A poltergeist is a paranormal phenomenon which consists of events alluding to the manifestation of an imperceptible entity. Such manifestation typically includes inanimate objects moving or being thrown about, sentient noises (such as impaired knocking, pounding, scratching, or banging) and, on some occasions, physical attacks on those witnessing the events.
While no conclusive scientific explanation of the events exists up to this day, poltergeists have traditionally been described in folklore as troublesome spirits or ghosts which haunt a particular person. Such alleged poltergeist manifestations have been reported in many cultures and countries including the United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and all European nations, and the earliest recorded cases date back to the 1st century.
The word poltergeist comes from the German words poltern ("to make noise") and Geist ("ghost"), and the term itself literally means "noisy ghost".
Most reports of poltergeist manifestations involve noises and destruction that have no immediate or verifiable cause. Situations include inanimate objects being picked up and thrown; noises such as knocking, rapping, or even human voices; and physical attacks on human beings, such as pinching, biting, and hitting.
Single poltergeist cases often range in duration from a few hours to several months.
Allan Kardec believed that poltergeists were spirits associated with the elements.
Poltergeist activity has often been believed to be the work of malicious ghosts. According to Alan Kardec, the founder of Spiritism, poltergeists are manifestations of disembodied spirits of low level, belonging to the sixth class of the third order. They are believed to be closely associated with the elements (fire, air, water, earth).
In parapsychology, Nandor Fodor proposed that poltergeist disturbances were caused by human agents suffering from some form of emotional stress or tension. William G. Roll studied 116 different poltergeist cases and found that the agents were often children or teenagers, and supposed that recurrent neuronal discharges resulting in epileptic symptoms may cause recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK), which would affect the person's surroundings.
Attempts have been made to explain scientifically poltergeist disturbances that have not been traced to fraud. The psychical investigator Guy William Lambert proposed a geophysical explanation for poltergeist activity which results from the activity of underground water and other factors. According to Lambert many reported poltergeist incidents can be accounted for by physical causes such as "subterranean rivers, tidal patterns, geological factors and shifts in the house foundation, and climate changes." His theory was that an underground water course may flow under "haunted" locations and that after heavy rainfall the stream could cause structural movement of the property, possibly causing the house to vibrate and move objects.
David Turner, a retired physical chemist, suggested that ball lighting, another phenomenon, could cause inanimate objects to move erratically. Michael Persinger has theorized that seismic activity could cause poltergeist phenomena. Persinger's case studies have also shown a complex interaction between geomagnetism, household electrical equipment and the brain physiology of the individual.
Sketics such as Milbourne Christopher have found that some cases of poltergeist activity can be attributed to unnussual air currents, Such as a case in Cape cod where currents from an uncovered chimney became strong enough to tip over chairs and knock things off shelves. )
Other investigators have postulated that psychopathology or aggression in the subjects themselves may be responsible for the action of movement of objects in poltergeist cases. Nandor Fodor compared some reports of poltergeist activity to hysterical conversion symptoms resulting from emotional tension of the subject. Owen (1978) cited a number of poltergeist cases in which the subject displayed signs of hysteria.
Famous poltergeist cases
Main article: Lithobolia
Lithobolia, or the Stone-Throwing Devil, is a pamphlet that records poltergeist activity that allegedly took place in the tavern of George and Alice Walton in 1682. Two copies of the pamphlet exist in the British Museum. The Waltons' tavern was located in New Castle, New Hampshire, then known as the Great Island. Lithobolia was written by “R.C.,” one Richard Chamberlain, the secretary of the colony of New Hampshire. In 1666 Chamberlain was boarding at the Walton tavern and witnessed the attack. The pamphlet was later printed in London by Chamberlain in 1698. The opening reads:
"Lithobolia", or stone throwing Devil. Being an Exact and True account (by way of Journal) of the various actions of infernal Spirits or (Devils Incarnate) Witches or both: and the great Disturbance and Amazement they gave to George Walton's family at a place called Great Island in the county of New Hampshire in New England, chiefly in throwing about (by an Invisible hand) Stones, Bricks, and Brick-Bats of all sizes, with several other things, as Hammers, Mauls, Iron-Crows, Spits, and other Utensils, as came into their Hellish minds, and this for space of a quarter of a year.
Borley Rectory (1937)
William Roll, Hans Bender, and Harry Price are perhaps three of the most famous poltergeist investigators in the annals of parapsychology. Harry Price investigated Borley Rectory which is often called "the most haunted house in England."
Rosenheim, Germany (1967)
Dr. Friedbert Karger was one of two physicists from the Max Planck Institute who helped to investigate perhaps the most validated poltergeist case in recorded history. Annemarie Schneider, a 19-year-old secretary in a law firm in Rosenheim (a town in southern Germany) was seemingly the unwitting cause of much chaos and controversy in the firm, including disruption of electricity and telephone lines, the rotation of a picture, swinging lamps which were captured on video (which was one of the first times any poltergeist activity has been captured on film), and strange sounds that sounded electrical in origin were recorded. Karger stated that "these experiments were really a challenge to physics" and the disturbances "could be 100 percent shown not to be explainable by known physics." Fraud was not proven despite intensive investigation by the physicists, journalists and the police. The effects moved with the young woman when she changed jobs until they finally faded out, disappeared, and never recurred.