Notes on the Practice of Seancés

OuijaB&W

“Dr Gotobed, my friends/colleagues/associates and I are planning to hold a séance, what guidance can you offer us?” 

In my line of work, this is the question I receive the most, from thrill seekers, the recently bereaved, and the occasional member of law enforcement. I have one simple piece of advice that I tell everyone who asks me this question:

Don’t do it.

The potential risk far outweighs any giddy rush of excitement or snippet of verifiable information that maybe gleaned from attempting to commune with the spirit world. Even if initial contact is successful, there is no guarantee that further sessions will elicit the same results. Indeed, once a door is opened to the other side, it is often very difficult to close.

I have rarely spoken of this, but many moons ago, when I was attending university and not yet a doctor, some friends and I gained possession of an Ouija board. Being young and fearless we decided one night to hold a makeshift sitting. Four of us sneaked into an abandoned and derelict farmhouse, rightly or wrongly believing it to be the appropriate setting for a spiritual adventure. We sat in a circle around our new board, each placed a finger upon the planchette, and began to ask questions of those that dwell in the ether.

Suffice to say, our initial probings were of the mundane variety: the names of first pets, the occupations of long dead grandparents, etc. Much to our surprise, all of our questions were answered correctly. So our interrogation took a darker hue. Spurred on by our success, we began to enquire of things that had yet to pass, and then to challenge whoever or whatever it was that we were communicating with to perform certain acts for us, acts that would prove its existence as a sentient being.

But our hubris was almost our undoing.

I will not share the events of the rest of that fateful evening. All I will say is this; one does not expect to encounter a pale and haggard version of one’s self in a dilapidated farmhouse on a windy night in the East Midlands.

Whatever we contacted that night followed us back to our halls of residence and tormented my friends and I for the next fortnight. Only with the assistance of one of our more open-minded tutors did we manage to shut whatever door we had opened. Of the four of us involved in that ill-fated attempt to contact the ‘other side’, two dropped out of university to return home, starting their studies anew the next year at a different location. The third resides a gibbering wreck in a secure psychiatric hospital.

As for me, this is the incident that set me on the path I currently walk now.

So, to reiterate: my advice to those that are planning to hold a séance? Don’t, for you know not what you meddle with.

Please do not mistake my desire to deter would-be spiritualists or amateur ghost hunters for fear. My only wish is that others do not have to experience the same things I have. Even now, a veritable lifetime later, the sound of a cold wind blowing through a broken window on a dark night still causes me to shudder.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

Operation Werwolf

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1st April 1945 

‘My werewolf teeth bite the enemy-

And then he’s done and then he’s gone.’  

These were the words, preceded by a wolf howling, that began the first transmission of Radio Werwolf. The Nazi Party, staring defeat in the face, used the broadcast to exhort every last German citizen to ‘stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies.’ The programme ended with the chill words: ‘…a single motto remains for us: “Conquer or die”.’

Radio Werwolf’s purpose was, ostensibly, to prove to the near-victorious Allies that the German people would not roll over and accept defeat easily; that a highly trained, highly organised underground force, aided by the local populous, would fight to the last for the Nazi cause.

Operation Werwolf.

But this was not to be.

Whilst pockets of resistance did spring up, mainly small bands of remaining SS troops and the odd group of die-hard Nazis, there was no stomach left in the defeated German people for more violence, and Operation Werwolf proved to be far more effective as a propaganda tool than it ever did as a viable military campaign.

The name Werwolf was taken from the 1910 novel Der Wehrwolf by Herman Lönns, a favourite text of the Nazi Party owing to the fact that its words could be framed in the context of a particularly rabid form of patriotism. The novel itself makes no mention of shapeshifting or lycanthropy, although it is easy to imagine Nazi top brass envisioning with a smile legion upon legion of lupine warriors resisting the Allied advance.

The station ceased to broadcast after a few weeks, and Radio Werwolf fell silent.

Twelve months later, with the Führer dead and the war over, Germany’s capital, Berlin, was well within the grip of the Allied Forces.

Berlin

3rd April 1945

A young US serviceman named Aloysius ‘Louis’ Blair, stationed in the west of the city, uses a day’s leave to take a stroll through the Grunewald Forest with a fellow soldier. Private Blair’s journal, kindly donated by his granddaughter, reveals in a cramped scrawl that he and his companion elect to spend that crisp morning strolling through the conifer and birch trees of the woods. Come noon, they settle down in a glade to partake of a spot of lunch, a cigarette or two, and a nip from the bottle of brandy Private Blair’s colleague has ‘liberated’ from a black market profiteer.

All is calm in the forest. And it is in the calmest moments that fate tends to play her hand.

Through a haze of cigarette smoke, a small flash of sunlight glints off of something in the distance, deeper into the woods.

Louis and his colleague, still young enough for curiosity to flow through their veins, go to investigate the source of the fleeting illumination. To their surprise, disguised by the underbrush, they find an iron door set into a slightly raised mound of earth. The door is heavy, rusted and stubborn, but it opens under the combined strength of the two servicemen. The air that assails them from within ‘smelled like an ol’ waff’s crab hole,’ in Louis’ rather colourful words.

