Section Two: Connections., Past and Present

Chapter 6

The Poltergeist

“We will say that ‘powers’ are a class of entities – I mean the powers which make us able to do what we are able, and everything else what it is able.”

– Socrates

If the current opinions of scientists like K.J. Batcheldor and A.R.G. Owen are correct, if further down the psychic road, which science has as yet barely ventured upon, their hypothesis that table phenomena are caused by human forces and not “spirits” is proved, a vast new world of intellectual discovery could open up. One mystery that might at last be brought into the range of clear understanding is that which concerns ghosts and poltergeists.

In virtually every country, and no matter the race, religion or culture of its people, there have, century after century, been accounts of “haunted” houses where inexplicable raps suddenly erupt, objects fly in from nowhere, furniture seemingly moves of its own volition. In perhaps as many as a third of such cases these strange happenings seem to occur only in the presence of a specific person, who is then sometimes referred to as the focus of a “poltergeist,” a word coined in Germany during the Reformation and meaning a noisy spirit or ghoul.

In the past, those afflicted with such were often cast off as demented witches and malefic wizards, and even recently poltergeists have been widely interpreted as signaling demonic possession. Now that’s starting to change. Instead of blaming such mysterious activities on spooks and imps that sit in wait behind every mirror, parapsychologists are wondering more and more whether at least some hauntings might not be the result of unconscious PK, what pyschoanalyst Nandor Fodor called “a bundle of projected repressions.”

The theory has a nice rational ring to it, especially for those uncomfortable with the frightening notion that nonmaterial beings are behind hauntings. If PK can be performed on a conscious level, parapsychologists ask, then why not at a subconscious or unconscious level? If a person has an overabundance of either psi energy or psi-stimulating frustrations and anxieties, why can’t these be released through a psychic event the same way strong emotions can be released through some violent physical action, like banging a fist against the wall?

Indeed the facts themselves seem to point to unconscious PK as the source of some ghosts. A strikingly high percentage of poltergeist cases has been found to occur when the focus (the person who is the special object of the poltergeist’s attention) is in a state of strong emotional upheaval, often marked by severe anxiety, hyperventilation, dissociation (or schizophrenia), mania and hysteria. If psychoneurotic problems are not cleared up, it’s conceivable that subliminal tension can coil like an overwound spring, eventually unfurling and lashing out in a way that, if enough interior or exterior psi energy is available, causes objects suddenly to move and sounds to break out wherever the poltergeist focus goes. On the supposition that everyone possesses the capacity for PK, it’s not unreasonable to think a “blowing off of steam” could take such form.

This seems to be what happened in the case of Dr. Simon Oakley, a Cambridge professor who was arrested in 1718 and jailed for debt. From his dank cell Dr. Oakley often wrote of the strange experiences he had in prison: loud knocks and thumps pounded out in eerie rhythms, chairs mysteriously moved, the bed heaved up and down through no known cause.

A jailhouse phantom? Oakley thought so. According to several accounts, the professor checked out the other prisoners to make sure he wasn’t the victim of a hoax and spent a good deal of time testing the gamut of normal explanations – all to no avail. Though there were no investigators back then to thoroughly check for hallucination on the part of those who witnessed the jail phenomena, the case does make the “overwound spring” theory sound plausible. Any man of dignity who suddenly finds himself in the supremely degrading circumstances of prison is likely to seethe with unreleasable anxieties.

There are even more direct links between poltergeists and certain types of psychological strain, one of the more interesting being evidenced in the case of an Englishwoman, Miss H. Power, who lived during the late 1800s. According to her detailed testimony, it happened while she was sitting in her living room one day, boiling inwardly because a book she was reading was rubbing against the grain of her profoundest religious beliefs. Suddenly, while in her frenzied emotional state, her handbag went flying under an end table, rapping and ticking sounds broke out around the room, and a drawing board fell over, all in rapid sequence. In some way her emotions appeared to have externaised PK energy.

