Help with Becky’s PhD Research – Strange Survey


Long term readers of this blog will recall that I have mentioned a few times Becky Smith’s PhD research (based at Coventry Uni) in to anomalous experiences – ghosts, poltergeists, hallucinations, hauntings, call them what you will. Well she has started the main data collection phase now, and is trying to get as many accounts as possible from people who would answer positively to this main question

Have you ever (when fully awake and unaffected by illness, alcohol or drugs) had an experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there was no ordinary cause for it that you could find?

If alternatively you would answer positively to

Have you ever witnessed unexplained movement of objects, or other disturbances in a house or building?

Then she would also like to hear from you! Even if you took part in a previous study, do go fill in the questionnaire, which can be found at www.strangesurvey.com

Also, if you can assist in publicizing the study, by passing on the details to friends who you know have had an experience of this type, or by sharing it with a random selection of acquaintances on Facebook or similar, please do. Don’t spam your mailing lists though, unless it’s directly on-topic!

Thanks for your assistance, and if you have any questions I’ll pass them on to Becky The important thing is to try and get as large a response as possible.

I’m sure many of you will recognise the question as a variant of that used in the 1894 SPR Census of Hallucinations, and DJ West’s classic studies. :)

cheers

cj x

 

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Buttoning up a Case That Never Was


Not very exciting I’m afraid, but definitely worth a quick comment. My little poltergeist case has now been resolved, the mystery not much of a mystery at all, but testimony to how dunder-headed I can be.  If you have been reading recently you might have seen my account —

I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Here, for those of you with strong stomachs, is a photo of gruesome old me with the folks from Forest Paranormal Investigations —

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations: I'm the middle one

OK, so I’m the fat one in the middle. (Giving up smoking just before Christmas really piles the pounds on 😦 ) Now the important thing is the strap on the left shoulder, here tucked in rather than flapping loose – that is where the mystery button was supposed to have come from.

No, the answer was far simpler than that – while I was looking for the missing button on my coat, I failed to notice the right hand sleeve had a button – had until it flew off as I went in to the gents. Becky noticed it was missing yesterday, and we at once realised we had solved this terribly minor mystery – but it just goes to show how once you have been talking ghosts, even the most minor thing can all too easily be attributed to a spooky cause, and even when you think you have plumbed the depths of a mystery, and checked every possibility, you can sometimes miss the bleeding obvious. Well I can anyway!

cj x

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The Mystery of the Haunted Fun Fair: Thorpe Park, Surrey, UK


OK, it sounds like a Hardy Boys adventure doesn’t it? Or as Matthew Didier suggests, a Scooby Doo episode. Well I’m a (great?) Dane so maybe I should get down there with a gang of pesky kids? Tom Ruffles meanwhile is counting the clichés, and you can see why…

(UKPA) – 4 hours ago

A new ride at one of the country’s biggest theme parks, in Surrey, has been moved after fears that it disturbed an ancient burial ground, prompting paranormal activity.

An ancient burial ground? That’s cliché number one. (People with very bad senses of humour may enjoy the story of my haunted house, from my other blog.) The cliché is usually attributed to Poltergeist, but in that film the burial ground is not an “ancient Indian” one – as the property developer says, “What’s the problem? It’s not like it was built on an Indian Burial Ground.”  The genre trope actually derives from Pet Sematary I guess, but for a detailed discussion go to the invaluable and well written discussion here at tvtropes.org

Now of course the “built on a burial ground” motif is a common aspect of UK ghostlore and folklore, and I have in the past discussed the persistence of the link between ghosts and human remains, if only in popular imagination, though I am not entirely convinced it is that. Also doing building work or renovation is often said to spark hauntings, or trigger a recurrence– so we need not be too cynical, for the Hollywood cliché that features in a thousand parodies of the building built on the burial ground does reflect earlier folklore, and hence may reflect an actual reality. (We need a “law” for “just because you saw something like it in the movies does not mean it does not happen”?)

I sometimes wonder about this with Vanishing Hitchiker stories. Everyone knows they are foafs (friend of a friend stories), just urban legends.  They appear across many cultures, with versions going back to long before the motor car. Yet can the folklore be rooted in a real experience? If the phenomena was real but rare, we might well see the stories circulate, misattributed and distorted, and hence end up believing it was just urban legend, even if there was a core phenomena reflected in the tales. I don’t know, I’m not a folklorist; but I’d like to explore this one day. Anyone, back on to the rides…

Workers creating the water ride at Thorpe Park for the new season said they started noticing ghostly sightings nearby, including what appeared to be a headless monk.

Log Flume

CJ & Becky developing radical new methodologies for Spontaneous Case Investigation

I love water rides. Here we see two SPR members involved in a recent investigation – oh, ok, it’s Becky & me on the log flume at another theme park, but Alton Towers is meant to be haunted – in fact that forms the basis for several of the rides as I recall? The truth is I am terrified of them — all rides – the Runaway Train nearly killed me, and my first theme park ride, Oblivion, still has me shaking in terror at the thought. I’m even scared of the log flume — but I can cope with that. Where were we oh yes, ghosts!

