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Paranormal

The Naturalisation of the ‘Poltergeist’

The Naturalisation of the ‘Poltergeist’ 86

By sciencehistorian

An example of the historical continuity of scientific interest in unorthodox questions concerns ‘poltergeist’ phenomena, i.e. the very epitome of ‘things that go bump in the night’.

Probably coined by Martin Luther (a professed poltergeist victim) in sixteenth-century Germany, ‘Poltergeist’ means ‘rumbling spirit’. There is a vast number of historical records of dramatic poltergeist outbreaks afflicting people from all walks of life, not infrequently resulting in interventions by state authorities, which in turn have produced some of the most detailed records. Among the bizarre but apparently robust features of alleged poltergeist phenomena over time are:

  • The centre of events is usually a specific person, often an adolescent.
  • Unexplained recurring sounds are heard, ranging from raps from within walls or furniture to deafening blows.
  • Sounds are sometimes responsive.
  • Household objects of all sizes and weights are observed to move, sometimes slowly and appearing as if carried.
  • Moved objects appear to penetrate closed windows or walls without causing damage, and they are often reported to be hot.
  • Stones are thrown from without, sometimes from a considerable distance.
  • If thrown objects approach a person, they often appear to recoil before the impact and drop to the floor.
  • Large quantities of water suddenly appear and disappear, and fires ignite spontaneously.
  • Persons may be hurled out of bed, slapped or beaten as if by invisible hands, and bitten.
  • Writings and drawings appear on walls or in closed spaces.
  • Apparitions are perceived, sometimes simultaneously by more than one witness.
  • Pets and animals panic or behave unusually.
  • In post-industrial times, disturbances correspond with malfunctions or unusual behaviour of electronic equipment.
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Robert Boyle

Traditionally, poltergeists were believed to be demons, elementals, or spirits of deceased evil humans, and their activities have often been associated with witchcraft and black magic. Far from being condemned as folly or superstition, such views were held by figureheads of the Scientific Revolution, such as Francis Bacon and later Robert Boyle. While Bacon submitted bills for the penalisation of witchcraft, Boyle sponsored the English edition of The Devil of Mascon, a classical French poltergeist case, for which he wrote the preface. Boyle (who investigated cases of miraculous healings, premonitions and other supposedly supernatural events) also supported colleagues at the Royal Society such as Joseph Glanvill and Henry More who compiled natural histories of poltergeist disturbances and witchcraft. Historians of science have argued that these investigations were inspired by deep worries of religious deviance (such as popular atheism, animism, hylozoism and pantheism), which were perceived to undermine regulative moral functions of Christian belief in the reward and punishment of the soul in the afterlife.

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Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

During the Enlightenment the respectability of the ‘supernatural’  declined dramatically on the backdrop of religiously motivated political unrest, clerical corruption and the horrors of the witch crazes. However, rather than natural philosophers or medics it was religious and political writers such as Joseph Addison who began to treat the ‘occult’ as an object of ridicule and shorthand for irrationality and backwardness. Addison’s play The Drummer, for instance, was a caricature of the ‘Drummer of Tedworth’, a poltergeist case investigated by Joseph Glanville, poking fun of ghost beliefs as well as of atheistic free-thinkers. However, not all Enlightenment savants agreed that reports of ‘things that go bump in the night’ were necessarily to be treated with contempt. G. E. Lessing in Germany, for instance, openly opposed the fashionable wholesale rejection of reports of apparitional experiences and poltergeist phenomena. (According to the German historian Carl Kiesewetter, this was shortly after Lessing became involved in an incident in Dibbesdorf near Braunschweig, where members of a working-class family afflicted by a prolonged poltergeist outbreak were, without further ado, imprisoned for breach of the peace.)

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In the mid-nineteenth century the poltergeist started to be domesticated in Hydesville, USA, when modern spiritualism emerged as a significant global movement from a case featuring a responsive poltergeist who claimed to be a dead merchant. Eminent men of science such as Alfred Russel Wallace, William Crookes, J. J. Thomson and Alexandr Butlerov investigated spiritualist mediums and became convinced of the reality of its phenomena. When the Leipzig astrophysicist Johann F. Zöllner tested his theory of a fourth dimension of space by having a medium experimentally reproduce poltergeist-style phenomena, this became an explosive political issue during the infancy of modern professionalised psychology in Germany. Zöllner, who was supported by physicists like Gustav Theodor Fechner, was publicly attacked by Wilhelm Wundt, Fechner’s disciple and the founder of the first German laboratory of experimental psychology. Wundt’s main worry was that scientific interest in the phenomena of spiritualism threatened the social and religious foundations of civilisation.

