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On October 13th, 1917, one of Christianity’s great miracles took place at Fatima in Portugal. For a number of months, three shepherd children had been having visions of a female entity. Beginning on Sunday May 13th of that year, 10-year-old Lucie dos Santos and her cousins François and Jacinthe Marto had seen an apparition on the 13th of each successive month, above a small oak-tree at the heart of a natural basin called Cova da Iria. On each occasion, growing crowds also witnessed strange phenomena, the details of which deserve greater scrutiny. Here is a synopsis of each ‘vision’:

Sunday May 13th: Lucie describes everything becoming suddenly quiet, and then the ‘Virgin’ begins talking to her.

Wednesday June 13th: The children are accompanied by some fifty people. Lucie sees a bright flash and begins communicating with a vision that the others present neither see nor hear. The crowd does hear, though, a humming sound described as ‘many bees’. The vision ends when the group hears an explosive sound, “like the blast of a firework when you hear it going up in the distance”. At this point all of them see a little white cloud moving away from the tree.

Friday July 13th: A group of several thousand arrives with the children on this occasion. During this vision, Lucie is promised a ‘great miracle’ to convince the doubters during the October vision. The children are also entrusted with three secrets (the third of which gained legendary status, before being revealed just a few years ago). Once again, an explosive sound is heard and the little white cloud moves away. Again the crowd hear the “humming of a bee”, and notice a decline in daylight.

Monday August 13th: The children are unable to attend as a local official had detained them due to the public disorder being caused. Nevertheless, a crowd close to 20,000 gathers and once again see and hear the usual sequence of events. Witnesses also describe seeing “a luminous globe turning around on itself”.

Thursday September 13th: The children are accompanied by more than 25,000 people – including two investigating priests. The crowd notices a bright sphere approaching from the sky. Lucie again speaks with the ‘Virgin’. As she departs, the crowd cries “There She goes!” as they sight a luminous oval moving away, “calmly but with a certain speed”. At this point the group also observe a shower of what later became known as ‘rose petals’ – although original acounts actually suggest silvery flakes which dissolved as witnesses caught them in their hands.

Saturday October 13th: Despite heavy rain overnight, and drizzle throughout the day, some 70,000 people turn up in expectation of the promised ‘miracle’. According to the Portuguese historian Leopoldo Nunes, “at the time of the great miracle, there were present some of the most illustrious men of Letters, Arts or Sciences of the day, almost all non-believers, who had come out of simple curiosity.”

At noon, Lucie was alerted to the onset of the vision by a regular tell-tale sign – a series of blinding flashes. She asked the crowd to close their umbrellas, which they did despite the continuing drizzle. Some members of the crowd reported seeing “a column of cloud [smoke] fine and bluish, perfectly visible” around the three children. Then, the miracle occurred – the “sun” was seen to dance and descend to the Earth. Many have surmised that what the crowd actually saw was once again one of the silvery orbs previously seen – the ‘sun’ was described as “a sharply outlined disk” and “a flat piece of dull silver”, and that notably it “shone without hurting one’s eyes. Descending with a zigzag motion, and spinning on itself, the orb/disk then seemed to fall upon the crowd, turning blood red, before ascending once more. During the orb’s ‘dance’, the crowd reported – despite the drizzle – feeling a gentle warmth, and this appears to have been physically true because one of the great mysteries of the ‘miracle’ is that afterwards witnesses were surprised to find their clothes almost completely dry. Many reports also told of how the orb threw off different colours – white, yellow, blue and purple are mentioned.

On the 13th of October 1930, based on an exhaustive inquiry, the Catholic Church officially recognised the authenticity of the apparitions at Fatima.

A Curious Substance

Many researchers, including the esteemed Jacques Vallee, have noticed the similarities in the Fatima visions to some UFO cases. One of these similarities is the ‘angel hair’ that fell on the crowd during the September event (the later attribution of ‘rose petals’ is a good example of how embellishment of religious accounts occurs). ‘Angel Hair’ is a phenomenon well-known in ufology, where silver craft – variously described as disks, spheres and cigars – are seen leaving a white contrail. Soon, a cobweb-like substance is found to fall from the sky, sometimes in flakes but also quite often in long strands which drape themselves over power-lines and fences. When witnesses attempt to pick up some of the substance, it seems to disintegrate into nothing at their touch. The curious substance which showered on the crowd at Fatima no doubt conforms to the usual appearance of angel hair – silvery orbs (moving often in zig-zag motion, and also turning ‘blood red’ at high noon no less), explosive sounds, the sublimation of the substance as people touch it. Additionally, it should be noted that the sublimation is said to sometimes occur with a trace of light blue smoke or vapour…a possible link with the fine blue cloud seen around the children?

