The Legend of the Mass of Saint Sécaire

mass of saint secaire
This is an original translation of Jean-François Bladé’s description of the diabolical Mass of Saint Sécaire:

Of course, some magicians have a more dangerous trick up their sleeves, one of these being the Mass of Saint Sécaire. It withers a man’s body, little by little, and doctors won’t be able to diagnose what’s happening to him.

Very few priests know the Mass of St. Sécaire; and three quarters of those who know it will never perform it, neither for gold nor for money. Only evil priests, damned without hope of redemption, are willing to do it. These are the type of miscreants who never stay two consecutive days in the same place. They travel by night, constantly on the run, today on the mountain, tomorrow in Bordeaux or Bayonne.

The Mass of St. Sécaire can only be said in an abandoned church that has been partly demolished or tainted by some terrible occurrence. These churches should house owls, bats, and occasionally gypsies. Under the altar, there should be plenty of croaking toads.

For the mass, the evil priest brings his mistress with him to serve him as clerk. He must be alone in the church with this slut, and they must share a fine supper. At the stroke of eleven o’clock, the mass begins and continues until midnight. The communion wafer is black, and three-pointed. The evil priest does not consecrate wine: he drinks water from a well in which an unbaptised child has been drowned. The sign of the cross is made on the ground with the priest’s left foot.

There are other terrible things that happen at the Mass of St. Sécaire, but to see them happening would blind a good Christian for the rest of their lives.

This is how some terrible people wreak vengeance on their foes.

The evil priests and their customers will find themselves in a nasty situation on judgement day. Only the Pope of Rome can grant forgiveness for this most terrible of sins, and the penance that must be paid is truly Hellish and must last until the death of the sinner. Very few of these wretches submit to their penance, and most die damned to eternal suffering in Hell.

There is a way to guard against the Mass of St. Sécaire; but I do not know the counter-mass that must be said. Please believe that if I had been taught it, I would pass it on to you…(there’s a couple of lines here that I’m omitting because they have nothing to do with the mass.) Unfortunately, the counter-mass only has the power to gradually kill the bad priest and the people who paid him. Both will die as their victim did, without knowing the cause of their own death.

I first heard of the abominable mass of Saint Sécaire in Montague Summers’ The History of Witchcraft, and I recall it popping up again when I was reading H.T.F. Rhodes’ The Satanic Mass. The description was intriguing. Summers notes that he read about this horrible rite in  Jean-François Bladé’s 1883 book, Quatorze Superstitions Populaires de la Gascogne. An almost identical description appeared 7 years later in James Frazer’s Golden Bough, and this doubtlessly brought the Mass to the attention of a larger audience. You can find Frazer’s account online, but I always want to read the original of everything and I wasn’t able to find a direct English translation of Bladé’s text online, so I made one myself. My French isn’t great, but after comparing my translation with Frazer, I’m confident that the above gets the message across.

Frazer omits the few lines about the counter-mass at the end of Bladé’s description of the Mass of Saint Sécaire, but otherwise his account is almost identical. The descriptions of the mass in the aforementioned books by Summers and Rhodes follow directly in this line of succession. (Summers provides another extremely similar account in his later book, A Popular History of Witchcraft.)

When I briefly mentioned this blasphemous ritual in a post 4 years ago, I knew that I’d have to return to it at some stage. A couple of weeks ago I picked up a novel that had been lying on my shelf for years. It turns out that the Mass of Saint Sécaire is a major part of the story.

the witching night c.s. codyThe Witching Night – C.S. Cody (Leslie Waller)
Bantam 1974 (First published 1952)

I’m ripping through my paperback collection at the moment, and I’m trying to get some of the boring ones out of the way with. When I was starting The Witching Night, I assumed that it would be fairly dull. It turns out that it’s actually a Satanic love story filled with mystery and suspense. This book is absolutely deadly.

A doctor encounters an old friend who is dying. The doctor realises that something very peculiar is going on, but his friend won’t speak explicitly about it. The only clue he gives before dying is the name of a girl. When the doctor tracks her down, he finds her irresistible. The only problem is that she is the Satanic witch who performed the Mass of Saint Sécaire that killed his friend! The doctor soon suspects that he too has been cursed, but he can’t bring himself to sever his relationship with the woman who he knows is responsible.

the witching night c.s. cody back coverFuck yes.

Some grisly Satanic rituals are described, but the really entertaining part of the book is how the author gets into the psychology of what’d be like to fall for a very sexy, yet very evil, witch. Imagine being in love with a person who was slowly killing you. There are also some really interesting dream sequences and supporting characters in here, and I was kept guessing what would happen until the last few pages. This is a surprisingly well written book. (So well written in fact, that I discovered some pathetic loser who copied the text, changed the names of the characters and tried to pass it off as her own work. Join me in complaining to her publisher.)

