Tag Archives: Becky Smith

Sex and the Poltergeist – Part One


The following article was first published in the ASSAP magazine Seriously Strange 147 Spring/Summer 2015 (p.30-31). I have added a short bibliography, but otherwise the article is as originally published. You can join ASSAP at http://www.assap.ac.uk if interested in this sort of thing. Part 2 will follow…

“Are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods?” So sings Holly Johnson on Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s pounding 1985 hit Two Tribes – YouTube. Well you can see why he might ask the question; sex and horror are staples of the cinema, and at the point that record came out Britain had experienced a moral panic over ‘video nasties’.

Now of course we are jaded – films like Hostel, Saw and The Human Caterpillar are described as torture porn, and sex and horror are still tightly entangled. It’s nothing new – The Creature from the Black Lagoon poster (1954) is a classic of the B Movie genre that exploits sex and horror in a more innocent way, but the two entwine back through theatre,to the early novels where the Gothic is all about sex and horror.

So does Art imitate Life? According to most of the ghosthunters I know, yes. After all, many of us have encountered cases like the ladies who believe ghosts are having sex with them, or the chap who believed he was attacked by a  Succubus – he said incubus, but I think he meant the female variant – through to groping ghosts or their more pleasant cousins the incredibly beautiful phantom, beloved of older folklore collections where no phantom is ever plain or homely.

Occasionally one is able to help someone – if you spontaneously orgasm while lying down, it is probably worth seeing your GP, because there is a condition that causes it, and it is best to get it treated no matter how satisfying the symptoms! In other cases one just has to shrug and explain that the experience reported may be sleep paralysis (a convenient place-holder, though the actual physiology of the experience remains mysterious) or possibly psychological, but there are some places where even the boldest ghost hunter can not take their EMF meter, and a clients bed with them is one of them!

It is worth noting however that you are most likely to see a ghost at home, in your own bed according to all survey research, and yet when I try and sell ghost nights where I just come around and sleep with you no one buys tickets. Oh well, one tries…

So while a tiny percentage of cases a paranormal investigator is called upon to look at involve sexual themes, there is one kind of haunting that always seems to be associated in the popular mind, and indeed among many ‘experts’, with sex, or developing sexuality. I refer of course to the poltergeist. In the 1970’s one North American researcher joked he had a scale of charges to seduce your daughter: time and time again forty years later I read things like “there is always a young woman going through puberty associated with poltergeists” or “poltergeists never occur except around teenage girls” or “sexual frustration and powerful emotions are invariably associated with the poltergeist”. If you hold to the agent theory, that a poltergeist has a human focus, well researchers tend to look for the younger women in the household. I’m guessing many of you watched the recent adaptation on Sky of This House is Haunted, Guy Lyon Playfair’s book on the Enfield poltergeist?

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; but of he get's the voice right I'm happy!

Timothy Spall looks nothing like Maurice in this scene from the drama; but of he get’s the voice right I’m happy!

Did you notice how, like the book, but even more so, the narrative focussed on the two girls, and Margaret’s puberty and Janet growing in to womanhood? We even get a scene in the bath featuring one of the girls first menses as I recall? In my recent look at the Enfield Case I came to focus on the boys – but they are almost missing from the narrative; one tragically died a few years later, and one was absent through many of the events at school, but seriously we will never understand Enfield till we look at the whole family, not just the girls. My gut feeling is Playfair and Grosse were on to something important, but I’m frustrated at times by the way the boys don’t feature much in the write up.

I’ve done it – in an early case, the teenage daughter seemed the obvious focus, and the fact she was a dancer and very attractive and articulate probably added to that, but eventually I came to think another family member represented the centre of events.

I have long noted that in much psychical research in the past the focus was on (attractive, vivacious, one might say alluring) young ladies. Eva C (she was a lesbian) and Baron Shrenck Notzing aside, time and time again we find accusations of romantic relationships between the older, powerful and usually well positioned man and the young, attractive and not so powerful female medium. Sir William Crookes and Florence Cook (or Katie King) are one example, and various accusations of sexual impropriety with her investigators floated around Mina Crandon, aka Margery, no matter how unjustified. These young ladies were tied up, probed and allowed to act in a

Alex Owen's The Darkened Room

Alex Owen’s The Darkened Room

manner that would not normally be possible for a woman – though Margery was maybe an exception, being a talented and strong willed woman before she dabbled in mediumship. One would need to write a detailed study of women, power and sexuality in the Victorian and Edwardian séance room, did it not already exist in the form of Alex Owen’s superb book The Darkened Room.

So what’s wrong with this? Surely the reason for all these young ladies being involved with physical and mental mediumship is because the phenomena occur around them, rather than as I seem to be suggesting because historically most psychical researchers have been ageing men, perhaps susceptible to the charms of the fairer sex? Are adolescent girls not the centre of most poltergeist cases?

It is admittedly hard to tell, but we have one tool we can use. In 1979 Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell published their magisterial work Poltergeists, in which they analysed 500 cases from across a huge range of time and place, subjecting them to factor analysis and then using a computer to see how various factors (case mainly nocturnal; phenomena occur outside; raps or knocking – that sort of thing) group together in a Cluster Analysis. If you own the book turn to pages 226 to 228 – if you don’t, head over to Amazon or similar and buy a copy. It is that good!

At first glance the data in the table seems to support the contention women are the primary agents. Out of the cases where an “agent” who seemed to be at the centre of the phenomena was identified, in 143 cases (29%) were female, and 54 (11%) were male. (In the remaining 60% of cases no clear agent can be found).

Gauld and Cornell however realised not all their cases were evidentially equal, and they analysed a subgroup of their cases with stronger testimony, comprising of just under half (247) of the cases (column 6 if you have the book open). There we have 12% male agents (30 cases), and 34% female (85 cases).

So we can at least put one myth to bed – while there appear to be a roughly 4:1 split in favour of women in these cases, a sizeable minority revolve around men, as for example was the case in Julio in the Miami gift warehouse poltergeist reported by Bill Roll. Given the tendency for researchers to look at the women first, this may possibly explain some of the difference.

So what about the age of the agent? Luckily Gauld and Cornell provide us with figures for two categories – “agent under 20” and “agent 20 or over”. 30% were under 20; 8% over 20 (in the higher testimony cases it was 37% and 9%). In short we see again a preponderance of young people, and in maybe 75% of cases a teenager features – but a good quarter do not. Now there is a complicating factor – because assuming there is a difference – and I am on record as doubting that strongly – Gauld & Cornell’s data contains some cases that can better be characterised as hauntings rather than poltergeists. Indeed they did an analysis that separates very groups by cluster, and found some haunt type ghost cases, some classic poltergeists, and a group somewhere in

Alan Gauld

Alan Gauld, c.1997

between. I ran a cluster analysis using Becky Smith’s PhD data using NVIVO, looking at her “poltergeist type cases” and I did not find a gender bias difference between polts and hauntings – but it COULD occur in the Gauld and Cornell data set – I have no way of telling. Unfortunately Becky Smith disproved from her data set the pilot study suggestion that men forget these incidents faster so are less likely to report them than women. So what is going on?

I don’t know. Historically women were perhaps more likely to be at home more than men, as were younger people. This may well account for mush of the bias, for with a few exceptions like the Miami warehouse very few poltergeists seem to manifest at work. Given they are domesticated entities, who dwell within your homes, maybe that explains the sex differential in the data?

So given my doubts about whether adolescent women, or even young women, feature heavily in the majority of poltergeist cases, and that that was proving hard to establish by statistics, I resorted to the only thing I could think of, and read every account I could find of poltergeists. I’m still doing it now, and my infrequently updated blog Polterwotsit is the place to follow my findings, but I guess I need to open the floor to other researchers, and ask – is there a link between sex and the poltergeist, and if so what is it?

