Thursday, April 13, 2023

An 18th-century precedent for Whitley Strieber's three sets of three knocks

On the night of August 27, 1986, Whitley Strieber had an experience in which he heard nine very loud knocks in three groups of three. He recounts the story in his 1988 book Transformation:

I returned to the house, took a shower, and then went downstairs to do some reading. Dr. [John] Gliedman had given me his essay "Quantum Entanglements: On Atomic Physics and the Nature of Reality," and I had been reading it. I sat in a chair by a window and picked up the manuscript. A glow came around the house, but it was so brief that I ignored it.

It became very quiet. I was awake and alert, perfectly normal in every way. Anne and Andrew were asleep. My cats were sitting on the couch nearby.

The cats both got restless. . . . The Burmese was crouched, staring up at the back wall of the room. The Siamese was walking slowly along with his entire tail stiff and puffed up like the tail of a raccoon. . . . perhaps a deer. I returned to Dr. Gliedman's essay.

I read the following sentence: "The mind is not the playwright of reality."

At that moment, there came a knocking on the side of the house. This was a substantial noise, very regular and sharp. The knocks were so exactly spaced that they sounded like they were being produced by a machine. Both cats were riveted with terror. They stared at the wall. The knocks went on, nine of them in three groups of three, followed by a tenth lighter double-knock that communicated an impression of finality (pp. 129-130).

Mr. Strieber goes on for several pages, ruling out all possible conventional explanations for the knocks and describing his failed attempts to duplicate the sounds. He concludes that "the knocks were an absolutely clear indication that something entirely and physically real was present and that it was taking an interest in me" (p. 132).

In Mr. Strieber's 1995 book Breakthrough, he revisits the nine knocks, first noting, "I reported this experience in Transformation, which was given to the publisher in late 1987 and published in March 1988." During the window between those two dates -- after the book was finalized but before anyone in the general public had read it -- this happened:

On February 27, 1988, eighteen months to the day after the incident of the nine knocks at my cabin, but before they could have been publicly known, a large number of people in Glenrock, Wyoming, were awakened at 2:45 a.m. by a series of nine knocks in three groups of three on their cars, on the sides or roofs of their houses, or on their doors. The Glenrock Independent reported on Thursday, March 3, that "strange, unexplained noises interrupted the slumber of many Glenrock residents early Sunday morning. The three part series of three dull thuds at 2:45 a.m. was reported by many residents who believed it was made by direct physical contact on the outside of their dwellings."

In other words, despite the near-simultaneity of the sounds, numerous people thought that their individual homes were being affected. That they all heard the sounds at virtually the same time is supported by the sudden surge in police calls. All this only adds to the strength of my proof, because it requires that any hoax be extremely elaborate and that it involve many people, all knocking on houses at the same time. Residents hearing the knocks, "discounted the possibility of a hoax being performed on a seemingly random number of houses. The residents quickly either looked outside or physically inspected their property." A UFO was also observed in the area.

In the end, the Independent said, "The UFO, like the knocking, remains a mystery."

Although this happened in early 1988, it was not until nearly a year later that I became aware of the incident through a clipping service. . . . It could not have been an accident, not something so distinctive and precisely timed (pp. 23-24).

Today, following up a passing reference in The Hidden Springs by RenĂ©e Haynes, I found a strikingly similar story in the Memoirs of the Wesley Family (1824), edited by Adam Clarke. The following passage, from p. 137, is taken from the personal journal of Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley (1662-1735), the father of the two brothers who founded the Methodist movement..

An Account of Noises and Disturbances in my House at Epworth, Lincolnshire, in December and January, 1716.

From the first of December, my children and servants heard many strange noises, groans, knockings, &c. in every story, and most of the rooms of my house. But I hearing nothing of it myself, they would not tell me for some time, because, according to the vulgar opinion, if it boded me any ill, I could not hear it. When it increased, and my family could not easily conceal it, they told me of it. When it increased, and the family could not easily conceal it, they told me of it.

My daughters Susannah and Ann were below stairs in the dining room; and heard first at the doors, then over their heads, and the night after a knocking under their feet, though nobody was in the chambers or below them. The like they and my servants heard in both the kitchens, at the door against the partition, and over them. The maid servant heard groans as of a dying man. My daughter Emilia coming down stairs to draw up the clock, and lock the doors at ten at night, as usual, heard under the staircase a sound among some bottles there, as if they had been all dashed to pieces; but when she looked all was safe.

Something, like the steps of a man, was heard going up and down stairs, at all hours of the night, and vast rumblings below stairs, and in the garrets. My man, who lay in the garret, heard some one come slaring through the garret to his chamber, rattling by his side as if against his shoes, though he had none there; at other times walking up and down stairs, when all the house were in bed, and gobling like a turkey-cock. Noises were hears in the nursery, and all the other chambers; knocking first at the feet of the bed, and behind it; and a sound like that of dancing in a matted chamber, next the nursery, when the door was locked, and nobody in it.

