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CHAPTER XIX

 

THE GRAND BEWITCHMENT

 

     THE Operation planned by the Black Lodge was simple and colossal both in theory and in practice. It was based on the prime principle of Sympathetic Magic, which is that if you destroy anything which is bound up with anybody by an identifying link that person also perishes. Douglas had adroitly taken advantage of the fact of the analogy between his own domestic situation and that of Cyril Grey. He had no need to attack the young magician directly, or even Lisa; he preferred to strike at the weakest point of all, that being whose existence was as yet but tentative. He had no need to go beyond this; for if he could bring Cyril's magick to naught, that exorcist would be destroyed by the recoil of his own exorcism. The laws of force take no account of human prejudices about "good" or "evil"; if one is run over by a railway engine, it matters nothing, physically, whether one is trying to commit suicide or to save a child. The difference in the result lies wholly on a superior plane.

     It is one mark of the short-sightedness of the sorcerer that he is content with his own sorceries; and if he should think that he can escape the operation of that superior law which does take account of spiritual and moral causes, he is the greater fool. Douglas might indeed wipe his enemy off the planet, but only with the result of fortifying the immortal and divine self which was within his victim, so that [264] he would return with added power and wisdom; while all his success in aggrandizing himself -- as he foolishly called it -- would leave his better part exhausted and disintegrated beyond refreshment or repair. He was like a man who should collect all his goods about him, and set fire to his house; while the true adepts beggar themselves (to all appearances) by transforming all their wealth into a shape that fire cannot touch.

     The sorcerer never sees thus clearly. He hopes that at the last his accumulation of corruptible things will outweigh the laws of Nature; much as a thief might argue that if he can only steal enough, he can corrupt the judges and bribe the legislature, as is done in America. But the laws of nature were not made by man, nor can they be set aside by man; they were not made at all. There are no laws of Nature in the usual sense of the word "law"; they are but statements, reduced to a generalized form in accordance with reason, of the facts observed in nature; they are formulae of the inherent properties of substance. It is impossible to evade them, or to suspend them, or to counteract them; for the effort to do so is itself in accordance with those laws themselves, and the compensation, though it be invisible for a time, is adjusted with an exactitude absolute because independent of every source of error. No trickery, no manipulation, can alter by the millionth of a milligramme the amount of oxygen in a billion tons of water. No existing thing is ever destroyed or magnified or lessened, though it change its form as it passes from one complexity to another. And if this be true of an atom of carbon, which is but one of the ideas in our minds, how much more is it true of that supremely simple thing which stands behind all thought, the soul of man? Doubt that? The answer comes: Who doubts? [265]

     The sorcerer is perhaps -- at best -- trying to create a permanence of his complexities, as who should try to fashion gold from the dust-heap. But most sorcerers do not go so deeply into things; they are set upon the advantage of the moment. Douglas probably did not care a snap of the fingers for his ultimate destiny; it may be that he deliberately avoided thinking of it; but however that may be, there is no doubt that at this moment he was ruthlessly pursuing his hate of Cyril Grey.

     For great operations -- the "set pieces" of his diabolical pyrotechnics -- the sorcerer had a place set apart and prepared. This was an old wine-cellar in a street between the Seine and the Boulevard St. Germain. The entrance was comparatively reputable, being a house of cheap prostitution which Douglas and Balloch -- screened behind a woman -- owned between them. Below this house was a cellar where the apaches of Paris gathered to dance and plot against society; so ran the legend, and two burly sergents de ville, with fixed bayonets and cocked revolvers lying on the table before them, superintended the revels. For in fact Douglas had perceived that the apache spent no money, and that it would pay better to run the cellar as a show place for Americans, Cockneys, Germans, and country cousins from the provinces on a jaunt to Paris, on the hunt for thrills. No one more dangerous than a greengrocer had crossed that threshold for many a long year, and the visible Apaches, drinking and swearing, dancing an alleged can-can and occasionally throwing bottles and knives at each other, were honest folk painfully earning the exiguous salary which the "long firm" paid them.

     But beneath this cellar, unknown even to the police, was a vault which had once served for storing spirits. It was below the level of the river; rats, damp, and stale alcohol gave it an atmosphere happily peculiar [266] to such abodes. There is no place in the world more law-abiding than a house of ill-fame, with the light of police supervision constantly upon it; and the astuteness of the sorcerer in choosing this for his place of evocation was rewarded by complete freedom from disturbance or suspicion. Any one could enter at any hour of day or night, with every precaution of secrecy, without drawing more than a laugh from the police on guard.

     The entrance to the sorcerer's den was similarly concealed -- by cunning, not by more obvious methods.

