Ghosts/Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
What is the historic connection between Halloween and ghosts? Are “Halloween ghosts” only myths? How are ghosts, haunted houses and Halloween related? What theories are advanced to explain ghosts? Is the Christian view of ghosts credible in light of the facts surrounding hauntings and poltergeists? Do ghost phenomena require a supernatural explanation? And how are ghosts connected to the occult?

Ghosts – Part 1

What is the historic connection between Halloween and ghosts? Are “Halloween ghosts” only myths?

From its origins with the ancient Druids and their cult of death, the dominant theme of Halloween has been one of ghosts, spirits and the dead. Lewis Spence reports, “There is no doubt that the original idea underlying all these various ceremonials is that the spirits of the dead might be pacified and prevented from haunting the living. The festivals to the dead are among the earliest in the world… beginning with the idea of fear, and therefore of propitiation…”[1] Indeed, the degree of influence of the spirits of the dead, ghosts and poltergeists upon Halloween and related festivals around the world can be seen in literature and the media.[2]

The influence of the supposed ghosts of the human dead on Halloween and, in fact, most religious traditions throughout the world, takes us to our next section. Halloween may be an innocent pastime, but some of the practices and phenomena associated with Halloween need to be carefully evaluated and taken seriously. By its historical associations and very nature, Halloween can lead people to a fascination with things like the phenomenon of poltergeists and genuine witchcraft.

How are ghosts, haunted houses and Halloween related?

The late psychical researcher, D. Scott Rogo, said, “The poltergeist is something that must be fought as well as investigated.”[3]

Ghosts, things that go bump in the night, spooks, poltergeists, haunted houses.Halloween aside, ghost stories are everywhere. Literally dozens of TV specials and segments on programs like “Unsolved Mysteries,” and “The ‘X’ Files” captivate millions of onlookers. Haunted houses are even in demand and some realtors specialize in selling them to fascinated clients—at greatly inflated prices. (One wonders if they get their money’s worth.)

Every Halloween, television programmers market an interesting lineup of super­natural thrillers on TV. Although Halloween comes and goes, interest in the intriguing phenomenon of the ghost or poltergeist remains all year long. Poltergeist phenom­ena have also found their way into immensely popular movies on ghosts such as “Ghost Dad” with Bill Cosby, “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze, and “Ghost Busters.”

The term poltergeist comes from two German words: polter, to make noise by throwing or tumbling around, and geist, ghost or spirit. The literal translation of the term is “noisy ghost.”

These “noisy ghosts” are nothing new. Michael Goss compiled an annotated bibliography of over 1,000 English books on poltergeists from the last century alone (1880-1970). In his text he observes, “Poltergeists seem to have been plaguing the human race since the dawn of time and they have shown a grand impartiality as to the theatres of their operations. They are as much at home in the jungles of Indone­sia as they are in the suburbs of London or the bustle of New York City.”[4] Indeed, throughout America, “Poltergeist experiences occur every day of the week.”[5] Hardly anyone hasn’t heard genuine ghost stories, but even among the millions who have personally experienced ghosts, few have any real idea as to what is actually going on.

What theories are advanced to explain ghosts?

The theories put forth to explain or identify ghosts or poltergeists are almost as diverse as the phenomenon itself. Among those advanced are that poltergeists are 1) the spirits of human dead; 2) unknown spirits; 3) demonic spirits or biblical de­mons; 4) spontaneous, uncontrollable outbursts of supposed psychokinetic energy, usually associated with a young person emerging into adolescence; 5) various other manifestations of alleged human psychic activity; 6) inexplicable phenomena result­ing from unknown, strange geophysical conditions (although this view is held by some noted rationalistically inclined psychic investigators, it is perhaps the least credible theory to those who have personally experienced poltergeist events); 7) consequences of the human spirit being projected or forced outside the body as in uncontrollable out-of-body experiences or “astral” projection; and 8) a post-mortem “vestige” of human personality somehow imbued with powers to affect the physical realm.