Well coming from Bury St Edmunds I’m rather used to apparitional monks – in fact my own experience at Thetford Priory was of this type of creature, cliché number two.  Still what is obvious to me is that a headless (cliché three, maybe we should develop a scale for paranormal clichés, the Ruffles Scale, after Tom?) monk dressed in black is actually pretty much indistinguishable from a shadow.  Now having seen a cowled figure dressed in black, I am not one to talk, but why are all monks clad in black? Are they all Dominicans? At least Bury’s ghostly monks wear brown. Why do we rarely hear of ghostly Cistercians in white? Of course I’m surmising, because the monk could have been wearing any colour habit – the story does not tell us.

So why do I think monks in black without heads looks like blobs of shadow? Exhibit Two, your honour…

A headless monk

A real monk - with the head not visible. So a headless monk at night would look like a blob?

Now it could well be that the headless monk was seen in good light, during the day – this is the problem with this third hand way of going about things — but unless Thorpe Park invite me to investigate, which sadly seems unlikely, I may never know. The story is infuriatingly vague, but that is hardly the journalists fault – what the psychical research community want to know and what the readers of the papers want to know are probably very different things. Back to the story —

There were reports of objects being moved, workers feeling like someone was watching over their shoulders and sudden cold feelings being experienced.

The reports of objects being moved fascinate me – this is Polterwotsit after all –  but is infuriatingly vague. the cold feelings (but this is February) and sense of being watched however are very interesting, and I have some ideas based on the science of perception and possible environmental variables that sadly I could only try out on site. So if anyone reading this can get me in to Thorpe Park, I promise to do a proper investigation, as I’m far too chicken to go on any rides! 🙂 Seriously, might be worth checking out with some simple monitoring equipment.

A paranormal detection agency was called in to carry out tests and found that an ancient burial ground or settlement could have been disturbed.

One wonders how? Now I’m a ghost hunter, and I have many skills – but without ground penetrating radar equipment, I’d be loathe to say “hey, look, it’s built on a burial ground”, Sure I could probably call Adam Spring and ask him to do a survey; and get David Sivier on the archaeology — I know the right people for the task.  I’m a pretty good historian with an interest in settlement pattern, and David and I have been experimenting  with map regression techniques (nowt paranormal – explained here) – David is quite skilled, I have just read a few chapter and tried my hand at an area he knows well – but I would lack the confidence to say this. Maybe they found something on an old map or in the historical records– or maybe this was “psychic” information. Well when they write up their report we will know. Sounds interesting though, and i love the phrase “paranormal detection agency” – sounds classy!

Managers relocated the ride to another area of the park and called in a forensic team, South West London Paranormal, to investigate.

A forensic team? This is bizarre; however given that we are now forensic teams (probably down to the journalist not SWLP!) I have had a great idea for a new series featuring the Society for Psychical Research (based in Kensington) —

CSI Kensington: Spook Scene Investigators

The 64ft water ride, Storm Surge, was originally planned for an area known as Monk’s Walk, an old footpath that has linked the ruins of nearby Chertsey Abbey to Thorpe Church since AD666.

Ah, so that’s how they knew! Well explains why monks were seen I guess. I like the 666AD – that is simply the year Saint Erkenwald founded Chertsey Abbey, not a journalistic cliché – sorry Tom! – but the Church si more modern. However those naughty Danes sacked the monastery in the 9th century, so maybe the headless monk dates from that outrage? (And why did us Danes sack monasteries? Hardly carry off the women… :))

The ride’s foundations would have been over 15 metres deep in an area of the park where stone coffins have previously been excavated.

So the cliché was not a cliché – there really was a burial ground here.  Stone coffins are certainly in keeping with the period and location, so assuming the press is right, yes could have been a graveyard here – with I would have thought a medieval burial, though stone coffins can be found in some wealthy burials from the Roman right the way through to early modern times.  Well stone coffins (probably containing abbot’s based on my experience of the archaeology of Suffolk) were dug up at the abbey itself in 1865; whether they were found near the ride will need someone to go to the Sussex Archaeology Unit to establish I guess? Might well be a different coffin find, but it will be noted somewhere.

Jim Arnold, of South West London Paranormal, said results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where Storm Surge was to be built.

He said: “The results were so strong, we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.”

Hey I really should read the article first shouldn’t I, then I would not wander off in to ground already covered, or if you will pardon the pun in this case, uncovered!

Forensic geophysicist Peter Masters, of Cranfield University, called in to analyse the site using deep ground radar, said: “From the preliminary investigations, we have picked up signatures similar to that of a burial ground – possibly ancient.”

There goes my idea of getting Mr Spring down there with his equipment, but hats off to Cranfield Uni for being so quick on the mark. Well that’s where the story ends, and while Google are reporting 184 versions, I think they are nearly all based on this Press Association release. I’d be interested to hear more – the claim to poltergeistery seems weak, its a traditional spook in many ways, but they burial ground bit is fascinating, and what looks at first glance like a clichéd publicity grab may actually mask an interesting little case. I’d love to hear from any witnesses, and go down to take a look and talk to people from the archaeology unit, Peter Masters and the original witnesses.

