When your family is the victim of the unseen forces of a poltergeist, the solution might surprise you.
KNOCKS ON WALLS, objects thrown about by unseen hands, furniture moved around by the invisible, water dripping inexplicably from ceilings where no pipes are hidden, even small fires breaking out. These are classic manifestations of what has become known as poltergeist activity.
As the word itself implies (poltergeist translated from the German means "noisy ghost") such manifestations were long thought to be the mischievous pranks of spirits or, more frightening, the malevolent works of demons. Most researchers today, however, theorize that poltergeist activity is not the work of spirits (either impish or evil) at all. Thanks largely to the work of parapsychologist William G. Roll in the 1950s and '60s, they are now commonly understood to be psychokinetic manifestations produced by living persons. (Psychokinesis refers to things being moved solely by the power of the mind.)
Roll called it "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis" or RSPK and found that the paranormal activity could almost always be traced to a person, clinically labeled an "agent." This agent, although a victim of the puzzling and sometimes frightening activity, is unaware that he or she is actually the cause of it. By some mechanism that is still not understood, the activity arises out of the unconscious or subconscious of the individual in response to emotional stress or trauma.
So little is really known about the human brain and mind, but somehow the psychological stresses suffered by this agent produce effects in the surrounding physical world: pounding on the walls of a house, a book flying off a shelf, glowing orbs zipping across a room, heavy furniture sliding across the floor - perhaps even audible voices. In some rare cases the manifestations can turn violent, producing scratches on skin, shoves and slaps. So powerful is the unconscious mind under stress.
One possible and famous historical case is that of The Bell Witch from the early 19th century. This was a case of severe poltergeist phenomena that centered around young Betsy Bell. The activity, then attributed to a "witch", threw things around the Bell home, moved furniture, and pinched and slapped the children, according to eyewitnesses. Betsy Bell appears to have been the agent in this instance. It has been suggested (although never proved) in two films about the case - The Bell Witch Haunting and An American Haunting - that Betsy was under profound emotional stress brought about by sexual abuse from her father, John Bell. It's interesting to note that John Bell became a special victim of the "witch", who was blamed for his sickness and death. Was this a case of Betsy's unconscious exacting revenge?
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Poltergeist agents are very often adolescents, but not always. It seems true that some adolescents under the combined stresses of growing up and the hormonal changes occurring during puberty can produce poltergeist activity, but adults under stress can be agents as well - especially, perhaps, if they have unresolved stresses from childhood.
It is unknown how common poltergeist activity is. Certainly, remarkable cases in which household objects are tossed about are relatively rare. But those are the cases that get attention and are documented simply because they are remarkable, especially if the activity persists over many days, weeks or months. There may be many more cases, however, that occur just once or on rare occasions to people. A child furious with his parents storms into his room and a picture flies off the wall. A couple having a heated argument is interrupted by a pot inexplicably falling to the floor. These and a thousand other possible scenarios could be taking place all the time to temporary poltergeist agents, but are dismissed as coincidence or with some other rational explanation. (Indeed, in many instances it might be just coincidence or have another rational explanation; the point is, we don't know.)
MANY DOCUMENTED CASES
There is ample documentation that poltergeist activity does take place, in various levels of severity and for various lengths of time. Many cases have been documented by such researchers as Hans Holzer, Brad Steiger and others (their books are available in libraries and bookstores), and I have recounted a few notable cases in my articles, "Poltergeists: Three Famous Cases" and "The Terrifying Amherst Poltergeist". Readers have submitted stories of their poltergeist experiences as well, and you can find many of them here.
So if you have poltergeist activity in your home, what should you do?
DO YOU HAVE A POLTERGEIST?
How about you? Are you experiencing poltergeist activity in your home? If so, what can you do about it?
First, you must be as certain as you can be that the poltergeist activity is genuine. Don't look for paranormal drama where there is none. Perhaps there was a logical reason the picture fell off the wall when Billy stormed into his room: he slammed the door pretty hard. Try as best you can to find reasonable explanations for the activity. If reason and logic fail, and especially if the activity is consistent and persistent, you may have a case.
In the past and even today, people react to poltergeist activity by calling the clergy, an exorcist, a psychic or a paranormal investigator. Can you blame them? After all, some unseen force is pounding on their walls and throwing their hardcover copy of The Secret around the living room. They do so because the movies and spooky novels have told them that ghosts or demons must be responsible.
If we realize that the activity arises out of a family member's unconscious, however, and could very well have a stress-induced psychological genesis, then the priests or ministers, exorcists and ghost hunters probably are not the right folks to call.
It may well be true that clergy, exorcists and ghost hunters have been helpful to poltergeist victims. After their visits and subsequent rituals, the unexplained activity might have lessened or disappeared. But why? Because the ghosts were banished or the demons exorcised? More likely, it's because the comfort brought by these people alleviated the stress the agent was feeling. In other words, it worked because the agent believed it would work.
In other cases, however, bringing in these types of people can backfire. A well-meaning clergyperson who blames the devil for everything or a bumbling "exorcist" could only add to the stress of the agent, especially if the agent is an impressionable child who is ill-equipped to handle the idea that there is a malevolent spirit in the house or that a demon is lurking about - or that they themselves are possessed! Such irresponsible suggestions could elevate the stress and therefore the poltergeist activity.
SURVIVING A POLTERGEIST
If poltergeist phenomena are stress-induced, there are better courses of action.
People get stressed out over all kinds of things; sometimes serious, sometimes trivial things. If the activity seems mild and harmless, it might be best to wait it out. Research has shown that most recurring poltergeist activity lasts only a few weeks. In rare cases it can last a year to 18 months or so. And in the vast majority of instances the phenomena are harmless: lights going on and off, toilets flushing, things being moved around the house, etc.
If the activity is severe, annoying or you just want it to stop, the first thing to do is try to determine who the agent might be. Who in the household is exhibiting signs of stress? There are many causes of stress, of course, and there's no reason to assume that anything as serious as the Betsy and John Bell case is taking place. But stress from any source is a serious matter, as it can lead to loss of sleep and health problems, among other negative effects; recurring poltergeist activity is a relatively rare and extreme effect.
Professional counseling or therapy for the stressed individual could be the answer. The person might be experiencing something that is causing extreme emotional stress, or they might not know how to cope with the common stresses we all face with school, jobs and relationships. A trained therapist can help talk through any issues with which the agent is struggling.
Again, recurring poltergeist phenomena are relatively rare, and we don't really know how our deep emotions can work through the unconscious to produce psychokinetic effects. And we don't know why it happens to some people and not others when all are under identical forms of stress. However, this is one from of unexplained phenomena that is more prudently examined and treated by a conventional therapist rather than a psychic or exorcist.