Over to you, the readers of this blog – what are your thoughts?

REFERENCES

Gauld, A; Cornell, A.D.; (1979) Poltergeists, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Owen, A (1989) The Darkened Room: Women,Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England, Virago, London.

Roll, W.G., Burdick, D., & Joines, W.T. (1973) Radial and tangential forces in the Miami poltergeist. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 67, 267-281.

Roll, W.G; (2004);The Poltergeist; Paraview; New York

Smith, B. (2013) A Century of Apparitions (unpublished PhD thesis)

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Poltergeist Breakthrough? JSPR publishes Dr Barrie Colvin’s research


Firstly, what can one say but sorry it has been so long. Becky was made redundant, and is now shuttling between Cheltenham and Derby, and I am ridiculously busy — something which should ease up about mid to late August.  I will of course be trying to catch up on what has been happening in the world of spooks in the meantime, and hope to keep the blog interesting.

However, readers will recall that in my previous comments on this or my personal blog I referenced the fascinating work of Dr. Barrie Colvin. At that time the work was unpublished — and even in my Paranormal Review review of the SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists: Then and Now I refused to reveal any details of the hypothesis  until the journal article was out. Well now it is, in the April 2010 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and I want to briefly discuss it here.

I’m involved in an internet debate on a Dawkins successor forum, http://www.rationalskepticism.org (Richard Dawkins closed his own forum back in February, and this is one of the communities set up by emigres from there) where I had briefly mentioned Dr Colvin’s work in passing. Once the JSPR piece was published i wanted to discuss it more fully — and owing to tiredness and time pressures I may have made a hash of it, but I wrote a brief precis of key themes, which I thought may interest readers of this blog. However really you should read the original article, because it may be the single most important thing written on the poltergeist phenomena so far this century, in fact it probably is.  It is ‘ The Acoustic Properties of Unexplained Rapping Sounds’ in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research [2010] Vol 73.2 Number 899 pp 65-93.”

At the time I last brought up Dr.Colvin’s research it was unpublished: now fortuitously it is in print, and we can discuss it in a little more depth.
Remember, this is not a lab experiment. Even if it was, we would want a plethora of different microphones to rule out the possibility that the equipment, not the sound itself, was causing the unusual acoustic characteristics. Instead we are looking at ten recordings from ‘the field’, from cases in which Dr Colvin was for the most part not involved – Andover (1981) being the exception. The other cases which provided recordings were

Sauchie, Scotland (1960) – from Broadcasting House, from the BBC recordings taken at the time.

http://www.p-e-g.co.uk/Web/Articles/ART … icle23.htm

has more on the case for those not familiar with it – Owen, A.R.G. Can We Explain the Poltergeist? New York: Helix Press / Garrett Publications, 1964 gives a full account by the principle investigator.

Thun, near Bern, Switzerland (1967) The recordings were taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Schleswig , Switzerland, (1967) taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Pursruck, Germany (1971) – from a recording by Prof. Hans Bender (16-bit stereo, 44100Hz)

Ipiranga, Brazil (1973) – recording by Guy Lyon Playfair taken during the IBPP investigation. More on the case can be found in Playfair’s 1975 book The Flying Cow.

La Machine, France (1973) – recording by Dr Alfred Krantz.

Enfield, England (1977) – from original reel to reel tapes, which was running “at the rather slow speed of 15/16 of inch per second” (Colvin 2010); recording taken by SPR investigator Maurice Grosse. A recent Channel 4 documentary on the case well worth watching can be seen here —

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/inte … oltergeist

– you can see the equipment used and context.

Andover, England (1981) – investigated by Dr Colvin.

Santa Rosa, Brazil (1988) – taken from a recording made of a television broadcast (by TV Globo) on the case.

Euston Square, England (2000) This case has recordings by both Maurice Grosse and Mary Rose Barrington available.

Ten cases, none recent, because recordings of acoustic phenomena associated with poltergeists are by their nature difficult to collect: one need a poltergeist after all! The two Swiss cases are from a digital CD recording commercially available of recordings of parapsychological phenomena – it is impossible to say to what extent they have been edited and processed, so I would say they were VERY weak evidence. The Brazilian cases rely on recordings taken by Guy Lyon Playfair at the time, and by him off the TV, and he was present at Enfield – yet fraud seems unthinkable, given the dates, unless he somehow had access to very high end studio equipment and knowledge of acoustics in a pre-digital sound age. Therefore, I think that so long as we trust Dr Colvin’s acoustic analysis, the sound signatures he claims to detect in his varied collection of poltergeist sounds are authentic. Colvin’s claims are checkable — at least some of these recordings – the Enfield sounds and the two from the CD, and possibly if you are willing to approach the BBC Sauchie – are available in their original form to interested independent parties wishing to check the results. I suspect someone with appropriate acoustics knowledge could acquire copies of all the recordings by request to the SPR. (http://www.spr.ac.uk)

Adobe Audition http://www.adobe.com/products/audition/ was used for the analysis, in case anyone fancies trying a replication. I do favour a hands on approach as you all know by now!

So what does Colvin claim to have found? Well let’s start with a normal waveform. It follows a characteristic pattern – a wave form showing a sharp rise in amplitude or immediately to maximum amplitude, followed by a gradual decrease to zero. Adobe Audition has a free trial, but there is plenty of freeware on the web you can download which allows you to experiment with banging various substances yourself. I did so, analysing some sounds submitted by Wayne Morris from his paranormal investigation at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe last year, and found that the banging noises there followed the same type of acoustic signature I could get by kicking the wall or banging my desk – the above pattern, suggesting a normal explanation for those (non-poltergeist) sounds. Simple experimentation with a large number of substances demonstrated that the pattern is consistent, and that Colvin’s comment on this is completely correct. I encourage everyone reading to try this for themselves, to familiarise themselves with the standard way the amplitude and frequency can be analysed and the common pattern one sees.

Colvin gives a couple examples of frequency ranges in mundane sounds – a hammer hitting an oak desk gives a frequency band of mainly 50Hz to 300Hz – a teaspoon on a crystal glass 300Hz to 3000Hz, with a decay of amplitude lasting three seconds. What one might expect in short. However, once again I strongly suggest a few minutes experimentation at home, and posting the results??? Really, do try!

So how do the acoustic properties of the raps in the ten cases in question vary? They show a consistently odd rise in amplitude, a waveform that slowly rises rather building to a sudden peak and then falling away. One can test this on the knocks from the Channel 4 shows recordings from Enfield I guess, or armed with some money, order the CD Colvin took the Swiss cases from: I have too date done neither. Given the fact the JSPR article is clearly copyright, I shall simply reproduce just two of the figures here, showing a knock deliberately made by Grosse at Enfield as he tried to replicate the noises,and one of the anomalous raps…

Image

So why do the waveforms show these unusual characteristics? Colvin thought of a possibility, which shows his critical thinking and thoroughness —

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR[/i] 73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
One of the possible normal explanations put forward to explain the results is that certain types of microphones may give rise to the anomalous results because of their inherent qualities and mode of operation. A microphone is simply a sensor that converts sound in to an electrical signal. The most common types consist of a thin membrane that vibrates in response to sound pressure.

I actually did not know much about how microphones work. This was helpful!

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR [/i]73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
This movement is subsequently translated in to an electrical signal using one of several techniques. Most examples use electromagnetic induction, capacitance change, piezoelectric generation or light modulation to convert the mechanical vibration of the signal to an electrical signal. The question that arises is relation to a short impulse such as a rap is whether or not there could a be a delay between production of the sound and vibration of the membrane. Could the inertia of the membrane, particularly with microphones dating back to the 1970’s, lead to a relatively slow increase to maximum amplitude when subjected to a short burst of acoustic energy?

