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Occult watch:


Phenomena! It is a great word of the current religious moment: Across the landscape, diverse manifestations during the past several decades.

They are often simple. They are often vague. Frequently, they are obscure. Some are striking. Some are incredible. All are subject to dispute.

Nor is it just in religious circles.

The secular media -- networks like History, Discover, and A&E that would not be expected to carry such items, not to mention cable news networks, local stations, and now even mainstream newspapers -- are rife with photos, videos, and accounts related to the "supernormal."

Now, a Vatican official has said that life may well exist on other planets, which is certainly true. But the statement has been taken out of context to endorse reports of bizarre UFOs. 

Dangerous stuff, this. Let's call this an occult watch: The big trend of the moment is the phenomenon of "orbs," circles of luminosity that seem to appear in certain unique circumstances -- often with what folks discern as "faces" in them.

While seen with the naked eye, more frequently they appear in a photograph. Portholes to the other side?

They are witnessed near old burial mounds. They are photographed in cemeteries (leading, of course, to the assumptions that they are "ghost lights"). They are seen along roads. In Florida, famous orbs have been reported in St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city (at graveyards and "haunted" sites); near Orlando (the "Oviedo lights," very faint single balls of light that they insist are not swamp gas; and near Daytona (a strange haunting light has been reported for decades in an area known as Tomoka, all of this is documented in a book aptly entitled Weird Florida). Those are only some of the cases. Around the world, orbs are common in the reports of "paranormal investigators" (or what were once known as ghost hunters or, in the movie, "busters").

The problem is that the world of psychic phenomena is also a world in which (because it lacks a Christian context) there is great deception.

That's not to say deception doesn't occur too among Catholics! Far from it.

But it is dangerous to mess with paranormal phenomena.

The devil -- demons -- can come as angels of light. It tells us that right in the Bible. Many of the lights seem attached to unsettling circumstances -- a hanging in a wood, a suicide, a murder.

What about "orbs" that are in a religious context?

At the Church-sanctioned apparitions of LaSalette in France (near the recently approved Laus), Mary first appeared in a glowing ball of light that opened to reveal her. At apparition sites, Mary has come as a streak of light, in which she then appears. She has been seen in a faint glowing ball of light in private circumstances.

And orbs are often reported or photographed at high points of the Mass.

Are we thus speaking about a supernatural phenomenon that can be attached to both sides of the spiritual spectrum?

After all, there are good apparitions and bad.

It is our question of the week.

One photo was taken during First Communion. See the "orb"? And is it an orb or just light refracting in the lens? (We are going to keep the exact location anonymous.)

More pointedly -- in the Shields Gazette (in England) --  it is reported that several photographs at St. Michael's and All Angels Church in Houghton-le-Spring show small spheres of light and faces in them.

There are also orbs after a light rain has fallen on a lens. Clearly, this has a natural explanation -- as might others.  "Due to the size limitations of the modern compact and ultra-compact cameras, especially digital cameras" -- says one guide -- "the distance between the lens and the built-in flash has decreased, thereby decreasing the angle of light reflection to the lens and increasing the likelihood of light reflection off normally sub-visible particles. Hence, the orb artifact is commonplace with small digital or film camera photographs."

But what about this (or see below) in a Texas church? Is it all refraction?

"Many people believe that orbs have no natural explanation, and are actually indicative of a ghostly presence," says the newspaper. "The truth is that the majority of orbs are simply reflections of light or dust and in an old church currently under renovation one shouldn't be surprised if a good number of them show up. However, two of the orbs bear further scrutiny, as they are extremely large and even seem to contain faces."

Imagination? The "other side." Or the dark side?

Does it cause the willies?

That's one indication.

Come on, folks, help us discern!

"Indeed, in some ancient cultures it is believed that the spirits of the dead actually return as balls of light," says the reporter in England. "I don't think that's the case here mind you, but even if the anomalies on the photographs are merely dust reflections, the faces, as you can see for yourself, are quite startling. During excavations at the church, a number of interred bodies were discovered including one of a young boy and another of a former priest. One of the orbs, curiously, is hovering above the exact location where the priest's body was located. Many years ago, an old priest was shown a photograph taken in his church which seemed to show an apparition of the Virgin Mary. A number of people were converted to Christianity because of the picture, and believed it to be miraculous."

What a world it is we live in! Some may be inexplicable.

It is not deception -- not always.

Or is it?

Caution. Red flags.

Some are holy -- those orbs.

Just a means of supernatural transference.



[see also: the Texas church]

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