On the Apparitions of Spirits who imprint their Hands on Clothes or on Wood

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]

spirit apparition

Humbert Birck was a burgess of note, in the town of Oppenheim, and master of a country house called Berenbach; he died in the month of November, 1620, a few days before the feast of St. Martin. On the Saturday which followed his funeral, they began to hear certain noises in the house where he had lived with his first wife; for at the time of his death he had married again.

The master of this house, suspecting that it was his brother-in-law who haunted it, said to him, "If you are Humbert, my brother-in-law, strike three times against the wall." At the same time, they heard three strokes only, for ordinarily he struck several times. Sometimes, also, he was heard at the fountain where they went for water, and he frightened all the neighborhood; he did not always utter articulate sounds, but he would knock repeatedly, make a noise, or a groan, or a shrill whistle, or sounds as a person in lamentation; all this lasted for six months, and then it suddenly ceased. At the end of a year he made himself heard more loudly than ever. The master of the house, and his domestics, the boldest amongst them, at last asked him what he wished for, and in what they could help him? He replied, but in a hoarse, low tone, "Let the curé come here next Saturday with my children." The curé being indisposed, could not go thither on the appointed day; but he went on the Monday following, accompanied by a good many people.

Humbert received notice of this, and he answered in a very intelligible manner. They asked him if he required any masses to be said? He asked for three. Then they wished to know if alms should be given in his name? He said, "I wish them to give eight measures of corn to the poor, and that my widow may give something to all my children." He afterwards ordered that what had been badly distributed in his succession, which amounted to about twenty florins, should be set aside. They asked why he infested that house rather than another? He answered that he was forced to it by conjuration and maledictions. Had he received the sacraments of the Church? "I received them from the curé, your predecessor." He was made to say the Pater and the Ave; he recited them with difficulty, saying that he was prevented by an evil spirit, who would not let him tell the curé many other things.

The curé, who was named Prémontré, of the abbey of Toussaints, came to the monastery on Tuesday the 12th of January, 1621, in order to take the opinion of the Superior on this singular affair; they let him have three monks to help him with their counsels. They all repaired to the house wherein Humbert continued his importunity; for nothing that he had requested had as yet been executed. A great number of those who lived near were assembled in the house. The master of it told Humbert to rap against the wall; he knocked very gently: then the master desired him to go and fetch a stone and knock louder; he deferred a little, as if he had been to pick up a stone, and gave a stronger blow upon the wall: the master whispered in his neighbor's ear as softly as he could that he should rap seven times, and directly he rapped seven times. He always showed great respect to the priests, and did not reply to them so boldly as to the laity; and when he was asked why—"It is," said he, "because they have with them the Holy Sacrament." However, they had it no otherwise than because they had said mass that day. The next day the three masses which he had required were said, and all was disposed for a pilgrimage, which he had specified in the last conversation they had with him; and they promised to give alms for him the first day possible. From that time Humbert haunted them no more.

The same monk, Prémontré, relates that on the 9th of September, 1625, a man named John Steinlin died at a place called Altheim, in the diocese of Constance. Steinlin was a man in easy circumstances, and a common-councilman of his town. Some days after his death he appeared during the night to a tailor, named Simon Bauh, in the form of a man surrounded by a somber flame, like that of lighted sulfur, going and coming in his own house, but without speaking. Bauh, who was disquieted by this sight, resolved to ask him what he could do to serve him. He found an opportunity to do so the 17th of November in the same year, 1625; for, as he was reposing at night near his stove, a little after eleven o'clock, he beheld this specter environed by fire like sulfur, who came into his room, going and coming, shutting and opening the windows. The tailor asked him what he desired. He replied, in a hoarse, interrupted voice, that he could help very much, if he would; "but," added he, "do not promise me to do so, if you are not resolved to execute your promises." "I will execute them, if they are not beyond my power," replied he.

"I wish, then," replied the spirit, "that you would cause a mass to be said in the chapel of the Virgin at Rotembourg; I made a vow to that intent during my life, and I have not acquitted myself of it. Moreover, you must have two masses said at Altheim, the one of the Defunct and the other of the Virgin; and as I did not always pay my servants exactly, I wish that a quarter of corn should be distributed to the poor." Simon promised to satisfy him on all these points. The specter held out his hand, as if to ensure his promise; but Simon, fearing that some harm might happen to himself, tendered him the board which come to hand, and the specter having touched it, left the print of his hand with the four fingers and thumb, as if fire had been there, and had left a pretty deep impression. After that, he vanished with so much noise that it was heard three houses off.

I related in the first edition of this dissertation on the return of spirits, an adventure which happened at Fontenoy on the Moselle, where it was affirmed that a spirit had in the same manner made the impression of its hand on a handkerchief, and had left the impress of the hand and of the palm well marked. The handkerchief is in the hands of one Casmar, a constable living at Toul, who received it from his uncle, the curé of Fontenoy; but, on a careful investigation of the thing, it was found that a young blacksmith, who courted a young girl to whom the handkerchief belonged, had forged an iron hand to print it on the handkerchief, and persuade people of the reality of the apparition.

