ᵀᴴᴱ WOW! SIGNAL

(Animation from GIPHY.com)

Every so often, usually in a quiet, fleeting moment, we find our gaze drawn to the night sky to take in the visual cornucopia of twinkling lights that adorn the empyrean. As we try to fathom the vastness of what it is we’re looking at, a question is often ignited in our imagination. “Is anyone else out there, somewhere in the vastness of space?” An answer many of us would go to great lengths to find. What we wouldn’t give for a sign, just one single sign. A single lone, dim beacon, flickering in the darkness of the void, would present and solidify a concept to us, that would change our lives and our world forever, “we are not alone”.

Well, it’s entirely possible that the fabled sign you’ve long hoped and waited for, actually already happened. In fact at the time of writing this text, records of the “sign” could have been sitting dormant now for approximately 42 years.

Enter the Big Ear. Not literally, that’s the name of a radio telescope at the Ohio State University. One of its primary uses at the time was to listen for the sign many of us spend our lives longing to hear, an indication of intelligent life in space. On the 15th of August, 1977, a relatively strong narrowband radio signal was received from space, from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. The signal was considered such an anomaly, that upon its discovery Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman circled the signal and wrote next to it “Wow!”, hence coining the unusual signal’s nickname. The signal sequence lasted a total of 72 seconds, essentially indicating a possible continuous signal source/transmission (72 seconds, the maximum recorded length due to the rotation of the earth). But what was this interstellar message?

“6EQUJ5”

In actuality, the signal recorded isn’t thought to have been carrying a message, the code ‘6EQUJ5’ is more a representation of the 72 second long, unmodulated, continuous burst of radio energy. The strange thing about the Wow! Signal is that it ticks quite a few of the boxes set out as requirements to indicate a possible extraterrestrial broadcast by the Ohio State University at the time of the observation. While many have argued over the origin of the source of the signal, some even suggesting it erroneously began on Earth, a definitive answer has yet to be discovered.

For decades, more advanced radio telescopes have searched to rediscover the Wow! Signal to no avail. Even attempts at homing in on the Sagittarius Constellation have all proven unsuccessful. Not only unsuccessful, but no similar signal has ever been discovered. Leading many to believe that the signal could have been the byproduct of a passing comet, surrounded in hydrogen emitting the same frequency of that which was discovered. Maybe the distance and positioning was incorrect. A myriad of mistakes that resulted in a reading that is otherwise false, or misleading.

But if however, the signal was not some mistake, not some naturally emitted frequency of hydrogen at 1420MHz but instead an actual signal created by some highly advanced extraterrestrial race, then over 220 million light years away, in the Sagittarius Constellation, a signal was once transmitted. For who or what reason? It may never be known. Some estimations have localized the signal to a star called Tau Sagittarii.

Maybe there is or was intelligent life there, maybe they still are? Perhaps a reconnaissance drone was drifting through the vastness of space, emitting a frequency that traveled light years in all directions. Maybe Earth’s “Big Ear” only heard a very small fraction of a message. Or Maybe the entire event is just a very ordinary event, being taken vastly out of context.

Regardless, to this day, the Wow! Signal is considered to be one of the strongest events recorded, to indicate the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.

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ᴛʜᴇ TRAJECTORY ᴏғ FATE

(Animation from GIPHY.com)

Years ago, I was living in an area that was rocked by something of an unexpected tragedy. Every afternoon a three year old boy would greet his father at the front door of their suburban home. On this one fateful day, the father was running much later than usual, for reasons I never learned. The boy likely fed up with waiting, managed to open the front door and ventured out, eventually wandering the road. He was soon after struck and killed by a passing truck. This tragic incident, changed the course of fate for many that day. Firstly, a three year old life was ended, before it had ever truly begun. A once loving relationship of a young family, turned to misery and resentment, the property was sold and the couple separated. Finally, the truck driver, already struggling to cope with depression, now racked with guilt, ended up taking his own life. Solemn ripples of mortality echoed through a wounded community.

I didn’t directly know any of the people involved, but I, like most that knew of the incident, would drive past where it happened, slow down and look at the little roadside memorial with a heavy heart. Years later, not only am I now extremely overprotective of children near roadways, the incident has also forever put a damper on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary for me. Even this very moment, you reading this text, me writing it, is a direct implication of that one fateful event. The trajectory of fate was realigned that day, and now, for better or for worse, here we are.

From womb to tomb, we are immersed in choices (not always our own), so much so that in many ways, in the end as all we really are is a culmination of consequences, a summation of innumerable choices. Sometimes the choices are obvious, like choosing a direction to take our lives. But more often than not, the myriad of choices we make day by day are small and seemingly inconsequential. Most of us fail to realize just how much our lives can change in the blink of an eye, all due to a single, seemingly inconsequential choice.

Even the slightest change in perspective can have resoundingly cataclysmic effects on our respective worlds.

