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The Restless Dead of Monastiraki

by Thanassis Vembos

One of the dozens of cases of psychic phenomena investigated by Greek Society of Psychic Research was a series of events that took place in Monastiraki, a small village of Acarnania, a region of west-central Greece that lies along the Ionian Sea. In 1926 the Society heard about a series of events allegedly spanning all the years since the beginning of the century; occasionally they were reported briefly in Athenian newspapers. The case was described in two issues of Psychikai Erevnai (Psychic Research), the magazine published by GSPR (November 1926 and January 1927). Angelos Tanagras, founder and chairman of GSPR investigated the case personally along with three local magistrates, Lambrinopoulos, Michopoulos and Saravaliotis.

Tanagras and the others found out that twenty five years ago, an elementary school teacher by the name of Petalas was living in Monastiraki. Rumor said that he was murdered by some merchant from the island of Ithaca whom he was accommodating in his house. Supposedly the merchant had buried Petalas in the yard and then robbed the house. Since then, strange phenomena were taking place; unexplained destruction of yarn, breaking of cooking utensils, spoiling of food; especially there clothing was mysteriously destroyed –this reached tremendous intensity. Round holes, five and six angled holes appeared inexplicably on every kind of cloth; underwear, blankets, pillows, sheets etc. Items of every individual living in the house were afflicted –except these belonging to Olga, the daughter of the family.

At first the family thought that Olga was damaging the clothing but after having found damaged items that were locked in chests they realized that some supernatural agent was responsible; so they called priests for the usual exorcisms, but in no avail.

After that they called the bishop of Mesolongi, Parthenios Akylas who did all the necessary rituals and put a vial with holy water in the ‘haunted chest’. Not only the phenomena continued, but the holy water was found spilled inside the chest. The bishop decided to stay in the house overnight among with father Spyridon, the local priest, and the village physician Andreas Travlos. The Petalas family went to sleep elsewhere and the three men stayed alone in the house. They witnessed ‘supernatural phenomena’; the physician and the priest saw olive oil spilling from a can, without anyone being close. Also during the night, the physician heard strange reports on the roof which could not be attributed to a natural cause –human or animal.

After that they called another bishop who also made the rituals and put a holy water vial among with a cross inside the chest. But the water was found spilled; the cross was mysteriously vanished.

Then, the terrified family called a spiritualist group from Corfu and asked for help. The spiritualists explained that some malevolent spirit was trapped in the house. So the family decided to burn the house in order to liberate it from the curse. They filled the basement with wood and kindle and set fire; the two-storey stone house was burning for two consecutive days.

Nevertheless, this desperate measure proved fruitless; the phenomena continued. Now that the spiritualists had indicated the cause of the events, everybody believed that the restless spirit of the murdered father must be responsible, having become a ‘vrycolakas’ (vampire). They exhumed his bones and spilled boiling olive oil over them. Nevertheless, this did not help. Eventually, the family was broken up. Two of the sons migrated to America and two of the daughters married and moved elsewhere. Only the widow of the deceased remained, among with her third son, who had a coffee shop, and her third daughter, Olga. Everybody realized that the phenomena were following the widow; Dr Travlos hypothesized that she was responsible for the exteriorization of some hysterical condition. In 1924 the widow died, being over eighty years old, and the phenomena finally ceased.

The GSPR research team found out that the phenomena were genuine but a lot of hearsay and rumor had been added to the basic narration. The phenomena had started two years before the death of Petalas and not after it. Moreover, his death was not the result of a murder –there was neither a merchant from Ithaca, nor involvement of the police. According to Tanagras, who was an ardent enemy of Spiritualism the whole case supported his favorite theory, that is the phenomena were caused subconsciously by Petalas widow; the phenomena were intensified after his death because of the shock.

The team took the testimonies of Dr Travlos and Petalas’ son, Spyros (described as ‘gaunt and corpse-like, with a long white beard'). The latter certified that the damage caused by the phenomena was about Drs 50,000 (a huge amount of money); he verified that they were centered on his mother. He also reported that man times, loaves of bread baked in the oven were found with deep indentations like ‘fingerprints’ on them; he also brought a damaged skirt, full holes, donating it to GSPR. The village priest, father Spyridon Bokos, confirmed the failed exorcisms, the spilled holy water, the vanishing of the cross and the burning of the deceased Petalas’ bones. An old villager, Dimitrios Maggioros, attested that one day he was sitting on the table with Petalas family when everybody saw large palm-sized holes opening mysteriously on the tablecloth; nobody was able to understand what happened to the disappearing pieces of cloth.

Tanagras and his associates managed also to meet Olga. She was 35 years old and unmarried –a spinster according to the morals of the age. Tanagras described her as ‘in a continuous state of disorientation’, not being able to concentrate her gaze; he also could not hypnotize her. The president of GSPR concluded that she could also have been an agent of the telekinetic phenomena. But since her widowed mother had been passed away, not much more field investigation was able. Tanagras used the whole story to show how superstition and ignorance could have led to unreasonable reactions, like the burning of the house and the bones, or to false beliefs, like spirits of the beloved dead.

Tanagras and associates at the ruins of the 'house of the vampire' (1926)


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