Parapsychology Psi Mulacz Zugun Wassilko



the Re-evaluation of a Historic RSPK Case

Peter MULACZ, Austrian Society for Parapsychology

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The Zugun case, world famous – and much disputed – in its day, is unique in several aspects, primarily

  • in the sheer number of phenomena recorded (more than 3000, out of which 844 are extremely well established)

  • in the fact that the focus person lived close together with the prime researcher, Zoë, Countess Wassilko, sharing even their room for a period in excess of one year

  • and in the methodical approaches implemented in the course of its investigation:

  • the attempt to communicate with the unconscious of the focus person by various means, none the least in order to provoke phenomena

  • the attempt to transform the character of the phenomena systematically from spontaneous ones to séance phenomena           

  • a psychoanalysis of the focus person (this case appears to be the first one where psychoanalysis has been applied on an RSPK focus person)

  • confrontation of the focus person with other mediums or psychics

  • cinematographic documentation of part of the phenomena.              

In other aspects, however, the Zugun case fits well into the general character of RSPK cases, e.g. in respect of the age of the focus person at the onset of the  poltergeist phenomena, the bandwidth of categories of phenomena observed,  etc.     

With regard to the sociology of science (i.e. of Psychical Research), the impact of this case may be seen as dialectic as the above: on one hand – one is tempted to say: ‘as usual’ – an eventual exposure of the focus person with an ensuing endless discussion between the two camps, and on the other hand the unique fact that this case ultimately was to become the cradle of the later Austrian Society for Psychical Research (now Austrian Society for Parapsychology and Border Areas of Science).    

The events in short: the case commenced mid-February, 1925 in the Bukowina  (Romania), three months before Eleonore Zugun’s 12th birthday, and it lasted  for some two years. (In comparison to the material of some RSPK databases,  the focus person may be called rather young when the phenomena started,  and the duration of the phenomena which terminated shortly after her first  menstruation, may be called rather long.)         

The poltergeist phenomena started with inexplicable movements of various  objects, throwing of rocks as well as locomotion of household items. These were attributed by the superstitious peasant populace to the devil, in   Romanian "Dracu", based on an alleged remark made by Eleonore Zugun’s  grandmother early in this case who might have induced a devil complex in the  girl by that malediction.        

When the case came to the knowledge of the regional media, the then eminent German Psychic Researcher, Fritz Grunewald was dispatched to the scene where he was able to establish the occurrence of "genuine paranormal phenomena". As Grunewald happened to die but short time later, the Countess Wassilko whose family used to live for centuries in the Bukowina (the easternmost province of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy before WW I) firstly visited the girl in her native environment and subsequently took her to Vienna into her own household some time afterwards (end-January, 1926). After a period of some eight months there, she took her for another five months on an extended tour through several European countries, thus enabling many Psychic Researchers as well as interested lay-persons (several hundred people altogether) to witness the Zugun phenomena which had at that time actually changed from the locomotion of small objects, mainly interpreted as apports, to dermographic phenomena (scratches and bites all over her face and her arms). Thus, the Zugun case shows several distinct phases. The case ended practically with the girl's first menstruation, after which there was a quick decline in the number of phenomena. Following that – the "case" being no more a case, only a biography – the girl spent a few more months in Vienna, finishing her training as a hairdresser before eventually returning home in 1928, where she started working, later became married (with no children), widowed, etc., living a "normal" life.         

My own research in the Zugun case – the support of which by a grant provided by the "Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene" (Institute for Border Areas of Psychology and Psychic Hygiene), Freiburg i. Br., Germany, is gratefully acknowledged – concentrated on the two phases, the period in Vienna (= Phase I) and the tour (= Phase II), with emphasis on the former, and focussed on addressing i.a. the following problems:      

  • establishing the total number of phenomena (Phase I: 1754, Phase II: 1306, totalling 3060, as opposed to Countess Wassilko’s estimate of 5000 approx)

  • evaluation of the original reports in order to identify indicators for possible fraud (or otherwise pointing towards the "genuineness" of the phenomena):                