That an emotional state like Miss Power’s could cause PK is no longer considered such a farfetched idea, especially in light of Russian experiments with star psychic Nelya Mikhailova, who has been tested by no less than two Nobel Prize-winning scientists for her ability to make glasses, matches, apples and a host of other objects move through sheer willpower. When Mikhailova was biologically monitored during PK demonstrations, an interesting observation was made: it was discovered she was operating in a state of controlled rage.

Because a high number of poltergeist visitations involve girls between the ages of ten and twenty, parapsychologists are also looking at the psychological and biological roles sex maturation may play in them. The writer of the famed thriller The Exorcist had good reason to center the demonic activity of his story on a teenage girl. Historical accounts reveal that women are more than twice as vulnerable to the poltergeist syndrome as men, the odds climbing much higher for females traversing the frustrations and pains of puberty. Just about all well-versed students of poltergeists, most notably the distinguished English parapsychologist Hereward Carrington, have made the connection between poltergeists and puberty. “An energy seems to be radiated from the body in such cases, which induces these phenomena, when the sex energies are blossoming into maturity within the body,” said Carrington, an eclectic scientist who had studied table levitation and various other areas of the paraphysical. “It would almost seem as if these energies, instead of taking their normal course, were externaised beyond the limits of the body.” [H. Carrington, The Story of Psychic Science, (London, 1930), pp. 145-146.]

Some of the best documented accounts of poltergeists, which have come from respected scientists, police officers and hard-nosed reporters alike, have involved the emotion-sex factor. A classic example was the “ghost” that started to perform its antics on 22 November 1960 in Sauchie, Scotland, around an eleven-year-old girl named Virginia Campbell. Her case made headlines across Europe mainly because of the clearly objective nature of the evidence it presented. Before the manifestations slowed down, a few weeks after their onset, three physicians, a minister and a schoolteacher had all witnessed stunning paranormal phenomena firsthand; and by the time Cambridge’s A.R.G. Owen finished a meticulous investigation of the case, he was both convinced of the poltergeist’s authenticity and sure that the strange force was indisputably connected with the young girl.

Two of the main differences between poltergeists and haunted house ghosts concern rapidity of events and length of visitation. Though poltergeists are usually very temporary (whereas ghosts may not leave their haunt for decades), they pack much more action into their visits, are more dynamic and violent. The Sauchie case was no exception. It started with loud, angry-seeming knocking noises that the shy Virginia heard one evening as she was preparing for bed at the home of her thirty-year-old brother, Thomas, who was taking care of her while her parents were attending to business elsewhere, probably in connection with their recent move to the small village. Sitting downstairs when a frightened Virginia first called out that something strange was going on, Mr. Campbell and his wife didn’t take it seriously and sent the girl back to bed. But the sounds Virginia had complained about started up a second time, in fact so loudly Mr. and Mrs. Campbell later compared them to the sound of a heavy rubber ball being thrown against the floor. It was as frightening as it was inexplicable; they knew that Virginia was mature for her age and not given to pranks. The noises eventually made their way down the stairs and into the living room in a manner the girl could not have physically caused, and finally died away after, more confused than frightened, she had dropped off to sleep.

The next day around teatime the action got underway again, this time complete with visual effects. As Virginia was sitting in an armchair, a nearby sideboard suddenly leaned about five inches from a wall and then mysteriously moved back. As the Campbells watched they noticed Virginia was in no way touching it.

That night the poltergeist, as it evidently was, came around again at Virginia’s bedtime, thumping so loudly it raised the curiosity of the neighbors, who were soon gathering at the scene. At midnight, with those frightening sounds refusing to abate, Mr. Campbell called in the Reverend T.W. Lund, minister of the local Church of Scotland parish. Like the others, Lund was completely taken aback by the phantasmal noises, which were manifesting themselves as rappings in Virginia’s wood bedpost by the time he got there. All during the disturbance the youngster lay motionless in the bed, understandably scared, her hands in full view and her body positioned in a way witnesses claimed could not possibly have caused the acoustical commotion. When the investigating minister grabbed the bedpost, he felt a strange vibration that ran through the wood with each tick and rap. Next, the invisible agency jumped to a large, fifty-pound linen chest in the room, rocking it from side to side with what the preacher and others described as a jerky, uneven series of tiltings. Soon such spectacular events had the nervous townsfolk figuring an evil spirit was the cause, and within the next few days an exorcistic ceremony was held. It proved ineffectual.