     A sort of cupboard-shelf, reached by a ladder from the dancing cellar and by a few steps from one of the bedrooms in the house above, was called "Troppman's refuge," it being said that that celebrated murderer once had lain concealed there for some days. His autograph, and some bad verses (all contributed by an ingenious cabaret singer) were shown upon the walls. It was therefore quite natural and unsuspicious for any visitor to climb up into that room, which was so small that it would only hold one man of average size. His non-reappearance would not cause surprise; he might have gone out the other way; in fact, he would naturally do so. But in the moment of his finding himself alone, he could, if he knew the secret, press a hidden  lever which caused the floor to descend bodily. Arrived below, a corridor with three right-angled turns -- this could,

incidentally, be flooded at need, in a few moments, -- led to the last of the defences, a regular door such as is fitted to a strong room. There was an emergency exit to the cellar, equally ingenious; it was a sort of torpedo-tube opening beneath the water of the Seine. It was fitted with a compressed air-chamber. Any one wishing to escape had merely to introduce himself into a shell made of thin cork, and shoot into the river. Even the worst of swimmers [267] could be sure to reach the neighbouring quay. But the secret of this was known only to Douglas and one other.

     The very earliest steps in such thoroughgoing sorcery as Douglas practised require the student to deform and mutilate his humanity by accustoming himself to such moral crimes as render their perpetrator callous and insensible to all such emotions as men naturally cherish; in particular, love. The Black Lodge put all its members through regular practices of cruelty and meanness. Guy de Maupassant wrote two of the most revolting stories ever told; one of a boy who hated a horse, the other of a family of peasants who tortured a blind relative that had been left to their charity. Such vileness as is written there by the divine hand of that great artist forbids emulation; the reverent reference must suffice.

     Enough to say that stifling of all natural impulse was a preliminary of the system of the Black Lodge; in higher grades the pupil took on the manipulation of subtler forces. Douglas' own use of his wife's love to vitriolize her heart was considered by the best judges as likely to become a classic.

     The inner circle, the fourteen men about Douglas himself and that still more mysterious person to whom even he was responsible, a woman known only as "Annie" or as "A.B.", were sealed to him by the direst of all bonds. Needless are oaths in the Black Lodge; honour being the first thing discarded, their only use is to frighten fools. But before joining the Fourteen, known as the Ghaaghaael, it was obligatory to commit a murder in cold blood, and to place the proofs of it in the hands of Douglas. Thus each step in sorcery is also a step in slavery; and that any man should put such power in the hands of another, no matter for what hope of gain, is one of the mysteries [268] of perverse psychology. The highest rank in the Lodge was called Thaumiel-Qeretiel, and there were two of these, "Annie" and Douglas, who were alone in possession of the full secrets of the Lodge. Only they and the Fourteen had keys to the cellar and the secret of the combination.

     Beginners were initiated there, and the method of introducing them was satisfactory and ingenious. They were taken to the house in an automobile, their eyes blinded by an ordinary pair of motor-goggles, behind whose glass was a steel plate.

     The cellar itself was arranged as a permanent place of evocation. It was a far more complex device than that used by Vesquit in Naples, for in confusion lay the safety of the Lodge. The floor was covered with symbols which even the Fourteen did not wholly understand; any one of them, crossed inadvertently, might be a magical trap for a traitor; and as each of the Fourteen was exactly that, in fact, had to be so to qualify for supreme place, it was with abject fear that this Unholy of Unholies was guarded.

     At the appointed hour Mr. Butcher presented himself at the Count's apartment, was furnished with the necessary spectacles, and conducted to the Beth Chol, or House of Horror, as the cellar was called in the jargon of the Sorcerers.

     Balloch, Cremers, Abdul Bey and the wife of Douglas were already present.

     The first part of the procedure consisted in the formal renunciation by Mrs. Douglas of the vows taken for her in her baptism, a ceremonial apostacy from Christianity. This was done in no spirit of hostility to that religion, but to permit of her being rebaptized into it under Lisa's maiden name. The Turk was next called upon to renounce Islam, and baptized by the name of the Marchese la Giuffria.

     The American priest next proceeded to confirm [269] them in the Christian religion, and to communicate the Sacrament.

     Finally, they were married. In this long profanation of the mysteries of the Church the horror lay in the business-like simplicity of the procedure.

     One can imagine the Charity of a devout Christian finding excuses for the Black Mass, when it is the expression of the revolt of an agonizing soul, or of the hysteria of a half-crazed debauchee; he can conceive of repentance and of grace following upon enlightenment; but this cold-blooded abuse of the most sacred rites, their quite casual employment as the mere prelude to a crime which is tantamount to murder in the opinion of all right-minded men, must seem even to the Freethinker or the Pagan as an abomination not to be forgiven.