This is why I suggested in a lab set up we would require several microphones, of different makes, models and manufacture. Colvin experimented making raps with a number of microphones dating from 1959 (including the Phillips EL3549A & the EL3782 with impedance 583 ohms) to present day microphones, looking at the waveforms, to falsify this hypothesis. Again, with old microphones common in attics if my house is anything to go by, I suggest interested parties can do at home…

However there is another reason to believe the results are not an artefact of the microphones. Three of the recordings include the investigators making their own raps. These investigator produced raps possess the normal waveform, not the slow rise in amplitude associated with the “poltergeist knockings”. As such, we have an inadvertent control, which demonstrates the microphone was NOT the source of the unusual waveforms.

Colvin has managed to find similar acoustic waveforms to those recorded in these ten cases – in recordings of seismic activity. His paper gives two examples – a recording of an earthquake at Ascension Island in 2007, and a British Geological Survey recording of a seismic event at Folkestone in 2009, described as being “like an explosion”. Colvin theorises that the sound signatures associated with the poltergeist events imply they are caused by a sudden release of tension or alteration in the substance of an object, not with as one would assume a rapping of one thing on another. An intriguing suggestion, but clearly one that requires further high quality recordings to test adequately.

It’s a fascinating article, one of the best I have read in a long while. I want to experiment now, and above all to try and collect more recordings from cases to give to Dr Colvin. I strongly suggest all reader of this blog try to lay their hands upon the latest JSPR to read the article as soon as possible…

cj x

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South Yorkshire Tyre Depot Part 2


OK, let’s start with the Daily Express coverage of this event – which it seems is happening in Doncaster. I will then return to the Daily Mail story.  Firstly, thanks to David Sivier for the tip-off which led me to this story today.

RIDDLE OF THE PENNY PHANTOM

A PHANTOM has left a tyre depot boss spooked after 70-year-old King George VI penny coins were left on the floor at the dead of night.

So begins the story. In itself I find this fascinating: during the Accidental Census of Hallucinations conducted by Becky Smith and myself  we had a wonderful account of a Canadian poltergeist case where coins being moved and left on the floor were a key phenomena. Money also featured heavily in the Cardiff Responsive Poltergeist investigated by Prof. David Fontana, and in many other cases over the years. Immediately a question arises – why are coins (and less frequently banknotes – one wonders when mysterious Paypal transactions and credit cards will start to feature!) so important in these cases?

British Pennies

King George VI penny (top) - from Wikipedia commons. They are about the size of a modern two pence piece.

So seriously, why coins? One reason may be that coins provide a date, and set a “cause” for event in context. We are all used to archaeologists dating sites by coin finds, while coins remain in circulation for sometimes decades after they are minted, and sometimes much longer, the latest coin found can sometimes provide an important clue to the latest date of a site being inhabited.  However, in this kind of case the date of the coins is clearly pointing to a time period — but immediately something strikes me as very unusual. As far as I recall off the top of my head, in Cardiff and other cases I have looked at like the Canadian one the coinage that was moved or appeared was modern – contemporary money. In fact I seem to recall fivers appearing in the Cardiff case.

Ancient coins may feature in some cases – I have vague memories of such, and would welcome being pointed to references – but I can only think of the artefacts produced by the Scole Group, some of  which such as a newspaper were again of approximately World War 2 vintage (though later shown to be a later souvenir reproduction copy as I recall?), and the Borley Medallions which were 18th or 19th century French religious medallions. It might be interesting to do an analysis of the age of the items in such cases as the time of the discovery, rather than the date they come from, and see if there was any pattern –but oddly the very fact these coins are so clearly old makes me wonder if we could be looking at a hoax?

George VI pennies are not rare – at home in Suffolk I have a small box with a couple of hundred of them, and other old coins going all the way back to Queen Victoria. It’s about forty years since they were legal tender, but I assume that millions of them were in circulation, and many readers elderly relatives may still have some in their homes, based on my grandmother Alice having given me hers she never got round to changing in to new money at decimalization. Only two coins have been found so far, so not hard to fake if you wanted to.

The coins being left on the floor are however interesting – I would have thought a hoaxer would have thrown them, or placed them in some more interesting and eerie location. In the Canadian case,  the witness reports coins being taken form a glass jar and placed on top of the TV, the floor by the bedroom door, and the coffee table. A similar, equally ‘pointless’ manifestation – except in that case the coins were modern.

So why money? Is this indicative of a “dead” or “living” agent for the ‘haunt’? As I note using commonly available old coins seems to be an obvious tactic for a hoaxer — and if you are going to lob something in a hoax coins are a great choice, easily available, make a nice ringing noise on impact and people are wired to be impressed by money – but equally the psychological power of money and coinage as a symbol might be just as important if unconscious psi from a living agent was responsible. And if a discarnate “dead guy” was responsible, well maybe we can see this as a very definite demonstrations of the “ghosts” time era….

Google and the Single Poltergeist

However, I am by nature suspicious. Those who do not own a blog may not be aware but while we receive no information on WHO is googling our sites, blog owners can see what search terms bring people to the site from Google and other search engines.  In recent weeks I have noticed a pattern on my other blog – And Sometimes He’s So Nameless – and on this new blog. The search terms “Cardiff poltergeist +Fontana” & similar turn up just three hits on this site (April 1st to 3rd) – and the same period reveals a number of hits (12) on my other blog on this subject. Now in fact Becky’s essay and my passing references say nothing about coins, and I know that at least one individual was writing a piece on the Cardiff  case — so perhaps my suspicions are ill founded. I suspect the most likely reason for the interest in the Cardiff Case in early April was that the old Ghosthunters (William Woolard) show aired somewhere in the internet using world, as a similar pattern emerged of searches for “Ancient Ram Inn” after the Ghost Adventures episode based there aired first in the US and then in the UK.  I therefore think that it is unlikely, but not impossible someone could have been using Google to find out about polts to fake one: it is far more likely given the large number of recent cases reported that an investigator or interested party was casually browsing!

Apparitional Encounters…

Let us return to the Daily Express story —

The ghostly figure, said to materialise from time to time in 1940s clothing, has previously pelted staff with coins by day and moved tyres around the locked building overnight.

Curious. Several things stand out here. Firstly, an apparition has been seen – a “polterghost case”. That is of course not that uncommon as I have pointed out before, and I will write something on polterghosts in the future.  The figure is seen in 1940’s clothing – hence the coins are clearly appropriate. Yet, one wonders — the journalist does not seem to have an interview or direct quote about the figure being seen. One wonders how long ago the ghost was seen, and if an old ghost inspired the 40’s coins… I don’t know why, maybe I’m just unusually cynical today. Perhaps it’s the fact I find the story in the national press, rather than the local press as with the other stories.

Secondly, we see the staff have in fact been “pelted” with coins. Readers of my blog will realise why I find that interesting and puzzling. Did the coins hit them? Were they modern coins, or more George VI pennies? Probably the former, as only two George VI pennies have been found, and they were both on the floor.  Why George VI pennies? I would have imagined a chap in say 1942 would have in his loose change coins from George V, and other monarchs.  George VI only came to the throne in 1936 (December 11th), so coinage issued would only go back 14 years at the end of the forties – if I had any money I would check the dates, but I would not be surprised to find coins dating from the 1980’s and 1990’s in my pockets (well I would, but only because the life of a paranormal investigator means I hardly ever have any coins in my pockets – time to add a donate button to the blog!) So far only two old coins have been recovered – why I postulate above that the other coins staff were “pelted with” are modern – so I guess that implies some time in the 1940’s when they were the most common coins in circulation.

