Ghosts come in a variety of guises and the German word Poltergeist describes a noisy, rumbustious type of ghost or goblin that likes to play pranks on the inhabitants of a house or dwelling. The spirit of a deceased moves into a home – for reasons that might not be apparent at first glance – and starts throwing furniture about by invisibly moving and manipulating objects. This is usually accompanied by groaning, knocking at doors and walls, scratching, rattling of chains and eerie screams for good measure.
The ultimate aim seems to be to drive the inhabitants from the dwelling so the poltergeist can have some peace. According to some cultures’ folklore, Poltergeister (German plural) haunt a particular person and recorded incidents date back as far as the 1st century AD.
In severe cases the Poltergeist – presumably if the living human is too thick to notice otherwise – resorts to biting, hitting, pinching and punching their intended victim. Throughout history there are recorded cases (such as Lithobolia 1698, explained on pamphlet in the British Museum, The Bell Witch of Tennessee 1817 to 1872, Rosenheim in Germany in 1967 and Borley Rectory, England in 1937 for example) of people being haunted by a Poltergeist.
In the Harry Potter books J K Rowling famously uses a poltergeist to great comic effect, but I’d like to return to the more sinister meaning of poltergeist activity in my Willow the Vampire novels. Originally Poltergeister were deemed to be malicious ghosts, spirits with an axe to grind.
Although over the last couple of centuries people have tried to come up with various explanations of this paranormal phenomena – such as stress and anxiety of a householder causing the imagined events – nobody has so far had an adequate explanation that covers all the strange cases recorded over time.
It struck me that a guilty conscience of the householder – having previously committed some crime or grievous offence against someone – could be a good reason for a poltergeist or two to move into somebody’s home to take revenge.
Since Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts is in part about exacting revenge for wrongs done to children, the introduction of this nocturnal avenger seems appropriate. And, as J K Rowling so beautifully demonstrated, one can have quite a lot of fun with such a creature of the night, too.
Spooky in the best sense of the word, Poltergeister who move objects, make strange noises and jump out at us from behind the curtain are part and parcel of growing up and learning not to be afraid of the night. The night terrors we perceive as children are often little more than furniture bathed in shadow and moonlight, suddenly unfamiliar at night and therefore frightening. When we grow up, we start to recognise what is real and what is imagined – at least most of us do, leaving writers out of this argument…
Looking at things from a different perspective is also a lesson we learn as we grow older. Revenge can sometimes be a good thing, but mostly it blinds us to the underlying causes of our real or perceived misery.