The mechanism of terror

An old legend tells of how a certain city in the Pyrenees mountains used to be a stronghold for drug-traffickers, smugglers and exiles. The worst of them all, called Ahab, was converted by a local monk, Savin, and decided that things could not continue like that.

As he was feared by all, but did not want to use his fame as a thug to make his point, at no moment did he try to convince anyone. Knowing the nature of men as well as he did, they would only take honesty for weakness and soon his power would be put in doubt.

So what he did was call some carpenters from a neighboring town, hand them a drawing and tell them to build something on the spot where now stands the cross that dominates the town. Day and night for ten days, the inhabitants of the town heard the noise of hammers and watched men sawing bits of wood, making joints and hammering in nails.

At the end of ten days the gigantic puzzle was erected in the middle of the square, covered with a cloth. Ahab called all the inhabitants together to attend the inauguration of the monument.

Solemnly, and without making any speech, he removed the cloth.

It was a gallows. With a rope, trapdoor and all the rest. Brand-new, covered with bee’s wax to endure all sorts of weather for a long time.

Taking advantage of the multitude joined together in the square, Ahab read a series of laws to protect the farmers, stimulate cattle-raising and awarding whoever brought new business into the region, and added that from that day on they would have to find themselves an honest job or else move to another town. He never once mentioned the “monument” that he had just inaugurated; Ahab was a man who did not believe in threats.

At the end of the meeting, several groups formed, and most of them felt that Ahab had been deceived by the saint, since he lacked the courage he used to have. So he would have to be killed. For the next few days many plans were made to this end. But they were all forced to contemplate the gallows in the middle of the square, and wondered: What is that thing doing there? Was it built to kill those who did not accept the new laws? Who is on Ahab’s side, and who isn’t? Are there spies among us?

The gallows looked down on the men, and the men looked up at the gallows. Little by little the rebels’ initial courage was replaced by fear; they all knew Ahab’s reputation, they all knew he was implacable in his decisions. Some people abandoned the city, others decided to try the new jobs offered them, simply because they had nowhere to go or else because of the shadow of that instrument of death in the middle of the square. One year later the place was at peace, it had grown into a great business center on the frontier and began to export the best wool and produce top-quality wheat.

The gallows stayed there for ten years. The wood resisted well, but now and again the rope was changed for another. It was never put to use. Ahab never said a single word about it. Its image was enough to change courage to fear, trust to suspicion, stories of bravado to whispers of acceptance.

in “The Devil and Miss Prym”


  1. vicky says:

    Just one word came to mind, in fact it jumped over
    the entire alphabet. Oil addiction…

    Lots of love,


  2. Hi Everyone!

    I need to read this book!

    Thought of the word ‘just’ and then also remembered elementary school today. Sometimes after recess, the boys were still wound up from outdoor play, and rowdy coming back into class. They would look at the teacher. And the teacher would only look over the top of her glasses. Then, all was quiet and class began.

    Also, a comment I read just last week! One man’s blessing is another man’s curse.

    Love to All, Jane : )

  3. katie says:

    We have a saying in Germany:
    “Der Zweck heiligt die Mittel”

    probably best translated into:
    “the end justifies the means.”

    however, the verb “heiligen” may be translated with “to justify” but there is also the word “holy” in there ….

    just came into my mind when Paulo gave us the story.

  4. Monica says:

    Dear Paul,

    There is a Mexican movie called Herod’s Law. It was very enlightening to watch as it describes exactly what you are mentioning about politics and corruption. But is it also true that our politicians are a reflection of the people they govern? Some of them might not be, but most of them do.
    Look at what’s going on with our current president trying to take the power away from Corporations and give it back to the people.
    I pray I will continue to be able to speak freely of the government, seeing what happened with the previous administration there is also the fear that I might not.



  5. Irina Black says:

    The mechanism of terror-carrot and stick policy.

  6. Ilva Asote says:

    The Hanged Man (Atu XII) – corresponds to the Hebrew (mother) letter MEM (NOT Lamed!) and the element of Water. My other ME. And, yes, that’s also my ‘deal’ with Death. Must say, the Gallows can be a Great Teacher! Love, Ilva

  7. Catherine says:

    Peace should be respected, just like any other.
    It doesn’t and shouldn’t require fear to be instilled or upheld. That is not true peace: peace of mind, peace of hearts.

  8. THELMA says:

    An image, the gallows, has said more than a thousand words!!

