Halloween Special: C. G. Jung’s Spine-Chilling Nights in a ‘Haunted House’

Fanny Moser

The following excerpts are from a report originally contributed by Carl Gustav Jung to Spuk. Irrglaube oder Wahrglaube? (chapter 5, Baden: Gyr, 1950), a study of hauntings and poltergeist cases by the zoologist Fanny Moser (1872-1953). The below is extracted from C. G. Jung, Psychology and the Occult (London: Routledge, 1982, pp. 174-183; I’m grateful to Sonu Shamdasani for informing me of the existence of an English translation) and can be read as a footnote to my previous post on the malleability of interpretations of ‘poltergeist’ phenomena. Jung’s report is unusual in so far that other published cases tend to be more dramatic – but far less scary!

Jung writes that in the summer of 1920 he was invited by a colleague (whose identity he protects by calling him ‘Dr. X.’) to give lectures in England. In expectation of Jung’s visit, ‘Dr. X.’ had found a suitable place for the weekends, “a charming cottage” in Buckinghamshire, at “a ridiculously low price”. After giving detailed information about the layout of the house and his room, Jung reports:

Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung

The first night, tired from the strenuous work of the week, I slept well. We spent the next day walking and talking. That evening, feeling rather tired, I went to bed at 11 o’clock, but did not get beyond the point of drowsing. I only fell into a kind of torpor, which was unpleasant because I felt I was unable to move. Also it seemed to me that the air had become stuffy, and that there was an indefinable, nasty smell in the room. I thought I had forgotten to open the windows.

Finally, in spite of my torpor, I was driven to light a candle: both windows were open, and a night wind blew softly through the room, filling it with the flowery scents of high summer. There was no trace of the bad smell. I remained half awake in my peculiar condition, until I glimpsed the first pale light of dawn through the east window. At this moment the torpor dropped away from me like magic, and I fell into a deep sleep from which I awoke only towards nine o’clock.

On Sunday evening I mentioned in passing to Dr. X that I had slept remarkably badly the night before. He recommended me to drink a bottle of beer, which I did. But when I went to bed the same thing happened: I could not get beyond the point of drowsing.

Both windows were open. The air was fresh to begin with, but after about half an hour it seemed to turn bad; it became stale and fuggy, and finally somehow repulsive. It was hard to identify the smell, despite my efforts to establish its nature. The only thing that came into my head was that there was something sickly about it. I pursued this clue through all the memories of smells that a man can collect in eight years of work at a psychiatric clinic. Suddenly I hit on the memory of an old woman who was suffering from an open carcinoma. This was quite unmistakably the same sickly smell I had so often noticed in her room.

As a psychologist, I wondered what might be the cause of this peculiar olfactory hallucination. But I was unable to discover any convincing connection between it and my present state of consciousness. I only felt very uncomfortable because my torpor seemed to paralyze me. In the end I could not think any more, and fell into a torpid doze.

Suddenly I heard the noise of water dripping. “Didn’t I turn off the tap properly?” I thought. “But of course, there’s no running water in the room—so it’s obviously raining—yet today was so fine.” Meanwhile the dripping went on regularly, one drop every two seconds. I imagined a little pool of water to the left of my bed, near the chest of drawers. “Then the roof must leak,” I thought. Finally, with a heroic effort, so it seemed to me, I lit the candle and went over to the chest of drawers. There was no water on the floor, and no damp spot on the plaster ceiling.

Only then did I look out of the window: it was a clear, starry night. The dripping still continued. I could make out a place on the floor, about eighteen inches from the chest of drawers, where the sound came from. I could have touched it with my hand. All at once the dripping stopped and did not come back. Towards three o’clock, at the first light of dawn, I fell into a deep sleep. No—I have heard death-watch beetles. The ticking noise they make is sharper. This was a duller sound, exactly what would be made by drops of water falling from the ceiling.

I was annoyed with myself, and not exactly refreshed by this weekend. But I said nothing to Dr. X. The next weekend, after a busy and eventful week, I did not think at all about my previous experience. Yet hardly had I been in bed for half an hour than everything was there as before: the torpor, the repulsive smell, the dripping.

“…something brushed along the walls, the furniture creaked now here and now there, there were rustlings in the corners”.

And this time there was something else: something brushed along the walls, the furniture creaked now here and now there, there were rustlings in the corners. A strange restlessness was in the air. I thought it was the wind, lit the candle and went to shut the windows. But the night was still, there was no breath of wind. So long as the light was on, the air was fresh and no noise could be heard. But the moment I blew out the candle, the torpor slowly returned, the air became fuggy, and the creakings and rustlings began again. I thought I must have noises in my ear, but at three o’clock in the morning they stopped as promptly as before.

