Stone-throwing wall-thumpers: Review of Australian Poltergeists

APPaul Cropper sent me a copy of his new book with co-author Tony Healy, Australian Poltergeist: The Stone-throwing Spook of Humpty Doo and Many Other Cases. He must have known how much I love this topic and was eager to learn about various cases around the world.

I learned about the concept of poltergeists before many of today’s weekend ghost hunters were out of diapers. It seems like today’s paranormal investigators do not know much about the long and detailed history about this particular type of haunting. I didn’t know as much as I wanted to but Australian Poltergeist gave me great info but also an increased interest in seeking out more.

What is a poltergeist? We don’t know. We can only define it in terms of the claims of those who say they have experienced a noisy, disruptive, seemingly paranormal event in their homes. The episodes of alleged poltergeists feature individuals but often families plagued by invisible forces that move furniture and household items, produce wall-shaking thumps, and deliver showers of stones both inside the house and out. Some polt cases also include mysterious disappearance and reappearance of objects, malfunctioning of electrical appliances, scrawled messages, spontaneous fires, noises, and appearance of strange substances. It’s variable whether the entities are aggravated or unaffected by religious items, the events seem more personal than related to a general location, and the polts will put on a show but deliberately avoid cameras. It figures.

There is a mischievous attitude to polt events which may last weeks or months, and may move with the person and then suddenly stop. Such accounts are worldwide, reported for hundreds of years. The first poltergeist event that was well documented was in Great Island, New Hampshire in 1682 when George Walton and those at his tavern and inn were hit with stones that broke windows and caused disruption. Reading the accounts in Australian Poltergeist along with the mention that I noticed in Baker’s A Storm of Witchcraft caused me to pick up Baker’s earlier book on the Devil of Great Island. Funny how these stories weaved themselves together. In addition to that, I had also recently read the report from the North American Wood Ape Conservancy relating the stone-throwing and wall banging behavior of what they think may be a “Bigfoot”. Case 41: Parabeena Creek inAustralian Poltergeist is remarkably similar to Area X in the NAWAC report. This event took place in 1941 and included stone showers, thumping, and other noises in a remote cabin with apparently no one else around. Hmm.

There is much to think about regarding the relation between events thought of by paranormalists to be poltergeists, demons, djinn, house spirits, or Sasquatch. They overlap a great deal. I’m interested in finding out more about the cultural aspects and the potential natural (and social) explanations to these reports – disputes between neighbors, hoaxing, adolescent troubles, family turmoil and stress. This, to me, is really complicated stuff and to brush such claims off as “nonsense” is a mistake. There is something here, while almost certainly nothing supernatural, it sure is interesting.

Healy and Cropper do great research; it’s clear they have scoured the original sources and meticulously retrieved the newspaper accounts. The book is also very readable. The one problem I had was with the characterization of skeptics as overly dismissive. But, I do have to concede this is often the case. I’m not one of those dismissive “Skeptics”. I apply skepticism because it makes sense, especially for extraordinary claims, and I am not ready to accept a paranormal explanation, but will admit something strange is certainly going on that deserves attention as the authors attest.

It’s true that skeptics will not always consider the cases. Why? Likely because it seems implausible, the data is difficult to collect due to the unreliable nature of the phenomena, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to do such investigations and so many cases have definitively been shown to have rational explanations with few or no unexplainable anomalies.

I’m going to focus on the stone throwing, what was called lithobolia for the Walton case (U.S.), because it’s a claim that shows up in relation to very different proposed entities. In almost all cases the stone thrower is sought but never found. Reports include stones being thrown from open areas, stones may fall slowly, deliberately hitting people softly or missing them altogether. They may be reported to fall from or through a ceiling, or fall dry during a rain storm or hotter than the surrounding temperature. They may fall “dead” without a bounce or stick to the roof without sliding off. Labeled stones may be rethrown by an unseen assailant. In this book, the authors report for the first time that infrared cameras reveal the stones were uniformly warm, without handprints.

Many paranormal historians have been fascinated with talking polts like Coalbaggie (AUS), the Bell Witch (US), and Gef the mongoose (UK). While there is no doubt that stories spread from their source and may have been influential to potential hoaxers, and it is impossible for us to look back at some of them and do anything more, their folklore value remains.

The authors don’t go too much into the causes of polt activity because, they admit, they just don’t know –  many others have speculated and come up wanting. They make brief reference to work by D. Scott Rogo who believed polts were caused by RSPK. They also note the interesting correlation to Islamic tales of djinn as tricksters who start smokeless fires and throw stones. Here’s something I’d not correlated before –  poltergeist-type features to fish falls (unnaturally slowly and sometimes alive) which are not uncommon to Australia. And, they note the connection to Yowie reports (Australia’s hairy hominid). I review their book on the Yowie here. The current book follows a similar pattern and serves as a great collection of reports. Funny how mystery hairy hominids act like polts… I’m thinking about that and will be writing more about it, I hope.

Pick up this book for your collection on the paranormal. It’s available in Kindle, too. Watch for poltergeists to become a big thing as new movies come out about the Enfeld case as well as a remake of the classic horror Poltergeist. Should be fun.

Advertisements