Sunday, August 7

Of prophecies and troubled times

And now for something completely different:

In May of 1917 three children were herding sheep in a field outside a small Portugese town when they saw a luminous figure they described as either an angel or the Virgin Mary.  They had a long conversation with the figure, who asked them to pray for the end of the world war and to return to the same spot a month later. 

(In a memoir written years later Lucia--oldest of the three at age 10--said the Virgin Mary or angel also told the three children that the two younger ones--Lucia's cousins--would be called to heaven "very soon."  And indeed, both died less three years later, in the flu epidemic.  The Wiki article sarcastically notes that since Lucia wrote the memoir long after they died, "it may be an instance of retrospective prophecy.")

A month later the children returned, and later related that they had five more encounters with the "angel" between 13 May and 13 October of 1917.  And for the last appearance, Mary/the angel promised a miracle.  A crowd, variously estimated as 30,000 to 100,000, gathered near the town.  Residents of other nearby towns came outside to watch for any signs. 

Apparently thousands of witnesses reported seeing the sun change colors and "rotate like a wheel."  This was also reported by witnesses up to 40km (24 miles) away.  However, not everyone saw the reported behavior, and scientists immediately started trying to discredit the reports, claiming "mass hallucination" and similar. 

The fact that people 40 km away would have a hard time participating in the alleged "mass hallucination" was ignored by the skeptics.  Twenty-nine days later World War 1 ended.  

One of the children died less than two years later, at age 10.  A second died less than a year after that, at age 9.  Neither they nor their families received any compensation for reporting their story.

Four years after the event, the oldest of the three (by one year)--Lucia--became a nun.  Eighteen years after the event (between 1935 and 1993) she wrote the first of six memoirs about it. 

In the third of these memoirs (1941) Lucia described three "secrets" which she said Mary/angel had shown the children.  The second of these warned that if people didn't stop "offending God" there would be a second great war, the advent of which would be signalled by a strange light in the sky.

On 25 January, 1938, the largest aurora borealis in 229 years lit the skies as far south as North Africa, Bermuda and California.  The light was so bright and red that Parisians called fire departments, thinking the city was ablaze.  Lucia was convinced this was the sign foretold, and so advised both her immediate superior and her bishop in writing the next day.

Just over a month later Hitler essentially seized Austria.  Eight months later Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.  (The shooting war started on September 1, 1939.)

Lucia didn't reveal the third secret but seems to have given it to her church superior, who passed it up the chain.  Some church sources said Lucia noted that this last secret should be revealed to the public "by 1960," but other church sources said "after 1960."  In any case, in 1960 the Vatican issued a memo saying that it was "most probable" that the secret would be sealed forever.  This understandably led to much speculation about what it contained.

For 40 more years the church didn't reveal the contents of the third secret, but finally in June of 2000 it reversed course and revealed what it claimed was the "third secret" described by Lucia.  Unfortunately it's a description of a vision, with no explicit message, and thus is subject to a wide range of interpretations.

Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97.  She never sought or received any financial benefit from her story.  By contrast, the little Portugese town became a pilgrimage destination for faithful Catholics.

I find this story fascinating, for several reasons.  First is the mundane:  It's an article of faith among Christian-haters (and many so-called 'elites' who style themselves too sophisticated to believe in God or Jesus or miracles) that stupid people--who the elites claim need to believe in religion and miracles--are easily fooled into believing they've witnessed a miracle.  Many of these supposedly sophisticated "elites" have an intense interest in "debunking" alleged miracles, in order to "prove" that all alleged miracles or signs from God are either hoaxes or a result of gullible misinterpretation.

So the first goal is to examine the entire event to see if it's likely to be a hoax--even if unintentional.

Conversely, *if* the story told by the three children happened as they described, it suggests that angels are real--and if so, that opens a lot of doors that it would seem many liberals, Democrats, "progressives" and atheists urgently don't want opened.

One of the most common tipoffs to an intentional hoax is the desire of the perpetrator to cash in on it at some point.  That's totally missing here.  This doesn't rule out hoax, but certainly reduces the probability of one.

A second factor weighing against hoax is that even the most meticulous hoaxers are rarely able to keep the secret for more than a few years.  In this case no one has confessed in the 99 years since the originating event.  Admittedly Lucia's two cousins died within 3 years, so if it had been an intentional deception, in the years after their deaths she's the only one who could have confessed. 

And what do we make of the tens of thousands who claim to have witnessed the "miracle of the sun"?

Mass hallucination is a fascinating topic.  Conventional wisdom is that most people are amazingly gullible.  (Hey, when billing records from the Rose Law Firm--the firm Hillary Clinton worked for in Little Rock when married to Slick--turned up in a closet at the White House after being missing and intensively sought for two years, and Hillary said "Gee, I have no idea how they got there," every Democrat and reporter nodded and moved on, which proves the point.) 

So is it *possible* that everyone who reported seeing the sun "change colors and rotate like a wheel" was hallucinating?

Certainly it's possible.  Of course this doesn't explain why people in villages 24 miles away reported seeing the same thing.

Countering this are reports that some members of the crowd said they *didn't* see anything.  It's also true that looking at the sun for more than a few seconds messes up your vision in unexpected ways.  So hard to tell on that one.

What about the children's report that the angel said the younger two would be called to heaven "very soon"?  Critics noted that the first *written* mention of this was in Lucia's 1935 memoir.  Obviously a reference to an alleged prophecy about an event that happened years earlier proves nothing.  However, the mother of the two children who died so young is said to have reported at the time that after the first apparition her children told both her and visitors about their predicted early deaths.  She said they related this not in an anxious way but instead seemed excited and happy.  I'll try to find a source for this.

If the mother's story is correct, the two very young deaths represent a significant statistical anomaly:  At the time the figure allegedly appeared both children were perfectly healthy, so for both to die within 3 years of the alleged prediction would be highly unlikely.

A third indicator is the narrative by Lucia that if humans didn't shape up, another great war would occur, which would be signaled by an "unexplained" light in the skies.  The subsequent appearance of the strongest aurora in over two centuries--visible all the way to North Africa--is statistically very unlikely.  Certainly not unprecedented, but quite rare.

So at the end of the day I believe the known evidence tends slightly in favor of the story being essentially true as ascribed.  Which indeed would open lots of doors.


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