Paranormal Phenomenon Omnibus

Poltergeists

Article by Matt Allair

Basic Definition / The Tedworth and Epworth Cases / The Spritualism Craze /
Investigations and Fodor's Work / Some Explanations

It is often one of the most debated yet fascinating subjects to muse over; the existence of a spirit that leaves physical evidence. The name itself is derived from German origins, meaning "noisy ghost" or to be more accurate, poltern meaning 'to knock' and geist meaning 'spirit'. There are a staggering number of documented reports of Poltergeist encounters, yet, there is as much of an argument to be made from skeptics that such encounters are the result of hysteria, or an unexplained freak of the human mind. The X-Files explored the subject, in the season one episode Shadows or the second season episode Excelsis Dei and, one could argue, in the six season episode How The Ghosts Stole Christmas.

It is believed that a Poltergeist is a spirit of mischief; it can cause objects to levitate and fly through the air, doors to open and close, loud noises or shrieks, vile smells, or pools of water to appear from nowhere, they are also known to cause fires. In more contemporary times, Poltergeists have been known to have caused interference with telephones as well as other electronic equipment. Some Poltergeists are believed to have pinched, hit, bit or sexually attacked the living. Generally, Poltergeist activity may start and then end abruptly, lasting several hours to several months, sometimes extending over years. The activity usually occurs at night when someone is present; usually this is the "agent", in technical terms, someone who seems to serve as the focus or magnet for the activity. Some have theorized that the activity might be produced by the subconscious part of the individual, or its technical term Psychokensis. It was only after the formation of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882, that Poltergeists were studied.

One of the earliest knows cases of such activity dates back from AD 858, chronicled in Annales Fuldenses, which took place at Bingen, on the Rhine. It was described as an "evil spirit" that threw stones, and would make the walls shake. This spirit also developed a voice - a rarity of most Poltergeist cases - that denounced the farmer in question for various sins, including adultery. The Bishop of Mainz sent priests who failed to exorcise it.

Basic Definition / The Tedworth and Epworth Cases / The Spritualism Craze /
Investigations and Fodor's Work / Some Explanations

In England, one of the earliest recorded cases of such activity, was considered one of the most spectacular - The Phantom Drummer of Tedworth. In March of 1661, at the home of magistrate John Mompesson, the household was kept awake all night by loud drumming noises. Mompesson had been responsible for the arrest of a vagrant named William Drury, who attracted attention in the street by beating a drum. During the arrest Mompesson had the drum confiscated, in spite of Drury's appeals. Drury escaped from custody without his drum. It was at this point that the disturbances began and lasted for two years. The "Spirit" slammed doors, made panting noises like a dog, scratching noises like huge rats, and purring noises like a cat. It developed a voice that shouted, "A Witch, a witch!" It emptied ashes and chamber pots into the children's beds as well as causing various objects to fly. In 1663 Drury, who was in prison, admitted to a visitor that he was somehow responsible for the disturbances, warning the incidents would continue until Mompesson gave him satisfaction for taking his drum; however eventually the phenomenon faded away.

Another famous poltergeist incident took place in the home of the Rev. Samuel Wesley - the grandfather to the founder of Methodism - at his rectory at Epworth in Lincolnshire. The poltergeist was referred to as "Old Jeffery" by the family, when in December 1st 1716 it kept the family awake with groans and - several nights later - with loud knocking noises as well as sounds of footsteps. The "focus" seemed to have been nineteen-year old girl Hetty Wesley, who was usually asleep when the disturbances began, as usual, the disturbances faded away.

