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Mackenzie Poltergeist - Greyfriars Kirkyard

Interviews > By P.F.I.


The Story of the Mackenzie Poltergeist.

An Interview with the Author - Jan Andrew Henderson

By Alison Oborn

“If somebody collapses next to you…. Don’t Panic!!” instructed Jerry our tour guide in his rather appealing, soft Scottish accent. “Remember, the poltergeist will only pick out ONE person,” he continued reassuringly “If the person next to you has collapsed…” Jerry paused for effect. “Then it ISN’T YOU.. YOU are safe!!” The tour nervously looked around at each other, trying to pick out the weak one and hoping to God it wasn’t going to be themselves.

This was the 4th time that I had come on the Black Harts City of the Dead tour through Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Each time I hadn’t been disappointed. Although nobody on my previous tours had ever collapsed, for entertainment value alone, these always stand out as being the highlight of my trips to Edinburgh. The tour started as it meant to go on, with an energy and enthusiasm from the tour guide that would be hard to match. The history of the Romans and the Picts will always be remembered as well as the TRUE story of Greyfriars Bobby, recounted in such a way it would be hard ever to forget them. So much so that a lady on our tour gasped in horror as the true story of Greyfriars Bobby was revealed…

“Oh don’t … there is a child present!” She glanced worriedly across at my 11-year-old son. I tried to hide the faint smile of amusement, after all here I was about to take this same boy into a dark and poltergeist infested mausoleum, which, apparently was ok to do just as long as we didn’t shatter any illusions about cute and faithful Bobby! Even after the 4th retelling, these stories were as fresh and as amusing as the first time I had ever heard them. Gerry especially has a wonderful way of expressing these tales and having had him twice now, he comes highly recommended, if not by the locals living around the cemetery who aren’t quite so appreciative of his loud enthusiasm, then definitely by me!!

Finally the finale of the tour arrives and so do we at the Covenanters Prison gates, and this is where we get introduced to the Mackenzie Poltergeist for the first time. A poltergeist, which is apparently responsible for a multitude of attacks upon the unsuspecting public. In fact so many that the council finally locked the gates and refused public entry… that is until the founder of Black Hart tours came along and offered them money and a good indemnity policy… after all, how could they refuse??!!!!

The Covenanter's Prison

Since then over 400 people on these tours have reported various sensations ranging from cold/hot spots, scratches and bruises right through to the ultimate attention seeking affect of being knocked totally unconscious. Most of these occurrences seemed to happen in one particular mausoleum, now known as the Black Mausoleum that resides inside the Covenanters prison. There have even been two failed attempts at exorcism only to have one of the exorcists, Colin Grant, die a week later from a heart attack.

The Black Mausoleum

As it happens, my own sister may have been one of the victims of the Mackenzie Poltergeist! Being more on the skeptical side, she was more then happy to follow along in my trail of enthusiasm. She wandered merrily into the Black mausoleum totally unconcerned but thoroughly enjoying the entertainment of the tour. It was when she awoke in the morning that she got a surprise. “Look at this!” she said distracting me from my Internet surfing to point out marks just below her shoulder. I took a further look but it wasn’t hard to make out the 3 deep grazes surrounded by a bruise that sat there. She told how the night before in the mausoleum, she had felt a prod in her back. She hadn’t thought anybody was behind her at the time, but still she remained unconcerned thinking that somebody must have bumped her then stepped away before she could turn around. I quickly asked to inspect her back and indeed there were faint scratches in the same area where she had felt the prod. Needless to say this peaked my interest in the case even more! If the gouges on the front were a natural accident then she should surely have felt them happening.

But what of the Mackenzie Poltergeist and more importantly the man behind the tours and author of the book ‘The Ghost that Haunted Itself?’

The MacKenzie Poltergeist – who in fact was George Mackenzie?

In reality the Mackenzie Poltergeist doesn’t seem to fit in with true Poltergeist activity, which often only lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months and usually focuses around one person. Instead the energy referred to as the Mackenzie Poltergeist has been around for many years and seems to have taken on a life of its own. It has also been known to move locations, having been experienced also in buildings that George Mackenzie was known to have lived as well as in homes that surround the cemetery itself.

The continuing phenomena that is being reported, has been put down to Sir George Mackenzie, who lived in the 1600’s. His nickname of Bloody Mackenzie became well established after he started a relentless and inhumane persecution of the Covenanters, a large group of Presbyterians who were against the king’s wishes for them to change their religion. In 1679 1200 prisoners were rounded up and brought to Edinburgh many of who were imprisoned in a section of the graveyard now referred to as the Covenanters Prison. Here they were subjected to inhumane conditions, having to endure the coldest winter months with minimum shelter and very little food. Many died due to this harsh treatment and those that didn’t were executed or sold to slavery. Their only way out was to swear an allegiance to the King, which they refused to do. Those that died in Greyfriars remain there to this day and ironically share their final resting place with Bloody George Mackenzie.

Although stories of unusual happenings and attacks had been reported for many years, we are told that it seemed to intensify after a certain incident back in 1998 when a homeless man for whatever reason, decided to break into the Mackenzie tomb one stormy night. It was whilst he was trying to break into the casket itself that he stepped backwards, falling into an old pit containing the remains of plague victims. Fear brought him rapidly screaming back out of the tomb only to come face to face with a grounds man that had come to investigate the strange knocking noises coming from Bloody Mackenzie’s last resting place. Now both men were in a state of terror and so in lies the theory of what the Mackenzie Poltergeist could actually be and why it became more active after this event, according to the author Jan Andrew Henderson.

But rather then trying to explain it here myself, I will give Jan a chance to explain it as he sees it, and also ask him if after the 6 years since the book was written, whether his views have changed in any way.

George Mackenzie's Tomb

Meet Jan Andrew Henderson

Jan Andrew Henderson, an Edinburgh based historian, not only founded these unique tours but is also a talented author with many books to his name. Having bought his book The Ghost that Haunted Itself when first in Edinburgh back in 2004, I was hooked on his writing style for this was the first paranormal book I had read, that both entertained whilst making me think at the same time, thus making it hard to put down. Believe me, I have many books on my shelf… most of which remain largely unread from beginning to end. He has finely woven together the fascinating but gruesome history of the cemetery along with actual accounts from people who have experienced attacks from this poltergeist and put it forward in story form, which again makes it all the more readable and enjoyable. Having read several more of his books recently, I would probably have to say that he brings to history what Bill Bryson brought to travel. From my son?… the highest praise indeed, as Jan brings the joy of reading at last to him. There has only ever been one other author that has captured his attention long enough to encourage him away from a computer screen… now there a two!! Like myself with The Ghost That Haunted Itself, Crash was rarely put down until completely finished by him.

On my last trip up to Edinburgh we arranged to meet. Sadly we only got to meet up briefly but the good news is that the reason for this was that his tour company had just scored another venue, the Underground Vaults. This was joyous news to them as well as to myself, as it gives me something more to look forward to when I return to Edinburgh next time!!

However, despite this I did manage to put some questions together for him and the following is a short interview with Jan.

Q. Hi Jan and thanks for your time. Now it has been 6 years since you wrote your book The Ghost That Haunted Itself, obviously the first question people who have read the book are going to ask is, what updates have there been since then? Has the activity quietened down or increased in your opinion?

A. This phenomenon seems to have followed the same pattern over the years and it doesn’t look like changing. There are short periods of intense activity followed by gaps where not much happens. Then, occasionally, there’s a major outburst. Not long after the book was published my house and the tour offices – which overlooked the graveyard - were completely destroyed by fire. Insurance investigators couldn’t figure out how it started (it wasn’t me, honest.) and none of the surrounding buildings were damaged. I guess the book wasn’t to the poltergeist’s taste.

Q. Now, you have stated publicly in your books that you are not a great believer in ghosts but you do have another, more interesting theory on what could be causing this activity. Would you care to explain to people, who are unaware of it, just what it is?