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Carl du Prel

Unlike Wundt, his American counterpart William James advocated scientific interest in spiritualism as legitimate, and he became highly active in the investigation of trance mediumship and ‘veridical hallucinations’ (apparitions of the living and the dead that seemed to convey information not known to percipients). Research by James and other psychologists in hypnotism, mediumship and veridical hallucinations spawned important late-nineteenth century concepts of the unconscious. Two major theorists of subliminal cognition were Carl du Prel in Germany and Frederic W. H. Myers in England. Juxtaposing conventional sleep-walking with apparitions of the living, they concluded that both seemed caused by fixed ideas, and they suggested an unusual psychological explanation for apparitions of the dead: Myers proposed that “the behaviour of phantasms of the living suggests dreams dreamt by the living persons whose phantoms appear. And similarly the behaviour of phantasms of the dead suggests dreams dreamt by the deceased persons whose phantasms appear”. Likewise, du Prel believed “If super-sensory capacities are possible without the use of the body, they must be possible without occupancy of it”.

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Eugen Bleuler

In the twentieth century, Oliver Lodge, Charles Richet, Cesare Lombroso, Filippo Bottazzi, Camille Flammarion, Henri Bergson, Marie and Pierre Curie, the third and fourth Lords Rayleigh and many less known scientists, medics and philosophers tried to reproduce poltergeist-style phenomena under controlled conditions. After authors like du Prel and Myers were eclipsed by psychoanalysis, mental health professionals like Carl Gustav Jung, Eugen Bleuler, Enrico Morselli and the sexologist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing continued to study poltergeist phenomena in the field and in the laboratory. However, they categorically dismissed theories involving the agency of discarnate spirits and advocated a strictly psychodynamic approach. As Schrenck-Notzing put it: “In certain cases, emotionally charged complexes of representations, which have become autonomous and dissociated, seem to press for discharge and realisation through haunting phenomena. Hence, the so-called haunting occurs in place of a neurosis”. Holding that once possibilities of fraud were practically eliminated, they proposed that poltergeist phenomena were to be explained in terms of emotional conflicts unconsciously acted out by individuals with a ‘telekinetic’ disposition, a view which was adopted by psychoanalysts like Alfred von Winterstein and Nandor Fodor.

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Wolfgang Pauli

Scientific interest in poltergeist phenomena persisted in the most unlikely places. Members of the Vienna Circle of Positivism such as Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn (who became vice-president of the Austrian Society for Psychical Research) eagerly followed Schrenck-Notzing’s experimental and field investigations. Hahn’s most eminent student, Kurt Gödel, likewise attended experimental séances. The theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli believed in the intrinsic interconnectedness of mind and matter even on a macroscopic level and was banned from the Hamburg lab of his friend Otto Stern because Pauli’s presence was believed to reliably wreak havoc on lab equipment and apparatuses. Pauli corresponded extensively with Jung, and along with spontaneous and experimental poltergeist phenomena, examples of the “Pauli effect” informed Jung’s concept of synchronicity. Pauli also corresponded with the Freiburg psychologist Hans Bender, who continued a psychodynamic-synchronistic approach to ‘occult’ phenomena and investigated the ‘Rosenheim case’, a violent poltergeist outbreak in a Bavarian law firm, which parapsychological researchers consider as one of the most thoroughly documented modern cases of ‘recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis’ (or RSPK).

Interestingly, the OED (third edition, updated in September 2006) still exclusively relies on early modern theological notions by defining the poltergeist as “a ghost or other supernatural being supposedly responsible for physical disturbances such as making loud noises and throwing objects about”. This narrow and ahistorical definition strikingly obscures the strong pluralism of empirical and conceptual approaches to the ‘poltergeist’ as a shorthand for a variety of questions regarding the human mind, its place in nature, and, not least, the power of belief and disbelief.

[This text is loosely based on my talk Exorcising the ghost from the machine. Affect, emotion, and the enlightened naturalisation of the ‘poltergeist’, delivered on 10 October 2012 at the Society for the Social History of Medicine Conference, Queen Mary University, London].

Select Bibliography

Bender, Hans (1968). Der Rosenheimer Spuk – ein Fall spontaner Psychokinese. Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der Psychologie, 11, 104-112.

