Some of you will remember that a long time ago I did a series in which I reviewed the ancient textual evidence presented by ufologists Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck in their 2009 compendium Wonders in the Sky. I stopped when I came to the Middle Ages because at the time I was most interested in ancient texts. In revisiting the book, I noticed that the more recent material collected in the volume is no more accurate than their fatally flawed earlier material. One of the key problems, as I outlined in the past, is that the two authors rely on faulty translations and secondary summaries rather than consulting the original texts. Thus, for example, because they know Charlemagne’s sorcery law only from its citation in the Rosicrucian novel Comte de Gabalis rather than the original Latin text, they present the law as though it banned space aliens and UFOs rather than weather-magic.
Today I read the following passage from Wonders:
May 1652, Near Rome, Italy
So, I obviously got out the journal and turned to page 234. That page is part of a long article on unusual weather phenomena, ranging from red rain to meteors. But there is no 80 meter luminous object from 1652, an no entry for 1652 at all. This is the actual text that appears on the page, the closest I can find to their citation:
1718, March 24. Gelatinous matter fell, with a globe of fire, in the Isle of Lethy, in India.--Barchewitz.
It’s clear that the authors never consulted the original or else they would have chosen from among the rich and varied listing of ancient, medieval, and modern sightings of various things in the sky presented in the endless list.
So how did the authors screw this up? Oh, that’s easy. They misread Charles Fort and didn’t bother to check the originals he cited. Here’s Fort writing in the Book of the Damned (1919):
According to Chladni's account (Annals of Philosophy, n.s., 12-94) a viscous mass fell with a luminous meteorite between Siena and Rome, May, 1652; viscous matter found after the fall of a fire ball, in Lusatia, March, 1796; fall of a gelatinous substance, after the explosion of a meteorite, near Heidelberg, July, 1811. In the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1-234, the substance that fell at Lusatia is said to have been of the "color and odor of dried, brown varnish." In the Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-26-133, it is said that gelatinous matter fell with a globe of fire, upon the island of Lethy, India, 1718.
Notice the way Vallée and Aubeck take a clear sentence about a meteor and turn it into a mysterious “single luminous objet, 80 meters in size” by screwing up the reports (misreading the semicolon after 1652, perhaps, and thus combining phrases about Lusatia [modern Brandenburg and Saxony] with the event at Rome) and adding a random measurement, 80 meters—one whose provenance I was unable to ascertain. It might even be made up. Surely, though, the fact that they quote the words gelatinous matter should have made them see that those words were attached to a different event! If you care, and I’m sure you don’t, Fort’s source, the Annals of Philosophy 12, says only that “1652, May.—A viscous mass, after a luminous meteor, between Sienna and Rome. Miscell. Acad. Nat. Curios.; ann. 9, 1690.”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.