Hébert’s dualistic perception of existence is seen in Children of the Black Sabbath, set in Quebec in 1944, with flashbacks to the preceding decade. Satanic rituals in an isolated mountainous area and religious ceremonies performed in the Convent of the Precious Blood are juxtaposed by means of narrative shifts. Witchcraft, demonic possession, exorcism, and satanic initiation find their corollaries in prayers, dedication to God, Mass, and initiation into cloistered life. In Héloïse (1980; English translation, 1982), set in Paris, Hébert depicts two worlds, one above (that of the living) and one below (that of the living dead, notably of vampires). In Children of the Black Sabbath she creates a similar dichotomous world. Whereas Héloïse is not without ironic humor (the vampires portrayed in it are fond of Bloody Marys, for example), Children of the Black Sabbath presents with great clarity the debauchery of both worlds.
Sister Julie of the Trinity was reared with her brother Joseph by practitioners of sorcery. Adélard was their father and the devil incarnate, and Philomène was their mother. Sister Julie is carried back through dreams and memories to her childhood, where she was witness to lustful perversion, drunken behavior, and satanic rituals. Now, in the apparent calm of the convent, she must reconcile her past with her present as a cloistered nun in the Convent of the Precious Blood. Her presence does, however, cause great disturbances, not only because of her inexplicable pregnancy, which produces in the novel’s final scene the nightmarish image of a half-human, half-beast newborn, but also because it seems to unleash forces that free the nuns from the stultifying and supremely deceitful ways of convent life. Vowed to silence and personal deprivation, they soon become inclined to hallucinations, blasphemous behavior, and to rebellion, through erotic dreams, against the vow of chastity.
Children of the Black Sabbath is unsettling in its depiction of sordid sexual initiation in the world of sorcerers and deceit within the walls of the convent. As do many of Hébert’s other works, this novel probes the traditional conception of reality, suggesting the existence of another world that is dark and powerful.