That view became adamantly clear to me when I was once lost wandering the halls of a hospital and struck up a conversation with an old bloke facing his final battle with cancer. He told me the day he learned he had a form of terminal cancer, he sold everything he had, bought a yacht and went to sea. He said he thought he would somehow die before he crossed the horizon. Only he didn’t, he just kept sailing. He completely let go, throwing caution to the wind and saw a great deal of the world. He said it wasn’t until he was dying with cancer that he met the love of his life. It wasn’t until he lived without fear in the face of death that he truly learned to live at all. He chose to share that point of view with me, which immediately made him one of the most influential people I’d ever met, even though the conversation was momentarily brief and I never even thought to ask him his name.

Many of us are slaves to the notion that our mundane destiny is fixed and unyielding. But the truth is we know how easy it is to get what we want, yet we wear the dreariness of familiarity and repetition as armor. The squeaking wheel gets the grease, but you have to be willing to squeak. You have to expose yourself to chance and scrutiny alike, which is far easier said than done for most. You have to “risk it for the biscuit”, as my Grandmother would often say.

The problem is, for many of us, apart from the fear of failure, we don’t really know what we want of fate. You might be lonely and want “the ideal partner”, but you don’t really know what that is, not until you meet them. You might want to be ridiculously wealthy, because you assume your life will become less complicated. The first thing people who come into a great deal of money learn, is money comes with its own complications. It can reveal a nature in people that ends up destroying the very family you wanted to lavish with gifts in the first place. If you can figure out what it is you truly want, be honest with what you’re willing to do, then you can work on shaping the trajectory of fate to get to that reality.

Fate works in mysterious ways, an ocean of choices break and swell around you, maybe you’re precisely where you’re supposed to be, or maybe you’re needed elsewhere. But if I was able to give you anything, the greatest gift I could ever give you is the realization that you are going to die. This isn’t to burden you with fear, but to liberate you from complacency. If you needed a sign, this is it. Don’t wait for a far off tomorrow to start living, because lives all too often end before that day ever comes. Something tragic happened all those years ago to a three year old little boy, which led you and I here, to this singular road. The waters never stopped rippling from that incident, not for me, maybe they never will. I chose to play my part in this, I wanted to change the trajectory of fate, even if it’s just for one single person. But now it’s up to you.

EDWARD ᴛᴏʟᴅ ᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ…

(Illustrated by Gordon Van Dusen)

This is a story of two possible realities. One reality, is that of one of the worst cases of neglect and untreated mental illness I have ever heard. The other reality, is that of an elderly woman being tortured by forces not of this world. This story took place in a very small isolated community in New South Wales, Australia during the 1990s. There was a great deal of embarrassment and grief surrounding the events, so every name used is purposefully false to protect the privacy of those involved. The story came to me by way of someone who had family members directly involved and who had himself claimed to have witnessed some of the unusual events that took place.

In the year 1996, a 73 year old man named Edward Allan Taylor lay dying in a public hospital bed with emphysema. Aside him, the entirety of his short stay in hospital (this time) sat his wife of 50 years, Irene Taylor. Unable to have children and estranged from what family she had left, Irene was entirely invested in Ed as a husband and her soul remaining family. By the time Edward had passed away Irene had actually partially blinded herself from her crying so much, flaring up a preexisting eye condition.

Luckily for Irene, despite losing her husband and having no family to turn to, she did have friends. Immediately a vigilant support group formed around Irene in her hour of need, her friends wouldn’t leave her side. For several months they continued to successfully persuade her to stay as a guest in their homes and each did their part to aide her in her grief.

During this time, however, in the late 90s in Australia, all over the world and even ongoing today, there was a growing interest among certain communities in tarot cards, psychic readings, past life regressions and general “new age” spiritualism. Irene’s friends, many of the women over 50 in her community had taken an interest in this sort of thing. Irene was particularly fascinated and comforted by the concept of being able to commune with the spiritual world.

Eventually Irene felt comfortable returning to her home and became fixated on becoming a “psychic conduit” to be able to perform readings for her friends and attempt to communicate with her deceased husband, Edward. To begin with, it seemed as though having a new interest was a useful tool to help Irene get over her grief and move on with her life. It was also remarked that as far as “psychics” go, Irene wasn’t half bad. She (allegedly) made several accurate predictions that earned her a decent enough reputation as a medium, as far as that goes in a very isolated, small Australian town anyway.

It wasn’t until Irene made one specific claim that suspicions began to rise. She said to one of her friends (the mother of the source of this story) that she knew she would have a wonderful holiday in Fiji. What was interesting about this claim is that while she did accurately predict an “anticipated” holiday, it had been since discussed and canceled for various reasons prior to the visit/reading. Others also were discovering that it appeared as though Irene had an insight into current, unforeseen events, more so than actually predicting events to come.

Upon discovering the unusual nature of Irene’s predictions, it also became apparent that Irene was leaving her home less and less. It was upon this seemingly subtle, inconsequential revelation that some of her friends began to question Irene’s methods and behavior. Irene, laughing and clapping her hands, as though she was letting her friends in on some grand deception admitted to them, that she had made a connection with a spiritual entity which had been providing her with guidance and secret information. The spiritual entity, being the spirit of her deceased husband, Edward Allan Taylor.

