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Investigating Poltergeists

In the German language, poltergeist literally means "noisy ghost." Indeed, poltergeist experiences are often noisy --- although the characteristic physical disturbances are no longer thought to be the work of "ghosts." Rather, current (since the 1950s) studies indicate that the poltergeist situation is caused by a living person, the poltergeist agent, who is typically involved simultaneously in another stress-inducing situation. While this is not always the case, it is explained in this section. The following are only theories and have yet to be proven by researchers.

RSPK: The Poltergeist Mechanism: During a poltergeist experience, the agent, in an attempt to relieve emotional stress, unknowingly causes the physical disturbances using mental forces. The mental mechanism that allows the poltergeist agent to unconsciously cause these physical disturbances is called psychokinesis. Psychokinesis, PK, more commonly known as "mind over matter," is the human ability to mentally affect the physical environment. Because the psychokinetic activity of the poltergeist agent is recurrent and spontaneous, this form of psychokinesis is termed RSPK or recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. Most agents are unaware that they are causing the physical disturbances, and even those with vague awareness usually have no conscious control over how and when the disturbances will occur.

The Poltergeist Experience: In poltergeist cases, typical reported disturbances include strange noises and knockings, and objects moving about as if under their own power. Objects have been reported to fly about in bizarre trajectories, to crash to the floor and break, to break or shatter in place, and to disappear and reappear, sometimes in different locations. Beds are sometimes reported to shake and furniture to rearrange itself. In more rare cases, small, innocuous fires have started, water droplets or bursts have fallen from nowhere, stones have pelted homes, and vague apparition-like forms have been seen. Whatever the nature of the physical disturbances, poltergeist phenomena can inevitably be linked to an "agent."

The Poltergeist Agent: Though the agent can usually be narrowed down to one person, in some cases the agent appears to consist of two or more people who co-create a psychological dynamic that causes one or more of the people to mentally "set off" the physical disturbances. Studies and investigations show that agents are typically experiencing repressed or unresolved emotional stress. Adolescence is commonly a stressful life period (psychologically and physically) and not surprisingly, the majority of reported poltergeist cases involve adolescent agents (the age range is from 12 or 13 to early 20s). However, people of all age groups are potential poltergeist agents (although there has been a noticeable lack of agents under 10 or 11). Studies have also shown that people with epilepsy or epileptic-like activity in the brain are sometimes associated with poltergeist activity. This does not mean that everyone under stress or with epilepsy will be a poltergeist agent. In fact, the phenomenon is very uncommon, even though minor PK events may occur throughout someone's lifetime. Even in severe cases of repressed stress or epilepsy, poltergeist activity rarely occurs.

Patterns and Metaphors of Poltergeist Activity: With the exception of rare lengthy cases, poltergeist phenomena generally last from two to six weeks (short term 1 week, long term about 18 months). Cases are nearly always reported in homes, offices or workplaces – wherever a dynamic of human interaction takes place. Poltergeist activity, with its connection to unresolved stress, appears to be a rare form of stress relief. Instead of the stress releasing itself in "normal" ways, the agent unconsciously "blows off steam" with the PK activity. Patterns found in the disturbances are generally symbolic and can give clues as to the identity of the agent and the nature of the unresolved stress. Often object and area focused activity occur whereby the disturbances tend to stay with certain forms of objects or in certain locations in the physical environment. The disturbances often appear as metaphors to the causes of stress.

For example, sexual tension may be released through causing the bed to shake. Anger towards a certain person may be released by the agent causing items belonging to the target person to break. The rare outbreak of small fires may be associated with a general release of anger, whereas water is more often associated with grief (as in tears not being physically shed). More unusual cases involving guilt have resulted in the agent actually giving him/herself a psychokinetic "self-beating" displayed by the spontaneous manifestation of bruises or other marks of physical punishment. Other very rare poltergeist cases have involved sightings of apparition-like forms. These are not thought to be true apparitions (or ghosts – a consciousness operating outside of or after the death of his or her physical body). Rather, they are thought to be unconscious projections from the mind of the agent that are "picked up" telepathically by people associated with the agent (and of course, by the agent as well). These apparitional forms are often not human in appearance (in contrast to ghosts), and may even look like an archetypal "monster." As frightening as they may appear, these mental projections are harmless and are simply a reflection of the agent's inner psychological "monsters or demons." As with the physical activity, they are often a metaphor for the mental and emotional stress the agent is experiencing.

More subtle forms of poltergeist activity involve micro-effects whereby the agent mentally, though unconsciously, affects the functioning of technology (these are effects that occur throughout our lives). It is now known that technology such as watches, computers, telephones, photocopiers, etc. are apparently susceptible to PK. Similar to the large scale poltergeist effects, these micro-effects appear to be a form of stress-relief or a reflection of the mood of the agent, and the type of effect is often a clue as to the nature of the stress.

Practical Problem Solving: Since poltergeist cases have psychological stress and emotional dynamics at their core, investigations involve detailed observation of the human interaction present in such cases. All family members or co-workers are interviewed separately and en masse in order to assess the nature of the disturbances and the emotional interplay. Many personal questions are asked, and in some cases, medical information may be requested. Patterns in the disturbances are noted and participants may be asked to reenact scenes when the disturbances occurred. Because the investigation may alter the emotional dynamics, leading to difficulty in finding the agent, on some case the investigator(s) may request an extended stay on the premises in hopes that the dynamics return to their usual state. Throughout the study, "normal" disturbances are separated from those that may be "paranormal." Often the participants believe the disturbances to be the result of a ghost or outside entity. Because stressful emotional dynamics are at the core of such cases, this "ghost" is used as a scapegoat for the occurrences and even for the events or issues that are causing the stress in the first place.

In addition, people are often more sensitive to anything out of the ordinary in the environment during such situations. In many cases, participants may misinterpret overlooked physical occurrences with normal, though not obvious, normal explanations. Finally, because there is often a ghostly scapegoat to blame, there may be a mixture of real RSPK events with intentionally caused disturbances surreptitiously carried out by the agent and/or other participants. A lot can be done in the name of stress relief when there's a ghost present to take the blame. In cases such as this, the intentional disturbances are not generally an attempt to dupe the investigator, but are rather directed at other members of the family or group as a more "normal" form of stress relief. Such non-malicious fraud can make a poltergeist investigation very challenging. At worst, such "mixed" cases may be dismissed as normal when paranormal elements are actually present. The stress inherent in a poltergeist case, as well as the stress caused by one, does make counseling very important. Not only the agent, but all participants can benefit from individual or group counseling. Poltergeist activity tends to stop when the stress is identified, addressed or released, or when the stressful situation itself is identified, altered or ended. Poltergeist activity also tends to stop when the agent realizes he or she is responsible for the phenomena (and especially if the agent accepts responsibility for it). One the activity has ceased, follow-up therapeutic work may be crucial in order to help resolve the underlying causes of the poltergeist outbreak. Finally, for the poltergeist agent, there always exists the potential for learning to focus and apply this psychokinetic ability in positive ways.