In the majority of poltergeist cases, the noises are not restricted to any one place but seem to follow a particular person (the focus) wherever he or she may go. This constitutes yet another difference between the poltergeist and most ghosts and lends support to the theory that the former is an energy emanating from the individual, not a discarnate spirit entity. In Virginia’s haunting the poltergeist preferred to appear at the Campbell home but was not averse to following her right into Sauchie Primary School, much to the consternation of her teacher, Margaret Stewart, who was totally unfamiliar with Virginia’s “affliction” and had had no previous dealings with things occult.

During a silent reading session on 25 November, Miss Stewart’s watchful eye was suddenly attracted to Virginia, who was fiddling with the top of her desk when she was supposed to be into her books. It irritated the teacher at first, but upon a closer look at the fidgety youngster she understood why. The desk top was mysteriously lifting up – and the startled girl was trying her best to keep it down. A few minutes later the whole desk levitated, rising about three inches from the floor before settling back down just slightly out of place. The next week there were similar occurrences when Virginia sauntered up to the teacher’s desk to ask a question while her classmates were busy writing. Suddenly, inexplicably, Miss Stewart’s chalkboard pointer started to vibrate and roll. Then the teacher’s heavy desk jerked out of place.

When Virginia was visited by Drs. W.H. Nisbet, William Logan and Sheila Logan at the home of another relative who lived miles away in another town, once again the poltergeist showed it had tagged along. The awed doctors testified that at the end of November they were witness to a wide array of thumping and tapping sounds that erupted around the girl, together with a bizarre noise that sounded as if a muffled saw was at work in a wall.

Finally, around the end of January, and after a few welcome periods of remission, the poltergeist halted its displays, one of the last involving a dish of Christmas bulbs that moved around the edge of a desk at school as Virginia walked by.

“In my opinion the Sauchie case must be regarded as establishing beyond all reasonable doubt the objective reality of some poltergeist phenomena,” said Dr. Owen after checking to make sure that the occurrences could not be explained in terms of hallucination or such factors as atmospheric vibrations and earth tremors. In an award-winning, 436-page report, Can We Explain the Poltergeist? (New York, 1964), he stated: “There is no evidence indicating the separate existence of ‘the poltergeist’ as a discarnate entity. The phenomena are consistent with production by forces emanating from the child or else resident in space -and ‘triggered off’ by some influence emanating from her.”

In the same book, Owen said there was no medical evidence to prove the outbreak was linked to energy from the girl but pointed to the many emotional factors that may have been at the root of the trouble. Virginia, he observed, had been going through a period of acute psychological stress, as was indicated by the fact that she had begun to talk frequently in her sleep. Her shaky emotional state, though showing no signs of fundamental abnormality, was attributable to her family’s recent relocation to an unfamiliar setting, where her naturally reserved disposition only made things harder for her. Virginia was also bothered by the fact that her parents were often away, and she was, to top it off, going through a period of rapid pubescence. There were even some indications that the poltergeist activities coincided with the girl’s quasi-menstrual cycle, a biological condition that makes a young girl especially sensitive. According to Owen, who had created the “Philip” group in Toronto for the specific purpose of seeing if the mind could create a “ghost,” it is even conceivable that rapid pubescence could itself provoke a poltergeist event.

America’s most renowned poltergeist researcher, William G. Roll, an Oxford educated parapsychologist who heads the Parapsychology Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, also cites “a very clear association” between human beings and some types of hauntings. Dr. Roll, who unlike Owen has actually been present during poltergeist occurrences, thinks many outbreaks could be the result of some sudden change in the nervous system. He points out the frequency of epileptic fits in cases he has recorded, as well as indications, often, that the focus’s nervous system is impaired. Likewise he has frequently found that distinct emotional, or what he calls parapathological, factors are involved. And the implications of that, with regard to psychology and even philosophy, are far-reaching.

“The poltergeist is a big frontier for science, and a revolutionary one,” says Roll, who still carries a heavy accent from his native Sweden. “It shows the relationship between the animate and inanimate world, that there is no real separation. The main interest is that these abnormalities, like anomalies in any other area, will throw light on the normal world and the workings of the mind.”

A prime “abnormality” came Roll’s way during 1967 in the form of a Cuban refugee named Julio Vasquez. Vasquez, nineteen years old at the time, was the center of a remarkable poltergeist outbreak that left no doubt either that it was paranormal or that certain high-strung individuals attract poltergeist forces.

The scene was a novelty and souvenir shop in Miami, Tropication Arts, Inc., a place crammed with shelves of alligator ashtrays, hand-painted beer mugs, imported cocktail glasses. In December 1966 the firm’s owners, Glen Lewis and Alvin Laubheim, were disconcerted to note a sharp rise in the amount of damage taking place. Broken mugs and glasses were found on the floor in unprecedented numbers. The initial inclination was to put it down to extraordinary sloppiness on the part of the shipping clerks, but soon the owners realised they were dealing with something quite different. Employees watched as objects popped off shelves by themselves, often falling not straight down but at impossible angles. Shortly after, an investigating reporter and a local police officer were witness, on separate occasions, to the levitation and flight of highball glasses and beer mugs. It wasn’t just a case of shaky shelves, and there was no sign of a prank. Before long, even a magician was called in who, after watching objects move in an alarmingly paranormal manner, joined with others in concluding that this was no trick.

It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Cuban Vasquez was closely associated with the events. Nothing happened when he wasn’t around. When he was, all hell broke loose. Accompanied by Dr. J.G. Pratt of Duke University and assisted by the note-taking of author Susy Smith, Roll was able to log some 224 paranormal incidents, more than seventy occurring after he had gotten to the scene. All of them took place while Julio was on the premises. So active was the Miami poltergeist that Roll was even able to set up semi-controlled experiments during an outbreak, tests that further confirmed that the energy at work was connected with the Cuban,

The parapsychologist set up target and “decoy” objects for the poltergeist to knock over and was able to watch stationary objects move. Whenever Vasquez was out of the room, Roll noted his target objects stayed perfectly still.

The refugee’s being behind it all certainly made sense. He was suffering from both physiological and psychological disturbances. Within three months of the onset of the attack, he had come down with measles, chicken pox and mumps. Upon psychological questioning it was found he was experiencing strong negative emotions. His stepmother had just demanded he leave her house, and that seemed to have initiated strong feelings of anxiety and rebellion. So deep were his angers and frustrations that he also displayed suicidal tendencies and was having morbid nightmares. Clearly, the poltergeist seemed a way of releasing some of the tensions. “After many of the objects moved I asked Julio how he felt, what he felt,” says Dr. Roll, “and he said the object movements felt good, that with every disturbance it felt like he had been relieved of some weight.”

Roll’s target observations made him conclude that the force causing the warehouse damage possessed a curvilinear field. The PK energy was not running into an object and bowling it over like a train but appeared to be carrying it along in a falling trajectory until it was itself closed off from its source or became too weak to keep the object in motion. With the help of a mathematician, an engineer and assistants, who accurately charted the objects’ rotations and the distances they moved, the parapsychologist determined that the force did not follow the standard inverse law that holds for forms of electromagnetism, which are characterized by a linear field. The poltergeist energy faded faster, resembling processes like radioactive decay. The energy also seemed most powerful when Vasquez’s back was turned to the objects, which moved in a counterclockwise direction.

While Roll has started to get a feel of the characteristics of the poltergeist energy, the exact origin of such energy remains one of psi’s most baffling mysteries. In one case study Roll and his associates were able to pin the source of poltergeist activity to two energy sources near the focus – a couple of psi transmitters apparently physically detached from his body – but were unable to go any further. Were they two “energy bodies” formed as offshoots of the focus’s own energy? Or two spirits feeding off him?

