NO! WE know nothing whatsoever about why Poltergeists should infest a place,
what they are, how to get rid of them, or how to attract them. There is a
curious belief that opals do so. If there was any evidence for this, I would buy
a sackful! We cannot explain the mechanism of Poltergeist movements,
displacements, 'voices', how they transport things, or how they produce fire or
water, or the many varieties and varying intensities of sounds and noises. We do
not know where they obtain the energy from with which to move objects -
sometimes heavy objects - or how they can hallucinate some people into believing
they see or hear certain things or sounds, while other persons in the immediate
vicinity see and hear nothing. And where do all the 'apports' (things that
spontaneously 'appear' during an infestation) come from? Who loses them? And
where do they go to when, as often happens, they disappear? If things 'appear',
then they must have disappeared from somewhere, and someone must have lost them.
Perhaps another Poltergeist victim! There have been speculations concerning all
these puzzles, and I will later mention some of the more interesting. But they
are theories only, ingenious as some of them are. We know nothing as to the
causation of Poltergeist phenomena.
If we know so little about the Poltergeist per se, we are certain that there is
some connection, between Poltergeists and puberty and that the mysteries of sex
enter largely into their doings. And all the available evidence points to the
fact that Poltergeists prefer little girls and girl adolescents to boys - the
ratio is about 95% to 5% respectively. Though we know there is this connection,
we cannot explain it.
hysteriacs, and borderline cases'
The fact that little girls are so mixed up in Poltergeist cases has led the
uninformed to assume that these young creatures are consciously responsible for
the phenomena; that the manifestations are produced fraudulently and that the
whole thing is hocus-pocus. Perhaps the reader thought like that too - until he
read this book. It has probably never occurred to our hypothetical - and
ignorant - critic that, if his 'explanation' is correct, and that all these
Poltergeist girls trick, then they have been tricking in exactly the same way,
in every country, and in every age. That would be a phenomenon in itself, and a
very remarkable one. That girls have tricked is undeniable, but these cases are
few compared with those in which girls have not tricked. And those girls who
have tricked were sometimes of the abnormal type, psychoneurotics, hysteriacs, a
'borderline case', one who had received a nervous shock, or one with a nervous
disorder or some mental affliction. I have said that fraudulent phenomena are
sometimes associated with abnormal girls; but this applies to genuine phenomena,
too. And one can always tell where the genuine phenomena end and the spurious
begin. As I have pointed out in another chapter, it was after a nervous shock
that Esther Cox, in the Great Amherst Mystery, was sucked into the vortex of a
violent Poltergeist disturbance. I shall have more to say about this later.
I reiterate that one of the most puzzling facts connected with Poltergeist
infestations is why so many young girls are concerned in these cases. Assuming
for a moment that every known case of Poltergeist
haunting was due to trickery, why should so often a 'young girl' be suspected
and so seldom a 'young boy'? Are young girls more prone to cheating than young
boys? Surely not!
|Photograph of a a young
Poltergeist subject: Marguerite Rozier, aged 13½ years, of
Seyssel-in-Iseure, near Lyons. In her vicinity, babies were injured and
turned over in their cradles; chine was transported from dinner-table
during meals; the furniture became volatile; semi-materializations were
witnessed; knocks and footsteps were frequent. The manifestations began in
1930, when menses appeared. Case reported by M. Réne Sudre in his "A Case
of Thorybism in France."
Another remarkable fact is that it was usually a 'young girl' who was the victim
(or the pretended victim) in the sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft
trials. It was so often a young girl who became 'possessed', or went into
convulsions, or vomited crooked pins and tenpenny nails. Sometimes the witch
mania spread to the girls themselves, who 'confessed' to the practice of
witchcraft, riding on broomsticks, intercourse with the devil, the possession
of 'familiars', etc. Podmore cites the case of Antoinette Bourignon's girls'
school at Lille
where, in 1639, the whole thirty-two children ultimately accused themselves of
witchcraft, confessed to having dealings with the devil, and to riding through
the air nightly to attend his infernal banquets. All but one of the children
recanted when examined by the magistrates. The one girl who maintained her guilt
to the last was imprisoned. Mlle Bourignon expressed a pious regret that for the
good of her soul she had not been burnt.
 Modern Spiritualism, Vol. 1, p. 17.
 See Complete Works of Antoinette Bourignon, Amsterdam, 1686, Vol. II, p.
200. In a girls' school at Derby, in 1905, forty-five girls, during a period of
five days, became 'possessed', screamed, laughed, cried, and dropped to the
floor unconscious. 'The girls were exceedingly weak, and had to be carried
home.' A clear case of contagious hysteria. (See the Derby Mercury for May 15,
1905, and following issues.)
During the witchcraft mania in Sweden in 1669 and 1670 three hundred children in
the one village of Moira (Mora?) confessed to the practice of witchcraft. Joseph Glanvill, whom we have so often quoted, gives a full account of the examination,
confessions, trials and executions of the witches of Moira during this period.