    I think that in the history of man there were some stages that fear was more understandable than ethics and teachings. Ahab, being a former ‘criminal’ could take the pulse of the people of the town. With the same way Religions use Hell in order to create fear in the Souls of people. I think that from the minute that Adam and Eve have lost Paradize the way to going back, has begun. The road of Enlightenment. May we all find our way, through LOVE and LIGHT and not by … fear! To use our logic and mind with wisdom.
    Thelma xxx

  9. Catherine says:

    I have to say i despise it when “subtlety” like these gallows are used to inflict fear amongst the people… and though – like Ahab – they claim… it wasn’t me, not I, what fear.. it’s all in YOUR mind .. – it is clear that Ahab was the instigator behind the fear.
    So true how this kind of subtle threat continues to this day. And how sad that this is the mainstay of man…

  10. Pandora says:

    Isn’t this like nuclear weapons… the threat is there, and has been for decades in many countries…

    Sadly… sadly, in my opinion, this doesn’t make me feel safer, and never has.

  11. Zee says:

    It just goes to show that it is the unspoken word that is the most powerful. Showing, not telling is what mankind understands.

  12. Heart says:

    ‘Its image was enough to change courage to fear, trust to suspicion, stories of bravado to whispers of acceptance’. From the first time I read about the gallows in Viscos I was impressed by how the symbolism of it can effect the attitude of a whole people. Of course you are taking us in to the area of horror, law and order & peoples urge to get justice. The worst is, people of Viscos were probably proud of their gallows!

    I live in an area where ‘hanging’ was the one and only method for justice if somebody was caught steeling cattle or killing each other. Later, in fact the town Florence, Arizona take pride in being the first place enforcing Death Penalty by hanging. As you know a method later ‘improved’ to Lethal injection (I don’t see much difference to using a Gas Chamber, do you? except of course these are convicted criminals) Yes, the fear of getting the death penalty is supposed to prevent people from committing crimes, but does it?

    No, no, no. For years, I was a pacifist, proud that in my country, Norway, we do not have the death penalty. We treat prisoners nice, and try to rehabilitate and transform the criminal mindset into a less aggressive one, who can experience love again.

    How do we deal with Ahab if he is a terrorist, and go on a mass murdering of innocent people? Honestly, my pacifism changed on 9/11. Somebody has to work to stop terrorists, and place them on Guantanamo bay or wherever, and fight against evil destructive forces, but in my opinion without going back to the scare tactics of the past. Only by using humane approach can we create a better world. The gallows need to go. It’s a disgrace. Like in Pinal County, with 300 000 citizens, and 30 000 prisoners, where the main ‘business’ is to punish the criminals, the government has chosen the wrong ‘trade’, a disgraceful mission of life. The gallows need to go, and same with the Colosseum!

  13. Rebecca Johnson says:

    In my experience as a healer and as one on her own healing journey I have found that the greatest break throughs are made when we declare peace on ourselves and cease to engage in battle.

    The crux of the film ‘Hero’ was when the understanding is reached, that the ultimate act of the warrior is to lay down his sword.

    In Peruvian tradition they say that when the Inca shaman warriors went to battle and killed their enemy they shed some of their own blood on the corpse because they new that in different times they might have all been sharing stories around the fire.

  14. marie-christine says:

    Terr or = Earth is gold
    The earth is precious, let’s look after it!

  15. Alex Sandra UK says:

    I like the story but it is a sad fact that people are ruled by fear and threats. It would be so good to think that people will act in a decent manner due to respect and consideration for others and to generally do what is right.

    The reason I loved this book (The Devil and Miss Prym) so much was it really taught me about human nature, good vs bad. The fact that we all have choices in life. We are capable of good deeds and bad deeds and it is a fine line which separates them. Before this I really thought that some people were just bad throughout but my eyes were opened and I realised they too were capable of becoming a good person if only they ‘chose’ the right way to behave instead of choosing the other.

    Much love to you Paulo


  16. Abid says:

    Our country badly needs an Ahab ….

  17. Alice says:

    The mechanism of terror is so powerful because it bases its strength on the instinct of our “self-preservation”. It’s human nature. I’m sure that, if we have a good memory, we could remember an episode at least in which we acted (or did’t act) because of fear.

    It’s a continuous struggle we must fight in every single day of our existence against egoism and egocentrism. Egoism and egocentrism make us think that there is nothing more important than us and this also makes us forget our principles and other people. This concept should be synthetized in this extreme latin sentence: “mors tua, vita mea”.
    It’s a moral challenge everyone has to face in everyday life.

    love, Alice

  18. Rebecca Johnson says:

    Those outside of us take actions, but it is we who create the fear inside. Whether the gallows is real or metaphorical it is not the gallows that we fear, the gallows merely gives shape to our fears.

