What is a Poltergeist?

Those who follow the immensely popular Harry Potter book series are surely familiar with Peeves, Hogwarts' resident poltergeist. Peeves first appeared in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" where he was described as a little man with a pair of wicked eyes and a huge mouth who wears outrageously colored clothes. In the book series, Peeves was portrayed as a mischievous entity, constantly creating trouble and never without a trick up his sleeve. The book's author, J.K. Rowling, even described Peeves as an "indestructible spirit of chaos." But as interesting as Peeves is, his real-life poltergeist counterparts are twice as troublesome and, sometimes, downright dangerous.

The word "poltergeist" came from the German word "poltern," which means to "rumble", "bluster", or "jangle", and "geist," which means "spirit." "Poltern" can also be used in describing an act of speech: speaking loudly and abrasively. Although poltergeist literally means "noisy spirit," a poltergeist is neither a spirit nor a ghost according to paranormal and parapsychology experts. Usually described as an invisible force and entity, the nature of poltergeists has long been a subject of debate within paranormal circles.

Poltergeists differ from what is normally thought of a ghost. Ghosts are usually considered to be, possibly, the spirits of dead people who can be our loved ones watching over us or the trapped and tormented spirit of a murder victim perhaps seeking just for their life being taken. An apparition of a group soldiers trapped in that final battle, or even the lost lonely little child seeking her mother�not understanding that her time has passed. Generally, these spirits pass through unaware that we even exist for perhaps we are as ghosts to them in their realm of reality.

Poltergeists on the other hand are a different sort of spirit, or entity that has little to do with the typical haunting. These particular spirits seem to be able to interact with the material world sometimes with malevolent force such as the case back in the late 1970's in England. A scientist by the name Vladistav Bukreev witnessed the harrowing and terrifying period of an English family living in London during the time period of 1977- 1978. They were plagued by severe poltergeist activity.

Dr. Bukreev saw showers of stones and bricks come down inside the house and the windows were smashed to pieces by the objects being flung through them by an unseen hand. Things would float through the air, and blood, water, and other liquid substances would pour from the walls and ceilings. The family suffered what appeared to be bite or claw marks on their bodies. The two young girls were lifted up into the air and moved around with no apparent support. For just under a year the family endured the harrowing experience but finally fled for fear of their lives leaving everything behind.

One popular notion about the nature of poltergeists is the idea that they are demons or, at least, influenced by demons. This idea was prevalent during ancient times possibly because of the striking similarities between a demonic manifestation and a poltergeist attack. Like demonic manifestations, poltergeists attacks can be sudden and obvious or gradual and subtle until their perpetrators reach their full power.

Depending on the power of a poltergeist, its activity can range from cold drafts, odd sounds, and foul smells to levitating objects, unseen hands, and physical abuse. Accounts of early poltergeist activity can be found in the work of ancient Roman writer Titus Livius, "Ab Urbe Condita," wherein a shower of stones scared the Roman army. Other notable records of poltergeist activity involving people being dragged away from their beds by unseen forces and of unexplainable fires were written by Jacob Grimm in his work "Deustche Mythologie." Given the largely superstitious atmosphere of that time, poltergeist activity was readily attributed to demonic powers.

But the progress of paranormal science and parapsychology during the 20th century gave rise to a new concept about the nature of poltergeists. Separate studies done by parapsychologists Nandor Fodor, Alan Gauld and A. D. Cornell, and William Roll traced poltergeist existence and activity not in paranormal entities but in humans. According to their theories on the human-poltergeist connection, the force usually ascribed to poltergeists are powerful emotional and mental triggers in the human psyche. These theories have their foundations on the idea that poltergeist activity usually occurs in places which have seen much violence and suffering or around persons who are experiencing deep emotional turmoils.

Roll even went as far as to name the phenomenon as "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis" or RSPK. This refers to the expression of intense emotion like hostility, anger, and sexual tension from a human agent which causes inexplicable physical manifestations such as levitation. The agent is usually oblivious to the fact the he or she caused the disturbance because it is the subconscious mind which found a way to release any repressed emotion through psychokinesis.

On the other hand, poltergeist activity without the presence of an agent is attributed to the remnants of intense emotions in a particular locale, a phenomenon similar to how a place gives one "the creeps" without any apparent reason. In this case, poltergeist activity is simply an outward manifestation of human emotion. It is perfectly controllable as long as the agent expresses pent-up feelings, hence, lessening chances of subconscious "poltergeist" activity.

Many believe that a poltergeist is an elemental type creature, something very much akin to what would be called the Fae in Irish folklore. Still there are others who say a poltergeist is something generated by a young girl or boy just hitting the turbulent teen years when the physical and emotional changes are very stressful and the teenager in question is unconsciously releasing psychical energy in such a way as to actually affect their surroundings.

Despite the differing opinions about the nature of poltergeists, one thing is definite -- they do exist. Whether poltergeists are paranormal entities or psychic forces, they continue to be one of the most popular and interesting paranormal "beings" in ancient and recent history. What are they? Nobody knows exactly but this mystery is one good reason for people to be on their guards.

One of the most well known cases of poltergeist activity is the Borley Rectory Poltergeist. Read more about what has happened at this famous haunted location.

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