The Eight Stages of a Poltergeist Haunting was proposed by Rupert Mathews in his book Poltergeists. Filled with illustrations and unique information, this is by far my favourite book about poltergeists.
Mathews covers many aspects of what we would now consider classic poltergeist hauntings. What I like most, is that Mathews doesn’t automatically subscribe to common poltergeist theories (regarding psychokinesis and the paranormal). He is thorough in covering many possible explanations including fraud and misidentification. Mathews covers historic and modern cases, investigations and scientific experiments, as well as famous early mediums and fraudsters.
Astutely, Mathews says 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 might be disregarded as rodents or related to water pipes, etc. These noises are usually only heard at night.
Stage Two: Noises
The sounds will become harder to ignore. At this point, the noises might resemble knuckles knocking on wood or another objects such as glass. Sometimes, very loud cracking or unexplained banging noises are heard but this is less common. Objects might vibrate. At this stage, the activity might also be heard during daylight hours.
Stage Three: Moving Objects
Mathews says that sometimes Stage Three begins at the same time as Stage Two. Objects might be moved inexplicably. Stone throwing, or lithobolia, is very common. Objects might disappear and reappear. This activity usually focuses on a certain item or type of object such as a specific ornament or keys. It’s rare to actually see the item moved. The object might be hot to the touch immediately after.
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 occurs. 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 can be heard. Next, the voice is said to sound robotic. Finally, witnesses have claimed regular speech is achieved. At this point, the poltergeist will be able to speak as a normal person might as they begin to make statements. Claims by the poltergeist about their lifetime identity are often grande. They may say they were a murderer, a victim, a suicide, or even a famous person. When these statements are checked out they will usually be found 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 it appears in. Mathews does not mention this, but it’s interesting to me that many claimed spirit-contacts through Ouija boards 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 leave 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 most often a teenage female but may be any age or gender. Some investigators believe poltergeist activity always centres around one person but this is not always the case. Mathews adds that, “it is often said that focus people are usually in a stressful situation of some kind.” He gives examples of divorce and attempted rape.
Also noteworthy, poltergeists sometimes manifest physically. The apparition might be smoky or misty (this makes me think of Jinn). Sometimes, it will take on a human form. The apparition might also appear even more inexplicable such as in an animal or part animal form. Wet spots might also manifest, which are said to smell like urine. Sometimes the wetness can be viewed as it occurs and seems to come out of nowhere.
Witnesses have claimed to be harmed by poltergeist entities, as well. Scratches and bite marks are said to appear on the person’s skin without explanation. In some cases, pets will die. Fires can start in the home inexplicably. In the Bell Witch case, the poltergeist claimed to have killed Jack Bell. In another – 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 (before the fictional Poltergeist movie). For an interview with 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. Especially mainstream parapsychologists or paranormal investigators. The characteristics of poltergeist hauntings often share many similarities with conventional hauntings. Translated from German, the word poltergeist basically means “noisy ghost.” Identified as a poltergeist, it has come to represent a specific idealized type of haunting. Many individuals separate poltergeists from traditional ghosts, for example, because they believe spirits of dead people cause 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 problematic belief that persists to this day.
[i] For more reports that suggest spirits are often deceptive, consider reading Hungry Ghosts by Joe Fisher, which is fascinating. Since publication, Fisher died falling off a cliff. Many believe he was pushed.