Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hindu Magicians: Fakirs or Fakers??


Once again into uncharted waters.... the nice thing about going into a subject which one is a complete ignoramus about, is that it's easier to maintain humility. I already know that I don't know what I'm talking about. So, the trick is to try to find some people who do. For this post, I'm going to lean on a guy named Louis Hoffmann, a debunker, but maybe an honest one, and Louis Jacolliot, a romantic, also, I believe, an honest one. Tossing in Joseph Jastrow, a born-early CSICOPian, and John E. Wilkie, a hoaxer, plus Thomas Maurice, a pre-times-of-prejuduce scholar, and it's a merry mush indeed.



Inspiration for the post was an article, originally from Chambers Journal and reprinted/pirated in Littell's Living Age, March 1902. "Indian Conjuring Explained". Why did Hoffmann [above] write it?

Hoffmann was a professional magician along with being a college teacher. He found himself in that period at the end of the 19th century where many such people thought that there was a crucial war going on between science and superstition, and superstition needed to be put down if modern civilization was ever going to break free from the Dark Ages and progress to true enlightenment. Well, OK, good in theory --- often miserable in practice. But that was where the mind of Louis Hoffmann was.

This was the time when, to the horror of conservatives like Hoffmann, groups like the Society for Psychical Research and The Theosophical Society were rising. Surely civilization would go under if these sorts of things were not exterminated. Belief in magical violations of physical laws was obviously one such dangerous error. "Indian Magicians" were the worst example of such contamination of clear thought.


Hoffmann was inspired by Joseph Jastrow, the non-spiritual godfather of CSICOPians to come. Jastrow was a psychologist who believed that all human reports of anomalistic occurrences were the products either of deliberate deception [liars], bad memories, or perceptual errors. He's the guy who gave us those clever mistake-prone illusions like the one below. [DUCK or RABBIT?].


In his Debunking Hall-of-Fame book, Jastrow explains why you can never trust human testimony, particularly when that testimony doesn't adhere to things we all know to be true [well, he doesn't say it like that, but as he conveniently has no criteria for figuring out ANY accurate observation from inaccurate ones, that is what this sort of position reduces to]. Anyway.... he proceeds to heap a heavy blasting on things like psychic phenomena and untrained observers in general. Hoffmann found this to be a very congenial way to view reality, as most people who believe that their observations are superior to others do. Because Hoffmann WAS an expert stage magician, he had some validity to being a superior observer of how other things looking like stage magic might be done, so OK --- I'll take him as an expert in some things and proceed with an open mind, although I don't like his general attitude.



Hoffmann seems to have been mobilized in his noble quest to make the world safe from Indian Conjurors by something the guy above did. He's John E. Wilkie, a staff writer for a Chicago newspaper, who decided that it would be great "news" to just make up a bunch of crap about Indian magicians and publish the hoax as real. The inclusion of the badge above is that Wilkie was shortly appointed to leadership in the U.S.Secret Service [the guys who protect the President]. The juxtaposition of these two elements of Wilkie's career fairly boggle the mind. Nevertheless, he DID write the article, and in it featured the idea of the "Indian Rope Trick" which is so iconic in our imagery of Hindu "magic". The idea of the Indian Rope Trick so caught the imagination that it established that it was in mysterious India that open demonstrations of high magic could be seen surpassing that of all other nations. This put Hoffmann into attack mode.










Hoffmann as a magician already "knew" [believed] that this phenomenon [and all the rest of the alleged Indian trickery] was nothing but that. He was confident that if he went to India and observed the acts in the flesh, he would easily see through them. And this is what his article proceeds to tell us. In it Hoffmann violates the prime rule of the stage magician: to never tell a non-member of the fraternity the actual secrets of how the tricks are done. Apparently Hoffmann considered the dangers of belief in these things so great that such a violation was justified.





I do not believe that Hoffmann even went to see the Indian conjurors himself but simply heard reports from other western magicians who went there to debunk. This isn't ideal scholarship, but OK if he had good reason to trust his sources. He DOES tell us his view of this sort of thing right at the beginning.

Quoting Jastrow as to all things anomalous: "The cases cannot be explained as they are recorded, because, as recorded, they do not furnish the essential points on which the explanation hinges". What Jastrow and Hoffmann are saying here is that everyday people are bad observers who miss the crucial things that they need to see if they or the rest of us are going to explain these things in mundane terms. That is: they take the a priori stance of "it cannot be therefore it isn't", as Allen Hynek used to say. But their position is even more deeply stupid than that. ANYTHING "unexplainable" is so BECAUSE we have not been able to determine [as of yet] the truthful "essential points" required for an ultimate explanation. Duh.... THAT's ALL of the frontier of Science no matter how you define it. That's what labeling something as "unknown" or "anomalous" is all about. Sometimes these guys' mental processes beggar the imagination.

But Hell with that, what did Hoffmann say? He could be correct on this topic even with his screwed up mindset, as he is at least an expert on something which seems relevant.

Hoffmann states that to begin with these street magicians are not Hindus at all but common [meaning low-class] "Mohammedans". He says that their outstanding feature is lack of clothing [an obvious slur in my reading], then goes on to say that they wear a loincloth and a turban. He wants to emphasize that they DO have clothing afterall, as he requires them to in order to explain how certain tricks are done. He then goes on to reveal the trick secrets of the following:

1]. turning one mouse into two [the second is in the armpit];
2]. the "diving duck" [the wooden model is attached through the bottom of the water tin by a "hair", which is pulled to submerge it on call];
3]. the "jumping rabbit" [the model is secured to the bottom of the water vessel by a slowly dissolving gum. When dissolved a spring catapults it out of the water.];
4]. the "lotah" refilling water vessel [hidden compartments inside big jug which will only dump contents into small center cavity if you take your finger off the key airhole];
5]. disappearing person in the basket [easy escape net and trick door release for escape leaving clothes behind in the empty net];
6]. death of a thousand cuts [small person can press onto inner edge of container and sword thrusts do not go there, etc];
7]. the mango trick [explanation is complicated, but involves two mangoes on branches when audience thinks one, and large mango seeds one of which is doctored to be ready to pop open revealing a miracle growth];

Then he says, as a finale, "of the mythical feat of throwing a rope in the air, up which a man, boy, or animal climbs and disappears, all that need be said is that no such thing ever happened". That's it. No one's ever seen this he says. Some charmers occasionally balance a still, stiff rope for a few seconds in their hands. People's bad minds then expand seconds into minutes, ropes into ropes with people climbing up them, "It is easy to trace the process".

Well, man, you had me fairly convinced on all the stage magic stuff, but that last batch of stinking dingoes' kidneys lost me. What a dishonest supercilious pronouncement! I am still willing to buy that there is no such thing as the Indian Rope trick, but not on the basis of this clown.

But if not Hoffmann, then who?

The fellow at the left is Louis Jacolliot. He might not be the right guy for the job either, but at least he has a different [and first hand] perspective. Jacolliot was born in 1839 and became a French barrister in a French "possession" [economically-controlled territory] in India at a young age [about age 31, I believe]. He was essentially a materialist who regarded religion and particularly these effusions of religion, as frauds. He was, however, surrounded by the stuff in Chandernagore, and often had fakirs present themselves to him as was their custom to any authority. For a while he just "summarily dismissed" them. Their continual flow, however, finally cracked through to his curiosity, and he began admitting them singly to show him what they would, but only under his rules-of-evidence as he saw it. I.E., no associates, no paraphernalia not approved by him, willingness to be "inspected" at any stage of the actions, etc. He was handling this like a court-of-law officer collecting admissible evidence.

This is rather extraordinary to say the least. Once again, the theory is good; what about the practice? We must admit that Jacolliot, as an amateur, could still be faked out or guilty of one of Jastrow/Hoffmann's human frailties [and consequently they still be correct], but at least he deserves a hearing.



Jacolliot's information, and his theories, were published in an 1875 book [title translated into English] Occult Science In India. We English-only people got to read it in 1884. [so it was out there before either Wilkie's hoax or Hoffmann's dismissal]. I got a recent version hidden on dusty shelves of the local Olde Curiosity Shop-type bookstore here on the Market in Wheeling. Paid 50cents. When I opened it up and began to read, I walked back to the bookstore and gave the owner two more bucks. Right or wrong, the material in the book was/is intriguingly done.


One of the first things that has interested me upon getting back to Jacolliot due to Hoffmann's article was that Jacolliot seems to have "interviewed" an entirely different group of people. Hoffman says that all these crude magicians were lower-class Mohammedans. Jacolliot says none of them were. Instead, the people that he observed were all Hindu practitioners, even if, admittedly, of a lower caste or division among Hindu monks. This might seem puzzling [was to me] but it seems that the term "Fakir" has a complicated origin and evolution. Because of this complication, I will probably not get the following quite right, my friends. I only hope that it is in the ballpark.

The concept of "fakir" does seem to be an Islamic word coming out of the Sufi sect, perhaps in the Middle Ages. The term seems to have originally referred to some form of advanced practitioner of altered states of consciousness and an almost literal "enlightenment" [a glow even]. Somewhere by the reign of the Mughal emperor of India, Jahangir, fakirs had become active visitants at court, bringing petitions of favor. These could have been governmental alms for monastics, or could have been for other causes, but little is known. In 1638, the western world heard of the persons known as fakirs through a book by W.Bruton titled Newes from E. Indies. In 1763, Luke Scrafton wrote Reflections On The Government Of Indostan, where the activities of fakirs in soliciting alms from wealthy individuals for their orders was a featured aspect of who they were. This seems to indicate that this class of fakir mendicant was not the street magician-type of conjuror, but persons more like those encountered by Jacolliot.

Also, as years went on, the term expanded to embrace not only Sufi practitioners but Yogic practitioners engaged in similar "demonstrations" and supplications for their monasteries. So, a best guess might be that by the 1800s Yogic "fakirs" were visiting persons like Jacolliot, as had been their custom, and willing to demonstrate abilities to him in order to support their requests for some legal or monetary petitions. This scenario makes some sense, to me at least, out of the differences in the basic assumptions and claims of the two westerners [Hoffmann and Jacolliot].


Another confusing element in these things are these guys. I suppose that some portion of the "modern" ones could be labeled "fakirs" in the phony sense of the word, if they are just fanciful street-bums with a begging bowl alongside. But genuine practitioners of the discipline shown here are not "fakirs" at all, but persons who are beginning on the path of physical denial. Their whole idea is not to "do" anything at all, but in theory, empty themselves of connectivity with the sensorium of the normally experience world, and achieve some form of ego-denial. It's a physically-based pathway to selflessness [allegedly] rather than a mental-discipline meditative one not involved with the above sort of rigorous "flesh denial".

These people in my opinion have "got it entirely wrong", and waste their gifts in a paradoxically selfish pursuit of peace without doing anything productive for their neighbors --- just like western ascetic hermits. [that is my bias as some of you will remember from the Seraphim post a little while ago. At least he got his head right and went "out" and began to do service. If these guys like the one above get off their bed-of-nails butts after a while and begin doing selfless societal service, then I applaud their temporary separation from the world]. As to the "miracles" of being able to sit on a bed of nails, or in some cases endure piercings or breath-control or lying down so long in one place that plants grow around you, I do not see any miracles there at all. Even the bed-of-nails has been explained by physics.

In the 1970s there was a marvelous underground documentary titled Biofeedback: Yoga of the West. In it Elmer Green of the Menninger Foundation did several tests on yogis of accomplishment. There were interesting Mind-Body controls demonstrated, but nothing that I, or I believe Larry Dossey, would call particularly miraculous. The "best" feat that I saw in the documentary was the apparent effective control of the bleeding and healing process following a nerve-racking jamming of a sail-maker's needle right through Jack Schwartz' bicep. [In one class on campus, a student fainted and crashed to the floor during showing --- thankfully not in my classroom.] The bottomline here is: whether it's street beggars or actual sannyasi flesh-deniers, these are not the fakirs we're talking about here.



Let's then consider that we have established some reason to believe that Jacolliot and Hoffmann were talking about two different groups of people, and that Jacolliot was talking to neither the common street conjuror nor about the flesh-denier public ascetics. Let's at least consider that he MIGHT have been talking to the persons who actually could DO something. Maybe they couldn't, and maybe he was wrong, but he seems to have gone into this business with intellectual honesty and a "plan" to investigate the claims. He says that in the book he will describe only those things in which he was a direct participant and "we shall describe things just as we saw them, without taking sides in the dispute". Despite that noble intent, however, these demonstrations completely wowed Jacolliot, ultimately turning him into a person intensely interested in Brahmin theories and history, and whether there was a close connection between early Christian, Jewish, and Hindu thought with the Brahmin ideas having precedence. Thus, by the time that the writing began, he was so deeply immersed in Brahmin philosophy [a legitimate thing here, as he was searching in a scholarly vein to put what he'd experienced into context], that the reader must wait until page 200 before encountering his stories of the fakir-yogis.

The print is small below, but hopefully there are plenty of data-bits to allow you to hit the magnify functions on your computers and read Jacolliot's words.




There were four chapters near the end of the book wherein Jacolliot told of what he had done and seen. They are detailed and mind-blowing. I am going to give the details of the first of those chapters and then you can get a copy and read the others. This first chapter he called "The Leaf Dance".

A Hindu "Fakir" was sent by the guru of the local pagoda, as word had gotten around that Jacolliot was interested in their claims. The fakir entered dressed as usual in just a loincloth. He asked what the Sahib wished of him. Jacolliot responded that he had heard that fakirs could move objects without touching them, and would like to see that power demonstrated. The fakir said that he personally had no power but only communicated with the spirits and it was they who did the actions; nevertheless, he would be happy to intercede with those spirits to demonstrate this.

During these extended "experiments" the fakir provided nothing of his own vis-a-vis the objects used. Everything was requested from Jacolliot, who did the providing from his own household. What the fakir requested was seven flower pots filled with earth, and seven wooden sticks, and seven largish recently picked leaves. The pots were laid out and the sticks implanted standing upright [either Jacolliot or his servant did everything, and the fakir never touched anything]. The leaves were stuck on the sticks simply by pushing the point of the sticks through them. The leaves quickly dropped down the sticks and landed on the pots, creating a sort of organic pot cover.

The fakir was in a sitting position about 6 feet away. He raised his arms above his head and uttered an invocation [aloud] in Tamil. I find it interesting enough to quote it here:

"May all the powers that watch over the intellectual principle of life {Jacolliot inserts "kche'tradja" in the text} and over the principle of matter {"boutatoma"} protect me from the wrath of the pisatchas {evil spirits}, and may the immortal spirit, which has three forms {"mahatatridandi", the trinity}, shield me from the vengeance of Yama".

He then stretched out his hands in the direction of the pots [still six feet away] and remained motionless as if in a trance. Every so often his lips moved soundlessly. Several minutes passed and Jacolliot began feeling a soft flow of air, occasionally. About 15 minutes into the event, the leaves began to move slowly up the sticks, and then slowly descend. This up and down behavior was repeated many times. Jacolliot could go over to the leaves and watch them closely from any angle, even between them and the fakir, and not influence the behavior. Jacolliot had instantly gone from amused superioristic skeptic to mind-blown confusion.

He asked if it were alright to examine everything, and was immediately told yes. He looked at leaves in hand, sticks in hand, emptied pots and inspected dirt, all without any hint at all of what could cause this action. He then discarded the pots and got goblets from the kitchen. He prepared the sticks himself and placed them. He placed leaves himself, and asked the fakir to move to 12 feet away. "Would the spirits be willing to act now?" The fakir said nothing, merely resumed his arms extended position. In 5 minutes the leaves began migrating up and down the sticks again.

Stunned Jacolliot asked if pots were even necessary? The fakir said no. Jacolliot got a wooden plank and put holes in it to hold the sticks. No difference; the leaves moved. "During the next two hours I repeated the experiment in twenty different ways, but always with the same result." Flabbergasted, Jacolliot was reduced to only two hypotheses: either this was really happening, or he was a victim of some form of hypnotic illusion [he used the term "magnetic influence" as that is what they were calling Mesmerism back in France at the time.] He, of course, didn't BELIEVE that he was just falsely seeing illusions in the midst of all his analytical reasoning and redesigning experiments, but he had to take the concept into account as an intellectually honest researcher.

He came up with an idea. Would the spirits be willing to give him a different sort of signal? Would they be willing to tell him something? The fakir said: "Ask anything you please, the leaves will remain still if the spirits have nothing to say. If, on the contrary, those who guide them have any communication to make, they will move upward along the sticks".

Jacolliot had a set of zinc blocks used in stamping letters on paper. He tossed them into a linen sack. The fakir resumed his stance. Jacolliot began taking blocks from the bag and calling the letters. Nothing. No movement, nor letter sense, for the first 14 blocks. Jacolliot withdrew an "A". The leaves started. They would move or stop with each letter drawn. The result, pushing aside the duds where no movement occurred, spelled in the order drawn: Albain Brunier, died at Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain) January 3, 1856. All this being correct of a close friend, Jacolliot was so disturbed that he dismissed the fakir to rest and think.

Jacolliot had the fakir back to his house for 15 days, always with reiterations of these tests and always with the same results. With one exception... Jacolliot wondered if he himself must play some important role in the second of the two phenomena [the "message" information]. He, by intently concentrating upon a slightly misspelled name for his deceased friend COULD make such a slight variation occur, but not the date or location of the death. He began to feel that these phenomena were very real, and, although he did not use the words, had to do with a psychic utilization of some force [to move objects] or mental access [to tap into some form of communing mind for information]. Jacolliot was a bit angry with himself for engaging in even this speculation, but as a French materialist, he could not accept the fakir's version that this was being accomplished by some entities in the spirit world. Still, one wonders, with a disciplined thinker like Jacolliot, how challenged was he trying to remain materialist-reductionist in the face of frankly non-material "forces" and paths-of-knowledge like he felt could be going on? It is a nervous intellectual who wants to remain a materialist yet gets slapped in the face by things violating simple physics textbook assumptions. [The soviets tried to have their borscht and eat it too by embracing the reality of things like Kulagina's PK while attributing it to some invisible natural force seeable in Kirlian photography --- the "political" reason why Kirlian photography was popular there].



Grab a copy and read the other three chapters in Jacolliot's book --- bogglingly worth it. He himself was obsessed by the things he'd seen so greatly that he spent years studying Brahminism trying to better understand. He began to see the different stages of Hindu paths to enlightenment, and that his fakir was a successful but lower stage. The fakirs were the "third" class, the ones that went into the public to show the results of the beliefs to the authorities and make relations with them. He in fact began seeing the pattern of "three" all over his studies. When I read these things, I began to get a vague feeling that I'd heard this before.


Along with the fakirs, there are also natural medicine healers --- of course there must be, we say. They are the equivalent of the ones who watch nature closely in all regions. They're the equivalent of the Wise Woman of Lisclogher, or the witches and wizards of the forest edges. Some going by the name are "snake-oil-salesmen" and charlatans, but some seem not at all to be. They seem remarkably like the fakir with the odd things he can do to demonstrate whatever it is he does, but cannot do just anything. There seems to be something more "universal" hiding in here somewhere.

But as to our original adventure: could it be that debunker Hoffmann took the sloppy looks that his colleagues gave him of common street conjurors and accurately explained them, and then quit without ever touching the real phenomena? Did Jacolliot get closely in touch with it, and witness truly mind-altering things? The only other easy hypothesis it seems to me is that Jacolliot is just a liar. The theory of "hypnotic illusions over multiple days and consecutive hours, all in a materialist lab-bench experimenter's mode" doesn't seem remotely reasonable to me. Jacolliot either saw what he saw or he lied about it.


But how could he have simply seen it? It's impossible isn't it? Brahmin teaching says no. One of the attainments of the successful self-denier and emptier practitioner is the acquiring of gifts from the gods [usually Ganesh, above, or Hanuman]. These gifts [pictured as the eight demigod ladies with Ganesh] are the Siddhis. The Siddhis are described in many [different to me] ways in the scriptures, sometimes emphasizing "merely" wisdom in different ways, but sometimes in spectacular "powers" which the western world would designate as paranormal. If a fakir [the lower monk] had achieved the paranormal abilities [the lower expressions of the Siddhis], then yes, some psychokinesis and telepathy would be in the order of things. If the fakir was indeed successful at his ascension to a selfless state, then, yes, he would view the powers as not being his own. If the exercise of such power was a threat to selflessness and a cause of ego-inflation, then, yes, he would invoke a mantra to remind him of the spiritual dangers of doing this. So.... does Jacolliot's experience lend data to the claim of the Brahmin achievement of the Siddhis? I am at this point only capable of open-minded wonderment that what I thought was a skeptical "done deal" might in fact NOT be so.


Some readers doubtless [and I understand] will consider the material above "Out Proctor" in terms of being "just too much", but this does not seem that way to me. The claims here have a very old cultural context and a metaphysical setting which would "explain" in some sense exactly what was going on. We also have centuries of anecdotes about the abilities of [true] Hindu and Buddhist ascetics, and the skeptical counterclaimants are not convincing that they have ever touched the correct contacts. There is a CSICOP-equivalent Indian Rationalist Society today going around debunking the same charlatan sorts of people who Hoffmann attacked, and equal lack of convincing anyone with an open-mind that they are seeing the actual phenomena. Still, maybe they are doing the best they can. I have no theoretical problem with "rational skepticism" by the way, especially if the things investigated include claimed phony cures [a MAJOR concern] or money rip-offs [a trivial one]. This is the one area that I and the Magician's Union are precisely in synch.

