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Tuesday 18 December 2012

Stanley's Near-Death Experience

     "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"
     These are the words which rise to mind when most people hear the name of Henry Morton Stanley. It's a pity, because he probably never uttered them, and they made him the butt of merriment. At least, that is the opinion of Tim Jeal, in his acclaimed 2007 biography, Stanley: the impossible life of Africa's greatest explorer. And one of the interesting bits of trivial which emerged was that he had a near-death experience.
    It occurred in May 1881, when he was busy setting up the Congo Free State, and he came down with fever. There was so much blood in his urine that it turned the colour of port wine. For several weeks, he was at death's door, shivering and sweating, and passing in and out of consciousness. At one point, he was convinced he was about to die, and called all his staff around him. After bidding them farewell in a barely audible voice, he sank back, cried out, "I am saved," and lost consciousness.
     Finally, when it was all over, he recorded the following in his diary:
I am at the entrance of a very lengthy tunnel, and a light as of a twinkling star is seen an immeasurable length away. There is s sensible increase in the glow - the twinkling ceases, it has become an incandescent globe. It grows larger & it advances ... the light grows blinding.
     But, nevertheless, he came back to continue his work.

Saturday 17 November 2012

I Still Don't Believe in Fairies, BUT . . .

     As I said in my last post, I don't believe in fairies as such. But suppose you did happen to see - ahem! - a tiny humanoid creature, who're you gonna call? Probably not your local newspaper - not unless you've forgotten what "laughing stock" means. You could google "tiny humanoid creature", but it won't get you to any central registry. In the bad old (pre-internet) days it was even worse. However, any sizeable telephone directory is likely to contain an entry commencing,"UFO" or "Flying saucer". And since ufologists have a penchant for weird stories anyway, they have a tendency to accumulate such accounts over the years.
     The following reports, except for the last one, were collected by ufologists. It is important to note, however, that no UFO was present in any of the cases.

Monday 22 October 2012

I Don't Believe in Fairies, BUT . . .

     If a grown man believes in fairies, you would probably say that he has never outgrown his childish beliefs, but do children really believe in fairies? Well, I used to believe in the tooth fairy, but I gave up on her after I go my last threepence for my last baby tooth. (Santa Claus got a better run with me.) But, by and large, I viewed fairies the same as I did dragons (which used to give me the heebee-jeebies), witches, and talking animals: as "just stories", and I suspect that most children are the same.
     On the other hand, many people would be surprised to learn that belief in fairies, elves, dwarfs, and the like has a long and venerable tradition in Europe. Like belief in witchcraft, it is one of the last relics of paganism. Indeed, one of the drawbacks of studying genuine fairy folklore is that I can no longer tolerate the prettified, gossamer-winged monstrosities of children's books. The last stronghold of this tradition in Western Europe is Iceland, where even some politicians share the belief. There is even a government body dedicated to it. (This is not as stupid as it sounds. What do you do if citizens claim that problems with road construction are caused by the elves?)
     People may also be unaware that, when folklorists were researching fairy traditions in the British Isles during the 19th, and even 20th, century, they found people who not only believed in them, but also claimed to have seen them. Of course, they might have been making it up. Indeed, that is the only view you could take if you have already ruled out the existence of fairies. Now, I'm not saying that doesn't happen, but there is a certain fragility in any theory - such as the non-existence of something - which relies on the assumption that every piece of evidence to the contrary must be based on a lie.
     Of course, the term, "fairy" carries a lot of baggage - magic powers, underground dwellings, time dilation, changelings, to name just a few - and it would be unwise to assume the whole tradition if you did happen to observe what something small and humanoid. So, I don't believe in fairies, but ... there are still a lot of strange things being encountered. Like what happened in North Carolina in 1976.

Monday 8 October 2012

The Taboos of Tsodilo

     It is supposed to be bad luck for the groom to see the wedding dress before the wedding, but who takes notice of such superstitions? I must admit, it never entered my mind when I was helping my bride-to-be choose her dress. True, just after the invitations were sent out, the church did burn down. And a week before the ceremony, the reception restaurant closed down. And on the first day of the honeymoon, the car broke down. But that is all pure coincidence. And no doubt it was pure coincidence what happened to Laurens van der Post when he visited the Tsodilo Hills in what is now Botswana.