Seventy women were accused and most of these were executed. Then, says
 Saducismus Triumphatus, London, 1681. Part 2, pp. 313-4.
'Fifteen Children which likewise confessed that they were engaged in this
witchery, died as the rest; six and thirty of them between nine and sixteen
years of age, who had been less guilty were forced to run the gantlet; twenty
more, who had no great inclination, yet had been seduced to those Hellish Enterprizes, because they were very young, were condemned to be lash'd with Rods
upon their hangs, for three Sundays together at the Church-door; and the
aforesaid six and thirty were also deem'd to be lashed this way once a week for
a whole year together. The number of the Seduced Children was about three
Glanvill does not tell us whether all of these children were girls, but I am
pretty sure they were. Anyway, he says that when the 'notoriously guilty' were
executed, 'the day was bright and glorious, and the sun shining, and some
thousands of people were present at the spectacle'.
I am convinced there must be something, either psychological or physiological,
in a young girl's organism, that turns her into a girl-witch or
Poltergeist-attractor. In this connection it is worth noting that the modern
cult of spiritualism was started by two young girls,
Margaret and Katie Fox, in
1848; though, as the reader knows, another young girl, Elizabeth Parsons, had
produced identical phenomena in Cock Lane nearly a century earlier.
In the foregoing pages I have given several examples of the link between
phenomena and pubescency. Eleonore Zugun's 'power' vanished overnight with the
first appearance of the menses. Conversely, Stella C.'s manifestations were not
frequent until she had matured. The same can be said about Esther Cox. On the
other hand, Damodar Ketkar was troubled no more when he 'grew up'. The
boys' phenomena were brilliant during and immediately after pubescency - then,
as they approached adolescency, their powers waned. Also, with the adolescency
of ailing Teddie Fowler, the 'Mill on the Eden' was troubled no more with
Professor Hans Thirring, Ph.D., of Vienna University has, like myself, experimented considerably with Willi and Rudi Schneider, the
famous physical mediums, and has expressed his views concerning sex
and phenomena - especially in connection with these two young Austrian
boys. In an article he wrote for me, he refers to this subject more than
once. Describing some sittings with Willi that he arranged, he says:
'During the trance, both Willi's elbows were resting on the principal
controller's (Mrs. Holub's) lap and his head was lying on the same controller's
left shoulder. Taking into account the possible connection between psychical
phenomena and sexuality, it was not at all astonishing
that the telekinetic forces were stronger when a sympathetic female was
principal controller than it was when a sceptic and suspicious scientist
was controlling. (As a matter of fact, we had sittings with different
controllers a year later. They were successful only with a lady as principal
 Psychical Research in Vienna', Journal of the Am. SPR, New York, 1925,
Vol. XlX, pp. 693 and 705.
Dr. Thirring returns to the subject in the same article, when discussing the
best conditions for producing good phenomena. He says:
'The far more delicate
metaphysical phenomena cannot be produced by the mere will of the medium. Some
psychic emotion seems to be necessary in the same way as certain sexual functions
are started by emotions and imaginations. In the case of our medium the
necessary emotions seem to be furnished by rhythmical music; by the touch, of a
woman; or by the buoyant spirit of a cheerful circle'.
|'It was so often a young
girl who became "possessed".'
On one of my visits to Vienna, I invited Professor Thirring to lecture for me in
London, before the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, of which I was
then Director. Dr. Thirring arrived in October, 1926, and the title of his talk
was 'The Position of Science in Relation to Psychical Research' Dr. Thirring
delivered his lecture at our rooms on October 19, 1926, before a large audience
that included Sir Richard Gregory, F.R.S., Professor A. O. Rankine, F.R.S., Dr.
R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S., Sir Horace Plunkett, and many scientists. Dr. Thirring
again referred to his experiments with Willi Schneider and remarked that for
good phenomena 'it seemed to be necessary for the medium to have a female very
near him. The connection between sex and psychical phenomena was a well-known
fact. In this instance, no manifestation could be obtained unless a lady were
near'. In my own experiments with the Schneider boys, I have, always found that
the phenomena were better when women - especially young women - were present at
 Printed in The British Journal of Psychical Research, London, March-April,
1926, Vol. I, pp. 165-181.
Mention of Vienna reminds me that during one of my visits to the Austrian
capital, I endeavoured to obtain sittings with a young physical medium, Frieda
W. I failed, but I had a chat with her husband, who endorsed Professor Thirring's views on sex and mediumship. Herr W. told me that during the early
months of their married life, Frieda's mediumship was strongly affected by their
marital relations. At the height of his wife's sexual excitement, the ornaments
would sometimes fall off the mantelpiece in their bedroom, or the alarm clock
would start ringing. Once, he assured me, all the pots and pans in the kitchen
of their flat began dancing. He also informed me that his wife never gave
séances during her Monatsfluss, as no phenomena occurred at these periods.