Roll is willing to call poltergeist outbreaks instances of RSPK -recurrent spontaneous PK – but usually stops there, unwilling to speculate on whether the PK energy comes just from the living or gets a boost from the no longer living. While parapsychologists generally agree that most poltergeist cases probably do indeed involve human energies, there are cases where either or both material and nonmaterial entities could be involved. The spirit theory can not be disregarded. There are too many poltergeist cases involving voices coming from nowhere, apparitions, a focus going into trance and assuming a “spirit” personality. Also there are often suggestive parallels between the phenomena and the behavior or personalities of the recently dead which make one think the dead are in fact returning.

Those who believe spirits are behind poltergeist incidents could argue that a disembodied being is tapping the overabundant energy of the troubled focus to play games from a perch in the “astral plane.” One could, in this context, view poltergeist focuses as the targets of parasitic victimization, as in cases of possession. Or the poltergeist focus can be looked on as an energized person whose newfound powers have opened a hole in our reality and let through entities from other planes.

On the other hand, any researcher who wishes to attribute poltergeist effects to unconscious human PK could argue that, in cases where an apparition is seen, the subconscious, under the impulse of emotional stress, is causing a form of dissociation, splitting the person’s energy body into entities that function separately. According to this train of thought, the world is composed of different levels and densities of psi energy. When various brands of energy interact, an energy entity, or “thought form,” could develop a psychic life of its own, temporarily haunting the living as a partial personality with limited intelligence. By the terms of this notion, called the “psychic crystallization theory,” poltergeists or “ghosts” might be the result of mind blending with a psi substratum. Taken to its logical conclusion, the crystallization theory could account for the ghosts of haunted houses not as spirits but as the “thought forms” or memories of a person who has died. Samuel Lentine, a physicist at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, has investigated such “thought forms” and claims they can be created by mixing psi energies in the same way you can create certain chemicals by mixing other chemicals. Lentine, blind since childhood, found during meditation that such humanly-created entities can actually exist by themselves for short periods, causing a whirl of energy about them. “It’s not exactly the safest of experiments,” he says. “The forms sometimes leave your control and, like anything else, can have negative effects. For that reason I’ve more or less stopped working with them and am not sure one should get into it until we have more knowledge.” Shades of alchemy, voodoo – and of course ghosts.

The same thought-form theory may hold for seance phenomena, which in so many ways combine the characteristics of levitational PK, haunted houses and poltergeists. During the typical seance, hands are held together in a procedure that parallels that of a group getting together to levitate a table. Once the energies are flowing, noises erupt, objects may move, and some have claimed even to have seen spirit faces and hands enshrouded in an eerie luminosity. Many times voices are heard and seemingly intelligent messages transmitted to participants from those purportedly “on the other side.”

Whether, in a seance situation, the group or medium is merely creating exotic but human PK or is indeed conjuring spirits could be debated till doomsday. Though many a researcher has spent a lifetime combing haunted homes and seances, no one has been able to piece together a theory that would pinpoint the exact relationship between hauntings and the various aspects of psi. Though scientists like UCLA’s Thelma Moss have tried, the phenomena of haunted homes and other spiritistic situations seem too capricious to lend themselves to objective review. The same problem is inherent with poltergeists; the phenomena are much too fleeting, and rarely does a poltergeist focus maintain PK abilities after the poltergeist’s activity has ceased.

It is for this reason that those who want to find out more about these phantom energies must take a harder look at those psi phenomena that have already been studied in controlled or semicontrolled situations under the heading “human PK.” And the reason is not simply that consciously induced PK is repeatable. Curiously, the three phenomena witnessed in levitation displays – cool breezes, noises, levitation itself – have also shown up, in some form, during poltergeist hauntings. So striking are the similarities between the two that it seems both must somehow originate from the same type of energy and that an investigation of one would necessarily shed light on the other. The following miscellany of psi phenomena underlines that supposition.


The most consistent connection between what goes on in both PK table sessions and haunted homes are the rappings, tappings, creaks, groans, knocks and scratching sounds that reverberate in wood. In virtually every case of table phenomena, the first signs of paranormal activity take the form of such noises, just as they do with poltergeists.

