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"The name 'poltergeist' is German in origin, and roughly translates as 'noisy ghost', although it is not, strictly speaking, a ghost at all. The poltergeist is an invisible entity that moves objects, slams doors and creates other audible, kinetic disturbances. It has been reported in many cultures and there is a strong association with the places where young people, especially adolescents, are living. Explanations for the phenomenon vary all the way from supernatural to scientific."
— Description[src]

A poltergeist was an "indestructible spirit of chaos".[3] They haunted one specific location at time, generally those inhabited by a large number of adolescents[4], and either "[came] with the building",[5] or chose to enter it at some point.[6] They occasionally haunted the homes of Muggles.[4] They were among the creatures classed as Non-Human Spiritous Apparitions, and as such, they were amortal.[7]

Poltergeists generally did not have a physical form, with one notable exception being Peeves.[4]



Poltergeists could fly and delight in vandalism, malicious mischief, and the general aggravation and embarrassment of living persons. They could unscrew chandeliers,[8] write rude words on chalkboards,[9] throw water balloons at people,[10] throw walking sticks at people,[11] stuff keyholes with chewing gum[12] and other such acts, simply for their amusement.


Poltergeists were notably unruly and had developed a misconception that there was no way to get rid of a poltergeist once it had moved into a location.[5][6] More destructive poltergeists who had inhabited a location for a longer period of time were harder to expel, but it was not impossible to do.[4] In more serious cases, some people (notably Albus Dumbledore and the Bloody Baron) could get the poltergeist to settle down for a while, though it would inevitably start acting up again.[5] Dolores Umbridge claimed that the Minister for Magic could sign an order banning a poltergeist, and once threatened Peeves with this action. However, her statement might reflect her belief in the superiority of wizards in general and the Ministry of Magic in particular, rather than specific knowledge of the nature of poltergeists, and that her efforts would be wasted. Peeves was likely the only known exception to this course of action.[4]

Comparison to ghosts

Whilst similar, poltergeists differed from ghosts in a number of ways. Firstly, ghosts were incorporeal, whereas the poltergeist, despite not normally having a physical form,[4] was solid enough to move objects with physical force. Poltergeists had never once been living humans either.[3] The latter trait indicates amortality, the condition of never having died and being unable to die, as one was never alive to start.[13] Poltergeists with form had enough physicality that they could have gum fly up their noses,[12] and they were vulnerable to some of the same jinxes as humans, including Langlock[14] and Waddiwasi.[12] It is also possible that they could feel pain, but still not be physically injured.


Peeves, the poltergeist that haunts Hogwarts Castle, was considered "the most notorious and troublesome poltergeist in British history".[4]

The Sunday edition of The New York Ghost published on 28 November 1926 reported a poltergeist havoc wreaking a diner in Nashville.[15]

Known poltergeists


"Poltergeist" comes from German poltern, which means "to make (loud) noise", and geist, meaning "ghost" or "spirit". The German plural form is "Poltergeister".[16]

Behind the scenes

  • It may be possible that poltergeists form from (and consequently feed on) the chaos of an area. If so then it may also be possible that - if their home were to be left desolate for long enough - a poltergeist would not die but simply cease to exist, at least until the locale became more active again.
  • Fleur Delacour once stated that if a poltergeist was ever discovered in the Palace of Beauxbatons, it would be immediately expelled. This is impossible, however, as J. K. Rowling has stated a poltergeist cannot be driven by any means, from a location it has decided to haunt. As such, Dolores Umbridge's request to Cornelius Fudge to sign an Order for the Expulsion of Peeves from Hogwarts was also a complete waste of effort on her part.


See also

Notes and references

  1. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Remus Lupin" at Wizarding World - "Lyall Lupin was a very clever, rather shy young man who, by the time he was thirty, had become a world-renowned authority on Non-Human Spiritous Apparitions. These include poltergeists, Boggarts and other strange creatures that, while sometimes ghostlike in appearance and behaviour, have never been truly alive and remain something of a mystery even to the wizarding world."
  2. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Boggart" at Wizarding World - "Like a poltergeist, a Boggart is not and never has been truly alive. It is one of the strange non-beings that populate the magical world, for which there is no equivalent in the Muggle realm."
  3. 3.0 3.1 F.A.Q. question on J. K. Rowling's official site
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Peeves" at Wizarding World
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 2005 Leaky Cauldron interview with J. K. Rowling
  6. 6.0 6.1 2007 Bloomsbury Live Chat with J. K. Rowling
  7. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Remus Lupin" at Wizarding World
  8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 30 (Grawp)
  9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 9 (The Midnight Duel)
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 12 (The Triwizard Tournament)
  11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 7 (The Sorting Hat)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 7 (The Boggart in the Wardrobe)
  13. Second W.O.M.B.A.T. test
  14. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 19 (Elf Tails)
  15. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (film) (see this image)
  16. "Poltergeist" on the Online Etymology Dictionary