An apparition, from Latin apparere (to appear), is in its literal sense merely an appearance—a sense perception of any kind, but as used in psychical research and parapsychology the word denotes an abnormal or paranormal appearance or perception, which cannot be explained by any mundane objective cause. Taken in this sense the word covers all visionary appearances, hallucinations, clairvoyance, and similar unusual perceptions. "Apparition" and "ghost" are frequently used as synonymous terms, though the former is, of course, of much wider significance. A ghost is a visual apparition of a deceased human being—the term implies that the ghost is the spirit of the person it represents. Apparitions of animals and even inanimate objects are also occasionally reported. All apparitions do not take the form of visual images; auditory and tactile false perceptions, although less common, are not unknown. For example, there is record of a house that was "haunted" with the perpetual odor of violets.
Evolution of the Belief in Apparitions
The belief that identifies an apparition with the spirit of the creature it represents—a worldwide belief widely affirmed in all cultures throughout history—has been traced to the ancient doctrine generally called animism, which endowed everything in nature, from human beings to the smallest insect, from the heavenly bodies to an insignificant plant or stone, with a separable soul. It is not difficult to understand how the conception of souls may have arisen. Nineteenth-century anthropologist James Frazer, in his classic work, the Golden Bough, states,
"As the savage commonly explains the processes of inanimate nature by supposing that they are produced by living beings working in or behind the phenomena, so he explains the phenomena of life itself. If an animal lives and moves, it can only be, he thinks, because there is a little animal inside which moves it. If a man lives and moves, it can only be because he has a little man or animal inside, who moves him. The animal inside the animal, the man inside the man, is the soul. And as the activity of an animal or man is explained by the presence of the soul, so the repose of sleep or death is explained by its absence; sleep or trance being the temporary, death being the permanent absence of the soul."
Sometimes the human soul was represented as a bird—an eagle, a dove, a raven—or as an animal of some sort, just as the soul of a river might be in the form of a horse or a serpent, or the soul of a tree in human shape; but among most peoples the belief was that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body resembling it in every feature, even to details of dress.
When a person saw another in a dream, it was thought either that the soul of the dreamer had visited the person dreamed of, or that the soul of the latter had visited the dreamer. By an easy process of reasoning, this theory was extended to include dreams of animals and inanimate things, which also were endowed with souls.
Telepathy and clairvoyance have been described as appearing in pre-industrial indigenous cultures and have a powerful effect in the development of a belief in apparitions. It is believed that the apparition of a deceased person suggested to some the continuance of the soul's existence beyond the grave; the apparition of a sick person, or one in some other grave crisis could also be regarded as the soul, which at such times was absent from the body.
There is a widely diffused opinion that ghosts are of a filmy, unsubstantial nature, a belief also present in the earliest speculations concerning apparitions. At a very early period (as, for example, in the early chapters of the biblical book of Genesis) we find "spirit" and "breath" identified with each other—an identification continued in the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, as well as appearing in other languages. It is possible that the breath, which in some climates readily condenses in cold air to a white mist, might be regarded as the stuff that ghosts are made of.
The "misty" nature of the ghost may also have resulted from an early speculation that the shadow is related to soul. Thus "animistic" ideas of the soul offer an explanation of apparitions. Ancient religion also had a belief in a host of spirits that had never taken bodies—true supernatural beings, as distinct from souls, i.e., gods, elementary spirits, and those "evil" spirits to which were attributed disease, disaster, possession, and bewitchment. The ancient deities may have evolved into the fairies, elves, brownies, bogies, and goblins of popular folklore, of which many apparitions are recorded.
Primitive Concepts of Apparitions
It is only within the last few generations that scientific investigation of apparitions has begun, growing out of the new post-Enlightenment scientific mythologies, and resulting from the new level of skepticism towards paranormal occurrences that developed in the nineteenth century. There was an almost universal belief in ghosts, a belief which European explorers found among the peoples they encountered as they set out on their empire-building expansions.
One of the most noteworthy features of ghosts in indigenous cultures was the fear and antagonism with which many regarded them. The spirits of the deceased were frequently thought to be unfriendly towards the living, desirous of drawing their souls into the spirit-world. Sometimes, as with the Australian Aborigines, they were represented as malignant demons. Naturally, everything possible was done to keep such ghosts at a distance from the habitations of the living.
Barriers to ghosts were constructed of thorn bushes planted around the beds of surviving relatives. Persons returning from a funeral might pass through a cleft tree, or other narrow aperture, to free themselves from the ghost of the person they just buried. The same reason has been given for the practice, common among Hottentots, Hindus, Native Americans, and many other peoples, of carrying the dead out through a hole in the wall and closing the aperture immediately afterward. The custom of closing the eyes of the dead may have arisen from the fear that the ghost would find its way back again.
To the contrary, the Mayas of the Yucatan (Mexico), used to draw a line with chalk from the tomb to the hearth, so that the soul might return if it desired to do so.
Among many peoples, the names of the departed (in some mysterious manner bound up with the soul, if not identified with it) are not mentioned by the survivors, and any among them possessing the same name change it for another.
Apparitions appeared in many shapes; it might take a human form, or the form of a beast, bird, or fish. Animal ghosts were common among Native Americans in both North and South America. Certain African tribes believed that the souls of evil-doers became jackals (a scavenger animal) on the death of the body. The Tapuya Indians of Brazil thought the souls of the good entered into birds, and this belief was of rather wide diffusion.
When the apparition was in human shape it was generally an exact counterpart of the person it represented, and, like the apparitions reported in more recent times, its dress was that worn by the deceased in its lifetime. It was generally accepted in indigenous cultures that the spirits of the departed mingled with the living, coming and going with no particular object in view or, on occasion, with the special purpose of visiting the scene of his earthly life. It may be that the spirit was demanding its body be buried with the proper ceremonial rites, if this had not been done, for a spirit cannot have any rest until the burial rite has been duly performed.
In China, the most common ghost was that of a person who had been murdered, and sought revenge on his murderer. In Australia, the spirit of one who had been murdered, or had died a violent death, was also considered likely to walk abroad. In many lands, the souls of women who died in childbirth were supposed to become spirits of a particularly malignant type that dwelled in trees and tormented passers-by. The Eastern Europeans believed the neglect of proper burial procedures led the deceased to continued existence as a vampire.
Such attention to burial procedures had several very practical benefits. The family in charge of the burial of a deceased relative was provided the opportunity of completing any emotional business they had with the deceased—a process today generally termed grief work. Burial rites of today are designed for the living, not the deceased, and provide a means of affirming life in the community in the face of death.
In many cultures, it is thought that ghosts haunt certain localities. The favorite spot seems to be the burial place, of which there is an almost universal superstitious dread (an emotional reaction to the implied threat of death). However, the Indians of Guyana (South America) believed that every place where anyone had died was haunted. Among the Kaffirs and the Maoris of New Zealand, a hut where a death has occurred was taboo, and was often burned or deserted. Sometimes, even a whole village would be abandoned on account of a death.
In most ancient accounts of apparitions, as well as those from more recent indigenous peoples, ghosts seldom manifest articulate human speech. They chirp like crickets, for instance, among the Algonquin Indians, and their "voices" are only intelligible to the trained ear of the shaman. The ghosts of the Zulus and New Zealander Maoris speak to the magicians in thin, whistling tones. This idea of the semiarticulate nature of ghosts is not confined to anthropological treatises; in his play Julius Ceasar, William Shakespeare spoke of "the sheeted dead," who, "did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome," and the "gibbering" ghost appeared in other connections.
Naturally an articulate apparition would be doubly convincing, since it appealed to two separate senses. Nineteenth-century anthropologist E. B. Tylor argued, "Men who perceive evidently that souls do talk when they present themselves in dream or vision, naturally take for granted at once the objective reality of the ghostly voice, and of the ghostly form from which it proceeds." Spirits that are generally invisible may appear only to selected persons and under certain circumstances. In the Antilles, it was believed that one person traveling alone could see a ghost that would be invisible to a number of people. The various religious functionaries—shamans, medicine men, and magicians—were often able to perceive apparitions that none but they could see. The induction of hallucinations by means of various techniques—fasts, rigid asceticism, solitude, the use of narcotics and intoxicants, dancing, and the performance of elaborate ceremonial rites—was known all over the world. These rituals are still performed today.
Ancient and Modern Ideas Concerning Apparitions
The belief in apparitions was very common in the ancient Middle East. The early Hebrews attributed them to angels, demons, and the souls of the dead, as is shown in the numerous Scriptural instances of apparitions. Dreams (see, for example Genesis 41) were regarded as apparitions if the predictions made in them were fulfilled, or if the dream-figure revealed anything unknown to the dreamer which afterwards proved to be true. That the Hebrews believed in the possibility of the souls of the dead returning is evident from the tale of the witch of Endor (I Samuel 28). In this connection, French biblical scholar Augustin Calmet wrote in his classic study, Dissertations upon the Apparitions of Angels, Demons & Ghosts (1759), "Whether Samuel was raised up or not, whether his soul, or only a shadow, or even nothing at all appeared to the woman, it is still certain that Saul and his attendants, with the generality of the Hebrews, believed the thing to be possible." Similar beliefs were held by other Mediterranean nations. Among the Greeks and Romans of the classic period apparitions of gods and men seem to have been fairly common. As Calmet further noted,
"The ancient Greeks, who had derived their religion and theology from the Egyptians and Eastern nations, and the Latins, who had borrowed theirs from the Greeks, were all firmly persuaded that the souls of the dead appeared sometimes to the living—that they could be called up by necromancers, that they answered questions, and gave notice of future events; that Apollo gave oracles, and that the priestess, filled with his spirit, and transported with a holy enthusiasm, uttered infallible predictions of things to come. Homer, the most ancient of all the Greek writers, and their greatest divine, relates several apparitions, not only of gods, but of dead men and heroes. In the Odyssey, he introduces Ulysses consulting Teresias, who, having prepared a pit full of blood, in order to call up the Manes, Ulysses draws his sword to hinder them from drinking the blood for which they were very thirsty, till they had answered the questions proposed to them. It was also a prevailing opinion that the souls of men enjoyed no repose, but wandered about near their carcasses as long as they continued unburied. Even after they were buried, it was a custom to offer them something to eat, especially honey, upon the supposition that after having left their graves, they came to feed upon what was brought them. They believed also, that the demons were fond of the smoke of sacrifices, of music, of the blood of victims, and the commerce of women; and that they were confined for a determinate time to certain houses or other places, which they haunted, and in which they appeared.
"They held that souls, when separated from their gross and terrestrial bodies, still retained a finer and more subtle body, of the same form with that which they had quitted; that these bodies were luminous like the stars; and they retained an inclination for the things which they had loved in their life time, and frequently appeared about their graves. When the soul of Patroclus appeared to Achilles, it had his voice, his shape, his eyes, and his dress, but not the same tangible body."
Calmet added of the early Christian church fathers,
"We find that Origen, Tertullian, and St. Irenaus, were clearly of this opinion. Origen, in his second book against Celsus, relates and subscribes to the opinion of Plato, who says, that the shadows and images of the dead, which are seen near sepulchres, are nothing but the soul disengaged from its gross body, but not yet entirely freed from matter; that these souls become in time luminous, transparent, and subtle, or rather are carried in luminous and transparent bodies, as in a vehicle, in which they appeal to the living…. Tertullian, in his book concerning the soul, asserts that it is corporeal, and of a certain figure, and appeals to the experience of those who have seen apparitions of departed souls, and to whom they have appeared as corporeal and tangible, though of an aerial colour and consistence. He defines the soul to be a breath from God, immortal, corporeal, and of a certain figure."
It is interesting to note that some of these widely read classic accounts of specters became the model of the melodramatic conceptions of more modern times. The younger Pliny tells of haunted houses whose main features correspond with those of later hauntings—houses haunted by dismal, chained specters, and the ghosts of murdered men who could not rest till their mortal remains had been properly buried.
In the early centuries of Christendom there was no diminution in the number of apparitions witnessed. Visions of saints were frequently seen; their appearances were stimulated by the fasts, rigid austerities, and severe penances practiced by Christian ascetics and penitents. The saints regularly saw visions, and were attended by guardian angels, as well as being harassed by the unwelcome attention of demons, or of their master, the devil.
These beliefs continued into the Middle Ages, when, without decreasing in vigor, they began to assume a more romantic aspect. The witch and werewolf superstitions led to many tales of animal apparitions. The poltergeist flourished in a congenial atmosphere. Vampires were familiar in Slavonic and African lands, and analogous beings such as the incubus and succubus were widespread throughout Northern and Western Europe.
In the northern countries, familiar spirits or goblins, similar to the Roman lares, or the wicked and mischievous lemures, haunted the domestic hearth, and bestowed well-meant, but not always desirable, attentions on the families to which they attached themselves. These beings were accountable for a vast number of apparitions, but the spirits of the dead also walked abroad. Generally they wished to unburden their minds of some weighty secret that hindered them from resting in their graves. The criminal came to confess his guilt, the miser to reveal the spot where he had hidden his gold. The cowled monk walked the dim aisles of a monastery, or haunted the passages of some Rhenish castle until the prayers of the devout won release for his tortured soul.
Tales of apparitions began to emerge in this period. For example, a maiden in white might flit through the corridor of an old mansion, moaning and wringing her hands, enacting in pantomime some long-forgotten tragedy. At the crossroads lingered the ghost of the poor suicide, uncertain which way to take. The old belief in the dread potency of the unburied dead continued to exercise sway. Another story, of German origin, tells of the Bleeding Nun. Many and ghastly had been her crimes during her lifetime, until finally she was murdered by one of her paramours, and her body was left unburied. The castle where she was slain became the scene of her nocturnal wanderings. One traditional story tells of a young woman who wished to elope with her lover and decided to disguise herself as this ghostly specter in order to facilitate their escape. But the unfortunate lover eloped with the veritable Bleeding Nun herself, mistaking her for his mistress!
This, and other traditional tales of apparitions—the Wild Huntsman, the Phantom Coach, and the Flying Dutchman, to mention a few of the more widespread and famous—either originated in this period or acquired in it a wildly romantic character which lent itself to treatment by ballad writers. It is in ballad form that many of these stories survived.
Such tales of the apparitions gave way in the eighteenth century to a skepticism among the more educated elements of Western society about the objective nature of apparitions—a skepticism that was destined two centuries later to assume almost universal proportions. Hallucinations, although not yet very well understood, began to be referred to as the "power of imagination." Many apparitions were also attributed to illusion. The belief in apparitions was sustained and given new strength by the clairvoyant powers demonstrated by magnetized subjects and somnambules. Emanuel Swedenborg, who had many disciples, did much to encourage the idea that apparitions were both objective and supernatural. To explain the fact that only the seer saw these beings and heard their voices, he argued,
"The speech of an angel or of a spirit with man is heard as sonorously as the speech of one man with another: yet it is not heard by others who stand near, but by the man himself alone. The reason is, the speech of an angel or of a spirit flows in first into the man's thought, and by an internal way into the organ of hearing, and thus actuates it from within, whereas the speech of man flows first into the air, and by an external way into the organ of hearing which it actuates from without. Hence, it is evident, that the speech of an angel and of a spirit with man is heard in man, and, since it equally affects the organ of hearing, that it is equally sonorous."
Ancient and modern ideas on apparitions differed very little in essential particulars, though they were colored by the culture in which they were reported and the time to which they belong. In times past they were thin, gibbering shadows; now they tend to be solid, full-bodied creatures, hardly to be distinguished from real flesh and blood, or again they are rich in romantic accessories; but the laws governing their appearance are the same, and the beliefs concerning them are not greatly different, in whatever culture or time period they may be found.
"A little before he left Asia he was sitting alone in his tent, by a dim light, and at a late hour. The whole army lay in sleep and silence, while the general, wrapped in meditation, thought he perceived something enter his tent; turning towards the door he saw a horrible and monstrous specter standing silently by his side. 'What art thou,' said he boldly. 'Art thou God or man, and what is thy business with me?' The specter answered, 'I am thy evil genius, Brutus! Thou wilt see me at Philippi.' To which he calmly replied, 'I'll meet thee there.' When the apparition was gone he called his servants, who told him they had neither heard any voice, nor seen any vision."
Types of Apparitions
Psychical research divided apparitions broadly into two classes—induced and spontaneous. To the former class belong hypnotic and post-hypnotic hallucinations and visions induced by the use of narcotics and intoxicants, fasts, ascetic practices, incense, narcotic salves, and various forms of hypnotism. The hallucinatory appearances seen in the mediumistic or somnambulistic trance are allied to those of hypnotism, but usually arise spontaneously, and are often associated with clairvoyance.
Crystallomancy or crystal gazing is a form of apparition that is believed to be frequently clairvoyant, and in this case the theory of telepathy is especially applicable. Crystal visions fall under the heading of induced apparitions, since gazing in a crystal globe induces in some persons an altered or slight dissociation of consciousness, without which hallucination is impossible.
Another form of clairvoyance is second sight, a faculty commonly reported among the Scottish Highlanders. Persons gifted with second sight often see symbolical apparitions; for instance, the vision of a funeral or a coffin when a death is about to occur in the community. Symbolical appearances are indeed a feature of clairvoyance and visions generally. Clairvoyance includes retrocognition and premonition —visions of the past and the future respectively—as well as apparitions of contemporary events happening at a distance. Clairvoyant powers are often attributed to the dying. Dreams are, strictly speaking, apparitions, but in ordinary usage the term is applied only to coincidental or genuine dreams, or to those "visions of the night," which are of peculiar vividness.
These subjective apparitions lead quite naturally to a consideration of the question of ghosts. The belief in ghosts has come to us, as has been indicated, from the remotest antiquity, and innumerable theories have been formulated to account for it, from older conceptions of the apparition as an actual soul to modern theories of which the chief are telepathy and spirit materialization. Apparitions of the living also offer a wide field for research, perhaps the most favored hypothesis being that of telepathic hallucination.
Another type of apparition is the wraith or double, of which the Irish fetch is a variant. The wraith is an exact facsimile of a living person, who may himself see it; Goethe, Shelley, and other famous men are said to have seen their own wraiths. The fetch makes its appearance shortly before the death of the person it represents, either to himself or his friends, or both. Another Irish spirit which foretells death is the banshee, a being which, according to legend, attaches itself to certain ancient families, and is regularly seen or heard before the death of one of its members.
To the same class of spirits belong the omens of death, in the form of certain animals or birds, which follow some families. The poltergeist, whose playful manifestations must certainly be included among apparitions is suggested as another classification of these as visual, auditory, and tactile, since poltergeist hauntings—or indeed hauntings of any kind—are not confined to apparitions touching any one sense.
Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
One characteristic type of apparition is the appearance of the Virgin Mary, who is usually seen by young girls in Catholic countries. Such appearances involve messages for mankind as a whole, usually admonitions against sin and exhortations to repentance. The apparitions are not sought by the children and youths concerned, and often the messages are well beyond their intellectual capacity. The visions occur in an ecstatic state.
Typical of such apparitions were those at Lourdes, in southern France, Fatima in Portugal, and Garabandal in Spain. Such apparitions have reinforced the faith of thousands of Catholics, though many have pointed out that similar visitations have been recorded widely within non-Catholic Christianity and among most or all of the world's religions and peoples. It is natural that sincere devotees envision a divine figure in the form familiar through the iconography of their own religion. The nineteenth-century Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna frequently had ecstatic visions of the goddess Kali.
