Saturday, January 13, 2007

Things that Couldn't Happen

I have never seen a ghost or an apparition or a UFO, and I’ve never witnessed poltergeist phenomena. I’ve never had an out-of-body experience or undertaken astral travel, and I don’t think I’ve ever levitated although on one or two New Year’s Eves I felt as if I did. But I have known people who have experienced those things, and I’ve read written reports and seen interviews which I have no reason to doubt.

My own experiences, which I’ll write about at another time, are in the realms of precognition and clairvoyance – generally categorized as “psychic” or “extrasensory perception”. In that connection I’ve written more than once, “Imagination is the greatest enemy of psychic reception.” Imagination (ability of the human consciousness to arbitrarily create a “mental image” of almost anything – e.g., a horse with a lion’s head) is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the reception of “external” data through psychic means – for example a drawing of a distant place “transmitted” by one person for the psychic reception of another. The receiver has to distinguish imagined images from the real transmitted image, which is not always easy, although I’ve found that there is a definite physical sensation that helps distinguish genuine reception from imagination.

So, while I can’t agree with the extent to which skeptics attribute certain phenomena to imagination, I acknowledge the real problem of distinguishing subjective, imaginary perceptions from “real” perceptions of the outer world. Even those concepts are not as straightforward as they seem, however, because it is impossible to prove that there IS an outer world. But that’s a topic for another day.

The accounts which follow take us toward a collision between those readers who believe that such phenomena can be real and those who believe that all such phenomena can be explained as subjective. To simplify the statement of that issue: Was it real or was it imaginary?

Here are some “impossible” experiences of people I’m sure were not lying. In each case I knew them very well for years.

M. was the most sensible and serious woman I’ve ever known. She actually didn’t seem to have much imagination, and talked only of practical and political things. How airy-fairy could a young woman be who spoke at Young Republican meetings? And yet she had the most remarkable experience I’ve ever heard. She was born into a rich family whose home was surrounded by a six foot high stone wall. One day when she was around ten years old she was being chased across the back yard by her elder sister. Running at full speed, looking back over her shoulder, she didn’t see the stone wall coming until she was about a foot away from it. Anticipating the pain of the collision, she closed her eyes . . . and when she opened them she was on the other side of the wall. She was standing in the neighbor’s back yard. She had not hit the wall, she had somehow gone through it. The only gate, the only opening, in the wall was in front of her house. She had to walk a good distance to get back on the home side of the wall. Her sister told me the story was true.

Two people told me of similar experiences – a young Scotsman in England and a woman I knew in Florida. I realize (acknowledging a comment to this Weblog) that intelligence doesn’t provide immunity from hallucination, but Arthur was an unusually intelligent person and he always seemed equally earnest and honest. He didn’t have a car, and so when he occasionally visited me from a nearby town he used England’s wonderfully convenient railway system – would that we had something like it in America. At the end of one of those day trips he waited too late to get to the station, missed his train, and made a choice I never would have made – to walk seven miles home across dark fields on a moonless night. He told me, and swore it was true, that when he became truly concerned about getting any sense of direction in the dark he found that he was walking in a sphere or cloud of light which surrounded him and let him see the way. He told me that the same thing had happened once when he was walking on the moors further north.

The same kind of phenomena was reported by the Florida woman, with the difference that she was driving on a country road at night with no headlights and was saved by a ball of light which encompassed the car and its surroundings and traveled with her. (Why was she driving without headlights? I think it was an electrical failure and that she was afraid to stop in the middle of nowhere. Of course if she voluntarily turned off the lights and drove like that I would guess she was having a psychotic episode, which undermines her whole story.)

My wife, who is truthful and not carried away by flights of fancy, tells me that one night when she was about seven years old she and her mother were sharing a bed in the middle of the bedroom, while her elder sister slept in a bed against the wall to their right. The blinds were closed, the lights were out, everyone was falling asleep. Julia was startled to see a circle of white light about the size of a softball moving about on the wall beyond the foot of the bed. She was so frightened that when she tried to close her eyes her eyelids fluttered and refused to obey. Her mother saw the light also and said, “Julia, turn off your flashlight!” Julia answered tremulously, “My flashlight isn’t on.” The light moved slowly, in a meandering fashion, “as if it were looking for something”, across the wall until it reached the wall against which Julia’s sister was sleeping, and then moved along that wall. Julia’s sister says she also saw the light until it suddenly disappeared. Julia and her mother and sister had slept in that same room, with the blinds closed, for years and had never seen any light from an external source. If the light had come from a flashlight outside the house (or even across the room) the circle would have been much bigger and would have been distorted rather than remaining sharply circular as it struck the walls at different angles. Furthermore, the placement of windows in the room made it impossible for a flashlight outside the windows to have projected the light along the path the light traveled.