The three most common theories are: 1) the Christian view that poltergeists are biblical demons; 2) the mediumistic interpretation that poltergeists are the roaming spirits of the human dead; and 3) the parapsychological view that poltergeists constitute an entirely human phenomenon and result from various manifestations of alleged psychic, i.e., psychokinetic, power.

Note that the last two interpretations justify certain pre-existing theories which are often passionately advocated by those who hold them. Thus, in the mediumistic view, poltergeists provide alleged evidence that all spirits of the human dead may roam freely—and, thus, are not immediately confined to heaven or hell as the Bible teaches (see Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:16-30; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 20:10-15). This supports the occult belief that men and women never die spiritually in the biblical sense of eternal separation from God. Rather, it is believed that, in general, the spirits of the human dead merely experience a normal transition into the next life where they have the opportunity to continue their spiritual evolution based on individual merit earned in their previous life (or lives). This interpretation of ghosts is often incorporated with belief in reincarnation.

The parapsychological view interprets poltergeists in a different manner. Polter­geist phenomena are believed to result from an alleged recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) of adolescents (usually females), that is, from the alleged psychic powers of the human mind. This idea lends support to the cherished theory of innate human psychic potential long advocated by the parapsychological and New Age communities. For example, in ascribing poltergeist phenomena to human psychic power, the late noted psychical researcher D. Scott Rogo comments, “In thinking about man’s unwelcomed guests, the poltergeists, let us remember that our psychic abilities can plague as well as benefit us.”[6] However, some psychical re­searchers have also accepted the occult, mediumistic interpretation that these entities are “troubled or confused” ghosts or “earthbound spirits” who, because of their past life or lives on earth, have been hampered in their spiritual “evolution.” Rather than progress into higher spirit realms or the “finer” dimensions of the spiri­tual world, they remain aggressively attached to the “earth plane.”

We find these last two theories unconvincing in light of both biblical revelation and the nature and actions of the poltergeist itself. We reject the mediumistic theory because the Bible teaches the human dead are either with Christ in heaven or confined to punishment in hell—and therefore unable to roam in the spirit world and/ or haunt houses (see Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Luke 16:22-26; 2 Pet. 2:9). We reject the parapsychological theory because we believe the idea that human beings have genuine psychic powers is largely a myth. We document this in our book Cult Watch (Harvest House Publishers, 1991, pp. 257-281).

So how do we explain real ghosts?

Is the Christian view of ghosts credible in light of the facts surrounding hauntings and poltergeists?

The Christian view explains poltergeist phenomena as the result of the activities of demons. But is this theory really credible? Most serious researchers will hardly consider the idea while Michael Goss argues, “There is no one theory which com­fortably accounts for all poltergeist cases.”[7]

We disagree. We are convinced that, together, the poltergeist phenomenon and its occult connection offer strong empirical evidence for the demonic nature of these spirits. In fact, we know of no poltergeist case that cannot be accounted for on the basis of this theory. We believe the demonic theory is rejected today simply be­cause mediums, parapsychologists and others don’t like it. Thus, in spite of the evidence and the explanatory power of the demonic theory, they prefer to accept the view they personally choose to believe is true.

However at this point we need to make two important observations. First, it is necessary to realize that poltergeist phenomena per se are not proof that any person supposedly psychically or otherwise associated with these events is spirit-possessed. The person is not causing the unusual phenomena. Again, this is an unfounded premise of the discipline of parapsychology. The poltergeist manifesta­tions themselves are merely the result of an evil spirit working miraculous events for ulterior motives.

Second, at least temporary demonization of many individuals has occurred as a result of some poltergeist hauntings. But more often the people who experience poltergeists or are peripherally involved are simply victims, either intrigued or terri­fied, depending on the severity of the haunting.

We believe that an impartial evaluation of the poltergeist phenomenon itself will accomplish two things. First, it will dispel parapsychological (e.g., psychokinetic) and naturalistic (e.g., hallucinogenic) theories as not being credible. Second, it will dispel the mediumistic view by offering strong evidence that poltergeists are de­mons—not the confused spirits of the dead.

