[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
St. Augustine remarks that not only the poets, but the historians even, relate that Diomede, of whom the Greeks have made a divinity, had not the happiness to return to his country with the other princes who had been at the siege of Troy; that his companions were changed into birds, and that these birds have their dwelling in the environs of the Temple of Diomede, which is situated near Mount Garganos; that these birds caress the Greeks who come to visit this temple, but fly at and peck the strangers who arrive there.
Varro, the most learned of Romans, to render this more credible, relates what everybody knows about Circé, who changed the companions of Ulysses into beasts; and what is said of the Arcadians, who, after having drawn lots, swam over a certain lake, after which they were metamorphosed into wolves, and ran about in the forests like other wolves. If during the time of their transmutation they did not eat human flesh, at the end of nine years they passed the same lake, and resumed their former shape.
The same Varro relates of a certain Demenotas that, having tasted the flesh of a child which the Arcadians had immolated to their god Lycæa, he had also been changed into a wolf, and ten years after he had resumed his natural form, had appeared at the Olympic games, and won the prize for pugilism.
St. Augustine testifies that in his time many believed that these transformations still took place, and some persons even affirmed that they had experienced them in their own persons. He adds that, when in Italy, he was told that certain women gave cheese to strangers who lodged at their houses, when these strangers were immediately changed into beasts of burden, without losing their reason, and carried the loads which were placed upon them; after which they returned to their former state. He says, moreover, that a certain man, named Præstantius, related that his father, having eaten of this magic cheese, remained lying in bed, without any one being able to awaken him for several days, when he awoke, and said that he had been changed into a horse, and had carried victuals to the army; and the thing was found to be true, although it appeared to him to be only a dream.
St. Augustine, reasoning on all this, says that either these things are false, or else so extraordinary that we cannot give faith to them. It is not to be doubted that God, by his almighty power, can do anything that he thinks proper, but that the devil, who is of a spiritual nature, can do nothing without the permission of God, whose decrees are always just; that the demon can neither change the nature of the spirit, or the body of a man, to transform him into a beast; but that he can only act upon the fancy or imagination of a man, and persuade him that he is what he is not, or that he appears to others different from what he is; or that he remains in a deep sleep, and believes during that slumber that he is bearing loads which the devil carries for him; or that he (the devil) fascinates the eyes of those who believe they see them borne by animals, or by men metamorphosed into animals.
If we consider it only a change arising from fancy or imagination, as it happens in the disorder called lycanthropy, in which a man believes himself changed into a wolf, or into any other animal, as Nebuchadnezzar, who believed himself changed into an ox, and acted for seven years as if he had really been metamorphosed into that animal, there would be nothing in that more marvelous than what we see in hypochondriacs, who persuade themselves that they are kings, generals, popes, and cardinals; that they are snow, glass, pottery, &c. Like him who, being alone at the theatre, believed that he beheld there actors and admirable representations; or the man who imagined that all the vessels which arrived at the port of Pireus, near Athens, belonged to him; or, in short, what we see every day in dreams, and which appear to us very real during our sleep. In all this, it is needless to have recourse to the devil, or to magic, fascination, or illusion; there is nothing above the natural order of things. But that, by means of certain beverages, certain herbs, and certain kinds of food, a person may disturb the imagination, and persuade another that he is a wolf, a horse, or an ass, appears more difficult of explanation, although we are aware that plants, herbs, and medicaments possess great power over the bodies of men, and are capable of deranging the brain, constitution, and imagination. We have but too many examples of such things.
Another circumstance which, if true, deserves much reflection, is that of Apollonius of Tyana, who, being at Ephesus during a great plague which desolated the city, promised the Ephesians to cause the pest to cease the very day on which he was speaking to them, and which was that of his second arrival in their town. He assembled them at the theatre, and ordered them to stone to death a poor old man, covered with rags, who asked alms. "Strike," cried he, "that enemy of the gods! heap stones upon him." They could not make up their minds to do so, for he excited their pity, and asked mercy in the most touching manner. But Apollonius pressed it so much, that at last they slew him, and amassed over him an immense heap of stones. A little while after he told them to take away these stones, and they would see what sort of an animal they had killed. They found only a great dog, and were convinced that this old man was only a phantom who had fascinated their eyes, and caused the pestilence in their town.
