Blog powered by Typepad

« Dreamcatchers | Main | Stranger in a strange land »


I picked up a copy of that book over 30 years ago. I don't even remember where I found it. If I recall, it's a thick volume, but very interesting reading.

Charles Mackay appears to have been the James Randi of his day. Recently I have become more sympathetic to the "debunker" crowd. I mean people are less than circumspect in what they will believe and, having explored some other paranormal websites in the past few months, there are lots of obviously silly claims that get a lot of traction.

Then there's all of the fake news/propaganda and fads (eating Tidepods, people claiming to have been raised in satanic cults, big swaths of the populace actually believing that certain elected leaders are Hitler and seeking genocide of some group, alien abductions, bitcoin, global warming hysteria/we're all going to die in ten years if we don't alter the climate back to some static ideal that never existed). IMO, debunkers are needed. They serve an important role, even if they do go too far sometimes.

In re; poltergeists, I have long thought that the evidence for them is pretty solid. There have been several very well investigated and documented cases. What MacKay describes is about on par with the famous "Enfield case".

I think MacKay is force fitting poltergeists into his category. I don't see poltergeists being easily subjected to fads, delusions or crowd madness because they require real evidence. There's either objects flying around the house or not. And who wants to break all of their dishes just to pull off a hoax?

It's not like people believing that their arm - or some other body parts - aren't really theirs because they're actually someone else inside the wrong the body. Or that someone is a witch. Or that tulip bulbs are going to be worth huge amounts of money for ever. Or a situation in which massively complex black box computer simulations that most people can't validate come back with an answer about a trend.

Poltergeists can be validated by any reasonable person at any time.

Some of these stories of poltergeists read like a Walt Disney cartoon to me where pots and pans, knives, forks, spoons and tea kettles come alive and dance around the room while Snow White whistles while she works to clean up the mess the seven dwarfs have made.

I don’t know what to think about tales of poltergeists. My first inclination is to think that they are all a lot of ‘hooey’. I say this having lived long enough to know that people have a tendency to promote their own beliefs and they often embroider whatever they see or hear with additional factoids that make the story more interesting and catch the attention of other people. It may be that such embroidery is not intentional but that it just naturally occurs when a person wants to tell an interesting story.

I suspect that on occasion I may have been guilty of doing this, at least I think that in my mind I have made an attempt to convince myself that I had experienced something supernatural by manipulating the facts a little although I am not sure. As time goes on I find myself questioning almost everything I have thought about things in my life that seemed at the time out of the ordinary. But I have never seen inanimate things move by themselves so maybe if I did I would be more of a believer.

A little trembler from a small earthquake might cause dishes and furniture to ‘fly’ around and aftershocks may cause a repeat performance. Good storytellers might extend the experience to one lasting several days and attach some other- worldly cause to it. The story gets passed around and eventually gets printed in some magazine and quoted by parapsychologists as fact.

Regarding Mrs. Golding and Anne Robinson, Ms. Robinson may have been present during the upheaval and it may have stopped when she was not present but that might be just a coincidence if the melee was caused by an earthquake and aftershocks. And where did Anne get the very long horse hairs so that she could “jerk things off the shelves” and gee wiz, it must have taken a lot of time to attach all of those horse hairs to the crockery all leading to the hand of Anne so she could pull them on cue and how come Mrs. Golding didn’t see her doing this? How did Anne manage to get things from the shelves and throw them down the chimney and how did Anne have time to set things up when she and Mrs. Golding took refuge at the neighbor’s house where the same phenomena occurred?

I don’t know but I just can’t put much credence in these old reports. – AOD

P.S. I lost part of this and I can never rewrite it to be as good as it was originally.

"A little trembler from a small earthquake might cause dishes and furniture to ‘fly’ around and aftershocks may cause a repeat performance."

The earthquake must have been awfully localized if it affected only Mrs. Golding's residence. And the epicenter must have shifted so that the aftershock affected only the home of the friend where Mrs. Golding and Anne Robinson were lodging.

I think that even in 1772, people knew what an earthquake was and would not be fooled into thinking it was a poltergeist event.

I've read some convincing contemporary poltergeist cases which follow the same general pattern as the two cited by Mackay. That's why I would give credence to these old cases – simply because they seem to match up well with the newer ones. Of course, there would've been a lot of embellishment and invention, but if we strip that away, the underlying events are no different from what we've seen in modern episodes.

More relevant on the earthquake explanation front is that here in the UK - as i take the described incident to have occurred, and certainly a large number of the better known poltergeist accounts - earthquakes are so few and so minor that most people here believe we simply never have them. Maybe once every 20 years a 1 second tremor might be reported in the media because a number of people noticed the leaves of a houseplant move or a tile slip off their roof. The idea of quake capable of sending crockery flying across the room and followed by equally effective secondary tremors, while not impossible, would be so notable as to be a far bigger news story than a claimed poltergeist.

Didn't a part of the UK have a level three point-something quake a few years ago?

I can't say, Roger, but a 3.0 quake isn't much. People would barely feel it. You have to get up to at least a 5 or a 6 for it to amount to anything. The scale is logarithmic, so a 6.0 will be orders of magnitude more powerful than a 3.0.

Anyone interested in allegedly true ghost stories should take a look at the old journal 'The Occult Review', many early issues of which are available online. The easiest way to access them is via the link at the end of Wikipedia's article on the mag. Unfortunately, there seem to have been two editions - the English and the American - and this archive sometimes jumbles them up. This has resulted in some duplication of material, as the contents of the English edition appear to have been reprinted in the American edition in the following month. In a few cases, this confusion on the part of the archive's compiler has resulted in certain issues being missing altogether from this collection.

Thanks for resource to various journals. Special thanks for the link to the Journal and Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research. AOD

Thank you for your analysis, Michael. :)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)