The Inner Life, Part 3, from Volume VII, The Works of Whittier: the Conflict with Slavery, Politics and Reform, the Inner Life and Criticism

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THE INNER LIFE

THE AGENCY OF EVIL.

From the Supernaturalism of New England, in the Democratic Review for 1843.

IN this life of ours, so full of mystery, so hung about with wonders, so written over with dark riddles, where even the lights held by prophets and inspired ones only serve to disclose the solemn portals of a future state of being, leaving all beyond in shadow, perhaps the darkest and most difficult problem which presents itself is that of the origin of evil,—the source whence flow the black and bitter waters of sin and suffering and discord,—the wrong which all men see in others and feel in themselves,—the unmistakable facts of human depravity and misery. A superficial philosophy may attempt to refer all these dark phenomena of man's existence to his own passions, circumstances, and will; but the thoughtful observer cannot rest satisfied with secondary causes. The grossest materialism, at times, reveals something of that latent dread of an invisible and spiritual influence which is inseparable from our nature. Like Eliphaz the Temanite, it is conscious of a spirit passing before its face, the form whereof is not discerned.

It is indeed true that our modern divines and theologians, as if to atone for the too easy credulity of their order formerly, have unceremoniously consigned the old beliefs of Satanic agency, demoniacal possession, and witchcraft, to Milton's receptacle of exploded follies and detected impostures,

              "Over the backside of the world far off,
               Into a limbo broad and large, and called
               The paradise of fools,"—

that indeed, out of their peculiar province, and apart from the routine of their vocation, they have become the most thorough sceptics and unbelievers among us. Yet it must be owned that, if they have not the marvellous themselves, they are the cause of it in others. In certain states of mind, the very sight of a clergyman in his sombre professional garb is sufficient to awaken all the wonderful within us. Imagination goes wandering back to the subtle priesthood of mysterious Egypt. We think of Jannes and Jambres; of the Persian magi; dim oak groves, with Druid altars, and priests, and victims, rise before us. For what is the priest even of our New England but a living testimony to the truth of the supernatural and the reality of the unseen,—a man of mystery, walking in the shadow of the ideal world,—by profession an expounder of spiritual wonders? Laugh he may at the old tales of astrology and witchcraft and demoniacal possession; but does he not believe and bear testimony to his faith in the reality of that dark essence which Scripture more than hints at, which has modified more or less all the religious systems and speculations of the heathen world,—the Ahriman of the Parsee, the Typhon of the Egyptian, the Pluto of the Roman mythology, the Devil of Jew, Christian, and Mussulman, the Machinito of the Indian,—evil in the universe of goodness, darkness in the light of divine intelligence,—in itself the great and crowning mystery from which by no unnatural process of imagination may be deduced everything which our forefathers believed of the spiritual world and supernatural agency?...