When I was living in South Florida I began reading articles in more than one newspaper, by more than one reporter, of poltergeist phenomena in a storehouse – I think it was in Miami. After an employee was terrified by objects flying off of shelves and smashing into opposite walls, the police paid several visits to the place and saw similar things happen. The police chief himself had a look and was almost brained by a heavy ashtray that whizzed past his head. The newspaper articles continued for days. No explanation – other than so-called poltergeist activity – was ever found.

After I wrote the preceding paragraph I did a Web search on the long chance of finding information on that incident. To my surprise I found that the “Miami poltergeist” was so famous that a number of references are available. Here is an excerpt from one account:
“The scene was a novelty and souvenir shop [referred to elsewhere in the same article as a warehouse] in Miami, Tropication Arts, Inc., a place crammed with shelves of alligator ashtrays, hand-painted beer mugs, imported cocktail glasses. In December 1966 the firm's owners, Glen Lewis and Alvin Laubheim, were disconcerted to note a sharp rise in the amount of damage taking place. Broken mugs and glasses were found on the floor in unprecedented numbers. The initial inclination was to put it down to extraordinary sloppiness on the part of the shipping clerks, but soon the owners realised they were dealing with something quite different. Employees watched as objects popped off shelves by themselves, often falling not straight down but at impossible angles. Shortly after, an investigating reporter and a local police officer were witness, on separate occasions, to the levitation and flight of highball glasses and beer mugs. It wasn't just a case of shaky shelves, and there was no sign of a prank. Before long, even a magician was called in who, after watching objects move in an alarmingly paranormal manner, joined with others in concluding that this was no trick.”

As in many poltergeist cases, further investigation revealed that the phenomena occurred only when a certain individual was present. In this case it was 19 year old employee Julio Vasquez. The article just quoted has an interesting discussion of the pros and cons of attributing such phenomena (as well as séance phenomena) to “spirit” activities or human psychokinesis.

Speaking of séances, I want to write about the one that I attended, but I’ve written enough for now.

I saw this by my house this morning. Can you believe such things could exist?


  1. My Grandfather had a leather shop in Miami and while growing up in the 50's all we heard about was the Bermuda Triangle. I wonder if you had those experiences where people even threatened to send you out there if you failed at school work. What fun those days were in Florida. Satan living right off shore!

  2. I'm like you, Fleming in that the interventions I have personally witnessed have all been "coincidences".

    I was interested that you singled out the pink roses against the wall as an example of miracle. Was it that they were flourishing at this time of year, or was it that you just looked at them and were struck by their beauty?

  3. Yves, my reaction to the roses blooming so plentifully was due partly to the time of year, but it was mostly that I felt that commonplace things which we take for granted (especially elaborate, beautiful things like roses) would seem "impossible" if we'd never heard of them before, and seem "miraculous" if we view them with new eyes. This is something I find very hard to put into words. I'll keep working on it.

  4. Fleming,
    Wonderful post, and more on the theme of having an open mind. I do think that most of us, if we let our memories drift back in our own lives, can quite probably all recall incidences we couldn't explain; incidences that could have been labeled coincidence or perhaps explained away in some other fashion, but maybe we had a sense of "something" that seemed extraordinary about it.

    I love the miracle of the roses. They are a miracle, each and every one a miracle! I never want to become complacent about a blooming rose. It still thrills me each and every time, the way I imagine it would be if I had been blind all of my life and was suddenly blessed with such a glorious representation of the creativity of God.

  5. two years ago my ex-wife and i were having an intense disagreement about money. we had been silent for a few minutes as she emptied the dishwasher.
    she picked up a large crystal serving plate and it literally shattered into thousands of small pieces that were so small that it was hard to find them scattered across the kitchen.
    we talked about the event later and realised that the plate wouldn`t have shattered that way just by dropping it or having it crack due to heat. it was as if it resonated with the energy that we`d created in our confict.
    we are now seperated and i think about that plate occasionally as a metaphor for our relationship.