Preface to "Phantom World"

This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850.


The great number of authors who have written upon the apparitions of angels, demons, and disembodied souls is not unknown to me; and I do not presume sufficiently on my own capacity to believe that I shall succeed better in it than they have done, and that I shall enhance their knowledge and their discoveries. I am perfectly sensible that I expose myself to criticism, and perhaps to the mockery of many readers, who regard this matter as done with, and decried in the minds of philosophers, learned men, and many theologians. I must not reckon either on the approbation of the people, whose want of discernment prevents their being competent judges of this same. My aim is not to foment superstition, nor to feed the vain curiosity of visionaries, and those who believe without examination everything that is related to them as soon as they find therein anything marvelous and supernatural. I write only for reasonable and unprejudiced minds, which examine things seriously and coolly; I speak only for those who assent even to known truth but after mature reflection, who know how to doubt of what is uncertain, to suspend their judgment on what is doubtful, and to deny what is manifestly false.

As for pretended freethinkers, who reject everything to distinguish themselves, and to place themselves above the common herd, I leave them in their elevated sphere; they will think of this work as they may consider proper, and as it is not calculated for them, apparently they will not take the trouble to read it.

I undertook it for my own information, and to form to myself a just idea of all that is said on the apparitions of angels, of the demon, and of disembodied souls. I wished to see how far that matter was certain or uncertain, true or false, known or unknown, clear or obscure.

In this great number of facts which I have collected I have endeavored to make a choice, and not to heap together too great a multitude of them, for fear that in the too numerous examples the doubtful might not harm the certain, and in wishing to prove too much I might prove absolutely nothing. There will, even amongst those I have cited, be found some which will not easily be credited by many readers, and I allow them to regard them as not related.

I beg those readers, nevertheless, to discern justly amongst these facts and instances; after which they can with me form their opinion—affirm, deny, or remain in doubt.

From the respect which every man owes to truth, and the veneration which a Christian and a priest owes to religion, it appeared to me very important to undeceive people respecting the opinion which they have of apparitions, if they believe them all to be true; or to instruct them and show them the truth and reality of a great number, if they think them all false. It is always shameful to be deceived; and in regard to religion, to believe on light grounds, to remain willfully in doubt, or to maintain oneself without any reason in superstition and illusion; it is already much to know how to doubt wisely, and not to form a decided opinion beyond what one really knows.

I never had any idea of treating profoundly the matter of apparitions; I have treated of it, as it were, by chance, and occasionally. My first and principal object was to discourse of the vampires of Hungary. In collecting my materials on that subject, I found many things concerning apparitions; the great number of these embarrassed this treatise on vampires. I detached some of them, and thus have composed this treatise on apparitions: there still remains a large number of them, which I might have separated for the better arrangement of this treatise. Many persons here have taken the accessory for the principal, and have paid more attention to the first part than to the second, which was, however, the first and the principal in my design. For I own I have always been much struck with what was related of the vampires or ghosts of Hungary, Moravia, and Poland; of the vroucolacas of Greece; and of the excommunicated, who are said not to rot. I thought I ought to bestow on it all the attention in my power; and I have deemed it right to treat on this subject in a particular dissertation. After having deeply studied it, and obtaining as much information as I was able, I found little solidity and certainty on the subject; which, joined to the opinion of some prudent and respectable persons whom I consulted, had induced me to give up my design entirely, and to renounce laboring on a subject which is so contradictory, and embraces so much uncertainty.

But looking at the matter in another point of view, I resumed my pen, decided upon undeceiving the public, if I found that what was said of it was absolutely false; showing that what is uttered on this subject is uncertain, and that one ought to be very reserved in pronouncing on these vampires, which have made so much noise in the world for a certain time, and still divide opinions at this day, even in the countries which are the scene of their pretended return, and where they appear; or to show that what has been said and written on this subject is not destitute of probability, and that the subject of the return of vampires is worthy the attention of the curious and the learned, and deserves to be seriously studied, to have the facts related of it examined, and the causes, circumstances, and means sounded deeply.