In the spirit of investigation I found my coat with a handful of change in – the coins were dated as follows 1980 (1):  1989 (1): 1996 (1) : 1997 (1) : 2001 (3) : 2007 (1): 2009 (2).   So while we only have two King George VI (coins struck 1937-1952) coins to work with, it would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions  from that – I have a thirty year two pence piece in my pocket!  Becky checked her purse, and her oldest coin was 1982 – as old as she is…

Still, we are also back to the traditional poltergeist activity – people having coins thrown at them, and tires moving around. But wait —

“and moved tyres around the locked building overnight.”

OK. So tires move when no one is present. I have seen plenty of cases where this kind of thing is supposed to occur – movement when no one present in the building. Off the top of my head that was the case in a couple of incidents in The Bromley Poltergeist investigated by the late Manfred Cassirer. However it clashes with William Roll’s cases, where  human living agent was almost always present in the vicinity when events occurred, and the “vortex” theory, where a swirling field of “energy” around a living agent shoots objects off at a tangent, like dried peas off a record turntable…

I find this mildly suspicious. Why should the movement not occur during the day? Sure night time is the traditional time for spooks, but in fact it seems coins were thrown in the day time: even a shy poltergeist could have moved tires when everyone was distracted surely? If this has only happened once, I can see it — it would be strong evidence for “battery” theories of the poltergeist, or “dead guys” —  but it just seems odd somehow. Could someone be hoaxing Nick the owner? Has any former worker from the business got a key? When were the locks changed? As usual I have more questions than answers…

Father-of-four Nick White, who bought it in 2007, said: “I took all the strange stories with a very big pinch of salt. It seemed so far-fetched. But this is scary. The place is locked at night.”

I’m starting to see a possible explanation, but it may be far fetched (it will have to wait for Part 3 though). The building already has a reputation for being haunted in 2007 when Nick buys it. In fact we learn —

Psychic researchers now plan to spend a night at the depot, once named by The Rough Guide To Unexplained Phenomena as one of the spookiest places in Britain.

Interesting. Wonder who is going in to look? I would have thought conducting detailed interviews with all the staff and former tenants of the building would have been a more productive mode of investigation, but still be fascinating to stay there overnight, and I hope to see the report from the group when it’s written up.  What I find particularly fascinating here is that The Rough Guide To Unexplained Phenomena which was published in August 2007 features the location. There may also be earlier newspaper stories then in the local press archives, and earlier witness reports from before Nick arrived.  With the limited resources at my disposal I will try and track these down, but if anyone has a copy of the Rough Guide I would love to hear what it says about the place. Can anyone help?As you may have gathered I can’t afford to buy books! 😦

What is very clear here is that the case is a “haunting”: it appears to have gone on for at least a  few years, and to be place-centred rather than person centred. Whether this is necessarily the case or not I will discuss when I suggest my own ideas in Part 3, but I need to actually go do some real life stuff now, so Part 3 will be late tonight or this afternoon if I can find the time.

I will sign off with a final spooky quote from the article which I will discuss in depth later —

The depot in Doncaster, South Yorks, is a former chapel that served as a war-time morgue.

CJ x


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Cheshire Poltergeist in Picture Pose?


Poltergeists are like buses — You wait ages for them, then they all turn up at once; or so it would seem. Well of course I have not been waiting ages — this blog is only a couple of weeks old, and already we have looked at Cork (last week) and York (earlier today). I am slightly annoyed with the paranormal-powers-that-be that they have no provided another case, published just two hours ago in a Cheshire newspaper.  Any of my readers in the Stockport area?

OK, I will try and give this one the love and attention it deserves, but a chap can only comment on so many cases in once day! It seems ironic I signed off my last piece on the York poltergeist just an hour or two ago saying people ask “where are the poltergeists today?” and stating that the answer was no one was looking — well I think this proves my point. I shall certainly send a message to the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee drawing attention to this blog, and then they can proceed as they see fit with each of these cases. Becky and I would love to follow them up — but I simply do not have the money to do so (Indeed I  simply do not have any money at all, as readers of my personal blog will appreciate!).

Ghostbusters called in to pub after party pic terror

March 31, 2010

A landlady has called in a team of ghostbusters after things went bump in the night at her pub.

The ghostly happenings came to a head when Janice Wright held her 45th birthday party at the Stock Dove in Romiley.

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Now she has called in paranormal researchers Club Zero Ghost Group to investigate.

Mrs Wright said: “I could not believe it when I saw the pictures – it is really freaky. We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

So immediately this one is different: the emphasis is very clearly on a traditional “ghost” interpretation, and the landlady has chosen to call in a local group (never heard of Club Zero Ghost Group but nice website,  but will have to get in touch with them, I’m friends with a bewildering number of paranormal groups!), but in this case the ghost appears to have been photographed. Best take this  bit at a time…

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Sadly the photo is not reproduced anywhere in the article, which is a puzzling oversight. One wonders if the mystery guest might just be a gatecrasher? I’d be curious to see it, but obviously with photos with extra people in them like this the usual explanation is that someone else was present, and simply not identifiable by the photographer afterwards. I must say I have seen photos of me in which I am unrecognisable to me! I will make some enquiries, but I am really unsure what to say about this until I have actually seen the images.  However Mrs Wright is unnerved by the photo – but could that be because of the other phenomena?

We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

There is an awful lot of phenomena packed in to that short sentence. What is interesting is the differences to what we saw reported at York and Cork.  “Whistling, screaming, crying”… The whistling sets an icy tingle down my spine, not least because the motif is used in William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural fiction,  but because whistling has been a feature of a number of cases. Screaming and crying? One wonders when this will resolve in to voices — and if a voice does emerge, I really want to know more. I am not going to speculate further here on this simply because I am making predictions about what would happen and the nature of the voice if that did occur — I’m hoping for something more like the Rougham Poltergeist in Suffolk in the 1980’s than the questionable voices of Enfield.

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

I’m Always Touched by Your Presence, Dear…

Now Becky is about to do a major study (well she has started) for her Ph.D on apparitional experiences, funded by the SPR and supervised by Dr Ian Hume at Coventry University. Before she began Becky and I conducted a piece of research we call the Accidental Census of Hallucinations, which we hope to publish an article based upon in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.  Drawing on the work of the SPR in the 1880’s and 1890’s and Dr Donald West’s fascinating studies later, the details are not important here but we closely analysed (using a methodology called Grounded Theory) sixty accounts of unusual experiences. (I’m sure we will write much more on this topic in the future, so I’m passing quickly over it here.)

In that sample 21.3% reported a tactile hallucination, that is a  feeling of being touched, as Ian did. 53.8% of those who did reported other phenomena: in 46.2% it was the sole experience reported.  In 69.2% of those who claimed tactile hallucinations it only happened once: the remainder had multiple experiences of this sort.  In only one case  it is  an ongoing experience, that happens semi-regularly. There was nothing unusual about the gender or age of the people having the experience compared with other anomalous experiences (such as say seeing apparitions) – two thirds of those reporting the experience were female. 32% of the reports mention specifically being touched on the shoulder.

So what does this tell us? Actually, not much, apart from the fact one can have the distinct impression of being touched with out any other “ghostly” experiences. I therefore make the following suggestion: the sense of being touched may be a relatively common physiological or neurological phenomenon – a somatosensory hallucination. In fact it may be about as common as hearing someone call your name, but there not being anyone there. Now the account is not clear how many times this has happened, or to whom, but if it has only happened once or twice then it may just be a coincidence of a trivial but not uncommon experience, and maybe then suggestion.