Many thanks to Vicky Eveniss and Tom Ruffles for drawing my attention to this one. Oh and if you have experienced anything odd yourself, do fill in Becky’s survey at http://www.strangesurvey.com/

(And just to note there is now a follow up article on the alleged paranormal events of 2009 at the theme park)

cj x

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Polter-Censored???


I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Anyway, today I’m moved to post by something a little odd — it seems some sceptics may be actually getting as loony as some believers can be, or maybe it is just — I don’t know, I just don’t get censorship on scientific issues. I guess the people who do these things would deny it was science –call it pseudo science. So what am I on about?

Martyn McLaughlin in The Scotsman on Sunday published a piece on Dr Barrie Colvin’s research. I’ll quote a bit of it here, for ease of  reference —

Ghostly rapping can’t be faked, research shows

Published Date: 30 January 2011
By Martyn McLaughlin
THEY are unexplained phenomena that have baffled scientists and sent chills down the spines of unwitting bystanders.

But the eerie knocking sounds allegedly made by poltergeists could not be made any other way, according to new research.
A lecture taking place this week at the University of Glasgow will present evidence for a strange audio pattern common to paranormal incidents.

(Read more)

Now as it happens I disagree. I was a strong advocate of the research, but in experiments conducted last year with friends from Rational Skepticism forum I found no difference between the waveforms of poltergeist sound files provided by Dr Colvin, and those I made by banging on furniture, under certain conditions. There has been a long and technical discussion on this blog – I have been fascinated since the first, and still think the JSPR paper was very important, but I am frustrated I could not replicate the findings. I am now waiting for others to try, and see what they find.  If you have not been following the discussion, my original article on the JSPR paper is here, followed by our experiments and critique  here, and a further piece on the polt raps here.

As one would expect, there has been a fair exchange of views, lots of speculation and refinement of hypotheses, and ultimately I think we all agree that more experimentation and as Dr Colvin said in his original article more good recordings from cases are needed. I think we also need to agree on what constitutes a slow attack, that is a sustained rise to maximum amplitude.  Still, so far I seem to be one of the few “critics” of the research – ironically given my admiration for Dr Colvin et al, and my firm commitment to poltergeist research.

Anyway today I saw the Scotsman on Sunday piece, and tried to link it to my Facebook. I received a message from Facebook saying that link had been reported as spam, and was therefore blocked. I was incredulous. I have written to Facebook using the report, asking the article be un-flagged – but was puzzles me is why it was flagged as spam in the first place. I may disagree with the article, but that is just ridiculous – censorship.

I am going to be paranoid here, and say that I think it was reported as spam by a sceptic, probably someone who sees themselves as a scientist, and who has never even read Dr Colvin’s paper.  Why do I believe this, rather than blaming some dour Scottish religious type? Well firstly religious types tend to welcome evidence for “supernatural” manifestations, especially polts which are often demonic in their attributes and behaviour and the fear they instil, even if not demonic in essence – whatever demonic may mean, exactly. Secondly, bitter experience of people refusing to listen when I discuss rationally evidence for “paranormal” claims. However for me the clincher was when I was trying to edit the Society for Psychical Research‘s and other parapsychological organisations wikipedia articles, often vandalised in the past, and edit after edit was rejected. Many times that was fair – I had messed up the edit – but eventually I realised that even though my edits were on historical matters and referenced, they seemed to arouse considerable hostility and raw emotion in some people.

The worst example I ever saw of this was after a well known parapsychologist and biologist was physically attacked and wounded, when on a sceptic’s  forum (the JREF) I saw someone post a horrific  comment praising the action, and hoping – well you get the drift. When people get so angry they say things like that, something is wrong.  Now let’s be fair – the comments were edited away, the JREF mods quickly acted as I would expect of them (I have come to know many of them through the forum as good people, and it is VERY well run usually) – but honestly, the couple of nutjobs who displayed real hatred scared me a bit.

Now every forum has nutjobs, and as recent experiments in social psychology has shown, attitudes harden rather than being softened in a group forum which faces outsiders posting contrary opinions.  In fact in the case of the JREF, the people who posted the material I found offensive were NOT regular forum types; my experience of sceptic forums is that people become far mellower and nicer over the years, ditto pretty much any forum, as they get used to the forum environment, and communicating on the interweb.

So I suspect that this latest piece of vandalism was just an aggrieved nutcase with a lot of faith, who KNEW this was pseudo-science, who therefore hit a spam button to stop this pernicious threat to their cosy FAITH go unseen by the eyes of poor gullible dupes like all of us. Such people just annoy the hell out of me — because they are not sceptics, they are simply bigots. Still I could be wrong – maybe there was some other reason for The Scotsman on Sunday being blocked – but somehow I doubt it.

It’s a sad,  sad world when people on either side of the great paranormal debate can’t even listen to one anothers opinions and try to formulate a rational critique 😦

cj x

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Not a Poltergeist, but arson…


This is a rather depressing and troubling story, and I have removed the names as it’s not really a poltergeist story and  don’t want to cause any further distress to the people concerned.