In several well-recorded poltergeist outbursts, the onset of the attack has been preceded by ticking and scratching sounds in walls, sometimes described as suggesting fingernails tapping and dragging across the undersurface of the wood. During an attack experienced by two teenage brothers in Glasgow, Scotland in the fall of 1974, slight taps and clawing sounds were clearly heard to come from the bed headboard in their room. As in so many other cases, steadier and louder rapping sounds came next, eventually swelling into loud knocks followed by furniture movements. In many other such cases, like that of the famous 1663 Tidworth spook, cracking sounds and groans have accompanied the scratching and rapping, all four variations strongly reminiscent of the sounds that start up in Philip Jordan’s card table.

Then there’s the matter of communication with the rappings, a phenomenon prevalent in hundreds of poltergeist reports. When investigators encounter such sounds, many start trying to learn the origin of the disturbance by asking the rappings questions on a one-tap-for-yes, two for-no basis. Many have claimed that during the most active period of an occurrence they can actually sustain an intelligent “conversation” with whatever agency causes the sounds, at times soliciting answers that go beyond the typical yes-no rapport. A few investigators have reportedly received answers to questions only they themselves could have known. It’s as though the agency can read minds.

Such descriptions match up perfectly with the happenings recorded during “Philip” sessions in Toronto, as well as in cases reported by the likes of Dr. Andrija Puharich, an Ossining, New York parapsychologist who, using a seismographic pick-up and an oscilloscope, found table rappings to be of a definitely paranormal nature. Significantly, not only have Owen and Puharich both reported communication through the rapping code, but they also considered the raps to be a form of human PK. Although a lot of witnesses have trouble imagining how anything but a spirit could answer through such a code, intelligent responses via such taps could be plausibly explained as a combination of ESP and PK – as the result of some person in the room perceiving the answer through telepathy or precognition and unconsciously transforming it into a PK energy pulse that vibrates through the wood.

Over and above the basic similarities between poltergeists and table raps, however, stands an area of significant difference between the two. For one thing, poltergeist raps and knocks are usually louder than table noises. And for another, there seems to be something mischievous if not downright malicious about them.

In the January 6, 1976 issue of the National Enquirer, the widely distributed gossip-news tabloid which has taken a keen interest in psi, was a report on a five-week long poltergeist outbreak in east central France that allegedly involved knockings so loud an investigating police officer said it was as if someone was pounding a fist against the wall. Investigators were quoted as saying that the young girl at the center of the activity, identified only as Daniele, could never have produced such bangs without breaking her hand in the process.

According to the report, which sensationaised the incident as the work of the devil, the phenomena started up on 15 September 1975 when Daniele’s father, a truck driver, was disturbed out of his slumber by loud, hammerlike blows that eventually turned so noisy they disturbed the sixteen other families living in the apartment complex. While that was going on, Daniele was supposedly choking with coughs and sobs, two characteristics said to indicate demon possession. When police couldn’t find an answer after fifteen days of search, a Catholic exorcist, Canon Armand Blancherbarbe, reportedly was successful in halting the phenomena. Of course this successful exorcism cast no light on the exact origins of the disturbance.


Just after midnight one cold winter day in 1968, psi investigator William Roll was meandering through a ghostplagued Kentucky home when the impossible happened before his eyes. As he entered the kitchen, shadowing a twelve-year-old boy he suspected as being the focus of a poltergeist, a kitchen table suddenly rose into the air, off all four legs, rotated a bit, then descended onto surrounding chairs. No one was seen touching it.

The event was extremely rare in that it was one of the first times a respected researcher had witnessed a complete series of heavy furniture movements firsthand, and levitation of such a heavy object is, of course, an exceedingly infrequent occurrence. But in other ways it was quite typical of poltergeist happenings, for in nearly every clearcut poltergeist case furniture of some kind is seen mysteriously to move.

One of the most famous instances of poltergeist table movements was reported on in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, the Boston magazine that prides itself on its sobriety. It happened in 1868 to an eighteen-year-old Irish servant girl named Mary Carrick. According to the detailed account, tables suddenly lifted in her presence and other furniture – chairs, stools – uncannily moved across rugs when she was nearby. The description was fascinatingly similar to recent accounts of PK table-tiltings and levitations, which are often sprinkled with descriptions of tables uncontrollably running and sliding about a room.

