“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours” – Eric Idle
Supernatural critters don’t respect you. Don’t take it personally. They don’t respect any of us mundane terrestrial types. They lurk menacingly in dark corners, cast doubts on your testimony, refuse to cooperate in empirical tests, and generally make themselves a nuisance. Of course, they never clean up after themselves, unless doing so would be likely to suggest to others that you’ve lost your ever-loving mind. Then the broken plates, shattered mirrors, and other physical evidence of their presence have an irritating habit of reconstituting themselves just in time for the exorcist to arrive and regard you with suspicion. It’s about making you look bad and providing fodder for the skeptic to cast aspersions on your sanity. And then, when everybody’s back is turned they throw stuff at you, like kids tossing snowballs at passing cars. Evidence of malfeasance conveniently melts away. Personally, I’m tired of interdimensional hooligans hurling flotsam and jetsam across the abyss, as they seem to be wont to do, given the long and storied history in the annals of strange phenomena of various kinds of objects, from frogs to fish to stones that seem to pelt us out of nowhere. We even have curious instances of some preternatural jerk tossing explosives from a parallel universe to annoy us (for details, see my article “Duck and Cover: Improvised Interdimensional Explosives”).
Now should you live in a purely physicalist paradigm (your happy place) and doubt such things, you can blame whirlwinds, water spouts, tornados and other meteorological phenomena for unceremoniously depositing trash on our heads. Red rains may be weird algae. Meteorites hit our atmosphere and disintegrate on a routine basis, showering us in interstellar lint, and flying fish may occasionally get uppity, but when it starts raining objects indoors for no particular reason, I think we have to give credit where credit is due. Preternatural pranksters, obviously. And usually, we end up with nobody to blame; we call the local society for psychical research, attribute it to poltergeists (as in the Western world, they appear to be prone to tantrums), and get on with our lives. A case in 1903 Sumatra, Indonesia may be the exception, if we just align Indonesian/Malay mythology with Western poltergeist lore. We can ultimately blame the supernatural rock-throwing jerks called Hantu Batu. I think we need to talk to their parents.
In 1903, Mr. W. G. Grottendieck (sometimes inexplicably referred to as W.M. Grottendieck, perhaps because his middle name was actually “Mary”), an explorer and oil company employee who originally hailed from Dortrecht, Holland was mucking about in the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia looking for resources to exploit for God and country. Like many intrepid Victorian adventurers, Mr. Grottendieck was an associate of the Society for Psychical Research. How is this significant? Well, some might say he was inclined to believe in curious anomalies, but it would be more reasonable to say that he was open to the possibility that weird shit happens. He didn’t really care, as his primary goal was imperialistic expansion, oppressing the masses and calling anybody who was a shade darker than white a “coolie”, but lucky for us he wasn’t about to wait until he wrote his memoirs to inform us of the odd happening he observed in Sumatra. He presented his story to his compatriots in the Society for Psychical Research, and the ever-vigilant Godfather of Forteana, Charles Fort, picked up on it.
In the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 12-260, is published a letter from Mr. W. G. Grottendieck, telling that, about one o’clock, one morning in September, 1903, at Dortrecht, Sumatra [sic. Grottendieck was originally from Dortrecht, Holland], he was awakened by hearing something fall on the floor of his room. Sounds of falling objects went on. He found that little, black stones were falling, with uncanny slowness, from the ceiling, or the roof, which was made of large, overlapping, dried leaves. Mr. Grottendieck writes that these stones were appearing near the inside of the roof, not puncturing the material, if through this material they were passing. He tried to catch them at the appearing-point, but, though they moved with extraordinary slowness, they evaded him. There was a coolie boy, asleep in the house, at the time. “The boy certainly did not do it, because at the time that I bent over him, while he was sleeping on the floor, there fell a couple of stones.” There was no police station handy, and this story was not finished off with a neat and fashionable cut. I point out that these stories of flows of stones are not conventional stories, and are not well known. Their details are not standardized, like “clanking chains” in ghost stories, and “eyes the size of saucers,” in sea serpent yarns. Somebody in France, in the year 1842, told of slow-moving stones, and somebody in Sumatra, in the year 1903, told of slow-moving stones. It would be strange, if two liars should invent this circumstance – And that is where I get, when I reason (Fort, 1941, p28-29).
