Poltergeist is a German word from the German verb poltern which means to make noise, rumble or knock, and the word geist which translates as spirit or ghost. In essence, when the terms are combined, you get a noisy ghost, rumbling spirit or a variety of other synonyms. Poltergeists in paranormal studies are often differentiated from other types of ghosts or haunting because of the type of activities they may perform and because they are often closely connected to one resident of a home, often an adolescent girl.
According to accounts of the activities of poltergeists, most of which encounter considerable skepticism by those who don’t believe in paranormal lore, poltergeists tend to move things around, may throw things, and may make loud or quiet noises that disturb people’s homes. Early incidences of poltergeist activity are documented as far back as the 17th century, and occasionally may have been the impetus for accusing people of witchcraft or devil worship.
There are several theories as to what a poltergeist really is. Some believe that poltergeists are not ghosts at all, but are instead telekinetic abilities manifested by a living person in turmoil. According to this explanation, this is why the focus of the incident is on a single person and frequently on adolescents. The turmoil of puberty alone could make some people manifest telekinetic incidents, or children or teens who have been abused might use telekinesis as a way of protecting or avenging themselves.
This is the predominant theory with one of the most well-known incidents called the Bell Witch Haunting. According to Southern US lore, a family in Tennessee, during the 19th century, experienced a peculiar set of noises, physical abuse and finally the death of the father, which ended the disturbances. The movie An American Haunting suggests the incidents were generated by the family’s daughter, Betsey Bell, and also suggests the cause was abuse by Betsey’s father.
Other paranormal theorists dismiss the telekinesis theory and suggest that some people who have died, and not passed on to the next phase of existence may just be mischievous or actually malicious in intent. Particularly if they died with unfinished business or in anger, it’s theorized they may be able to have some impact on the physical world, despite no longer being part of it. They might be attracted to the most vulnerable individual in a family, a child or teenager, because they could be easiest to influence.
It’s difficult to determine if the activities of poltergeists are real or imagined, and if real what the cause might be. Even if poltergeist activity was determined as a likely cause, which was true in least one case in England, the Thornton Road Poltergeist, no one can say exactly what a poltergeist is, or what causes it. The Thornton Road Poltergeist involved peculiar cases of rock throwing at a house on multiple occasions and it was investigated not only by paranormal researchers but also police who used surveillance cameras and personal observation to document the circumstances. The police could not determine the cause of the incident, which they began investigating in 1981, and they officially declared the case unsolvable a year later. There are certainly many incidences of supposed activity that have been faked, but a few cases like the events on Thornton Road, chillingly defy explanation.