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Poltergeist or a Show for the Neighbours?

Although belief that souls of the dead keep returning to the world of the living has its roots in pagan times and has managed to remain planted in folk memory up to this day, documents describing events of such nature are not frequently found among our archival holdings. An interesting report made by the clerk of the district commissariat in Senožeče in February 1842 revelas how one such "ghost" was swiftly exorcised from the house of Nikolaj Doles.

First page of the report.

Report Written by the Clerk of the District Commissariat in Senožeče about the Appearance of Ghosts in the House of Nikolaj Dole, p. 1. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

Report Written by the Clerk of the District Commissariat in Senožeče about the Appearance of Ghosts in the House of Nikolaj Doles

The people of Landol were buzzing with excitement. There was a ghost in Doles' house. Those living in the house allegedly heard sighing, rumble, occasionally one of the daughters got slapped across the face by something or someone out of nowhere. The rumour spread quickly and pretty soon the ghost got its name. It was believed to be the spirit of the recently deceased brother of the house master. But what was it that upset the spirit of the dead man so much that he had to make his presence known? It was said that the house master was in debt and was facing debt recovery, and the ghost was believed to suggest that this debt be paid by the master's third brother, a vicar in Trieste.

Instead of subsiding, people’s unrest in regard to this matter actually spread to the neighbouring villages and eventually came to the attention of the district authorities in Senožeče. The commissioner send his district clerk Franc Žvokel and two bailiffs to have a look at the scene of the crime and investigate a possible fraud behind all these goings-on. The clerk described his experience in a four-page long report.

When I arrived at Doles’ house in the evening, there was already a crowd of men and women from the village and its surroundings, hanging around the place and waiting for what was about to happen. They told me the ghost had not appeared yet. I elbowed my way through the crowd and reached the top floor of the house. The place was in twilight darkness and the only source of light was a lantern, placed on the bench next to the stove. Doles’ daughter was sent for, since it was believed that the ghost only made sounds when she was around. When she arrived, people began to pray and the room filled with people. I observed everything carefully and the young girl seemed particularly suspicious to me. Suddenly there was a slight cry, as if a child was crying. The whole thing lasted just a moment and during this time the girl covered her mouth. Then she asked those present if they had heard the ghost. I was sure that she was the one who let out the cry and I told her so, but she just looked at me with surprise.

One of the people present confirmed my suspicions and after that there were no more crying sounds. I left the house and summoned for the master Nikolaj Doles. I explained to him the actions of his eldest daughter and advised him that it was in his interest to admit the fraud and promise to make a stop to these sounds of crying and rumble of ghosts. Then I summoned his daughter Helena, who at first claimed she was innocent. When I threatened to lock her up, she confessed.  

This official visit and the punishment threatened obviously did the trick, since after that there were no more reports of any subsequent visits by the “poltergeist” in Doles’ house.

Documents describing events of such nature are not frequently found among our archival holdings, despite the fact that this belief of the souls of the dead returning to the world of the living has its roots in pagan times and has managed to remain planted in folk memory up to this day. In fact, many of today’s customs and practices derive from exactly such ceremonies performed to pacify spiritual world. They spread among people through oral tradition or were written down by individuals who researched such phenomena. In any case, this mysterious spiritual world always entailed some sort of alarm, and while it scared some people it also made others curious. But it was never an area of temporal power, which intervened only when such unusual happenings led to restlessness among the population and caused mass gatherings on the scene of such occurrences.

Olga Pivk