We live in a strange time. The Internet has given us instant access to a greater plethora of information than has ever been possible in history, yet rather than serving to better educate as all, the amount of mumbo jumbo seems to have risen rather than fallen. Flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, folk who swear by the healing power of crystals and Gwyneth Paltrow, all find it easier to get a platform these days.
Now I'm a logical sort of chap, a great believer in the scientific method, which basically stated is that "if a theory is disproved by experiment it isn't true". However there are a few wrinkles and crevasses in my belief system. These are what I want to share with you today.
Take divining for example. It's clearly rubbish as there is no verifiable force that can be detected by a human with a divining rod. However I recall as a kid we had a blocked drain. My father knew a lot about water. He had spent a decade as a plumber and worked for a time for the Water Board. I watched him fashion a couple of diving rods out of an old coat hanger. He than marched steadily back and forth across the garden. Each time he crossed a certain point the rods moved. He dug down a couple of feet, found the water pipe, disconnected it (it was the ceramic sort connected in sections) and found the blockage exactly where the diving rods had indicated. So I know first hand that diving works but I can't explain why. My best guess is my father knew subconsciously where the drain started, and where it exited the property, so he could have been making an educated guess with that information. How he guessed down to the nearest foot is still beyond me.
I know astrology is complete twaddle. But time and time again certain character traits do seem to reoccur in individuals according to their star sign. Leos are invariably extroverts. Cancerians are crabby and have mood swings. Virgos are organised and boringly safety-conscious, Scorpios are the undisputed masters of exacting revenge etc. It seems there are two possible explanations for this. Firstly we learn about our own sign in childhood and it is possible we either subconsciously (or possibly consciously in some cases) grow to fulfil our own prophesy. Another theory is that the seasons may play a role. The younger you are, the slower time passes. Imagine you are a newborn infant born say in September. Your first six months would seem like a life time, but much of it would be cold and grey, whereas if you were born in April those all important formative months would be bright and sunny. Many things other than the weather influence adult moods thorough-out the seasons, holidays and so forth, all of which would be absorbed by the infant. Is it then any wonder that people born at different times of year have a different outlook on life? The only snag with this theory is the character traits in the Southern hemisphere would be six months out of kilter with those in the northern hemisphere, though I still think it is a sufficiently interesting proposition that it warrants further investigation.
What I'm getting at is that for most phenomena considered supernatural, there is usually a more mundane explanation.
And now for a good old ghost story. Clearly ghosts don't exist according to science. However strange things happen. This is one I experienced myself.
Back in Murcia a couple arrived from the UK with the intention of establishing a pub, which they did by converting an old residential property, and a very good job they made of it too. They named it the Yorkshire Rose. It was heaven. Just before it opened, they invited an elderly neighbour in to show her what they had done to the place. She was happily admiring the decor until she reached the far right-hand corner of the bar, at which point she burst into tears. It turned out that is where her friend, the previous occupant had gasped her last breath.
I didn't know this until the story was recounted to me some years later. However I recall dining in that corner of the room and thought it felt chilly. I mentioned it casually to the waitress who laughed and said she had lost count of the people who said that. Stories abound that cold spots like this are associated with hauntings, but perhaps I'm just putting two and two together and making five. Perhaps it was explanable by air-flow, fluid dynamics and the fact that air-conditioning unit was just above my head!
However this wasn't the only spooky thing that happened in the bar. One night, I and a bunch of pals had a late-night lock-in playing poker. It was a bright moonlight night and very still. There was not a breeze in the air we had no music playing, so it was just the flick of the cards and our banter that could be heard. At about 1:30 a.m. there was an enormous crash. My first thought was that someone had thrown a brick through the window. As I was nearest the door, I unlocked it and had a look outside but there was nobody there, and anyway the windows were protected by wooden shutters.
Meanwhile my fellow poker-buddies looked around inside. It turned out that a glass had smashed behind the bar. This was strange, as nobody had been behind the bar for a while as we were all involved in the game. Also the shelf on which the glasses were kept didn't have a direct path to the floor. There were freezer cabinets and cupboards on which the glass should first have bounced, but this isn't what any of us heard. We all heard one large crash, so loud that we all agreed it sounded though it had been thrown down deliberately by a human hand. We got back to the game scratching our heads. I considered things always sound louder at night when it was quiet and dismissed it as a freak accident.
I was in the bar again quite early the next morning as I was due to meet a client there. A different barman was on shift. Thinking the owner may have told him the tale already (but setting my self up to segway neatly into the tale if necessary) I jokingly asked him if anymore glasses had smashed this morning. He turned to look at me, eyes like saucers, the colour running from his cheeks.
"How do you know about that?"
"I was here last night", I replied.
"No, just now. After I opened I was standing here at the sink washing up a few glasses and all of a sudden a glass smashed on the floor behind me. It sounded like someone threw it at the floor - I jumped out of my skin!"
It turned out the owner was having a lie-in and the barman knew nothing of the night before. After I shared the story with him, we did the only sensible thing in that situation and had a couple of nerve-steadying brandies!
Coincidence? Maybe. There are a lot of earthquakes in Murcia. Sometimes these come in swarms and are all but imperceptible, but resonance at a particular frequency can cause individual objects to move while everything around them is still. However, there is a primitive part of me that cannot shake off the notion that not everything is mumbo jumbo. Some things do go bump it the night!