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No. 20: Mar-Apr 1982

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The Mystery Of Spontaneous Visions

This fascinating survey of visionary experience during the Middle Ages is more valuable as a thought-provoker than an anomaly collection, although one might claim that any spontaneous vision is anomalous. The authors went back in history and examined a host of documents from the Middle Ages -- the lives of saints, histories, biographies, etc. They identified visionary experiences and explored the biological and sociological contexts. Kroll and Bachrach found 134 visions; that is, experiences that had no objective reality. We call such experiences hallucinations today; and their contents were the same then as they are now.

What the authors are after in this study are the perceptions of the visionary experiences by the community. The survey demonstrated immediately that the visions of the Middle Ages appeared to all types of people, not just saints and seers; and, further, that most of the 134 experiences were unrelated to physical and mental health. It was also obvious that the various communities readily accepted these visions as bona fide spiritual and parapsychological experiences. In other words, they were taken as messages from God, predictions of future events, marks of spiritual favor, etc. Kroll and Bachrach concluded that in the Middle Ages visions were culturally supported phenomena and not evidences of psychological illness, as they are today.

(Kroll, Jerome, and Bachrach, Bernard; "Visions and Psychopathology in the Middle Ages," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 170:41, 1982.)

Comment. Superficially there is little that is surprising in these results. The people of the Middle Ages had wider spiritual horizons, while we build mental hospitals and consider UFO contactees as nuts. Regardless of the cultural environment, visions keep on occurring. They virtually never have any practical import. Why, then, do we keep on seeing them? Waxing speculative again, the false-head butterflies mentioned on p.000 probably have no inkling about the real value of their markings; is there some yet uncomprehended purpose behind these strange human mental quirks, or are they merely a little snow on our TV screens?

From Science Frontiers #20, MAR-APR 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987