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Artist conception of poltergeist activity claimed by Thérèse Selles, a 14-year-old domestic servant of the Todescini family at Cheragas, Algeria. From the French magazine La Vie Mystérieuse in 1911.

In German folklore and ghostlore, a poltergeist (/ˈpltərˌɡst/ or /ˈpɒltərˌɡst/; German: [ˈpɔltɐɡaɪ̯st] ; 'rumbling ghost' or 'noisy spirit') is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. Most claims or fictional descriptions of poltergeists show them as being capable of pinching, biting, hitting, and tripping people. They are also depicted as capable of the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors. Foul smells are also associated with poltergeist occurrences, as well as spontaneous fires and different electrical issues such as flickering lights.[1]

These manifestations have been recorded in many cultures and countries, including Brazil, Australia, the United States, Japan and most European nations. The first recorded cases date back to the 1st century.


The word poltergeist comes from the German language words poltern 'to make sound, to rumble' and Geist 'ghost, spirit' and the term itself translates as 'noisy ghost', 'rumble-ghost' or a 'loud spirit'. A synonym coined by René Sudre is thorybism, from the Ancient Greek θορυβείν (thorubeín) 'to make noise or uproar, to throw into confusion'.

Suggested explanations[edit]


Many claims have been made that poltergeist activity explains strange events (including those by modern self-styled ghost hunters), however their evidence has so far not stood up to scrutiny.[2] Many claimed poltergeist events have been proven upon investigation to be hoaxes.[3]

Psychical researcher Frank Podmore proposed the 'naughty little girl' theory for poltergeist cases (many of which have seemed to centre on an adolescent, usually a girl).[4] He found that the centre of the disturbance was often a child who was throwing objects around to fool or scare people for attention.[4][5] Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell says that claimed poltergeist incidents typically originate from "an individual who is motivated to cause mischief".[6] According to Nickell:

In the typical poltergeist outbreak, small objects are hurled through the air by unseen forces, furniture is overturned, or other disturbances occur—usually just what could be accomplished by a juvenile trickster determined to plague credulous adults.

Nickell writes that reports are often exaggerated by credulous witnesses.[7]

Time and again in other "poltergeist" outbreaks, witnesses have reported an object leaping from its resting place supposedly on its own, when it is likely that the perpetrator had secretly obtained the object sometime earlier and waited for an opportunity to fling it, even from outside the room—thus supposedly proving he or she was innocent.

Unsubstantiated claims:


A claim of activity at Caledonia Mills (1899–1922) was investigated by Walter Franklin Prince, research officer for the American Society for Psychical Research in 1922. Prince concluded that the mysterious fires and alleged poltergeist phenomena were because of a psychological state of dissociation.[10]

Nandor Fodor investigated the Thornton Heath poltergeist claim (1938). His conclusion of the case were a psychoanalytical explanation and in a subsequent publication: "The poltergeist is not a ghost. It is a bundle of projected repressions,".[11]

According to research in anomalistic psychology, claims of poltergeist activity can be explained by psychological factors such as illusion, memory lapses, and wishful thinking.[12] A study (Lange and Houran, 1998) wrote that poltergeist experiences are delusions "resulting from the affective and cognitive dynamics of percipients' interpretation of ambiguous stimuli".[13] Psychologist Donovan Rawcliffe has written that almost all poltergeist cases that have been investigated turned out to be based on trickery, whilst the rest are attributable to psychological factors such as hallucinations.[14]

Psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung was interested in the concept of poltergeists and the occult in general. Jung believed that a female cousin's trance states were responsible for a dining table splitting in two and his later discovery of a broken bread knife.[15]

Jung also believed that when a bookcase gave an explosive cracking sound during a meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1909, he correctly predicted there would be a second sound, speculating that such phenomena were caused by 'exteriorization' of his subconscious mind. Freud disagreed, and concluded there was some natural cause. Freud biographers maintain the sounds were likely caused by the wood of the bookcase contracting as it dried out.[16][17]

Unverified natural phenomena[edit]

Attempts have also been made to scientifically explain poltergeist disturbances that have not been traced to fraud or psychological factors. Skeptic and magician Milbourne Christopher found that some cases of poltergeist activity can be attributed to unusual air currents, such as a 1957 case on Cape Cod where downdrafts from an uncovered chimney became strong enough to blow a mirror off a wall, overturn chairs and knock things off shelves.[18]

