The parish priest was himself coopted into this program of conversion through imitation. For a priest to be successful in the early days of the Catholic conquest of Europe, he had to be either powerful—with an army at his side—or popular. A parish priest in a small town was far from his power base; he had to rely on the good offices of his congregation to survive. What the congregation demanded of him was more than the celebration of daily Mass; what they needed was his intercession with the divine powers. This was especially true in the days before the appearance of printing presses and Scriptures in the vernacular. Before Luther, and before Gutenberg and his famous Bible, there was no way a peasant in a village in France or Germany, for instance, could read the word of God. Peasants were totally at the mercy of their priests for the interpretation of Scripture. They were largely illiterate, and even if they could read their own language, most probably had no working knowledge of Latin, much less Greek and Hebrew. Books were viewed with suspicion or superstition. The Bible, as the physical manifestation of the word of God, was held in awe and reverence, like some kind of icon or talisman. The man or woman who could open the Book and read from it was obviously possessed of powers beyond those of the average woodcutter or shepherd. Thus, the person of the Catholic priest became identified with a whole range of superstitions surrounding literacy, knowledge of foreign languages, allegiance to the mysterious High Priest in Rome, and . . . the exorcism of evil spirits.
Demonic possession is one of those ancient phenomena that persists to the present day. The ability of a priest to cast out a demon from a possessed person was usually taken to be evidence of the priest’s holiness and spiritual power. Just so, the ability of a priest to summon a demon—while antithetical to the entire body of Catholic law and theology—was taken for granted.
The most infamous case was that, of course, of Urbain Grandier and the possessed nuns of the French town of Loudon, made popular in Aldous Huxley’s masterful retelling of the tale in The Devils of Loudon. In the year 1634, Grandier was convicted of the crime of magic and held responsible for the demonic possession of the nuns. An arrogant and licentious man, disliked by his parishioners, Grandier was suspected of having seduced more than one woman, married and single, and this suspicion extended to his relationships with the Ursuline nuns of Loudon, which may or may not have contributed to the subsequent outbreak of demonic possession. The prioress of the Convent herself was possessed by several demons at a time, including some of the more famous: Behemoth, Leviathan, Balam, and Isacaron. One of the items introduced as evidence against Grandier still exists, at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (a treasure house of occult manuscripts and documents): the pact Grandier signed with the demon, written in his own hand. It was left up to the saintly Jesuit Father Surin— sent to Loudon by Cardinal Richelieu after other exorcists had failed—to continue the rites of exorcism for more than three years until every demon had been ejected from every possessed nun.
A clue to the ability of exorcists to remove demons may be found in this very celebrated case, for according to Father Surin, the demons he exorcised were fallen angels—cherubim and seraphim and thrones—who had accompanied Lucifer in his expulsion from heaven. Thus, they were angelic beings once, and presumably still subject to the laws of heaven. According to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, humans occupy a place in the celestial hierarchy above that of the angels; one of the reasons for Lucifer’s revolt was the creation of Adam and Eve and his newly subordinate position to these mere mortals.
A more recent, and considerably nobler, case is that of St. John Vianney (1786–1859), the Cure of Ars in France. A slow student who had to take his seminary exams several times, he nonetheless became the model for Catholic priests and is known in the Church as the Patron Saint of Priests. During his career, he suffered numerous assaults by demons and evil spirits, and developed a reputation for holiness and for his ability as an exorcist. His status in the Church calendar has been overhauled in recent years, as incidents of demonic possession are clearly on the rise.
Priests with less noble approaches to the subject of demons, however, also proliferate throughout Church history. A few years before the outbreak of possession at Loudon, a similar case took place in the town of Aix-en-Provence in France, at another Ursuline convent. In the year 1610 a young novice—Magdalen de la Palude— entered the convent and befriended another nun, Louise Capeau. In short order, Magdalen became possessed, subject to fits, and this state became contagious to the point that Louise Capeau also became possessed.
