Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil. / PhD

Philosophie, Gesundheitsberatung, Bücher / Philosophy, Health Consulting, Books

Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil.  /  PhD header image 3

Paper: Historical Poltergeists


European Journal of Parapsychology, 2001, 16, 61-72

Annekatrin Puhle: Learning from Historical Cases: Six Selected Poltergeist Cases from the 1700s in Germany


Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology, Freiburg

Abstract: Six unknown or relatively unknown poltergeist cases from the 18th century are presented. The main phenomenological features of these cases are described and found to correspond well with those belonging to modem poltergeist cases. The cases from the 18th century are of special interest because they occurred before the advent of household electricity (limiting the application of an electro-magnetic theory of poltergeist phenomena). A common feature of the earl y cases is the interpretation of the phenomena in terms of the strong religious belief system of the time contrasting with earlier interpretations, which had been made in the folklore tradition. This contrast is reviewed historically in order to show how in folklore the perception of the poItergeist has changed from that of a friendly spirit to become first an externally threatening agent, finally becoming a domestically threatening agent. This is a progression which is paralleled in the ways which many contemporary RSPK-cases develop. This historical perspective on poltergeists may help us to understand the role of that belief has in the form which poltergeist and haunting cases take.


“The person who catches a ‘goblin, nymph, or another ghost’ dead or alive in his house, in his cattle shed, in the becks or ponds, gets a reward of 5 gold pieces from the Master of the hunt.” This quote is taken from the Proceedings of the Municipal Council for the City of Hechingen in Germany and is dated 8 February 1525 (Horst 1825, p. 380). Nearly two hundred fifty years later, the question “Can a rational man believe in ghosts and apparitions?” was still being asked, expressed in the form of a book title from 1764 (Parson C. L. Stützing). A diplomatic answer for that period can be found in a quotation from another book, A Message of a Ghost, published in 1750: “Although I have never been so absurd, as to deny that ghosts and apparitions may exist, I have thought of these as belonging to the rarest of events.” (Fleischer 1750, p.p. 33-34).

Today, when several more hundred years have passed, we are still lacking a c1ear answer and consensus as to the nature of these experiences. It seems therefore appropriate to see what we can learn from the past by looking at the area in its larger historical perspective. Serious scientific research as we understand the concept today began in the area of ghost and poltergeists at the end of the 1600s and beginning of the l700s. This artic1e is the second in a series of reports (Puhle 1999, Puhle 2000a, Puhle 2000b) concerning the relevance of lesser known or in some cases previously unknown historical cases from this period for our conceptualisation of poltergeist phenomena.

It would seem that ghosts in the 1700s were not the unitary species we think of them as being today. For instance, goblins in the context of the German tradition were regarded as a type of ghost (Geist) and a subspecies of goblins were identified as poltergeists. Current science uses the term “poltergeist” for special strange occurrences, so-called “recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis” (RSPK). Catherine Crow (1848) introduced the word poltergeist into the English language but in contrast to the German usage, the current Anglo-american terminology now distinguishes between “poltergeist” occurrences which are person orientated and “haunting” phenomena which are place orientated (Roll 1977b, p. 399). The six selected historical reports that follow are about poltergeists in the original meaning with no attempt being made to determine if the ca se is place or person bound or even something else. Fanny Moser (1950) introduced the term ephemerer Spuk (ephemeral spook) to describe a third type of case. The issue is evidently complex and is discussed more fully elsewhere (Puhle 2000a). The six cases should contribute towards clarifying what it is that colours our contemporary perception of – to use Rhea White’s term – poltergeist encounters (White 1994, p. 150). None of these selected cases have been previously reported in detail in RSPK research. Two of them (Wegner, and Mayor of Ueblitz) have never been mentioned in contemporary reviews, and are not even to be found in the 500 hundred case collection of Gauld and Cornell (1979).

I will now outline these six cases which took place between 1714 and 1760, summarise the main events and present the most reported phenomena. These features will be compared in detail in a later report (Puhle 2000a) with those that characterise modem cases. Finally, I will say some words about the relevance of this historical research for current RSPK work.


