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Gallic Ghosts & French Frighteners

Spookdaddy

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I didn’t want to side-track the The Haunted Social Housing Of Fontenay-Aux-Roses thread, but it got me thinking about the subject of French hauntings, the alleged paucity of instances, and the recollection of one counterexample I’d encountered recently, and which I’ve just tracked down after recalling I’d read it on the somewhat addictive Normandy Then and Now site.

This is the story of the haunting of Château des Noyers du Tourneur between October 1875 and January 1876:

…It all started just a few decades after the château was built in 1835 from the stones of an earlier medieval castle. We know about it because M. MJ Morice described events in detail for the 1892 and 1883 Annales des Sciences Psychiques. At the time the family requested anonymity.

In October 1867 the de Manville family inherited the château. Here the sensible and well-to-do M. and Mme de Manville lived their son Maurice and his tutor Abbe Y., Emile the coachman, Auguste the gardener, Celina the cook and Amélina the maid.

It was not always a comfortable existence as for the first three years odd noises, doors slamming for no reason and inexplicably moved objects disconcerted them. Then in 1870 it all stopped. Until October 1875.

A supernatural problem

The unexpected noises were back and for no discernible reason, began to escalate. Severely unnerved, M. de Manville began to make a daily record the disturbances experienced by his family, their friends, servants and the clergy he soon bought in to help them with what was clearly a supernatural problem.

What started as the odd bang in a far off room, a misheard shout in the distance, moved closer, became louder and more frequent. Then whatever it was became vindictive...(cue dramatic chord progression)

Full story, here - The Terrible Haunting Of A Normandy Château

The report is from the Annales des Sciences Psychiques which appears to be something along the lines of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research - so a relatively respectable source.

This story has many of the hallmarks of a traditional haunting, as we might think of it on the other side of La Manche. It’s interesting that the events seem to appear out of nowhere – and that sense of a force growing in strength, and the correspondingly increasingly disruptive and frightening nature of the phenomena, is striking; the idea that something you cannot make sense of appears to be growing increasingly enraged by you is really quite disconcerting. (And I’ve always been fascinated by those incongruous noises – in this case the invisible ‘huge object’ heard rolling down the stairs – that are a not uncommon motif in hauntings of the period; British cases quite often mention ‘rushing’ noises or sounds like the dragging of large objects or heavy pieces of furniture, where none exist.)

Anyway, I thought that in many ways this was a fairly spectacular counterexample in regard to the theory that the French don’t really do ghosts. And not a bad place to start further digging.
 
For those with an interest in digging through (albeit virtually) dusty archives (not me, of course – I didn’t waste my Saturday night trawling through this lot...oh, no) there is an online archive of the Annales des Sciences Psychiques here.

Even better, for those of us who are a product of the British educational system’s historically appalling attitude to teaching foreign languages there is a more limited archive of the English language version of that publication here – containing the odd interesting ghost story (along with a lot of somewhat tedious and predictable séance based claptrap).
 
As a Frenchman, I wouldn't say that ghost stories are such a rarity in France. We even have a handful of local paranormal TV shows (but they are of very poor quality).

However, it's true that the topic isn't usually taken seriously. A French will hardly admit "believing or disbelieving in ghosts", or having a passing interest into the paranormal, for fear of ridicule. It's as if such a hobby was too childish for a grown up person. So most "ghostly encounters" are kept within the family and close friends, which seriously limits the number of cases that make it to books or websites. It's not fashionable.

So if you happen to visit a French bookshop, and go straight to the "paranormal" section, you won't find much about ghosts. Most books will be about : astrology & divination, UFOs, and New Age / eco-feminist witchcraft (and this is a fairly recent trend : it started two or three years ago with a feminist sociologist rewriting the history of witchcraft as a part of the heroic struggle of nature-loving women against the evil patriarcate). About ghosts ? Almost nothing.

This has not always been the case. As elsewhere in Europe, the topic was much more popular at the end of the 19th century. The astronomer Camille Flammarion collected countless stories and wrote several books on (French) ghosts.

So there are French ghost cases ... The problem is that it requires lots of efforts to go get them.

