A Cold Touch from the Other Side
A healthy measure of open minded skepticism towards paranormal claims is well warranted, for a number of reasons. Theoretical ones: many such claims appear to be incompatible with current levels of scientific understanding of the workings of the physical world. Empirical ones: with many important exceptions (1) the data presented in support of such claims are all too often insufficiently documented and fail to meet basic criteria of reliability. And the countless examples of deceptions, frauds, hoaxes that have plagued this area more than any other further strengthen a temptation to dismiss such claims altogether. Which would be a mistake: for 'pearls of great price' are found sometimes in the folds of a humble oyster's mantle.
Reports of paranormal occurrences based solely upon the testimony of the individual who experienced them are bound to be among the weakest in terms of the trust we can place in them. Which is why the following tale is offered to you 'free of charge, no guarantees'... above all, because it is a good story.
It is told by Frenchman Eliphas Levi (1810-1875), one of the most influential occultists of 19th century Europe.
In his “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie”(2), Levi (born Alphonse Louis Constant) recounts that in the spring of 1854 he was living in London, immersed in esoteric studies.
One day, he received an envelope containing a calling card, halved. Printed on it was a pentagram, the seal of Solomon, which gives the power to command spirits. A short message invited him to stand outside Westminster Abbey the next day at precisely three o'clock in the afternoon.
Intrigued, Levi complied with the request. A coach was awaiting him there; he climbed aboard and found himself in the presence of a lady in black who showed him the matching half of the calling card he had received. As the carriage departed, she lifted a veil, revealing a pale face animated by uncanny, piercing eyes. The lady declared that, subject to a vow of secrecy, she was eager to grant him access to a laboratory equipped with all manners of magical implements, in the hope he could evoke the specter of Apollonius of Tyana: a Pythagorean philosopher, clairvoyant, and sage (c.15 – c.100 AD) endowed by tradition with the power to perform miracles, exorcise demons, and raise the dead.
Levi consented. He prepared himself for 21 days following the regimen outlined in the Rituel, which prescribed fasting and arcane forms of meditation. On July 24 everything was ready. The woman, versed in magical lore, had intended to participate in the evocation; but courage in the end deserted her, and Levi was left alone.
The laboratory was located in a tower in the lady’s mansion. Its walls were lined with concave mirrors and at its center rose an altar, on whose marble top, engraved with the pentagram, rested a chain of magnetized iron and a copper brazier filled with charcoal. Levi wore a long white surplice, his head adorned by a crown of vervain leaves entwined with a gold chain. In one hand he held a consecrated sword, in the other a book of mysteries.
After kindling a fire, Levi began the evocation: softly at first, and then ever more forcefully. The firelight lent the whole scene a dreamlike quality. After a while, he felt a tremor originating from the floor. His heart aflutter, his ears buzzing, he perceived in the dimming light a humanoid figure which slowly faded away. He resumed his evocation now standing in the center of a magic circle drawn on the stone floor. One of the mirrors reflected the image of a whitish shape forming behind the altar which began to move toward him. Closing his eyes, he enunciated three times the name of Apollonius. When he opened them he saw before him the figure of a man completely enveloped in a gray shroud; his face, thin and beardless, wore a mournful expression.
Eliphas was seized by fear and trembling, and when he tried to continue the evocation he found it impossible to speak. He pointed the tip of the sword at the apparition, mentally ordering it to obey him and to desist from any intimidation. The spectral image dissolved once again. Levi ordered it to reappear, and he found it now close to him. Suddenly, he felt touched on the arm that held the sword. The limb stiffened immediately. Intuiting that the presence demanded the removal of the sword, the magician withdrew it within the circle.
Though the apparition never addressed him, he heard an inner voice which shouted “Dead!” when he presented the lady’s question, which concerned a man whose whereabouts she wanted to know. Eliphas also obtained the answer to two important kabalistic secrets, which he chose not to disclose.
His arm remained stiff and sore for several days afterwards. The psychological impact of the evocation marked him more deeply. He felt he had lost much of his self-assurance. Acquaintances commented that Levi was severely traumatized by the experience, which he never again underwent.
And so the story ends. The decision as to what to make of it is all yours.
1. Quester, J.P. (2018). On the Evidence About Life After Death. https://exemplore.com/paranormal/On-the-Evidence-About-Life-After-Death.
2. Levi, E. (1854-1856/2011). Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. Vol I and II. Cambridge University Press.
© 2016 John Paul Quester