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How To Survive a Poltergeist


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?


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.)


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?

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