Homeless woman repaid a pensioner’s kindness with arson attacks

01-November-2010

A homeless woman repaid a pensioner’s kindness by setting fire to his flat three times, a court heard.

***************, 29, tried to claim that a poltergeist or ghosts were responsible.

She first met the lonely 76-year-old widower when she was begging in Leicester‘s Granby Street in July last year.

He took pity and over several weeks gave her money.

He invited her to sleep on his sofa, at his warden-assisted one-bedroom flat on Wigston Road, Blaby.

Laura Pitman, prosecuting, told Leicester Crown Court it was a platonic friendship.

However, on October 7 he discovered a fire in the kitchen.

A tea towel had been mysteriously placed over the electric hob, with all four rings full on, and smoking heavily.

As he doused the flames with water, **** shouted for him to get out and called the fire brigade, who attended.

The pensioner went to bed, only to be woken by **** shouting there was another fire in the kitchen.

This time puzzle books were on the burning hob.

Giving evidence, the pensioner said **** told him that a ghost or poltergeist may be responsible.

On October 8, he put the rubbish outside at about 11.30pm and returned to the lounge to watch television with ****.

A short time later he realised thick smoke was coming from his bedroom, and his single bed was ablaze.

**** was arrested and accused of starting three fires within 48 hours.

Ms Pitman told the jury: “You may ask, why on earth did she do something like that? Sadly no one knows. It might be attention seeking behaviour.”

The pensioner told the jury extensive smoke damage was caused to his bedroom.

He said: “I’m lucky to be alive. The other residents are lucky to be here.”

**** denied three counts of arson being reckless as to whether lives would be endangered.

A jury convicted her unanimously.

She claimed the pensioner suffered from dizzy spells, was forgetful and he must have caused the fires himself.

This reminds me a little of the Carole Compton case in Italy back in 1982; however in this case, it seems certain the defendant lit the fires, and the poltergeist is not mentioned in the court defence where the pensioner is instead blamed.  All very disturbing, and perhaps a warning to those of us involved in poltergeist  investigations that we should beware hoaxes of this kind, which are potentially deadly. Fires are a very minor element of poltergeist cases anyway as far as I recall? I will have to read up on the Compton case again now I have been reminded of it – do check out that link above.

Sad case, I feel sorry for everyone involved.

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Poltergeists at London Ghost Festival 2010


(Cross posted from my other blog)

I’m just writing my talk on poltergeists for the London Ghost Festival tomorrow. They have a wonderful fun packed week of events and I am in London tomorrow and giving a talk at Shoe Lane Library from 12pm to 1pm, admission free. I have been so busy recently I forgot to plug the event, but I’m really looking forward to my tiny role in it If you are free tomorrow and can make it, well here are the details –

FREE LUNCHTIME TALKS: The Many Explanations Of Ghosts

Talk 3: Poltergeists: evil among us? By Chris Jensen Romer

Wednesday 27th October 2010

Shoe Lane Library, Hill House, 1 Little New St, London, EC4A 3JR

One common explanation of paranormal activity can be put down to the notorious Poltergeist. The very name conjures images of terrifying events, and Hollywood horror films. Yet in some ways the reality is more frightening and disturbing than the media portrayal. Poltergeists may lurk much closer to home than you imagine. What is a poltergeist: A disturbed spirit, unconscious psychic energy or something far more sinister? In this talk we hear the latest thinking behind these strange yet fascinating cases and survey some of the  poltergeists of London, before reaching a conclusion that may surprise (and frighten!) you…

Chris “CJ” Jensen Romer has been involved in psychic research for over twenty years, is a member of Society of Psychical Research and has investigated a number of purported poltergeist cases first hand. He has worked on a number of paranormal TV shows, including spells as a researcher for both Most Haunted and Most Haunted Live.  He maintains “Polterwotsit”, an internet blog dedicated to coverage poltergeist cases at https://polterwotsit.wordpress.com The London Ghost Festival and City of London Libraries are extremely thankful to Chris for giving his time for free.

 

INFORMATION

Venue: Shoe Lane Library (near Chancery Lane tube)

Address: Hill House, 1 Little New St, London, EC4A 3JR

Time: 12.30pm – 13.30pm

Price: This is a free event

Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane

Contact number: 020 75837178

Hope some of you can make it and will say hi!

cj x

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University of Bergen haunted?


Thanks to Yvonne Wollertsen for drawing this to my attention. Do check out her blog! All credit to Yvonne here. 🙂

Now if you are one of my Norwegian friends, please dont laugh at me. 🙂 I have attempted a translation, and I know it is going to be pitiful, as I can barely do Danish (and yes I am Danish, I know!) and have no Norwegian,  and so  if Leif or Karl or Anders or Yvonne (or even Graham!) can correct it for me, I’ll be eternally grateful! I may even be the victim of some obscure Norwegian in-joke — here is the original post in Norwegian.

Here is my attempted translation! The question marks mean I am uncertain about my translation (?) and would particularly welcome help.  OK, article follows —

It’s as if someone is in the room with you, say employees in Special Collections. They experience sounds and physical events that are  impossible in the locked premises.