The link between sex and mediumship was well known and recognised in classical
times. There were young girls known as Pythias who, when 'possessed', went into
a sort of trance or ecstatic condition, shivered violently, foamed at the mouth
and, in their impersonation of Apollo, answered - in ambiguous hexameters - the
questions put to them by the audience. Delphi and Dodona were famous for their
Pythias, and lesser sanctuaries also employed them.
Plutarch, from A.D. 95 to A.D.125, was one of the priests of the oracle and,
though he has left us three, essays on the subject, tells us really very
little about it. But we learn that the girls had to be virgins, and that loss of
virginity would kill the faculty to prophesy. Plutarch mentions one priestess
who, having broken the rule about chastity and who still attempted to exercise
her faculty, was horror-stricken to find that her 'power' had gone. She fled,
fell to the ground, and died several days later. There are many recorded cases
of these young girls being violated, and this led to the employment of
less-attractive virgins of fifty years or more, who were attired as maidens. At
Delphi two Pythias were in constant attendance, with a third in reserve in case
of the 'defilement' of either of the two regular priestesses.
 On the E at Delphi, On the Pythian Responses, and On the Sanctuaries Where
Oracles have Ceased.
If loss of virginity is said to upset the mediumistic faculty in some girls, it
appears also to awaken the slumbering powers possessed by certain subjects to
attract Poltergeists. A striking example is that of Olive, in the Sunderland
case. And the Poltergeists appear to have departed when Mrs. Mara Mack and her
sisters left the parental roof for marriage and a new sexual life. Even the attempt to violate Esther Cox, was sufficient to set in motion those strange
and terrific forces that culminated in the famous Poltergeist case known as the
Great Amherst Mystery. It was on August 28, 1878, that a boy friend, Bob McNeal,
drove Esther into the woods and attempted to rape her. She resisted, even at the
pistol's point. She was then exactly eighteen years, five months old. McNeal
drove the terrified girl to her home and then fled the township. Esther suffered
a severe nervous shock which, coupled with the loss of Bob, of whom she was
fond, effected a remarkable change in her. From this fatal night until September
3, she cried herself to sleep every evening. On September 4 (i.e. seven nights
later), the phenomena began. They continued until December when Esther was ill
for two-weeks, and no manifestations were recorded during this period. Then they
recommenced and continued until August 1, 1879.
 Born March 28,1860. Died at Brockton, Mass., November 8,1912.
The above facts are related in detail in Walter Hubbell's book. Hubbell makes
the significant statement (p. 80) that the 'power' 'was always at its greatest
strength every twenty-eight days' - a periodicity corresponding with the
menstrual flux. If only we knew more about the Poltergeist and the link with adolescency, we might glean some valuable data from the Esther Cox case.
Unfortunately, the 'subjects' or victims themselves know as little about it as
we do. Very rarely, as in the case of Ann Robinson of Stockwell, and the French
bonne, adolescents do know that they are responsible for all the trouble.
 The Haunted House... The Great Amherst Mystery, op. cit.
We know it, too. One of the things that we are certain of is that there is a
connection - psychological or physiological - between young people and the
observed phenomena. The reader must also be sure of it, if he has studied the
foregoing cases. All the investigators recognise this fact, and I will cite one
or two views (they are not explanations) of writers who have devoted some time
to the subject. Hereward Carrington says:
 The Story of Psychic Science, London, 1930, p. 146.
'An energy seems to be radiated from the body, in such cases, which
these phenomena, when the sexual energies are blossoming into maturity within
the body. It would almost seem as though these energies, instead of taking their
normal course, were somehow turned into another channel, at such times, and were
externalised beyond the limits of the body - producing the manifestations in
question. The spontaneous outburst of these phenomena seems to be associated
with the awakening of - the sex-energies at that time - which find this curious
method of externalisation.'
Of course, very occasionally, a Poltergeist case is
remarkable for the fact that no young people appear to be connected with it.
Mr. Sacheverell Sitwell says:
'The mysteries of puberty, that trance or
dozing of the psyche before it awakes into adult life, is a favourite playground
for the Poltergeist. Pregnancy, it might only be natural to suppose, might
produce the same sub-conscious receptivity'.
 Poltergeists, op. cit., p. 83.
 See the Sunderland case in this connection. - HP.
Canon W. J. Phythian-Adams, in his study of the Borley Rectory Poltergeists,
'Whatever the explanation of them may be, it seems certain that the
energy which plays the pranks is drawn mainly if not exclusively from living
persons (often young ones) who thus become its unconscious "accomplices". At Borley Mrs. Foyster was pretty obviously the most conspicuous though of course
not the only unconscious "accomplice"; and the house seems to have been able to
store up a reservoir of such energy, since the phenomena continued even when it
was empty... If we accept the view that a place can become saturated with the
"mental vibrations" of a person who has lived there in a state of strong
emotional tension, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they may remain on the
spot as potential stimuli of Poltergeist activity.'
 His essay will be published in the forthcoming Borley book.
