PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Ghosts, Hauntings & Related Phenomena

Written by Penny M. Kroll

Recently I took a course with Dr. Phil Morse through East Carolina University called “The World of Paranormal: Fact or Fiction.”  It used scientific studies to prove or disprove many types of paranormal activity.  One area that was of great interest was the section on poltergeists so I decided to research the relationship in young women as part of my submission to PSICAN.

Poltergeists, or noisy ghosts, have been in existence and studied for many years. They can consist of objects being moved or thrown, unexplained noises such as loud knocking and even more dangerously they can come in the form of violent attacks.  

Reports of poltergeists date back as far as the first century and were found in many countries around the world.  There have been different speculations on what causes poltergeist activity.  Guy William Lambert, a psychical investigator used geological factors to explain the phenomena stating that things such as changes in the climate, activity of underground waters, tidal patterns and seismic activity could affect unexplained happenings in a house.

Others thought it to be spiritual in nature or an advanced type of haunting.  Psychologist and parapsychologist Nandor Fodor took it one step further and theorized that it was not based on spirits, but more human agents suffering repressed anger, hostility and sexual tension.  William G. Roll, also a noted psychologist and parapsychologist took Fodor’s findings and continued to explore the theory that poltergeists were not necessarily ghosts but humans using a different form to express negative feelings.  

In the 1960’s William G. Roll conducted a study of over 100 cases spanning four centuries and discovered patterns that he labelled “recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis” or RSPK. Most cases involved a child or teenager who used psychokinesis, or mind over matter, to make things move or happen without any knowledge they were causing the disturbance.

In many of these cases involving a child or teenager, the poltergeist activity was connected to girls or young women as opposed to boys or young men. This makes sense as there are many more changes a girl goes through during this time period that could lead to high stress levels and potentially result in poltergeist activity.  As someone who has been there, I can easily recall the many pressures and stress that caused emotional disturbances in my friends and me. Our bodies are physically changing and hormones begin to affect our moods.  There is more pressure in high school from peers and teachers, including the beginning of sexual relationships.  The older we get we earn more freedoms from our parents but along with that comes additional responsibilities and expectations that are sometimes difficult to meet.

These types of stresses result in different reactions that affect a young woman’s health and well-being.  Sleep deprivation, compromised immune systems, lack of self-esteem, depression and turning to stimulants to cope  are just a few of the issues they deal with.  In some instances if the stress was not recognized or managed properly it resulted in subconscious psychokinesis.  

There are some notable cases of poltergeist activity occurring in women throughout history.  Here in Canada there is The Great Amherst Mystery from Amherst, Nova Scotia which took place in 1878.  Esther Cox, an 18 year old was the centre of activity. Esther lived with her sister and brother-in-law and was sexually assaulted by a male friend.  Not long after this took place, unexplained knocking and banging began to occur in their home which eventually led to objects flying around and fires that started in various places around the house. Esther eventually moved but fires continued to occur and she even went to jail for arson.  However after she was let out most of the activity seemed to disappear.

The Rosenheim Poltergeist was centred on a young woman named Annemarie Schneider in Rosenheim, Bavaria.  A secretary in the law office of Sigmund Adam, Annemarie seemed to be the cause of strange activity happening in the office.  Lights would turn on and off, desk drawers would open and close on their own, pictures rotated on their hooks and telephones would ring without anyone calling in.  Parapsychologist Hans Bender was called in to investigate and found that when Annemarie was present, activity was prevalent.  When she was sent on a vacation, activity ceased so Bender determined that Annemarie was indeed the source of the activity. After talking with Annemarie, Bender discovered that she had just experienced serious personal relationship trauma which likely triggered the activity.  

Another more recent case that was made public in the United States was that of Tina Resch.   This case was followed very closely by William G. Roll who even had Tina stay with him and his wife to observe her behaviour.  Adopted by a family with a rigid style of upbringing and not fitting in well at school, the poltergeist activity began to occur in the Resch home when Tina was 14.  There was a lot of attention paid to this case by media in 1984 including the famous photographs of a telephone handset flying in front of her in her family’s living room.  Tina’s activity eventually ceased but emotional stress caused by the episode affected her as an adult.

These are just three examples where stress in these women’s lives led to poltergeist activity.  But what made these women different from other young women who experience similar types of stress without the same outcome?

In the case of Annemarie Schneider, parapsychologist Hans Bender believed she also suffered from some form of non-descript neuroses.  Not long after the noises began, Esther Cox appeared to have suffered epileptic type seizures and high fever which led to increased physical activity in her home.   William G. Roll also found that Tina Resch may have had some form of epileptic seizures which would indicate there may be a deeper medical issue at the root of the activity for these three women.

Roll (1977) suggested that there was a link between epilepsy and poltergeist activity based on the fact that “22 of 92 persons regarded as the foci of such activity that he surveyed were prone to "seizures or dissociative states" (p. 400). In one particularly noteworthy case (Solfvin & Roll, 1976), poltergeist outbursts appeared to alternate with seizures in a grand mal epileptic.”   

There are other reports that link cases of RSPK to symptoms of Complex Partial Seizure or CPS.  Studies done by the Epilepsy Foundation found that in rare cases during the onset of puberty in adolescent girls there was an increase in CPS activity which could lead to RSPK activity as well.   This seemed to be the case with Eleonore Zogun in 1913. Eleonore’s activity started just three months prior to her 12th birthday with items moving in her house and rocks being thrown.  The activity continued for two years and practically ended after she had her first menstrual cycle.  That seemed to be the turning point for Eleonore who grew up and went on to marry and live a normal life without any further incident.

For cases that were not linked to seizures or other medical conditions, poltergeist activity was reduced or even eliminated using therapy programs. There has been more success in treating people exhibiting poltergeist like activity through a proper therapy program than having a priest or clergyman brought in to exorcise the demons that were believed to be present in the home.     

Is it possible that these or some of the other documented cases could have been prevented all together if the original source of stress was addressed before it led to poltergeist activity?  If the studies indicate most occurrences happen in young women and we know what types of things cause or trigger it then can’t that information be used to help others not have to go through such frightening experiences in the future?

Given that paranormal activity or psychokinesis is usually not acknowledged in the general medical and scientific world, it’s difficult to say whether general practitioners are even aware that stress can cause RSPK and poltergeist activity in young women. It would take someone that is well-versed on the topic a good deal of time and effort to convince their peers that this may be possible. William G. Roll, who has done extensive research on poltergeist activity and RSPK would have been a good candidate to lead such a charge, however Roll passed away January 9, 2012.  

While I wasn’t able to find many documented cases of poltergeist activity relating to young women that occurred in more recent years since the Tina Resch case, the ability to find more recent resources on research being done in this area was difficult as well.  

I reached out to the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina to see if there was anyone undergoing current research projects on RSPK and poltergeist activity.  While there is a current study underway by Sally Rhine Feather, Ph.D., Christine Simmonds-Moore, Ph.D. and Jean Hamilton. M.D. on unexplained physical events related to crisis and death, there are no studies being done specifically based on RSPK, young women and poltergeist activity.

Does this mean that poltergeist activity in young women or people in general has been reduced over the years or are we just not hearing about newer cases?  I would like to think that significant advances have been made and there is more preventative measures being taken to reduce or eliminate it all together.  One would think with the ease of being able to communicate the information or news of any major activity electronically, word would spread quickly these days if anything was to happen - so I guess we wait and see!