Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Authenticity Of The Enfield Levitation Photos

People's memories of and impressions about the Enfield Poltergeist are often connected to the iconic photographs of Janet Hodgson wearing red pajamas and going through the air in her bedroom, allegedly in the process of levitating. Watch here until 34:15 for more information about those levitation incidents and to see some of the photographs and a skeptic's reaction to them. Most skeptics I've come across are even more critical than the one in the video I just linked. The photos are quickly dismissed as obvious frauds. They're just pictures of Janet jumping from her bed. In an article on Enfield, Joe Nickell includes a drawing in which he illustrates how the photos supposedly were faked.

I recently listened to one of Maurice Grosse's Enfield tapes that's highly relevant to this subject (tape 13B). It was recorded during a night when the poltergeist was unusually active, on November 7, 1977. During that night, a doppelganger of Grosse was seen, several levitations of Janet and Margaret occurred, and Janet, Margaret, and their brother Billy seemed to experience a shared nightmare, among other paranormal events that occurred. This post will focus on the levitations. It should be noted, though, that the context in which the levitations occurred, involving so many witnesses reporting so many paranormal events of such significance, adds credibility to the levitation reports.

I've been referring to levitations, since that's the term that's normally used. As I've explained before, though, some of the incidents in question would be better described as throwing instead of levitation. As we'll see, there's some of each in the November 7 events.

Though the photographs are often attributed to Graham Morris, he doesn't seem to have been present on the night of November 7. Apparently, he taught other people how to use the cameras he'd set up in the bedroom. You can hear the cameras clicking during some of the November 7 levitation episodes. The cameras ran out of film at one point (2:51), and you can hear Grosse and John Burcombe in the room working on the cameras, apparently trying to put new film in them. Burcombe seems to be reading some text (3:28), apparently a set of instructions left for them by Morris.

Grosse would keep going in and out of the room, depending on what he wanted to do in other parts of the house at a given moment. It seems that Grosse had left the room at one point, and Burcombe was there with the three children who were home at the time (Janet, Margaret, and Billy).

While he was working on the cameras, a series of levitations occurred. He saw all of them. So, we not only have the audio of the levitations on the tape, but also Burcombe's (and the children's) reactions to them and his descriptions afterward (along with other information I'll discuss below).

The levitations witnessed by Burcombe begin at 5:20 on the tape and go on until 6:40. Apparently, the girls levitated four times in less than two minutes: first Margaret, then Janet, then two more without any naming of the girl who was levitated. It appears that at least one of the latter two levitations involved Margaret, since Burcombe later refers to how "they" levitated in the manner in which the last three incidents occurred (6:59). After Grosse reenters the room, apparently along with Peggy Hodgson and Sylvie Burcombe, John provides them with a description of what he saw (7:15). It seems that the first levitation lifted Margaret straight up in the air a few feet and dropped her back down on the bed. That's what it sounds like (landing on the bed rather than the floor), and Margaret's descriptions at the time (5:32) and later (8:03) suggest the same. So, it looks like Margaret's levitation moved her up in the air while she was in a horizontal position, which is what people often think of when they hear of levitation. But the other three incidents were more complicated. From what I can tell from Burcombe's descriptions, the girl involved in each of the other three levitations was lying down, then was pulled up into a vertical position, eventually reaching a crouching position and being thrown forward, then would land on her feet somewhere on the floor. It seems, then, that the poltergeist would pull them up out of bed into a vertical position and throw them through the air. What Burcombe describes can be seen in the photos of other levitations, like the ones in the video I linked earlier. And as he described what he saw, Peggy responded by saying that she'd seen the same thing before (7:22). See the photo at the beginning of the article here, in which Janet is in the air and her mother is looking up at her. (For a discussion of some of the evidence for the trustworthiness of Peggy and the other witnesses involved in the case, see here.)

It should be noted that a levitation could easily differ from what we see in the photographs, as the first levitation of Margaret on November 7 illustrates. Even a levitation involving throwing could easily differ from what we see in the photos. The girls could easily have been in a position other than the crouching one Burcombe describes, they could easily have landed on their side or on their knees rather than on their feet, etc. What Burcombe witnessed, corroborated by Peggy, demonstrates that the poltergeist had an interest in levitating people in the manner reflected in the photographs.