Dr. Phythian-Adams is of course referring to my oft-expressed opinion that a
house or place can become saturated with the ego, personality, or intelligence
of a person who has lived - or died - in it. And I have postulated a theory, for
what it is worth, that these 'emanations' do, under certain conditions, produce
phantasms or ghosts. Whether we can apply this very tentative theory to the
causation of Poltergeist phenomena is another matter. Mrs. Foyster was a young
woman during her residence in Borley Rectory and undoubtedly there was a very
sympathetic nexus between her and the 'nun' - witness the wall-writings and the
pathetic appeals for 'help'. But, except for a very brief period during the
incumbency of the Rev. G. Eric Smith, and when I leased the place, there have
always been many young girls living at the Rectory, and their 'mental
vibrations' may still be clinging to their old home.
A reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement (October 5, 1940), in discussing the Borley manifestations, observed 'that the phenomena of the
increased and decreased in a fairly consistent ratio according to what we may
assume as the potentialities of the occupants for providing "power". It could be
argued, then, to take but a single instance, that during the period 1930-35, one
of these occupants was an unconscious medium of the same type as Hetty Wesley in
the Epworth Rectory case, which is to say that while she was innocent of any
intention to produce the phenomena, her emanations (teleplasmic?) could be used
by the Poltergeister.'
Both Dr. Phythian-Adams and The Times reviewer speak of the 'energy' required by
the Poltergeists to produce their telekinetic phenomena at Borley. Mr. Andrew J.
B. Robertson, the rising young Cambridge scientist, whom I mentioned in my
chapter on Borley Rectory, has studied Poltergeist manifestations for many years
and he has kindly sent me his views - the views of a physicist. Here is his
Poltergeist Problem: A Physical View
Any discussion of the interesting scientific problems raised by the behaviour of
Poltergeists must, at the present time, be speculative. This is necessitated
partly by the extraordinary nature of the phenomena themselves, partly by the
rather dubious nature of the evidence in many cases, especially in matters of
detail, and partly by the fact that most investigations into Poltergeists have
been confined to simply observing the phenomena. Few investigators have
conducted experiments which might perhaps throw some further light on the
problems raised, and any such investigations would be rendered very difficult by
the sporadic nature of the phenomena. Nevertheless accounts of Poltergeist
activity from widely varying sources show a remarkable measure of agreement, a
fact tending to point to the genuineness of the happenings. On examining the
various reports of Poltergeist behaviour it appears that most of the phenomena
are essentially objective: this immediately raises a physical problem which one
might express generally as that of the energeties or thermodynamics of
Poltergeist manifestations. These objective effects seem to be of two kinds, the
first being mechanical phenomena, as for example the displacement of objects,
the production of ghostly footsteps and knockings, the breaking of objects, and
the production of paranormal writings. The second kind of Poltergeist phenomenon
can be called thermal, including such effects as the spontaneous outbreaks of
fire, the heating of objects which have been displaced by the Poltergeist, the
occurrence of spontaneous temperature fluctuations in the air, and possibly the
appearance of paranormal luminosities.
Both the thermal and mechanical phenomena show considerable evidence of being
produced by some kind of intelligence. In this and in other respects an
appreciable degree of correlation is noticeable with the phenomena produced by
physical mediums. According to one school of thought physical mediums merely act
as the agents for definite entities or spirits entirely separate, in their
normal existence, from the mind of the medium, and the view is often expressed
that Poltergeists are mischievous spirits, possibly rather undeveloped, which
remain confined to a particular house or locality and are able to utilise
certain people, especially adolescent children, as physical mediums. On the
other hand the activities of physical mediums can be interpreted without the
help of the spirit hypothesis, since in many cases the apparent entities are
equally explicable as being secondary personalities of the medium. In a rather
similar way one might regard a haunted house (in the Poltergeist sense) either
as the abode of a separate entity or spirit of some kind, or as a place where
for some unknown reason certain people are able to exert some of the powers
possessed by physical mediums. The connection between the occurrence of
Poltergeist phenomena and the presence of certain people at the same time, and
the possibility of Poltergeist phenomena taking place in the absence of any
persons, are matters requiring further investigation. At the present time the
evidence seems to rather favour the view that a Poltergeist is at least a
partially independent entity.
