Friday, October 19, 2007

Wave from the Grave?

"Pope John Paul II waving from beyond the grave"
But isn't the Pope supposed to be in Heaven?
(Image from Daily Mail, 10/15/07)

According to a report by Nick Pisa for Britain's Daily Mail, some of the pious are convinced that the fiery image above is the late pope, John Paul II, waving from beyond the grave:
This fiery figure is being hailed as Pope John Paul II making an appearance beyond the grave.

The image, said by believers to show the Holy Father with his right hand raised in blessing, was spotted during a ceremony in Poland to mark the second anniversary of his death.

Details appeared on the Vatican News Service, a TV station in Rome which specialises in religious news broadcasts.

Service director Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest and close friend of John Paul II, travelled to Poland after hearing an onlooker had photographed the image.

Father Cielecki said he was convinced the picture showed the former pontiff.

"You can see the image of a person in the flames and I think it is the servant of God, Pope John Paul II," he said.

The pictures were being broadcast continuously on Italian TV and also posted on religious websites, some of which crashed as thousands logged on to see for themselves the eerie figure formed by the flames.

The bonfire was lit during a service at Beskid Zywiecki, close to John Paul's birthplace at Katowice, southern Poland, on April 2 -- the second anniversary of his death.

Hundreds had attended the ceremony. Gregorz Lukasik, the Polish man who took the photographs, said: "It was only afterwards when I got home and looked at the pictures that I realised I had something.

"I showed them to my brother and sister and they, like me, were convinced the flames had formed the image of Pope John Paul II.

"I was so happy with the picture that I showed it to our local bishop who said that Pope John Paul had made many pilgrimages during his life and he was still making them in death." (Nick Pisa, "Is this Pope John Paul II waving from beyond the grave? Vatican TV director says yes," Daily Mail, October 15, 2007, h/t Wonderdog)
The photo is certainly eerie (though I wonder if the image would have looked humanlike from other angles), and the 'apparition' appearing on the second anniversary of the pope's death is certainly an interesting coincidence, but if I were one of the pious believers, I'd be a bit troubled by the iconography of a fiery pope flaring up from beyond the grave in the flames of a bonfire.

After all, isn't Dante said to have put a pope or two in the flames of Hell?

Personally, I don't think that Hell is where Pope John Paul II ended up, and on this point, I assure you that I'm not being ironic, so I'll just take this fiery image as a trick of the flames from a particular perspective.

Far more eerie and difficult to explain is the image below, taken by a local resident of Wem, England, Tony O'Rahilly, on the 19th of November, 1995, as Wem Town Hall burned to the ground:

"Photo of the Wem Ghost?"
Copyright: Tony O'Rahilly / Fortean Picture Library
(Image retrieved from BBC, 10/18/07)

In the BBC article, "Is this a photo of the Wem ghost?", Dr. Vernon Harrison, former president of the Royal Photographic Society, is quoted as stating that "The negative is a straight forward piece of black-&-white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with." He remains skeptical, however, and has "suggested that the image of the girl may just be a convenient trick of the light -- with smoke, flame and shadow creating an optical illusion at the moment the photographer took his picture." A different online article, by Val Hope of The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, backs up Dr. Harrison's view in stating that when "a photo was obtained of the same spot taken from another angle it was clear that a random collection of burning debris was making up a simulacrum" ("ASSAP History: 'Research'"). The photograph does not appear on their website, unfortunately, so I have to take Hope's word for it, but I wonder how the other photo was proven to have been taken at the same instant.

I recall seeing the original O'Rahilly photo not long after it was taken. I was living in Australia in 1996 and read an article in The Australian that took the same skeptical position as Dr. Vernon Harrison and explained how the optical illusion could have occurred. I was persuaded by the writer, but even he admitted that the image was eerie to see.

And as my elder brother once punningly, if imprecisely, reminded me: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio."

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At 6:24 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Perhaps, it could be, if you look sideways, like a crab, as Hamlet said.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Why, Eshuneutics, I'm always looking crabby with my sideways glances...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People seeing images in photos (or toast, or water stains, or piles of crap) is simply our innate ability to detect patterns in chaos going wild, coupled with subconscious feelings and memories. End of story.

Sorry if that sounds abrupt, but I am just really sick of people seeing the Virgin Mary or whomever else everywhere. It's a flame that just happened to be caught at the right moment, people. If it makes you feel better to think of the pope, well, more power to you. But don't tell me it's a message from beyond the grave.

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, if I take the first word in each of your sentences, I obtain the following:

"People End Sorry It's If But"

Reversed, this reads:

"But If It's Sorry End People"

That looks like a sentence to me:

"But if it's sorry, end people."

Are you suggesting that if we're in such a sorry state of affairs as to believe in messages from beyond the grave, then we should just end everybody's life and let them find out for themselves?

Or are you channeling a voice from beyond the grave...?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:05 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Jeff, pardon the pun, but you stole my fire. When I saw the photo a few days back, I had planned a bit of vandalism-by-Photoshop, with the Pontiff's image recast as a demonic revenant. Alas, those plans are but ashes now.


At 8:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Whew, I'd rather be Prometheus and steal fire than ... well, leave that other pun untouched...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm not even sure people have souls, but just because I don't believe, doesn't mean ghosts and souls don't exist. I am a rational skeptic who never even believed in horoscopes; however, I recognize that there is still so little we understand about the universe, and I strongly believe there are forces in our universe that most of us do not perceive consciously but are real. Several years ago, I had an experience that caused me to acknowledge the possibility that some supernatural phenomena may exist.

An Indonesian-Dutch colleague of mine in Korea told me she could "read" people and asked if she could do a reading on me. I skeptically agreed, and we met at a local Indian restaurant. As we waited for the food to arrive, she did her reading. Sitting across from me, she looked at me quietly and made comments about images she was getting. She made several vague remarks - a warning about a Korean man who was interested in me (good advice), a warning about one of my brothers (probably true but never proven), and a vision of my mother lying in bed with her right leg propped it. "It's injured but not broken," she told me. A week or so later, when I phoned my mom, she told me about how she'd been laid up for a few days after a man kicked her in the shin while square-dancing. "Which leg?" I asked. "The right one." Keep in mind that at the time of the reading, I did not know about my mother's injury.

My only scientific explanation for my friend's accurate vision is there may be electromagnetic connections between people related by blood through which very rare individuals like my friend can perceive fuzzy TV-like images. Had I not had this experienc, I would still be a hard-core skeptic without the slightest doubt.

Back when I had cable, I occasionally watched a TV program about psychics who aided law enforcement in finding bodies. They spoke the same way as my friend - talking out fuzzy images.

These psychics and my friends describes events that were happening or had happened not future events yet to happen. I consider the future undetermined and thus uncertain, but I keep an open mind.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I don't believe in ghosts either, but I'm no radical skeptic.

As for your story of the 'vision', I'm more open to that possibility and suspect that if such powers do exist, then a scientific explanation will probably be found ... unless, of course, they really are supernatural.

Jeffery Hodges

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