But, on our current subject, I see no cause to dismiss, and a fair amount of cause to say: maybe this is actually good stuff. So, not Out Proctor for me. But, so as not to disappoint, let's head out there briefly anyway. I went over to my bookshelves and noticed a somewhat rare resource sitting there which is threatening to be forever un-read. You can see it in the picture above. It is the Reverend Thomas Maurice's  seven-volume Indian Antiquities or Dissertations relative of the Ancient Geographic Divisions, the Pure System of Primeval Theology, the Grand Code of Civil Laws, the Original Form of Government, and the Various and Profound Literature of Hindostan. [The title actually goes on much further]. This behemoth was written at various times in the 1790s, and not, as you can see, with the best paper or publishing art. If the world is dependent upon me to extract the gems of knowledge and wisdom from this, we are in failure mode. But I can at least pick it up and look inside.


Too bad that I'm not thirty years younger yet still retired, as the books seem quite fascinating just on skimming-and-dipping. The reason that I'm lumbering all of you with this at the moment is that Maurice was a good scholar, writer, poet, and well-placed with wealthy [book and manuscript-owning] families and as assistant manager of manuscripts at the British Museum to "read the best stuff" [and the rarest] and maybe see things freshly that were blocked to his compatriots [due to better resources] and to us today [due to our worse ingrained biases]. Whether that leads to Truth, well, that's another thing. But it definitely leads to creative thinking.

What I found here was another scholar noticing the dominance of a pattern of three in Hindu religion in the large [ex. Brahma/ Shiva/ Vishnu] and down into all manner of detail. He noticed the three levels of what we might even call three ascetic castes, just like Jacolliot. And then in volume five he went Out Proctor. Here it came. The unfocused intuition that I was getting while reading Jacolliot. For Maurice, the Hindu ascetics were like the Druid ascetics. The fakirs of Jacolliot were like the outward going "druids" directly so-called. The higher castes were like the druidical students/meditators who stayed in the houses of learning and meditated/ observed either nature's wisdom [the middle caste] or supernatural/spiritual wisdom [the highest caste]. Maurice was so impressed by what he felt he was finding that he postulated an ancient connection between wisdom-seekers all across the early civilizations, building their philosophies with local differences of vernier, but on essential similar grounds.


That ought to let your imagination soar for a while.

Oh yes... the Indian Rope Trick. Jacolliot never saw it either.

What he DID see was a fakir, in his own house as usual, suddenly lift himself slowly upwards [ took more than eight minutes] to a height of ten to twelve inches. He maintained this height for almost five minutes.

Who needs a rope??

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is There A Flaming Ghost Ship?


This is one that I went into absolutely cold. Knew Nothing. Fortunately I found a good local guide, Roland Sherwood.

I suppose that almost all of us who have curiosity about mysteries have heard about things like the Flying Dutchman or the Marie Celeste, and that's about where I stood when I picked a small monograph off Ivan Sanderson's SITU archives shelves. Sometimes such activity is a dead end disappointment, but, in my opinion, not this time.


This is the book. Less than 50 pages --- and, even though I've now seen it cited several times, it must be pretty rare. But such is the privilege of "hosting" an unusual archive like Ivan's, you never know what you might bump into.

The front cover says "Years of research and interviews ... " For a change, he's RIGHT! Sherwood moved when a young man to Pictou, a small city in Nova Scotia at the eastern end of the Northumbrian Strait where all this strangeness takes place. Having a writer's and newsman's mind, he naturally became curious about this "tall tale" [he thought] that he was regularly running into. It did not take long before "The Flaming Phantom Ship" of the Northumbrian Strait became a bit of a hobby obsession. And he DID spend at least 4o years gathering information, when he could, about the phenomenon. Reading the small book, I thought: boy is it nice to read a piece of work by someone intelligent and right on the spot, who really wants to learn what IS and IS NOT true about something. This is a good book about a true unsolved mystery.


It is hard to locate the beginnings of this anomaly, which is very often true when speaking of an on-going mystery connected to a place and not a person. Sherwood thinks that the first credible witnessing of the phantom flaming ship happened in 1880 off the coast of Pictou Island. A boat had recently sailed out of Pictou city harbor and gone its way. Pictou is on the coast and the Island of the same name [a 2x5 mile nearly uninhabited piece of land] is easily seeable off the shore to the north. There near the island, it seemed as though a boat was burning at sea. Many saw this, and assumed that it was the earlier departing craft. A rescue boat, a tug, set out to do what they could; many reliable citizens were on board. They never could reach their objective. The flaming ship outsailed them for a while, and then.... disappeared. The pursuers were stunned of course, but gamely went on searching the waters ahead for what they assumed must be there --- wreckage from the burning ship. Nothing. No sign that a boat had suddenly gone down. The following day, they received word that their own departing ship [which they feared the burning ship to be], was seen safe and well on its journey.

That alone would be enough for a major mystery, but there is of course much more. There might even have been a much earlier report, as one historian says that the first sighting was actually by a lighthouse keeper at Sea Cow Head [near Summerside on the Prince Edward Island side] in 1786. Sherwood knew nothing of that claim. And the Mi'kmaq indians might want to claim that they are in fact first as they have an old "fireball crossing the waters" legend about this area.


I don't know if I could say that there is a typical sighting, but perhaps this is pretty close: witnesses see a red-orange light some distance away which comes nearer. As it does so, it resolves itself to be a fiery glowing old three-master sailing ship. No crew are ever visible. The ship will sail, always west to east, for a while, and either disappear behind a small island or just vanish. Some sightings are always distant; some are fairly close. All are more than a "rapid glimpse and gone"; a few minutes is usual. The location can be anywhere west to east in the Strait. Vincent Gaddis did some shoddy reporting on this [so did Eric Norman] and stated that the ship appears regularly off the shore at Merigomish [east of Pictou] and on the same evening!! Sherwood said that this is pure crap by Gaddis [and Norman] and is typical US-style sensationalist pop-culture writing. Gaddis later tried to make this gaff not seem as bad by saying that he made the error of trusting a US wire service report. However you slice it, it's bad scholarship, and why none of us should ever give serious credibility to what we read in certain authors [ ex. Berlitz, Frank Edwards, Wilkins, Binder, Steiger, Keel, ...] unless there is back-up information somewhere. Ivan himself falls into this sometimes, but as to facts is usually a more trustworthy reporter.

Thankfully, Sherwood is a better man.

I've plotted the specific sightings listed in Sherwood's book, augmented by a handful found on the internet and in Larry Arnold's two-part article in SITUs PURSUIT journal ["AHOY Mate! Which Flamin' Phantom Ship Sails Thar?" Part one= Summer 1978; and part two, Fall 1978]. Arnold's articles are good reviews of the general mystery of the phantom burning ships.

On the map are the locations, at least roughly [I'm doing the best I can here], of the cases. You can see the 1786 and 1880 locations. Gaddis' favorite Merigomish is at "M". "CJ" is Cape John a site of several good witnessings. The two "S's" are the spots where Sherwood himself had sightings. I probably don't need to say that my map does no justice to the number of sightings reported here.

