Since the first thoughts flickered across our consciousness that there might be something out there in the spiritual realm beyond the veil of what we can see there have been reports of hauntings. This phenomena goes back many centuries, and is a fixture of the world of the weird, yet a haunting can be many things. Far from just the typical view that this is all caused by roaming ghosts, there are many theories and ideas on what hauntings consist of, many subspecies of this phenomenon, and here are a few of the most common. So if you are plagued by a haunting and want to know just what is going on, look no further than this handy guide.



Many people know of this type of haunting from the 1982 movie of the same name, Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper, but what many people might not realize is just what this phenomenon is really all about. The term “poltergeist” comes from a fusion of the German words poltern, meaning “to rumble,” and geist, which means “ghost” or “spirit,” making the word translate basically to more or less “noisy ghost.” The strange phenomenon usually descends quite suddenly, often in places where there was previously no known paranormal activity, usually ending just as abruptly, and it can be quite frightening for the victims indeed.

This poltergeist activity usually entails a wide range of seemingly mischievous occurrences, including anomalous noises such as knocks, thuds, and footsteps, or more rarely voices, objects moving on their own or getting knocked over by unseen forces, doors opening and closing by themselves, lights or other electronics turning on or off or experiencing strange power surges, levitating objects, objects that are mysteriously misplaced or seem to teleport from one place to another, even dropping from the ceiling out of nowhere, strange scents that seem to spring up out of nowhere, rarely apparitions, and numerous other unexplained disturbances. Puddles of water that seem to come from no known source are also not uncommon, and mysterious fires starting are not unheard of. This is usually quite troublesome yet ultimately harmless in nature, but in rarer more extreme and indeed frightening manifestations, objects or furniture will fly across the room to violently crash into walls, and people will levitate or even be seemingly attacked by unseen hands, often leaving bruises, scratches, and cuts behind.

Although the phenomena may vary widely from case to case, there are some traits and patterns most seem to have in common. The manifestations tend to start and also end quite suddenly and without warning, and are always spontaneous and unpredictable, happening at all hours both day and night. They typically begin rather innocuously, and then steadily escalate in intensity and spookiness until the besieged, terrified occupants of the home are forced to try and move away. This might all sound as if it must surely be the work of ghosts, and that was the prevailing theory on poltergeists for a very long time, but there are some commonalities between many poltergeist cases that suggest there might be something else going on altogether, and that these frightening forces do not come from some outside supernatural force, but rather from within.

One of the problems with poltergeists is that they don’t go away when people move to a new place, likely to try and escape it all. Indeed, unlike more traditional hauntings the phenomenon will follow people from place to place, quite often getting even worse the more a family tries to flee the rather harrowing forces that are terrorizing them. This seems to suggest that it is all tied to them, not any specific location. Another curiosity is that a great many poltergeist cases seem to orbit and focus on one particular person, statistically most often a female just on the cusp of or right after puberty between the ages of 9 and 14, with these people often called the “agent” by paranormal investigators. The activity will usually happen only when this person is present or intensify when they are around, as if they are some sort of trigger, often beginning during a time of stress or emotional turmoil, and even targeting them in a seemingly malevolent way. This is a very telling detail and seemingly of great importance, and indeed many of the most famous and well-documented poltergeist cases very clearly revolve around a living person and share these characteristics.

This has all caused speculation that this particular type of haunting is not caused by restless spirits, but rather by something else entirely, in this case outbursts of psychokinetic energy, that is forces generated by a human brain that have the ability to physically affect the world around them. The idea here is that certain people with repressed stresses roiling about their subconscious minds can have that come lashing out into the real world, usually without them even aware that they are doing it at all. In essence, these poltergeist manifestations are not caused by “noisy ghosts” at all, but are rather caused by these repressed stresses bubbling up from within the subconscious minds of these people, finally lashing out to generate these occurrences through what is called “telekinesis” or “psychokinesis,” which is simply the power to move or affect matter with the human mind. Indeed, so accepted has this idea become among paranormal investigators that poltergeist infestations are sometimes referred to as “Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis” (RSPK), a term originally coined by the paranormal researcher William Roll.

In this theory the “paranormal activity” is directly caused by the person it is concentrating on, the agent, and they are demonstrating these psychokinetic powers without even being aware that they are doing it. Since it seems like ghosts, this generates more fear and stress, which in turn provokes and causes these latent mind powers to become even more intense and unrestrained, which explains why the “haunting” often gets steadily worse as the eruption of psychic energy continues unabated. Since the phenomena are tied to the individual, moving to a new place does little to help, and the new environment can actually make it all worse. The idea of RSPK also explains why the poltergeist activity typically stops within a few days or weeks, passing when the agent has calmed down or found some sort of peace. The reason why young people in puberty are usually involved is typically explained as the result of their lack of restraint and their minds and hormones undergoing great changes, which enhances their powers or makes them more uncontrollable, although people of any age have been known to be agents.

