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Aggressive Ghost in Fourteenth-Century Germany May 8, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

Beach is taking a long trip today on a plane with his three-year-old daughter: a first visit to the patria with Little Miss B who is thrilled because she is going to see otters AND eat fish and chips. In this time of holiday and reduced writing he has lined up several reserve posts taken from his reading the last weeks: sorry if emails are not answered quickly. The first of said reserve posts is a very peculiar poltergeist case from the writing of Johannes Aventinus (obit 1534). This is an eighteenth-century English translation for Beach has not had the time to track the Latin down. ***Scroll down for a serious change to the chronology of this piece***

In Germany, not far from the Town Bing [Bingen] where the River Navas mixes itself with the Rhine, there is a Village, commonly call’d Cament (quasi Caput Montium) a Name given it by the Romans, when they possessed that Country, because there begin the Mountains which run along with the Rhine towards the North. There, in these our Days [no date given], a revolted and roving Spirit has done many strange things, playing prestigiating Tricks, and infesting the inhabitants. First, this cursed Spirit, seen by no Man, began to throw Stones at Persons, and to knock at Doors.

So far it is life in a modern inner city neighborhood. But then things start to get a little strange. This poltergeist (?) becomes human.

Soon after, this pestilent and wicked Genius taking a Human Shape, gave Answers, discover’d Thefts, accused many of Crimes, and set a Mark of Infamy on them, stirr’d up Discords and ill-will among Persons:

Then comes the victim.

By degrees, he set fire to, and burnt down Barns and Cottages, but was more troublesome to one Man than the rest, always keeping with him wherever he went, and burnt his House and, to stir up the whole Neighbourhood to destroy this innocent Man, the wicked Impostor openly declared, that for this Man’s Crimes the Place lay under a Curse, and would be unfortunate so that the Man was forced to lie without doors, all Persons denying him entrance into their Houses, they looking on him as one followed by evil Spirits.

The ‘victim’ next took an ordeal: though it is not clear why.

He, to satisfy his Neighbours, carry’d a burning-hot Iron in his Hand, with which, not being hurt, he prov’d his Innocence: nevertheless the wicked Spirit burned his Stacks of Corn in the Fields, and as he was daily more and more troublesome, the Country People were forced to acquaint the Archbishop of Mentz [Mainz], with it, who sent Priests to expiate and lustrate the Fields and Villages; which they did with solemn Prayers and consecrated Water and Salt. The wicked and disturbed Spirit at first strove against them, and wounded some with Stones: but being overpowered by divine Exorcisms, and adjured by efficacious Prayers, he at length ceased, nor did he anywhere appear. When the Priests were gone, this pestilent Spirit returned again, and said, ‘while those bald-pated Priefts mutter’d I know not what, I lay hid under the Amiculum [vestment!] of one of them (whom he named) who, by my persuasion, lay the last Night with his Host’s Daughter’. And having said this, the wicked Ghost went off with a mighty roaring Noise [a laugh?], and left the Country quiet.

For all Beach knows this may be a Fortean classic,but he has never read about it before and found it gripping and unusual. The sequence of events are not clear. The spirit causes problems, then seems to become one of the villagers (or at least is physically present), then picks on the ‘victim’ who presumably takes the ordeal because he has been accused of witchcraft? Any other key of interpretation: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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8 May 2011: Invisible puts this polt in a wider context: What a wonderful poltergeist story! Quite new to me! The “stages” of this particular poltergeist reminded me of the escalating violence of the Bell Witch case, which, in spite of the name, is a famous American poltergeist story.    The Bell Witch ordeal began with knockings and scratchings, progressed to human-like noises, then to speech. The entity also threw stones. Like the German manifestation, it focused its worst violence on one man: the father of the Bell family, John Bell, whom, it is claimed, the “witch” murdered, although other persons in the family were scratched and slapped. It also (like Gef, the Talking Mongoose of the Isle of Man) knew gossip and scandalous tittle-tattle from neighboring communities.  General Andrew Jackson was said to have been a witness to some of its antics. The one thing missing from the Bell Witch case, which is found in the German story and many other poltergeist tales, is the setting of fires. There seems to be a sub-species of incendiary poltergeists–I’ve got a number of cases in my files like this more recent one.    The stone-throwing feature is also reminiscent of this “stone-throwing devil” case:    It is curious that the narrator of the German story does not suggest the identity of any perpetrators, other than the targeted man who cleared himself by ordeal.    The detail of the German creature taking human shape is very unusual, although in the Bell Witch case, events started with a sighting of a “strange animal” and the entity eventually called itself “Kate”.  One wonders if eventually it would have manifested itself as a human figure.  Poltergeists usually “wear out” before they can become visible apparitions and mostly confine themselves to making noises and hurling objects about. It is also very common for the clergy to be called in to deal with or exorcise the poltergeist. Inevitably this makes things worse, just as in the German story. Strange to think that poltergeists (or is it the folklore of poltergeists?)  follow the same patterns today as they did in 16th-century Germany.   Sceptics maintain that poltergeist activity is all faked by mischievous adolescents. The late Dr. William G. Roll, who studied poltergeist phenomena extensively, proposed that people plagued by poltergeists have a unique pattern of brain activity.   No matter what the reason for such occurrences, it is striking that poltergeist stories from many different countries and time periods relate similar incidents and follow similar arcs.’ Thanks Invisible!