  • the original researchers, i.e. Countess Wassilko and her colleagues, had already pointed out that Eleonore Zugun sometimes, if not controlled properly, would resort to trickery, i.e. they viewed upon this case as a "mixed" one           

  • the analysis of the documentary film did not reveal any indicators for fraud             

  • in particular, the film shows Eleonore wearing no ring on her finger, hence the allegation by Dessoir of her fraudulently producing the scratches by pointed fingernails or the sharp-edged setting of her ring, as still perpetuated in Kurtz’ "Skeptic’s Handbook", must strongly be refuted            

  • scrutiny of Rosenbusch’ alleged exposure, the analysis of which showed that it is not tenable; based on his skeptical belief system, Rosenbusch mistook harmless touches evoking reflex dermal phenomena for fraudulent scratches, etc.    

  • (translation and) evaluation of Eleonore Zugun’s psychoanalysis:       

  • This analysis, however, has been carried out somehow amateurish and I have reasons to presume that a few of the underlying complexes (i.e. an alleged rape and an incestuous episode) attributed to Eleonore by the Countess might have been connect to her own unconscious (countertransference). This supposed countertransference is likely to have been instrumental for the transformation of the Zugun phenomena from apports or locomotion of objects to dermographic phenomena                    

  • though being very likely, it could, due to the lack of sources, still not positively be established whether the Zugun case was brought to the attention of Sigmund Freud himself                     

  • investigation of the frequency distribution of the phenomena, the question being whether the distribution of maxima and minima showed an internal periodicity or any correlation with external variables (or is entirely random):                      

  • Countess Wassilko, after observing the phenomena for two months, hypothesised that the frequency distribution showing one distinct maximum per month was an anticipation of the female cycle  

  • Schrenck-Notzing, who, by the way, supported the Countess’ research by a substantial grant, hypothesised that the maxima of phenomena appeared to coincide with the full moon   

Neither of these contemporary and somewhat premature hypotheses, formulated after too short a period of observation, could be supported.  The distribution of phenomena during the entire time of more than one year does not show any periodicity that comes even close to an equivalent of the menstrual cycle nor could any correlation be found when probing modern hypotheses (correlation with maxima/minima of the geomagnetic field [Persinger] the values of which were supplied by the World Data Center C1 for Geomagnetism, Copenhagen, Denmark; or LST [Spottiswoode]). The correlation coefficient for the geomagnetic hypothesis is                    
                                        r = 0.085 and 0.021 respectively
(for the two phases ea.), whereas for the hypothetical dependency upon the phases of the moon the respective values are
                                        r = 0.028 and r = 0.015.
Hence, it has been established that these external variables had no influence on the frequency of the Zugun phenomena whatsoever. The circadian distribution is significantly different btn Phase I and Phase II, due to the different circumstances of everyday life, obviously dependent upon the Countess’ daily rhythms, i.e. a social variable. Moreover, it could be demonstrated that there is an apparently strong albeit hard-to-quantify correlation with purely psychological variables, such as suggestions, or skin contact, etc. that had impact on the phenomena, on both their frequency and their character, e.g. reflex reactions on being touched.

After all, this extraordinary case offers the feasibility to discuss all the above on two (or even more) levels, i.e. the case as such, and the case as a prime methodological example for applying quantitative methods on a hitherto apparent qualitative case, thus combining proof-oriented and process-oriented aspects. This approach to historic cases is different from mere reception studies. It demonstrates that the existing abundance of historic cases in parapsychology is a most valuable "treasure" that needs to be re-evaluated periodically  –  a permanent process  –, and that the gap between idiographic and nomothetic approaches can indeed be bridged.


© Peter MULACZ


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   Countess WASSILKO (photo)  [© Peter MULACZ]

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   Coat of Arms of the noble WASSILKO Family

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   Countess WASSILKO:   portrait (oil painting by E. ATTEMS) of her later years.  Additional picture (no bearing on the period the text is about)   [© Peter MULACZ]

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   Eleonore ZUGUN in her native village of TALPA
   [© Peter MULACZ]

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   Eleonore ZUGUN:
   scratches in her face inflicted by the DRACU
   Photo: Harry PRICE [The Harry Price Library, University of London]



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