Bleuler, Eugen (1930). Vom Okkultismus und seinen Kritiken. Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, 5, 654-680.

Carnap, Rudolf (1993). Mein Weg in die Philosophie. Stuttgart: Reclam (first published in 1963).

du Prel, Carl (1888). Die monistische Seelenlehre. Ein Beitrag zur Lösung des Menschenrätsels. Leipzig: Ernst Günther.

Enz, Charles P. (2002). No Time to be Brief: A Scientific Biography of Wolfgang Pauli. New York: Oxford University Press.

Flammarion, Camille (1923). Les maisons hantées. Paris: Ernest Flammarion.

Gauld, Alan, & Cornell, A. D. (1979). Poltergeists. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Hunter, Michael (1985). The problem of ‘atheism’ in early modern England. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 35, 135-157.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1950). Vorrede. In Fanny Moser, Spuk. Irrglaube oder Wahrglaube? Eine Frage der Menschheit (pp. 9-12). Baden: Gyr.

Kiesewetter, Carl (1890). Klopfgeister vor dem Jahre 1848. Sphinx, 10, 224-232.

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim (1827). Hamburgische Dramaturgie. Erster Theil. Elftes Stück. In Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s sämmtliche Schriften (Vol. 24, pp. 82-88). Berlin: Vossische Buchhandlung (first published in 1767).

Meier, C. A. (Ed.). (2001). Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932-1958. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Myers, Frederic W. H. (1889). On recognised apparitions occurring more than a year after death. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6, 13-65.

Perrault, François (1658). The Devil of Mascon. Or, A true Relation of the Chiefe Things which an Uncleane Spirit did, and said at Mascon in Burgundy, in the House of Mr Francis Pereaud, Minister of the Reformed Church in the same Towne. Oxford: Hen, Hall, Rich & Davis (originally published in 1653).

Porter, Roy (1999). Witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment, Romantic and liberal thought. In B. Ankarloo & S. Clark (Eds.), Witchcraft and Magic in Europe. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (pp. 191-282). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Schrenck-Notzing, Albert von (1928). Richtlinien zur Beurteilung medialer Spukvorgänge. Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, 3, 513-521.

Shapin, Steven, & Schaffer, Simon (1985). Leviathan and the Air-Pump. Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Winterstein, Alfred von (1926). Psychoanalytische Bemerkungen zum Thema Spuk. Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, 1, 548-553.

Paranormal

People of the shadow: what do the mysterious shadow creatures want from us

People of the shadow: what do the mysterious shadow creatures want from us 99

Shadow creatures are neither ghosts nor people, and we know these creatures as shadow people. It seems that the “shadow” know about our location and want us to feel fear or even panic in their presence.

People-shadows or shadow people are paranormal dark barely visible silhouettes known to mystics for a long time. They look like dark humanoid creatures or barely noticeable ghosts, often seen only with peripheral vision. Witnesses claim that shadow people only catch a few seconds, eyewitnesses also say that they looked into the eyes of shadow people and their eyes shone with a red light, like demons.

Shadow people can take different shapes and sizes: look like full-fledged people or even like animals. But most often these are thin tall strange figures. Be that as it may, they appear only for a moment, quickly evaporating into the air. Unfortunately, they can harm humans, which was proven in 2013.

The video posted on the web had confirmation of the existence of a shadow man who was visible for over a minute! An unknown silhouette knocks down a man walking down the corridor and drags him across the floor for several seconds. After some time, it also suddenly disappears, releasing the person. As it became known, the building where the striking phenomenon was filmed has complaints from tenants who more than once meet paranormal events in their home.

There are very few known cases though of adverse events caused by shadow people. In most cases, they appear or disappear as soon as they are found.

Shadow creatures can be spotted out of the corner of your eye. Some people who saw them or knew about their presence say that they are alien creatures, slipping in and out of our field of vision. In the eyewitness accounts, the observation of the recurrence of shadow manifestations is especially often mentioned.

People of the shadow: what do the mysterious shadow creatures want from us

Whether they are an elusive race that has always coexisted with us is an interesting theory suggesting that these creatures are frequent guests in our lives.

Paranormal researchers consider shadow people to be malevolent supernatural entities. Perhaps shadow people will not cause physical pain, but they can affect you emotionally, for example, cause fear – this gives them energy.

Skeptics and scientists believe that shadow people are optical illusions or hallucinations that appear under the influence of drugs or physiological changes in the body. When the left temporo-parietal brain is stimulated, these strange images are created.