While the unreligious might dismiss such visions as religious hysteria, contemporary psychology has rescued them from the realms of the abnormal and mapped their ecstatic nature along with other transpersonal psychological states, and religious scholars have noted the predominantly meaningful messages they deliver. One might also group such visitations with phenomena like the appearance of fairies, who are said to have a changeable aspect, taking on a form to suit the convention of the percipient. Additionally, in the twentieth century, there have been frequent reports by UFO contactees of "shining visitors from outer space" arriving in flying saucers.
Universality of Belief in Apparitions
It is clear that the belief in apparitions, and the varied forms under which this belief exhibits itself in various times and countries, is universal. Both ancient and modern peoples believe in hauntings and the basic principles of the phenomena—the existence of a spiritual world capable of manifesting itself in the sphere of matter, and the survival of the human soul after the dissolution of the body—are the same.
While the beliefs in ancient and medieval times may arouse interest and curiosity for their own sakes, psychical researchers have valued them chiefly as throwing light on modern occurrences and beliefs. The belief in apparitions, for example, has been a root principle of Spiritualism and is characteristic of religions that postulate the existence of a human soul. Many individuals who are not Spiritualists in the accepted sense have had experiences that render belief in apparitions inevitable.
Some Typical Examples of Apparitions
The true nature of apparitions is not really known. As Andrew Lang stated: "Only one thing is certain about apparitions, namely this, that they do appear. They really are perceived." How are they seen? When Lord Adare submitted this question to the control of the famous medium D. D. Home, he received the following answer:
"At times we make passes over the individual to cause him to see us, sometimes we make the actual resemblance of our former clothing, and of what we were, so that we appear exactly as we were known to you on earth; sometimes we project an image that you see, sometimes you see us as we are, with a cloudlike aura of light around us."
The perception is not restricted to the small hours of the night or to times of seclusion. It may occur publicly and at the most unexpected moments, a fact demonstrated by a ghost in evening dress seen one morning in a London street in 1878. As the Daily Telegraph reported: "A woman fled in affright, the figure had a most cadaverous look, but the next person the apparition encountered recognized it as that of a friend, a foreigner." Later, this next person, Dr. Armand Leslie, learned the his close friend was found dead in evening clothes in a foreign city at the time his phantasm was seen; but such occurrences are very rare. In the majority of cases there is some mediumistic intervention or some sufficiently potent driving motive to achieve the manifestation to nonsensitive people provided they happen to be in a receptive state.
An instance of the first is Cromwell Varley's oft-quoted testimony before the London Dialectical Society in 1869:
"In the Winter of 1864-5 I was busy with the Atlantic cable. I left a gentleman at Birmingham to test the iron wire. He had seen something of Spiritualism but he did not believe in it. He had a brother whom I had never seen in life. One night in my room there were a great number of loud raps. When at length I sat up in bed I saw a man in the air—a spirit—in military dress. I could see the pattern of the paper on the wall through him. Mrs. Varley did not see it. She was in a peculiar state and became entranced. The spirit spoke to me through her. He told me his name and said that he had seen his brother in Birmingham but that what he had to communicate was not understood. He asked me to write a message to his brother, which I did, and received an answer from Birmingham 'Yes, I know my brother has seen you, for he came to me and was able to make known as much.' The spirit informed me that when at school in France he was stabbed. This fact was only known to his eldest surviving brother and his mother. When I narrated this to the survivor he turned very pale and confirmed it."
Why Do They Appear?
Apparitions often occur because they possess an urgent message of extreme danger, worry, illness, or death on the part of the agent. But it is also often a warning of impending danger of death of someone closely connected to the percipient. The mode of delivery in the first group may disclose a confused, perturbed mentality. A phantom form may rush into a room and alarm individuals by its sudden appearance or by its noises. The purpose, nevertheless, is mostly clear and the apparition may come back more than once as if to make sure that the information of the fact of decease was duly understood. Sometimes more is conveyed, especially in cases of accidental or violent death. Successive pictures may arise as if in a vision of the state of the body or of subsequent steps taken in regard to it.
The announcement of death may be quite explicit, as in the case described in the Proceedings Society for Psychical Research (vol. 10, pp. 380-82),
"On June 5th, 1887, a Sunday evening, between eleven and twelve at night, being awake, my name was called three times. I answered twice, thinking it was my uncle, 'Come in, Uncle George, I am awake,' but the third time I recognized the voice as that of my mother, who had been dead sixteen years. I said 'Mamma!' She then came round a screen near my bedside with two children in her arms, and placed them in my arms and put the bedclothes over them, and said 'Lucy, promise me to take care of them, for their mother is just dead.' I said 'Yes, Mamma.' She repeated: 'Promise me to take care of them.' I replied 'Yes, I promise you,' and I added: 'Oh, Mamma, stay and speak to me. I am so wretched.' She replied: 'Not yet, my child.' Then she seemed to go round the screen again, and I remained, feeling the children to be still in my arms, and fell asleep. When I awoke, there was nothing. Tuesday morning, June 7th, I received the news of my sister-in-law's death. She had given birth to a child three weeks before which I did not know till after her death."
In a similar case a mother brought the news of the death of her grandson by drowning, the drowned man also appearing to the percipient. In an instance quoted by Camille Flammarion in The Unknown (1900), the percipient, whose brother was killed in the attack at Sedan, awoke suddenly during the night and saw,
"… opposite to the window and beside my bed my brother on his knees surrounded by a sort of luminous mist. I tried to speak to him but I could not. I jumped out of bed. I looked out of the window and I saw there was no moonlight. The night was dark and it was raining heavily, great drops pattering on the window panes. My poor Oliver was still there. Then I drew near. I walked right through the apparition. I reached my chamber door, and as I turned the knob to open I looked back once more. The apparition slowly turned its head towards me, and gave me another look full of anguish and love. Then for the first time I observed a wound on his right temple, and from it trickled a little stream of blood. The face was pale as wax, but it was transparent."
A letter later received proved that the dead man had a wound corresponding to that shown by the apparition.
The warning of death is sometimes veiled, an account of which is well illustrated by the instance recorded by the American Society for Psychical Research of a salesman, who, in a distant city, had suddenly seen the phantasmal appearance of his sister, full of life and natural, with a bright red scratch on the right side of her face. Perturbed by the vision he immediately broke his journey. At home his mother nearly fainted when he mentioned the scar. She had accidentally scratched her daughter's face after her death and carefully obliterated all its traces with powder. A few weeks later the mother died; but for the vision her son would not have seen her in life again. It is known that Josephine appeared to Napoleon at St. Helena and warned him of his approaching death.
The message left by an apparition is usually brief, as if the power to convey it is limited. The apparition seems to be drawn to the spot by the personality of the percipient. The place may have been totally unknown to him in life. The pictorial and often symbolic nature of the communication has been suggestive of the more subjective explanations of apparitions. In a curious group of cases images are seen instead of the lifelike figure. Anna Blackwell testified to such an experience before the London Dialectical Committee in 1870. The face of a beloved relative, like a life-size daguerreotype, appeared on a window pane of the house opposite to her window. It faded away several times, and appeared again. There seemed to be upon the pane a sort of dark iridescence out of which the face evolved, each appearance lasting about eight seconds, and each being darker and fainter than the preceding one. She also quoted the case of a Mrs. M. G. who saw in the tortoiseshell handle of a new parasol the face of Charles Dickens soon after his death. The face was small but with every feature perfectly distinct; and as she gazed upon it in utter amazement, the eyes moved and the mouth smiled.
Such images usually appear on polished surfaces. They may be seen by several people and then disappear after a while. In volume 2 of Phantasms of the Living there is a record of an apparition of this kind, of one Capt. Towns, witnessed by eight people. His face was seen on the polished surface of a wardrobe six weeks after his death.
The explorer Ernest Shackleton's experience, recorded in his book South (1919), borders on abnormal perception,
"I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me: 'Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us."'
Crean confessed to the same idea. Being interviewed by the Daily Telegraph (February 1, 1922) on this point, he said: "None of us cares to speak about that. There are some things which can never be spoken of. Almost to hint about them comes perilously near sacrilege. This experience was eminently one of those things."
Apparitions may be accompanied by bright light. A case in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (vol. 1, p. 405) suggests the objectivity of the occurrence. A physician and his wife, sleeping in separate but adjoining rooms, were awakened by a bright light. The physician saw a figure, and his wife got up and went into her husband's room to see what the light was. By that time the figure had disappeared.
In the Rev. Charles Tweedale 's house the disappearance of a phantom on November 14, 1908, was accompanied by a big flash of light and a cloud of smoke that filled the kitchen and the passage. The smoke had no ordinary smell. On another occasion the figure touched and spoke to his wife, then dissolved into a pillar of black vapor.
There are some cases in which the apparition is behind the percipient, yet clearly seen. Again, the phantom may appear quite solid, yet objects may be seen beyond it. Occasionally, it is a reflection only. As reported in Phantasms of the Living (vol. 2, p. 35), a Mrs. Searle fainted. Her husband saw her head and face white and bloodless about the same time in a mirror upon a window opposite him.
Apparitions seen at deathbeds are in a class of their own. In these so-called "meeting cases," a type of near-death experience, it appears as if deceased friends and relatives hasten to the borderland to extend a welcome to the dying.
In Peak in Darien (1882), Frances Power Cobbe writes,
"The dying person is lying quietly, when suddenly, in the very act of expiring, he looks up—sometimes starts up in bed— and gazes on what appears to be vacancy, with an expression of astonishment, sometimes developing instantly into joy, and sometimes cut short in the first emotion of solemn wonder and awe. If the dying man were to see some utterly unexpected but instantly recognized vision, causing him great surprise, or rapturous joy, his face could not better reveal the fact. The very instant this phenomenon occurs, death is actually taking place, and the eyes glaze even while they gaze at the unknown sight."
In many cases on record such paranormal perception and death are not simultaneous. "Among all the facts adduced to prove survival these seem to me to be the most disquieting," wrote Charles Richet, a psychical researcher who wished to explain all the Spiritistic occurrences by his theory of cryptesthesia. Hallucination is effectively barred out by those cases in which others in the room also perceive the phantom forms, but there is sufficient evidence for a genuine phenomenon if the person was not known to be dead to the dying at the moment of perception, or if independent evidence comes forth to prove that the perception was veridical. A striking illustration of the latter instance is the case of Elisa Mannors whose near relatives and friends, concerned in the communications received through Leonora Piper, were known to Richard Hodgson. His account, published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 13, p. 378), states:
"The notice of his [F., an uncle of Elisa Mannors] death was in a Boston morning paper, and I happened to see it on my way to the sitting. The first writing of the sitting came from Madame Elisa, without my expecting it. She wrote clearly and strongly, explaining that F. was there with her, but unable to speak directly, that she wished to give me an account of how she had helped F. to reach her. She said that she had been present at his deathbed, and had spoken to him, and she repeated what she had said, an unusual form of expression, and indicated that he had heard and recognized her. This was confirmed in detail in the only way possible at the time, by a very intimate friend of Mme. Elisa and myself, and also of the nearest surviving relative of F. I showed my friend the account of the sitting, and to this friend, a day or two later, the relative, who was present at the deathbed, stated spontaneously that F. when dying said that he saw Madame Elisa who was speaking to him, and he repeated what she was saying. The expression so repeated, which the relative quoted to my friend, was that which I had received from Madame Elisa through Mrs. Piper's trance when the death-bed incident was, of course, entirely unknown to me."
As Ernesto Bozzano pointed out, a curious feature of these visions is that the dying only claim to see deceased persons, whereas, if his thoughts alone would be concerned in it, he might be expected to see living persons as frequently as deceased ones. Again, even people who have been skeptical of survival all their lives sometimes have given evidence of such visions. The effect on those who witness such rending of the veil is very dramatic. A Dr. Wilson of New York who was present at the death of the well-known American tenor, James Moore, wrote:
"Then something which I shall never forget to my dying day happened, something which is utterly indescribable. While he appeared perfectly rational and as sane as any man I have ever seen, the only way that I can express it is that he was transported into another world, and although I cannot satisfactorily explain the matter to myself, I am fully convinced that he had entered the Golden City—for he said in a stronger voice than he had used since I had attended him: 'There is Mother. Why Mother, have you come here to see me? No, no, I'm coming to see you. Just wait, Mother, I am almost over. I can jump it. Wait, Mother.' On his face there was a look of inexpressible happiness, and the way in which he said the words impressed me as I have never been before, and I am as firmly convinced that he saw and talked with his mother as I am that I am sitting here."
In his Psychic Facts and Theories (1893), Minot J. Savage quoted the following instance in which the death in question was not known to the dying,
"In a neighbouring city were two little girls, Jennie and Edith, one about eight years of age, and the other but a little older. They were schoolmates and intimate friends. In June, 1889, both were taken ill with diphtheria. At noon on Wednesday Jennie died. Then the parents of Edith, and her physician as well, took particular pains to keep from her the fact that her little playmate was gone. They feared the effect of the knowledge on her own condition. To prove that they succeeded and that she did not know, it may be mentioned that on Saturday, June 8th, at noon, just before she became unconscious of all that was passing about her, she selected two of her photographs to be sent to Jennie, and also told her attendants to bid her goodbye. She died at half-past six o'clock on the evening of Saturday, June 8th. She had roused and bidden her friends goodbye, and was talking of dying and seemed to have no fear. She appeared to see one and another of the friends she knew were dead. So far it was like the common cases. But now suddenly, and with every appearance of surprise, she turned to her father and exclaimed: 'Why, papa, I am going to take Jennie with me!' Then she added 'Why, papa, why, papa, you did not tell me that Jennie was here.' And immediately she reached out her arms as if in welcome, and said: 'Oh, Jennie, I am so glad you are here….'"
Stainton Moses was quoted by Richet as the source of the following case: Miss H., the daughter of an English clergyman, was tending a dying child. His little brother, aged three to four years, was in a little bed in the same room. As the former was dying, the child woke up, and pointing to the ceiling with every expression of joy, said: "Mother, look at the beautiful ladies round my brother. How lovely they are, they want to take him." The elder child died at that moment.
There is a group of cases in which only some sort of a presence is felt or a cloud of depression experienced, which becomes instantly relieved when the actual news of death arrives. Phenomena of sound are often recorded in place of a visual apparition. Sometimes they attempt to prove identity, imitating the professional work of the departed. They differ from poltergeist phenomena, as the latter do not coincide with death.
If no definite message is conveyed, the apparition may be explained by a spirit's continued interest in earthly occupations. Spiritualists often suggest that some spirits of the deceased apparently cannot adjust immediately to their new surroundings, and they may be seen for a while in favorite haunts or at their usual work, being somehow enabled, when recently freed from the body, to enjoy a fuller perception of earthly scenes than it is afterward possible to retain.
Knowledge and memory are the two main characteristics of after-death apparitions. Local apparitions that are not attached to persons seem to degenerate into mere spectral automations, as witnessed in haunted houses. Somewhat similar, yet belonging to a different class, is illustrated by a case of apparitions en masse originally reported by Eleanor Sidgwick in the Proceedings, of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 3, p. 76),
"Two ladies, Mrs. F. and her sister, saw in the street during a thick fog numerous human forms passing by. Some were tall persons who seemed to enter the body of one of the two sisters. The servant who was with the two ladies cried out in terror. In this crowd of phantoms there were men, women and dogs. The women wore high bonnets and large shawls of old fashion. Their faces were livid and cadaverous. The whole phantasmal troop accompanied Mrs. F. and her sister about three hundred yards. Sometimes they seemed to be lit up by a kind of yellow light. When Mrs. F., her sister and the servant reached their home, only one single individual of the crowd, taller than the others and hideous in appearance, remained. He then disappeared also."
Prolonged apparitions are very rare, and possibly serve some deeper purpose, as in the case of a sailor who saw his father beside him on the bridge of his ship during a storm for two hours. The message of the apparition is, as a rule, simple and appears to be chosen intelligently in the form that may best suit the percipient's power of understanding. An apparition with empty eye sockets perceived by a sailor's wife, the sound of a terrific storm, or the image of a coffin conveys the intended message nearly as efficiently as the spoken words. The percipient appears to be curiously receptive in such moments and seldom exhibits astonishment at the most unlikely things.
Death-compacts offer another field of study. There are cases on record when the apparition concerned was perceived not after death but before, at the moment of a dangerous accident. In Phantasms of the Living there are 12 such cases recorded; the apparitions having appeared within 12 hours of the death. In three cases the agent was still alive. It appears as if such a compact would act effectively both on the subconscious before death and on the spirit after death. How long the efforts as a result of such a compact may continue we cannot tell. It is usually fulfilled shortly after death, but in some cases after years. The living party to the compact may not be sufficiently sensitive to be successfully impressed and others may see a phantom of the departed much sooner than the party in question.
The Genesis of Apparitions
If one accepts a paranormal explanation of apparitions, the primary question then becomes, "Are apparitions objective, produced in space, or are they subjectively seen as the result of a telepathic impact from the agent?" The answer is a qualified one—the subjective nature of the apparition being often unquestionable. The medium Hélène Smith wrote to Theodore Flournoy in 1926 of an Italian spiritualist from whom she received a letter. She decided to ask him for details of his life. Suddenly, she heard a knock at the door, three sharp and distinct raps. The door opened and she saw a man, holding in each hand a small wickerwork basket, containing grain of different kinds. He made a sign, inviting her attention to the baskets. Two minutes afterwards he disappeared. The door was found shut. After sending off the intended letter, a photograph came, bearing the exact reproduction of the man seen, with the information that the writer was a dealer in corn still living in Genoa.
The objectivity of any apparition might best be decided by the means of the camera. Circumstances, however, are very seldom such that would make possible the acquisition of such evidence. There is, however, a well-authenticated case, furnished by Church of England minister Charles L. Tweedale, the vicar at Weston. He photographed in the breakfast room of the vicarage an old man who was clairvoyantly seen by his wife Violet Tweedale. (The photographs obtained by spirit photographers belong to quite a different class, as there is no perceptible apparition during the process.)
Nevertheless, the photograph of the Combermere ghost demands consideration. Lacy C. had rented Combermere Abbey, in Cheshire, Lord Combermere's country house, for the summer. The library in the house was a fine panelled room and the new tenant was anxious to secure a photograph of it. She placed her half-plate camera on its stand in a favorable position—fronting the unoccupied carved oak arm chair on which Lord Combermere always used to sit. On developing the plate by herself, she was amazed to find the figure of a legless old man seated in the carved oak arm chair. The curious coincidence that Lord Combermere was buried a few miles from his country house at the very time the photograph was taken led to the surmise that the ghostly figure resembled the late nobleman. Opinions of the family differed, but on the whole it was considered to be like him, especially in the peculiar attitude that was habitual to him when seated in his chair.
Sir William Barrett, who investigated the case and reported on it in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (December 1895), was not satisfied. Working on the theory that a manservant may have come in and seated himself in the chair, he took a test photograph and got a picture that was almost a duplicate of the Combermere photograph. With this the matter seemed ended, but, as he told in his book On the Threshold of the Unseen (1918), some time later he received a letter from Lord Combermere's daughter-in-law in which she said:
"The face was always too indistinct to be quite convincing to me, though some of his children had no doubt at all of the identity. I may add, none of the menservants in the house in the least resembled the figure and were all young men; whilst the outside men were all attending the funeral, which was taking place at the church four miles off, at the very time the photograph was being done."
This testimony induced Barrett to change his opinion.
The famous British conjurer J. N. Maskelyne in his account of his own experience of drowning (reported in Phantasms of Living ) spoke about whether an objective apparition is simply an effigy or the actual presence of the person whom it represents. He stated:
"One thing, however, did appear to my mental vision as plainly as though it were actually before my eyes. That was the form of my mother, engaged upon her household duties. Upon returning home, I was utterly astonished to find that she had been as conscious of my danger as I had been, and at the moment when I was so near death."
It seems that when his past life flashed by in the moment of drowning the last thoughts of Maskelyne dwelt on his mother with the effect that he found his mental self gazing at her. Many other apparitions may be simply thought forms, reflections of intense mental anguish experienced in some time past in certain places which are now called haunted or, as F. W. H. Myers suggested, they may be visible dreams of the dead.
Edmund Gurney, writing in 1888, believed that there were three conditions that might establish a presumption that an apparition or other immediate manifestation of a dead person is something more than a subjective hallucination. Either (1) more persons than one might be independently affected by the phenomenon; or (2) the phantasm might convey information, afterwards discovered to be true, of something the percipient had never known; or (3) the appearance might be that of a person the percipient himself had never seen, and of whose aspect he was ignorant, and yet his description of it might be sufficiently definite for identification. Gurney also noted that the high number of phantasmal appearances shortly after death is also suggestive, as the calculation of probabilities for telepathic impressions from the living would not result in such a disproportionate number.
Telepathic explanations of apparitions present many difficulties. One has to suppose that a dying man can visualize himself and his condition sufficiently clearly to project a telepathic image as distinctly as perceived. In experimental thought transference it is always the idea on which the agent concentrates that is perceived by the percipients. On the other hand, in some experiments the agent always concentrates on the person to whom he wishes to appear and not on himself. But again in such cases the agent often sees the percipient and brings back an account that can be verified. Such experiences suggest the real presence of the agent and argue against the sufficiency of the telepathic impact theory.
Apparently, this telepathic impulse is first registered on the unconscious part of the mind. If so, the impression may be latent for a time. Strong preoccupation of the conscious mind with the business of life may prevent its emergence. This would explain why the vision of an apparition does not always coincide in time with the actual happening. In Phantasms of the Living, such deferred telepathic perceptions are accepted, if they occur within a period of 12 hours. On the other hand, the theory does not bar out the other, that there is an actual presence that does not always find the mind of the percipient sufficiently receptive to take cognition. Reciprocal perceptions are also on record. The telepathic theory has to be twisted and modified to cover the wide range of supernormal perceptions. In case of accidental death, the apparition is sometimes seen at the moment of death, sometimes after it.
Does the mind transform the picture of deadly danger into a picture of death? If this were true, it would suggest that we might come across many cases in which the vision of death was premature as the accident did not prove fatal. We do not see such cases. On the other hand, in cases of suicides the apparition is often found to precede the actual commission of the act. It would seem very credible that brooding over the fatal act and its possible effect on close relations produces a telepathic image.
By all means, the telepathic theory would account for the clothes apparently worn by the ghosts and would eliminate suggestions, like those of d'Assier, of the ghosts of garments. But it meets with difficulties in cases when animals are stricken with terror and register alarm before the man suspects anything unusual.
The greatest stumbling block in the way of the telepathic theory, as an all-inclusive explanation, is presented by those cases in which the apparition is collectively perceived. Gurney attempted to explain these cases by a telepathic transmission that takes place from the percipient's mind to the mind of his neighbors. This theory proved inadequate. There is nothing to prove its possibilities. The hallucinations of the insane or the visions seen in delirium tremens are never communicated to those around them. Why should such a communication take place in cases of apparitions, coinciding with the death of someone distant? What happens when the percipient appears to have traveled to a distant scene and he is actually perceived there?
As early as 1885 Myers began to feel the insufficiency of the telepathic theory. Gurney himself, by the time he died, was convinced of the genuine character of many an apparition. The trance phenomena of medium Leonora Piper led Myers to the belief that the evidence for communications from the departed is quite as strong as for telepathic communication between the living. Still there remained a large number of phantasmal manifestations that even communication from the departed could not explain. So Myers proposed a theory of psychical invasion—the creation of a "Phantasmogenetic centre" in the percipient's surroundings by some dissociated elements of the agent's personality, which in some way are potent enough to affect and modify space. He considered it a subliminal operation, resembling the continuous dream life which he supposed to run concurrently with the waking life, not necessarily a profound incident but rather a special idiosyncracy on the part of the agent that tends to make his phantasm easily visible.
From the Greek he coined the word "psychorrhagy" which means "to let the soul break loose." He believed he had discovered a new physiological fact, the psychorrhagic diathesis, essentially a psychical manifestation by some people born with an ability to produce phantasmogenetic effect either on the mind of another person or on a portion of space, in which case several persons may simultaneously discern the phantasm.
This theory enjoyed great support in the early years of psychical research. It was a half-way house between telepathic and Spiritualist explanations of apparitions. The supposition of the double easily explains many an apparition of the living: the "arrival cases" where a man's attention is fixed on his return home, the cases in which there is a strong link of emotion between agent and percipient and the phantom is collectively or repeatedly seen. But there are cases of phantasmal apparitions in which the theory of the double offers no satisfactory explanation. Such was case of Canon Bourne, reported in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 6, p. 129), as recounted by Lois Bourne,
"On February 5th, 1887, my father, sister, and I went out hunting. About the middle of the day my sister and I decided to return home with the coachman, while my father went on. Somebody came and spoke to us, and delayed us for a few moments. As we were turning to go home, we distinctly saw my father, waving his hat to us and signing us to follow him. He was on the side of a small hill, and there was a dip between him and us. My sister, the coachman and myself all recognized my father, and also the horse. The horse looked so dirty and shaken that the coachman remarked he thought there had been a nasty accident. As my father waved his hat I clearly saw the Lincoln and Bennett mark inside, though from the distance we were apart it ought to have been utterly impossible for me to have seen it. At the time I mentioned seeing the mark in the hat, though the strangeness of seeing it did not strike me till afterwards.
Fearing an accident, we hurried down the hill. From the nature of the ground we had to lose sight of my father, but it took us very few seconds to reach the place where we had seen him. When we got there, there was no sign of him anywhere, nor could we see anyone in sight at all. We rode about for some time looking for him, but could not see or hear anything of him. We all reached home within a quarter of an hour of each other. My father then told us he had never been in the field, nor near the field, in which we thought we saw him, the whole of that day. He had never waved to us, and had met with no accident. My father was riding the only white horse that was out that day."
Myers believes that Canon Bourne was subliminally dreaming of himself as having had a fall, and as beckoning to his daughters, an incoherent dream but of quite ordinary type. Being born with the psychorrhagic diathesis, a certain psychical element so far detached itself from his organism as to affect a certain portion of space near the daughters of whom he was thinking, to effect it not materially nor even optically, but yet in such a manner that to a certain kind of immaterial and nonoptical sensitivity a phantasm of himself and his horse became discernible.
Myers suggested that hauntings by departed spirits may be similarly explained and that the modification of space into a phantasmogenetic center applies to a phantasmal voice as well.
If this alteration of space is more than a theory it may theoretically happen, so Myers thought, that a bystander may discern the alteration more clearly than the person for whose benefit it was made or that the bystander alone may perceive it. Such seems to be the case of Frances Reddell quoted in Phantasms of the Living,
"Helen Alexander (maid to Lady Waldegrave) was lying here very ill with typhoid fever, and was attended by me. I was standing at the table by her bedside, pouring out her medicine, at about 4 o'clock in the morning of the 4th October, 1880. I heard the call bell ring (this had been heard twice before during the night in that same week) and was attracted by the door of the room opening, and by seeing a person entering the room whom I instantly felt to be the mother of the sick woman. She had a brass candlestick in her hand, a red shawl over her shoulder, and a flannel petticoat on which had a hole in the front. I looked at her as much as to say 'I am glad you have come' but the woman looked at me sternly, as much as to say 'Why wasn't I sent for before?' I gave the medicine to Helen Alexander and then turned round to speak to the vision, but no one was there. She had gone. She was a short, dark person, and very stout. At about 6 o'clock that morning Helen Alexander died. Two days after her parents and a sister came to Antony, and arrived between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning; I and another maid let them in, and it gave me a great turn when I saw the living likeness of the vision I had seen two nights before. I told the sister about the vision, and she said that the description of the dress exactly answered to her mother's, and that they had brass candlesticks at home exactly like the one described. There was not the slightest resemblance between the mother and daughter."
The account was corroborated. Myers believes the vision was meant for the daughter by the mother who, in her anxiety, paid her a psychical visit and affected part of the space with an image corresponding to the conception of her own aspect latent in her mind. A bystander, a susceptible person, happened to see the image while the girl for whom it was meant died without leaving a sign of having perceived it.
A still more curious but, according to Myers, similarly explainable case is the sailor's (Phantasms of the Living (vol. 2, p. 144) who, watching by a dying comrade, saw figures around his hammock, apparently representing the dying man's family, in mourning clothes. The family was alarmed by noises, which they took as indication of danger to the dying. According to Myers the wife paid a psychical visit to her husband. The mourning clothes and the figures of the children were symbolical expressions of her thought that her children would be orphans.
Would the alteration of space theory account for changes in physical objects? While Myers is silent on this point, Andrew Lang considers it crucial. For if an apparition can thump, open a door, or pull a curtain, it must be a ghost—real, objective entity, filling space. Per contra, "no ghost who does not do this has any strict legal claim to be regarded as other than a telepathic hallucination at best." The statement is rather severe in view of his quotation from Edward Binn's Anatomy of Sleep (1842) of the case of the gentlemen who, in a dream, pushed so strongly against a door in a distant house that they could hardly hold it against him.
Apparitions may be produced experimentally by the projection of the double or powerful suggestion. The first attempts in the latter class are recorded from Germany in H. M. Wesermanns' Der Magnetismus und die allgemeine Weltsprache (1822). On four occasions he succeeded in inducing four separate acquaintances to dream on matters suggested by himself. On the fifth occasion he produced a collective apparition. The subject and a friend who happened to be in his company saw, in the waking state, the apparition of a woman in accordance with the operator's suggestion.
Theories Concerning Apparitions
Various complex and contradictory theories have already been cited in relation to specific cases of apparitions. From the late-nineteenth century on, apparitions have usually been ascribed to hallucination. Even those who advanced a Spiritualistic view of apparitions frequently inclined to this view, for it was argued that the discarnate intelligence might, by psychical energy alone, produce in the brain of a living person a definite hallucination, corresponding perhaps to the agent's appearance in life. Hallucinations might be either coincidental or noncoincidental. The former, also known as telepathic hallucinations, were those which coincided with a death, or with some other crisis in the life of the person represented by the hallucination.
The nineteenth-century psychical researcher Frank Podmore insisted that apparitions resulted from a telepathic impression conveyed from the mind of one living person to that of another, an impression which might be doubly intense in time of stress or exalted emotion, or at the moment of dissolution. Apparitions of the dead could be accounted for by a theory of latent impressions, conveyed to the mind of the percipient during the agent's lifetime, but remaining dormant until some particular train of thought aroused them to activity. This view still finds some support at the present day.
Hallucinations, whether coincidental or otherwise, may and do present themselves to persons who are perfectly sane and normal, but they are also reported by people who are suffering mental disorders, under hypnosis, or in a state of hysteria. Hallucinations are also symptomatic of certain pathological conditions of brain, nerves, and sense-organs. As mentioned earlier, Myers was of the opinion that an apparition represented an actual "psychic invasion," that it was a projection of some of the agent's psychic force. Such a doctrine was, as Myers himself admitted, a reverse animism.
Another theory of apparitions, particularly applicable to haunted houses, was related to psychometry. Sir Oliver Lodge, in his Man and the Universe (1908) wrote:
"Occasionally a person appears able to respond to stimuli embedded, as it were among psycho-physical surroundings in a manner at present ill understood and almost incredible:—as if strong emotions could be unconsciously recorded in matter, so that the deposit shall thereafter affect a sufficiently sensitive organism, and cause similar emotions to reproduce themselves in its subconsciousness, in a manner analogous to the customary conscious interpretation of photographic or phonographic records, and indeed of pictures or music and artistic embodiment generally."
Take, for example, a haunted house, where one room is the scene of a ghostly representation of some long past tragedy. On a psychometric hypothesis the original tragedy has been literally photographed on its material surroundings, even on the "ether" itself, by reason of the intensity of emotion felt by those who enacted it; and thenceforth in certain persons an hallucinatory effect is experienced corresponding to such impression. It is this theory that accounts for the feeling one has on entering certain rooms, that there is an alien presence therein, though it be invisible and inaudible to mortal sense.
The idea of connecting psychometry with apparitions might seem of considerable interest because of its wide possibilities, but in the end it belongs to the realm of romance rather than science; it is hardly to be considered as a serious theory. Not only is it unsupported by convincing evidence, but it again attempts to explain one unknown by another.
Spiritualistic theories of apparitions also vary, though they agree in referring such appearances to discarnate intelligences, generally to the spirits of the dead. The opinion of some Spiritualist authorities is that the surviving spirit is produced in the mind of the percipient by purely psychic means—an hallucination representing the agent's former bodily appearance.
Others believe that the discarnate spirit can materialize by taking ethereal particles from the external world, and building up a temporary physical organism through which it can communicate with the living. Still others believe that the materialized spirit borrows such temporary physical organism from the medium, and experiments were made which suggested that the medium lost weight during the materialization. [The various speculations based on apparitions observed at materialization seances has had to be discharged as the widespread involvement of materialization mediums in fraudulently produced phenomena became widely accepted.]
The ancient belief that the soul itself can become visible is not generally accepted, since it is thought that pure spirit cannot be perceptible to the physical senses. But a compromise has been made in the idea of a "psychic body," midway between soul and body, which theosophists and some spiritualists theorize clothes the soul at the dissolution of the physical body. The psychic body is said to be composed of very fine and subtle material particles, perceptible as a rule, only to the eye of the clairvoyant. It is this astral body, and not the soul, that is seen as an apparition.
Experimental evidence for these and various alternative theories has proven far from conclusive. Since its formation in 1882, the Society for Psychical Research and its sister organizations, have collected numerous instances of coincidental hallucinations, many of which were recorded in the monumental work Phantasms of the Living (1886) by Edmund Gurney, F. W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore, from which various cases were cited above. Some 5,705 individuals, chosen at random, had been canvassed for phantasmal visions occurring within the previous 12 years. It concluded: "Between death and apparitions a connection exists not due to chance alone. This we hold a proved fact."
As the scientific world did not consider the evidence of 702 accepted cases sufficient for such a momentous conclusion, an international statistical inquiry named the Census of Hallucinations was decided upon in 1889. A sum of 32,000 answers were received, 17,000 in English. The report, published in 1894, fills almost the whole of volume 10 of Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Chance coincidence was more powerfully ruled out than before, and the previous conclusion was confirmed. The inquiry of the American Society for Psychical Research and the census of Camille Flammarion in 1899 gave further confirmation.
With the emergence of parapsychology, which has now largely superseded psychical research, and the work of J. B. Rhine and associates in ESP (extrasensory perception ) from 1935 on, experimental researches into paranormal phenomena have placed greater emphasis on telepathy and clairvoyance, and moved away from the study of survival phenomena including apparitions.
Surveys of apparitional or hallucinatory experiences have been carried out in recent decades by parapsychologists, but it is difficult to establish objective criteria for personal anecdotes, and the suspicion must remain that many stories of apparitions may have been consciously or unconsciously invented or embroidered by the percipients. Statistical evaluation of such censuses may establish general patterns of claimed phenomena, but the real meaning of any apparitional experience is primarily for the individual concerned, and even if the individual cannot offer objective evidence of such experience, the subjective aspect can be of great personal importance.
Although spontaneous phenomena like hauntings are not readily amenable to scientific validation, modern parapsychologists have shown some ingenuity in new approaches to such phenomena as apparitions. Besides collecting eyewitness accounts, several researchers have also made a systematic psychological investigation of locations at which apparitions occurred. In one experiment by Michaeleen Maher and Gertrude Schmeidler, different psychics have been taken to the location by an individual without knowledge of the claimed phenomena and therefore unable to color any impressions received. The accounts of the different psychics were collated and a total picture of the claimed haunting built up.
Theoretical models for apparitional experience remain somewhat speculative since early investigators like Frank Podmore claimed that apparitions resulted from a telepathic impression conveyed from the mind of one living person to that of another. More recently, British psychical researcher G. N. M. Tyrrell, in his monumental survey of Apparitions, suggested that the sensory apparatus (like the optic nerve) of the percipient is telepathically affected by other minds. However, from the variety of evidence and discussion, as well as the wide range of types of apparitions, it seems reasonable to believe that we are not dealing with a single phenomenon, and it would be unrealistic to claim one universal explanation that covers the diverse facts and claims.
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Flammarion, Camille. Death & Its Mystery. 3 vols. New York: Century, 1921-23.
——. Haunted Houses. Paris, 1924. Reprint, New York: Appleton, 1924. Reprint, Detroit: Gale Research, 1971.
Garland, Hamlin. The Shadow World. New York, 1908.
Gurney, Edmund, F. W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. Phantasms of the Living. London: Trubner, 1886. Abridged ed. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1962.
Hamel, Frank. Human Animals. London, 1915. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1969.
Hibbert, Samuel. Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions. Edinburgh, 1825.
Lang, Andrew. Book of Dreams & Ghosts. London, 1898. Reprint, New York: Causeway, 1974.
MacKenzie, Andrew. The Unexplained; Some Strange Cases of Psychical Research. London, 1966. Reprint, New York: Popular Library, 1970.
Maher, Michaeleen, and Gertrude Schmeidler. "Confirmation of a Family's Report of an Apparition." In Research in Parapsychology 1974. Edited by J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, and R. L. Morris. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
O'Donnell, Elliott. Animal Ghosts. London, 1913.
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Pike, Richard. Life's Borderland and Beyond. London, n.d.
Podmore, Frank. Apparitions & Thought-Transference: An Examination of the Evidence for Telepathy. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1894.
——. Telepathic Hallucinations: The New View of Ghosts. London, 1909.
Pollock, James S. Dead and Gone. London, 1874.
Price, Harry. The End of Borley Rectory. London: Harrap, 1946.
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Salter, W. H. Ghosts & Apparitions. London: G. Bell & Sons, 1938.
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Stead, William T. Real Ghost Stories. London, 1892. Rev. ed. 1897. Reprinted as Borderland: A Casebook of True Supernatural Stories. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.
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Wright, Dudley. Vampires & Vampirism. London, 1914. Reprinted as The Book of Vampires. New York: Causeway, 1973.
Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
Within the larger consideration of apparition, a special place has been given to apparitions of one figure, the Virgin Mary, believed to be the mother of Jesus whom Christians worship as the Christ. Apparitions of the Virgin play an important role in doctrinal development and devotional life of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest religious organization in the world, and to a lesser extent are also acknowledged in the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Churches. The apparitions of Mary are also important in terms of the diligent effort made by Roman Catholic authorities to investigate incidents that are brought to their attention, often by the attraction of large crowds to them, and the amount of energy spent on attempting to verify them. Some of the apparitions stand as among the most well-documented cases in the parapsychological realm.
In the modern cases of apparitions, especially where initial approval is given for church members to focus devotion around a particular apparition, the investigation may continue for many years, to the very death bed of people claiming to have had such apparitions to record their final words. Investigation is also made of associated "supernatural" phenomena such as the healings at Lourdes, France. While many in the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church are eager to report on its claimed miraculous life, they are just as eager not to be trapped into offering their support to incidents that might better be explained by hoaxing, pathology, or other more mundane explanations.
In the Roman Church, apparitions are not part of what the church considers the deposit of faith and hence, no one is compelled to believe in them or to follow the devotions they suggest. However, the church does view them as helpful in encouraging devotion in general and confirming faith. The church grants permission for the veneration of Mary in a certain way and/or in a certain place. That permission may be relatively weak, as a letter from a bishop in whose diocese the apparition has occurred, or strong, as when the pope visited Fatima on the 50th anniversary of the apparition.