At St. Avold, a town of German Lorraine, in the house of the curé, named M. Royer de Monelos, there was something very similar which appears to have been performed by a servant girl, sixteen years of age, who heard and saw, as she said, a woman who made a great noise in the house; but she was the only person who saw and heard her, although others heard also the noise which was made in the house. They saw also the young servant, as it were, pushed, dragged, and struck by the spirit, but never saw it, nor yet heard his voice. This contrivance began on the night of the 31st of January, 1694, and finished about the end of February the same year. The curé conjured the spirit in German and French. He made no reply to the exorcisms in French but sighs; and as they terminated the German exorcism, saying, "Let every spirit praise the Lord," the girl said that the spirit had said, "And me also;" but she alone heard it.

Some monks of the abbey were requested to come also and exorcise the spirit. They came, and with them some burgesses of note of St. Avold; and neither before nor after the exorcisms did they see or hear anything, except that the servant girl seemed to be pushed violently, and the doors were roughly knocked at. By dint of exorcisms they forced the spirit, or rather the servant who alone heard and saw it, to declare that she was neither maid nor wife; that she was called Claire Margaret Henri; that a hundred and fifty years ago she had died at the age of twenty, after having lived servant at the curé of St. Avold's first of all for eight years, and that she had died at Guenviller of grief and regret for having killed her own child. At last, the servant maintaining that she was not a good spirit, she said to her, "Give me hold of your petticoat (or skirt)." She would do no such thing; at the same time the spirit said to her, "Look at your petticoat; my mark is upon it." She looked and saw upon her skirt the five fingers of the hand so distinctly that it did not appear possible for any living creature to have marked them better. This affair lasted about two months; and at this day, at St. Avold, as in all the country, they talk of the spirit of St. Avold as of a game played by that girl, in concert, doubtless, with some persons who wished to divert themselves by puzzling the good curé with his sisters, and all those who fell into the trap. They printed at Cusson's, at Nancy, in 1718, a relation of this event, which at first gained credence with a number of people, but who were quite undeceived in the end.

I shall add to this story that which is related by Philip Melancthon, whose testimony in this matter ought not to be doubted. He says that his aunt having lost her husband when she was enceinte and near her time, she saw one day, towards evening, two persons come into her house; one of them wore the form of her deceased husband, the other that of a tall Franciscan. At first she was frightened, but her husband reassured her, and told her that he had important things to communicate to her; at the same time he begged the Franciscan to pass into the next room, whilst he imparted his wishes to his wife. Then he begged of her to have some masses said for the relief of his soul, and tried to persuade her to give her hand without fear; as she was unwilling to give it, he assured her she would feel no pain. She gave him her hand, and her hand felt no pain when she withdrew it, but was so blackened that it remained discolored all her life. After that, the husband called in the Franciscan; they went out, and disappeared. Melancthon believes that these were two specters; he adds that he knows several similar instances related by persons worthy of credit.

If these two men were only specters, having neither flesh nor bones, how could one of them imprint a black color on the hand of this widow? How could he who appeared to the tailor Bauh imprint his hand on the board which he presented to him? If they were evil genii, why did they ask for masses and order restitution? Does Satan destroy his own empire, and does he inspire the living with the idea of doing good actions and of fearing the pains which the sins of the wicked are punished by God?

But on looking at the affair in another light, may not the demon in this kind of apparitions, by which he asks for masses and prayers, intend to foment superstition, by making the living believe that masses and prayers made for them after their death would free them from the pains of hell, even if they died in habitual crime and impenitence? Several instances are cited of rascals who have appeared after their death, asking for prayers like the bad rich man, and to whom prayers and masses can be of no avail from the unhappy state in which they died. Thus, in all this, Satan seeks to establish his kingdom, and not to destroy it or diminish it.

We shall speak hereafter, in the Dissertation on Vampires, of apparitions of dead persons who have been seen, and acted like living ones in their own bodies.

The same Melancthon relates that a monk came one day and rapped loudly at the door of Luther's dwelling, asking to speak to him; he entered and said, "I entertained some popish errors upon which I shall be very glad to confer with you." "Speak," said Luther. He at first proposed to him several syllogisms, to which he easily replied; he then proposed others, that were more difficult. Luther, being annoyed, answered him hastily, "Go, you embarrass me; I have something else to do just now besides answering you." However, he rose and replied to his arguments. At the same time, having remarked that the pretended monk had hands like the claws of a bird, he said to him, "Art not thou he of whom it is said, in Genesis, 'He who shall be born of woman shall break the head of the serpent?'" The demon added, "But thou shalt engulf them all." At these words the confused demon retired angrily and with much fracas; he left the room infested with a very bad smell, which was perceptible for some days.

Luther, who assumes so much the esprit fort, and inveighs with so much warmth against private masses wherein they pray for the souls of the defunct, maintains boldly that all the apparitions of spirits which we read in the lives of the saints, and who ask for masses for the repose of their souls, are only illusions of Satan, who appears to deceive the simple, and inspire them with useless confidence in the sacrifice of the mass. Whence he concludes that it is better at once to deny absolutely that there is any purgatory.

He, then, did not deny either apparitions or the operations of the devil; and he maintained that Ecolampadius died under the blows of the devil, whose efforts he could not rebut; and, speaking of himself, he affirms that awaking once with a start in the middle of the night, the devil appeared, to argue against him, when he was seized with moral terror. The arguments of the demon were so pressing that they left him no repose of mind; the sound of his powerful voice, his overwhelming manner of disputing when the question and the reply were perceived at once, left him no breathing time. He says again that the devil can kill and strangle, and without doing all that, press a man so home by his arguments that it is enough to kill one; "as I," says he, "have experienced several times." After such avowals, what can we think of the doctrine of this chief of the innovators?
 

Continued



       

 

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