Here for your [hopefully] enjoyment is an actual commentary by a witness:

"At the time I first saw the Phantom Ship it was early evening in the fall of the year, November 26, 1965, just turning dark. I was busy with my housework, having no thought of such a thing as a Phantom Ship. I was standing near my kitchen window, and when I looked up, I was so startled that I could hardly believe my eyes. There was this ship, on fire and sailing down the Strait. The telephone was right beside me on the wall, so as I watched the ship, I called some of my neighbors up the road that keeps close to the shore. Those others looked and saw what I was seeing, and the word spread up the Cape {this sighting is from Cape John}. Many, as they told me afterwards, stood at their back doors and saw for the first time in their lives the Phantom Ship of which they had heard. As we watched, the ship just seemed to disappear. There was no mistaking it for a real ship.

"But that wasn't the end of it. Two nights later, almost under the same circumstances, I saw the Phantom Ship for the second time. Again I phoned others to make sure I wasn't seeing things. They, too, as before, saw that same ship. Word was flashed to River John, some six miles away, and soon our Cape road was crowded with cars, loaded with people eager to catch their first sight of the ghost ship.And they weren't disappointed. That time the Phantom was visible to hundreds of people for a half hour, and then, like the other time, it just seemed to fade away, and where the bright light had been, there was only the blackness of the water."

Well, not bad. If it was a UFO sighting, we'd be raving about the 30-minute long many-witnessed near close-encounter high strangeness "anchor case" we'd just been told.



Sherwood saw the phantom twice. One was at Caribou, near Pictou, and he says that it was a typical sighting like everyone else has, but that he was alone. The second he was accompanied by a friend of high skepticism. They were near the shoreline near Wallace [I may have misinterpreted which side, west or east, they were on from Wallace on my map, but it was on the south shore of the strait]. Sherwood was not driving when he saw the light. He remarked on it, but was rebuffed by the comment that it was just the lighthouse. Sherwood kept watching. He could see the lighthouse elsewhere. He remarked that it is a strange lighthouse which can move. His friend told him impatiently to "go to sleep". Sleep was not on the agenda however, and the light soon resolved itself into the Phantom Ship. He yelled that it was the ship, and his friend braked abruptly and they jumped out.

"Sure enough, there it was. A vessel outlined in a glow, and most certainly moving over the water. As was his custom, my friend watched without comment. For some minutes we looked at the unusual light. ----." Sherwood then thought that if they got back into the car and drove around a nearby point they'd get a better longer look. Mistake. When they got there--- no ship anymore. His friend forever after refused to say one word about this event.

Many other reports exist. The most recent seems to be from 2008 from Tatamagouche. There a visitor to Nova Scotia, 17-year old male, saw an inexplicable thing on the Strait. This was a sailing ship, an old three-master, but although glowing was apparently not "traditionally reddish-orange". Its glow was however very bright. The real oddity was that this old glowing Schooner was sailing in a FROZEN Strait. He'd never heard of the legend but reported the ship sailing in frozen ice as a [to say the least] strange thing. A local historian showed him a picture of what the people generally think the Phantom looks like, and he said: yes, that's what I saw.


So... what is this thing? Back in 1905, the debunking began. A Maritimes area botanist named William Ganong wrote a paper explaining to a no-doubt-nervous anomalies-adverse science community, that the Phantom and all such things like it in the environs [there are at least four other prominent legends in the Canadian Maritimes waters] are the results of methane gas releases from underwater coal beds, which rise to the surface playing Jack O'Lantern tricks on unwary humans.

Hmmmm.... the fact that there is no evidence for "underwater coal beds" there  leaking methane COULD be a difficulty for this hypothesis if it weren't constructed to debunk an anomaly. SHOULD such a thing be found, then the happily burning gas releases staying alight and sailing the Strait for thirty minutes over several miles MIGHT be a difficulty. Or if that were somehow rationalized, these playful gases, despite their diffuse chaotic nature looking to multiwitnesses as a firmly seen sailing ship in detail MAY present a problem. But NOOOOO. This stupidity is mindlessly repeated to this day.

But do we have ANY hypotheses which might make any sense at all?

I don't think so. The only other "scientific" theory is that these are optical illusions... mirages of something else elsewhere. But WHAT? Where? What looks like a burning ship? How does the mirage move over a wide arc of vision? No sale, my friends.


People of a non-physical bent naturally go to ghosts. Well, Nova Scotia is nearly the Wrecked Ship capital of the world. There are certainly plenty of candidates for ghostly ships refusing to stay in their watery graves. But no such burning ship really fits the description and the sailing pattern, even if one would want to grant such a fantastic idea. Plus, for what little it's worth: this feels more like one of those apparitional things which doesn't seem to have much that is "personal" about it. It's just an odd thing; an odd almost "holographic" type of thing, which gets replayed in slightly different spots along the Strait for God alone knows what reasons. Larry Arnold sees something holographic in this too, but proposes a hypothesis WAY beyond my ability to credit it.



Skeptics remark that if this thing has appeared so many times, and sometimes lasts so long, why aren't there any pictures? Believers might respond that the two things above are such. In this, the skeptics would be correct. Neither photo is of the Phantom Ship of Northumbria Strait. Both photos might be good ones, but they are of something else.

The top photo was taken from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, but not the Strait. It is of one of the other mystery lights of the Maritimes, called the Young Teazer, after a US mischief-making ship of c. 1813, which was burned at sea.

The second photo was taken by a high school teacher, alarmed while up late grading papers, [something perfectly believable to me], but from his home in Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick, and therefore of a third watery anomaly, The James Craig Light. So, yes, we have no pictures to my knowledge. When challenged by this, a gruff local said: how do you take pictures of a phantom?

As always lots more could be said, like the fishermen's pub story of them going hastily to sea to try to give assistance to the burning boat, and caught up to it, AND PASSED RIGHT THROUGH. The burning vessel then was to their rear... and, as is its way, vanished thereafter.

That would be good for a holographic theory, but our guide Sherwood thought they were pulling his leg with that one. But it's a good tale and worth buying a beer under some circumstances... and we'll leave our phantom there.


A rollickingly good anomaly, methinks...and one deserving of a good Halloween Pumpkin to celebrate it.

Till next time, folks ---- watch ---- there's always something to see if you just open your eyes.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poltergeists AND UFOS?: Hard to find.


This will probably be short.

I was going through a few of the Sanderson materials, looking for some of the rarer resources, and found a copy of Mark Moravec's PSIUFO PHENOMENA: A Study of UFOs and the Paranormal. March 1982. Although an interesting monograph done by a competent UFOlogist, not many people have a copy in their research libraries. I have never met Mark Moravec, but he is/was a friendly colleague of Bill Chalker and Keith Basterfield and that's good enough for me.

Moravec proceeded in this research during the hay-day of Ozzie catalog creation, where particularly Keith Basterfield produced a number of very good compilations. [also rarely in anyone's libraries]. Moravec wanted to collect cases which seemed to involve a psychic element and see if there were patterns or even good solid evidence. He worked mainly with Ozzie cases, and was interested in "mental communications", "poltergeists", "apparitions", "healings", "ghostlights", and "time lapses".