Irene claimed that Edward had reached out to her from across the void and that she didn’t have to be alone, not if she didn’t want him to go. Irene’s friends took varying stances on this belief. Some thought it was wonderful Irene felt she made this connection with her deceased husband, others thought it was an unhealthy deviation from her grieving process. A few tried to persuade her to return to more conventional spiritual guidance and start going to church with them again on Sundays.

The mood had soured somewhat, suddenly the psychic readings didn’t feel so enchanting and mystical, but rather eerie and unsettling. As months passed, Irene slowly isolated herself from her group of friends. She was suspicious of everyone she knew, became secretive and detached. Trivial arguments began to arise, she was uncharacteristically hostile. Her appearances in the community grew fewer and fewer still. One by one, her once loyal friends reluctantly began to give up on her.

The concern grew too much for one of her friends to bear, months had passed with no word from Irene. She had stopped answering her telephone, makeshift curtains layered the windows blocking out the light of the outside world. Fearing for the worst, Elizabeth (the mother of the source of this story) called her son (the actual source of this story) to accompany her at Irene’s home, in fear of what she might discover.

After spending several hours tapping on windows, banging on doors and walls to no response, the decision was made. Dan kicked the door in and immediately recoiled to cough and gag. The stench, he said, was utterly unbearable. He noted an array of flying insects even flew out of the home, the moment the door was breached. Struggling to cover their nostrils and mouths to dampen the stench, Dan and his mother explored the filthy domicile.

Dan admitted that he may have been mistaken during the exhilaration and confusion of entering the home where he expected to discover a dead body, but he claimed that he felt as though several objects were thrown at him from various directions. One object being a drinking glass which shattered when it struck the hardwood floor. Elizabeth began tearing down the makeshift layers of curtains, until light began to pierce into the house. She went about opening as many windows and doors as she could as she called out to Irene. Upon flicking the light switches it became apparent that the bulbs in the light fittings had all been burst.

As the fresh air of the outside world blew down the hall into the darkest back room of the home, Dan and his mother Elizabeth heard what sounded like a heated discussion between two distinct voices, one male, one female. As they quickly made their way toward the back room, her screaming began. An agonizing wail shrieked, as though she was being physically tortured by some unseen presence. Dan said he thought he heard a myriad of obscene whispers surround him as he looked down at the sight before him. When Elizabeth got to the room, as all she said was “Oh, God!” and began to cry in horror. Elizabeth grasped the blankets covering the window in the back room and Irene shrieked, “NO!”

Dan helped his mother pull the curtain down, and upon realizing it was a fixed window, the stench was so unthinkably putrid, he used a wooden stool to smash the window out. As fresh air and light entered the room, they could only look down in disbelief at the elderly woman, on the verge of starvation, emaciated and sobbing on the floor, naked and covered in her own excrement. She had been eating her own feces.

Emergency services were contacted immediately…

Days later, in the same hospital where her husband had passed away, Irene lay in a hospital bed, riddled now with various health complications. Elizabeth paid her a visit. Elizabeth asked her, why she had done the things she had done. To which Irene would only say “Edward told me to” and avert any attempts to make eye contact with her. She died two days after that visit.

Elizabeth and others involved directly with what was going on, believed something not of this world preyed on the most vulnerable soul it could find. Irene’s life was rife with sorrow, family life fell apart when her father committed suicide in her youth, she didn’t have friends until she was well into her fifties. Ed was the only one she ever trusted and “something” used that undying trust to take advantage of her, to manipulate her and eventually, destroy her. A particularly malevolent, insidious type of evil targets someone in the state that Irene Taylor was in.

Years ago, I was passing through the region where that little town resides. I decided while I was there, I would stop to pay my respects to “Irene” and “Edward” at their companion plot. I don’t know if it’s true that “paranormal” events led to her unusual behavior and death, I don’t know if Irene just completely lost her senses in an emotional cyclone of grief and confusion. But for whatever reason, the story has always resonated with me. It’s unfair. Mental or paranormal, no one should face such an abysmal fate alone. But there’s another element of this story, which I failed to properly address.

Elizabeth was worried for Irene, more than any of her friends, because she was afflicted with reoccurring nightmares involving Irene suffering at the will of some malevolent force. She told Dan she heard a voice say, “Please help Irene” a voice years later, I’ve entertained the thought, that maybe that was the real Edward Allan Taylor. We fixate so much on the grim elements, we forget her friend bursting through the door, tearing down the curtains, the light of day abolishing the darkness. I don’t know what fate befell Irene Taylor in the end, but I like to think that if there was something supernatural going on, her friend Elizabeth, may have actually saved her from a fate worse than death.

ᴛʜᴇ DARK ORIGIN ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ VAMPIRE

(Illustrated by S. W. Orr, 1864)

On what presented itself to be just another ordinary winter’s day, when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, my father and I set out to climb a nearby mountain. I say climb, but this mountain was so large, with such a subtle inclination, you could walk to the summit with relative ease. We traversed several dozen kilometers of bush land, gradually higher and higher still. There was a strange calmness and quietness that day, that haunts my memory still. The breeze sighed through the trees and though it was winter, as the day progressed it felt unseasonably warm.

