Rabelais – turning water into wine or power of imagination



In the 5th book of “Gargantua and Pantagruel” the travelers arrive to the temple of the Oracle Bacbuc and in Chapter XLIII they discover the divine fountain. They are offered to drink some water from it and are asked what kind of taste do they feel. In the beginning the answer is simple: water. However, the Oracle accuses them of the lack of the imagination and self-knowledge. They are asked to drink one more time and imagine the taste of wine. The miracle occurs: every of the characters feel the taste of his favorite wine. So water changes into wine thanks to the power of imagination. Actually water stays water but there is a change in the heads of travelers.

Rabelais was a doctor and surely he was interested in psychology and familiar with the power of imagination. In the 16th century it was seen as the phenomena which could cause or cure deceases. For example, Paracelsus wrote:

“Thus, the cause of the disease chorea lasciva is a mere opinion and idea, assumed by imagination, affecting those who believe in such a thing. This opinion and idea are the origin of the disease both in children and adults. In children the case is also imagination, based not on thinking but on perceiving, because they have heard or seen something. The reason is this: their sight and hearing are so strong that unconsciously they have fantasies about what they have seen or heard.”

He also declared that a strong belief in something makes miracles. So, if you drink water and believe that there is your favorite wine in the glass, it will be so. In the same century Italian philosopher Pomponazzi wrote that the conviction and imagination have a strong power. If the relics cured people it was because of their strong belief in them. According to him

the intellect of man thinks only when it undergoes modification: it does not think without images, though the kind of knowledge it has is not identical with imagination.”

The characters are instructed to imagine a certain taste of wine. Those instructions correspond to the theory of Pomponazzi that, first of all, one must have an image and to transmit it to his knowledge. The reason is only a reflection of the imagination. One should observe himself carefully and act according to his own senses and not according to the knowledge provided by others.

Rabelais reminds Moses and manna given by God from the sky. People were eating it and thanks to their imagination they felt the taste of the ordinary food they were used to eat before leaving Egypt.

We also remember the New Testament and the story how Jesus changed water into wine in the wedding festival. Was Rabelais willing to make a reference to this Biblical event and interpret it differently? His conclusion could be that the guests who were present in the wedding actually drank water but as they believed that it was wine, then it was so. Jesus understood this power of imagination and used it in this situation.

At the end of the Chapter Bacbuc gives a lesson to the visitors: From now tell to everyone that nothing is impossible to God. The reference to God in this context leads to the idea of Rabelais’ faith. God is omnipotent, the principle of imagination works thanks to him. There was a thought, an image, a concept in the beginning and it became reality. There is an image or God and the reality reflects it. The reality and knowledge depend on the image of God. God is creator and the man was created according to his image. We are also creators thanks to our imagination. God itself is imagination: endless, without any limits constantly creates images resulting in reality or knowledge. A strong will and belief are necessary in this process of creation. There is no physical change in this case, only mental. Matter does not change itself, only our perception about it differs. Life is what a man imagine it is.

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