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Poltergeists - A Study in Words

Updated on February 16, 2013
Poltergeists can haunt a location or a person.
Poltergeists can haunt a location or a person. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

The "Poltergeist" movies were an extremely popular set of horror films when they came out in the 80s. They are still shown on TV regularly every October for those of us who love a good scary movie. In this film trilogy, the Freeling family is pursued, haunted, and frightened by ancient ghosts who are fascinated with the youngest member of the family, Carol Ann. True to their nature, the poltergeists in the films manipulate objects in the family's environment to make their presence known. Poltergeists are said to haunt a particular location or person. In the case of the "Poltergeist" movies, they attached themselves to the whole family, but most specifically, Carol Ann, even following them after they moved to a new home.

Poltergeist Defined

So what are poltergeists exactly? The word Poltergeist is German in origin - polter means to make a noise by knocking or tumbling things around, and geist means ghost. The direct English translation is "noisy spirit." It is defined as a noisy, disruptive, and mischievous ghost frequently blamed for unexplained noises. Folklore around the world hold poltergeists responsible for causing destruction and making noises for no apparent reason. Many of the noises attributed to poltergeists include: knocking, rapping, disembodied human voices. The harmful actions ascribed to poltergeists consist of: physical attacks of a petty nature against people, such as pinching, hitting and biting.

For those who believe in them and those who study the phenomena, poltergeists are not considered "friendly" ghosts, but are generally held to be cruel, malicious, and spiteful. They don't simply haunt a location or person, they plague or overrun the location or the life of the person to whom they are attached.

Poltergeist Manifestations

Poltergeists are said to manifest in many ways, usually involving noises of some sort and destructive actions, usually without a confirmable cause. The poltergeist hauntings can last anywhere from a few hours to months. In the case of the "Poltergeist" movies, it lasted years. Some of the poltergeist manifestations include:

  • · Spirit: The appearance of disembodied spirits, usually associated with the element of fire, water, earth, and air.
  • · Psychokinesis: A poltergeist disturbance usually made manifest by someone suffering from a physical neurological (brain) problem, or a psychological or emotional stress. The afflicted person who brings this type of poltergeist into their physical surroundings is usually a child or teenager.
  • · Prankster: These poltergeists manipulate their environment, moving things around, sometimes making things levitate or fly across a room.

Some poltergeist "activity" has been linked to fraud. The person(s) claiming they were haunted had created the disturbances for the notoriety. Some paranormal investigations have linked poltergeist activity to underground rivers, to tidal patters, or to geological factors, even to changes in the local climate.

Psychic Phenomena

Poltergeists are sometimes referred to as a psychic phenomena, which is an experience that appears to contradict physical laws, suggesting the possibility that it is caused by a mental process. The Thesaurus lists these words as synonyms for psychic phenomena: spirit manifestation, materialization, spirit rapping, table tipping, telekinesis, trance speaking, spirit writing, teleportation, and levitation.


Poltergeists may also be referred to as specters, which are defined as phantoms and ghostly apparitions. The Thesaurus lists these synonyms for specters: ghost, spook, phantom, phantasm, wraith, shadow, fetch, apparition, appearance, presence, spirit, shrouded spirit, disembodied spirit, departed spirit, restless spirit, and soul of the dead.


Wikipedia. Poltergeist.

Strange and Paranormal Activity. Poltergeist.

The Mystica. Poltergeist.

Merriam Webster Dictionary. Poltergeist. Psychic Phenomena.

The Free Dictionary. Specter.

"Poltergeist" movie trailer


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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A brilliant hub and thank you for sharing.

      I now look forward to following you on here.