Cairo’s Devil in Clogs

Cairo's Devil in Clogs

Cairo’s Devil in Clogs. Turkish bath clogs, 19th c. At this time Egypt was under Ottoman rule. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3513028&partId=1&searchText=turkish+clogs&page=1

A busy day, so, without much commentary, the story of a clog-wearing ghost in Egypt. The narrator, Sophia Lane Poole, writes to a friend back in England of events at a very desirable residence she and her brother and their families had just rented in Cairo:

We were much surprised, after passing a few days here, to find that our servants were unable to procure any rest during the night; being disturbed by a constant knocking, and by the appearances of what they believed to be an ‘Efreet, that is, “an evil spirit,” but the term ‘Efreet is often used to signify “a ghost.” The manner of the servants’ complaint of the latter was very characteristic. Having been much annoyed one morning by a noisy quarrel under our windows, my brother called one of our servants to ascertain how it had arisen, when he replied, “It is a matter of no importance, O Efendee, but the subject which perplexes us is that there is a devil in the bath.” My brother being aware of their superstitious prejudices, replied, “Well, is there a bath in the world that you do not believe to be a resort of evil spirits, according to the well-known tradition on that subject?” [Baths were thought haunted by demons or djinn.]

“True, O my master,” rejoined the man, “the case is so; this devil has long been the resident of the house, and he will never permit any other tenant to retain its quiet possession; for a long time no one has remained more than a month within these walls, excepting the last person who lived here, and he, though he had soldiers and slaves, could not stay longer than about nine months; for the devil disturbed his family all night.”

I must here tell you that during our short stay in the house, two maids had left us, one after another, without giving us any idea of their intentions, and had never returned, and the cause of their sudden disappearance was now explained by the men, their fellow-servants. Certainly our own rest had been grievously disturbed; but we had attributed all the annoyance to a neighbour’s extraordinary demonstrations of joy on the subject of his own marriage, and whose festivities were perhaps the more extravagant because he is an old man, and his bride a young girl: but as I hope to give you a particular account, on a future occasion, of the manner in which the people of this country celebrate a marriage, suffice it to say at present, the noise was deafening during the whole of eight nights, and that, when we were becoming accustomed to the constant din, we were roused by three tremendous reports of fire-arms, which rung through the apartments of our own and the neighbouring houses, and shook our dwelling to the very foundation. It is therefore not remarkable that we did not hear the noises which disturbed our poor servants, in addition to the sufficient uproar without.

It appeared, on inquiry, that the man to whom this house formerly belonged, and who is now dead, had, during his residence in it, murdered a poor tradesman who entered the court with his merchandise, and two slaves: one of these (a black girl) was destroyed in the bath, and you will easily understand how far such a story as this, and a true one too, sheds its influence on the minds of a people who are superstitious to a proverb. We can only regret that my brother engaged the house in ignorance of these circumstances; had he known them, he would also have been aware that the prejudice among the lower orders would be insurmountable, and that no female servant would remain with us. The sudden disappearance of our maids was thus quaintly explained by our doorkeeper.

“Why did A’mineh and Zeyneb leave you? Verily, O my master, because they feared for their security. When A’mineh saw the ‘Efreet she said at once, ‘I must quit this house; for if he touch me, I shall be deranged, and unfit for service;’ and truly,” he added, “this would have been the case. For ourselves, as men, we fear not; but we fear for the hareem. Surely you will consider their situation, and quit this house.” This (he thought) was putting the matter in the strongest light. “Try a few nights longer,” my brother said, ” and call me as soon as the ‘Efreet appears to-night; we might have caught him last night, when you say he was so near you, and after giving him a sound beating, you would not have found your rest disturbed.”

At this remark it was evident that the respect of both servants for their master had received a temporary shock. “O Efendee,” exclaimed one of them, “this is an ‘Efreet, and not a son of Adam, as you seem to suppose. He assumed last night all imaginary shapes, and when I raised my hand to seize him, he became a piece of cord, or any other trifle.” Now these men are valuable servants, and we should be sorry to lose them, especially in our present predicament; therefore my brother merely answered, that if the annoyance did not cease, he would make inquiry respecting another house. But to obtain a house, excepting in the heart of the city, is no easy matter; and on account of my children, we feel it to be indispensable for the preservation of their health that we should reside on the west side of the city, and close to the outskirts, where the air is pure and salubrious, and where Ibraheem Pasha has caused the mounds of rubbish to be removed, and succeeded by extensive plantations of olive, palm, cypress, acacia, and other trees. These plantations are open to the public, and form a charming place of resort for children.

