep the chicken boys awake, in the name of the werewolf? Really, my friend, this is the time to get rid of these futilities. That is somehow the language that I seem to hear.”

“I will respond to that before neglecting old beliefs, everyone must question their own conscience, frankly asking if one is not at least as much credulous as any of one’s predecessors. Let us make no mistake: what is the meaning of this swarm of magnetizers, mediums, dancing, speaking and prophetic tables; somnambulists who see through the walls, reading through their elbows, who see before them something that is done twenty, thirty and forty miles away; who read and write without knowing the alphabet; that not knowing a single word in medicine, describe pathological cases, indicating their causes and prescribing the medication, in the right dose, with all Greek-Arabic terms of the scientific vocabulary? What are those interrogatories of spirits; those answers of dead and buried people; those prophecies of future events? Who evokes those shadows? Who makes them speak? Who allows them to see a non-existent future? Who leads them to blaspheme against God, against the saints from heavens, against the sacraments of the Church?”

“Now brave people, speak up! Why these distorted and nervous looks? – Ah! You shall end up telling me, who knows! Mysteries of nature, unknown laws, power of lucidity, occult sense of the human body! Subtleness of the magnetic fluid, of the nervous influx, of the optical and acoustic waves; secret virtues excited by electricity or magnetism in the brain, blood, muscle fibers, in all vital components; supreme power and strength of will and imagination.”

“My friends, these are foolish things, meaningless words, empty phrases, ambiguous deviations, enigmas which you don’t understand yourselves. The whole difference between us and our predecessors is that to deny one mystery we forge a hundred of others. While a cat was a cat, and devil the devil to those good people, we have the pretension of accrediting nature with powers that nature does not have and cannot have.”

“Our elders, wiser and more sincere, would straight forwardly say that there were supernatural events and very honestly associated them to the devil. However, less familiar than we are with the natural phenomena, they have sometimes and undoubtedly taken for a prodigious effect when they are in the natural order of things, whereas our contemporary, much more enlightened, cannot see in a good number of charlatanism from the magnetizers mysterious effect of the secret laws of nature, and the really diabolic events as nothing more than magic tricks, more or less subtle.”

“However, the better Christians of the good old times knew very well that the bad spirits, evoked through certain signs, conjurations, certain pacts, would show up, answer questions, hallucinating imagination, impressing people in a thousand ways, and particularly doing as much harm as possible to those who would speak to them. You must then confess, in good faith, that even in our days, and in a larger number than before, we have our necromancers, charmers and witches, with the difference that our ancestors were horrified by all that witchcraft; that these were secretly practiced in the darkness of the caves, in the forests, and that many would regret and then confess, seeking penance. In our days, instead, they are openly practiced in the gorgeous theaters of gold and lights, before curiosity, in the presence of young ladies, children and their mothers, without any scruple, thus frequently making fun of the superstitions of the middle ages.”

“Believe me. Human beings have wished to deal with the devil at all times, and that astute spirit conforms to all transformations, although people would not send him back to the abyss, feeding some sort of commerce. In the former centuries of idolatry he was with the oracles and foretellers; he would appear under the form of a dove, magpie, rooster, snake, and even sang fatidic songs. In the middle ages he used to show up pedantically to the barbarians, under terrible disguises and after monstrous conjurations.”

“If sometimes he would diminish himself to the point of finding dwelling in someone’s hair, in little flasks, in potions drunk by the lovers and given by the witches, he would still inspire great horror. Today, instead, he is given to civilizing the century. He enjoys the elegant world, the lively soirees, frequently sleeping over with the somnambulists, using the planchettes to write. In reality, isn’t he kind? He is careful not to scare anyone; he dresses like the Americans, the English, the Parisians, the Germans; he is really kind, with his beard and fine Italian mustache; he is the real deal of the theaters and it would be really awkward if he did not present an irreproachable distinction. Behold! He has become such a good apostle that he talks politely to that lady who still goes to the mass and if she was told: “- Watch out! There are things which are not natural and could not be natural. There is something of treacherous in it. The good Christians do not get into that!” – She would laugh at you and respond with an air of superiority: “- What the hell! All that is very natural; I am Christian too but not stupid.”

“Meanwhile, given a proper occasion, he will magnetize your twenty year old daughter, and out of her magnetic intuition, make her foretell distant facts and secrets of the future.”

“I leave you to that and to think if that naughty devil is not laughing his head off at that good Christian!”