Outlines of Six Selected Historical Poltergeist Cases

These are given in chronological order and since the cases are relatively unknown and not easily accessible the full tide in German (which at ‘this time is lengthy because it functions as a summary) is given along with the publisher. The basic facts of the cases are then summarised.


Case Nr. l: from 1713.

Florian Bertram Gerstmann’s exact and truthful presentation of the ghost and poltergeist which has done much strange damage in the town of Dortmund, in the house of Dr Barthold Florian Gerstmann”; Footnotes and theological comments included, printed in Leipzig and Osnabrück, edited by Michael Andreas Fuhrmann, 1714. (160 pages, archived in München, Halle, Wolfenbüttel.)

(Florian Bertram Gerstmanns/ genaue und wahrhajJtige/ Vorstel/ung/ Des Gespenstes/ Und/ Polter-Geistes/ Welches/ In der Kayserlichen/ und des Heil. Römischen Reichs/ Freyen Stadt Dortmundt, und zwar in dessen Vatters/ D. Barthold Florian Gerstmanns Hause 4. Wochen weniger/ 3. Tage/ viele wunderseltzsame Auffziige und Schaden veriibet hat.! Nebst Anmerckungen und einem Theologischen Bedencken/ Zum Druck befordert./ Leipzig und Ossnabrück/ Verlegt von Michael Andreas Fuhrmann/ 1714.)


The case, which is described in more detail, elsewhere (Puhle, 1999, p.p. 298-300), was active from 5 May until 2 June, 1713 in Dortmund in the house of the well known physician Barthold F. Gerstmann. The report on the case, originally in Latin, was written by his son, Florian Bertram Gerstmann, and in the form of a 159-page diary giving precise details of events.

The members of the family who were primarily involved in the case, were Barthold Gerstmann, his wife, and his two sons. Barthold Gerstmann is described as a devout Lutheran, widely respected as a general practitioner. The two sons referred to, are the writer of the diary, Florian Bertram, still a student at the time, and a younger son whose age is not given although he is obviously old enough to give detailed reports and be accepted as a witness by his father and brother. A daughter is also mentioned as the first person to become aware of the incidents. There were however other non-family witnesses: Many of the later occurrences were witnessed by the family maid and amongst the many spectators to the events, is an important witness, the parson Brügmann.

The phenomena primarily concerned stone-throwing, breaking windowpanes and went on for 20 days. In total 760 stones and 147 broken panes were documented. The bombardment started originally outside the house but afterwards continued even inside. Apparently all the stones came from the garden or the wall and were sometimes found to be mingled with clay and nails. On examination, they occasionally felt warm. The father described what was experienced as especially extraordinary about these incidents:

“We were not able to see the stones before they either broke through the window-pane and fell to the ground or landed in the garden, or even when they fell on the pavement in front of the house, but in all cases they could be gathered and identified. They hit nobody and were only thrown to damage something, destroying whatever object they hit” (Gerstmann 1714, p.l09).


Case Nr. 2: from 1718.

The true report of the strange and wonderful effects of a so-called goblin, or! an in visible creature in the parsonage of Gröben/ an attempt to test how the truth can be discovered? Testified by the parson of the place/ Jeremias Heinisch. Bernau. March/ Jena, published by Joh, Meyer’s widow, 1723. (64 pages; archived in Wolfenbüttel, Weimar and München.)

This is published together with a supplementary report titled:

Lessons on how to test ghosts and ghost stories: guided by interrogations on the true report by Mr Jeremias Heinischen, parson of Gröben, on the effects of a so-called goblin in the parsonage itself (80 pages, archived in Wolfenbüttel.)

(Das ZeugnijJ/ Der reinen Wahrheit/ von den/ Sonder und wunderbahren Wiirckungen eines insgemein sogenannten Kobolds, Oder! Unsichtbaren Wesens/ in der Pfarr Wohnung zu Gröben, zur Pmfung iibergebene Versuch/ wie weil/ in der Erkäntniss dieser Sache zu gelangen?/ auf inständiges Begehren/ abgestattet/ Von des Orts Predigern/ Jeremias Heinisch, Bernav. March./ Jena, Verlegts Joh. Meyers sel. Wittbe. 1723.)