Having witnesses share their experiences takes a lot of energy. And as you may know, there are not many pubs in France. As it's not fashionable anymore to drink red wine in "cafés", you need to be very persuasive to go over one's natural reluctance to share his weird experiences !

For those who want to explore a few French cases, here are some references :

* La Machine (close to Nevers), 1973 : poltergeist. It started with neighbours complaining to each other that someone was striking their party wall at night. The local police ("gendarmerie") was called in and discovered with amazement that the sound seemed to come from within the wall, as nobody was on the other side. When asked questions such as "how many participants will there be in tomorrow's horse race ?", the wall would answer with the correct number of strikes. The police emitted the hypothesis that someone perhaps hid in underground tunnels and was the author of the strikes, to make fun of the two families. But the case was never solved (source : Marine Benoît, "In Tenebris").

* Fougeret castle, close to Poitiers. Typical haunted castle. According to the owners, one room is haunted by a young lady who died from a now rare condition. Their daughter caught the exact same condition after sleeping in the aforementioned room.
Unfortunately, the credibility of the case is questionable. The castle owners were from the start stout believers in the paranormal and they started to sell ghost sojourns to tourists, medium included. Details easy to find on the web.

Same kind of issue for the Abbaye de Mortemer : ghost stories suddenly popping up from nowhere after a change of owner, and in spite of unsubstantiated claims, the place becomes at once "the most haunted in France". Unlikely.

* For a forest ghost, "le Grand Veneur" is an interesting take. No longer seen, but in the last years of the French monarchy this ghostly hunter was often seen in Fontainebleau, even by the king himself.
 
As a Frenchman, I wouldn't say that ghost stories are such a rarity in France. We even have a handful of local paranormal TV shows (but they are of very poor quality).

However, it's true that the topic isn't usually taken seriously. A French will hardly admit "believing or disbelieving in ghosts", or having a passing interest into the paranormal, for fear of ridicule. It's as if such a hobby was too childish for a grown up person. So most "ghostly encounters" are kept within the family and close friends, which seriously limits the number of cases that make it to books or websites. It's not fashionable.

So if you happen to visit a French bookshop, and go straight to the "paranormal" section, you won't find much about ghosts. Most books will be about : astrology & divination, UFOs, and New Age / eco-feminist witchcraft (and this is a fairly recent trend : it started two or three years ago with a feminist sociologist rewriting the history of witchcraft as a part of the heroic struggle of nature-loving women against the evil patriarcate). About ghosts ? Almost nothing.

This has not always been the case. As elsewhere in Europe, the topic was much more popular at the end of the 19th century. The astronomer Camille Flammarion collected countless stories and wrote several books on (French) ghosts.

So there are French ghost cases ... The problem is that it requires lots of efforts to go get them.

Having witnesses share their experiences takes a lot of energy. And as you may know, there are not many pubs in France. As it's not fashionable anymore to drink red wine in "cafés", you need to be very persuasive to go over one's natural reluctance to share his weird experiences !

For those who want to explore a few French cases, here are some references :

* La Machine (close to Nevers), 1973 : poltergeist. It started with neighbours complaining to each other that someone was striking their party wall at night. The local police ("gendarmerie") was called in and discovered with amazement that the sound seemed to come from within the wall, as nobody was on the other side. When asked questions such as "how many participants will there be in tomorrow's horse race ?", the wall would answer with the correct number of strikes. The police emitted the hypothesis that someone perhaps hid in underground tunnels and was the author of the strikes, to make fun of the two families. But the case was never solved (source : Marine Benoît, "In Tenebris").

* Fougeret castle, close to Poitiers. Typical haunted castle. According to the owners, one room is haunted by a young lady who died from a now rare condition. Their daughter caught the exact same condition after sleeping in the aforementioned room.
Unfortunately, the credibility of the case is questionable. The castle owners were from the start stout believers in the paranormal and they started to sell ghost sojourns to tourists, medium included. Details easy to find on the web.

Same kind of issue for the Abbaye de Mortemer : ghost stories suddenly popping up from nowhere after a change of owner, and in spite of unsubstantiated claims, the place becomes at once "the most haunted in France". Unlikely.

