Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/461

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
445
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

The especial point to be noted is that from the miracle-play of the present day Satan and his works have disappeared. The writer of this article was unable to detect, in a representation of the passion-play at Ober-Ammergau, in 1881, the slightest reference to diabolic interference with the course of events as represented from the Old Testament, or from the New, in a series of tableaux lasting, with a slight intermission, from nine in the morning until after four in the afternoon. With the most thorough exhibition of minute events relating the life of Christ, and at times with hundreds of figures on the stage, there was not a person or a word which recalled that main feature in the mediæval Church plays. The writer also made a full collection of photographs of tableaux, of engravings of music, and of works bearing upon these representations for twenty years before, and in none of these was there an apparent survival of the old belief. This would certainly seem to indicate that even the child-like faith of the Tyrolese has arrived at a point, under modern influences, which would make a representation of Satan and his minions incongruous; and that, while they believe that they believe, diabolism as a belief to be openly professed has become a thing to provoke derision.[1]

Not only the popular art, but all the popular legends embodied these ideas. The stories of the chroniclers are full of them; the "Lives of the Saints" abound in them; sermons enforced them from every pulpit. What wonder, then, that soon men and women had vivid dreams of Satanic influence, that dread of "possession" was like dread of the plague, and that this terror spread the disease enormously, until we hear of convents, villages, and even large districts ravaged by epidemics of diabolical possession![2]

And this terror naturally bred not only active cruelty toward those supposed to be possessed, but cold indifference to the sufferings of those acknowledged to be lunatics. As we have already seen, while ample and beautiful provision was made for every other form of human suffering, for this there was comparatively little; and, indeed, what provision was made was generally worse than none. Of this indifference and cruelty we have a striking monument in a single English word—a word originally significant


    sum of money paid for keeping a fire burning in hell's mouth. Says Hase (as above, p. 42): "In wonderful satyr-like masquerade, in which neither horns, tail, nor hoofs were ever ... wanting, the devil prosecuted on the stage his business of fetching souls," which left the mouths of the dying "in the form of small images."

  1. Speaking of the part played by Satan at Ober-Ammergau, Hase says: "Formerly, seated on his infernal throne, surrounded by his hosts with Sin and Death, he opened the play, ... and ... retained throughout a considerable part; but he has been surrendered to the progress of that enlightenment which even the Bavarian highlands have not been able to escape" (p. 80).
  2. I shall discuss these epidemics of possession, which form a somewhat distinct class of phenomena, in the second part of this chapter.