Archive for September, 2011


Saint Austreberte (630-703) plunged her arm inside a burning oven and spread the embers...

Collective hallucination provoked by a fakir or a hypnotist could have occurred sometimes.  However, this explanation is absolutely insufficient in view of the thousands of witness reports and the hundreds of thousands of people who have been participants in these walks.  Further, these experiments have been filmed and photographed while at the same time the temperature of the furnace was being measured by thermometres.

The English authorities proceeded to these sorts of measures during walks performed by Maori tribes in the Polynesian archipelagos.  At one metre fifty above the paving of a red-hot oven, the temperature is 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  The English doctors Hocken and Colquoun took these temperatures.  Very briefly, it is true, for beyond a few seconds of exposure, the metal mounts of the thermometres melted.

It is onto an oven brought to this temperature that four Europeans, Colonel Gudgeon, Doctors W. and G. Craig and Mr Goodwin, will follow a few hundred Maoris, including young girls and children.  Only one of these four people is very slightly burnt because, according to the high priest who was officiating at this ceremony, he looked backward during the walk, which is strictly forbidden.

This account also puts paid to a first naive argument which says that the indigenous people have feet which are more resistant to heat than European ones.

Several other completely irrefutable reports from European scholars, who endured the same ordeal, also confirm that the incumbustibility of the bodies is not limited to certain exotic populations.

Doctor Javal, from the Academie de medecine de Paris, has also walked on fire in Benares, and during a Shintoist ceremony in Japan, the Plenipotentiary Minister of the United States of America and his wife, along with two Marine officers, attempted the experiment without damage.

***

In 1909, the American Doctor Hyslop tried a “miracle” balm which he had found in a book destined to unveil the impostures of spiritists.  This balm contains camphor in particular, but it is completely useless, for Doctor Hyslop, who tested it several times, was unable to avoid burns.

***

With water on the feet, it would be possible to resist the heat for a few fractions of a second.  However, the witnesses mentioned indicate an exposure to sources of heat measuring several hundred degrees over a period of several tens of seconds…

***

The problem of pain could be explained by a psychological state:  trance or hypnotism.  Some forms of hysteria have a total anaesthetizing effect.

But these pathological states cannot account for the absence of burns which, in normal circumstances, would be severe, even irremediable in the situations described in the story.

As Doctor Hyslop indicates:

“Anaesthesia explains nothing except exemption from suffering.  What we need to know is how the skin resists this ordeal.”

He adds:

“In the case of paralysis or other organic anaesthesias, the skin is even more easily attacked by heat than in a normal state.”

The problem of the incumbustibility of the tissues still remains whatever explanation is put forward.

In “normal” or “usual” circumstances, the destructive action that all great heat produces on organic matter would always occur.

Therefore, in certain circumstances, there is a suspension, a mysterious cessation of this action, under the influence of factors which remain just as mysterious.

The best proof of this is that fire-walkers, in whatever latitude, cease to benefit from this immunity as soon as they leave the material limits of the place where the ceremony unfolds.  Or, as soon as they contravene the very rigid ceremonial which rules these walks.

***

The role of the “priest” or “sorcerer” is absolutely capital.  Whatever name that you give to him, there is always a master of ceremonies who determines when the walkers are immune and when they no longer are…

***

The head of the English Reformation, Thomas Bilney, who was imprisoned for heresy, also successfully passed the fire ordeal.

For the moment, there is no scientific explanation.  The priests, sorcerers or Brahmans who are the initiators of these ceremonies say that their invocations and their conjurations considerably diminish the fire’s strength.

Francesco di Paola does not say anything very different when he assures that “God is always ready to perform prodigies for his friends”.

Some people also say that they have a personal, natural, hereditary immunity…  that they “take upon themselves the fire’s burn”.  In this case, we are removed from the transcendantal explanation, which lends to God or some divinity the power to suspend “the consuming virtue” of fire upon the priest’s or sorcerer’s request.

Whatever it is, it is absolutely certain that there is in the phenomenon a before, a during, and an after.

For example, the ovens which are used in Polynesia for cooking food are also used for walking on fire.

Before the ceremony and afterwards they serve exclusively for cooking meat, fish and roots and no-one would have the idea of placing himself on them unless he wanted to receive serious burns.  The during begins when the sorcerer has struck the side of the oven three times with his stick.  From this moment, the oven ceases to be an oven for all those to whom the sorcerer has delegated his mana, his mysterious power to transgress without damage, for a certain time and under certain conditions, the natural laws which are once more imposed on everyone, after.

***

The conditions are very variable.  Ascetic conduct seems to play a role each time.

In the Reunion, the one who appears to be the Brahman of the fire-walkers is very discrete.  We are in a French departement in 1977 and this man, who was married in church, who exercises an honorable profession, which puts him in contact all year round with people who know nothing about his “sorcery” talents, perhaps desires a certain discretion.

He explains to Louis Pauwels, not without slight reticence:  that there is no sorcery involved…  you have to pray a lot, fast a lot and avoid women.

And he concludes with these enigmatic words:

“If you do good, you are a true worker.”

***

It is rather difficult for scholars to study this, for the fire-walkers, who are nearly always animated by very strong mystical or religious sentiments, do not lend themselves willingly to chemical examinations, which appear sacrilegious to them.  Further, all of the scientific measures and analyses (nature of the preparatory rites, materials which enter into the elaboration of the walk, temperatures, post-walk medical examinations) are not easy to do for the same reasons.

In 1973, a Professor at the University of Geneva, Annette Beaumanoir, registered by electro-encephalogramme the brain waves of a fire-walker.  Her discovery is troubling.  When the walkers engage on the burning embers, the brain is characterised by the appearance of alpha waves.  As soon as the alpha rhythm ceases, the walkers become sensitive to fire again.

The appearance of these waves does not appear to be a certain guarantee of immunity, and we still know nothing about the deep phenomena of which these alpha waves are probably only the superficial expression.

***

So, it must be admitted that we are again in full mystery and that we shall doubtless remain there for a long time if we want to explain the phenomenon only in logical or rational terms.

***

Professor Robert Tocquet drew up an inventory of fakir demonstrations which are often only related to prestidigitation or sportive training.  For example, in demonstrations of piercing or contact of the tongue with burning embers, the fakirs are masters in the manipulation of an artificial tongue, preferably that of a dog which, it seems, is the one which most resembles the human tongue…

***

The feet of the Macedonian fire dancer (see previous post) photographed after her dance on embers.

Monsignor Despatures reports that, as the Bishop of Mysore in India, he had witnessed the following facts:

“It was March 1921.  One day, I received an invitation from the King, for a fire experiment at the Palace.  I was very incredulous.  I arrived around six o’clock in the evening.  The King’s employees had dug a trench in the park two metres wide and four metres long.  They had filled the trench with red charcoal, at least twenty-five centimetres thick.  I approach this furnace.  I examine it carefully.  I didn’t want to be duped.  I can assure you that it was real fire.  Nearing it, one was taken with effluves of appalling heat.

“Near the furnace is a Muslim from the North of India.  He is the hero of the evening.

“A few moments later, the King and his suite arrive.  High dignitaries, Europeans from the city and a few Indians of mark are present.  There are about two hundred and fifty of us.  We take place about twenty-five metres from the brazier.

“The Muslim comes to prostrate himself before the King and goes straight to the fire.  I think that he is going to go into the fire.  But no.  He remains at about a metre from it and invites a Palace employee to walk in the fire.  He signs to him to advance.  He speaks to him.  The other doesn’t move.  Suddenly, he takes him by the shoulders and pushes him into the fire.  For the first few seconds, the Indian tries to leave the fire.  Then, suddenly, his face, which had been displaying fear, begins to smile and he starts to traverse the trench slowly in the sense of its length.  His legs and feet are bare.  When he leaves the fire, other employees surround him, asking him what he had felt.  And soon, one, then two, then five, then ten Palace servants pass into the furnace.  Then, it is the turn of the Palace musicians, among whom there are several Christians.  They parade three by three in the fire with their instruments and their music sheets.  I notice that flames surround them, brush them, without even setting fire to the sheets of paper.

“I estimate that two hundred people passed in the brazier.  Beside me there are two English people:  the Kingdom’s Chief of Police, who is a Roman Catholic, and an engineer.  They ask the King if they may attempt the experiment.  The King tells them that they may if they assume responsibility for their action.  They go in completely clothed.  They traverse the furnace.  When they return to my side, I question them.  They tell me that they felt that they were in the brazier, but that the fire was not burning them.

“The King rises to put an end to the seance.  The Muslim is writhing on the ground beside the trench of embers.  He looks as if he is suffering atrociously and asks for water.  A Brahmin tells me:  ‘It is because he took the fire’s burns on himself.’

“I can attest that there was neither trickery nor hallucination.  The spectacle that I saw was very real.  According to the Indians, these spectacles are frequent.  I do not believe it.  In our four missions, I am the only person to have seen this.  It is said that in the South, during certain festivals, a yogi walks on fire.  But he can very easily coat his legs with some substance.  Here, it was not the same thing at all.”

Such is the statement by Monsignor Despatures who is very trustworthy.  It is added to a quantity of others about fire dancing which takes place in certain regions of India, in Polynesia, on the Fijian and Reunion islands.  In most cases, it is one man who confers immunity to the others.  But we do not know how or why.

A fire walk in India in 1912. The English authorities tried to take the temperature of the embers. In vain. The thermometres melted.

On the Reunion island, that is to say in a French departement, similar walks can be seen every year, notably during Lent.  It is the Indian community of the island which organizes these manifestations.  They are each time the occasion for great popular gatherings.

These Indians are of the Malabar race and almost all are baptised into the Roman Catholic religion.  The Church does not seem to object to the celebration of these rites where Catholic religion and Indian traditions are mixed.  The ceremonies unfold on Sunday afternoons and begin by the sacrifice at nine o’clock in the morning of a cabri which is the name given to the goat in the departements d’outre-mer [overseas parts of France].

The preparations are finished the day before, floral decorations, compositions made with bananas and mangoes, decorations of bright materials and palms inside the temple, surmounted by a sort of cupola like the ones on the Malabar Coast in India.

And of course, a long pit six metres by three has been dug before the entrance to this little temple.  The pit has been filled with logs which have been set alight.

When the walking begins, around four o’clock in the afternoon, the logs have been consumed, leaving embers one metre deep that the slightest breeze stirs to glowing.

These walks on fire are always preceded by a long ritual procession with flowered chariots and groups of “penitents” with violet marks on their foreheads who go singing and chanting towards the pit.  They sprinkle themselves with cool water contained in big metal flasks and a woman in a trance precedes them.

Still chanting, she uncrosses her arms banging them violently.

The walkers, on the day that Louis Pauwels is there, are eight in number.  They continue to pray and sniff at the flowers and aromatic plants, which are supposed to protect them from the fire, right up to the pit.  Mr Pauwels writes:

“I approached the pit around which several hundred people had a lot of trouble finding a good place, which gave rise to a lot of scuffling.

“In the first row, but at least six metres from the pit, the Prefect of the Reunion had taken place with his wife and visiting personalities.

“In fact, there where I was, one metre fifty from the pit, the heat was such that I had to keep my eyes closed and it was not possible for me to remain more than a few seconds in the same spot.

“When the first three walkers advance onto the embers, the scuffling increases and the crowd noisily manifests its admiration, mixed with a sort of sacred fear which is translated by prayers and even louder invocations.

“It cannot be said however that the public is in a trance.  The European and Creole public in particular follow the walk in the same way that they would watch a high-level athletic meeting.

“The walkers’ behaviour is rather diverse.  Some seem to advance in fear onto the carpet of fire and progress with difficulty, as if they feel certain pain.

“Others walk on the fire with an expression of restrained joy, which is very impressive.

“One of them in particular, who is holding a bouquet of flowers between his joined hands, parades with particular slowness, visibly in prey to interior jubilation.

“He will pass four times over the fire, the seven others three times only.

“At the end of the ceremony, I questioned these men who speak only Indian and Creole.  It is therefore difficult to obtain precise information.

“I only learnt that they had fasted for eighteen days and practised complete sexual abstention during this period.

“I also attentively examined their feet.  Apart from some dirt from mud and ashes, they were absolutely unharmed.

“Leaving the pit, the walkers purify their feet in the earth sprinkled with water.

“Half-an-hour after the last walker had left the pit, I placed a big green banana leaf on the embers.

“It dried up in a few seconds, then started to burn…”

***

To be continued.

Walking on fire

This Hindu, who is participating in a ritual ceremony, is walking on a carpet of red embers.

Seated near a fire with a few Hermit Brothers, Giovanni Buono, the founder of the Hermits of Saint Augustin, is exhorting his companions to persevere in their faith.  We are in the 1230’s, on a Winter’s evening, in an Italian convent in Botrioli.  Suddenly, as if to give more power to his words, Buono rises and goes towards the tall fireplace which is heating the monastery’s big room.  He steps over the grate and starts to walk with bare feet on the red embers.  He smiles as he says, while stirring the embers with his hands as if they are cool water,

“God is ready to perform prodigies for his friends”.

An edifying story coming from the depths of time for the use of the little catechists of the XIXth Century?…

It is not certain, for the life of Saint Giovanni Buono is filled with similar prodigies as is indicated in the Acta sanctorum published by the Bollandists, those men of science recruted mostly among the Jesuits, and given the task of writing the lives of the saints.

In what concerns Buono, they are inspired by the minutes of the procedure for beatification begun in 1251.  Under oath, his companions, notably Brother Salveti, bear witness…

Brother Giovanni remained with bare feet in the embers for exactly the time that it takes to say half of the psalm Miserere mei Deus.

Then he invites some of his Brothers, including Salveti, to join him in his cell.  Salveti says:

“I was very happy to receive this invitation for it would allow me to examine Buono’s feet which I expected to be considerably damaged.”

Salveti attentively inspects the Brother’s feet and has to believe the evidence:  they have escaped any burns, as has his long tunic which bears no mark from the fire…

***

This Macedonian fire dancer must absolutely look in front of her. If she turns to look back, she immediately burns herself.

