WHAT IS A POLTERGEIST?
A lamp tips over for no apparent reason. A small object sails across the room, but nobody threw it. A desktop rises all by itself. Strange knocking sounds break the pause in a dinner party conversation. A chill wind passes over in a perfectly warm room.
Usually incidents such as these are jokingly dismissed as the presence of a ghost or poltergeist. It happens to lots of people. But it isn't always a laughing matter.
"There is no denying that the poltergeist is a citizen of the world."1 With those words, Dr. William G. Roll, a former Duke University parapsychologist and current project director of the Psychical Research Foundation, confirms what scholars and skeptics have debated for years--the existence of an unusual phenomenon that manifests itself through mysterious movements of objects. These "noisy or boisterous ghosts," as the word 'poltergeist' translates from its German origin, date back as far as recorded civilization itself.2 Reports of their activities include the disappearance and reappearance of household objects, movement of furniture, blasts of wind, flashes of light and electrical charges, incidents of biting and apparitions.
Poltergeists, like hauntings, seem to take up residence in houses or buildings. The critical difference between the two lies in the nature and duration of the episodes. Hauntings are typically non-physical and can continue for years. Poltergeists are physical and sometimes violent, they erupt spontaneously, continue for a period of time and then just as inexplicably disappear. A poltergeist intrusion will rarely last more than two months and more often than not will be associated with a living individual under the age of 20. The baffling behavior of the poltergeist prompts many people to conjure up the notion of spirits and hauntings, a natural assumption since a haunting implies that a spirit has remained at or returned to it's earthly habitat.3
"In contrast to popular superstition," notes Dr. Thelma Moss a leading psychical researcher whose office at UCLA fields many of the reports of Los Angeles haunted houses, "most Los Angeles haunted houses are not old, abandoned mansions. They are typically middle-class, recently built, comfortable homes which are lived in by several members of a family, most of whom have had some experience with the apparitions.4
The serious study of the poltergeist phenomena is part of parapsychology, a relatively new field of science that has grown enormously in both credibility and the scope of its research since its founding in the 1930s by Dr. J.B. Rhine.
Some of the events revealed may seem incredible but even a cursory excursion into the parapsychological puzzle uncovers documentation and scrutiny by astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and pilot of the lunar landing module of Apollo 14; a Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir William Barrett; scholars at the world's leading universities and medical doctors at prominent research institutions (principally at Maimonedes Hospital in New York.)
"In nature," wrote Claude Bernard in his Introduction to Experimental Medicine, "what is absurd according to our theories is not always impossible."
SOME NOTABLE POLTERGEISTS
Poltergeists are not everyday occurrences and when they do occur they are not always reported. Nevertheless, many have made their way into history, some have been scientifically studied, and a few are highlighted here.
30AD - Deacon Helpidus, physician to King Theodoric of what is now Germany, was pelted by mysterious showers of stones.
856AD - The house of a priest in the European town of Kemdem was the target of mysteriously thrown stones and peculiar raps were heard on the walls.6
1850 - Yerville, France - Two boys, ages 12 and 14, were plagued by a poltergeist. The incidents included knocks and raps, the movement of the boy's desks, slaps by invisible hands and an apparition. This case is in the record of the court of M. Folloppe, Justice of The Peace, as it was the subject of an unusual lawsuit.7
1906 - Austria - A blacksmith and his two apprentices, ages 16 and 18, found themselves victims of a mischievous poltergeist who flung tools and pieces of iron about the shop, injuring all three. An investigation of the incident revealed the following report:
1911 - Derrygonnelly, Ireland - Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir William Barrett, professor of Physics at Dublin University reported:
1960 - Sauchie, Scotland - Poltergeists centered on an 11 year-girl, Virginia Campbell, who had just moved to Sauchie from Ireland leaving behind most of her possessions. She was desperately unhappy. Soon, odd things seemed to happen. On one occasion at school, Virginia's teacher saw the hinged-top to the girl's desk fly open as she tried diligently to keep it closed. Later, the teacher saw the desk behind the girl levitate a few inches from the floor. A minister visited the girl's home and heard loud percussive rapping sounds which seemed to eminate from Virginia's bed, yet she was lying perfectly still. While investigating the sound he saw a linen chest rise and fly into the air. Two medical doctors recorded a series of raps, sawing noises and other auditory phenomena.10
1961 - Felix Fuld Housing Project, Newark, New Jersey - Mrs. Maybelle Clark and her 13-year-old grandson, Ernest Rivers, shared an apartment with an invisible force apparently determined to destroy all Mrs. Clark's breakable belongings. This poltergeist was particularly unusual because it would also steal money from wallets and return it with interest!11
1962 - Indianapolis, Indiana - Mysterious "bat-like" bites appeared on the arms of Mrs. Renate Beck, her mother, Mrs. Lina Gemmecke and Mrs. Beck's 13 year old daughter, Linda, according to a newspaper report on March 13, 1962. Strange movements and breakage of objects were also reported. It was in the midst of these breakages that "Mrs. Beck felt the sting on her left arm and discovered three small puncture marks resembling the bite of a bat. Mrs. Gemmecke felt similar pains at intervals and found identical marks on her left knee and left arm. In total, the Indianapolis poltergeist was responsible for 76 common poltergeist movements, 25 series of knocks and 14 puncture incidents. All but 5 of the incidents took place between March 10 and 24, when there were 110 incidents all told.12
1962 - Clayton, North Carolina - Strange flashes of light invaded the home of Mrs. Pearl Howell and her two grown children, Frances and Robert. A series of flashes, some stronger than others, and many resembling a neon light, puzzled this Carolina town during the summer of 1962.13
1967 - Miami, Florida - "The Miami poltergeist" created havoc in a local warehouse, breaking numerous mugs, ashtrays, vases and other crockery. In the words of Susy Smith, a popular writer on psychical research, it was "a poltergeist gone berserk." Dr. William G. Roll, the foremost authority on the subject, and Dr. J.G. Praitt of the University of Virginia, subjected the Miami poltergeist and it's apparent target, a nineteen year-old shipping clerk named Julio, to a serious and strenuous investigation.14
1968 - The Rosenheim Poltergeist - In her book The Probability of The Impossible, Dr. Thelma Moss, a leading scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) writes:
SO WHAT ARE THEY?