The problem with my hypothesis is that in about half the cases Becky and I found the experience of being touched was linked to other phenomena. While my idea is that these cases are recalled precisely BECAUSE of the other phenomena, I am not convinced that can necessarily account for such a high correlation. I have tried a little experiment on Facebook, and asked

If you read this can you answer yes or NO (and I do want negative replies) as a comment, please! I’m trying to do a really quick rough and ready straw poll. The question is “have you in the last month had the feeling of being touched by an invisible person?” Don’t worry it does not mean you are mad or ill – I’m just …curious about this fairly common experience…

I received over a day 37 responses: 12 positive.  I think this strongly supports my hypothesis the experience is extremely common, but under normal circumstances simply ignored and forgotten?

The Usual…

Moving on we get to the really interesting (to me) bit —

“My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

Bedrooms again, furniture moving again (these poltergeists should get in to the Removals business: might need someone to drive the truck though!) Are we seeing a pattern yet folks? Now of course it could just be that everyone from York to Stockport to Cork reports similar experiences because actually they are all drawing on the same films, TV, or popular culture motifs. Yet somehow, I find this unlikely — the experiences seem (to me anyway) rather trivial compared with the ones you see on the TV.

The Stock Dove

The Stock Dove - cliick for the pub website

Wayne from the Bury St Edmund’s research group messaged me earlier and said he was wondering when we would see another Enfield poltergeist but you know what? I suspect that any of these cases could be as big, if the SPR got hold of them and sent Guy Lyon Playfair and Mary Rose Barrington  or Tom Ruffles or whoever over.  Enfield just got a blaze of press attention (did the story break in the August “silly season” when news is slow  by any chance?), and has had much discussion, writing and books on it. Most of these little cases I am chronicling here strike me as having very bit as much interest — but I doubt in 20 years time people will be referencing them…

There is another curious parallel with the Cork case – the timings —

Janice reopened the pub with her business partner last August after it had been closed for 11 months.

Now thinking back to Cork, the family moved in last August, after the house had been empty for a while. I can not see any reason to think this is more than coincidence, but I think we should watch out just in case any patterns emerge, and we can find hypotheses we can test.  As I said in the Cork case, one would expect people to mistake ordinary noises and house settling, pipes etc,  for something weird in the first weeks after moving in. Here as in Cork the family had settled in for maybe eight months.

Janice Wright seems to take a very level headed view of the phenomena —

She said: “I think we must have disturbed the ghost. I have been told stories by some of the customers about how a girl came for a stay here when it was a coach house and was murdered, and it is thought she is moving things in my son’s room as that is where it happened. I can’t wait for Club Zero to come in to see what they can find out.”

So once again a dead guy – or in this case a dead gal – is to blame? Was the Stock Dove ever a coaching inn? I have no idea, but if I saw the building I could probably make a good guess. No for the story to make sense the murder must have been discovered, and most murders leave written records, so perhaps some local historian will be able to confirm the truth of this one.  It sounds like folklore to me, or people inventing explanations, but I wonder — I have been wrong on this before, most notably on the Old Bell, Dursley Case. I will keep an open mind for now.

The rest of the article simply deals with the impending visit of Club Zero –

Club Zero Ghost Group was founded in Stockport by Chris Andrews in 2003. It will visit the pub in April. Carole Webster, 56, the club’s events manager, said: “We are looking forward to going in to do an investigation. We will take along our equipment including EMS, an infrared system and a video camera. We will then put together a report and a DVD. There will also be a medium present.” For more information see clubzero.co.uk .

I assume EMF meter is intended by EMS, but I could be wrong – this look like a journalistic typo, and I wonder if a DVD is standard for ghost groups now. Seems sensible to keep a record fo the investigation anyway. Well I will do some digging and see what I find out, but for now I’ll call it a day.

cj x

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Disturbances in York


Well no news from Cork, and indeed no replies from any of the individuals I emailed trying to follow up the story. Visits to this blog have tailed off to almost nothing, and I am tempted to abandon the project, owing to almost complete lack of interest. I’ll give it a month though and see if things pick up?  Still from Cork, Eire, let us turn our attention to York, England, and a much more low key story from The Press, a local York paper…

“York family plagued by ghostly goings-on

10:01am Saturday 27th March 2010

A MOTHER has called in a vicar to bless her York home after she and her daughter were spooked by what they say are ghostly noises and apparitions.

Tracey Glen and her daughter Tasha Kennedy, 14, told yesterday how their home in [road name removed for usual reasons], Clifton, had been hit by a series of bizarre incidents over the past four years. They have been told by a local resident that there was a death in the house many years ago.”

Again, purported ghostly goings on are immediately linked with a death of a former resident. Something I don’t think I ever mentioned in my previous commentary on the Cork case was that one intelligent commentator on an Irish web forum answered one of my questions about the clairvoyants information there. You may recall that in my commentary on that case I pondered if the alleged suicide of a young man said to be responsible for the hauntings necessarily took place in the house? Well the answer is apparently no: presumably in the radio coverage, the clairvoyant said he died elsewhere. This renders the claim pretty much unfalsifiable: if one can die anywhere and go haunting, then I guess most girls college dorms are haunted by randy teenage male spooks who travel there from the site of their demise – guess that explains Phantom hitch-hikers? 🙂

Now in this case we have a local resident saying there was a death in the house years ago. That would not really surprise me: I guess most old houses have seen at least one death, and probably many, though I expect post-1948 a lot more people die in or on their way to hospital. A quick search reveals that only 20% of Americans die at home, and 50% die in hospital, and if anything I think the figures will be much higher for hospital/care home deaths here in the UK, though that is pure guesswork. (We have a National Health Service, and a high rate of the elderly entering care homes, so that is my underlying thinking, not that the NHS kills people off!)

Still one other interesting fact emerges from the opening of Mike Laycock’s story — the disturbances have been going on for four years. My received wisdom on the matter suggests that poltergeists are short and sharp, lasting normally no more than a few months, and usually only a few weeks. However I do wonder: it could be the period when disturbances are regular and violent, the climax of the activity might meet that description – from my own and Becky’s work we are seeing a pattern emerge of low key activity that seems to last for decades in many instances. This particularly fascinates me: the time scale of the so-called poltergeist needs real work, and hey if no one else is going to gather the data and try, I guess I will…

Let’s move on with the story —

Tracey said the incidents included twice being woken in the middle of the night by a loud bang downstairs. On the first occasion, they rushed downstairs and found a mug tree lying on its side on a work surface, with mugs scattered all around it.

“There was no animal in the house or any draught that could have caused that to happen,” she said.

Interesting that she rules out animals. I frequently hear loud bands in the middle of the night: the cat knocking something over. Feline grace seems to be missing in every mog I share my home with. Still loud bangs in themselves seem to be a VERY weak evidence for alleged paranormal activity, there being probably hundreds of better explanations than “the ghost did it”.  Still, all too easy to be cynical – I spot a possible pattern, well little more than a hunch. Remember in the Cork case there was movement of furniture upstairs? So the loud bangs always emanate from somewhere where the witnesses aren’t. Logic suggests

i) it could well be that if the witnesses were present when the door slammed, or the car backfired, or whatever, they would identify the cause. Therefore alleged paranormal noises will follow this pattern

or

ii) poltergeists are shy, and prefer to bang on stuff out of sight. If the bangs really are paranormal then this seems to argue against a living agent (Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis – RSPK) – as following  Roll and others one would expect objects to move in the vicinity of the poltergeist agent. It would however be possible with Colin Wilson’s battery theory I guess.

Still, in the incidents we have an actual cause – the mug tree laying on its side, mugs scattered around. We need to know far more though to know if their could be down to some normal cause (was it top heavy somehow, or badly designed so having mugs on one side made it fall? How far had it moved? Was the surface it stood on wet?, etc) – but I would not have thought it would make a very loud band if it just toppled over. So this does interest me – readers of the Cork analysis will recall that I suspect that the noise made by these “movements” does not reflect the usual acoustic properties one would associate with an object of this weight and size falling, but instead slight movements can generate much louder noises? Perhaps that happened in this case?