If you are stuck with a poltergeist haunting, the best thing you can do is try to identify who it might be gravitating towards, as the activity can usually be noticeably focused on one particular family member, as well as who might be the origin of it. If the person who is lashing out has some deep-seated issues, perhaps these can be worked out and the poltergeist activity will then either subside or stop altogether. If the energy is being directed at someone, then perhaps working out some issues within the family can help smooth things over.


Residual Hauntings

Another type of haunting that involves something other than the spirits of the dead revolves around the idea that places themselves can have memories or echoes of the past that have imprinted upon them like images upon film. In the case of residual hauntings the idea is that the physical composition of the geology of an area, the makeup of a building, or even the invisible fields of objects can hold information projected upon them by certain events, usually traumatic of stressful ones. The basic idea is that for some reason past events have been imprinted upon the building or the landscape and are merely playing back like images on camera film, or sounds on an audiotape, residual memories of a time lost. In this theory, what we see are not spirits in the traditional sense at all, but more like watching a video, with the film being the area around it, these phantom memories sort of playing back like a video tape to appear almost like realistic holographic images that can startle and frighten those who witness them.

This theory is especially applied to those cases wherein the apparitions seem to mindlessly repeat the same series of actions over and over again, perhaps for all eternity, and do not seem to realize that they are being watched or that they are dead, no more than an image on film “knows” it is being looked at. These apparitions will not react to anything around them and cannot be communicated with, usually seen to be doing the same things over and over again in a very non-interactive manner. They are not intelligent and not even really there in any sense at all, but merely spectral echoes bouncing about, ghosts of the past.

Why and how these particular past events should have been transplanted onto the landscape, as well as how they are played back, are unknown, but there has been speculation. For instance, it has been postulated that death, pain, suffering, tragedy, and other events involving strong emotions might somehow stain the location, imprint upon it, and cause these incidents to be replayed, and this fits in with hauntings often occurring at places where something terrible has happened. There is also the idea that the composition of the surrounding soil or rocks itself may have some part to play in these residual hauntings, with areas with a high concentration of granite, crystal, or limestone are said to be particularly receptive to string these past memories. Are ghosts perhaps, at least in some cases, merely history playing back on an endless loop?



Here we have the more of the traditional idea of a haunting, wherein the disembodied spirit of a deceased person has somehow been doomed to wander about the reality he or she left behind. There are a lot of reasons for why this might happen. Sometimes it is because they died without fulfilling some goal or purpose, taken from their mortal coil too soon before realizing unfinished business. In other cases they might have suffered some sort of traumatic death or suffering that has caused them to be tethered to this plane of existence, and yet in other cases they might have died so suddenly that they are not even aware that they are dead at all. Sometimes they just don’t want to move on, for whatever reasons. In any event, there are certain telltale signs that you are dealing with this sort of haunting.

In addition to often very poltergeist-like activity, ghost hauntings will usually involve actual apparitions, which are quite rare on the former. These apparitions will typically appear much as the person did in life, right down to any period clothing, and can usually clearly be identified as a particular individual, sometimes appearing to be quite realistic indeed. They will also usually exhibit certain idiosyncrasies that they had in life as well through cues running the range of senses. Did a dead person smoke cigars in life? Well, then, you might smell anomalous cigar smoke when the ghost is around. It's the same thing with perfume or other scents. Ghosts are also sometimes willing to actively try to communicate somehow or interact directly with witnesses, even seeking that, displaying an intelligence and free will, as well as having the hallmarks of the personality of the person they were in life. These ghosts will usually be found in either the place they died or in a place they felt a strong connection with in life.

There are too many permutations of ghosts to list them all here, but in the case of this type of haunting you are dealing with the personality of a person who was once living, meaning that their motives and reasons for being here are something we can try to guess at and also that they can be communicated with and even reasoned with in a meaningful way. These are not alien intelligences or inscrutable entities, but essentially rather us after crossing that veil between life and death, and therefore they can be somewhat understood. The same cannot be said for some other more insidious and ominous types of hauntings.


Shadow People

One of the weirdest phenomena of the paranormal world is that of what are called Shadow People. The term Shadow People covers a wide range of ghostly phenomena involving mysterious vague specters that seem to lurk just on the periphery of our perceptions for reasons that are unknown, often just appearing to watch or observe. Although descriptions vary, they are typically said to be very tall and thin, all black like a humanoid shadow, generally male in shape and with indistinct features, and often appearing almost 2 dimensional in nature, as if projections that lack any real substance. It’s not uncommon for them to be described as wearing thick cloaks or capes of old fashioned designs, and tall, brimmed hats are often reported as well. Although no facial features are typically noted, some accounts mention glowing eyes. Generally, they are only fleetingly glimpsed, often out of the corner of the eye, seeming to fade or vanish when directly observed, but not always. Although they usually look like a shadowy silhouette of a man, they can also be more amorphous masses, mists, or blobs, sometimes shifting shapes right before a witness’ eyes.

Shadow People are most commonly seen as merely observing, rarely if ever interacting with people or the world around them, and although they don’t seem to do anything to any negative effect they are almost always reported as possessing a malevolent or sinister air about them, emanating a sense of foreboding and dread. They are also known to vanish or flee when detected, and as scary as they are, Shadow People are mostly seen as rather shy and harmless in the grand scheme of things. Yet some encounters can be very intense and terrifying, and among some of the most frightening of these are accounts when these entities appear in homes, often looming over the bed of a sleeping person, who usually wakes to see the demonic looking figure standing there, and finds themselves paralyzed with fear or held in place by some unknown force. Such weird reports are rather numerous, and share some similarities and common traits in that the witness is faced with a mysterious black figure standing in their room and overcome with a sensation of overwhelming dread, terror, and of being helpless or unable to move.

In the end, no matter what intent these Shadow People have, one thing most paranormal researchers and people who have experienced them agree on is that they are not the ghosts of human beings, and were never human at all. As to what they might want, it is impossible to tell, but their generally observing nature suggests that they may be just watchers studying us for inscrutable purposes or even bystanders somehow caught up in the phenomenon themselves, every bit as startled and perplexed as we are. Are these shadow beings lurking out there on the periphery of our reality, peering in at us even as we peer out at them, or the other way around? There is no way to know, but they seem to fit in with some sort of outside, non-human entity of some sort, and speaking of non-human entities we come to perhaps the most terrifying type of haunting there is.


Demonic Hauntings

We are in a completely alien realm now, dealing with malevolent spirits that lie totally beyond human experience and which typically want to do nothing but harm. It is difficult to come to a concrete origin for such entities, as although demons in some form or another are prevalent throughout far-flung cultures they are usually assigned different origins and natures. In Judeo-Christian beliefs they are fallen angels, but they have as many different faces as the many peoples who believe in them. One thing they all have in common, however, is that they are negative, malicious non-human spirits with inscrutable agendas and a real knack for evil.

Demonic hauntings have some hallmarks that can be picked up on if one knows what to look for. They will typically start rather innocuously, with minor little disturbances and anomalies that might even be mistaken for poltergeist activity. Lights will flicker, faucets will turn on and off, objects will be moved, sometimes almost imperceptibly at first. This will usually graduate to more intense phenomena over time, with the demon or demons feeding off the fear they are generating, and indeed this is said to be one of the reasons why they like this process of steady escalation. They want the fear and to morally and mentally break down their victims, and some telltale signs that you are dealing with one are various. Foul, offensive odors like death or rotting flesh, animalistic growls or grunts, recurring horrific lucid nightmares, violent banging on walls, ceilings, or floors, terrified pets, and aggressive damage or defilement to any religious symbols are all classic examples.

There can also be negative physical and mental symptoms in those present, mood swings, or loss of motor control, as well as headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, and nausea, as well as various other disturbances such as sudden suicidal thoughts, feelings of mistrust, and inexplicable rage. There are also often mystery illnesses involved, with strange physical symptoms coming from seemingly nowhere without a discernible cause. Demonic hauntings are also notable for the physical aspect to them. Victims describe being pushed, prodded, pinched, scratched, and even punched by unseen hands, and scratches and bruises are not uncommon. Physical damage to property can be pronounced, with whole rooms ransacked. On many occasions this is all said to be setting a victim up and breaking them down for what the demon really wants, which is to possess the living.

When dealing with a demonic haunting it is said to never try and talk to the entity or taunt or challenge it in any way, as this will make it want to try and trick you at best, or become even more violent at worst. The best thing is to ignore it completely, as this robs it of the fear it is feeding off of. It is also important to take immediate action, as it only grows stronger the longer it lingers, so a victim of this sort of haunting must take action immediately by seeking professional help from a priest, shaman, or demonologist. It is advised not to try and expel the demon oneself, by using Holy crosses or holy water for instance, as this will likely only enrage it and cause the paranormal activity to intensify further. Even with professional help there is no guarantee that the exorcism will be successful, so it is a good thing that these types of hauntings are considered to be exceedingly rare.

Here we have looked at a few of the types of mysterious manifestations of paranormal phenomena out there. There seems to be very specific subdivisions of this sort of activity, and each one has its own idiosyncrasies and unique characteristics. If you find yourself being haunted it might be good to look at guides such as this to try and figure out what you are dealing with, and seek the proper help you need.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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