* For a forest ghost, "le Grand Veneur" is an interesting take. No longer seen, but in the last years of the French monarchy this ghostly hunter was often seen in Fontainebleau, even by the king himself.
As it's not fashionable anymore to drink red wine in "cafés",....

I'm sorry, what was that?
 
As it's not fashionable anymore to drink red wine in "cafés",....

I'm sorry, what was that?

OK, it's not really a Fortean topic but as a side note :

Until about the late 1960s or 1970s, each town or village had its popular "bistro", "café", "brasserie" or "bar", e.g the French equivalent of the British pub, where locals would meet, discuss politics and drink wine or "pastis".

At home, people would routinely drink "table wine" for dinner and lunch. And in the 1950s, even small children would be given a glass of red wine.

However, starting in the 1980s, public health policies started to discourage drinking. And although French wine was still somewhat promoted for economical reasons (giving rise to the now disproven theory of the "French paradox" according to which you could live longer eating "foie gras" and drinking red wine), people started to drink less and less wine. Drinking wine started to be seen as old people's habits. In small villages, "cafés / bars" started to disappear, and in large cities, they tended to focus more on selling tobacco and lottery tickets than alcohol.

So overall, nowadays, French people are usually not great drinkers ...which isn't bad news.

I am not saying that it explains why they would experience less ghostly phenomena. I simply suggest that without the desinhibiting effect of alcohol, it's harder to make them speak of ghosts ! :)
 
OK, it's not really a Fortean topic but as a side note :

Until about the late 1960s or 1970s, each town or village had its popular "bistro", "café", "brasserie" or "bar", e.g the French equivalent of the British pub, where locals would meet, discuss politics and drink wine or "pastis".

At home, people would routinely drink "table wine" for dinner and lunch. And in the 1950s, even small children would be given a glass of red wine.

However, starting in the 1980s, public health policies started to discourage drinking. And although French wine was still somewhat promoted for economical reasons (giving rise to the now disproven theory of the "French paradox" according to which you could live longer eating "foie gras" and drinking red wine), people started to drink less and less wine. Drinking wine started to be seen as old people's habits. In small villages, "cafés / bars" started to disappear, and in large cities, they tended to focus more on selling tobacco and lottery tickets than alcohol.

So overall, nowadays, French people are usually not great drinkers ...which isn't bad news.

I am not saying that it explains why they would experience less ghostly phenomena. I simply suggest that without the desinhibiting effect of alcohol, it's harder to make them speak of ghosts ! :)
Blimey, I'm shocked- what is the world coming to? At least the tobacconists are still going though (unlike here).
Do not despair however, as I am keeping the tradition going by drinking copious amounts of red wine for all the people of France put together.
 
Blimey, I'm shocked- what is the world coming to? At least the tobacconists are still going though (unlike here).
Do not despair however, as I am keeping the tradition going by drinking copious amounts of red wine for all the people of France put together.
Tobacconists are on the wane too. Again it's a matter of public health policies. Taxes on tobacco and cigarettes have been steadily rising since 10 years, prompting many smokers to quit smoking.

In the 60s, about 60% of French males were smokers. Between 1990 and 2016, this proportion had fallen to a stable 40%. Since 2016, it has fallen to 30%.

In France we are no longer addicted to wine or cigarettes. However, we're very much addicted to taxes. That's what would characterize us the best.
 
OK, it's not really a Fortean topic but as a side note :

Until about the late 1960s or 1970s, each town or village had its popular "bistro", "café", "brasserie" or "bar", e.g the French equivalent of the British pub, where locals would meet, discuss politics and drink wine or "pastis".

At home, people would routinely drink "table wine" for dinner and lunch. And in the 1950s, even small children would be given a glass of red wine.

However, starting in the 1980s, public health policies started to discourage drinking. And although French wine was still somewhat promoted for economical reasons (giving rise to the now disproven theory of the "French paradox" according to which you could live longer eating "foie gras" and drinking red wine), people started to drink less and less wine. Drinking wine started to be seen as old people's habits. In small villages, "cafés / bars" started to disappear, and in large cities, they tended to focus more on selling tobacco and lottery tickets than alcohol.

So overall, nowadays, French people are usually not great drinkers ...which isn't bad news.

