Category Archives: physics and cosmology

The Face in the Shroud

I intended to put this out on Easter, but as with so many things during this overwhelmed period of my life, I’m way behind. I did spend a good deal of Sunday reviewing research on this subject, finding that there was a lot more available than there had been the last time I looked.

Among the surprisingly many religious articles in my mother’s room, I found one that I’d given her myself. I bought it at the gift shop of the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. It’s a small card with the kind of double picture that changes when you hold it at different angles. One view is the familiar face found in the negative shot of the Shroud of Turin:

And the other is a reconstruction of the living face as imagined by an artist, whose name is not given:

I was so struck by the beauty and power of the artist’s conception portrait that I wanted a copy to bring home.

There is not much I can say about the Shroud of Turin that hasn’t been said already. I’m writing about it here because it is a source of continual fascination for me, as for so many others. It is one of the anomalous objects in the world that reminds us that reality is not at all what we’ve been told it is, and that we have far less understanding of what is “really” going on than we might like. No matter how one interprets the phenomenon, there is an irreducible amount of mystery. Something beyond the ordinary happened here. What exactly was it?

Here is a summary of the facts and questions about the Shroud, as my small knowledge of them permits:

We don’t know, no one can say for sure, who the Man in the Shroud really was. We can be sure of the meaning of some aspects of his image, though. What we see is a gruesome record, in literally excruciating detail, of the torture and murder of a man by the Roman state, in a way that myriad others were also tortured and murdered. This is what holds my attention above all. The terrifying injuries— the thorns piercing the scalp, the hundreds of tears made by the lash, the abrasions and bruises, the slash of the lance, and all that beyond the horror of the nails themselves— bear witness to the cruelty of human beings to their fellows. It would be difficult to believe if we did not see it right in front of us, right down to the still-obvious blood and body fluid stains. When I was a child, the nuns told us that Jesus being nailed to the cross was unusual, that most of those who were crucified were only tied to the wood. That was not true. What happened to this one whose sufferings we see so clearly in the Shroud happened to thousands.

We do know that the blood is type AB. It turns out that the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth said to have been used to wrap the face of Jesus when he was prepared for burial, is saturated with the same type of blood. Records of the Sudarium’s whereabouts over time go back about seven centuries further than those of the Shroud, lending weight to the contention that the Shroud is at least that old as well. Similarities in the placement of the stains as well as the blood itself point to the same origin as the Shroud. The shapes and contents of the stains indicate that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position, consistent with crucifixion. It must be the most historically important dirty rag on the planet.

We don’t know the age of the Shroud through testing of the cloth itself. Carbon dating done decades ago placed it in the medieval period, meaning that it had to be a fake, but since the cloth was much handled over the centuries, in addition to surviving fire and water damage, there is now agreement that it was too contaminated for carbon dating to be accurate. There is also a question about the part of the cloth that was tested, which appears to be a repair added later.

We know that pollen grains found in the cloth of the Shroud place its origin in the area of Jerusalem, and are consistent with the species of plants that would be used with a burial.

We know that the color forming the image is not paint or dye. There are simply no molecules of such things present. If the image was faked during medieval or any other times, it is very challenging to give an explanation of how the faking could have been accomplished. The contention that the Shroud is simply a fake just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The situation is more complex than that.

One theory is that a Maillard reaction, similar to the browning of bread in the oven, could have formed the brownish-yellowish image. This does not explain the holographic and X-ray like properties of the image, in which some structures that would have been behind others can be seen.

Similarly, the theory that the Shroud is an example of a medieval photograph is intriguing and more or less plausible, but it does not explain how details other than those on the surface of the body can be seen. (Although all the materials needed for photography were indeed available in the 14th century, there is no evidence that photographs were actually made anywhere at that time.) It also fails to explain the details of the wounds and patterns of bodily secretions. Neither a live body nor the corpse of a person who had died other than through this specific series of tortures would display these particular details when photographed.

So what do I think happened? I am agnostic. The most likely explanation, it appears to me, is one that raises still more questions. Some form of radiation emanated from this body and caused changes in the surface of the cloth, by a mechanism we don’t understand but may at some point be able to reproduce. I mentioned, when I described the events around my mother’s death, that a huge amount of heat was present around her body before she left it. Could a much more powerful burst of energy of some kind be released from a human body under certain circumstances? Could this perhaps have happened many times, but to bodies that were left peacefully in their graves so that we never saw the evidence? Have images like this one been imprinted upon many other burial cloths but crumbled away unnoticed in the earth?

And in this case, what happened to the body? Why was the Shroud not left in place with it? Was the body simply disinterred and moved— the obvious hypothesis— then wrapped in a fresh length of linen and buried elsewhere, with the original cloth kept as an object of veneration? Did it reanimate and walk away, as the stories say? Did it go poof and disappear in a burst of light, which formed the image?

It seems that there have been recorded cases of people who survived crucifixion, unlikely as that sounds. Could the Man in the Shroud have been one of these, and if he was Jesus, could that explain his apparent resurrection? The evidence in the cloth is against this, as the patterns of bleeding and fluid leakage look like what would be expected to occur postmortem. As far as anyone can tell, the man was dead when he was wound in the Shroud.

