IT seems strange that, despite thousands of years of perfecting our native speech, we have to rely upon our European neighbours to accurately describe a symptom of paranormal phenomenon.
The word “poltergeist” derives from the German “poltern” to make a racket, and, of course,“Geist” which could only mean ghost.There is no alternative translation in the English (and Scots) language.
Perhaps this is why this exotic word strikes fear and apprehension in the unsuspecting.
How can the dead touch the living world and, moreover, what harm can it do?
The supernatural remains unproblematic and simple, provided it keeps itself to itself. When it poses a danger or a threat to the living, however, it is time to worry.
In 1695 a real event happened to real people in the parish of Rerrick (now Auchencairn.On a windswept hill on the outskirts of Auchencairn lies the site of the Ringcroft of Stocking.
This was once the home of farmer Andrew Mackie and his family.
Apart from a singular tree that stands in a forlorn field, there is little else to mark the existence of one of the most bizarre and violent chapters in the paranormal history of Dumfries and Galloway and probably the world.
The events have been well documented, even in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and someone has yet to come forward and dispute the written testimony of a learned priest at the time and 14 eminent members of the community who bore witness to the strange happenings on the Mackie steading.
One morning in February 1695, farmer Mackie woke up to find his cattle had been set loose from the byre and their ropes had been cut. He thought it strange and remained vigilant.
The property had apparently had a bit of a reputation for being haunted, but nothing could have prepared farmer Mackie and his family for the supernatural onslaught that befell them over the next few months.
The cattle roamed free the following night, only this time a cow had been tethered to a high beam in a shed, so much so that the animal's feet could not touch the ground. No man could have performed such a feat and Mackie's anxiety grew.Soon stones were being hurled at the family and, despite the many efforts to detect their origins, there was no explanation for the vicious assaults.
Household items went missing, only to turn up later in ridiculous places; children were spanked by unseen hands in the middle of the night and strange fires were kindled inside the byres and the farmhouse.
The house was set alight as were sheep and stables.Visitors were cruelly beaten by stones and staves and the unseen entity was purported to: “drag people about the house by their clothes.”
One account stated: “A blacksmith narrowly escaped death when a trough and plowshare were hurled at him. Small buildings on the property spontaneously burst into flames and burned to cinders. During a family prayer meeting, chunks of flaming peat pelted them.A human shape, seemingly made out of cloth, appeared, groaning: 'Whisht... whisht'.”Strangely enough, although battered and bleeding, no-one was badly hurt.Numerous searches of the grounds and night-time vigils came up with no explanation for the strange occurrences.
And so the fame of the Mackie Poltergeist, as it became known, grew wider.There were many efforts to bless and exorcise the seemingly impromptu and malevolent spirit but they were all beaten off with flying stones or clods of earth.
The family and neighbours became so perturbed that they enlisted the aid of the local clergyman, one Reverend Alexander Telfair, whose account was supported by 14 upstanding members of the Scottish community, each of whom personally bore witness to the poltergeist manifestation.
Telfair recorded that the entity: “threw stones and divers other things at me, and beat me several times on the Shoulders and Sides with a great Staff, so that those who were present heard the noise of the Blows.”
It was Mrs MacKie who found a small pile of bones underneath a loose stone at her threshold. They were wrapped in flesh.Witchcraft and murder were suspected.On April 8 a magistrate in the area came up with an idea.
He appealed to the laird of Colline to find every living person who had lived in the house to be examined and made to touch the bones — believing that the guilty person would have an effect on the earthly remains of his victim.
Nothing happened, however, and five local ministers performed an exorcism the following day.On April 9, the ministers began the exorcism of the Ringcroft of Stocking, but this proved an almost hopeless task.
A few of them, including Telfair, claimed that “something had grabbed them by the legs or feet and lifted them into the air.”
The ritual turned into a nightmare as they prayed for deliverance under a hail of flying missiles. The house was said to shake and a huge hole was ripped in the roof. The exorcism took two gruelling weeks.
On Friday, April 26, the evil spirit spoke. With a few furious oaths and a number of hair-raising curses, it told them it would take them all to hell and then said: “Thou shalt be troubled 'til Tuesday.”
As if by magic, on the Tuesday of May 1, 1695, a dark cloud roiled in the corner of Mackie's barn. Many witnessed the strange manifestation and watched it grow and blacken.
As it filled the building, great clods of mud flew outwards and spattered the faces of the horrified witnesses.
Some were gripped with vice-like fingers but this last violent event marked the exit of the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist from the world of men.
For reasons best left to God or coincidence, it took its leave of Rerrick and the Mackies, never to be seen or heard again.