Eventually, the two nuns revealed that they had been subject to spells cast by a Catholic priest by the name of Louis Gaufridi, said to be the head of all the magicians of Europe “as far as Turkey.” Magdalen revealed that she had been initiated into a coven of sorcerers and witches by Gaufridi when she was still a child.
This astonishing information was only the beginning, as Magdalen gave many detailed descriptions of the action of the cult. Eventually, Father Gaufridi was himself arrested and eventually admitted that he had come into the possession of occult books left to him by his uncle and was tempted to try them out. When he did, he found himself face-to-face with demons who instructed him in all the mysteries of magic. He used his magic powers to seduce women, and to introduce them to the cult and marry them to demons, such as Beelzebub, the “Lord of the Flies.”
According to Gaufridi, his cult consisted of three levels or degrees: that of novices, witches, and magicians (the highest degree). Eventually, after the inquisitors had all the information they could use from him, they had Gaufridi burned at the stake.
Sixty years later, in Paris, we are confronted by an even greater monstrosity, that of the Abbe Guibourg and his colleague and partner in crime, Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin—known more popularly as La Voisin.
This scandal, involving human sacrifice, Black Masses, poison, and the murder of infants, rocked France during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Most of what we know about Guibourg, the priest at the center of the scandal, and his satanic excesses can be gleaned from the interrogation archives still held at the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. The La Voisin affair involved
Madame de Montespan, a mistress of King Louis XIV, who was afraid she would lose the King’s love and attention. Driven to distraction, she consulted the famous La Voisin, a sorceress and fortune-teller, who told her that a Black Mass had to be performed . . . on de Montespan’s naked body.
Several of these masses were performed, and the priest in charge was one Etienne Guibourg, a man of about sixty-seven years. He had been chosen to replace another priest, Abbe Mariette, who had been performing these rites for La Voisin until he found himself in prison for sacrilege and then went into self-imposed exile abroad. Guibourg eventually would perform Black Masses in the hundreds, according to the trial records, and during these Masses infants were sacrificed. At times, he was assisted by other priests—the Abbe Davot, the Abbe Guignard, and the Abbe Serault, among many others, and including Bishop Gille-Lefranc, for a total of some fifty Catholic clergymen who were finally executed for sacrilege, sorcery, and blasphemy over the affair—and once news of this operation finally reached the authorities, a largescale crackdown took place during which more than one hundred other persons—nobles and commoners—were arrested and over thirty commoners executed (the nobles generally escaping the death sentence).
The actual invocation used by Abbe Guibourg during these Masses is still in existence, preserved in the French archives:
Astaroth, Asmodeus, princes of friendship, I conjure you to accept the sacrifice I offer you of this child for the things I ask of you, which are that the friendship of the King and Mgr le Dauphin may continue towards me, and that I may be honored by the princes and princesses of the court, and that nothing I ask of the King may be denied me, either for my relatives or servants.
Another incantation, this one specifically for Madame de Montespan, reads as follows:
I . . . (the daughter of . . . ), ask for the King’s friendship and that of Mgr le Dauphin, and may I continue to have it, and that the Queen may be barren, that the King may leave her bed and table for me, that I may obtain from him all I ask for myself and my relatives, that my servants and my household may please him, loved and respected by great lords, that I may be summoned to the King’s council and know what transpires there, and that this amity may increase more than it has been in the past, so that the King leaves La Valliere [the King’s current mistress] and pays no more attention to her, and that the Queen may be repudiated so that I can marry him.
According to La Voisin herself, several thousand infants were slaughtered this way, and this admission was supported by Guibourg’s own account, which matched La Voisin’s in many specific details. Why they would have given such an astronomical number is unknown, but the court accepted it at face value, particularly as the furnace in which she burned the bodies was discovered, containing numerous fragments of human bones. They also discovered the chamber that was used for the performance of the Black Mass, replete with altar, black drapery with a white cross emblazoned on it, black candles, and a mattress under the altar covering.
