[For material on ancient Switzerland, see the entry on the
Witchcraft and Demonology
Switzerland was by no means free from the witchcraft manias
of Europe. About the year 1400, there were secular trials
of people accused of sorcery, malevolent magic, in the Alps region
now constituting southern and western Switzerland. During
the same period, the Inquisition was pursuing heretics in
neighboring valleys. One of the most active secular judges was
Peter of Berne (Peter von Freyerz) in Simmenthal. Jeannette
Charles was arrested as a sorceress in Geneva in 1401, and after
torture she admitted evoking the devil. In Basel, in 1407, various
women from well-to-do families were prosecuted for alleged
sorcery in love affairs. In 1423, at Nieder-Hauenstein,
near Basel, an alleged witch was condemned after a peasant testified
that she had ridden on a wolf.
In the Valais area in 1428, the Bishop of Sion headed early
systematic persecutions involving torture by secular authorities.
Some 200 alleged witches were burned. There were many more
tortures and burnings throughout the fifteenth century.
The records of the judge Peter of Berne tell of a witch
named Staedelin in Boltingen (Lausanne) who confessed after
torture to killing seven unborn babies in one house and preventing
births in cattle. Also in Lausanne, certain witches were
said to have cooked and eaten their own children, and 13 children
were said to have been devoured by witches in Berne.
Witches confessed to killing unbaptized children and afterwards
digging up the remains and boiling them, making a
transmutation ointment from the flesh.
Jakob Sprenger (1436–1495), co-author with Heinrich
Kramer of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, published in the
1480s, was born in Basel (part of German-speaking Switzerland),
where he grew up in a Dominican house. While his main
work was in Germany, after he was established at the University
of Cologne, and his writings became the handbook of the great
European witchcraft persecutions, some of which occurred in
The Protestant movement begun in Zürich by Ulrich Zwingli
(1484–1531) did not slow the prosecution of witchcraft in
Switzerland, indeed, some of the Zwinglians were active propagators
of the cause. Typical of such attitudes was the book
Magiologia by Bartholomäus Anhorn (Basel, 1674) which endorsed
the demonology of M. A. Del Rio and others. The last
legally executed witch in Switzerland appears to have been
Anna Göldi, who was hanged in the Protestant canton of Glarus
in 1782.
Demonic Possession
A remnant of the witchcraft persecutions appeared in the
nineteenth century in the form of an extraordinary outbreak of
paranoia over possible demonic possession. This took place in
the parish of Morzine, a beautiful valley of the Savoy near Lake
Geneva, during 1860. [The following account is drawn from reports
in the Cornhill Magazine, London daily journals, the Revue
Spirite and an article by William Howitt titled ‘The Devils of
Morzine.’] Morzine was quite remote, and was seldom visited
by tourists before 1860. Being shut in by high mountains, and
inhabited by a simple, industrious, and pious peasantry, Morzine
might have appeared to a casual visitor the very center of
health, peace, and good order.
The first appearance of an abnormal visitation was the conduct
of a young girl, who, once quiet, modest, and wellconducted,
suddenly began to exhibit what her distressed family
and friends supposed to be the symptoms of insanity. She ran
about in the most singular and aimless way, climbed high trees,
scaled walls, and was found perched on roofs and cornices that
it seemed impossible for any creature but a squirrel to reach.
She soon became wholly intractable, was given to fits of hysteria,
violent laughter, passionate weeping, and general aberration
from her customary modest behavior.
While her parents were anxiously seeking advice in this dilemma,
another and still another of the young girl’s ordinary
companions were seized with the same malady. In the course
of ten days, more than 50 females ranging from seven to fifty
years of age were reported as having been seized in this way,
and were exhibiting symptoms of the most bewildering mental
aberration. The crawling, climbing, leaping, wild singing, furious
swearing, and frantic behavior of these women soon found
crowds of imitators. Before the tidings of this frightful affliction
had passed beyond the district in which it originated, several
hundred women and children, and scores of young men, were
writhing under the contagion. The seizures were sudden, like
the attacks. They seldom lasted long, yet they never seemed to
yield to any form of treatment, whether harsh, kind, medical,
religious, or persuasive.
