Monday, June 26, 2017

Arthur Conan Doyle’s witch Helen Penclosa: Part III

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s occult novella The Parasite is a goldmine of supporting material for some of my ideas. It could be used as a teaching aid by people who are interested in informing – and warning - people about some types of unseen influences.

Part I of this series of articles introduced the main characters and outlined the plot; Part II described the effects that Helen Penclosa’s occult practices have on her victims. Part III gives more information about Miss Penclosa and her evil practices.

The source of Helen Penclosa’s powers
Where do Miss Penclosa’s powers come from?

By telling us that Helen Penclosa comes from Trinidad, Conan Doyle suggests that she has been involved with practices such as Voodoo or Obeah. He never states this explicitly, but there can be no other reason for his including this information.

It is a clue; it is a trope of the time; it is similar to saying that she has spent some time in Tibet: readers of the day would infer that she acquired her occult powers in a remote, mysterious and exotic place. It is a cop-out that saves him from trying to explain the inexplicable.

Austin Gilroy thinks that a natural force is at work.

Helen Penclosa could well be a natural witch; her powers could have developed because of her unhappiness, lack of options and inability to obtain what she wants in the normal way.

If the definition of black magic as the illegitimate use of the powers of the subconscious mind for one’s own purposes is accepted, then Miss Penclosa practices black magic.

The exercising of Helen Penclosa’s powers
Helen Penclosa is aware of her powers and uses them deliberately, unlike some of the unconscious witches I have written about.

She goes by the book by asking permission before she hypnotises someone. Agatha Marden says that she would love to be put under the influence!

This is what happens to Miss Pensclosa when Agatha has consented to be hypnotised:

“…there was a change in the woman. She no longer seemed small or insignificant. Twenty years were gone from her age. Her eyes were shining, a tinge of color had come into her sallow cheeks, her whole figure had expanded. So I have seen a dull-eyed, listless lad change in an instant into briskness and life when given a task of which he felt himself master.”

This sounds alarming; it is as if an energy vampire has found a new source of food.

We see Helen Penclosa in action from the outside. Conan Doyle tells us that, just like a stage magician, she asks people to look into her eyes. She lifts her arms and makes passes with her hands, putting the subject into a trance. She whispers hypnotic suggestions to her subjects and awakens them with a sudden, sharp noise. This is all textbook stuff; it is what the readers expect a hypnotist to do.

The warning
Helen Penclosa also goes by the book when she answers Austin Gillroy’s questions about her powers very honestly. She warns him by letting him know exactly what she can do to people who consent to be hypnotised by her. 

For example, it is possible for an operator to gain complete command over his subject— presuming that the latter is a good one. Without any previous suggestion he may make him do whatever he likes."

"Without the subject's knowledge?"

"That depends. If the force were strongly exerted, he would know no more about it than Miss Marden did when she came round and frightened you so. Or, if the influence was less powerful, he might be conscious of what he was doing, but be quite unable to prevent himself from doing it."

"Would he have lost his own will power, then?"

"It would be over-ridden by another stronger one."

"Have you ever exercised this power yourself?"

"Several times."

"Is your own will so strong, then?"

"Well, it does not entirely depend upon that. Many have strong wills which are not detachable from themselves. The thing is to have the gift of projecting it into another person and superseding his own. I find that the power varies with my own strength and health."

"Practically, you send your soul into another person's body."

"Well, you might put it that way."

And after hearing all this – and seeing what she did to Agatha - Gilroy still lets her hypnotise him!

The effect on Helen Penclosa
Miss Penclosa pays a price for exercising her powers.

She tells Gilroy that she becomes lethargic when she is projecting herself into another person and controlling their actions from a distance. There is also a danger of becoming lost:

You have to be careful never to let your own consciousness absolutely go; otherwise, you might experience some difficulty in finding your way back again. You must always preserve the connection, as it were.”

She becomes weak and ill after expending a lot of energy on controlling someone.

She needs time to recover, which is lucky for her victim. Austin Gilroy gets an opportunity to escape from the bad effects of being under the influence; he starts to feel fit and well again.

The tug-of-war game continues; Miss Penclosa recovers some of her strength and compels Gilroy to visit her and pay her the loving attention that she requires. The effort needed to bring him exhausts her, and she loses control. Austin regains his soul – until the next time.

The battle for the balance of power goes on, ending with Helen Penclosa’s death.

Conan Doyle suggests that she dies because she overreaches herself. The effort needed to compel Gilroy to throw acid over Agatha is too much for her. She dies; the psychic hold breaks; he comes to his senses – permanently this time.

Vindictiveness and revenge
Helen Penclosa is a classic, textbook case.

Her way of thinking is, “Give it to me because I want it.” She is vicious and vindictive; she feels entitled to take revenge when people don’t give her what she wants.

After Austin Gilroy says some hurtful – but true – things to her, she visits him to give him a last chance. She makes it look as if he has deliberately raised her hopes:

It was you who asked me to enter into a series of experiments with you, it was you who won my affections, it was you who professed your love for me, it was you who brought me your own photograph with words of affection upon it…”

True, but with the exception of the first – and she may have influenced him there – it was all her own work. Like the Devil, She Made Him Do It:

"If ever you heard me speak of love," said I, "you know very well that it was your voice which spoke, and not mine. The only words of truth which I have ever been able to say to you are those which you heard when last we met."

Cognitive dissonance is strong in this one; it makes her allege that someone has turned him against her.

Disappointment and pathological rage at being thwarted turn her into a Fury. Gilroy has hurt Miss Penclosa terribly and destroyed her hopes for the future, so he must pay for it.

She tells him that he hasn’t seen anything yet.

“…the day will come when you will come screaming to me for pardon. Yes, you will grovel on the ground before me, proud as you are, and you will curse the day that ever you turned me from your best friend into your most bitter enemy. Have a care, Professor Gilroy.”

She keeps her word. She turns his life into a living hell.

She reduces him to the state where he sits on the edge of his bed and cries. This is when he realises that he has been committing crimes, robbing a bank and beating someone up. He has no memory of what he has done, but is forced to accept the evidence all around him and other people’s accusations. He can’t ignore his friend’s bruised and battered face, and his own swollen knuckles.

Miss Penclosa hits him where it hurts most professionally by sabotaging his academic life: she forces him to make a fool of himself when giving his lectures. He is proud of being a professor, so losing his position is devastating.

She hits him where it hurts most personally by trying to make him throw acid in his beloved Agatha’s face.

Who knows what else might have happened in the future if she had not died. And who knows what she had done to other victims in the past.

The world is a better place without people like that.

There is still more to be said about The Parasite.

There are many editions of this book. Here is one that shows Helen Penclosa making her mesmeric passes: