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poltergeist (pōlˈtərgīst) [Ger.,=knocking ghost], in spiritism, certain phenomena, such as rapping, movement of furniture, and breaking of crockery, for which there is no apparent scientific explanation. Believers in spiritism interpret these phenomena, particularly common during séances, as evidence of the presence of supernatural spirits.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The literal meaning of poltergeist is “noisy ghost,” from the German polte—noise and geist—spirit. It seems not to be a spirit in the sense of being the ethereal body of one who is deceased, but seems instead to be a discarnate entity or raw energy field. Poltergeist activity often takes place around an adolescent going through puberty, or someone in a highly emotional state. The person is usually unaware of the pent-up energy being randomly released in his or her vicinity until the poltergeist activity explodes. Objects will defy gravity and fly through the air, be moved around tables and other surfaces, lights will turn on and off, apports—often large in size—will appear, doors will open and close of their own volition, glass and china will be levitated and then smashed. Seldom is anyone hurt by such activity, but there is a risk of being hit by flying objects.

It is probably incorrect to speak of poltergeist energy as malevolent energy, because it is impersonal and although usually emanating from an individual is not directed by that individual, either consciously or even unconsciously. It is pure energy running wild. Poltergeist activity has been reported since ancient times, and around the world. Psychical researchers have studied the phenomenon since the late 1800s. Rosemary Guiley reports, “In the late 1970s, English researchers Alan Gauld and A. D. Cornell made a computer analysis of 500 poltergeist cases collected from around the world since later than 1800. They found 63 general characteristics, such as: 24 percent of poltergeist incidents lasted longer than a year; 58 percent were most active at night; 48 percent included rapping sounds; 64 percent involved the movement of small objects, by far and away the most common phenomenon; 36 percent involved the movement of large pieces of furniture; and 12 percent were characterized by the opening and shutting of doors and windows.”

Early cases of poltergeist activity were blamed on the machinations of the devil. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the blame was shifted to Spiritualist mediums. More recently there is the connection with unconscious and involuntary psychokinesis. In the 1960s, William G. Roll of the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, studied 116 cases from more than four centuries. He felt that cases where a particular person was present during the activity indicated that they were expressions of unconscious psychokinesis.

Borley Rectory, on the Essex-Suffolk border of England, has been described as “the most haunted house in England.” It was extensively investigated by psychical researcher Harry Price, founder of the National Laboratory for Psychical Research. There is a frequently reproduced photograph of the ruins of Borley, when it was being torn down, which shows a single brick that flew up and stayed in mid-air just as the camera shutter was tripped. There were many examples of poltergeist activity at the site, including writing and scribbling that appeared on walls there. Bells rang, stones and other objects flew through the air, a variety of bumps, bangs, rappings, and other sounds were heard.


Bletzer, June G.: The Encyclopedia Psychic Dictionary. Lithia Springs: New Leaf, 1998
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992
Owen, A. R. G.: Man, Myth & Magic: Poltergeists. London: BPC Publishing, 1970
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


a spirit believed to manifest its presence by rappings and other noises and also by acts of mischief, such as throwing furniture about
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Building on this earlier work, we address the question of whether haunt and poltergeist phenomena form a hierarchy as defined by the self-reported experiences derived from the Poltergeist subscale (Kumar & Pekala, in press) of the Anomalous Experiences Inventory (AEI; Kumar, Pekala, & Gallagher, 1994).
The authors' definition of poltergeist is extraordinarily broad (despite being broken down into three distinct categories) and the consistent blurring of the lines between poltergeist phenomena and other spiritual activity (such as hauntings and psychic phenomena) eventually proves confusing.
Fatima Regina Machado (Brazil) discussed the psychology of poltergeist phenomena, and Wellington Zangari (Brazil) reviewed ganzfeld theory and research.
Over the past decade or so, this trend toward a material basis for the mental has affected parapsychology also: Consider the number of studies relating psi phenomena to geomagnetic effects, the suggestion by Bill Roll that poltergeist phenomena may be related to brain abnormality, and the argument I gave for naturalism in my Presidential Address to the Parapsychological Association (Edge, 1990); and in an invited address at the 1995 PA convention, Ed May argued strongly for a materialist basis to parapsychology.
I suppose it is possible that Robbie had faked the poltergeist phenomena and that, when blame seemed to attach to him, he then faked demonic possession as a credible explanation for the earlier phenomena.
The next chapter is on poltergeist phenomena (which Irwin subsumes under survival research because he does not entirely buy the theory that ascribes poltergeist outbreaks to the PK powers of living agents).