Jenny Ashford. The Unseen Hand: A New Exploration of the Poltergeist Phenomena. Bleed Red, 2017.

Horror story writer Jenny Ashford here looks at various types of phenomena that have been attributed to poltergeist and presents chronologies of cases showing these various symptoms. We might use Ufological style terminology to describe these cases, so:

  • Poltergeists of the first kind involve apparently anomalous rains of rocks and stones both outside and inside buildings.
  • Poltergeists of the second kind involve apparently anomalous raps and bangs, the origins of which can never be tied down.
  • Poltergeists of the third kind are the classic poltergeist accounts involving all sorts of stuff flying around the house, sometimes appearing as if to come from nowhere.
  • In the same chapter are included poltergeists of the fourth kind, which involve all sorts of strange things happening to electrical devices
  • Poltergeists of the fifth kind in involve the mysterious appearance of liquids, often in large quantities that seem to flow out of nowhere.
  • Polts of the sixth kind involve anomalous fires
  • Polts of the seventh kind are those in which various apparitions, both human and nonhuman are seen
  • Polts of the eighth kind are where people receive anomalous injuries.
  • Polts of the ninth kind involve cases of apparent possession

Ashford not only presents cases in each section in chronological order but selects them from a variety of places and cultures, giving some idea as to both the uniformity and the cultural differences involved. It would have been helpful however for the source(s) of each case to have been given.

Though only a minority of cases show the progression above, the sequence gives a sense of an ever encroaching wildness, that starts from attacking from outside, entering the houses and getting ever wilder until it invades the body itself. What emerges from all studies of polts is that there is a common theme of the “disorderly house”, wherein the house, which should be the habitat, the place of order and civilisation, is reduced to a place of wild chaos, and that it someway this is a reflection of some internal chaos and discord within the family. Many of the families at the centre of poltergeist cases are what social workers tend to class as “problem families” with “chaotic lifestyles”.

This means that such cases are extremely difficult to investigate; I doubt that anyone without a background in psychiatric social work or family counselling should attempt this. It also means that it becomes often legally or ethically impossible to discuss such cases.

Jenny Ashford suggests that polts are due to the psychokinetic powers of the people at the centre of the cases, perhaps involving some form of quantum effect. A moment’s thought shows that this cannot be the case. First of all no such powers have ever been reliably independently detected and secondly and more importantly, if they did exist our world would be one vast chaotic smoking ruin. Evoking disembodied intelligences doesn’t solve anything either, for disembodies intelligences could not produce such raw physical effects.

The least implausible answer is that most of these effects are produced by a mixture of a variety of natural phenomena and a large dose of trickery by mortal material human hands. Of course if many of these events are accurately perceived, remembered and recorded it is very difficult to see how this was done, but we know from many studies how inaccurate much human perception, memory, recall and reporting is. Many of these cases involve rapid chaotic events where perception and recall would be very challenged. These is often an assumption that just one person is responsible, where perhaps several are and this may well include non-family members or even in some cases “investigators”.

If you find that judgement unappealing, the only clear alternative—that we are all living in a computer simulation and that polts and other Fortean phenomena are glitches in the programme, or that they add to the delight of the game for the bored alien teenagers running the simulation—seems much less appealing.

Whatever your views on the subject this is a good introduction which gives much food for thought. – Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

  1. I have yet to tire of the late great Melvin Harris's observation that council tenants suffer from poltergeists, whereas those living in grand houses have ghosts. His cure: "Never mind those silly old polts, dear, why don't you read some of that nice Karl Marx?"