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An assembly of witches and wizards, held every three months on February 2, Walpurgis Night (May Day Eve), Midsummer's Eve, and November Eve. Anointed with the appropriate substance made of the fat of murdered (preferably unbaptized) children, and using belladonna and aconite (see also flying and ointment) the attendees arrive flying on goats, broomsticks, rakes, and other unlikely conveyances. Satan himself presides, often in the form of a crow, cat, or goat. Nakedness is the accepted costume for the occasion.
(Sri Satya Sai Baba, 1926- ). The word baba is derived from the Turkish word for “papa.” Born Sathyanarayana Ratnakaru Raju, this modern Indian yogi has a large following all over the world, among them Harry Saltzman, producer of the James Bond films. His organization is ruled from his ashram Prasanti Nilayam (meaning “abode of great peace”) at Puttaparti. He claims to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi (1856-1916).
His followers claim that he can produce vibhuti (“holy ash”), gold rings, and even modern Seiko wristwatches for them by simply reaching into the air. There are claims that he has raised the dead, levitated, healed cancer, and even done his version of the loaves-and-fishes miracle. These are referred to as siddhis.
Examination of films and videotapes of Sai Baba's actual performances show them to be simple sleight of hand, exactly the same as the sort used by the other Indian jaduwallahs, or “street conjurors.” Sai Baba has never submitted to an examination of his abilities under controls, so his claims are totally unproven. Parsimony applies here.
India's leading debunker of the claims of the god-men who infest that country, the famous Premanand, has duplicated all of Sai Baba's tricks and tours the world demonstrating these feats.
Saint Elmo's fire
Named after Saint Erasmus (a corruption of the name), patron saint of Mediterranean sailors, this is a natural high-voltage effect sometimes seen on the mast and spars of a sailing ship during calms, considered to be a benevolent warning of an impending storm. Blue halos in the form of flamelike discharges are seen at the tips of the rigging and are due to charges between the earth (water) and the atmosphere leaking off into the surrounding air.
See also Kirlian photography.
Saint Germain, Claude Louis, Compte de
(1710?-1784) Attached to the court of Louis XV of France, Saint Germain claimed he was two thousand years old. More sober, but not more convincing sources put his age at either 188 or 223 when he died in 1784.
It was believed that he had mastered alchemy in all its facets, could make himself invisible, knew the secret of eternal life, and could speak all languages. He said he'd known Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
British author Horace Walpole (1717-1779) reported that Saint Germain was in London in 1743, after which he was in France in the service of Louis. In France he had some political problems and fled to St. Petersburg. In Germany he claimed to have founded freemasonry and to have initiated Cagliostro into that brotherhood.
An amusing anecdote about Saint Germain has survived: Since he claimed to have discovered the secret of immortality, his valet also claimed to share that treasured knowledge with him. When asked by a visitor whether it was true, as his master had claimed, that he'd been present at the marriage at Cana in Galilee when Jesus Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1), the valet responded, “You forget, sir, that I have only been in the Comte's service for a century.”
The Rosicrucians claim that Saint Germain is still alive and that he was once known as Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626).
Saint Joseph of Copertino
A monk who is reputed to have flown forty feet from the middle of a church to the high altar. Doubtful.
See also flying.
Saint Malachy's prophecies St. Malachy
(1094-1148) was an Irish Benedictine bishop who is said to have predicted, by means of brief phrases for each one, a characteristic feature of the reign of every Roman Catholic pope, from the beginning of the papacy to the very end. A total of 112 popes were listed in what is believed to be his only publication, a book published by Benedictine friar Arnold Wion in the year 1590.
Some of the predictions are obviously very general, as illustrated by the listing for Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963): “Shepherd and navigator.” Since all popes are, by definition, figurative shepherds and are charged with directing the church, this fits any and all popes. Another prophecy, this one for Gregory X (reigned 1271-1276) designated him as “Man of the serpent” and his coat of arms featured a serpent. However, though most of the phrases published by Wion that refer to popes who reigned before he published are surprisingly accurate, those that follow are quite generalized.
The suspicion is that the prophecies of St. Malachy were invented in Wion's time. The authenticity of the book has been doubted since the seventeenth century. Certainly St. Malachy had nothing to do with the prophecies.
Wion's book calls for pope number 112, “Peter of Rome,” to be the last to reign. After that, it says, Rome “will be destroyed and the awful judge will pass judgement on his people.” John Paul II was pope number 110; Benedictus XVI is number 111.
An elemental spirit of fire, or a lizard-like creature that was believed to be able to live in fire. Not in any way related to the innocent amphibian creature caudata, a legitimate entity, not in any way fireproof.
See also fire-eating and fire walking.
Salem witch trials
The notion of witchcraft was first officially recognized in America in 1692 in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, when governor Sir William Phipps became aware of charges against several servants of African heritage. The situation rapidly escalated when the Mather family, fanatical Puritans, became involved.
Increase Mather, president of Harvard College, and his son Cotton prosecuted huge numbers of accused witches, and the gallows were busy. The Mathers, according to historian Lewis Spence,
displayed an extraordinary amount of ingenuity and an equally great lack of anything like sound judgement.
Local children were encouraged to relate tales of wild orgies and evil deeds, and their stories were eagerly accepted as true.
(This is very much the manner in which American children today are being mercilessly interrogated, sometimes over several months, and subjected to suggestions and leading questions about Satanic practices and sexual abuse, until they produce the stories that their inquisitors require of them. Adults who have been named in these procedures have been imprisoned and their lives ruined by the same methods in use three hundred years ago. Apparently we have not learned much in this respect in those three centuries. Things are not quite as bad today, however. In old Salem, anyone who even doubted the validity of witchcraft or of the guilt of those accused was also hanged. Today they are only looked upon as eccentrics.)
In 1692, even pet dogs and cats were put on trial and executed for witchcraft. But when the Mathers eventually accused the wife of Governor Phipps of being a witch, Phipps began to have doubts about the wisdom of allowing things to get any worse, and he put an end to it.
The Salem witch trials stand as one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of America, yet there is still today a firm belief in the basic claims and procedures that continue to condemn innocent victims.
See Abominable Snowman.
The Devil, in Christian belief the opposite in every way to Jesus Christ, and the ruler of the region of hell. Satan is known by many other names, such as Lucifer (“Light-bearer”), Asmodeus (“Creature of Judgment”), The Adversary, Behemoth (“Beast”), Diabolus, Belial, and Beelzebub (“Lord of the Flies”). These names are often used for various demons as well and are not necessarily applied to the King of Demons. Demonology is not an exact science.
This belief is a directly opposing power structure to Christianity. The Devil replaces Jesus Christ, demons replace angels. The kingdom of Satan is below the Earth, that of Christ above it.
Satanism was so strongly accepted as real by ecclesiastics in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries that they declared some fifty specific prohibitions against the belief. Though simple banishment was sometimes the penalty for convicted Satanists, burning alive was the more frequent punishment. For the church, that has always been an effective deterrent to opposition and/or rivalry.
Today, the new agers and other such dilettantes toy with the naughty notion. Trashy magazines and tabloids feature advertisements and lurid articles dealing with the Dark Powers, confident that there are enough silly people around to support a limited industry devoted to Satanism. Their confidence has not been poorly placed.
See I Ching.
An ancient Egyptian rendering of the common scarab beetle, often fashioned of green stone, marble, or limestone, was usually buried with the deceased as part of the interment ceremony. It was placed in the position formerly occupied by the heart of the person, which had been removed during the embalming process.
The scarab, also known as the dung beetle, is often seen in nature rolling a small sphere of cattle dung into its nest. This event was perhaps taken by the Egyptians to symbolize the passage of the Sun across the sky, and in their writings and decorative motifs they represented the scarab as holding the sun-disk between its legs, in a similar pose they had observed in nature.
Carved scarabs, in all sizes from one centimeter to more than a meter in length, are seen in museums around the world and small versions are still sold to unsuspecting tourists at souvenir stands in Egypt, and in new age bookshops.
Schmeidler, Dr. Gertrude
A parapsychologist known for her discovery of the “sheep/goats effect” in ESP testing. She found that believers (“sheep”) doing standard card-guessing tests had 0.4 percent more “hits” than nonbelievers (“goats”), who obtained 0.3 percent less that what would be expected by chance alone. The total number of tests was 250,875 guesses.
(1909-1957) An Austrian-born spirit medium who became famous for psychokinetic phenomena. He had two brothers, Karl and Willi, who also claimed mediumistic powers.
Rudi was extensively tested by Eric J. Dingwall, Schrenck-Notzing and others. He claimed to be in a trance when he caused objects to move in the séance room, often while he was secured and controlled by the sitters.
Later in his career, when more stringent controls were applied to him to guard against trickery during his demonstrations, and perhaps as a direct result of these controls, Schneider's phenomena dramatically decreased in regularity and effectiveness. With the decline in Rudi Schneider's ability to produce physical phenomena began the end of the “golden age” of spiritualism.
Schrenck-Notzing, Dr. Albert Freiherr Von
(1862-1929) An undistinguished German medical doctor who married into a very wealthy family, Schrenck-Notzing was able to devote himself entirely to his hobby, psychic research. He had a penchant for flamboyance and was a devoted self-publicist and a dilettante without peer.
Séances held at the Schrenck-Notzing home in Munich were much more entertainments than serious investigations. They were attended by royalty and the cream of German society, in a period when séances were popular evening pastimes and these people could afford the heavy fees demanded by the performers.
Schrenck-Notzing flitted blissfully from medium to medium, seeing such sought-after celebrities as Eva C. and Willi and Rudi Schneider, and pompously declared them all to be absolutely genuine. When damning evidence of fraud was produced by other investigators, Schrenck-Notzing was able to rationalize away the contrary data in ingenious ways and to influence researchers into suppressing the awkward data. He also occupied a position which made him impervious to criticism; he had no fear of losing sponsors.
In spite of his obvious lack of expertise and his consummate, willful gullibility, Schrenck-Notzing's observations were quoted by others and accepted as positive evidence of the phenomena he was presenting.
From the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge.” Science is a search for knowledge of the universe.
Scientists observe, draw conclusions from their observations, design experiments to examine those conclusions, and end up stating a theory which should express a new fact or idea. But if new or better evidence comes along, they must either discard that theory or amend it to accommodate the new evidence.
In effect, science is a process of arriving, but it never quite arrives. A theory can perhaps be disproved, but it can never really be “proved.” Only the probability of a theory being correct can ever be properly stated. Fortunately, most of science consists of theories that are correct to a very high degree of probability; scientists can only establish a fact to the point that it would be obstinate and foolish to deny it. Since new data are constantly being presented, a theory or observation may have to be refined, repudiated, modified, or added to in order to agree with the new data.
True science recognizes its own defects. That willingness to admit limitations, errors, and the tentative quality of any conclusion arrived at is one of the strengths of science. It is a procedure not available to those who profess to do science but do not: the abundant and prolific pseudoscientists and crackpots.
And there is an important difference between pseudoscience and crackpot science: The former has some of the trappings, generally the appearance and much of the language used by real science, while the latter has no pretensions at all of appearing to be science. The present German fascination with imaginary E-rays and the speculations on how dowsing is supposed to work are pseudoscience; most perpetual motion ideas and things like reflexology, palmistry, and psychometry are crackpot science.
Scientists aren't always right. And they don't always follow the rules exactly. The monk Gregor Mendel, performing his experiments in the mid-1880s which established the fundamental laws of heredity, apparently altered his figures slightly so that the results were somewhat more convincing — but in the long run, despite this “honest” fiddling with his data, he was right. The fact that other researchers can, even today, replicate his experiments and thus validate his conclusions has provided us with firmly established basic scientific laws about heredity.
Newton, Kepler, Einstein, Curie, Galileo, and hundreds of other men and women of science — though they made some errors along the way — have provided mankind with knowledge that has made life richer, fuller, and more productive.
Science and magic are exact opposites.
See also testing psychic claims.
See Hubbard, Lafayette Ronald.
(1175?-1234?) Scottish astrologer/magician who translated Aristotle's works and wrote on alchemy and on occult sciences. He was said to possess a demon horse and a demon ship. It is said that he accurately predicted his own death. Records on the man are at best sketchy.
(1538?-1599) In English writer Reginald Scot's The Discouerie [sic] of Witchcraft (1584), we find an in-depth serious attempt to refute the superstitious belief in witchcraft, demons, and devils. The book, written in the vernacular, consists of sixteen divisions, with the last four devoted to charms and the tricks of jugglers and conjurors; in the sixteenth century, even street performers were suspected of demonic powers, and Scot wished to show that what they did was merely clever trickery.
The title page of Scot's 1584 book, a later (1665) edition.
Conjurors recognize many familiar and still-popular tricks among those Scot mentioned: swallowing a knife, burning a playing card and reproducing it from the spectator's pocket, transferring a coin from one pocket to another, converting coins into tokens and back again into money, making a coin appear in a spectator's hand, passing a coin through a tabletop, making a coin vanish when wrapped into a handkerchief, tying a knot into a handkerchief and making it untie itself, removing beads threaded onto a cord while both ends of the cord are held, transferring rice from one container to another, turning wheat into flour, burning a thread and restoring it, pulling yards of ribbon from the mouth, sticking a knife into the arm, passing a ring through the cheek, and decapitating a person and restoring him. Wow. Let's hear that applause.
Scot's book is very rare in its first edition, because when James I of England succeeded Elizabeth I to the throne in 1603, he ordered all copies burned. James was most eager to hang anyone suspected of witchcraft, and since Scot claimed that belief in witches was silly and illogical, that might have interfered with James's religious work. It was sixty-seven years later, in 1651, that Scot's book again appeared in print, well after the death of King James.
See also conjuring, Johannes Weyer, and witchcraft.
The process of gazing into a crystal, mirror, bowl of water, shiny metal object, or other device to see visions of the past, present, or future. Said to be an aid to clairvoyance.
See also Dr. John Dee.
Correctly spelled “séance,” rather than “seance,” this word is from the French, derived from the Latin verb sedere (“to sit”) and meaning “a sitting.” It is a session during which attempts are made to contact departed spirits. A person who attends is referred to as a sitter. The person calling up spirits is called the medium.
Séances are held by a group of persons usually seated about a table in the dark or semi-darkness. The medium is believed to go into a trance state in which he or she is able to contact dead persons. Various noises such as creaks, raps, clicks, and voices are said to come from beyond the grave. Props such as tambourines, horns, guitars, and drums are heard to play, and it is believed that they have been handled by spirits.
Materializations, performed by only the most skilled mediums, are occasionally seen. Often a glowing figure, said to be made of ectoplasm, can be seen and felt moving about. A materialization séance is mentioned in the Bible, in 1 Samuel.
The location of the séance. Each medium has his or her own requirements for this setup, and often the sitters are forced to use a room within the house of the medium, which of course provides opportunities for specialized preparation, if cheating were to take place. Curtains are often hung about the walls, even covering doors, and total darkness can be achieved easily.
See also Eusapia Palladino, Daniel Dunglas Home, and Sir Oliver Lodge.
This was the designation of the act whereby two partners were seemingly able to know one another's thoughts. The team of Mercedes and Mlle. Stantone headlined vaudeville with an act in which Mlle. Stantone, seated onstage at a piano, was able to play any tune whispered to her partner in the audience. Similarly, the Svengali Trio used the musical idiom in such an act from 1900 to 1925, playing the United States and Europe. An American act, Liz and Tom Tucker, were equally successful with this sort of performance, until quite recently appearing on television to the acclaim of both press and public.
From a less realistic point of view, the term “second sight” refers to clairvoyance, often claimed by Scottish Highlanders. The Gaels called it “shadow-sight,” or “taischitaraugh.”
See also Julius & Agnes Zancig.
The Secret Gospel refers to a document rediscovered in 1958 by Dr. Morton Smith of Columbia University, the brilliant biblical scholar who upset many previous views of the life of Jesus Christ. It is a lost portion of the St. Mark Gospel, and the contents can be disturbing, according to one's personal philosophy and interpretation of what appears there.
The Secret Gospel appears to repeat the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (as told in John) but without using the name. It also adds an event not previously known and certainly not included in the Gideon's Bible. To quote:
. . . going in where the youth was, [Jesus] stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth [came] to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.
Clement of Alexandria, one of the early fathers of the church, writing in the late eighteenth century about this document (only part of which has been recovered), tells his reader that other references to “'naked man with naked man' . . . are not found [in his copy].” He adds that he has found in his copy the statement:
And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them.
He went on to give his own interpretation of the story, “the true explanation and that which accords with the true philosophy.” He was anxious to deny any support that this document might offer the Carpocratians, a Gnostic sect that he particularly detested. The faction was prominent in the second century and taught that the Earth was made by angels, but more importantly that one should abandon oneself to every lust with indifference, since by experiencing all varieties of sin, one could become satiated and therefore free of further desire for such activities.
This notion has been diligently pursued by many, not all of them Carpocratians.
A spirit channeled through author Jane Roberts (1929-1984), who taught that each person creates a separate reality by desires and needs. Because of the nature of this claim, it is an ideal new age notion in that it cannot be examined, proven, or disproven.
Roberts, using a Ouija board, said that Seth was an “energy personality essence” that had been a caveman, a pope, a Roman, a citizen of Atlantis, and a “Lemurian,” in its various lives.
Roberts dictated the Seth material at weekly sessions of the course in creative writing that she taught.
Originally referring to a Siberian or generally north or central Asian witch doctor, sorcerer, or medicine man, the term is now also used for anyone working for his social group to cast fortunes, go into trance to divine the future, diagnose illness, or perform other magical services. The trance can be brought about by fasting or by hallucinogenic substances. The purpose of the trance is to contact spiritual forces or entities, often in the form of animals.
The shaman is essentially a “wise man,” one sought out for advice and healing. The position is often hereditary, though by experiencing certain “ecstatic” experiences, a tribal member can be elected to the post. When a youth becomes alienated from his family and tribe, wanders away and seeks solitude for long periods, or exhibits severe antisocial behavior, he may be expected to become a shaman.
There are emotional and sociological problems common to all cultures, and it appears that some individuals subject to these differences find the position of shaman to be a release from the restrictions imposed upon other tribe members. The shaman is sometimes a socially inept or poorly integrated citizen, often homosexual, crippled, or epileptic, and the exalted station of shaman allows him to fit into the social picture and survive. This would seem to be an excellent method of providing for and accommodating those with disabilities and/or unique lifestyles.
The shaman is an integral and honored member of most American Indian tribes, and as such serves an important function.
See spontaneous human combustion.
No reference to Mother Shipton prior to 1641 is in existence. It is thus difficult to determine whether this English prophet actually existed as she is represented in folklore, though writings seriously ascribed to her are being reproduced even today. There were several women who claimed to be her, but it is a Yorkshire claimant who has won the title.
Mother Shipton was Ursula Southill (or Sowthiel, or Southiel), the incredibly ugly daughter of Agatha Southill, known locally herself as a powerful witch. She is supposed to have been born in a cave at Dropping Well, Knaresborough, Yorkshire, in 1488, and because of her unfortunate appearance and reputed powers, was widely rumored to be the child of Satan.
Sometime about 1512, she married a wealthy builder from York named Tobias Shipton. She soon attained considerable notoriety throughout England as “The Northern Prophetess,” and her prognostications received great public attention, were printed in pamphlets, and were widely distributed. Though copies of these publications still exist, most of what can be found today are mere forgeries, and many meteorological and astrological almanacs published as late as the nineteenth century used Mother Shipton's name freely. An 1838 book gives an idea of the overblown claims made for such tomes. It is titled The New Universal Dream-Book; or The Dreamer's Sure Guide to the Hidden Mysteries of Futurity — By Mother Shipton.
A 1686 book attributed to Edwin Pearson, The Strange and Wonderful History of Mother Shipton, because of its similarity to another book, Life and Death of Mother Shipton, was probably actually written by Richard Head, who also wrote The English Rogue, a racy account of his experiences with various tricksters, cheats, and rascals of his day.
Many localized prophecies were invented to use the Shipton name to advantage. In a 1740 book by John Tyrrel, Past, Present and To Come: or, Mother Shipton's Yorkshire Prophecy, is quoted what might well have been issued as a genuinely pre-event prediction:
Time shall happen A Ship shall sail upon the River Thames, till it reach the City of London, the Master shall weep, and cry out, Ah! What a flourishing City was this when I left it! Unequalled throughout the World! But now scarce a House is left to entertain us with a Flagon.
This prophecy has all of recorded time in which to be fulfilled, since no date is given or even suggested. Also, no cause of this calamity is specified. War, earthquake, or fire could all produce the cited effect. In fact, no disaster of a physical nature is inferred. Believers have declared that this is a prophecy of the Great Fire of London (1666), which is also said to have been foretold by Nostradamus and other seers.
A perfect example of an unquestionably true Shipton “prediction” is the often-quoted and misquoted:
Eighteen hundred and thirty-five,
Which of us shall be alive?
Many a king shall end his reign
Many a knave his end shall gain.
Though one can hardly argue with this question and the two statements, the verse was resurrected at the end of 1934 with the change of “Eighteen” to “Nineteen.”
The famous seeress died at age seventy-three in 1561 and is believed to be buried at Clifton, just outside the city of York. On her memorial is carved:
Here lies she who never ly'd
Whose skill so often has been try'd
Her prophecies shall still survive
And ever keep her name alive.
This is said to be the only such tribute to a witch in all of England, since the usual memorial — if there is any — consists of nothing more than a cairn of stones to mark the spot where such a person was hanged or burned.
New inventions on behalf of Mother Shipton continue to be published even today.
Showers, Mary Rosina
(circa 1890-?) Born in India, the teenage daughter of a military family, Mary Showers was a spirit medium who worked with Florence Cook. She was famous for her “full-form” spirit materializations, done under very unsatisfactory (for the skeptic, but ideal for her) conditions. When placed under adequate controls, Showers failed to produce and was, in fact, exposed as a cheater.
Both mediums, Showers and Cook, were known for producing spirit forms that were indistinguishable from real people. In fact, sitters often remarked that their ghosts not only looked, felt, walked, smelled, and behaved exactly like the mediums themselves, but were identical to them in every possible way, except for costume. The message inherent in that observation seems to have escaped the believers.
In March 1874, Cook and Showers gave a demonstration, a séance, for Sir William Crookes at his home. This was attended by several witnesses, among them Sergeant E. W. Cox. Such a séance always took place in a dimly lit room, a curtained-off section at one end in which the medium, usually dressed in black, either sat in a chair or reclined on a couch, supposedly in a trance. The ghost, garbed in white, would either peek through the curtain or actually emerge and walk about among the spectators.
