Anti-globular convictions: Flat Earth belief explodes in popularity

I recently gave an overview of Spooky Geology concepts to my local geological society. I began the presentation by discussing the most absurd idea about the earth that still circulates – that it is a flat disk. People laughed; it’s normal to respond to such a claim with ridicule and marvel at how people can be so stupid. A highly circulated news story in mid-November, 2017 was the story of a “Mad” Mike Hughes who has built his own rocket to journey into the “atmosflat” supposedly to show that there is no curve and to photograph the flat disk. He doesn’t “believe” in science and wants to make a bang in life. He may die in his quest to “prove” his crazy cause. (If he does, I’ll update this post.)

The flat earth idea vies for the most alternative geological idea out there. But the spookiest part about the flat earth is that, according to proponents of it, is that the church, scientists, the government, the media, and private businesses are all conspiring to hide the truth from the rest of civilization – a very heady and horrifying claim. It’s no coincidence that Flat Earther popularity is resurging at this point in American history. I’m afraid it’s political and almost always has been. Therefore, I apologize in advance for this not being a geology-based article, however, it’s important to discuss the basic history of this notorious idea and provide a proper framework to understand the baffling reality that people really believe this stuff.

Strange lights and levitating rocks at Arkansas crystal mine

Springing from the spine of Arkansas’ Ouachita mountains are several commercial crystal mines open for public collecting of sizable quartz crystals. Only one such mine claims to be an area of bizarre paranormal activity occurring in association with special “crystal energy” at the site. The claims are so extraordinary the owners think it may not be safe for people to visit unaccompanied. The activity at the site has attracted the attention of UFO investigators and a crew from the Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown series. Stories from the Board Camp Crystal Mine are a perfect example of Spooky Geology.

Devil’s Tower: UFO Bulls-eye

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming had historically served as a beacon to land travelers. In 1977, it was portrayed as the bullseye for extraterrestrial travelers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (synopsis of the plot here). It wasn’t just another mountain. It expressed a sense of something mysteriously powerful and beyond humanity. Today, those narratives are merging as UFO enthusiasts meet at the site to reinforce their belief in the reality of alien visitation.

Misbehaving lakes: Three water bodies that exhale death gas

In August 1986, approximately 1800 people living in a 15-mile radius of Lake Nyos in Cameroon didn’t live to see the morning, dying by suffocation from toxic gas exhaled from the bottom of the lake. Some survivors awoke hours after falling unconscious. They reported they heard a strange and loud noise but when they awoke, they were in complete silence, without even insects buzzing around. People and livestock lay scattered, dead. The small lake (1.5 sq km) had changed color to reddish and murky. Later, chemical, isotopic, geologic, and medical evidence led to the conclusion that all died from carbon dioxide asphyxiation.

Lake Nyos after the eruption. Photo US Geological Survey.

Putrid pit of dinosaur corpses

Stop eating before you read this story. It’s a bit stomach-turning.

The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is a dense deposit of Jurassic-age theropod dinosaurs, mostly Allosaurus fragilis. What caused this mass death of 46 allosaurs (and some 25 other dinosaurs)? Why were there so few other kinds of typical fossils like crocodilian teeth or turtle shells? The bones were not scavenged. What happened here?

Hypotheses included that the place was a death trap where animals became mired in mud. Or, that the animals were killed by some toxin in the environment. A recent study suggests that the location was an ephemeral water body that was the final resting place for animals that died nearby.

The hammer entombed in rock

A tenet of geology is that rocks are old. Therefore, objects of human origin embedded in rock suggest that the rock formed after the object was created. However, there are several examples of these anomalies, which, upon first appearance, seem to set the geological time scale and assumptions topsy-turvy. One of these items is the London Hammer.

Haunted rocks: The Stone Tape theory

The “stone tape theory” is frequently used as a sciencey-sounding quasi-explanation to explain hauntings. Amateur paranormal investigators use the idea to account for appearances of images, sounds, and apparitions that do not interact directly with people. Instead, they play out like a movie or recording. This is most commonly termed “residual haunting” to suggest something was left behind in the past to account for the current effects perceived.

The premise of the stone tape concept is that crystalline rock (bedrock or building stone) captured emotional “energy” from a traumatic event. The preferred rock type is said to be quartz but limestone is mentioned nearly as frequently. The sound and visual representations of an event are “recorded” into the fabric of the rock media in a process analogous to a magnetic tape recording of data. At a much later date, a person sensitive to this “energy” can receive the “playback” or, the playback can be initiated by certain conditions. The recording/playback sequence has long been used as an explanation for apparition sightings and haunting. Thus, the stone tape idea is the ultimate example of “spooky geology”.

Giant dust devils with crystal blades

This is very cool news, although you would be wise to steer very clear of one of these awesome spectacles – flying blades of gypsum in tornadic hot winds.

Gypsum crystals coat the ground of the Atacama desert in Chile. In this picture from Kathleen Benison, you can see how large they are.

