Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Some Neglected Evidence For The Enfield Voice

This month and next, I want to discuss a couple of unresolved issues in the Enfield case. My post this month, this one, will address a subject I'm more pessimistic about, and next month's post will be about a topic that's more promising. Something the two posts will have in common is that I'm largely ignorant about some aspects of the issues I'll be discussing. Part of what I'm doing in these posts is bringing these issues to a larger audience with the hope that other people will be able to bring about some progress in the contexts involved.

About 20 years ago, Will Storr went to Philadelphia to spend some time with Lou Gentile, a self-described demonologist who was going to take Storr along with him on some cases Gentile was working. Storr was a British journalist and a skeptic of the paranormal. He didn't expect anything supernatural to occur during his time with Gentile. He thought he would be writing a humorous article about the delusions of a demonologist. Instead, he had some unsettling experiences that he considered supernatural, and he went on to spend a year researching the paranormal and writing a book about it, Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). You can listen to Storr discussing his experiences with Gentile here, in an interview several years ago.

There was a subject Gentile brought up in his discussions with Storr, and it would be a recurring theme with other individuals Storr came across in the process of doing his research. Gentile mentioned a poltergeist case Storr should look into: "The Enfield case was just insane. One of the biggest, best-documented poltergeist cases in history. A real bad demonic case. Man, you should check that one out." (page 8 in Storr's book) He would check it out, to the point of interviewing Janet Hodgson, often considered the center of the poltergeist, and twice interviewing Maurice Grosse, the chief investigator of the case. Near the end of the second interview, Grosse played a recording of the poltergeist's embodied voice, and it was at that point that Storr recognized a connection between Enfield and the cases he was involved in with Gentile:

Without hesitation I know where I've heard this before. It's precisely the same pattern of sound as the EVP [electronic voice phenomena] Lou recorded in Kathy's house and at the Carvens'. Really, precisely, completely, exactly. The timbre of the growl is identical, as is the timing and suddenness of the yelps. And it's the same in such an unusual, unexpected way….

I'm stunned because the fact that this voice - which was recorded in a London suburb in 1978 [1977] - sounds the same as one recorded over twenty years later, on a different continent, makes complete sense. It adds up. Because if both these recordings actually are the sound of disembodied souls, they would sound the same - whether they were free-floating in the invisible world or whether they'd managed to disappear up the nostril and down the throat of a human with usable voice-amplifying equipment. They would sound the same. And they do sound the same. It all makes heavy, terrifying sense. (224-25)

Judging by the context surrounding what's quoted above, I think Grosse had played a tape he used for demonstration purposes. It seems to be a tape he used when addressing the media, when giving presentations on the case, and so forth. There are multiple versions of the tape in Grosse's collection (all of them having the same content, apparently), but only one of them was copied for the digital collection I have. It's tape 105A. It contains a compilation of audio clips from different dates during the case. Storr refers to some segments of the tape Grosse played for him, and every one of those segments is on tape 105A, and they're in the same order in which Storr mentions them. So, it looks like Grosse played a portion of that tape or one of its copies for Storr.

Here's a YouTube version of the growling and yelping sequence Storr probably heard. But since the YouTube edition is of such poor quality, there's a good chance that the version played for Storr had better audio. And there's a whistling sound just after the YouTube sequence in the original audio. The poltergeist voice had been periodically whistling, in addition to growling and doing other things alongside the whistling. Storr might be referring to the whistling when he refers to yelping. Since that last whistling sound is left out of the YouTube version, it doesn't convey everything Storr heard. What he heard was somewhat lengthier, more complicated, and more diverse. Still, the YouTube clip will give you a general idea of what's involved.

That audio was recorded on the night of December 19, 1977. It happened while the magician Milbourne Christopher was at the house, a context I've discussed elsewhere. Go to the article just linked and do a Ctrl F search for "Milbourne" to find the relevant material (at the second search result). You can also read about Christopher's visit on pages 158-63 in Guy Playfair's This House Is Haunted (United States: White Crow Books, 2011). He discusses the audio segment under consideration here on pages 160-61. Here's what Playfair says about the context just before the audio cited by Storr:

"Then we went through the same old routine of the girls shooting out of bed the minute we were out of the room, one I was getting very tired of, and at last the inevitable happened and Janet's bed collapsed. We again decided to put her in the back room in the hope of getting some peace. When she had settled down, I left her, with the door wide open, and repeated my old trick of going downstairs loudly and then creeping up again, treading on the outer sides of the wooden steps to avoid creaking." (160)

In my article linked above, I discuss the significance of some of the voice's other comments made in the context surrounding what Storr cites. The voice's comment "Get out!" when Playfair was walking up the steps (with no normal way for Janet to have known he was there, apparently) happened at 33:55 on Grosse's tape 51B. The sequence Storr described happened at 36:07. So, we have good evidence for the paranormality of the voice just before the sequence Storr heard. It's also worth noting that the temperament and interests of the voice during these few minutes, concluding with Storr's sequence, contrast with Janet's temperament and interests at the time. The voice is repeatedly expressing anger, yelling, using vulgarity, and making nonsensical comments, whereas Janet is speaking with a normal voice and comes across as calm and sensible from the moment she starts speaking just after the sequence Storr refers to (36:32). Playfair says in his book that Janet seems to have woken up from sleeping at the time just cited (36:32), and she made no reference to having heard the poltergeist voice saying anything when asked what she remembered (page 162 in Playfair's book). If she had been faking the voice, you have to wonder why she would have faked something that would be so difficult on her body (the frequent yelling and loud growling and yelping Storr refers to). Go here and do a Ctrl F search for "therapist" to read what a speech therapist who analyzed Janet said about the difficulties involved in producing and sustaining the voice by normal means. It would have to be even more difficult to produce the sustained yelling involved in the context we're focused on here.

What all of this amounts to is that the audio sequence Storr refers to seems likely to be paranormal for multiple reasons that are independent of what Storr cited. That surrounding context adds credibility to Storr's claims.

And Grosse's audio is unusual enough that a duplicate of it or something close to a duplicate in Gentile's context seems significant. Not only is the sequence of growling in Grosse's audio unusual, but it's also unusual to have that sort of growling followed by whistling (or yelping). Not only are those two types of sound significantly different, but they also seem to be associated with significantly different mindsets, moods, or whatever term you want to use. The growling sounds angry, whereas we'd typically associate whistling, including the particular type of whistling in Grosse's audio, with a significantly different mindset or mood. As I've discussed elsewhere, the entity behind the Enfield poltergeist seems to have had some kind of disordered mind, what we might call a mental illness or combination of mental illnesses. An abrupt change from angry growling to whistling is the sort of irrationality and inconsistency we see elsewhere with that poltergeist. But even though it's common behavior for that poltergeist, the sequence of growls and whistling is highly unusual in the larger context under consideration here, and I don't think we should expect such a sequence to normally be duplicated, or even nearly duplicated, in a context like Gentile's EVP recordings.

It would be good to have those recordings to listen to. There may be privacy, legal, or other reasons for not releasing the audio to the public or to researchers. Or maybe there would be a way to make the audio available, perhaps by just releasing the most relevant portions without making everything recorded at the houses in question available. I don't know. I emailed Will Storr earlier this year, in an attempt to get the audio from him, and he didn't respond. I'd contacted him a couple of times in previous years, on other issues, and he responded once and didn't respond the other time. He may have had a good reason for not responding to my email earlier this year. But I hope that he, Gentile's family, or somebody else with the ability to do it will make the audio available.

Given what I currently know, I think it's likely that Storr has accurately reported some significant similarities between the Enfield audio and Gentile's. Storr brings the subject up multiple times in his book, and he comes across as highly confident about it. He's much less confident about other paranormal issues, and he's often skeptical. On the same page where he first brings up the parallels between the Enfield audio and Gentile's (224) and earlier, he makes some comments about how unconvincing some aspects of the Enfield voice are. So, he expressed some skepticism about the Enfield voice in particular, not just other paranormal matters. His confidence on the issue under consideration in this post is more significant accordingly. Given what he says about the circumstances surrounding the EVP recordings made by Gentile (in the prologue of the book, especially on pages 11 and 17-18), I doubt there's any significant reason to think those recordings were faked in some way. I'd like to hear Gentile's audio myself, but even without that, I'm cautiously optimistic that it's at least largely similar to the Enfield audio Grosse played for Storr.

But there are reasons for pessimism as well. For one thing, just how similar are Gentile's EVP recordings and Grosse's recording? They may be highly similar while still being significantly different. Storr may not have noticed the differences, or not noticed all of them, or he may have underestimated the differences because of how impressed he was with the similarities. For example, he seems to have either interpreted a whistling sound as yelping or to have not mentioned the whistling sound he heard. These details are significant, because so much depends on the degree of similarity between the recordings, and we don't have much to go by to judge the degree of similarity at this point.