In the XVth Century, Saint Francesco di Paola, the founder of the Order of the Minimes, is actively participating in the construction of the Paola Convent in Calabra.  Toward the end of the work, a chalk oven, which has been alight for twenty-four hours, cracks in several places.  As all the chalk risks being spoilt, Francesco asks the workers to go away, and patches up the cracks.

When the masons return, they find the stove repaired and the Franciscan in the process of washing his hands…  It is absolutely impossible, and this figures in the procedure for beatification, to repair such an oven…  without entering inside it.

Francesco di Paola shows several times that he is insensitive to fire.  As he likes a good laugh, he one day plays a joke on a high-born canon.

The canon estimed that Francesco’s austerity was normal since he was of very low extraction, and therefore used to difficult living conditions…  Francesco says:

“It’s very true that I’m a country bumpkin!…  If I wasn’t a real country boy, I wouldn’t be able to do this for example…”

Taking up handfuls of embers from the fire, he holds out two fistfuls of burning coals to the canon.  The canon finds nothing better to do than to throw himself at his feet and ask for his blessing.

Catherine of Sienna falls one day into the enormous fire of her father who was a dyer.  She was in ecstasy, and it is Lysa, her sister-in-law [or step-sister – it is the same word in French] who pulls her from the flames with no damage to her body or clothes.

As they concern saints, sceptics are always tempted to explain these prodigies by a few pious exaggerations by witnesses…  divine intervention, in their minds, paradoxically removing a great part of the mystery of these phenomena…

Things become complicated when it is known that a lot of human beings, never having heard of Christian mysteries, or not caring much about them, also present the same incombustibility characteristic.

In an article in Le Journal des savants in 1677, diverse exercises of a famous English side-show performer are described.  In front of the most trustworthy witnesses, he swallows sulphur and flaming coals, puts a glowing coal on his tongue and gently simmers a closed oyster on it until it opens, nicely cooked.

Not at all affected by this exercise, he swallows for dessert a flaming mixture of melted glass, flax fibres, sulphur and wax, in such a way that “this composition makes as much noise in his throat as a hot iron that it dipped into water”.

If he had lived at the same epoch in France, his prowesses would doubtless have led him straight to the stake, as happened to a certain Thomas Boulle, accused of sorcery because he could walk on embers without burning himself.  He is burnt alive in Rouen on 22 August 1647.

When the famous Marie Sonnet, known as the Salamander, appears less than a century later, sorcerers are no longer being burnt.  Anyway, it could be asked whether the flames would have gotten the better of this young woman, the Muse of the Saint-Medard Convulsionists.

Her talents explain, for a lot of people at least, the loss of control of the Fools for God who manifest themselves around this church in the Mouffetard quarter of Paris.

Minutes of extraordinary precision, dated 12 May 1731 and counter-signed by fourteen priests, Doctors in Theology, Sorbonne licencees, Parliamentary Councillors, Treasurers of the Chambre des Comptes, etc., indicate that:

“This day, between eight and ten o’clock in the evening, Marie Sonnet, being in convulsions, her head on one stool and her feet on another, the said stools being entirely inside the two sides of a great fireplace and under the mantel of the same, so that her body was in the air above the fire which was of extreme violence, and that she remained for thirty-six minutes in this situation, in four different times, without the sheet in which she was wrapped, having no clothing, burning, although the flame sometimes passed over it, which seemed to us totally supernatural.  In faith of which we have signed this day 12 May 1731.  Signed: (here follow different names of people in high places in Paris).  Plus, we certify that, while we were signing the present certificate, the said Sonnet put herself back on the fire for nine minutes, seeming to sleep above the brazier which was very ardent, having fifteen logs and faggots burnt during the said two and a quarter hours.”

So the Sonnet remained stretched over the fire for the length of time necessary “for roasting a piece of veal or mutton”.

To be continued.

A London apartment was the theatre of inexplicable fires. Here, the Police are examining a blanket which had remained intact even though it was between two others which were completely consumed.

An hypothesis for human spontaneous combustion was emitted in the XVIIIth Century by Jonas Dupont, one of the first researchers to have the idea of looking into these cases.  In a work entitled De incendiis corporis humanis spontaneis, published in Leyde in 1763, he explains that the people who suddenly go up in flames without apparent cause can only be big alcohol drinkers.  For a long time – while the People, believing it to be a supernatural phenomenon, spoke of “fire that comes from Heaven”, or “fire that comes from Hell” – doctors retained this simplistic explanation.  Certain novellists too.  Gaston Bachelard, in a page full of humour in his Psychoanalysis of fire, demonstrates this, along with Zola, in Le Docteur Pascal, who “scientifically” describes the death by spontaneous combustion of Uncle Macquart “who had been drinking eau-de-vie for years…”.  In 1922, a forensic pathologist, Doctor Dixon Mann, undertook to add an element to this theory.  He declared that the people who burned spontaneously were ethylitic smokers, completely imbibed with alcohol, that a match was enough to set alight.  He believed that he had pierced the mystery.  But he was disappointed to learn that some of the victims drank only water and that most of them didn’t smoke.  He then thought about mixtures of medicines susceptible of provoking a chemical reaction.  There again, he rapidly noticed that he was on the wrong track, many burnt people following no treatment at the moment of their death…  Finally, he declared “that he was confident that Science would find an explanation for the phenomenon”

***

The English writer Eric Frank Russel, author of Great World Mysteries, personally studied nineteen uncontestable cases.  But there are many more.  Here are a few of them:  on 13 December 1959, at Pontiac, Michigan, Billy Thomas Peterson, 27 years old, is found in ashes on his car seat while the mysterious fire had left his clothes intact.  On 13 December 1973, the body of Mrs Sathow, which was resting in a coffin at the Hoquiam Morgue, in Oregon, before being inhumed, is discovered consumed down to the hips by the local Police Chief.  Sent to the F. B. I.’s laboratory, in Washington, Mrs Sathow’s remains are the object of a report which ends with this sentence:  “The cause of the fire is inexplicable.”.  In October 1964, in Dallas, the former actress Olga Worth Stephens is transformed into a “human torch” in her car which suffered no damage, etc.

***

There are a few cases which occurred in front of witnesses.  Here is one of them:  in Chelmsford, England, one evening at a dance, a young girl, Miss Phyllis Newcombe, suddenly started to burn.  She was covered in blue flames and apparently emitted such heat that it made those who could have tried to save her, flee.  Within a few minutes, all that was left of her was a little pile of ashes on the floor…

***

As for France, on the Monday of Pentecost 1725, the wife of an inn-keeper, Le Lion d’Or in Reims, Madame Nicole Millet, suddenly went up in flames and died carbonised in a few instants, the victim of a “fire that came from Heaven”, according to her neighbours, which left intact the armchair in which she was sitting.  There are also much more recent cases.  In 1964, for example, the body of a certain Monsieur Eveille, completely reduced to ashes, was found in a car parked in the middle of a fir wood.  A singular detail:  the windows of the car had completely melted.  Glass only melts at around 1,000 degrees Centigrade…  Another case dates from June 1979.  Guy Breton learned about it from a Commissioner of the Judiciary Police who telephoned him one afternoon, after having heard him talk about these problems on the radio France-Inter.  He wanted to know the name of the English and American doctors cited by Mr Breton during the emission.

“I would like to enter into contact with them, because we have at the moment a case that is exactly the same as those that you evoked:  It is a woman of 51, weighing 80 kilos, living in a village in Eastern France.  I shall call her Mme X…, because the investigation is on-going.  One evening, after having met a few friends who can bear witness to her perfect state of health, she returned home and locked herself in.  The next morning, a burning smell intrigued one of her neighbours who rang her bell.  Obtaining no answer, she called the Fire Brigade.  The firemen broke down the door.  Then, in the dining-room, a pile of still-hot ashes was discovered, along with a few calcinated bones.  That is all that remains of Mme X…”

***

Something similar to a laser has been mentioned to explain these deaths.  However, firstly, lasers did not exist in 1810, when Countess Cornelia di Bandi was reduced to ashes;  secondly, if it is some sort of ray, it is at the moment in the hands of mysterious criminals whose goal is unknown to us.

***

Some authors, like Jacques Bergier, think that these people could be victims of what the alchemists call the “secret fire”…

This is a fire that is different from the one that we know – and extremely dangerous – which could be considered as being somewhere in between chemical energy and nuclear energy…  But there are researchers who emit even more extraordinary hypotheses:  Michael MacDougall, for example.  He wrote the following about the three cases of spontaneous combustion on 7 April 1938:

“Everything happened that day as if a galactical creature of unimaginable size had planted on Earth a sort of trident with points of fire…”

An imaginative conclusion to this subject.

***

Human spontaneous combustion

In 1876, Reverend Adams died in a New York hotel, a victim of "Heaven's fire".

1810 in Cesene, Italy.  On the evening of 22 October, Countess Cornelia di Bandi, a sixty-two-year-old woman who has never been ill in her life and whose youthful complexion is admired by all her friends, is dining lightly.  Then, as is her custom, she has an herbal tea brought to her and drinks it in the company of her chambermaid Anna Maria, while listening to the day’s gossip.  The two women chat gaily for more than an hour-and-a-half.  Around ten o’clock, the Countess rises, bids goodnight to Anna Maria and laughingly says that she can’t wait for the next morning because it is Sunday and she will have brioches for breakfast.  Then she goes to bed.

At this moment, she appears happy to be alive and in perfect health.

The next morning, at half-past eight, the chambermaid knocks at the door to the Countess’ apartment.  No answer.  She knocks again.  Still no answer.  Intrigued, she opens the door.  What she sees makes her hurl in horror.

At the centre of the bedroom, which is intact, there are the extremities of two legs, two forearms and a head…  The rest of the Countess’ body is nothing more than a little pile of ash on the blackened brick tiles.

The chambermaid’s cries rouse the other domestics who rush to the scene.  The Countess’ butler warns them not to touch anything.  The Police must be called.

Commissioner Antonielli arrives a quarter-of-an-hour later, accompanied by Doctor Bianchi.

The two men immediately notice that nothing in the bedroom has burnt, but that a sort of greasy soot covers the furniture, the bedsheets, the curtains and the paintings.  The policeman exclaims:

“It’s extraordinary!  You would say that the Countess has been consumed by an interior fire…”

Doctor Bianchi adds:

“A fire of rare intensity, for you know that, to burn a human body and reduce it to ashes, you need a heat of 2,500 degrees!  But a heat of 2,500 degrees would have destroyed the whole house…”

The following day, the day after that, and for weeks, policemen and doctors try to solve the enigma posed by the death of Countess Cornelia di Bandi.  Finally, Commissioner Antonielli, finding no explanation, writes in conclusion to his investigation “that a mysterious fire seems to have lit itself spontaneously inside the Countess’ chest”.

And the dossier is filed.

***

Second case:  on 2 July 1951, Mrs Carpenter, who is the owner of a house in Saint Petersburg (Florida) brings a telegramme to Mrs Reeser who is renting an apartment there.  She knocks several times on the door.  Obtaining no answer, she tries to open it.  The doorknob is burning hot.  She then notices that there is a slight odour of singeing in the air.  Panicked, she calls the Fire Department.  The firemen break down the door with axes and find the apartment intact, except that, in the salon, a big armchair, of which only the metal springs remain, has burnt completely, along with the centre of the rug.  Just above it, a black stain marks the ceiling…  But where is Mrs Reeser?

Moving closer, the firemen suddenly discover what is left of her:  her head, completely carbonised and reduced to the dimension of a tennis ball…  In the ashes, they find a fragment of spine and a little piece of foot…  That is all.

The Police come to investigate.  With no result.  Then Doctor Wilton Krogman, a specialist in death by fire at the School for Medicine of the State of Pennsylvania, is called in.  He had been on holiday nearby.  He declares:

“It is the most astounding thing that I have ever seen.  I am unable to imagine such a complete cremation without more damage to the apartment itself.  I have never seen any human skull shrunk like that by intense heat, either.  In general, skulls swell or explode into a thousand pieces…”

There again, the dossier is filed without any explanation being given…

***

The cadaver of a soldier found dead on 19 February 1888 by "spontaneous combustion" inside a grange filled with dry wood and hay which weren't even singed.

Third case:  in 1885, on a farm near Senecca, Illinois, on Christmas  morning, John Larson discovers the body of his employer Patrick Rooney in the middle of the kitchen, stretched out on a sort of film of coagulated fat.  Larson leaps onto his horse and goes to tell Rooney’s son who lives close by.

Back at the farm, the two men notice a hole near the kitchen table.  They lean over it and find a calcinated skull, a few burnt bones and a little pile of ashes.  These are the remains of Mrs Rooney, the farmer’s spouse.

The Police, alerted, come to investigate.  The Medical Examiner concludes death by asphyxia for Patrick Rooney, from the smoke of his wife’s body, which was burning.

The Inspector in charge of the case, after a long investigation which gives – again – no result, contents himself with writing that “Mrs Rooney disappeared in a fire of fantastic heat and of an unknown nature, which, curiously did not extend farther than the immediate vicinity”.

And the dossier is filed.

***

The fourth case is even more extraordinary, for it is triple.

On 7 April 1938, the cargo ship Ulrich is sailing towards Liverpool.  Suddenly, the First Mate notices that the boat is yawing as if it were drifting.  Very intrigued, he goes to see what the man at the helm is doing.  A surprise awaits him:  the man has disappeared.  In his place, near the wheel, he discovers a little pile of ashes and a pair of slightly calcinated shoes.  There is no trace of a fire:  the wheel, the compass are untouched.

The First Mate then questions the crew.  No-one heard the slightest cry.  As well as that, the sky is limpid, which excludes any lightning bolt hypothesis.

Conclusion:  the man at the helm of the Ulrich died by spontaneous combustion.

However, on this same 7 April 1938, near Upton-by-Chester, in England, the Police discover a lorry in a ditch.  On the seat, there is a calcinated head and a few blackened bones mixed with greasy ash.  This is all that remains of the driver George Turner who has been completely incinerated.

The lorry’s cushions are barely singed.  Again, the fire appears to have started inside the victim’s body…

That is not all.