” I was down in the basement of a day in the spring to pick up some books. And when I went over to the shelves with their hands full of books, I suddenly feet someone is blowing in my face. It was an icy gust. And there was a feeling that there was someone inside the room with me, ” Engineer Pedro Vasquez continues.

The University Library holds the collections of Old Bergen Museum’s library, which was founded in 1825. The department speculate on if a former employee has returned,; if so he has proven to be as hardy as the books. Also an earlier report from the collections mentioned the ghost (?).

The Special Collections are characterized by high security and there is strict control over who can access them. Therefore, the staff on duty when they hear sounds know they are alone in the room.

” I was all alone and knew that it should not be anyone else there. Suddenly, I heard pages flipped in the large manuscript books we have, just around the corner from where I stood, ” says Nils-Erik Moe-Nilssen, and holds one of the books he is talking about and demonstrates the clear sound of old pages being turned. “There was no wind, and nothing to make the pages to flutter in this way. And of course there was no one around the corner when I looked ” he says.

Former employees have also heard coughing just behind them, and books falling off the shelves for no apparent reason when employees are working in the basement.

“One time I was down there, I heard something fall. I turned around and was sure I saw a head lying on the floor ” (?) says Vasquez.

When he fetched  a colleague and went back to investigate, it turned out to be a collection of letters that had fallen off the shelf, and which had slid out into the corridor.

“But why did it fall off the shelf? And why did  it roll? It is square, not round”  insists Vasquez, who nevertheless was relieved that there was not a head lying on the floor.”

So far no one has actually seen the alleged ghost, but three people have noticed things they can not explain in Special Collections so far. Are they scared after the experiences?

” No, I’m not afraid to go there alone” said Moe-Nilssen.

He looks a little unsure, before he adds:

“Today a book fell down five meters from me. There was no reason why it would fall.”

🙂

Interesting little story, though not spectacular. Still if the University of Bergen want an experienced investigator, I’m sure Yvonne would check it out, and I need an excuse to go to Norway too!

cj x

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Richmond Heights, New Zealand: Not a poltergeist after all!


OK, this one fascinates me. I found it in a NZ paper, The Daily Post.

Residents panic as appliances turn on by themselves

The story by  Abigail Hartevelt describes how residents feared that they were experiencing a poltergeist when their electrical equipment suddenly tuned on…

Residents spooked by appliances turning themselves on can rest easy – it wasn’t a poltergeist.

People living in the Taupo suburb of Richmond Heights rang the Fire Service with an unusual complaint on Monday night – their appliances were turning on by themselves.

But it may simply have been acase of too much voltage going through to their properties becauseof a fault in a power cable.

Taupo Fire Service station officer Al Green said the service was called out to the Richmond Heights area just after 7pm on Monday after concerned residents reported their meter boards were heating up and appliances were turning themselves on.

Unison’s customer relations manager, Danny Gough, said power had to be cut to 26 properties in the suburb from 8pm on Monday to just before 1pm yesterday after they received reports of a power surge causing overheating in meter boards.

Contractors were still investigating but Mr Gough said it appeared there was a fault in a cable which led to excess voltage going into the properties. There were reports of excessive heat going through meter boards at residents’ homes and there was a danger of fire.

No fires were reported but Mr Gough said Unison did not want to take any chances.

He said it was unfortunate the power had to be switched off for so long but residents’ safety was paramount.

“We’d rather shut the power down than have a fire during the night.”

Mr Gough said he could not confirm reports of appliances turning themselves on but that could have happened, given the high voltage going into the properties.

Source: http://www.rotoruadailypost.co.nz/local/news/residents-panic-as-appliances-turn-on-by-themselve/3921740/

I have never heard of this happening before, but guess it may be a uncommon problem with electricity supply: certainly I think it’s worth noting for would be poltergeist investigators, simply because a misdiagnosis of a wiring fault as a spook could so easily have tragic consequences.  Luckily Al Green found the problem quickly — and i thought worth updating the blog to mention it!

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The Things Left in their Place: Images of Those Taken by Fairies in 19th and 13th century Folktale and Legend – David Sivier


It’s always nice to have a change of voice, and as the last post was by JG, this one is my friend David Sivier. His piece was written for the Ars Magica roleplaying game convention held in Cheltenham in 2010, but I think everyone will be able to see why I consider it relevant to POLTERWOTSIT as well! I will comment in a future piece on the similarities and differences between these cases and the poltergeist phenomena, but for today, some folklore studies…

David Sivier writes..

“One of the best-known and most frightening elements of the fairy mythology is the belief that they occasionally stole human children, leaving behind in their place one of their own, a wizened and deformed elf. According to the historian and folklorist, Dr. Ronald Hutton, this belief in changelings suddenly appeared in the Sixteenth century without apparently any previous predecessors. In some parts of the British Isles, however, the fairies did not leave behind one of their own kind for the stolen human child. Instead they replaced it with a ‘stock’, a wooden image of the abducted person, which they’d made specially. Tales of such fairy abductions and substituted images continued to be told in Shetland in the late Nineteenth century. While the belief in changelings may only date to the Sixteenth century, the belief in wooden effigies of those taken by supernatural agencies is much older, and can be traced back to the Thirteenth century.

