Thünen, Johann Heinrich von - On October 18, the anniversary of Alexander's birth, particularly beautiful and harmonious sounds were heard - my wife found great spiritual consolation in the phenomenon
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Journal of the S.P.R. (vol. IX, page 89)
letter that the German economist Jean-Henri Von Thunen sent to his friend Christian von Buttel to tell him what was happening in his home after the death of his favourite son Alexander in 1831. He narrates:
On the night of October 10-11, three days after Alexander's death, my wife and I woke up between 2 and 3 in the morning. My wife asked me if I heard a doorbell ringing all the time. I listened; I heard it clearly; but I didn't pay attention, assuming it was an illusion of the senses. The next night, at the same time, we found ourselves awake again to hear the ringing of the same bell, which this time seemed to ring much louder.
We were in agreement that the sound compared to that of an untuned bell, but in whose vibrations there was something musical.
We listened in silence for a long time. Finally, I asked my wife to tell me which direction the sound seemed to come from; and when she pointed me in exactly the same direction in which I perceived it myself, my heart jumped into my astonished chest. My two children, despite their best efforts, could hear nothing.
During the third night, at the same time, the manifestation was renewed punctually. A few days later, this inexplicable music resounded in the evening and continued until midnight, then stopped and resumed at two o'clock. On October 18, the anniversary of Alexander's birth, particularly beautiful and harmonious sounds were heard. My wife found great spiritual consolation in the phenomenon.
As for me, the tranquilizing effect it produced in my mind was only transient; the uncertainty I found myself in when I wondered if this music was real, or an illusion of the senses, made me nervous and excited, and the continual effort I was making to find a solution kept me in a state of continual tension of mind.
Over a four-week period, my sleep was interrupted all the time, and my health began to deteriorate. I used all the hypotheses, even the one of explaining the phenomenon by looking for a link between the rhythm of the bell and the beat of my heart, but I did not find any. During these four weeks, the music changed radically.
First, it had gradually acquired a tone, so that it now exceeded any other kind of noise. At night, when I had to read or write, it was an inconvenience. With the increase of the sound it had lost its melodiousness. At that point, it could have been compared to a group of bells that would all ring simultaneously.
Eventually, my wife also began to desire the ending of the manifestations, because this perpetual ringing irritated her and excited her nerves. In accordance with our wishes, by mid-November, they completely ceased. Since then, neither I nor my wife have been able to hear any sound.
But their disappearance reawakened in me the doubt that this so-called "music of the spheres" was only a consequence of the depression of our minds. My wife was already beginning to share my doubts, and this made her disillusioned and sad. But after eight days, the music resumed with sounds more harmonious than ever, continuing until Christmas Day.
On the eve of this feast, it resumed with extraordinary vigour, resounding clear, melodious, and parodying an absolutely new variety of rhythms. After Christmas, it stopped again. On New Year's Day, we thought it should be heard, but we were disappointed, this silence continued for most of January.
Thus, my wife and I had heard this music in the most different spiritual conditions: both when we were worried or depressed, as well as when we were serene and calm; when we were healthy as when we were sick; these different circumstances did not modify its modality, and it always came from the same direction. Also, all things considered, it was no longer possible for us to have any doubt concerning its reality.
In this second period of silence, we believed that the music had definitively ceased. On the contrary, it began again towards the end of January, completely changing in character. They were no longer bells ringing, it was a concert of flutes. At the beginning of March, a new change took place; the music became particularly melodic; but it was no longer flutes that played; it was a vocal choir with musical instruments.
At one point we both thought we had grasped a few words from the choir, but it was only a moment. On March 21, my wife's birthday, music again changed its character, becoming even more melodious, but at the same time producing in us an almost fearful feeling.
Neither my wife nor I have ever been able to find an analogy with any earthly sound capable of providing an idea of what this music was for us.