Friday, July 6, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

On Tuesday, I mentioned that the plant calamus can be used to ward off poltergeists.  These "noisy ghosts" have troubled human beings at least since the dawn of civilization.  There are written records from ancient Sumer and Egypt that hint at people being burdened by the loud, boisterous activities of what we now call poltergeists.  It is popular to imagine now that all this bizarre rapping, tapping, poking and throwing of objects is kindled by psychological rage.  Usually, I hasten to add, that of an adolescent girl. 

Just as many of us scoff at our ancestors' opinions on things like this, I feel it is important to realize that they would dismiss our opinions in turn.  In many cases, our ancestors didn't try to define what the cause of the trouble was, they just reported what occurred. 

That is the case in this interesting passage from the writings of the right Reverend Joseph Glanvill.  Writing in 1662, the Reverend describes an incidence of poltergeist activity in the town of Tedworth, England.  None of it, I will say, sounds very pleasant:

Having one night played some little tricks at the master's bed, [the poltergeist] went into another bed, where one of the daughters lay.  There it passed from side to side, lifting her up as it passed.  At that time there were three kinds of noises in the bed.  They endeavored to thrust at it with a sword, but it still shifted and avoided the thrusts still getting under the child when they offered at it.  

The night after, it came panting like a dog out of breath.  Upon which, one took a bedstaff to knock it, but it was caught out of her hand and thrown away.  The room was presently filled with a bloomy noisome smell, and was very hot, though without a fire, in a very sharp and severe winter.  It continued in the bed panting and scratching an hour and a half, and then went into the next room, where it knocked a little and seemed to rattle a chain.  

At no point does Reverend Glanvill refer to the cause of this dreadful disturbance as anything but "it".  Though he does call upon God's mercy to request relief for the troubled family, he is not pinning the poltergeist activity on the Devil, the dead or even the girl who is most troubled by the problem.

What the poltergeist might be remains an unspoken mystery.  It is certainly one we can delve into in the future, as well.

Header: Untitled painting of a ghoulish entity by Jeffrey C. Jones via American Gallery


Timmy! said...

I'm glad we don't have any given the number of teenage girls we have in our house these days, Pauline...

Pauline said...

See, I don't believe it's about teenage girls but yeah; no poltergeists are good poltergeists.