In order to produce objective phenomena, such as the throwing of kitchen
crockery, a Poltergeist has to exert force of some kind, and it would in fact
appear that Poltergeists have access to some form of energy. The basic
assumptions made here are that Poltergeist phenomena are real and not
fundamentally dissimilar to ordinary physical processes involving energy
changes, so that the thermodynamics of Poltergeists is a definite problem to be
considered, at least for a start, in the normal scientific way. One might
tentatively suggest three sources of energy as being available to a Poltergeist:
First there is the adolescent child. In numerous cases it has been noticed that
phenomena are produced most vigorously when the child is lying or sleeping in
bed. The conditions may then be rather favourable for the removal of energy from
the child by the Poltergeist; the child under these conditions approaches more
closely the state of a medium when in trance. Some metabolism experiments might
perhaps be carried out, although a consideration of the actual magnitude of the
energy changes involved in Poltergeist phenomena shows that any correspondingly
increased metabolic rate would be difficult to detect, unless the efficiency
with which the Poltergeist can transform energy is very low. A second possible
source of energy is from the cooling of air and perhaps other bodies. One cubic
foot of air (at N.T.P) when cooled through one degree of Fahrenheit loses
about fifteen foot-pounds of energy (this is the amount of work expended in
lifting a fifteen-pound object through a vertical distance of one foot). The
cooling of a small quantity of air therefore releases a considerable quantity of
energy. Such a process, although in agreement with the first law of
thermodynamics would be a violation of the second law under some conditions. It
follows from the second law that a volume of air surrounded by a quantity of air
at the same uniform temperature can only be cooled with respect to its immediate
surroundings by means of some agency which does work and thereby transfers the
heat to some other place. In actual fact the experimental evidence on
temperature variations in haunted houses is scanty, but both rises and falls in
temperature have been noted. It is not at all clear whether the Poltergeist can
escape the restrictions of the second law, or alternatively can act in a manner
similar to that of a refrigerating machine.
 Normal temperature and pressure: i.e. 0° Centigrade and 760 mm. of mercury. - H.P.
A third possible energy source is
suggested by an examination of Poltergeist displacements themselves. In many
cases it happens that the object displaced finishes on a lower horizontal level
than it started from, its resultant movement being in a downward direction. An
examination of some of the literature on Poltergeists suggests that movements of
objects downwards are considerably more frequent than movements upwards. In
general therefore a Poltergeist displacement is accompanied by a decrease in
potential energy. At the same time it is noticed that the objects fall much more
slowly than they would do under the influence of gravity alone. Now an object
when falling in the normal way loses potential energy which is converted into
kinetic energy, and at any point on the path of the falling object the potential
energy lost is equal to the kinetic energy gained (neglecting small order
corrections). But with Poltergeist manifestations this is clearly not the case:
the potential energy lost is only partially transformed into kinetic energy, and
hence part of the potential energy is lost in some unknown way - perhaps to the
Poltergeist. This consideration raises the general question of whether the
Poltergeist can store energy. If so, and if the store of energy is situated in a
localised region of space, it might perhaps be detectable with suitable
instruments. One might enquire whether the 'cold spot' at Borley Rectory has
some special significance in this connection, being a localised region
apparently having rather curious properties at times.
The heating of objects which have been moved by a Poltergeist is of interest.
This involves much larger energy changes than those involved in displacements.
Thus a kilogram falling through a metre loses only about 2.3 calories of
potential energy; if this quantity of energy was used in heating the kilogram
its temperature would rise only by 0.023 degrees Centigrade even with a specific
heat as low as one tenth. Actually, the objects have been reported to be quite
hot to the hand. But in such cases an adolescent child is usually present. These
thermal phenomena are of great interest and require further experimental
It must be again emphasised that the above suggestions are speculative. But the
phenomena presented by Poltergeists are not readily explicable in terms of
normal concepts, so that in the present state of knowledge one might hope that
such speculations are not entirely valueless in that further researches may be
suggested which may contribute to a further clarification of the problem.
Andrew J. B. Robertson
Mr. Robertson notes that Poltergeist phenomena are often more vigorous when the
young child or adolescent is sleeping or lying in bed - a fact I have drawn
attention to in the pages of this volume, and the reader will recall how Hetty
Wesley trembled in her sleep when phenomena were occurring. Perhaps energy was
then being extracted from her. In many examples in this book the Poltergeist has
'attacked' sleeping children, or their beds if the children were not in them, as
in the case of Olive W. of Sunderland. And Poltergeistic phenomena have been
witnessed frequently where there were sick children in the house, or in the
homes of dying persons (e.g. Battersea). I think Mr. Robertson is correct in
stating that under such conditions, the removal of energy becomes favourable.
The cooling of the air during séances with certain subjects is now a recognised
fact. With the 'Poltergeist mediums', Stella C. and the
Schneider boys, my
very delicate transmitting thermographs repeatedly recorded a drop in
temperature instead of a rise. Mr. Robertson has noted curious thermal changes
at Borley Rectory, and so have I. Every observer who stayed in Borley Rectory
was struck, as I was, with the fact that the place was consistently and
unnaturally cold. Were the Poltergeistic entities at work there continuously
extracting heat from the place and transforming it into energy? Perhaps. During
my broadcast from the 'haunted manor' at Meopham, Kent, on March 10, 1936, my
sensitive thermograph in the 'haunted cellar' showed that the temperature was
quite constant during the whole of the day, by the straight line of the graph
across the chart. But at 9.45 p.m., during the broadcast, the temperature
suddenly rose slightly, and then fell sharply below what had been measured
during the day. The kick in the graph could not be accounted for in terms of
normality. The 'cold spot' referred to by Mr. Robertson was a certain place on
the landing at Borley Rectory, just outside the Blue Room. Several observers and
others, when passing this spot, suddenly felt very cold or had shivering fits.
There is good and independent evidence for these strange effects.
