Tag Archives: Irish Independent

A Poltergeist in Cork: Part Two


OK I was interrupted yesterday and was unable to finish my comment, so I will continue it now. Part one of this article can be found here – read that first! Continuing to look at the Irish Independent piece…

“It’s an evil spirit — I don’t believe it means us well,” said Laura.

Well I can see why she would come to that conclusion! The great debate over whether ‘poltergeists’ are living or dead continues but seems largely unknown outside of parapsychology: though again I think there is a third possibility, often overlooked, but traditional to religions – it does not have to have a ‘dead guy’ or a living human agent behind these things, it could be that a discarnate intelligence shares the planet with us – Angel, Demon, Leprechaun, call it what you will. I will discuss this idea in future posts i’m sure — I’m not saying it is my preferred hypothesis, but it certainly appears to be an option.

“We tried saying prayers in the house and the next thing all you hear is banging furniture upstairs or clothes being fired out of wardrobes.”

Interesting, and classic poltergeist behaviour in terms of the furniture banging around and clothes moving – “being fired” suggests quite violent dramatic movement too.

However, I can’t help a brief theological digression here. The ‘polt’ starts with disrupting ‘holy pictures’, and now it responds what I presume can be interpreted as  negatively to prayers (I’m resisting a joke about the shade of Richard Dawkins here…) Now I have seen comments like this about prayers making poltergeists worse before: I have of course seen the converse, with aperiod of calm following a blessing or prayer. If the prayers had been silent and the beastie had reacted, well that would have been more interesting, but I suspect the prayers were spoken out loud. A fraudster – and yes I know I have not even mentioned that possibility up till now – could react just as much as a ‘polt’ to such.

Still, why does the polt not like prayer? A running joke between me and my housemate Lisa about the American series A Haunting is that it should come with a Papal Imprimatur (loosely, ‘authority to publish’) as the Catholic priests so often end up solving the alleged disturbances by prayer or blessings. Actually this is a non-denominational tendency: other Christian denominations likewise seem to be able to help in some cases. So in fact can the intervention of research scientists, people chanting made up shopping lists in Welsh backwards, and all kinds of other interventions. I suspect the key word here is ‘intervention’: someone with authority and apparent expertise (yes, even me in a couple if cases) comes in and it all quietens down.

The question remains though – why does the poltergeist not like prayer? In the medieval era ghost wanted prayer — in fact I think that was the case right the way through till the Reformation, and probably long after. Ghosts were percieved as here to address needs: unfinished business like getting their bones buried, bringing someone to justice, sorting out an injustice like a Will that had been lost or similar, or simply asking for prayers to help them find rest, move out of Purgatory, or similar.

Yet this entity, whatever it is, does not like prayers. Um… That could tell us something: the obvious conclusion is that it is just what Laura believes “an evil spirit”.  Alternatively, and this is just as much a possibility to my mind, it shows us the polt is acting in the way the cultural expectations of the witnesses would expect it to.  I don’t know why modern ‘ghosts’ are so purposeless; what I do know is that these phenomena often appear to have a reflexive relationship to the expectations of the living human witnesses. If that is true then poltergeist phenomena will be culturally conditioned: and it might suggest that somehow human agenst are involved in creating or at least shaping the phenomena. While the poltergeist phenomena  has been manifesting for a couple of thousand years, and seems to have a set of “core” phenomena, it could be that we need to study more the differences rather than concentrating on these similarities. This reminds me of something I heard at SPR Study Day No.58: Poltergeists: Then and Now, but I will leave that for now…

OK, so what else? Clairvoyant John O’Reilly said felt “a presence”, adding: “There is someone here — someone who is very angry.”  I don’t think one has to be clairvoyant to guess that though!  He added “I get (a feeling) of a younger man who would have hung himself.”  Now this is actually quite useful: assuming the fellow in question was supposed to have hanged himself in this house, or on the property, we have an identity for the spook and a purpose of some sort – an angry, ‘earthbound’ entity… I wonder if there is anything else he said though, not reported in the press? I am still unsure if John and the shaman are one and the same person:  but whatever my doubts about mediumship I am glad fi he helps the family move on in some way I guess. Unfortunately as the headline says the family are planning to flee the property it seems more may be required, hence presumably the “exorcism”?

Again more questions than answers. Imagine for  a moment that the entity behind events really was the ghost of a young chap who tragically took his own life. Why would his spirit act in this way? He may well have a grudge against holy stuff I guess, that might explain some of it, but tipping the son out of bed? Banging around? Appearing as glowing balls of light? Shooting clothes out of a wardrobe?   It seems peculiar behaviour: the only possible purpose I can see is to draw attention to his plight, using whatever means are at his disposal. Yet that leads to even more questions – why pick out ‘holy pictures’? Are there no other pictures? Do holy items show up better wherever he is?  If so why the clothes in the wardrobe and the furniture banging? The clothes were almost certainly not there in his own time, so how and why does he interact with them?

I’m trying to imagine another set of dimensions. This chap is in “Flatland“; not occupying our three dimensional space. OK, maybe some of his actions would appear very odd to us? Yet he clearly has some perception of three dimensional space to fire the clothes out of the wardrobe: or in fact does he just somehow imbue them with some kind of kinetic energy? How??? Whose clothes moved, and what clothes were they? How far did they move? Maybe that would tell us something?  A ghost who hurls the father’s wellington boots would have a different character to one who hurled the lady’s lacy underwear. The Irish Independent notes —

However, locals remain dubious about the haunting claims and said nobody recalls previous incidents at the house or any tragedy fitting the descriptions being cited.

Two separate claims really: one wonders what local information they have about the witnesses that makes them sceptical of their claims, or is this just stolid Irish common sense? As to the no one remembering a tragedy fitting this description, well if there was such a tragedy then I would have thought some one would have dug it out by now. I await developments with interest.

However, the furniture moving is very interesting. In the past I have noted that in these cases gravity or the acoustics seems strangely effected: small objects or tiny movements of furniture result in thunderous crashes, large items move with almost no force, and heavy items crash to the floor silently. That was probably the realisation that kept me interested in all this, and seeking solutions… The physics of the poltergeist remains the most interesting aspect of these cases to my mind. The boy being tipped out of bed is certainly commensurate with the other reported motion of objects in the upstairs – rather than being hurled out by an invisible beastie, we can imagine the bed rising at one side, and him sliding to the floor.

The balls of light reported fascinate me as well. Were they three dimensional? I’d live to imagine them as ‘holes’ to somewhere else, but they are described as orbs, so I’m guessing they were 3D, though as I noted before that could just be the adoption of modern ghosthunting jargon. Plasma? Some plasma phenomenon could theoretically cause a ball shape I’m guessing – ball lightning springs to mind.  My own father reported seeing this odd phenomena in 1930’s Denmark, when what he assumes was ball lightning came in through a window, travelled round a room where the family were seated at dinner, and left buy the kitchen door. I’ll get a full account this weekend when i see him for his birthday.

OK, but why would a plasma be associated with the other phenomena? Another possibility would be a very small object radiating an intense light, but what it might be I know not. The statements given in the paper are simply not detailed enough to speculate.  Equally frustratingly we don’t even know the ages of the witnesses, or anything about them.

So where now? I’d love to hear from anyone with information, but particularly the family, Ralph Riegel who wrote the sensible and interesting piece, the shaman or John O’Reilly. I’ll try making enquiries, and see what we can find out!

cj 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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