Sunday 19 August 2012

When the Devil Talks in Tongues

I will answer for myself, and say at once that in 28 years as a minister, I have performed one Major Exorcism of a person and three of places, although I have been asked time beyond count to "do an exorcism" as though it were a matter of conjuring or catching mice.
     That was a statement by a British exorcist whom the ex-scientist, Terry White refers to only as the Reverend Mr A., and he probably speaks for most clergy in the mainstream churches who are involved in exorcism. However, he did admit that, in the first year of his ministry, he had an experience which shattered his cynicism about the supernatural, and something he probably would not have believed had it been reported by somebody else.

Monday 13 August 2012

The Lights That Presaged Death

     Has anybody else heard of the Island Lights of Crusheen, in County Clare, Ireland? They were well known in the village at least until the middle of last century. Of course, readers in the field of anomalies and nature mysteries will be aware that enigmatic lights have been reported from many parts of the world. After all, here in Queensland we have our own Min Min Lights. Although unexplained, there is no reason to connect them to anything paranormal. Except that the Island Lights of Crusheen were believed to be harbingers of death.

Thursday 26 July 2012

On Tulpas, Guardian Angels, and Figments of the Imagination

     Of the 83 countries I have visited, one of the most memorable, and certainly the one closest in appearance to another planet, was the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Although it has spent most of its history fighting to prevent itself being incorporated into Tibet, it is essentially Tibetan in culture. It was there that I witnessed the external face of Tantric Buddhism.
     The first stop on our tour of the capital, Thimpu was the Memorial Chörten. It was with a sense of awe that we beheld the beauty of the sanctuary, clean and brightly painted, surrounded by beautifully clipped shrubs. This was a holy place, we were told. No photography was permitted inside. Carefully and respectfully, we removed our shoes and stepped up onto the icy cold floor of this holy of holies.
     Inside stood an unspeakable abomination.

Thursday 12 July 2012

The Sweating Cross of Madras

     The latest news is that the water dripping from a crucifix in a church in Bombay (I refuse to call it "Mumbai") was found to have resulted from a blocked drain , which caused water to ooze into the wall, and then the wooden crucifix. This is the first time I have heard of one of these dripping/weeping/bleeding crosses/statues/icons being properly investigated, let alone debunked or confirmed. Personally, I seldom show much interest in them. Not only are there many ways such phenomena could be produced, either naturally or by artifice, but they always appear to me to be rather pathetic miracles. It is as if God is using simple tricks to impress simple people. (But then, I might be guilty of intellectual snobbery. After all, God is just as concerned with the simple as with the sophisticated.) In any case, it reminded me of a more complex phenomenon also reported from India. It is an oldie, but goldie, and since it is highly unlikely you will read it anywhere else, I shall publish it here.

Monday 2 July 2012

A Deep Sea Merman, 1571

     As everybody knows, sea cows - the dugongs of Asia and Australia, and the manatees of Central and South America and the west coast of Africa - were the inspiration for the mermaid legend. They even bear the scientific name, Sirenia, "mermaids", although the classical sirens were bird-women rather than fish-women.
     Let me state, here and now, that this is not a fact, but a "factoid": something which "everybody knows", but is nevertheless false. If mermaids were really sea cows, they wouldn't be attribruted to the western coasts of the British Isles and northern Europe, or to Greece, where belief in them is (was) strongest. They would be treated as strange beings dwelling in distant parts - like the unicorn, which was based on garbled accounts of the Indian rhinoceros. But there is one thing both merfolk and sea cows have in common: they are creatures of the inshore shallows. One place you would never expect them would be the open Atlantic Ocean, with water more than a mile deep.

Monday 11 June 2012

The Unholy Power

All around us the celebrants at Kokuzan seemed to push the limits of pain: A woman splashed sand into opened eyes, a man cut his belly with shards of glass but did not bleed, another swallowed fire.
     This was a description by a writer for National Geographic (August 1995, p 111) of a voodoo ceremony in Togo, West Africa. But I wish more details had been provided of the second incident. If it means that he cut an open wound in his belly with a shard of glass, then the failure to bleed would not be exceptional. The power of the mind over the flesh during altered states of consciousness is well established. It would be expected that the blood would return once the trance ended. However, if it meant that the glass was unable to pierce his skin, that would be something quite different. In any case, it reminded me of an extraordinary story I had come across by accident some years before.