The folklorist J.G. Ollason recorded one story of such an encounter with the fairies from by Bill Robertson of Lerwick in 1890. Then aged 71, he recalled how his mother and told him the tale herself. She had been staying with friend in Kirgood in Weisdale. The farmer’s wife had just had a baby. Just as the farmer had left the lamb-house, he heard three weird knocks, which appeared to come from underground. He didn’t know what they were, but shut everything up tightly and went into the cornyard. As he caught sight of the stacks of corn, he heard a voice say three times ‘Mind the crooked finger’. The farmer’s wife had a crooked finger, and so he knew that his Grey Nieghbours – the trolls – were looking out for the baby or its mother. He decided to combat them using a candle, knife and Bible. He went into the house and lit a candle, and took a Bible and a steel knife. When he opened the Bible and then knife, the house shook with the noise of roaring, bellowing, stamping and rattling from the cow byre, so that everyone shook with fear. The farmer carried on towards the byre with the knife and open Bible, followed by everyone in the house except the mid-wife, and the mother and baby. When he reached the cow byre he threw the open Bible into it, and placed the knife in his mouth with its edge outwards while holding the lit candle in his hand. Immediately all the noise stopped, and all that was left in the byre was the image the trolls had been preparing of the mother and new baby. The farmer took the fairy image into his house, to use as furniture or as a block for sawing wood. Everyone else saw it, and it was indeed very much like a real woman.

The Belgian hagiographer and encyclopedist, Thomas of Cantimpre, recorded a similar incident in his Bonum Universale de Apibus of 1256-61. In this story, the victim of supernatural abduction is not a mother, but instead a young girl. She apparently dies after dies, and is rescued by her lover after her parents refuse to let her marry him. Thomas states that it happened in Gunerchena, a town in Brabant. After the girl’s parents forbade the lad to marry the girl, she fell into a fever. This became increasingly serious until everyone believed that she was dead, and so had the bells tolled for her. The girl’s lover, however, left town. When he passed some thickets he heard a voice like a woman wailing. He stopped and started searching for who had made the noise, and found the supposedly dead girl. He told her that everyone was mourning her, and asked where she had come from. The girl said in reply that the man, who had seduced her, was now in her presence. This amazed the lad, as he couldn’t see anyone else except the girl. Nevertheless, he caught hold of the girl and took her with him to a house just outside the town. He then returned to Gunerchena, where after talking to his friends, he then went to the girl’s father, who was sitting by the girl’s body with his friends. The lad asked him if he would allow him to marry his daughter. The father was amazed at this, and asked him if he was going to play God by resurrecting her and then marrying her. The lad simply replied by asking if the man would allow him to marry the girl if he gave her back her life and health. The father agreed and confirmed his consent to the marriage in front of everyone. The lad then pulled back the linen shroud to reveal an image, which was certainly not the product of human workmanship. The girl was then fetched and returned to her father. Now back in her old, good health, she and the lad were married several days later. Thomas notes that the girl was still alive and healthy at the time he was writing.

This was not the first time an abduction like this had occurred, as Thomas uses the description of the image given by others, who had also inspected such diabolical images. These consisted of an inside like decayed wood, covered with a thin layer of skin. This is clearly close to the account of such images from the Shetland tale. In the Shetland story, the image is made completely of wood. There is no mention of skin, and the wood appears to have been normal. The wood of the image in Thomas’ story is decayed. Indeed, it may not have been wood at all, as Thomas states it was only like decayed wood. There are also other differences. In the Shetland story, the creatures preparing to abduct the mother and her child are trolls. In Thomas’ story, it is unclear who the creatures that have taken the girl are. They are not seen or heard and so are not described, though Thomas clearly believes they were devils. Moreover, in Thomas’ tale the young man rescues the girl through simple human strength and determination. He takes her and carries her back with him. In the Shetland story the father drives the trolls away using the ritual objects used against fairies – the Bible and a steel or iron blade. Nevertheless, the two stories are similar. While the incidents that gave rise to the stories are doubtless separate, it seems likely that the belief that the supernatural agents responsible for stealing women left wooden images in their place may well originally have come from Belgium. Medieval Scotland had strong ties with Belgium and the Netherlands. Indeed, the surname ‘Bremner’ originally meant someone from Brabant.

Thomas’ tale is also similar to the other fairy motif in which the fairies also include in their ranks members of the dead. This motif dates from the twelfth century. Ordericus Vitalis in his Historiae Normanorum Scriptores records how a priest, Walchin, saw the company of Harlequin in January 1091 at the church of St. Aubin in Anjou in Bonneval. This was a host of people, dressed in black with black horses and banners, It included people from all positions of society, including noble ladies, churchmen, and people that Walchin had personally known while alive. In some later stories collected in the Nineteenth century the dead in fairyland included a woman known to the male visitor to fairyland, who had arrived there out of her love for him. One of the stories that includes this motif is The Fairy Dwelling on Selena Moor, in W. Bottrell’s Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, published between 1870 and 1880. This story records how a popular farmer, Mr. Noy, who lived near Selena Moor in Cornwall, vanished after leaving the inn one night after ordering drinks for the harvest home the following day. The others searched for him when he failed to return. He was found three days later, when the people looking for him found his horse and dogs tied up in a large thicket.