The first symptoms of this malady do not seem to have been
noted with sufficient attention to justify giving details that
could be considered accurate. It was only when the number of
the possessed exceeded 2,000 persons and the case attracted
multitudes of curious inquirers from all parts of the Continent,
that the medical men, priests, and journalists of the time began
to keep and publish constant records of the progress of the situation.
One of the strangest features of the case, and the one that
most constantly baffled the faculty, was the appearance of rugged
health and freedom from all physical disease that distinguished
this malady. As a general rule, the victims spoke in
hoarse, rough tones unlike their own, used profane language,
such as few of them could ever have heard, and imitated the actions
of crawling, leaping, climbing animals with ghastly fidelity.
Sometimes they would roll their bodies up into balls and disEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. SWITZERLAND
tort their limbs beyond the power of the attendant physicians
to account for or disentangle.
Many among them reportedly experienced levitation in the
air, and in a few instances, the women spoke in strange
tongues, manifested high conditions of exaltation, described
glorious visions, prophesied, gave clairvoyant descriptions of
absent persons and distant places, sang hymns, and preached
in strains of sublime inspiration. It must be added that these instances
were very rare and were only noticeable in the earlier
stages of the series of events.
It is almost needless to say that the tidings of what was happening
in Morzine attracted multitudes of witnesses, as well as
the attention of the learned and philosophic. When the attempts
of the medical faculty, the church, and the law had been
tried again and again, and all had utterly failed to modify the
ever-increasing horrors of this malady, Louis Napoleon, the
French emperor, under whose protectorate Morzine was then
governed, yielding to the representations of his advisers, actually
sent out three military companies to Morzine, charged with
strict orders to quell the disturbances ‘‘on the authority of the
Emperor, or by force if necessary.’’ The result of this highhanded
policy was to increase tenfold the violence of the disease
and to augment the number of the afflicted, including
some of the soldiers themselves, who sank under the contagion
they were expected to quench.
The next move of the baffled government was a spiritual
one. An army of priests, headed by a venerable bishop, much
beloved in his diocese, was dispatched in the company of exorcists
at the suggestion of the Archbishop of Paris. This second
experiment worked no better than the first. Respectablelooking
groups of well-dressed men, women, and children,
would pass into the churches in reverent silence and with all the
appearance of health and piety, but no sooner was heard the
sound of the priest’s voice or the notes of the organ, than
shrieks, sobbings, and frenzied cries resounded from different
parts of the assembly. Anxious fathers and husbands were busy
in carrying their distracted relatives into the open air, and
whether in the church or the home, every attempt of a sacerdotal
character seemed to arouse the mania to heights of fury before
The time came at length when the old bishop thought of a
way to achieve a general victory over the diabolical adversary.
He commanded that as many as possible of the afflicted should
be gathered together to hear high mass, when he trusted that
the solemnity of the occasion would be sufficient to defeat what
he evidently believed to be the combined forces of Satan. According
to William Howitt, the assemblage in question, which
included at least 2,000 of the possessed and a number of spectators,
recalled Milton’s description of Pandemonium. Children
and women were leaping over the seats and benches,
clambering up the pillars, and shrieking defiance from pinnacles
that scarcely admitted of a foothold for a bird.
The bishop’s letter contained one remark that seems to offer
a clue to these scenes of horror and madness. He stated, ‘‘When
in my distress and confusion I accidentally laid my hand on the
heads of these unfortunates, I found that the paroxysm instantly
subsided, and that however wild and clamorous they may
have been before, the parties so touched generally sunk down
as it were into a swoon, or deep sleep, and woke up most commonly
restored to sanity, and a sense of propriety.’’