Anomalistic Capo di tutti capi Fort noted some especially curious details. The stones that fell upon Grottendieck apparently did so without puncturing the roof of his hut, but also fell with a lack of urgency, as if they scoffed at the laws of time and space. Nor was this the only instance of slow-falling stones raining down indoors. As was his way, Fort mused on the similarities to other stories, but reasonably pointed out that remarking upon such a strange nuance (particularly in cross-cultural circumstances) should lend a puzzling credence to the tale. Grottendieck was no slouch, and included a wealth of details, including drawings, to document the incident, down to the architectural specifics of his temporary residence. On his return to Europe in 1906, Grottendieck dispatched a letter to the editor which was published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. In Grottendieck’s own words:
Dordrecht. January 27th, 1906…It was in September, 1903, that the following abnormal fact occurred to me. Every detail of it has been examined by me very carefully. I had been on a long journey through the jungle of Palembang and Djambi (Sumatra) with a gang of 50 Javanese coolies for exploring purposes. Coming back from the long trip, I found that my home had been occupied by somebody else and I had to put up my bed in another house that was not yet ready, and had just been erected from wooden poles and lalang or kadjang. The roof was formed of great dry leaves of a kind called “kadjang” in Palembang. These great leaves are arranged one overlapping the other. In this way it is very easy to form a roof if it is only for a temporary house. This house was situated pretty far away from the bore-places belonging to the oil company, in whose service I was working. I put my bullsack and mosquito curtain on the wooden floor and soon fell asleep. At about one o’clock at night I half awoke hearing something fall near my head outside the mosquito curtain on the floor. After a couple of minutes I completely awoke and turned my head around to see what was falling down on the floor. They were black stones from 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch long. I got out of the curtain and turned up the kerosene lamp that was standing on the floor at the foot of my bed. I saw then that the stones were falling through the roof in a parabolic line. They fell on the floor close to my head-pillow. I went out and awoke the boy (a Malay-Palembang coolie) who was sleeping on the floor in the next room. I told him to go outside and to examine the jungle up to a certain distance. He did so whilst I lighted up the jungle a little by means of a small “ever-ready” electric lantern. At the same time that my boy was outside the stones did not stop falling. My boy came in again, and I told him to search the kitchen to see if anybody could be there. He went to the kitchen and I went inside the room again to watch the stones falling down. I knelt down near [the head of my bed] and tried to catch the stones while they were falling through the air towards me, but I could never catch them; it seemed to me that they changed their direction in the air as soon as I tried to get hold of them. I could not catch any of them before they fell on the floor. Then I climbed up [the partition wall between my room and the boy’s] and examined [the roof just above it from which] the stones were flying. They came right through the “kadjang,” but there were no holes in the kadjang. When I tried to catch them there at the very spot of coming out, I also failed. When I came down, my boy had returned from the kitchen and told me there was nobody. But I still thought that somebody might be playing a practical joke, so I took my Mauser rifle and fired 5 sharp cartridges into the jungle from [the window of the boy’s room]. But the stones, far from stopping, fell even more abundantly after my shots than before. After this shooting the boy became fully awake (it seemed to me that he had been dozing all the time before), and he looked inside the room. When he saw the stones fall down, he told me it was “Satan” who did that, and he was so greatly scared that he ran away in the pitch-dark night. After he had run away the stones ceased to fall, and I never saw the boy back again. I did not notice anything particular about the stones except that they were warmer than they would have been under ordinary circumstances. The next day, when awake again, I found the stones on the floor and everything as I had left it in the night. I examined the roof again, but nothing was to be found, not a single crack or hole in the kadjang. I also found the 5 empty cartridges on the floor near the window. Altogether there had been thrown about18 or 22 stones. I kept some of them in my pocket for a long while, but lost them during my later voyages. The worst part of this strange fact was that my boy was gone, so that I had to take care of my breakfast myself, and did not get a cup of coffee nor toast! At first I thought they might have been meteor-stones because they were so warm, but then again I could not explain how they could get through the roof without making holes! (SPR, 1906, p260-266).
