Nastatia Filipovna becomes a wolf
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Wiiliam Seabrook - Witchcraft
I had known Nastatia Filipovna in the days just after the World War. She was a Russian refugee who had dropped her title, had come to New York, had gone through the usual vicissitudes, then married a Cleveland manufacturer and dropped out of sight. I’d heard nothing from her for a number of years when there came one morning in my local mail, scrawled in an imperious yet childish hand, a note from the St. Regis that said, ‘Take me to eat lobsters. And bring me that Bannister of yours if you can find him.'……..
We told her all we knew about the Yi King [I ching], and of course she wanted to try it. So we invited her down that same night to Bannister's vast apartment studio, hung with crimson curtains and black drapes, stinking with incense, cluttered with Tibetan idols, Hindu Durgas, prayer wheels, gongs, demon masks, and magical gimcracks from every corner of the globe.
What we were doing was in one sense as completely respectable as the Sunday evening table tippings my aunt used to participate in with other credulous members of the Methodist Ladies 'Aid Society. There's no more intrinsic evil in the Yi King than in a ouija board. And we had in the party a thoroughly decent young British vice-consul, Edward Gay, who had spent a lot of time in the Orient and whose interest in these matters was as honest as that of my friends at Columbia. Yet what we were doing now was dangerous, as it turned out.
Nastatia was a neurasthenic hyper imaginative type, already addicted to occult escape mechanisms.
On the night the thing happened, she had been kneeling for a couple of hours, on the floor in the centre of the crimson-draped studio, with her eyes closed, in semidarkness. The three of us sat quietly waiting to see whether the door would open for her or not. She said petulantly, 'My knees hurt. I am getting numb.'
She presently groaned, let her legs slump, and was on her haunches, sitting on her heels, but with her body still upright. Her head sagged, and after another full hour had passed in silence, we wondered whether she had gone to sleep. Then she said:
'The door is moving. The door is opening. But it's opening into the outdoors ! I supposed it would open into another room. It's beautiful out there , . . and yes . . . I'm going.
'Snow... everything's white ... everywhere snow’ she kept murmuring, 'and the moon ... the moon on the white snow ... and black trees over there against the sky. Yes, I'm outside now, I am lying in the snow . . . pressed against the snow .. . I am not cold . .. I am wearing a fur coat. I am lying naked in a fur coat . . . and I am warm in the snow ... flat with my belly and chin on the snow I lie. It is good to lie warm in the snow.. ..'
'Do you get what it's about?' I whispered to Bannister.
'Not the faintest idea' he replied. 'Do you?'
Nastatia was talking again, and quite apart from its trancelike dreaminess her voice sounded puzzled too:
'I am moving now ... but I am not walking. I am crawling on my hands and knees...why am I crawling? ... but I’m not crawling now, I'm running, on my hands and feet lightly ... now! now! now! ... I’m running lightly like the wind . . . how good the snow smells ! I have never smelled the snow before. And there’s another good smell. Ah Ah ! Faster ... faster ... faster...'
She was breathing heavily, panting. Her big handsome mouth was open, drooling. And when she next broke the silence, it was with sounds that were not human.
There were yelps, slavering, panting, and then a deep baying such as only two sorts of animals on earth emit when they are running - hounds and wolves.
'My God !' whispered Bannister. ‘She’s turning into one, there on the floor ! Her face is changing ! See !’
‘You silly ass,' said the Vice-Consul sharply, she always had that face . . . big teeth . . . pointed nose’.
He snapped on the lamp nearest him. No horrid physical miracle was occurring, but it was bad enough and ugly enough, without that. Nastatia had always had a predatory, vulpine face, as many humans have, and now it was horrible. Gay went over to where she crouched, took her by the hand, slapped her smartly on both cheeks and cried,
‘Come out of it, Nastatia! Wake up! It’s all right. Wake up! You’ve been dreaming.'
The girl snarled hideously, her eyes wide open now, and leaped for his throat. She would have torn his throat with her teeth if the long-crouched position had not numbed her so that she lurched and fell heavily. And now, literally on all fours and crawling, she slithered, still snarling, into the dark shadows of the corner. We had the lights on, snared her in big blankets, wrapped her tight as she struggled like a maniac, put ammonia under her nose, and she came out of it.
We helped her to a couch. We brought a towel and a basin. We didn't talk much.
We brought her brandy. In a few minutes she made us find her handbag with powder and make-up. She went into the bathroom. She came out and sank into an armchair and lighted a cigarette, and said,
‘What time is it?'
Presently she yawned, and said, 'I'm hungry.'
It was about two o'clock. She lighted another cigarette. We found a taxi and went over to Siegel's place under the Sixth Avenue L for sandwiches and coffee. A week passed, and then she telephoned that she wanted to try it again.
She remembered what happened - and she liked it !
She told me that as a tiny child, she had seen wolves coursing over moonlit snow in Russia, had thought it beautiful, and wished with all her passionate baby soul to run with them. It was a nice rationalization, but if the thing had happened a few centuries before, in the full flower of inquisitorial superstition ... and had become known ... we might all have been thrown in the bonfire for it.