Sunday, December 23, 2012

Evelyne Curtin Swords: 1916-2012.

At about 3am, Sunday before Christmas, 2012, a great lover flew to God's arms in Heaven. She left this physical universe bearing a mountain of Love which is the only thing which God cares about, and the only thing that He cannot have without us freely giving it. She thereby brings Him one of the greatest Christmas Presents He's had in years --- 96 and 1/2 years of choosing Love.

We'll miss our Mom, true, but it was her amazing body's time to finally give into old age. She was ready; we were ready; God was doubtless ready and patiently awaiting her. We know she is more than welcome in the afterlife and that this transition is a joy. The only tears shed here are tears of affection and not sadness. We are happy for Mom, and God, too.

When Dad died, as we sat in the family home, a great buck deer came from behind the neighbors' house across the street and walked directly towards our living room window. Getting as close as it could, it stayed there staring in on the family producing great awe in all of us. It then quietly turned and walked calmly back the way it had come.

When we got word from the nursing home that Mom had passed, two of my brothers, my sister-in-law, and I drove over. We parked, and got out. Between the nearby houses, twenty feet away, appeared two deer. They calmly stared at us awhile, and walked quietly away.

It's been a good life. And it has a happy ending. Carrying a light burden now: just love.

For me, it's time to make my own mundane transition. Much to do here in Wheeling to finish all the necessary activities associated with a death, and then the moving out of my "stuff" to "permanently" resettle back home in Michigan. The Blog might have to go silent for a time. Till then, my friends.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Mist at Death

Going through the SITU "junk boxes" and trying to discard contentless paper as well as redundant duplication ... it's an often-dull occupation but every so often you are rewarded with something interesting. The SITU files has/had a ton of FATE magazines. Often these were in duplications of four to a number. Well, as interesting as FATE can be, we cannot afford the shelf space for anything like that, and so they must go. I have a nearly complete run myself, so no help there. Several of my friends have their own or prefer to come over here and use mine [or now, Ivan's] and not lumber their own shelves. So, for some of these duplicates, I decided to "extract" the interesting articles and notes. place them into topical files, and recycle the remnants. None of these were REALLY old "classics", by the way. This makes content MUCH easier to access when one decides to make a review of a subject in the anomalies, and I've done the same thing with a duplicate run of PURSUIT. {and CUFOS' IUR}. I'll never do such a horrid act to anything rare but that does make research harder NOT doing so.

The relevance to a blog post is that in a very small number of FATEs that I was dismembering, there arose three notes from readers about "mists" rising from the bodies of relatives or patients at the moment of death. One hears, vaguely, of such things, but these were the first "personal report" sorts of incidents that I'd read. As my Mother is just going into hospice now, and maybe is facing her final soul-moments here in the physical universe, this coincidence stuck a little more tightly. [I am, by the way, perfectly at Peace with the possibility of an imminent passing, even of this person residing so near the center of my existence. Mother has lived a grand 96+ years, filled with outpourings of Love, and I am certain that God is proud of her. I'll feel her passing at the animal-level, but my own soul will ultimately be joyful for her new status in the next stage of her existence, surrounded by those who meant so much to her].

And so.... what did those readers say?

One person said this: [a woman was in hospital in a double room with an elderly patient in the other bed. She told this to her daughter] "Late one night shortly after twelve o'clock, my mother lay awake. Suddenly, she told me, she felt her attention drawn to Mrs. Melberger's bed. As she watched, she saw a white mist rise from her head. It hovered for a few seconds, then slowly began spiraling and floated away from the woman and out through the closed door of the room." This made the other woman nervous, but after a while she could fall back asleep. When she awoke the next morning, the other bed was unoccupied. Her nurse told her that the older lady had died a little after midnight that evening.

Robert Crookall of OOBE fame, wrote to FATE to mention that in a book by Reverend Maurice Elliott and his wife Irene, that they were present at a deathbed and witnessed some sort of angel-like "visitants" come saying that they were there to take the patient home. Shortly a "white hazy mist" began to form above the body and to take on the form of the near-deceased. The witnesses said that some sort of "cord" seemed to attach this mist to the physical body and the angel-visitants assisted in detaching it, whereupon the mistbody [soul as interpreted by those present] left the premises with a company of spirits.