Dude, I hear you on the coffee. Contemporary skeptics, while not having the same body of scientific knowledge accumulated (by proxy) as modern skeptics yet the same temperament, immediately assailed the veracity of Grottendieck’s report. Rationalist Frank Podmore, also a member of the Society for Psychical Research offered a detailed analysis of how such a practical man as Grottendieck could be so essentially wrong in an extended argument with other learned members of the society.
I have just re-read Mr. Grottendieck’s account of his Poltergeist experience. I have also read, with a growing sense of shame and confusion, the report of my own remarks, together with Mr. Lang’s and Mr. Feilding’s comments; for really, when set side by side in print, the suggestion I made seems ludicrously inadequate to explain the wonderful phenomena described by Mr. Grottendieck. In one respect, indeed, the briefness of the report has led Mr. Lang to do me an injustice. When I said that it must have been difficult for Mr. Grottendieck to watch the boy at the same time that he was watching the stones, I was referring not, as Mr. Lang assumes, to the occasion when Mr. Grottendieck bent over the sleeping boy, but to the occasion when he climbed the partition and tried to watch the stones at the same time that he was seeing the boy asleep on the ﬂoor (pp. 262 and 265). To perform that feat, Mr. Grottendieck would have needed a reptilian eye in the top of his head. But anyway Mr. Grottendieck says that the stones fell whilst the boy was outside in the jungle, and fell also whilst the boy was standing in front of him, and whilst he was bending over the boy still asleep. And if Mr. Grottendieck is describing what really happened, the boy can scarcely be supposed to have thrown them on all these occasions. Mr. Lang is inclined to believe that Mr. Grottendieck is describing what really happened. Mr. Grottendieck will pardon me if I presume to express my doubts. There are two main general grounds on which the accuracy of any narrator must be held open to doubt. (1) His memory may be at fault. I notice that the account was not written down until sometime after the event. The account in the Journal is dated January 1906, and from a paragraph on p. 264, “I am sure of the date,” etc., it may be inferred that there is no earlier account – Many of the details are, however, repeated more than once in the various letters dealing with the subject, so that we have what amounts to two or more accounts written by the same person at different times. Now, in these accounts there is at least one important discrepancy, bearing on the very point in dispute between Mr. Lang and myself. From the letter dated January 27th, 1906 (p. 261), it appears that the order of events was as follows: (1) Mr. Grottendieck is awakened by a noise of something falling, looks round and sees black stones falling on the ﬂoor, gets up and turns up his lamp, and sees that the stones are falling through the roof. (2) He goes into the next room, ﬁnds the boy asleep, wakes him up and tells him to go out and examine the jungle. The boy goes out. Meanwhile the stones continue to fall. (3) The boy returns and is told to search the kitchen. He goes into the kitchen. While he is there, the following events take place: (4) Mr. Grottendieck having returned to his own room kneels down on the ﬂoor and tries in vain to catch the stones as they fall. He then climbs up the partition wall between his room and the boy’s to examine the part of the roof from which the stones are falling; they appear to him to come through it, but without leaving any perceptible holes; he again tries in vain to catch them as they fall. (5) When he came down the boy “had returned from the kitchen,” having presumably re-entered the room while Mr. Grottendieck was still on the wall. He then ﬁres his riﬂe into the jungle. The stones continue to fall. The boy now becomes completely awake, having been apparently half asleep before; he sees the stones fall, is greatly terriﬁed, and runs away. The stones then cease to fall. Though the details are not described in the same order in the letter of February 1st, there is nothing necessarily implying that they occurred in a different order. Turning, however, to the letter of February 13th (p. 265), we ﬁnd Mr. Grottendieck says that, when he climbed up the wall to see the stones coming through the roof, the boy was at the same time lying down asleep in his own room on the other side of the wall. Now this is quite inconsistent with (4) above, according to which the boy had been awakened and had carried out several orders before Mr. Grottendieck climbed up the wall.
