It Seems That for Poltergeists the Bark Is Worse Than the Bite


 Of people who experience spooky disturbances, some of the most widely discussed are those who seem to experience poltergeist activity. The average person associates "poltergeist" with the idea of some unseen, uncommunicative and mischievous spooky presence. one that makes itself known by making rapping sounds, tossing around or shaking objects, or opening and closing doors (either full-sized doors or cabinet doors). But in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Volume 25, page 377), Professor William Barrett FRS states the following:

"They appear to have some intelligence behind them, for they frequently respond to requests made for a given number of raps ; the intelligence is therefore in some way related to our intelligence, and moreover is occasionally in telepathic rapport with our minds. For in one case, which I submitted to a long and searching enquiry, I found that when I mentally asked for a given number of raps, no word being spoken, the response was given promptly and correctly, and this four times in succession, a different number being silently asked for in each case."

In a similar vein, in Herbert Thurston's book entitled "Ghosts and Poltergeists" (pages 175-177) we read a first-hand account of an apparently communicative poltergeist:

"One morning I was told that strange things were happening in the house of an old woman who lived not five minutes off. She dwelt alone with her grandson, a boy of about fourteen years, who was rather feeble-minded and who complained that someone upset his bed every night so that he fell out on the floor. So the grandmother took him into her bed, and then her bed began to rock, too, so that they both nearly fell out together. She told some neighbours of mine and invited them to come round in the evening and see for themselves. So they asked me if I would like to accompany them....The next night we went again, and more happened. I distinctly saw the bed rise up on the side so that the leg of the bed was nearly a foot off the floor....Then the neighbours began to hear of it, and more people came; there would be five or six people in the room and as many as thirty in the little court outside looking through the window. Further, the more people came, the more the knockings, etc., increased in violence....He and the butcher placed themselves by the bed and tried with all their strength to keep it from rocking, but it rocked in spite of all their efforts, the legs rising about a foot off the floor. Then Armantine had an idea and said: 'Let us try if we can get it to answer us.'.... So Armantine stood forth in the middle ... and told it to knock once for 'no' and twice for ' yes,' and then started her questions with: ' Es-tu le bon Dieu? ' ['Are you the good God?'] 

Answer a very decided no. 

' Es-tu le diable ? '  ['Are you the devil?']

A hesitating no. 

' Es-tu de sa famille ?'  ['Are you from his family?']

A very decided yes. 

Then they thought they would like to know who sent it to bother the old woman, so they asked it: ' Was it a man who sent you ? ' ' No.' 'A woman ? ' ' Yes.' ' How old is she ? ' Thirty-four knocks. ' How many children has she ? ' Five knocks, etc., etc. 

Now I found out afterwards that nearly everyone there but myself had made up their minds that a certain woman had sent it, and the answers were all correct as regarded that woman and were what everyone but myself was expecting. They asked it a great many questions such as the time by the church clock, which it gave to the minute, though as it was pitch dark and the church clock is very erratic, we had to wait till next day to find out just how much difference there was between it and our watches. 

They told it to imitate various noises, such as sawing wood (you heard the saw and then the two bits drop), beating a drum, whetting a scythe, crowing like a cock. Each time it responded perfectly, also if they told it to tap on the ceiling, on the floor, or in the armoire, it did it almost before the words were out of their mouths. Then I had a try in English, and it did everything I told it to do. I was the only person in the room who understood English. Then Rene spoke to it in ' Flamand,' and he told us it did everything he said. 

This sort of thing went on every night for a fortnight [two weeks], and the village got more and more excited; reporters came from Beauvais— even from Paris...Unfortunately, I was obliged to leave and go to England, so I do not know exactly how it came to an end."

Although the story above defies typical notions of a poltergeist as mysterious noises and inexplicable movements not accompanied by communication, the account above is similar to some other accounts, including the famous "Rochester rappings" series of events in Hydesville, New York involving the Fox sisters and very many witnesses. 

Such accounts of poltergeist activity have occurred not just long ago, but in more recent times. One prominent example is the 1977 Enfield poltergeist case discussed here.  We read this:

"The occurrences were similar to those reported in other cases of the ‘poltergeist’ type: knockings and other noises with no apparent cause; doors opening and closing by themselves; furniture overturned; small objects hurled across rooms; picture frames ripped from walls; small fires that started and went out by themselves, and suchlike. The events continued for just over a year and in many cases were witnessed by neighbours, investigators, technicians, press reporters and broadcasters, police officers and others."

