VIII. BLACK MAGIC
AT this moment I heard again the sound of the invisible silver bell in the air, and the Adept, rising, said that he was called away for a few minutes, and invited me to remain until he should return. He left the laboratory, and I remained alone. I amused myself by looking over the book containing the Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians, and my attention was attracted by the sign of a Pentagram turned upside down, so that the two points of the lower triangles pointed upwards. Suddenly a voice sounding behind my chair said: “In this symbol is contained eternity and time, god and man, angel and devil, heaven and hell, the old and the new Jerusalem with all its inhabitants and creatures.”
I turned, and I saw by my side a man with an extremely intelligent face, dressed in the habit of a monk. He excused himself for causing an interruption in my thoughts, and said that I seemed so deeply engaged in meditating over those figures that I had not observed his entrance.
The open countenance, the pleasant looks, and the intelligent expression of the face of my visitor at once gained my confidence; and I asked him who he was with whom I had the honour to speak.
“I am,” said the stranger, “the Famulus, or, as you well may call it, the Chela, of Theodorus. They call me jocularly his intellectual principle, because I have to do his work when the old gentleman is asleep.”
I found his remark very funny, and answered in a jocular way: “If you are called his intellectual principle, you are perhaps only a creation of his thought. I have seen so many strange things in this place, that I would not be surprised at anything, not even if you were to vanish before my eyes or turn into a snake or a devil.”
To this the apparition replied: “As far as our external appearance is concerned, we are all forms produced by thought, and it is the privilege of men of a higher order to assume whatever form they find convenient for their purpose. Thus it may sometimes happen that the very devil appears in the shape of a saint for the purpose of deluding some gullible fool, and I know of cases where some jolly spirits of nature have assumed the shapes of Christ and the apostles for the purpose of amusing themselves by misleading some ignoramus. They usually succeed in such cases; but I am neither a devil nor an elemental spirit, and you are neither an ignoramus nor a fool.”
I found myself highly flattered by the favourable opinion expressed by my visitor, and I did not wish to appear suspicious and thus to weaken his faith regarding my power of judging the character of a person at first sight. Moreover, he had such a look of benevolence that I did not wish to distrust him. I therefore made him my bow, and said: “I have not the least doubt about your honourable intentions, and am quite sure that you are a reliable guide.”
“One cannot be careful enough in selecting one’s guides,” continued the stranger. “There are at present so many false prophets and guides. All the world is at present crazy for poking their noses into the mysteries of the astral world. Everybody wants to be taught witchcraft and sorcery. Secrets, which for thousands of years have been wisely kept hidden before the eyes of the unripe and profane, are now bawled out from the housetops and sold at the market-place as objects of trade. Hundreds of self-appointed “masters” and guides speculate upon the selfishness and ambitions of their disciples, and, the blind leading the blind, they both come to grief. If only all the seekers for truth were like you, they would not be deluded by false promises held out to them for attaining adeptship.”
“I am really glad,” I answered, “that you have discovered my purity and unselfishness of purpose, and I hope that, in consideration of my merits, you will be kind enough to show me some more of your occult secrets. Theodorus has already been preaching long sermons to me, and I listened to him with great patience; but now I want to see something substantial, and if possible learn how to perform some occult feats.”
“Most willingly,” said my companion. “I will do all I can for you, because you deserve by your unselfishness the patronage of all the Adepts.”
So saying, he began to show me some of the curiosities of the laboratory, which contained many strange things. Of some of those I had read in books on alchemy; others were entirely new to me. At last we came to a closed shrine, and my curiosity led me to ask what it contained.
“Oh!” answered the monk, “this shrine contains some powders for fumigations, by the aid of which a man may see the Elemental Spirits of Nature.”
“Indeed!” I exclaimed. “Oh, how I should like to see these lovely spirits! I have read a great deal about them in the books of Paracelsus; but I never had an opportunity of seeing them.”
“They are not all of them lovely,” said the monk. “The Elementals of earth have human forms. They are small, but they have the power to elongate their bodies. These gnomes and pigmies are usually ill-humoured and cross; and it is just as well to leave them alone, although sometimes they become very good friends of man, and may even show him hidden treasures and mines. The Elementals of air, the sylvans, are of a more agreeable nature; still we cannot rely upon their friendship. The salamanders, living in the element of fire, are ugly customers, and it is better to have nothing to do with them. But the nymphs and undines are lovely creatures, and they often associate with man.”
“I wish I could see those beautiful water-sprites,” I said; “but I am inclined to believe that they belong to the realm of the fable. For many years, accounts given by seafaring men spoke of mermen and mermaids, which they insisted on having seen at a distance. They said that those people were like human beings, of whom the upper part resembled a man or a woman, while the lower part of their body was a fish. They told great stories about their beauty, their waving hair, and how finely they could sing; and they called them sirens, because it was said they could sing so well that men who heard their voices would become oblivious of everything else but their songs. At last, such a siren was caught; and it proved to be nothing else than a curious fish of the species called Halicore catacca, which at a distance may be mistaken for a man, on account of its colour, and which barks somewhat like a dog. Perhaps those undines and nymphs are also nothing but fishes.”
