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Poltergeists are paranormal physical phenomenon traditionally attributed to the presence of ghosts. Poltergeist activities have been reported in many countries, and chronicled by occult writers such as A. R. G. Owen and Colin Wilson. The Epworth Poltergeist case is one of the best-documented cases of poltergeist activity.

A poltergeist phenomenon witnessed by Father Tinel in 1850 in Cideville, France



From German poltern, meaning to rumble or make noise, and Geist, meaning "ghost", "spirit", or "embodiment" denotes a spirit or ghost that manifests itself by moving and influencing objects.


Initially meaning “noisy ghosts”, the term in its modern definition is now associated with physical paranormal activity inside homes such as mysterious noisy disturbances or moving, misplacing of objects. Included in the most common types of poltergeist activities are the rains of stones and other small objects; moving or throwing of objects, including large pieces of furniture; voices, loud noises and shrieks; odors which sources cannot be found (i.e. pipe tobacco when no one smokes).

Poltergeists are known to have caused interference in telephones and electronic equipment, and turning lights and appliances on and off.

The poltergeist might even become a full bodied or partial bodied apparition. Some poltergeists are said to pinch, bite, hit, and sexually attack the living.


In the late 1970s parapsychologists Alan Gauld and A. D. Cornell did a computer analysis of those cases collected since 1800 to that time. They identified sixty-three general characteristics, which include the following: 64 percent involved the movement of small objects; 58 percent were most active at night; 48 percent featured raps; 36 percent involved movement of large objects; 24 percent lasted longer than one year; 16 percent featured communication between the poltergeist and agent; 12 percent involved the opening and shutting of doors and windows. The Gauld-Cornell analysis found only 9 percent of the cases attributed to demons, 7 percent to witches, and 2 percent to spirits of the dead.


Generally poltergeist activity starts and stops abruptly. The duration of it may extend over several hours to several months; however, some cases have been reported to last over several years. The activity almost always occurs at night when someone is presence. Typically this is the "agent," an individual who seems to serve as a focus or magnet for the activity. The agent is usually female and under the age of twenty.

Differences Between Poltergeist Activity and Hauntings

  • Hauntings are spirits of deceased human beings appearing frequently in certain places. Poltergeists may not be spirits at all. Some theories are that poltergeists are mass forms of energy that a living person is unknowingly controlling. In some cases extreme poltergeists activity has been linked to demons. Hauntings are usually related to a specific place or tragic way of death.
  • The differences between Poltergeist activity and a Haunting can be hard to distinguish. In the early stages of a poltergeist is may be impossible. Haunts and poltergeists do share basic aspects, (apparitions, strange noises, odors, moving or disappearing objects, etc.).
  • There are also some points that make them very different: Poltergeists however, are usually linked directly to a specific person or object. Hauntings are appearances of ghost(s) in areas known to the deceased before their deaths. Poltergeists can be triggered by a living person's trauma in any area, at any time. Haunting activities are continuous over time, concentrated in the same area..
  • Poltergeists build up over time to a climax, then start over. They can travel anywhere. Haunting are not violent. Most poltergeists nearing the climax of their energy can become dangerous to the living. Inflicting both mental and physical terror in extreme cases. If you happen to meet with one of this kind, deal with it with the utmost care.
A recent case recorded in France.



Poltergeist activity has occurred globally since ancient times and was blamed on the Devil, demons, witches, and ghosts of the dead.

The development and increase of psychical research during the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped confirm the conviction that poltergeist activity was genuine. Among the early investigators were two founders of the Society for Psychical Research, Sir William Barrett and Fredric W. H. Meyers. Meyers believed in the genuineness of poltergeist activity and that it was distinguishable from ghost hauntings.

In the 1930s the psychologist and parapsychologist Nandor Fodor advanced the theory that some poltergeist disturbances were caused not by spirits but by human agents suffering from intense repressed anger, hostility, and sexual tension. Fodor successfully demonstrated his theory in several cases, including the most famous "Thormton Heath Poltergeist" in England, which he investigated in 1938. The case involved a woman whose repressions caused a poltergeist outbreak and apparently a vampire attack. The Spiritualists severely criticized Fodor, but he won a libel suit against a Spiritualist newspaper.