 See my 'Some Account of the Thermal Variations as Recorded During the Trance
of Stella C.', Journal of the Am. SPR, Nov., 1927, pp. 635-41. (With many
 Reproduced in my article in The Listener, March 18,1936.
It is thought by some people, that the energy used in Poltergeist phenomena is
of an electrical nature, obtained from the atmosphere. There is no evidence for
this. It occurs to me, though, that the alleged 'new current' recently
discovered by Professor Felix Ehrenhaft might be an explanation. Professor
Ehrenhaft, a Viennese physicist, demonstrated to the American Physical Society
at Columbia University on January 16, 1944, that he had obtained experimental
proof of the existence of pure magnetic current. This meant, he declared, that
'not only electric currents, but also magnetic currents flow through the
universe.' He said, 'the discovery has terrific possibilities'. It is
possible that the Poltergeist can utilise this current in some way.
 For full account see the Daily Telegraph, January 17, 1944.
A correspondent, Mr. Percy Pigott, of Kirk Ella, Hull, has sent me his views of
how the manifestations might be explained. His speculations are ingenious and
novel, and I have pleasure in reproducing them:
'Is it not possible that the substance which pervades all space,
interpenetrating and enveloping our earth and our bodies, which scientists
simply name ether, but do no pretend to explain, is capable of receiving and
retaining pictures of our actions and the sounds which emanate from such actions
and even of reproducing them when conditions are favourable, as for instance,
the evening light, the temperature and the weather generally?
'In other words, this little understood substance is perhaps capable of acting
as a photographic negative. This is simply what a cinema film does. It
reproduces form, motion and sound. Why should not Nature also do it? May we not
have a mirage of a past event as well as of a distant scene? The fact that we
always associate motion with consciousness has subjected us to an error of
'If this is so, it seems feasible that those events which have been accompanied
by, intense feeling and concentrated thought, such as accompany the great
tragedies of life, should be more deeply impressed land therefore more clearly
reproduced than those which are performed unheedingly and habitually.
'Thus I have heard of a street in London where the sound of running footsteps
are sometimes heard. I am told also that the hearer gets the impression that
these footsteps are being panic driven. Over this pavement a murderer once fled
from the crime he had committed. Which is the more reasonable, to suppose that
the murderer is constantly running again and again over this pavement, and that
though his body is invisible his footsteps are audible, or to suppose that the
original sound is simply being reproduced?
'Again I have heard that Ann Bullen still haunts Hampton Court and that the
sound of her footsteps and the wail of her anguish as she fled from her
husband, having failed to obtain the mercy she had been pleading for, are heard
at certain times. Her form may have been seen, I do not know. Is it not
incredible to suppose that Ann Bullen has been thus employed, at intervals at
least, for four hundred years? It is not in the least incredible, in these days
of gramophones and radio, to believe that the sound of her distressed wail can
be, and is at times reproduced.
'Thus the coach, the galloping hoofs, the bay horses, the glittering harness,
etc., at Borley, are all real in that they are an objective actuality; but the
observer is mistaken if he thinks he is viewing real horses or a driver
consciously directing them. The name, a spectre, a phantom literally applies.
This theory would also account for the nun. I think there is generally reason to
be sceptical of ghosts being conscious egos after the lapse of a number of years
after passing over. It would also account for the light in the window. It could
account for all the noise of footsteps, shufflings, scrabblings, tappings,
thuds, etc. Is it not significant that no one ever spoke to the nun? Had they
approached her for this purpose she would probably have vanished, the necessary
distance, or angle, for seeing this mirage having been altered. It would then
have been regarded as uncanny. Is it not significant also that no ghost of any
sort was seen to account for the footsteps, thuds, etc., which were heard? Is it
reasonable to suppose that spirits, or ghosts, who pass silently through solid
walls, should make such a noise with their feet? I submit it is more reasonable
to regard these noises as being echoes of an ancient tragedy.
'This, however, will not account for the messages on the wall, stone throwing,
furniture moving, bottle dropping, hair-ruffling, bell-ringing, belt-raising,
etc. For these phenomena I accept your theory of Poltergeist, and of course it
is possible that the Poltergeist accounted for all the noises in the house. But
to give a mystery a name does not always explain it. What is a Poltergeist? You
refer to "these playful little fellows". For my part I cannot regard a
Poltergeist as in any sense a being. In my judgment we should be more correct to
regard it as a vaguely conscious, instinctual, elemental force. Such elemental
force may emanate from, and in the Borley case certainly has emanated from, the
distress and restlessness of some departed human being. It is fully charged with
power, but power only for one sole purpose, namely, of expressing this
restlessness and distress on the physical plane in the hope of receiving help
from the place where its trouble originated. The vagueness of its consciousness
is shown by the feeble effort either to write or compose a simple sentence or
understand one. If you ask me how could a blind force throw stones or ring
bells, I can only reply that neither you nor I can claim to know all the laws of
nature, and that these phenomena are evidence of such a law. Because there are
no visible hands it is not, therefore, necessary to postulate invisible ones.