The author of The Witching Night, Leslie Waller, used ‘C.S. Cody’ as a pseudonym for this work, and as far as I can tell didn’t write any more occult themed fiction. This is unfortunate, as he did so in a tasteful way. The occultism in here is serious and effective. This isn’t a Scooby-Doo episode where the devil is unmasked and demystified at the end. The power of Satan is real! And while it’s an infamous black magic ritual that moves the plot of this book along, the author doesn’t rely on occult references to make his book entertaining.

Frazer’s account of the Mass is quoted in this novel, but later in the book the female character admits to having said the mass herself. This doesn’t really make sense, as she’s obviously not a Catholic priest, but I’ll let it slide because it adds to the story. Also, Waller describes a hitherto unmentioned way to cancel the effects of the Mass, but you’ll want to read the book to find out what that is.

 

After reading The Witching Night and realising that I’d have to do discuss the Mass of Saint Sécaire in my review of this book, I decided to check out the Aleister Crowley story about the Mass too. It was written in 1918 and published as part of Golden Twigs, a book of 8 short stories that were influenced by Frazer’s Golden Bough.

aleister crowley simon iff and other worksAll 8 of the Golden Twigs tales are featured in this collection.

If you’ve read the above description of the mass, this story is pretty straightforward. Two men love one woman. She loves one back. The other lad gets jealous and gets a dodgy priest to say the Mass… No surprises. I think I liked Crowley’s description of the Mass best. I mean, it gives the exact same details as Bladé‘s, Frazer’s, Summers’, Rhodes’, Waller’s and mine, but I felt that Crowley made it sound nice and creepy. I haven’t read any of Crowley’s other short fiction, but I have a couple of books of his short stories that’ll get reviewed on here someday.

 

While researching the Mass of Saint Sécaire, I saw that there was a radio play recorded in 1974 that was based around this terrible ritual. It was part of CBS’s Mystery Theater series, and it was called The Secret Doctrine. Thankfully, somebody has posted every episode of this series online (complete with advertisements from the early 70s). I was so happy to be able to listen to this. Again, if you know about the Mass, this story is very straightforward. Unrequited love, frustration, blasphemous ritual, death… This story is perhaps the most complete fictional account of the mass – it includes the sinner’s repentance and penance. There was a brief mention of Eliphas Levi, and the play seems to take its name from Helena Blavatsky’s 1888 theosophical opus. The writer here seems to have had a genuine interest in the occult. I was also intrigued to see William Johnstone on the cast list for this show. (He plays Father Giles.) A decade after this radio drama was recorded, Johnstone would go on to write a bunch of insane horror novels about Satanists – I just finished his The Nursery a couple of days ago. I can honestly say that it was one of the most mental books I’ve ever read.

mass of saint secaire books
Just some of the works I had to reference for this post.

Of course, there is no Saint Sécaire. There are 3 Saint Sacerdos, 2 Saint Securus, a Saint Sacer, a Saint Sektar and a Saint Sagar. A few of these boys were French too, so the name Saint Sécaire probably sounded legitimate to the Gascony peasants from whom Bladé heard the legend. Also, I have read several places online that Sécaire probably comes from the French word ‘sécher’ which means to dry. If you wanted to imagine a corresponding creepy name for a Saint in English, you could go with Saint Withers. I think that works pretty well. I wouldn’t want one of my enemies saying the Mass of Saint Withers against me.

Back in November 2001, in an article in Fortean Times titled Satan in Suburbia, Gareth J. Medway suggested that the Mass of Saint Sécaire was fictional. (Meday also claimed that the original source for the story of the Mass was Bladé’s Contes Populaires de La Gascogne, but this is not quite true. Contes Populaires was published in 1895; Quatorze Superstitions had been published in 1883. The passages in these books about the Mass are identical though, so the point that Medway was making in his article still rings true.) Bladé was a collector of folklore and fairy tales, and he never presented his account of the Mass of Saint Sécaire as history. Russell Hope Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology states that “The so-called mortuary mass of St. Sécaire in Basque-speaking territories and the mass of the Holy Ghost in Normandy belong to folklore or anthropology, but not to witchcraft.” Was the Mass of Saint Sécaire ever a real thing? I really doubt it, but let’s be honest, it makes for a damn cool story. In the aforementioned article by Medway, he points out that later occult authors went on to use parts of the description of this terrible ritual in their descriptions of more general Black Masses, and from what I have read, it has since become a basis for modern black magic ceremonies. I’ve presented three pieces of fiction based on this blasphemous rite, and I’d love to know if there’s any more out there.

If you’re interested in other folk tales that came to be accepted as elements of occult history, I recommend that you check back soon. I’ve got a post on Gilles De Rais lined up for next week.

 

One thought on “The Legend of the Mass of Saint Sécaire

  1. I like how “The Witching Night” used the same cover design as the paperback of “The Exorcist”…Some scholars have speculated that Satan-worship really did occur in isolated spots of the medieval and Renaissance eras, in societies where messages of Christianity / Catholicism were everywhere, all the time, and no Dawkins-type rationalism was around as an alternative. In that environment, Satan and blasphemous rites would have been the only kind of rebellion available to anyone who didn’t want to participate in the mainstream belief system, or who had been driven a little nuts by it.

    Like

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