I am not saying that it explains why they would experience less ghostly phenomena. I simply suggest that without the desinhibiting effect of alcohol, it's harder to make them speak of ghosts ! :)
Might be certain area's but my brother in law lives near Brive and plenty of Red Wine drinking cafe's around his area and my mates parents live in some part of the country side and Red Wine is all over the place.
 
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...So if you happen to visit a French bookshop, and go straight to the "paranormal" section, you won't find much about ghosts. Most books will be about : astrology & divination, UFOs, and New Age / eco-feminist witchcraft (and this is a fairly recent trend : it started two or three years ago with a feminist sociologist rewriting the history of witchcraft as a part of the heroic struggle of nature-loving women against the evil patriarcate). About ghosts ? Almost nothing...

Yes, this is one thing that struck me when trawling the internet for stories - and even when skimming through the Annales des Sciences Psychiques mentioned in my first post; there's an awful lot of interest in phenomena one might lump together as Esoterica, and other areas of the paranormal - but very few examples of the simple art of the haunting.

There's another issue, which I suspect is somewhat universal, an probably exacerbated by the inability to search foreign language sources thoroughly - and that's the prevalence of what I would call the ‘heritage’ ghost story; that is, the usually quite antique and well-worn tale associated with an old site, repeated endlessly in guidebooks, local webpages and leaflets. There seem to be a fair few of those - but unfortunately, they don't pique my interest as much as the more recent cases.

I've been wondering about the more cultural side of this as well. Possibly ironically - at least in regard to the supposed difference in national tastes for such matters - Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book, the very first short story by MR James, arguably one of the greatest English language writers of the ghost story, is set in France. He also describes the plot of another – never written in full – in Stories I Have Tried to Write. Also, an old and supposedly factual French haunting provided inspiration for one of the ghost stories retold at the end of Dicken’s, A Christmas Tree (link here - although there's not too much detail on the original haunting). And one of my favourite Algernon Blackwood stories – Ancient Sorceries – is set in France (although, it’s not strictly speaking a ghost story, I suppose).

I have, on these threads, promoted the policiers of French archaeologist and author, Fred Vargas, whose subject matter covers a ghost or two, I think - and lots more oddness besides. Similar in some ways to Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series of novels - although I prefer Vargas. (I suspect the writers of the French TV series The Crimson Rivers / Les Rivières pourpres have read the odd Vargas.)

Oh, and I still believe Les Diaboliques to be one of the most unnerving films I've ever watched.
 
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Another Gallic ghost : https://www.mairie-st-georges-du-vievre.com/saint-georges-du-vievre/la-pharmacie-hantee/

This one is from 1929, and the story is told on the official website of the town. As it is written in French, I summarize the story below : in 1929, the local drugstore "suddenly" became haunted.

Pots and ustensils would move out of their own volition and start flying through the air. The phenomena would stop when the 17 years old local employee was away, and start again when she came back. Classic polteregeist style ! The shop owner watched the girl but could not find any proof that she was playing tricks on him. Actually, the weird phenomena happened even while he was carefully checking what she was doing.

Local rumour had it that some jealous lady had cast a curse on the unfrotunate employee.

Exorcism attempts by the local priest, using holy Saint Benedict medals, failed to bring back peace in the precincts. So the shop owner fired his employee, and the weird happenings stopped.

And now the town city hall publishes this report of the case on its website.
 
Thank heavens for that.
Back in the 80s/90s I got into the New World wines, especially cabernet-sauvignons from Australia with all that berry fruit and 14% strength. But aside from the occasional New Zealand pinot noir, I've reverted back to French wines for well over a decade now, especially red Burgundy. Best wine I've had lately was a Louis Jadot Bourgogne Gamay (£15 from Sainsburys) but my usual go-to is a Beaujolais-Villages
 
However, it's true that the topic isn't usually taken seriously. A French will hardly admit "believing or disbelieving in ghosts", or having a passing interest into the paranormal, for fear of ridicule. It's as if such a hobby was too childish for a grown up person. So most "ghostly encounters" are kept within the family and close friends, which seriously limits the number of cases that make it to books or websites. It's not fashionable.

