The Everyday Lore Project

13 February 2020 – Poltergeists

13 February 2020 – Poltergeists

Today I’ve been learning about poltergeists. Or rather I’ve been listening to a very entertaining and informative lecture by John Fraser on whether poltergeists are rare, at the headquarters of the Society for Psychical Research in London. 

Did you know that in a study of 500 poltergeist reports, 26% of them included audible ghostly human voices? Me neither. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but as I am a woman of a certain age, most of what I know about poltergeists comes from the 1982 film, Poltergeist. Which I loved. Except for the bit with the clown. That bit not so much. Or at all. Which I why I found tonight so fascinating.

Along with a short history, a global overview, lots of thoroughly interesting examples, some methodology and scientific analysis, and a poltergeist mongoose, I was introduced to a lot of acronyms: OBE – out of body experience, PK – psychokinesis, and my personal favourite JOTT, which stands for ‘just one of those things’. The term JOTT was coined by parapsychologist, Mary Rose Barrington, and is used to describe little events that don’t make sense and are therefore dismissed as not having happened on account of them being impossible, or just one of those things. For example, searching everywhere for something after you didn’t find it in the place where you put it, only to find it there when you check again (a comeback JOTT), or something moving from its original place to somewhere where it shouldn’t be (a walkabout JOTT). Fraser argued that these instances could conceivably come under poltergeist activity. 

And I kind of agree with his theory. My Nana taught me, that if I couldn’t find something, to sit in a chair and impale the arm with a pin repeating ‘I stab the Devil’ three times, and then I would find whatever it was I was looking for. And it worked, every time (and yes, I can make a rational explanation for that, I’m just not going to now, as it ruins my argument). So if you substitute Devil for mischievous spirit, or poltergeist, it could be said that you’re invoking it to behave and return your property. Or something. 

Anyhow, I rather like the idea that I’m not becoming scatty, I’m just being visited by a shady imp. I’m quite of the opinion that these poltergeists shift words about too.

I learnt a lot tonight. Fraser’s dry sense of humour kept the subject accessible for those in the audience who were new to the subject, like me and my friend, Sarah, and his detailed analysis kept the SPR members, and those who did have prior knowledge, engaged. 

One last thing, after the talk, Sarah and I went upstairs to the SPR library, and it was everything a library should ever be. Just the smell was enough to make us both swoon.

Now back to that clown, as I don’t see why I should be the only one to have nightmares tonight…


Banner image: A 14-year-old domestic servant, Therese Selles, experiences poltergeist / spontaneous PK activity in the home of her employer, the Todeschini family at Cheragas, Algeria, as featured on the cover of the French magazine La Vie Mysterieuse in 1911.

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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