Do ghost phenomena require a supernatural explanation? And how are ghosts connected to the occult?

Considered objectively, poltergeist phenomena are very difficult to explain apart from recourse to the supernatural. Theories of natural or human origin are simply inadequate. Poltergeists involve an incredible number of diverse manifestations and unsavory incidents. These may include horrible foul smells, cold rooms, thick or oppressive air, unusual malevolent voices, bizarre, creaturely, or human apparitions, movement of objects (even very heavy ones), spontaneous fires, strange markings on furniture or people, headaches and other physical symptoms, and electromag­netic phenomena, to name a few.

In his extensive bibliography, Goss describes the following common phenomena associated with the poltergeist. Even though the poltergeist has been named after its auditory effects, other phenomena may include :

  • Showers of stones, earth, mud, sticks, fruit, shells and, occasionally, more bizarre material such as banknotes, small animals, etc.;
  • Objects, e.g., furniture, may be rolled, moved, overturned or otherwise agitated; in particular, small items are likely to be thrown, levitated, caused to simulate a rocking or “dancing” motion, or may be swept across the room in flights of compli­cated and sustained trajectory from which they descend either gradually and gently in hovering motion or very abruptly;
  • Bedclothes, linen, garments and curtains may be molested, torn, slashed or otherwise damaged. In some rare cases, linen has been found to have been deliberately arranged in the form of a “tableau” reminiscent of human figures at worship;
  • Small objects may disappear from their appointed places, possibly making subsequent reappearances in highly incongruous situations… others fail to reap­pear at all;
  • “Apports” (objects perhaps foreign to the afflicted household) may similarly arrive on the scene;
  • Manipulations suggestive of internal malfunction may affect electrical equipment later found to be in normal working order. Telephones may ring or register calls when none have been made; plugs are removed and light bulbs smashed or wrenched from their sockets;
  • “Spontaneous” fires may break out;
  • Pools or jets of water (and/or liquids) may be emitted from normally dry surfaces, e.g., walls, ceilings, etc.;
  • Personal assaults such as blows, slaps, shoves, etc., may be inflicted on house­holders and their guests. However, stigmata in the form of wheels, teeth-marks or scratches, are likely to be confined to one particular person, namely the supposed “agent” or “focus” in the disturbances;
  • Apparitions (human, animal or indeterminate) are sometimes witnessed, as are unusual lights, clouds of phosphorescence, etc.;
  • In a few instances a form of psychic invasion characterized as “possession” or entrancement with associated psi abilities and the poltergeist agent has been reported.[8]

As Raymond Bayless correctly reports, “with a poltergeist, every form of psychi­cal phenomena both in the experimental séance and in spontaneous cases, has been reported, and the sheer diversity of manifestations is truly incredible. It is almost impossible to list all the strange, individual actions attributed to the polter­geist.”[9]

The “Unsolved Mysteries” TV series on February 23, 1996, reported that the famous Los Angeles “Comedy Store” is subject to serious hauntings. One waitress alone had chronicled at least 50 supernatural events. Comedy stars like Arsenio Hall, Roseanne and Jim Carrey got their start here.

In the 1940s and 1950s, “The Comedy Store” was called Ciro’s. It was the most popular nightclub in all Hollywood and widely considered “the place to be seen.” Ciro’s was frequented both by famous movie stars such as Tyrone Power, Bette Davis and Lucille Ball as well as by mob gangsters such as Mickey Coleman and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, the murderous mobster who built The Flamingo, one of the earliest great Las Vegas casinos.

Coleman had killed a number of people, apparently at Ciro’s; and, the story goes, these individuals continue today to haunt The Comedy Store. What is signifi­cant about the story is not the characteristic death connection in poltergeist events, which, as we saw supposedly confirms there is no biblical judgment at death, but the kinds of events that have happened there. Consider two examples. In one case, in a matter of just a few seconds, all the table chairs in the main-stage room were piled in a heap one on top of another. An individual was in the room and all the chairs were neatly placed around the tables; he left the room for a few seconds and came back to find them all piled in a heap. Further, not a sound was heard of the activity.