Following this séance, Sergeant Cox felt called upon to clearly state his observations. In The Spiritualist (a prominent journal of the day) of May 15 of that year, he reported of the supposed ghost forms:
They were solid flesh and blood and bone. They breathed, and perspired, and ate. . . . Not merely did they resemble their respective mediums, they were facsimiles of them — alike in face, hair, complexion, teeth, eyes, hands, and movements of the body. . . . No person would have doubted for a moment that the two girls who had been placed behind the curtain were now standing [in person] before the curtain playing very prettily the character of ghost. . . . There was nothing to avoid this conclusion but the bare assertion of the forms in white that they were not what they appeared to be, but two other beings in the likeness of Miss Cook and Miss Showers; and that the real ladies were at this moment asleep on the sofa behind the curtain. But of this their assertion no proof whatever was given or offered or permitted. The fact might have been established in a moment beyond all doubt by the simple process of opening the curtain and exhibiting the two ladies then and there upon the sofa, wearing their black gowns. But this only certain evidence was not proffered, nor, indeed, was it allowed us — the conditions exacted from us being that we should do nothing by which, if it were a trick, we should have been enabled to discover it.
Cox's report effectively put an end to belief in the validity of the séances offered by these two charlatans. In a further report, he described an 1894 séance during which he and a spectator had actually pulled aside the curtain and all present discovered Miss Showers wearing a headdress, poking her head through the curtain. The chair in which she was supposed to be sitting, in a trance, was empty. Following this debacle, Cox made the incredible statement that he believed that on this occasion, Showers had been “entranced” and had donned the headdress unconsciously.
It is not recorded whether Sergeant Cox was awarded the Supreme Gullibility Medal for 1894.
Shroud of Turin
One of several cloths said to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, this is by far the most famous. It consists of a large linen cloth bearing a very faint image outline of a human figure that is said to be that of Jesus Christ, deposited there by some unknown process.
The object first showed up in 1355 as a relic in the Church of Our Lady of Lirey in north-central France. It became an object of veneration, and pilgrims flocked from all over Europe to view it and to ask for miracles in its presence. From Lirey it traveled all over France, passing from church to church, being purchased, donated, and repurchased by the pious rich who wanted recognition. It eventually (1578) ended up in Turin (Torino) in Italy, where it still resides.
Much has been made of the fact that when a photographic negative of the image on the cloth is viewed, it appears much more “lifelike.” All the expected wounds of the crucifixion process, along with bloodstains, appear on the cloth.
Definitive tests prove absolutely that it is a forgery. The evidence shows:
1. The cloth itself could not date from the correct period or from that area of the world, simply because that particular weave of cloth was not made then or there.
2. Wrapping of a body in that size and shape of cloth was not done in Palestine at that period. Such wrapping disagrees with the biblical description as well.
3. The representation of the face of Christ on this cloth and in all paintings and sculptures is and always has been a formalized guess. This version matches the “accepted” one. We know nothing about Christ's actual appearance.
4. Carbon dating of the fabric, done in three independent labs, showed that the linen fabric was woven about the year 1350.
5. The “bloodstains” are not only red in color (they could not be, after that period of time), but they were shown by chemical analysis to be paint of the composition used in the fourteenth century.
6. The bishop of Troyes (Lirey) knew who the artist was who painted the cloth and when and how he did it, and so reported to Pope Clement VII. The document still exists and has been shown to be unquestionably authentic.
In spite of this (and much more) evidence that the Shroud of Turin is merely an artifact turned out by an artist, there is a large group of “sindonologists” — a special designation for those who believe this object to be genuine — who continue to insist on its validity. A New York Times editorial of December 4, 1981, quoted some of the evidence that the shroud was a fake, then added:
We excel over our medieval forebears in many things, no doubt, but should try not to outdo them in credulity.
A trade term for the closed medium who is innocent and believes in his or her powers.
See also open medium.
A series of supernatural abilities that certain gurus claim to teach disciples, notably in the Transcendental Meditation movement. Clairvoyance, invisibility, invulnerability, levitation, super strength, telepathy, and other wonderful powers taken from Book III of the third century B.C. guru Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms are taught by various mystic movements, but none have so far been observed to work.
Silva Mind Control
A system developed by José Silva (1914- ) that claims to develop improved memory, learning ability, and paranormal powers like telepathy. Much of the course consists of “visiting” absent persons imagined by students and performing diagnoses on them. No tests of the validity of this practice have been done; such tests are discouraged by the teachers of the system.
(Simon the Magician) The Bible mentions the Samaritan magician Simon in Acts 8:10, saying that he used sorcery to bewitch the people of Samaria. His teacher was said to be Dositheus, and he was believed to have many magical powers, among them invisibility, being able to pass through fire, the ability to cure the sick and to raise the dead, and the ability to fly.
Simon Peter (Saint Peter) followed him around, outmiracling him at every opportunity and finally encountering him in Rome. In desperation, Simon Magus announced that he would fly to heaven from a specially erected tower in the Campus Martius. Despite his claims to flight, he fell from the tower when Saint Peter prayed to have him fail in his attempt. Simon broke both legs and subsequently died of his injuries.
In Irish folklore, Simon Magus appears associated with Druidic practices and is referred to there as Simon the Druid.
A person who participates, usually as a paying customer, at a séance or other spiritualistic procedure. He or she is warned to maintain unwavering faith in the observed phenomena, to never touch the medium or the ectoplasm, and to cooperate fully with instructions from those in charge.
An international organization that sponsors a monthly lecture series at the California Institute of Technology and publishes Skeptic magazine, devoted to the investigation of fringe groups, extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas, and the promotion of science and critical thinking. Skeptic has investigated such fringe groups as the Holocaust deniers, and controversial subjects such as cryonics, Afrocentrism, race, intelligence, I.Q., and the relationship between science and religion.
