“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure” – Joseph Campbell
For those young folks out there contemplating what to do with the rest of their lives, wondering if the prudent course is to become a tinker, tailor, or candlestick maker, or perhaps even go into plastics, allow me to suggest a more exciting and potentially lucrative field. Treasure hunting. Sure the hours are long and the work environment dangerous, what with all the booby-traps and angry locals, but the payoffs can be huge. Now, your career counselor will sagely nod their head and recommend a course of study including history, geography, and archaeology, perhaps even a little engineering so you can effectively understand the mechanics of ground-penetrating radar, but honestly much like any other specialized academic pursuit, most of what you learn in the hallowed halls that run beneath the ivory tower is of little value once you enter the workforce. Everybody learns everything on the job. If you’re not an amoral Wall Street whiz kid or Silicon Valley visionary, yet still think retirement to a palatial estate at the tender age of thirty sounds like an optimum strategy, the best course of action is to get yourself a gold-sniffing ghost.
Don’t get me wrong, the burgeoning field of treasure hunting is not without occupational hazards. Sure, you’ll have to deal with Nazi occultists, homicidal religious sects, historical preservation regulations, and the occasional creature from the pits of hell, but with the proper training such obvious obstacles can be easily overcome. The thorniest problems you face will be legal. It behooves you to retain effective counsel, particularly an attorney experienced in spectral case law, as can be demonstrated in the 1775 A.D. legal proceedings surrounding the discovery of a Portuguese treasure hoard in Marseilles, France by one Honoré Mirabel through the agency of a helpful phantom.
Honoré Mirabel was a young French lad pining for a better life in 18th Century Marseilles. Life was undoubtedly tough for a working class kid from the wrong side of the Bougainville metro (before there was an actual Bougainville metro), but Mirabel had the foresight to hook up with a congenial phantom who offered him a way out. Normally, I would advocate approaching with a measure of trepidation when entering into any business arrangement with the undead as they are notoriously unconcerned with the material welfare of the living, but Mirabel’s ghostly benefactor appeared to have only the most altruistic of intentions. He simply told Mirabel where to dig for treasure with no onerous strings attached, demonstrating that sometimes the dead can be decent. It’s really the living you just can’t trust, proven by the fact that we have documentation in the form of the subsequent court proceedings where a number of decidedly corporeal (live human) monsters attempted to relieve Mirabel of his unexpected windfall through legal maneuvering.
Honoré Mirabel was a labouring lad, under age, near Marseilles. His story was that, in May (year not given), about eleven at night, he was lying under an almond tree, near the farm of a lady named Gay. In the moonlight he saw a man at an upper window of a building distant five or six paces, the house belonged to a Madame Placasse. Mirabel asked the person what he was doing there; got no answer, entered, and could see nobody. Rather alarmed he went to a well, drew some water, drank, and then heard a weak voice, bidding him dig there for treasure, and asking that masses might be said for the soul of the informant. A stone then fell on a certain spot; stone-throwing is a favourite exercise with ghosts everywhere. With another labourer, one Bernard, Mirabel dug, found a packet of dirty linen, and, fearing that it might hold the infection of plague, dipped it in wine, for lack of vinegar. The parcel contained more than a thousand Portuguese gold coins. Bernard and his mistress were present at the opening of the parcel, but Mirabel managed to conceal from them the place where he hid it, not a very likely story. He was grateful enough to pay for the desired masses, and he had himself bled four times to relieve his agitation. Mirabel now consulted a merchant in Marseilles, one Auguier, who advised him to keep his old coins a mystery, as to put them into circulation would lead to inquiry and inconvenience. He lent Mirabel some ready money, and, finally, induced Mirabel to entrust the Portuguese hoard to his care. The money was in two bags, one fastened with gold-coloured ribbon, the other with linen thread. Auguier gave a receipt, and now we get a date, Marseilles, September 27, 1726 (Lang, 1894, p250-251).
Obviously, Mirabel had no occasion to be acquainted with higher finance until this time, so he made some miscalculations with regards to the dispensation of his new found fortune, in particular trusting the unscrupulous merchant Auguier. Auguier saw a way to make a quick buck and attempted to murder Mirabel, intending to keep the Portuguese gold for himself, and failing that refused to return Mirabel’s deposit (obviously the basic principles of banking have not changed much in the past few centuries), denying ever having received a vast sum of currency from the poor boy. Mirabel wisely concluded that he was fighting out of his weight class, and took Auguier to court, discovering much to his chagrin that we live in a world where the rich tend to get richer, and the poor tend to get prison.
In the French Causes Celebres et Interessantes, is one entitled, Le Spectre, ou I’Illusion Reprouve, reported by Guyot de Pittaval [vol. xii. edition La Haye , 1749], in which a countryman prosecutes a tradesman named Auguier for about twenty thousand francs, said to have been lent to the tradesman. It was pretended, that the loan was to account of the proceeds of a treasure which Mirabel, the peasant, had discovered by means of a ghost or spirit, and had transferred to the said Auguier, that he might convert it into cash for him. The case had some resemblance to that of Fanny the Phantom. The defendant urged the impossibility of the original discovery of the treasure by the spirit to the prosecutor; but the defense was repelled by the influence of the principal judge, and on a charge so ridiculous, Auguier narrowly escaped the torture. At length, though with hesitation, the prosecutor was nonsuited, upon the ground, that if his own story was true, the treasure, by the ancient laws of France, belonged to the Crown. So that the ghost-seer, though he had nearly occasioned the defendant to be put to the question, profited in the end nothing by his motion (Terig, 1831, pVII-VIII).
