May 20, 2024

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17 May saw the 60th anniversary of the death in 1964 of one of my all-time favorite weirdos, the Hungarian-born Jewish ghost-hunter, journalist, and Freudian psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor. Later a resident of both Britain and America, Fodor is best known today for his comical investigation of a 1930s poltergeist on the Isle of Man said to have manifested in the shape of a talking mongoose named Gef; a movie was released about the weird episode last year.

Fodor certainly studied some very strange hauntings. There was the ghost-Jew “Rabbi Isaac,” for example, who once made a toy cap-gun pistol appear from thin air at a séance. The lights went out, the cap gun was fired, and the Rabbi said he had fatally shot 21 victims: Illumination restored, the séance room was found littered with dead crickets. Another probed medium, named Vivyan Deacon, was supposedly able to manifest the “ghost” of an airplane within his parlor, one so noisy it made the walls shake.

“The best way to ‘bust’ a ghost, Fodor theorized, was not to call in a priest, but to exorcize it via psychoanalysis instead.”

Even stranger, one of Fodor’s female shrink-couch patients claimed to be haunted by the apparition of a leprechaun named Murgatroyd—shades of the classic 1947 detective novel The Deadly Percheron, whose similar-sounding plot makes me wonder if the patient had ever read it. Inconveniently, whenever she came to visit Fodor, Murgatroyd would wait outside in the taxi, meaning her head doctor was unfortunately never able to successfully set eyes upon the entity, whilst at home Murgatroyd would sit atop the woman’s pet dog and ride it like a tiny Irish jockey, causing the animal to emit “visible signs of pleasure.”

You can read all about these cases, and many more besides, in Fodor’s amusing 1959 book The Haunted Mind: A Psychoanalyst Looks at the Supernatural, a real forgotten classic of crank literature.

He Shot a Mouse in Reno, Just to Watch Him Die
Perhaps wisely, the good doctor felt the above cases were basically psychiatric in nature, not genuinely paranormal: He could actually be quite a severe skeptic.

In one experiment, the intrepid parapsychologist tried to disprove the theory of one Dr. R.A. Watters of Reno, Nevada, who boasted of having successfully photographed the souls of dying animals exiting their bodies. Then a resident of London, Fodor applied to the U.K. Home Office for a special license to murder animals in the name of science, purchasing a collection of frogs, white mice, birds, and cockroaches, all of which he proceeded to behead in a tiny homemade gallows whilst an assistant captured the mini-pogrom on cine-camera. Small, ethereal, misty patches were indeed caught on film, but Fodor concluded these were just specks of dust thrown up by the falling blade, and that Dr. Watters had been mistaken.

Fodor did actually believe in ghosts, though—he just didn’t think they were really ghosts at all, merely disembodied Freudian psychological complexes leaking out supernaturally from the disturbed minds of their victims. Accordingly, the best way to “bust” a ghost, Fodor theorized, was not to call in a priest, but to exorcize it via psychoanalysis instead.

All paranormal phenomena were symbolic of their sufferers’ internal complexes, Fodor thought. Hence, when one massively obese British medium named Harry Brown developed the sudden habit of levitating away all over the place like a human balloon, Fodor guessed this was really just Harry’s way of admitting he secretly wanted to lose weight.

Cum All Ye Faithful
Most genuine ghosts and poltergeists, Fodor taught, were emanations of sexual frustration. Gef the Talking Mongoose, for example, may have been some kind of long, hairy, living penis substitute in search of the welcoming female burrow of the lonely teenage girl he haunted, the supernatural equivalent of the classic Freudian interpretation of a “cigar.” As he put it in The Haunted Mind: “If the life-force cannot be discharged through the reproductive organs, it may create monstrosities of some kind.”

Rather than the usual ectoplasm, Fodor preferred to speak of “knickerplasm” (“pantiesplasm” for U.S. readers, I suppose), noting how this sticky, gloopy, wet substance, which was supposed to be used by dead souls as a makeshift “body” to physically manifest to the faithful during Spiritualist séances, often appeared to emanate from inside female mediums’ vaginas: He devised experiments purporting to specifically demonstrate so. Gives the scene in Ghostbusters in which Peter Venkman gets messily “slimed” in the face in a haunted hotel corridor a whole new layer of meaning.

Even worse, some of the spunkiest spooks were very much a creation of joint genital enterprise. Fodor approvingly cited an Italian colleague on the matter thus: “Ectoplasm is not drawn from the medium alone, but often from half a dozen sitters [i.e., guests] as well; mediums who pack 15-20 people into a small room without ventilation, often for two hours of physical phenomena, should be prosecuted for offense against public health and decency.” Maybe that’s how monkeypox got started?

One Fuck in the Grave
To prove his psychoanalytical-paranormal hypothesis—which, late in life, Sigmund Freud specifically endorsed as a matter of medical “science”—Fodor inspected a number of incredibly bizarre and perverted hauntings such as that of a London lady named Gertrude, haunted by a dead man named Charles, who had fallen in love with her from beyond the grave. As Charles had only an astral body, not a fleshly one, this proved quite a problem when it came to subsequent acts of carnal union.