The same things were said to occur around a nineteenth century French poltergeist focus named Angelique Cottin. Dining room tables, couches and chairs would literally jump aside as she went by, in a way that led reporters to nickname her “the electric girl.” Significantly, Miss Cottin’s jumping chairs and tables are strikingly similar to the mysteriously moving chairs described in accounts of the Batcheldor and Brookes-Smith table experiments in England.


In the more spectacular of hauntings, the strange levitations or flights of anything from pebbles and stones to animals and human beings have been reported, many of the instances being reminiscent of the way psychically moved tables hover and dash around a room.

In Boston in 1693 there was the powerful poltergeist that afflicted seventeen-year-old Margaret Rule, who many claimed had herself once bodily risen during an attack. In India during the 1930s, newspapers were filled with a similar account, that of Damodar Bapat, a poltergeist focus who reportedly rose into the air in front of several reliable witnesses.

Because levitation is so awesome to see, many who have come across it have immediately labeled it the work of some tremendously powerful and evil beings. Around 1680, English investigators reached such a conclusion in the case of a twenty-one year-old girl who, in the midst of a poltergeist attack, was seen hovering above the floor. The famous Francis Fontaine of France was similarly pronounced “possessed” because of her strange, uncontrollable levitations, as was a group of nuns in Hoorn, Holland, whose purported ability to climb trees with incredible swiftness and to hover in midair was looked upon by residents as proof they were bewitched.

Total levitation in one form or another is a classical trait of a haunting. From parts of the world as far apart as Russia, Spain and Brazil have come accounts of bottles floating, fruitbowls rising before the stunned eyes of onlookers, and small objects flying into rooms as if from another dimension. When science gets around to understanding how PK causes tables to rise, it should be in a position to better explain all those tales of levitational spirits and ghouls.


An account of a haunting just doesn’t seem complete if there is no mention of clairsentience, especially with respect to the cold spots and icy breezes associated with haunted places and poltergeist victims.

As with table levitation, cool sensations usually preface the major displays of poltergeist phenomena, sometimes appearing simultaneously with rapping sounds. In many cases the frigidity is felt not only by the afflicted focus but by objective witnesses as well, and in a way that often rules out normal causes such as air drafts, air conditioning or psychological suggestion. In many instances the chilly air seems to hover about the limbs of those present, sometimes seeming to be only inches away from the body of one individual, at other times engulfing the whole group. In the case of a haunted house, the coolness is often confined to a specific region of a room and can almost be felt like a sort of invisible curtain. Some parapsychologists have claimed that the differences in temperature in one small area have been as much as twenty-five degrees. A thorough scientific analysis of the matter, however, has been lacking.

Many psychics claim the coolness results from an alteration of energy, a toning down of some “vibrational” rate. They note it as one of the best indicators that something paranormal is in progress whether it be in haunted homes, poltergeist outbursts, PK experiences or circle seances. One au courant parapsychologist named J.T. McMullan, a scientist at Northern Ireland’s New University of Ulster, has even suggested that such frigid effects, whatever their origin, may be responsible for some of the energy needed to move objects in PK and poltergeist situations. McMullan points out that paranormally levitating a table weighing 25 kilograms to a height of one meter would require a minimum expenditure of 250 joules (58.5 calories), far more energy than known sources in a human agency could transmit. Indeed, he says, this is underscored by the minute amounts of energy involved in encephalography. Enough energy to move a table could be made available, however, if one considers the calories that would theoretically be released when the gas in a room was cooled. According to thermodynamic equations, if the air in a room 3 x 4 x 5 meters (60,000 liters) was cooled just 1 degree centigrade while at a specific heat, the result would be the additional availability of more than 50,000 Joules, enough to raise that 25-kilogram table through some 200 meters. Thus the cold spots could be a key to some of the energy employed in such situations, though the theory can not yet be taken seriously simply because of cases where no coolness prevails. There is also the problem of how all the newly released energy would be controlled.