As we grew closer to the mountain’s peak, the skies began to turn, the serene clear blue had darkened. To this day I’ve never witnessed atmospheric conditions change so incredibly fast. Then, in an instant, down came the rain. Immediately I found I had to shout to communicate over the sound of the downpour. I said, “should we go back!?” and my Dad just laughed and said “we’ve come this far haven’t we!?” So we kept on going.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to go to the mountain that day, but I remember feeling as though ‘something’ didn’t want us to reach the summit. As the rain grew heavier and the thunder grumbled in the distance, I looked down to realize the earth had turned to a dark mud beneath my boots. Each step suctioned and plunged more cumbersome than the last, as each layer of mud built up from the prior step.

It was then, I noticed something unusual, I stood still as my father kept a fast pace up the mountain side. The mud was alive. As I watched in disbelief, the mud was climbing up my ankle. I made my way to a clearing in the canopy and tried to further expose my ankle to the rain, I looked on as the mud became black. As the dirt washed away, wriggling black pieces of licorice were left in its stead. Then something fell from a branch above me, that struck the back of my hand.

When I raised my hand to inspect it, what had struck it had immediately fixed itself upon my skin. Flicking my hand in a whip-like fashion to rid it of the thing did nothing, so I inspected it more closely and cringed with unease, a long black leech had latched onto the back of my hand and had already began tapping into my blood. In fact, I was already unknowingly covered in dozens and dozens of leeches.

I was rapidly ripping them off of my arms, as several more fell from branches upon me. I felt one or two land in my hair, I tore one from my forehead and it was at that stage I realized I was quickly becoming covered in my own blood. I looked ahead and noticed my father was fighting his own battle with the swarm. I picked up a stick and started scraping at my boots attempting to hold back the masses of leeches that were climbing upward toward my exposed skin.

As the situation grew out of hand and my own fear of leeches reached its pinnacle, I started more vigorously stabbing and bursting the leeches around me, I began to turn the tide, enough at least to assist in scraping the many leeches off of my father’s boots. I remember seeing the red tinge of blood through the wet grounds we’d traveled. We were plucking leeches off of ourselves as we made our retreat.

Covered in blood, mud and soaked with rain we laughed almost hysterically the entire journey home. Even once I’d gotten out of the blood stained clothes I found another eight leeches still on my body. As odd and as gross as that day was, for some reason I’ve treasured the experience ever since. I think I came down from that mountain, not quite the same person. I realized two things, firstly, laughter makes everything easier. Secondly, the natural world is riddled with blood sucking, life draining Vampires.

Could the blood suckers of the natural world be the inspiration for the mythological/folkloric concept of the Vampire?

The romanticization of the vampire has culminated in all sorts of modern representations of a very old, in fact ancient idea. Even Brahm Stroker’s famous ‘Dracula’ (1897) took a great deal of creative license, turning a very broad otherwise mythological concept into an iconic legend. Even the character Dracula is quite far removed from the character it was based upon, Vlad III Dracula/Vlad the Impaler (Влад Дракула, 1428–1431), Dracula meaning ‘son of Dracul’, ‘Dracul’ meaning ‘Dragon’. But exactly how deep do the Vampiric roots truly delve into our collective human history?

The word Vampire, originally spelled Vampyre (of French origin) is believed to have begun circulating in the English language around 1734. The earliest surviving record of the word appears in a text called The Travels of Three English Gentlemen, in 1745. The English Vampyre (later becoming Vampire) is based off of the French and Germanic concepts (Vampyre and Vampir, respectively) which all have much earlier roots dating back to Slavic origins.

In many dialects throughout Eastern Europe, Vampir and/or Upyr are the names used to describe the creature we in the western world call the Vampire. In its simplest explanation, the vampire is a ghoul, the undead. Despite the modern concept of a lead figure, in some variations connected to the origin of evil (or Satan himself) turning unsuspecting or even willing humans into subordinate vampires, throughout antiquity however, it was often seen as a much more anomalous occurrence. Partly due to a misunderstanding of decompositional changes interpreted as something supernatural. Such as the bloating of a thin corpse, bleeding from the nostrils and/or mouth could erroneously suggest supernatural undead behavior to a misinformed highly superstitious/fearful individual/community.

French Theologian Dom Augustine Calmet, in 1751 published a work called The Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants:

They see, it is said, men who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, make them ill, and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out the heart, or burning them. These revenants are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches; and such particulars are related of them, so singular, so detailed, and invested with such probable circumstances and such judicial information, that one can hardly refuse to credit the belief which is held in those countries, that these revenants come out of their tombs and produce those effects which are proclaimed of them.

According to very old accounts throughout Europe, particularly Eastern Europe it is believed that the superstitious surrounding the Vampir/Upyr could ignite if it was suggested that a recently deceased person was seen wandering the night after their corpse had been buried. Resulting in such heightened fears of the dead plaguing the living that the suspected corpses would be exhumed. Once exhumed, a stake driven through the heart, and usually the corpse would also be decapitated. Religious icons would be placed with the reburied corpse, but in extreme cases the corpse would have to be burned to put superstitious minds at ease.

