The perverse talents of the poltergeist (German for "pelting or throwing ghost") range from the ability to toss pebbles and smash vases, to the astonishing ability to materialize human or beastlike entities, complete with voices, intelligent responses, and disagreeable odors. From humankind's earliest records to today's newspaper story, every reported poltergeist case follows the same basic patterns. Cultural influences seem to matter little, if at all. A poltergeist manifestation is similar in character whether it takes place in Indonesia, Iceland, or Long Island. Only the interpretation of the disturbance varies. What is attributed to the destructive impulse of a demon to one people, is attributed to the destructive impulse of a fragmented psyche to another.
According to many contemporary psychical researchers poltergeist manifestations are dramatic instances of psychokinesis (PK) (the mind influencing matter) on the rampage. Although the pranks of the poltergeist were formerly attributed to malicious tricks perpetrated by demons and disembodied spirits, the great majority of psychical researchers today hold that some faculty of PK is at work. "The poltergeist is not a ghost," the psychoanalyst Dr. Nandor Fodor once wrote, "but a bundle of projected repressions."
Quite probably, according to many researchers, the sex changes that occur during puberty have a great deal to do with the peculiar type of PK that is responsible for poltergeist activity. Researchers have only begun to realize some of the vast chemical changes that take place in the body during adolescence. Who can say what may happen in the lower levels of the subconscious? Psychical researchers have noted that more often a girl than a boy is at the center of poltergeistic disturbances and that the sexual change of puberty is associated with either the beginning or the termination of the phenomena. Researchers have also observed that the sexual adjustments of the marital state can also trigger such phenomena.
The poltergeist often finds its energy center in the frustrated creativity of a brooding adolescent, who is denied accepted avenues of expression. Those who have witnessed poltergeistic activity firsthand have been convinced that the energy force is directed by a measure of intelligence or purpose. Observers ranging from skeptical scientists, hard-nosed journalists, and innocent bystanders alike have reported seeing poltergeist-borne objects turn corners, poltergeist-manipulated chalk write intelligible sentences on walls, and poltergeist-flung pebbles come out of nowhere to strike children. But, as one investigator commented, the phenomena are exactly such as would occur to the mind of a child. In Poltergeists (1940), Sacheverell Sitwell wrote that the poltergeist always directed its power toward "the secret or concealed weaknesses of the spirit…the recesses of the soul. The mysteries of puberty, that trance or dozing of the psyche before it awakes into adult life, is a favorite playground for the poltergeist."
Why it should be the baser elements of the adolescent human subconscious that find their expression in the poltergeist is a matter of great speculation among psychical researchers. Physical violence is almost always expressed toward the adolescent energy center of the poltergeist—and a parent, a brother, or a sister may come in for their share of the punishment as well. If the poltergeist sticks around long enough (its average life is about two weeks) to develop a voice or the ability to communicate by raps or automatic writing, its communications are usually nonsensical, ribald, or downright obscene.
Cases of poltergeists pelting innocent families with stones and pebbles comprise by far the largest single category of poltergeistic phenomena and therefore seem to be the most common example of PK running wild. Natural scientist Ivan T. Sanderson cautioned researchers against using the term "throwing" when speaking