In the 1950s, Guy William Lambert proposed that reported poltergeist phenomena could be explained by the movement of underground water causing stress on houses.[19] He suggested that water turbulence could cause strange sounds or structural movement of the property, possibly causing the house to vibrate and move objects. Later researchers, such as Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell, tested Lambert's hypothesis by placing specific objects in different rooms and subjecting the house to strong mechanical vibrations.[19] They discovered that although the structure of the building had been damaged, only a few of the objects moved a very short distance. The skeptic Trevor H. Hall criticized the hypothesis claiming if it was true "the building would almost certainly fall into ruins."[20] According to Richard Wiseman the hypothesis has not held up to scrutiny.[19]

Michael Persinger has theorized that seismic activity could cause poltergeist phenomena.[21] However, Persinger's claims regarding the effects of environmental geomagnetic activity on paranormal experiences have not been independently replicated and, like his findings regarding the God helmet, may simply be explained by the suggestibility of participants.[22][23]

David Turner, a retired physical chemist, suggested that ball lightning might cause the "spooky movement of objects blamed on poltergeists."[24]

  • Sampford Peverell (1810–1811) - poltergeistal noises were determined made by smugglers from behind a false wall [25]


Parapsychologists Nandor Fodor and William G. Roll suggested that poltergeist activity can be explained by psychokinesis.[26][27]

Historically, actual malicious spirits were blamed for apparent poltergeist-type activity, such as objects moving seemingly of their own accord.[28] According to Allan Kardec, the founder of Spiritism, poltergeists are manifestations of disembodied spirits of low level, belonging to the sixth class of the third order. Under this explanation, they are believed to be closely associated with the elements (fire, air, water, earth).[29] In Finland, somewhat famous are the case of the "Mäkkylä Ghost" in 1946, which received attention in the press at the time,[30] and the "Devils of Martin" in Ylöjärvi in the late 19th century, for which affidavits were obtained in court.[31] Samuli Paulaharju has also recorded a memoir of a typical poltergeistthe case of "Salkko-Niila" —from the south of Lake Inari in his book Memoirs of Lapland (Lapin muisteluksia). The story has also been published in the collection of Mythical Stories (Myytillisiä tarinoita) edited by Lauri Simonsuuri.[32]

Famous cases[edit]

Epworth Rectory, supposed site of paranormal hauntings in the mid-1710s

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "poltergeist | Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained - Credo Reference". search.credoreference.com. Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  2. ^ Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live. Bill Ellis. 2001
  3. ^ Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-1573929790
  4. ^ a b Dingwall, John; Hall, Trevor H. (1958). Four Modern Ghosts. Duckworth. pp. 13–14
  5. ^ Goldstuck, Arthur. The Ghost that Closed Down the Town: The Story of the Haunting of South Africa. Penguin Books. p. 275. ISBN 978-0143025054 "Podmore advanced a 'naughty little girl' theory, suggesting that trickery accounted for nearly all poltergeist manifestations, and that the girls and boys who so often seemed to be the victims of poltergeists were actually pulling the strings."
  6. ^ Joe Nickell (3 July 2012). The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead. Prometheus Books. pp. 283–. ISBN 978-1-61614-586-6.
  7. ^ Nickell, Joe (July 2012). "Enfield Poltergeist, Investigative Files". August 2012. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  8. ^ Hone, William. (1878 edition, originally published 1825). The Every Day Book. London: William Tegg. pp. 31-35
  9. ^ Clarkson, Michael (4 February 2006). Poltergeists: Examining Mysteries of the Paranormal. Firefly Books. p. 135. ISBN 978-1554071593. "Anita Gregory, of the Society for Psychical Research, who had spent just a short time at the Hodgson home, said the mysterious men's voices were simply the result of Janet and Margaret putting bed sheets to their mouths. In addition Gregory said that a video camera had caught Janet attempting to bend spoons and an iron bar by force and 'practising' levitation by bouncing up and down on her bed."
  10. ^ Colombo, John Robert. (2000). Ghost Stories of Canada. Dundurn. p. 43. ISBN 0-88882-222-7
  11. ^ Timms, Joanna. (2012). Phantasm of Freud: Nandor Fodor and the Psychoanalytic Approach to the Supernatural in Interwar Britain. Psychoanalysis & History. Volume 14: 5-27.