The mental communications issue seems pretty well documented with all the "the words seemed to come from inside my head" and "their mouths never moved" sorts of testimonies, but the rest of this remains pretty marginal to me.

For whatever reason, I became interested in what was contained on the issue of the coincidence of a UFO sighting with poltergeist phenomena. Moravec believes that he has found evidence of this coincidence. I'm not so sure.

One thing that Moravec wants to note down as poltergeist phenomenon, for instance, is "levitation", such as in a car-lifting type case. I don't buy that as "poltergeist" at all. Even the possible lifting of a person, or in the famous French case, a horse, I wouldn't ascribe to "poltergeist". If I did such a thing, I'd be telling myself that the apparent "tractor beam effect" which lifted Captain Coyne's helicopter in the great Mansfield OH case was a poltergeist.

In fact, in all the Ozzie cases surveyed, Moravec found only three that he classed as poltergeist-involvement. One was an incident where the witness was force-grabbed and pulled right through a pane-glass window towards an entity. This is both not very poltergeist-like behavior, but has a rather poor UFO involved in it to boot.

The second case occurred in the middle of a flap and in this instance featured a family who would hear overhead humming sounds but could see no craft. Some lights were occasionally seen at the same time as the hums, but not apparently directly associated with the location.

The third case is the famous Rosedale water-stealer but, for me, the poltergeist is hard to find here as well. There were sounds, some loud, always seeming to be directly associated with a craft; there was a huge amount of water gone missing from the tank near the UFO, and the witness' watch stopped working normally. He reported that he could get it to run lying on the table, but not on his wrist. I'm not going to poltergeists on this one either.

The message to me is that an analysis of a lot of Ozzie cases found NO poltergeist involvement --- OTHER Psi maybe, Poltergeists, no.


But are there none elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not.

Moravec began his discussion of the possible poltergeist involvement by citing what he felt was a strong Canadian case demonstrating it. So, let's take a look.

The case occurred in Wooler, ONT July 2, 1968. It's difficult to get a full write-up about it unless you have a pretty good collection of Flying Saucer Review. The case appears in one of their special issues [#2: "Beyond Condon", June 1969]. It is reported by an investigator, Mrs. W. Graystone, whom I do not know, but the article begins by saying that it is the result of an interview report including taped testimonies, and this material was deposited both at CAPRO, and at APRO HQ in Tucson. Because of that, I'm going to assume that the report grows out of a decent field investigation, and will place some faith in it.

Two brothers [24 and 19] saw a light descending in the sky. One brother ran and got binoculars. Lights changed from red to purplish and were rotating around the craft. The craft dropped behind a distant hill-line. All through this event the horses were panicking and running in circles. Upon entering their home, the brothers discovered one of the family cats lying frozen on its back in a catatonic state. When it ultimately recovered, it ran away never to be seen again. A second cat also ran away.

So far, we have a mild UFO case with strong animal-effects. These events happened at about 10:30pm. After telling the family, and sitting around the table enjoying a late snack, at about 11:30pm the back porch window shattered --- see the photo. It had, as stated above, an unusually "clean" breaking edge. Shortly a deck of cards lifted off the table and went flying around the kitchen making a mess, and a wineglass was yanked from one of the brother's hands, sent flying to a glass-shattering crash on the floor. All three of these things are very poltergeisty, one must admit. All through that night, the kitchen seemed a source of constant clattering of utensils, some of which found their way to other locations in that room. An aroma of roses was said to permeate the kitchen.

For the next three days, nothing would happen during the day, but by evening rattlings and movements would occur. The men of the family sat down there in the dark trying to catch a culprit or in some way get explanations for things, with no luck. The latter of those days, these events were also witnessed by a local contingent of police and a Toronto reporter. Even audiotapes were made. Manifestations apparently continued on more or less a nightly routine for a while.

The initial window breakage elicited interest. A glazier was brought in to inspect it. He was baffled by the fact that the edges of the break were "uniformly smooth". No jagged nor irregular areas at all. Adding to that mystery, the window pieces were thrown outward into the porch, not inward to the house. As a subjective stretch of the imagination, viewers of the breakage pattern began to see it [adding missing hole in glass and prominent window cracks together] as the form of a Dove flying away. I'll leave that part to everyone's own level of acceptability, although you CAN see it in the glass if you want to, without much imagination.

Just after recognizing the pattern, the investigative group turned off the house lights and sat in the dark waiting. The strong odor of the roses immediately returned, but that was the only manifestation, and from that time nothing else has happened. In subsequent days there were some explorations of the distant hillsides where circular annular ring traces were found, dating somewhat before the UFO witnessing however, and a peculiar substance [unidentified] found outside the house, which had acidic properties, burning the skin. Whether any of that is related, who knows?

And that is the point of the whole thing. The UFO was "real" though not much, unless the traces were somehow related, and the poltergeist was apparently spectacularly real. They didn't quite happen at the same time, although the effect on the cat inside the house seems to have. So, is this a coincidence of two anomalous occurrences, or a connection?

In another probable coincidence, one hour earlier there were two UFO cases in Quebec, both involving entities [one with many seen inside a craft, and the other, more folkloric without a UFO, of two small entities chased by police]. Again: connected or not?


Two people, who at one time in their UFO careers would have given credence to the possibility that these events were all connected, were Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee [Jacques more forcefully than Allen, of course]. In 1975, they published some conversations that they had with Arthur Hastings in a very unusual book entitled The Edge of Reality, which most of you know. This book caught many people by surprise as it revealed a willingness in Hynek to see elements of the UFO mystery in paranormal terms rather than as natural phenomena or nuts-and-bolts. Of course Jacques was well into paranormal views of the subject, as Passport to Magonia attests. In their discussions, one case stood out to them as a possible clue or gateway case to getting at these pieces of the puzzle.


 The case was "Ely, NV; February 14, 1974". The quick thumbnail is this:

"Two brothers were moving some of their possessions in a truck near Ely, Nevada. At around 4:15 a.m. the engine of the truck began missing and the lights flickered, so they shifted into neutral. They then felt a blast of wind shake the truck and saw an orange colored light moving low to the ground from right to left. They stopped the truck and saw six different lights or objects surrounding them: three blue stationary lights, a red pulsating light, a silver colored saucer, and a reddish-orange saucer. The red light then came directly at the truck, passed close by, and continued on behind them. After the objects had finally disappeared, they found the rear axle on the truck broken in half. (Source: Mark Rodeghier, UFO Reports Involving Vehicle Interference, case 360, citing CUFOS)."

Interesting yes, but what does it have to do with the paranormal? 

The paranormal element of this event is that when it was happening the brothers' Mother was awakened by one of her son's voices calling "Mom!!". She saw no apparition, but felt that he was right there. The father did not hear anything, but the cot on which he was sleeping began rattling and shaking so that he, too, woke up. Poltergeist? Physical effects of family member at-a-distance? Same thing? 

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon on these [few] cases, but they have the feeling of something paranormal tripped off by the UFO encounter, but not deliberately caused by it. That is, the UFO is itself; the paranormal event is something entirely different sitting there waiting for circumstances to enable it. If UFOs were DELIBERATELY creating paranormal or pseudo-paranormal manifestations, I'd think that my files would have a whole pile of them. 