These took them to a nearby ruined barn. Noy was somewhat confused, and surprised it was now morning, but eventually told them about what had happened to him.

He had attempted to take a shortcut through the moor, but had got lost. Eventually he saw lights in the distance and heard music, and thought he had come to another farmhouse, where they were holding a harvest home supper. His horse and dogs would not go on, however, and so he had tied them to the thicket. He then went on through an orchard towards a house. Outside the house were hundreds of small people sat drinking or dancing. One girl was taller than the others, and played the tambourine. She gave this to an old fellow next to her, and went inside to get some ale. She then asked him to come with her, and went they went out into the orchard. There he recognised her as an old sweetheart, Grace Hutchens, who he believed had died three or four years previously. She told him to follow her into the garden, and remain behind the house. He was to remain out of sight and should not touch either fruit or flower. She also warned him against even touching her. Coming back from bringing beer and cider to the other fairies, she took him into a bowery walk and explained to him how she had come to be in fairyland.

She had been out on Selena Moor looking for a stray sheep, when she’d heard Noy calling to his dogs. She tried to take a shortcut towards him, but had got lost in a place where the ferns were above her head. She then crawled on all fours to an orchard where there was music. She tried to get out of the orchard, but had continued to wander around as deliberately misled by the pixies. Eventually she stopped, and through hunger and thirst plucked and ate a beautiful golden plum from one of the trees. This, however, dissolved into bitter water as she ate it, and she collapsed and fainted. When she regained consciousness, she was surrounded by a crowd of small people. They were delighted at having a neat girl to bake and brew for them and look after their babies. She was not dead, and what had been buried in her place was a changeling or likeness of her body. Although trapped there, she could also take the form of a small bird. She was happy to do this, as it allowed her to fly about near him. Noy attempted to rescue her and him by turning his gloves inside out and throwing them among the fairies. They all disappeared, including Grace, and he was alone in a ruined barn. Then something appeared to hit his head, and he fell on to the ground.
The elderly members of Noy’s community were not surprised at his story and considered that Grace had actually not told him anything they didn’t already know. The people there believed that many of those, who had died entranced, were not really dead but had merely been changed into fairies.

These stories also similar to the late 13th or early 14th century poem Sir Orfeo. This was a retelling of the Orpheus myth. In this story, Orpheus is a medieval king, who travels to fairyland to rescue his wife, Heuridis. The tale also describes fairyland as including the human dead, which Sir Orfeo sees in his stay there. Both Thomas’ story and Noy’s account of his adventures amongst the fairies are, like Sir Orfeo, about men attempting to rescue the women they love from captivity in fairyland.

As for people travelling to fairyland in a trance or an apparent fit, one of the most famous examples of this is the case of Anne Jeffries in Seventeenth century Cornwall. Jeffries came from St. Teath. When she was 19 years old in 1645, she became a servant in the household of Moses Pitt. Sitting in his garden one day, she met a group of tiny men. One of them touched her eyes, and she flew through the air until she came to the strange, beautiful realm of fairyland.

When she eventually came back to the garden, she found herself surrounded by the rest of the household, who were afraid that she’d had a fit. This was the first of several subsequent meetings with the fairies, who taught her how to use herbs to heal the sick. This led to accusations of witchcraft, for which she was imprisoned in Bodmin jail. She was eventually released because of a lack of evidence. She claimed that during her imprisonment she was fed by the fairies.

It is impossible to know what the reality behind some of these fairy encounters were. In the case of the medieval poem of Sir Orfeo, this may simply be the retelling of classical myth in the feudal setting of medieval Europe, with the classical pagan elements of the story transformed into contemporary medieval fairy lore. It is possible that the poem may have been inspired by tales like Thomas of Cantimpre’s, in which men attempt to protect and rescue their wives, lovers and children from abduction by fairies and evil spirits.

Some of these encounters with the fairies may well have been hallucinations, brought on by illness or hunger, thirst and disorientation, as in the case of the girl in Thomas of Cantimpre’s story, and the accounts of Mr. Noy and Anne Jeffries. As for the fairy ‘stock’, the wooden images that were left in place of the abducted person, this is similar to accounts in witchcraft cases, where a spirit or demon took the place of the witch while they attended the sabbat. In the contemporary mythology of alien abduction, some of the victims claimed that they had been replaced by a robot copy while they were aboard the alien craft. As John Keel pointed out in his discussion of the connections between modern UFO mythology and traditional fairy legends in Operation Trojan Horse, these are attempts by individuals to explain how they could be elsewhere – at the witches’ Sabbath, or aboard an alien spacecraft, when they were seen in their normal surroundings in a trance.

There is, however, one puzzling aspect of Thomas of Cantimpre’s story and that of Bill Robertson in Shetland. In both these accounts, the image of the abducted person created by the fairies remained to be examined and used by the rest of the family and others. This suggests a physical reality. It is possible in the case of Thomas of Cantimpre’s story that the images examined by others could be decayed corpses, in which the badly decayed state of the internal organs had been mistaken for something like wood. If this was the case, then presumably such a corpse could have been used as a dummy by someone wishing to escape particularly stifling personal circumstances, such as parents, who refused to allow them to marry their sweethearts. Perhaps they were even the remains of the supposedly abducted person, who had genuinely died, and whose identity had then been taken over by someone else, who bore a remarkable likeness to them.