I am then about to examine this question as a historian, philosopher, and theologian. As a historian, I shall endeavor to discover the truth of the facts; as a philosopher, I shall examine the causes and circumstances; lastly, the knowledge or light of theology will cause me to deduce consequences as relating to religion. Thus I do not write in the hope of convincing freethinkers and pyrrhonians, who will not allow the existence of ghosts or vampires, nor even of the apparitions of angels, demons, and spirits; nor to intimidate those weak and credulous, by relating to them extraordinary stories of apparitions. I do not reckon either on curing the superstitious of their errors, nor the people of their prepossessions; not even on correcting the abuses which arise from this unenlightened belief, nor of doing away all the doubts which may be formed on apparitions; still less do I pretend to erect myself as a judge and censor of the works and sentiments of others, nor to distinguish myself, make myself a name, or divert myself, by spreading abroad dangerous doubts upon a subject which concerns religion, and from which they might make wrong deductions against the certainty of the Scriptures, and against the unshaken dogmas of our creed. I shall treat it as solidly and gravely as it merits; and I pray God to give me that knowledge which is necessary to do it successfully.

I exhort my reader to distinguish between the facts related, and the manner in which they happened. The fact may be certain, and the way in which it occurred unknown. Scripture relates certain apparitions of angels and disembodied souls; these instances are indubitable and found in the revelations of the holy books; but the manner in which God operated the resurrections, or in which he permitted these apparitions to take place, is hidden among his secrets. It is allowable for us to examine them, to seek out the circumstances, and propound some conjectures on the manner in which it all came to pass; but it would be rash to decide upon a matter which God has not thought proper to reveal to us. I say as much in proportion, concerning the stories related by sensible, contemporary, and judicious authors, who simply relate the facts without entering into the examination of the circumstances, of which, perhaps, they themselves were not well informed.

It has already been objected to me, that I cited poets and authors of little credit, in support of a thing so grave and so disputed as the apparition of spirits: such authorities, they say, are more calculated to cast a doubt on apparitions, than to establish the truth of them.

But I cite those authors as witnesses of the opinions of nations; and I count it not a small thing in the extreme license of opinions, which at this day predominates in the world, amongst those even who make a profession of Christianity, to be able to show that the ancient Greeks and Romans thought that souls were immortal, that they subsisted after the death of the body, and that there was another life, in which they received the reward of their good actions, or the chastisement of their crimes.

Those sentiments which we read in the poets, are also repeated in the fathers of the church, and the pagan and Christian historians; but as they did not pretend to think them weighty, nor to approve them in repeating them, it must not be imputed to me either, that I have any intention of authorizing. For instance, what I have related of the manes, or lares; of the evocation of souls after the death of the body; of the avidity of these souls to suck the blood of the immolated animals, of the shape of the soul separated from the body, of the inquietude of souls which have no rest until their bodies are under ground; of those superstitious statues of wax which are devoted and consecrated under the name of certain persons whom the magicians pretended to kill by burning and stabbing their effigies of wax; of the transportation of wizards and witches through the air, and of their assemblies of the Sabbath; all those things are related both in the works of the philosophers and pagan historians, as well as in the poets.

I know the value of one and the other, and I esteem them as they deserve; but I think that in treating this matter, it is important to make known to our readers the ancient superstitions, the vulgar or common opinions, and the prejudices of nations, to be able to refute them, and bring back the figures to truths, by freeing them from what poesy had added for the embellishment of the poem, and the amusement of the reader.

Moreover, I generally repeat this kind of thing, only when it is apropos of certain facts avowed by historians, and by other grave and rational authors; and sometimes rather as an ornament of the discourse, or to enliven the matter, than to derive thence certain proofs and consequences necessary for the dogma, or to certify the facts and give weight to my recital.

I know how little we must depend on what Lucian says on this subject; he only speaks of it to make game of it. Philostratus, Jamblicus, and some others, do not merit more consideration; therefore I quote them only to refute them, or to show how far idle and ridiculous credulity has been carried on these matters, which were laughed at by the most sensible among the heathens themselves.

The consequences which I deduce from all these stories, and these poetical fictions, and the manner in which I speak of them in the course of this dissertation, sufficiently vouch that esteem, and give as true and certain only what is so in fact; and that I do not wish to impose on my reader, by relating many things which I myself regard as false, or as doubtful, or even as fabulous. But that ought to be prejudicial to the dogma of the immortality of the soul, and to that of another life, not to the truth of certain apparitions related in Scripture, or proved elsewhere by good testimony.