One of these two accounts then – we cannot tell which – must be inaccurate in regard to the important detail of the boy’s position at the time. If one is inaccurate, both may be. Further, if it is only by the accident of there being two accounts that this inaccuracy has become manifest, we are entitled to infer that there are probably other inaccuracies which happen not to have been manifested. To misplace events in recollection is of course a very common error of memory—so much so that even Mr. Lang would probably not be surprised to ﬁnd it occurring at once in America, France, Germany, England, Russia, and South Uist. It is perhaps almost as common as the unfortunate habit of the narrators of “very picturesque” incidents to be dead, as in the case mentioned in Mr. Lang’s last sentence.
But it is just this form of inaccuracy of recollection which—as all students of conjuring phenomena know—makes it often impossible to discover from the description of an uninitiated witness how a trick has been performed. Mr. Grottendieck is obviously a careful and level-headed witness, and not given to sensational statements, and probably the long interval of 2 years has affected his memory less than would be the case with the great majority of our Poltergeist observers. Yet even with him we ﬁnd this serious discrepancy in accounts with an interval between them of only seventeen days! I submit, then, that it is impossible to place so much weight on the details of the narrative as Mr. Lang and Mr. Feilding are disposed to do. We can with reasonable conﬁdence infer nothing more than that years ago Mr. Grottendieck did see things which he could not explain, and which we cannot explain from his description. We have, then, no right to assume that Mr. Grottendieck now remembers accurately what he really thought at the time he saw. And this brings us to the second source of error. If he remembers accurately, we have no right to assume that he really saw what he thought he saw. My answer to Mr. Lang is, that it is he who is making the unwarrantable assumption, and not I. These abnormal movements of objects are like the black stones which Mr. Grottendieck kept in his pocket. They are never forthcoming when the expert is there to examine them. But hallucinations are always with us. The very process of perception is itself, as Taine has said, a kind of hallucination. Many persons experience deﬁnite sensory hallucinations when they see a conjuring trick—it is part of the coujurer’s art to induce them. Mr. Lang must, I think, have been writing in haste when he says: “I am unaware that there exists any proof of a condition of the sensory organs which causes people to see things moving, as in fact they are not moving, but” with abnormal slowness; and again, that this hypothetical explanation of part of Mr. Grottendieck’s experience “is the merest conjecture, devoid of experimental proof.” Apart from the common experience in dreams, when hours or even years may seem to be lived through in the course of a few minutes or seconds, which can sometimes be demonstrated in the case of dreams initiated by some objective noise; the disturbance of the sense of time is one of the most familiar features of all deviations from normal consciousness, e.g. in trances, spontaneous or hypnotic, or as the effect of various drugs. A graphic description of this—the result of an experiment in the effect of Indian Hemp, tried by Mr. Ernest Dunbar—has lately been given in our Proceedings, Part L. p. 69, where Mr. Dunbar says that a train journey of 20 minutes seemed extended into hours, and when he walked down the platform after it “there seemed quite an interval of time between the placing of my foot on the ground and the realisation of having done so.” Mr. Dunbar quotes from Dr. Clifford Allbutt’s System of Medicine a description by Dr. Marshall of a similar experience of his with the same drug: “. . . I was continually taking out my watch, thinking that hours must have passed, whereas only a few minutes had elapsed. . . . ” He analyses the psychological effect and states that the sense of time is also disturbed under ether, chloroform and nitrous oxide. There is then a tendency for mental disturbances to take certain forms when they are caused by, or occur under, certain circumstances. And if some of the doings of Poltergeists are to be explained as the result of hallucination, is it really more odd that people all over the world should be liable to the same mental affections than that they should be liable to believe the same myths, and invent the same fairy stories? (SPR, 1906, 281-284).