Last year Becky and I attended SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists, where Dr. Barrie Colvin talked on the acoustic properties of anomalous percussive rapping in this kind of case.   I know some of the details now of the purported “signature” of a poltergeist related noise — I would dearly love a recording of the sound events to send to Dr. Colvin for analysis, and I would  myself be able to check it with fairly simple software. Unfortunately I only know half of Dr Colvin’s research ( I don’t know the associated frequencies and I am not going to share what I do now on a public forum, as that would simply make it too easy for people to manufacture fake “paranormal” noises with these attributes. Anyone who really wants to know can buy a recording of the Poltergeist Study Day from the SPR for a very reasonable price!

The second bang again appears to emanate from the haunted mug tree (one wonders where they acquired it from?)

The next time they ran downstairs to find the mug tree still upright, but one of the mugs on the kitchen floor, standing upright.

OK,  that’s pretty much classic polt type activity.  Again it’s frustrating to not know how far the mug had moved, etc, etc.  Again, I don’t know if a mug landing on the floor unbroken can really be expected to cause a “loud bang” likely to make someone run down stairs to investigate, so logically

i) I am right and the noise is not proportionate to the likely forces involved if the mug moved naturally

or

ii) the noise and the mugs are unrelated. I think this entirely possible. Imagine a tired CJ drinks his coffee, and in a typical CJ manner knocks over the mug tree. He goes to bed, not noticing he has toppled it over. In the night there is a loud bang – maybe a neighbour slamming a garage door. Being of  nervous disposition I run downstairs, find the mug tree, and put two and two together. We can not necessarily assume that the movement of the objects and the noise are related. I keep trying to teach people this on investigations, because it is a dangerous, but perfectly natural assumption…

So is there any strong evidence for paranormality? So far the case s very suggestive, but now things get a bit more interesting…

She said other strange happenings included:

*A drawer in a bedroom cupboard flying open for no reason, when people were in the room

A drawer? Interesting. I would bounce like a heffalump all over the floorboards seeing if I could cause this to happen somehow, and with a wardrobe door might expect to succeed, but a drawer sounds unlikely. The mention of other witnesses – people present – is interesting – who were they? Who was present when it happened? What was going on? The psychological background may well be key, whether a poltergeist is involved or not, but journalist can’t really pry in to these things I guess. Still I’d like to see actual witness testimony. Again bedroom furniture is involved – one case I researched many years ago involved a toilet seat slamming up and down and a bed head board smashing in to a wall –poltergeists are very prosaic and domestic in their choice of objects to play with it seems. (Interesting that in the Cork case we had “holy pictures” and strong religious overtones – this polt seems to lack any religious or anti-religious enthusiasm, maybe reflecting the religious indifferentism of much of England compared to Eire?)

*The entry hatch to the loft mysteriously opening up, with the board left cracked and a strange piece of pipe left on the floor below

I know events are supposed to have been going on for four years, but I really wish we had some kind of timetable, and especially a date  for this  incident.  I wonder if it happened towards the end of 2009? I also wonder if Tasha, maybe with her friend Sammy, went to see the film Paranormal Activity? ( I review the film from my own unusual perspective here  on my blog.)  One atmospheric sequence in that film involves the couple plagued by the beastie having to explore the loft, which proves an important plot development; an old photograph is found within, which links back to an earlier outbreak in this (fictional) narrative.  Of course lofts feature in plenty of real cases – they are classic “occulted spaces”, an idea I developed in an essay entitled Corridors: their role in purported hauntings – back in the early 90’s, and in the Roman Road case of  1995 I crawled in to a loft (and as Matt will doubtless comment came shooting out again pretty quick!) I seem to recall that Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell spent a lot of time in aloft in the Abbey House (I think) case, and Mary Rose Barrington related a loft related incident at the aforementioned SPR Study Day, from the strangely titled Case of the Flying Thermometer. Just because a popular film happens to include a loft sequence should not really raise any eyebrows, but I note it, just in case relevant.

A strange piece of pipe? Well maybe it is a paranormally delivered object (an apport) but it might just as well have fallen. I am now thinking of Peter Underwood’s explanation of the Morton Case (The Cheltenham Ghost) – could a real person have been concealed in the house, or have hidden in the attic? A real physical person present on the property, with or without the connivance of some of the residents, but unknown to others,  could have easily caused the mug incidents, the loud bangs (and could the loud bangs have been someone dropping the attic trapdoor in to place as they slipped back in to their hidey hole?), but does not explain the drawer incident – unless that claim was invented to cover up the presence of a real person? Again it would seem vital to know exactly who saw what and when.

Now if the people involved are reading this they are doubtless cursing me and calling me every name and the sun, and thinking I am some dire sceptic who would rather come up with far fetched and insulting silly ideas than accept the beastie and their story at face value. Far from it: I actually do believe them, I just like to logically explore every single possibility I can think of. If the incidents took place over four years the idea of someone hiding in the attic (I assume the attic does not directly open up in to the neighbours attics as in a few British terraced houses) becomes utterly ludicrous. Still I try to look at all possible explanations.

Either way, assuming the “mysterious” pipe was household plumbing or similar, rather than a piece of a pipe one puts tobacco in, the most likely scenario appears that it came from the attic, and like the not replaced board this strongly suggests some perfectly physical person entered the attic, perhaps to fetch something. (Burglars do not to the best of my knowledge ransack attics generally, so we would have to look for a more mundane explanation, like someone in the family or a relative going up to look for something?)

One more word of caution though – I have lived in this house for a couple of years now, and the other day I noticed that the attic trapdoor in my bedroom was no longer on straight, as if someone had entered the loft. They haven’t – you would need a step ladder at least, and no one has been in or out of their since I moved in.  I found it spooky and unsettling at the time, but the most likely explanation is that it has been exactly like that since the day I moved in. I wonder if likewise the attic board had been like this for  long while in this case, but the discovery of the piece of pipe on the floor simply attracted attention to it? All odd, I admit, but not necessarily spooky! Before I end the discussion of the loft incident I have to remind readers of the children’s show Rentaghost, whose full theme included the lyrics —

Heavy footsteps in your attic means a spectre telepathic
 is descending just to spirit you away (Yay!). :)

(you can click here to hear the Phantom of the Opera sing a haunting melody!)

OK, back to the phenomena…

*Knocking noises on a wall between the bathroom and bedroom.

Obviously one immediately thinks of the water pipes, though this is classic poltergeist activity. Still without some degree of investigation or further information it’s hard to judge how sound that hypothesis is.

And then it all gets really interesting! Tasha reports seeing an apparition. Now classic modern poltergeist theory tends to separate apparitional experiences and poltergeists; poltergeists and hauntings are seen as two conceptually different categories. From personal investigative experience (Offchurch, Coates and Gloucester cases) I know that poltergeists can actually quite often include apparitional encounters — a category I call “polterghosts”. These cases, the third category with features of both hauntings and poltergeists discussed in Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 classic Poltergeists are often cited as evidence for the “poltergeist as the dead” hypothesis, as opposed to RSPK (  a living  agent causes the events by uncontrolled psychic energy). I often a mixed model in my JSPR article The Poverty of Theory: Some Notes on the investigation of Spontaneous Cases (1996), where I suggest that believing a house to be haunted could in theory generate psi-de effects : the belief enables RSPK by allowing the ghost to be blamed for the disturbance, overcoming psi-inhibition.

Anyway, back to the article —

*Tasha seeing the apparition of a woman with long straggly hair and a limp

The obvious thing here is the apparition is grotesque, like a traditional picture of a witch (not the wiccan goth chick type, the old crone of stereotype). Straggly hair? That might mean “scary” today; a limp is a physical imperfection that somehow is supposed to be sinister I think — yes I know this is horrible stigmatising of the afflicted, and I certainly don’t mean it’s right – but have you ever noticed how ghosts in folklore are often either described as “stunningly beautiful” or in some way stereotypically deformed or grotesque? I am interested in this — but it is just as possible this is actually a description of a (once) real person, physical imperfections being normal in real people after all?

