While traditional hauntings can plague a property for centuries, poltergeists are of much shorter duration, seldom lasting more than six months and, also different from conventional supernatural infestations, they are usually associated with a medium.

In this book Colin Wilson sets out to explain what poltergeists actually are. As he usually does he starts off by naming and describing various related phenomenon, in this case multiple personality disorder, reincarnation, psychokinesis and traditional hauntings. He establishes that poltergeist phenomena differs fundamentally from traditional hauntings, which will often consist of an intensely emotional event from a person’s life being played over and over again as if in a tape loop, or even something as simple as a sense of some malicious unseen presence occupying a particular property. Poltergeists are considered to be some kind of mischievous spirit, some sort of supernatural entities which seem to enjoy creating chaos wherever they exist.

On the progression of poltergeist phenomena he quotes Guy Playfair, noted British writer on parapsychology, who says:

“You always get them in the same order. You don’t get puddles of water before stone throwing, and you don’t get fires before raps. So that there is a predictable behavior pattern. They appear to be random to us, but they’re obeying some sort of rules that they understand, even if we don’t”

What can we say about these rules?

“We can say there is a source of energy. There has to be, because physical work is being carried out, and since it’s being carried out in our space and our dimension, then it has to obey at least some of the laws of mechanics”.

One interesting point that is brought up is that most places these incidents occur are either ancient religious sites or places which were later built over such sites. In Europe Christian churches frequently occupy sites that were originally places of pagan worship. Many ancient places of worship, it has been proved, are built on “leylines”, or lines of “earth force” which are powerful sources of magnetism. Nodal points along such lines seem to concentrate this magnetism in high degrees, so it is theorized that this is why this supernatural activity is frequently focused at such places. Poltergeists are frequently found in old churches and monasteries. “Stone monuments” such as Stonehenge are built on such  nodal points. Although they are commonly referred to as “monuments” today, since their original purpose has been long forgotten, they seem at one time to have been holy sites which were also evidently also used for astronomical observations and possibly predicting solar and lunar eclipses.

It seems to require a bit more energy to activate poltergeist activity than even these sites commonly provide, however, which is why a medium usually needs to be involved. This will usually be a sexually frustrated woman or a girl entering puberty, or, less frequently, a boy undergoing adolescence.

According to this book such individuals frequently exude an ‘energy plasma’ from the pineal gland. One of this organ’s primary functions is the inhibiting of sexual hormones. If the pineal gland is damaged the patient will exhibit abnormal sexual development. This gland also seems to be involved with higher functions as well. It secretes serotonin. If the production of serotonin is halted or interrupted an individual becomes incapable of rational thought.

The theory goes that at around puberty it ceases to be merely a controlling apparatus and begins to actively supply the individual with sexual energy. When the child goes through this she needs to cultivate a creative outlet for all this sexual energy, so unless the teen gets heavily involved with athletic or sexual activity this energy would be available for these supernatural entities to make use of.

It is theorized that this excess energy, once it’s leaked, can then be utilized by an ‘elemental’. One theory opines that elementals are ‘thought forms’ which have somehow taken on lives of their own. Supposedly this is how such mythological creatures as elves, gnomes and other nature spirits come into existence.

Another theory the author puts forward is inspired by the occult philosophy of the kahunas, which are members of Hawaii’s shaman class. According to them there are three parts to the human soul. The lowest part is the most active and after death if this part remains earthbound it can exhibit a sort of mischievous personality.

Playfair says when these entities come upon the surplus energy they behave like unruly children who find an abandoned football lying in a field, they then kick it around upsetting things and possibly breaking a few windows until the energy is finally spent.

One curious fact about poltergeists is that they very rarely actually injure people and there is only one case on record where it’s possible one may have been responsible for someone’s death. The incident is known as “the Bell Witch Haunting” and occurred in Tennessee during the early 19th century. It happened on the farm of John Bell, where he lived with his wife and nine children. One of his daughters, Betsy, who was twelve at the time, seems to have been the medium in this instance. It began unremarkably enough at first, expressing itself by imitating the sounds of various, common animals like the flapping of a bird’s wings or the scratching of rats inside the walls. Eventually it worked its way up to more belligerent activities, like making an awful noise that sounded like two chained dogs having a fight, and making gasping and gulping noises that sounded like someone being strangled to death. Then it graduated to more physical activities, like throwing stones, snatching the covers off people’s beds when they were trying to sleep and upsetting the furniture. These things only happened when Betsy was around. This being eventually became powerful enough to utilize human speech and occasionally delighted in abusing Betsy, slapping her and pulling her by the hair on occasion, however, most of the time it seemed to express a fond affection for the whole family but it seemed to  hold a particular animosity towards John Bell.

Once, when John’s wife, Lucy, fell ill, it lamented, “Luce, poor Luce”, and dropped hazel nuts for her. Once, at Betsy’s birthday party, it said to her, “I have a surprise for you” and created a basket of fruit with oranges and bananas which it claimed came from the West Indies.

The poltergeist started off talking in a whisper which later developed into a regular speaking voice. When it began talking it would repeat excepts from various sermons given by local preachers but eventually moved on to swearing and using strong language, which seems a pretty common manner of speech for talking ghosts. It spoke with several voices. One of the earliest monologues given in it’s “normal” voice went, “I am a spirit who was once happy, but have been disturbed now I am now unhappy”. It also stated that it would torment John Bell and kill him in the end. It also claimed it was a dead Indian who’s ‘bones had been scattered’, and an old witch named Old Kate Batts. It’s other voices claimed to be those of the family, or ‘familiars’ of the witch. Their names were Blackdog, Mathematics, Cypocryphy, and Jerusalem. Each voice had its own distinct characteristics and they all sometimes indulged in debauches judging by their slurred speech and the stench of whiskey that filled the house on such occasions. This spirit also had a musical bent and frequently sang.

It also seemed to have a bizarre sense of humor. Once, when Betsy vomited after drinking some medicine, pins and needles came out of her, then the spirit shrieked that if she vomited again she’d have enough pins and needles to set up a shop.

The family also had a black female slave which the spirit didn’t seem particularly fond of and delighted in playing sadistic tricks on, like covering her head in a white foam that seemed like spittle.

As I said before, the ghost harbored a strong dislike for the head of the household and seems to have delighted in yanking his shoes off, then yanking them off again each time he put them on, and smacking him in the head and face with terrific force, over and over. This infernal creature tormented him relentlessly for three long years until one day he was so fatigued he took to his bed in a stupor and could not be revived. His son found a mysterious and partially empty bottle of dark liquid in their medicine cupboard. The witch reportedly said, “It’s useless for you to try to relieve old Jack- I’ve got him this time!” When asked about the medicine it said, “I put it there, and gave old Jack a dose last night while he was asleep, which fixed him.”

They tested the medicine on the family cat and it jumped, whirled around and then promptly died. John Bell himself died the very next day. Afterwards the spirit began to sing, “Row me up some brandy, O”.

If this entity was, in fact, responsible for the death of this farmer it’s the only recorded case of a ghost actually murdering a human being.