William Roll, project director of the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, further explored this psychological dysfunction theory. Starting in the 1960s, Roll studied 116 written reports of poltergeist cases spanning over four centuries in more one hundred countries. Roll identified patterns that he labeled "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis" (RSPK), which are inexplicable, spontaneous physical effects. Generally, he discovered, the most common agent was a child or teenager whose unwitting PK was a way of expressing hostility without the fear of punishment. In this case, those subjects are mainly in puberty and girls rather than boys. The individual was not aware of being the cause of such disturbances, but was, at the same time, secretly or openly please that they occurred.

Famous poltergeist infestations

Although poltergeist stories date back to the first century, most evidence to support the existence of poltergeists is anecdotal. Indeed, many of the stories below have several versions and/or inconsistencies; however there are a few that do not, for example, the Miami poltergeist has event records signed by all witnesses as to the way things happened. These witnesses include police officers, a skeptical magician, and workers at the warehouse.

  • An "evil spirit" threw stones and made the walls shake in a small farmhouse. This was the first recorded poltergeist case. (858)
  • Drummer of Tedworth (1661).
  • The "Wizard", Livingston, West Virginia (1797).
  • The Bell Witch (1817).
  • The Haunting of The Fox sisters (1848) - arguably one of the most famous, because it started the Spiritualism movement.
  • Hopfgarten near Weimar (1921).
  • Eleonore Zugun - The Romanian 'Poltergeist Girl' (1926).
  • The Borley Rectory phenomena (1929).
  • The Rosenheim Poltergeist (1967).
  • The Black Monk of Pontefract
  • The Enfield Poltergeist (1977).
  • The Miami Poltergeist, a poltergeist witnessed by police and a skeptical magician who did not believe it was a ghost, but admitted he witnessed phenomena he could not explain. Many others witnessed phenomena including reporters, parapsychologists, and workers at the warehouse.
  • The Mackenzie Poltergeist (fairly recent) - Famed for haunting Greyfriars church yard, Edinburgh, UK.
  • The Canneto di Caronia fires poltergeist (fairly recent (2004-2005)) - Famed for defying all attempts at a scientific explanation, Sicily, Italy.
  • The Entity Case allegedly involved a single mother of three named Carla Moran who was being repeatedly raped by an invisible entity and its two helpers over the course of several years.
  • The case of Tina Resch, widely reported in the media in 1984.
  • A recent case in Barnsley near Sheffield in England, where poltergeist effects were witnessed by the police force.
  • In Denver, Colorado there have been several reports of unknown forces positioning toys, furniture, and objects in patterns and strange positions.
  • The Thornton Road poltergeist of Birmingham (1981).

Story of the Rosenheim Poltergeist

The events took place in a city called Rosenheim in southern Bavaria, more specifically in office of lawyer Sigmund Adam. Starting in 1967 strange phenomena began in the office - the lights would turn themselves off and on again, the phones were ringing without anybody apparently calling (a silent caller), photocopiers spilled their copier fluid, and desk drawers would open without being touched. The Deutsche Post installed instruments that recorded numerous phone calls that were never made. Within five weeks the instruments recorded roughly 600 calls to the speaking clock (number 0119 in Germany) even though all the phones in the office were disabled and only Adam himself had the key required to enable them. In one 15 minute period the speaking clock had been called 46 times. In October 1967 all light bulbs went out with a huge bang.

The police, the electric company and others were trying to find an explanation for all this for weeks until they gave up with no useful explanation. A team of scientists, including the renowned parapsychologist Hans Bender and two Max Planck Institute physicists began investigating the case. After installing cameras and voice recorders they were able to discover that the infestations only happened when 19-year old Annemarie Schneider (a recently employed secretary) was present. Bender was able to document on video how the lights immediately started to flicker once she entered the office. It was claimed that a lamp shade would swing violently when Ms Schneider walked beneath it. After questioning Ms Schneider, they found out that she had just had a serious personal relationship-trauma. It had been noted that Ms Schneider also suffered from non-specific neuroses. Once the secretary was sent on vacation the poltergeist activity stopped. Annemarie Schneider was dismissed from the company when the infestations began anew after she had returned from her vacation. There are no records of any further infestations after that.

The Rosenheim Poltergeist is very contested to this very day. While some claim that this is essential proof for the existence of paranormal activity critics contest that notion and claim it was a set-up and faked or attention seeking from the vulnerable young Ms Schneider.