I have not mentioned to you that the inhuman wretch to whom this house belonged bequeathed it to a mosque, perhaps as an expiation for his crimes, but left it, for the term of her life, to the person who is our present landlady; and now a circumstance was explained to our minds which we had not before fully understood. On the day before we desired to remove here, we sent one of our servants to hire some women, and to superintend the clearing of the house; and on his arrival there, the landlady (whose name is Lálah-Zár, or bed of tulips) refused him admission, saying, “Return to the Efendee, and say to him that I am baking cakes in the oven of his kitchen, that I may give them away to-morrow at the tomb of the late owner of the house, to the poor and needy. This is a meritorious act for your master’s sake, as well as for my own, and your master will understand it.”

Poor woman! it is now evident to us that she hoped by this act of propitiation to prevent further annoyance to her tenants, and consequent loss to herself.

The morning after the conversation I have related took place, the servants’ report was considerably improved. They had passed, they said, a comfortable night, and we hoped we might arrange to remain here, but the following day a most singular statement awaited us. The doorkeeper, in a tone of considerable alarm, said that he had been unable to sleep at all; that the ‘Efreet had walked round the gallery all night in clogs! [Clogs are always worn in the bath.] and had repeatedly knocked at his door with a brick, or some other hard substance. Then followed the question why one of the men had not called my brother, evidently because neither of them dared pass the gallery round which the supposed ‘Efreet was taking his midnight walk, striking each door violently as he passed it. For many nights these noises continued, and many evenings they began before we retired to rest, and as we could never find the offender, I sadly feared for my children; not for their personal safety, but lest they should incline to superstition, and nothing impoverishes the mind so much as such a tendency….

However, under all these circumstances, I rejoiced to find my children increasingly amused by these pranks, and established in the belief that one or more wicked persons liked the house so well, that they resolved to gain possession, and to eject by dint of sundry noises, and other annoyances, any persons who desire its occupation. It is, however, a more serious matter to poor Lálah-Zár than to us; for it is very certain that the legacy of the late possessor will never prove a great benefit either to her or to the mosque….

Sophia wrote the letter above in August of 1842, then gives the sequel four months later.

Letter XIV.

December, 1842.

My Dear Friend,

You must bear with me if I recur to the subject of the haunted house, for our disturbances came to a sort of climax which I think as curious as it was exciting, and so strikingly characteristic, that I must describe to you the particulars of the case.

Ramadan ended about a month ago, and with it ended the comparative quiet of our nights. To describe to you all the various noises by which we have been disturbed is impossible. Very frequently the door of the room in which we were sitting late in the evening, within two or three hours of midnight, was violently knocked at many short intervals: at other times, it seemed as if something very heavy fell upon the pavement close under one of the windows of the same room, or of one adjoining, and as these rooms were on the top of the house, we imagined at first that some stones or other things had been thrown by a neighbour, but we could find nothing outside after the noises I have mentioned. The usual noises continued during the greater part of the night, and were generally like a heavy trampling, like the walking of a person in large clogs, varied by knocking at the doors of many of the apartments, and at the large water-jars which are placed in recesses in the galleries. Our maids have come and gone like shadows ever since our residence here, excepting during Ramadan, and sauve qui peut seems to have been their maxim; for they believe that one touch of an ‘efreet would render them demoniacs.

A few evenings since, a maid, who had only passed two days in the house, rushed to our usual sitting room, whence she had just removed our supper, exclaiming that a tall figure in white had stood with arms outspread at the entrance of the upper gallery to prevent her passing. We all immediately returned with her, and as you will anticipate, found nothing. This white figure our servants call a saint, and they assert that the house is haunted by a saint and an ‘efreet. One man assures us that this same saint, who is, to use his expression, “of dazzling whiteness,” applied himself, one night, to the bucket of the well in the court, and, having drawn up water, performed his ablutions and said his prayers. Frightening servant maids is rather inconsistent, I ween, with such conduct. Certainly the servants do not complain without reason, and it is particularly grievous, because there is not, throughout the whole healthful part of the city, one comfortable house vacant.