We here see five remarkable things:—1st. The demon who causes the plague in Ephesus; 2d. This same demon, who, instead of a dog, causes the appearance of a man; 3d. The fascination of the senses of the Ephesians, who believe that they behold a man instead of a dog; 4th. The proof of the magic of Apollonius, who discovers the cause of this pestilence; 5th. And who makes it cease at the given time.
Æneas Sylvius Picolomini, who was afterwards Pope by the name of Pius II., writes, in his History of Bohemia, that a woman predicted to a soldier of King Wratislaus, that the army of that prince would be cut in pieces by the Duke of Bohemia, and that, if this soldier wished to avoid death, he must kill the first person he should meet on the road, cut off their ears, and put them in his pocket; that with the sword he had used to pierce them he must trace on the ground a cross between his horse's legs; that he must kiss it, and then take flight. All this the young soldier performed. Wratislaus gave battle, lost it, and was killed. The young soldier escaped; but on entering his house, he found that it was his wife whom he had killed and run his sword through, and whose ears he had cut off.
This woman was, then, strangely disguised and metamorphosed, since her husband could not recognize her, and she did not make herself known to him in such perilous circumstances, when her life was in danger. These two were, then, apparently magicians; both she who made the prediction, and the other on whom it was exercised. God permits, on this occasion, three great evils. The first magician counsels the murder of an innocent person; the young man commits it on his own wife without knowing her; and the latter dies in a state of condemnation, since by the secrets of magic she had rendered it impossible to recognize her.
A butcher's wife of the town of Jena, in the duchy of Weimar in Thuringia, having refused to let an old woman have a calf's head for which she offered very little, the old woman went away grumbling and muttering. A little time after this the butcher's wife felt violent pains in her head. As the cause of this malady was unknown to the cleverest physicians, they could find no remedy for it; from time to time a substance like brains came from this woman's left ear, and at first it was supposed to be her own brain. But as she suspected that old woman of having cast a spell upon her on account of the calf's head, they examined the thing more minutely, and they saw that these were calf's brains; and what strengthened this opinion was that splinters of calf's-head bones came out with the brains. This disorder continued some time; at last the butcher's wife was perfectly cured. This happened in 1685. M. Hoffman, who relates this story in his dissertation on the Power of the Demon over Bodies, printed in 1736, says that the woman was perhaps still alive.
One day they brought to St. Macarius the Egyptian, a virtuous woman who had been transformed into a mare by the pernicious arts of a magician. Her husband, and all those who saw her, thought that she really was changed into a mare. This woman remained three days and three nights without tasting any food, proper either for man or horse. They showed her to the priests of the place, who could apply no remedy.
Then they led her to the cell of St. Macarius, to whom God had revealed that she was to come; his disciples wanted to send her back, thinking that it was a mare. They informed the saint of her arrival, and the subject of her journey. "He said to them, You are downright animals yourselves, thinking you see what is not; that woman is not changed, but your eyes are fascinated. At the same time he sprinkled holy water on the woman's head, and all present beheld her in her former state. He gave her something to eat, and sent her away safe and sound with her husband. As he sent her away the saint said to her, Do not keep from church, for this has happened to you for having been five weeks without taking the sacrament of our Lord, or attending divine service."
St. Hilarion, much in the same manner, cured by virtue of holy water a young girl, whom a magician had rendered most violently amorous of a young man. The demon who possessed her cried aloud to St. Hilarion, "You make me endure the most cruel torments, for I cannot come out till the young man who caused me to enter shall unloose me, for I am enchained under the threshold of the door by a band of copper covered with magical characters, and by the tow which envelops it." Then St. Hilarion said to him, "Truly your power is very great, to suffer yourself to be bound by a bit of copper and a little thread;" at the same time, without permitting these things to be taken from under the threshold of the door, he chased away the demon and cured the girl.