On the claims of fakery we can observe that many of the events that appear unexplainable are far from paranormal. For instance, the incident of all the lights blowing may suffer from some degree of exaggeration and is hardly unusual. Lights can and do fail, often in large numbers if there is any surge in the electricity supply, or a difficult to spot short circuit. Desk drawers often appear to roll out on their own, especially when the desk is sat on imperfect flooring. Photocopiers are hardly unknown to be unreliable, one of many examples of possible confirmation bias in this case. Also, we only have Adam's word that he held the only key to the phone system. Even if Adam believed that to be true, a trouble maker in the office (potentially the centre of the disturbances, Ms Schneider) may have made a surreptitious copy. We also cannot rule out systemic faults with the phone system or the local exchange, despite investigations conducted at the time in an attempt to do so. Unfortunately, none of the available video evidence shows anything which cannot be explained through bad wiring or mischievous pranksters.

Theories and analysis

Theories about origin and existence

Mischievous spirits

A pamphlet printed in London in 1698 by Mr. Ricard Chamberlain provides an account of a poltergeist-type haunting that had occurred some years before. Two copies of the pamphlet exist in the British Museum called: "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 province 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...."


Poltergeists might simply exist, like the "elementals" described by occultists. Practitioners of astral projection have reported the existence of unfriendly astral life forms, which Robert Bruce called "negs" (whom we might also identify with elementals). If they exist, these may well have the ability to affect the physical world.

Physical forces

Some scientists and skeptics propose that all poltergeist activity that they can't trace to fraud has a physical explanation such as static electricity, electromagnetic fields, ultra-, and infrasound and/or ionized air. In some cases, such as the Rosenheim poltergeist case, the physicist F. Karger from the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik and G. Zicha from the Technical University of Munich found none of these effects present and psi proponents claim that no evidence of fraud was ever found, even after a sustained investigation from the police force and CID, though criminologist Herbert Schäfer quotes an unnamed detective watching the agent pushing a lamp when she thought nobody was looking. However, whether this is true or not, police officers did sign statements that they had witnessed the phenomena.

John Hutchinson has claimed that he has created poltergeist effects in his laboratory. Also worth noting is that scientist David Turner proposes that poltergeists and ball lightning may be linked phenomena. Parapsychologists William G. Roll and Dean Radin, physicist Hal Puthoff and head of electrical engineering at Duke University who specializes in electromagnetic field phenomena, claim that poltergeist phenomena [the movement of objects at least] could be caused by anomalies in the zero-point field, [3] this is outlined in the above article and in Roll's book Unleashed and mention is made of it in a chapter of Dean Radin's book Entangled Minds. The basic theory is that poltergeist movements are repulsive versions of the casimir effect that can put pressures on objects. Thus, anomalies in this field could conceivably move objects. This theory has also been mentioned in the current book on paranormal phenomena Science by Marie D. Jones.


Poltergeist activity tends to occur around a single person called an agent or a focus. Foci are often, but not limited to, pubescent children. Almost seventy years of research by the Rhine Research Center in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, has led to the hypothesis among parapsychologists that the "poltergeist effect" is a form of psychokinesis generated by a living human mind (that of the agent). According to researchers at the Rhine Center, the "poltergeist effect" is the outward manifestation of psychological trauma.

Other psychologists have also investigated agents finding that those in poor mental and physical health are vulnerable to stress. Patient having unresolved emotional tensions have been associated with houses where poltergeist activity occurred. When studying the personalities of agents psychologists found anxiety reactions, conversion hysteria, phobias, mania, obsessions, dissociative reactions, and schizophrenia. In some cases therapy eliminated the poltergeist activity.

However, the psychological dysfunction theory has been disputed by other researchers, including Gauld and Cornell who said the psychological tests employed were invalid. Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson proposed that spirits of the dead may account for more poltergeist activity than realized. In his study of a number of cases attributed to agents and to spirits of the dead, Stevenson noted significance differences. The phenomena in living agent cases was without purpose and often violent, while cases involving spirits of the dead featured intelligent communication, purposeful movement of objects, and little violence.

Poltergeist activity is often found in correlation with psychic adolescent children who are finding their journey into adulthood difficult or fearing the responsibilities expected of them. The more sensitive the child, the more adverse is the spirit's reaction to the fear being transferred, often leading to objects being moved or hurled across the room or ectoplasm being ejected by the spirit. The spirit rejecting or de-toxing itself of the fear it's been presented with causes such activity.

