Friday, September 13, 2019

The Enfield Levitations

Levitations are a prominent part of the Enfield case, and I've discussed some of them in other posts. I've said a lot about Janet Hodgson's levitation on December 15, 1977, for example, such as here and here. In another post, I discussed the famous photographs of Janet moving through the air in her bedroom, which skeptics often dismiss as Janet jumping off her bed. And I've occasionally addressed other levitation issues. But there's a lot more that ought to be said.

As I've explained before, people often apply the language of levitation to events that some people wouldn't place under that term. Some of the events might be classified as throwing instead, for example. But since these categories are so closely related, and they're often lumped together, I'll address all of them under the banner of levitation. And my focus here is on the levitation of people, not objects.

When I refer to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes, I'll use "MG" to cite Grosse's tapes and "GP" to cite Playfair's. For example, MG12B is tape 12B in Grosse's collection, and GP50B is tape 50B in Playfair's.

Skeptics often act as though we don't have much to go by other than the testimony of the Hodgson children and the photographs I referred to above, which they dismiss as images of Janet jumping from her bed. But many of the incidents were caught on audio cassette, which means we have audio evidence. (See my earlier post on the levitation photographs for some examples of how the audio evidence is relevant.) And many of the levitations were witnessed by one or more individuals other than the Hodgson children. For example: John Burcombe (MG1A, 0:19; MG27B, 16:59; MG34A, 13:37; MG54A, 0:14), Paul Burcombe (MG34A, 19:28, 20:58), Maurice Grosse (MG1A, 13:16; MG20Ai, 6:12; MG54A, 0:14), Peggy Hodgson (MG27B, 29:10; MG70B, 11:14; MG89A, 9:37), Peggy Nottingham (MG20Ai, 6:12 and here), John Rainbow (here), and Hazel Short (here). Furthermore, David Robertson and some colleagues conducted a scientific experiment at Birkbeck College in which Janet was asked to levitate. It took place in the 1980s, well after the height of the poltergeist's activities, and any paranormal capabilities Janet had at the time were likely substantially diminished. But they did get some instrumental readings showing Janet gaining weight when she tried to levitate, for which they had no scientific explanation. See my post here for a summary of the experiment, and see the relevant sections here for some comments Robertson made to me on the subject in an email exchange. And Janet's gaining of weight during that experiment in the 1980s is reminiscent of John Burcombe's report that Janet seemed to have gained weight just after the poltergeist pulled her from her bed on December 3, 1977. As I explained in a post on the subject last year, there was no way for Burcombe or anybody else involved to have anticipated the experiment that would be conducted years later. So, we have far more evidence for these levitations than skeptics suggest.

Even the photos, which skeptics dismiss so confidently, require more of an explanation than I've seen any skeptic provide. The photos sometimes prove that there were more witnesses than the children, for example. See the photo at the top of the article here, which shows Peggy Hodgson looking directly at Janet while she's allegedly levitating. For another example, pause the video here around 16:38 to see a photo of John Burcombe looking directly at Janet during or just after an occasion when both girls were thrown out of bed.

Some of the photos that only show the children require further explanation as well. In some of the photos, the ends of Janet's feet appear to be under or behind the covers as she's leaving the bed near her pillow. See here and here. If she were faking a levitation by jumping from her bed, the most efficient way to do it would be to pull the covers back from most or all of the bed, stand up where your feet are, which would place you on the lower end of the bed, and jump. Instead, the photos show the covers pulled back only near her pillow, with her feet under or behind the covers as she's leaving the bed at the upper end. Nobody would be expecting her to leave the bed near her pillow, and nobody would expect the covers to still be mostly undisturbed after her body had been pulled out of the bed. It would take additional time, effort, noise, and risk to fake a throwing incident that way, and you'd be doing all of that to fake it in a way nobody was expecting. Faking it the other way I mentioned would take less time, effort, noise, and risk, and would be in accordance with expectations. If she repositioned herself in the bed before standing, that would take more time and effort, disturb the covers, and make more noise. And if she was initially out of bed and climbed on her bed near the pillow, that would have the potential of making noise both by means of a creaking floor and the creaking of the bed. Watch here for Graham Morris, the photographer who set up the camera in question, explaining how it was easy to hear people moving around in the bedroom. You can't rule out the possibility that Janet faked these alleged levitations in one or more of the ways I've described, but that sort of faking would require placing herself near the pillow and moving around a lot to position herself there and keeping the covers mostly undisturbed, all of which would be contrary to what people would expect, and all of that would have been done in front of a camera that could be triggered by remote control at any moment. By contrast, if she was pulled out of bed and thrown, as she and witnesses who saw some of the levitations reported, then these photographs make more sense. On the occasions shown in the photos linked above, it looks like the poltergeist pulled her up underneath her arms, near her shoulders, which is why she reached a vertical position in the area of her pillow, after which she was thrown forward.