The first edition of this work having been printed in my absence, and upon an incorrect copy, several misprints have occurred, and even expressions and phrases displeasing and interrupted. I have tried to remedy this in a second edition, and to cast light on those passages which they noticed as demanding explanation, and correcting what might offend scrupulous readers, and prevent the bad consequences which might be derived from what I had said. I have even done more in this third edition. I have retrenched several passages; others I have suppressed; I have profited by the advice which has been given me; and I have replied to the objections which have been made.

People have complained that I took no part, and did not come to a decision on several difficulties which I propose, and that I leave my reader in uncertainty.

I make but little defense against this reproach; I should require more justification if I decided without a perfect knowledge of causes, for one side of the question, at the risk of embracing an error, and of falling into a still greater impropriety. There is wisdom in suspending one's judgment till we have succeeded in finding the very truth.

I have also been told, that certain persons have made a joke of some facts which I have related. If I have related them as certain, and they afford just cause for pleasantry, let the condemnation pass; but if I cited them as fabulous and false, they present no subject for pleasantry; Falsum non est de ratione faceti.

There are certain persons who delight in jesting on the most serious things, and who spare nothing, either sacred or profane. The histories of the Old and New Testament, the most sacred ceremonies of our religion, the lives of the most respectable saints, are not safe from their dull, tasteless pleasantry.

I have been reproached for having related several false histories, several doubtful facts, and several fabulous events. This is true; but I give them for what they are. I have declared several times, that I did not vouch for their truth, that I repeated them to show how false and ridiculous they were, and to deprive them of the credit they might have with the people; and if I had gone at length into their refutation, I thought it right to let my reader have the pleasure of refuting them, supposing him to possess enough good sense and self-sufficiency, to form his own judgment upon them, and feel the same contempt for such stories that I do myself. It is doing too much honor to certain things to refute them seriously.

But another objection, and a much more serious one, is said to be, what I say of the illusions of the demon, leading some persons to doubt of the truth of the apparitions related in Scripture, as well as of the others suspected of falsehood.

I answer, that the consequences deduced from principles are not right, except when things are equal, and the subjects and circumstances the same; without that there can be no application of principles. The facts to which my reasoning applies are related by authors of small authority, by ordinary or common-place historians, bearing no character which deserves a belief of anything superhuman. I can, without attacking their person or their merit, advance that they may have been badly informed, prepossessed, and mistaken; that the spirit of seduction may have been of the party; that the senses, the imagination, and superstition, may have made them take that for truth, which was only seeming.

But, in regard to the apparitions related in the Holy Scriptures, they borrow their infallible authority from the sacred and inspired authors who wrote them; they are verified by the events which followed them, by the execution or fulfillment of predictions made many ages preceding; and which could neither be done, nor foreseen, nor performed, either by the human mind, or by the strength of man, not even by the angel of darkness.

I am but little concerned at the opinion passed on myself and my intentions in the publication of this treatise. Some have thought that I did it to destroy the popular and common idea of apparitions, and to make it appear ridiculous; and I acknowledge that those who read this work attentively and without prejudice, will remark in it more arguments for doubting what the people believe on this point, than they will find to favor the contrary opinion. If I have treated this subject seriously, it is only in what regards those facts in which religion and the truth of Scripture is interested; those which are indifferent I have left to the censure of sensible people, and the criticism of the learned and of philosophical minds.

I declare that I consider as true all the apparitions related in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament; without pretending, however, that it is not allowable to explain them, and reduce them to a natural and likely sense, by retrenching what is too marvelous about them, which might rebut enlightened persons. I think on that point I may apply the principle of St. Paul; "the letter killeth, and the Spirit giveth life."

As to the other apparitions and visions related in Christian, Jewish, or heathen authors, I do my best to discern amongst them, and I exhort my readers to do the same; but I blame and disapprove the outrageous criticism of those who deny everything, and make difficulties of everything, in order to distinguish themselves by their pretended strength of mind, and to authorize themselves to deny everything, and to dispute the most certain facts, and in general all that savors of the marvelous, and which appears above the ordinary laws of nature. St. Paul permits us to examine and prove everything: Omnia probate; but he desires us to hold fast that which is good and true: quod bonum est tenete.





Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved