Wild Talents, by Charles Fort, , at sacred-texts.com
Hates and malices—murderous radiations from human minds—
Or the flashes and roars of a thunderstorm—
And there has been the equivalence of picking strokes of lightning out of the sky, and harnessing them to a job.
A house afire—or somebody boils an egg.
Devastation or convenience—
Or what of it, if I bridge a gap?
I take it that the story of Marjory Quirk is only an extreme instance of cases of internal, or personal, witchcraft that, today, are commonly accepted. London Daily Express, Oct. 3, 1911—inquest upon the body of Marjory Quirk, daughter of the Bishop of Sheffield. The girl had been ill of melancholia. In a suicidal impulse she drank, from a cup, what she believed to be paraffin. She was violently sick. She died. "There had been no paraffin in the cup. There was no trace of it in her mouth or throat."
New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 30, 1932—Boston, Jan. 29—"Nearly half a hundred students and physicians living in Vanderbilt Hall of the Harvard Medical School have experienced mild cases of what apparently was paratyphoid, it was learned today. The first thirty of the group fell ill two weeks ago, following a fraternity dinner, at which Dr. George H. Bigelow, state health commissioner, discussed 'food poisoning.' A few days later twenty more men reported themselves ill. The food was prepared at the hall.
"Today state health officers started an examination of kitchen help in the belief that one of the employees may be a typhoid carrier. College authorities said they did not believe the food itself was at
fault, but were inclined to think the subject of Dr. Bigelow's address may have influenced some of the diners to diagnose mere gastronomic disturbances more seriously. All of the students have recovered."
To say that fifty young men had gastronomic disturbances is to say much against conditions of health in the Harvard Medical School. To say that the subject of illness may have induced illness is to say that there was personal, or internal, witchcraft, usually called auto-suggestion. See back to "Typhoid Mary" and other probable victims of carrier-finders. To say that there may have been a carrier among the kitchen help is to attribute to him, and is to say that it was only by coincidence that illnesses occurred after a talk upon illnesses. It's a hell of a way, anyway, to have dinner with a lot of young men, and talk to them about food-poisoning. Hereafter Dr. Bigelow may have to buy his own dinners. If he tells shark-stories, while bathing, he'll do lonesome swimming.
Physiologists deny that fright can turn one's hair white. They argue that they cannot conceive how a fright could withdraw the pigmentation from hairs: so they conclude that all alleged records of this phenomenon are yarns. Say it's a black-haired person. The physiologists, except very sketchily, cannot tell us how that hair became black, in the first place. Somewhere, all the opposition to the data of this book is because the data are not in agreement with something that is not known.
There have been many alleged instances. See the indexes of Notes and Queries, series 6, 7, 10. I used to argue that Queen Marie Antoinette's deprivation of cosmetics, in prison, probably accounted for her case. Now that my notions have shifted, that cynicism has lost its force to me. Mostly the instances of hair turning white, because of fright, are antiques, and can't be investigated now. But see the New York Times, Feb. 8, 1932:
Story of the sinking of a fishing schooner, by the Belgian steamship, Jean Jadot—twenty-one members of the crew drowned—six of them saved, among them Arthur Burke, aged 52.
"Arthur Burke's hair was streaked with gray before the collision, but was quite gray when Burke landed yesterday, at Pier 2, Erie Basin."
It may be that there have been thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of cases in which human beings have died in violent convulsions that were the products of beliefs—and that, also, merciful, but expensive, science has saved a multitude of lives, with a serum that has induced contrary beliefs—just as that serum, if injected into the veins of somebody, suffering under the oppressive pronouncement that twice two are four, could be his salvation by inducing a belief that twice two are purple, if he should want so to be affected—
Or what has become of hydrophobia?
In the New York Telegram, Nov. 26, 1929, was published a letter from Gustave Stryker, quoting Dr. Mathew Woods, of Philadelphia, a member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society. Dr. Woods had better look out, unless he's aiming at cutting down expenses, such as dues to societies. Said Dr. Woods:
“We have observed with regret numerous sensational stories, concerning alleged mad dogs and the terrible results to human beings bitten by them, which are published from time to time in the newspapers.