The Skeptics Society can be reached at: 2761 N. Marengo Avenue, Altadena, CA 91001. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slade, Dr. Henry
(1840-1905) “Dr.” Henry Slade developed the art of slate writing and toured all over the world with his act. Slade was a spiritualist faker who could produce apparently spirit-written messages on school slates that had been washed and then sealed together, face-to-face. The trick was a simple one, but it fooled several scientists, including a prominent German astrophysicist named Zöllner, who even wrote a comprehensive book, Transcendental Physics, based on his observations of Slade's tricks and his firm belief that they were not tricks.
In 1876, the famous British conjuror J. N. Maskelyne was a prominent witness against Henry Slade when Slade was charged in the U.K. with fraud. The court case caused great excitement, and though the renowned physicist Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) had publicly declared Slade to be genuine, Maskelyne was easily able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that Slade's slate writing was brought about by trickery.
Slade was convicted and sentenced to three months at hard labor, but a technicality in the way the charge was worded caused a mistrial, and Slade left England hurriedly before a new trial could get under way. He never returned to the British Isles.
In Europe and in America, Slade was a great success until repeated exposures brought about his downfall. He finally signed a definitive confession of his fakery, faded from view, and at last died in a sanitarium in Michigan.
See Slade, Dr. Henry.
See automatic writing.
(1805-1844) Joseph Smith, who was to become founder of the Mormon church, worked at first as a conjuror in New York State. At one point, he was charged and convicted in court with being “a disorderly person and an imposter,” having claimed to be able to divine “hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth,” booty to which he said he could direct any willing and paying clients. There were many.
Then he claimed that at age twenty-two he had unearthed some “plates of gold” which bore “revised Egyptian hieroglyphics” that told the story of a lost book of the Bible, which he called The Book of Mormon. Fortunately there were two special optical instruments found with the plates, which enabled Smith to dictate to chosen scribes a translation of the sacred text. He did this from behind a curtain, since he was the only person privileged to see the plates or to see or handle the instruments. Indeed, to this very day, no one else has ever seen either the plates or the instruments. Where could they be?
In 1830 he founded the Mormon church, which went through many difficulties, as did Smith. While he was held in prison at Carthage, Illinois, a mob attacked and lynched him.
See also The Book of Coming Forth by Day.
Smyth, Charles Piazzi
See Great Pyramid of Giza.
Soal, Dr. Samuel George
(1889-1975) Dr. Soal was a mathematician who became president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1950. He studied spirit materialization, mediumship, automatic writing, telepathy, and clairvoyance.
In the period 1936-39, Soal began replicating the experiments of the American Dr. J. B. Rhine, who he greatly admired. His results were astonishingly good, and he enjoyed considerable fame as a result. Soon, skeptics began to question his methods, offering many theories on how errors — or cheating — could have taken place. But it was only after Soal's death in 1975 that a well-meaning supporter of his at the Society for Psychical Research, seeking to remove the suspicions that had been expressed, found instead through a computer program that Soal had cheated in grand style by changing the figures on the score sheets.
Soal's later work (in 1955) with two thirteen-year-old Welsh boys, Glyn and Ieuan Jones, showed that apparently he, too, could be deceived. The boys performed astonishing tests with Soal, being paid well for their success, and the result was The Mind Readers, a highly naive book by Soal that was a best-seller sensation overnight. Sir Cyril Burt raved over the work, which he accepted completely.
The Jones boys could transmit to one another — apparently by ESP — words, numbers, and the names of cards with animal pictures. The protocol used was farcical, with so many possibilities for communication between the two boys that one cannot believe that Soal was actually fooled. Whenever conditions were improved to defeat signaling, the score dropped to chance and the boys complained loudly. Immediately, the protocol would be relaxed and the scoring would improve.
But, said Soal:
We [the experimenters] were perfectly aware that boys of the calibre of Glyn and Ieuan could never hope to deceive us for more than a few minutes.
The reference to the “calibre” of the boys no doubt refers to the fact that they were country folks, and therefore probably not very smart, certainly not as smart as the scientist Soal.
Eventually the protocol for the tests was tightened to the point where the boys could not signal one another, and in the opinion of the investigators, they had suddenly “lost” their powers.
All of Soal's work is now considered valueless.
Society for Psychical Research
(SPR) This British group, the parent organization of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), was founded in 1882 in London as an offshoot of the British National Association of Spiritualists, itself founded in 1873. The SPR is located at 1 Adam & Eve Mews, London W8 6UG, U.K.
See also American Society for Psychical Research.
The word is derived from the same root as sortilege (sortiarius, Latin for “one who casts lots”) and refers to the use of magic methods, through evil spirits, for obtaining power over others. This would include the selling of one's soul, consulting with the dead (necromancy), and other such improbabilities.
A variety of divination by means of dice, bones, stones, sticks, or other objects being cast upon the ground in patterns. In a way, the gaming houses in Las Vegas use sortilege when dice are thrown to divine whether the customer will lose his money.
See also I Ching.
(1844-1879) Most who uncritically accept the miracles of Lourdes (which see) are unaware of what occurred to young Bernadette Soubirous, the originator of the story of the vision in the grotto. She herself never made any claim that the entity she said she had seen there had promised cures at the shrine. In fact, she called the vision the local French equivalent of “the lady” and the identification of the figure with the Virgin Mary was made by others.
On one occasion, Bernadette was asked by an English visitor about certain miracles that had been reported during her last visit to the shrine. She replied, “There's no truth in all that.” Asked about cures at the shrine, she answered, “I have been told that there have been miracles, but . . . I have not seen them.”
Bernadette was herself chronically ill, and she chose to visit hot springs in another town to treat her ailments. She was taken into a convent and died slowly and painfully in 1879, at age thirty-five, of tuberculosis, asthma, and several complications. Her own father, crippled and partially blind, died still afflicted.