Geologist Kathleen Benison was working in the Atacama desert in Chile where the harsh environment creates large bladed-habit gypsum crystals due to evaporation. The crystals can also be found broken, heaped into piles or scattered around. How did this transport happen? The wind would have to be very strong, tornado force, to move the large crystals. And giant whirling dust devils are exactly what she saw.

Psychometry in geology

The geologist will meticulously measure and sample an outcrop to discern information about it. What if there was a much easier, speedier way to discern the history of a formation or a fossil or rock sample? In the mid-19th century, a few people thought the science of geology would be revolutionized by a technique called psychometry.

It’s a simple, elegant idea: the past is entombed in the present. That is, everything holds an essence or trace of influence or memory of its history. Certain skilled people are sensitive enough to touch the object and “see” this history. Psychometry – or measuring the soul – was an idea by Joseph Rodes Buchanan. He was sure that this concept would change humanity and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. William Denton was one of Buchanan’s disciples. A spiritualist, Denton had some radical ideas at the time. Along with his wife and sister, who had also been influenced by Buchanan, he conducted many experiments to show that psychometry for geology was genuine and useful. In his 1863 book, The Soul of Things, Denton blatantly states he has no doubts this technique works. In it, Denton says that, in nature, “each movement is infallibly registered for coming ages … Not a leaf waves, not an insect crawls, not a ripple moves, but each motion is recorded by a thousand faithful scribes in infallible and indelible scripture.”

Witching for water

Dowsing or water divining doesn’t work any better than chance or through surface clues. So why is does it still create heated arguments and skeptical converts even today? Does it still have a place in modern well drilling?

Of all the superstitious and seemingly mysterious effects related to geology, dowsing ranks up there at the top. People swear it works and you just need to try it yourself to be convinced. A forked twig is held, palms upward, with tension, and the diviner walks purposefully around the field until the sticks or rods twist violently in his hands to indicate the desired material is under foot. Right there. Dig there. The instructions are quick, decisive, and inexpensive. It is a triumph of folk knowledge over science. And that is exactly why dowsing remains in use today after being discredited countless times.

Fairy Stones (natural crosses)

Almost all minerals, gemstones and rock types are associated with some superstitious or supernatural motifs. A common twinning habit of the mineral staurolite guarantees it will be perceived as magical. It is prevalently found twinned at a 90- or 60-degree angle forming a stunning cruciform shape. “Stauros” is the Greek word for “cross”. Because of this shape, it was historically considered a protective charm, especially by Christians. Fine-shaped crystals are made into jewelry and “good luck” charms.

The “Hellmouth” Batagaika crater

If the land around you was sinking and falling at this rate, you’d be worried too!

Villagers of Batagay in Yakutia (Sakha Republic, Siberia) reportedly believe that a mouth to hell is nearby. Recent news stories tell of the sinking and mass wasting (“megaslump”) of the nearby land area that continues to grow and change the landscape, creating new hazards.

The Batagaika crater is the result of melting permafrost land. In the Quaternary Ice Age, the ground was permanently frozen. In the 1960s, a forested area was cleared, allowing sunlight to reach the ground surface and warm it. Without heavy vegetation, the cooling effects of transpiration were lost as well. As the ice in the soil melts, the ground compacts, slumps, and subsides. With increasing average earth temperatures, we may be seeing an increase in melting permafrost worldwide. Thanks to the internet, we can all see and share the odd and frightening phenomena that can result from it.

Leylines: From the old straight track to the Ghostbusters vortex

A few years ago, a paranormal investigator acquaintance who knew I was a geologist asked me what I thought about ley lines related to paranormal phenomena. I wasn’t familiar with this association or the history of ley lines then. After consulting several references and poking around the Web, I am now! Take a trip with me traveling down some spooky paths to make sense of ley lines.

Ghostbusters 2016

Last month, I finally got around to watching the new Ghostbusters movie (with the all-female team). There they were: ley lines at the crux of all the paranormal trouble in town! It is indeed past time to deal with these pesky ley lines – a larger-than-life, distorted, misrepresented concept that manifested like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man in paranormal circles.

Dr. Gilbert discovers that paranormal incidents plotted on a map are connected via lines. What if she didn’t have all the points? Three is the minimum and not statistically reliable. She could have drawn completely different lines or circles.

Death scenes, geologically preserved

For inducing fear and unease, dead things are big-time spooky. Geological factors can result in recording death in particularly captivating ways, freezing the animals’ death throes across enormous stretches of time. Preservation can mean bones replaced by mineralization to give us skeletal remains, impressions in fine sediment retaining incredible detail, or entire animals trapped in the resin of a tree, that later hardens into a transparent time capsule.

Spider with its last meal, preserved in amber.

The earth doesn’t care about us or other life forms on it. Death is part of life and probably shouldn’t freak us out as much as it often seems to. (An example is the hubbub and outrage over the #bestcarcass tag on Twitter, it’s pretty educational. OK, not so “pretty” but still educational.) Remnants of death provide us with extremely valuable information about how an animal LIVED.