Below is an astonishing account on page 7 of the March 2019 edition of Edge Science magazine published by the Society for Scientific Exploration:

"In press reports from 2010, Lalm kindergarten in Gudbrandsdalen (meaning Gudbrand’s Valley), Norway, appeared to be a veritable haunted house. Between April 26 and June 15, all 15 employees witnessed diverse objects— cups, mugs, stones, jars, etc.—flying through the rooms! Sometimes these items seemed to appear out of thin air. In addition, doors opened and closed by themselves, figures were drawn with crayons moved by no one’s hand (no human’s hand that is...), feathers used for decoration organized themselves into specific patterns, and so on. More than 90 seemingly inexplicable episodes occurred. And, interestingly enough, many of these events were observed by two or three adults simultaneously. In some cases, there were even as many as 20 witnesses."

spooky house

Hollywood sometimes tries to depict poltergeist activity as something causing severe terror. But the Thurston book entitled "Ghosts and Poltergeists" suggests that the bark of poltergeists may be worse than their bite. In the book we read the following:

"The same peculiarity, viz., that though mischief is done it is not of a character dangerous to life or limb, recurs over and over again in poltergeist phenomena. Several examples have been cited here in previous chapters both of objects flung with violence which missed the human target by a hair’s breadth, and of others which were strangely arrested in full career and fell harmless like spent bullets after inflicting a mere tap. With regard to the fires spontaneously breaking out, the case of the Indian poltergeist, referred to above (page 62), is particularly impressive. Mr. Thangapragasam Pillay was terrified out of his wits at these recurrent excitements, but no damage was done to the fabric of his house. There was always someone at hand to notice and extinguish the fires. Giraldus Cambrensis in the twelfth century, speaking of a Welsh poltergeist, declared that in pelting people with all sorts of unpleasant missiles it only meant to tease them without really doing any hurt.  Fifty years later William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, speaks as if such cases were not infrequent and makes a similar comment.” 

Later the author states this, again suggesting the phrase "his bark is worse than his bite" may apply to poltergeists: 

"Objects are projected with alarming velocity, and often seem directly aimed at some human target, but for all that there is hardly a single well-attested instance of injury resulting to life or limb. Mockery and mere annoyance seem to be the main purpose of these assaults. Consequently the missiles which often fly so swiftly and so menacingly either do no more than graze the victim against whom they are directed, or are mysteriously arrested in the moment of impact and do little or no damage."

Writing long before the invention of the internet, the author makes this very interesting summary of the consistency of testimony regarding poltergeist activity:

""It is often hard to see how simple people, who plainly know nothing of the existence of other similar phenomena, should describe over and over again just the same peculiar happenings which are attested elsewhere by eye-witnesses of the highest credit. The pulling off of the bedclothes from people asleep at night, the dragging across the floor of heavy bedsteads or articles of furniture—feats beyond the physical strength of the children suspected of playing pranks—the curved path taken by missiles which sweep around corners or twist in and out as a living bird might do, the gentle descent to the floor in some cases of large pictures or mirrors whose cords and supporting hooks remain intact, the flight of showers of stones which seem to come from space and are only perceptible when quite near, the sudden and harmless arrest of swiftly moving objects which threaten destruction to anything that impedes their progress, the spontaneous bursting open of securely fastened doors in full view of watchful observers, the escape from closed receptacles of articles stored therein without any discernible means of exit, the constant disappearance and hiding of domestic odds and ends specially needed which are often afterwards restored in ways equally mysterious, the sudden outbreak of a conflagration in places where no spark or source of fire existed— these features recur all over the world in countries as far remote from each other as Canada and the Dutch East Indies. Moreover, not to speak of several medieval examples,  we find highly respected divines in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Catholics as well as Protestants, suffering from similar visitations and giving identically the same descriptions of the phenomena as those we read today."