Self-delusion and hoaxes

Skeptics think that the phenomena are hoaxes perpetrated by the agent. Indeed, some poltergeist agents have been caught by investigators in the act of throwing objects. Skeptics maintain that parapsychologists are especially easy to fool when they think that many occurrences are real and discount the hoax hypothesis from the outset. Even after witnessing first hand an agent throwing objects, psi-believing parapsychologists rationalize the fact away by assuming that the agents are only cheating when caught cheating, and when you do not catch them, the phenomenon is genuine. One reason given is that the agents often fake phenomena when the investigation coincides with a period of time where there appears to be little or no 'genuine' phenomena occurring.


  • Both the name and concept of the poltergeist became famous to modern audiences in the Poltergeist movies and the subsequent TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy. The first Poltergeist movie actually gave an excellent depiction (during the first half of the film) of a "typical" poltergeist infestation, right down to the depiction of the focus as a prepubescent girl.
  • A parody on the word Poltergiest, and moreover the movie titles of the Poltergiest series, were Poultrygiest and Poultrygiest Too. The names of two levels in Earthworm Jim 3D
  • Poltergeist is Monster in My Pocket #117. It resembles the long-limbed, yellow creature outside the hall door glimpsed briefly in the 1982 film.
  • Poltergeists are the subject of some episodes of The X-Files.
  • Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas encounters many poltergeists in his adventures. Most notably, the ghost of a killer, Odd, was tracking and a nameless ghost with a buzz cut who wrecks the Panamint Casino when Datura verbally abuses and belittles the ghost of an Indian waitress.
  • There is a poltergeist named Peeves in the Harry Potter books. Peeves, however, does not conform to the classic definition of a poltergeist. The fact that he manifests visually would seem to indicate that he is something similar to a ghost, though J.K. Rowling has stated that a poltergeist is not the ghost of any person who has ever lived. Perhaps she intended Peeves to be more of a literal translation of the word poltergeist, because Peeves is quite noisy and mischievous. However, it is also possible that Harry and other students can perceive Peeves because they are wizards, and that he would be still invisible to Muggles. It is also interesting to note that Peeves appears in colour, where the other ghosts at the school appear as white, misty figures.
  • The Terry Pratchett Discworld novel A Hat Full of Sky features an "ondageist" named Oswald. This is the opposite of a poltergeist: a spirit obsessed with cleaning and tidying.
  • In the board game Atmosfear, a playable character is Hellin the poltergeist.
  • Some Castlevania games feature a few poltergeist phenomena. For example, certain furniture may suddenly spring to life and attack (some of the furniture are named Ouija Table). Another case is the enemy Alastor, where a giant sword floats around in the air, wielded by an occasionally visible, invulnerable spirit. In some disputed game canon, it is said that a yet-unseen character called the Poltergeist King takes charge of the Belmont family weapons between quests.
  • The popular Ju-on series of horror films in Japan and the Americanized version The Grudge, feature poltergeist elements including the replaying of the tragedy and the violent nature of the ghosts.
  • The comic Fetus-X includes a fork-throwing poltergeist cheerleader and attempts to bring her back from the dead.
  • The Touhou Project danmaku game Perfect Cherry Blossom features three poltergeist, the Prismriver Sisters, who play on musical instruments without even touching them.
  • In 2006 the TV show Family Guy had an episode named Petergeist, where Peter's house becomes the center for a poltergeist.
  • A The Far Side strip describes Poultrygeists, poltergeist-like activity in chickens. Similarly, a Dilbert strip features Upholsterygeists, furniture possessing spirits that can only be expelled with work-out tapes (exercists).

References and related sources and media


  • 1. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1991). Encyclopedia of the Strange, Mystical & Unexplained. New York: Gramercy Books. ISBN 0-517-16278-4. Page 456: (entry for Poltergeist) "...typically an agent, an individual who seems to act as a focus or magnet for the activity. The agent is a factor in most cases, both those that seem paranormal or that may be caused by human PK."
  • 2. Turner thinks ball lightning might cause the spooky movement of objects blamed on "poltergeists".' in [1]
  • 3. Roll, W. Poltergeists, Electromagnetism and Consciousness PDF at [,
  • 4. Jones, Marie D. PSIence: How New Discoveries in Quantum Physics and New Science May Explain the Existence of Paranormal Phenomena (New Page Books, 2006)

5. Fairley, John; Welfare, Simon (1984). Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0002166798. Pages 28-31

External links


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