My wife would have persuaded them it was rats within doors, and some unlucky people knocking without; till at last we heard several loud knocks in our own chamber, on my side of the bed; but till, I think, the 21st at night, I heard nothing of it. That night I was waked a little before one by nine distinct very loud knocks, which seemed to be in the next room to our's, with a sort of pause at every third stroke. I thought it might be somebody without the house; and having got a stout mastiff, hoped he would soon rid me of it.

Getting a mastiff proved not be an effective way of getting rid of the knocking. When more knocks came, "our mastiff came whining to us, as he always did after the first night of its coming; for then he barked violently at it, but was silent afterwards, and seemed more afraid than any of the children" (p. 138). The disturbances continued to the end of January, and the family took to referring to the poltergeist as "Jeffrey," a name given it by Miss Emily Wesley. Particularly loud knocking often accompanied their prayers for King George I, from which they gathered that "Jeffrey" must be a Jacobite.

In 1720, Samuel's son John Wesley, having heard of the knocking incident, went to the house in Epworth and "carefully inquired into the particulars. I spoke to each of the persons who were then in the house, and took down what each could testify of his or her own knowledge" (p. 141). The results of his inquiry were published in the Arminian Magazine and are reproduced in the Memoirs, from which I quote.

A few nights after, my father and mother were just gone to bed, and the candle was not taken away, when they heard three blows, and a second, and a third three, as it were with a large oaken staff, struck upon a chest which stood by the bed-side. My father immediately arose, put on his night-gown, and hearing great noises below, took the candle and went down: my mother walked by his side. As they went down the broad stairs, they heard as if a vessel of silver was poured upon my mother's breast, and ran jingling down to her feet. Quickly after there was a sound, as if a large iron ball was thrown among many bottles under the stairs; but nothing was hurt. Soon after, our large mastiff dog came an ran to shelter himself between them. While the disturbances continued, he used to bark and leap, and snap on one side and the other; and that frequently before any person in the room heard any noise at all. But after two or three days, he used to tremble, and creep away before the noise began. And by this the family knew it was at hand; nor did the observation ever fail (pp. 144-145).

Notice that the Wesleys' mastiff, like Mr. Strieber's cats, exhibited unusual fear just before the knocking began.

The nine knocks are referred to again in a letter from Samuel Wesley's wife Susanna to their son Samuel Jr., dated "January 12, 1716-7":

At first [your father] would not believe but somebody did it to alarm us; but the night after, as soon as he was in bed, it knocked loudly nine times, just by his bed-side. He rose, and went to see if he could find out what it was, but could see nothing. Afterwards he heard it as the rest (p. 146).

She does not mention that the nine knocks were in three groups of three, but later in the letter she says repeated groups of three knocks were typical.

Sometimes it would make a noise like the winding up of a jack, at other times, as that night Mr. Hoole was with us, like a carpenter planing deals; but most commonly it knocked thrice and stopped, and then thrice again, and so many hours together (op. loc.).

Emily Wesley, in an undated letter to her brother Samuel Jr., does not mention the nine knocks but does say that the knocks typically came in threes:

I heard frequently between ten and eleven something like the quick winding up of a jack, at the corner of the room by my bed's head, just like the running of the wheels and the creaking of the iron work. This was the common signal of its coming. Then it would knock on the floor three times, then at my sister's bed's head in the same room, almost always three together, and then stay. The sound was hollow, and loud, so as none of us could ever imitate (p. 153).

This is from Mrs. Wesley's account, dated August 27, 1726:

Upon my looking under the bed, something ran out pretty much like a badger, and seemed to run directly under Emily's petticoats, who sat opposite to me on the other side. I went out; and one or two nights after, when we were just got to bed, I heard nine strokes, three by three, on the other side of the bed, as if one had struck violently on a chest with a large stick. Mr. Wesley leapt up, called Hetty, who was up in the house, and searched every room in the house, but to no purpose (p. 156).

Several of the other accounts also mention the appearance of something like a badger -- sometimes a headless one! -- and also a white rabbit. I have not quoted all of these, since my main concern is the knocks.

The Rev. Mr. Hoole, a houseguest, also briefly mentions the pattern of three knocks:

Quickly it was in the nursery, at the bed's head, knocking as it had done at first, three by three (p. 160).

John Wesley notes:

The first time my mother ever heard any unusual noise at Epworth was long before the disturbance of old Jeffrey. My brother, lately come from London, had one evening a sharp quarrel with my sister Sukey, at which time, my mother happening to be above in her own chamber, the doore and windows rung and jarred very loud, and presently several distinct strokes, three by three, struck. -- From that night it never failed to give notice in much the same manner against any signal misfortune, or illness of any belonging to the family (p. 162).

