Monday, March 16, 2009

Reading Notes – On the Track of the Poltergeist

This post is reviewing Scott Rogo’s On the Track of the Poltergeist (San Antonio: Anomalist Books, 2005), originally published in 1986. As discussed in a previous post, poltergeist phenomena share many similarities with the UFO experience, and there are a number of reasons to think that they may be different expressions of a common underlying dynamics. In this book, Rogo, explored different aspects of the poltergeist phenomenon. He built on previous research, particularly the work done by William Roll, but provides several cases he investigated himself to expand our understanding of poltergeists. Although it was written over 20 years ago, many of the findings remain relevant for parasociology.

The repressed hostility theory

The main thread along the book is a discussion about the validity of the “repressed hostility theory” to explain poltergeists. This theory states that a poltergeist phenomenon is produced by a human agent, oftentimes a teenager, who has a lot anger and hostility but he/she cannot express it in a normal way. Overtime, the unconscious finds ways to express such anger and hostility through psi means, and this becomes the poltergeist event.

Rogo took into consideration the critiques against the theory and particularly against the psychological tests on poltergeist witnesses proposed by Gauld & Cornell, and Taboas & Alvarado. Although Rogo agreed that those psychological tests are providing only a general sense of who are the people who take the test, he also underlined that in many cases the tests and other observations concord with the theory, and therefore it is still a valid theory. Hence, Rogo did not reject the repressed hostility theory, and he even considered it the main explanatory model (p. 146). However, it does not explain every cases, and therefore it must be used with caution, rather than becoming the blanket explanation for all RSPKs.

Beyond the individual – the social and cultural dynamics

What is interesting in this book is that Rogo looked beyond the normal realm of psychology, and attempted to include other levels of explanation. Family dynamics as a whole is clearly one step away from individual psychology, and it is an important part of the explanation. For instance, the Dell case was investigated by Rogo in 1978-1979, and it became clear for him that some poltergeist phenomenon can be difficult to distinguish from “regular” hauntings, which he termed “poltergeist hauntings”—a sort of composite mixture of several poltergeist agents which appears in it ostentatious form as a haunting. Hence, for Rogo “poltergeists tend to stem from individual personal problems while poltergeist hauntings sometimes stem from more subtle family problems. In some of the cases I’ve been able to investigate, it seems as though entire families were jointly projecting their poltergeists. For some reason these cases tend naturally to mimic true hauntings.” (p. 116) In this case, the repressed hostility theory appears to hold as “the Dells tended to lash out in the face of frustration by blaming others for his/her own problems. The Dells did not seem to internalize the hostility by blaming themselves, or by attempting to ignore it. [...] the use of repression to handle life stresses was very evident in the test results procured from both Mr. and Mrs. Dell.” (p. 129)

Based on a different case, Rogo even proposed that poltergeists and hauntings are two expressions of the same fundamental dynamics. According to him, “both hauntings and poltergeists result from the activity of a localized and focalized psychic vortex, which may become activated under a variety of different circumstances. [...] Perhaps these people actively served as psychic catalysts to the events they witnessed. Perhaps they somehow possess the ability to activate strange but latent forces already existing in the houses where they lived. If such were the case, we might say that a poltergeist haunting erupts when the psychic powers of the witness(es) interacts with a (usually) dormant force already present in the house ... but beyond the perception and reach of most of us.” (p. 113). Could it be possible that such latent force be emerging from the social realm, and therefore becomes somewhat independent from the witnesses? After all, there are some reasons to believe that hauntings are “nourished” by a community of believers surrounding a particular building, and such community can outlast the individual believer and thus allows a haunting to go on for a century or more. This is certainly an important hypothesis to test about hauntings: is there a community of believers supporting the belief? And when the community cease to exist, is the building still haunted when unaware new comers arrive? If one thinks about UFOs as an expression of some sort of social psi akin to RSPK, then Rogo’s findings about poltergeist hauntings are quite relevant. UFO, therefore, could possibly be construed as composite social constructions with a substratum of materiality. As well, the views and believes of the ufological community of believer must also be added to the equation.

Another case investigated by Rogo shows that family dynamics and belief may have provided the basis for the phenomenon. Rogo investigated a case in Tucson Arizona in 1983, where there was a stone-throwing poltergeist phenomenon. In this case, although there was clearly a teen at the centre, there was no apparent repressed hostility or dysfunctional family dynamics. The only factor the he identified was a possible neurological problem with the teen (p. 82). What is interesting with this case is that it stopped when someone was caught near the house after several weeks of harassment (although the individual was not captured). Rogo was convinced that such individual was a member of the sheriff’s team trying to find a human culprit. The clear effect, however, was that the family as a whole finally got the “confirmation” that it was a human prankster. The collective belief in something appears to be the key element in this case, as the family essentially conjured up the thing out of their own fears (p. 161). It is possible, however, that the very first event might have been caused by a vagrant person, but it took a life of its own afterward. For Rogo, it was a possible example of Batcheldor’s “artefact induction”, where faking PK at first may produce genuine PK afterward. (p. 161). Certainly UFO can be also subject to “artefact induction”, especially if one thinks about the famous 1947 phrase of Kenneth Arnold about the boomerang-shaped object wobbling like a flying saucer, and the saucer epidemic that ensued.