Often the appearance of these shadows is inextricably linked with sleep paralysis, when a person is, as it were, between sleep and reality. Scientifically, this is called hypnogogy. Hypnogogia is called “the phenomenon of the face in the dark” for such hallucinations.

All eyewitnesses, regardless of where they live, talk about the same sensations in the presence of shadow creatures. Fear is a cold feeling that overcomes a person at this moment.

People of the shadow: what do the mysterious shadow creatures want from us

Some people say they even saw the eerie red eyes of these dark personalities that momentarily appear anywhere and demonstrate the ability to walk on the walls of enclosed spaces, which defies the general laws of physics.

Whoever they are, they feed on human energy, emit bad vibrations and give negative emotions. We do not know how they got into our dimension, about the purpose of their mission and how they affect the human essence. The main thing is to stop feeling fear in their presence and not to “feed” anyone with your precious energy.

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Paranormal

Ghost hunter told how to summon spirits

Ghost hunter told how to summon spirits 100

A ghost hunter explained how to summon ghosts and when is the best time to do it according to The Daily Star.

Jade Capasso explores hotels, inns, historical places to allegedly reveal the spirits and ghosts that are present in them. She shares her discoveries on the YouTube channel Ghost Club Paranormal. The girl is sure that you can also talk with spirits.

The 28-year-old ghost hunter is confident that you can talk to ghosts and spirits using a voice recorder. A particularly good time for this, according to her, is the eve of All Saints’ Day – Halloween.

 “I think there is more activity during Halloween. More people believe in the other world, ”she said.

She recalled that Halloween pumpkin is an invariable attribute and symbol of the holiday. People decorate their home with funny, scary, and sometimes even terrifying faces.

 “I’m sure there will be more sessions and many will use Ouija boards,” she says.

To connect with the “other world”, you can go to a famous haunted place, says Kapassa. She also recommends checking your home for ghosts.

To hear a ghost, the girl recommends using special equipment. 

After all, ghosts, she said, emit sounds at ultra-low frequencies that are not perceived by the human ear. You can hear them, as she notes, only on audio recordings.

The girl says that you need to leave the digital voice recorder in a room where paranormal activity is observed all night, or ask questions and wait for an answer.

“Ask questions, and who knows, you might hear a disembodied voice answering you,” says Jade.

According to her, there is no need to rush, because the spirits must be given enough time to respond.

“You probably won’t hear them in real time. But if you listen to the recording, you might hear someone from the underworld, ”she said.

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Paranormal

A photographer took a picture of an old house, but did not know that a woman lived there. No wonder – you can only see it in the photo

A photographer took a picture of an old house, but did not know that a woman lived there. No wonder - you can only see it in the photo 101

A Scottish resident took a photo of an abandoned building, and then could not believe his eyes when he looked at the finished photograph. From there the woman’s face was looking at him, but the man is sure: there was no one in the ruins of the house. Finding an explanation for what he saw was not easy.

A photographer from Scotland, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to arrange an unusual photo session, Unilad writes.

His choice fell on several abandoned buildings that are located in one of the parks in the North Ayrshire region. After taking a couple of pictures, he went to the studio to print them, and then looked at the finished result.

(Untitled)

The negative of one of the photographs of the photographer

Mysticism often happens in abandoned buildings , and the case with a man was no exception. In one photo, the Scotsman saw the ghostly silhouette of a woman looking at him from a window. However, the man assures that there was no one in the building, and he was alone in the ruins.

During the shooting, I did not feel anything unusual or anything otherworldly.

Despite the fact that the woman’s face looks intimidating, he is glad that he managed to capture it. Moreover, the hero of the story shared the frame with all friends who adore mysticism and riddles.

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Pay attention to the left window

I’m happy that I was able to capture something that looks like a ghost. I am even proud to be able to show photos to people who love riddles.

Many people, according to the photographer, are inclined to believe that this is a ghost, who love to talk to children so much, although the author of the picture himself is in no hurry to draw conclusions. He even looked at the frame under a microscope, but never came to the truth.

You can, of course, speculate, but the human brain makes us see familiar traits everywhere, especially if we look at them long enough.

(Untitled)

Moreover, the photographer, according to him, does not really believe in ghosts and other mystical phenomena.

I don’t like the term paranormal. As for ghosts, I don’t know if they exist. I don’t even know how to define them. What is it? Energy?

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