One of America's most famous cases of Poltergeist activity occurred in 1817, on the Tennessee farm of John Bell. The case of the "Bell Witch" is also unique because the poltergeist activity ended by causing the death of its victim, Bell himself. Bell had nine children, Betsy, a girl of twelve, was probably the "focus" of the activity. The incidents began with scratching noises and knocks from the walls, then, invisible hands pulled bed clothes off the beds, there were, in addition, choking noises that came from a human throat. Stones were thrown as well as furniture being moved. The poltergeist frequently slapped Betsy as well as pulled her hair. After about a year, the poltergeist developed a voice, a strange croak. Then John Bell began to be attacked; his jaw became stiff and his tongue swelled. Eventually, the poltergeist identified itself as an Indian, before calling itself Old Kate Bates. It warned it would torment Mr. Bell until he died. The spirit pulled off his shoes, hit him in the face, and caused him to have violent convulsions. This continued until 1820 when Mr. Bell was found in a deep stupor. The "witch" claimed that she had given him a dose of a medicine that would kill him. When Bell did in fact die, the poltergeist filled the house with shrieks of triumph. By 1821, the incidents had abated. Poltergeist expert, Nandor Fodor, suggested that the explanation for the Bell witch lied in an incestuous attack on Betsy by her father, the poltergeist was a "personality fragment" that had broken free from the rest of Betsy's personality, there's no conclusive or credible evidence for the Bell Witch case regarding any theory.

Basic Definition / The Tedworth and Epworth Cases / The Spritualism Craze /
Investigations and Fodor's Work / Some Explanations

The nineteenth-century craze known as Spiritualism was started due to a series of poltergeist disturbances. In 1848, the home of the Fox family in Hydesdale, New York State triggered a series of events due to knocking noises. Their two daughters, Margaret, fifteen and Kate, twelve were the "focus" for the incidents. A neighbor questioned the "Spirit", using a coded method that used one knock for yes and two for no, and was told that it was a peddler who had been murdered in the house. Years later, human bones and a peddler's box were found buried in the cellar. The Hydesville "Spirit" brought such interest that Spiritualism swept across the States and then Europe.

In Paris, around 1860, there had been a series of violent disturbances at a residence in Rue des Noyers. Allan Kardec, whose real name was Leon-Denizard-Hypolyte Rivail and initially a French educator, requested to speak to the spirit responsible, who claimed to be a long dead rag and bone man that declared it used the "Electrical energy" of a servant girl in the house to cause the disturbances. The girl was quite unaware of this and the spirit did it to amuse himself. Kardec became convinced that poltergeists were 'Earth-bound spirits' - people who, for various reasons, had been unable to advance beyond the material plane.

In 1869, stage magician Walter Hubbell, moved into the Teed family home to investigate a poltergeist in Amherst, Nova Scotia, as he later recounted in his book The Great Amherst Mystery. Eighteen-year-old Esther Cox seemed to have been the focus of these incidents. The disturbances had begun in the previous year, when Esther's boyfriend, Bob MacNeal, had ordered her to go into the woods, presumably to rape her; when interrupted, he fled and never returned. Soon after her attack, Esther and her sister Jane were kept awake by mouse like rustling noises, as well as a cardboard box that leapt into the air. Two nights later, Esther's body seemed to swell like a balloon, yet returned to normal after a sound like clapping thunder preceded her recovery. In front of many witnesses, writing appeared on the wall stating, "Esther, you are mine to kill." Esther often complained of an 'electric feeling' running through her body. Small fires broke out, objects flew around the room, furniture moved, and Esther became a human magnet, to which knives and other metal object would stick firmly. Hubbell succeeded in communicating with the "Spirits", who were able to prove their authenticity by revealing the number inside his watch, as well as the dates of the coins in his pockets. When a barn burned down, Esther was accused of arson and sentenced to four months in prison. Upon her release, the manifestations stopped.

Basic Definition / The Tedworth and Epworth Cases / The Spritualism Craze /
Investigations and Fodor's Work / Some Explanations

In the late 1970's parapsychologists Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell conducted a computer analysis compiling cases since 1800 to their time. They identified sixty-three general characteristics, which included the following; From their analysis, 64 percent involved the movement of small objects; 58 percent were mostly active at night; 48 percent features raps or sounds; 36 percent involved movement of large objects; 24 percent lasted longer than a year; 16 percent featured communication between the poltergeist and the agent; 12 percent involved the opening and shutting of doors and windows.

Upon the creation of the Society of Psychical Research, one of its founders, Frank Podmore, was convinced that poltergeists were usually fakes, caused by pranksters. Podmore did acknowledge that a well known case at Durweston, on Viscount Portman's estate was probably genuine. It has been fairly clear that most Poltergeist activity has had a connection to a particular person, and usually an adolescent. Starting in the 1930s, psychologist and parapsychologist Nandor Fodor advanced his theory that some poltergeist disturbances were caused by human agents suffering from intense, repressed anger, hostility, and sexual tension. Fodor successfully demonstrated his theory in several cases, including a case he investigated in England in 1938, the "Thormton Heath Poltergeist" which involved a woman whose repressions caused a poltergeist outbreak.

