News Briefs 27-11-2015

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."

Quote of the Day:

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”

G.B. Shaw

That Time Obi-Wan Kenobi Used the Force to Warn James Dean About His Impending Death

Obi-Wan Kenobi

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Despite a long and celebrated career on stage and screen, this famous line from the original Star Wars will likely be the scene that most people remember in association with the name of Sir Alec Guinness.

As the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, Guinness is suddenly overcome when the entire population of the distant planet Alderaan is instantaneously killed when the Empire's "Death Star" destroys the planet. He feels this through 'the Force', a mystical power that gives him and other Jedi paranormal-like physical and mental abilities.

Interestingly, Sir Alec once had a real-life 'paranormal experience' of his own. In a talk on science fiction's use of parapsychological themes, researcher Dean Radin pointed out that in a 1977 TV interview with Michael Parkinson (post Star Wars release, in which he also discussed the film and how his 2.25% cut of the takings came about), Sir Alec told of a "very very odd, spooky experience" he had upon meeting James Dean, shortly before the iconic star's death in a car accident.

And when told by Sir Alec himself (see video below) - in the voice we all now know as Obi-Wan Kenobi - it certainly sounds like a manifestation of 'the Force'.

In September 1955, fresh off a plane and spending his first night ever in Hollywood, Guinness was out looking for a meal when James Dean approached him, asking the celebrated thespian to join him for dinner at the Villa Capri, a small Italian restaurant frequented by stars. But on the way into the restaurant, Dean first took them into the car-park, saying...

"Before we go in, I must you show something. I've just got a new car." And there in the courtyard of this little restaurant was a - I don't know what the car was, some little silver, very smart thing...all done up in cellophane with a bunch of roses tied to its bonnet. And I said, "How fast can you drive it". And he said "Oh I can do 150 in it". And I said "Have you driven it?" He said "No, I've never been in it at all."

And some strange thing came over me, almost a different voice, and I said "Look I won't join your table unless you want me to, but I must say something: please, do not get into that car. Because if you do," and I looked at my watch, and I said "if you get into that car at all, it's now Thursday"...whatever the day it was..."10 o'clock at night, and by 10 o'clock at night next Thursday you'll be dead if you get into that car."

[mimics James Dean's response with a wave of the hand] "Nonsense".

So we had dinner, a charming dinner, and he was dead the following Thursday afternoon, in that car. It was rather a very very odd, spooky experience.

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Guinness does make the mistake in the interview of saying it was Thursday, when in fact James Dean died on Friday 30th September. Though in writing of the incident he has correctly said the dinner was on Friday the 23rd of September (and in the interview he also off-handedly notes "whatever the day it was"), with Dean dying within the week.

Also, when Michael Parkinson asks him if anything like that had ever happened to him before, Sir Alec replies "No, I'm glad to say". But this wasn't absolutely true: while serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War II, he was tasked with taking his craft to the island of Vis to evacuate 400 women and children ahead of an anticipated German invasion. The day before the mission - New Year's Eve, 1943 - he was resting on his bunk when he heard a voice suddenly say "Tomorrow". He wrote in his diary that he took this as a premonition of his own death during the evacuation mission - and while he obviously survived, his ship was hit by a storm and had to be abandoned after being pushed onto rocks.

It seems that, just like in the Star Wars universe, in real life Obi-Wan Kenobi had mystical powers, and yet never actually seemed to stop anything awful from happening...

News Briefs 26-11-2015

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful they still let me post here...

Quote of the Day:

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business."

Tom Robbins

News Briefs 25-11-2015

Which is weirder - our past or our future?

Thanks Greg

Quote of the Day:

The world is still a weird place, despite my efforts to make clear and perfect sense of it.

Hunter S. Thompson

Michael Persinger Defends the 'God Helmet', says Richard Dawkins Was Affected by Alcohol When He Tried It

Richard Dawkins wears the God Helmet

Many years ago 'neurotheology' researcher Michael Persinger made news with his 'God Helmet', a head-mounted apparatus that generated weak, fluctuating magnetic fields, which was reportedly able to induce mystical experiences in those wearing it. However, a 2005 study by other researchers failed to replicate Persinger's results, and the effect was written off as being due to suggestibility rather than an actual, physical change in the brain.

The 'God Helmet' has slipped from the radar since that replication failure, but Persinger has now answered many of the criticisms/accusations about his research in a series of ten blog posts. The topics range from the set-up of the experiments, through related subjects such as his Tectonic Strain Theory and Chris French's 'Haunted Room' experiment, to even noting that Richard Dawkins was perhaps a little inebriated during his own (failed) encounter with the God Helmet:

Question: Richard Dawkins is seen drinking wine or wine mixed with soda water (a “Wine Cooler”) before his session with the God Helmet in the BBC video showing his visit to your lab. Had he been drinking before the session? Will alcohol interfere with the God Helmet effects?

Answer: Yes, he had been drinking. The scent was easily noticed. In addition, he was obliged to sit in hot lights within the chamber for almost an hour as the BBC director managed several television studio details before the experiment began. This forced us to deviate from our typical protocol where the person walks into the dimly lit chamber and we begin the experiment within a few minutes. We have found that intoxication, particularly ethanol, interferes with the experimental induction of the sensed presence.

