Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Writings Of The Enfield Poltergeist

The poltergeist's communication through knocking and its voice get a lot of attention. Much less is said about the occasions when it communicated through writing.

I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'll use "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG18A refers to Grosse's tape 18A, GP82A refers to Playfair's tape 82A, and so on.

I don't think any other type of phenomena started as inauspiciously as the writing. Playfair expresses some doubts about the events in his book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 77), and he mentions on the tapes that both he and Grosse were hesitant about some of what occurred (GP11B, 1:32, 5:37). There's good evidence for much of it, though, and writing is an important form of communication that can provide a lot of information, so we should work through the difficulties.

There's a discussion of the earliest incidents at 7:51 on tape MG14A. Margaret and Peggy came across writing on a couple of occasions and threw it away, because they initially thought somebody had been joking around. It wasn't until later that they gave more consideration to the possibility that the poltergeist was doing the writing. There was some ongoing skepticism, though, since some of the writing resembled Janet's, and her paper was sometimes used. However, a variety of writing styles were utilized, and it's unlikely that Janet would have ever used writing resembling her normal writing if she was capable of writing in a significantly different manner. Given the mischievous nature of this poltergeist (and many others), which I've discussed elsewhere, as well as some of its other characteristics, there is a reasonable chance that it would imitate Janet to some degree. In the previous post just linked, I discuss the example of the Hodgson children's hostility to the Burcombes, which the poltergeist imitated and took much further than any of the children did. The writing incidents also exhibit that hostility. On another tape I'll discuss below (MG19A, 17:38), Grosse comments that he thinks the poltergeist is involved in "a deliberate attempt to cause dissension between the two families [the Hodgsons and the Burcombes]…a very calculated move on the part of the entity to cause dissension". He compares the situation and their interactions with the poltergeist in general to a game of chess, in which the poltergeist makes a move and they make a countermove. Janet denied faking any of the events in question, and I'm not aware of her ever getting caught faking any of the writing phenomena. But Margaret, especially, was angry with her and suspicious of some of the writing incidents. (The suspicions, anger, and accusations from Margaret and Peggy don't sit well with skeptical claims about how one or both of them supposedly were working with Janet to fake the entire case.) Given the factors just mentioned, Janet's personality, and the fact that she did sometimes fake incidents and joke around about matters related to the poltergeist, I think there has to be more skepticism than usual about some of the writing phenomena. There's sufficient evidence for the paranormality of some of the events, however, as I'll discuss below.

There were occasions when a pad and pencil or pen would be left out with the intention of getting the poltergeist to write something. On one of the tapes, you can hear what sounds like a pencil rapidly scribbling (MG15B, 12:28). Grosse comes into the room afterward, refers to how confident he is that everybody in the room was asleep until just before the scribbling occurred, and confirms that there is scribbling on the pad. It doesn't sound like anybody was moving much leading up to the time of the scribbling or just afterward, even though you'd expect to hear such movement if the episode was faked. Unfortunately, there is an incident with Janet's pillow being thrown just before the scribbling, so you hear her moving in her bed a little and being startled by the movement of her pillow. That muddies the waters somewhat. But you don't hear movement to the extent you'd expect if the scribbling incident had been faked.

Later, John Burcombe mentions that he'd recently borrowed a book on paranormal issues from a library, before the scribbling incident described above. The book had some scribbling in it that bore a highly unusual resemblance to the scribbling the poltergeist had done on the pad (GP61A, 5:14). That seems unlikely to be a coincidence. During the conversation in question, there's a lot of background noise from other people talking, Billy playing, etc. But you can hear enough of the conversation to tell what's being discussed. You can hear both Burcombe and Grosse referring to what's in the book as "amazing", and Burcombe makes a comment about how Grosse has something nearly identical on a piece of paper upstairs. Grosse confirms that the markings in the book and on the pad are almost identical. Burcombe also refers to how there was something drawn in the book resembling the star of David. It sounds like a couple of people on the tape identify the book's title as Into The Unknown, so somebody may be able to track it down in a library in the Enfield area.

There's a lot of evidence for these writing episodes that's independent of Janet. Peggy referred to how she experienced multiple indications that something paranormal was going on just before some of the writing appeared. She sensed a presence in the area and got one of her premonitory headaches (MG19A, 8:32). Regarding the writing that appeared on one occasion, Grosse asked Peggy, "Is there any possibility in your mind that one of the children could have taken these papers out and put them down there?" (10:30) She responded, "None whatsoever." That's significant, given how much she expressed doubt or lower levels of confidence on other occasions, like on tape MG14A, which I discussed above. Playfair mentions another significantly evidential writing event involving Peggy:

"During one of the girls' shared dreams, [Margaret] kept saying 'I want to speak to Peggy next door' over and over. On an impulse, I went down to the kitchen, where Mrs. [Hodgson] was tidying up, and asked her to try some automatic writing. I showed her how to do it, and the very first words she wrote, in the characteristic form of [this] type of writing which I am sure she could not have faked, were: 'I want to speak to Peggy next door.' This seemed a remarkable coincidence. She could not hear [Margaret] from the kitchen" (103)

On one of the tapes, Burcombe claims that Janet is writing on a pad while "completely asleep" (MG32A, 8:55). The "completely" qualifier implies that he had good evidence that she was asleep, and they did check for such evidence on many occasions, as I discussed in another post. Unfortunately, Burcombe doesn't specify any of the testing that was done on this occasion, if any testing was done, which diminishes the value of the incident. Still, it does have some significance.

Writing would sometimes appear in a bathroom, not just at the Hodgsons' house, but sometimes at the Burcombes' house as well. During one of these events, some lettering appeared in a bathroom while Margaret was there. It frightened her so much that she ran out without being fully dressed (MG62A, 1:57). Given how embarrassing that would be, especially for a teenage girl, it seems likely that she was sincere. On the tape, she seems reluctant and embarrassed to discuss the episode.

Later on the same tape (6:11, 13:43), Grosse discussed another writing incident, one involving the words "I am Fred" appearing in lettering made of tape on the bathroom door. You can see a photo of the lettering here. Fred was one of the many names the poltergeist used. Grosse explains that he doesn't think Janet could have put the tape on the door, though he doesn't go into much detail about the reasons why. Playfair provides more information in his book. He notes that the message was "done in strips of David Robertson's strong insulating tape. It must have taken some time to do, for the tape was too strong to tear by hand, and some twenty short strips were used." (182) They later found most of the tape removed, after the poltergeist voice told them to go take another look at the bathroom. Grosse says that nobody went in there during the relevant timeframe leading up to that point, which means that nobody could have removed the tape by normal means.

In another context (GP52B, 39:13), Denise Burcombe, John's daughter, had gotten out a pork pie she was going to eat for a meal. It then went missing. None of the Hodgson children were around. Later that day, there was a message written on the Hodgsons' bathroom mirror: "I've got your pork pie". Peggy explains that though Janet had been in the house close to that time of the day, when the message appeared, she had left to go back to school. Peggy had been in the bathroom since the time Janet left. There was no message on the mirror when Peggy went in. Her ex-husband, who was visiting, found the message there shortly afterward. I'm not aware of any evidence that her ex-husband faked any paranormal events, and it seems unlikely that he'd have known that a pork pie was missing from the Burcombes' house. It's not the type of thing people normally bring up in conversations, and Peggy apparently didn't talk to her ex-husband much. I doubt she would have wanted to talk to him about a missing pork pie at her brother's house. Apparently, the only reason her ex-husband had visited was because of a problem with one of his child support payments or some other sort of financial assistance he was providing the family. When she's recounting what happened, she mentions that she explained to her ex-husband, after he commented on the mirror, that a pork pie had gone missing from her brother's house, so that also suggests that she hadn't mentioned the situation to her ex-husband previously. And the message on the mirror seems more likely to have come from this particular poltergeist than from anybody faking a poltergeist. As I've discussed in another post, the poltergeist in the Enfield case seems to have had some mental problems. It may not have realized that the message it placed on the mirror was more amusing than frightening. But maybe it was trying to be amusing. You can't rule that out, though I think it's less likely. On balance, the event seems to be authentic.

While discussing another episode, Peggy refers to how confident she is that none of the children were in the bathroom at the Burcombes' house during the timeframe when some writing appeared (MG87B, 0:51). John Burcombe confirms that none of the children had gone into the bathroom during the relevant timeframe (6:00).

Though the communication that occurred through writing, at least in the records of it that I've seen, seems to be much briefer than the communication through knocking and the poltergeist's voice, the content of the writing has some significance. Playfair tells us in his book that the poltergeist used a variation of the word "quillet" on one occasion when writing on a bathroom mirror (222-23). It's unlikely that any of the Hodgson children knew about that term in its modern spelling, and it's even more unlikely that they knew of the variation that was on the mirror. The term "retaliate" was used. It's not hard to see a young adolescent child, even from a lower-class setting like the Hodgsons', being familiar with that term. But it seems somewhat more likely to me that they wouldn't have been familiar with it enough to use it in writing, which requires spelling it out. And, at least in Playfair's book, it's spelled correctly. He and Grosse did note misspellings on other occasions, so they presumably would have done so here if misspelling occurred. The vocabulary used in these writing events isn't particularly advanced, but it seems different than and somewhat higher than Janet's vocabulary.

These writing incidents impress me less than the knocking and the voice. Still, it does seem probable that at least some of the writing was paranormal.

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