Just as this phenomenon apparently began long before the main "Jeffrey" disturbances of December 1716 and January 1717, it seems to have continued long after. In a letter dated February 16, 1750 -- 34 years after the main disturbances -- the former Miss Emily Wesley (now Mrs. Harper) wrote to her brother John:

Another thing is, that wonderful thing, called by us, Jeffrey! You won't laugh at me for being superstitious, if I tell you how certainly that something calls on me against any extraordinary new affliction: but so little is known of the invisible world that I at least am not able to judge whether it be a friendly or an evil spirit (p. 164, italics in original).

I am quite certain that Mr. Strieber had no knowledge of the Wesley family's experience 270 years before his own. In all his books, he is always eager to point out parallels between modern encounter experiences and similar event occurring before what we think of as the "UFO era." If he had known of the nine knocks in Epworth, there is no way he would have failed to mention them in his books. Still less can we suppose that the Glenrock incident -- affecting a whole town of people, most of whom we may presume lacked any particular interest in paranormal footnotes in the history of Protestantism -- was in any way influenced or suggested by the Wesley story.

I have no idea what to make of these parallels at present. I merely document them for future reference.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

How the Nazis changed the future, according to The Key

The Key (originally self-published in 2001; I quote from that edition) is Whitley Strieber's account of his conversation with a mysterious man he met in Toronto on June 6, 1998. Near the beginning of their conversation (p. 13), the man -- given by Strieber the rather grandiose title Master of the Key -- says that the Holocaust was the most important event of the last 2,000 years. When Strieber seems incredulous, he elaborates.

You were meant to have acquired the ability to leave the planet by now. But you are still trapped here. You may be irretrievably lost. This is of absolutely fundamental importance, because the earth will soon be unable to support you, and yet you will not be able to leave. This is because of the Holocaust. The destruction of six million may well lead to the destruction of six billion. So it is the most important event, by far, of the age.

Why has the Holocaust prevented us from leaving the planet?

The Holocaust reduced the intelligence of the human species by killing too many of its most intellectually competent members. It is why you are still using jets seventy-five years after their invention. The understanding of gravity is denied you because of the absence of the child of a murdered Jewish couple. This child would have unlocked the secret of gravity. But he was not born.

You're saying that the catastrophe we're facing now -- too many people and no ability to leave the planet -- is punishment for the Holocaust?

What is happening is consequence, not punishment. The Holocaust was triggered when economic disorder combined among the Germans with a feeling of being trapped due to over-population. The resultant explosion drove the German tribe to lash out against other tribes, especially the one that lived in its midst. Unfortunately, they murdered the bearers of the intellectually strongest genes possessed by your species.

I note in passing the emphasis on sixes here -- "The destruction of six million may well lead to the destruction of six billion," in a message delivered on the sixth day of the sixth month of 1998, which is 666 times three -- but the main thing I am interested in is what it implies about time and contingency.

On the one hand, there is a strong indication that human life is highly predictable. The child referred to was, it seems, fated to unlock the secret of gravity, just as Oedipus was fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Had he been born, he would have gone through his life, making countless choices and thus unpredictably following one of an enormous number of possible life paths -- but still all roads, or at least the vast majority of them, would lead to his becoming a physicist and solving the riddle of gravity.

On the other hand, this otherwise inevitable fate was averted when the unborn physicist's parents were murdered by the Nazis -- which was apparently not a foreseeable event, since it apparently threw a wrench in the works and stymied the plans of whoever it was that had "meant" for us to expand off-planet by the end of the 20th century. This is strange, because one would have thought that large-scale sociopolitical developments would be much more predictable than the actions of any particular individual, especially those of a world-historical genius. There is no indication at all that Hitler was some unforeseeable "Mule" figure; on the contrary, the Master goes on to explain how the Holocaust, rather than being attributable to any person's act of free will, "was triggered" by economic and demographic factors and thus should -- one would have thought -- have been broadly predictable. How could the same predictive techniques accurately foresee the specific future scientific discoveries of a particular unborn Jew and yet fail to foresee the Holocaust?

But perhaps the expectation that a Jew would solve the mystery of gravity was not as personal as I have been assuming. After all, the Master does seem to say that it was the Holocaust as a whole -- not the death of one particular couple -- that has prevented us from leaving the planet, and that this was because it "reduced the intelligence of the human species by killing too many of its most intellectually competent members." Perhaps, given a critical mass of highly intelligent Ashkenazim in a highly developed country like Germany, one or another of them was bound to figure out gravity -- but then the Nazis went and essentially wiped out that whole population.