The role of belief once again appears to play a central role in these psi phenomena. Rogo also noted that “it isn’t surprising to find many poltergeist cases erupting within Brazilian families who were recently ‘cursed’ by a neighbour or enemy. It is, however, the fear of the curse that is probably causing the eruptions in these cases, not the curses or magical acts themselves. We are therefore faced with the curious paradox that, at least in some cultures, fear of poltergeist is a common way of conjuring one into existence!” (p. 158). The fact that flying saucers were mostly specific to the United States for several years (1947-1954) can only leave one to wonder about the critical cultural factors linked to the phenomenon. It appears that we are conjuring up what we have in mind.

Poltergeists mimicking UFOs?

Rogo provided a number of examples about the apparent behaviour of objects in poltergeist phenomenon that have many similarities with UFOs. He related some of the effects from the 1968-1969 Nickleheim case investigated by Hans Bender. Many incidents of teleportation occurred, as well as objects moving in an “unusual zigzag movement [...] Objects thrown by the poltergeist often do not follow normal trajectories. They will frequently move unusually slowly as though floating or being deliberately carried, will sometime make right-angle turns in midflight, and have been known to fly at incredible speeds and then just stop in midair and fall on the ground” (p. 12-13).

As well, Rogo investigated a case in 1978 in a factory in California where the RSPK agent was interfering with the electronic equipment of the factory, including the public address system. (pp. 55-64). It is interesting to see, once again that an individual can create the same type of electronic malfunctions that are often reported in UFO incidents. However, as Rogo noted, the factory had a piece of equipment that was emitting an important electromagnetic field, which appeared to be a key enabler in the case. (p. 64). This experience fits quite well the notion of PEMIE (Psi/Electro-Magnetic Induced Experience) discussed in the previous post.

It is clear that the study of poltergeist (or RSPK) is useful for the study of UFOs. It would probably be interesting also to reverse the exercise and look into the UFO experience to better understand poltergeist...

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet


Glenda said...

Excellent read.. I have often wondered the relationship between hauntings and the PK phenomenon, this post reinforces my own observations and musings... However I am still not convinced that all hauntings are PK induced by the living.. I still keep an open mind and choose a panchromatic view... Thanks, Glenda...

Glenda said...

I can see a pattern that may suggest that a majority of ufo sightings could be indused by PK. Nevertheless, I am still confused about totaley agreeing with this veiw when some ufo manifestations have been observed decades before they became in " fashion "... The only way that I can percieve this as possible is the observers/ experiencers have somehow tapped into futuristic mass sighting projections such as RV.... Then as I look at the ancient Sumerian, Greek,Roman,Hindu,Hittite,Egypt,Canaanite,links, to list just a few, re. gods and carvings, statues there are hints of visitation by the discoveries of certain artifacts. Also the tremendous leaps primitive man made in shortened time frames still amazes me re. linquistics, mathamatics, and of course technology.... But my favourite one statment that I have mused for a very long time is written in the book of Genesis verse 26. And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness...... Please don't take me as a relgious fanatic ; when I was a rebell teen I stamped my foot at my mother and swore that I was an athiest.... Not that I don't have a belief system now.... But I will continue to dig,and read and enjoy your blog... Thanks again Glenda ps. I don't rant very often my appologies.......

Eric Ouellet said...


I am working on my next post and I will provide more details, but the UFO images of real sightings can be traced back in the Science-Fiction literature of the mid-1800s.

The ancient astronauts thesis has been pretty much demolished by both ufologists and archeologists. What may appear to be ufonauts to us, meant something quite different to ancient people, are archeologists can show that in a very convincing way.

As well, there are ancient feats that we think could only be done with high technology, (like the construction of the Great Pyramid), but in fact we are re-discovering very astute low tech ways of doing thing, that explain how the ancient were able to acheive such successes. In many ways, we can say that today's people are not giving much credit to our ancestors.

Lastly, the so-called primitive people have shown surprizing knowledge, particularly in medecine, that leave us thinking about how were they able to figure complex recepies to extract medicinal ingredients without having scientific knowledge. I do not know for sure, but there is a clear link between primitive medecine and shamanism, and shamans are well-known for practicing various forms of RV. If one uses Jung's notion of collective unconscious and absolute knowledge, then it is possible that the primitive shamans were able to use RV to access the absolute knowledge and with some trial and error create quite advanced forms of medications. In any event, it is very much how shamans explain what they do. In such cases, ETs and spacecrafts are not necessary to the explanation.

Glenda said...

Thanks for your comment on my previous post.... And yes I can see the possibility of RV retreived info regarding the methods that ancient shamans used, much like the way in which it is used today by certain idividuals.. One such person described it to me as the ability to bridge the gap so to speak and keep one foot planted deepley in this world,present, and the other foot planted on the other past or futuristic plain depending upon the focus of the journey intended...