     No pains had been spared by Douglas to make all secure. Balloch and Cremers had sponsored both "infants," and Douglas himself, as having most right, gave his wife in marriage to the Turk.

     A brutally realistic touch was needed to consummate the sacrilege; it was not neglected.

     Much of the pleasure taken by Douglas in this miserable and criminal farce was due to his enjoyment of the sufferings of his wife. Each new spurt of filth wrung her heart afresh; and withal she was aware that all these things were but the prelude to an act of fiendish violence more horrible than them all.

     Mr. Butcher, Cremers, and Abdul Bey, their functions ended, were led out of the cellar. Balloch remained to perform the operation from which the bulk of his income was derived.

     But there was yet much sorcery of the more secret sort to be accomplished. Douglas who, up to now, had confined himself to intense mental concentration upon the work, forcing himself to believe that the ceremonies he was witnessing were real instead of [270] mockery, that his wife was really Lisa, and Abdul really the Marchese, now came forward as the heart and brain of the work. The difficulty -- the crux of the whole art -- had been to introduce Cyril Grey into the affair, and this had been overcome by the use of a specimen of his signature. But now it was necessary also to dedicate the victim to Hecate, or rather, to her Hebrew equivalent, Nahema, the devourer of little children, because she also is one aspect of the moon, and Lisa having been adopted to that planet, her representative must needs undergo a similar ensorcelment.

     In the art of evocation Douglas was profoundly skilled. His mind was of a material and practical order, and distrusted subtleties. He gladly endured the immense labour of compelling a spirit to visible appearance, when a less careful or more fine-minded sorcerer would have worked upon some other plane. He had so far mastered his art that in a place, such as he now had, long habitated to similar scenes, he could call up a visible image of almost any demon required in a period of not more than half an hour. For place-association is of great importance,  possibly because it favours concentration of mind. Evidently, it is difficult not to feel religious in King's College Chapel, Cambridge, or otherwise than profoundly sceptical and Pagan in St. Peter's, at Rome, with its "East" in the West, its adaptation of a statue of Jupiter to represent its patron saint, and the emphasis of its entire architecture in bearing witness that its true name is Temporal Power. Gothic is the only mystic type; Templar and Byzantine are only religious through sexuality; Perpendicular is more moral than spiritual -- and modern architecture means nothing at all.

     In the Beth Chol there was always a bowl of fresh bull's blood burning over a charcoal brazier. [271]

     Science is gradually being forced round once more to the belief that there is something more in life than its mere chemistry and physics. Those who practise the occult arts have never been in doubt on the subject. The dynamic virtue of living substance does not depart from it immediately at death. Those ideas, therefore, which seek manifestation in life, must do so either by incarnation or by seizing some still living matter which the idea or soul in possession has abandoned. Sorcerers consequently employ the fumes of fresh blood as a vehicle for the manifestation of the demons whom they wish to evoke. The matter is easy enough; for fiends are always eager to take hold on the sensory life. Occasionally, such beings find people ignorant and foolish enough to offer themselves deliberately to obsession by sitting in a dark room without magical protection, and inviting any wandering ghost or demon to take hold of them, and use their bodies and minds. This loathsome folly is called Spiritualism, and successful practitioners can be recognized by the fact that their minds are no use for anything at all any more. They become incapable of mental concentration, or a connected train of thought; only too often the obsessing spirit gains power to take hold of them at will, and utters by their mouths foulness and  imbecility when the whim takes him. True souls would never seek so ignoble a means of manifesting in earth-life; their ways are holy, and in accord with Nature.

     While the true soul reincarnates as a renunciation, a sacrifice of its divine life and ecstasy for the sake of redeeming those who are not yet freed from mortal longings, the demon seeks incarnation as a means of gratifying unslaked lusts.

     Like a dumb beast in pain, the wife of Douglas watched her husband go through his ghastly ritual, with averted face, as is prescribed; for none may look [272] on Hecate, and remain sane. The proper conjurations of Hecate are curses against all renewal of life; her sacrament is deadly night-shade or henbane, and her due offering a black lamb torn ere its birth from a black ewe.

     This, with sardonic subter-thought, pleasing to Hecate, the sorcerer promised her as she made her presence felt; whether they could have seen anything if they had dared to look, who can say? But through the cellar moved an icy sensation, as if some presence had indeed been called forth by the words and rites spoken and accomplished.

     For Hecate is what Scripture calls "the second death." Natural death is to man the greatest of the Sacraments, of which all others are but symbols; for it is the final and absolute Union with the creator, and it is also the Pylon of the Temple of Life, even in the material world, for Death is Love.

