The eight stages of a poltergeist haunting has been taken from Rupert Mathews’ book Poltergeists. For anyone interested, Mathews’ book is well researched and a great read. He covers the many different characteristics of what we would now consider to be the classic poltergeist haunting. Mathews does not necessarily subscribe to the common poltergeist theories of ghosts or psychokinesis, but instead offers many other possible explanations such as fraud or misidentification. Within the book, Mathews covers historic and modern cases, investigations and scientific experiments, as well as famous early mediums and fraudsters. Mathews concludes there are generally eight stages to an “idealized poltergeist visitation” or haunting where fraud has not been detected:
Stage One: Beginnings
The activity usually begins with faintly registered sounds. This is usually a scratching noise, which may be disregarded as being made by rodents or to be the sounds of water pipes. These noises are usually only heard at night.
Stage Two: Noises
These sounds will then become harder to ignore. These noises resemble knuckles knocking on wood or other objects such as glass. Sometimes, very loud cracking or unexplained banging noises are heard but this is less likely. Objects can sometimes be felt to vibrate. At this stage the activity may also be heard during daylight hours.
Stage Three: Moving Objects
Mathews does state that sometimes Stage Three begins at the same time as Stage Two. Objects may be moved inexplicably. Stone throwing, or lithobolia, is very common. Objects may disappear and reappear. This activity usually focuses around a certain type of object such as a specific ornament or keys. It’s rare to actually see the item be moved. Items may be hot to the touch immediately thereafter.
Stage Four: Apports and Disapports
When an object appears from out of nowhere it’s called an apport. When an object disappears “into oblivion” it is called a disapport. These types of activities are extremely rare but have been reported.
Stage Five: Communication
In some cases communication is established through a code of knocks. This may be two knocks indicating a “yes” and one knock indicating a “no” or some other established pattern. Sometimes speech is achieved. In almost all of these cases there seems to be a gradual process which starts with whistles, slurps, growls and so on. At first, mutterings or distant voices will be heard. Next, the voice will be said to sound robotic. Finally, witnesses will claim regular speech is achieved. The poltergeist will then be able to speak as a normal person and will begin to make statements. Claims by the poltergeist about their identity are usually grande. They may claim to have been a murderer, a victim, a suicide, or even a famous person. When claims are checked out they will usually be determined to be false. According to Mathews, it is rare for a poltergeist to have knowledge of events outside of what is widely known within the community. Mathews does not mention this, but it is interesting that many claimed spirit-contacts through a Ouija board also share these same characteristics of deceit[i].
Stage Six: Climax
The poltergeist activity will suddenly increase to a point it had never reached before. This may last several hours or several days. If the poltergeist can talk it may state that it’s going to be leaving soon. Unlike previous claims, however, this will generally turn out to be true.
Stage Seven: Decline
According to Mathews, “the decline is almost always much shorter than the build-up.” The poltergeist will lose its abilities in reverse and gradually become weaker.
Stage Eight: Endings
The activity may slowly skip to an end. Sometimes, this poltergeist activity will reach a dramatic conclusion. In many cases, exorcisms or blessings may prematurely kill the activity. Sometimes, the focus person leaving the premise may cause the activity to cease.
The “idealized” poltergeist haunting will usually have a focus person. According to Mathews, this focus person is usually a teenage female but may be of any age or gender. Some investigators believe that this poltergeist activity will center around one person but this is not always the case. Mathews also states that, “it is often said that focus people are usually in a stressful situation of some kind.” Examples given within the book are a divorce and an attempted rape.
Also of note, poltergeists sometimes manifest physically. This apparition may be smoky or misty. Sometimes it will take on a human form. Sometimes the apparition may appear very strange such as in an animal or part animal form. Wet spots may also manifest which smell like urine. Sometimes this manifestation can be seen as it is occurring and seems to come out of nowhere.
Witnesses will sometimes claim to have been harmed by the poltergeist entity. Scratches and bite marks are often reported to have appeared on the person’s skin without explanation. In some cases, animals will perish. Fires will sometimes start in the home inexplicably. In the Bell Witch case the poltergeist claimed to have killed Jack Bell. In one case – which is not in Mathews book – a woman named Doris Bither claimed to have been raped by a poltergeist. Witnesses later supported her claim. The Bithers’ poltergeist account and investigation was made into the 1981 movie ‘the Entity’ starring Barbara Hershey. For the full interview of Doris Bither’s surviving son please go to: ghost theory
It’s important to note that the poltergeist distinction is not as clear as many imagine. The characteristics of these hauntings often share many similarities with conventional hauntings. The word poltergeist basically means “noisy ghost” but has come to represent a specific idealized type of haunting. Many individuals separate poltergeists from traditional ghosts because they believe that the spirits of the deceased causes other types of hauntings and there are psychic explanations for poltergeist activity. One early theory was that poltergeist activity was caused by uncontrolled female teenage sexual energy, an unfounded belief that persists to this day.
[i] For more on the apparent deceptive nature of spirits consider reading Hungry Ghosts by Joe Fisher 1991, which is a very interesting study.