The third anecdote was from a soldier in the Pacific Theatre [GUAM] of WWII. While treating a wounded soldier, a sniper killed the man who was accompanying the fellow who wrote to FATE. He in turn killed the sniper, made the other man that they had been treating comfortable, and knelt down next to his companion, now just barely with a beating pulse. The pulse flickered and stopped; his companion dying in his arms.

"As his heart stopped beating, I noticed what appeared to be a fine mist emanate upward from his face into the bright sky, and in this mist I saw a rainbow with all the colors of the spectrum. After a few seconds, it was gone."

Of course none of these stories would surprise meditative persons of a previous more-spiritually-oriented age, just our own which operates in puzzling denial of even the possibility of such a happening. Whether in a society emphasizing an afterlife or a reincarnation, our past is filled with imagery of soul-representing birds flying into the heavens or, like the Phoenix, burning and rising again anew.

Raymond Moody, he of the Stages of Near-Death-Experience fame, has apparently published a book, Glimpses of Eternity, which contains many further instances of the "Soul Mist" at the moment of death. Louisa May Alcott is apparently one famous person who witnessed such a thing, and, although I do not own the book and have not read it, there seems to be a whole list of more incidents.

So, are these experiences veridical objectively? Are they "evidences" for the lucky few that some subtle essential "me" discards the failing body in the end, and giving slight last manifestation of that separation here in SpaceTime, sails its way on to God?

I, as a Catholic, believe that something like that happens, and will, probably shortly, happen with Mom. But whether the event is accompanied by a subtle "mist", rarely glimpsed by a fortunate few, the scientist in me cannot say.

Blessings to you all as we grow close to Christmas. Don't feel sorry for me, if Mom passes. That will be one of her days of Glory, mist or not.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

TRINDADE: " Hey Zorf! You forget to turn off the Anti-Photo Field Again?"

January 16th, 1958, near the Island of Trindade off the Brazilian coast: A Brazilian Navy science ship, the Admiral Saldanha was anchored off shore and preparing to embark on a mission associated with the world's studies of the International Geophysical Year. Almost everyone was on board and many on deck, military higher and lower ranks, scientists, technicians, and engineers, and a photographic team. The last exercise prior to departure, the hoisting of the launch, was progressing, and in the stern of the boat, the chief photographer was set up to film the activity. And then.....

At almost precisely the same moment, ship's personnel in both the stern and the prow of the boat shouted an alert that some unidentified aerial object was approaching Trindade. Many persons were able to watch as the unknown object approached, circled the Island, and flew back out to sea [a persistent error exists in our minds about this, though not in the official report. The object came from the direction of the continent, almost precisely west-to-east, not the deep ocean. It then retreated back towards the continent roughly NE to SW; this visualization occurs because the ship was north of the island looking south mainly].

It was the photographer's squad leader along with a retired Air Force captain who went quickly to Almiro Barauna [the man who would take the photos], yelling and pointing to him the shiny object still some distance away. The ship's dentist also came running to him, stumbling over the deck furniture as he came. When Barauna located the thing visually, he pointed his [fortunately] already loaded and readied camera, and managed to get four reasonably good shots. The "lucky" one over the island occurred when the object posed momentarily in a hover.

By this time at least a dozen and probably significantly greater number of witnesses were present to observe the approximately thirty-second performance of the object near the island. Barauna had six shots ready in his camera and took them all. (Four were deemed good and different enough [after the initial look at the developed negatives] to proceed later to the positive prints that all of the rest of us see).

 It was the Commandant of the Brazilian Trindade base himself, Carlos Alberto Bacellar, who was onboard the Admiral Saldanha at the time, who took charge of Barauna and the roll of film and took the undeveloped photos to an improvised darkroom in the ship's infirmary. There Barauna [in a ten minute working period] developed the film and showed the negatives [still wet] to Bacellar. Bacellar affirmed that the markings on the negatives showed what he had seen visually. Negatives were then shown to several other on-deck witnesses, who confirmed that these images portrayed what they had seen.

These are the real world facts which are important to keep firmly in mind when/if one tries to debunk this case. Almost ALL of these facts are ignored by debunkers who ply their dishonest ways by looking, from great distances, at the pictures and rumors surrounding personalities. To ignore these "on the ground" facts while pronouncing speculations at large variance to them is, at a minimum a disturbing comment upon the functioning of the human mind. I say that seriously.

So, the story leaked out --- not surprising since there was a newsman on board. The Brazilian Navy was "somewhat" forthcoming about concurring to the press that an unidentified object had been photographed, but initially no pictures were released. Fortunately for we US UFOlogists, there were three excellent UFO investigators on the scene with good military connections, who were able to get confirmation of the facts and how the pictures ultimately reached the public. These were three of the guys in the upper left montage above. Top left is Auriphebo Simoes, who was making direct contact with CSI-NY's Lex Mebane. Top right is Flavio Pereira, who had many military and scientific contacts. And bottom left is J. Escobar Faria, who had early contact with Dick Hall. These three were serious conservative "NICAP-attitude" UFOlogists, unlike the sometimes-cautious-sometimes-not "APRO-attitude" UFOlogist, Olavo Fontes, at the lower right. Simoes, Pereira, and Faria were friends whose information always proved responsible. There is no question that the Brazilian Navy felt that the information was true but sensitive. It came out finally due to an accident of a newsman friend visiting the Brazilian president, Juscelino Kubitschek, [seated in the upper right photo], who allowed the journalist to see the prints.

Well, the debunkers now had a major problem. The US intelligence community seems to have played a role in this, but one cannot say absolutely. Brazilian opinion was that the Brazilian Navy was under pressure NOT to publicize this, and the pressure came from some unknown "high" source. The US could put pressure on the Brazilians, as Brazil was totally dependent at the moment upon sales of weapons [like advanced planes] from the USAF. Reports to the Pentagon from military attaches ranged from vague statements about possible hoaxing to smartass commentary like Trindade was such a barren place even aliens wouldn't want to visit there. Concerning the idea of a hoax: you have read how the event occurred. This retelling comes almost entirely [minus homey details like the dentist tripping over the deck furniture] from the formal reports of the Brazilian Navy itself. Hoax?? A literal boatload of witnesses, many of technical skill, seeing an object BEFORE the photographer even saw it --- but of course he must have psychically predicted this so as to have already installed fake photos into his camera. AND EVEN WITH SUCH PSYCHIC PROWESS, the case STILL stands with many witnesses regardless of the corroborating film. Painfully stupid.

But still today this stupidity exists. Desperate debunkers say that Barauna was really good at making fake photos, even of UFOs.... well, he WAS. That's him and a team in the middle right above. What's he doing?? He's BEING PAID by the Brazilian AF to see if they can duplicate the Barra di Tijuca UFO to see if IT could have been faked. Barauna was a photographic ace employed by the government with their confidence --- why do we think that he was on the IGY ship team?? Recent rumors spewed by some distant relative saying that a closer relative once said that Barauna admitted faking the photos was denied by that closer relative. But, hey, if it gets rid of the awkward case, who cares??

When the USAF was asked by NICAP what they thought of the case, notorious Pentagon debunker [and known flat liar] Colonel Lawrence Tacker said it was a hoax. Re-questioned as to how it was determined by the USAF to be a hoax, Tacker said that a USNavy investigation proved it to be. When the Navy was asked about this, they said that they had neither determined nor said any such thing. Glorious.

When Donald Menzel was asked about the case, he said that it was a Hoax. But when queried privately in letters from Dick Hall, he said that he did not have evidence for that, but believed, rather, that it was a misidentification. A misidentification of What?, Dick asked. Menzel replied that not knowing the specifics of the camera used nor the film [these were available, though, and no one has found them to be relevant to the case], he could not say for sure, but it must be something like a conventional aircraft plowing through an atmosphere creating an oval of condensation around it. Now, the BAF and Navy surely could have considered this unlikely event out at sea in a remote location, and no one thought this, but Dick persisted: wouldn't it take pretty specific atmospheric conditions to even consider this? Menzel said yes. Dick then offered to get him the atmospheric read-outs for the place and time for his analysis. Menzel did not respond.

Although very fast-moving jets are known to briefly "explode" an oval of condensation around them, to sustain anything like this over long reaches of ocean and land [which notoriously changes the air environment above it] is, to my understanding, impossible. [Where's Jim McDonald when I need him?]. Plus, the film was analyzed microscopically both by the Brazilian Navy and by the RAND Corporation in the US and, not only were no evidences of tampering or montage found, but the images displayed a consistent definable edge to the object, so as to allow RAND to say: the four photos display images consistent with a single object of determined shape seen/photographed at different distances and tilts.

To say that I'm impatient with the debunkers is putting it mildly. I'll bet a bundle that the guy above [our legendary NPIC photo analyst, Art Lundahl] looked into this case and was right with me on this one. He really liked UFO photos and had a whole drawer-full of them. I'll bet Trindade was in there.

Here's another bunch of guys who are with me on this. Every one of them is a better UFOlogist than Donald Menzel, and much the better Citizens of the World and Pursuers of the Truth.

Sometimes these things just have to be said without sugar-coating.   Blessings, friends.

Monday, December 3, 2012

BIGFOOT as a Human/Ape hybrid: what's this all about?

The fellow above may or may not be ready for the San Francisco Giants, but even if he is, he'll probably not be allowed to play. He just ain't human. [despite a LOT of appearance to the contrary]. A friend of mine recently bombarded me with several articles on the claim that somebody, who allegedly looks a lot like the fellow above, is in fact human, or at least a big step closer to human. Bigfoot... an ape/human genetic hybrid says the claim. Cryptozoologists have apparently been hashing this over for awhile, but the burst into the popular press is more recent.

I'm not going to claim much for this post [the study which says that this claim is true is "at the reviewers" of a responsible scientific journal, allegedly, and therefore no significant scientific details are available to make respectable comment possible.] The only reason that I'm posting something is that I used to be involved with this strange subject called biochemistry way back in the stone age of the 1960s [masters degree era] and maybe can set up the issue for you for when the data arrives for general reading.

What we've been told is that the data indicating hybridization comes from the study of Mitochondrial DNA. Some of you know all about that; probably some don't. I'm going to do a little "general education science" here to set up the discussion.

When you look at any cell of any complexity other than the simplest, you see within its cell wall an array of microscopic structures [and some less-obviously-organized biochemical "soup" --- mostly water, salts, and big molecules --- which the structures seem embedded in]. The structures have specific roles in maintaining cell functions. One role is "energy-molecule production". The microstructures responsible for this are the mitochondria. The artist above has represented them by the blue ellipses with the reddish "snakes" within. So, mitochondria are vitally important. And, perhaps due to this crucial importance, mitochondria have their own DNA separate from the main store of DNA resident in each cell's nucleus [that's the big blue balloon blob in the drawing above].

That brings us to a brilliant lady named Lynn Margulis. That is her above, celebrating her marriage to Carl Sagan. As Carl's first wife, she was much more than a match for him in intelligence, and .... well .... this pairing of geniuses ultimately could not coexist in the same household. Fortunately, these stresses did not hinder Dr. Margulis from synthesizing a major concept about the evolution of complex cells, which has the happy attribute of probably being true.

The above is a page of notes that I took from listening to Dr. Margulis explain her concept to us scientist-types at the AAAS many years ago. My simple cartoon version shows the first cells slowly diverging from one another into more specialized talents; some animal-like [i.e. carbon-compound eaters] and some plant-like [i.e. oxygen-users and free-oxygen producers]. Margulis' genius was to see the possibility that these early specialized microcells might begin an era of merging, some specific talents "swallowed" into larger less specialized ones. These "random" joinings and co-op livings would be trial periods, mostly failures; but the best symbiotic communions would survive. From these unions ultimately developed something like modern cells, as "comfortable" internal symbionts dropped the need for functions handled as well or better by the larger commune, while keeping hold of the critical functions that they were contributing to the complex. As time [millions of years of getting comfortable] went on, cells appeared with embedded microstructures wholly dependent upon the complex, but also the complex wholly dependent upon them. A symbiotic relationship had turned several entities into one.

In the case of the mitochondria, these organelles retained their specific genetic codes --- i.e. that was not pre-empted by the cell nucleus. The internal structure of the mitochondria was apparently so "right" for production of energy compounds, that messing with it was biologically/evolutionarily stupid. So Mother Nature allowed cells to keep an entirely separate sort of genetic code, embedded in the mitochondria, yet still DNA. This DNA is also passed from parent to offspring differently.

Whereas ordinary DNA comes from the sperm [half] and the egg [half], this other stuff doesn't. The sperm needs mitochondria to produce energy compounds for the hard swim, But once it gets to the egg, the internal actions of the egg accept only the ordinary chromosomes, and the mitochondria get the shaft [i.e. they become food]. The offspring is built upon the genetics of both parents' chromosomes, but on only Mom's mitochondria. So this is the famous "maternal lineage" inheritance that we've been hearing about particularly as to an "original Eve" in Africa long, long ago.
 Whereas ordinary DNA from the chromosomes will number genetic code words in the many millions [and therefore a real tough research project], mitochondrial DNA numbers only 16,000 [I believe] genes. This is a much more manageable number to make genetic-similarity comparisons with. Also, it's possible that the circular structures of mitochondrial DNA are harder to split and turn into chaos than the linear/spiraling nuclear DNA, and the mDNA is embedded in the tough little mitochondria, so maybe it even lasts a bit better. Whatever the reasons, mDNA is handy and is the measuring stick of choice in making species-similarity comparisons.