     Certainly the wife of Douglas felt the presence of that vile thing evoked from Tartarus. Its chill struck through to her bones. Nothing had so torn her breast as the constant refusal of her husband to allow her to fulfil her human destiny. Even her prostitution, since it was forced upon her by the one man she loved, might be endured -- if only -- if only --

     But always the aid of Balloch had been summoned; always, in dire distress, and direr danger, she had been thwarted of her life's purpose. It was not so much a conscious wish, though that was strong, as an actual physical craving of her nature, as urgent and devouring as hunger or thirst.

     Balloch, who had been all his life high-priest of Hecate, had never been present at an evocation of the force that he served. He shuddered -- not a little -- as the sorcerer recited his surgical exploits; the credentials of the faith of her servant then present before her. He had committed his dastardly crimes [273] wholly for gain, and as a handle for blackmail; the magical significance of the business had not occurred to him at all. His magical work had been almost entirely directed to the gratification of sensuality in abnormal and extra-human channels. So, while a fierce pride now thrilled him, there was mingled with it a sinking of the spirit; for he realized that its mistress had been sterility and death. And it was of death that he was most afraid. The cynical calm of Douglas appalled him; he recognized the superiority of that great sorcerer; and his hope to supplant him died within his breast.

     At that moment Hecate herself passed into him, and twined herself inextricably about his brain. He accepted his destiny as her high-priest; in future he would do murder for the joy of pleasing her! All other mistresses were tame to this one! The thrill of Thuggee caught him -- and in a very spasm of maniacal exaltation, he vowed himself again and again to her services. She should be sole goddess of the Black Lodge -- only let her show him how to be rid of Douglas! Instantly the plan came to him; he remembered that "Annie" was high-priestess of Hecate in a greater sense than himself; for she was notorious as an open advocate of this kind of murder; indeed, she had narrowly escaped prison on this charge; he would tempt Douglas to rid himself of "Annie" -- and then betray him to her.

     So powerful was the emotion that consumed him that he trembled with excitement and eagerness. To-night was a great night: it was a step in his initiation to take part in so tremendous a ceremony. He became nervously exalted; he could have danced; Hecate, warming herself in his old bones, communicated a devilish glee to him.

     The moment was at hand for his renewed activity.

     "Hecate, mother only of death, devourer of all [274] life!" cried Douglas, in his final adjuration; "as I devote to thy chill tooth this secret spring of man, so be it with all that are like unto it! Even as it is with that which I shall cast upon thine altar, so be it with all the offspring of Lisa la Guiffria!"

     He ended with the thirteenth repetition of that appalling curse which begins Epikaloume se ten en to keneo pnevmati, deinan, aoratan, Pantokratora, theropoian kai eremopoian, e misonta, oikian efstathousan[1]  calling upon "her that dwelleth in the void place, the inane, terrible, inexorable, maker of horror and desolation, hater of the house that prospereth," and devoting "the signified and sealed, named and unnamed" to destruction.

     Then he turned to Balloch, and bade him act. Three minutes later the surgeon gave a curse, and blanched, as a scream, despite herself, burst from the bitten lips of the brave woman who lay upon the altar.

     "Why couldn't you let me give an anaesthetic?" he said angrily.

     "What's wrong? Is it bad?"

     "It's damned ugly. Curse it; not a thing here that I need!"

     But he needed nothing; he had done more even than he guessed.

     Mrs. Douglas, her face suddenly drawn and white, lifted her head with infinite effort towards her husband.

     "I've always loved you," she whispered, "and I love you now, as -- I -- die."

     Her head dropped with a dull crack upon the slab. No one can say if she heard the reply of Douglas:

     "You sow! you've bitched the whole show!"

     For she had uttered the supreme name of Love, in love; and the spell dissolved more swiftly than a dream. There was no Hecate, no sorcerer even, for [275] the moment; nothing but two murderers, and the corpse of a martyr between them.

     Douglas did not waste a single word of abuse on Balloch.

     "This is for you to clear up," he said, with a simplicity that cut deeper than sneer or snarl, and walked out of the cellar.

     Balloch, left to himself, became hysterical. In his act he recognized the first-fruits of the divine possession; his offering to the goddess had been stupendous indeed. All his exaltation returned: now would Hecate favour him above all men.

     Well, he had but to take the body upstairs. The old woman understood these things; he would certify the death; there would be no fuss made over a poor prostitute. He would return at once to London, and open up the negotiations with "A.B." [276]



[1]  The spelling is in Greek. Translations courtesy of Mbabwa. Italics are mine...

   "I call upon you who is in the empty Spirit, someone, invisible, Almighty, who creates summer and  desert, who hates a house that is stable."