A. In the 1970s it was discovered that human beings produce pheromones – a type of hormone commonly found in ants and other social insects. Ants use different pheromones to communicate – they coordinate behavior using the Mandibular Pheromone, attract each other with an Attraction Pheromone and, most interestingly, to trigger alarm with an Alarm Pheromone as a defense mechanism. We wondered if a poltergeist might be a pheromone cloud, released by a mass of alarmed or disturbed people, which then transmits. It works as an explanation for mass hysteria too! Poltergeists are often present around adolescents who are angry or disturbed and at the age where their hormones go into overdrive

Q. So after six years, this theory remains intact or have you changed your views since the book was written?

A. The Pheromone Theory is probably wildly off base, but it’s better than most explanations I’ve heard. Ghosts are souls that can’t pass on to the next life? What are they waiting for? A bus?

Q. How would this theory fit in with the fact that it seems to swap venues from time to time or seems to possess, according to your guides, some sort of intelligence? An example of this would be that we were told that it now moves people by producing cold spots seemingly knowing that they have been told to step away from these, until a single victim is cut out of the crowd so to speak.

According to lore, poltergeists often revolve a person (the focus) not a place, so I guess ours could show up anywhere we take our tour – especially if it’s their fear causing the entity. And ants and bees can use pheromones for extremely complex instructions. It’s a sort of chemical telepathy. So it may not be the case that the poltergeist has intelligence. It may be that someone in the crowd who is afraid or angry is subconsciously using the pheromone cloud to take their displeasure out on the others. Eh…. Maybe.

Q. Would this theory also fit in with physical cuts and bruises that these people seem to experience or would you say this aspect could just simply be more psychosomatic? I ask this, because my sister, who was untroubled and skeptical in the Black Mausoleum actually did experience these scratches and bruising the next morning.

A. Now, that I don’t have an explanation for.

Q. Do you find that certain tour guides seem to elicit a higher percentage of people experiencing things on the tour then others? I think what I am asking here is that after experiencing tours with several different tour guides, I find some of these guides can bring the fear factor up in people much more effectively. Would this ability be more consistent with more activity on the tours, hence fitting in more with your theory about fear pheromones being released?

A. It does seem to be the case that the guides who ramp up the fear factor get more attacks on their tours. But we had a guide called David who was great at what he did but just not scary. And he had lots of attacks! Eventually he came to the conclusion that he, not the tour, was the poltergeist’s focus. So he left.

And none of this explains why attacks come in bursts and then stop for a while.

Q. Congratulations by the way on getting the tours for the Underground Vaults! I am looking forward to participating on them when I come back over on my next trip. How are these going at the so far?

A. At the moment we’re still bumping into walls and falling over things in the dark. But it’s a great creepy location and it’s nice to take tours somewhere nobody can run from when they get too scared. That includes the guide.

Q. Back to your books. Are you contemplating any follow up book to The Ghost That Haunted Itself?

A. I’d love to but I write novels for young adults under the name J. A. Henderson now. And since they’re more successful, my publishers aren’t interested in me doing anything else. They’re very dark though. Got spooky stuff in ‘em.

Q. Apart from on the tours and through your shop, is there any other outlet overseas that people, especially in Australia, could purchase a copy of this book and your other titles?

A. Only on My last book, Bunker 10 came out in the US, but it’s a thriller – not a ghost in sight.

Q. With that I thank you Jan for your time and don’t forget I still owe you that beer when I next come over!!

A. And I never turn down an offer of beer.

So did anybody collapse on this final ghost tour of mine? Sadly, much as I hate to say it, no, we were collapse free again. Do I personally believe in the Mackenzie Poltergeist? At this stage, I remain firmly open minded, after all, I have had no personal experience with it as yet to judge. However, I would like to think that it did exist, after all, there are more then enough victims, including my own sister, that would suggest that there could well be something powerful going on there. One thing is for sure, I will certainly be purchasing further titles by Jan Andrew Henderson and will definitely be back on the tour the very next chance I get…. only this time I look forward to including all Black harts other tours too!!

To learn more about these tours then please visit:

Or to learn more about Jan Andrew Henderson and his published works:


“You really had to be there”… the line we all find ourselves saying when we are trying to convey those moments of fun to people who are just looking back at you in polite agreement.

So what better way then to allow you to visually share the entertainment. For this reason I have put together a short video.. well 2 short videos. I apologize that it is dark in some places, but unfortunately it WAS dark!… oh and the model of camera I had at the time didn’t have a powerful enough night shot. However hopefully Gerry, our tour guide, will entertain you enough that it won’t matter. I hope you enjoy!

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