“Such accounts frighten people into various disorders, and cause brutal treatment of animals suspected of madness, and yet there is on record a great mass of testimony from physicians asserting the great rarity of hydrophobia even in the dog, while many medical men of wide experience are of the opinion that if it develops in human beings at all it is only upon extremely rare occasions, and that the condition of hysterical excitement in man, described by newspapers as 'hydrophobia,' is merely a series of symptoms due usually to the dread of the disease, such a dread being caused by realistic newspapers and other reports, acting upon the imaginations of persons scratched or bitten by animals suspected of rabies.
“At the Philadelphia dog pound where on an average more than 6,000 vagrant dogs are taken annually, and where the catchers and keepers are frequently bitten while handling them, not one case of hydrophobia has occurred during its entire history of twenty-five years, in which time, about 150,000 have been handled.”
My own attention was first attracted, long ago, when I noticed, going over files of newspapers, the frequency of reported cases of
hydrophobia, a generation or so ago, and the fewness of such reports in the newspapers of later times. Dogs are muzzled, now—in streets, in houses they're not. Vaccines, or powdered toads, caught at midnight, in graveyards, would probably cure many cases, but would not reduce the number of cases in dogs, if there ever have been cases of hydrophobia in dogs.
In the New York Times, July 4,:931, was published a report by M. Roéland, of the Municipal Council of Paris:
"It will be noticed that rabies has almost entirely disappeared, although the number of dogs has increased. From 166,917 dogs in Paris, in 1924, the number had risen, in 1929, to 230,674. In spite of this marked increase, only ten cases of rabies in animals were observed. There were no cases of rabies in man."
Sometimes it is my notion that there never has been a case of hydrophobia, as anything but an instance of personal witchcraft: but there are so many data for thinking that a disease in general is very 'much like an individual case of the disease, in that it runs its course and then disappears—quite independently of treatment, whether by the poisoned teat of a cow, or the dried sore of a mummy—that I suspect that once upon a time there was, to some degree, hydrophobia. When I was a boy, pitted faces were common. What has become of smallpox? Where are yellow fever and cholera? I'm not supposed to answer my own questions, am I? But serums, say the doctors. But there are enormous areas in the Americas and Europe, where vaccines have never penetrated. But they did it, say the doctors.
Eclipses occur, and savages are frightened. The medicine men wave wands—the sun is cured—they did it.
The story of diseases reads like human history—the rise and fall of Black Death—and the appearance and rule of Smallpox—the Tubercular Empire—and the United Afflictions of Yellow Fever and Cholera. Some of them passed away before serums were thought of, and in times when sanitation was unpopular. Several hundred years ago there was a lepers’ house in every good-sized city in England. A hundred years ago there had not been much of what is called improvement in medicine and sanitation, but leprosy had virtually disappeared, in England. Possibly the origin of leprosy
in England was in personal witchcraft—or that if the Bible had never devastated England, nobody there would have had the idea of leprosy—that when wicked doubts arose, the nasty suspicions of people made them clean.
So it may be that once upon a time there was hydrophobia: but the indications are that most of the cases that are reported in these times are sorceries wrought by the minds of victims upon their bodies.
A case, the details of which suggest that occasionally a dog may be rabid, but that his bites are dangerous only to a most imaginatively excited victim, is told of, in the New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 16, 1931. Ten men were bitten by a dog. "The dog was killed, and was found to have the rabies." The men were sailors aboard the United States destroyer, J. D. Edwards, at Cheefoo, China. One of these sailors died of hydrophobia. The nine others showed no sign of the disease.
In such a matter as a fright turning hair gray, it is probable that conventional scientists mechanically, unintelligently, or with little consciousness of the whyness of their opposition, deny the occurrences, as unquestioning obediences to Taboo. My own concatenation of thoughts is—that, if one's mental state can affect the color of one's hair, a mental state may in other ways affect one's body—and then that one's mental state may affect the bodies of others—and this is the path to witchcraft. It is not so much that conventional scientists disregard, or deny, what they cannot explain—if, in anything like a final sense, nothing ever has been, or can be, explained. It is that they disregard or deny, to clip concatenations that would lead them from concealed ignorance into obvious bewilderment.
Every science is a mutilated octopus. If its tentacles were not clipped to stumps, it would feel its way into disturbing contacts. To a believer, the effect of the contemplation of a science is of being in the presence of the good, the true, and the beautiful. But what he is awed by is Mutilation. To our crippled intellects, only the maimed is what we call understandable, because the unclipped ramifies away into all other things. According to my aesthetics, what is meant by the beautiful is symmetrical deformation. By Justice
[paragraph continues] —in phenomenal being—I mean the appearance of balance, by which a reaction is made to look equal and opposite to an action—so arbitrarily wrought by the clip and disregard of all ramifications of the action—expressing in the supposed condign punishment of a man, regardless of effects upon other persons. This is the arbitrary basis of the mechanical theory of existence—the idea that an action can be picked out of a maze of interrelationships, as if it were a thing in itself. Some wisdom of mine is that if a man is dying of starvation he cannot commit a crime. He is good. The god of all idealists is Malnutrition. If all crimes are expressions of energy, it is unjust to pick on men for their crimes. A higher jurisprudence would indict their breakfasts. A good cook is responsible for more evil than ever the Demon Rum has been: and, if we'd all sit down and starve to death, at last would be realized Utopia.
My expression is that, if illnesses, physical contortions, and deaths can be imposed by the imaginations of persons upon their own bodies, we may develop the subject-matter of a preceding chapter, with more striking data—
Or the phenomenon of the stigmata—
Which, considered sacred by pietists, is aligned by me with hydrophobia.
This phenomenon is as profoundly damned, in the views of all properly trained thinkers, as are crucifixes, sacraments, and priestly vestments. As to its occurrence, I can quote dozens of churchmen, of the "highest authority," but not one scientist, except a few Catholic scientists.
Over and over and over—science and its system—and theology and its system—and the fights between interpretations by both—and my thought that the freeing of data from the coercions of both, may, or may not, be of value. Once upon a time the religionists denied, or disregarded much that the scientists announced. They have given in so disastrously, or have been licked so to a frazzle, that, in my general impression of controversies that end up in compromises, this is defeat too nearly complete to be lasting. I conceive of a return-movement—open to freethinkers and atheists—in which many of the data of religionists—scrubbed clean of holiness—will be accepted.
As to the records of stigmatics, I omit the best-known, and most
convincingly reported, of all the cases, the case of the French girl, Louise Lateau, because much has been published upon her phenomena, and because accounts are easily available.
In the newspapers of July, 1922—I take from the London Daily Express, July 10th—was reported the case of Mary Reilly, aged 20, in the Home of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Peekskill, N. Y. It was said that intermittently, upon her side, appeared a manifestation in the form of a cross of blood. Mostly the appearances are of the "five wounds of Christ," or six, including marks on the forehead. For an account of the case of Rose Ferron, see the New York Herald Tribune, March 25, 1928. According to this story, Rose Ferron, aged 25, of 86 Asylum Street, Woonsocket, R. I., had, since March 17, 1916, been a stigmatic, wounds appearing upon her hands, feet, and forehead. The hysterical condition of this girl—in both the common and the medical meaning of the term—is indicated by the circumstance that for three years she had been strapped to her bed, with only her right arm free.
At this time of writing, I have, for four years, been keeping track of the case of Theresa Neumann, the stigmatic girl of Konnersreuth, Germany: and, up to this time, there has been no exposure of imposture. See the New York Times, April 8, 1928—roads leading to her home jammed with automobiles, carriages, motorcycles, vans, and pilgrims on foot. Considering the facilities—or the facilities, if nothing goes wrong—of modern travel, it is probable that no other miracle has been so multitudinously witnessed. A girl in bed—and all day long, the tramp of thousands past her. Whether admission was charged, I do not know. The story of this girl agrees with the stories of other stigmatics: flows of blood, from quick-healing wounds, and phenomena on Fridays. It was said that medical men had become interested, and had "demanded" Theresa's removal to a clinic, where she could be subjected to a prolonged examination, but that the Church authorities had objected. This is about what would be expected of Church authorities: and that the medical men, unable to have their own way, then disregarded the case is something else that is about what would be expected.
My expression is that, upon stigmatic girls have appeared wounds, similar to the alleged wounds of a historical, and therefore doubtful,
character, because this melodrama is most strikingly stimulative to the imagination—but that an atheistic girl—if there could be anything for an atheistic girl to be equally imaginatively hysterical about—might reproduce other representations upon her body. In the Month, 134-249, is an account of Marie-Julie Jahenny, of the village of La Fraudais (Loire-Inférieure), France, who, upon March 21, 1873, became a stigmatic. Upon her body appeared the "five wounds." Then, upon her breast appeared the picture of a flower. It is said that for twenty years this picture of a flower remained visible. According to the story, it was in the mind of the girl before it appeared upon her body, because she predicted that it would appear. One has notions of the possible use of indelible ink, or of tattooing. That is very good. One should have notions.
If a girl drinks a liquid that would harm nobody else, and dies, can a man inflict upon himself injuries that would kill anybody else, and be unharmed?
There is a kind of stigmatism that differs from the foregoing cases, in that weapons are used to bring on effects: but the wounds are similar to the wounds of stigmatic girls, or simply are not wounds, in an ordinary, physical sense. There is an account, in the Sphinx, March, 1893, of a fakir, Soliman Ben Aissa, who was exhibiting in Germany; who stabbed daggers into his cheeks and tongue, and into his abdomen, harmlessly, and with quick-healing wounds.
Such magicians are of rare occurrence, anyway in the United States and Europe: but the minor ones who eat glass and swallow nails are not uncommon.
But, if in Germany, or anywhere else, in countries that are said to be Christian, any man ever did savagely stab himself in the abdomen, and be unhurt, and repeat his performances, how is it that the phenomenon is not well-known and generally accepted?
The question is like another:
If, in the Theological Era, a man went around blaspheming, during thunderstorms, and was unhurt, though churches were struck by lightning, how long would he remain well-known?
In March, 1920, a band of Arab dervishes exhibited in the London' music halls. In the London Daily News, March 12, 1920, are
reproduced photographs of these magicians, showing them with skewers that they had thrust through their flesh, painlessly and bloodlessly.
Taboo. The censor stopped the show.
For an account of phenomena, or alleged phenomena, of the Silesian cobbler, Paul Diebel, who exhibited in Berlin, in December, 1927, see the New York Times, Dec. 18, 1927. "Blood flows from his eyes, and open wounds appear on his chest, after he has concentrated mentally for six minutes, it is declared. He drives daggers through his arms and legs, and even permits himself to be nailed to a cross, without any suffering, it is said. His manager asserts that he can remain thus for ten hours. His self-inflicted wounds, it is declared, bleed or not, as he wishes, and a few minutes after the knife or nails are withdrawn all evidence of incisions vanishes."
The only thing that can be said against this story is that it is unbelievable.
New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 6, 1928—that, in Vienna, the police had interfered with Diebel, and had forbidden him to perform. It was explained that this was because he would not give them a free exhibition, to prove the genuineness of his exhibitions. "In Munich, recently, he remained nailed to a cross several hours, smoking cigarettes and joking with his audience."
After April 8, 1928—see the New York Times of this date—I lose track of Paul Diebel. The story ends with an explanation. Nothing is said of the alleged crucifixions. The explanation is a retreat to statements that are supposed to be understandable in commonplace terms. I do not think that they are so understandable. "Diebel has disclosed his secret to the public, saying that shortly before his appearance, he scratched his flesh with his fingernails, or a sharp instrument, being careful not to cut it. On the stage by contracting his muscles, those formerly invisible lines assumed blood-red hue and often bled."
I have heard of other persons, who have "disclosed" trade secrets.
Upon March 2, 1931, a man lay, most publicly, upon a bed of nails. See the New York Herald Tribune, March 3, 1931. In Union Square, New York City, an unoriental magician, named Brawman,
from the unmystical region of Pelham Bay, in the Bronx, gave an exhibition that was staged by the magazine, Science and Invention. This fakir from the Bronx lay upon a bed of 1,200 nails. In response to his invitation, ten men walked on his body, pressing the points of the nails into his back. He stood up, showing deep, red marks made by the nails. These marks soon faded away.
I have thought of leaf insects as pictorial representations wrought in the bodies of insects, by their imaginations, or by the imaginative qualities of the substances of their bodies—back in plastic times, when insects were probably not so set in their ways as they now are. The conventional explanation of protective colorations and formations has, as to some of these insects, considerable reasonableness. But there is one of these creatures—the Tasmanian leaf insect—that represents an artistry that so transcends utility that I considered the specimen that I saw, in the American Museum of Natural History, misplaced: it should have been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This leaf insect has reproduced the appearance of a leaf down to such tiny details as serrated edges. The deception of enemies, or survival-value, has had nothing thinkable to do with some of the making of this remarkable likeness, because such minute particulars as serrations would be invisible to any bird, unless so close that the undisguisable insect-characteristics would be apparent.
I now have the case of what I consider a stigmatic bird. It is most unprotectively marked. Upon its breast it bears betrayal—or it is so conspicuously marked that one doubts that there is much for the theory of protective coloration to base upon, if conspicuously marked forms of life survive everywhere, and if many of them cannot be explained away, as Darwin explained away some of them, in terms of warnings.
It is a story of the sensitiveness of pigeons. I have told of the pigeons with whom I was acquainted. One day a boy shot one, and the body lay where the others saw it. They were so nervous that they flew, hearing trifling sounds that, before, they'd not have noticed. They were so suspicious that they kept away from the window sills. For a month they remembered.
The bleeding-heart pigeon of the Philippines—the spot of red on its breast—or that its breast remembered—
Or once upon a time—back in plastic times when the forms and plumages of birds were not so fixed, or established, as they now are—an ancestral pigeon and her mate. The swoop of a hawk—a wound on his breast—and that sentiment in her plumage was so sympathetically moved that it stigmatized her, or reproduced on offsprings, and is to this day the recorded impression of an ancient little tragedy.
A simple red spot on the breast of a bird would not be conceived of, by me, as having any such significance. It is not a simple, red spot, only vaguely suggestive of a wound, on the breast of the bleeding-heart pigeon of the Philippines. The bordering red feathers are stiff, as if clotted. They have the appearance of coagulation.
Conceiving of the transmission of a pictorial representation, by heredity, is conceiving of external stigmatism, but of internal origin. If I could think that a human being's intense mental state, at the sight of a wound, had marked a pigeon, that would be more of a span over our gap. But I have noted an observation for thinking that the sight of a dead and mutilated pigeon may intensely affect the imaginations of other pigeons. If anybody thinks that birds have not imagination, let him tell me with what a parrot of mine foresees what I am going to do to him, when I catch him up to some of his mischief, such as gouging furniture. The body of a dead and mutilated companion prints on the minds of other pigeons: but I have not a datum for thinking that the skeleton, or any part of the skeleton, of a pigeon, would be of any meaning to other pigeons. I have never heard of anything that indicates that in the mind of any other living thing is the mystic awe that human beings, or most human beings, have for bones—
Or a moth sat on a skull—
And that so it rested, with no more concern than it would feel upon a stone. That a human being came suddenly upon the skull, and that, from him, a gush of mystic fright marked the moth—The Death's Head Moth.