The next evening I tried my luck again with a bottle of beer. I had always slept well in London and could not imagine what could give me insomnia in this quiet and peaceful spot. During the night the same phenomena were repeated, but in intensified form. The thought now occurred to me that they must be parapsychological. I knew that problems of which people are unconscious can give rise to exteriorization phenomena, because constellated unconscious contents often have a tendency to manifest themselves outwardly somehow or other. But I knew the problems of the present occupants of the house very well, and could discover nothing that would account for the exteriorizations.

“There were loud knocking noises, and I had the impression that an animal, about the size of a dog, was rushing round the room in a panic.”

The next day I asked the others how they had slept. They all said they had slept wonderfully. The third night it was even worse. There were loud knocking noises, and I had the impression that an animal, about the size of a dog, was rushing round the room in a panic. As usual, the hubbub stopped abruptly with the first streak of light in the east.

“Sounds of knocking came also from outside in the form of dull blows, as though somebody were banging on the brick walls with a muffled hammer.”

The phenomena grew still more intense during the following weekend. The rustling became a fearful racket, like the roaring of a storm. Sounds of knocking came also from outside in the form of dull blows, as though somebody were banging on the brick walls with a muffled hammer. Several times I had to assure myself that there was no storm, and that nobody was banging on the walls from outside.

The next weekend, the fourth, I cautiously suggested to my host that the house might be haunted, and that this would explain the surprisingly low rent. Naturally he laughed at me, although he was as much at a loss as I about my insomnia. It had also struck me how quickly the two girls [whom ‘Dr. X’ had engaged as housekeepers] cleared away after dinner every evening, and always left the house long before sundown. By eight o’clock there was no girl to be seen.

I jokingly remarked to the girl who did the cooking that she must be afraid of us if she had herself fetched every evening by her friend and was then in such a hurry to get home. She laughed and said that she wasn’t at all afraid of the gentlemen, but that nothing would induce her to stay a moment in this house alone, and certainly not after sunset. “What’s the matter with it?” I asked. “Why, it’s haunted, didn’t you know? That’s the reason why it was going so cheap. Nobody’s ever stuck it here.” It had been like that as long as she could remember. But I could get nothing out of her about the origin of the rumour. Her friend emphatically confirmed everything she had said.

As I was a guest, I naturally couldn’t make further inquiries in the village. My host was sceptical, but he was willing to give the house a thorough looking over. We found nothing remarkable until we came to the attic. There, between the two wings of the house, we discovered a dividing wall, and in it a comparatively new door, about half an inch thick, with a heavy lock and two huge bolts, that shut off our wing from the unoccupied part. The girls did not know of the existence of this door. It presented something of a puzzle because the two wings communicated with one another both on the ground floor and on the first floor. There were no rooms in the attic to be shut off, and no signs of use. The purpose of the door seemed inexplicable.

“I had the feeling there was something near me, and opened my eyes. There, beside me on the pillow, I saw the head of an old woman, and the right eye, wide open, glared at me. The left half of the face was missing below the eye.”

The fifth weekend was so unbearable that I asked my host to give me another room. This is what had happened: it was a beautiful moonlight night, with no wind; in the room there were rustlings, creakings, and hangings; from outside, blows rained on the walls. I had the feeling there was something near me, and opened my eyes. There, beside me on the pillow, I saw the head of an old woman, and the right eye, wide open, glared at me. The left half of the face was missing below the eye. The sight of it was so sudden and unexpected that I leapt out of bed with one bound, lit the candle, and spent the rest of the night in an armchair. The next day I moved into the adjoining room, where I slept splendidly and was no longer disturbed during this or the following weekend.

I told my host that I was convinced the house was haunted, but he dismissed this explanation with smiling scepticism. His attitude, understandable though it was, annoyed me somewhat, for I had to admit that my health had suffered under these experiences. I felt unnaturally fatigued, as I had never felt before. I therefore challenged Dr. X to try sleeping in the haunted room himself. He agreed to this, and gave me his word that he would send me an honest report of his observations. He would go to the house alone and spend the weekend there so as to give me a “fair chance.”

Next morning I left. Ten days later I had a letter from Dr. X. He had spent the weekend alone in the cottage. In the evening it was very quiet, and he thought it was not absolutely necessary to go up to the first floor. The ghost, after all, could manifest itself anywhere in the house, if there was one. So he set up his camp bed in the conservatory, and as the cottage really was rather lonely, he took a loaded shotgun to bed with him.

Everything was deathly still. He did not feel altogether at ease, but nevertheless almost succeeded in falling asleep after a time. Suddenly it seemed to him that he heard footsteps in the corridor. He immediately struck a light and flung open the door, but there was nothing to be seen. He went back grumpily to bed, thinking I had been a fool.

“…he again heard footsteps, which stopped just in front of the door; the chair creaked, as though somebody was pushing against the door from the other side.”

