This is one of the oddest stories I know of. This world gets ‘curiouser and curiouser’, to quote Alice.But I tell this on good authority.
From the Bible we know the wondrous bread-multiplication, and from poltergeists and other geists, notably in Spiritualism, we know the apports, the vanishings and appearances. StarTreks ‘replicator’ isn’t that far fetched: there are powers that can disassemble objects into molecules and fit them together again. They can build palaces in one night and make them disappear when they are no longer needed. Paramahamsa Yogananda wrote one such a story from personal experience in his famous Autobiography, and Sufi master Idries Shah also mentions such cases. The echo of these stories we can find in fairytales, but there is no doubt that many fairytales have a basis in reality. Maybe these are natural laws in operation, but we don’t know them, and as long as we don’t, we call it magic.
Nandor Fodor (1895-1964) was a Hungarian-American psychoanalyst and parapsychologist who wrote several books, among which the extensive Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (1966) and Between Two Worlds (1964), a book with many short stories from parapsychological literature. Both books are digitalised and on internet.
From the last book this story is taken (p 148).It appeared for the first time in FATE, Dec 1961. The London Daily Express reported it on October 24, 1903.
It centers around the Websters , a family of 9 living in Raikes Farm, Beverley, England, at the beginning of the 20th Century. They made ends meet with difficulty, for feeding so many mouths isn’t easy. Bread was of the essence, more than most other food.
Their farmhouse was said to be haunted. Strange noises and mysterious choir singing were heard in the night, writes Fodor, but what most disturbed the family was that from March 1903 the fresh baked bread seemed to crumble away each night. First the family thought it were mice or rats doing this, and precautions were taken to prevent the loaves from disappearing. They put the bread in a closed pan, put up rat traps, sprinkled flour on the floor , closed every door, but still the loaves disappeared or dwindled in size.
After three months of suffering in silence the family asked for police assistence. Constable Berridge was flabbergasted. He brought loaves with him, put them under lock and key, and next day they looked all right but were completely hollowed out, and still getting smaller.
Ten leading chemists visited the farm and found no trace of any organism that could be the culprit.
Mrs Webster than started baking cakes instead of loaves of bread, but when the bread was gone the cake also disappeared. Strangly enough, when the bread was removed from the house, it stayed intact. The ‘goblin’ or whatever insatiable elemental devoured the bread seemed to be attached to the house..
Fodor then recalls a case from 1406, related by Ibn Khaldoun in his ‘Universal History’ , about magicians in India, who could point to someone and this man would drop dead. It was subsequently found that his heart was missing.
The same, though less dangerous, would happen to fruits, from which by pointing at a distance all the seeds would vanish.
Then Fodor relates a very strange story told by Père Labat, of a black sorceress who, as a slave on route to the French Islands in 1696, could waste the hearts and livers of her negro companions. The Surgeon Major didn’t give in to her powers, and he bound her and struck her. The woman threatened to eat his heart out. Two days later the man died in agony. They opened him up. His heart and liver, tells Père Labat, were found to be as dry as parchment.
The Captain was, understandably, a bit frightened by now, and he promised to send her back to her country. If only she could behave. But the woman was not done yet.
To prove her power, she ordered a bunch of water melons, which she could all eat before 24 hours were gone, she promised.The melons were brought and locked up, and the key put in the captains pocket.
The next morning the watermelons looked as healthy as ever, and the captain thought he had triumphed over witchcraft. But when the chest was opened the melons were completly empty, nothing but the skin remained, parched. The ship had to return to the harbour to take in water and supplies.
As for the loaf eater of Raikes Farm, there has never been an explanation for the strange mystery.