Tracing the history of poltergeists

I’m just taking a moment to mention a book which came out a couple of years ago, Poltergeists: A History of Violent Ghostly Phenomena by P G Maxwell-Davies. The book is an ambitious and highly successful bid to trace the history (in the Western world at least) of the endlessly intriguing set of phenomena which today we call poltergeists. Poltergeists are ambivalent in that in modern studies they seem to fit a series of criteria which allow them to be readily defined but as we go back in time we are reminded that they are much harder to pin down: their behavior might just as easily be blamed on fairies or a witch’s curse than on an evil spirit. Maxwell-Stuart nevertheless succeeds in maintaining a straight course through the numerous fascinating accounts he has compiled while also exploring these various byways.


The accounts date from Ancient Greece and continue chapter by chapter through the Middle Ages, the early modern period, the great spiritualism revival of the 19th and early 20th centuries and into the present day. For me, the earlier stories were that much more interesting, simply because they were less familiar. I have selected one of these, an account from 12th century Suffolk, and included it on the main site at

But Maxwell-Stuart isn’t just content with unearthing stories: he also sets them in context with the beliefs prevalent at the times they manifested and discusses various theories put forward to explain them. Poltergeists is an erudite work of history and to an extent of theology, too. It has rather more to say than, for example, Harry Price’s, Sacheverell Sitwell’s or even Colin Wilson’s works on the same subject. It’s not a light read but is highly recommended.

Poltergeists: The History of Violent Ghostly Phenomena by P G Maxwell-Davies was published by Amberely in 2011.




About UncannyUK

I am the editor of Uncanny UK (, a website devoted to British ghosts and folklore. I am the former editor of Paranormal Magazine and the author five books on Welsh folklore. Just launched Apparition Developments, first product of which is Ghost Finder London - an app plotting 300 haunted sites in London for iPhone. I'm a highly experienced journalist and corporate copywriter. I'm an enthusiast on the subjects of UK folklore, the supernatural and antiquities and am fond of old horror and sci-fi movies, cult TV such as Dr Who and I collect Victorian/Edwardian magazines. I also enjoy weird art and macabre literature by the likes of M R James, E F Benson, Algernon Blackwood, W Hope-Hodgson, H P Lovecraft etc. I live in North Wales, which is a very spooky place.
This entry was posted in Book Club, ghosts Britain, ghosts England, poltergeists. Bookmark the permalink.

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