Where do any of these predictions come from, anyway? Elsewhere in the conversation, the Master that he and others like him have the ability to "exit the time stream" and see past, present, and future as a single "present" object. However, the fact that they are able to enter and exit the time stream -- that is, to change -- means that they are not truly atemporal but live and move in a Dunnean meta-time. And if their predictions are based on literally seeing a future that (from their meta-temporal perspective) already exists, the only way for those predictions to fail is for the future to literally be changed, as I discuss in my post "Changing the future and changing the past."

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Give me an O

My recent experiments with Googling Christopher Walken (chosen for no particular reason) led me to an article by Chris Evangelista called "The Quarantine Stream: 'Communion' Is One Of The Weirdest Alien Movies You'll Ever Watch." (Walken plays Strieber in the 1989 film version of Communion.) Here's an excerpt.

And we get to see the aliens here, and boy, some of them are not what you expect. There are two types of aliens that Streiber encounters. There's a species that looks like the more familiar "grey" aliens – skinny, long-limbed creatures with almond-shaped heads and big black eyes. Only these aliens are not grey, they're pink. Also, they seem to be made of rubber? Or latex? In any case, they flail around like they don't have bones, and flap their hands as if they're dancing. Then there is a group of squat, round aliens with huge heads. At first, they're expressionless. But late in the movie, these aliens – which are nicknamed "Little Blue Doctors" –  suddenly have rounded lips that appear as if they're constantly puckering up for a kiss. I don't know if this is intentional, or just a case of the film not having a big enough budget to make aliens with more expressive faces. In any case, it's weird as f***, and looking at those big puckered alien lips kind of made me want to die.

Yes, it was intentional, not a budget issue, and reflects a dialogue between Whitley Strieber and his young son Andrew in Communion. Andrew is relating some of his dreams, which his father suspects are actually distorted memories of real close encounters.

"I was in the middle of the air when I switched to this dream where I was in the hospital in the future where they were trying to cure some kind of disease. I'm not sure what it was. And I was taken out of my bed and onto a cot and out on the porch."

"Who took you out of your bed and onto the cot?"

"Some kind of doctor."

"What did he look like?"

"Oh, he was a very short and fat man with glasses that came out pointed upward like that. [Gestures as if eyes have a pronounced slant.] And he always has a big fake smile on him. [Smiles from ear to ear with his mouth closed.] He kind of kept it there except when he was asleep."

"How did you know he was asleep?"

"Well, he had -- well, that's because he worked in the night and slept in the day."

"What did his eyes look like?"

"He was wearing regular glasses. His eyes were a kind of greenish-blue color. Dark. The only two faces he had was this. [Again demonstrates smile.] And then a small one when he was sleeping. [Makes an O.]"

"Mouth open?"


"When his mouth was opened, it was round?"

"Yeah. Puckered. Big puckered."

Evangelista seems not to have read Communion, so his use of the exact phrase that appears there, 
"big puckered," is interesting. (The word puckered does not occur in the Communion script.)

Today I was reading the 1989 "Satanic panic" book The Edge of Evil by Jerry Johnston. It includes a tapescript of an interview with a possessed teenager called Ann, and of her subsequent exorcism. Here is Ann discussing her depression, which began at the age of 8 or 9 when she "spoke in tongues."

"I was depressed even before. Yeah, I guess it started about the time I started speaking in tongues . . .  it's still there. And sometimes I can feel this screaming inside of me. And sometimes sort of like baby talk is coming out. It's different from the tongues."

"Garbled, sort of?"

"Yeah. It's not the same all the time. There's variation in it. Well, the tongues is I guess more or less the same. But then as well as the tongues, I get feeling really funny sometimes. It starts right here, just like the tongues, and my mouth goes tense and it starts to go funny."

A Mrs. Sibble from the girls' home adds, "It goes sort of round, too. The other night when you spoke in tongues it almost sort of went round, like a fish's mouth."

"Yeah, it does that. Ooh, it's awful. . . ."

The exorcism itself follows, performed by Archie Huewright.

"Now. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, tell me your name."

"My name is Greyer," the girlish voice sings. "Greyer had a little pony once --"

"All right. I rebuke you in the name of Christ. Do you have associates?"

"Two of them. Grayer, and G-R-A-Y-E-R-E; give me an O, give me an E --"

"Three of you," Archie says.

Three demons called Greyer, Grayer, and Grayere. The entities Strieber writes about are typically called "Grays" despite the fact that (as Evangelista notes) they aren't actually described as being that color. After spelling out the name of one of its demonic associates, Greyer says, "give me an O, give me an E," even though none of the three names has an O in it.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Two alien vegetable sellers

In my recent post "Cucurbits from an alien land," I quoted this passage from Whitley Strieber's book Breakthrough (1995). Strieber is writing about an incident that occurred at his cabin in August 1991. He had invited a group of houseguests for the weekend, including the writer Michael Talbot (who would die less than a year later). Strieber wakes up at about five a.m., hears Talbot's voice, goes downstairs, and sees him at the door.