The beds in the room made a lot of noise. You often hear them creaking or making other noises during normal activities: people getting on the beds or getting up from them, people moving around on the beds as they reposition themselves, etc. (You can hear such noises at 19:05 on the November 7 tape and at some points on tape 32B, for example, a tape I discussed in an earlier post.) But during the four incidents under consideration here, I didn't notice the sort of noises from the beds that you'd expect to hear if the levitations were faked. If the girls had been getting up from a reposed position to prepare to jump from the bed and had been using the beds as trampolines in the manner Nickell alleges (putting a lot of force against the beds to jump high from them), why can't you hear that on the tape? The lack of relevant noises from the beds is more consistent with the levitation scenario all of the witnesses describe. If the levitations were faked, there probably would be more noise from bed movements. Sometimes there are faint noises that might be coming from the beds. It's occasionally difficult to tell whether a noise is coming from Burcombe working on the camera equipment, the beds, or some other source. And there isn't always a noise you can notice on the tapes when somebody moves on a bed. Still, if the beds were being used to fake levitations on so many occasions, you'd expect more noise from bed movements.

And it seems that the poltergeist would at least sometimes throw the girls onto the ground forcefully, more forcefully than a person would normally land from a jump. The throwing happens rapidly, and Burcombe refers on one occasion to how the girl came out of the bed "like a rocket" (6:23). As I've noted before, such as in my discussion of the December 3, 1977 events, the poltergeist often acted with a lot of speed, which would be difficult or impossible for somebody trying to imitate a poltergeist to fake. At the conclusion of these four levitations, one of the girls (probably Margaret) seems to be angry and is commenting about how hard they landed, how dangerous that kind of levitation is, and how somebody could get hurt (6:47). Whichever girl is making the comments, the other one says "yeah" after the comment about how hard they landed, so they seem to agree that the poltergeist was hitting them hard against the floor. (On tape 13A, at 26:14, Janet claimed to have had her ankle twisted while allegedly being pulled out of bed by the poltergeist earlier on the night being discussed here.) Grosse later refers to how the whole house shook (7:32). Burcombe then says "yeah" (7:34), apparently affirming what Grosse said about the house shaking. It looks like something happened to the girls that was more forceful than a normal landing from a jump. In the documentary I linked earlier, Janet comments on how they were sometimes levitated "with force". (Go here to see her comments.) Margaret refers to how the poltergeist would propel them forward while also going with them. She then says "I don't know", apparently having a hard time figuring out what happened and trying to find a way to describe it. (Go here to see her comments.)

We don't just have "dodgy" evidence to go by, as Chris French put it when he was discussing the levitation photographs in the documentary I linked earlier. In addition to the photos, we have the testimony of multiple witnesses other than the girls, witnesses who saw some of the levitations occur, we have audio evidence that corroborates the accounts of the witnesses, and we have some evidence that the girls were being moved more forcefully than they would have been moved by normal jumping. Most likely, the photographs skeptics are so dismissive of depict genuine paranormal activity.


  1. I've been on the receiving end of perhaps one or two events that I'd consider "paranormal". In one instance, there was a voice that was audible to not just me but to someone else that was present . It was brief and unremarkable in terms of content, but it was also clear as a bell. The friend who was with me found it to be deeply unsettling.

    I do wonder what the theological implications of such events are, though. We are told that the dead are separated from us by a great chasm, and that they are either with God or not and that they cannot communicate with us, nor us with them.

    These (admittedly rare) events seem to contradict that, though.

    1. 1) There are also demons, which could be tricksters. Not all paranormal experiences would be from dead people.