“This is a most erroneous opinion, my dear sir,” answered the monk. “The halicore is a fish; but the nymphs and undines are Elemental spirits of nature, living in the element of water, being, under ordinary circumstances, invisible to man, and not being able therefore to be caught in this manner. ‘They are almost like human beings, but far more ethereal and beautiful; and under certain circumstances they may be seen by man. They may even attain a permanent material form and remain on land; and a case is even known in which a certain Count Stauffenberg married such a nymph on account of her beauty and lived with her for more than a year, until some stupid theologian frightened him by telling him that his wife was a devil. The count at that time had fallen in love with some good-looking peasant-girl, and so the interference of the preacher was welcome, and he took this as a pretext to drive his true wife away. But she revenged herself; and on the third day after his second marriage the count was found dead in his bed. These nymphs are very beautiful. They are strong in love, and are constant; but they are also said to be very jealous.”
The more the monk spoke about the water-nymphs, the stronger grew my desire to see them. I asked him to put me in communication with those beautiful spirits; but he made all sorts of excuses, which, however, only served still more strongly to excite my curiosity.
“We are living here in this sinful world, and ought not to meddle with the inhabitants of another. We are all sinners and liable to succumb to temptations. These water-nymphs are continually seeking to be united with men, and they have good reason for it, because they have no immortal souls. Becoming united with man they form a link with his soul, and thus partake of his immortality.”
“Why, then,” I exclaimed, “do you hesitate to conjure these beings? I would only be too happy to convey the gift of immortality to one of these beautiful spirits. Moreover, I would consider this as an act of charity and duty, and if such a nymph should insist upon marrying me, I can see no reason why I should object if she were amiable. Besides, it would be quite an extraordinary thing to have a water-nymph for a wife.”
“They are not only very amiable,” said the monk, “but they are also very obedient to their husbands. Such a water-nymph has no will of her own; she regards her husband as her saviour and god, never contradicts or scolds him, but is always ready to obey his commands, fulfil his wishes, and gratify his desires. She is very modest in her demands, needs no luxuries, and requires nothing except occasionally a short excursion to the seashore, which will cause you no expense whatever, because she has her own method of travelling.”
I could restrain myself no longer, and earnestly begged the monk to make a fumigation with the mysterious powder. At last he consented. Putting a few pieces of dry maple tree bark and some dried leaves of laurel into a brazier, he added pieces of charcoal and lighted them. He then strewed some of the mysterious powder, and a white smoke arose, filling the room like a mist and with a very sweet odour. The objects in the laboratory could soon be seen only dimly through that mist, and finally disappeared altogether. The walls of the chamber were no more to be seen. The air seemed to take on a vibratory motion and to become more dense; but, far from feeling oppressed by this, I felt a great exhilaration and satisfaction. At last I knew I was in the element of water, and was supported by it. I was swimming, but my body was as light as a feather, and it required no effort whatever to keep me from sinking; it seemed as if the water was my own element, as if I were born in it. A light shone directly above my head. I rose up to the surface and looked around. I was in the midst of the ocean, dancing up and down with the waves. It was a bright moonlight night. Right above me stood the full moon and threw her silvery rays upon the water, causing the ripples and the foamy crests on the tops of the waves to sparkle like liquid silver or diamonds. Far in the distance appeared the coast with a mountain range, which seemed familiar to me. At last I recognised it as the coast of the island of Ceylon, with the range of mountains beyond Colombo and Galle; surely I could not mistake, for I recognised the Adam’s Peak.
Never shall I forget the agreeable sensation caused by that ethereal bath in the moonlit sea in the Indian Ocean. It seemed to me that at last my wish had been fulfilled, and that I was free of my mortal body and its weight; and yet I was myself. I could see no difference between the body I inhabited now and the one I inhabited before the fumigation was made, only my present body was so light that it seemed as if it would float in the air as easily as it did upon the water.
Listen! some faint sound is brought by the breeze; it seems to be a human voice. It comes nearer, and now I hear it plainly; it is the melodious song of a female voice. I look in the direction from which the sound seems to come, and I see three forms floating upon the waves, rising and sinking and coming nearer. They seem to play with each other, and as they approach I behold three beautiful females with long, waving hair; but the one in the middle surpasses the others in beauty. She seems to be the queen, for she wears a wreath of water-plants upon her head. Still nearer they come. Now they see me and stop. They consult together, but curiosity conquers their fear. They come quite close and speak to me. Their voices are full and melodious; their language is foreign to me, and yet I understand what they say. Having discovered that I am a mortal, they appear as anxious to cultivate my acquaintance as I am anxious to be on friendly terms with them.
They invite me to go with them to their home; they speak of their palace constructed of beautiful shells among the coral-reefs in the depths of the ocean; of the milk-white pearls with which they have ornamented the walls; of the azure blue of the waves shining through the transparent walls of their houses; and the curious things which no mortal had ever seen. I object, and tell them that I am mortal and that I could not live in their own element; but the beautiful queen, rising out of the water up to her waist, smiles and shakes her charming head, and fluid diamonds seem to stream from her waving locks. “Come,” she whispers; “no harm will befall you, for my love shall protect you.” She extends her beautifully shaped arms towards me and touches my shoulder, and at her touch my consciousness fades away. A voluptuous sensation pervades my whole being. I feel that I am dissolving in the element of water; I only dimly hear the distant thunder of the breakers as they roll upon the sandy beach. I feel that my desire has been fulfilled–a moment, and I know nothing more.