There was a shadow out there. I could see it clearly. It shocked me, because the likelihood of a stranger appearing at our door in this rather isolated area at five in the morning was vanishingly small. Then I saw that the figure was very thin, and seemed to have a huge head.

The idea that this was a visitor certainly hadn't crossed Michael's mind. . . . Then I heard him say, "are you trying to sell those vegetables?"

It stunned me practically senseless. Then I saw that the visitor was holding a big paper shopping bag full of squash.

In Ed Conroy's Report on Communion (pp. 77-78), the author reproduces a letter, dated 30 July 1988, sent to Strieber (in care of his publisher) by his childhood friend Bill Mebane. Mebane jokingly writes in the voice of Strieber's alien visitor and refers to himself in the third person. He hints at further "Elizabeth Road adventures" (where Strieber grew up) in addition to those recounted in Communion. The ellipsis and brackets are in the published version.

Dear Whitley,

The one chosen to commune with the cosmos. Last Saturday afternoon I have mistakenly landed (flying too low) on the Matterhorm. Carefully climbing down to Zermatt, I was very shocked to find our story on sale in the local bookstore. Without my permission, and most importantly, without my point of view! And what is this Transformation already announced? Have you had other visitors?

Yours jealously
Slant-eyed Sally

P.S. I also visited in Zermatt a certain Signor Mebane (Italo-Texano) who claims his own version of the Elizabeth Road adventures. For example, he does confirm the sighting of a long cigar-shaped "ship" in your back lot, but he also asserts that we had previous contacts in the numerous games of night hide-and-seek around the Flowers' mansion. That was not always Patricia hiding with him! And what about that time your grandfather chased him and Mike Ryan out of the house, who was really to blame? And the old "vegetable wagon" that used to come to Elizabeth Road, who was that mysterious seller? And all the towers and treehouses that you all constructed; those in Mike's backyard, even near his pool; that wooden platform near Bill's bedroom; and all those tree outposts in your front yard. Were you establishing, unconsciously, bridges to the sky? And all the weather balloon and rocket experiments. . . .

This Italo-Texano, a shady character, could go on and on. Perhaps you should establish a direct contact: [address in Rome, Italy listed here].

P.P.S. It's a great book. Congratulations,


Mebane's letter is obviously tongue-in-cheek, so it's impossible to know how seriously he is proposing that the "vegetable wagon" and its "mysterious seller" had something to do with the visitors. Still, the parallel with the Talbot story is interesting.

Note: I found the illustration at the top of this post by running an image search for ufo vegetables (because, you know, you can find anything on the Internet). It turns out the same artist recently posted a birdemic cartoon.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Whitley Strieber's "new vision" of Jesus

Whitley Strieber is a one-of-a-kind thinker, and his book Jesus: A New Vision, published in January of this year, brings his unique approach to bear on the question of who Jesus is and what he did. It is a very exciting and stimulating book to read, full of surprising interpretations and insights. Unfortunately, in the end I don't think it really adds up to the coherent "new vision" of Jesus promised in the subtitle.

Jesus the man

Strieber's foundational assumption is that Jesus was a man, and that everything he did is therefore within the range of human capabilities and would in principle be possible for others to do as well. This does not mean that Strieber tries to explain Jesus away as "just a man" in a secular way. He accepts many of the extraordinary things attributed to Jesus, including the resurrection -- but where a conventional Christian would see these as proof that Jesus was God incarnate, a sort of being fundamentally different from ourselves, Strieber sees them as proof that human beings have undreamed-of potential. Jesus did things no human being could do, says the conventional Christian, and therefore he was no mere human being but God. Jesus did things no human being could do, says Strieber -- and that proves that human beings can do such things after all.

This is broadly similar to my own assumption, that Jesus was a man who became divine, and that others may follow him and do what he did. He told his disciples on numerous occasions that they could be like him, even that they would work greater miracles than his own. The idea that Jesus was like Superman -- human in appearance but actually fundamentally different in origin and nature -- is incorrect. Jesus was not a God disguised as a man; nor did he have (as per classical theology) "two natures," human and divine; rather, he was and is living proof that human nature and divine nature are one and the same -- that "now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be" (1 John 3:2).

Strieber doesn't go this far. As I will discuss below, he holds onto the idea of an impersonal monotheistic God and therefore prefers to say that Jesus was not a god.


Strieber's approach to Jesus' miracles is a strange mixture of belief and secular explaining-away.

Jesus didn't literally turn water to wine because "that's impossible"; the story is symbolic. (By the way, Strieber reaches the same conclusion of Bruce Charlton, that the wedding at Cana was Jesus' own marriage to Mary Magdalene.) Most of his healings were probably just the placebo effect. When Jesus raised someone from the dead, what probably happened was that he revived a seemingly dead person with smelling salts, a trick he may have learned from the magicians in Egypt. Strieber accepts the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James but goes Jefferson Bible on it -- "once the miracles attributed to him are stripped away," he says, it probably offers a pretty accurate account of his childhood.

Walking on water, though -- yeah, that probably really happened. There are many accounts of levitation, with multiple witnesses, in the historical record, and so gravity-defying miracles are credible. What Strieber does not mention -- he's trying to be Whitley the scholar here, not Whitley the weird-experience-haver -- is that he himself has experienced levitation and knows firsthand that it is real, and that that is his real reason for finding this particular miracle more credible than the others.

One reason for Strieber's seemingly inconsistent approach to miracles is his assumption that miracles are "not supernatural, but caused by natural forces that remain to this day little understood, but which [Jesus] did understand, at least well enough to make use of them." Jesus was not God, and his miracles are not proofs of his omnipotence. He didn't have the power to do anything, only some specific things, for specific reasons. Therefore, his working one miracle is in no way evidence that he could also have worked another, entirely different miracle.

For Strieber, Jesus' miracle fall into three categories: (1) those we can explain away, at least in principle (healings via placebo effect, smelling salts, etc.); (2) those we cannot yet explain away, but which are well enough attested that they probably did happen (walking on water, the resurrection); and (3) those which we can dismiss as "impossible" (turning water to wine, making clay sparrows come to life, etc.).

I guess I'm in broad sympathy with this approach, but I think Strieber is a little too quick to put things in the third category. As someone who has sometimes experienced six impossible things before breakfast, he really ought to be more willing to suspend judgment even on some of the less believable miracle stories.

Hidden helpers

One interesting point Strieber raises is that Jesus seems in the Gospels to have had a group of people -- distinct from his disciples -- secretly helping him behind the scenes. He mentions, for example, that on Palm Sunday there was already a colt waiting for him to ride on, and someone had provided the people with palm branches in preparation for his entrance. Other mysterious figures -- the man in white who runs away in Mark, the woman who anoints him in Luke -- are also tentatively connected with this group. I made a similar speculation in my notes on John 1:

When John says, "he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me . . . ," I wonder if he is describing a direct communication from God himself, or John had some human master or teacher out in the desert, lost to history, who gave him these instructions.

Strieber reaches no conclusions about who these people may have been, but it's an interesting hypothesis.

The sacrificed god

Many (beginning with Frazer in The Golden Bough) have noted the parallels between Jesus' story and those of other "sacrificed gods" who rise from the dead, such as Osiris and Tammuz. Believers see this as God inspiring the pagans to create myths that foreshadowed Christ; skeptics see it as evidence that the story of Jesus is fake, cobbled together from myths and not from history. Strieber's own take is unusual.

I think that there is another way to look at it, which is that Jesus was re-creating these earlier passions, using the same theory of sympathetic magic that had inspired the would-be messiahs who had come before him to recreate the Moses entry into the Land of Canaan. Having seen that this method had failed, he was attempting another.

Strieber elaborates on this at great length, explaining how Jesus "goaded the Romans into executing him" and deliberately did it in such a way as to echo various myths about "scapegoat gods," even when this had little to do with fulfilling the messianic prophecies of Judaism.

Strieber is not clear on what purpose this served -- or if indeed it served any purpose at all. He describes it as another instance of the same sort of "sympathetic magic" that had failed in the past. Did Jesus' resurrection somehow depend on enacting this mythological drama? Was it done to ensure that his story would resonate with the Greeks and Romans and be remembered? Strieber never really reaches a conclusion here; he merely proposes that Jesus was consciously attempting to be a second Adonis as well as a second Moses and David.

The resurrection

Strieber discusses the Shroud of Turin extensively, seeing it as very strong evidence that Jesus' corpse was transformed in a blast of radiant energy into -- something else. 

When there is proper testing of the Shroud, what we are almost certain to find is that Jesus turned into a version of himself made of light. He may have appeared human to those who saw him, but he was no longer an organic being. What happened was that a rare energetic event occurred that projected him back into the world for a time.

This misses the whole point of the resurrection, which is that it was a resurrection of the body. There's nothing revolutionary about people living on after death as spirits or "beings of light," but the resurrected Jesus made a point of demonstrating that he had a body of flesh and bone. Strieber's weird non-explanation, that he "may have appeared human" because "a rare energetic event occurred" (what?), does not make it clear how Jesus' post-resurrection appearances were anything other than ordinary "ghost" apparitions. Ghosts, whatever they are, are commonplace and were accepted as such in the ancient world; appearances of the ghost of Jesus would not have led to the belief that a dead man had come back to life.

