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CHAPTER III


A CASE OF MODERN WITCHCRAFT

THE part played by the ex-witch in occult attack is very marked. Again and again do the investigations of independent psychics point to witchcraft in a previous incarnation when trouble of this sort is afoot. The motive is nearly always vengeance, but there is also good reason to believe that the projection of the astral body takes place involuntarily during sleep, and is not deliberately willed by the offender. Very many people who are at present psychics and sensitives got their training in the covens of medieval witchcraft, and for this reason experienced occultists are very wary of the natural psychic, as distinguished from the initiate with his technique of psychism. Where psychism and mental unbalance are found conjoined with a malevolent disposition, there is strong presumption that the cult of Diabolus is not far to seek.

A curious set of happenings, in which I myself was one of the actors, throws a good deal of light on this by no means uncommon occurrence. It was in the early days of my interest in occultism, when I was still buying nay experience by the expensive but effectual method of running my head into obstacles, I made the acquaintance of a woman who was interested in psychic matters. She was a person of the most extreme sensitiveness to anything unclean or ugly, fastidious to a degree in her personal habits, living almost exclusively on uncooked vegetarian foods, even refusing eggs as too stimulating. Although not an animal lover, she was morbidly humanitarian, reading with gusto those papers which give lurid and detailed descriptions of vivisection experiments. Had I been older and wiser I should have recognised the significance of her ultra-cleanliness and ultra-sensitiveness as marking the ab-reaction of a sadistic temperament - sadism being a pathology of the emotional nature in which the sex instinct takes the form of an impulse to inflict pain. Not having learnt then many things which I now know, I looked upon her characteristics as indicative of an exalted spirituality.

At the time I knew her she was verging on a breakdown which was alleged to be due to overwork, and she was very anxious to get away from cities and back to nature. I was just leaving London to take up my residence at an occult college which was hidden away in the sandy fastnesses of the Hampshire barrens. In the innocence of my heart I suggested that she might come down there and help with the domestic duties. The suggestion was acted upon, and a few days after my own arrival Miss L. joined us. She seemed quite normal, made herself agreeable, and was well liked. One incident, however, in the light of subsequent events, was significant. On getting out of the ancient fly in which she had driven from the station, she immediately went and patted the still more ancient horse that drew it. That beast, usually sunk in an apathy from which he was with difficulty roused when action was required of him, galvanised into life at her touch as if she had stung him. He threw up his head, backed, snorted, and nearly turned the equipage over in the ditch, to the amazement of his jehu, who declared he had never been known to do such a thing before, and viewed our visitor with disfavour.

Miss L., however, appeared quite normal, made herself agreeable, and was given a friendly reception by the humans at any rate.

That night I was awakened by nightmare, a thing to which I am not usually subject. I struggled with a weight on my chest, and even after consciousness had fully returned, the room seemed full of evil. I performed such simple banishing formula as I knew, and peace was restored.

At breakfast next morning an assembly of blear-eyed people met together, complaining of having passed disturbed nights. We compared notes, and found we had all, some six or seven of us, had similar nightmares, and proceeded to exchange experiences. The effect of this upon Miss L. was curious. She squirmed upon her chair as if it had suddenly become red-hot and said with much emphasis:

"These things should not be discussed, it is most unwholesome."

Out of deference to her feelings we desisted. But presently up to the open window came another member of our community, a woman who slept in an open-air shelter at some little distance from the house. We enquired after her health, as usual, and she replied that she was not feeling very well, as she had slept badly, and proceeded to recount the same nightmare as the rest of us. Later on in the morning, another lady, who had a house a little way down the road, arrived, and she in her turn told of a similar nightmare.

These nightmares continued, on and off for the next few days, to afflict different members of the community. They were vague and nebulous, and there was nothing we could pitch upon for diagnostic purposes, and we put it down to indigestion caused by the village baker's version of war bread.

