Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

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Of Avoiding Imprecations

GERVASE of Tilbury relates a very remarkable occurrence, but at the same time full of excellent caution and prudent exhortation.

               During the reign of the Roman emperor Otto, there was, in the bishopric of Girona, in Catalonia, a very high mountain, whose ascent was extremely arduous, and, except in one place, inaccessible. On the summit was an unfathomable lake of black water. Here also stood, as it is reported, a palace of demons, with a large gate, continually closed; but the palace itself, as well as its inhabitants, existed in invisibility. If any one cast a stone or other hard substance into this lake, the demons exhibited their anger by furious storms. In one part of the mountain was perpetual snow and ice, with abundance of crystal. At its foot flowed a river, whose sands were of gold; and the precious metal thus obtained, was denominated, by the vulgar, its cloak. The mountain itself and the parts adjacent, furnished silver; and its inexhaustible fertility was not the least surprising.

               Not far from hence lived a certain farmer, who was much occupied with domestic matters, and troubled exceedingly by the incessant squalling of his little girl; insomuch, that at length wearied out by the torment, in a moment of fretfulness he wished his infant at the devil. This incautious desire was scarcely uttered, ere the girl was seized by an invisible hand, and carried off. Seven years afterwards, a person journeying at the foot of the mountain near the farmer's dwelling, distinguished a man hurrying along at a prodigious rate, and uttering the most doleful complaints. He stopped to inquire the occasion; and was told, that for the space of seven years last passed, he had been committed to the custody of the demons upon that mountain, who daily made use of him as of a chariot, in consequence of an unwary exclamation to that effect. The traveller startled at an assertion so extraordinary, and a little incredulous, was informed that his neighbour had suffered in a similar degree; for that having hastily committed his daughter to their power, they had instantly borne her off. He added, that the demons, weary of instructing the girl, would willingly restore her, provided the father presented himself on the mountain and there received her.

               The auditor, thunder-struck at this communication, doubted whether he should conceal things so incredible, or relate them as he had heard. He determined, at last, to declare the girl's situation to her father; and hastening, accordingly, found him still bewailing the lengthened absence of his daughter. Ascertaining the cause, he went on to state what he had heard from the man whom the devils used as a chariot. "Therefore," said he, "I recommend you, attesting the divine name, to demand of these devils the restitution of your daughter." Amazed at what was imparted to him, the father deliberated upon the best method of proceeding; and finally, pursued the counsel of the traveller. Ascending the mountain, he passed forward to the lake, and adjured the demons to restore the girl whom his folly had committed to them. Suddenly a violent blast swept by him, and a girl of lofty stature stood in his presence. Her eyes were wild and wandering, and her bones and sinews were scarcely covered with skin. Her horrible countenance discovered no sign of sensibility; and, ignorant of all language, she scarcely could be acknowledged for a human being. The father, wondering at her strange appearance, and doubtful whether she should be taken to his own home or not, posted to the bishop of Girona, and with a sorrowful aspect detailed what had befallen him; at the same time requesting his advice. The bishop, as a religious man, and one entrusted with a charge of so much importance, narrated every circumstance respecting the girl to his diocese. He warned them against rashly committing their fortunes to the power of concealed demons; and showed that our adversary the devil, as a raging lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour; that he will slay those who are given to him, and hold them in eternal bonds.

               The man who was used by the devils as a chariot, a long time remained in this miserable situation. But his subsequent faith and discretion emancipated him. He stated that near the above-mentioned place there was an extensive subterranean palace, whose entrance was by a single gate, enveloped in the thickest darkness. Through this portal the devils, who had been on embassies to various parts of the world, returned, and communicated to their fellows what they had done. No one could tell of what the palace was constructed, save themselves, and those who passed under their yoke to eternal damnation. From all which, my beloved, we may gather the dangers we are exposed to, and how cautious we should be of invoking the devil to our assistance, as well as of committing our family to his power. Let us guard our hearts, and beware that he catch not up the sinful soul, and plunge it into the lake of everlasting misery; where there is snow and ice unthawed; crystal, that reflects the awakened and agonized conscience perpetually burning with immortal fire.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Of Avoiding Imprecations
Tale Author/Editor: Morley, Henry
Book Title: Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections]
Book Author/Editor: Morley, Henry
Publisher: George Routledge & Sons
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1884
Country of Origin: Europe
Classification: unclassified

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