Thursday, May 28, 2009

The White Dove of Death

Harbingers of Death, some animals have a tendency to show up just prior to the passing of

some terminally ill patients.

Many times it is a domesticated animal such as a dog or cat. In some supremely paranormal incidents it can be a family pet long since deceased. It is as if the old familiar friend had come back through the veil to escort its old master into the other realm.

Emma recounted to me that when her Uncle Leonard died of cancer in the mid 90's such an incident happened to him. When she was a young girl it seemed like Uncle Leonard was always accompanied by his little terrier Scotchy. After the death of his wife they were inseparable, the little dog was his constant companion. He would lay at his feet all night while he watched TV and guarded the bedroom door as he slept. But eventually old age caught up with the little terrier and Scotchy died at an old age of 16 years. Of course her Uncle was visibly moved and he never seemed to be the same after the death of his little companion. Emma's mother tried to buy him a replacement but the elderly man insisted that he would rather have no dog than a replacement for his old friend.

Within a few months her Uncle Leonard was diagnosed with lung cancer and he quickly passed. In his last days he wished to be at home and so they aquired the assistance of a hospice nurse to care for him. They quickly bonded and the nurse was a friend as well as a caregiver in Leonard's last days. At the funeral she came to give her condolances to the family. As they talked after the service the nurse asked what would become of Leonards little terrier now that he was gone.

Emmas family stared at her in confusion. "What dog?" Emma's mother asked the young nurse.

The nurse recounted that on the last few days of Leonards life she noticed his little black terrier in the house who would curl up at on the old man's bed with him. Whenever the dog came into the bedroom it seemed that Leonard would come to consciousness and smile, calling the dog's name. In fact the night he died the dog seemed extra nervous and attentive, as if the animal knew what was about to transpire.

"I don't know how I missed that little cutie for the first few weeks I was with Leonard, did he keep Scotchy in a special room or something? I did not see him when I first tended to Leonard. I hope he has a home." she said with caring sincereity.

Emma and her family just nodded and smiled, not knowing what to make of the story. They searched the house the next day, there was no other dog in her Uncle's house. Did Scotchy come back to usher his old master into the afterlife? There are many other stories I have heard over the years of spectral animals visiting their former master's before thier death. It is as if the bond lasts beyond death.

But once in a while a wild animal will make a dramatic appearance just before the death of a loved one as well. Many find it a coincidence, but others sense there was some meaning to the strange visitation.

Author Patty A. Wilson in her new book, "Totally Bizarre Pennsylvania"tells of a common belief by the early settlers of Pennsylvania concerning such a harbinger of impending doom... The White Dove of Death...

"Within the Germanic people who first settled in Pennsylvania there was an old superstition that an omen or token of death would often appear. The omen most often associated with death was a white dove that would appear on the windowsill or in the room of the terminally ill and forewarn the family of the impending death. From along the Schuylkill region comes the following story. The names have been lost to the mists of time, but the story of the omen also ironically called “the happy bird” speaks for the belief.

One particularly cold winter a nurse was summoned to sit with an elderly woman who was seriously ill. Her family had tended her for days, but at length the local doctor had insisted that a night nurse be hired to watch over the woman.

A cold night vigil with the ill is a long and tedious affair, and so the nurse, a kindly and Godly woman, picked up the ill woman’s Bible one long night and sat down to read it by the light from a single lamp. The winds howled outside and the snow fell softly. For perhaps half an hour the good nurse read the Bible verses, but at length a slight tapping as if on glass caught her attention.

The nurse looked about for the source of the sound and quickly checked her patient who seemed to be sleeping soundly. She finally raised her lamp and suddenly caught a glimpse of movement on the windowsill. She observed a plump white bird perching on the second storey windowpane, pecking gently at the wood with its beak.

As soon as the bird realized that it had been observed, it took flight. The nurse had heard stories of birds coming to herald a death and she realized at once that this bird was an omen of her patient’s impending demise. Rather than feel sad about the woman’s death, the nurse saw the bird as a sign of coming comfort. The old woman was being called back home to Heaven and would soon end her suffering.

