The terrible spectres of the bookseller Christoph Friedrich Nicolai
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Ind Psychiatry J. 2010 Jan-Jun; 19(1): 5–12. doi: 10.4103/0972-6748.77625
Hallucinations: Clinical aspects and management
In 1799, a Prussian bookseller of skeptical disposition named Christoph Friedrich Nicolai read a paper to the Royal Society of Berlin entitled “A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease.”
In this, Nicolai described how one morning in February 1791, during a period of considerable stress and melancholy in his personal life, he saw the apparition of a deceased person in the presence of his wife, who, however, reported seeing nothing. This apparition haunted him for the duration of the day and, in the subsequent weeks, the number of these figures began to increase.
This paper attained cult status as a paradigmatic case throughout the psychological literature of the nineteenth century following its translation into English in 1803. Although hallucinations have been a hallmark of mental illness for centuries, they are not always pathological. Hearing one's name called aloud or hearing a person's voice but finding no one there is common. A few people describe hearing a comforting or advising voice at some time in their lives.
Recently, bereaved widows and widowers may “hear” or, more commonly, “see” their dead spouse. Up to one in six people in Britain and the United States have seen, heard or otherwise experienced ghosts or spirits. Lights, visions and voices may be seen or heard during profound religious or mystical experiences, especially conversion – the experiences of Joan of Arc and St Paul are familiar examples.