    claim for the recognition of a malevolent type of psycho-physiological disturbance, to which "haunted people" find themselves subjected...Nothing that is submitted in this book is believable

  12. ^ Zusne, Leonard; Jones, Warren H. (1989). Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. Psychology Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-0805805086
  13. ^ Lange, R; Houran, J. (1998). Delusions of the paranormal: A haunting question of perception. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 186 (10): 637–645.
  14. ^ Rawcliffe, Donovan. (1988). Occult and Supernatural Phenomena. Dover Publications. pp. 377–378. ISBN 0-486-25551-4
  15. ^ Colin Wilson (8 November 2010). Poltergeist: A Classic Study in Destructive Hauntings. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 978-0-7387-2237-5.
  16. ^ Colin Wilson (21 February 2019). C.G.Jung: Lord of the Underworld. Aeon Books. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-912807-53-6.
  17. ^ CG Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Flamingo 1983, pp 126, 179
  18. ^ Christopher, Milbourne (1970). ESP, Seers & Psychics: What the Occult Really Is. New York: Crowell. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-690-26815-7. OCLC 97063. A heavy mirror fell from the bedroom wall and an ash tray that had been resting on a table with a glass top slammed against the surface with such force that the glass was shattered.
  19. ^ a b c Wiseman, Richard (1 April 2011). Paranormality: Why We see What Isn't There. Macmillan. pp. 167–169. ISBN 978-1743038383.
    • Lambert, G. W. (1955). Poltergeists: A Physical Theory. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 38: 49–71.
  20. ^ Dingwall, Eric; Hall, Trevor H. (1958). Four Modern Ghosts. Gerald Duckworth. p. 105
  21. ^ Houran, James (2004). From Shaman to Scientist: Essays on Humanity's Search for Spirits. Lanham: Scarecrow Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-8108-5054-0.
  22. ^ French, CC., Haque, U., Bunton-Stasyshyn, R., Davis, R. (2009), "The "Haunt" project: An attempt to build a "haunted" room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound" (PDF), Cortex, 45 (5): 619–629, doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2007.10.011, PMID 18635163, S2CID 3944854{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Wiseman, Richard (September 2011). "The Haunted Brain". Csicop.org. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  24. ^ Muir, Hazel (2001-12-20). "Ball lightning scientists remain in the dark". New Scientist. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  25. ^ Codd, Daniel. Paranormal Devon (2013). Amberley Publishing. p.30-34. ISBN 9781848681668.
  26. ^ Fodor, N. (1964). Between Two Worlds. West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing.
  27. ^ Houran, James; Lange, Rense. (2007). Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. McFarland. p. 290. ISBN 978-0786432493
  28. ^ Goss, Michael. (1979). Poltergeists: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, Circa 1880–1975. Scarecrow Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0810811812
  29. ^ Allan Kardec, Le Livre des Esprits. (2000). chapter 106, Jean de Bonnot. p.46.
  30. ^ IS: Espoon poltergeist: Mitä tapahtui Mäkkylän kummitustalossa syksyllä 1946? (in Finnish)
  31. ^ Esko Mustonen: Poltergeist: tuntematon voima. WSOY 1986. ISBN 951-0-13810-X (in Finnish)
  32. ^ "Paulaharju Samuli, Lapin muisteluksia – Salkko-Niila" (in Finnish). Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  33. ^ Harry Price, The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years' Investigation (new edition, 1990)
  34. ^ Spraggett, Allen (Jan 2, 1974). "Pursuing the Elusive Poltergeist". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  35. ^ Fairley, John; Welfare, Simon (1984). Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers. London: Harper Collins. pp. 28–31. ISBN 0-00-216679-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Christopher, Milbourne (1970). ESP, Seers & Psychics. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. ISBN 978-0-690-26815-7
  • Nickell, Joe (2012). The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-61614-586-6
  • Podmore, Frank (1896). Poltergeists. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 12: 45–115.
  • A.R.G. Owen. (1964). Can We Explain the Poltergeist? Garrett Publications / New York
  • Goss, Michael. (1979). Poltergeists: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, Circa 1880–1975. Scarecrow Press.
  • Price, Harry (1993). Poltergeist: Tales of the Supernatural. London: Bracken Books. ISBN 1-85891-084-6.
  • Sitwell, Sacheverell. (1988, originally published in 1940). Poltergeists: An Introduction and Examination Followed by Chosen Instances. Dorset Press.

External links[edit]