Sunday 20 May 2012

A Walk to the Place of Dread

    In my opinion, one of the best travel books ever written was A Pattern of Islands (1952) by Sir Arthur Grimble, who gave a fascinating account of his experiences as a District Officer in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) in the years, 1913 to 1920. Sir Arthur called himself a freethinker. If so, he felt himself free to think about things outside the purview of most people with that self-designation, because in part 3 of chapter 7 he told the story of his encounter with  The Limping Man of Makin-Meang.

Thursday 12 April 2012

UFOs Over Papua - the Same Nights as Father Gill

In my last post, I published chapter 5 of Fr. Cruttwell's 1960 report, Flying Saucers Over Papua, in which his friend, the Rev. William Gill told of the now famous UFO visitation which he and his congregation at Boiani witnessed on the nights of 26th, 27th, and 28th June 1959. This time we shall continue with chapter 6, which deals with the events in the nearby settlements on the very same nights. Please remember, also, that at the time, the majority of the population were uncivilised and uneducated. Who knows how many of them had similar experiences and were unable to report them?
But first we shall go to official explanations.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

UFOs over Boiani - in Father Gill's Own Words

     Whenever "classic" UFO cases are catalogued, eventually one finds the name of the late Rev. William Booth Gill, the head of the Anglican mission at Boiani, on Goodenough Bay, Papua (10º 1½' S, 149º 53' E). Over three nights in June 1959, he and his entire congregation were witnesses to a remarkable close encounter of the third kind lasting several hours on each occasion. If you have read about it, it will have been on a page or so of some omnibus UFO book, itself copied from an earlier omnibus book.
    However, in the late 1970s I was lucky enough to acquire a copy of the original report in Fr. Gill's own words. It is included in a 45-page document entitled:
    Flying Saucers Over Papua
    A Report on Papuan Unidentified Flying Objects
    by the Rev. Norman E. G. Cruttwell, M.A. Oxon., of the Anglican Mission, Menapi, Papua, New Guinea.
    (dated) March, 1960.
     He got involved in collecting the reports after a sighting of his own the previous December, when he wrote to Flying Saucer Review, and was asked to be their local investigator. I presume, therefore, that at least part of this story was originally published in that journal. In any case, this is the full account. 
    The document had been updated slightly. There is a reference to a 1965 magazine article, along with a short 1976 addendum by the Vice President of the Queensland UFO Research Bureau, which presumably "published" the report. In fact, it is simply a mimeographed typescript, with the addition of a few drawings obviously traced from the originals. In other words, it is inaccessible to the vast majority of people. You would have better luck getting a close encounter of your own! For this reason, I wish to share it with you.
       The Rev. Cruttwell points out that the Boiani sightings were only three out of 79. Father Gill's report is in chapter V (pp 12-19). However, in chapter III he describes earlier sightings at Goodenough Bay, one of which is the following sighting by Father Gill.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

The Ghost and Betty Hill

    The late Betty Hill will always be remembered for her part, along with her husband, Barney, in the first publicised alien abduction case in 1961. It has overshadowed her lifetime of social work, but without it, no-one would have recorded her other unusual experiences, which really deserve to be remembered.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

The Haunted Movie Star

    Surely we all remember Elke Sommer, the blond German bombshell whose curves and pretty face graced many a Hollywood comedy in the 1960s and later! She was, in the words of her then husband, journalist and screen writer, Joe Hyams, "a girl who once killed a rattlesnake in our backyard with a pair of garden shears, and who fears only spiders and critics." No doubt that was a good thing, because their home was different from the average Beverley Hills residence. It was haunted.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Poor Blooming Aliens!

    The philosophy behind this blog is that even the most fantastic report deserves its day in court. It may, of course, be genuinely bogus, in which case it will sit quietly in your files and eventually die of loneliness. However, there is always the possibility that, decades later and thousands of miles away, a similar report will independently float in to back it up. If so, you would be sorry you had thrown out the original report. After all, one of the first UFO societies, N.I.C.A.P. originally discarded all reports of UFO occupants as too fantastic to be worth consideration.
     Anyone who has followed UFOs for a long period will eventually arrive at two conclusions. The first is that, just because a story sounds far-fetched, even ridiculous, it doesn't mean it is not genuine. The second, unfortunately, is also correct: just because a single witness appears completely sincere and believable, there is no guarantee that the story is true.
    The following account is an oldie, but goldie. Like many others, it relies on the unsupported testimony of a single witness, so I won't say I believe it, and I won't say I don't. But I like it.