And go here to watch a television program about Gentile that aired several years after the events described in Storr's book. (The show was filmed before Gentile's death in 2009 and aired shortly after he died.) I agree with a lot of Derren Brown's skepticism in that program. Many of Gentile's claims about EVP and alleged paranormal phenomena in photographs and other contexts seem unlikely to be true. I suspect that the woman Gentile was trying to help in that program had some genuine paranormal experiences, and I suspect that's true of many of the people Gentile worked with, but it doesn't follow that everything Gentile did in those contexts was appropriate or accurate. From what little I know about him, Gentile seems to have been a sincere man who'd had genuine paranormal experiences (described in Storr's book) and was trying to help people going through similar circumstances. And I think Gentile did a lot of good. But the good was mixed with some bad, like what Brown discusses in the television program linked above. It's sad to see a show like Brown's come out shortly after Gentile's death, but we have to be honest and thorough in handling these issues. Honest mistakes are still mistakes. My understanding is that Gentile knew he had cancer when Brown's program was being filmed. Even under such difficult circumstances, Gentile was involved in doing such significant work in his free time, work that's widely looked down upon, without charging the people he was trying to help, and taking along skeptics like Brown. Sometimes he convinced the skeptics he brought with him, like Storr. Other times he didn't, as with Brown. But it's commendable that Gentile gave so much of his life to doing such important and difficult work in his free time, without charging the people he worked for, and invited skeptics to join him. Contrast that with how most people use their free time. I could say more, but I recommend consulting other sources, like Storr's book, to get a more balanced view of Gentile. Watch Brown's program, but also read Storr's book.

The apparent problems with Gentile's EVP recordings featured in that program raise doubts about such recordings in Storr's context. (And I've heard some of Gentile's EVP recordings in contexts outside of Brown's program, and all of those others I've heard are likewise unconvincing to me.) Maybe one or more of the particular recordings Storr referred to that are relevant to Enfield were genuinely paranormal in the way Storr suggests. (Go here for a discussion of whether and how genuine paranormal phenomena can be accompanied by events that aren't genuine. It's simplistic to conclude that the presence of the inauthentic proves the absence of the authentic.) I hope the Gentile family, Storr, or somebody else who's able to do it will come forward with the relevant audio. If Storr's interpretation of the audio holds up, it would be significant evidence not only for Enfield and the Gentile cases in question, but also Gentile's work more broadly.

Before I end this post, I want to make some comments about Storr's credibility. His book is good, and I recommend it as an introductory work on the paranormal. It's easy to understand, it's written well, and it gives you a good overview of many of the issues involved in paranormal research. Some of the cases he discusses seem to be genuine, and some don't. The book is valuable in providing a broad diversity of cases that will give you an idea of how diverse the field of paranormal research is. There's a lot of vulgarity in the book, and Storr sometimes expresses some anti-Christian sentiments, but it's generally a good book and a good one to recommend to people as an introduction to the paranormal.

However, if the EVP material Storr refers to from Gentile's cases doesn't have the significance Storr suggests, does that undermine Storr's credibility? Maybe not much.

Keep in mind that we have the benefit of fifteen more years of information and time to think about the issues, seeing Derren Brown's program on Gentile, etc. Storr didn't have those advantages. He had just recently begun his research into the paranormal and was taking in and sorting through a large amount of information about many paranormal issues. He presents his book as an account of how his thinking on paranormal issues developed over time. By its nature, that sort of book isn't supposed to represent your most mature thinking on the subject at every moment, throughout the book. Judging by what Storr tells us, it seems that he did experience some paranormal phenomena when he and Gentile went on their first two cases together. So, it's understandable that Storr would have been inclined to interpret Gentile's EVP recordings in a paranormal manner in that sort of context, even if the EVP weren't actually paranormal. And near the end of the book, he raises doubts about some aspects of Gentile's work on a later case. So, it's not as though his presentation of Gentile is entirely positive.

Furthermore, I don't know where all of Storr's audio recordings began and ended. He occasionally refers to how he recorded his conversations with people, at one point referring to how he told one of the individuals he was recording that he did it "So I can quote you accurately" (68). And he does quote people a lot, including in the prologue, which discusses the relevant Gentile EVP recordings. On his last case with Gentile, he makes a reference to his (Storr's) recorder running while he and Gentile are driving to their destination (284). It seems likely that Storr had a tape of Gentile playing back his EVP recordings during the earlier cases discussed in the prologue, but maybe he didn't. He sometimes quotes people in contexts in which he doesn't seem to have had a recorder running (e.g., 134). One of the issues we have to consider is how much Storr was relying on his memory of the EVP recordings. Did he have a tape with the recordings on it, and did he review that tape at all after hearing Grosse's audio, to try to assess how accurate his memory of the recordings was? He seems to have gotten Grosse's audio on tape, since he refers to that audio in so much detail and keeps quoting what he and Grosse said after the audio was played. The biggest questions, then, are whether Storr also had a tape of Gentile's recordings and how much effort he made to verify his memories of how those recordings aligned with Grosse's. Storr's memory may have been accurate even if he didn't go through that sort of verification process. He comes across as highly confident about how closely the recordings line up. But it would be good to know if he took further steps to verify his conclusion.