With the evolution of the concept of the vampire, so too did the apotropaic rituals/practices surrounding the creature’s treatment change. The most well known (mainly due to Hollywood’s depiction) being generally religious, more often than not Christian icons. The crucifix, rosary, the bible, holy water. Some of the older beliefs, being the use of mirrors (linked even to Greek belief, similar to the treatment of the gorgon, Medusa), silver amulets, swords and the use of garlic to ward off the damned. The reasoning behind some apotropaic practices are as elaborate as the superstition they’re connected to. I’ve heard people claim that the clove of garlic, along with its healing, antibacterial/antiviral properties have some superstitious value as a spiritual ingredient with various cultures. Garlic is also a very old remedy for treating intestinal trematodes (worms) and stomach parasites. These practical applications may have carried over into superstition. The same could be said for silver, it has natural antibacterial properties also.

What’s interesting about the specific religious apotropaic practices is that the concept of the vampire predates all existing religions by many thousand years. Older than Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.

One of the earliest Vampiric concepts could be the Yara-ma-yha-who, a superstition/belief of some groups of Indigenous Australians. This creature, said to have leech-like suctions on its fingers and toes waits in trees, some say specifically fig trees for unsuspecting victims to rest, preferably children (if fig trees is accurately mentioned in the myth, it could be localized to NE NSW and SE Queensland Australia). Once someone is beneath the tree, the Yara-ma-yha-who descends upon them and goes about sucking their blood to feed. Some variations indicate that the Yara-ma-yha-who after draining an individual of blood, will cause the deceased to rise and they themselves become one of the Yara-ma-yha-who. Because there is no written language and stories are passed on orally, it’s difficult to date how old this concept is for the groups that share it. But some cave illustrations suggest many thousands of years. The oldest this concept could be with Aboriginal groups across Australia could be around 40, 000 years (some estimate 60, 000).

So why is it that blood suckers, beings that can corrupt us and the rise of the undead are all such prevalent concepts across countless cultures throughout time?

The romanticized vampire is synonymous with the succubus/incubus. A being that preys on unsuspecting victims (usually at night, in their beds), gets intimately close to them (their necks) often attempts or succeeds at seduction, then ultimately drains the life-force causing death, or creating a subordinate whilst perverting a once good nature to succumb to evil. This concept struck fear into even the most pious individuals throughout time, it also piqued many sexual interests (hence prevalent vampire themes in erotic fiction today). Which has possibly helped sustain this concept throughout the ages, especially in modern times.

Another contributing factor, possibly linked to earlier, primal reasons for the preservation of the concept of the vampire, could be fear.

We fear most what we don’t understand. Death raises a lot of questions for us, makes us feel uncertain. In ancient times the decomposition of a corpse may have seemed like some monstrous transformation. Something off-putting and grotesque evokes fear in us (similar to the use and purpose of grotesqueries on buildings throughout antiquity). When something looks monstrous, our imagination makes a monster out of it. The sucking of blood could be a logical connection, the red liquid that spills from us is vital to our survival. Thus, the dead want this life essence for themselves. They flee from their graves in the dead of night and prey on the living to sustain their undead existence. When the corpse is exhumed to reveal a bloated body, with blood around its mouth and nose it only confirms suspicion. When a stake is driven through the chest, causing a groaning sound to emit from the corpse, that too further fuels the belief that the cadaver is/was in fact an undead ghoul, a vampire.

Another, simpler explanation for the interest and intrigue around the concept of the vampire is the conceptual embodiment of pure evil (similar to the interest toward the concept of demonic possession). Because once we have a tangible representation of supernatural evil, as morbid and frightening as it may be, we also assure ourselves of the existence of the positive counter-side of that religious/mythological doctrine. Meaning, if a vampire exists, and you can harm it with a crucifix and a vial of holy water, than that in itself is suggesting the counter-existence of true “good” and a biblical God. The concept of true “good” and “evil” is appealing to many people because it creates a simplified, easier to digest understanding of the world.

Then again, perhaps the answer to the human fascination with vampires resides in the blood itself. Because just like I realized on a mountain long ago, when something is sucking your blood, and the sight of the bright red liquid ignites that odd feeling inside you, you’re reminded that there is a limit of blood you can part with, and faced with the realization that there is a limit to your mortality also. Perhaps people are drawn to death, danger, morbid stories, blood and vampires because to be afraid, to be capable of bleeding, feeling pain, is to feel and be alive. The story of the vampire’s desperate lust for blood isn’t just a story about the horrors of death, but the value of life itself.

ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴀʀᴇ ᴘʜᴇɴᴏᴍᴇɴᴏɴ ᴏғ BALL LIGHTNING

The electrical storm seems to be momentarily intensifying, a sudden spell of chaos over this otherwise wet and dreary afternoon. The darkening sight outside your farmhouse window is illuminated every so often, with the sudden burst of blinding light, blue streaks of lightning crackle and arc across the distant countryside. What a fierce world this would be, if mother nature always had such a temperament. Thankfully, you remind yourself, such demonstrations of unbridled wrath are often few and far between. Just as the winds begin to die down, just as the thunder calms and the lightning ceases you breathe a sigh of relief, the storm is passing. You’ve weathered the uncertainty of chaos. Only now, a new form of uncertainty chooses to reveal itself. The kitchen is illuminated with a bluish hue, as the light bleeds like a phantom through the wall. Your eyes widen in awe and disbelief, as this intensely glowing orb of energy, this ball of lightning passes through a wall and directly into your home. Defying your understanding of physics and nature alike, the orb continues to pass through the walls of your home as you scramble after it, fearful and amazed. Until finally, without even the faintest of sounds, this anomalous orb of light vanishes without a trace. As far fetched as this scenario seems, this is the experience shared by some who claim to have witnessed what is known as Ball Lightning.

For years I’ve heard anecdotal accounts regarding sightings of unusual spheres of floating light. These accounts varying from the more common, orbs of light drifting through the countryside during/after electrical storms, to sightings of balls of (often blueish, though sometimes red, orange and fiery in appearance) “lightning” passing through the walls of a person’s home and drifting through the air, completely unobstructed, like some bizarrely incorporeal energy. Despite the many alleged sightings of this phenomenon, at this time, there is no proof or tangible evidence that ball lighting actually does or ever has existed. There also isn’t a definitively agreed upon, scientific explanation for what could actually explain this extremely unusual occurrence.

One of the most well-known sightings was that of R. C. Jennison during a flight from New York to Washington in 1963:

“I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.”

Sightings of “globular” balls of light/energy have been occurring throughout history all over the world. In the 17th Century there were accounts of descending orbs of fire, believed to be a symbol of God’s wrath. Even the last emperor of Russia, Tsar Nikolai II (Никола́й II Алекса́ндрович) reported witnessing a spectacle of ball lighting floating around, drifting at varying heights, gliding along the floor at one point, in a small Alexandrian Church, during a fierce thunderstorm.

In more superstitious times, folklore the world over may have had different names for this very same phenomenon, one such name could have been Will-o’-the-wisp. A wisp was a term given to a handful of straw, that could be lit to fuel a small flame. In other words, will of the wisp meant a sentient flame, a light source that could move about freely on its own.

In the Australian outback, for thousands of years the Aboriginals have called a mysterious light source Min min, believing to follow these lights means to never be seen again. Aarnivalkea in Finland. Iiekko, Irrbloss, and Iygtemand in the Netherlands. Aleya in Bangladesh. Chir batti in regions around Pakistan. La Candileja and Luz mala in parts of South America.

Alternatively, there could be unrelated origins/causes that create this visual anomaly which are all considered to be “ball lightning” when that may not be the case at all. The glowing spheres appear in different sizes, from as small as a pea to several meters wide. Varying colors, though most frequently a luminous blue. In some accounts the orbs hiss and crackle, others are reportedly silent. Some versions of events indicate the orbs have catastrophic interactions with their environment, in some cases resulting even in human death. But in other sightings, they can pass through objects/walls and seem as though they do not interact with the physical world at all. Most witnesses report this spectacle is brief, ranging from a few seconds to at most a few minutes. While generally the trajectory of the floating orb is assumed random and erratic, some few believe ball lighting moves in a slow, purposeful manner, indicating that like the old stories say, a sentient source of light.

Is ball lightning the result of very unique conditions, creating something so rare that its properties leave us (for the time being) utterly perplexed? At the moment it rests on the cusp of the paranormal spectrum, because there is still so much to be understood. Many have suggested the nature of Ball Lightning is as elusive as any other Unidentified Flying Object because it simply isn’t of this world and is so far removed from our understanding. Others have put forward (similarly to the myths and folklore of old) that there is some spiritual/religious/divine meaning to the existence of Ball Lightning.

In 1960, in a paper titled the “Preliminary Report on Ball Lightning” by J. R. McNally, it was estimated that 5% of the world population had at some stage witnessed ball lightning. So the next time you’re experiencing stormy weather conditions, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive spectacle most live their lives without ever witnessing. Then if you do catch a glimpse, you’ll be one step closer than most to understanding, what is Ball Lightning?

ᵀᴴᴱ SYSTEM

(Animation from GIPHY.com)

In 1859, Alfred Russel Wallace discovered a pathogenic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. When an ant becomes infected by a spore of this fungus, the fungus alters its behavior, driving it to seek out an ideal place for the parasitic fungus to “reproduce”. Carpenter ants have adapted to detect this behavior and attempt to counter the effects by a single ant sacrificing itself to drag the infected individual as far from the colony as possible, where the two will die to minimize the losses of the collective. If however, the infected ant is not discovered in time, it will fix itself to a prime location with its mandibles and undergo a transformation. Over the course of several days, the ants body becomes the husk and lifeless host for the reproductive organ of the fungus to sprout. A horn, often several times longer than the length of the deceased ant’s body grows from its head. A bulb develops on the horn-like structure, which eventually bursts, loosing its spores, spreading the pathogenic fungus. In some events, resulting in the total obliteration of an ant colony. It’s been suggested that the specific colony that ophiocordyceps unilateralis targets is often undergoing a state of overpopulation. Acting as a sort of “rectification process”, to cull the insect masses and restore balance to the delicate ecosystem of the rain-forest.