Then one day I had a quarrel with Miss L. She had conceived a "crush" for me; I have a constitutional repulsion for crushes and give them scant politeness, and she complained bitterly of my lack of responsiveness. What ever may be the rights and wrongs of the case, I had roused her resentment in good earnest. That night I was afflicted with the most violent nightmare I have ever had in my life, waking from sleep with the terrible sense of oppression on my chest, as if someone were holding me down, or lying upon me. I saw distinctly the head of Miss L., reduced to the size of an orange, floating in the air at the foot of my bed, and snapping its teeth at me. It was the most malignant thing I have ever seen.

Still not attaching any psychic significance to my experiences, and being firmly convinced that the local baker was responsible, I told no one of my dream, thinking it one of those things that are better kept to oneself; but when the members of the community came to talk matters over in the light of subsequent events, we found that two other people had had similar experiences.

A night or two later, however, as it came to bed-time, I was overcome with a sense of impending evil, as if something dangerous were lurking in the bushes around the house threatening attack. So strong was this sensation that I came down from my room and went all round the house, testing the catches of the windows to make sure that all was secure.

Miss L. heard me, and called out to know what I was doing.

I told her of my feelings.

"You silly child," she said, "it is no use latching the windows, the danger is not outside the house but in it. Go to bed, and be sure and lock your door."

She would give no answer to my questions except to reiterate that I should lock my door. This was the first night I had slept in that house, previously having been in a cottage on the opposite side of the road.

I did not lock my door because the night was intolerably hot and the room and the window small. I compromised, however, by putting an enamel slop-pail at a strategic spot in the fairway, trusting that any intruder would fall over it and give the alarm.

Nothing happened, and I slept quietly.

Next morning, however, the storm broke. Miss L. and I were peacefully at work in the kitchen when she suddenly caught up a carving-knife and started after me, as mad as a March hare. Fortunately for me I had in my hands a large saucepan full of freshly boiled greens, and I used this as a weapon of defence, and we danced round the kitchen table, slopping hot cabbage-water in all directions.

We neither of us made a sound; I fended her off with the hot and sooty saucepan, and she slashed at me with an unpleasantly large carving-knife. At a psychological moment in walked the head of the community. He took in the situation at a glance, and handled it by the tactful method of scolding us both impartially for making so much noise and telling us to get on with our work. Miss L. finished whatever she was doing with the carver, I dished up the cabbage, and the incident passed off quietly.

After lunch Miss L. experienced the reaction from her excitement and went to her room completely prostrated with exhaustion. I was somewhat perturbed. Although used to mental cases, and therefore not as disturbed by the recent fracas as anyone else might have been, I did not relish the prospect of being the housemate of a dangerous lunatic who was under no sort of control. The head of the community, however, said there was no cause for alarm, he would soon have the case in hand. He went up to the bath room, filled a soap-dish with water from the tap, made certain passes over it, and dipping his finger in the water, proceeded to draw a five-pointed star upon the threshold of Miss L.'s room.

Miss L. made no attempt to leave her room until forty-eight hours later when he fetched her out himself.

As he had promised, he soon had her in hand. He had several long talks with her, at which I was not present, and at the end of a few days a very chastened Miss L. began to go about her household duties again. There were relapses, and there were struggles, but in the course of a few weeks she became comparatively normal, and when I met her again some eighteen months later there had been no relapse.

Two curious incidents occurred during the period of her treatment at the hands of this man, an adept if ever there was one. The house in which she had a room was a very old one, and the front door exceedingly massive. It was secured at night by two enormous bolts that extended right across it, a chain that could have moored a barge, and a huge lock with a key the size of a trowel. When the door was opened in the morning it acted as an alarm clock for the entire village. It creaked, it groaned, and it clanged. Yet night after night we came down in the morning to find this door standing ajar. We all slept with our doors open on to the small landing. To go down the ancient, creaking stairs was like walking on organ-stops. The back door was a modern affair, which could have been opened easily. The windows were modern casements of the most gimcrack description. Who opened the heavy front door, and why?