If Storr has erred on this subject, it may not amount to much of a mistake, and I would expect it to be an honest one. But it would be good to have more information about whether it was a mistake.


  1. An interesting and considered piece, Jason, as usual. I regret that I haven't been able to read your posts lately, due to various commitments.

    I recall reading Storr's book at the time it came out, and was intrigued and surprised that there was new material on Enfield - particularly the exchanges he had with Grosse about Anita Gregory. It's a shame that Storr hasn't been more consistent in his responses to you, though I suspect that his latest unresponsiveness is attributable to the fact that he was in the finishing stages of the new book of his which hit the shelves the day after your post. It puts me in mind of Playfair's experience, mentioned towards the end of his Enfield book, when he wrote to an expert about the possible connection between Tourette's Syndrome and Enfield. Alas, Playfair received no response either. But I heard Storr speak once in the fine city of Durham, when he attended the city's literary festival to promote his latest book. Alas he didn't make any significant comments about Enfield, but it seemed clear that the case had made an impression on him.

    As someone who has increasingly moved away from the theory that the entity at the centre of Enfield ever existed in human form, I suppose I would contend that the similarities between the recordings of Gentile and Grosse is accounted for by the fact that all poltergeists have the same provenance and essential characteristics. There may be some marked differences between cases, to be sure, but the core phenomena and the subtle similarities are more often than not present. I again recommend Messrs Ritson and Hallowell's book "Contagion", and their concept of an 'arch-poltergeist'. In the same way that there appears to be some startling similarities between the audio phenomena of on the tapes of Grosse and Gentile, there are some intriguing (and to me, probably significant) similarities between the Enfield and South Shields cases. And yet both cases occurred 30 years apart. I was also startled to find what seems to be a very close parallel between an incident that occurred at South Shields in 2006 and an incident which occurred in the Tony Cornell case 'The Seen And Unseen Ghost', from 1967. Admittedly, the latter was not a poltergeist case, but apart from the fact that there also seems to me to be considerable overlap at times between 'traditional' hauntings and poltergeist cases, I also strongly suspect that there is a connection between these two incidents in terms of how the phenomenon operates and the nature of the human mind.

    1. It's good to hear from you again, Anthony.

      I agree that the parallels between the Gentile and Enfield audio sequences, if authentic, wouldn't imply that the entity involved is a deceased human. I quoted Storr's comments, including some comments he made about the nature of the entity involved, to give the reader some idea of how Storr reacted to the audio Grosse gave him. I don't agree with everything Storr said in response to the audio, even if he's right about a parallel between the Gentile and Enfield cases. I think such a parallel would be significant primarily in suggesting some kind of paranormality. Getting more specific about the nature of that paranormal activity is more difficult. The identity of the entity behind the audio is a different issue than whether the audio involves paranormal activity, and I'm not aware of any way in which the audio segments in question would suggest that the entity involved in any of these cases is a deceased human.

      There's a more significant comment Storr makes, in a portion of his book I didn't quote. On page 224, he refers to how the entity "goes back down again" after yelping (or whistling) in the Enfield audio. Playfair thought Janet woke up from sleeping just after that yelping or whistling noise, and she immediately says "Mr. Grosse?" and sounds normal from that point onward. I don't know if there's any parallel to that sort of timing in Gentile's cases. Storr does make reference to how the entity influencing Kathy Ganiel (a demon influencing her, according to Gentile) would come and go, seeming to take over and depart from Ganiel periodically. At one point, Storr refers to how he thinks she's "gone under" (17), apparently in the sense that her spirit has departed and another has arrived. (See the explanation provided by Gentile on 16-17.) If the relevant audio in the Ganiel case lines up with a time when the entity was going away, then that may partially explain why the audio is so similar to the Enfield sequence. It wouldn't explain why the entity's going away produces such a sequence, but it would at least provide evidence that there's some kind of connection between the entity's departure and the sort of audio in question. Even without evidence of some kind of departure of the entity at the time of the audio in the Gentile context(s), it would still be possible that some sort of departure was involved. Given the nature of the Carven and Ganiel cases, I don't know how we'd rule that out. But if there is evidence of a departure at the time of the audio in question, that would be significant.

      You referred to "a very close parallel between an incident that occurred at South Shields in 2006 and an incident which occurred in the Tony Cornell case 'The Seen And Unseen Ghost', from 1967". What is that parallel?

  2. Thanks Jason.

    To be clearer, I am saying that if the audio in question from the Enfield and Gentile cases emanate from deceased, mentally unbalanced humans, then I fail to see why there would be such close similarities between the two, separated by continents as they are. How likely is it that there would be the same outlandish vocalisations if the "souls" or "spirits" or discarnate humans are behind them? I suppose it is true that mentally unwell people in the corporeal realm exhibit similar symptoms - for example, Schizophrenia - but I struggle to explain how the deranged burblings of a spirit in a north London suburb could be replicated in a case from the United States. If, that is, we're working off the deceased human hypothesis.

    I seem to recall a comparatively recent post of yours, in which you discussed precedents and their evidential strength, and it put me in mind of the parallel I noticed between incidents mentioned by Messrs Hallowell and Ritson and Tony Cornell. Although I wouldn't recommend Cornell's book as an introductory text, I think it's a superb book and it's shameful skeptics haven't engaged with it, almost 20 years after publication.

    In the Shields case, Hallowell went to visit the family about some footage, while his wife and his father waited in the car outside the home. From their vantage point, they could see Hallowell and the couple at the centre of the outbreak talking through a glass door that leads out to the garden. However, both Hallowell's father and his wife could see another man standing close by, as if remonstrating with the group about something. Once he was back in the car, they asked Hallowell who the man had been. What man? said Hallowell. Thus, although Hallowell's family could see the young man in question perfectly, neither Hallowell nor the couple had any inkling he was there.

    In Cornell's 1967 case, a woman who lived near Cambridge asked Cornell for advice about the apparition of a man who had been periodically appearing in her house. Cornell duly attended the property. After a short interlude, the woman said that she could see the man in the living room, though Cornell couldn't. However, a psychical researcher colleague of Cornell's - who was due to attend a little later - arrived and *did* see the apparition in the hallway.

    I accept of course that Cornell's case didn't involve a poltergeist and that the issue here could relate to some supposed, latent psychic ability in some people to perceive apparitions. But I wonder about that. I wonder if in fact this sort of incident is all smoke and mirrors, and orchestrated by what might be a singular phenomenon behind it all.

    Incidentally, Cornell's case also appears in The International Journal of Parapsychology: Cornell, A.D. (2000) "The Seen And Unseen Ghost".

    1. Thanks for the information about the parallel between the South Shields and Cornell cases. I hadn't heard about that before, as far as I recall.

      Regarding why two or more deceased humans would produce such similar audio of such an unusual nature in the Gentile and Enfield cases, I agree that it seems unlikely (highly unlikely) upfront. I don't know enough about the Gentile cases to make much of a judgment about the best candidate for the entity involved. I lean toward a deceased human as the best explanation of the Enfield case, but my lack of conviction about the nature of the Gentile cases complicates how well I can evaluate the likelihood of the audio sequences under consideration lining up the way Storr says they do.

      Somebody who thinks deceased humans are involved in all of the cases, that they're a combination of demonic and ghostly cases, or whatever else could appeal to explanatory options like precognition and imitation to address the similarities. (Something like an imitation hypothesis or a hypothesis involving psychic interaction with the minds of the people involved could appeal to the fact that Gentile and Storr were discussing Enfield as they drove to the Carvens' house. In fact, page 8 of Storr's book mentions their Enfield discussion just before narrating their arrival at the Carvens' driveway.) But I agree that the similarities seem to be better explained under a view like the single-source hypothesis you've referred to. We'd still have to consider other evidence, like the differences among poltergeist cases (or why something like the audio similarities under consideration here don't exist among a larger number of cases), to judge the overall merit of the hypothesis. But my sense at this point is that you're right about this particular strand of evidence making more sense under that hypothesis.

    2. Overall, taking more into account than the strand of evidence in question here, I'm skeptical of the single-source hypothesis. I have a traditional Christian worldview. I believe in the existence of Satan and other demons. So, I already accept the existence of some potential sources for a single-source production of poltergeists (and other paranormal phenomena). But the nature of life more broadly and the many differences among paranormal phenomena, and among poltergeists in particular, move me in the direction of rejecting a single-source hypothesis. It has merit up to a point. It makes sense that some paranormal phenomena and cases would be coordinated to some extent. It's easy to see not only a being like Satan, but even a deceased human, for example, having some kind of motive that would lead him to act in a highly coordinated way across multiple contexts, including multiple paranormal cases. That's a different matter, though, than something like attributing all (or almost all, the large majority, etc.) phenomena or cases of a particular type to one source in the sense of one being.

      At this point, my view is that poltergeists are mostly human phenomena, coming partly from living humans and partly from deceased humans. I'd be surprised if demons don't get involved to some extent, much as we can expect demons to be involved in other areas of life to some degree (e.g., encouraging people to commit murder). But I think poltergeists are primarily human. For one thing, I think that makes better sense of the ignorance, mistakes, learning, and such that we often see in poltergeists. People sometimes suggest that some higher being, such as a demon, is putting on an act, but that's a more complicated, and therefore weaker in that way, hypothesis, and the alleged motives for putting on such an act often seem insufficient. Furthermore, as I've mentioned before, I think there's some value in looking at the perceptions (or intuitions or whatever you want to call them) of the people most involved in phenomena like poltergeists (the people who experience them the most and the ones who study them the most). My impression is that the consensus of the people most involved in the Enfield case, for example, has been that the entity behind that poltergeist was a deceased human. (That consensus includes Grosse, who started out thinking the poltergeist came only from one or more living humans, but changed his mind over time.) Those of us who hold that view of Enfield or poltergeists more broadly could somewhat easily be wrong. Our impressions are far from infallible. But they aren't worthless.

    3. By the way, Anthony, in case you don't know about it, I wrote a post in July comparing the Enfield and Battersea cases. That post provides an illustration of how different two poltergeists can be, even though those two cases are often paralleled and referred to as highly similar. The post also provides some examples of the Battersea poltergeist showing some weaknesses (making false claims about French history, learning over time, etc.). I've provided such examples for Enfield elsewhere.

  3. Thanks for the link to your July post, Jason. I hope to catch up with your recent posts, and look forward to your future ones, as ever.

    It fascinates me that you, as someone who is clearly of considerable intelligence and in possession of considerable powers of ratiocination, holds a Christian world-view – and at least in part, I suppose that is through your own reasoning. I respect that. The few other Christians I know espouse Christianity through a simple blind faith, a faith I have never been able to muster and invest in – either intellectually or emotionally. The chief hurdle that prevents me from holding a religious world-view is that I simply cannot reconcile any of the Abrahamic religions with what we now know about the course of evolutionary history. The brutal and haphazard nature of evolutionary history precludes me from being able to believe that a benevolent, Supreme Being would oversee such a process. I find that a disquieting notion. Then again, I don’t know enough about Christian Apologetics and any arguments which could show how Christianity is compatible with evolutionary history. My study of the paranormal, however, has meant that I do not subscribe to philosophical materialism or monism. I’m also influenced by the panpsychism of Philip Goff.

    I agree that your impressions are certainly not worthless. When I first read Playfair’s account in the mid-1990s, it seemed obvious to me that deceased humans were the cause of the phenomena. Indeed, as someone who has been very impressed with mediums on occasion, I still have to reckon with the fact that a number of the mediums who visited the Enfield house also seemed to indicate that troublesome, deceased humans were responsible for the phenomena. But in recent years, at times it seemed equally obvious how unlikely it is that a parade of deceased humans suddenly decided to invade the home of an unremarkable family. How plausible is it that an elderly man would choose to loiter at the home of such a family and commit such puerile acts? Equally, what would an old woman be doing there? Why would a small child be seen disappearing into a fireplace? Why would the small child not have “moved towards the light” immediately after its death, to use the parlance of some mediums and perhaps some Christians? And if the main spirit to purportedly plague the family was mentally deranged, how do we account for its occasional displays of apparent erudition? On the other hand, I accept that my theory of the involvement of a non-human intelligence has its own problems. To what possible end would such an intelligence, for example, put on such a masquerade and fill the Hodgson home with a bizarre cast of personages?

    I have considerable sympathy with your belief that poltergeists are primarily human. It certainly seems that the poltergeist personality was intricately connected with the personality of Janet Hodgson, and I believe the same might also apply to Matthew Manning. I’ve yet to read the account of his own poltergeist infestation, however. I also recently came across Stephen Braude’s book, ‘First Person Plural: Multiple Personality and the Philosophy of the Mind’. I wonder if it could yield some insights into Enfield.

    1. I don't know much about evolutionary issues, so I don't have much to offer in that context. Other members of the blog's staff are more knowledgeable of those subjects and have discussed them here. A commenter in a previous Enfield thread discussed evolutionary issues in response to your comments there. But what you're bringing up is partly a subcategory within the larger problem of evil. We've addressed that larger context in many posts. I outlined some of my reasons for believing that Christianity is true in the comments section of another Enfield thread.

      The book by Braude that you mentioned is one I haven't read. I suspect there would be some value in reading it in the context of Enfield, and I may get around to reading it eventually. Probably not soon, though.

      I'm familiar with issues of that nature (the nature apparently covered in the book you mentioned) elsewhere in Braude's writings, and I agree with his concerns. However, I've addressed issues like those occasionally in other posts, and I've kept the issues in mind as I've listened to the Enfield tapes and done other work on the case. We need to remember that Janet was tested by multiple medical professionals and other professionals in relevant fields on multiple occasions, including being tested for about a month by a team of professionals at the Maudsley Hospital, and she seems to have been normal. I've heard her on a lot of tapes in a lot of contexts covering multiple years, and I've studied a lot of other relevant material related to the case, and Janet seems normal to me. The poltergeist did reflect her personality to some extent, but it also differed substantially from her in ways I've discussed in previous posts.