The Egyptians were supposed to be able consciously to charge objects with such a
force, and there is some evidence to support this.
 I, too, was being playful. - H.P.
'The headless driver is more difficult to account for. I notice there are only
two witnesses of this. I will not question the honesty of their testimony, but
suggestion might account for it. They see what they believe to be a ghostly
coach, ghosts are associated with tragedies and beheadings, immediately they see
the driver headless. This is quite easy when viewing a mirage, which I am
suggesting this was.
'Another method for accounting for this very gruesome apparition is along the
'There is little doubt that at some time there was a cruel tragedy at Borley in
which a group of people were involved. Both the apparitions and the Poltergeist
manifestations would have their origin in this tragedy, in which the coachman
would be concerned and may have lost his head. Then he might very likely think
of himself as headless after passing over. It is well, known that all
apparitions of the living are caused by the subject thinking of himself as with
a distant friend or in a distant place, and thus projects his form to that
place, and it is occasionally seen and even heard. Now I have heard, and I can
well believe, that it is much easier for the so-called dead to thus project
their appearances than the living. I am confident that many apparitions of those
recently departed occupying their accustomed chair or walking down a certain
path with their own particular gait are due to their thinking of themselves thus
occupied after passing over. Perhaps the coachman thus pictured himself as
'Finally there is in my judgment the most remarkable of all phenomena, matter
passing through matter. This is not unknown at spiritualist séances. It puzzles
chemists. "If it is true," I once heard a chemist say, "it overthrows all our
ideas about matter." But do chemists, or anyone else, know what constitutes the
solidity of matter? Another chemist, who was also an occult student, when I
asked him what made a wall solid and impassable, replied, "Thought." I believe
he was right. We think of things as solid and solid they are to us. But our
Poltergeist friend may not have been subject to those illusions of sense to
which we humans are'.
There have been other 'explanations' of Poltergeist phenomena, one of which has
been called 'exteriorisation of motricity' - that is, the action of the
subject's (e.g. a young girl) motor force outside the periphery of her organism.
This theory is that there is a repulsive force on one side of the subject's
body, and an attractive force on the other. In normal persons these two forces,
it is alleged, are equal. When they are not, telekinetic movements are likely to
occur in the vicinity of the subject. Obviously this theory does not cover many
of the observed Poltergeist phenomena.
Another theory, postulated by Adolphe d'Assier, suggests that the noise of
crashing crockery, smashing windows, etc., when in fact nothing is broken (as in
the case of Edward Cooper at Borley, who one night thought that all the china in
his kitchen had been shattered) is caused by the Poltergeist hurling a sort of
psychic 'double' or astral duplicate of the real objects. In other words, that
inanimate things have 'ghosts'. This theory does not explain why the objects are
broken in reality, as so often happens.
 Essai sur l'Humanité Postume ... Paris, 1883. English translation,
posthumous Humanity: A Study of Phantoms, London, 1887.
Charles Fort believed in a sort of cosmic Poltergeist, a power that permeates
the Universe: that hurls lumps of distant planets, and other things to, or on,
our planet. And the name he gave to these strange flights was 'teleportation':
'The crash of falling islands - the humps of piling continents - and then the
cosmic humour of it all ... or that the force that once heaped the peaks of the
Rocky Mountains now slings pebbles at a couple of farmers... So I'd conceive the
existence of a force, and the use of it, unconsciously mostly, by human beings.
It may be that, if somebody, gifted with what we think we mean by "agency",
fiercely hates somebody else, he can, out of intense visualisations, direct, by
teleportation, bombardment of stones upon his enemy... My general expression is
against the existence of Poltergeists as spirits - but that the doings are the
phenomena of undeveloped magicians, mostly youngsters, who have no awareness of
their powers as their own - or, in the cases of mischievous, or malicious
persecutions, are more or less consciously directed influences by enemies - or
that, in this aspect, "Poltergeist disturbances" are witchcraft under a new
 The Books of Charles Fort, op. cit., pp. 571-2, 983.
No one, I think, now believes that Poltergeists are spirits in the accepted
meaning of the term. Certainly, the spiritualists do not. But in Glanvill's day
Poltergeists were regarded as spirits - evil spirits - or devils. The Wesley
family thought that Epworth Rectory was haunted by devils. They also thought
that the disturbances presaged the early death of old Rev. Samuel Wesley, or, to
their greater concern, the premature demise of young Samuel, alone in London.
Andrew Lang, in his article 'Poltergeist', mentions that 'the Highlanders
attribute many Poltergeist phenomena, inexplicable noises, sounds of viewless
feet that pass, and so forth, to tàradh, an influence exerted unconsciously by
unduly strong wishes on the part of a person at a distance. The phrase falbh air
fàrsaing ("going uncontrolled") is also used'. This Scotch view of
Poltergeists is reminiscent of Fort's beliefs. Lang suggests the word telethoryby, 'a racket produced at a distance.'
 Encyclo. Brit., op. cit., p. 16.
 Campbell, Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Scottish Highlands, 1902, pp.