    The way that we live will either feed our love, or our fear. If we live out of balance with our integrity, our souls’ we will fear death because we have already died to ourselves many times, we just don’t realise it. When we live in balance and harmony with our souls’ we do not fear death because we know that we are beings that wear man different clothes and death is simply a change of outfit.

    A shaman does not fear death, she makes death her friend because death reminds her to live every day, every moment fully and to love the life she has.

  19. sajeer says:

    This gallows are not meant to kill any, but it stands as an idol to bring out the treasure that immersed under each..

    It is a good lesson, like a rocket, untill and unless you are not fired, you wont be serious of doing the things that you are possible to do.

    thank you paulo :)

  20. elaine says:


    I have been thinking today,(after your twitter posts about Tony Blair … Brazil, etc.) how this world and the leaders of some of the countries feel that to change the world, they have to resort to violence. One CAN change the way things are done, just as your story (one of my favorites) above relates, by raising his voice either audibly or in pen or type, or paint brush,or video, there are ways to get the word out. This world is going trough a transition. With the financial crises around the globe, people are paying more attention to the internet; and, oh how quick news spreads. Covering up government leaders’ actions and lies is much harder to do now. Thank you for seeing the signs and not being afraid to risk by doing so much on the internet.

    Love and an ignited fire light to you,

  21. Liina.L says:

    If Ahab didn’t believe in using threats, then why did he assigned other men to build the gallows. (Also, why did Ahab use other men for a point he was trying to make) Obviously the gallows was set as a fear mechanism, to remind people what may happen to them if they do not follow the rules. As much as he wanted to show an impression of a ‘great man’ of himself, he was sadly acting on fear, from thoughts of fear to actions of fear.
    As Alexandra said – hopefully we learn to act from love.

    What is interesting, is that the gallows didn’t have any efect on the ‘righteous’, people who were not into dark businesses, so to say. Which applies that they were feeling safe.


    The object and its being there hints to the fact that if those other people, criminals, make a mistake, that costs them their life. Or at least it was meant to be thought of it, this way. Who knows, if Ahab would ever use it. But he used it as a ‘harsh warning sign’.

    And these kind of signs are everywhere around us. Every day. And it’s up to us if we go along and play with the rules (that may be wrong or silly) or to say – I will not follow these rules.

    On the other hand, I am not protecting the criminal side either. Yes, they should have another chance, but they should also have some kind of consequenses to make them think about the things they’ve done.

    PS! Why did Ahab use other people (who had nothing to do with the idea of his) so he could make his point?


  22. Olta Ana says:

    When I read this book I found it interesting, because there where a some things which seemed interesting to me there, but when I read this part, I couldn’t help it and laugh.
    While reading this passage I had in my mind the picture of all the situation and of all those people, who were about to start a new life ruled by fear. I had in my head the picture of those people, who were suppose to terrify others, now fearing and changing their image into better people. Still when I have the picture of it now it looks so funny to me.
    I am picturing them in my imagination as big Black Gorillas who decide behave as little innocent lambs, because an object which they don’t even dear to ask about what is it, terrifies them.
    The last time I posted something to the WOL community, when I spoke about bad and good seed, I thought exactly about this post here, and that day I talked to my mother about it too.

    Now lets be serious. ;)

    I’ve learned this while I’ve been trying to make my best to be a good believer. I am so hard to convince sometimes, and I cannot accept something just like that unless I understand it or feel it right.
    So at the beginning I was trying to “obey” because of fear, but soon I understood that I should do whatever I do leaded from love. Fear is only needed to take that path sometimes. Maybe it is necessary.


  23. sapinder grewal says:

    first time in my life i dont understand what paulo wanna say?

  24. Alexandra says:

    Is sad, but true, people act more if they fear punishment, or forced…majority. What would happen if nobody will fear hell? Or Gods punishemnt? Hard to think at that.
    But if a law is only theorethical, in the long term people will understand it, and fear it no more. As in my country many politicians under judicial inquiry but none in jail. So many heads of organized criminals, they know the law is not applied, so they dont fear it, almost always the escape in a way or other( money talks).
    Hope for a brighter future when people act from love.

  25. Brian says:

    As he was feared by all, but did not want to use his fame as a thug to make his point…

    …he invented a system of disguised thuggery and called it Western society.

    1. marie-christine says:

      hum…!What was his name again? W.S. ..yeah right!

  26. Marta Adriana says:

    This gallows hungs upon all human beings to make them meet others will.