I will wrap up with a description of how ye olde ghost was laid. From The Press article

Tracey said: “It’s really been spooking Tasha out so we decided to ask the vicar to help.

“We like living here, but would like all this to stop.”

Understandable, and that is in itself interesting. One wonders what the mothers attitude to it all was? She does not admit to being personally worried at all. I would love to interview her. The Church were called upon, probably the Church of England –

She said the Reverend David Casswell, the vicar of Clifton, went to the house on Wednesday and said a prayer, and then blessed the bedroom and also the garden. Since then, they had not seen or heard any more strange happenings.

Mr Casswell said vicars and priests were sometimes asked to go and pray in houses where there had been “disturbances” to bring peace to the home.

“We don’t make a great song and dance about it, but say quiet, gentle prayers for the houses to be blessed.”

The Rev. Casswell’s comments reflect my understanding of the deliverance ministry of the CofE. Interestingly in this case all sees well, unlike Cork where the Church intervention did not help,  though this leads to another question. If the blessing was on the Wednesday, and this article appeared on the Saturday, then presumably barring some other factor events must have increased in frequency to the extent that the absence of activity from Wednesday to Saturday is marked enough to note? This just goes to highlight the desperate need we have here for a detailed timeline of events to understand the case. There are certainly academics active in parapsychology at York Uni: if any of them are interested in doing some follow up enquiries, as York is a very long way from me (and actually quite a distance from Becky, surprisingly enough) I would be happy to talk them through what I think might be useful.

Still, one question one often hears nowadays is “where have all the poltergeist cases gone?” Unless March 2010 was somehow anomalous, they haven’t gone anywhere. The press have reported on two this month, Cork and York,and I am sure many more are being dealt with by local ghost groups, mediums, the churches, or the family just move, and no one gets to hear of them. I think this highlights the importance of my little blog project — someone needs to be looking at this, as it is just not reaching the ears of the parapsychological establishment. Becky, Balders, and we will do our best to find cases and provide some kind of comment…

cj x

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The Cork Poltergeist: Part 3


OK, I found the prequel to events recorded in the May 19th Irish Independent article. which formed the basis for the first and second parts of this ongoing commentary. This time my source is the Irish Examiner of May 17th…

Couple claim ‘evil spirit’ drove them out of home

By Eoin English

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A MEDIUM has been called in to cleanse a “haunted” house after a young couple claimed that an “evil spirit” forced them out of their dream home.

Six months’ pregnant Laura Burke and her fiancée Richie Hewitt vowed last night never to return to [address removed by me] off the [road removed]  on Cork’s northside.

“I can’t move back in,” a terrified Laura said yesterday during her first visit to the house in three weeks.”

You might want to read the entire story here :  http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2010/0317/ireland/couple-claim-evil-spirit-drove-them-out-of-home-114712.html#ixzz0j8ARRxxN

In case you are wondering why I have removed the address, sadly experience has shown that cases of this type lead to a congregation of youths and curious sightseers, who shine torches, throw stones and shout at the house in the hope the ghost will appear. It was the case at Borley in the 1930’s,  at a case reported by William Roll in the 1960’s and I strongly suspect while the times change human nature does not. I have therefore removed the address, and regret the Examiner publishing it. Of course anyone can read it easily enough – but by omitting it I merely show my concern that the citizens of Cork should not be bothered by this sort of rowdiness. (And I note later in the article it says this scenario has indeed developed, and the Gardaí were called in to control traffic, as well as vandalism occurring to the exterior of the house which has no been protected with screens over the windows etc. How disappointing but predictable…)

I notice now that Ritchie and Laura are not married, but engaged. Good for them! I note this fact however because Laura has a son, and is pregnant again, and I wonder if … well I think anywhere but Eire I would assume this was pretty normal. I probably am labouring under a stereotype, but I wondered if the situation might still in some areas raise a few eyebrows, even make the couple a little uncomfortable. Now I feel bloody uncomfortable raising this possibility – this young couple have been through a lot, and clearly have a supportive and loving family (as we shall see) and I’m not lecturing anyone on what they should do in their bedrooms – I’m a hypocrite, but not that big a hypocrite. No the reason I mention this is my favourite episode of the US ghost show A Haunting featured a case of an ostensible poltergeist in Ireland, and while i have not watched it for a while, there are similarities (analysis of which shall form a future piece) between the two cases.  Being incorrigibly parapsychological in my thinking I tried to establish when viewing that who I would suspect to be the “agent”, the focus for the disturbance, and it was a young mother with a tiny baby but no obvious partner.  I joked at the time about “catholic guilt” (I hasten to add I’m an Anglo-Catholic by religious persuasion — Anglican, as it happens) — but I could not help but wonder if the mother’s ambiguous status led to some kind of tension or guilt that resulted in the poltergeist in that case. Probably utter nonsense, but Nandor Fodor’s psychoanalytic models of the poltergeist have certainly influenced me to some extent, no matter how much I remain deeply dubious of psychoanalysis (except as a useful skill in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game!).

“My son Kyle can’t come near the place. He was thrown out of his bed and thrown across the room. That was the final straw. He doesn’t want to come back in because he’s afraid of being thrown out of his bed again by ‘the eyes’ – that’s what he calls it. I’ll never bring a child in to this house. I really am petrified.” – Irish Examiner

“The eyes?” I still know nothing about Kyle, apart from the fact he is of school age — but a passing reference later in the article seems to suggest that as well as the unborn baby there is at least one other child in the family.  However his description of the entity that threw him out of bed as “the eyes” is superbly sinister, and makes me think of William Hope Hodsgon’s Carnacki the Ghost-finder short stories for some reason. (I so want an Electric Pentacle!) However, and not to make light of the boy’s distress in any way, what on earth is he experiencing? I am minded of the “orbs” which are actually BOLs -Balls of Light – described in part one of my commentary. Could these be the “eyes” he mentions? Or is it a way of expressing the sense of a presence watching him? I guess we will never know — I am not trained to talk to children about such things, and avoid it totally for fear of distressing them further, even if I was in touch with the family — and sadly I am not.   However I hope that all the amateur psychics and ghost-hunters out there will also refrain from messing with young children’s heads and beliefs – leave reassuring youngsters to their parents and the properly trained authorities.

The couple moved in last August, almost two years after its previous owner Adrian Payton moved out and sold it to the council. He lived there for 26 years and said he never encountered anything unusual.  Neighbours said the house was vacant for several months before the couple moved in and they said gangs gained access and held drink and drug parties there. There are also rumours that some gangs may have used a Ouija board or held a seance inside. – Irish Examiner

I actually think the house is not haunted. There I said it. I don’t believe that there will be much there for the streams of media types and their psychic cohorts descending on the property. So do I think the family made it up? Nope. I am not working from deduction, or inside knowledge, I’m working from an extensive familiarity with the ‘poltergeist’ literature – because in poltergeist cases buildings are not haunted, people are. I’m pretty sure Becky covered this notion of person-centred hauntings on her theory article on this blog.

My prediction would be that the phenomena started with the family, and may even move with the family. No just in case anyone who knows the family reads this, I don’t think they need worry – I would hate to cause distress – it is most likely that the change of environment has ended events, and lets face it most case s of this type burn out in a matter of a few weeks anyway – certainly as soon as ‘experts’ get involved. I doubt they will see a recurrence of activity, and if they have been happy away from the property for weeks, it’s over. I do think that it is very likely that people visiting the house now are wasting their time, and that the house will prove a happy home for new tenants as it did for Adrian for all those years.