This still, however, wouldn’t explain the wooden image left behind by the Shetland fairies, which was definitely wooden, and used for a manner of practical purposes by the family of the intended victim. Unfortunately, like some of these accounts themselves, it’s a matter of speculation what this really looked like, just like the reality of these mysterious journeys into fairyland themselves.

Sources

Katharine Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (London: Routledge 1967), pp. 18-22, 60.

’35. A Disturbing Vision. Thomas of Cantimpre: Bonum Universale de Apibus (1256-61)’ in The Occult in Medieval Europe, ed. and trans. by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2005), pp. 50-1.

‘Mind the Crooked Finger’ in Ernest W. Marwick, The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland (London: B.T. Batsford 1975), pp. 170-2.

‘Sir Orfeo’ in J. Simpson and S. Roud, Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford: OUP 2000), p. 269.

‘St. Teath’ in Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain (London: Reader’s Digest 1973), p. 142.

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Poltergeist Raps: JG experiments


I only know JG as a commentator on this blog, but I asked their permission to publish some comment they made on Dr Barrie Colvin’s paper from the JSPR which was the subject of my last piece. They cheerfully granted me permission, so here is JG’s research. Please note I am not the author; JG is – so questions should be directed to he or she, by commenting here on the blog!

JG writes —

“I decided to test the theory that the delay in reaching peak sound intensity (the ‘attack’), seen in the poltergeist acoustics paper, might be primarily caused by sound reflections from room walls.

First I tried making successive recordings of a knocking sound at increasing distances from the recorder. As the distance increased, the proportion of the sound arriving from reflections off walls should increase relative to that arriving directly from the source. This showed a significant increased attack but not enough.

Then I tried having the sound source around a corner, so there was a wall blocking the most direct path of the sound. This consistently produced an attack around an order of magnitude longer compared to a direct line of sight recording. The actual attack length was highly sensitive to the precise position of the sound source. Trying a large piece of furniture between the sound source and the recorder also produced a significant lengthening of the attack, though not as big.

The most likely explanation for the large lengthening of the attack time, when the source and recorder are separated around a corner, or some other large object, is the difference in different path lengths taken by the sound. With a heavy object or wall absorbing most of the sound taking the direct path, the remaining sound must either be diffracted or reflected to reach the recorder. The diffracted path closely follows the outside of the obstructing objects and always arrives quite quickly at the recorder. However, a significant proportion of the reflected sound must go via multiple wall surfaces in order to circumvent the obstruction. It is this big difference between the relatively direct diffracted path and the much longer reflected route that causes the longer attack.

So, unless the sound source and recorder are in direct line of sight of each other, there is likely to be a significant lengthening of the attack, of the type seen in the paper. The magnitude of that lengthening will depend on the precise layout of the room and be highly sensitive to relatively small changes in the relative position of sound source and recorder.  This is because of the many different  reflection paths that are possible.

Typical attack times when there is line of sight between source and recorder is in milliseconds. When there is a bulky obstruction between them it goes up to hundredths of a second. This makes sense since sound travels at about 340 m/s in air and the extra path length due to reflection (often multiple) will be in the order of metres up to low tens of metres. This is due to the diagonal paths taken by reflections to cross rooms that have wall lengths typically of a few metres.

Thus, if sound reflection is the cause of the slow attack in the poltergeist cases in the paper, you would expect the delay to all be in the region of hundredths of a second. Much longer or shorter would suggest that there must be some alternative explanation.

I decided to see if the figures from the paper itself agreed with this prediction. It is just possible to make out the time scales in the figures in the paper. Thus, it was possible to quantify, approximately, the attack times in the cases in the paper.

So here are the results. The figures are the approximate attack time in seconds, followed by a length in metres. By multiplying the time by 340 m/s you can see how much longer the bulk to the reflected waves travelled compared to diffracted ones (assuming the hypothesis is valid).

  • Andover peak intensity after 0.03s (extra path length implied 10.2m)
  • Euston square (1) 0.025s (8.5m)
  • Euston Square (2) 0.007s (2.4m)
  • Sauchie 0.04s (13.6m)
  • Thun 0.02s (6.8m)
  • Schleswig 0.015s (5.1m)
  • Pursruck 0.02s (6.8m)
  • Ipiranga 0.05s (17m)
  • La machine 0.04s (13.6m)
  • Enfield 0.01s (3.4m)

The figures are reasonably consistent with each other and all fall within the expected range, so supporting the hypothesis that sound reflections round an obstruction are likely to be the primary reason for the slow attack.

The delay in the arrival of sound from reflection would also tend to extend the overall length of a rap compared to one seen in line of sight from the recorder. Also, if the sound source is relatively remote from the recorder, as the figures above suggest, the higher frequencies will be missing as these are preferentially absorbed by the intervening air.”

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