The ant and the pathogenic fungus, are no doubt completely oblivious to the roles they play, the purposes they serve in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Merely the victims of a system, they could never understand. The seemingly harsh and uncaring balance of the natural world. It’s the same reason the largest shark embryo cannibalizes around a dozen of its siblings while still in the womb. The same reason a starving baby bird might peck a rival sibling to death while waiting for a parent to return. The ugly and instinctual desire for preservation, at the cost of another’s loss. The innumerable “necessary evils” that have kept our planet in check since the dawning of the ages.

You might think, as a human being, the most advanced known form of life on this planet, that you’re generally above such primal turns of fate. You’re simply beyond the cruelty of nature’s grasp. But depending on where you are in this world and your level of exposure to the “system”, you might have a very different opinion on the matter. In the human world, the system is complex, elaborate and often difficult to detect or even comprehend (in some instances). But it is just as real as the systems in the natural world and in some cases, as equally ruthless as mother nature herself.

Could a “will” exist to “sustain”, “control” a societal existence by means and methods many might consider underhand and manipulative?

It’s complicated, because our “system” isn’t purely based around survival, not anymore. Survival is still an element of the system, but it is heavily involved in what we as a collective species believe. “They” want to know what we think and how they can influence that thought. If you can control the worldview, you can control the world. As ominous, daunting and unpleasant as that sounds, rulers have been using this tactic since the beginning of recorded civilization. The only problem is, myths and human sacrifice aren’t going to cut it anymore. So the best option they have is using the closest thing we have to deities, which are idols, idolized humans of the world celebrity status. Using revered individuals to set a standard of thought/opinion you can popularize a worldview just as efficiently as a prehistoric Shaman sharing a foreboding tale aside a campfire. Ruling the world isn’t about mass slave labor to build some grandiose structure anymore (well, maybe a metaphorical structure), it’s about influencing how and where money is spent. Despite all the outrageous explanations for who/what/why/when in the end, the system is only concerned about sustaining what they deem a specific desired standard and also, converting the individual into a more efficiently monitored source of income. The system seeks to preserve itself, at the expense of privacy, truth and the lives of the misinformed.

Belief is the key, because blind unquestioning allegiance has always been useful in the development (and destruction) of nations the world over. Great fortunes have been amassed through countless wars, where more often than not the men dying in them are the least informed of what the conflict is truly about. But that makes perfect sense, because if the “powers that be” at any stage in history were honest about their intentions, such as mere financial gains, there wouldn’t be quite so many willing to lay down their lives. So great elaborate stories are sung on both sides, telling of how either enemy offends and opposes everything the other side ever stood for. Many lives are lost, resources, lands are claimed and those orchestrating events grow a little more powerful.

The “system” is part of the reason that in the year 2019, economists have claimed data has surpassed oil in value. There are some who believe interference in the “system’s” agenda in some events, can lead to the death of an individual. That certain “truths” are kept secret from public knowledge and the control of said truths helps perpetuate the state of normality they have long cultivated (such as those explained in the book by M. W. Cooper, Behold a Pale Horse).

There are even extreme suggestions put forward, such as the belief that the system manipulates which chemicals appear in foods/products, to cause health implications that could cause various ailments (cancers, diseases) to purposefully control the population. Also, suppressing cures, medical technology for the same reason.

For better or worse, we are all part of “the system” or maybe even just “a system”. The depths at which these systems operate may be the general level that is publicly understood or they may run much deeper and darker than we could ever anticipate. At which point, we have about as much chance escaping our fate as the ant from the ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus.

ᴛʜᴇ DRAKE EQUATION ᴀɴᴅ ABIOGENESIS

(Animation from GIPHY.com)

What is the meaning of Life? Many cringe and recoil at the mere mention of such an inquiry. Some of us ponder this question aloud during the naivety of youth, but as we grow older, this, like many other subjects become private and scarcely mentioned. Not because the question in itself is offensive, but we know all too well where this seemingly futile train of thought leads. Befuddlement, doubt, in lieu of some religious footing or adequate distraction, this can be the birthplace of nihilistic thought. It can seem as though there just isn’t any rhyme or reason to anything, merely a perpetual struggle of chaotic forces, seemingly meaningless events leading to meaningless outcomes and so on and so forth, for a meaningless eternity. So how could anything possibly matter, even in the slightest?

The innumerable species that have been wiped out entirely from our planet, many of which unknown to us, did they “mean” anything? The (approximately) 110 billion homo sapiens almost identical to us that have lived and died already, did they “mean” anything? The difficult part about the question “what is the meaning of life?” is that we don’t truly understand what life is. Yes, we know its characteristics, its commonalities (on this planet) but what do we really know about the nature of all life on this world? It simply wants to survive, it wants to procreate, a constant struggle of the individual to leave a common legacy behind. The simultaneously ugly and beautiful struggle, the failures, the successes, what is it all leading toward?