In the same place, St. Jerome relates that one Italicus, a citizen of Gaza and a Christian, who brought up horses for the games in the circus, had a pagan antagonist who hindered and held back the horses of Italicus in their course, and gave most extraordinary celerity to his own. Italicus came to St. Hilarion, and told him the subject he had for uneasiness. The saint laughed and said to him, "Would it not be better to give the value of your horses to the poor rather than employ them in such exercises?" "I cannot do as I please," said Italicus; "it is a public employment which I fill, because I cannot help it, and as a Christian I cannot employ malpractices against those used against me." The brothers, who were present, interceded for him; and St. Hilarion gave him the earthen vessel out of which he drank, filled it with water, and told him to sprinkle his horses with it. Italicus not only sprinkled his horses with this water, but likewise his stable and chariot all over; and the next day the horses and chariot of this rival were left far behind his own; which caused the people to shout in the theatre, "Marnas is vanished—Jesus Christ is victorious!" And this victory of Italicus produced the conversion of several persons at Gaza.
Will it be said that this is only the effect of imagination, prepossession, or the trickery of a clever charlatan? How can you persuade fifty people that a woman who is present before their eyes can be changed into a mare, supposing that she has retained her own natural shape? How was it that the soldier mentioned by Æneas Sylvius did not recognize his wife, whom he pierced with his sword, and whose ears he cut off? How did Apollonius of Tyana persuade the Ephesians to kill a man, who really was only a dog? How did he know that this dog, or this man, was the cause of the pestilence which afflicted Ephesus? It is then very credible that the evil spirit often acts on bodies, on the air, the earth, and on animals, and produces effects which appear above the power of man.
It is said that in Lapland they have a school for magic, and that fathers send their children to it, being persuaded that magic is necessary to them, that they may avoid falling into the snares of their enemies, who are themselves great magicians. They make the familiar demons, whose services they command, pass as an inheritance to their children, that they may make use of them to overcome the demons of other families who are adverse to their own. They often make use of a certain kind of drum for their magical operations; for instance, if they wish to know what is passing in a foreign country, one amongst them beats this drum, placing upon it at the part where the image of the sun is represented, a quantity of pewter rings attached together with a chain of the same metal; then they strike the drum with a forked hammer made of bone, so that these rings move; at the same time they sing distinctly a song, called by the Laplanders Jonk; and all those of their nation who are present, men and women, add their own songs, expressing from time to time the name of the place whence they desire to have news.
The Laplander having beaten the drum for some time, places it on his head in a certain manner, and falls down directly motionless on the ground, and without any sign of life. All the men and all the women continue singing, till he revives; if they cease to sing, the man dies, which happens also if any one tries to awaken him by touching his hand or his foot. They even keep the flies from him, which by their humming might awaken him and bring him back to life.
When he is recovered he replies to the questions they ask him concerning the place he has been at. Sometimes he does not awake for four-and-twenty hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, according to the distance he has gone; and in confirmation of what he says, and of the distance he has been, he brings back from the place he has been sent to the token demanded of him, a knife, a ring, shoes, or some other object.
These same Laplanders make use also of this drum to learn the cause of any malady, or to deprive their enemies of their life or their strength. Moreover, amongst them are certain magicians, who keep in a kind of leathern game-bag magic flies, which they let loose from time to time against their enemies or against their cattle, or simply to raise tempests and hurricanes. They have also a sort of dart which they hurl into the air, and which causes the death of any one it falls upon. They have also a sort of little ball called tyre, almost round, which they send in the same way against their enemies to destroy them; and if by ill luck this ball should hit on its way some other person, or some animal, it will inevitably cause its death.
Who can be persuaded that the Laplanders who sell fair winds, raise storms, relate what passes in distant places, where they go, as they say, in the spirit, and bring back things which they have found there—who can persuade themselves that all this is done without the aid of magic? It has been said that in the circumstance of Apollonius of Tyana, they contrived to send away the man all squalid and deformed, and put in his place a dog which was stoned, or else they substituted a dead dog. All which would require a vast deal of preparation, and would be very difficult to execute in sight of all the people: it would, perhaps, be better to deny the fact altogether, which certainly does appear very fabulous, than to have recourse to such explanations.
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