There cannot be many of us who go through life without at some point, or points, seriously entertaining the thought that something radical may well have gone wrong with our powers of perception, or that something ordinarily inexplicable may be happening to us. Some events, on closer examination, can be explained by changes in say stress levels, circumstances, diet, etc. Others defy even description. Many of these events remain unreported, most notably through personal restraint, since association with attention seekers is not sought. But also, because their manifestation can be quite unexpected.
As an example, a council workman was working in a tunnel in a Northern town when he 'saw' Roman soldiers walk out of one wall of the tunnel and into the other. If this wasn't strange enough, the lower part of the soldiers' bodies were obscured by the floor, the heads set at a lower height than the worker's, as if they were walking on a level lower than that of the existing floor. The workman dutifully stopped work and, bravely some might say, reported the incident. Extraordinarily, and many years later, local archaeological digs showed the existence of a road in the direction, at the level, and contemporary to those reportedly seen by the workman.
A brewery opened a new pub, in a midlands city centre, which took up the lower two floors of a large, old building. Security camera footage appeared to confirm staff's reports of 'poltergeist' activity causing breakages. Examination of the building showed that the upper floors, which had not been entered for some time, consisted of a large chapel, previously a centre for the temperance movement.
A Big Brother (2005) contestant, Mary, purported herself to be a witch. The birthday party thrown for her, in the house, even had a 'Halloween' theme. During the week that Mary was a housemate, her radiomikes were replaced five times, three units being brand new, because of failure. Scrutiny of Mary's movements showed that she had not interfered with them. When tested away from Mary, each functioned perfectly. During her post-eviction interview, one radio reporter used identical mikes, one for Mary and one for himself. Mary's microphone failed so the interviewer swapped mikes which appeared to work well, until the mike nearest Mary failed. Both mikes, when tested later, worked perfectly. Mary had had no physical contact with either.
"She's still here, isn't she?" was the remark one friend made upon visiting an old house that I had shared with an elderly lady, who had died some six weeks earlier. I hadn't discussed the 'presence' with anyone, so, in some respects, it came as a relief when another expressed feelings similar to those that I had felt. The lady in question had died in hospital, but 3 days later I felt that she had indeed returned. Sometimes the feeling was stronger on some occasions than on others, but it never really went away.
The most prolific experiences of mine occured in another old dwelling that I only found out much later had been known locally, for years, as 'the haunted house'. Such were the nature and frequency of manifestations here that one simply learned to live with them and with an acceptance as others would the postman. On one memorable occasion I was even struck by lightning inside the house. Thankfully, I was not alone in noticing that there was something different about this place, although others did remain insensitive of anything amiss.
At this time, I was working on sensitive electronic circuitry and results were very promising. However, on an intermittent basis, the whole system under test would 'flood' with a low frequency sound. So low, in fact, that you couldn't hear it. Such was the intensity of this flood that no meaningful measurements could be made, and work had to stop. Prolonged tests found no fault with the equipment and eventually the source was found to be caused by buses standing, for long periods with their engines running, at a stop three streets away.
More recently, a work colleague asked me to take a photo of them with their camera. We conclusively proved that the camera would not allow me to take the desired shot, any others being possible. The colleague claimed that it was clear I was emitting a dampening field.
The places where such manifestations occured were all heavily built of stone and in all cases long passages, tunnel, chimneys, chambers, figured in their architecture. Each structure could then be expected to have a low resonant frequency. Since the conditions favoured it, an explanation for the manifestations being triggered by the presence of infra-sound seems eminently plausible. The lightning is perhaps best counted as a truly random event.
The nature of the manifestations does, however, merit further thought.
Why Roman soldiers? Why not priestesses, peasants or even dinosaurs? Would an observer have seen the same or was the experience sub-retinal (although I can vouch for an occasion (at a different location) when two people saw the same cat that wasn't there)? How can a child, from beginning to speak, know unique details of a place, and people, that neither their family or their friends have ever seen or met?
From where do the cues arise for historical contexts of such accuracy?
Normally left unreported, sometimes such events can have a profound historical impact on society as a whole. Many religions are founded on an individual's visions, and divine inspiration is often keenly sought after. The belief in the existence of good and bad entities resident in normally undefinable or inaccessible 'other' regions is considered to be normal practice across the planet, and all manner of means have been employed in order to commune with them. Prayer, meditation, fasting, isolation, deprivation, singing, dancing, drumming, herbs, snake-handling, flagellation and even martyrdom have all figured world-wide. Imagine Byzantium at it's height with all it's stylites and hermits.
Great respectibility is imparted to serious adherents. Indeed, many societies have given precedence to those who maintain the structure of these beliefs. Although, rightly or wrongly, some parties associate manifestations of a 'religious' nature with a susceptibilty to temporal lobe epilepsy, whilst others cite examples of petty exploitation. Another view is that religion is but a malleable dream built up to control a population's socio-economic structure, maintaining the status quo. Nevertheless, as Joan of Arc showed, great changes can be inspired by another's experiences within such structures.
The impact of her revelations can perhaps be better considered, in a modern context, by firstly counting the number of Joan's contemporaries you can name. Then, consider who amongst your local population could do better. Today however, Joan, I think, would most likely be found in a psychiatric ward, perhaps diagnosed with trauma. I, for one, believe that her beatification came much too late.
The sheer diversity of means by which an individual can praise their chosen/elected/imposed maker, however, is the telling point. Religion is as diverse as language, and is just as universal in the truest sense of the word, regardless of the size of it's pantheon, or sub-divisions.
Right across time humans have required and then acquired means to quantify or deal with events that are accepted to be often unpredictable, unconfirmable and sometimes unmanagable but, nonetheless, acceptable within society (though not too often!). The oldest evidence closest to the author would be represented by the 'broken wands' included in the 'Lady of Paviland's' grave (actually a Neanderthal male?). One must also be mindful how references will change over time. What would be a 'fairy-boat' to a Swiss farmer of the 15th century, would be a 'flying-saucer' to a 50's American and an 'angel' to another will be seen as 'djin' elsewhere. Thus the context in which something is perceived and then reported will also differ with time, given the then prevailing social constraints and expectations.
Consider the crop-circle phenomena. The common need to fulfill or obtain an extraordinary experience in a technological society can be seen where yesterday's fairies, etc become today's aliens, with it's attendant belief in same. Yesterday's supernatural powers become today's higher technology. The market for even fiction in this area thus is large and with a majority, the consensus will then often swiftly prevail as truth, despite this element proving variable over time. Attributes can then quickly accumulate around some sites intended to confirm older reports as historical truth, whilst, interestingly, others of more robust reportage, remain seemingly ignored.
Perhaps even the need for music has arisen from this quest, again emphasising a universality.
Another complication arises out of such events confounding views of time and space.
What does one see? If the Roman soldiers were a genuine 'memory' then how far away in terms of distance has the planet travelled from the place of the original incident? Quite a long way. Does this imply some connection with the matter involved, ie; the Roman road itself? Or even the space that that matter occupies? Given sub-retinal experiences alone the scale of operation appears to manifest itself down to the quantum level - so, is one seeing a ripple, or echo, from an event?
A 'memory' effect certainly seemed to be applicable to 'the haunted house', eg; one individual reported that a blue Naval jacket, complete with shiny buttons, had passed right through him, oblivious to the knowledge that the building's commission was by a ship's officer. The building was a tall one, and nothing had stood before on the site. Since the event occured on the uppermost floor, the connection with a previous occupant is palpable. In the same way, many other 'ghostly' apparitions reported elsewhere appear to be firmly rooted in a past that is connected with the immediate environment. Time and place certainly appear to be components.
What is the mechanism involved? Is it entirely internal to the observer? Perhaps not. The incident with the non-existent cat seemed to confirm an external phenomenon. Then there are 'group' sightings, many of them famous, such as the 'Angels of Mons' which, if even resident in fiction, are eagerly engaged, not to mention the many ascribed to the Virgin Mary. Or 'goddess' in another age.
The seriousness with which events are perceived can result in serious change to a society. Joseph Smith's revelations, which resulted in the creation of another christian church, were supported by witness statements confirming the existence of 'curious' artefacts. In more modern times, an international airport was built in Ireland ostensibly to accommodate prospective pilgrims.
The 'reception' of some form of signal may be arguable. From shamanism onwards some kind of interface, ceremonial or otherwise, differing from reality has been seen to be required. Many cultures have advocated even more varieties of preparations to 'tune' oneself to what one seeks. Perhaps it is possible that an accidental combination of events can even trigger a momentary sensitivity. The trouble is, to what?
