Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Of all those who boast of having leagues with the devil, to the possessed alone it is of no use to reply. If a man says to you, “I am possessed,” you should believe it on his word. They are not obliged to do very extraordinary things; and when they do them, it is more than can fairly be demanded. What can we answer to a man who rolls his eyes, twists his mouth, and tells you that he has the devil within him? Everyone feels what he feels; and as the world was formerly full of possessed persons, we may still meet with them. If they take measures to conquer the world, we give them property and they become more moderate; but for a poor demoniac, who is content with a few convulsions, and does no harm to anyone, it is not right to make him injurious. If you dispute with him, you will infallibly have the worst of it. He will tell you, “The devil entered me to-day under such a form; from that time I have had a supernatural colic, which all the apothecaries in the world cannot assuage.” There is certainly no other plan to be taken with this man, than to exorcise or abandon him to the devil.

It is a great pity that there are no longer possessed magicians or astrologers. We can conceive the cause of all these mysteries. A hundred years ago all the nobility lived in their castles; the winter evenings are long, and they would have died of ennui without these noble amusements. There was scarcely a castle which a fairy did not visit on certain marked days, like the fairy Melusina at the castle of Lusignan. The great hunter, a tall black man, hunted with a pack of black dogs in the forest of Fontainebleau. The devil twisted Marshal Fabert’s neck. Every village had its sorcerer or sorceress; every prince had his astrologer; all the ladies had their fortunes told; the possessed ran about the fields; it was who had seen the devil or could see him; all these things were inexhaustible subjects of conversation which kept minds in exercise. In the present day we insipidly play at cards, and we have lost by being undeceived.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01