      I suspect that any psychological explanation for the Enfield case that would see the poltergeist as a paranormal manifestation of Janet's mind would require a large number and variety of psychological problems on Janet's part, all or most of which were undetected by the Maudsley team and the others who examined her. The presence of such a series of psychological problems with Janet seems less likely than the presence of an independent entity, and a failure of so many people, including so many professionals, to detect the relevant problems with Janet seems unlikely.

      I agree with your skepticism about so many deceased individuals being present, the unlikelihood that a deceased child would want to behave as you described, etc. I see no reason to think that more than one deceased individual was involved.

    2. Concerning the problem you raised with a scenario in which "deceased humans suddenly decided to invade the home of an unremarkable family", keep in mind that both of the Hodgson girls have admitted to having used a Ouija board prior to the onset of the poltergeist, Janet has expressed a belief that the Ouija board use is relevant to the poltergeist, and an apparition seen by Margaret in that context was seen again during the height of the poltergeist's activities. So, at least some kind of paranormal activity, whether you consider it part of the poltergeist or not, was going on in a context explicitly associated with trying to contact the dead (the use of a Ouija board). That not only makes the family situation remarkable rather than unremarkable, but also places the origin of the poltergeist in a context explicitly associated with trying to contact the deceased.

      The "occasional displays of apparent erudition" you referred to are significant, and I'm planning to discuss the subject in a post next year. A deteriorated mind can still have some of its previous abilities. Deterioration isn't elimination, and a part can be deteriorated without the whole being deteriorated. Even the portions of the mind that are diminished can vary across a spectrum in terms of how much they're diminished. And the knowledge (or erudition or whatever somebody wants to call it) you refer to is more than I'd expect from a girl like Janet.

      If you read Braude's book, please let me know what you think of it, especially as it pertains to Enfield. I may read the book at some point, but probably not soon.

  4. Thanks for the reminder of those links, Jason. I will follow them up. And yes: the course of evolutionary history would appear to be a subcategory within the larger problem of why nature is so red in tooth and claw. I did once correspond with an individual who was highly knowledgeable about evolutionary theory, yet he didn’t agree that there is a conflict between evolutionary history and theism. Indeed, he subscribed to “theistic evolution”.

    I agree that Janet appeared to be normal during the Enfield years. She strikes me as rather unusual in her most recent interviews, though it seems clear that the Enfield saga has cast a shadow over her life. Prima facie, it does appear that whatever was present in the Hodgson home did effectively “possess” the members of the household – though how a deceased human acquires the ability to do this, and to what end, simply raises another mind-bending question. Then we have to also answer as to how a deceased human is able to take the form of the ghost of a child and indeed impersonate Maurice Grosse. I struggle to believe that in whatever existence follows this one, we are conferred with such abilities. But I find it easier to believe that a non-human intelligence – be it an elemental or whatever – *does* have such abilities.

    You make good points about the entity’s confused mind and the girls’ use of the Ouija board. One wonders how much credibility to attach to the board. On the one hand, Derren Brown once appeared to convincingly debunk it. On the other, the astonishing Tony Cornell case – “The Smell” – suggests that the board likely plays some role in paranormal phenomena. Cornell observed that the stench which plagued his residence – which had no explainable source, despite his utmost efforts to locate it – would occasionally either appear or intensify after an Ouija board session with his psychical research colleagues, or after they had been discussing psychical matters. That would seem to indicate a link with the mind of Cornell and/or his colleagues, but Cornell then had to deal with the fact that a workman who visited his home also had a frightening experience with the stench.

    I look forward to your post about the entity’s erudition, particularly its use of an obscure word. I regard that incident as having good evidential value, as I struggle to believe that Janet could have happened across it. I seem to recall that even Playfair struggled with its etymology.

    1. In case you or anybody else reading this thread is interested, I'll link a couple of previous discussions relevant to the issues you've brought up.