According to Fodor, “The remedy that Charles found was unprintable in a respectable journal of psychical research.” The Haunted Mind was not a terribly respectable book, however, so Fodor felt free to tell the whole story himself there. At the instigation of Charles, an “instrument” was purchased by Gertrude and handed over to a willing female medium to wear whenever she came to visit—a strap-on dildo. The medium would go into a trance, be possessed by Charles, and allow Gertrude to hop aboard and ride the dead man by proxy.

This was handy because, “by reason of heart trouble,” Gertrude’s living husband was wholly unable to satisfy his wife with his own real-life “instrument,” thereby causing the figure of “Charles” (who was actually naught but a ghostly projection of the frustrated wife’s continued desire for sex) to manifest in the first place. Via such phantom sex-therapy, Gertrude “blossomed and became younger and more beautiful,” but after three years tragedy struck: Her husband found the “instrument” in question and “accidentally” stood on and smashed it. For some reason Gertrude couldn’t obtain another, said Fodor, “And that was the end of the fountain of youth.”

Due to his unbelievably strange activities (I won’t mention the woman he found who could produce live birds and small archaeological exhibits to order from inside her haunted front-hole), Fodor ultimately ended up being sacked by the shocked old ladies who ran the psychical research institute for which he worked in London. There was even a scandalous court case in which he tried to sue a leading Spiritualist newspaper for essentially suggesting he was just a massive pervert—making him ultimately feel compelled to move to New York, where massive perverts were made to feel far more welcome, at least amongst the expatriate Freudian Jewish analyst community.

Spiritual AIDS
It is easy to laugh at Fodor, but I would be something of a hypocrite to do so personally. I have in fact written my own volume of highly disturbing crank literature upon the topic of ghosts, arguing, partly upon the basis of Fodor’s own findings, that poltergeists might well have a sense of humor (Fodor’s old colleagues at London’s Society of Psychical Research quite liked it). As ghosts tend to be invisible and intangible in their nature, it is very simple indeed to project favored interpretations of one’s own onto them, delusional or otherwise.

As Exhibit A, a whole host of far more aberrant individuals than Dr. Fodor have recently sprung up trying to claim ghosts are now inherently homosexual. Last year, bisexual Twilight actress Kristen Stewart launched TV ghost-hunting show Living for the Dead, produced by the same deviants who made Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (that crap where benders give normal people a sartorial makeover like Ken and Kenneth from The Fast Show) on which LGBTQ “ghost hunties” go around the U.S. seeking phantoms in a Scooby Doo-like Mystery Machine vehicle within the back of which they have a thankfully unspecified “gay old time” (wrong Hanna-Barbera production, you idiots!).

It seems that having a “Queer Eye” now does not simply allow one to divine which outfit will appear most fabulous upon any given TV-show contestant, but also to actually spot spirits: “I hear gay people,” one presenter claims, in camp imitation of the famous “I see dead people” line from 1999 Bruce Willis movie The Sixth Sense. Meanwhile, séances somehow become “gay-ances.” Amazingly, this now represents an entire TV genre: The genuine premise for one such program, Kindred Spirits, is “What if Will & Grace were ghost-hunters?” whilst the rival Queer Ghost Hunters asks what may have happened to the “queer-ly departed,” presumably those who died of AIDS.

Batting for the Other Side
This stuff even now has its own pseudo-academic pseudo-literature, every bit as laughable as that of Nandor Fodor—the difference being Fodor himself knew his work was amusing, and so often deliberately made a big joke out of it for the reader. Queer Studies academics today are far less self-aware, as shown by this wholly straight-faced (in a manner of speaking) 2019 abstract from a pretentious Canadian film-studies journal:

Despite the routine investigations of prisons and mental asylums, sites that have historically functioned to oppress queer people, queer ghosts are not sought after in mainstream paranormal reality TV, thereby rendering queer history and injustice invisible…. This article argues that [gay ghost-hunting shows] employ the séance as a queered historiographical methodology that emphasizes the haunted presence of absent histories.

According to one 2018 survey, a greater proportion of lesbians have seen ghosts than straight ladies have; The New Yorker argues this may be because, just like poltergeists, sapphists have traditionally been socially invisible. Or something. On the other hand, according to a report issued by the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, an amazing 85 percent of homos are only attracted to other men because they are unknowingly possessed by penis-hungry straight female spirits. It’s vice versa for strap-on-wielding lesbians possessed by dead men: direct shades of the Charles and Gertrude case from Fodor’s old casebook.

Are these contemporary 2020s sub-Freudian fantasies really any less absurd than those once promulgated by Nandor Fodor over six decades ago? I think not. If and when his unquiet soul finally does return from The Other Side, he’ll fit right in amongst this queer crowd.

We shall return again to the subject of ghosts and spirits that walk by night next week—to mark the fourth anniversary of that well-known spook George Floyd’s own shuffling off this mortal coil.


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