Writing in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Volume 25, page 378), Professor William Barrett also suggests that the bark of poltergeists is worse than their bite:

"The movement of objects is usually quite unlike that due to gravitational or other attraction. They slide about, rise in the air, move in eccentric paths, sometimes in a leisurely manner, often turn round in their career, and usually descend quietly without hurting the observers. At other times an immense weight is lifted, often in daylight, no one being near, crockery is thrown about and broken, bedclothes are dragged off, the occupants sometimes lifted gently to the ground, and the bedstead tilted up or dragged about the room. The phenomena occur both in broad daylight and at night. Sometimes bells are continuously rung, even if all the bell wires are removed. Stones are frequently thrown, but no one is hurt ; I myself have seen a large pebble drop apparently from space in a room where the only culprit could have been myself, and certainly I did not throw it." 

At the link here we can read the August 1868 edition (Volume XXII No. CXXX) of the Atlantic Monthly, one of America's oldest magazines (now publishing as The Atlantic).  The first seven pages have an article entitled "A Remarkable Case of 'Physical Phenomena.' "  We read an extremely well-documented case of poltergeist activity that dramatically dragged on for two months, with very many astonishing phenomena reported occurring during the months of July and August 1867. The writer (an H. A. Willis) quotes from a journal logging a great variety of inexplicable movements of objects.  Although the writer describes himself as very skeptical about deceased spirits producing effects in earthly homes, he seems to have believed in the physical reality of the inexplicable phenomena he described. One of the most dramatic events reported was the repeated ringing of bells suspended eleven feet high from the ceiling, which occurred only when young Mary Carrick was in the room. This occurred even after the bell wires had been removed, and often occurred with "violent agitation."  

I published within 24 hours after their occurrences descriptions of two events very much like some of the events described above: (1) the mysterious inexplicable opening of a locked door (described here), and (2) the mysterious removal of a pillow from under my head, with it being deposited on the floor (described here).  

In the Thurston book on poltergeists, we read the following interesting statement:

"In the case of flying stones many observers speak as if these missiles could never be perceived until they were less than a yard off. It would almost seem as if the agency at work, whatever its nature may be, possessed the power of rendering them invisible, just as there is much evidence which suggests that the same agency is able to introduce material objects into a room through closed doors."

My own experience contains a case along these lines, discussed here. I sat at the top of my apartment building inner stairway, and was tying my shoes.  Suddenly I heard some set of keys fall down the stairs, just as if they had fallen from my body. I assumed the keys had fallen from my own shirt pocket, until I went to the bottom of the stairs and found a set of keys I had never seen before.  The inexplicable appearance occurred the day after an equally baffling appearance suggesting that some "agency is able to introduce material objects into a room through closed doors." The same idea was suggested by observations of mine I describe in the posts here and here and here.  People have the idea of poltergeist activity as some mysterious movement of objects already in the room, but it seems that in cases of poltergeist activity there quite often reportedly occurs an inexplicable appearance of some object, the arrival of which cannot be accounted for.  The word "apports" is used for such appearances. 

I have no photographic evidence of such occurrences, but I did photograph and publish an extremely clear video showing my camera taking about 300 photos by itself, in 13 separate bursts, just as if some invisible force was pressing its shutter button in an on and off fashion.   There was nothing wrong with the shutter button or anything else on the camera in question, which worked without any problem during hour-long photography sessions on more than fifty different days between the date of this video (October 18, 2019) and December 31, 2019.

Postscript: In the interesting book The Problems of Psychical Research by Hereward Carrington, we have an account of a poltergeist by a woman who Carrington vouches for, calling her "an exceptionally sane, balanced, and more than ordinarily sceptical observer."  Her account below is consistent with the "bark worse than the byte" comments I make above. We read this:

"One of the most frequent phenomena, and one which occurred when three or four, and sometimes six, persons have been present, was the persistent throwing about of pins, needles, hairpins, &c. — no person in the room ever being struck by the point of a pin, although they passed through our clothing, pinning it together ; and pins were found stuck firm and fast in the picture mouldings, in the door panels, and between the frames and glass of pictures and mirrors. All sorts of small, light articles such as the above-mentioned would be dropped in our laps if sitting or at our feet if standing, apparently from nowhere, as there was never any sound and no one saw them until they felt them....These phenomena occurred with great regularity nearly every day (not necessarily at the same hour or in the same place) ; but something took place almost daily from December 1909 until August 1910, and occasionally since."