Monday, October 31, 2011

Marian Apparitions at El-Zeitoun and Social Psi (Part 3)

The events of Zeitoun - the qualitative view

As discussed in the previous post, it is difficult to depict an accurate picture of the events of Zeitoun in terms of their objective scope and magnitude. However, the existing written material provides a relatively rich corpus describing the qualitative dimension of the events. Although this corpus was essentially created by believers, it is significant enough to offer important points of reference for anyone interested in analyzing the events, even from a non-religious perspective. However, to be able to use this material properly, the non-religious perspective needs first to be put in its proper perspective.

The most significant criticism put forward against the religious interpretation of the events was the article published by Persinger and Derr, which attributes the anomalous activities to geomagnetism, in light of the tectonic strain theory [1]. Persinger and Derr were able to establish a relatively significant correlation between seismic activities in the region and the events in Zeitoun.

This criticism is important as it provides an important clue to understand what happened in Zeitoun, but it is far from being enough to close the case, as a pseudo-sceptic article written by Bartholomew and Goode implies [2]. Persinger and Derr’s article is problematic on a number of levels. First, as discussed in the previous post, the exact number and dates of occurrence for the apparitions at Zeitoun are not known, and hence their correlation analysis could only be done with a very incomplete dataset. Second, as Persinger admits, the tectonic strain theory cannot account for specific anomalous occurrences, but only for clusters of occurrences [3]. Last, but not least is how one can account for a geomagnetic phenomenon happening nearly one hundred times, at the same place, over a three year period, and only at night? Any answer to this question is clearly beyond the tectonic strain theory.

If the religious interpretation of events is not satisfying for those who are not taking a religious approach, it is also clear that a pseudo-sceptic interpretation where the tectonic strain theory is stretch beyond its explanatory power is not warranted either.

What can be proposed, however, is that geomagnetism provides an important enabling condition for the phenomenon to occur, but it is not sufficient in itself to fully explain the phenomenon. As discussed previously on this blog, electromagnetism and geomagnetism oftentimes tend to be associated with UFO and psi events [4]. It is in this context that the qualitative descriptions of the events of Zeitoun are useful, as they point towards the notion that geomagnetism was indeed involved, but that “something else” needs to be included in the explanation. That “something  else” might actually be what has been discussed on this blob, and elsewhere, as a “social psi” effect [5]. But first, let’s look at the qualitative data.

There are six main qualitative aspects than can be identified about the Zeitoun events: (a) the so-called light “birds”, (b) the smell of incense, (c) the clouds, (d) phosphorescent-like luminosity, (e) the scintillating lights or “stars”, and (f) the main luminescent object (i.e. the apparition).

The light “birds”

Many witnesses reported that there were luminous objects that traveled through the sky of Zeitoun [6], which were at first construed as “birds” but were clearly not birds. Their actual nature remains unknown to this day. They were described as follow:

"Another phenomenon witnessed by the spectators is the appearance of bird-like creatures before, during, and after the apparitions, and sometimes on nights when there is no apparition at all. These creatures in some ways resemble doves. They are larger than doves; they are larger even than pigeons. Whence they come or whither they go no one can determine. It is known, says the keeper of the Cairo zoo, that pigeons do not fly at night. But these can hardly be any kind of natural bird.

First of all they fly much too rapidly. They fly without ever moving their wings. (Only one spectator interviewed thought he saw one bird flap its wings.) They seem to glide before, into, and around the apparitions. They never come to rest on the roof or trees, and on some occasions have been seen to disintegrate in the sky like wisps of cloud.

Varying in number on different nights, they have appeared singly, in twos, threes, and larger groups. Always in some kind of formation, the creatures fly in triangle, sometimes in the formation of a cross. Once twelve of them flew six abreast in two rows.

Not only are these birds spotless white; they themselves emit light. They are like electrically illuminated birds which can be seen both in the brilliant light of the apparition and in the darkness of the sky above the apparition. They disappear as mysteriously as they appear and without sound of any kind."[7]

Another description is from Bishop Gregorius on the apparitions that took place between 27 April and 15 May 1968:

“Before the apparitions took place some birds that look like pigeons--I don't know what they are--appear in different formations. Sometimes two appear on the dome just as if they had come out of it. However, the dome is closed; the windows do not open. They might be seen flying eastward, then wheeling about and flying to the west, and while one watches them, they suddenly disappear. […]

They do not flap their wings; they glide. In a flash they appeared; and disappear the same way. They did not fly away but above and around the center dome. They did not fly away but above and around the center dome. They stay quite near and are close to the church when they vanish. Whatever formation they take, they keep. Sometimes as many as seven of them fly in the formation of a cross. They appear and disappear in this formation. They fly very swiftly. They are not light on one side, but are completely lighted. One does not see feathers at all--just something  lighted. They are radiating creatures, larger in size than a dove or a pigeon. Sometimes as one of them flies lower, it gets larger and larger. People realize these are not pigeons." [8]

Lastly, let’s mention that there is a famous photograph of these “birds” taken by Wagih Risk (shown below). However, the photograph was analyzed in detail by Vern Miller of the Brooks Institute of Photography of Santa Barbara, California in the 1990s, and it became clear that although it was a genuine picture of the phenomenon, the individual object’s shape is likely to have been altered to look like “birds” [9].

