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In folklore and parapsychology, a poltergeist is a type of ghost or other supernatural being supposedly responsible for physical disturbances such as loud noises and objects moved around or destroyed. Most accounts of poltergeists describe movement or levitation of objects, such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors. Poltergeists have also been claimed to be capable of pinching, biting, hitting and tripping people.

Poltergeists occupy numerous niches in cultural folklore, and have traditionally been described as troublesome spirits who haunt a particular person instead of a specific location. Such alleged poltergeist manifestations have been reported in many cultures and countries including the United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and most European nations, with early accounts dating back to the 1st century.

The word poltergeist comes from the German words poltern ("to make sound") and Geist ("ghost" and "spirit"), and the term itself roughly translates as "noisy ghost" or "noise-ghost".

Many claimed poltergeist events have proved on investigation to be pranks.

According to research in anomalistic psychology claims of poltergeist activity can be explained by psychological factors such as illusion, memory lapses and wishful thinking. A study (Lange and Houran, 1998) wrote that poltergeist experiences are delusions "resulting from the affective and cognitive dynamics of percipients' interpretation of ambiguous stimuli".

Attempts have also been made to explain scientifically poltergeist disturbances that have not been traced to fraud or psychological factors. The psychical investigator Guy William Lambert proposed a geophysical explanation for poltergeist activity which results from the activity of underground water and other factors. According to Lambert many reported poltergeist incidents can be accounted for by physical causes such as "subterranean rivers, tidal patterns, geological factors and shifts in the house foundation, and climate changes." His theory was that an underground water course may flow under "haunted" locations and that after heavy rainfall the stream could cause structural movement of the property, possibly causing the house to vibrate and move objects. David Turner, a retired physical chemist, suggested that ball lightning, another phenomenon, could cause inanimate objects to move erratically.

Michael Persinger has theorized that seismic activity could cause poltergeist phenomena. Persinger's case studies have also shown a complex interaction between geomagnetism, household electrical equipment and the brain physiology of the individual.

Skeptics such as Milbourne Christopher have found that some cases of poltergeist activity can be attributed to unusual air currents, such as a 1957 case on Cape Cod where downdrafts from an uncovered chimney became strong enough to blow a mirror off of a wall, overturn chairs and knock things off shelves.

Skeptic Joe Nickell says that claimed poltergeist incidents typically originate from "an individual who is motivated to cause mischief". According to Nickell:

"In the typical poltergeist outbreak, small objects are hurled through the air by unseen forces, furniture is overturned, or other disturbances occur -- usually just what could be accomplished by a juvenile trickster determined to plague credulous adults."

Nickell writes that reports are often exaggerated by credulous witnesses.

"Time and again in other “poltergeist” outbreaks, witnesses have reported an object leaping from its resting place supposedly on its own, when it is likely that the perpetrator had secretly obtained the object sometime earlier and waited for an opportunity to fling it, even from outside the room—thus supposedly proving he or she was innocent."

Other investigators have postulated that psychopathology or aggression in the subjects themselves may be responsible for the action of movement of objects in poltergeist cases. Nandor Fodor proposed that poltergeist disturbances are caused by human agents suffering from some form of emotional stress or tension and compared reports of poltergeist activity to hysterical conversion symptoms resulting from emotional tension of the subject. Owen (1978) cited a number of poltergeist cases in which the subject displayed signs of hysteria.


Poltergeist activity has often been believed to be the work of malicious spirits. According to Allan Kardec, the founder of Spiritism, poltergeists are manifestations of disembodied spirits of low level, belonging to the sixth class of the third order. They are believed to be closely associated with the elements (fire, air, water, earth). The parapsychologist William Roll wrote that poltergeist activity can be explained by psychokinesis.

Famous poltergeist cases

Borley Rectory (1937)

Main article: Borley Rectory

William Roll, Hans Bender, and Harry Price (1881–1948) investigated Borley Rectory, which Price called "the most haunted house in England".

Rosenheim, Germany (1967)

Main article: Rosenheim Poltergeist

Parapsychologist Hans Bender claimed that a law firm located in Rosenheim in southern Germany experienced disruption of electricity and telephone lines, swinging lamps, and the rotation of a framed picture caused by a 19-year-old secretary who he alleged was "a typical poltergeist."

Other cases

The Black Monk of Pontefract

The Enfield Poltergeist (1977)

Drummer of Tedworth (1662).

The Bell Witch of Tennessee (1817–1872)

The Fox sisters (1848) claims, connected to the Spiritualism movement.

Great Amhervst Mystery (1878–79)

Epworth Rectory

Gef the Talking Mongoose (1931)

Robbie Mannheim (1949), claimed to be demonically possessed after using a Ouija board.

The Thornton Road poltergeist of Birmingham (1981)

Tina Resch (1984)

"The Stone-Throwing Spook of Little Dixie" (1995)

The Canneto di Caronia fires poltergeist (2004–5)

The Miami Poltergeist (2008)

Barnsley near Sheffield in England (2009)

"Jim", the Coventry poltergeist (2011). In a series of articles in March 2011, The Sun reported that Lisa Manning and her children believed they were being disturbed by a poltergiest. Derek Acorah visited Manning's home and claimed that he was able to "communicate with the spirit."

Poltergeists in fiction

Lithobolia, a narrative folk tale by "Richard Chamberlayne" first printed in London 1698 has been compared to modern poltergeist stories and considered an early example of esoteric literature and supernatural horror writing.

In the 1941 Noël Coward play Blithe Spirit poltergeist activity is due to the ghost of the central character's first wife—and later to the ghosts of both wives. The play was adapted into a successful movie in 1945, and a musical (High Spirits) in 1963, besides enjoying multiple adaptations to radio.

William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel The Exorcist and its 1973 film adaptation depicts demonic possession. In the Poltergeist movies (1982, 1986, 1988) poltergeist activity in a family home was caused by ghosts attracted to the youngest daughter.

A poltergeist named Peeves appears in the Harry Potter series, who is described by the series author J.K. Rowling as not a ghost but an "indestructible spirit of chaos."

In the TV series Afterlife, Alison encounters many poltergeists, including the ghost of her mother who rearranges Alison's objects, moves her bed, and creates noise.

Tales to Astonish #1 "I Know the Secret of the Poltergeist".

In the bullet-hell shooter series Touhou the three sisters; Lunasa, Merlin and Lyrica Prismriver are poltergeists, each play a different instrument and live in the Poltergeist Mansion in Gensokyo.

In Season 5, Episode 22: "The Children's Parade" of the TV show Ghost Whisperer, Melinda Gordon investigates a poltergeist in a hospital.

In Supernatural (U.S. TV series) Season 1, Episode 9 "Home": a poltergeist haunts the Winchester's family home.

In The X-Files Season 1 Episode 6 (Shadows), Agents Scully and Mulder encounter a poltergeist of a deceased CEO.

In an episode of the 1970s TV series The Waltons, called the Changeling, (Season 7 Episode 5) Elizabeth Walton encounters a poltergeist.

In the game series S.T.A.L.K.E.R., poltergeists are depicted as spirits or entities.

The movie Apartment 143 featured a poltergeist disturbance.

The 2013 American supernatural horror film Insidious: Chapter 2's main villain and entity is a poltergeist, vowing to take over Josh Lambert's body.

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