See Appendix III, year 1774.
Speaking in Tongues
(plural, speculi) Any mirror, crystal, shiny stone, or metal surface which can be used for scrying.
A written or spoken incantation used in an attempt to produce magical effects. Not at all dependable.
Derived from the Latin word for “breath.” A soul, or an immaterial substance, entity, or pattern said to inhabit a living creature. It can be coerced out of the body or will voluntarily leave the body for various reasons. However, it leaves involuntarily upon death and survives.
No really good evidence for spirits is currently available.
The great conjuror Robert-Houdin is credited with having originated this trick, in which a small bell contained under an inverted glass cover rings in response to questions posed by the audience. The trick is still sold today from magic catalogs, in various forms. Spirit mediums have used the device to produce answers to questions posed by sitters and have represented the effect as a genuine spirit phenomenon.
Also known as “spirit helper.” This is the claimed spirit/ghost/angel that a spirit medium says is serving as a go-between with the “other world.” In America during the heyday of spiritualism, Native Americans were said to be the most common guides, since so many of them had “gone into spirit” (died) during the occupation of the continent. The fact that no sitter was likely to speak an American Indian tongue, also worked in favor of the mediums.
A philosophy very popular in nineteenth-century France which was very similar to spiritualism except that it taught reincarnation as well.
A person who claims to be able to call up ghosts, usually by going into some sort of trance in a darkened room. Mediums were very common in the United States up until the 1950s, when the interest in spiritualism and séances began to wane, though some are still doing business in England in a limited fashion.
The spiritualists have long embraced a physical phenomenon that they believe proves their basic premise of survival-after-death. They call it “spirit photography.”
It all began in 1861, when a Boston engraver named William H. Mumler discovered extra images of persons on an amateur photograph he took of an associate. Mumler went into business as a medium/photographer, snapping photos of well-paying clients who recognized celebrities and friends in the extra images recorded on the portraits of themselves.
Then two years after he'd begun the business, Mumler was exposed when some of his “extras” were recognized as living Bostonians. He eventually moved off to New York, reestablished his business, and was once again accused of fraud. His career was ended after a trial in 1869, and he died in poverty in 1884.
An Englishman named Hudson, inspired by Mumler's idea, began taking spirit photos. It was clearly shown that he was producing double exposures and even posing himself, in disguise, for some of the “extras.” However, he was endorsed entirely by Reverend William Stainton Moses, who declared his work to be an “unassailable demonstration” of the existence of survival-after-death.
A Frenchman, Buguet, entered the trade in 1874 in London, but was soon arrested for fraud and made a full confession. At the trial, his victims swore they had recognized their loved ones in photos of dummy “prop” heads that the police had seized at Buguet's studio. Reverend Moses had also endorsed Buguet's work just a month before the photographer's arrest.
Many examples of so-called spirit photography have been published. Several offered by believers as proof of the validity of the phenomenon show a likeness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, since he was a champion of the spiritualist cause. The spook-snappers claimed to have summoned him up after his death in 1930, and he was by far the most popular target for their cameras. The most used “spirit” photo of Sir Arthur is an ordinary one of that author in his prime, a photo that was and still is widely published and easily available. The “spirit” photo offered — apparently a cut-out of a reversed photo placed in what appears to be cotton wool — agrees in detail, lighting, and expression with that original.
Certain spiritualists claim that they can produce a drawn or painted portrait of a departed person that will be specifically identified by the intended sitter. Many tests of that claim have been made, one of them on a television series in the U.K. for Granada TV in 1991.
Coral Polge is a U.K. spiritualist who makes her living producing pastel portraits of people who she vaguely defines as some sort of ambiguous entities. During her demonstration in Manchester for Granada, Ms. Polge skillfully drew in brown chalk the face of a middle-aged, rather ordinary lady that could be any one of a half dozen such women that the average person has encountered at one time or another. However, no one in the studio audience of ninety persons was able to identify with both the portrait that Coral Polge drew, and the description that she had verbally offered in a rambling, disconnected series of guesses and try-ons.
When a vote was asked for on whether anyone could recognize the face Ms. Polge had drawn, the response was eleven percent yes. No two people in that audience should have recognized that person — unless they both had known her — and the generality of the drawing served to bring enough recognition votes that the scenario Ms. Polge was trying to build — that of a distinct person “coming through” for a specific member of the audience — was not at all established.
The production of spirit portraits is a form of Rorschach ink blot test.
(sometimes with an initial capital, to denote the formal church) There is confusion in the use of this term. More correctly, it would be reserved for designating one who follows the religion which teaches that ghosts can be summoned up by spirit mediums and communicated with, and that these ghosts can even touch, move, and physically affect objects and persons.
It began with the performances of the Fox sisters and is still an important religion in England. The correct term for one who merely believes in calling up spirits, asking them questions and receiving inane answers, could be spiritist. However, the longer word is more impressive and now almost universally used.
The oldest spiritualist group still in existence is the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, which dates from 1893. In the United States, the National Spiritualist Alliance was founded in 1913.
A term coined by author L. Sprague de Camp for the condition afflicting researchers into spiritualism. He defines it thus:
The symptoms of this malady are a tendency to sneer at the “limited range of view” and “dreary agnosticism” of unbelievers; to defend mediums as “men of high intelligence and probity” or “simple, honest, kind-hearted people” whose feats, even after exposure, “remain to this day absolutely inexplicable”; to blame exposures on evil spirits or a Jesuit plot; and to assert sweepingly but untruthfully that “every trained observer” who has investigated the phenomena has either been converted “or has been forced to admit that the phenomena are at present wholly inexplicable.”
See Abrams, Dr. Albert.