Strieber says that Jesus showed that resurrection is possible for all of us but isn't clear on how. At times he seems to suggest that we can find the key to resurrection by further scientific examination of the Shroud of Turin. At others, he says we can transcend death by "following the Jesus path" -- meaning, uh, living by the Beatitudes or something. At any rate, he doesn't think we need to actually follow Jesus or believe in him; the book's closing sentence is, "Belief or faith or none, it does not matter: Jesus is there." How he got that message from the Gospels is anyone's guess!


Focusing on the burst of radiant energy evident in the Shroud of Turin, and on Jesus' appearance to Saul of Tarsus as a blinding light, Strieber connects these with other "incidents of light" such as the burning bush, the Transfiguration, and so on.

I think that there was a consciousness with high intelligence behind the resurrection event and all the other incidents of light that I have discussed. . . . I think that part of the message of the Shroud is that, by following the Jesus path, we all have the potential to enter the same state of light that he did.

Basically, he identifies this conscious light with God -- or rather, with his typical hedging, "a higher entity that, for want of a better word, we might as well call God." In what seems to me to be a remarkably obtuse misreading of the message of Jesus, he says that this God is entirely unlike a human being and that we need to stop anthropomorphizing it.

This conscious energy -- this light -- is concerned about us or it would not intervene in our lives. . . . But how can we relate to a consciousness that does not have a nature that we can understand or even a form that we can detect? . . . We have never in all our history had a concept of god that is not sentimentalized in some way like the vague idea of "God the Father," or personalized like the old gods of the Romans and the Egyptians. There is every reason now for that to change.

Strieber somehow fails to notice that the "idea of God the Father," far from being some "vague" and "sentimentalized" holdover from the infancy of our species, is in fact one of the central, and most revolutionary messages of Jesus. Even the notoriously skeptical Jesus Seminar (which Strieber references with depressing credulity) lists Jesus' calling God "Father" as one of his most undeniably authentic teachings. And this was a radical new doctrine, not a traditional Jewish idea. Jesus called us not to abandon anthropomorphism but to take it seriously. The vague idea which we really need to move beyond is the Hellenized view of God as an abstraction "that does not have a nature that we can understand."

When Saul asked the blinding light, "Who art thou, Lord?" the answer was, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" (Acts 9:5). If, as Strieber says, the "conscious energy" behind these "incidents of light" is to be identified with God, then Jesus had become God without ceasing to be Jesus, without ceasing to have a human nature. 

Moved by this experience, Paul was later to preach:

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent (Acts 17:29-30).

We are the offspring of God, and therefore God is not like unto gold or silver or stone. What is he like, then? Like us. The impersonal, "non-sentimentalized" God promoted by Strieber is just another example of the ignorance that God winked at in the past, but which is no longer so excusable now that Jesus has come.

As so often, William Blake put it best: "God appears, and God is Light, to those poor souls who dwell in Night; but does a Human Form display to those who dwell in realms of Day."

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Synchronicity: A butterfly Mason?

Sometimes I write something I think is just too bizarre to publish -- and then I usually publish it anyway, and as often as not I soon get an email from some stranger saying, "You too? What an amazing coincidence!"

Early this afternoon, I was sitting in my living room. We have a large window in the front, but it was a very sunny day and the curtains were drawn. Suddenly, my tomcat Geronimo (a highly accomplished jumper) got between the window and the curtain and started jumping up on the glass again and again like a maniac. My wife said there must be a bird or something outside, so I popped out to take a look.

It wasn't a bird; it was a white cabbage butterfly, steadily beating its wings and flying directly into the windowpane. The glass was of course an impassable barrier, but it wouldn't alter its course in the slightest, and the result was that it just sort of hovered there. Now everyone knows that a normal butterfly's flight path resembles that of a drunken skywriter. Straight lines are simply not in their repertoire; nor is this sort of persistence when confronted with an impassable obstacle. Nevertheless, it persisted.

As I looked at the butterfly, a question suddenly popped into my head out of nowhere: Are you a traveling man? -- quickly followed by the rest of this stock Masonic dialogue: Yes I am. Traveling where? From west to east. (I'm not a Freemason, but one picks up these things.) The feeling that I was somehow having this dialogue with the butterfly -- ridiculous on its face! -- was unmistakable. The whole time, the butterfly kept flying persistently straight into the windowpane, and on the other side of the glass, a highly neurotic tomcat kept bouncing up and down like a superball.

Finally I snapped out of whatever passing trance the butterfly had put me in and gently shooed it away from the window. It immediately resumed normal butterfly behavior, and the cat settled down.

