Poltergeist, from the German word poltern; to rant, be noisy, and geist, spirit or ghost.
The poltergeist is regarded as potentially the most terrifying and destructive of all ghost phenomena. Frequently audacious, capricious and occasionally malicious. Capable of indiscriminate, disruptive and destructive outbursts, which in some cases have driven folk from their homes. If that wasn’t enough, then there is one trait that the poltergeist exhibits that must surely be considered as the most disturbing of all, its potential to inflict physical harm on its victims, making it a thoroughly unpleasant little SOB.
Poltergeists encounters have been reported for hundreds of years from all over the world. Many religions believe them to be enslaved spirits under demonic influence, compelled to perpetrate acts of violence. Medieval witches were blamed and flamed, called to account and accused of summoning up elementals; invisible spirit entities to do their bidding, often with an unpleasant outcome for their intended victims.
Early Catholic beliefs thought poltergeists to be demons sent by Satan to possess and defile the living. In such cases distraught families would often seek the help of an exorcist; an ordained priest trained in the ritual of ceremonial exorcism. Prayers would be recited, sometimes for days at a time in an effort to solicit the help of the almighty and his minions in an attempt to expel the demon from its host. Exorcisms are rarely performed today as they are considered psychologically too risky, doing more harm than good and what‘s more I would be surprised if any man of the cloth would put his reputation on the line and acknowledge Satan and his legions are alive and well and merrily crisscrossing the globe possessing the souls of the living.
Who’s at risk from poltergeist attacks?
Poltergeist activity is believed by many mediums and spiritualists to be the product of a mischievous spirit, most likely that of a child. An infant spirit entity that tends to focus psychic attacks on females under the age of 20, more often than not, pubescence girls who are generally considered introvert and possessing an above average intelligence. Just why young women should be the target for poltergeist attacks is open to question. Maybe it's because there is so much going on emotionally and chemically during adolescence that in some cases these young women may unknowingly exude a certain something and leave themselves open to the attentions of the poltergeist entity which is drawn inexplicably to sexually maturing individuals with all their emotional baggage and trappings.
Poltergeist attacks are not always confined to the female sex though, occasionally, although rarely, males can be targeted too. Men and boys suffering from repressed anger, depression, alcoholism or sexual tension, have been known to unwittingly trigger poltergeist attacks. One such case took place in 1980 where a poltergeist infestation targeted a family in Wiltshire, which by chance, included two teenage females who, at the time, were suspected of being the focus of the attacks but were later exonerated. As it turned out, suspicion fell on the 45 year old father who had been suffering sever depression as a result of pressures at work, so much so, that his libido had been severely effected resulting in his impotency and related frustrations. Subsequent medical attention and treatment saw the infestation abruptly cease.
The owner of The Ram Inn in Wotton-under-Edge - John Humphries (see sidebar) was, and still is I believe, subjected to poltergeist attacks. One in particular has become intimately intrusive and has on occasion climbed into his bed at night and embraced him. Others visitations are not quite so affectionate and have forcibly pulled him out of bed in the dead of night.
The 'paperclip throwing' poltergeist that took up brief residence in a stockroom of a toy shop in Marlborough in the 1990’s, initially terrified the younger female members of staff who were subjected to paperclips being thrown across the room. They soon got used to the antics of this playful little chap and would throw the paperclips back into the corner of the room from whence they came, whereby they would be immediately returned.
Mind over matter
Poltergeist activity seems to follow a pattern and starts quite unobtrusively; “where are my keys?” or “why do you keep moving stuff around?” Some would say these two examples are simply down to absence mindedness along with a multitude of similar instances. But at what point does absence mindedness cease and a positive recollection of a task performed earlier is brought into question. “You were with me last night; you saw me switch off all the lights.“ Innocuous little oddities that at first are simply regarded as irritating but later can develop into something altogether quite disturbing. More often that not this bizarre phenomena can cease as abruptly as it started, sometimes only lasting for a few hours or days leaving a home in disarray, its bewildered occupants each suspicious of the others secret shenanigans.
Whether poltergeist disturbances are attributed to the entity itself, or the entity using its host as a channel for telekinetic mischief, forcibly inducing involuntary acts of destructive behaviour from its host is open to debate. Psychologists would, I‘m sure, put such behavior down to fabrication, whilst researchers of the paranormal may explore and pursue the possibility of a psychokinetic link with the individual.
