AskDefine | Define poltergeist

Dictionary Definition

poltergeist n : a ghost that announces its presence with rapping and the creation of disorder

User Contributed Dictionary

see Poltergeist



Polter + Geist.


  • a Germanic /ˈpɵ̙ltəgaɪst/
  • a RP /ˈpɒltəgaɪst/


  1. A ghost which makes noises and causes disruption.


a distruptive ghost
  • Finnish. kummitus, poltergeist
  • German: Poltergeist
  • Italian: poltergeist
  • Spanish: poltergeist

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Poltergeist (from German poltern, meaning to rumble or make noise, and Geist, meaning "ghost", "spirit", or "embodiment") denotes a spirit or ghost that manifests itself by moving and influencing objects.


Historically, several different hypotheses have been put forward to explain the poltergeist phenomenon.

Mischievous spirits

A pamphlet printed in London in 1698 by Mr. Ricard Chamberlain provides an account of a poltergeist-type haunting that had occurred some years before. Two copies of the pamphlet exist in the British Museum called: "Lithobolia, or stone throwing Devil. Being an Exact and True account (by way of Journal) of the various actions of infernal Spirits or (Devils Incarnate) Witches or both: and the great Disturbance and Amazement they gave to George Walton's family at a place called Great Island in the province of New Hampshire in New England, chiefly in throwing about (by an Invisible hand) Stones, Bricks, and Brick-Bats of all sizes, with several other things, as Hammers, Mauls, Iron-Crows, Spits, and other Utensils, as came into their Hellish minds, and this for space of a quarter of a year....", some cases, these types of spirits share aspects with elves and goblins.

Poltergeist activity originates with agents

Poltergeist activity tends to occur around a single person called an agent or a focus. Foci are often, but not limited to, pubescent children. Almost seventy years of research by the Rhine Research Center in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, has led to the hypothesis among parapsychologists that the "poltergeist effect" is a form of psychokinesis generated by a living human mind (that of the agent). According to researchers at the Rhine Center, the "poltergeist effect" is the outward manifestation of psychological trauma.

Separate existences

Poltergeists might simply exist, like the "elementals" described by occultists.
Another version posits that poltergeists originate after a person dies in a powerful rage at the time of death. According to yet another opinion, ghosts and poltergeists are "recordings." When there is a powerful emotion, sometimes at death and sometimes not, a recording is believed to be "embedded" in a place or, somehow, in the "fabric of time" itself. This recording will continue to play over and over again until the energy embedded disperses.
However some poltergeists have had the ability to articulate themselves and to have distinct personalities, which suggests some sort of self-awareness and intent. Practitioners of astral projection have reported the existence of unfriendly astral life forms, which Robert Bruce called "negs" (whom we might also identify with elementals). If they exist, these may well have the ability to affect the physical world.

Caused by physical forces

Poltergeists are ghosts that make noises or move objects through the air. While ghost hunters are ghost hunting it is sometimes dangerous if there is a poltergeist around. Some scientists and skeptics propose that all poltergeist activity that they can't trace to fraud has a physical explanation such as static electricity, electromagnetic fields, ultra-, and infrasound and/or ionized air. In some cases, such as the Rosenheim poltergeist case, the physicist F. Karger from the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik and G. Zicha from the Technical University of Munich found none of these effects present and psi proponents claim that no evidence of fraud was ever found, even after a sustained investigation from the police force and CID, though criminologist Herbert Schäfer quotes an unnamed detective watching the agent pushing a lamp when she thought nobody was looking. However, whether this is true or not, police officers did sign statements that they had witnessed the phenomena. Other aspects of the case were hard to explain: The time service was rung hundreds of times, with a frequency impossible with the mechanical dialing phones of 1967. The municipal authority disconnected the office from the mains supply and hooked it up to a dedicated generator hoping to stabilize the current. But surges in current and voltage still occurred with no detectable cause according to Zicha and Karger. Others think poltergeist phenomena could be caused by more mundane phenomena, such as unusual air currents, air vibrations such as in acoustic levitation, or tremors caused by underground streams.[Citation Needed]
John Hutchinson has claimed that he has created poltergeist effects in his laboratory. Also worth noting is that scientist David Turner proposes that poltergeists and ball lightning may be linked phenomena. Some scientists go as far as calling them pseudo-psychic phenomena and claim that under some circumstances they are caused by obscure physical effects. Parapsychologists William G. Roll and Dean Radin, physicist Hal Puthoff and head of electrical engineering at Duke University who specializes in electromagnetic field phenomena, claim that poltergeist phenomena [the movement of objects at least] could be caused by anomalies in the zero-point field, this is outlined in the above article and in Roll's book Unleashed and mention is made of it in a chapter of Dean Radin's book Entangled Minds. The basic theory is that poltergeist movements are repulsive versions of the casimir effect that can put pressures on objects. Thus, anomalies in this field could conceivably move objects. This theory has also been mentioned in the current book on paranormal phenomena Science by Marie D. Jones.
The theory is not complete, however, because it accounts for the movement of objects but not for the strange voices, seeming personality, and strange electrical effects displayed in some cases.
See also:

Self-delusion and hoaxes

Skeptics think that the phenomena are hoaxes perpetrated by the agent. Indeed, some poltergeist agents have been caught by investigators in the act of throwing objects. A few of them later confessed to faking.
Skeptics maintain that parapsychologists are especially easy to fool when they think that many occurrences are real and discount the hoax hypothesis from the outset. Even after witnessing first hand an agent throwing objects, psi-believing parapsychologists rationalize the fact away by assuming that the agents are only cheating when caught cheating, and when you do not catch them, the phenomenon is genuine. One reason given is that the agents often fake phenomena when the investigation coincides with a period of time where there appears to be little or no 'genuine' phenomena occurring. Another stated reason is that some of the phenomena witnessed would be hard to fake, even for magicians when under the watch of many people, let alone untrained children and non-magicians.
The current most agreed upon hypothesis among most scientists is a mixture of the self-delusion and hoax hypothesis and a bit of the caused by scientifically explained forces hypothesis [tremors, abnormal air currents etc ]


William Roll, Hans Bender, and Harry Price are perhaps three of the most famous poltergeist investigators in the annals of parapsychology. Harry Price investigated Borley Rectory which is often called "the most haunted house in England."
In the Rosenheim case of 1967 , Dr. Friedbert Karger was one of two physicists from the Max Planck Institute who helped to investigate perhaps the most validated poltergeist case in recorded history. Annemarie Schneider, a 19-year-old secretary in a law firm in Rosenheim (a small town in southern Germany) was seemingly the unwitting cause of much chaos in the firm, including disruption of electricity and telephone lines, the rotation of a picture, swinging lamps which were captured on video (which was one of the first times any poltergeist activity has been captured on film), and strange sounds that sounded electrical in origin were recorded. Fraud was not proven despite intensive investigation by the physicists, journalists, and the police. The effects moved with the young woman when she changed jobs until they finally faded out.
Friedbert Karger's whole perspective on physics changed after investigating the events. "These experiments were really a challenge to physics," Karger says today. "What we saw in the Rosenheim case could be 100 per cent shown not to be explainable by known physics." The phenomena were witnessed by Hans Bender, the police force, the CID, reporters, and the physicists. The claims were aired in a documentary in 1975 in a series called "Leap in the Dark."

Famous poltergeist infestations

Although poltergeist stories date back to the first century, most evidence to support the existence of poltergeists is anecdotal, which is hardly surprising as the nature of the phenomenon is unpredictable and sporadic. Indeed, many of the stories below have several versions and/or inconsistencies; however there are a few that do not, for example, the Miami poltergeist has event records signed by all witnesses as to the way things happened. These witnesses include police officers, a skeptical magician, and workers at the warehouse. The Rosenheim case is another, with multiple witnesses and unexplained electric and telephonic phenomena.
Although some parapsychologists suggest that poltergeists could be a form of recurrent PK, there is very little evidence for PK recorded on film or witnessed by objective parties. There are famous poltergeist cases where the activity was seen by objective parties and even skeptics.