In themselves, these objects seem unexplainable, but if one keeps in mind that in April and May 1968 there was significant seismologic activity in Egypt [10], then a different picture emerges. Strange lights in formation have been noted in the Idu Peninsula (Japan) during the earthquakes of November 1930 and in 1957 during an earthquake in Leicestershire, England [11]. It is interesting to note that some of the early UFO sightings involving some sort of “flight formations” have an earthquake dimension as well. The famous Lubbock sighting of 25 August 1951, in northern Texas, were interpreted by some as being “birds”[12], and there was some significant seismic activity in the area in June of the same year [13]. The famous Washington D.C. sightings of 19-20 July 1952, where UFOs in formation were observed on radar screen, occurred just one day before a major earthquake in California with a magnitude of 7.6 [14]. Another case is the one of a pilot who saw seven objects in formation while flying between New Zealand and Australia on 13 January 1965 [15], which occurred at the same time of a wave of earthquakes in New Zealand [16]. More recently, UFO flight formations were reported in Chile on 12 and 25 September 2011 [17]; there was also a 5.9 earthquake near the coast of Chile on 14 September 2011, and another one of 5.6 magnitude on 28 September  2011 [18].
Lastly, we can compare the “flight formations” of Zeitoun to the description of the famous UFO sighting of Kenneth Arnold of 24 June 1947. As Devereux noted,

 “a brilliant flash of light occurred, centered on an area where Arnold saw nine bright lights. These traveled in an undulating fashion between (in all) three peaks of the Cascade mountains, hugging the terrain, frequently giving off brilliant blue-white flashes, usually preceding a change of motion. As Arnold obtained a closer view of them, the lights showed themselves to be generally discoid in shape, though with variations which may have been due to shape-changing characteristics, or difficulty of definition at long distances on Arnold’s part. The light varied in intensity, and maintained a rough formation. […] The location where the incident took place also speaks volumes. The Cascades Mountains are located directly on a tectonic plate margin.” [19]

A number of preliminary remarks need to be made here, before going further. It is clear that the science of earth-generated luminous objects is still in its infancy. Persinger proposed what he called the “tectonic strain theory” to explain the presence of luminous objects in the sky, as discussed above. The tectonic strain theory allows for objects to be seen far away from the epicenter of a seismic event, and it can happen a few days before or after such event. On the other hand, Devereux and his earthlight theory can only account for light near a geological fault. Both theories are based on different assumptions, and so they are not mutually exclusive but both have a limited empirical base to support themselves.

From a qualitative standpoint, the so-called “birds“ flying in formation share interesting resemblances with UFO events that occurred in space or time where geomagnetism seems to be more active than normal. This does not mean in any way or fashion that those “birds” should be considered as coming from outer space. Quite to the contrary, it points to a common enabling set of conditions that is generated from the Earth.

Yet, as stated above, both the tectonic strain theory and the earth light theory cannot account for the concentrated nature of the Zeitoun events. To have “birds” flying in formation at the exact same place for months is beyond pure geophysics. As well, why luminous lights would travel in formation is also beyond the explanatory power of these two theories.

The study of the qualitative dimension will be continued in the next post. 

Notes for part 3

[1] As proposed by Persinger, Michael & J. S. Derr. (1989). “Geophysical variables and behavior: LIV. Zeitoun (Egypt) apparitions of the Virgin Mary as tectonic strain-induced luminosities”. Perception and Motor Skills 68(1): 123-128.

[2] Bartholomew, Robert E. and Erich Goode. (2000). “Mass delusions: prominent cases over the last 5 centuries”. Skeptical Inquirer 24(3). [On line at], accessed 17 Aug 2011.

[3] Persinger, Michael A. (1985). “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXVI. A response to Rutkowski's critique of the tectonic strain hypothesis for UFO phenomena”. Perception and Motor Skills 60(2): 575-582.

[4] For a substantive discussion on this issue, please refer to “The Materiality of UFOs” on Internet at:

[5] Ouellet, Eric. (2011). “Social Psi and Parasociology”. Australian Journal of Parapsychology 11(1): 73-88.

[6] Among others see Palmer, Jerome. (1969). Our Lady returns to Egypt. San Bernardino, CA: Culligan Publ.; Nil, Michel. (1979). L'apparition miraculeuse de la Saint Vierge à Zeitoun, 1968-1969. Paris, Ed. Tequi; Zaki, Pearl. (1977). Our Lord's Mother Visits Egypt in 1968 & 1969. Cairo, Egypt: Dar El Alam El Arabi.

[7] Palmer, pp. 12-13.

[8] Palmer, pp. 24-26.

[9] Kamel, Youssef G., John P. Jackson & Rebecca Jackson. (1996). A Lady of Light Appears in Egypt. Colorado Springs: St. Mark's Avenue Press, p. 223.

[10] See  Persinger, Michael & J. S. Derr.

[11] Devereux, Paul. (1989). Earth Lights Revelation. London: Blandford, pp. 22.

[12] Clark, Jerome. (1988). "The Lubbock Lights", in The UFO Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, pp. 342-350.

[13] Northrop, Stuart A. and Allan R. Sanford. (1972). “Earthquakes of Northeastern New Mexico
and the Texas Panhandle”. New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 23:  148-160.

[14] See Housner, G.W. (1953). “Analysis of the Taft accelerogram of the earthquake of 21 July 1952”. Office of Naval Research, 5th Technical Report (N6 onr-244). Pasadena: California Institute of Technology, p. 16.

[16] Gibowicz, S. J. (1974). “Two earthquake swarms on the Kermadec Ridge”. New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics 17(4): 913-927.

[18] From a query on IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology) at

[19] Devereux, p. 54.

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