We exchanged recriminations several mornings at break fast as to who had left the door open the night before, but no one could ever be convicted of the blame. Finally the matter came to the knowledge of the head of the group.

"I will soon put a stop to that," he said, and each night he re-sealed Miss L.'s room with the pentagram. We had no more trouble with the front door coming open after that.

While he was dealing with Miss L. he made a practice of sealing the threshold of his own room in the same way, only in this case he drew the pentagram point outwards, to prevent Miss D. from coming in; whereas when he sealed her room, he put its point inwards, to prevent her coming out. She did not know this, nor was it likely to reach her ears indirectly, for he was very uncommunicative, I only knew that he was sealing his room because I chanced to see him doing it.

Nevertheless, one day I heard a knock at my door, and there was Miss L. with her arms full of clean linen. She asked me if I would be good enough to take it into the room of the head of the community, and put it away. I asked her why she did not do so herself, for I knew he was out, and it was her work to put away the linen. She replied that she had been to his room for that purpose, but there was a psychic barrier across the threshold that prevented her entering.

She also asked me, on several occasions, to put inside my frock out of sight a little silver cross that I habitually wore, as she said she could not bear the sight of it. This cross I had purchased just before coming to this occult college, and had taken it to a priest of my acquaintance to be blessed, for I had not been altogether easy in my mind concerning the nature of the group I was joining, and during the early days of my association with it was poised on tiptoe, as it were, ready for instant flight. Naturally I had kept my own council concerning the psychic precautions I had taken against my new friends, and no one was aware that the cross had been specially magnetised against psychic attack. Nevertheless, the woman who would have attacked if she could, felt its influence and feared it.

Auto-suggestion and imagination play so large a part in so-called psychic impressions that one is chary of accepting confirmatory testimony from a psychic who knows what is expected of him, but a spontaneous reaction is in my opinion evidential.

When the treatment of Miss L. had progressed some way towards her final recovery, much interesting information was elicited. She told us that she had distinct memories of dealings with black magic in her previous lives. This, she said, had been confirmed by several independent psychics, and I would certainly have been willing to add my testimony to theirs had I been asked. As a child, she used to day dream that she was a witch, willing the death or misfortune of those who annoyed her, and she also averred, though whether this was true or not I cannot say, that her wishes were so effectual that she was frightened and tried to abandon the practice. She also volunteered that she was in the habit of visualising herself standing before people she was angry with, scolding them, and projecting malignant force at them. This, of course, would explain our nightmares. She also said that she had been in the habit of attacking her mother and sister in this way, and had made her sister very ill, so that they now refused to have her in the house. This statement was later confirmed by the mother.

She told us that she felt as if she were two distinct persons, her normal self being spiritually-minded, intensely compassionate and idealistic. Her other, and lower self, which came to the surface when she was crossed, upset, or over tired, being intensely malicious and subject to paroxysms of hate and cruelty.

These characteristics had been particularly marked when she was little. But as she grew older she recognised the wrongfulness of them, and her lofty idealism represented her endeavour to rise above them. This endeavour was, I am convinced, an honest one; unfortunately it was not always successful.

She referred to the incident in which she told me to lock my door, and said she had done so in the hope of affording me some measure of protection against the astral projection in which she knew she was tempted to indulge.

At first sight her case had looked like one, of obsession, and had been so diagnosed by one or two members of the community, but wise handling revealed otherwise.

This case reveals another interesting point in that, true to the witch-tradition, she had a horror of sacred symbols. She would not occupy a room where there was a picture of a religious subject. Nothing would induce her to wear any piece of jewelry in the form of a cross, and it was impossible for her to enter a church.

This case has many points of interest, especially in the fact that what was apparently a case of well-marked insanity was cleared up by occult methods.

 

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