Many of the apparitions during the first centuries of Christianity were seen as purely personal revelations, but helped bolster the church's consideration of Mary and inclusion of her as an item on its theological agenda. However, over the centuries, several apparitions introduced a variety of new devotional practices into the church. The rosary, for example, first became popular when the Dominicans, following an apparition of Mary to their founder St. Dominic, began to spread its use in the twelfth century. Attention to Mary reached a high in the Middle Ages, but came under heavy attack from Protestant leaders in the sixteenth century (many considered it idolatry) and from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment that saw most supernaturalism as mere superstition.
From the eighteenth century one can see documented an attempt to revive interest in Marian devotion with the call for a definition of the Immaculate Conception (the belief that the Virgin Mary was born free of original sin) as official dogma (teachings). It also saw the publication of several massive works on Mariology, especially the eminently successful Glories of Mary (1876) by Alphonsus Liguori, which became one of the most highly circulated books on Mary in modern times.
Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the role of Mary in theology and her place in the devotional life of the church has increased significantly. In 1854, Pope Leo IX issued the bull defining the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Over the next century, there were to be numerous papal encyclicals on Mary that would culminate in 1950 with Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption of Mary (that at the end of her life she was taken body and soul into heaven) as dogma. Integral to this expansion of theological and devotional interest in Mary are a set of apparitions that began in 1820. In the last generation literally hundreds of apparitions of Mary have been documented, but of these less than 20 have received the approbation of the church and become part of its ongoing devotional life.
Mary in the Nineteenth Century
A new era in Marian apparitions began in 1820 in Paris, France, with a young visionary, Catherine Labouré. A peasant girl with visionary tendencies, Catherine entered the convent of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in April of 1820. Soon after settling in, she began to experience visions. Then, on the evening of July 18th, at around 11:30 P.M., she was awakened by a child who told her to go to the chapel. There she saw the Virgin. That evening she received only some personal instructions. But in November she had a vision of the Virgin surrounded by an oval frame and was told to have a medal truck in the likeness of what she saw. This medallion, known as the Miraculous Medal, first appeared two years later but the wearing of it has now become a popular form of devotion worldwide.
Fourteen years later, in southern France, on the side of a mountain called La Salette, Mary appeared to two children, Maximim Gigaud (age 11) and Melanie Matthieu (age 15). The pair were tending some cattle when they saw Her. She relayed to them a message of warning concerning the neglect of attendance at Mass and the use of Christ's name in a profane manner. The continued impiety was destined to lead to crop failures and then famine, which in fact plagued the region for the next decade. Mary appeared next to a spring that had dried up. Several days later, when the villagers finally heard about the claimed apparition, they went out to the site and found that the spring was once again flowing.
Possibly the most famous of the modern apparitions occurred to young Bernadette Souberous, also in France, this time at the village of Lourdes not far from the Spanish border. Bernadette was the subject of a series of apparitions beginning February 11, 1858, just four years after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. She had been sent out to gather firewood when she wandered close to a grotto of Massabielle. There she saw the Lady whom she originally described as something in the shape of a girl. During the ninth apparition on February 25, she was told to drink and wash with water from a spot that Mary pointed out to her. People dug around the spot that soon turned into a heretofore unknown spring. She would see the Virgin several times more in March and April. When asked her name, the Lady finally answered, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The Virgin told Bernadette that she wanted a chapel built at the grotto. After a few ups and downs, the report of the bishop affirming a belief that the Virgin had appeared at Lourdes was issued in 1862. The place would become known for its healings and in 1884 a medical bureau was established to keep records of the miraculous cures. Bernadette was canonized in 1933.
A fourth officially approved apparition also occurred in France at Pontmain. It was during the closing days of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 that Eugené and Joseph Barbadette (twelve and ten years old respectively) saw the Virgin. Their father, standing close by, saw nothing. As others gathered, the adults saw nothing, but two additional children, both female, immediately saw the apparition. The apparition closed with what resembled a set of tableux-like scenes of Mary in the same position as depicted on the Miraculous Medal, and then a red cross appeared and a white cross. As the priest who had arrived led the group in their evening prayers, the vision faded.
Twentieth Century Apparitions
The four French apparitions set the stage for what possibly were the most spectacular of the modern apparitions whose fame closely rivals that of Lourdes. The apparitions at Fatima, in central Portugal, began on May 13, 1917, and continued monthly into October. Here Mary offered the three children to whom she appeared a vision of hell as the consequences of impiety and unbelief, and called for reparations and prayers for the conversion of Russia. What set the apparitions apart, however, was the fulfilled promise of a miracle to complete the apparitions on October 13. Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site of the apparitions though the day was rainy. As the children were conversing with the Lady, whom none of others could see, Lucy, one of the children, suddenly cried out, "Look at the sun!" The clouds parted, and a bright silver disk appeared and began to rotate. It plunged downward toward the crowd and its heat dried out clothes soaked in the earlier rain. A mysterious white substance fell from the sky and after about 30 minutes of the "sun" dancing in the sky, the phenomenon ended. Not only did everyone see, including some prominent Freethinkers who had come to ridicule the children, but people from as far away as 30 miles witnessed it.
Besides the aerial phenomenon of the last day, Mary had also presented the children with a secret message, as had occurred at La Salette. While two parts of the secrets of Fatima would be revealed, the third part has remained unknown to the public at large, even though the initial indication was that it would be made public in 1960. It is known that the popes since John XXIII have read the secret message and there has been intense speculation as to the content of the secret among the millions who have adopted the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that was called for in 1917.
Since Fatima, two approved apparitions occurred at Beauraing (1932) and Banneax (1933), Belgium. Also, back in 1879, in the midst of the potato famine, there had been a reported apparition at Knock, Ireland. Though investigated immediately afterward and in 1936, approval from the church has been slow in coming. While pilgrimages to Knock were not forbidden, the succession of local bishops refused to rule on the matter of the apparition's credibility. Beginning in 1954, popes have honored the devotion of the people and recognized Knock as a major center of Marian devotion. Finally in 1979, on the hundredth anniversary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II himself visited Knock.
And not to be forgotten in the midst of the growth of Marian devotion in Europe, is the fifteenth-century apparition of Mary in Guadalupe, Mexico. This apparition centered upon an amazing image of the Virgin left behind on the cape of Juan Diego, the young man who saw the Virgin. The image became the focus of veneration of the Virgin throughout Latin America, and has during the last half of the twentieth century been integrated into the Marian devotion that swept through Europe and North America.
The number of apparitions of the Virgin have grown throughout the twentieth century. Most have had only local effect. Although a few have been the subject of books, the great majority have gone unreported except to the most dedicated of gatherers of Marian data. A few, however, became the objects of mass gatherings and pilgrimages that forced local bishops to act. In 1954, for example, Mary Ann van Hoof began to claim visions of the Virgin at a spot near Necedah, Wisconsin. She also began to circulate lengthy messages dictated from Mary, not unlike messages received through what is known as channeling. Through the late 1950s large crowds gathered at the site and a shrine was created. For a number of years the leaders of the shrine negotiated with the bishop of LaCross to approve the apparitions, but following several unfavorable rulings, he gave a final statement discounting the apparitions and calling Roman Catholics to abandon support of the shrine. The core of shrine supporters, however, reorganized and have continued as an independent group. A similar course has been followed by those around Mary Ann Lueken, who has claimed continuous visits by the Virgin in Bayside, Long Island, New York.
In Europe, the most prominent of the questionable apparitions began in the 1960s in Garabandal, Spain, in which solar phenomena not unlike that in Fatima was reported. However, the apparitions could not pass the scrutiny of church investigators and have now been abandoned. The more important apparitions began in 1981 at Medjugorje, then in Herzegovina. Since the first day, they have continued daily for almost 20 years and even at the height of fighting in the 1990s from the breakup of the country, pilgrims continued to flock to the area. The apparitions have been the source of a barrage of books supportive of the young people who have been the subject of Mary's attention. However, they have also acquired some strong critics within the church, both scholars and members of the hierarchy, who have condemned the phenomena. No definitive ruling has yet occurred.
In the midst of the ongoing debates concerning some of the recent apparitions, the most spectacular of Mary's appearances occurred in Cairo, Egypt, where not only thousands saw her, but pictures were taken. Investigations have been filed to offer reasonable alternative mundane explanations. However, Mary appeared on the roof of a Coptic (not a Roman Catholic) cathedral. While Roman Catholic scholars have investigated and written about the sightings, the fact that Mary chose to appear in a Muslim country in a non-Roman Catholic setting has kept this apparition from being integrated into the body of material considered relevant by Western Mariologists.
The Meaning of the Apparitions
For conservative Roman Catholics, the apparitions are a major building block of faith in God's activity in the world. They, in effect, prove the existence of the supernatural and allow participation in it while living in an otherwise secular world. Many liberal Roman Catholics see in the apparitions a form of devotion that is quite foreign to the secularized outlook they have adopted. Critics approach the apparitions in much the same way as other psychic phenomena, as a threat to the worldview that they have adopted that has no space for such occurrences. The most vehement of critics, over the last 200 years, have seen the apparitions as supportive of a return to pre-scientific superstition. Also critical are conservative Evangelical Christians who view Roman Catholicism as a distorted form of Christianity, and attack the apparitions as a counterfeit supernaturalism. In the middle are people who believe that such phenomena occur, but do not tie the phenomena to Roman Catholic theology.
In fact, the Marian apparitions do supply a vast amount of data for contemporary parapsychology, and the ongoing apparitions provide an interesting set of data for those concerned about the phenomenon of channeling. The material channeled by van Hoof, Lueken, and their peers is structurally like that from New Age channelers, but its content could not be more different.
Connor, Edward. Recent Apparitions of Our Lady. Fresno, Calif.: Academy Guild Publishers, n.d.