Cracked, baby, cracked: The earth is splitting up with us humans

Sometimes the earth splits open for no apparent reason. It’s pretty frightening to witness a giant, miles-long gash that makes the surface feel unstable and us humans feel rather small and vulnerable to be swallowed up by the ground. Many “mysterious earth” websites and those who believe that the End Times are upon us will focus on these happenings as if they are unprecedented, unexplainable, and worthy of panic and prayers.

Not quite. A recent example of a ground crack scaring the bejeezus out of people was a giant fissure reported in Arizona by LiveScience and Science Alert a week ago. The opening in the soil was up to 3m across, 25-30 ft deep and 2 miles long, not too shabby. A drone dramatically traced it from the air.

Coastal erosion reveals human remains on spooky Kent island

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion are revealing old wooden coffins and skeletal remains on Deadman’s Island in Kent, U.K. It’s not a pretty site. A river island seems to be a particularly bad place to bury people just for this sort of reason. It did allow the bodies to be isolated but, as we see, they are being gradually and gruesomely freed from their muddy graves.

According to this BBC article, the Isle of Sheppey, which is now a protected wetland area for wildlife, was where the dead from prison boats were buried in the 19th century. The remains are visible at low tide but it’s likely they will continue to be naturally exhumed, making this a very creepy place indeed. The island, opposite Queensborough, is off limits to landing but trips via kayak are allowed.

A Trip to Hell: Mysterious tunnel system and underground river at Baiae, Italy

Many people are familiar with the Oracle of Delphi, where Pythia, the priestess of Apollo was said to relate messages from the god to the temple visitors. The specialness of this place was recognized prior to it being a sacred place of Apollo. The Delphic fault emits hydrocarbon gases that affect animals and humans. But, the spookiness of Delphi will be reserved for another time. In this piece, I discovered what sounds to be likely another location of an Oracle, this time, an Oracle of the dead, and geology has everything to do with its origin.

In the December 2016 issue of Fortean Times [1], the article entitled “A Visit to the Underworld” by Mike Dash describes the Oracle of the Dead proposed at Baiae (Baia), a village on the northwest shore of the Bay of Naples in Italy. Baiae flourished due to its geographical location near Naples, the coastal setting, and its connection as part of Campania, a volcanic complex that includes the Phlegraean Fields and Mount Vesuvius. The Greeks settled the area, naming it Campi Flegrei or “burning fields” (now referred to often as the Phlegraean Fields) [2] – more details about this after I tell you about why a discovery at Baiae warranted its own piece in FT and my interest in declaring it “spooky”.

The location of Baiae is pinned. Vesuvius is directly east.

The Earth doesn’t care about you

Geology is the study of the earth. It can be a little unnerving. The world was not made for us. Or was it? The many stories of creation are allegories for how nature creates, changes, and destroys the planet by water, wind, heat and cold. Scientific research can tell us how this likely comes about, but Nature is mischievous. The puzzle is often not readily solved and the explanation remains mysterious.

The Earth will kill you. It splits, shakes, sinks, shifts, melts and erupts. It exhales a suffocating breath. If you are lucky, it may preserve you. Of course, these are only records of death that we place in museums to examine and contemplate  – desiccated, eyeless, skeletal. Or, the unlucky are entombed. Sometimes, they survive, trapped, like the strange out of place artifact. Lithified.

It holds secrets, some people think it holds memories. The rock and water act like a tape, they say, preserving outbursts of emotion and pain to play back later.

Certain locations have an eerie “sense of place” due to, at least in part, the special geological conditions. The phenomena sometimes are frightening. The Oracles, prophetesses, breathed the fumes issuing from the fissures, entered a frenzied state, and heard the Gods. The sky booms, balls of light rise like specters and float away.

Does the earth have a guiding or healing energy?

Does the devil favor certain places? Do spirits live in the black caverns and mines?

Is there really a gate to hell? According to legend, there are many, and certain spots feel, look and smell like it.

The rocks ring, glow, burst into flame, and explode. Nature doesn’t always make sense; we can’t see all.

Some say it is the end of time. The poles will flip, the catastrophes will worsen. In the end, we all become dust and return to the earth from where we came.

My intent with this blog is to explore the haunted earth, mysterious natural phenomena, and the strange anomalies. From ancient geomythology to modern “signs of the times”, from the atmospheric to the center core, there are hundreds of topics that fit under this spooky label. Let’s have some fun.

Dr. Tom Holtz’ talk on paranormal concepts in geology

Dr. Thomas Holtz of the Univ. of Maryland presents at Balticon 50 on May 30, 2016 his talk about paranormal concepts on the nature of our planet featuring discussions on Atlantis, Lemuria, the hollow Earth, sunken continents, a concave Earth, and everything made of Nummulitids (forams).

Holtz points out that many of these ideas were not crazy at the time but seemed plausible based on the science of the time. He connects all the idea with their founders and popularizers as well as with famous science fiction and fantasy literature that borrowed them.