Consider these accounts of ‘angel hair’ over the years (see here for a substantial list):

  • In 1477, in Japan, white cotton-like material fell for 6 hours after a luminous object crossed the sky
  • In 1596, in Japan, a greath earthquake struck the Kyoto area at night and strange white hair fell over the region.
  • In 1702, once again in Japan, at high noon the sun changed colour to a blood-like red and strings of a substance similar to white cotton fell to the ground.
  • In 1945, in the US, a man was hunting when he saw a UFO land in a clearing in the woods. The craft then emitted a humming sound, began revolving and ascended vertically. As it disappeared it discharged a shower of silvery thread-like material.
  • In 1952, in France, ‘saucers’ were seen travelling in pairs in a ‘zig-zag’ motion. These objects left long trails which drifted down and covered trees, telephone wires and houses.
  • In 1954, in France, a mysterious explosion was heard, enough to make the roof tiles on houses shake. A few minutes later, white strands fell on the countryside, which evaporated when people touched them.
  • Also in 1954 in France (on Oct 13th no less), a witness reported seeing a huge white disk moving at tremendous speed. Suddenly it exploded in full flight, and a smaller silver object seemed to spurt from the explosion and continued on a southward trajectory. The remnants of the disk fell gently like shredded paper.
  • In 1998, at Quirindi in Australia, a 61-year-old said she saw cobwebs falling from the sky. On looking up, she saw some twenty silver orbs, which continued floating around the sky for another hour and a half. When she tried to pick up the substance, it disintegrated in her hand.
  • In 2000, residents of two north-Italian towns reported an unusually loud boom, followed by a shower of “long sheer white filaments drifting down from the sky.”

The phenomenon of angel hair has not been at the forefront of modern UFO research, partly because recently there haven’t been a great number of reports, and also because many people accept the orthodox line that the ‘angel hair’ is in fact the web of migrating ballooning spiders, which travel on the air currents using silken web ‘parachutes’.

Many skeptics point to a paper written by researcher Brian Boldman which supports the spider web hypothesis (the original website appears to be down, but it is available via Google’s cache). In it, he puts forward his hypothesis that angel hair UFOs are in fact statically charged balls of spider web, based on numerous accounts of the angel hair appearing to behave as if it were charged (eg. ‘jumping’ from grass onto one’s hand). The ballooning spider hypothesis is solidly supported by the fact that instances of ‘angel hair’ occur very regularly around October, the usual time of migration for these spiders. Indeed, the UFO wave of 1954 – which contained many instances of angel hair – was concentrated right around the month of October.

The view of these ‘orbs’ as statically charged balls of spider web filaments may also be supported by the fact that they are often seen ‘in formation’ and joined together. For example:

  • In 1952 in France, two objects spotted in the sky appeared to be connected by a whitish trail, ‘like an electric arc’. Angel hair fell from the sky subsequently.
  • In 1953 (October 13th again), four round objects were spotted by a woman after a flock of turkeys she was feeding became alarmed – she said one of the objects appeared to flying ahead of the rest, with the other three appearing to linked together.
  • In 1954, over the course of a number of days, thousands of witnesses numerous luminous points flying over Rome in Italy, grouped in V-shapes which also came together to make a diamond shape and an “enormous Saint Andrew’s cross”. The sighting was followed by the falling of ‘angel hair’.
  • In 1968 in Canada, a farmer saw three football-shaped objects. Two of the UFOs appeared to be connecte by a “long, white arc or loop” which appeared to fraying, with the third object separate. Afterwards, long white filaments fell upon the farm.
  • In 1971, in Australia, silvery-white globes were reported. Many appeared to be ‘double’ with a joining thread or cord, moving around each other. The objects were seen moving in separate directions, and also changing direction suddenly (which seems to argue against the wind as the propellant). Pieces of ‘fairy floss’ were found on the ground, which melted when touched.

However, despite being the ‘poster essay’ for skeptics, Boldman’s view appears to have changed, as in a more recent paper (which I recommend everyone reads) he seems to be renouncing his previous conclusion:

If spider webs are angel hair, then we have been the victims of a cruel joke of nature, the similarity of two separate phenomena, both in appearance and pattern. But I consider spider web to be a red herring…the evidence seems overwhelming that angel-hair cases are indeed related to genuine UFOs, and provides more evidence of their reality. Both UFOs and angel hair deserve the serious attention of the scientific community.

The ‘ballooning spider’ explanation is certainly prosaic, so what aspects of ‘angel hair’ cases don’t lend themselves to this idea? For one, the spheres are often seen heading in opposite directions, and also stopping, hovering, and making 90 degree turns. This would tend to argue against balls of web being carried on the breeze. Also, spider web normally doesn’t dissolve in the hands of humans (or indeed before it hits the ground). The sheer amount may count against it as well – some ‘orbs’ seem particularly large, and angel hair falls have covered many square miles at a time. Perhaps most importantly, when samples have been ‘captured’, analysis usually ends in confusion – and nobody has equated the substance with spider’s web (see Boldman’s essay, page 13-14). However, four separate analyses have resulted in detection of silicon, calcium, magnesium and boron each time…and Boldman points out that while the first three are common elements, the presence of boron is puzzling.

Things turn interesting when Boldman correlates something else with the presence of angel hair. Firstly, he points out that not all UFO waves have instances of angel hair reported – in fact, only the 1954 and 1973 waves showed significant reporting. These two waves not only featured angel hair, but also “were replete with a large quantity of high strangeness cases of high quality involving ‘entity’ sightings [and] electromagnetic (EM) effects”. Graphing the UFO waves of 1954 and 1973, he found that the showers of this mysterious substance correlated strongly with reports of entities:

What is really interesting about the entity reports is that they correlate with the peaks of both waves

In the concluding chapter of this essay, I will discuss the implications of this finding and how it relates to other aspects of the ‘miracle at Fatima’.