Poltergeists – An Evaluation of a Demonic Phenomenon – Part 1
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Halloween is over, but the interest in poltergeists and other supernatural phenomena lingers. How should we understand poltergeist experiences?|
Poltergeists—An Evaluation of a Demonic Phenomenon, Part 1
- “The poltergeist is something that must be fought as well as investigated.”—The late psychical researcher, D. Scott Rogo
- “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”—Ephesians 6:11
Ghosts, things that go bump in the night, spooks, poltergeists, haunted houses. Spook stories are everywhere today. Even haunted houses are in demand; 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 line-up of supernatural thrillers on TV. Invariably, the “Poltergeist” series of movies are shown, as they seem to continue to fascinate millions of people. Although Halloween has just ended, the intriguing phenomenon of the poltergeist remains. Thus, we felt a critical evaluation of this subject would be timely in an era of increasing interest in the supernatural. Millions of Americans are enamored with and even directly influenced by the poltergeist phenomenon. This makes our subject highly relevant. Unfortunately, very few Christian or biblical evaluations exist and so we hope this material fills a genuine need. In this article we will introduce the subject, evaluate current theories, note various characteristics and abilities of the poltergeist and document the occult nature of this phenomenon, noting various occult interpretations. We will also indicate relevant consequences of poltergeist phenomena, and investigation and also document their evil nature.
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 thus “noisy ghost.”
Poltergeists are commonly interpreted as troublesome ghosts which haunt houses, causing disturbances and a variety of problems for those who live there. Casual observers often see them as harmless and intriguing or “entertaining” spirits while naturalists and materialists often view them as simple hallucinations.
For parapsychologists and other psychical researchers, poltergeists are often seen as a merely human phenomenon—a manifestation of alleged human (usually adolescent) psychokinesis.
However, some psychical researchers have also accepted the 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.” Thus, rather than progress into higher spirit realms or the “finer” dimensions of the spiritual world, they remain aggressively “attached” to the “earth plane.” We will examine these theories in more detail below.
Almost everyone who has investigated the poltergeist phenomena over the last half-century concedes that poltergeist occurrences seem to be increasing. In 1967 psychic investigator Raymond Bayless reported that, “the shear number of poltergeist cases and related phenomena is most definitely on the increase.” Events through the mid-1990s confirm this fact, which largely appears to result from the modern Western revival of occultism. Poltergeists are characteristically associated with occult practices and/or phenomena and, as these increase in society, it is not unexpected to find an increase in the poltergeist activities that often accompany them. Based on local television and news reports, and from our own travels around the country, it would seem that most American cities now have several sites where poltergeist activity is known to occur. In fact, throughout the nation “Poltergeist experiences occur every day of the week;…”
This is not to say poltergeist phenomena are anything new. For example, Michael Goss compiled an annotated bibliography of over one thousand English books on poltergeists from the last century alone, 1880-1970. In that 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….”
In a similar fashion, noted Jesuit scholar Herbert Thurston, author of Ghosts and Poltergeists, describes typical poltergeist phenomena, explaining its universal occurrence and the reasons for his own disbelief in naturalistic theories:
- …the dragging across the floor of heavy bedsteads or articles of furniture… the curved path taken by missiles which sweep around corners or twist in and out as a living bird might do… the flight of showers of stones which seem to come from space and are only perceptible when quite near… 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…. For my own part I find it impossible to believe that such manifestations [have]… no real existence, but were due to hallucination.
The poltergeist phenomenon itself is so unusual it has spawned a number of theories attempting to explain it.
The theories put forth to explain or identify the poltergeist are almost as diverse as the phenomenon itself. Among those advanced are that poltergeists are 1) the spirits of the human dead; 2) unknown spirits; 3) demonic spirits or the 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 geophysical conditions; 7) consequences of the human spirit being projected or forced outside the body as in uncontrollable out-of-the-body experiences or “astral” projection and 8) a post-mortem “vestige” of a human personality somehow imbued with powers to affect the physical realm.
The three most common theories are these: (1) the Christian view that poltergeists are the 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.
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 (Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:16-30; 2 Peter 2:9; Revelation 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, in general, the spirits of the human dead merely experience a normal transition into the next life where they then have the opportunity to continue their spiritual evolution based on individual merit earned in their previous life. This interpretation is also often incorporated with a 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), i.e., from the alleged psychic powers of the human mind. This idea lends alleged support to the cherished theory of innate human psychic potential or ability 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 as follows, “In thinking about man’s unwelcomed guests, the poltergeists, let us remember that our psychic abilities can plague as well as benefit us.”
However, we find these last two theories unconvincing in light of both biblical revelation and the nature and actions of the poltergeist itself. Thus, 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 (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 sought to briefly document this in our book, Cult Watch (1991, pp. 257-281).
