Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

lucinations.

dæmonology of the Middle Ages. The whole world was a scene of dæmoniac adventures, of miracles and wonders. So far from being mere impostures, they relate nothing more Causes of hal- than may be witnessed at any time under similar

conditions. In the brain of man, impressions of whatever he has seen or heard, of whatever has been made manifest to him by his other senses, nay, even the vestiges of his former thoughts, are stored up. These traces are most vivid at first, but, by degrees, they decline in force, though they probably never completely die out. During our waking hours, while we are perpetually receiving new impressions from things that surround us, such vestiges are overpowered, and cannot attract the attention of the mind. But in the period of sleep, when external influences cease, they present themselves to our regard, and the mind submitting to the delusion, groups them into the fantastic forms of dreams. By the use of opium and other drugs which can blunt our sensibility to passing events, these phantasms may be made to emerge. They also offer themselves in the delirium of fevers and in the hour of death.

It is immaterial in what manner or by what agency our susceptibility to the impressions of surrounding objects is Supernatural benumbed, whether by drugs, or sleep, or disease,

as soon as their force is no greater than that of forms already registered in the brain, those forms will emerge before us, and dreams or apparitions are the result. So liable is the mind to practise deception on itself, that with the utmost difficulty it is aware of the delusion. No man can submit to long-continued and rigorous fasting without becoming the subject of these hallucinations; and the more he enfeebles his

organs of sense, the more vivid is the exhibition, the more profound the deception. An ominous sentence may perhaps be incessantly whispered in his ear; to his fixed and fascinated eye some grotesque or abominable object may perpetually present itself. To the hermit, in the solitude of his cell, there doubtless often did appear, by the uncertain light of his lamp, obscene shadows of diabolical import; doubtless there was many an agony with fiends, many a struggle with monsters, satyrs, and imps, many an earnest, solemn, and manful controversy

appearances.

with Satan himself, who sometimes came as an aged man, sometimes with a countenance of horrible intelligence, and sometimes as a female fearfully beautiful. St. Jerome, who, with the utmost difficulty, had succeeded in extinguishing all carnal desires, ingenuously confesses how sorely he was tried by this last device of the enemy, how nearly the ancient flames were rekindled. As to the reality of these apparitions, why should a hermit be led to suspect that they arose from the natural working of his

own brain ? Men never dream that they are dreaming. To him they were terrible realities; to us they should be the proofs of insanity, not of imposture.

If, in the prison discipline of modern times, it has been found that solitary confinement is a punishment too dreadful for the most hardened convict to bear, and that, if persisted in, it is liable to lead to insanity, how much more quickly must that unfortunate condition have been induced when the trials of religious distress and the physical enfeeblement arising from rigorous fastings and incessant watchings were added ? To the dreadful ennui which precedes that state, one of the ancient monks pathetically alludes when he relates how often he went forth and returned to his cell, and gazed on the sun as if he hastened too slowly to his setting. And yet such fearful solitude is of but brief duration. Even though we flee to the desert we cannot be long alone. Cut off from social converse, the mind of man engenders companions for itself-companions like the gloom from which created by the they have emerged. It was thus that to St. Anthony appeared the Spirit of Fornication, under the form of a lascivious negro boy; it was thus that multitudes of dæmons of horrible aspect cruelly beat him nearly to death, the brave old man defying them to the last, and telling them that he did not wish to be spared one of their blows ; it was thus that in the night, with hideous laughter, they burst into his cell, under the form of lions, serpents, scorpions, asps, lizards, panthers, and wolves, each attacking him in own way; thus that when, in his dire extremity, he lifted his eyes for help, the roof disappeared, and amid beams of light the Saviour looked down; thus it was with the enchanted silver dish that

Delusions

mind.

Satan gave him, which, being touched, vanished in smoke; thus with the gigantic bats and centaurs, and the two lions that helped him to scratch a grave for Paul.

The images that may thus emerge from the brain have been classed by physiologists among the phænomena of inverse vision, or cerebral sight. Elsewhere I have given a detailed investigation of their nature (Human Physiology, chap. xxi.), and, persuaded that they have played a far more important part in human affairs than is commonly supposed, have thus expressed myself: "Men in every part

of the world, even among nations the most abject Important religious re

and barbarous, have an abiding faith not only sults of cere in the existence of a spirit that

animates us, but bral sight.

