Poltergeists, Folk Magic, and an Awakening

· Karl Barth,Re-enchantment,Spiritual Awakenings


Poltergeists, Folk Magic and an Awakening

In 1838, 33 year old Johann Christoph Blumhardt and his young wife, Doris, took on the pastorate in the town of Mottlingen as well as the nearby associated parish of Haugstett-located at the northern end of the Black Forest in Germany. A jovial, kind man, with a child-like faith and a love for his fellow man, Blumhardt looked forward with eager expectation to assume the duties of his new pastorate. Little did he know what awaited him. As author, Gunter Kruger puts it:

Both villages were among the poorest in the region. When Blumhardt arrived, a crippling lethargy lay over the whole congregation. Pastor Barth, Blumhardt’s immediate predecessor, and a brilliant preacher, complained bitterly to him that the church had been preached to death; people were fed up with the Gospel, and if some still attended church, most of them slept in their seats. The entire town seemed to be held in a sleepy thrall.

Over the course of his first year at Mottlingen, rumors gradually made their way to Blumhardt hinting that inexplicable things were happening in the home of four of his parishioners the Dittus’: three sisters and a brother. On the very first day they moved into their new residence in Mottlingen, the siblings sat down to eat their evening meal. The eldest sister, Gottlieben prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let all thou givest in mercy be blessed,” upon saying this, she immediately suffered an attack and fell unconscious to the floor. Then throughout the house banging and shuffling began to be heard in the living room, kitchen and bedroom, and strange lights were seen. Gottlieben, and then her sister Katharina began to exhibit disturbing behavior and terrifying convulsions. The doctor was called for, but confessed himself baffled and unable to help. Finally, in desperation, Blumhardt was called for. As Friedrich Zuendel, Blumhardt’s biographer, narrates:

Sitting a little distance away, Blumhardt silently watched the horrible convulsions. Gottlieben twisted her arms and bent her whole body into a high curve, and foam issued from her mouth. Blumhardt recounts: After what had happened it was clear to me that something demonic was at work here. It pained me to think that no remedy or counsel was forthcoming in so horrible a matter. As I pondered pondered this, Blumhardt recounts, I was gripped by a kind of wrath; it suddenly came over me, and I can only confess: It was an inspiration from above, even though I was unaware of it then. With firm steps I went up to, grasped her cramped in order to hold them together if possible and loudly called the unconscious girl’s name into her ear, saying, “Put your hands together and pray: ‘Lord Jesus, help me!’ We have seen long enough what the devil does; now let us see what the Lord Jesus can do!”

Thus began for Blumhardt a two year spiritual journey in to a realm hitherto unknown to him. He’d never experienced anything like it before, nor had anyone he knew. (He would eventually go on to discover that many of his parishioners practiced a form of folk magic and were only nominally Christian). Blumhardt was repeatedly urged by his mentor and the other pastors in his denomination to have nothing to do with the whole situation. Nevertheless, the young pastor persevered, and over a period of months, gradually, haltingly grew in both faith and understanding until through his prayers, Gottlieben and her siblings were freed from their spiritual oppression. As Zuendel describes it:

Finally there came that most shattering moment, of which none but the actual eye- and ear-witnesses can have an adequate idea. At two o’clock in the morning, while the girl bent her head and the upper part of her body far backwards over her chair, the purported angel of Satan, with a voice such as one would scarcely think a human throat capable of, bellowed out the words, “Jesus is victor! Jesus is victor!” Wherever these words could be heard, their significance was grasped too; they made an indelible impression on many. The strength and power of the demon now appeared to wane with every passing minute; he grew more and more loose.

The following morning villagers all up and down the valley reported having heard the previous night at the same instant in the air high above, mournful cries of “Into the Abyss, Into the Abyss!”

Almost immediately, in the following weeks, one after another of the youths in Blumhardt’s confirmation class came to him in confidence to confess their sins and commit their life fully to Jesus. The movement of repentance then quickly spread to the adults, until what had started as a trickle became a raging flood and Blumhardt found himself spending 8 hours a day in his office hearing the confessions of parishioners- They began meeting in one another’s home’s for times of prayer and Bible study, and people in his parish, and the surrounding countryside began to flock to the Sunday service, until so many people came, the church members had to offer their houses and barns for them to spend the night in.

A spiritual awakening, a revival, had broken out the ripples of which would swell throughout Germany, through Europe and eventually lap the very shores of America. Like Jonathan Edwards, another pastor who found himself in the midst of a spiritual awakening that he was desperately trying to understand, Blumhardt put down his observations and thoughts regarding the revival. And like Edwards' own account, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, Blumhardt's account is both spiritually encouraging and challenging.

Blumhardt's focus on the inbreaking Kingdom of God, often referred to as inaugurated eschatology, went on to have an influence on no less a figure than Karl Barth. And liberal German theologian, Rudolph Bultmann (a proponent of the "demythologization" of Scripture) once famously spluttered in frustration, "I despise these Blumhardt stories!" That alone was enough to commend Blumhardt's writing to me....

A great introduction to Blumhardt and the revival he witnessed is a small book published by Plough Publishing, The Awakening: One Man's Battle with Darkness.

broken image

The Awakening is in essence, an excerpt from Friedrich Zuendel's full biography on Blumhardt, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: A Biography. If you find The Awakening pique's your interest, I strongly encourage you to get the full biography.

One of the most appealing aspects of the biography is the character of Blumhardt himself that shines through. He had a genuine pastoral love for his people, a humility unafraid to ask questions, and an infectious love for the Lord. I read the full biography at a point in my life where I was feeling somewhat beat up and jaded as as result of years spent in pastoral ministry, and it greatly ministered to me and reminded me of why I felt called to the pastorate in the first place.

broken image


How about you? Have you ever experienced a spiritual awakening? If so, what was it like?

Have you had any encounters with malevolent spiritual forces? If so, tell us about it.