Who could have imagined that the same Karloff whose mere visage once caused people to faint back in 1931 would find himself in 1967 getting his butt kicked by an old woman? A pretty mean old woman to be sure, but still.
Not to fret, though, the Uncanny one knew exactly what he was doing. You see, even though the scenery of The Sorcerers is full of bohemian backstreets, mod miniskirts, and swinging songstresses, the movie still plays like a classic thirties thriller with Karloff, as usual, providing the humanity. His Professor Montserrat has good intentions, hoping his discovery will allow the disabled to experience life through the minds of others. It’s just that his wife really wants to experience a new fur coat. And then a motorcycle ride. And then to kill. Kill. KILL! (You know, you would think since the couple are both roughly the age of Methuselah that Boris might have realized his wife was a sociopath BEFORE allowing her to sit in the driver’s seat of someone else’s brain.)
Maybe it’s things like this which caused the Church to take such a dim view of hypnotists over the decades. The old 1941 Baltimore Catechism, noted that “Another practice very dangerous to faith and morals is the use of mesmerism or hypnotism, because it is liable to sinful abuses, for it deprives a person for a time of the control of his reason and will and places his body and mind entirely in the power of another.” But the Church always recognizes advances in medicine, so by the the 1968 edition of the Jone-Adelman Moral Theology (once the indispensable “how to” book for priests) we find that the restrictions on hypnotism had eased up, albeit still with a pants load of qualifiers. “Hypnotism is not a sin against the worship due to God as long as it is not associated with superstitious intention or a pantheistic philosophy of life. It is often forbidden by reason of its being dangerous to health and morals. Hence, for the lawfulness of hypnotic practices these conditions must be verified: a serious reason must be had (e.g., to cure certain ills), other unobjectionable means must not be available; furthermore, a thoroughly skilled and morally reliable hypnotist must conduct the hypnotizing; if possible it ought to be done in the presence of witnesses, and finally, none of the participants may have superstitious intentions,… patients with the use of reason must consent to such treatments.”
Given all that, it’s better, whenever possible, to go the route of the ‘sinful woman’ in this week’s reading from Luke who surrenders herself completely to the Lord in order to cure her ills. As St. Gregory The Great explains, once she offered her will to God, all the profane uses of her body were turned to good as well. “For her eyes which once coveted after earthly things, she was now wearing out with penitential weeping. She once displayed her hair for the setting off of her face, she now wiped her tears with her hair… She once uttered proud things with her mouth, but kissing the feet of the Lord, she impressed her lips on the footsteps of her Redeemer. She once used ointment for the perfume of her body; what she had unworthily applied to herself, she now laudably offered to God… As many enjoyments as she had in herself, so many offerings did she devise out of herself. She converts the number of her faults into the same number of virtues, that as much of her might wholly serve God in her penitence, as had despised God in her sin.”
Okay, so chances are that type of surrender isn’t always going to be as graceful as the scene St. Gregory paints, but you have to admit it sure sounds preferable to getting strapped in a chair while a guy who looks a lot like Frankenstein’s monster shines a light in your face and tells you everything is going to be okay.
(And, yes, I completely threw my 500 word limit out the window. I just didn’t have the heart to shortcut St. Gregory. But since the average reading rate is between 200 - 250 words per minute, I still only killed about 3 minutes of your time.)