Guibourg performed these Masses over the naked bodies of the women who came to him for these favors; barring that, he would bring in prostitutes to serve as the “altars” in these rites. The infant was slain over the woman, and the blood collected in a chalice.
According to the archives, some of these rites were even more complex and involved the collection of human semen and menstrual blood, out of which cakes were made with the addition of bat’s blood and flour. It is believed that these cakes were somehow introduced into the diet of the King. (An interesting survival of this recipe occurs in the Gnostic Mass of Aleister Crowley, discussed on page 56.)
The reader will forgive me for not giving more complete details of the Black Masses performed by this heretic priest, as they are quite abominable and involve every kind of desecration of the Host, profanation of the mysteries of the Mass, and mutilation of the infant victims. The horrors perpetrated by La Voisin and her eager accomplice, Guibourg, are matched only by such modern cases as that of Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance. They also illustrate how far people will go in order to change their reality, and how there will always be a priest available to use the sacrament of the Mass for blasphemous, heretical, even diabolic and hideous, purposes. Oddly, although La Voisin was executed in 1680, Abbe Guibourg seems to have escaped the attentions of the executioner, as did Madame de Montespan herself—even though the poisonings of several competitors for the King’s attention were laid at her door—and she died in a convent in 1707.
One fact stands out from this account, and that is that La Voisin needed genuine Catholic priests to perform the Black Masses. Although she was obviously involved in the occult as a business—and made a fortune from distraught and desperate women—she was also a believer. She was not a simple Gypsy fortune-teller, but had once lectured at the Sorbonne on the subject of astrology. She was well-known, and well-connected at the court. If she had wanted to, she could have arranged for these horrible rites to have been performed by anyone; but she knew how necessary it was to have genuine priests performing the sacrilege. In order to have the requisite occult power, the defamation of the Host—the circular wafer that is consecrated during the Mass and turned into the Body of Christ—could only be done by a priest. More than anything else, the case of La Voisin and her sacerdotal accomplices, like Abbe Guibourg, illustrates the belief in the supernatural power of priests and their authority over the spiritual—and angelic and demonic—realm.
PRIESTLY AUTHORITY OVER DEMONS AND ANGELS
One of the editions of the Grimoire of Pope Honorius (published in 1670, a few years before the La Voisin scandal broke) begins with a citation from the Gospels which is the whole basis of the Church’s supremacy. In this reference, Jesus is speaking with Peter, who will become the first Pope: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be unbound in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15–19.) This is a more proactive form of “As Above, So Below,” the axiom of the Emerald Table of Hermes, a favorite text of the neo-Platonist philosophers. In short, it gives not only mundane power to the Church, but a level of supernatural power that is unheard of in any other denomination: the ability to cause change to occur in heaven as well as upon earth.
Anyone, any priest or clergyman, taking these words literally, would understand that he possessed a degree of supernatural ability unparalleled in human history. The temptation to test these powers would, for some men, become irresistible. A lowly priest may attempt to investigate this potential at his own risk; but a Pope or an archbishop or bishop would consider themselves virtually immune from any spiritual fallout, owing to their high rank in the Church and the fact that no one lower than a bishop in the hierarchy is able to perform all the sacraments; i.e., only a bishop (and higher) is a “full priest,” for only a bishop may ordain another priest and share in the consecration of other bishops. As for the Pope, there is no higher spiritual authority on earth for a Catholic, and the Popes who have been accused of trafficking in occultism and magic must have believed they were above the law: Jesus himself gave them the power to cause change to occur in heaven itself, thereby giving them the ability to virtually absolve themselves from any sin that might attach to their incantations over the black books.
As we noted earlier, Pope Silvester II was one
of the earliest of these mystically inclined Popes. Due to his studies among the Arab philosophers of Spain, he is considered one of the first to introduce Arabic numerals to Europe. He was rumored to have built a mechanical head that would answer questions put to it by the Pope. (This is an underlying myth among many of the occult philosophers of the Dark and Middle Ages: the ability to create talking heads.)