In addition, Dawkins had a low score for temporal lobe sensitivity, as mentioned on several web pages (example). Ordinarily, there are ways we can compensate, but these conditions made it difficult. Getting a subject to relax can take time before the session begins, and on that occasion, we were already pressed for time.

For those not familiar with Persinger's God Helment experiments, the episode of Through the Wormhole embedded below gives a good, quick introduction:

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News Briefs 24-11-2015

One-man band...

Quote of the Day:

Simplistic answers can be hugely emotionally satisfying, especially when you feel you need someone to blame.

The world, however, is a very complicated place, and simplistic answers are usually wrong.


The Twin Peaks Tarot

Twin Peaks Tarot

It always seems so obvious in retrospect: artist Benjamin Mackey recently was inspired by a genius idead: to create a variant on the Rider Waite Tarot Deck, based on the cult television series created by David Lynch (which itself featured all manner of occult references: the Twin Peaks Tarot.

In the embedded podcast below, Mackey is asked whether he thinks the way in which many Twin Peaks characters seem to fit so well with the cards of the Tarot was by conscious design of David Lynch, or if it's simply down to the archetypal nature of story characters:

I think there are certain characters that David Lynch was purposefully basing off Tarot archetypes. There's one scene where Major Garland Briggs, he's talking about his experiences in the White Lodge, and there's a scene where he's sitting on this stone throne and he's surrounded by this lush greenery, and the pose he's striking is almost exactly the pose that the hierophant strikes. Then there's also a scene with Blackie at One-Eyed Jack's, she's at her table and she's playing the Tarot Cards. And it's a really small thing, you don't see her doing it a lot and they don't make a lot of direct references to it...but something like that, makes me think that maybe David Lynch has more of a conscious connection to the Tarot.

(via DisInfo and @MichaelMHughes)

News Briefs 23-11-2015

It all makes sense now...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

The apocalypse is not something which is coming. The apocalypse has arrived in major portions of the planet and it's only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege andn social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating the apocalypse.

Terence McKenna

News Briefs 21-11-2015

"Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it."

Quote of the Day:

“Everyone believes very easily whatever they fear or desire.”

Jean de la Fontaine

The Cult of Mary: How Supernatural Apparitions and Miracle Healings Led to Veneration of the Mother of Jesus

The Virgin Mary

The cover story for the latest edition of National Geographic. "How the Virgin Mary Became the World's Most Powerful Woman", looks at the rise of the 'cult' of the Virgin Mary, specifically through the lens of the miraculous/supernatural/Fortean apparitions of - and 'healings' by - the mother of Jesus throughout history. Award-winning journalist Maureen Orth looks at how the iconic religious figure has permeated Western culture (as well as Islamic culture to some extent as well), and how alleged miracles in her name provide sustenance to her on-going mythos:

Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fátima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as poetry, liturgy, and music (Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin). And she is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.

Praying for the Virgin Mary's and being devoted to her are a global phenomenon. The notion of Mary as intercessor with Jesus begins with the miracle of the wine at the wedding at Cana, when, according to the Gospel of John, she tells him, “They have no wine,” thus prompting his first miracle. It was in A.D. 431, at the Third Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus, that she was officially named Theotokos, Bearer of God. Since then no other woman has been as exalted as Mary. As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings. Her mantle offers both security and protection. Pope Francis, when once asked what Mary meant to him, answered, “She is my mamá.”

Her reported appearances, visions experienced often by very poor children living in remote or conflict-wracked areas, have intensified her mystery and aura. And when the children can’t be shaken from their stories—especially if the accounts are accompanied by inexplicable “signs” such as spinning suns or gushing springs—her wonder grows

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported throughout post-New Testament history, but in the last 450 years alone there have been more than 2000 reported sightings (see the map below for a graphic representation - the National Geographic story has a larger version for ease of viewing).

Virgin Mary Sightings Around the World

The Catholic Church however is very careful in officially recognising such events, with only sixteen of those being sanctioned as true miracles. Their pain-staking process of investigation covers many aspects of each sighting, though "the 'authenticity' and mental stability of the seer are prime, and anyone suspected of trying to gain fame or riches from contact with the Virgin Mary is ignored or condemned". Furthermore, "the Vatican would never approve an alleged apparition whose message contradicted church teachings, and the faithful aren’t required to believe in apparitions."

The locations of apparitions and healings, such as Lourdes and Medjugorje, have become famous the world over.

Here's a video made by National Geographic to accompany their story, "Five things to know about Marian apparitions":

One aspect unfortunately not covered in the story is the Fortean interpretation - are these apparitions actually Christian/Islamic, or are they something else, simply being interpreted through that lens? Jacques Vallee covered some of these thoughts in his book Passport to Magonia, in which he discusses VM apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and another at Knock in Ireland, and how some elements also match those found in sightings of other strange phenomena, such as UFOs and 'fairy folk', throughout history. (I also specifically covered the similarity in 'sounds' heard during these sightings in my article "Her Sweet Murmur: Exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences".) From spinning disks to falls of 'angel hair', there are some distinctly strange aspects to a number of 'Virgin Mary' apparitions.

An interesting article nonetheless, although one can only wonder how much criticism it might receive from scientific quarters given recent concerns that Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of National Geographic, and the subsequent cuts to staff within the organisation, might lead to a less scientific approach from the iconic science magazine.

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