Delaney, John J. A Woman Clothed with the Sun: Eight Great Appearances of Our Lady. Garden City, N.Y.: Hanover House, 1960.
McClure, Kevin. The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1983.
Sharkey, Don. The Woman Shall Conquer. Kenosha, Wis.: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1976.
Apparitions of Holy Figures
Apparitions of Holy Figures
In the twelfth century, St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) was credited with seeing an apparition of Jesus Christ (c. 6 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.). St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) reported seeing Jesus in the fourteenth century. The Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart as a symbol of love was begun in the seventeenth century after an apparition of Jesus Christ had been seen by the French nun St. Margaret Mary (1647–1690).
At the height of his illness in December 1954, Pope Pius XII (1876–1958) had a vision of Jesus in which the Savior spoke to him in "His own true voice." The Vatican kept Pius's revelation secret for nearly a year, then through the "affectionate indiscretion" of one of the Holy Father's close friends, the magazine Oggi broke the story in its November 19, 1955, issue. On December 12, the Vatican confirmed the remarkable disclosure, declaring the vision not to have been a dream. Sources near to the pope said that he had been wide awake and lucid.
Vatican authorities said that there had not been a more vivid or specific vision of Jesus since the days of the Apostles than that reported by the pontiff. According to Church records, Christ had appeared to a pope only once before, and that was in the fourth century, when Pope Sylvester (d. 335) consecrated the mother church of St. John Lateran in Rome after Emperor Constantine had ended the brutal persecutions of the Christians.
Although devout Christian laypersons occasionally report apparitions of various saints and the image of Jesus, by far the greatest number of apparitions of religious figures are those of Mother Mary. Pope John Paul II (1920– ) has proclaimed his firm belief that it was a number of significant apparitions of Mother Mary that brought about the end of communism in the former Soviet Union, thus fulfilling a prophetic pronouncement to one of the three children to whom she appeared six times between May 13 and October 13, 1917, in Fatima, Portugal.
In his book Russia Will Be Converted (1950), John Haffert detailed a series of apparitions of Mary in the 1940s that began eroding communist doctrine and converting thousands to Roman Catholicism. In one instance, a young girl was said to have beheld the apparition of a beautiful lady who told her to return to the same spot for 15 days. After having received visions on each of these successive days, the girl was presented with the materialization of seven perfect rose petals. It was claimed that the petals did not fade or lose their fragrance. It was also said that a botanist declared that the petals could not have come from an ordinary Earth rose.
Ann Matter, a specialist in the history of Christianity at the University of Pennsylvania, has commented that contemporary times constitute the most active age of devotion to Mother Mary, not the twelfth century or the ninth century, but "right now." Matter stated that the interest in apparitions of the Holy Mother has been building for the past 150 years, "with more and more reports of visions of Mary in more and more places."
In the past few decades, apparitions of Mother Mary and her attending angels have been seen in places as varied as Betania, Venezuela; Cuapa, Nicaragua; Akita, Japan; Damascus, Syria; San Nicholas, Argentina; Cairo, Egypt; Naju, Korea; and Hrouchiv, Ukraine. In spite of an increasing number of apparitions around the world, the Roman Catholic hierarchy officially recognizes only seven appearances of Mother Mary:
Guadalupe, Mexico: In 1531, a Native American named Juan Diego saw Mother Mary four times and was given a miraculously created serape as evidence of her heavenly visitation.
La Salette, France: A weeping, sorrowful Mary manifested to two peasant children on September 19, 1846, and instructed them to do penance for their sins.
Lourdes, France: Identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, Mary appeared 18 times to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubrious between February 11 and July 16, 1858. The waters of the miraculous spring that appeared according to Mary's promise are world famous for their healing powers.
Fatima, Portugal: Mother Mary appeared to three children near Fatima, instructing them to say their rosary frequently. During her six visits between May 13 and October 13, 1917, Mary issued a number of prophecies, many of which are said to be held secret by the Vatican.
Beauraling, Belgium: Between November 29, 1932, and January 3, 1933, five children at a convent school experienced a remarkable 33 encounters with Mother Mary in the school garden.
Banneaux, Belgium: Mother Mary appeared to an 11-year-old girl eight times between January 15 and March 2, 1933, in the garden of her parents' humble cottage.
In addition to the above listed Vatican-recognized meetings with Mother Mary, there are a number of other encounters with her that have been highly publicized and may even be better known than many of those on the approved roster.
Village of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland: In 1879, in the midst of terrible famine, devout villagers gathered in their church to ask for deliverance from hunger. Then, at one end of the church, a glowing light began to form that soon revealed the figures of Mother Mary, St. Joseph, St. John, and a lamb surrounded by golden stars. A short time after the villagers had reported their collective vision, many ill, diseased, or crippled people who visited the church began to claim miraculous cures as they knelt at the statue of Mother Mary. Since that time, the small village of Knock has come to be called the "Irish Lourdes."
Garabandal, Spain: A series of ecstatic visions of Mother Mary began for four children one Sunday after Mass in 1961. The visitations continued until 1965 and produced numerous accurate prophecies and astonishing miracles.
Zeitoun, Egypt: As many as a million witnesses may have glimpsed the figure of the glowing Madonna standing, kneeling, or praying beside a cross on the roof of St. Mary's Coptic Church. Miraculous cures manifested among the pilgrims from 1968 to 1971.
Medjugorje, Yugoslavia: In 1981, six children saw Mother Mary holding the infant Jesus near the village. The holy figure appeared on an almost daily basis for five months, leaving behind a continuing legacy of miraculous healings.
Bayside, New York: From 1970 to the present day, the "Bayside Seeress," Veronica Lueken, issues pronouncements from Mother Mary against the spiritual abuses of contemporary society.
Conyers, Georgia: Since 1987, Nancy Fowler has been receiving daily messages from Mother Mary. On the thirteenth of each month, beginning in 1990, apparitions of Mary and Jesus began to appear. By 1993 as many as 50,000 pilgrims could be expected to gather for each month's demonstration of the divine.
Hollywood, Florida: A devout Catholic who had fled to Florida from Castro's Cuba in 1967, Rosa Lopez was left bedridden after a series of painful surgeries in 1982. In 1992, after making a pilgrimage to Conyers, Georgia, Lopez received a healing miracle; and in 1993, Jesus manifested to her and proclaimed that she, too, had been chosen to be a messenger for Mother Mary. Soon the Divine Mother began conveying messages to Rosa Lopez to be shared with the thousands of faithful who gather outside her modest home.
Roman Catholic scholarship holds that there are two kinds of visions: One is the imaginative vision, in which the object seen is but a mental concept or symbol, such as Jacob's Ladder leading up to heaven. St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) had numerous visions, including images of Christ, which Church authorities have judged were of this symbolic kind of vision. The other is the corporeal vision, in which the figure seen is externally present or in which a supernatural power has so modified the retina of the eye so as to produce the effect of three-dimensional solidarity.
By no means are Roman Catholics the only Christians who have religious visions and see apparitions of holy figures. In October of 2000, a Lutheran minister and a sociologist in Minnesota released their study that more than 30 percent of 2,000 Christians surveyed said that they had had dramatic visions, heard heavenly voices, or experienced prophetic dreams.
In April 2001, details of research conducted at the University of Wales detected a common core to religious experiences that crosses boundaries of culture and faith. An analysis of 6,000 such experiences revealed that Christians may describe a religious experience as an encounter with Jesus, Mary, or an angel; Muslims often interpret the phenomenon as the presence of an angel; and Jews describe the event as a sign of insight or an experience of God.
With all the interest in spiritual experiences, scientists have begun asking if spirituality can be better explained in terms of neural networks, neurotransmitters, and brain chemistry. Philadelphia scientist Andrew Newberg, who wrote the book Why God Won't Go Away (2001), says that the human brain is set up in such a way as to have spiritual and religious experiences. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, conducts experiments with a helmet-like device that runs a weak electromagnetic signal around the skulls of volunteers. Persinger claims that four in five people report a mystical experience of some kind when they don his magnetic headpiece. Matthew Alper, author of The "God" Part of the Brain (1998), a book about the neuroscience of belief, goes so far as to declare that dogmatic religious beliefs that insist particular faiths are unique, rather than the results of universal brain chemistry, are irrational and dangerous.
In his book The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith (2000), Robert Pollack concedes that religious experience may seem irrational to a materialistic scientist, but he argues that irrational experiences are not necessarily unreal. In fact, he states, they can be just as real, just as much a part of being human, as those things that are known through reason. Lorenzo Albacete, a Roman Catholic priest, a professor of theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, writes in the New York Times Magazine (December 18, 2000) that he is somewhat nervous about the new efforts of science to explain human spirituality: "If the religious experience is an authentic contact with a transcendent Mystery, it not only will but should exceed the grasp of science. Otherwise, what about it would be transcendent?"
Daniel Batson, a University of Kansas psychologist who studies the effect of religion on people, states that the brain is the hardware through which religion is experienced. "To say that the brain produces religion is like saying a piano produces music," he commented.
Numerous believers in the transcendent and in the possibility of experiencing religious apparitions argue that if God created the universe, wouldn't it make sense that he would wire our brains so it would be possible to have mystical experiences?
Begley, Sharon. "Religion and the Brain." Newsweek, 7 May 2001, pp. 50–57.
Cranston, Ruth. The Miracle of Lourdes. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.
Delaney, John J, ed. A Woman Clothed with the Sun. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.
Kirkwood, Annie. Mary's Message of Hope. Nevada City, Calif.: Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1995.
Sparrow, Scott G. I Am with You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
Steiger, Brad, and Sherry Hansen Steiger. Mother Mary Speaks to Us. New York: Dutton, 1996; Signet, 1997.
ap·pa·ri·tion / ˌapəˈrishən/ • n. a ghost or ghostlike image of a person. ∎ the appearance of something remarkable or unexpected, typically an image of this type. DERIVATIVES: ap·pa·ri·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.