But it was not long before he again heard footsteps, and to his discomfiture he discovered that the door lacked a key. He rammed a chair against the door, with its back under the lock, and returned to bed. Soon afterwards he again heard footsteps, which stopped just in front of the door; the chair creaked, as though somebody was pushing against the door from the other side. He then set up his bed in the garden, and there he slept very well.

The next night he again put his bed in the garden, but at one o’clock it started to rain, so he shoved the head of the bed under the eaves of the conservatory and covered the foot with a waterproof blanket. In this way he slept peacefully. But nothing in the world would induce him to sleep again in the conservatory. He had now given up the cottage.

A little later I heard from Dr. X that the owner had had the cottage pulled down, since it was unsaleable and scared away all tenants. Unfortunately I no longer have the original report, but its contents are stamped indelibly on my mind. It gave me considerable satisfaction after my colleague had laughed so loudly at my fear of ghosts.

As Jung’s above remark regarding ‘exteriorization phenomena’ suggests, he did not believe in ‘ghosts’ as an explanation for the disturbances, but tried to account for most of them in terms of hypnagogic hallucinations, dramatised intuitions, exaggerated perceptions in a state of hypnoid catalepsy, and other psychological phenomena. However, Jung also conceded that his interpretation “naturally does not pretend to explain all ghost phenomena” – a caveat which the better corroborated cases in Fanny Moser’s extraordinary book and similar studies maybe appear to justify?

Happy Halloween…

© Routledge (Excerpts from C. G. Jung, Psychology and the Occult)
©  Andreas Sommer
(introduction and comments)

4 thoughts on “Halloween Special: C. G. Jung’s Spine-Chilling Nights in a ‘Haunted House’

  1. Andreas I find this fascinating on so many levels but particularly because there seems to be a massive upsurge in people reporting to me either they themselves or friends/relatives’re experiencing very intense versions of much the same thing.

    Two females known to me for instance one with two daughters of her own’ve told me quite unaware of each other’s accounts much the same story of becoming so intensely aware of a presence moving through their place they literally became so terrified they pulled the sheets over their heads and lay their shaking till the dawn arrived.

    Both’re tough cookies the type who feeling threatened’d normally pick up a heavy or lethal object and go through the house try’n’o rout out any possible malefactors issuing every foul mouthed threat under the sun.

    On these two occasions though their sense was of something so eldritch and strange they couldn’t do anything of the sort and this in spite of the fact one of them was lying beside her sleeping daughter fully aware her husband was in the next room.

    I myself’ve experienced a life time of this sort of thing but reading the account you’ve given here I’m struck for the first time by certain features which’re highly familiar to me.

    The i) paralysis component the ii) enhanced olfactory component the iii) enhanced auditory component and the iv) types of presences sensed.

    In Jung’s case he senses first an unspecifiable presence then something akin to an animal the size of a dog rushing round the room.

    I myself’ve experienced the large dangerous animal presence effortlessly gliding round the room endlessly circling me but reading Jung’s version I had thes sense the whole senario reminded me of something my first thoughts being the possibility some women came to believe they were witches with an animal familiar precisely because they too were prone to this experience.

    Then it hit me what it actually reminded me of.

    If you translate Jung’s experience to a cave several thousand years ago this must’ve been the regular nightly experience of early mankind.

    Is it possible whatever else’s going on with these experiences in part they represent a recapitualtion of a key component of our earliest ancestors lives?

  2. Thanks for this, Alan. “Recapitulation of a key component of our earliest ancestors’ lives” may cover some bits if you’re fine with the concept of inheritable memory. Jung’s almost purely subjective experience (if we dismiss his account of sceptical ‘Dr. X’s’ alleged experiences, or retroactively explain it in terms of the Dr.’s ‘unconscious will to believe’) might perhaps be explicable this way.

    But in better corroborated cases you get claims of collective perceptions of, say, objects floating about for minutes in bright daylight, stones penetrating windows and walls without causing any damage, and other things that sound too weird to be true (see characteristics of ‘poltergeist’ cases in an earlier post), but are so consistently documented throughout the centuries (often by ‘enlightened’ state officials, etc.) that you can’t help but think something objective is going on here.

    I’m a historian of science, not a scientist, so I don’t feel competent to make any claims of what’s ‘real’ and what’s not, but I really wish scientists (especially those making careers as reality policemen, or ‘Professors for the Public Understanding of Science’ and recently ‘of Psychology’, hint hint) would take an honest look at the very rich material rather than dismiss it as ‘superstition’ without knowing the literature, some of which is pretty sophisticated. Fanny Moser’s study is a case in point, as is Gauld, A., & Cornell, A. D., Poltergeists. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, and many other texts.

    Just saying, though. 🙂

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