I could be wrong – I usually am – but I would stake a pint of Guinness that normality will resume in the house now. Of course visitors to the house will ‘see’ and ‘feel’ things: they are primed to do so by expectation. However I think whatever this ‘thing’ was it was afflicting the family, not the house, and the move has allowed them to escape it and put it all behind them. In fact they could possibly go back now with no ill effects at all? I doubt they want to though! I’ll return to the problem facing the Housing Officers and Council later in this post — I have worked with Housing Associations, a Letting Agent and a Borough Council advising on cases of this type before – with mixed results I must say – but I will make a few comments on the matter. For now, let’s look at the phenomena…

Laura said the strange activity started a few weeks ago with “small things” including:

* Items like keys or clothes going missing.
* The cooker would switch itself on.
* Water would run from the kitchen tap and the sink would fill up.
* Cushions on the couch would flip over.  – Irish Examiner

Yep, exactly what I might expect to read. The duration of events was a few weeks – so possibly since January? As I said these events are rarely long-lived. now the first item is one well known to parapsychologists SOD, or Small Object Displacement (related to jottles, more of which another time!).  SOD is the easiest acronym in parapsychology to remember – as I always say, if something goes missing, blame the SODding ghost! Now if this case was being made up in the hope of being rehoused, the inhabitants have really done their homework. This is NOT a phenomena one sees mentioned on popular paranormal TV much, and is really something that only readers of the technical parapsychological literature (or my blogs and writings) might expect.  Here is a description form a case in Nottinghamshire I was sent recently…

“Items will often go missing and then turn up in random places months or even years later. It’s not just that they have been lost or anything because we have often turned the house upside down looking for these things and then they will suddenly be like right in the middle of the kitchen table or something one day. The items that I can remember is my ring from when I was little, went missing when I was about 10 and it turned up a couple of months ago. A top of mine, a top of mums, trousers, jeans, an envelope with money in.” – a lady in her 20’s Nottinghamshire, England, 2009

Now that case is unusual because it has been going on at a low grade for many years, never developing. Absent mindedness is easy to blame. Yet I have seen this time after time in different cases. Most of them never develop in to anything much – but if a poltergeist case does develop, this is one of the symptoms one immediately looks for. I could cite many more examples from mine and Becky’s research — but for now I will simply note the phenomena is entirely usual, but not well known? (I actually hesitate to publicise such things, as it makes it easier for people to fake accounts…)  Most of the other phenomena listed is also pretty much par for the course – the only place I can think I may have seen it on TV is the oft-mentioned (by me) US TV series  A Haunting.  I have watched all the episodes, and I don’t recall SOD being mentioned though? I could well be wrong!

Anyway things then hot up, as one might expect, as the events move to a head —

She said the activity became more violent in recent weeks, including:

* Glasses flying off the kitchen top.
* Cupboard doors opening and closing and the contents flying across the room.
* An ashtray flew off the mantle piece and nearly hit a friend.
* A chair began to shake violently when Richie’s mother, Imelda, prayed in the kitchen.

Objects flying about are in themselves interesting, but this is particularly telling. The ashtray almost hit a friend; in my experience this is classic polt behaviour. I once, many many years ago at Offchurch in Warwickshire saw a coffee cup lift, and fly at a friend’s crotch, before dropping to the floor. (It is remotely possible the other two witnesses are reading this blog – if so I would encourage them to comment on that event in 1994). The objects almost hit: they very very rarely actually connect ( I think the late lamented  D. Scott Rogo claimed to have been hit by a brick or similar while explaining this “rule” though if memory serves me correctly!) So again, while most of these phenomena are pretty much clichés of poltergeist cases (and the kitchen cabinets feature as a place for phenomena in at least two episodes of A Haunting — though curiously also in a Canadian case I was recently informed of ) I think again the witness report seems to show signs of veracity, through mirroring fairly little known aspects of the phenomena.  And, of course, we learn there is at least one additional witness from outside the family to the events – and we will come across another very shortly…

Back to the Irish Examiner

The couple called in two priests who have celebrated Masses in the home, and blessed the property, but the problems continued.

Now I mentioned above the presence of a second independent witness, and the Irish Examiner reveals their rather surprising identity – Adrian Payton, the chap who lived in the house without any trouble for 26 years! If anyone would be cynical about events one would expect it to be Adrian; he must know the house intimately, and is hardly going to be scared by creaking floorboards or banging pipes.  So let’s see what the Examiner has to  say about Adrian’s visit to the house —

“Myself and Richie were in the kitchen and the next thing, a drawer flew open. There was no explanation,” he said. “Then this heavy wooden kitchen table just lifted off the ground – it was done so gently. It just came up, nice and easy, and came down very, very angry, with a big thud. I reckon what’s in here is evil. So many people have seen so many things, we can’t all be going mad.”

I find that particularly fascinating as those who have read parts one and two will guess, and I’d love to have a signed statement or a recorded interview with Adrian (and Becky would probably love one for her Ph.D too, but I’d share as she is my girlfriend!) I’m too tired tonight to analyse further, but tomorrow will briefly look at the direct quotes from the couple given at the end of the interview,a nd the problem facing Cork Council’s Housing Department – but note again the interpretation is automatically “evil spirit” – I wonder is the beastie is trying to live up to its reputation? (see earlier parts…)

For tonight I’ll sign off, but I can not end without noting a genuine mystery related not to the poltergeist but to the press handling of it. Eoin English has written a superb, informative piece of journalism here — kudos to the Examiner. For some reason, possibly because he did not use the word “poltergeist”, Ralph Riegel’s later article from the Irish Independent (two days later) has appeared all over the web, but I had to work hard to find this story. That is very unfortunate, as if I had read them in reverse order many of the mysteries which puzzled me such as lack of Church intervention would have been clear from the beginning. I also know, but sadly have no access to (unless anyone can help?) that local radio has been extensively covering the case. However: none of the facts in the Examiner article are reported in the Independent article , and vice versa.  The only thing in common is the account fo the boy being tipped out of bed: the clothes shooting out of the wardrobe are not mentioned by the examiner, and the Independent places the response to prayers as happening upstairs.  Ralph has scrupulously avoided using Eoin as a source (Biblical Source Criticism  scholars  might be reminded of the Matthew and Luke non-Marcan passages in the Synoptic Problem here!) and each has given phenomena the other has not mentioned, while agreeing on the overall picture. So why? Are the family changing their story, or is this an example of journalistic integrity at play? I am deeply curious about this puzzle: I hope an email in the morning to the journalists might resolve it.

To proceed with research ideally I’d like to go to Cork, not to visit the house, but to talk to all involved. They are however probably totally sick of the whole matter, and I don’t have the resources and have no desire to compound their misery by adding to the crowds of occult orientated nutcases and hopeful paranormal writers hoping to cash in on their terror with bad film scripts, so I won’t even think of it. Actually I’d quite like to go to Cork anyway, always wanted to!  However what would really help my analysis progress would be to hear from anyone, in confidence if required, with genuine first hand knowledge of events. What would particularly interest me would be dates times and where everyone was at each incident, witness testimony (emailed or recorded on tape), and a rough plan of the house with where each event happened. If anyone reading this can help, I would not pass on any details without your explicit written permission, nor publish anything relating to what you tell me here likewise without your clear consent. I would ask however, no matter how hesitant you are, that you consider if you won’t confide in me that you might seriously consider offering a statement by email to the SPR (linked) for the sake of future researchers.

I doubt anyone is still reading, but if you are,please do comment!

night all,

x

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A Poltergeist in Cork? Part One


This story from the Irish Independent (March 19th 2010) has sparked my curiosity…

Family quits Cork home over ‘poltergeist’

Ralph Riegel

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…

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