Poltergeists and Elemental Spirits
A poltergeist is a noisy spirit that makes its presence known primarily by way of sound. Physical manifestations follow, beginning as scratching noises from within the walls and escalating to more frequent banging or thumping sounds. Objects begin to sail through the air, usually narrowly missing the unfortunate inhabitants. It is often the case that there is an adolescent or teenager in the house where the manifestations occur.
It is also possible for adults to trigger the manifestations. All that is truly necessary is that the person be troubled emotionally. One theory is that this person may be unconsciously manipulating the items in the house by means of psychokinesis, which is the power to move things with an energy generated by the brain.
Although largely unexplained, psychokinetic energy has been demonstrated to exist. Usually, people have no idea they are causing the poltergeist activity, which is happening all around them, and they are surprised to find that there is any possibility they themselves could be making the chaotic events happen.
To be fair, not all cases of poltergeist activity involve troubled individuals. These hauntings aren't always so easily categorized. It is vital that the paranormal investigators involved be observant and not jump to conclusions too quickly. The three most famous cases of poltergeist activity in the United States were:
The Amityville haunting, which became the basis for both a book and a movie (The Amityville Horror is generally considered to have been blown out of proportion for the sake of a story.)
The case upon which author William Peter Blatty based The Exorcist
The nineteenth-century Bell Witch case
All three hauntings have ended up as movies, with many dramatic additions to the story. The Exorcist is the best known of these three, and perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this story is that Blatty based his book on a diary kept by a priest who assisted at the exorcism. He changed the lead character from a 14-year-old boy to a 12-year-old girl. He has stated that 80 percent of what appears in the book is fact according to the priest.
The typical poltergeist disturbance does not usually last long. Disturbances usually subside after just a few weeks, although the malicious entity that tormented the Bell family between 1817 and 1821 was certainly a notable exception. The problems started for the Bells when they began hearing sounds on the exterior walls of their house. These noises sounded as if someone was pounding on the walls. Soon the Bells began to hear other sounds, such as scratching and knocking.
There wasn't actually a witch involved in the Bell Witch case, at least as far as we know. Benjamin Batts had a dispute with John Bell over a slave. This later became the source of a rumor that Kate Batts created the Bell Witch to get revenge on Bell.
This is a classic example of poltergeist phenomena. But instead of building to a crescendo and then diminishing, the phenomena increased. Soon physical attacks began; people were scratched, slapped, had their covers ripped off, and were thrown out of bed.
Although almost everyone in the household suffered similar treatment, the focus seemed to be on the Bells' daughter Betsy. The terrifying activity in the Bell household went on for so long that it is very well documented, and local legend has it that even General Andrew Jackson had an encounter.
It's Really Elemental
The common conceptual framework that underlies the perception of these beings is that elemental spirits are believed to be comprised of what the ancients perceived as the building blocks of the world — earth, air, fire, and water. Elementals are often described as primitive and malevolent beings or forces that attach themselves to a particular location. Magicians and sorcerers believed they could use these spirits to do their bidding through a process called binding, which protected the person doing the spell from harm and allowed her to control the spirit as it did whatever task she assigned it. Sometimes this can backfire, as many dabblers in the occult can attest to.
An instance of this is well represented by the story of the elemental at sixteenth-century Leap Castle in Ireland. Leap has a long and bloody history of strife, discord, and murder. The local people have always believed it to be haunted and avoided it when possible, particularly at night.
By the late nineteenth century, an English couple, Jonathan and Mildred Darby, had inherited Leap. Like so many other people at that time, Mildred Darby was interested in the occult. She held several séances at the castle with unwelcome results. When she began to dabble with the occult, she had apparently awakened a terrifying elemental.
In the journal Occult Review, in 1909, Mildred describes her experience with the creature she summoned: “I was standing in the Gallery looking down at the main floor, when I felt somebody put a hand on my shoulder. The thing was about the size of a sheep. Thin, gaunt, shadowy… its face was human, to be more accurate, inhuman. Its lust in its eyes, which seemed half decomposed in black cavities, stared into mine. The horrible smell one hundred times intensified came up into my face, giving me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse.”