Professor Pierre Janet's patient Achille
Type of Spiritual Experience
Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge. Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.
A description of the experience
The Mind Possessed - Dr William Sargant
Achille was one of Pierre Janet's famous patients in France at the end of the last century.
Achille is a French peasant of bad family history, his mother, in particular and her family having been given to drunkenness.
Achille himself in his youth was feeble, delicate, and timid, but not markedly abnormal. He married at twenty-two, and all went well until one day in his thirty-third year, after returning home from a short absence, he became afflicted with extreme taciturnity, and in the end completely dumb.
He was examined by various physicians, who successively diagnosed his ailment, one as diabetes, another as angina pectoris. Achille's voice now returned, he manifested symptoms appropriate in turn to either malady, and incessantly bewailed his sufferings.
In the final Stage, he fell into a complete lethargy, and remained motionless for two days. At the end of that period he awoke and burst into a fit of Satanic laughter, which presently changed into frightful shrieks and complaints that he was tortured by demons. This state lasted for many weeks. He would pour forth blasphemies and obscenities; and immediately afterwards lament and shudder at the terrible words which the demon had uttered through his mouth.
He drank laudanum and other poisons, but did not die; he even tied his feet together, and threw himself into the water, ultimately coming safe to land. In each case he ascribed his deliverance to the fact that his body was doomed to be for ever the abode of the damned. He would describe the evil spirit which tormented him, their diabolic grimaces, and the horns which adorned their heads.
Ultimately he came under Professor Janet's charge, and the latter satisfied himself that the unhappy man had all the signs of genuine possession as described by mediaeval chroniclers; that his blasphemies were involuntary, and many of his actions unconsciously performed. Janet even made the devil write at his bidding in French not too correctly spelt - poor Achille the while not knowing anything of the matter; and further established the fact that during the convulsive movements of the upper part of the body, Achille's arms were insensible to pricking and pinching – an old-time proof of demoniacal possession.
In the end this most guileful of modern exorcists (Janet) persuaded the devil, as a proof of his power over the unhappy man, to send poor Achille to sleep; and in that suggested sleep Professor Janet interrogated the demoniac, and learnt the secret of his malady. He had been acting out for all these months the course of a most unhappy dream. During the short absence which preceded his attack he had been unfaithful to his wife. Possessed with a morbid terror of betraying his fault, he had become dumb.
The physicians who had been called in had unwittingly suggested, by their questions, the symptoms of one or two fatal maladies, and his morbid dream-self had promptly seized upon the hints, and realized them with a surprising fidelity.
In the slow development of his uneasy dream the time came for the man to die; and after death there remained for such a sinner as he nothing but damnation. The lesser devils struck nails into his flesh, and Satan himself, squeezing through the holes so made, entered on an ambiguous co-tenancy of the tortured body. It is pleasant to record that the skilful exorcist was able to dispel the evil dream, and restore the sufferer to his right mind.