Checking a compass later, I found that it had indeed been flying at a perfect 90-degree azimuth, from west to east.

The weird feeling that I had been "communicating" (if reciting a stock dialogue can be called that!) with the butterfly made me remember that last year I had experienced a synchronicity in connection with the idea that the spirits of the dead can appear as moths -- I had read about this in Whitley Strieber's Afterlife Revolution and then heard the same thing shortly thereafter from a Taiwanese associate. Well, I thought, this was a cabbage butterfly, not a moth, but it's close anyway.

When I looked up my old post about the moth synchronicity, though, I found something that I had forgotten. The post showed the cover of The Afterlife Revolution -- illustrated with a picture of a white cabbage butterfly!

I ended the post thus:

I wonder how common this association is? I know Aristotle used the same Greek word to refer both to the soul and to the cabbage butterfly. (By coincidence, this same species of non-moth appears to have been chosen by Strieber's entomologically confused cover illustrator.)

I had forgotten that about Aristotle, too, but he does in fact use the word psyche ("soul"), in History of Animals 5.19, as a name for those insects that arise "out of those caterpillars which arise on leaves of green, especially on those of the cabbage-plant."

Coming back to the ridiculous idea of a butterfly being a Mason, I remembered that Freemasonry's central symbol is the building of the Temple of Solomon, and that in the Rudyard Kipling story "The Butterfly That Stamped," a butterfly stamps its foot and makes King Solomon's palace (close enough!) disappear and then reappear. (It is actually Djinns that do this, but Solomon has arranged for them to make it look as if the butterfly is making it happen.)

Suleiman-bin-Daoud laughed so much that it was several minutes before he found breath enough to whisper to the Butterfly, "Stamp again, little brother. Give me back my Palace, most great magician." . . . So he stamped once more, and that instant the Djinns let down the Palace and the gardens, without even a bump.

Then I thought about the song "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations.

Building up foundations sounds like a mason's work, does it not? Buttercup is a bit like butterfly, but not quite close enough to be satisfying. Ah, but what's the very first thing Wikipedia has to say about the Foundations? "The Foundations were a British soul band." Soul = psyche = cabbage butterfly.

Since Whitley Strieber had entered into this synch-stream, I thought of his "nine knocks" incident, documented in Chapter 11 of his book Transformation (a synonym for butterfly-style metamorphosis). Strieber recounts how he was at home, reading an essay by John Gliedman about quantum entanglement, when he noticed that his two cats were beginning to behave strangely, as if they are terrified.

The cats' fear didn't make sense to me at all. I decided there must be some animal outside, perhaps a deer. I returned to Dr. Gleidman's essay.

I read the following sentence: "The mind is not the playwright of reality."

At that moment there came a knocking on the side of the house. This was substantial noise, very regular and sharp. The knocks were so exactly spaced that they sounded like they were being produced by a machine. Both cats were riveted with terror. They stared at the wall. The knocks went on, nine of them in three groups of three, followed by a tenth lighter double-knock that communicated an impression of finality.

In his book A New World, Strieber refers back to this incident and connects it with Freemasonry.

I cannot know if this was intended, but the knocks reflected a tradition in Masonry where when someone is elevated to the 33rd Degree, they knock in this way on the door of the hall before being admitted.

He repeats this assertion in The Super Natural.

Also, when entering the thirty-third degree, a Mason must knock on the door of the lodge nine times in three groups of three.

I know basically nothing about the higher degrees of Masonry, but certainly "three distinct knocks" is a thing, and it wouldn't be surprising if they sometimes did three groups of three. Anyway, the point here is that Strieber, just like me today, (1) saw his cats behaving strangely, (2) assumed it was because of an animal outside, and then instead (3) observed something which he connected with Masonic ritual.

Friday, April 23, 2021

UFO conclusively identified

From Communion:

As it happens, the eighteen-year-old son of one of our neighbors saw something hovering near a road not five miles from our cabin at approximately nine-thirty on a night in late December. He described it to me as "huge and covered with lights," a typical description. He watched it for some time. Being the son of a former state trooper and pilot, he did not claim that it was a "UFO," but simply told the truth: He did not know what it was, but it appeared to be a solid structure, and as it hovered for a substantial period, more than fifteen minutes, it could not have been a flight of planes. I telephoned the Goodyear Corporation and found that their blimp was not in the area at the time.

The only thing I thought it could have been was some unknown blimp, but even that appeared hard to believe in view of what more I discovered about it.

Something that looked like an "unknown blimp" and was "covered with lights"? Isn't it obvious? What the kid saw was clearly an LED Zeppelin!

An 18th-century precedent for Whitley Strieber's three sets of three knocks

On the night of August 27, 1986, Whitley Strieber had an experience in which he heard nine very loud knocks in three groups of three. He rec...