When the local Lieutenant-Criminel opted to investigate the extraordinary matter further, Auguier admitted to a passing acquaintance with Mirabel, including a discussion of the ghost treasure, but indignantly protested ever having received it and denied all the charges. After diligently deposing numerous witnesses, the magistrate determined there was sufficient evidence, the ghost notwithstanding, to proceed with the prosecution of Auguier. The farmeress Ms. Magdalene Paret, employer of the same Bernard who helped Mirabel dig up the treasure, and whom they took into their confidence, attested to the fact that they had discussed the apparition and that she was present at the discovery. Similarly, a known acquaintance of Mirabel named Gaspard Deleuil swore an oath to the fact that he had met “on the 7th of September, near the Porte des Faineants (Idlers’ Gate), carrying two bags; that he saw him hand them over to a man who appeared to be waiting for him, and saw him receive in return a piece of paper; and that, on joining him, Mirabel stated that he had entrusted to Auguier some newly found treasure, taking his acknowledgment for the same” (Spencer, 1890, p552). A third witness, one Francois Fourniere verified the fact that Mirabel had actually shown him the two bags of gold. Auguier was then arrested. Expert witnesses were called in to verify that the handwriting on the alleged receipt for the gold was indeed that of Auguier. The case went to trial, but by then appeals were being made to the Parliament of Aix based on the ludicrousness of prosecuting a respected fellow such as Auguier at the behest of a peasant who claimed that a ghost had directed him to a treasure. Essentially, the argument was that ghosts don’t exist, therefore the gold didn’t exist, and Mirabel’s entire story must be utter fabrication, despite credible witnesses and physical evidence. This is the familiar methodology of the enlightened modern skeptic, that is, the demand to see evidence of ghosts, and when presented with it, rejection of the evidence thusly requested based on the fact, not that the data isn’t compelling, but simply because ghosts can’t exist. Would that I were so tautologically sure of anything beyond the fact that ketchup is a vegetable. Augueirs entire defense rested on the nonexistence of ghosts, but the ghost was to have his metaphorical day in court, when Mirabel’s counsel pointed out that denying the existence of ghosts flew in the face of many learned men’s conclusions on the subject, and contradicted the notion that helpful apparitions occasionally turned up – a position maintained by no less than Holy Writ, the historical testimony of countless intellectual luminaries, the Fathers of the Church, and the Faculty of Theology of Paris. As it turns out, despite the merits of such an argument, class trumps logic, and it was popularly thought that it was ridiculous to assume phantasms of the dead, if they did indeed exist, would trouble themselves with the pecuniary plight of a peasant boy, and that a respectable middle-class man such as Auguier was simply being railroaded by overzealous jurisprudence. Twenty months and fifty-two witnesses later, Mirabel was quite literally screwed, particularly because he had a bit of a prior history with the French legal system, and just to make a point, a lot of the pro-Mirabel witnesses were then ill-treated.
The final decree acquitted Auguier, and condemned Mirabel to the galleys for life, he having been previously submitted to the question. Under the torture Mirabel confessed that one Etienne and Barthelemy, a declared enemy of Auguier, had devised the spectral fable as a ground for the intended accusation, and, to substantiate the latter, had lent him (for exhibition; the sum of twenty thousand livres. By an after process, Barthelemy was sentenced to the galleys for life, and the witnesses Deleuil and Fourniere to be hung up by the armpits, in some public place, as false witnesses. So far as records go, this singular case was the last in which, in French law-courts, the question of ghost or no ghost was made the subject of legal argument and sworn testimony (Spencer, 1890, p556).
This “giving up of the ghost” under torture is dubious evidence that Auguier was innocent or that a gold-sniffing ghost was not assisting Mirabel, but the skeptics of 18th Century France has recourse to slightly more efficient methods for obtaining instant recantation than flaming somebody on Reddit, although both the general technique and impetus are still largely the same. Don’t let this cautionary tale dissuade you from a career in treasure hunting with spectral associates, as fortune favors the bold. Plus, we shy away from condemning people to the galleys for life these days. Mostly this is only because we lack galleys. Also, should you achieve success at unearthing hidden treasure, don’t rely on the legal system to protect your interests. In fact, just keep your gold-sniffing ghost to yourself. Skepticism towards the bizarre phenomena of our universe handily disassembles evidence by taking a top-down approach to attacking extraordinary claims. Proceed from the assumption that ghosts cannot exist, and it’s easy to point out that ghost’s cannot identify buried treasure, and that peasants lie, and bankers don’t cheat. Tell us a big lie and we’re apt to believe. Tell us a small lie, and we will doubt you to the ends of the earth based on our acceptance of a bigger lie. As comedian George Carlin once observed, “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”
Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912. Cock Lane and Common-sense. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1894.
Terig, Duncan. Trial of Duncan Terig Alias Clerk, And Alexander Bane Macdonald: for the Murder of Arthur Davis, Sergeant In General Guise’s Regiment of Foot. June, A.D. M.DCC.LIV. Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1831.
Spencer, Arthur Weightman, 1876-1923, Sydney Russell Wrightington, Thomas Tileston Baldwin, and Horace Williams Fuller. The Green Bag: an Entertaining Magazine of the Law v2. Boston [etc.]: Riverdale Press [etc.], 1890.