From June 17 until September 8 in the year 1718, a classical poltergeist case took place in the home of the parson Jeremias Heinisch. The report, published five years afterwards, describes how the parsonage in the village of Gröben near Jena was bombarded during the day with stones without there being any apparent natural explanation. For instance, on July 31 in that year, Heinisch observed that “a stone from the earth flew up from the courtyard, reaching the top of the roof and then landing with a great force.” During the above period some of the witnesses testified as to how they had seen “the stones coming from a large garden of trees and from the angle of the garden door, and sometimes coming from out of the wall of the vicarage” (Heinisch 1723, p. 4).

The peace of night was being constantly broken for the inhabitants not only by the continued throwing of stones, and the breakage of pots and bowls, but even by acoustic phenomena such as sounds of scratching and c1awing. In the end the disturbance became so great that the house had to partly vacated.

The household consisted of the parson and his wife, and some others who are not specified. A baby to the parson and his wife was born during this period, on August 5.

Apports where objects penetrated doors were also reported in this Gröben case. For instance on August 14, “a piece of lead… was of ten during the day removed from the weights of the c1ock, and either thrown at the door of my wife’s room or into the hall in front of her room. It was thrown with quite a hefty force, and the door of the downstairs room was opened without anyone being there” (Heinisch 1723 p. 11). Heinisch goes on to report several other oddities which took place in Gröben and says at the end of his documentation: “It is my intention to relate to you only that which is most important (phenomena) and which I have myself either seen or heard and experienced with a sufficient degree of certainty” (Heinisch 1723, p. 19). It is of course remarkable to read these words written by a parson who previously had expressed his opinion in the foreword of his book quite openly about goblins and similar incidents as follows: “they are merely old wives’ tales, the work of foolish imaginations, stupid superstition, or roguish deception” (Heinisch 1723, foreword). The conc1usion he reaches is actually similar to the one reached by Brügmann in the Dortmund case (case l). Like Brügmann, Heinisch discusses the different reasons for the poltergeist incidents and arrives at the conc1usion: “the real author (of these events) is a ghost and an evil one at that” (Heinisch 1723, p. 40).


Case Nr 3: from 1722.

A curious and true message or diary about a Ghost and Poltergeist/which has shown his apish an tics in such diverse and strange ways, and has shown finally his powers of strangulation by the ruining of windows, doors and furniture and so on, so that even the owner of house has given up and decided to move out. Occurring in the farmhouse Dutzow which belongs to the village of Sandfeld belonging to the Borough of Gadebusch in the region of Mecklenburg during the period between 26 January and 30 March 1722. A foreword of the Parson of Roggendorff follows an editing of the content of the judicial proceedings of the final exact examination of 27 witnesses including the people who have been in the house, also the watchmen who were ordered there and others. Described and communicated to the curious world from Heinrich George Haenell, administrator of Dutzow, printed by and available at the inheritors of the late Thomas of Wierings, near the stock exchange in the golden A, B, e. 1722. (Archived in the National and University Library of Hamburg)

(Curieuse und wahrhaffte Nachricht oder Diarium, von einem Gespenst und Polter­Geist/ Welcher im Mecklenburgischen/ im Amte Gadebusch/ in dem zum Guth Dutzow gehörigen Dorff/ Sandfeld, in HanfJ Jochim Dunckelmanns Haus/ vom 26 Januarii 1722. bis den 30 Martii a.c. auJJ gar vielfältige und Verwunderungswiirdige Art und Weisel seine Affen -und Possen-Spielel zuletzt aber seine Wiirgereyl mittelst Ruinierungl Fensterl Thiiren und Mobilien etc. erwiesenl so daj3 auch der Wirth das Hauj3 auffgesagetl und weg zu ziehen resolviret. Nebst einer Vorrede des Herrn Pastoris zu Roggendorffl nach genaueri und Inhalts beygefiigten Notarischen Instruments endlicher Examinirung XXVII. Zeugenl als der im Hause gewesenen Leutel auch der dahin commandirten Wächter und anderer. Beschrieben und der curieusen Welt communiciret von Heinrich George Haenell p.t. Verwalter zu Dutzow. Hamburg, gedruckt und zu bekommen bey seel. Thomas von Wierings Erben, bey der Börse im güldenen A, B, C. 1722.)