The above map is the putative map of Proto-human and human migration patterns from Africa to South America and Australia based upon genetic code differences seen in mDNA from modern native micro-populations and archaeological and palaeontological specimens. Some of this is flat science; some of this is speculation. The science is the number of code differences in the samples, and the speculation is the "temporal distance" represented by any given number of code mutations. [i.e., scientists make some guesses like "X number of mutations represents approximately Z number of years since these species diverged, or this human type had to get from one place to another". So the comparison of mDNA mutation differences is widely used and popular among anthropologists and geneticists of all sorts.

Here's what a test array of mDNA comparisons looks like, and when these "Bigfoot" results come in, is what we should be looking for in them.

The graph shows the array of tests that a study did of human samples [clustering together in the lime green] vs chimpanzee samples [clustering together in blue]. Obviously human variation is nothing like chimp variation from the human. We ain't chimps, much as we act like them sometimes. The red cluster is for some neanderthal samples. FAR closer to us than the chimps, yet still cleanly separate. When the laboratory results are shown for the alleged Bigfoot/Human hybrid mDNA, the cluster from those results COULD end up on either side of the neanderthal cluster, but if it is on the right side then the argument that Bigfoot is a "hybrid" will have to be made on much more specific grounds [something like some mDNA areas are human-identical, and shouldn't be, and some mDNA areas are more like ape mDNA. Such a claim will surprise me at least until I hear the argument, because, as you remember, the mDNA comes not from "mixing" but from the mother alone. Ultimately mDNA is mixed in humans due to a lot of human-human interbreeding. Do we think that there would be a LOT of Human Sasquatch interbreeding? Also, females are the important element in the story. Human mDNA gets into Sasquatch by a Sasquatch mating with a woman, that woman having Sasquatch babies [doubtless a difficult birth for the smaller human birth canal], some of these surviving babies being girls with mom's mDNA, and either being popular successful breeders or there being an awful lot of sasquatch rapes of women who then have successful pregnancies.

I guess that I have nothing to do but to await whatever results and awkward explanations may come.

This is the lady, Dr. Melba Ketchum, who runs a gene-testing laboratory, who has done the work and has prepared the science paper that we await. I have only one legitimate complex question: where were the sasquatch mDNA samples procured and is their provenance good? All manner of credibility issues exist here. The science side should take care of itself and show or not show "strangeness".

Nevertheless despite great prematurity, the story went out. The media blared "over 100 samples tested". Well, WOW --- where in the hell can you get 100 bigfoot samples? It's hard to shove one's incredulity back down one's throat. .... I'm trying.

 I gather that we owe the prematurity to this fellow [Igor Bourtsev], a well-known ABSM researcher with ideas and a new book which would fit quite comfortably with these results as announced --- one "fact" claimed was that the results would show this hybridization to have taken place about 15,000 years ago, a number that I believe both Bourtsev and Myra Shackley would like. Regardless, I think that Bourtsev may have not been able to contain himself and spilt the beans. This use of the term "hybrid" also plays to several of these people wanting Bigfoot to be declared close enough to human to in fact deserve commonly granted human rights --- I suppose that would mean some form of "citizenship".

The term "manimal" has been thrown about, something deceased ahthropologist and sasquatch expert Dr. Grover Krantz detested and felt that there was no evidence for.

Bourtsev apparently visited the US not long ago and particularly wanted to interview a family at a farm setting who claimed regular Bigfoot visitations. Descriptions of these visitations seems to have clinched for Bourtsev [and doubtless others]  Bigfoot's "humanity" or at least intelligence. It seems a regular feeding program is supposed to go on. Brings a whole new meaning to "Guess who's coming to dinner?"

Pretty far Out Proctor for me at the moment. Wonder what our cousins the gorillas think about being no longer closest kin?

Given how we act: probably pretty good.

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 Northumberland 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 Northumberland 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.


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