This leaves us with our first theory which explains poltergeist phenomena as the result of the activities of the biblical demons. But is this theory really credible? Goss argues, “There is no one theory which comfortably accounts for all poltergeist cases.” We disagree. We are convinced poltergeist phenomena themselves and the occult connection together 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. The remainder of our discussion will supply evidence for our conviction.
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, on the other hand, at least temporary demonization of an individual has occurred as a result of some poltergeist hauntings. But more often, the people who experience poltergeists or are peripherally involved are simple 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 naturalistic (e.g., hallucinogenic) and parapsychological (e.g., psychokinetic) 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 human dead.
Intelligent Independent Nature
The intelligent and focused nature of poltergeist manifestations and attacks is evident. In light of this, it is difficult to conclude we are merely dealing with diffused manifestations of the unconscious mind or the rambling psychic manifestations of troubled adolescent teenagers, as most psychic researchers have concluded. It is much more logical to believe we are dealing with real, independent, intelligent spirits. The fact these spirits may choose to mask their activities behind a facade of “poltergeist activity” for ulterior motives cannot change the logical implications of the phenomenon itself. Thus, most researchers have been forced to concede the independent intelligence of the poltergeist. Guy Playfair, author of The Unknown Power, states,
- It also seems fairly obvious that there is some sort of intelligence behind poltergeist activity; over and over again they have been able to outsmart even such experienced investigators as Roll and Barrett, and they have rarely if ever been caught red-handed. Their sense of timing is thoroughly uncanny, and they seem as determined to confuse researchers as they are to drive victims out of their minds.
For example, a noted psychoanalyst and psychical investigator Dr. Nandor Fodor, author of the Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, observes the following about the objects “thrown” by the poltergeist: “The deadly aim of the missiles admits the speculation that it may not be the laws of physics alone which prescribe their course. The impression is of something like temporary consciousness associated with the flight of every single missile as if they were intelligent blows, or as if a strong will power were setting an unalterable course from the point of departure.”
Poltergeist phenomena themselves are difficult to explain apart from recourse to the supernatural. They involve an incredible number of diverse manifestations and unsavory incidents. These may include horrible foul smells, cold rooms, “thick”, “oppressive” air, unusual malevolent voices, bizarre, creaturely, or human apparitions, movement of objects, even heavy ones, spontaneous fires, strange markings on furniture or people, headaches and other physical symptoms, electromagnetic phenomena, etc.
In his extensive bibliography on poltergeists, Michael Goss describes the following common phenomena associated with the poltergeist. Even though the poltergeist has been named after its auditory effects, more typical phenomena may include :
- Showers of stones, earth, mud, sticks, fruit, shells and occasionally more bizarre material such as bank-notes, 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 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.
As Bayless correctly reports, “with a poltergeist, every form of psychical phenomena both in the experimental seance 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,…”
But in addition to the above, we find truly frightening apparitions that can only be characterized as demonic—as well as horrible encounters with beings which may take grotesque human form and in rare cases proceed to sexually rape both men and women, leaving them covered with a slimy substance and/or terrible odor. Further, the rare if controversial phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion—people instantaneously bursting into flames and largely being reduced to ashes—may have some type of association with poltergeists. In the literature there are also numerous examples of demonic possession occurring during poltergeist manifestations. 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.”
It is hardly surprising then, as occult authority Colin Wilson points out, “Until the mid-nineteenth century it was generally assumed that poltergeist disturbances were the result of witchcraft, or evil spirits, or both.” 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.” This brings us to our next section.
- D. Scott Rogo, The Poltergeist Experience (NY: Penguin, 1979), p. 40.
- Raymond Bayless, The Enigma of the Poltergeist (West Nyack, NY: Parker, 1967), p. 8.
- Robert Curran, The Haunted: One Family’s Nightmare (NY: St. Martins Press, 1988), p. 101.
- Michael Goss, compiler, Poltergeists: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, Circa 1880-1970 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1979).
- Ibid., p. vii.
- Herbert Thurston, Ghosts and Poltergeists (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954), pp. 354-355.
- Rogo, The Poltergeist Experience, p. 284.
- Goss, p. xi.
- Guy Playfair, The Unknown Power (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1975), p. 266.
- Nandor Fodor, An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science (Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press, 1966), p. 292.
- Goss, pp. iii-iv.
- Bayless, p. 2.
- e.g., Ibid., pp. 158-174.
- Ibid., p. 159.
- Colin Wilson, Mysteries: An Investigation Into the Occult, The Paranormal and the Supernatural (NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978), p. 461.
- Goss, p. viii, emphasis added.