Typically hauntings, which include poltergeists, have a start and a finish. Most poltergeist cases last a few years and vanish. Hauntings tend to last longer and involve recognisably human apparitions. Poltergeist infestations where people are harmed appear to be uncommon but far from unknown. The history of some hauntings suggests that the phenomena are created by the observers and some of these then seem to develop a life of their own. This does not explain everything of course and a unified theory may not be possible. Here are a few cases this hypothesis may fit.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist
In December 1998 a homeless man slipped into the Black Mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. He smashed some coffins and fell into an undiscovered mass grave containing the bodies of plague victims. At this point he ran out as fast as possible, and ran into a security guard and their dog who naturally also ran. Since then there have been reports of something malevolent, christened the Mackenzie Poltergeist, in the churchyard. The next day a woman peering through the grill of the Mausoleum was reportedly knocked down by a cold blast and another was found lying nearby with bruises round her neck. She claimed invisible hands tried to to strangle her.
Edinburgh Council first locked the vault and tried to ignore it. Then they gave a local author permission to run controlled tours to the Mausoleum. Paranormal activity has escalated since then and now the poltergeist attacks two to 4 people a month. Dead animals tend to be found near the vault, electrical equipment tends to malfunction there and victims tend to get home before they realise they have been injured. Occasionally the phenomena follow them home.
The most likely theories are
- Some form of hysteria that led to people interpreting mundane
phenomena as paranormal.
- The homeless man released a malevolent spirit trapped in the
- The Man's fear created a malevolent spirit that grew
stronger and stronger as the attacks continued.
We can discard the notion that the phenomena were fraudulently produced by (say) the tour operators. On its own the Mackenzie Poltergeist seems to be more like a malevolent spirit ( or perhaps a spirit created as a guardian of the pit) than a poltergeist and could have been created at some point.
Edinburgh VaultsThe Niddry Street Vaults are a series of tenements built into the arches of Edinburgh's South Bridge. Poor construction led first to their abandonment, then to population by refugees from the Irish Potato Famine (created because farmers preferred to export potatoes, as they got a higher price abroad than at home) and several generations lived and did in the vaults before they were sealed off in the early 20th century.
The vaults were rediscovered in the 1980s and eventually a company started to offer ours to the vaults. After a while visitors began reporting ghostly experiences and their tales had enough common features to indicate something strange was happening. Visitors have experienced bruises and minor injuries especially when entering a stone circle in which a Wiccan claimed to have trapped an evil presence. Skeptics put all this down to the effects of traffic vibrations and expectation by visitors. These explanations fail to cover the injuries to visitors and the lights apparently being switched off by one ghost.
Again likely theories include the Malevolent Spirit theory and that the spirits were created by visitor expectations perhaps from a feeling the place SHOULD be haunted. If the Wiccan did manage to trap the spirit inside a stone circle the spirit is unlikely to be the Mackenzie Poltergeist, though this possibility cannot be excluded.
Mary Kings Close
The haunting in the close is not malevolent but there seems no historical evidence to support the most famous ghost, a little girl named as Annie. Here the idea that the hauntings resulted from creation of spirits by human expectations seems more plausible than the idea of spirits being around for centuries and not noticed till the close was reopened, though the evidence for a genuine haunting is largely anecdotal and not supported – or disproved- by psychic investigations.
The Philip Experiment
Here it seems a deliberate effort to create a spirit succeeded, or almost succeeded, since there is no indication the spirit ever manifested to other circles or outside the séance context. Interestingly the creation of the spirit involved repetitive actions reminiscent of magical rituals and the attempted creation of a god by a group of chaos magicians, possibly used by Frank Herbert in his book The God Makers. The use of ritual and repetition ( for example the repetitive tramping of visitors through Greyfriars Kirk) may be important in this context.
Kenneth BacheldorKenneth Bacheldor was a retired engineer who attempted to recreate the table tipping phenomena of Victorian seances: and seems to have succeeded. He established protocols to prevent cheating, and, to prevent the notion that “it cannot happen” allowed one person to be a “joker” who was allowed to cheat. After a while tables began to move, some of which were hard for two people to move normally. And the phenomenon began to respond to requests from the sitters. Overall the phenomena reported seem hard to explain as fakery, self deception or unconscious muscular action: making a 60 pound table dance on two legs is hard to do unconsciously. Again the procedure had to be repeated and ritualised. Perhaps significantly the sitters only had success when they moved away from trying hard and started relaxing and joking,
Summoning Ghosts of the Civil War
An intriguing experiment involving the reenactment of events from the battle of Antietam resulted in recording of anomalous sounds and some investigators felt they were being gently touched. The results were suggestive of the presence of spirits but are perhaps more consistent with the idea that a spirit was almost created. The experimenters preferred to explain the results in terms of Morphic Resonance, an equally controversial concept.
Alexandra David Neel was an intrepid explorer who experimented with creating a thought form, an artificial spirit, using techniques learned from Tibetan Lamas. She initially decided to create a jolly friendly monk and succeeded. But then the monk took on a life of its own and started to change to something more malevolent. When other people began to see it. She decided it was time to reabsorb it. And the thought form resisted. It was harder to absorb it than to create it. The episode is described in her book With mystics and magicians in Tibet along with other strange experiences.
This seems to be the most successful recorded effort at creating a spirit. The entity was seen by others and began to act independently. The lesson the Lamas learned from such experiments is that the world is illusion. It would seem however it is, like time, a very persistent illusion
Although strictly out of scope here, the anomalous experiences John Keel described as The Phenomenon, and waves of Phantom Clowns could also be explained by this process.
And this theory could explain why the Spirit world bothers with us. We are their nursery, their womb, the place baby spirits are created and grow to maturity.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist.
The Niddry St Vaults
Mary Kings Close
Soundscape and the Culture of War on an American Civil War Battlefield: An Ethnography of Communication with Past Presences John G. Sabol Paranthropology Volume 3 Number 2 April 2012