No one knows with any certainty what poltergeists are nor how or why they exist. The fact is that these phenomena are real and several theories have been advanced to explain them.
Early psychic researchers felt that poltergeists were indeed spirits of the dead. Further research and evidence uncovered in poltergeist and haunting investigations supports this idea. At least three modern parapsychologists, Ernesto Bozzano, Ian Stevenson and D. Scott Rogo lend their insights to the spiritistic theory.
Bozzano reached his conclusion after an exhaustive study of 304 cases of hauntings. 80% were linked to a death and usually the apparition represented the figure of the deceased. He also found the following:
a) phantoms of the dead can haunt places where they did not die and, in some cases, where they had not even lived.
b) hauntings consist of telekinetic (the ability to move objects through projections of thought) movement of objects that indicates some sort of physical presence.
c) hauntings seem particularly linked with deaths, while other tragedies or emotions do not seem to engender hauntings.
d) hauntings are not continual but intermittent
e) when certain actions are carried out--such as exorcism, prayers for the dead and other specific acts--the hauntings often cease.16
Ian Stevenson tried to find a human connection to poltergeists but ultimately concluded that:
"...Sometimes there occurs physical phenomena during poltergeist disturbances which can only with difficulty ascribe to living human agency, even when equipped with important paranormal powers...such cases suggest some discarnate agency.. I have not myself been able to imagine how such effects could be solely produced by the unconscious mind of a living agent."17
Rogo states his theory simply. "Poltergeists might be some sort of independent apparition created or projected by the principal agent."18
Both Rogo and Stevenson raise the question of an agent or medium link with the living--in their search for an explanation. Dr. William C. Roll and Dr. Hans Bender have discovered some very convincing data that suggests this human connection.
Roll and Bender have found that the poltergeist seems to be a non-verbal communicator, generally associated with the living, representing the expression of repressed hostility. Dr. Roll is the major proponent of the PSI (pronounced sigh) Field theory which basically states that there is an energy field charged with the paranormal powers of psychokinesis (the direct influence of mind on matter), ESP and survival (life after death) phenomena. This field, he finds, appears to surround the human body and operates with a decreasing effect beyond a 16 foot radius of the target individual. This energy field has also been discovered to include what appears to be vortices or whirlpools, which accounts for the speed and abrupt behavior of objects moved by the poltergeist. Vortex fields, they note, are often found in nature, especially around planets and stars.
The second stage of Roll's thinking explains the psychological aspects of the poltergeist. It is believed that the poltergeist can be the result of a subconscious release of tension, a non-verbal expression of repressed hostility, that charges the PSI field, causing the poltergeist phenomena. Evidence of hostility, adolescent tension and feelings of frustration have been noted in a majority of the individuals who seem to be at the center of a poltergeist intrusion.19
The PSI Field theory also helps to explain the phenomena, for it is possible that during a tragedy or much psychic energy is released and charges the field effect that can last for years.
Finally, there seems to be evidence that ghosts and other communications with the dead have a purpose, as if the dead have one last and final mission to carry out on earth. Once that contact, that communication, is accomplished, the episodes seem to cease.
MGM's "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg Production of a Tobe Hooper film. The screenplay was written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, the film is being released in the United States and Canada by MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing.
1. Dr. William G. Roll, The Poltergeist, p. 25
2. D. Scott Rogo, in Psychic Exploration, Mitchell, P. 388
3. Roll, p. 8
4. Dr. Thelma Moss, The Probability of the Impossible, p. 321
5. Rogo, in Mitchell, p. 388
6. Ibid, p. 388
7. Roll, p. 24
8. Moss, p. 328
9. Moss, p. 329
10. Rogo, in Mitchell, p. 389
11. Roll, p. 39
12. Roll, p. 51
13. Roll, p. 64
14. Roll, p. 104
15. Moss, p. 332
16. Rogo, p. 387
17. Rogo, p. 392
18. Rogo, p. 393
19. Roll, p. 143-161
Dr. William G. Roll, The Poltergeist, A Signet Book, New American Library, 1972 New York
Dr. Thelma Moss, The Probability of the Impossible, New American Library, Plume Books, New York, 1974
Edgar D. Mitchell, Editor, Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, A Paragon Book, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York 1979
back || Poltergeist press || next
back || Poltergeist press || next