I think that Jacques felt differently. I believe that, at least at this point in his career he was wide open to the possibilities that UFO manifestations were not only largely paranormal, in some senses of that word, but actively stimulating the paranormal in observers. The following is not precisely in that line, but it illustrates Jacques' willingness to incorporate beliefs in Spiritual and psychic entities into his thinking at the time. From the book: 

Hastings was speaking of the beginnings of electrical research and the topic slid over to Mesmerism [which was originally very closely allied]. Hastings: "They didn't even call mesmerizing magic, and that was far weirder".

Vallee: "Mesmerizing has been called magic. There were several books written against Mesmer, saying his experiments were all works of the Devil."

Hastings: "Well, I don't know; it's reproducible on demand". 

Vallee: "So is The Devil!". 

At that point, a probably very uncomfortable Allen Hynek steered the conversation back to UFOs. The point of bringing this up is that Jacques, and presumably many others, would be willing to employ quite active psychic and spiritual entities within the encounters of UFOlogy as causal agents of immediate or subsequent "psychic" events. My problem with this is not Ontological, as a Catholic I'm "all in" on the existence of demonic or daemonic or little people or tricksters potentially meddling in all sorts of things. BUT, it would make me feel a lot more comfortable with the hypothesis if I could find some significant pile of strong cases in which UFOs and such meddling-trickster activity seemed closely related. 


As we've gone through the 20th century to the 21st, we've expanded our hypotheses [ ballooned our bullshit?] on what poltergeists are about, but clarity seems elusive. It's probably still true that most parapsychologists want to believe that poltergeists are the subconscious psychokinetic mind-blastings of young stress-filled hormonal-raging teenagers. I don't buy it. Maybe there's something there %-wise, but there are WAY too many cases where nothing of the sort makes sense. Sometimes it seems to be the "thing"/location not the person passing through, for instance. 

Theories include: a]. the above; b]. restless spirits of the dead {aware or unaware of the fact}; c]. "recording and playback" of some past event; d]. slippage of time {past images}, or space {wrong things appearing and disappearing}; e]. other psychic manifestations {doppelgangers, apparitions}; f]. tricksters et al; g]. interfacing with other parts of the Universe, possibly even poorly controlled ET-technology effects; h]. Satan and his minions.... etc. John Keel once tried to claim that there was a correlation between UFOs and poltergeists, of which I've found no evidence. Doubtless he would, however, approve of all the speculations above. 

This is one of the things in UFOlogy that I don't believe that I have any emotional "leanings" about at all --- as an honest person, I have such "leanings" about many other things, which I try to fight off with data, but this business... I don't think that I care one way or the other. BUT, I find no evidence that UFOs are deliberately causing poltergeists, and probably none that they are even related --- out of several hundred thousand events there are bound to be one or two coincidences. 


Now ... JUST A COTTON-PICKIN' MINUTE !!!!


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seraphim and the "Russian Lourdes"


Looking for something different to get into today, and was paging through some of those old journal volumes [c.1880s-1910s mostly] which have produced several intriguing topics in the past months. Went through four of them and it was pretty slim pickings this time. The closest thing was an article from The Century, September 1904, entitled "The Russian Lourdes" by David Bell MacGowan.

The article was stimulated by the canonization of a legendary holy person of Sarov, Russia, named St. Seraphim. The "Lourdes" allusion was due to the location having a well and flowing stream with alleged healing properties, attributable to a vision/interaction of Seraphim with the Blessed Virgin, whereupon the stream was formed. To make this make some sort of sense, a thumbnail account of Seraphim's life is in order.


Seraphim was a pacifist at heart from his early youth and was once beaten so thoroughly by a gang of thugs that he spent his adulthood as a bent hunchbacked cripple. Whether because of this infirmity or probably more so because of his non-violent and spiritual frame of mind, Seraphim entered into the religious life, ultimately achieving status amongst a monastic society near Sarov. For whatever reasons, Seraphim preferred the company of nature to that of humans, and became a hermit.


As his life in solitude went on, apparently Seraphim not only deepened in his devotions to prayer and fasting and attempts to demonstrate his faithfulness to God and the Blessed Virgin, but he began to wake up to the fact that there were other persons about for whom he should be doing some sort of service. Thus Seraphim began a phase of his life which was actually useful [this last sentence is showing my bias against wasting the time you have on Earth doing nothing but avoiding the rest of us regardless of how much self-oriented praying you do]. [Sorry, hermits, but that's my opinion about excessive "solitude" --- get your butts "out there" where there are so many folks needing your help].

Anyway.... Seraphim DID finally "get it" and began admitting folks into his presence, happily even. When he did that, others found a gentle man who had an eery ability to know precisely what was troubling their health [and other matters], who had a concomitant gift of healing. Even then though, it took a vision of Mary wherein she ordered him to quit floundering about doing his own business in the forest, and get out there and minister to people. He was 66 when he finally got moving. Well, better late than never, and Seraphim began "receiving" over 2000 folks a day, as his reputation as a counsellor-healer spread.


Well, we all have our prejudices and I have more than my share [Hey! I'm Catholic! I'm all for Seraphim now that he's moving, and doing good works. And I'm predisposed to believe that he actually DID do them]. One of my prejudices hints to me that all that "forest time" might not really have been wasted. Excessive maybe. Wasted ? no. This is because there are instances remembered of Seraphim's life where he reminds you of St. Kevin of Ireland in his ability to be in harmonious communion with the Natural World. Seraphim seemed to have achieved a "peace" and a oneness with that forest and its life. Stories, most spectacularly of interactions with bears, paint a life of a half-saint, half-druid in tune with reality in dimensions that the rest of us lack. It is my [prejudiced] intuition that this connectivity with things has much to do with his ability to "know" what was out-of-harmony with his human visitors and, often, make it right.


One of the strongest attested to healings by Seraphim was his first. A former Russian soldier had contracted some mysterious wasting disease which was affecting his legs and crippling him. No doctor had a clue. He came to Seraphim and begged for help. Seraphim asked him several times if he believed in God and His healing power. The soldier affirmed straightforwardly that he did, each time. Seraphim then massaged lampoil into his legs, wrapped them in canvas, and began to pray. He then blessed bread and put it into the soldier's pockets, saying he should now go to the guest house, eat, and rest. The soldier got up and began walking out, only to be stunned to see that he was walking completely unassisted by his forgotten canes. He turned threw himself at Seraphim's feet in gratitude. Seraphim hushed him and said that this was God's doing not his. This man later sold his properties and moved to Sarov, where he spent the rest of his life helping the local sisters with their work with the poor.


Seraphim's second most strongly attested to cure also resulted in a lifetime commitment to spiritual work. This person had suffered from an undiagnosed array of problems which most prominently exhibited themselves in the complete loss of use of his legs. Seraphim, after recommending to him that he should go to an actual doctor to be treated, succumbed to the man's pleas, and asked him [as he had done before] if the man believed in God and in his healing power. The man said: " I trust with all my heart and believe it, and if I did not believe it, then I would not have asked them to bring me to you". Seraphim then said that he already was cured. He ordered the people who were holding the man upright to step away, and the man attested: " I felt within me some kind of power descending upon me from on high, I lightened up a little and walked".

