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Oct 05

The FT Top 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA: No.15 Poltergeists

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Alix Campbell writes:

When I was younger I was very keen to read about the supernatural world, even when it scared the living dung out of me. I was particularly worried about things that had the most disturbing pictures in the bumper Usborne Book of the Supernatural, so I spent my formative years wondering whether it would be ball lighting or spontaneous human combustion that would do me in. I was also worried about my comprehensive collection of ceramic owls. I was convinced that as soon as I turned thirteen I would be the victim of a poltergeist, literally hell bent on destroying my precious tat collection. I knew more about poltergeists then than I do now, but something I hadn’t quite grasped at that age was that explanations for poltergeists are not as obvious as I assumed. In my straightforward, Usborne informed world poltergeists were mischievous ghosts, and that was that. Now, years later, reading up on them, it seems that poltergeists are probably less of ghostly origin, but instead are uncontrolled manifestations of psychokinetic energy created by an unwitting individual.

Pretty much everyone knows what a poltergeist is and what one does. Of the German loan words in the average English speaker’s lexicon ‘poltergeist’ is one of the most recognised, coming pretty close behind word like ‘Achtung’ and ‘Hahnlandwirt’ Once translated, ‘noisy spirit’ is self-explanatory. Poltergeists make noises, smells, throw things about, disappear stuff, and make an invisible, unnerving and frightening nuisance of themselves.

What’s interesting is that poltergeist activity tends to affect pubescent girls, particularly those experiencing mental turmoil, or the effects of burgeoning hormones. Studies have suggested that people in these conditions are able, subconsciously to manifest psychological trauma and affect their environment, using a form of psychokinetic energy. They are not aware that they are the cause, and are as alarmed as anyone else, often more so, given that they are the focus of this unnatural barrage. When the individual’s problems are alleviated, (eg through counselling), the poltergeist activity often diminishes and stops. Although psychokinesis is not well understood or entirely accepted by mainstream science its existence is recognised, but needs lots more study before it is properly understood (if it ever will be). If we understood more about this area it might be possible to explain poltergeists as a psychological problem, and although I am tempted to agree with this, it is in no way a foregone conclusion.

There are reports of poltergeists affecting people in good mental health, and these are difficult to explain as psychological in origin. These can be attributed to demonic or other supernatural causes, which are much harder to explain, and proposed explanations are much less on the way to acceptance/ understanding compared to psychokinesis.

In regard to poltergeists, it’s been suggested that certain locations are more prone to supernatural phenomena, which, when combined with a troubled and psychokinetically inclined individual create favourable conditions for poltergeist activity. This makes it confusing for researchers to understand which phenomena are occurring, as hauntings and demonic forces often share features with poltergeists. This suggests that cases of apparent poltergeist activity centred on mentally stable people are probably not true poltergeists at all, but poltergeist-like manifestations of other forces, not of psychological origin, requiring a whole other explanation. That’s not to say that there isn’t some kind of link between people with psychic sensitivities and locations prone to supernatural activity, somehow reacting with each other. The two explanations are not mutually exclusive. It’s pretty hard to differentiate between true poltergeists and poltergeist-like activities caused by demons and ghosties, but true activity seems to be of human origin, and possibly is something that will be better understood in the future.

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