As can be seen from the tide, this poltergeist case takes place in the house of Hans Jochim Dunckelmann in a village named Sandfeld and was active during the period January 22 until March 13, in the year 1722. The report is written in the form of a diary by the housing administrator, Heinrich Georg HaeneIl. He received the order to make such a report from a higher authority in the form of the head of the aristocratic estate of Dutzow, to which the village Sandfeld belonged to at the time. The order as such was to investigate and document the curious occurrences in the house of Dunckelmann. 27 witnesses are mentioned by names. Of interest are the different motives and themes in the case, which are also recurrent in fairy tales. After apparent heavy personal injury and damage to the property accompanied by many hours of praying, the case finally ended at a point in time when Dunckelmann was about to move himself after having previously sent away his own children.




Case Nr 4: from 1747.

Georg Wilhelm Wegner’s Parson of Germendorf and Nassenheidel Philosophical Tractl on spiritsl in which a short account is given of the goblin of Wustermarck.l Horatius:1 Nos majus veriti, postquam nihil esse pericli /l Sensimus, erigimur.” (“We who have feared for worse gain courage in having noticed that there is no danger.”). Berlin, published by Haude and C. Spener, 1747. (80 pages, archived in Wolfenbüttel)

(Georg Wilhelm Wegnersl Predigers zu Germendorfl und Nassenheidel Philosophische Abhandlungl vonl Gespensterni Worinn zugleichl eine kurtze Nachrichtl von dem Wustermarckischen Koboldl gegeben wird.l Horatius.l Nos majus veriti, postquam nihil esse periclil Sensimus, erigimur. (Wir, die wir Schlimmeres befürchtet haben, fassen Mut, nachdem wir gemerkt haben, dass keine Gefahr besteht. Horaz, Satiren, 2. Buch, 8. Gedicht, Vers 57, 58) Berlin, Zu haben bey Haude und C. Spener, 1747.)




In the year 1747 the parson of Germendorf and Nassenheide, Georg Wilhelm Wegner, together with his son and a friend, visited the parsonage of Wustermarck where a goblin was said to be acting up. The parson at Wustermarck had reported hearing various noises in his living room. Once it seemed as if someone pushed a big box along the floor (Wegner 1747, p.72), and sometimes he heard “a sound like from a heavy blow or a shove from which the house shook”. Another time “something passed him which he could hear well but could see nothing” (Wegner 1747, p. 73). These and similar phenomena forced the parson to move his bed to another place. One evening he stood in front of his house and saw a figure of a “woman bearing some form of head dress, standing in the bay window”. This woman had greeted him and he had thanked her. After been seen for a while at this place, she then disappeared (Wegner 1747, p. 73). The occurrences in this vicarage are described in a one and a halve page report which concludes with the words “this is everything from which a horrible goblin has been made we have not seen or heard anything, even though we wanted to” (Wegner 1747, p.74). What is remarkable about this Wustermarck case, is that although the story had been told by everybody for several years, as soon as concrete questions were posed, no one else, other than the parson involved in this case, claimed to know anything about this well known goblin. Because of this, the question arises: Is this a false case or is it merely a conspiracy of silence (Moser 1950, Von Lucadou 1983) or a even a conspiracy of repression (Bauer 1986)?


Case Nr 5: from 1749.

M Johann Michael F7eischer’s Reliable report on a ghost which manifested itself in 1749 in the parsonage of Schwartzbach and outside of if, through throwing things, ringing, rapping and appearing.” Leipzig, published by Friedrich Lankisch’s heirs. 1750. (51 §§, archived in Wolfenbüttel, Weimar and Munich)

(M Johann Michael Fleischers Zuverläj3ige Nachricht von einem Gespenste, Welches sich 1749 zu Schwartzbach in der Pfarr-Wohnung, Auch ausser derselben. durch WerjJen; Singen, Schlagen und Erscheinung geäussert hat. Leipzig, Verlegts Friedrich Lanckischens Erben. 1750.)