      On the abilities of humans in the afterlife, see the comments section of the thread here. As Stephen Braude has argued in a chapter in a recent book, a soul separated from the body would have to utilize things like telepathy and clairvoyance in order to have experiences analogous to sight, hearing, etc. (Dangerous Pursuits [San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020], 199-215) For a human who just died, there would have to be some use of faculties not used previously or a development in their use. As the person became more accustomed to the afterlife, there would be adaptations, experimentation, and so on. The deceased individual could be doing those things in the context of interacting with other beings, including living humans at times, so that the resulting events could be a combination of the minds, interests, abilities, etc. of more than one entity involved. And there could be interaction with beings other than living humans, including the acquisition of knowledge of how to do certain things, which further complicates the situation. A deceased human could learn something from some other source, whether other deceased humans, demons, or whatever. Even when embodied, humans sometimes perform the sort of paranormal activities we've seen with mediums, like D.D. Home. For those who think phenomena like shared death experiences and apparitions of the dead are projections of the minds of living or deceased humans, those phenomena offer further evidence along these lines. In the context of Enfield, Janet seemed to be able to bend metal (in December of 1977, under the supervision of David Robertson) and gain weight (in an experiment at Birkbeck College in 1982) at will. If living humans have such abilities, it doesn't seem like much of an extension to think of deceased humans having such abilities and more. And it would only need to be some deceased humans, not all of them. As I mentioned in a previous discussion, all other things being equal, we should prefer an explanation that doesn't require us to assume the existence of some type of being for whom we don't have independent evidence of its existence. Keep in mind, also, that we have to account for the limitations or weaknesses we see in poltergeists, as I mentioned above. We're looking for an explanatory option that best addresses both the strengths and the weaknesses of the entities involved, the best explanation of the evidence as a whole.

      Regarding the Enfield poltergeist's use of a variation of "quillet" on the occasion you've referred to and other vocabulary issues, go here and do a Ctrl F search for "vocabulary".

      Concerning Ouija boards, I wouldn't expect their use to always or even usually result in the contacting of the dead or other spirits. I suspect it's just one tool among others that might be used, whose success depends on other factors. But since Ouija boards are so popular, it's common for them to be a tool that's used in the process. Storr's book refers to a lot of Ouija board use in the cases he looked into. Gentile told him that it's involved in 95% of his cases (286).

  5. You make a good case, Jason, when you cite Braude, Daniel Home and Janet’s abilities. It could be in fact that, as someone with mediumistic abilities, Janet acted as a conduit for the entity. Perhaps she was aware of some of these latent abilities some time before 1977, and perhaps that was the gateway for the entity – not the Ouija board per se.

    The idea of a disembodied human having to hone and refine whatever faculties it might possess in the incorporeal realm does make sense. Perhaps some never develop much in this regard, and so this might explain why ghosts are purportedly found in such bizarre places as abandoned warehouses and even toilets. Why would a deceased human occupy a lavatory cubicle, for example – at least for some of the time – and cause phenomena? Presumably, Braude would say that because it is still in a state of development, with no faculty analogous to sight as of yet, then it won’t be aware of where it is. I suppose that’s plausible. In the case of Cornell’s stench, we appear to have a situation in which the phenomenon manifested * solely * as a stench, never as an apparition. Nonetheless, it seemed to possess sentience, because on one occasion it actually took its leave in response to an admonition from Cornell’s mother!

    I would caution anyone against discounting the idea of non-human intelligences though. At Leap Castle in the Republic of Ireland, for example, there’s some good evidence that an “elemental” resides there. It has been perceived by mediums who have visited the castle and whom have been very adversely affected by it, and the castle’s erstwhile owner, the novelist Mildred Darby, appears to have once encountered it. Then there are also the plethora of strange beings encountered by investigators like John Keel. It’s difficult to accommodate the events at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, between 1966-67, via the deceased human hypothesis.

    Finally, as I’ve said, it will be interesting to read more about the use of the word “quillet”. To me, its obscurity in this context bolsters the authenticity of its paranormality, since as has been noted, university-educated investigators like Playfair, who I believe had a qualification in languages, were thrown by it. How likely is it then that Janet or Margaret would have happened upon it? There was no internet back then, and I doubt that an impecunious family like the Hodgsons would have had access to books that contained such obscure words.

    1. I agree that personal nonhuman entities are on the table as an explanatory option and a prominent one, not just a distant possibility.

      I expect to eventually get Cornell's book and read it. They ought to come out with a new edition, with the chapters on Enfield Cornell originally wanted to include, maybe with a foreword by Alan Gauld. Since Gauld has said that legal concerns were the reason why the chapters weren't included in the book, Playfair's death presumably has removed that issue. (Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis seems to have become available just after Playfair died.) I intend to contact the publisher about including the Enfield chapters in a future edition. I'll probably do it this week, while I'm thinking about it.

  6. Good to hear, Jason. I hope you make progress with that and that the publisher also releases an affordable Kindle edition. Cornell's book is one of the best in paranormal literature, in my opinion. It's very well written and its conclusions are carefully weighed. It's telling that skeptics studiously ignored it upon its release in 2002, so far as I can tell. Playfair's occasionally testy attitude towards Enfield, though understandable, mustn't cast him in a good light with skeptics. If indeed he did hint at legal action toward Cornell's book, in my opinion he was wrong to do so. Cornell only mentions Playfair once in his book, and it's an unflattering reference. Clearly there's grounds for supposing that the two didn't get along.

    As for Alan Gauld, I hope to get around to reading his monumental history of hypnotism - another major work that went unheeded in this philistine age of ours.