In another incident, a waitress had just finished getting the room set up for the evening’s performance. She had placed tablecloths over the tables, put down ashtrays, and so forth. She left the room for a few seconds, came back, and, incred­ibly, found that the room was just as it was before she had fitted all the tables. In other words, in a matter of literally less than 10 seconds, all the ashtrays, tablecloths, silverware, and napkins that had been on the tables were now lying in their original positions, waiting to be placed. The tablecloths and other items were neatly stacked.

Obviously, things like this could hardly be the result of a mental hallucination or psychokinesis, adolescent or otherwise—especially since no adolescents were present. (In fact, have those who advocate this strained theory of adolescents and psychokinetic energy ever done a credible study to determine just how frequently adolescents are even present at poltergeist events?)

In addition, examining poltergeists as a whole, we find truly frightening appari­tions that can only be characterized as demonic and which may seriously injure people. There are also horrible encounters with beings which may take grotesque human form and in rare cases proceed to kill or to sexually rape both men and women, leaving them covered with a slimy substance and/or terrible odor.[10] Further, the rare if controversial phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion—people instantaneously bursting into flames and largely being reduced to ashes—may have some kind of association with poltergeists. And, as noted, there are also numerous examples of demonic possession occurring during poltergeist manifestations.[11] Thus, in many cases investigated “the nature of the invading force has many times been annoying and malicious, and frequently has displayed a vicious and danger­ous nature…. Poltergeist’s intentions… were in the main savage, destructive and malignant.”[12]

It is hardly surprising then, as occult authority Colin Wilson points out, that “until the mid-nineteenth century it was generally assumed that poltergeist disturbances were the result of witchcraft, or evil spirits, or both.”[13] In his bibliography, Goss points out in a similar fashion that earlier generations “concluded quite logically that they were faced by the work of witchcraft and/or demons” and that such a theory “has shown remarkable durability regardless of what the twentieth century may think about witchcraft and demons.”[14]

In fact, researchers have connected the poltergeist to mediumism, witchcraft, spiritism and other forms of the occult throughout history, right up to the present. Scores of incidents were recorded or investigated by the late Dr. Kurt Koch, a leading Christian authority on the occult. In every case “occult practices lay at the root of the [poltergeist] phenomena.”[15]

Indeed, what poltergeists are actually connected with is occult practices, not hallucinations or adolescent psychokinesis. This connection is illustrated by the fact that the celebrated revival of mid-nineteenth century spiritualism in America actually began with a poltergeist. The Fox sisters’ “rappings” were clearly a manifestation of poltergeist activity. Colin Wilson, noted author of The Occult: A History, observes, “The Hydesville rappings which inaugurated the history of modern spiritualism were almost certainly poltergeist phenomena; the Hydesville ‘ghost’ also claimed to be the victim of an undetected murder.”[16]

Once poltergeist disturbances are experienced in a home, often the Ouija board is brought out of a closet in an attempt, whether in seriousness or jest, to establish contact with the “troubled ghost.” In such cases, poltergeist phenomena often become the means of a person’s conversion to the occult. The supernatural encoun­ters are so startling and intriguing that even initially skeptical observers may come to a belief in the supernatural and become involved in psychic investigation, such as seeking the advice of psychics, using automatic writing, or attending séances.