Spontaneous Human Combustion
(SHC) A not-too-well-explained phenomenon in which solitary humans have, in some unknown manner, burned up almost entirely, usually in a closed room, without setting fire to the room beyond a possible hole in the floor, a chair and some nearby furnishings.
Often, the subject is an alcoholic, usually elderly and smoking, sometimes known to regularly take sleeping pills. It is not difficult to see that such a combination could lead to the person catching fire. Forensic scientists point out that the “candle effect” may be responsible for the dramatically complete burning that often takes place in SHC. This effect is the result of human fat percolating out of a burning body, permeating the clothing and the stuffing of a chair, and thus burning as a giant candle wick.
Some point to the fact that the room — and house! — do not also burn, but this may be a case of selective reasoning; when the house does burn down, the question does not arise, and that condition is far more likely to exist than the alternate.
An excellent discussion of this phenomenon is the book of Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer, Secrets of the Supernatural, 1991.
See Society for Psychical Research.
A small demon, fairy, or other spirit with some supernatural powers, though on a minor scale. Little is known or said about the sexuality, if any, of sprites. Probably not much to say, really.
As religious phenomena, spontaneous wounds of the hands, feet, and right side of the body — corresponding to the traditional wounds on the body of Jesus Christ — first were reported by a chronicler of Saint Francis of Assisi in 1229.
Among modern stigmatists — and there are many — were Padre Pio (1887-1968) and Teresa Neumann (1898-1962). These people exhibited the wounds to varying degrees, Ms. Neumann even crying tears of blood. When she was in a coherent state, she claimed that she had survived only on sacramental wafers and a sip of wine each day for thirty-five years.
Since twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance would be necessary to establish the validity of these phenomena as miracles, no case of stigmata exists that can be said to be free of suspicion. The attitude of church officials who looked into the Neumann claim that wounds appeared in her palms spontaneously, reflects the general indifference to rigor exhibited in such inquiries. One investigator, Father P. Siwek, S.J., wrote that though he had “the gravest doubts about the genuineness of the marvels attributed to Teresa,” those doubts did not exclude the possibility of “solid Christian virtues and genuine mystical states.”
It is also interesting to note that in all such cases, the wounds in the hands appear at the palms, which agrees with religious paintings but not with the actualities of crucifixion; the wounds should appear at the wrists.
(1919-1987) Primarily as a clairaudient, U.K. psychic performer Ms. Stokes became very popular in Australia in the 1980s. Her techniques were essentially cold reading, though she also depended on obtaining information in person in advance from her clients, who were then encouraged to show up at her public appearances, at which time the information could be given back to them as if received psychically from the Great Beyond.
Subuh, Pak Muhammad
(1901-1983?) An Indonesian monk who began a movement called Subud (a contraction of three mystical Sanskrit words: sushila, budhi, and dharma) in which a mystical phenomenon known as “latihan” was said to come to followers who studied under an appropriately trained disciple. The latihan occurred after a few moments, days, months, or even years of study.
In the late 1950s, U.K. mathematician/author J. G. Bennett, a devotee of Gurdjieff — who had just died — came under the influence of Pak Subuh, brought him to England, and financed his career, believing him to be the New Messiah. Movie actress Eva Bartok, recovering from personal tragedies, joined the movement in 1957 and brought with her a covey of admirers and sycophants. Two years later, the guru was so popular that a congress at Coombe Springs (near Salisbury) attracted more than four hundred delegates from forty countries.
By 1960, interest in the cult had faded, Pak Subuh moved back to Indonesia and J. G. Bennett left the group and became a convert to Roman Catholicism.
(plural, succubi) A female demon that copulates with men. The princess of all the succubi is Nahemah, believed by the profane to have now retired from royalty and to have opened an all-night diner in Red Bank, New Jersey.
The expression used by spirit medium “The Poughkeepsie Seer” Andrew Jackson Davis to denote the place where one “goes” at death. The term was free of religious requirements, thus satisfying those who wished to embrace spiritualism without those entanglements.
There is probably no question which has preoccupied our species more than whether we can survive after clinical death. It is believed that other species are not aware of their own mortality, though that seems difficult to establish with any certainty.
Over the years, famous figures like Sir William Crookes, Sir Arthur Eddington, inventor Thomas Edison, magician Harry Houdini, philosopher David Hume, and Sir Oliver Lodge occupied themselves with looking into this eternal question. But one figure in recent history stands out as the most important and influential advocate of the reality of life after death: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the internationally famed creator of Sherlock Holmes and an ardent promoter of spiritualistic matters, accepted claims that full-form materializations of the dead could be produced during séances and that survival-after-death had been firmly established.
An elemental spirit of the air. Seldom — if ever — seen.
(also known as image magic) Best exemplified by the myth of the voodoo doll, usually made of wax or clay, in which injuries inflicted upon a figure representing the victim are simultaneously experienced by the real person. Thorns, pins, or needles are stuck into the doll, which has been identified specifically with the subject by having incorporated in it scraps of clothing, hair, fingernail or toenail parings, or other personal substances of the victim, or by being baptized in that person's name.
Such dolls were also used in ancient Assyria and Egypt as early as the reign of Rameses III in the twelfth century B.C. The Greeks and Romans were also familiar with the practice. The Greek sorcerer Theocritus was said to have killed his enemies by performing magic rites over their images. In Latin, the dolls are called imaguncula.
Another example of this sort of thinking was first written about by Baptista Porta in his Magiae Naturalis (1558), when he described “magic needles.” He wrote that if two needles were prepared from the same piece of iron then magnetized and placed upon pivots like compass needles, one needle would follow the same direction as the other if it were moved, no matter what distance was between the two. Cardinal Richelieu of France accepted this idea. The cardinal accepted almost anything.
The Celtic witches used figures this way, and the Scots called them “clay bodies.” Today in Malaysia magicians still use such images.