The nurse roused the entire house. She told them the story of the white bird that had perched upon the windowsill of the sick room. The entire family realized at once that this was an omen of death and hurried to the sick room. The family was with the old woman when she passed over. Perhaps the bird was sent so that the family would have time to say their good-byes and to be able to spend the last few hours with their aged loved one before death.

For many this is merely a superstition, and if the bird did appear they would claim that it was just a coincidence. Furthermore, some would argue, white doves would probably not be out in the middle of a brutally cold night. However, most superstitions were born of some fact and this one is as well. It is known that snow owls would occasionally stray away from their normal territory in the far north during brutal winters. Perhaps a snow owl did appear on the windowsill rather than a white dove, drawn by the light within. Perhaps the snow owl tapped upon the pane because it saw motion or a reflection. Perhaps the origin of the story is that simply to explain Or perhaps a white dove was sent from the spirit world to warn of a death and to lead the departing soul into a new land."

You can find more fascinating tales from the ancient hills and vales of one of America's oldest States in Patty's book, "Totally Bizarre Pennsylvania" available here at Amazon:

And you can read another one of her stories on my Examiner site Here:

Until Next Time,
Pastor Swope

Friday, May 22, 2009

Miraculous Healings

With the subject of faith healing a hot topic today many are examining the topic of Faith or Divine Healing.

It certainly makes the news when a family relies on faith instead of modern clinical treatments for terminal conditions for their children.

I’ll cover the overall philosophy of divine or faith healing with a common sense approach on my Examiner page. Here though, as always, I’d like to relate some stories. I believe that God can heal. I have seen it happen.

I believe also that more than not God decides not to heal.

In all my years of praying with the terminally ill, or people with serious medical conditions, I found it is not a question of faith. I have seen people of mighty faith wither and pass, even with the an army of people praying and seeking the best medical treatment.

But I have also witnessed some incredible things.

Beth was born with a birth defect. She had one leg shorter than the other and from the time of her first step she had walked with a hobble. It had other physical as well as emotional effects on her. Although attractive, she never felt accepted or normal. She felt like a freak, and although she had shoes that helped fill the gap for her short leg, she already had a curvature of the spine that still made her limp.

We went to school together at Nyack College, and one night she came to my room very excited. She was going to a traveling evangelist meeting where the speaker was a faith healer. She was going to go up and have him anoint her for healing. She was sure that God would perform a miracle because she had seen a video of the same evangelist doing for another person what she wanted so much for herself- he pulled the persons smaller leg and it grew to the same length as the other.

I smiled and wished her the best, but deep inside I felt very sad. I knew that this was an old trick that many phony faith healers used to show off to an audience. They have planted assistants with fake illnesses in the audience and perform ‘miracles’. The leg extension was a common sham. But that night as she was at the service I prayed along with her friends for a real miracle to happen.

That night about 11pm she came to my dorm. She was not limping. She was barefoot.

Not only were her legs the same length, her spine was straight.

I had not been there to witness what happened, but I was stunned by the evidence before me. I really never thought it would happen. I did not have the faith. But Beth did, and God blessed her. She told me the minister put his hand on her and she felt a burning all over her body. It was so intense that she screamed and fell down. The ushers had to escort her to the back of the stage and they told her later they feared she was going into a seizure. The heat subsided into a soothing warmth and when she got up, she was healed.

Madeline was your average 10 year old girl, she loved her Brats dolls and was active in many after school activities. She was always a talkative girl and her mother would often tell her to catch a breath between words because it seemed her mouth could never catch up to her mind. Then something changed that made her mother take notice. Her speech started to slur a bit. Not a lot, but noticeable. Her mother and her school were going to enroll her in speech therapy classes.

Then she started having the seizures.

At first she would just be sitting in front of the TV with a blank stare on her face. Her mother would have to shake her to have her come to. Then they would happen at any time and no matter how loud you screamed or tried to jostle her awake, she would remain in a frozen glare until she slowly came out of it. These episodes frightened Madeline as much as her mother, for to her it felt like she died. She just was not ‘there’ and everything would fade to black.

Their doctor thought it could be a host of problems so he ordered a CAT scan.

They found a golf ball sized tumor between her Medulla and Cerebellum.

They did a biopsy which in itself was a very painful and traumatic event for the 10 year old since she had to shave her head. But luckily it was benign. So weighing the options they decided to wait and see before having to commit to a major and dangerous surgical procedure to remove the tumor.

But within the two months from their initial discovery of the tumor it had grown to the size of a baseball. Something had to be done. Madeline’s seizures were now becoming violent and more often. They had to operate, but the doctors were blunt. There was a major chance she would not make it out of the surgery with her full mental capabilities. She could be disabled or in a vegetative state for the rest of her life.

Of course Madeline was devastated and frightened beyond belief. She prayed for some other option.

I knew her mother and I offered to come over and anoint her with oil. It is a common Biblical practice to anoint the sick with oil and ask for healing. Now I do not advertise to be a faith healer. I was trained in a Denomination that does believe in divine healing, and have met people who have a gift of healing. I was never one of those. I did have a sense when praying with others for healing whether or not God would heal though. I don’t know what kind of gift that is and needless to say I felt that He would not heal more often than not, and of course I would never let on to the sick one what my impression was.

So it was with major reservations that I came to Madeline’s house with my little bottle of oil and my Bible. I had a few people pray for her at the time I was to anoint her, and she had been put on many prayer lists. Her family and I gathered around her in a circle, and after a brief prayer I anointed her head with oil while all put there hands on her and prayed.

She too felt a strange warmth go from her head to the ends of her extremities, she told us afterwards. But there was no wiz bang moment. We all went home hoping and waiting as her next hospital visit approached in a few days.

A few weeks passed and she received another CAT scan in preparation for the physicians suggested operation. The tumor had shrunk to the size of a marble. The operation was postponed in order to see what was happening in her little body.

It has been three years. The tumor has even shrunk to even a smaller size. And Madeline has not had a seizure since she was anointed and prayed over.

Now I know I do not have a gift of healing. And neither I nor anyone present had an incredible gift of faith. Except one. Madeline trusted. And God healed.

It is a rarity, which is why some doubt; but when it does happen it is amazing.

Sometimes healings from God are not as dramatic or as full. David was 46 years old when he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer. Through chemotherapy he made it through a tough fight. After a remission period of 9 years it came back. But David could not seek treatment because he had severe heart disease and an enlarged heart. His liver was failing as well as his kidneys. He also had diabetes. The doctors gave him six months to live. David was raised a Catholic and like many had a deep childhood faith, but he had abandoned it when he became a teenager. It was not until this crisis that he trusted God for healing. He was put on many prayer lists and anointed as well.

Again there was no wiz bang moment.

In fact nothing changed. But that was over two years ago. The cancer did not go away. Nor did the cardiac, diabetes, liver and kidney problems. It seems time slowed the processes that would try so hard to steal away his life. He has had a year and a half more than the doctors had thought, and he is still alive and vibrant. He has his good days and bad, he has his days of doubt and his days of faith. But he has been miraculously sustained and given the gift of time when doctors had given him no hope.

Can we experience miraculous healings as in Biblical times today? Many people assume this just ignorant superstition. But I have experienced it first hand. Sometimes it happens not as we wish or desire, and sometimes not at all.

Even though we pray with ferverent and sincere prayers of selfless love.

It is not in our hands.

But that should not stop us from asking and praying with a sincere heart. Because like anything else in our world…

You will never know until you try.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

My Examiner article: The Truth About Faith Healing

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dead Man’s Creek and the Displaced Ones

The strangest thing happened in the hot summer afternoon near Erie in July of 1861.

A strange story, yet to anyone who loves Forteana it is an oddly familiar one as well.

In the suburban Erie township of Girard there was a large summer picnic at the Battles estate that July summer day in 1861. The Battles were a wealthy banking family in the small rural town on the Western edge of Erie County. Just 3 years earlier they had constructed the large Italianate style farmhouse that was a showcase in the local community. That summer was one of celebration; Rush Sobieski Battles had just wed Charlotte Webster, his banking partner’s sister, in late March. They had recently returned from their honeymoon and hosted that lavish feast on their lawn on that hot summer day.

After the picnic two gentlemen were taking a leisurely stroll in the acreage behind the farmhouse to enjoy the cool early evening breeze. As they descended the tiny slope in the landscape that ended in at the edge of a small creek they saw something flailing in the water a few meters up stream.

