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Poltergeists are perhaps one of the most famous paranormal phenomena but when you get into what people really know about it, it is also one of the least well understood.  We have been raised on films and TV programmes that portray a host of activity associated with poltergeists but not all of it actually is.  So what are the real signs and stages of poltergeist activity?


Signs of a poltergeist can be misleading and open to misinterpretation as anything else connected with paranormal phenomena.  But the trick to knowing the difference is to record what is happening and study it for patterns.  For instance, if a certain object keeps vanishing and reappearing in a certain place, then perhaps get a webcam on it and see what is happening.

Understanding what a poltergeist is and what it isn’t also helps to understand the signs and correctly realise you need help.  A poltergeist is also referred to as ‘recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis’ or RSPK.  This is when it is believed that the cause of the activity isn’t so much a ‘ghost’ as a person in the house with unknown abilities who is causing it without knowing they can.

What a poltergeist will never be is the image of an old man wandering through the house or a spooky face at the window when no one is home.  A poltergeist isn’t an apparition, no matter what you think the underlying cause to be.  If there is a physical manifestation, it is usually due to something the poltergeist has done rather than a glimpse at it.

There are seven recognised signs that there may be a poltergeist at work and any one or two of them don’t a poltergeist make.  But they are indicators when combined and when repeating.

  1. Disappearing objects

We all lose stuff, put it down and find it isn’t there when we come back so this doesn’t mean that you have a poltergeist – more like kids, animals or a memory blank!  However objects disappearing moments after you put them down and being missing for a period of time when reappearing may be a sign, as can be them reappearing somewhere really random.  Think your car keys appearing on top of the bookshelf in the kid’s bedroom or the TV remote being at the bottom of the freezer – the kind of thing you cannot think of a scenario to explain.

  1. Object moving on their own

Often thing fall off shelves or suddenly slip out of their position but when object continuously move on their own without an explanation then this can be a sign.  Ornaments falling off a shelf where a door is frequently slammed isn’t so mysterious but an ornament in a glass cupboard in the corner of the room suddenly jumping off its shelf may be.  And of course, levitating items is a real sign but I don’t suppose you need me to tell you that!

You leave a book shut and suddenly it is open – wind or a poltergeist?

  1. Weird smells

We get used to the smells around us, pleasant and unpleasant.  It may be the smell of the bushes in the front garden under the window or the not so pleasant smell of the cat using the litter tray.  However strange smells that cannot be tied to anything may be a sign, such as the bathroom filling with the smell of lilacs when you don’t own a single floral smelling product.

  1. Electrical appliances

This one is a TV favourite but also a poltergeist favourite – lights turning on and off, the radio suddenly turning on at full volume, the TV changing channels all by itself.  Any time an electrical appliance plays up, there is reason to be suspicious but most of the time it will be some weird coincidence, not a sign.

  1. Spontaneous power

This one is similar to number 4 and regards items that have no power suddenly coming to life.  For example, the kids toys are turned off, perhaps even the batteries have run out, and suddenly at 3am when everyone’s asleep, they start doing their thing.  This is even more a sign if you turn it off or take the batteries out and it continues to act up!

  1. Noises

Poltergeists aren’t known as noisy spirits for nothing – they love to make a racket.  From footsteps to knocks and rapping’s as well as a host of other noises, they can create them all but so can a number of other factors.  Houses generally make noises without any paranormal assistance so looking for a sign in this category can be tricky and usually best when clearly something odd happens or is combined with other signs.

  1. Physical attacks

We all knock ourselves, bang into something or cut ourselves without realising it but if this kind of thing is happening a lot and in strange ways and places, then this may be a sign.  Poltergeists can harm people in this way and in the later stages of their activity, this is common.  But it can also happen early on and is a well-documented part of the activity by cases such as the Amherst Poltergeist.


The other way parapsychologists look at poltergeist activity in in stages – these show the progression of activity from a few moving ornaments right up to the heart-stopping moment when someone has to leave their home or be injured.

Most poltergeist cases are never recognised or documented but those that do progress quickly

Stage 1

Most people don’t know anything is happening or count it as a series of coincidences, odd happening and generally just being jumpy.  Watch out for:

  • Strange behaviour by animals in the house – staring at random spots on the wall, running from nothing, refusing to enter a room
  • Cold spots – no reason for it but a spot in the room is icy compared to the rest of the room

Stage 2

This is the stage where people start to think something is wrong, while others continue to insist that the events are just ‘imagination’ or other rationalisations.  Watch out for:

  • Cold spots and rooms – not just an odd spot but an entire room that is far colder than it should be
  • Cuts and gashes – in both furniture and people, these appear without explanation, often when no one is around or near

Stage 3

Most people get in touch with a professional of one sort or another when they reach this stage, be it a religious professional or a parapsychologist.  This is the stage where even the ultimate sceptic has to admit something weird is going on. Watch out for:

  • Lights and electrical appliances acting up – on and off they go with no one near them
  • Doors and windows – you know you locked the door and now it is standing wide open
  • Rapping’s and noises – the noisy spirit is making its presence felt
  • Hands – people may feel as if someone is touching or even scratching them when no one is near

Stage 4

This is the point when violence begins to be a common occurrence in the activity and the poltergeist shows its hand – who it is focused upon.  This is often a teenager in the household and will be the one getting the most of the unpleasant attention.  Watch out for:

  • Objects flying around – levitating, flying from a spot or even hitting people
  • Doors – opening and shutting, even when locked, often striking people in the process
  • Sharp objects – kitchen implements can be thrown from their place though don’t normally hit anyone at this stage

Stage 5

This is the stage rarely reached in poltergeist cases and is the most serious.  This is the point where you need to get out of the property and away from the problem because there is a serious risk that someone will be injured or worse.  Everything that has happened continues but with greater intensity and ferocity.  Don’t watch out for anything, just get out.


You will likely go through your entire life and never even know someone who knows someone who had a genuine poltergeist encounter.  But if you think that something is amiss, begin documenting it from day one.  It will either help you realise that there is nothing wrong or will provide valuable information when you decide to get help, should you reach those later stages.