The failure of episcopal influence threw the government
back on the help of medical science. One Dr. Constans had
published a report in which he held out hopes of a cure if his
advice was strictly followed. He was commissioned to do what
he could for Morzine. Armed with the powers of a dictator he
returned there, and, backed by a fresh detachment of sixty soldiers,
a brigade of gendarmes, and a fresh cure, he issued despotic
decrees and threatened lunatic asylums and deportation
for the convulsed.
He fined any person who accused others of magic, or in any
way encouraged the prevalent idea of supernatural evil. He desired
the curé to preach sermons against the possibility of demonica
possession, but this order could not be carried out by
even the most obedient priest. The persons affected with fits
were dispersed in every direction. Some were sent to asylums
and hospitals, and many were simply exiled from Chablais.
They were not allowed to revisit except by very special favor.
Howitt notes,
‘‘We need not point to the salient facts of our narrative, or
discuss the various theories that have been invented to account
for them. . . . It is impossible not to see the resemblance of the
Morzine epidemic with the demonopathy of the sixteenth century,
and the history of the Jansenist and Cevennes
convulsionnaires. . . . Some of the facts we have related were
often observed in the state of hypnotism, or nervous sleep, with
which physicians are familiar. The hallucinations of which we
have given instances are too common to astonish us. But the
likeness of this epidemic to others that have been observed
does not account for its symptoms.’’
Psychical Research and Parapsychology
As early as the mid-nineteenth century, interest in what
would later be called psychical research emerged in Switzerland,
one of the earliest pioneers of research into the paranormal
being Maximilian Perty, who published studies on occult
phenomena and Spiritualism from 1856 on. Although originally
skeptical of survival of personality after death, he later
became sympathetic to the concept.
Possibly the most famous Swiss psychical researcher is Theodore
Flournoy (1854–1920), a psychologist at the University of
Geneva who took part in the investigations of the mediumship
of Eusapia Palladino. However, his enduring fame derived
from his important investigation of the famous case of the medium
Hélène Smith, as recorded in his book From India to the
Planet Mars; A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia
While Flournoy operated from French-speaking Geneva,
most interest in psychical research came from the Germanspeaking
sections of the country. Other important Swiss investigators
include Marc Thury (1822–1905); Eugene Bleuler of Zürich;
Georg Sulzer (d. 1929); Karl E. Muller (1893–1969);
Fanny Hoppe-Moser, who published Okkultismus, Täuschungen
und Tatsachen (1935), and Spuk (1950); Guido Huber (died
1953), who published studies on survival; Gebhard Frei
(1905–1967), who published a useful bibliography on the psychology
of the subconscious; Peter Ringger, who founded the
first parapsychological society in Switzerland and published
works on parapsychology; and Friedrich A. Volman, who specialized
in the literature of hauntings.
The great psychologist Carl Jung also occupies a special position
for his interest in reconciling occult studies with the psychology
of the subconscious. Between 1899 and 1900, he experimented
with a young medium and submitted a doctoral
thesis On the Psychology and Pathology of the So-Called Occult. He
later cooperated in experiments in psychokinesis and materialization
phenomena with famous mediums. There were a
number of paranormal events in his own experience.
There are two major parapsychological societies. The
Schweitzer Parapsychologische Gesellschaft Zürich was
founded in 1952, with Peter Ringger as president. Six years
later, his place was taken by Dr. Hans Naegeli-Osjord. The SPG
organizes lecture programs in Zürich, maintains a library, and
issues the periodical Parapress. It may be contacted co Frau N.
von Muralt, Weihaldenstrasse 3, CH-8700 Kusnacht. Switzerland.
The Schweizerische Vereinigung für Parapsychologie was
founded in Zürich in 1966 and organizes public lectures, discussions,
and high school courses in psychical subjects. Under
the presidency of Theo Locher, it has conducted investigations
into a variety of parapsychological subjects, results of which are
published in the biannual Bulletin für Parapsychologie. The society
many be contacted at Industriestrasse 5, 2555 Brug, Zürich.
SWITZERLAND Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.

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