On this same day, in Holland, near Nimegue, a shopkeeper William Ten Bruick is discovered dead, “burnt beyond all recognition”, according to the Police report, in his Volkswagen.  Once more, although all that is left of the driver is a magma of ashes, fat and calcinated bones, the car is only singed.  On top of which, the petrol tank is intact…

An investigation is ordered.  It gives no result.  And the Police Inspector who led it contents himself with writing in conclusion to his report:  “It seems that the victim was consumed by an interior fire of mysterious nature…”.

After which, he too files the dossier.

***

To be continued.

The Newfoundland ghost

In March 1882, the crew of a boat lost amongst icebergs lived a strange adventure.

In March 1882, in the North Atlantic Ocean, the English cargo ship Swallow is navigating in the neighbourhood of Newfoundland.  It is eight o’clock in the morning.  In his cabin, First Mate Robert Bruce, is busy checking the ship’s position.  When he has finished, he calls to Captain Blackman who should be in the neighbouring cabin, also studying the charts.

“Captain!…  We’re farther North than I thought…  What is your position?…”

Obtaining no answer, he goes to knock on his superior’s door.  Silence.  Intrigued, he enters the cabin and stops, astounded.  Behind the table where Captain Blackman usually sits, there is an unknown man, who is looking at him with a sort of fervour.  The First Mate asks him who he is and how he had entered the cabin.  The man remains motionless and silent.  The officer insists.  The stranger smiles without saying a word.

The First Mate climbs to the bridge, finds the Captain and explains what is happening.

“A stowaway?  Where did he come from?  We’ve been at sea for three weeks!”

The two men go back down and enter the cabin.  It is empty.  The Captain is not very happy and thinks that Bruce is trying to play some sort of joke on him.

“But, Captain, I assure you, he was there!  He was a fairly big man, blond, with very light eyes…”

The Captain asks sarcastically whether the gentleman was dressed in top hat and tails as well.

“Of course not.  He was wearing sailor’s clothes…”

The Captain leans over the table:

“What’s this?”

On the slate that he uses for his calculations, it is written:

“Steer North-West!”

Captain Blackman asks:

“What does this mean?  Who wrote it?”

The First Mate replies that he doesn’t know.  Probably the stranger.

The Captain orders a careful inspection of the boat.

For two hours, the sailors search the Swallow from top to bottom without finding the slightest trace of the unknown man seen by Robert Bruce.  Finally, the Captain loses his temper:

“I want to know who wrote these words on my slate.  I want each and every sailor to come here for a writing test!”

The whole crew parades through the cabin.  Even Robert Bruce has to copy the mysterious words.  When everyone has done it, the Captain looks at his First Mate and shakes his head:  the writing on the slate does not correspond to that of any of the crew members…

Captain Blackman is now very troubled.  Like all sailors at this time, he is superstitious.  Having reflected for a moment, he tells his First Mate to steer North-West.

And the cargo ship changes direction.

The sailors of the trapped boat were astounded to see the arrival of the English ship that one of the crew had announced.

The hours pass by.  From time to time, Captain Blackman takes his spyglass and examines the sea.  What is he expecting to find?  He doesn’t know;  but he has the feeling that this change of direction will not be for nothing.

And around four o’clock in the afternoon, a sailor sees something.  They approach.  It is an English ship caught in the ice.  They can see men waving their arms.

The Captain has boats put to sea and all the crew in distress is brought aboard the Swallow.

One by one, the cold, exhausted men climb the cord ladder, to be greeted by Captain Blackman and his First Mate.  They say that they were on their way to Liverpool from Quebec when their boat was caught in the ice.  It had happened a week earlier and their situation was becoming desperate…  They are very grateful to have been rescued.

The men continue to climb the ladder, clamber over the side, and drink a bowl of mulled wine.

Suddenly, Robert Bruce thinks that his heart has stopped beating.  The man who is at this moment pulling himself aboard the Swallow, this fairly big man, blond with light eyes, is the one he had seen in the Captain’s cabin a few hours earlier…

Their eyes meet and Robert Bruce feels that the other man appears troubled.  He follows him, watches him drink his glass of hot wine, then approaches him and engages the conversation:

“My name is Robert Bruce, I’m First Mate aboard this boat…  It’s a bit of luck that we were passing through here…”

The man agrees, and adds that he knew that they would be saved.  The officer asks how he knew.

“This morning, I was asleep and I had a curious dream…  I dreamed that I was aboard an English cargo ship like yours and that I met a man…  – he looked like you as it happens, it’s strange…  I was in a cabin, sitting in front of a table.  And then, the man left.  So, I took a piece of chalk and I wrote a message on a slate…  I remember, I wrote:  Steer North-West!…  After that, I woke up and I told the others that we would be saved today.  I told them about my dream and they laughed.  But when they saw you arriving, at four o’clock, they were a bit impressed…  So was I…”

Robert Bruce listens to the sailor without interrupting.  Then he asks him to follow him because he wants to show him something.  He leads him to the Captain’s cabin, shows him the slate and asks him if he recognizes it.  The other man sees the words that are still written on it, and blanches:

“It’s my message…  But, that’s not possible!”

“Yes it is.  You came here this morning, around eight o’clock, and wrote these words.  I saw you…  Then you disappeared.  And it’s because of this message that we changed course, and that we saved you…”

***

We know of this story by those who lived it:  Robert Bruce, Captain Blackman, the man who wrote the words on the slate and the sailors of both cargo ships.  All of them talked about it abundantly.  To the point that the Society for Metapsychical Research, which already existed at this time in London, heard about it and published an account of it in its magazine.

***

This is similar to the Emilie Sagee story, except that she split into two while awake, and the sailor whose double Robert Bruce saw in Captain Blackman’s cabin was asleep at the time.  However, nothing proves that Emilie Sagee did not become two during sleep as well.

***

The words written on the slate are of capital importance.  They prove that the double has material reality, that it is not a simple virtual image.  It is capable of having an action on objects.  In certain cases, it can be seen to open a door, turn a key in a lock, move a piece of furniture, take a book.  But its comportment with matter is not always so normal.  Sometimes, the double traverses walls or covers considerable distances without any notion of time seeming to intervene.

***

Guy Breton tells a story about one of his female friends.  This lady, who is married, very often dreamed of an unknown man, always the same one.  She finally told her husband about him – as well as her entourage – who teased her about him, calling him her “lover”.

And one day when she was in a tram at Versailles, a city that she had never visited, she found herself seated opposite a man who was reading a newspaper.  The man raised his head.  Both of them screamed.  It was the man in her dreams.

They didn’t speak, she was too upset.  And the gentleman, who also seemed very upset, rose in a hurry, descended from the tram in motion and disappeared into the crowd…  Perhaps he also saw her in his dreams, for he screamed at the same time as she did.

***

So far, there is no explanation for this.  But perhaps one day we shall find out what our spirit does – and where it wanders – while we sleep…

***

Siberian shaman. To possess their extraordinary powers, notably that of "decorporating", these men have to suffer an "initiatic illness" still inexplicable today.

For there to be a scientific law about anything, the phenomenon must be able to be repeated at will, a great number of times, in a laboratory.  This is what is called, in scientific jargon, the rule of “repeatable correlations”.  Many scholars have tried to do this.  Myers, Charles Richet, and others, including Luisa E. Rhine of Duke University.