This no doubt annoyed Mr. Grottendieck, who later submitted answers to the most pertinent questions, in particular denying (1) he was an idiot, (2) he was imagining things, and (3) that Frank Podmore wasn’t an asshole. The Grottendieck letter was as follows:
February 1st, 1906…Just because the house where I was sleeping was situated all alone, far away from other houses, I thought that this case might be of more interest than other similar cases. Let me repeat the following particulars of it. (1) All around the house was jungle, in front, behind, to the left and to the right. (2) There was no other soul in the house and kitchen than myself and the boy. (3) The boy certainly did not do it, because at the same time that I bent over him, while he was sleeping on the floor, to awake him, there fell a couple of stones. I not only saw them fall on the floor in the room, but I also heard them fall, the door being at that moment half open. (4) While the boy was standing in front of me and I shot my cartridges, at that same moment I heard them fall behind me. (5) I climbed up the poles of the roof and I saw quite distinctly that they came right through the “kadjang.” This kadjang is of such a kind that it cannot be penetrated (not even with a needle) without making a hole. Each “kadjang” is one single flat leaf of about 2 by 3 feet in size. It is a speciality of the neighbourhood of Palembang. It is very tough and offers a strong resistance to penetration. (6) The stones (though not all of them) were hotter than could be explained by their having been kept in the hand or pocket for some time. (7) All the stones without exception fell down within a certain radius of not more than 3 feet; they all came through the same kadjang-leaf (that is to say, all the ones I saw) and they all fell down within the same radius on the floor. (8) They fell rather slowly. Now, supposing that somebody might by trickery have forced them through the roof, or supposing they had not come through it at all,—even then there would remain something mysterious about it, because it seemed to me that they were hovering through the air; they described a parabolic line and then came down with a bang on the floor. (9) The sound they made in falling down on the floor was also abnormal, because considering their slow motion the bang was much too loud. The same thing had happened to me about a week before; but on that occasion I was standing outside in the open air near a tree in the jungle, and as it was impossible to control it that time (it might have been a monkey that did it), I did not pay much attention to it…February 13th, 1906. The construction of the house is very different from that of European houses. It is all open, as all houses in the East Indies are. There was no ceiling in the house. The walls forming the rooms did not extend as far up as the roof, so that there was an open space between the walls and the roof. This last circumstance was the reason why I examined the phenomenon so closely and climbed up along the vertical poles of the wall up to the roof, to assure myself that the stones were not thrown over the wall through the open space. The partition between the place where I was sleeping and the place where the boy was sleeping was continuous all around the four sides of the room, there being a closed door between us two. This partition was a wooden framework, with kadjang nailed on it, forming that way a solid wall, which did not however extend up to the roof (as just described). The only wooden floor was formed of 2 inch boards, nailed together, there being no holes in the floor. I am sure of the date, 1903, because in June, 1903, my sister died, and after this strange phenomenon occurred to me, I began to ponder whether there might possibly be any connection between my sister’s death and the falling stones. After the phenomenon had taken place, I bought a book about spiritism, to try to find an explanation. Before the phenomenon occurred to me I had read nothing about spiritism, but I had often thought about it. I am not at all convinced that there was any connection between the falling stones and my sister’s death. At the moment that the phenomenon occurred to me, I did not think about spiritism. As I said before, one of my impressions was that the stones might have been meteor-stones, on account of their being hot. I put them in my pocket and carried them about with me for a long time, as there was a geological Professor coming to visit us and to inspect our work. I intended to have the stones inspected by him, but before he came the stones had been lost. I hope that my plan is plain enough to give you an idea of the way in which I watched the stones coming through the roof. I was inside the room, climbed up along the framework to the top of the wall, held on with one hand to the framework and tried to catch the stones with the other hand, at the same time seeing the boy lying down sleeping outside (in the other room) on the floor behind the door, the space being lit up by means of a lamp in his room. The construction of the house was such that it was impossible to throw the stones through the open space from outside. I wrote before that it seemed to me that the boy had been dozing all the time after I awoke him. I got that impression because his movements seemed to me abnormally slow; his rising up, his walking around, and everything seemed extraordinarily slow. These movements gave me the same strange impression as the slowly falling stones. When I think over this last fact (for I remember very well the strange impression the slowly moving boy made on me) I feel now inclined to suggest the hypothesis that there might have been something abnormal in my own condition at the time. For, having read in the Proceedings about hallucinations, I dare not state any more that the stones in reality moved slowly; it might have been on account of some condition of my own sensory organs that it seemed to me that they did, though at that time I was not in the least interested in the question of hallucinations or of spiritism. I am afraid that the whole thing will ever remain a puzzle to me (SPR, 1906, p260-266).