We leave to the readers the task of assessing the judgment passed by Father Bresciani. You will, like us, uselessly look for authoritative arguments against the spiritist ideas or any demonstration of untruthfulness of those ideas. He no doubt thinks that those ideas deserve no refutation and that a breath is sufficient to destroy them. However, it seems to us that similarly to most adversaries, he arrives to a consequence in opposition to his expectations, since he does not unequivocally demonstrate that those things are not possible. Considering that Father Bresciani is a man of undisputed talent and superior instruction we think that since his objective was to combat the spirits, he should have gathered the most lethal weapons against them, from what we conclude that if he does not say much against them the fact is that he has nothing else to say; that if he does not give proofs it is because he has none to oppose to those ideas, otherwise he would not have left them in his back pocket.

In all that argumentation, the mostly ridiculed are not the spirits but the devil himself, who is treated a bit too much gentlemanly, and not like something that is taken seriously. We are then forced to believe, before such a polished style, that the author does not believe in the devil more than in spirits. However, if he is the only agent of all manifestations, as intended, then it is necessary to acknowledge that he represents a more entertaining than frightening role, being much more capable of exciting curiosity than fear. As a matter of fact, up until now this is the result of everything that has been said and written against Spiritism. Thus, it has done us more service than harm.

According to the majority of the critics, the fact of the manifestations has no relevance. It is a short living mania, a game, and the author does not seem to have faced it in a more serious way. If that is the case, why bother? Let it be and another pastime will be in fashion tomorrow, and Spiritism will experience the same that happened to the Potichomania: the duration of two seasons. By throwing stones at it one gives the impression that it is feared because one only tries to knock down something that gives reason for fear; if it is an utopia, an illusion, why then fighting the windmills? It is true, they say, that the devil sometimes mingles with these things, but then there would be no need for so many authors, like the one above, painting the devil with such pinkish colors, and leading the ladies to be willing to get to know him.

Has Father Bresciani thoroughly examined the subject? Has he pondered the reach of all of his words? Kindly allow us the doubt. When he says: “What are those answers of dead and buried people? Who allows them to see a non-existent future?” Our question is if it was a Christian or a materialist the person who wrote similar things. Even a materialist would speak of the dead with more respect. – “Who leads them to blaspheme against God?” – Where are those blasphemies? The author, attributing everything to the devil, has certainly supposed those blasphemies or he would otherwise know that the most unlimited trust in God’s benevolence is the foundation of Spiritism; that everything that is done in Spiritism is done so in the name of God; that even the most perverse spirits speak of God with fear and respect and the good ones do so with reverence and love. Where is the blasphemy? – However, how should we interpret these words: “…we have the pretension of accrediting nature with powers that nature does not have and cannot have!” – Our more sensible elders would treat them simply as devilish tricks. Thus it is wiser to attribute the natural phenomena to the devil than to God. While we proclaim the infinite power of the Creator, Father Bresciani gives limit to them; nature, which summarizes the Divine work, does not have and cannot have other powers beyond those that we know. As for those which we ignore it is wiser to attribute them to the devil that would then be more powerful than God. One needs to ask on which side is the blasphemy or the greater respect to the Supreme Being. Finally, the devil takes all forms. Isn’t he very kind? He dresses like the Americans, the English, the Parisians; he is really kind with his beard and fine Italian mustaches and it would be really awkward not to recognizing in him an almost irreproachable distinction. We don’t know if the Italian gentlemen will be flattered for being taken by naughty devils. Who are those nice ladies that turn the kind devils into an attraction and that before the charitable warning that there may be something treacherous in all this they say:
“What the hell! I am not that stupid!”

If it is a natural flagrant, we then ask in which world, “l’entier ou le demi monde”,*** those ladies use such beautiful expressions? We regret the fact that the author had not obtained his knowledge about Spiritism from more serious sources, for he would not speak so lightheartedly. While more peremptory arguments are not opposed to Spiritism, its followers may then sleep in peace.

* One volume, in-8, translated from the Italian – J. B. Pélagaud & Co., Rue des Saints Pères, 57 – Paris, price 3.5 fr
** Del Rio was a Jesuit scholar born in Anvers, 1551 and deceased in 1608. The author refers to his work Disquisitiones Magicoe.
*** Expression created by Dumas meaning the underground world (demi-monde), the outlawed world – Kardec employs a wordplay when counter l’entier (the whole world) to le demi (the mid world or underground world) – (RT)

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