What is confusing about the phenomenon for those who adhere to the unconscious PK theory is the frequent prevalence of these cool regions in areas unoccupied by humans. Those who offer spiritistic explanations claim the coolness is not always created by human energies but sometimes by the auras of spirit “guides” and other nonphysical entities. One central New York State psychic, Grant Marshall of Johnson City, a former Spiritualist, says chilling breezes even followed him around his home, sending shivers through those present. Though people like Marshall fear they mean some Stygian spirit is on the prowl, scientific investigators, once they get around to researching such things, will probably link them to a flux of energy created by human forces, a view that makes sense in light of the cool sensations often felt during events classified as PK.

There is also the opposite pole of this temperature phenomenon, poltergeist situations that breed intense heat. There are many stories of inexplicable fires breaking out around a focus or leveling a haunted house. Again, there are parallels to other psi situations, cases of PK mediums, for example, causing skin burns or even steam to rise from the body. Theoretically, it makes sense. When the psi agency is causing rapping noises, it’s because molecules are being speeded up. If such motions are steadily increased, friction could build to the point of generating an appreciable amount of heat. In the case of the Thurmond group, the dining room table often warmed to a paranormal degree and, according to participants, the heat once or twice even softened the wood’s finish to the point where their fingerprints left impressions on its surface.


For some reason the mystery force behind PK and poltergeists seems able to affect and sometimes even initiate the flow of electricity.

Often in haunted house accounts there are claims of strange illuminations and of electric lights going on and off, as if the psi agency is manifesting itself as a carrier for electrical current or for forces that block electromagnetic flows. In August 1975 the news crew at WGR, a large radio station in Buffalo, New York, got a taste of an electrical anomaly when it investigated a severe poltergeist outbreak centered on a middle-aged woman who, at the time, was undergoing a tense emotional experience. The case, reported on by disc jockey Thomas Donahue, allegedly included instances where an old radio played even though it wasn’t plugged into an outlet. The poltergeist had started up the Christmas before, causing holiday lights to flash on and off by themselves through no known means. Significantly, the disturbance also included the knocking about and partial levitation of a dog, and a series of events during which a bouquet of artificial flowers flew from Donahue’s hands as he was scouting around the woman’s home.

Others have also noticed the electrical aspect of psi. During experiments with the “Philip” table group it was found the imaginary ghost could on occasion cause effects like the flickering of lights. Still others have been known to cause electrical resistances to flow through filaments. A Southern stage performer named the Astonishing Neal, known mainly for his ability to “see” while blindfolded, has caused camera flash cubes to go off through sheer concentration, and a New York Spiritualist, the Reverend Robert Howell, has on several occasions demonstrated the ability to make light bulbs glow while held in his hands. Yet another psychic, John Scudder of Homewood, Illinois, has been witnessed lighting up 300-volt fluorescent tubes, simply by holding them in his bare hands.

This ability to create psi phenomena on command certainly seems to point to an energy that is an integral part of man’s being and gives a boost to the unconscious PK theory. While convinced spiritists could say that what PK psychics are doing is tapping the energy of separate, invisible beings, the energies appear more directly associated with the minds of the living. Even spiritists might admit that the psyche could conceivably split into two or more entities to cause poltergeist PK, or that, as others have ventured, man’s mental apparatus could be viewed as part of a world soul, a nonlocaised intelligence that flows through all matter and may perhaps be disrupted by an especially energized mind which can then cause distant psi reactions. Then there’s the relatively simple idea that unconscious thought might influence a human force field (or aura) into causing the kind of proximate environmental disturbances wrought by the poltergeist.

Buoyed by recent findings in the area of PK, parapsychologists, who as scientists obviously prefer natural to supernatural explanations, will surely turn toward the former as a way of approaching the unapproachable, a way of applying reason to those things that go bump in the night. We can’t state categorically that there aren’t spirits out there, and maybe, as some researchers believe, the poltergeist focus causes eerie disturbances by becoming a temporary spirit medium. That, however, is something that won’t be known until science examines the minds of some of those who are “haunted” and explores phenomena like brain waves in the light of its findings.


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