But Podmore was undaunted in his disbelief, and went on to speculate as to the many ways in which one might hallucinate a poltergeist-like disturbance with a kind of confidence of which only one who did not actually witness the phenomena could speak, positing temporary disturbances in Grottendieck’s perception of time, disassociation of consciousness, and unsubtly, the influence of something like hashish, concluding that the whole thing was a bunch of hokum.
Now, there is one serious discrepancy in this account. According to his original version Mr. Grottendieck’s first step, after being awakened by the falling stones, was to go into the next room, and wake up the boy. The boy then searched the jungle, and on his return was told to search the kitchen. Mr. Grottendieck climbed the partition whilst the boy was searching the kitchen. But in his later letter he describes seeing the boy asleep whilst he is himself on the partition, trying to catch the stones as they fall. One of these two accounts then—we cannot tell which—must be inaccurate in regard to the important detail of the boy’s position at the time. If one is inaccurate, both may be. Further, if it is only by the accident of there being two accounts that this inaccuracy has become manifest, we are entitled to infer that there are probably other inaccuracies which happen not to have been manifested. Another class of error is illustrated by Mr. Grottendieck’s statement that he “saw quite distinctly that the stones came right through the kadjang.” As Mr. E. T. Dixon has pointed out in his comments on the case, “no retinal image or succession of retinal images could have recorded the passage of stones through the kadjang; he can only have (unconsciously) inferred that the stones passed through from the fact that he was not aware of any retinal image representing them coming up to the ceiling from the boy’s hand (or wherever they did come from).” It is probable that the appearance of the stones falling slowly is also, as Mr. Grottendieck himself suggests, due to a sensory fallacy of another kind. This appearance is very commonly reported of the objects seen to move through the air in Poltergeist cases. Such an appearance would be caused by any temporary aberration in the estimation of time; and we know that such erroneous estimates occur in delirium, and under the influence of hashish, and other drugs, and apparently in the partial dissociation of consciousness which accompanies many waking hallucinations. It should be added that the hallucinations described by the child Lemonnier may perhaps have been genuine. The young persons round whom these disturbances occur frequently describe hallucinatory figures seen by them, and there is evidence, in many of the cases investigated by or reported to the Society, of hysteria or marked abnormality of one kind or another. It is only by a fortunate accident that we are able, here and there, to analyse the evidence for the spontaneous phenomena of the Poltergeist, and demonstrate its untrustworthiness (Podmore, 1908, p67-70).
Grottendieck was perfectly willing to believe foul play was afoot, hence his investigation of the immediate vicinity, but he especially noted the odd behavior of the stones themselves which seemed to eschew his grasp, fall in a puzzling sort of slow motion, and exhibited a curious warmth to the touch. He even collected a number of the stones, presumably to memorialize the strange occasion, but world traveler that he was, later lost them, and snide critics pointed out that the absence of the stones for later examination was consistent with what they presumed to be the fraudulent nature of all poltergeist claims.
Kneeling down near the head of his bed, Mr. Grottendieck tried to catch the stones as they fell, but was unable to do so; he says: “it seemed to me that they changed their direction in the air as soon as I tried to get hold of them. I could not catch them before they fell to the floor.” He then examined the roof through which the stones appeared to be coming, but there were no holes in the roofing leaves. He fired his rifle into the surrounding jungle with the result that the stones fell more abundantly. By this time the boy was fully awake and when he realized what “Satan” was up to, he ran out into the night and never returned. After the boy’s departure, the stones ceased to fall. The next morning, in daylight, Grottendieck found the stones on the floor and everything as it had been when the boy left the house, including the empty cartridge shells on the floor near the window. He counted about twenty stones; “I kept some of them in my pocket for a long while, but lost them during my later voyages.” That accords with tradition; whenever confirmatory evidence is sought, it is rarely forthcoming. Not that a careful examination of the stones by experts would positively have revealed their satanic origin, but their concrete reality might have linked more closely the event itself with the recording of its occurrence some two and a half years later (Still, 1950, p246-248).
