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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 ?
"How do you handle what, despite us not liking to use the word, has been described as a poltergeist?" The family are devout Catholics and police asked the Church for help after the incident.
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One of the more interesting of these obscure folk/popular traditions in Europe, England, and America (and probably elsewhere as well) is the "poltergeist phenomenon." The term derives from the German ("polter" meaning "noise" or "racket," and "geist" meaning "spirit"), and traditionally referred to specific types of activity that have no demonstrable cause but were believed to be the activity of pesky little spirits: objects flying through the air and perhaps striking someone, furniture or walls moving or shaking, or the production of rapping noises or sounds that imitate the human voice.
Some believers say poltergeists are closely associated with the four elements - fire, air, water and earth.
Former professor of medieval literature Claude Lecouteux presents The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations, an extraordinary anthology of poltergeist folklore.
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They also set up objects including a made-up bed, balls, marbles and furniture in an attempt to detect poltergeists.