In The Enigma of the Poltergeist, psychical researcher Raymond Bayless further observes, “It can be suggested that witchcraft may be the child of the poltergeist. The study of poltergeists and haunting phenomena continually uncovers reminders of the close relationship existing between each subject.”[17]

Poltergeist phenomena are not only frequently associated with witchcraft but with necromancy and séance phenomena as well. For example, “It [the poltergeist] has duplicated every phenomenon observed in the experimental séance.”<ref>Ibid., p. 9.</ref> And, “during known, obvious poltergeist cases, phantoms have been seen and heard that gave every indication of having been spirits of the dead. On occasion, phantoms have indicated that they were spirits of dead relatives of witnesses present.”<ref>Ibid., p. 205.</ref>

From a Christian view, we see this as a typical attempt by demons to establish belief in or practice of contacting the dead—something God has forbidden in the Bible (Deut. 18:9-12). This is illustrated in the attempt to “rescue” supposedly con­fused or “earth-bound” spirits who are allegedly causing the poltergeist distur­bances. Thus, “In each case the living had a duty to the dead. By means of séances <nowiki>(sometimes specifically convened as ‘rescue circles’) the distressed party [the poltergeist] could be contacted and ultimately directed along the appointed paths of self-improvement.”[18]

In fact, we suspect that, in many cases where poltergeists are directly associated with some person, rather than a location, that demons are attempting to trick the individual into some kind of occult involvement or even bring about his or her pos­session.

At the least, when poltergeist phenomena seems to be associated with an indi­vidual, there are certain parallels to the medium and her spirit controls: “Obviously, this relates to the concept of mediumship in general and moreover to the equally fascinating study of the way in which this person—the ‘agent’ or ‘focus’—is different from other human beings who do not have poltergeist abilities.”[19]

In light of the above, it is not surprising that a common feature of ghost or polter­geist manifestations involves the attempt to seek actual contact with the dead. This also, obviously, is a common occurrence in séance mediumism. For example, Dr. Weldon remembers viewing a television program on a particularly dramatic polter­geist haunting in 1994. After the poltergeist manifestations began, a Ouija board was used to attempt to make contact with the spirit. Through the board, the spirit spelled out its name to those present.

The next day psychical researchers were called in to investigate. Hauntingly, one of these parapsychologists had the name of this spirit mentally impressed upon him entirely without his knowledge. He simply began his conversation, “When did you first meet?” and gave the actual name that the spirit had given the daybefore through the Ouija board. He had no idea why he said this name or where it came from, but obviously it “confirmed” the “identity” of the spirit they were now seeking to establish contact with. Further, this particular name was, in fact, found to be that of the very same individual who had lived in that house prior to that time— and who had also been murdered. In the minds of everyone present, this confirmed the fact they were actually in contact with the deceased spirit of the man who had earlier been killed in this house. In the world of the occult, this kind of confirmatory scenario is not at all an uncommon occurrence.

Notes:

  1. Lewis Spence, The History and Origins of Druidism (London: Aquarian Press, 1971), pp. 104-109.
  2. Ethel L. Urlin, Festivals, Holy Days and Saint’s Days: A Study in Origins and Survivals in Church Ceremonies and Secular Customs (London: Simpkins, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1915, republished Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1979), p. 202.
  3. D. Scott Rogo, The Poltergeist Experience (New York: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 40.
  4. Michael Goss, comp., Poltergeists: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, Circa 1880- 1970 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1979), p. vii.
  5. Robert Curran, The Haunted: One Family’s Nightmare (New York: St. Martins Press, 1988), p. 101.
  6. Rogo, p. 294.
  7. Goss, p. xi.
  8. Ibid., pp. iii-iv
  9. Raymond Bayless, The Enigma of the Poltergeist (West Nyack, New York: Parker, 1967), p. 2.
  10. See Rogo, p. 284, and Curran, pp. 114-117, 226-227.
  11. See, e.g., Bayless, pp. 158-174.
  12. Ibid., p. 159.
  13. Colin Wilson, Mysteries: An Investigation into the Occult, the Paranormal and the Supernatural (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978), p. 461.
  14. Goss, p. viii.
  15. Wilson, pp. 462-63.
  16. Kurt Koch, Christian Counseling and Occultism (Grand Rapids; Kregel Publishers, 1982), p. 181.
  17. Bayless, p. 158.
  18. Goss, p. ix.
  19. Ibid., p. xii.

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