      2) I personally believe far more "paranormal" stuff happens than we realize or recognize. While not related to levitation and such, I've been reading a bit on the feeling of being stared at. It's a nearly universal experience. And it's heightened even more when reading battlefield stories (how often have you heard, "I felt like someone was looking at me, and I turned and there was an enemy shouldering his weapon and I barely got my shot off first"?). But beyond that, I've read reports where people have made claims where they look at specific parts of a person and get a reaction. For instance, one woman claimed that when she was in church services as a teenager, she would look up a few rows and stare at someone's ear and after a few moments the ear would start turning red and the guy would start to rub it, and so on. I've even done an experiment while riding public transportation where I'll concentrate on the floor and watch people's feet through my peripheral vision. People who are sitting without shifting at all will suddenly move their feet within seconds after I look at their foot directly. And while obviously I haven't done this scientifically, I estimate it's happened about 90% of the time that I've tried it, and it doesn't matter if it's a male or female I look at. Obviously, some of this could be attributed to coincidence, but it also seems to happen frequently enough to have some sort of correlation. And it should be noted that the people who shift their feet have no visible outward appearance of being aware that I suddenly looked at their feet; it just seems to be something they do automatically.

      All that to say, there's probably tons of stuff that happens to us that we're not even aware of that we would classify as paranormal if we were aware of it.

      3) I would not put much stock in the literal depiction of the chasm separating the dead, and so forth. But even if it was literal, there's nothing to say that the instant a person dies that his spirit is transported to that location. For that matter, it's becoming an increasingly gray area as to when death actually occurs as people who we've considered dead before have been resuscitated now. It is quite plausible that for quite some time after the body dies the spirit remains, and I'd even say (given some of the experiences relayed in NDEs) that it's possible that a spirit may not even realize he is separated from his body for some time. I would imagine this might be even more of a potential in cases where someone is insane and already doesn't know what is real, which might even lead to more lashouts that you find in phenomenon such as poltergeists.

      In the end, one thing seems clear to me. There is too much eyewitness testimony through history from nearly every single culture and nationality on earth describing events that are relegated to the "paranormal" by Western scientists for me to think that every instance is fictional. There's a reason that every culture has a concept of ghosts, for example. Add on top of this the fact that there also is too much evidence, of the kind that Jason is documenting, to dismiss it all as hoaxes too, and I think that the Western skepticism is far too strong for what is warranted.

    2. #2 is interesting (cf. Sheldrake, as you know).

    3. // There is too much eyewitness testimony through history from nearly every single culture and nationality on earth describing events that are relegated to the "paranormal" by Western scientists for me to think that every instance is fictional.//

      An interesting collection of paranormal stories was written in the 19th century by Catherine Crowe (Non-Christian). The book is online at archive.org:

      "The Night Side of Nature; or Ghost and Ghost Seers"

    4. James,

      Regarding Luke 16 and other Biblical passages about the afterlife, see here. People often make assumptions about these passages that not only aren't implied by the passages or any of their contexts, but are even contradicted by the Bible.

    5. Peter wrote:

      "I would imagine this might be even more of a potential in cases where someone is insane and already doesn't know what is real, which might even lead to more lashouts that you find in phenomenon such as poltergeists."

      The category of deceased individuals with disordered minds ought to get far more attention than it does. In addition to those who have some sort of mental disorder in this life, there's the potential for a person's mind to become disordered, or more disordered, in the afterlife. That could happen as a natural trajectory or as a punishment (much like what we read about in Romans 1:28). Some paranormal phenomena, such as some poltergeists, seem to be better explained if there's a disordered mind involved. It's likely that one reason why some paranormal phenomena seem so nonsensical is that they're coming from a nonsensical mind. It could be some variation of living agent psi, involving a living person with a mind that's disordered in some sense, but I see no reason to rule out deceased individuals with disordered minds. Some cases seem to make more sense as involving a dead person rather than a living one.

      People often bring up demons in these discussions, and the potential for demonic activity should be taken into account. But many of the Biblical passages about the paranormal, including passages forbidding attempts to contact the dead, say nothing about demons. And some of the passages on paranormal phenomena mention entities other than demons. It's problematic for people to underestimate demonic activity, but overestimating it is problematic as well.

    6. The parable in Lk 16 doesn't say the dead are separated from the living. Rather, it indicates that the dead in hades are separated from the dead in Abraham's bosom. Put another way, the damned are separated from the saints. Separation in the afterlife. We must also make allowance for the limitations of the parabolic genre.

  2. Here's a post that says more about the Enfield levitations.