It was a body.

They rushed to the bodies side and pulled it from the creek. The body was that of a young man dressed in a military uniform. As the crown gathered to view the body, no one in the small close knit community recognized him. Then they realized the oddest part of this mystery, for the dead lad wore the military uniform of a soldier in the War of 1812…some 48 years out of time!

The uniform was new, its colors were bright and the uniform fit perfectly. The boy was never identified and the body was buried in a local cemetery. The small creek behind the Battles Mansion forever after was known by its new name, Dead Man’s Creek.

Erie Pennsylvania and the War of 1812 are forever linked because of the prominent role the city played in the naval victory of the War.

This fascinating story has been spread by word of mouth for over 100 years in the small community of Girard Pennsylvania. It has also been reported in local historian Stephanie Wincik’s book “The Ghost’s of Erie County”, however her reference work was ‘local folk tales’.

So I took to the library to see if there was any evidence in newspapers of the time that told of this displaced soldier from a War long passed.

In the summer of 1861 the American Civil War had just begun. The local newspaper, the Erie Times was full of reports of the mustering troops from the local area heading into the front lines and preparing for conflict. Every soldier entering active duty was duly noted for their service in those old local papers. And when it came to other pursuits of every day life outside of the War the attention to detail was not lacking either. While perusing the papers from 1859 to 1863 I noticed that even the most mundane news was not left unnoticed. It was front page news in the local section when someone would merely fall off their horse. In our media and entertainment soaked society today it is hard to conceive such trivialities would garner such interest, but at that time this was the only source of news and entertainment to be had outside of the theater.

Nowhere in all the editions from those years did I find any reference to a body of a mysterious soldier found anywhere in the County of Erie, let alone Girard specifically. Since the War was raging and local patriotism was at a fever pitch it is unimaginable that there would be no reference to this incident…unless it did not happen.

I contacted the Girard cemetery to ask if there were any such burials of an unknown soldier in that time frame, and there were not. Of course there were many other smaller cemeteries around at that time so it could be conceivable that the boy for 1812 was buried at some other location, but it would be almost unimaginable that an unknown soldier-no matter what the mystery surrounded his demise- would not be buried with honor in the main cemetery in the center of town only a short distance from the place that the incident took place.

So did it happen?

It reminds me of a few other rather famous…or should I say infamous incidents of displaced people roughly within the same time period.

Broadcaster and writer of the paranormal, Frank Edwards in his book "The Strangest of All"

tells of the story of young Oliver Larch,

"Christmas eve of 1889 found the countryside around South Bend, Indiana, covered with several inches of soft snow. A few miles out of the city at the farm where Oliver Larch lived with his parents, an old-fashioned Christmas party was under way.

The family minister and his wife were there, along with a circuit judge from South Bend and an attorney from Chicago who had lone been a friend of the family. After dinner they all retired to the parlor for conversation and for singing to the accompaniment of the old-style pump organ which Mrs. Larch played quite well, having been church organist for many years…

Outside the snow had stopped falling. It was about five or six inches deep, a soft and fluffy blanket that lay as as it fell, for there was no breeze on this black, starless night.

A few minutes before eleven O’clock, Oliver’s father noticed that the grey granite bucket which held the drinking water needed filling. He asked Oliver to run out to the well and bring in a bucket of fresh water. Oliver slipped on a pair of overshoes and went out the side door as his father went back into the parlor to be with the guests.

About ten seconds after Oliver closed the door behind him the adults in the front room heard him scream for help. They ran out the same door Oliver had used. Mr. Larch brought a kerosene lamp which sent its flickering yellow rays out over the snow for a few feet. Scream after scream chilled the little gathering.

‘Help! Help! They’ve got me! Help! Help! Help!’

The witnesses afterward agreed that the cries for help were coming from overhead. Somewhere up there in the stygian blackness Oliver Larch was in mortal fear, his screams growing fainter and fainter until they finally became inaudible.