Poltergeists in fiction

Both the name and concept of the poltergeist became famous to modern audiences in the Poltergeist movies and the subsequent TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy. The first Poltergeist movie actually gave an excellent depiction (during the first half of the film) of a "typical" poltergeist infestation, right down to the depiction of the focus as a prepubescent girl.
A parody on the word Poltergiest, and moreover the titles of the Poltergeist movie series were Poultrygiest and Poultrygiest Too, the names of two levels in Earthworm Jim 3D
Poltergeist is Monster in My Pocket #117. It resembles the long-limbed, yellow creature outside the hall door glimpsed briefly in the 1982 film.
Poltergeists are the subject of some episodes of The X-Files.
Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas encounters many poltergeists in his adventures. Most notably, the ghost of a killer, Odd, was tracking and a nameless ghost with a buzz cut who wrecks the Panamint Casino when Datura verbally abuses and belittles the ghost of an Indian waitress.
There is a poltergeist named Peeves in the Harry Potter books. Peeves, however, does not conform to the classic definition of a poltergeist. The fact that he manifests visually would seem to indicate that he is something similar to a ghost, though J.K. Rowling has stated that a poltergeist is not the ghost of any person who has ever lived. Perhaps she intended Peeves to be more of a literal translation of the word poltergeist, because Peeves is quite noisy and mischievous. However, it is also possible that Harry and other students can perceive Peeves because they are wizards, and that he would be still invisible to Muggles. It is also interesting to note that Peeves appears in colour, where the other ghosts at the school appear as white, misty figures.
The Terry Pratchett Discworld novel A Hat Full of Sky features an "ondageist" named Oswald (possibly a play on Lee-Harvey, Harvey the rabbit being invisible...), belonging to Ms. Level, the witch that Tiffany is staying with. This is the opposite of a poltergeist: a spirit obsessed with cleaning and tidying.
On October 20, 1942, the old-time radio show Lights Out featured a story called "Poltergeist" in which a trio of girls experience horrific, unexplained assaults from flying stones after one walks over a grave.
In the board game Atmosfear, a playable character is Hellin the poltergeist.
On Tuesday, November 15, 2005, Supernatural aired an episode involving a multiple haunting in the old house of Dean and Sam. The owner of the house would claim there were rats in the house. She only heard scratching and rustling noises, but didn't actually see them. The poltergeist in the house threw knives, opened baby cribs and refrigerators, and claims the hand of a repairman trying to fix the garbage disposal. Also, in another episode, Phantom Traveler, a person mentions that Dean rescued him and his family from a poltergeist with his father.
Some Castlevania games feature a few poltergeist phenomena. For example, certain furniture may suddenly spring to life and attack (some of the furniture are named Ouija Table). Another case is the enemy Alastor, where a giant sword floats around in the air, wielded by an occasionally visible, invulnerable spirit. In some disputed game canon, it is said that a yet-unseen character called the Poltergeist King takes charge of the Belmont family weapons between quests.
The popular Ju-on series of horror films in Japan and the Americanized version The Grudge, feature poltergeist elements including the replaying of the tragedy and the violent nature of the ghosts.
The comic Fetus-X includes a fork-throwing poltergeist cheerleader and attempts to bring her back from the dead.
The 2002 novel, The Bishop in the West Wing, written by Catholic priest and author Andrew M. Greeley, includes a poltergeist as a central feature of the story.
The Touhou Project danmaku game Perfect Cherry Blossom features three poltergeist, the Prismriver Sisters, who play on musical instruments without even touching them.
In 2006 the TV show Family Guy had an episode named Petergeist, where Peter's house becomes the center for a poltergeist.
Released in October 2006, a comedy French film called Poltergay was inspired by poltergeist phenomena. The film features the story of a couple of young lovers moving into a mansion in the vicinity of Paris which used to be a gay night club. The club was shut down after a fire broke out killing a group of club patrons whose spirits live in the mansion to present time and naughtily haunt the male lover , leading him to be insecured about his sexual preference.
A The Far Side strip describes Poultrygeists, poltergeist-like activity in chickens. Similarly, a Dilbert strip features Upholsterygeists, furniture possessing spirits that can only be expelled with work-out tapes (exercists).
  • In many Legend of Zelda games there are poltergeist-like enemies, including pots, skulls (often called Bubbles), and most frequently rooms where the entrances lock down upon Link entering, only to be ambushed by dozens of flying tiles. These rooms have become a main characteristic of dungeons in these games.
In Super Mario Galaxy, in one of the galaxies, there is a boss named Boldergiest, of course is the boss of the Ghostly Galaxy.
On the movie "Zoey 101: Curse of PCA" when Chase and Zoey are at the infirmary, poltergeist efects start to happen.


Further reading

  • Some conjectures about the mechanism of poltergeist phenomenon by Pierro Brovetto and Vera Maxia, NeuroQuantology, Vol 6, No 2 (2008). Technical paper proposing hypotheses for pyrokinetic and telekinetic events reported in poltergeist cases involving young girls going through puberty. PDF link to full paper in sidebar, Italian to English translation.

External links

poltergeist in Bulgarian: Полтъргайст
poltergeist in Catalan: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Czech: Poltergeist
poltergeist in German: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Spanish: Poltergeist
poltergeist in French: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Korean: 폴터가이스트
poltergeist in Indonesian: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Italian: Poltergeist (spirito)
poltergeist in Lithuanian: Poltergeistas
poltergeist in Dutch: Klopgeest
poltergeist in Japanese: ポルターガイスト現象
poltergeist in Norwegian: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Polish: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Portuguese: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Russian: Полтергейст
poltergeist in Simple English: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Finnish: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Swedish: Poltergeist
poltergeist in Chinese: 騷靈現象

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dingbelle, Fifinella, Hob, Hobgoblin, Masan, Ouija, Puck, apparition, appearance, astral, astral spirit, automatic writing, automatism, bad fairy, bad peri, banshee, control, departed spirit, deviling, devilkin, diablotin, disembodied spirit, duppy, dybbuk, eidolon, elf, erlking, form, ghost, grateful dead, gremlin, guide, hant, haunt, idolum, immateriality, imp, incorporeal, incorporeal being, incorporeity, kobold, larva, lemures, levitation, little devil, manes, materialization, oni, phantasm, phantasma, phantom, pixie, planchette, poltergeistism, presence, psychography, psychorrhagy, puck, revenant, shade, shadow, shape, shrouded spirit, specter, spectral ghost, spirit, spirit manifestation, spirit rapping, spook, sprite, table tipping, telekinesis, teleportation, telesthesia, theophany, tokoloshe, trance speaking, unsubstantiality, vision, walking dead man, wandering soul, wraith, young devil, zombie
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