Is the Shroud a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle? To me, “supernatural” only means something that is natural but not yet understood. There has got to be a way of expanding our scientific understanding to encompass this phenomenon. Even if that might mean understanding how a physical body could suddenly transform into pure energy, which is one conceivable interpretation of the evidence. The physically-measurable electromagnetic signals in and around a human body, photons included, are fairly small. It’s hard to imagine how there could be enough light or other energy emitted to produce an image on a physical surface, but equally odd things have happened, and I don’t want to rule it out.

The one thing we know for sure, from studying the Shroud, is that we are creatures who have a gigantic ability to torment other members of our species. The only comfort I can find about this is that nowadays we at least give lip service to the idea that doing this is wrong, even as we keep doing it every day, all around the world.

But what I hope we’ve learned from this strange artifact is that we are also far less limited beings than we believe, and that possibilities exist that we’ve barely begun to grasp.

Article on the mysteries of the Shroud

A website giving an overview of what is known about the Shroud
The Sudarium

A reply to Nicholas Allen’s “medieval photograph” theory

The evidence of plants wrapped with the shroud, through pollen samples and images

Holographic studies of the image
‘While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from, it will remain the same, with the Shroud that is not the case. Moving around that table (lighting under an angle from one side only!), from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure WAS ALMOST OUTSIDE THE SHEET: it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20-30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw…………………nothing in my viewfinder.” “And yet,” I said “I know it by heart.” I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it.’


Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, physics and cosmology, spirituality, the unexplained

Parallel in No Time

Eckhart Tolle declared, “Suffering needs time.”  This pithy statement implies that any event in time is subject to suffering, because time is an illusion and we are bigger than it.  He goes on to say, “it [suffering] cannot survive in the now.”  Tolle has mined gold here.  Why make a big deal about events in time?  Why not dive into the eternal now moment and let time take care of itself?  As Ram Dass said in his classic book Be Here Now, “If you can be here now, when ‘then’ becomes ‘now,’ you will have superconsciousness and superawareness and know exactly what to do.”  – Alan Cohen, in his December 2012 newsletter

wave background-001

Christine visited the other day, and at one point she tried to help me get unstuck from a vexing issue by means of the Matrix Energetics techniques she’d been practicing.  She simply sat drumming her fingers on the table and doing apparently nothing else.  A wave of warmth washed over me, and suddenly the air began to shimmer and appear to move.  It was as if the very molecules were trying to shift.  And yes, my problem shifted too.

You’ve been reading my blog and similar stuff, so you know, don’t you.  You know that the world we perceive is only that, the world we perceive.  No more, no less.

One of the most obvious and all-encompassing features of this world is linear time.  The cusp of the new year, right now as I write, is one of the moments in which time, marking its passage, putting a dot at a certain spot, seems particularly significant.  But there is no absolute, one-way time that is running at the same rate and in the same order for all observers, no matter what we think we see from our limited vantage point.

Recently, in his blog at White Crow Books, Michael Tymn presented an interview with Julia Assante, PhD, author of The Last Frontier.  Dr. Assante made this striking comment:  “Individual reincarnations co-exist in the afterlife.  And they can co-exist in this life too.  I know a woman who is a reincarnation of me.  We both have the same past-life memories and share one future-life memory, even the name of the man we are going to be, a man named Bernerd, who lives about 200 years from now.*  Our other-life memories were already known to us before we ever met.  She and I simply split up into two bodies.”

Dr. Assante answered another question with this:  “You might already have guessed that I’m not much of a supporter of spiritual evolution in which we progress sequentially.  I know I have had past incarnations in which I was more advanced than I am now.  And nearly everyone is more ‘spiritually evolved’ as children than as adults.”

And the audience went nuts.  Even some folks who have read and written extremely widely on spiritual matters got quite upset at the idea that the spirit might not develop steadily in a forward direction through linear time.

All I can figure is that although they might have read spiritual classics, they’ve completely ignored the past century of physics. I don’t think they’ve consumed a lot of science fiction, either; if they had, time travel, realistic or not, would be part of their normal mental wallpaper.  I don’t mean to be too hard on these folks.  This is difficult stuff, and our brains are not built well for contemplating it.

Why is it that the illusion of linear time keeps us so entirely in its thrall, even though it’s a partial truth at best?  The best explanation I’ve seen is in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.  It is simply that the apparent arrow of time exists because of entropy.  Spilled coffee doesn’t jump back into the cup.  Rocks don’t fall upward.  Disorder inevitably increases.  Our physical brains follow this law, so our thoughts go along.

On the other hand, I can play pieces that I couldn’t in the past, implying some sort of progress through time.  On the third hand (which sure would be useful at the keyboard), if what appear to be past-life memories really are, “I” used to play far better than I do now.  But if we can add a fourth hand (and now try duets), that doesn’t matter because the larger entity can push itself into any part of the time/space continuum, so that a “more advanced” model could appear in an earlier era.

A terrific pop-physics program on PBS, The Elegant Universe, hosted by physicist Brian Greene, used the metaphor of a gigantic loaf of bread to represent an Einsteinian view of spacetime.  The angle at which you slice across the loaf determines whether a given event appears to happen before or after another.  Cause and effect goes out the window.  All of the bread is “already” there, waiting for the observer to taste one slice or another.  (You should watch that series.  Seriously.  Even if you aren’t into the science, the visuals are trippy and incredible.)

And as if that weren’t enough, there may be infinitely many other loaves.  In the views of not only Hugh Everett’s venerable Many-Worlds Interpretation but also some modern formulations of string theory, everything that can happen does, somewhere or somewhen.  Some physicists postulate that there could be infinitely many of each of us, almost the same but just slightly different, because in an infinite number of universes, there are infinite possibilities for similar events and beings to be repeated.

The trouble is that even if this is true we can never test for it or prove it; all those universes are hopelessly divided and closed off from each other, forever and ever.  But that hasn’t stopped some mystics from exploiting the idea– mere physical characteristics of the universe(s) are no barrier to the mind.  As Lucy Gillis put it, “The laboratory of parallel universe experimentation may not lie in a mechanical time machine, à la Jules Verne, but could exist between our ears.”  She quoted physicist Fred Alan Wolf: “. . . the possibility exists that parallel universes may be extremely close to us, perhaps only atomic dimensions away but perhaps in a higher dimension of space – an extension into what physicists call superspace. Modern neuroscience, through the study of altered states of awareness, schizophrenia, and lucid dreaming, could be indicating the closeness of parallel worlds to our own.”

A self-improvement teacher in his 80s, Burt Goldman, has based his entire system on this concept.  When he wants to learn to do something new, he imagines a parallel self that already has that skill.  In his mind, he goes to visit that self and minutely observes how he does what he does, then returns to normal reality able to do the same.  In this way he has taught himself to paint in various styles, to play the piano, and more.  He just immediately knows how to do it.  I’m afraid that so far I haven’t had any success trying this.  I’m intrigued, though, and willing to believe that all human capabilities are somehow “out there” in the Field and that we can capture them if we understand how.

I was introduced to the concept of parallel lives many years ago in the Seth material, so it’s been part of my mental background for much of my life.  Seth postulates something very much like Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, that whenever there is more than one possible way an event can to occur (as when a particle “decides” to go through one slit or another during an experiment), all the possible outcomes do in fact occur.  The difference with Seth’s way of looking at things is that he says we choose, consciously or unconsciously, which reality is going to manifest for us, rather than the whole thing being random and all options being equal.  “You create your reality” in this view means that you pick out what you want from among all the probable realities.  Other versions of you are doing the same, making different choices.  It’s an empowering, liberating way of seeing your life, and I think it’s very likely to be the literal truth, but it can make you a bit dizzy and perhaps distressed if you think about it for very long.  All That Is, as Seth calls it, the multiverse, is awfully large.

Seth also concurs that there is no linear time, that everything happens “all at once.”  He says that events are organized in our larger consciousness according to their intensities rather than according to which happened when.  I think we can get a taste of this even in our mundane minds, when we say we remember some long-past but crucial event “as if it was yesterday.”

Most of this discussion has been about advancement in skills and knowledge rather than about fundamental spiritual development.  I am willing to accept Dr. Assante’s assertion that we may be more spiritually evolved as children than as adults, because as we go through our temporal lives more and more junk gets into our heads and obscures what’s important.  But I also would like to think that many people transcend that accretion of junk and come to greater awareness as they age.  At any rate, it seems to me that spiritual development, whatever we may make of that term, is more a matter of opening to the awareness of what we already are than about adding anything new to ourselves.  We can forget temporal things we’ve learned– for example, a couple of years ago I could speak a little Polish, and now I can’t– but I would like to think that what we gain in awareness and understanding in the core or our being stays with us, even if we lose aspects of brain function.

When I described this post-in-progress to my mentor Mendy Lou Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, she said that what the spirit does in its “evolution” is to expand, rather than to progress in linear time.  That matches what I’ve been shown in my own visions.  The concept of expansion still implies a movement through time, but it also suggests a constantly growing network of connections, like a fractal tree in multiple dimensions, ramifying into more and more strands throughout the universe as entities become more aware and more complex and richer with experience.  Not a line, but a web, no beginning or end.

Is that woman who shared memories and future impressions with Julia Assante truly the other half of her, housed in another body?  I don’t know.  There are so many ways two human beings could conceivably share such connections.  Since all of us are essentially the same Mind manifesting in multiple bodies, the question may be moot, and I’m not worrying too much about the exact answer.

*It’s comforting to think that humans may still be here in 200 years!

Mike Tymn’s post:

Lucy Gillis, who I found while looking for Seth references, is at

NOVA’s The Elegant Universe:

Burt Goldman’s website:

Jane Roberts’ Seth material fills a number of worthwhile books.  I reread parts of  The Nature of Personal Reality while preparing to write this post.  Nowadays “you create your reality” is old hat, but when this was written it was fresh, even shocking, and it’s still great food for thought today.


Filed under channeling, past lives, physics and cosmology, spirituality