Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich (1733–1811)
German critic, novelist, and bookseller of Berlin, who is of
special interest from the occult point of view because of his peculiar
experiences, described in a presentation read before the
Royal Society of Berlin. The case is one of the most celebrated
in the annals of psychology. Nicolai reported
‘‘In the first two months of the year 1791, I was much affected
in my mind by several incidents of a very disagreeable nature;
and on the 24th of February a circumstance occurred
which irritated me extremely. At ten o’clock in the forenoon my
wife and another person came to console me; I was in a violent
perturbation of mind, owing to a series of incidents which had
altogether wounded my moral feelings, and from which I saw
no possibility of relief, when suddenly I observed at the distance
of ten paces from me a figure—the figure of a deceased
person. I pointed at it, and asked my wife whether she did not
see it. She saw nothing, but being much alarmed, endeavoured
to compose me, and sent for the physician. The figure remained
some seven or eight minutes, and at length I became
a little more calm, and as I was extremely exhausted, I soon afterwards
fell into a troubled kind of slumber, which lasted for
half an hour. The vision was ascribed to the great agitation of
mind in which I had been, and it was supposed I should have
nothing more to apprehend from that cause, but the violent affection
had put my nerves into some unnatural state. From this
arose further consequences, which require a more detailed description.
‘‘In the afternoon, a little after four o’clock, the figure which
I had seen in the morning again appeared. I was alone when
this happened, a circumstance which, as may be easily conceived,
could not be very agreeable. I went therefore to the
apartment of my wife, to whom I related it. But thither also the
figure pursued me. Sometimes it was present, sometimes it vanished,
but it was always the same standing figure. A little after
six o’clock several stalking figures also appeared, but they had
no connection with the standing figure. I can assign no other
cause for this apparition than that, though much more composed
in my mind, I had not been able so soon entirely to forget
the cause of such deep and distressing vexation, and had
reflected on the consequences of it, in order, if possible, to
avoid them; and that this happened three hours after dinner,
at the time when digestion just begins.
‘‘At length I became more composed with respect to the disagreeable
incident which had given rise to the first apparition,
but though I had used very excellent medicines and found myself
in other respects perfectly well, yet the apparitions did not
diminish, but on the contrary rather increased in number, and
were transformed in the most extraordinary manner.
‘‘The figure of the deceased person never appeared to me
after the first dreadful day, but several other figures showed
themselves afterwards very distinctly, sometimes such as I
knew, mostly, however, of persons I did not know, and amongst
those known to me, were the semblance of both living and deceased
persons, but mostly the former, and I made the observation,
that acquaintance with whom I daily conversed never appeared
to me as phantasms; it was always such as were at a
‘‘It is also to be noted, that these figures appeared to me at
all times, and under the most different circumstances, equally
distinct and clear. Whether I was alone, or in company, by
broad daylight equally as in the night-time, in my own as well
as in my neighbour’s house; yet when I was at another person’s
house, they were less frequent, and when I walked the public
street they very seldom appeared. When I shut my eyes, sometimes
the figures disappeared, sometimes they remained even
after I had closed them. If they vanished in the former case, on
opening my eyes again, nearly the same figures appeared
which I had seen before.
‘‘I sometimes conversed with my physician and my wife concerning
the phantasms which at the time hovered around me;
for in general the forms appeared oftener in motion than at
rest. They did not always continue present—they frequently left
me altogether, and again appeared for a short or longer space
of time, singly or more at once; but, in general, several appeared
together. For the most part I saw human figures of both
sexes. They commonly passed to and fro as if they had no connection
with each other, like people at a fair where all is bustle.
Sometimes they appeared to have business with one another.
Once or twice I saw amongst them persons on horseback, and
dogs and birds; these figures all appeared to me in their natural
size, as distinctly as if they had existed in real life, with the
several tints on the uncovered parts of the body, and with all
the different kinds and colours of clothes. But I think, however,
that the colours were somewhat paler than they are in nature.
‘‘None of the figures had any distinguishing characteristic,
they were neither terrible, ludicrous, nor repulsive; most of
them were ordinary in their appearance—some were even
‘‘On the whole, the longer I continued in this state, the more
did the number of the phantasms increase, and the apparitions
became more frequent. About four weeks afterwards I began to
hear them speak. Sometimes the phantasms spoke with one another,
but for the most part they addressed themselves to me,
these speeches were in general short, and never contained anything
disagreeable. Intelligent and respected friends often appeared
to me, who endeavoured to console me in my grief,
which still left deep traces on my mind. This speaking I heard
most frequently when I was alone; though I sometimes heard
it in company, intermixed with the conversation of real perNicol,
J(ohn) Fraser Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
sons; frequently in single phrases only, but sometimes even in
connected discourse.
‘‘Though at this time I enjoyed rather a good state of health
both in body and mind, and had become so very familiar with
these phantasms, that at last they did not excite the least disagreeable
emotion, but on the contrary afforded me frequent
subjects for amusement and mirth, yet as the disorder sensibly
increase, and the figures appeared to me for whole days together,
and even during the night, if I happened to awake, I had
recourse to several medicines.’’
Nicolai then recounted how the apparitions vanished upon
blood being let.
‘‘This was performed on the 20th of April, at eleven o’clock
in the forenoon. I was alone with the surgeon, but during the
operation the room swarmed with human forms of every description,
which crowded fast one on another. This continued
till half-past four o’clock, exactly the time when the digestion
commences. I then observed that the figures began to move
more slowly; soon afterwards the colours became gradually
paler; every seven minutes they lost more and more of their intensity,
without any alteration in the distinct figure of the apparitions.
At about half-past six o’clock, all the figures were entirely
white, and moved very little, yet the forms appeared perfectly
distinct. By degrees they became visibly less plain, without decreasing
in number, as had often formerly been the case. The
figures did not move off, neither did they vanish, which also
had usually happened on other occasions. In this instance they
dissolved immediately into air; of some even whole pieces remained
for a length of time, which also by degrees were lost to
the eye. At about eight o’clock there did not remain a vestige
of any of them, and I have never since experienced any appearance
of the same kind. Twice or thrice since that time I have
felt a propensity, if I may be allowed to express myself, or a sensation
as if I saw something which in a moment again was gone.
I was even surprised by this sensation whilst writing the present
account, having, in order to render it more accurate, perused
the papers of 1791, and recalled to my memory all the circumstances
of that time. So little are we sometimes, even in the
greatest composure of mind, masters of our imagination.’’
Nicolai was a greatly respected writer who became an organizer
and leader of the Enlightenment in northern Germany,
together with G. E. Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. He died
January 1, 1811.
Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich. ‘‘An Account of the Apparition
of Several Phantoms.’’ The German Museum (1800)

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