The case of Fleischer starts on the summer evening of 1749 with repeated blows being made against the windows of the parsonage of the village of Schwartzbach. At this point in time, the parsonage was occupied by the parson F. C. Schilling who had just replaced his predecessor, the late S. Wächtler. The household at that time consisted also of: Wächtler’s widow, the mother and sister of Schilling, and a nearly 15 year old maid. The nightly bombardment of stones continued for nearly 10 weeks and it was also thrown with “excrements, toads, and similar beautiful things” (Fleischer 1750, § 41). What is unusual in this case is that those people who were hurt, were in fact seriously hurt by the stones, some of which were weighted as much as 7 pounds (Fleischer 1750, § § 15,23,24,36).

In addition to the bombardment with stones, other phenomena occurred which included strange sounds: “whistling from under the widow’s feet with a beauty which was said to excel that of a nightingale” (Fleischer 1750, § 29). Objects were said to disappear and reappear in another place. “On one day the bread is taken from the cupboard, brought to the attic and placed on the stairs, c10thes were rived off the washing line which was in the locked attic” (Fleischer 1750, § 34). As well as the above phenomena, features relating to haunting and not necessarily poltergeist incidents, occurred, as for instance a maid being grabbed by her hair (Fleischer 1750, § 24). Indeed as Fleischer described it, the Schwartzbach poltergeist appears to be a “special friend of the female gender” (Fleischer 1750, § 32). As for the evidential aspects, this case has “more than 50 independent witnesses who have seen and heard the throwing” (Fleischer 1750, § 42).


Case Nr.6: From 1760.

“About a Rare Race of Common Elementary and Domestic Spi rits Along With a Curious Letter of a Mayor from the Year 1760 About his Three House Dragons or Goblins, Addressed to Professor D. Meier in Halle”, in: Horst, Conrad Georg 1825, Library of Magic or About Magic, Theurgie and Mantik, Magicians, Witches, and Witch-Processes, Demons, Ghosts and ghostly Appearances. For the Purpose of Promoting the Purely Historical Evaluation of These Matters, Free from Superstition and Ignorance. Published by Florian Kupferberg. Fifth Part. Mainz 1825. Pages 377­379. (3 pages, archived in Wolfenbüttel and Freiburg)

(“Von einer seltsamen Race gemeiner Elementar- und Haus-Geister, nebst einem merkwiirdigen Briefe eines Dorfschulzen vom Jahr 1760 iiber seine drei Hausdrakens, oder Kobbolde an den verewigten Professor D. Meier in Hal/e.” In: Horst, 1825, Georg Conrad Zauber-Bibliothek oder von Zauberei, Theurgie und Mantik,

Zauberern, Hexen und Hexenprocessen, Dämonen, Gespenstern, und Geistererscheinungen. Zur Beförderung einer rein-geschichtlichen, von Aberglauben und Unglauben freien Beurtheilung dieser Gegenstände. Sechs Theile. Mainz 1821 ­1826. Bei Florian Kupferberg. Fiinfter Theil. Mainz 1825. Seite 377-379.


In a letter dated the 26 August 1760 addressed to Professor D. Meier in Halle, the mayor of the village Ueblitz mentions three goblins or dragons that have a friendly relationship to him and without whom he could not have carried out his work. Some years ago when he was living in another place in the same neighbourhood, they had burnt down his house over his head simply because they disagreed with him over an important issue (Horst 1825, p. 377). However, they did help him to bring his personal belongings very quickly out of the house so that it was only the house and the boxes of the maids that became burnt. The fire was said to be ice cold and no one in the neighbourhood would come to his help because they said “it is a goblin’s fire and it will stop on its own” (Horst 1825, p. 378).

In the course of this, there had been problems with the mayor’s wife who did not want to accept his goblins although they apparently had promised her three barrels filled with money. Rather than being drawn into this, she went to the authorities and asked that they investigate the barrels that the goblins had apparently filled with pears, ashes and coffee. This changed his wife’s opinion although it is not said how! The letter finishes off with the presumption that Professor Meier and his colleagues will not believe him, but he asserts that he is very certain of his own experience and “swears in black and white it to be the truth”.


