On 17 December 1680, the inhabitants of Ottery, in England, witnessed a celestial combat in which a comet was involved.

Most of these abundant witness reports escape the clinical definition of visual hallucination and everything that we know about mirages.  Here are two other cases of exceptional interest, among the hundreds that have been registered, starting with the combat related in Book II of Maccabees, which took place in the Jerusalem sky when Antiochus was getting ready to make war on Egypt…

The first case, which is one of the best authenticated, concerns a vision which occurred at Keinton in England, at the beginning of 1642…

Regrettably, it is often thought that the older the event, the less credible it is.  This same year, England sees the eruption of a Civil War which is just as well-known to us as the last year of King Louis XIII of France’s reign at the same epoch, or the events of February 1936…

When the Justice of the Peace of the County of Keinton, William Wood, backed up by several honourable people, certifies under oath to have seen a battle of spectres opposing the Puritans and the army of King Charles I of England, there is no apparent reason to doubt his sincerity…

On 23 January 1643, between midnight and one o’clock in the morning, some shepherds, some peasants, and some travellers begin to hear distant drum rolls over Edgehill, then cries of soldiers in agony, and the firing of muskets and cannons.  Gradually, the noises move closer and become so loud that the witnesses, terrified, want to flee.  This is when the furia of the “incorporal soldiers”, as the principal witness puts it, begins to be unleashed on the nearby hills, petrifying the spectators on the spot.  At the head of this first army, the flags of Charles I can easily be distinguished, preceded by several cannons and drummers in amaranth uniforms, beating the charge.  From the other side of the hill, the Puritan battalions surge, preceded by troops of cavalry which swoop onto their adversaries.  Soon, the melee is terrifying, and nobody among the witnesses thinks to flee any more out of fear that these infernal soldiers would turn against them…  After three hours of hand-to-hand combats, the partisans of Charles I, flee…

This event of course creates a sensation throughout the whole county, and the next day, the notables, Church ministers at their head, go to the place of combat, armed with rolls of paper, pens, and of course sprinklers of holy water and manuals of exorcism.

The battle of the ghosts takes place three more times with an even more considerable fracas of weapons, and the talk about this business finally arrives at the King’s ears.  Charles I immediately names a Commission, led by Colonel Lewis Kirke.  One week later, the battle takes place again, and some members of the Commission are even able to recognize several of the spectres, notably Sir Edmond Varney, who had been killed during the historical Battle of Edgehill…  two months earlier.

***

It is not always soldiers that are seen in the sky. Alpinists climbing the Cervin in August 1900 suddenly saw these strange crosses...

If we admit that the witnesses did not just have visual and auditive hallucinations, it is difficult for us to understand the sense of these historical doublings, these hiccoughs of Reason, but also of imagination.  Since they are only the replica of something that has already happened…  It is irritating for our human conception of space-time.  But in the case of the ghostly combats displaced in time, there is something even more troubling…

In the very first days of February 1574, five soldiers of the Bourgeois Guard of Utrecht, who are on guard around midnight, see on the near horizon, the representation of a terrible battle.  A first army, coming from the North-West, has manoeuvred very rapidly to surprise, it seems, another army coming from the South-East and moving slowly in some disorder, as if it were leaving a camp situated well away from the Front.  From this moment, the guards, who are used to seeing Spanish invaders attacking the “patriot” positions of the Count of Nassau, follow the different phases of the battle, notably its epilogue, when they see the army from the North-West regroup one last time and throw itself on the enemy which has formed a square surrounded by a double row of muskets.  The lances of the army from the South-East break like “frail reeds”, the sentinels note when they later make their statements under oath, and the columns are pushed back in disorder.

The Utrecht magistrates take this vision very seriously:  it appears to describe the end of the troop movements, before the great clash which would oppose the Spaniards of Don Luis of Requesens to the Dutch.  The guards’ precisions are so convincing, that the inhabitants of Utrecht have no doubts about the outcome of the decisive battle…  to come.  This unfolds on 13 February at Mook, that is to say, twelve days after the vision.  Count Louis of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, finds there, with numerous knights, a glorious death.  The American historian Motley, a specialist of this period, is formal:  there are so many similarities between the vision and its realisation twelve days later, that luck cannot be invoked.  But, there again, we could formulate the hypothesis of a different time, which is no longer divided into “before”, “during” and “after”, like the time that we know now, a time relative to the spectators that we are, locked up in a theatre of shadows who, if they could get out, would have the revelation of absolute time, deployed motionlessly, in an eternal present…

***

A few decades ago, a former Commander of the Gendarmerie, Emile Tizane, who consecrated forty years of his life to investigating hauntings, assures in the book that he wrote that the apparitions are today just as numerous as before.  As for ghostly battles, not so long ago, the Defence Minister of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took the head of an expedition destined to verify the validity of a battle of spectres which unfolds every 23 October at Kineton inside a terrain which is used as an army ammunition depot.

***

Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, has never seen a ghost, but does not necessarily deny that they exist.  He believes, along with Alexis Carrel, that in certain circumstances, Knowledge will one day establish that Man is capable of bending or stretching himself well beyond his apparent limits…

***

Advertisements