What they find, down a short set of steps, is a bunker; a bunker stacked high with weapons and munitions. Scattered across the floor are discarded food cans, along with other signs to suggest that the bunker has recently been occupied. With the memory of the Radio Werwolf broadcasts ringing in their ears, the two soldiers search the bunker thoroughly. Convincing themselves that the place is deserted, and that there are no other exits or entrances, the pair draw straws to see who will stay and who will return to base to inform their superiors of this cache of Nazi resistance supplies. Blair draws the shorter straw and stays behind, taking up position directly outside the door with only his rifle and the bottle of brandy for company.

All is silent, save for the odd buzz of an insect and the rustle of leaves in the afternoon breeze.

Forest2

June 8th 2010

In a beachside café in the German town of Bad Doberan, I sit and sip sweet black coffee with Bertha Weber, a local resident, born in Berlin in 1935. Her body is frail, but her mind is sharp, her English flawless, and her memories of that day vivid.

‘I remember that afternoon clearly, yes, even now. I’d had an argument with my mother, something about the way I’d swept the floor. What’s the word you English use? Half-arsed, yes, that’s it.’

‘It was a beautiful day, so I went for a walk in the forest. I found it calming. The war was over, but it didn’t feel like it was finished. Not in the city, anyway. But out there… it felt peaceful. Do you understand?’

‘I was picking wildflowers. I thought I would take them back to Mother, to say sorry for my behaviour, but then I heard a whimpering in the undergrowth. To start with I thought it might be a baby or a child. After all, it would not be the first time someone had left their unwanted ‘negermischlinge’ in the woods. But as I got closer, I found what I thought then was a large hound, but now suspect was a wolf. It was thin, like a bag of bones, not quite fully grown but definitely not a puppy, with big glassy eyes. I stood still, not wanting to scare it. Eventually it climbed to its feet, and it walked off slowly on wobbling legs. It kept stopping and turning its head, like it wanted me to follow. So I did.’

‘It led me to a clearing, and there was a man there. An American. A soldier. He was standing by a door in the ground. He saw the hound, and me, and then he pointed his rifle. Americans and their guns. Some things never change, eh?’

‘The soldier started babbling something at me over his weapon. I don’t remember what it was, I didn’t speak English  back then. The hound went over to the door in the earth and I shooed the soldier aside. I wasn’t scared of him, I’d seen enough of ‘die Amis’ by then to know he wasn’t going to shoot a young girl.’

‘The dog shuffled by him, and down in to the dark. The soldier started shouting at me in German, but his accent was so bad it didn’t really get what he was saying, so I shouted back.’

‘As we were yelling at each other I heard a voice from inside the what I now know was a bunker. A weak, frail voice. It was saying ‘…hilfe… hilfe…’

My German isn’t great, but even I know that word. Help.

‘The soldier and I looked at one another with wide eyes. He went down in to the bunker, and I followed.’

‘At the foot of the stairs, sprawled out on the floor, was a boy. He can’t have been much older than a teenager, and he was so thin, gaunt even. His eyes were sunken and I could see his ribs through his skin. He looked awful, like a ghoul.’

‘I caught a glimpse of the soldier. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I could tell that kid wasn’t supposed to be down there.’ 

Forest

Private Blair’s journal goes on to detail the arrival of his battalion’s commanding officer, and his vain attempts to explain the sudden appearance of the emaciated teenager. The discovery of the contraband brandy in his possession almost led to a court martial, and the young soldier was ordered to keep his head down and his nose clean for the foreseeable future, and not to speak of the incident in the Grunewald Forest again.

Private Blair returned to the US the following year and lived out his days as a police officer in Oklahoma. He died in his sleep in 1994. It appears he never told anyone of what he saw that day in Berlin.

Frau Weber passed away in January of 2011.

Other than Private Blair’s journal and Frau Weber’s testimony, no record of the cadaverous interloper in the bunker exists. His fate is unknown. It is interesting to note that, apart from this incident, there have been no sightings of wolves in Berlin for over a hundred years.

I believe it is safe to speculate that this was probably not what Nazi High Command had in mind when they commissioned Operation Werwolf.

Dr. Thomas Gotobed  

Thoughts on the Paranormal

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‘Dr Gotobed!’ I hear you cry. ‘There are no such things as ghosts! Shoals of fish do not just fall from the sky! People do not meet exact duplicates of themselves! The dead do not speak!’

I could go on.

My response to that is simple: of all the people I have dealt with over many, many years, the majority of them have said the same thing. And the truth is, no-one sane or rational believes in such things, until such things happen to them.

I was the same, once. But personal experience argues both persuasively and powerfully.

‘But Dr Gotobed!’ I hear you cry once more. ‘Science tells us that such things cannot exist!’

Whilst I admire those of you who steadfastly maintain this view, it would be remiss of me not to point out that up until 1794, it was also a strongly held belief amongst scientists that ‘fragments of rock and metal do not fall from the sky’. Nowadays we know that to be false, thanks to the pioneering work of the German Physicist Ernst Chladni, the founder of modern meteoritic research. Initially ridiculed for his theories on the extra-terrestrial origin of meteorites, Chladni’s ideas ignited the fires of curiosity within the scientific community, and more and more researchers began to lend their support to his theories, theories that are now acknowledged as fact.

Perhaps one day there will be a similar pioneer in the field of pyschical investigation.

One can but hope.

Dr. Thomas Gotobed