14 May 2012: Invisible now writes in: ‘The day after your post on the German stone-throwing poltergeist my copy of Poltergeists: A History of Violent Ghostly Phenomena by P G Maxwell-Stuart arrived. [just apported right onto the seance room table!] On page 17-18 is the same German polt account attributed to the Fulda Annals, under the year 858 [Citation: Annales Fuldenses, ed. G. Pertz, Hannover: Hahn 1891 51-53.] It contains all the same details: a house near Bingen, the knockings, stones thrown, the fires, the man accused by his neighbors and undergoing the red-hot iron ordeal, the priests arriving to sort things out, the evil spirit claiming that a particular priest had slept with the daughter of the town proctor. The only detail lacking is the spirit taking human form. Happy to send a scan or transcription if you like. I think you would like this book (can’t recall if you already recommended it). Excellent primary sources although he inexplicably omits Caesarius of Heisterbach and his Dialogue on Miracles and Foissart’s Chronicle, with the wonderful story of “Orton“, a familiar spirit, who, like Gef, the Talking Mongoose, reports the news from all over.’ Something doesn’t add up here. Either Beach’s source misunderstood the origins (most likely) or Invisible’s source has got it wrong. Likely the first. More, we hope, to follow.’ Thanks Invisible! PS same day. It is in the Annals. Here is the Latin: Villa quaedam haud procul ab urbe Pinguia sita est, Caput-montium vocata, eo quod ibi montes per alveum Rheni fluminis tendentes initium habeant, quam vulgus corrupte Capmunti nominare solet; nbi malignns spiritus evidens nequitiae suae ostendit indicium. Nam primum quidem lapides iaciendo et parietes domorum quasi malleo pulsando hominibus loci illius infestus efficitur; deinde vero manifeste loqui et furtim sublata quibusdam prodere, post haec discordias inter habitatores eiusdem loci seminare; denique omnium animos contra unum hominem concitavit, quasi peccatis illius exigentibus ceteri talia paterentur: et ut maius odium adversus eum excitaret, in quamcumque domum idem homo intravit, statim malignus spiritus illam exussit. Igitur ex necessitate coactus cum uxore et filiis foris mansit in agris, omnibus propinquis suis sub tectum suum illum suscipere timentibus. Sed nec ibi tutus fuisse permissus est; nam cum universas fruges suas congregasset et in acervos collegisset, spiritus nequam ex inproviso veniens cunctas incendit. Ut autem animos vicinorum illum interficere cupientium placare potuisset, idem ipse ferro fervente de omnibus, quae ei obiciebantur, criminibus se ostendit immunem. Missi sunt itaque ab urbe Mogontiaca presbyteri atque diacones cum reliquiis et crucibus, qui malignum spiritum ab eo loco expellerent. Sed illis in quadam domo, ubi maxime saeviebat, letanias agentibus et aquam benedictam spargentibus antiquus hostis nonnullos ex eadem villa illuc convenientes iactando lapides cruentavit; tamen modicum temporis a sua infestatione quievit. Postquam vero inde discesserunt, qui missi fuerant, idem hostis multis audientibus lugubres edidit sermones; nam presbyterum quendam nominatim exprimens se sub cappa illius stetisse professus est ea hora, quando aqua benedicta aspergebatur in domo. Quibus se prae timore signantibus idem hostis de eodem presbytero: ‘Meus’, inquit, ‘proprius est servus; a quo enim quis superatur, huius et servus est; quia nuper me suadente cum filia procuratoris istius villae concubuit’. Quod factum nullus mortalium antea sciebat exceptis his, qui hoc crimen perpetraverant. Patet ergo, quia iuxta veritatis sententiam nihil opertum est, quod non reveletur. His et huiusmodi malis apostata spiritus in loco supra dicto per tria annorum curricula infestus non ante cessavit, donec universa pene aedificia ibidem succendendo consumeret.