One explanation that might be offered for Janet's positioning at the top of the bed is that she was trying to conceal footprints by jumping next to where the covers were bunched up near the pillow. But I doubt there would be footprints to conceal to begin with. In my experience, walking on or jumping from sheets doesn't leave discernable footprints, especially if you're wearing socks, as Janet is in both photos. Maybe that sort of interaction with covers does leave footprints in some contexts, such as with certain types of sheets or blankets. I don't know. But it doesn't seem to be a significant issue typically, at least. And placing yourself next to the pillow would be one of the worst places to go if you wanted your footprints concealed. The area next to the pillow is where the covers end. If you jump from the middle or bottom of the bed, you can get a larger amount of the covers to rest against your legs before you jump, then let them fall and bunch up to cover any footprints more effectively. And if these throwing episodes were leaving discernable footprints, she could have just avoided that sort of faking, by not faking any sort of throwing or by faking a different type (e.g., being thrown down at the floor without jumping).

A better argument is that she went to the top of the bed to give herself more space to jump. But she was in a moderately-sized bedroom, not a closet. In both photos, there's a bed along the wall she's moving toward. That would have provided a more comfortable landing than the floor, so jumping further would have been to her advantage. (Both girls sometimes commented on how painful the landings were, especially since the poltergeist would sometimes land them with an abnormally large amount of force.) And if Janet was faking the incident, she had no need to jump a long distance. She could have faked as short a jump as she wanted. If she wanted the event to seem more impressive, landing further away from the bed would have helped, and it would be easier to land further away by jumping from further down the bed, not next to the pillow.

See here for a photo in which Janet and Margaret seem to have been spun around in the air in the process of being thrown out of bed, so that they were facing a different way than you'd expect if they had propelled themselves from their beds in a normal manner. The caption below the photo was written by Playfair. It appears in his book. He refers to Margaret as "Rose", since that was a false name he gave her to protect her identity at the time. Notice, also, that Margaret's feet were caught up in the covers of Janet's bed, which would be counterproductive if the incident was being faked. It's possible that Playfair's caption below the photo is wrong. But, from the evidence I'm aware of (and there's a lot of it), Janet did sleep in the bed next to the windows at least the large majority of the time. Playfair was in a good position to have known the background to this particular photograph, and he took the initiative to provide the background for it in his book, so those factors make it less likely that he was mistaken. Still, there's a reasonable chance that he was wrong. And you could argue that the girls switched beds before faking the throwing, that they deliberately threw themselves in unusual ways, and that Margaret got tangled up in the covers because she was careless, for example, but all of that would be pretty unnecessary and pretty risky if you were trying to fake some throwing in a room with a remote-controlled camera and floorboards and beds that creaked a lot. There's precedent for the poltergeist throwing them in highly unusual ways. There were other occasions when that sort of incident was photographed (e.g., here).

Grosse mentioned that he had one or two photos of the girls allegedly levitating in a way that didn't look like jumping (MG78A, 13:08). I don't remember ever seeing any of Grosse's levitation photos, though, if he's referring to his own photographs. You'd think he would have shown the photos in question to the public if they have much evidential value. However, there's a lot of significantly evidential material on the tapes and elsewhere that Grosse, Playfair, and others rarely or never discussed or never made available to the public. So, there's a reasonable chance that there are one or more significant photos in Grosse's collection that haven't been made available to the public.

As the photos and witness reports illustrate, the girls were levitated in a large variety of ways. Sometimes they were thrown while in a vertical position, which critics dismiss as jumping. Other times they were thrown downward against the floor in a variety of positions. They also were levitated while positioned horizontally at times. The December 15 levitation of Janet involved moving around the room in a circle while positioned horizontally. The November 10, 1977 levitation of Janet that occurred with seven other people in the room involved Janet's moving about four feet through the air in a sitting position, with the chair's cushion still under her and going with her as she levitated (MG1A, 13:16; MG20Ai, 6:12). Johnny Hodgson also levitated in a sitting position on one occasion (GP54A, 23:39). Sometimes they were thrown up in the air upside-down, meaning that their feet came up first (MG34A, 19:47).

In addition to the variety of postures, other factors varied a lot. Peggy saw Janet thrown a distance of about fourteen feet (MG27B, 29:10). Margaret commented on seeing a levitation of Janet in which she was lifted fast, then moved forward and was dropped slowly (MG28A, 2:29). There was a banging noise at the start and finish. Some other levitations also involved slow movement. Peggy saw Billy levitated horizontally a few times and is "certain" that he went up slowly (MG89A, 9:37). On one occasion, John Burcombe saw Margaret thrown, and Grosse described her height as being close to the ceiling (MG34A, 13:37). Burcombe goes on to describe the height to which she was thrown as "impossible" (14:30). One of the most significant dates for the Enfield case, one that doesn't get discussed nearly as much as it should, is May 30, 1978. Several levitations occurred that morning, witnessed by Peggy, and she refers to how Janet repeatedly levitated in a horizontal position and almost went up to the ceiling (MG87A, 11:38). She would sometimes teleport through the covers of her bed, roll over while in the air, be moved over to Johnny and land on top of him, or experience some other variation. There are too many variations in how the poltergeist levitated people for me to discuss all of them here.

There's significant audio evidence for some of the levitations. I gave an example in my previous article on dreams and trances. Janet was thrown from her bed and pushed underneath another bed in the room, wedged facedown between the bottom of the bed and the floor, apparently unconscious the whole time (MG27A, 22:08). On the tape, you don't hear any of the sounds you'd expect to hear if the incident was faked. Rather, you hear a loud thump, then a light and quick brushing sound. It does sound like Janet was pulled off the bed, that her body made the loud thumping noise when she hit the floor, and that she was quickly dragged under the bed, making the light and quick brushing noise in the process. Shortly after, you hear Grosse saying "Where is she?", and he sounds astonished. There's more than a minute of some quiet comments made by Grosse and some rustling noises, presumably from Grosse looking around for Janet and pulling her out. It sounds like he says "Incredible!" at 22:50 on the tape, apparently after finding her under the bed or noticing that she was unconscious. (The reason why he talks so quietly is that the other children are asleep in the same room.) Shortly after, he explains that he found Janet under the bed. He had a hard time getting her out. See pages 91-92 of Playfair's book for further details (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011]). He refers to how Grosse shone a flashlight in Janet's eye just after the incident and didn't get the contraction of the pupil that should have occurred if she was conscious. On another tape, one or more of the girls starts screaming, with no relevant noises from the beds creaking beforehand, then you hear a double thump (MG17A, 24:56). It sounds like both girls were levitated around the same time. In another context, you hear a series of thumping noises, with occasional pauses and some heavy panting from Janet (MG61A, 36:24). Peggy saw what happened. She explains that Janet had been thrown around the room.

The levitations were sometimes coordinated with other paranormal events. A piece of clothing moved in another room at the same time as Janet was thrown out of bed (MG22A, 3:18). Around the same time Janet levitated off a chair, Margaret and Billy were levitated as well, Peggy felt as though something was trying to move her, and a couch was moved (MG76A, 14:05). Peggy describes the pulling sensation she felt on that occasion as "quite strong" and something that lasted for about three minutes. In another context, a levitation of Janet was accompanied by the door to the room opening on its own (GP97B, 18:20). On tape MG78A, there's a series of incidents in which Janet is somersaulted around the room (14:26, 15:29, 15:40, 22:32, 24:40, 25:41, 26:08, 27:34). Some of the segments just cited involve multiple somersaults in rapid succession. In the last of those episodes, she was somersaulted out of bed, then dragged across the floor, with the door opening on its own in front of her.

Some adults were thrown at times as well. John Burcombe was thrown off the end of a bed more than once (MG21A, 17:20; GP73B, 34:50). He was thrown off a chair as well (GP12B, 0:37). He also reported seeing Peggy pushed across a room (MG21A, 28:26). And Peggy referred to another context in which she was thrown (GP31A, 12:01).

After Janet's December 15 levitation, David Robertson conducted a couple of other levitation sessions that were caught on tape, one on December 16 and the other on December 17. The layout of the house is relevant to some of what I'll be discussing below, so click here to see a floor plan of the house.

The December 16 recording starts with the session already underway (MG48A, 15:11). Janet and Margaret are in the main bedroom, with the door closed and the bed pushed against it. You can hear the girls screaming. Robertson tries to push the door open, but can't. I wrote to him about this levitation session, and he referred to how:

the door was dead solid against the frame…One could imagine wedging the frame of the bed between door and house in some way, but I don't think this was the case, at least not done by the girls. I don't know if this was even physically possible. I don't remember the door moving at all, if the bed was wedged somehow then there would have been some twisting of the door when I pushed. When it all stopped the bed was up against the door but I was able to push it back and get in to the room, so there was something additional keeping it there and the door closed. (September 29, 2018 email)