Some Phenomenological Aspects of these Six Historical Poltergeist Cases


The six cases are documented to varying degrees: four are described in a diary style (with respectively 154, 64, 62, 55 pages) while the details of two of them, the cases 4 and 6, are sketched on a mere 2-3 pages. The cases numbered l, 2, 3 and 5 have been chosen as examples because they are so well described and the two short cases numbered 4 and 5 are included because they are not mentioned in the current literature and are in contrast to the others: case 4 is doubtful and its author doesn’t believe in it at all, and case 6 is unique because of its positive and humorous feature in that Professor Meier apparently has a lot of fun with his dragons.

The phenomena described in the six cases have been classified by me into 30 main categories with many further sub-categories. This enabled a comparison to be made of their characteristics with those occurring in modem cases described by previous researchers (Bozzano,1920,1930; Gauld & Cornell, 1979; Roll, 1976, 1977, 1978; Tizané, 1951; Huesmann & Schriever, 1989; and Cox 1961). An evaluation of the Gerstmann case in relation to Tizane’s list of characteristics of poltergeist cases is to be found in Puhle, 1999 (298-300). Further details of the comparison of the six historical cases with modem cases will be reported later (Puhle 2000a). I report here only the most frequent phenomena occurring in the six historical cases that correspond to those found in the modem cases.


The Most Frequent Phenomena: When expressions such as “often”, “some” and “many” are used to describe daily occurrences, in order to arrive at the total for each category, these have been counted as one or more occurrence per day.


Inexplicable Movements of Objects

128 or more occurrences

Stones Playing a Role

75 or more occurrences


68 occurrences

Bombardment of a Person

36 occurrences

Breaking and destroying of things (with the exception of glass windows)


Stones Breaking Glass Windows and Entering Inside through Openings

49 or more occurrences

Thrown Objects

39 or more occurrences

Which are hot when touched

5 occurrences

Visual Appearances

37 occurrences


The Significance of These Six Historical Cases for Current RSPK-Research


In these six historical cases it has not been possible to identify focal persons, as for example pubescent young persons. The whole family, including the children, is involved in only 4 of these cases. In the case of Fleischer, the phenomena centred on female persons while in the Gerstmann case, males were the focus. Certainly there appear to be focal persons in the two briefly reported cases (Wegner and the Mayor of Ueblitz) but in one of these, the author of the report actually doubts the authenticity of the case. It is impossible to read into the statements given in these cases, anything about the psychopathological status of the family members or any indications of family tension. Gauld and Cornell in their discussion of 500 cases conclude that only in a very few cases are there phenomena that appear to be independent of a single agent or medium (Gauld & Cornell 1979, p. 342). Bender says about himself and other modem poltergeist-researchers like Roll, Cox, Eisler, Larcher, Palmer, Pratt and others, they would characterize poltergeists cases “als ob es keine andere “agency” gäbe als die Fokus-Person oder -Personen, die “Medien” (as having no other “agency” than the focus-person/persons or the “media” (Bender 1979, p. 134.) One can only say in the cases reported here that either signs of psychopathology, symptoms of illnesses such as epilepsy or CNS disturbances are not present in the descriptions (which otherwise might have supported Roll’s theory (Roll 1977, p 409). (Compare however the critique of this theory made by Martinez Taboas and Alvarado 1981.) On the positive side, the parson Heinisch emphasised that “it is completely unreasonable to attribute a natural explanation for the ca se to pure fantasy, idol imagination, melancholic temperament or disease” (Heinisch 1723, p. 38).

Domestic and industrial electromagnetic fields acting as potential releasing factors for poltergeist phenomena (Nichols 1998) cannot of course be applied to the phenomena occurring during those two centuries. Household electricity and industrial applications started in the USA and Europe very slowly following Edison’s invention of the electric bulb in 1879 and Siemens’ invention of the electromotor in 1866.

The role of natural electrical fields in the form of geomagnetic activity is of course not excluded in these cases. The investigations of Wilkinson and Gauld (1993, p. 304­305) as well as Roll and Gearhart (1974), Gearhart and Persinger (1986), have all found that the onset of poltergeist cases correlates with significantly higher global geomagnetic activity.