By the light of the lam the men made out Oliver’s footprints in the snow. He had gone about half way to the well, which was about seventy-five feet from the house across the open yard, when his tracks ended abruptly. The grey granite bucket lay on its side in the snow about fifteen feet away on the left side of Oliver’s track. There were no other marks of any kind in the soft snow.

Just Oliver’s footprints…and the bucket…and silence."

Did this event really happen?

In his blog "A Different Perspective" author Kevin D. Randle writes that in investigating this case he came to many of the same roadblocks to verification of this displaced boy that I had faced in my efforts for the Girard story.

There are no newspaper accounts of the incident. In fact local reporters Francis K. Czyzewski and Sarah Lockerbie both wrote investigative reports for various newspapers in the 1960s about the incident and came to the conclusion that it had never happened. However there is evidence that Randle uncovers that points that the story goes back to at least 1906 if not earlier.

Another story popular in the 50s in a similar vein is that of the disappearance of David Lang. Again Frank Edwards in another book, “Stranger than Science” recounts the bizarre tale of the man’s disappearance. Mr. Lang was walking across a field on his farm to meet Judge August Peck who was coming down the road in a horse and buggy. Frank Edwards writes that:

“David Lang had not taken more than half a dozen steps when he disappeared in full view of all those present. Mrs. Lang screamed. The children, too startled to realize what had happened, stood mutely. Instinctively, they all ran toward the spot where Lang had last been seen a few seconds before. Judge Peck and his companion, the Judge’s brother-in-law, scrambled out of their buggy and raced across the field. The five of them arrived on the spot of Lang’s disappearance almost simultaneously. There was not a tree, not a bush, not a hole to mar the surface. And not a single clue to indicate what had happened to David Lang.

The grownups searched the field around and around, and found nothing. Mrs. Lang became hysterical and had to be led screaming into the house. Meanwhile, neighbors had been altered by the frantic ringing of a huge bell that stood in the side yard, and they spread the alarm. By nightfall scores of people were on the scene, many of them with lanterns. They searched every foot of the field in which Lang had last been seen a few hours before. They stamped their feet on the dry hard sod in hope of detecting some hole into which he might have fallen—but they found none.

David Lang was gone. He had vanished in full view of his wife, his two children, and the two men in the buggy. One second he was there, walking across the sunlit field, the next instant he was gone.”

It is reported that the grass where Lang disappeared had turned yellow as if some weird form of energy had whisked him off to another dimension. A dimension that was close at hand for it was also reported that Mr. Lang’s daughters still had conversations with the man at the site for day before his voice finally faded into nothingness.

Of course many familiar with Fortean stories from the last century know that this story at least is a confirmed hoax. The story of David Lang first appears in July 1953 issue of Fate magazine, authored by mystery writer Stuart Palmer. The similarities to author Ambrose Bierce’s work “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” in the 1893 collection of stories “Can Such Things Be?” make this story an obvious fake, and a plagiarized one at that. Some would also contend that the Larch disappearance was also influenced by Ambrose Bierce.

However here is where the real oddness of these fanciful stories meets unexplained reality.

In December of 1913 Ambrose Bierce, a War veteran, joined Mexican revlutionary Pancho Villa’s army as a literary observer. On December 26, 1913 Bierce wrote his friend Blanche Partington and disappeared off the face of the earth.

Life imitating art? Or a foreseen destiny manifest?

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope


On My Examiner Page:

How to know if you are dealing with a demonic entity

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Visits from the Dead

While workers in the medical field have to be some of the most rational and logical individuals of any field, if you spend some time with anyone who deals with death and dying you will eventually come across some very strange and odd stories.

Whether it be care assistants, nurses or even physicians themselves there are many in the medical field that have an amazing story to tell.

The problem is getting them to tell it.

Like in any other field of work there are many of those who doubt and mock the stories of the unexplained. And perhaps those in the medical profession are more suspect of such stories; since many are surrounded by death and dying constantly but few ever have an unexplained experience. And unless you are a good friend most of those who experience the paranormal at the medical workplace will keep quite about their experiences.

But if you are fortunate to have them share their brief encounters with the unexplained, you often find they are some of the most heartwarming and assuring you have ever encountered...

Read the story on my Examiner page Here:

Sorry for the May Delay!

I'll be putting out some new stories every week for the rest of the month!