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Friday 8 August 2014

A Poltergeist Can Be Fun - Or Else It Stinks

     I can't see how anyone can seriously doubt the existence of the poltergeist phenomenon. Not only has it been extensively documented, but it is not all that uncommon. If you live in a low crime area, your house probably has a better chance of getting a poltergeist infestation than being burgled. And it's no fun at all - at least, not unless your idea of fun is having your sleep disturbed by "things that go bump in the night", and your meals disturbed by flying cutlery and smashing crockery, clocks running backwards, electrical appliances turning off and on, and mysterious objects appearing out of nowhere, and others disappearing into thin air. But at least they hardly ever hurt anybody. In one case the babies were regularly taken from their crib and gently placed on the floor, rather than being thrown. However, I suppose a low level poltergeist infestation might make life a little more interesting.
     Although we often read news about the appointment of exorcists by the Vatican, the church of England also has diocesan exorcists. But since genuine demon possession is very rare (but not non-existent), the biggest part of their casework involves poltergeists. And they have confirmed what the prominent psychical researcher, Harry Price said in 1945: a poltergeist cannot be exorcised. In fact, in one notable case, it made it worse. But by now they have established the reason: a poltergeist is not, as the name suggests, some sort of discarnate spirit, mischievous but not malevolent. It focuses on a particular person, whose disturbed emotions produce, by means unknown, an unconscious outburst of psychokinetic energy, a sort of psychic tantrum. The "treatment" is prayer and pastoral care. However, sometimes there is a twist, as we shall see from this interview with the Rt. Revd. Dominic Walker, co-chairman of the Christian Deliverance Study Group, by his fellow bishop, Hugh Montefiore.
Walker: On the whole it seems to be caused by the people in the house. Most of the cases involve youngsters, although amongst the adults it's almost always been with older people. In fact, I was called in a couple of years ago to an old people's home where it was quite fascinating because they'd recorded it on camera. It was sheltered accommodation, and people were being woken up in the middle of the night, and their doorknockers were going. They would open their doors and there was no one there. They thought someone was playing a trick. The council put in a camera, and it was captured on video. We weren't able to trace the source because there were too many people, about twenty in all.
Montefiore: So what did you do about it?
Walker: I went and talked to them about it and tried to explain that this wasn't something from outside which had come to attack them, but a psychic phenomenon created by psychic energy, and I tried to reassure them. But the staff got hold of me and said, 'What will they do if you get rid of this, because this is the one thing that holds that community together?' People would invite each other in the morning into their flats and ask whether they had had a peaceful night.
     It would appear that, in this case, the psychic tantrum was thrown by some old codger against the crashing boredom of the place. I hope I never end up in any place as dull as that.
     Bishop Walker mentioned himself seeing objects flying around, and he met a woman who was able to control it enough to demonstrate to him how she could move a piece of paper by looking at it. Her poltergeist activity gradually dissipated as she received psychotherapy. In another house sugar used to appear out of nowhere when the family wasn't watching. He was present on one of those occasions. It was a highly dysfunctional household, and the little girl on whom it focused tried to befriend the poltergeist by writing letters to it addressed to "Polty". He was shown a biscuit tin of the poltergeist's notes, written in an unknown childish handwriting, which used to appear every morning in reply to the child's notes.
      The next example is not exactly what most of us would call a poltergeist, but it gives an idea about how these things originate. A house was afflicted with a disgusting smell which switched itself on at five o'clock every afternoon and disappeared at seven o'clock. However, for those two hours it was so foul that the resident couple had to abandon the site for the period. The interesting thing was that whenever a doctor, priest, or any helping agency was present, it didn't occur. So the bishop decided to arrive at six o'clock. No luck. The couple knew he was coming, so "it" didn't show up.
      Eventually, the full story came out. The wife had been employed as a cleaner for a students' hostel. However, on her last day there - she refused to go back - she remembered she hadn't cleaned one lavatory because it had been occupied at the time. When she returned, it was still locked. When banging on the door produced no response, she opened it herself with her pass key. A student had hanged himself inside.
     That was at five o'clock. The police didn't let her go until seven.

Reference: Hugh Montefiore (2002), The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates, Upfront Publishing, pp 118 - 122, 131 - 132  (This book is actually a very good introduction to the paranormal, including subjects which are not often discussed. The author's own supernatural experience is described on p 234.)

Note:  I have now published a new website which you may wish to look at, entitled, A Zoologist Looks at Science Fiction.

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