This story from the Irish Independent (March 19th 2010) has sparked my curiosity…
Family quits Cork home over ‘poltergeist’
Friday March 19 2010
A SHAMAN will perform an exorcism on a council house tonight, amid claims that it is haunted by a poltergeist.
The occupants of the house at Hollyhill on Cork’s northside have fled, saying it is occupied by an evil spirit that is determined to keep them out.
Laura Burke, her partner Ritchie and her son Kyle are terrified to remain after a spate of bizarre occurrences over recent weeks
You can read the rest of the story here – at the Independent.ie
I will offer a few brief first thoughts – but am making enquiries. Firstly, “a shaman”? In Roman Catholic Ireland one might have expected a priest, but a shaman rather surprises me! What is interesting is the family clearly see this as a spiritual problem, and of course back in the 90’s I knew plenty of people who described themselves as Shaman (though they were not the type one reads about in Mircea Eliade’s works; the ones I knew were prone to experimenting with magic mushrooms, playing the didgeridoo and playing drums in bedsits in Cheltenham! ) The term Shaman was popular in the ‘Earth Mysteries’ scene in the 90’s for ‘spiritual practitioners’ – today they tend to call themselves mediums or psychics again? Anyway, the shaman was going to drive out a spirit apparently — I’ll see if I can find a follow up on that.
Let’s briefly take a look at the reported phenomena —
Laura said holy pictures were routinely being knocked from the wall, screams were heard in the dead of night and their son was flung from his bed.
Holy pictures? Odd. A family besieged by a poltergeist that targets “holy pictures” apparently called in a “New Age ‘Shaman’ (spirit worker)” to cite the Irish Independent to deal with the issue. There are so many theological questions that arise! ‘Holy’ pictures to me suggests Christian art – they could have been shots of Newgrange and Sheela-Na-Gig but somehow I doubt it. Regardless of the families religious beliefs, plenty of people keep Christian (and New Age, and Hindu and so forth) religious imagery around their houses even if they have nothing much to do with that religion – but I do wonder if the Church was approached (or several churches) and for some reason failed to act.
Also of interest is the targeting of religious iconography. The last Irish poltergeist I read about had a similar emphasis, and it is certainly not uncommon in cases of this nature – religious imagery was I think prominent in Brazilian cases as well, but I would have to ask Guy Lyon Playfair. In the modern USA self-styled demonologists (freelance exorcist/ghosthunters: the demonic paradigm appears dominant there, where as in Britain I think the influence of Most Haunted might lead more people to turn to a medium or psychic, but who knows?) would descend on the house. However as soon as we see this series of attacks on the ‘holy pictures’ our mind turns to ‘evil spirits’ – but one wonders; plenty of living humans ain’t keen on the churches…
The next bit, “screams were heard in the dead of night” is interesting. I had a friend who at college used to wake up terrified by screaming outside, and call the police till he realised he was on the edge of a ‘breakdown’. (He’s fine and a successful writer these days!) I certainly hear plenty of screams in the night – local teenagers having fun normally, I live near a university campus – and it’s hard to tell sometimes where they are coming from. The family have lived in the house since August – long enough to know the noises, but just six months. The neighbours? I doubt the neighbours hold screaming matches somehow. A parrot? foxes? who knows! Foxes can make the weirdest noises. However given the sparse information we have I will assume the family are reporting screams in the house: one wonders if all three residents heard them?
“Being flung out of bed” is of course not something one can lightly explain away. I guess it’s not sleep paralysis – quite the opposite! I have had muscle cramps, spasmed with fever, but I have never experienced that. I have however seen it in other accounts a few times, and it sounds traumatic. I certainly feel for the family, if that is not clear. I’m just deeply interested in the cause of all this…
Then we get in to the really odd –
The family received their greatest shock when they spotted what they described as “glowing orbs” hovering in mid-air in certain rooms in the house.
Glowing orbs? Orbs? For those who do not follow popular ghosthunting TV, the “orb phenomenon” emerged in the 1990’s and was big in the early 2000’s. Digital photographs show little white orbs, or balls, which appear but were not seen at the time of photographing. This is almost certainly because most are nothing more than light reflected off dust in the air: Andrew Oakley wrote a paper years ago explaining what he thought was the cause, and a few technical papers from camera companies appear to have established it beyond reasonable doubt. When Becky and I worked at Derby Gaol we carried out experiments in sweeping the floor, emptying hoover bags, and sure, dust causes orbs. Insects and water droplets can do much the same. That is NOT to say that all ‘orbs’ must be such things, but it certainly seems likely almost all are!
What is interesting is what are reported here are not orbs – they are BOLs – balls of light. Such phenomena have been reported for a very long time – glowing lights thought to be candle flames were recorded in the Morton (Cheltenham Ghost) case in SPR Proceedings 8; 1888, and luminous balls of light were reported by an observer near the ceiling of the Blue Room in Borley Rectory if unaided memory serve me well. I was part of a PARASOC investigation when a members parents reported seeing something similar in their bedroom, and such things turn up quite frequently. I’ll have a proper look through the literature later see if I can spot any patterns – and I fully acknowledge there are plenty of possible natural causes for light phenomena of this kind – but this intrigued me.
Mainly it is interesting that Laura uses the word “orbs”. “Orbs” in ghosthunting parlance are not visible: they only appear on camera. I wonder if she learnt the word from the shaman, or if she has been exposed to a lot of paranormal TV? I appeared on an episode of US show Ghost Adventures shown over here in the UK last night doing some local history (in a suitably OTT dramatic manner!) and was astonished by the number of my friends who emailed to say they saw me on the cable show. Clearly people do watch these things far more than I realised – and interpret their experiences through that framework…
Certain rooms in the house? That is really interesting, a very simple experiment asking psychic claimants to identify those areas could be conducted and the results tested against a chance distribution. I have conducted a large number of similar experiments over the years with interesting results, but that must wait for another time. Ignoring the claims of psychics for a moment, why certain rooms? One wonders which rooms, and if they are associated with certain witnesses.
I have to pop out now – expect Part 2 of the discussion later tonight…