What should be retained about this is that, without leaving the domain of witness reports, they studied such a great number of them (several thousands) with such objective methods and attitudes, that it would be absurd to drag their work down to the level of folklore or literature.

***

In the case of Rame, the “out-of-body experiences” are submitted to his will, therefore, they are repeatable.  The experiment to which he is submitted by Doctor Puharich offers all the guarantees of scientific experimentation…

Its repeatability does not interest Puharich as much as the study of the “substance” of Rame’s hallucination and this is in fact at the heart of the problem.

***

These “out-of-body experiences” or “decorporations” have been repeated under scientific control many times by other scholars, notably by Doctors Gordon and Valentina Wasson.  Embedded in an Indian tribe, the Mixtecs, in the South of Mexico, they observed, over a period of weeks, that the shaman, this tribe’s sorcerer, is capable of describing, in a state of trance, phenomena which are unfolding several tens of kilometres away…  To avoid all subterfuge, they even push the experiment to its limit:  their son Peter has remained in the United States, thousands of kilometres from there.  They ask the shaman to describe to them what he is doing, how he is dressed, etc.  By then contacting their son, they realize that all that the shaman had described is rigorously exact.  Their observations are now universally known and accepted.

***

Dr Puharich is totally convinced that the experiences of “decorporation”, reported for thousands of years by the shamans, are really within the possibilities of the human machine.

***

Aime Michel was able to observe a young woman, Madame B., who “left” her body and was able to move freely in space over great distances.

It was enough for her to hold an object in her hand, for example a little piece of white, blank cardboard, sent by a correspondent faraway, to smell it, to press it to her lips or her forehead, to be able to describe with great precision, what was happening at the home of the person who had sent it.

***

During their moments of apparent meditation, certain yogis leave their bodies and go to places often very faraway from the place where they can be seen immobile with closed eyes.

Let us now return to the examination of what could be called the “heart” of the problem, which consists of giving more precisions – if possible – on the “substance”, that is to say on the physical nature of the phenomenon of decorporation.

Let us start by admitting, along with millions of people in the past and many of today’s scholars, that “something” can leave man’s body and return to it.  That there is proof of the physical reality of this something.  We must insist on the word “physical”.  We are not talking about the soul here, otherwise it would be a “soul” with a sense of dimensions, distances, colours, up and down, etc.  In any case, this is not the definition given to the soul in treatises, the soul being in essence “immaterial”.  This “something” is, on the contrary, of a “material” essence, for only matter is capable of holding the electromagnetic rays which tell us of the existence of Pat and her dress, for example.

In other words, this “something” that Pat, Rame, Parsus, Mme B., the shaman and many others, project outside themselves is necessarily a physical object.  For, only a “material body” can receive and transform into elements of perception, a wave of a given length, without which Pat’s dress would have neither colour nor existence, nor would Pat herself, for that matter…

***

No complete scientific theory has yet been formulated.

We are entering here into the domain of psychological consciousness which brings us to another fundamental mystery:  we know roughly how we think but we are no more capable than the cavemen of knowing how we know that we think.  Because we are for the moment totally incapable of integrating this consciousness into the system of knowledge that we have of the material universe…  when it gives us certain proof of its existence through every instant of our everyday life experiences.

***

Let us not forget that all modern physics, including the more subtle one that can be drawn from relativity equations, repose on the postulation that there is no simultaneity at a distance…

If physicists manage to give birth to a new theory on matter and space, there would be a very animated debate, not to mention disputes, about it.  In fact, they have already started…

***

I should like to add a personal note to Louis Pauwels’ text.  I am certain that I sometimes experience out-of-body travelling while I am asleep.  However, I do not try to do it on purpose and have no control over where I go, which is usually to places to which I have never been, where I see people who are unknown to me.

While awake, I have twice been outside my body, both times onstage.  The first time, I was eleven and was dancing a solo.  The second time, I was eighteen and was acting in a play.

Both times, my main concern was re-integrating my body.  This is impossible when you try to do it by walking towards it, because you are still connected to it.  So, when you take a step towards it, it takes a step forward too.  The trick is to “think” yourself into it, without trying to physically approach it.

I noticed that, on both of these occasions, I considered my body to be outside the “real” me.  For example, the second time, I kept saying to myself, “I have to get back inside.  She’s going to forget her lines.”

During these two waking experiences, I didn’t do any flying around.  I just stayed a couple of metres behind my body until I managed to enter it again.

During the sleeping experiences, which still occur, I do not remember any “flying”.  I just suddenly find myself somewhere else.  However, I am able to “think” myself back home when I’ve had enough of where I am.

To my knowledge, I was not seen outside my body onstage.  During the sleeping excursions, I mostly just observe, but occasionally talk to people who do not always answer me.  I do not know whether I am visible to them or not.

***

The Egyptians used hallucinogenic plants which permitted out-of-body travelling.

Bob Rame, a New York businessman of forty-four, is persecuted by frequent, violent migraines.  One day when he is in his firm’s laboratory, he accidentally breathes ether.  This makes him a bit drowsy but also relieves the pain.  As his migraines also prevent him from sleeping, he gets into the habit of taking a little dose of ether each evening.

Soon, however, reports his doctor, the famous Doctor Puharich, his sleep is accompanied by strange phenomena.  He has the very clear sensation of leaving his body, rising above himself and seeing himself in the position that he was at the moment of going to sleep…  a bit like standing on your balcony and watching yourself pass by in the street, which is what the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte had already decreed was impossible.

Our man at first thinks that he is dreaming.  He attributes to the ether the fact that his dreams allow him to traverse walls and rise to float above the roof of his house.

He is not at all troubled by the fact that during all of these exercises he has the impression of being perfectly lucid.

For nine months, Bob Rame continues using this far from banal therapy:  a whiff of ether, sleep, then the liberation of his body and wandering weightless in the air.  Finally waking, with the slightly disappointing sensation of being obliged to dress again in his garment of flesh.

And then one day, he has his liberating “hallucination” without the help of ether.

And it’s a lot better.

Now he can rise into the air until he no longer distinguishes the rooves of houses, and then plunge into the depths, still keeping the same impression of lucidity and control over all his faculties.

***

One day, after a voyage which appears to him to be unusually long, he finds himself in a dark place with several unknown faces bending over him.  In his head, astonishment is replaced by horror when he sees that these people appear to be very happy to see him wake up…  As if they had helped a dying man recover consciousness…  At the same time, he feels strong pain in his body.  He tries to cry out:  “I’m not who you think I am”, but he can’t.

Another time, he wakes up in the body of a drunkard whom his drinking companions are taking back home.

The very serious Doctor Puharich then proposes an experiment to him.

Boris, a friend of Rame, has fallen seriously ill.  Doctor Puharich suggests that Rame attempt to fly towards Boris, towards his villa, surrounded by a garden and situated on a neighbouring hill.  One afternoon, after having assured himself that Boris is in his bed, watched by his wife Lomar, Rame attempts the experiment.

He enters fairly rapidly into a trance, and at twenty-five past four exactly, he is above the villa.

Surprise:  Lomar comes out followed by her husband.  Still very conscious, Rame tells himself that has just proven the mistaken inconsistency of his dream.  Boris is in his bed.  He reports later:

“As they were coming towards me, I tried to draw their attention by some sign, but with no result”.