During Ramadan, the Muslims believe that ‘efreets are imprisoned, and thus our servants accounted for our freedom from annoyance during that month. We on the other hand believed we had bolted and barred out the offender, by having discovered his place of ingress, and were much disappointed at finding our precautions useless.

A few days since, our doorkeeper (a new servant), complained that he not only could not sleep, but that he never had slept since his arrival more than a few minutes at a time, and that he never could sleep consistently with his duty, unless the ‘efreet should be destroyed. He added, that he came up every night into the upper gallery leading to our sleeping rooms, and there he found the figure I have mentioned, walking round and round the gallery; and concluded with an anxious request that my brother would consent to his firing at the phantom, saying that devils have always been destroyed by the discharge of fire-arms. My brother consented to the proposal, provided the servant used neither ball nor small shot. Two days and nights passed, and we found on the third, that the doorkeeper was waiting to ascertain whether the spectre were a saint or a devil, and had therefore resolved to question him on the ensuing night before he fired.

The night came, and it was one of unusual darkness. We had really forgotten our man’s intention, although we were talking over the subject of the disturbances until nearly midnight, and speculating upon the cause, in the room where my children were happily sleeping, when we were startled by a tremendous discharge, which was succeeded by the deep hoarse voice, of the doorkeeper, exclaiming “There he lies, the accursed!” and a sound as of a creature struggling and gasping for breath. In the next moment, the man loudly called his fellow servant, crying, “Come up, the accursed is struck down before me!”—and this was followed by such mysterious sounds that we believed either a man had been shot, and was in his last agonies, or that our man had accidentally shot himself.

My brother went round the gallery, while I and my sister-in-law stood like children trembling hand in hand, and my boys mercifully slept (as young ones do sleep), sweetly and soundly through all the confusion and distress. It appeared that the man used not only ball-cartridge, but put two charges of powder, with two balls, into his pistol. I will describe the event, however, in his own words. “The ‘efreet passed me in the gallery and repassed me, when I thus addressed it, ‘Shall we quit this house, or will you do so?’ ‘You shall quit it,’ he answered; and passing me again, he threw dust into my right eye. This proved he was a devil,” continued the man; “and I wrapped my cloak around me, and watched the spectre as it receded. It stopped in that corner, and I observed attentively its appearance. It was tall and perfectly white. I stooped, and before it moved again, discharged my pistol, which I had before concealed, and the accursed was struck down before me, and here are the remains.” So saying, he picked up a small burnt mass, which my brother showed us afterwards, resembling more the sole of a shoe than anything else, but perforated by fire in several places, and literally burnt to a cinder. This, the man asserted (agreeably with a popular opinion), was always the relic when a devil was destroyed, and it lay on the ground under a part of the wall where the bullets had entered.

The noise which succeeded the report, and which filled me with horror, is, and must ever remain, a mystery. On the following morning we closely examined the spot, and found nothing that could throw light on the subject. The burnt remains do not help us to a conclusion; one thing, however, I cannot but believe—that some one who had personated the evil one suffered some injury, and that the darkness favoured his escape. It is truly very ridiculous in these people to believe that the remains of a devil resemble the sole of an old shoe. It reminds me of the condensed spirits of whom we read in the ” Thousand and One Nights,” who were (so say tradition) bottled up, hermetically sealed, and thrown into the sea, by order of Suleyman the son of Da-ood.

I need scarcely say that the servant was reprimanded for disobeying his orders with regard to charging the pistol. “With this one exception, he has proved ever obedient, most respectful, and excellent in every point. I really believe the man was so worn out by want of sleep, and exasperated by finding the same figure nightly pacing round the galleries, and preventing his rest, that he became desperate.

The Englishwoman in Egypt: Letters from Cairo, Written During a Residence There in 1842, 3, & 4. Volume 1, Sophia Lane Poole, 1844: pp. 72-8 199-205

Despite the local cultural references to haunted baths and the touch of an evil spirit turning someone into a demoniac, this haunting, with its restless murderer’s ghost, footsteps, and knockings, could as easily have been found in England or Germany. However, the detail of the burnt shoe-sole is an intriguing one. It runs in my mind that I have heard of similar unsavory artifacts found after an attack on a supernatural visitant—perhaps in a story of witchery?

Other bizarre remnants of occult creatures? chriswoodyard8 @ gmail.com

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.