I’m not being sarcastic when I say thank you for letting me know. If I get talking easily to people I often tend to stray into that kind of territory, and in the UK so many people respond positively to a general kind of ‘Does this place have a ghost?/do you think it’s haunted?’ query. There’s also ‘I don’t believe in ghosts but…‘ (proceeds to relate some kind of experience).

I don’t go around accosting strangers! but in easygoing, rambling conversations I might say something.
Over the years I’ve seen loads of polls about X percentage of Brits believe in ghosts etc and most of the US people I’ve talked to online seem to have sone kind of interest. I wonder why people in the UK are more openly interested
 
Back in the 80s/90s I got into the New World wines, especially cabernet-sauvignons from Australia with all that berry fruit and 14% strength. But aside from the occasional New Zealand pinot noir, I've reverted back to French wines for well over a decade now, especially red Burgundy. Best wine I've had lately was a Louis Jadot Bourgogne Gamay (£15 from Sainsburys) but my usual go-to is a Beaujolais-Villages
I've never had a bad Chilean or South African either.
 
I’m not being sarcastic when I say thank you for letting me know. If I get talking easily to people I often tend to stray into that kind of territory, and in the UK so many people respond positively to a general kind of ‘Does this place have a ghost?/do you think it’s haunted?’ query. There’s also ‘I don’t believe in ghosts but…‘ (proceeds to relate some kind of experience).

I don’t go around accosting strangers! but in easygoing, rambling conversations I might say something.
Over the years I’ve seen loads of polls about X percentage of Brits believe in ghosts etc and most of the US people I’ve talked to online seem to have sone kind of interest. I wonder why people in the UK are more openly interested

Oh we LOVE ghosts. As you've found, it only takes a nudge to get a nice scary story out of any passing stranger. :)
I do this at every opportunity. :cool:
 
Oh we LOVE ghosts. As you've found, it only takes a nudge to get a nice scary story out of any passing stranger. :)
I do this at every opportunity. :cool:

That’s completely true, Escargot and it still amazes and delights me, especially the ‘Oh no, I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but there was that one time (or two or three)…’
There’s a real fount of experiences out there if you get talking to people. No doubt many are completely explainable but it’s still fascinating to see how people will so easily or every offhandedly relate them.
 
That’s completely true, Escargot and it still amazes and delights me, especially the ‘Oh no, I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but there was that one time (or two or three)…’
There’s a real fount of experiences out there if you get talking to people. No doubt many are completely explainable but it’s still fascinating to see how people will so easily or every offhandedly relate them.
Everyone seems to have a ghost story! :)

Even the sceptics. Theirs are the best because they still don't quite believe what they've seen. :cool:
 
Theirs are the best because they still don't quite believe what they've seen.


Yep :) Like my partner’s dad. I wouldn’t even call him a skeptic as that implies skepticism of something whereas he is absolutely certain there’s no higher powers, no ghosts, UFO’s, nothing paranormal or inexplicable at all. Yet when we were on holiday in ‘21 he said he just saw a person, a black figure walk through the doorway. I was in the same room reading and he was painting and had looked up for a moment. He asked if I saw it but my head was down, however I could see through the doorway and right through the kitchen to the side door and no-one was around. It was very quiet.
He said the place was haunted and I laughed and said he didn’t believe in ghosts. He agreed but said he saw it anyway, quite clearly . It’s as if he just closes a door on it and shrugs.
 
He said the place was haunted and I laughed and said he didn’t believe in ghosts. He agreed but said he saw it anyway, quite clearly . It’s as if he just closes a door on it and shrugs.
Can relate. People who've seen, heard and felt the uncanny when right next to me have managed to rationalise it away.
If they didn't, they'd have to deal with ferocious cognitive dissonance.
 
Back in the 80s/90s I got into the New World wines, especially cabernet-sauvignons from Australia with all that berry fruit and 14% strength. But aside from the occasional New Zealand pinot noir, I've reverted back to French wines for well over a decade now, especially red Burgundy. Best wine I've had lately was a Louis Jadot Bourgogne Gamay (£15 from Sainsburys) but my usual go-to is a Beaujolais-Villages
I love my heavy Reds and Port as well now (Hic) but going to try the 2 above....what made you change.
 
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