He has plenty of time to see that Boris is wearing an overcoat and a hat and that Lomar is dressed in a black skirt and jacket and a red jumper.  Before waking, Rame also sees Lomar open the garage door and the couple’s car leave.

Later, when he recounts it, Rame’s entourage is of course disappointed.

However, Puharich proposes telephoning Boris to make an exact comparison between the dream and reality.

Lomar answers and Rame asks her what she was doing between four and five.  She replies that she had gone to the Post Office.  On foot?  By car.  What time?  Around twenty or twenty-five past four.  Boris was in bed?  Not at all.  As it was a fine day, he had wanted to go out for a while.  Lomar had made him put on an overcoat and hat, but the little trip had tired him out.  How was Lomar dressed?  In a black suit with a red jumper, why?

***

Russian shaman from the XVIIIth Century with his ritual tambourin.

All the primitive cultures in Africa, Polynesia, northern Asia are founded on the existence of the “shaman”, this man, who is a sorcerer, a priest and a doctor, all at the same time, and who has the faculty of leaving his body and sending his “double”, his “soul”, or “spirit” to great distances.

***

It is true that drugs can play a role.  The Mongols and the Ancient Egyptians used a poisonous mushroom, the fly agaric, to translate to prophetic hallucination, and peyote, a poison drawn from a cactus, still serves the same purpose among certain Mexican Indians.

***

In Christian tradition, Christ was transported onto a high mountain on the Devil’s wings, but does without him for other “apparitions” in unexpected places.  Drugs do not appear anywhere in Christian tradition or practice.

On the other hand, strange manifestations of mysticism do.  On this subject, Catherine of Sienna’s powers are often cited, or the more recent case of Padre Pio, the Italian monk, who died in 1968.  Very numerous witness statements indicate that Padre Pio “travelled” outside his body and that he sent his “double” or something like it, to people who distinctly saw it.  Very serious accounts abound:  those of the Archbishop of Salto, Monsignor Barbieri, those of General Cadorna who, in 1917, lost the Battle of Caporetto against the Austro-Germans.

Victor Hugo was once seen by several honorable people walking for a long time in a Jersey square while other equally serious witnesses assure that he had never left his desk.  It is true that Hugo was an enlightened spiritist.

***

Let us go back to the three cases presented.  All three show striking similarity:  the three people appear to be in perfect control of their intellectual capacities.  In any case, none of them is “mad” or dishonest.

Parsus insists on the extraordinary appearance of reality in his dream.  Pat remains perfectly lucid the whole time of her “voyage” in Germany and even shows criticism of her own comportment.

As for Rame, all through his voyages, he has the impression of always remaining perfectly conscious and attentive.  He is capable of thinking, of being surprised, of asking questions and, apart from the “illusion” that he is moving in the air, he is the victim of no fantasmagory, no deformation of facts or things…

***

To be continued.

Out-of-body travelling

Algiers where the painter Parsus was asleep when he was transported on board a sinking ship.

The writer and researcher Aime Michel who is interested in extraordinary phenomena was told the following story by the painter Parsus.

“I was staying at the Abdel-Tif Villa in Algiers at the time, in a little apartment with my wife.

“One night while asleep I see a glaucous glimmer.  Slowly this glimmer takes form.  I then feel myself transported into a narrow corridor.  A weak light is falling from above and all the bottom is invaded by water.

“All at once I have the impression that the corridor is starting to sway…  No!  More rolling and pitching…  I’m still asleep but I understand:  I’m in a ship that’s sinking!

“Suddenly a tall man appears.  He’s stumbling.  He seems exhausted.  His hair, his shirt, largely open on his chest, are dripping with water.  Now, he advances with difficulty towards me or rather he seems to climb the narrow corridor which is slanting sharply, holding onto the walls.  I have the impression that he’s going to collapse any moment.

“Now he stops.  He hides his face in his hands.  He turns his head toward me, his hands slide and on his face I can read infinite distress.  Then suddenly I recognize him.  Yes, it’s him!  It’s really him, my friend N… that I’d left in Paris a few weeks ago.  His face is now haggard and violaceous.  He’s panting, it’s frightening to watch.

“I let out a terrible cry and wake up…  I wake up but I have to make an immense effort to persuade myself that I’m not dreaming.  For the tragic vision persists.  I’m still at the end of this gangway where the water is mounting and I scream

‘It’s him, it’s him!…  he’s on the Rollon, it’s sinking!’

“I am however sitting on my bed and my wife has just woken up with a start.

“Terrified, she sees me get up for, although awake, I’m still one of the people in the scene.

“Now I rush to my friend’s aid.  I have the time to take three steps…  the vision effaces itself completely and I find myself standing, completely awake, but exhausted and trembling.  My wife is very upset to see me like this.

“I find the strength to say to her:

‘I saw N… in his boat, the Rollon, which was sinking!’

‘But you know that he’s not on his boat at the moment!…  Right now, he’s surely in Paris.’

“I sit back down on the bed, convinced that what I’ve just seen, I mean “lived”, is something more than a dream:  I had such an impression of being on board this boat myself!…

“Over the following days, I try to forget about it.

“Three weeks later, I’m sitting at the terrace of a cafe.  Beside me someone is reading a newpaper.  The title of an article reads:

‘The disappearance of the Rollon is confirmed.’

“I borrow the newspaper from my neighbour and read that my friend’s boat has disappeared off Sardaignia.  The probable day of the sinking is also that of my ‘hallucination’.”

Did Parsus dream?  Did he have a simple hallucination?…  Or is it a phenomenon of a completely different nature?  Here is a second story.  It will hardly clarify the question.

During a storm in the China Sea, Saint Francis Xavier was seen both on his own boat and at the helm of a boat in danger.

It is a story that is in the dossiers of Duke University which specialises in parapsychological things.

One afternoon in 1947, a young American girl, whom we shall call Pat, was in England at the home of her boyfriend Allen’s mother.  Pat had met Allen in Germany and at the time this happens, he is still there, a soldier of the Allied Army of Occupation.

In the middle of a conversation, Pat is suddenly troubled and becomes very pale.  Allen’s mother says:

“You don’t look at all well, my little Pat!”

The young girl exclaims, in prey to great anxiety:

“Oh!  Quickly, quickly!  Quickly, something terrible is going to happen to Allen…  he’s in a jeep…  he’s in a jeep on a road with trees…  I know this road well.  Oh!  Quickly…  I have to go there…  I’m going there, I’m going there!”

She leaps from her chair, desperately gesticulating…  then sits down almost immediately.  Uncomfortable, she smiles and says:

“Excuse me!  It’s silly…  I really don’t know what happened to me!…”

Two days later, she receives a letter.  Allen asks her with vivacity if she had come on Wednesday to Germany and what clothes she was wearing that day.  She writes a very kind letter in which she reassures him, and indicates that she hadn’t left England and that she had been at his mother’s that afternoon.

Two days later, another letter from Allen.  He writes:

“Listen to me, Pat.  Something unheard-of has happened to me.  Last Wednesday I was in a jeep on the M. road between O. and D.  We have often taken it together…  I wasn’t alone in the jeep.  I was beside the driver, a German, and in the back there were three people:  two fellow soldiers on either side of a German prisoner we were taking to D.  The soldier sitting behind me was Gerry, whom you know.