Fodor put forth his theory of "personality fragments" in the Journal of Clinical Psychopathology in 1945. Another popular theory put forth in 1930 by Dr. Alfred Winterstein concerned the "unconscious mind", the theory was popularized due to the work of people such as Austrian medium Frieda Weisl or Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki until it was accepted by most psychical investigators at the end of the 1940s. Wassilko-Serecki had examined a young Rumanian girl named Eleanore Zugun, who was continually slapped and punched by a poltergeist - bite marks that appeared often were damp with saliva.

Very often, police officers have experienced evidence of Poltergeist activity. In 1988, a local family experienced a poltergeist ordeal in Horicon, Wisconsin. Police Chief Douglas Glamann was brought in to speak to the family at length. The terrified family members described objects being moved, visits from glowing apparitions, and fires of unknown origin. Glamann was convinced that the family had gone through a real trauma. Glamann's department was not involved in the investigation, yet the family insisted on maintaining their privacy, so Glamann's role was merely as a protector. Glamann visited the house with some of his officers, the town mayor, and some clergy who planned to do a ritual blessing. Soon after they entered the house, the phone on a wall rang incessantly, when it would be answered, there would be no one there. This continued even after an officer disconnected the phone from the line, and yet the phone continued to ring. Another officer had an experience in the basement; there was one area where the officer felt he couldn't breathe. He described the feeling as having a tremendous weight on his chest that knocked the wind out of him, yet when he would walk over to a different area in the basement, the sensation went away.

There's arguable evidence that Global warming could trigger mutations in various organisms. In an article published in the journal Nature, University of Chicago scientist Susan Lindquist, and colleagues found that environmental stresses like hot temperatures can cause substantial changes in nature's creatures within a single generation. Using fruit flies, Lindquist discovered that high temperatures caused normal looking flies to have offspring with all kinds of deformities.

Basic Definition / The Tedworth and Epworth Cases / The Spritualism Craze /
Investigations and Fodor's Work / Some Explanations

There have been two camps of thought; those who support Kardec's theory of Poltergeist as actual spirits, those who support Fodor and Winterstein's beliefs. A paranormal-investigator named Guy Lyon Playfair went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the 1960s, Playfair supported Kardec's theory. He investigated the subject for the Brazilian Institute for Psycho-biophysical Research. One young girl named Maria was continually attacked by a poltergeist, which attempted to suffocate her and set her clothes on fire. A medium relayed a message saying that Maria had been a witch in a previous life, of which many people suffered, and now she was paying for it. Maria committed suicide by means of poison at thirteen.

Then again, there are others that accept Fodor's or Winterstein's theories. William Roll, the project director for the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, studied Winterstein's theories further. Starting in the 1960s, Roll examined 116 written reports of poltergeist cases spanning over four centuries in over one hundred countries. He identified patterns he labeled "recurrent spontaneous psychokenesis", which he defined as inexplicable and spontaneous physical effects; children or teens were often the common agent. The individuals are not aware of being the cause of such disturbances. Other investigators have found agents in poor mental and physical health, with anxiety reactions, conversion hysteria, phobias, mania, obsessions, and schizophrenia. In many cases, therapy eliminated the poltergeist activity.

Due to certain patterns that are consistent throughout the history of poltergeist haunting. Another probable possibility, a common sense possibility, starting with the Drummer of Tedworth and continuing to present cases, is that these events were elaborate hoaxes or the unfortunate byproducts of individuals, especially adolescent individuals, who have been sexually abused and would rather explain their attack in a supernatural context than face such a painful reality. The reality of the facts concerning poltergeist activity is inconclusive. Nevertheless, this subject still has the power to enthrall people, to leave them pondering the existence of the spirit world, or the untapped power of the human mind.

Sources:
"The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved" by Colin Wilson & Damon Wilson © 2000 Carrol and Graft
"Hidden Files" by Sue Kovach © 1998 Contemporary Books
The Mystica

Page Editor: Red Scully

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