“Well,” said Des Hermies, “are you interested in my astrologer?”
“He is slightly mad, isn’t he?”
“Well, his stories are incredible.”
“Everything is incredible,” said Des Hermies placidly, turning up the collar of his overcoat. “However, I will admit that Gevingey astounds me when he asserts that he was visited by a succubus. His good faith is not to be doubted, for I know him to be a man who means what he says, though he is vain and doctorial. I know, too, that at La Salpetriere such occurrences are not rare. Women smitten with hystero-epilepsy see phantoms beside them in broad daylight and mate with them in a cataleptic state, and every night couch with visions that must be exactly like the fluid creatures of incubacy. But these women are hystero-epileptics, and Gevingey isn’t, for I am his physician. Then, what can be believed and what can be proved? The materialists have taken the trouble to revise the accounts of the sorcery trials of old. They have found in the possession-cases of the Ursulines of Loudun and the nuns of Poitiers, in the history, even, of the convulsionists of Saint Medard, the symptoms of major hysteria, the same contractions of the whole system, the same muscular dissolutions, the same lethargies, even, finally, the famous arc of the circle. And what does this demonstrate, that these demonomaniacs were hystero-epileptics? Certainly. The observations of Dr. Richet, expert in such matters, are conclusive, but wherein do they invalidate possession? From the fact that the patients of La Salpetriere are not possessed, though they are hysterical, does it follow that others, smitten with the same malady as they, are not possessed? It would have to be demonstrated also that all demonopathics are hysterical, and that is false, for there are women of sound mind and perfectly good sense who are demonopathic without knowing it. And admitting that the last point is controvertible, there remains this unanswerable question: is a woman possessed because she is hysterical, or is she hysterical because she is possessed? Only the Church can answer. Science cannot.
“No, come to think it over, the effrontery of the positivists is appalling. They decree that Satanism does not exist. They lay everything at the account of major hysteria, and they don’t even know what this frightful malady is and what are its causes. No doubt Charcot determines very well the phases of the attack, notes the nonsensical and passional attitudes, the contortionistic movements; he discovers hysterogenic zones and can, by skilfully manipulating the ovaries, arrest or accelerate the crises, but as for foreseeing them and learning the sources and the motives and curing them, that’s another thing. Science goes all to pieces on the question of this inexplicable, stupefying malady, which, consequently, is subject to the most diversified interpretations, not one of which can be declared exact. For the soul enters into this, the soul in conflict with the body, the soul overthrown in the demoralization of the nerves. You see, old man, all this is as dark as a bottle of ink. Mystery is everywhere and reason cannot see its way.”