Snotty bastard. In reply to countless questions, Mr. Grottendieck pointed out that he was hardly alone in experiencing stone-throwing poltergeists, commenting, “In the Dutch East Indies this phenomenon seems to happen pretty often; at least every now and then it is reported in the newspapers, generally concerning a house in the city” (Carrington, 1937, p230-232). I wonder if Podmore and Still spent any time in the Dutch East Indies? If they had, they would likely have been inclined to suggest that Grottendieck had “gone native” and was slowly slipping into the proverbial heart of darkness. Clearly, suspicion among skeptics was falling firmly on Grottendieck’s young servant. Grottendieck found this to be ludicrous and reiterated that the behavior of the stones themselves suggested that something a little more than childish pranks were afoot, and furthermore there was a long tradition of lethargic poltergeists lightly lofting objects cross-culturally.
In reply to questions put to him with regard to this narrative, Mr. Grottendieck observes: “From the point of view of fraud the boy is beyond suspicion, for when I bent down over him to wake him up (he was sleeping on the mat close to my door) two stones fell one after the other, and I saw and heard them fall, the door being open at the time. The stones fell with an extraordinary slowness of movement, so that even on the hypothesis of fraud there would still be something else mysterious to account for. They actually seemed to hover in mid-air, describing a parabolic curve, but finally striking the ground with violence. Even the noise they produced by their fall was abnormal, for it was too loud relatively to the gradual nature of their fall. The boy himself seemed to be somnolent and in an abnormal state until I had fired off the rifle.” Mr. Grottendieck adds, what appears a very significant fact, that the lethargic nature of the boy’s movements produced in him exactly the same strange impression -which he experienced as the result of the slow motion of the stones through the air. Such is this strange narrative, which it will be noticed is curiously parallel with the case which Joseph Glanvill describes, “In which a bed-staff was thrown at the minister, but so favourably, that a lock of wool could not fall more softly.” Here, however, though the stones hover in the air, at the last they fall with violence (Shirley, 1921, p193-195).
As far as I know, since it was a bunch of Europeans arguing about the reality of poltergeists, nobody bothered to ask an Indonesian, who probably would have been happy to point out that if you trawl through Malaysian folklore (neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia share numerous cultural, religious, and historical reference points), the culprit was plainly a Hantu batu, or “stone-spirit” – harmless, playful specters with a certain territorial conceit that are known in particular for causing rains of stone on houses, people, and anything else they figure might deserve a good pelting. Most folks agreed the Grottendieck was an otherwise sane and reliable witness, thus the criticisms of his report alternated between focusing on the minutiae of the narrative and speculative and equally dubious an poorlu operationalized mechanisms for the phenomena, although couched in vaguely scientific jargon (e.g. “deviations from normal consciousness”, “retinal disturbances that alter time perception”). Sadly, even when everyone agrees we have both a credible witness, and a detailed, sober report, it is simpler in a world where we do not wish to imagine anomalies that challenge our comfortable rationality to list all the ways in which a man may be deluded, bamboozled, or mistaken. Evidently, level of detail is not the anomalist’s friend, for as the French proverb says, “It is only the tree loaded with fruit that the people throw stones at”.
Carrington, Hereward, 1880-1959. The Psychic World. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1937.
Fort, Charles, 1874-1932. Lo! New York: Ace Books, 1941.
Podmore, Frank, 1856-1910. The Naturalisation of the Supernatural. New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1908.
Society for Psychical Research (Great Britain). “A Poltergeist Case”. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research v12. London: Society for Psychical Research, 1906.
Still, Alfred, 1869-. Borderlands of Science. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.
Shirley, Ralph ed. “Notes of the Month”. Rider’s Review v33. London, 1921.