Is the struggle of life some complex form of entropy, disorder, working towards equilibrium? Is the fabled concept of the “supreme being” the embodiment of an achieved “equilibrium” of life? The final balance of all living chaos?

In 1961, Dr. Frank Drake came up with a theoretical equation to estimate the probability of communicative extraterrestrial civilizations within our Milky Way Galaxy. The equation is as follows:

N = R∗ · fp · ne · fl · fi · fc · L

N = Number of probable civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy.

R∗ = Average rate of star formation in the Milky Way Galaxy.

fp = Fraction of formed stars that are orbited by planet(s).

ne = Average number of planets capable of supporting life (as we understand it) per star, that is orbited by planet(s).

fl = Fraction of planets that could support life (as we understand it) that actually do develop life at some stage.

fi = Fraction of planets that develop life that lead to the evolution/existence of intelligent life capable of creating primitive civilization.

fc = Fraction of developed civilizations that become technologically advanced enough to release detectable signs of their existence into space (signal broadcast, etc).

L = Length of time such detectable signals, signs are capable of being received to interpret the civilizations existence (past or present).

In the very least likely scenario, when applying doubtful estimations, N can equal a value much less than 1. Suggesting that outside of earth, there is no intelligent life accompanying us in our galaxy. In some of the most optimistic of estimations however, the estimated number of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy can be in the vicinity of: 27, 000, 000 (assuming there are approximately 300 billion stars).

Despite these estimations using values based heavily on assumption, having a difference of below zero and over 27 million there is one crucial flaw to the concept of the equation. It relies almost entirely on the belief that all life as we understand it, arises from abiogenesis. The process by which life arises from inorganic/non-living matter.

Even if we were to look back, to the generally scientifically accepted age, 3.6 billion years ago when the last (known) universal common ancestor (LUCA) “spawned into existence”, a single-celled organism that seemingly appeared from a primordial cocktail. We don’t definitively know that LUCA came about from abiogenesis. We also don’t actually know (at this time) if abiogenesis has any real basis in reality. One of the reasons some doubt abiogenesis is that no one has ever successfully replicated the process to create life from matter. Some suggesting that the origin of life was an accident that took millions of years to occur, under very specific conditions. If abiogenesis isn’t the answer to our origin, then (outside of religious claims) we really don’t know how life began or even what it truly is. If it didn’t begin on this world, then where might life have come from in the beginning and why/how was it brought here in the first place?

Life wants to go on, thus far, it has succeeded. Life adapts, life learns from its mistakes. Life prioritizes procreation above all else, constantly looking to a future beyond the horizon. Life begets life. There are all sorts of theories why life “impregnates” a planet, a solar system, a galaxy or universe at large. Perhaps to be the designated custodians of time and space, for what purpose or from what origin is anyone’s guess.

As much as it may pain some to hear it, we often fail to realize how incredibly small we are in the grand scheme of things. You and I, everyone we’ve ever known, we all make up a minute fraction of a single tooth on a very, very small cogwheel. This cog, in turn spins another cog, and so on and so forth, to form a “machine” that we on the tooth of our cog may always struggle to comprehend. But the mere fact that we cannot perceive or even understand the nature of a system, doesn’t mean the system does not exist, serves a purpose or even has a will of its own.

Are we capable of understanding the will of a universe? We don’t even know the shape of the universe we find ourselves within. We also don’t quite understand what is beyond our universe, if anything at all. Will our universe always expand freely? Will a time come when the sentient “living” beings are required to overcome very real threats that could destabilize the entirety of space and time as we perceive it? The once seemingly primitive and dormant forms of life becoming antibodies (so to speak) and protectors of the “universe” the reality/dimension that holds the soul potential to give existence to everything we can comprehend. The desperate struggle of existence only on a much grander scale?

It’s possible the answers lie beyond the physical reality entirely. But the problem isn’t a lack of meaning, but rather the infinite possibilities as to what and why things are the way they are that leave us wondering. The belief that there is no meaning and everything that ever has or will happen is merely the work of chance alone, is quite a simple and somewhat lazy explanation. Because chance alone suggests that life as we know it is inevitable and inescapable, it is only a matter of time. A matter of rolling the dice under the right conditions. It implies that the existence of “life” is part of the “natural order” of the universe. Which means the meaning of life is integral to the meaning of the universe itself. Which brings us to the question that is connected to “what is the meaning of life?” and “what is the meaning of the universe?”, which is “what is the meaning of consciousness?”

This reality/dimension, in all it’s conceivable (and inconceivable) totality, what would there be in lieu of its existence? Virtually all of our answers involve something already existing to cause something else. The Big Bang requires the existence of mass and energy. Even in religion, God (or gods) create the universe, humanity etc, but where did God(s) come from? How did “something” come from “nothingness”? Even if you start with a blank canvas, where did the blank canvas come from? What was there before God(s)? Where did the first particle of matter come from?

This, much more complex, all-encompassing question is no doubt intrinsically linked with the meaning of the universe. However, just like the limits of our physical universe and how we cannot perceive what is beyond it, this knowledge, as far as I can tell, goes beyond the limits of our consciousness. But perhaps, one day, that will change.