“We were following a truck with a trailer on the part of the road that has a lot of trees.  All at once, just when we were going to pass it, you erupted from a little track on the right and you rushed at the jeep waving your arms.

“The driver braked and, excuse me for saying this, called you a ‘nutcase’.

“It was as fast as lightning, but Gerry and I perfectly recognized you before you disappeared.  Gerry even yelled:  ‘Look!  It’s Pat!’  And I answered:  ‘So it is!  I thought that she was still in England!’  At that same moment the heavy trailer disconnected from the truck, zigzagged for a few metres, then crashed on the bank of the ditch.  Just at the entrance to the track from which you had appeared!

“It’s certain that if the driver hadn’t braked when he saw you, if he’d continued passing the truck, we would certainly have crashed onto the trailer.”

Duke University made a careful enquiry into this case.  It had Allen, Gerry, the second soldier, the German prisoner and the driver interrogated separately.  All of them were able to describe Pat precisely.  They all identically described the clothes that she was wearing…  the clothes that she was wearing that Wednesday afternoon, while she was in England, one thousand kilometres from there.

Where was Pat really that day?  In England or on a little forest road in Germany?

***

To be continued.

Saint Joseph of Copertino.

Other people famous for their levitations are Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, who rose to the vault of the cathedral, on the day of the Ascension…  There is Saint Etienne who was raised from the ground while he was praying in his tent, Saint Catherine the Admirable who, during her funeral service, rose to the vault of the church.  It was then noticed that she wasn’t dead.

Others are:  Saint John of the Cross whose friends often found him a few feet from the ground and who levitated one day in company of Saint Teresa of Avila;  Saint Peter of Alcantara, Reformator of the Franciscans who, the witnesses say, flew like a bird to the tops of the trees;  Maria of Agreda, the author of Cuidad de Dios, whose body, in the moments of ecstasy, was as light as a feather to the point that it was a game for the sisters to blow on her to make her float away;  Father Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the XVIth Century;  Philippe of Neri, the founder of the Oratory;  Maria Villarri, a famous Dominican nun of the XVIIth Century;  Tommasso of Cori, who was raised to the roof of the Civistella Church with such force that it was feared that he would crush his skull on the rafters;  Pope Pius VII;  Mary Magdalene of Pazzi who, one day, at the Carmel of Saint Mary of the Angels, rose to a corniche ten metres high and remained balancing on a twenty centimetres wide ledge;  John-Joseph of the Cross who, in Naples in 1734, while he was going to venerate the blood of Saint Janvier, flew above the crowd;  the Venerable Antoine Margil, who was seen by the monks of the Franciscan Priory of Mexico levitating very high inside the steeple and “spinning round, his arms extended, at an incredible speed”;  Mary of Crucified Jesus, a Carmelite in Pau, in the XIXth Century, who went to perch on the top of trees and forgot her sandal one day in a lime tree;  etc.

***

All these people had the same attitude as Saint Teresa of Avila.  They all felt shame and were uncomfortable about it.  As Aime Michel writes in an article that he consecrates to levitation:

“It is evident that in their eyes, nothing is more incomprehensible, nothing is even more opposed to the gravity of an authentic religious sentiment than these evolutions in the air devoid of any apparent signification.”

Most of them, judging these phenomena absurd and derisory, never ceased praying to God to free them from them.

***

Levitation is not at all connected to sainthood.  Many saints have never levitated.  Only mystics or contemplatives are subject to this mysterious phenomenon, those who are called the ecstasy saints.

***

Saint Joseph of Copertino.

What is ecstasy?  This is an embarrassing question, those who experience it being unable to describe what they see and what they feel…  Let us say that it is a state of superior consciousness of which, scientifically speaking, we know nothing, but that scholars no longer deny.  Many physiologists now perform research which will allow us perhaps one day to know more about these illuminations – these states of awakening as Doctor Godel calls them – which are nearly always accompanied by surprising secondary phenomena.

Levitation is one of them.  There are others.  For example, irradiation.  We cite only two cases:  when Francis of Assisi is surprised “floating at the height of a beech tree”, he is surrounded by such light that he is barely visible;  and the day in April 1602 when Tobias de Ponte discovers Bernardi Realino “two and a half feet above the floor”, the monk is surrounded by a “light like that of a metalworker’s fire”.  These irradiations are accompanied by another, secondary phenomenon:  hyperthermia.  When Mary-Magdalene of Pazzi entered into ecstasy, she emitted heat “formidable like that of a stove”.  Renee-Paule Guillot, who has consecrated an article in Historia to these phenomena, tells us that Padre Pio, famous for his bilocations and his levitations, “made thermometres explode”.

***

This yogi, lying in the air, is leaning on a stick covered in material and simply placed on the ground. The fact that this photo exists excludes all possibility of collective illusion.

All these cases are connected to Christian mysticism but of course they have also been observed in other religions, in Hindu and Muslim mysticism, among others.    They are also found outside of any religious context.  For example, with mediums like Eusapia Palladino or Daniel Dunglas Home.

***

It is also possible to reach ecstasy by the use of drugs.  This ecstasy can be accompanied by levitation.  Blaise Cendrars, who wrote a remarkable book on Joseph of Copertino, recounts that he saw, in Amazonia, some Indians smoke a plant called ibadou, which provokes ecstasy and puts the body in a state of weightlessness, to the point of making it capable of rising in the air and moving around without any point of contact…

***

When Aime Michel asked an eminent French physicist if the human body could fly, he replied:

“Why not?  Physics have no reason to be reticent before the hypothesis of a phenomenon which does not violate the principle of the conservation of energy.  The trick is to determine where the mystic in levitation finds the energy which raises him from the ground, and on what it is applied.”

In conclusion, let us quote these words from Saint Augustin:

“Man has in himself something that even his own mind does not know.”

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I should like to add a personal note to Guy Breton’s text.  When I was eight years old, I levitated in the street.  The phenomenon was preceded and accompanied by a wonderful feeling of joy and love for the world and all that was in it.  I wanted to hug the sky.  I only rose thirty to forty centimetres, I think, and did not immediately realize that I was no longer touching the ground.  As soon as I did, I started to worry about how I was going to land on the concrete footpath under me (I was on my way to a dancing lesson and was afraid of hurting an ankle) and if anyone could see me making a fool of myself.  This put an end to the levitation.  I landed safely and have flown many kilometres since then, but always inside an aeroplane.

I believe that our feelings alter the way in which our bodies vibrate and that this change can cause temporary (even permanent) physical change.  When I felt fear, the levitation ceased.  I think that the “walking on water” story in the Bible about Jesus and one of his disciples is a demonstration of this.  Exhilaration – realisation by the non-swimmer that he is above water – fear – fall.  (For those who don’t know the story, it has a happy ending.  He doesn’t drown.)

I should like to add that I have never, ever, at any time, been considered a saint by anyone and, while some very weird things have happened to me in my life, they only demonstrate that absolutely anybody can experience or perform “paranormal” things.  It would, however, be a lot better for the nerves if they didn’t tend to occur unexpectedly.

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