The memory of these frightful magisteria kept racing through his head next day, and, while smoking cigarettes beside the fire, Durtal thought of Docre and Johannes fighting across Gevingey’s back, smiting and parrying with incantations and exorcisms.
“In the Christian symbolism,” he said to himself, “the fish is one of the representations of Christ. Doubtless the Canon thinks to aggravate his sacrileges by feeding fishes on genuine hosts. His is the reverse of the system of the mediaeval witches who chose a vile beast dedicated to the Devil to submit the body of the Saviour to the processes of digestion. How real is the pretended power which the deicide chemists are alleged to wield? What faith can we put in the tales of evoked larvae killing a designated person to order with corrosive oil and blood virus? None, unless one is extremely credulous, and even a bit mad.
“And yet, come to think of it, we find today, unexplained and surviving under other names, the mysteries which were so long reckoned the product of mediaeval imagination and superstition. At the charity hospital Dr. Louis transfers maladies from one hypnotized person to another. Wherein is that less miraculous than evocation of demons, than spells cast by magicians or pastors? A larva, a flying spirit, is not, indeed, more extraordinary than a microbe coming from afar and poisoning one without one’s knowledge, and the atmosphere can certainly convey spirits as well as bacilli. Certainly the ether carries, untransformed, emanations, effluences, electricity, for instance, or the fluids of a magnet which sends to a distant subject an order to traverse all Paris to rejoin it. Science has no call to contest these phenomena. On the other hand, Dr. Brown-Sequard rejuvenates infirm old men and revitalizes the impotent with distillations from the parts of rabbits and cavies. Were not the elixirs of life and the love philtres which the witches sold to the senile and impotent composed of similar or analogous substances? Human semen entered almost always, in the Middle Ages, into the compounding of these mixtures. Now, hasn’t Dr. Brown-Sequard, after repeated experiments, recently demonstrated the virtues of semen taken from one man and instilled into another?
“Finally, the apparitions, doppelgaenger, bilocations—to speak thus of the spirits—that terrified antiquity, have not ceased to manifest themselves. It would be difficult to prove that the experiments carried on for three years by Dr. Crookes in the presence of witnesses were cheats. If he has been able to photograph visible and tangible spectres, we must recognize the veracity of the mediaeval thaumaturges. Incredible, of course—and wasn’t hypnotism, possession of one soul by another which could dedicate it to crime—incredible only ten years ago?
“We are groping in shadow, that is sure. But Des Hermies hit the bull’s-eye when he remarked, ’It is less important to know whether the modern pharmaceutic sacrileges are potent, than to study the motives of the Satanists and fallen priests who prepare them.’