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The Sorcerers

In Ireland we hear but little of the darker powers,[FN#4] and come
across any who have seen them even more rarely, for the imagination of
the people dwells rather upon the fantastic and capricious, and fantasy
and caprice would lose the freedom which is their breath of life, were
they to unite them either with evil or with good. And yet the wise are
of opinion that wherever man is, the dark powers who would feed his
rapacities are there too, no less than the bright beings who store
their honey in the cells of his heart, and the twilight beings who flit
hither and thither, and that they encompass him with a passionate and
melancholy multitude. They hold, too, that he who by long desire or
through accident of birth possesses the power of piercing into their
hidden abode can see them there, those who were once men or women full
of a terrible vehemence, and those who have never lived upon the earth,
moving slowly and with a subtler malice. The dark powers cling about
us, it is said, day and night, like bats upon an old tree; and that we
do not hear more of them is merely because the darker kinds of magic
have been but little practised. I have indeed come across very few
persons in Ireland who try to communicate with evil powers, and the few
I have met keep their purpose and practice wholly hidden from those
among whom they live. They are mainly small clerks and the like, and
meet for the purpose of their art in a room hung with black hangings.
They would not admit me into this room, but finding me not altogether
ignorant of the arcane science, showed gladly elsewhere what they would
do. "Come to us," said their leader, a clerk in a large flour-mill,
"and we will show you spirits who will talk to you face to face, and in
shapes as solid and heavy as our own."

[FN#4] I know better now. We have the dark powers much more than I
thought, but not as much as the Scottish, and yet I think the
imagination of the people does dwell chiefly upon the fantastic and

I had been talking of the power of communicating in states of trance
with the angelical and faery beings,--the children of the day and of
the twilight--and he had been contending that we should only believe
in what we can see and feel when in our ordinary everyday state of
mind. "Yes," I said, "I will come to you," or some such words; "but I
will not permit myself to become entranced, and will therefore know
whether these shapes you talk of are any the more to be touched and
felt by the ordinary senses than are those I talk of." I was not
denying the power of other beings to take upon themselves a clothing of
mortal substance, but only that simple invocations, such as he spoke
of, seemed unlikely to do more than cast the mind into trance, and
thereby bring it into the presence of the powers of day, twilight, and

"But," he said, "we have seen them move the furniture hither and
thither, and they go at our bidding, and help or harm people who know
nothing of them." I am not giving the exact words, but as accurately as
I can the substance of our talk.

On the night arranged I turned up about eight, and found the leader
sitting alone in almost total darkness in a small back room. He was
dressed in a black gown, like an inquisitor's dress in an old drawing,
that left nothing of him visible: except his eyes, which peered out
through two small round holes. Upon the table in front of him was a
brass dish of burning herbs, a large bowl, a skull covered with painted
symbols, two crossed daggers, and certain implements shaped like quern
stones, which were used to control the elemental powers in some fashion
I did not discover. I also put on a black gown, and remember that it
did not fit perfectly, and that it interfered with my movements
considerably. The sorcerer then took a black cock out of a basket, and
cut its throat with one of the daggers, letting the blood fall into the
large bowl. He opened a book and began an invocation, which was
certainly not English, and had a deep guttural sound. Before he had
finished, another of the sorcerers, a man of about twenty-five, came
in, and having put on a black gown also, seated himself at my left
band. I had the invoker directly in front of me, and soon began to find
his eyes, which glittered through the small holes in his hood,
affecting me in a curious way. I struggled hard against their
influence, and my head began to ache. The invocation continued, and
nothing happened for the first few minutes. Then the invoker got up and
extinguished the light in the hall, so that no glimmer might come
through the slit under the door. There was now no light except from the
herbs on the brass dish, and no sound except from the deep guttural
murmur of the invocation.

Presently the man at my left swayed himself about, and cried out, "O
god! O god!" I asked him what ailed him, but he did not know he had
spoken. A moment after he said he could see a great serpent moving
about the room, and became considerably excited. I saw nothing with any
definite shape, but thought that black clouds were forming about me. I
felt I must fall into a trance if I did not struggle against it, and
that the influence which was causing this trance was out of harmony
with itself, in other words, evil. After a struggle I got rid of the
black clouds, and was able to observe with my ordinary senses again.
The two sorcerers now began to see black and white columns moving about
the room, and finally a man in a monk's habit, and they became greatly
puzzled because I did not see these things also, for to them they were
as solid as the table before them. The invoker appeared to be gradually
increasing in power, and I began to feel as if a tide of darkness was
pouring from him and concentrating itself about me; and now too I
noticed that the man on my left hand had passed into a death-like
trance. With a last great effort I drove off the black clouds; but
feeling them to be the only shapes I should see without passing into a
trance, and having no great love for them, I asked for lights, and
after the needful exorcism returned to the ordinary world.

I said to the more powerful of the two sorcerers--"What would happen
if one of your spirits had overpowered me?" "You would go out of this
room," he answered, "with his character added to your own." I asked
about the origin of his sorcery, but got little of importance, except
that he had learned it from his father. He would not tell me more, for
he had, it appeared, taken a vow of secrecy.

For some days I could not get over the feeling of having a number of
deformed and grotesque figures lingering about me. The Bright Powers
are always beautiful and desirable, and the Dim Powers are now
beautiful, now quaintly grotesque, but the Dark Powers express their
unbalanced natures in shapes of ugliness and horror.

William Butler Yeats