A virtually non-researched factor concerns the religious belief system and “Weltanschauung” (worldview) of the person concerned. It is very remarkable that three of the cases reported here actually take part in Protestant parsonages and in the

fourth case, the physician Gerstmann has a daily contact with the parson who is a chief witness to the case. In the fifth case, many hours of the day are said to be devoted to prayer. The exception is the sixth case, the major of Ueblitz with his three friendly house dragons, where a more independent attitude to the church – in this case the Catholic Church – is to be found (Horst 1825, p. 379). If what he writes to Professor Meier in Halle is taken as face value, then in contrast to other cases he actually experiences fun in having the poltergeists (Horst 1825, p. 377).

This brings us to the wider issue of the threatening versus the friendly nature of the poltergeist. It is known from ethnology that ghosts that are not one off acts (crisis apparitions) but are experienced as outside of villages and in general as hanging around human settlements, and as such are understood to be threatening. On the other hand, ghosts living inside a house or barn, have been traditionally experienced as positive. Negative values have become attributed to all ghostly appearances only since the time of Christianity which looked negatively upon all ghostly appearances which cannot be attributed to angels. This has become evident since Lutheran times for the German speaking areas, by the way in which swear words are applied for these original friendly house companions: The house goblin becomes used in the swear words like Poltergeist, Fratzteufel, Hausteufel (house devil), Rumor-and Polterteufel (polter-devil), Teufels-Affe (devil ape), Hexen- and Teufelsgespenst (hex- and devil­ghost). The house goblin even becomes a Drachen or Draken (dragon), Spuk-, Schreck- and Dreckgeist (horror ghost), a Scheisshäuser (toilet user) and Rabbaudermanneken (little trouble maker) (Horst 1825, p. 349, Horst 1825, vol. l, p. 248, Gerstmann 1714, pp. 3,13, 17, 99, 119). All in all, the goblin becomes a rather hellish ghost.

In contrast to this dire image, the German folklore also tells of the delightful aspects of these goblin-like ghosts, which if we look at them from the larger world perspective, are to be regarded as the largest c1ass of ghosts. For instance, Schott in his treatise Physica Curiosa, says that “the Germans would call these little goblins Gutelen because they are so gut (good) towards the people”. More examples of the positive character of goblins are given in Puhle (1999, p.p. 303 and 304, see also Puhle, 2000). The house ghost has thus been in causal or analogue context with Christianity, converted from a friend into an enemy of human beings. Indeed, evil ghosts were originally experienced in the outer environment but now they are perceived in the domestic environment. This is mirrored in the way RSPK phenomena progress from stone throwing effects outside the house, to disturbances which take place inside the house (cases l, 2 and 5). This is an aspect that was described by, among others, Tizané (1951) on the basis of his one hundred French cases. Bender described the throwing of stones as “an archaic form of aggression”; it is transcultural and occurs in the barbaric form of punishment as stoning to death (Bender 1979, p.136). Our contemporary poltergeist is thus a house-ghost which has lost its identity ­like a fallen angel, it has become a fallen house ghost.

Do the historical cases give us a new key for understanding poltergeists by showing how the form of thought and belief, and the resulting worldview are related to the way in which poltergeists are perceived and experienced? It is instructive in this context to think of what Wegner wrote in 1747: “Even if I cannot define what ghosts are, I think I can declare that they cannot be what you believe them really to be” (Wegner 1747, p.6).


Institut fur Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene e.V.

Wilhelmstr. 3A

79098 Freiburg i.Br.




I wish to thank Eberhard Bauer for his inspiration and support in this project.




Anonymous (Dorfschulze aus Oblitz) (1760) Von einer seltsamen Race gemeiner Elementar= und Haus=Geister, nebst einem merkwiirdigen Briefe eine s Dorfschulzen vom Jahr 1760 ueber seine drei Hausdrakens … In Horst, G. C. Zauber-Bibliothek, vol. 5, 1825,377-379. Mainz: F. Kupferberg.

Bauer, E. (1986) Kerner und die Parapsychologie. In Berger-Fix, A. Nur wenn man von Geistern spricht. Briefe und Klecksographien. Stuttgart andWien: Edition Erdmann in K. Thienemanns Verlag, 105-123, 233-236.

Bender H. (1979) Die transkulturelle Gleichförmigkeit von “Spuk”- Mustern als Hinweis für eine “archetypische” Anordnung. Zeilschrift für Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der Psychologie, 21, 133-139.

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