He tells the girls to keep describing what's happening in the room, since he can't get in. They keep screaming from time to time, and it sounds like they're at different distances from the recorder at different points. It does sound like they're moving around the room. They claim that they're being levitated. You occasionally hear what sounds like something hitting the door, but it's often unclear what's going on. Robertson eventually comments on how he can't get in the room, because there's "a really strong force pushing the door" (16:28). He asks the poltergeist voice whether it's pushing the door, and it responds, "Yeah." It also makes some other comments, with the usual vulgarity and animosity. Janet mentions that Margaret has teleported out of the room, then has reappeared shortly after. Soon after that, Janet comments on how Margaret has levitated out the window. (Notice the risk involved if Janet was lying. They lived on a busy street with a lot of houses and a lot of traffic, and there was a school across from them. There would be a good chance that one or more witnesses would be outside the house at the time, as had occurred the previous day, especially since the girls were screaming so loudly and so often. Because the previous day's events were so recent, Janet probably would have been aware of the risk involved in making the unnecessary claim that Margaret had gone out the window.) You can hear screaming, and it sounds like somebody screaming about as loud as she could (as Margaret often would), but at a distance larger than the bedroom in question. It seems likely that Margaret did leave the room. You then hear Robertson running down the steps, and he goes outside. See my post here on animals in the Enfield case for a further discussion of the significance of what happened with a dog barking near the house when Robertson went out. After he comes back in, you periodically hear something hitting the door hard, sometimes over and over in rapid succession. The girls say that it's the radio knob, which the poltergeist is moving around the room. Given how loud the banging is, the girls would have to be hitting it against the door with a lot of force if they were faking everything. But you don't hear the noises you'd expect to hear from the knob hitting the floor after being thrown, you don't hear any noise of them climbing on the bed to pound the knob against the door, and there are other events going on at the same time or close by. How could they fake all of the banging noises at the same time or around the same time that everything else was occurring (screaming from multiple locations, keeping the door shut, the poltergeist voice speaking, etc.)? At one point, there's a loud bang that sounds like it's coming from the bedroom next to the main one (18:44), and Robertson comments that he thinks the bang came from "next door". The girls couldn't have faked that, since they had no access to the second room, by normal means, while they were in the main bedroom. Robertson gets into the room shortly afterward, and the session ends. He then has a discussion with the girls downstairs about what happened, but the additional information they offer doesn't have much significance.

The levitation session the next day is shorter. I think Janet was the only one in the room. Robertson is talking to the poltergeist voice, and it sounds like he's doing so from outside the closed door to the room. It says, "We're gonna start now." (GP26A, 13:23) Shortly after, you hear a rapid succession of thumps, and Janet says, "The bed's gone up to the door again." So, it seems that the bed moved up to the door by means of quickly hopping its way there. Judging by the videos and photos of the room that I've seen, I don't think that pushing the bed in a normal manner on the sort of carpeting they had there would have made the sound you hear on the tape. If the carpeting was rough and caused the bed to be jostled, that would have produced a different noise. It sounds more like something hopping up repeatedly and hitting the floor hard each time. It's unlikely that a 12-year-old girl would have the ability, by normal means, to fake that sort of rapid hopping movement of an object as large as a bed. You then hear Janet getting excited and screaming for a brief period, then there's silence. Afterward, there's a lot of pounding on the door, apparently because Playfair is trying to force it open, and he calls out to Janet, trying to get her to respond. You then hear Janet say, "I'm back again. I just went through the wall." Playfair is able to get into the room shortly after. With both of these levitation sessions, you can't tell how Robertson and Playfair were able to eventually get back into the room. As Playfair explains in his book, "we never did work out how the bed had stopped [the door] from opening one moment and not the next" (142).

Neither of these levitation sessions is as evidential as the one the previous day, December 15. But the latter two sessions do seem genuinely paranormal and shed some light on how the poltergeist was operating in these contexts.

As with many other phenomena in the Enfield case, something that's striking about the levitations is the large quantity of them and the quantity and quality of the evidences for them. I don't know of any book, including Playfair's, or documentary or other source that even comes close to conveying the quality of evidence you get for the levitations from the tapes. The somersault levitations discussed above, for example, aren't even mentioned in Playfair's book or in any other source that's easily accessible to the public, as far as I know. They occurred a double-digit number of times within the several minutes I cited earlier, sometimes in coordination with other paranormal events, and it would be absurd to suggest that Peggy was mistaken or lying every time she commented on what was happening during those several minutes. There are some pieces of evidence for the levitations that are strong even when considered in isolation (e.g., the discovery of a book from Janet's room in Peggy Nottingham's house just after the December 15 levitation; the scientific experiment on weight gains done by Robertson and his colleagues). The cumulative effect is even stronger and makes it extremely probable that genuine levitations occurred.

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