On the back of the thorax of this insect is a representation of a human skull that is as faithful a likeness as ever any pirate drew.
[paragraph continues] In Borneo and many other places, there is not much abhorrence for a human skull: but the death's head moth is a native of England.
Or the death's heads that appeared upon windowpanes, at Boulley—except that perhaps there were no such occurrences at Boulley. Suppose most of what I call data may be yarns. But the numbers of them—except, what does that mean? Oh, nothing, except that some of our opponents, if out in a storm long enough, might have it dawn on them that it was raining.
If I could say of any pictorial representation that has appeared on the wall of a church that it was probably not an interpretation of chance arrangements of lights and shades, but was a transference from somebody's mind, then from a case like this, of the pretty, the artistic, or of what would be thought of by some persons as the spiritual, and a subject to be treated reverently, would flow into probability a flood of everything that is bizarre, malicious, depraved, and terrifying in witchcraft—and of course jostles of suggestions of uses.
In this subject I have had much experience. Long ago, I experimented. I covered sheets of paper with scrawls, to see what I could visualize out of them; tacked a sheet of wrapping paper to a ceiling, and smudged it with a candle flame; made what I called a "visualizing curtain," which was a white window shade, covered with scrawls and smudges; went on into three dimensions, with boards veneered with clay. It was long ago—about 1907. I visualized much, but the thought never occurred to me that I marked anything. It was my theory that, with a visualizing device, I could make imaginary characters perform for me more vividly than in my mind, and that I could write a novel about their doings. Out of this idea I developed nothing, anyway at the time. I have had much experience with visualizations that were, according to my beliefs, at the time, only my own imaginings, and I have had not one experience—so recognized by me—of ever having imaginatively marked anything. Not that I mean anything by anything.
There is one of these appearances that many readers of this book may investigate. Upon Feb. 23, 1932, New York newspapers
reported a clearly discernible figure of Christ in the variegations of the sepia-toned marble of the sanctuary wall of St. Bartholomew's Church, Park Avenue and Fiftieth Street, New York City.
In the New York Times, Feb. 24, 1932, the rector of the church, the Rev. Dr. Robert Norwood, is quoted:
"One day, at the conclusion of my talk, I happened to glance at the sanctuary wall and was amazed to see this lovely figure of Christ in the marble. I had never noticed it before. As it seemed to me to be an actual expression on the face of the marble of what I was preaching, 'His Glorious Body,' I consider it a curious and beautiful happening. I have a weird theory that the force of thought, a dominant thought, may be strong enough to be somehow transferred to stone in its receptive state."
In 1920, a censor stopped a show: but, in 1930, the Ladies’ Home Journal published William Seabrook's story—clipping sent to me by Mr. Charles McDaniel, East Liberty P.O., Pittsburgh, Pa. There was a performance in the village of Doa, in the Ben-Hounien territory of the French West African Colony.
It is a story of sorceries practiced by magicians, not upon their own bodies, but upon the bodies of others.
“There were the two living children close to me. I touched them with my hands. And there equally close were the two men with their swords. The swords were iron, three-dimensional, metal, cold and hard. And this is what I now saw with my eyes, but you will understand why I am reluctant to tell of it, and that I do not know what seeing means:
“Each man, holding his sword stiffly upward with his left hand, tossed a child high in the air with his right, then caught it full upon the point, impaling it like a butterfly on a pin. No blood flowed, but the two children were there, held aloft, pierced through and through, impaled upon the swords.
“The crowd screamed now, falling to its knees. Many veiled their eyes with their hands, and others fell prostrate. Through the crowd the jugglers marched, each bearing a child aloft, impaled upon his sword, and disappeared into the witch doctor's inclosure.”
Later Seabrook saw the children, and touched them, and had the
impression that he would have, looking at a dynamo, or at a storm at sea, at something falling from a table, or at a baby crawling—that he was in the presence of the unknown,