There are still a few words to be said about the 'psychological' explanation, so
assiduously put forward by Frank Podmore and a few other dyed-in-the-wool
sceptics. They contend that these young girls and adolescents have a dual or
multiple-personality, one part of which is responsible for the 'phenomena',
which the other part knows nothing about. The argument is that this secondary
state or 'personality' comes to the surface, 'goes berserk', smashes the
windows, shivers the mirrors, ignites the bedding, etc. - and without a single
person detecting the culprit! All this presupposes a diabolical cunning and a
consummate skill on the part of the 'dissociated' victim. Although I agree that
psychological abnormalities have sometimes entered into these cases, they are
of rare occurrence. And psychopaths and psychoneurotics exhibit certain indicia
by which they can be recognised.
 A remarkable story of a 'Poltergeist' was recorded in
The Times (Aug. 30 to
Sept. 13, 1919). The disturbances occurred at the Rectory of Swanton Novers,
near Melton Constable. Spontaneous outbreaks of fires; petrol, paraffin,
methylated spirits, sandal-wood oil and water pouring from the ceilings,
floorboards torn up and ceilings tom down, etc. The manifestations lasted for
days. Finally, a passing conjurer was called in and in an hour or so had solved
the 'mystery'. He set a trap and the 15-year-old maid-servant fell into it. She
confessed to hoaxing the family. But the story does not end there. Nevil
Maskelyne, the famous illusionist, also visited the rectory and saw 'barrels of
oil' pouring through the ceiling. He could not explain the mystery. Then the
girl denied that she had confessed, or that she had tricked. The rector also
denied (The Times, Sept. 13) that she had confessed. For other accounts of this
case, see the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily News, etc., for this
period, and the Norfolk News for Nov. 8, 1919. Two photographs of oil pouring
through the ceiling were published (Sept. 3) by the Daily Mail. Fort (Books of
Charles Fort, op. cit., pp. 577-81) discusses the affair at length. The
psychological aspect of the case is as important as the phenomena.
And there are other arguments against the acceptance of the theory as a formula.
Many of the sights, sounds, and other phenomena, well evidenced in some
Poltergeist cases, could not be produced normally by man, woman, or child, if
they possessed a dozen 'personalities' each. This book is full of such
illustrations. And a minority of 'infestations' are not associated with 'young
persons' - or in fact any person - at all. And to think that a 'young person'
could smash half the china in the house, break the furniture, set fire to the
baby, and make twenty bells ring simultaneously - and an without a single occupant
in the house detecting her (whatever 'personality' she was using!) suggests that
Poltergeist phenomena occur not in the private residences of sane and
intelligent people looking for trickery, but in lunatic asylums!
Finally, Dr. John Layard, the psychologist, has put forward the most recent
hypothesis 'that Poltergeists are not chance phenomena, but have a definite
purpose, and that this purpose, like all psychological phenomena (as I believe
them to be) is a curative one, having for its object the resolution of a
psychological conflict.' He believes that all true Poltergeist phenomena 'are
also purposeful and probably occasioned by similar conditions of unresolved
tension in the psyche of those involuntarily producing them.' His paper, Psi
Phenomena and Poltergeists (Proc., SPR, July, 1944), should be read in full.
Well, I have come to the end of my fascinating quest of the Poltergeist and I
will conclude, as I have concluded so many of my books - with the urgent demand
that Official Science and official scientists should get on with their job of
explaining these things to us. Though it is true that many scientists are
completely ignorant of the serious literature of our subject, there are others
who - unofficially - take a profound interest in it. Many scientists are
sympathetically inclined towards us and our work. And the new science has even
seeped through to a few universities in this (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, and
London) and other countries. But, there still remain the die-hards, the
last-ditchers and, saddest of all, those men of science who have made up their
minds as to what Nature is capable, and not capable, of doing. If, for example,
you broach the subject of Poltergeists to them they will murmur something about
an 'outrage to common sense' and 'gross superstition' - forgetting that all
scientific progress is from the 'outrageous' to the commonplace, and that
often the 'superstition' of to-day is the science of to-morrow.
 Charles Fort (Wild Talents, op. cit.) makes the ‘outrageous' suggestion that
the strange paranormal powers possessed by some people, which he calls 'wild
talents', may one day be put to good - or bad - uses. For example, in time of war:
'A squad of Poltergeist girls - and they pick a fleet out of the sea, or out of
the sky... Girls at the front - and they are discussing their usual not very
profound subjects. The alarm - the enemy is advancing. Command to the Poltergeist
girls to concentrate and under their chairs they stick their wads of chewing
gum. A regiment bursts into flames, and the soldiers are torches. Horses snort
smoke from the combustion of their entrails. Reinforcements are smashed under
cliffs that are teleported from the Rocky Mountains. The snatch of Niagara
Falls - it pours upon the battlefield. The little Poltergeist girls reach for
their wads of chewing gum.'
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Poltergeist Over England:
Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts" (London: Country Life Ltd., 1945.)