Friday, February 1, 2013

Poltergeists in the Past

Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, UK
Poltergeists, those pesky "ghosts" that inspire so much fiction, have a long and controversial history that has been chronicled well by some rather famous and respected figures.

The word (meaning noisy spirit in German) is apropos given that these manifestations are usually quite tumultuous: dishes being thrown, furniture knocked over, and even strange apports manifesting on sudden and violent trajectories. Voices have been heard as well as screams, scratching, and knocks. Accounts of such chaos likely date back to the beginning of recorded history, but there are certainly well-documented accounts from as far back as the 17th century...

"Another sort of these there are, which frequent forlorn houses, which the Italians call Foliots, most part innoxious, Cardan holds; they will make strange noises in the night, howl sometimes pitifully, and then laugh again, cause great flame and sudden lights, fling stones, rattle chains, shave men, open doors, and shut them, fling down platters, stools, chests, sometime appear in the likeness of hares, crows, black dogs." -- Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621

So, too, did the rector Samuel Wesley (father to John) report of manifestations in his parsonage at Epworth in Lincolnshire. Between December 2, 1716 and the end of the following January, he, his wife, and their children were plagued by inexplicable goings-on.

From letters written to family and friends, we have the following quotes:

[from Samuel Wesley] "Something like the steps of a man was heard going up and down stairs, at all hours of the night.

We heard, as Emily had done before, a clashing among the bottles as if they had been broke all to pieces.

My wife looked under the bed and thought something ran from thence, but could not tell what shape..."

[from Mrs. Wesley] "I heard frequently between ten and eleven something like the quick winding up of a jack at the corner of my room by my bed's head, just the running of the wheels and the creaking of the iron work. this was the common signal of its coming.

One night it made such a noise in the room over our heads as if several people were walking then run up and down the stairs...

Something ran out pretty much like a badger and seemed to run directly under Emily's petticoats."

[from Emily] "The same creature was sat by the dining room fire one evening; when our man went into the room, it ran up by him through the hall under the stairs. He followed with a candle and searched, but it was departed. The last time he saw it in the kitchen, like a white rabbit, which seems likely to be some witch."

[from John Wesley] "Whether our clock went right or wrong, it always came, as near as could be guessed, when by the night it wanted a quarter to ten."

1 comment:

TrippyBeth said...

I love stories like this... just proves that movies and books haven't really been what influences people's experiences.