The flood of emotion and detail frequently reported during these events is often felt to have been profound. A very 'wide-band' signal would therefore seem to be necessary. Striking, however, is that the memory will be retained as if it were one's own, and this is precisely because it was one's own. The reported premonitions/visions around RMS Titanic, HMS Barham (the latter resulting in the last prosecution for witchcraft in the UK) and other disasters have a broadcast-like quality in being tied to a definite event in, what we would call, real-time. Perhaps a bow-wave exists ahead, and even to the side, of an event. Even today, the Chinese still exercise a centuries-old respect for malevalence that is deemed to be fully capable of striking from beyond the grave. Thus, rich tombs that would have been robbed out relatively quickly in other cultures, have remained intact through genuine fear.
By contrast, the magician Harry Houdini, a profound exponent of 'sleight of hand' and much more, had considerable success in exposing and debunking fraudulent spiritualists and mediums. He maintained that, when he died, he would make every effort to contact the living from 'the other side'. No such meaningful contact has been recorded.
Given a random distribution, events with a positive beneficial influence will 'clump' just as those of a negative nature will. The same can be said of coincidences. However, the belief in some form of predetermination seems to be at the core of human nature. Much ardour and time is spent consulting horoscopes, oracles, the I Ching, Tarot, tealeaves or even the latest racing form, whilst superstitions are scoffed at in company. Do we unconsciously perceive some fractal quality that then influences our actions?
Does the brain momentarily throw its archives into the air and then scrambles to make sense of the resultant hail?
Is there an unheard background hum from the postulated multi-verses with which we co-exist which, on occasion, peaks into our crude cognisance? With an infinite number to choose from, this could certainly explain the diversity manifested.
Does our 'hard-wiring' implicitly carry the potential for the concept of contact with a godhead, superior beings or 'other realms'? And if so, why?
Do dreams then deserve closer attention if they are influenced by external means? Does the babbling of a child or the ranting of a lunatic have a newer significance? Do those seen see us?
In cases of recent bereavement or severe trauma obvious shock conditions will pertain. But, what is happening when individuals with no previous history and, in many cases, no further history of sightings, in the course of doing an ordinary task on an ordinary day, suddenly find themselves observing something apparently quite unreal?
The cool cynic who never experiences such events can rightly say that they can be due to an overactive imagination, a 'glitch' in the brains 'programming', change of diet, wishful-thinking, fraud, infra-sound, the increasing fluctuations of the Earth's magnetic field or simply too much of the wrong stuff perhaps, and with this I am happy to agree. But, it remains a fact that for a large portion of the human population that these phenomena are very, very real and this truth must be respected. Sometimes at a very high cost.
Maybe I too have an undetected tendency towards temporal lobe epilepsy, though what has puzzled me in the past has never had any religious connotation and, so far, has been silent. Where I now dwell, no manifestations are present, at least to me.
It is sometimes helpful to see just how far back, evolutionarily speaking, 'abstract' behaviour manifests itself.
The deposits of Fu-Ku-Tien near Peking permit us to go back to the earliest Pleistocene times. They have yielded - together with abundant vestiges of fire, and work in bone and stone - the remains of a dozen human beings, halfway between Pithecanthropus man of Java and Neanderthal man of Mousterian Europe. For the moment these remains are confined to skull and lower jaw, without traces of cervical vertebrae, while the animals on which these men fed are represented by bones from all parts of the body. There can thus be no question of cannabalism or of the heads being cut from corpses immediately after death. To all appearances these skulls must have been preserved after the bodies had been stripped of flesh.
Hence from the remotest times when, on the evidence of the skull which is all we have of his body, man was still closely related to the ape, it would seem that there are proofs of his industry and that, at least in the form of a cult of the dead, he revealed traces of religion."
Larouse Encyclopedia of Mythology.
The remains relating to Sinanthropus, currently known as homo erectus pekinensis, were dated to some 500,000 to 750,000 years old, although a newer technique indicates 680,000 to 780,000 to be likelier.
Other primates exhibit more than a passing acquaintance with remains. Elephants will return to a herd member's skeletion and are seen to 'mourn'. One can point to other group behaviour, as when, for example, a flock of thousands of starlings will change direction in an instant. Such topics, then, should be safe for polite conversation and one can then wonder, that when animals dream, whether their experience is similar to that of humans, or vice versa.