also in its immortality. Of these there are multitudes who have been shut out from all communion with civilized countries, who have never been enlightened by revelation, and who are mentally incapable of reasoning out for themselves arguments in support of those great truths. Under such circumstances, it is not very likely that the uncertainties of tradition, derived from remote ages, could be any guide to them, for traditions soon disappear except they be connected with the wants of daily life. Can there be, in a philosophical view, anything more interesting than the manner in which these defects have been provided for by implanting in the very organization of every man the means of constantly admonishing him of these facts—of recalling them with an unexpected vividness before even after they have become so faint as almost to die out? Let him be as debased and benighted a savage as he may, shut out from all communion with races whom Providence has placed in happier circumstances, he has still the same organization, and is liable to the same physiological incidents, as ourselves. Like us, he sees in

his visions the fading forms of landscapes which

are perhaps connected with some of his most grateful recollections, and what other conclusion can he possibly derive from these unreal pictures than that they are the foreshadowings of another land beyond that in which his lot is cast. Like us, he is revisited at intervals by the resemblances of those whom he has loved or hated while they were alive, nor can he ever be so brutalized as not to

A future world,

discern in such manifestations suggestions which to him are incontrovertible proofs of the existence and im- Immortality mortality of the soul. Even in the most refined of the soul. social conditions we are never able to shake off the impressions of these occurrences, and are perpetually drawing from them the same conclusions that our uncivilized ancestors did. Our more elevated condition of life in no respect relieves us from the inevitable consequences of our own organization, any more than it relieves us from infirmities and disease. In these respects, all over the globe we are on an equality. Savage or civilized, we carry within us a mechanism intended to present to us mementoes of the most solemn facts with which we can be concerned, and the voice of history tells us that it has ever been true to its design. It wants only moments of repose or sickness, when the influence of external things is diminished, to come into full play, and these are precisely the moments when we are best prepared for the truths it is going to suggest. Such a mechanism is in keeping with the manner in which the course of nature is fulfilled, and bears in its very style the impress of invariability of action. It is no respecter of persons. It neither permits the haughtiest to be free from its monitions, nor leaves the humblest without the consolation of a knowledge of another life. Liable to no mischances, open to no opportunities of being tampered with by the designing or interested, requiring no extraneous human agency for its effect, but always present with each man wherever he may go, it marvellously extracts from vestiges of the impressions of the past overwhelming proofs of the reality of the future, and gathering its power from what would seem to be a most unlikely source, it insensibly leads us, no matter who or where we may be, to a profound belief in the immortal and imperishable, from phantoms that have scarcely made their appearance before they are ready to vanish away.”

From such beginnings the monastic system of Europe arose—that system which presents us with learn- Amelioration ing in the place of ferocious ignorance, with over- of monastiflowing charity to mankind in the place of cism. malignant hatred of society. The portly abbot on his easy going palfrey, his hawk upon his fist, scarce looks like

Its final cor

The modifications of eremitism.

the lineal descendant of the hermit starved into insanity. How wide the interval between the monk of the third and the monk of the thirteenth century-between the caverns of Thebais and majestic monasteries cherishing the relics of ancient learning, the hopes of modern philosophy-between the butler arranging his well-stocked larder, and the jug of cold water and crust of bread. A thousand years had turned starvation into luxury, and alas! if the spoilers of

the Reformation are to be believed, had conruptions. verted visions of loveliness into breathing and blushing realities, who exercised their charms with better effect than of old their phantom sisters had done.

The successive stages to this end may be briefly described. Around the cell of some eremite like Anthony, who fixed his retreat on Mount Colzim, a number of humble imitators gathered, emulous of his austerities and

of his piety. A similar sentiment impels them to observe stated hours of prayer. Necessity for

supporting the body indicates some pursuit of idle industry, the plaiting of mats or making of baskets. So strong is the instinctive tendency of man to association, that even communities of madmen may organize. Hilarion is said to have been the first who established a monastic community. He went into the desert when he was only fifteen years old. Eremitism thus gave birth to Coenobitism, and the evils of solitude were removed. Yet stil} there remained rigorous anchorites who renounced their associated brethren as these had renounced the world, and the monastery was surrounded by their circle of solitary cells -a Laura, it was called. In Egypt, the sandy deserts on each side of the rich valley of the river offered great facilities for such a mode of life: that of Nitria was full of monks, the climate being mild and the wants of man easily

satisfied. It is said that there were at one time

in that country of these religious recluses not fewer than seventy-six thousand males and twenty-seven thousand females. With countless other uncouth forms, under the hot sun of that climate they seemed to be spawned from the mud of the Nile. As soon as from some celebrated hermitage a monastery had formed, the associates submitted to the rules of brotherhood. Their meal, eaten

Number of anchorites.

« AnteriorContinuar »