These events were taking place in the 1830s and many people became interested naturally and interviewed the persons cured. The second man then dropped his previous life, came to Sarov whereupon he tried to help Seraphim with his work [Seraphim being then a very old man] as much as he could. They spent much time in prayer and speaking about the world of Grace and the Holy Spirit, and this man felt that often when they spoke he could see Seraphim begin to actually glow, sometimes with blinding brightness. Whether anyone else attested to this claim, I do not know.


Regardless of what we choose to believe, the Russian people began to hear about and reverence Seraphim and his counsel and healing talents. This extended even up to the Czar himself. The above is a picture taken of the procession led by Czar Nicholas upon the celebration of the canonization of the Saint [It's from the article.]

Seraphim was just as much a spiritual "power" after his death as before. In fact upon the taking over of Russia by the Bolsheviks, they, with their atheistic fear of the "fifth column" of religious faith, began systematically destroying and/or closing Orthodox cathedrals and shrines all over the nation. Particularly on their hit list was the shrine of Seraphim in Sarov and its pilgrim attraction of the healing stream. Seraphim's remains even were stolen and hidden away in a secret location [they were restored to the convent near Sarov in recent times].

What did the Soviets fear? They feared the fact that pilgrims continued to pour into Sarov to partake of the healing waters of what was felt to be a miraculous stream. Such continued reinforcement of the faith in a Higher Power was not in the tyranny's best interests.

This tradition of healing had begun when Seraphim was having one of his visions of the Blessed Virgin [alongside Sts. John and Peter], and She struck the ground with her staff, bringing forth the healing stream. Afterwards many came to bathe and seek cures --- thus the comparison with France's Lourdes. Our "intellectual" interest is, of course, DID any of them get cures?

That of course is a pretty tough topic to get good data on, as the Sarov site seems to have nothing in place like the Church initiated at Lourdes to document if any miraculous cures occurred. All I can do for you is give the impressions of the writer of the article, who tried to observe as much as he could about this topic, merely by just being around, looking, and asking. [This guy, by the way, was no full blown romantic about this; his attitude seems fairly cool and not in the least a cheerleader].

Here is what he saw. At both the well site and the stream there were policemen trying to keep the massive crowds in some civilized order and priests scattered about who would listen to the pilgrims who felt that they had just had a cure of some kind, and register them. The lines at the two sites were hundreds of yards long. MacGowan felt that most of the afflictions that he witnessed were forms of hysteria. Some of these cases were interpreted as demonic possession. One priest on the grounds had a reputation for efficacious cures of such possessions, and MacGowan witnessed some non-debatable calming effect coincident with what the priest was doing. He refused to speculate as to whether that had to do with treatment in the waters, prayers by the priest, or merely a change of mindset of the cured.

MacGowan witnessed the apparent cure of a woman with a deformed hand. Here the priest bathed her hand in the water while exhorting the faithful to pray along with him for her cure. He then pressed his own hand onto hers, straightening it. She then was told to make the sign of the cross with that hand. Going back to her hand, she was told to continue to make that sign of the cross several more times, which she was able to do. In this sense her hand was at least temporarily straightened. MacGowan then remarked that he could not afterwards determine whether anyone had any information as to whether the hand remained cured. Regardless, this overt demonstration before hundreds served to affirm the faith in the waters.

Generally speaking, MacGowan had little luck in following up anything. The atmosphere of the place was all wrong for that. Questions about the reality of the cures was pretty much akin to sacrilegious behavior. He did notice some evidence of what he called "imposture". One woman was going about claiming a cure and would tell you about it if you gave a coin.

 The actual Church records for the canonization of Seraphim list many cures in the period following his death, which the cured persons attributed to him. All but two of these, interestingly, were to peasant women. These included the straightening of deformed extremities, cures of paralysis, fever, blindness, rheumatism, epilepsy, chronic headache, pains, loss of hearing, and skin diseases. In an exceptionally spectacular case, a child was healed of deafness and inability to speak just as the image of Seraphim was passing by. As the crowd went wild and gave much money to the family spontaneously, I believe that MacGowan had his doubts, even though he did not express them concretely. Another case of a mother with her blind child suddenly cured at the well after drinking seems a similar situation in MacGowan's mind.


It's too sketchy for us to say how much if any healing has gone on at Sarov, as the "records" aren't available to us, and seem to have been kept MUCH more crudely than those at Lourdes. But Lourdes seems to indicate that such cures are truly possible. I've read a lot of the Lourdes Commission's records and some of the cases are extremely impressive [and really hard-nosed as far as the way they were critiqued]. For me, the point of this is not whether some people get cures, even of a significant sort, but how?

There are several hypotheses out there. The fellow above, an SSE colleague of mine, Bob Jahn of Princeton, has set a feasibility groundwork for one of these: paranormal healing by psychokinesis. Bob doesn't talk of this particularly, and what his work has demonstrated [over and over] is the step before this: that the human mind can generate PK at all. Jahn and the Princeton team have demonstrated the reality of micro-PK to any but the most closed minds. If micro-PK is possible, it is a fairly small step from that to the idea that another mind/healer might influence either the mind's own full powers in self-healing, or even the point of cure in the body itself. Seraphim somehow "knew" just what was wrong with his visitors' health. He could "direct" his prayers there. Seraphim felt that the cures were God's, thus making this insight irrelevant, but maybe the vessel-of-transmission [Seraphim] played a role, too.


Above, in my friend Larry Dossey --- another SSE colleague. Larry probably knows more about alternative healing claims than any other human being. He has a lifetime of studying this, a spinoff from his "normal" life as an MD. He has written in many places of his confidence that not only do many alternative methods have the ability to affect cures, but that there is plenty of data supporting that.

Larry wrote in his 2001 book, Healing Beyond the Body, that there is much healing to be had by all of us, but that the modern world, since about the 1600s on, has been systematically expunging the "Enchantment" of the world in its pursuit of materialist rationalism. This is an opinion that he and I precisely share along with the further belief that it is one of our most foolish cultural evolutions.

He and I don't quite see the Enchantment identically, but that's OK; I could comfortably live in his world, and I'll bet he in mine. Larry sees the lost or disappearing enchantment mostly as a loss of our in-touchness with the life and essential unity of everything about us. We are losing our "mystical" sense, and with that, the ability to profoundly join into communion with the "other". It is that in-touchedness that allows, for instance, all sorts of "faith" or "distant" healing. It is in that that we feel where harmony resides and where it does not. Perhaps just like Seraphim.

I actually like all of that. For me, however, there is more "out there", though. Larry thinks that much of the inexplicable occurs through the Trickster phenomenon, but that it is we who are the Tricksters. Well, maybe, some of the time. But you know my view of the Trickster. For me those characters are usually conscious entities not ourselves, and mainly having a different [and paranormal/spiritual] base. They can be meddlers in our business whether we are mystics and cosmic harmonizers or not. But, on this current topic, that may not matter much. Seraphim seems like a very good candidate for a nature-communing spiritually-based harmonizer and consequently a man capable of assisting cures. Whether that goes on after his death, at Sarov, is another question.


So, I'll still say my prayers in the company of Nature...

... and so should you.


Followers