The Enfield Poltergeist
One such example of possible psychokinesis, is the famous Enfield Poltergeist which hit the national press in the 1970‘s. This extraordinary phenomena took place in a conventional three bed council semi in North London, between 1977 - 1978. The property was occupied by divorcee - Peggy Hodgson, along with her four young children, one of whom - Janet, aged 11 was to become the conduit for the poltergeist attacks.
The disturbances started with Janet complaining to her mother that her bed was shaking and that there were scratching sounds coming from within the wall behind her bed. The disturbances escalated over the coming months and included: loud knockings; pooling water; a chest of draws which on one occasion moved by itself in Janet’s bedroom blocking the door; Janet being thrown from her bed; Janet levitating; foul odours, objects being hurled about and even occasionally Janet speaking in deep guttural tones. The children claimed on several occasions to having been visited by the ghosts of a little girl and an elderly man who introduced himself by channeling through Janet as Bill, who had apparently died in the house some years previous of a brain hemorrhage.
As the activity grew more intrusive and destructive, a distraught Mrs Hodgson turned to Maurice Grosse a member of the SPR (Society for Psychical Research) who investigated the case at length and was convinced the children’s stories were authentic, a belief he took to his grave age 90 in 2006. The Enfield case was widely debunked as trickery and hoaxing. But many witnesses, including police officers claimed they had seen and heard things whilst in “that house” that defied logical explanation. Towards the end of 1978 the disturbances fizzled out and peace returned to the house.
It’s interesting to note that many of the incidents that Janet and the other children claimed to have occurred, bore a striking resemblance to some of the scenes played out in the 1973 movie The Exorcist, which received its video release in the UK in 1979, although pirate copies had been available much, much earlier. Is it possible the girls got hold of a copy and were subsequently seduced by its chilling content to such an extent that it effected them psychologically, inducing them to play out their own creepy fantasies? It is not difficult to imagine the impact such material would have on young impressionable minds. I recall the movie effected many who saw it at the time. I remember news runs showing Catholic priests standing outside cinemas handing out leaflets advising people not to see the film. Many who did, left partway through in shock, some later claiming they too had become possessed - suggestion can be very malleable.
The Enfield Poltergeist was parodied by the BBC in 1992, as an example of how easy it to dupe the viewing public. The program was entitled Ghostwatch, which, as expected, created so much furore (it was filmed live) that people were phoning in convinced the show was for real, many claiming all manner of weird stuff was happening in their own homes as a result of the show.
Violent poltergeists - the Carla Moran story
Most poltergeist infestations are merely a nuisance and are not even attributed to restless, mischievous spirits. But there are some that can not be quite so easily ignored, those infestations that are malevolent in the darkest sense of the word. Take for example probably the most terrifying case of poltergeist attacks ever documented; the utterly extraordinary case of Carla Moran, who claimed to have undergone repeated sexual assaults and beatings by an entity in Culver City California in 1974. The ferocity of the assaults were so severe, that Carla would exhibit bite marks on her neck and inner thighs, as well as welts, cuts and bruising, often in places she could not have possibly reached by herself. Her home was to became a battleground as an invisible intruder ripped her life apart and that of her family. Doctors and psychologists who treated her became convinced she was covering for an abusive boy friend which she emphatically denied.
In 1983 a movie was made entitled The Entity, which starred Barbara Hershey in the lead roll as Carla Moran. Although it was given a “licence to thrill,” some of the incidences portrayed in the movie were said to have been based on true events, even those of the paranormal research team who claimed to have caught the entity on film. Carla Moran eventually left her home and is now believed to be living in Texas under a pseudonym. However, as in many poltergeist cases, moving house does not always guarantee anonymity from the entity and more often than not, it will follow its victims, as was reputedly the case with Carla Moran. Poltergeists are thought to be unlike any other ghost phenomena in as much as they will attach themselves to a particular individual and not be 'grounded' (haunt) a specific location.
In life, there are those who are blessed with a temperate, pleasant, disposition, rarely flustered, preferring a non-confrontational lifestyle. Whilst others, conversely, are volatile, unpredictable, given to bouts of violent behaviour, are easily offended, having what is commonly termed as a short fuse. With this in mind I wonder, is it conceivable that in death, those characteristics are retained by a few lost souls who, for whatever reason, are unable to make the transition from this world to the next and subsequently find themselves lost and trapped in the world of the living unaware that they are dead. Could it be, that the poltergeist is merely an angry spirit with an axe to grind, simply because he or she has missed the bus. A spirit or entity strong enough to punch a hole back into the domain of the living and in so doing cause no end of problems. Or is the explanation the result of a bored adolescent seeking attention, a product of an overactive imagination with a desire for tomfoolery and deception?