“GOING INSANE THROUGH SENSORY DEPRIVATION” and More Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

“GOING INSANE THROUGH SENSORY DEPRIVATION” and More Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

GOING INSANE THROUGH SENSORY DEPRIVATION” and More Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

According to the song, silence is golden. And it really can be; there are plenty of times when we just want to shut everything out and relax in peace and quiet. But silence isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, either, and too much silence can drive you mad. It all starts with being able to hear your own organs working, and after about 45 minutes, you’ll start to hallucinate. Silence—and other types of sensory deprivation—can do some weird things to the body and mind… and to the planet. (The Disturbing Effects of Sensory Deprivation) *** Human history reports strange sightings in the skies with the appearance of three suns, unnaturally shaped clouds, and fireballs in the sky. Do all of these ancient eyewitness accounts have a natural explanation, or could we be seeing reports of extraterrestrial visitations in centuries past? (Flying Saucers In The Clouds) *** A U.S. Air-Force chaplain is called to duty not against a human enemy – but a spiritual one. (Air Force Exorcist) *** According to oral tradition, a pair of witches came up from the underworld bringing the Native American Zuni people two gifts… and one of those gifts was death. (Zuni Witchcraft) *** (Originally aired April 02, 2021)
Listen to ““GOING INSANE THROUGH SENSORY DEPRIVATION” and More Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.

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“Zuni Witchcraft” by Kathy Weiser for Legends of America: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/33khzyfm
“The Disturbing Effects of Sensory Deprivation” by Knowledge Nuts, Debra Kelly for List Verse and Allison P. Davis for The Cut: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/5hkbkujc, https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yhzp72rf,https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/d532kr33
“Flying Saucers In The Clouds” by A. Sutherland for Message to Eagle: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/jexh43uj
“Air Force Exorcist” by Erica Earl for Military.com (link no longer available)

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The quietest room in the world is at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis. Engineered to keep out as much noise as possible and absorb noise rather than reflect it, it has an average sound level of about –9 decibels (while most of us would call about 30 decibels a comfortably quiet level). Spending time alone in the room means that you can hear nothing but your own organs working, and it’s such an unsettling experience that it’s led to hallucinations and a record time spent in the room of 45 minutes.

Some days, all we want is silence. We’ve spent the whole day listening to phones ringing, people talking, music playing, and kids screaming, and it can seem like there’s nothing more needed than some time spent in complete and total silence.

But just what is silence?

On average, we think of a room with a sound level of 30 decibels as being pretty comfortably quiet. The ambient sounds of a peaceful country setting—birds, water running in the distance, the rustling of trees—is somewhere around 40 decibels, and the sound of our breathing is about 10 decibels.

The anechoic chamber is a room that has a sound level of –9 decibels. The term means “no echo,” and these specially designed chambers absorb sound rather than reflecting it, creating a chamber with an amazing amount of absolute nothingness. The walls are lined with sound-proof, wedge-shaped structures and the floor is a mesh material. Any sound that you do hear, you hear exactly as it is created, with no echoes, reflections, or distortions.

Most anechoic chambers are built for universities or government research facilities, but there’s an independently owned one in Orfield Labs in Minneapolis and it’s been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Quietest Place on Earth. The lab was, ironically, once a sound studio that hosted artists like Bob Dylan and Prince. Now, it’s home to this deeply, deeply disturbing room that does have a practical purpose—testing experimental technology from computer parts to medical supplies and hearing aids. When your phone lights up or the lights on your car’s dashboard come on, you don’t hear it at all—and that’s probably in part because it’s been tested in a chamber like the one in Minneapolis.

Anechoic chambers are even used by NASA to train astronauts to cope with the complete lack of sound that they can experience. They need a crash course in this, because no matter how crazy a day we’ve had, absolute silence can drive us crazier.

Absolute silence is filled by the sound of your own body. You can hear your breathing, your heart beating, you can hear the blood in your veins. You can hear your pulse, you can hear your bones rub against each other, you can hear your skin sliding over your muscles. You can hear tendons creak, organs churning . . . and that’s usually about the point where people start hearing things that aren’t really there.

It starts with hallucinations of noise as the brain tries to fill in what we’re so used to being surrounded by. That can lead to nausea and panic attacks. With no sound, there are also no echos to orient yourself, and that just makes the sensations worse.

Sit in the dark, and it’s much, much worse. Without external stimuli, coordination and balance fail, hallucinations start, and within minutes many people are asking to be let out. Most people are insufferably uncomfortable after about 30 minutes. The rare person can last 45 minutes or so, but that’s about the limit of our ability to deal with such complete sensory deprivation.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.


Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode…

Human history reports strange sightings in the skies with the appearance of three suns, unnaturally shaped clouds, and fireballs in the sky. Do all of these ancient eyewitness accounts have a natural explanation, or could we be seeing reports of extraterrestrial visitations in centuries past? (Flying Saucers In The Clouds)

A U.S. Air-Force chaplain is called to duty not against a human enemy – but a spiritual one. (Air Force Exorcist)

According to oral tradition, a pair of witches came up from the underworld bringing the Native American Zuni people two gifts… and one of those gifts was death. (Zuni Witchcraft)

According to the song, silence is golden. And it really can be; there are plenty of times when we just want to shut everything out and relax in peace and quiet. But silence isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, either, and too much silence can drive you mad. It all starts with being able to hear your own organs working, and after about 45 minutes, you’ll start to hallucinate. Silence—and other types of sensory deprivation—can do some weird things to the body and mind… and to the planet. (The Disturbing Effects of Sensory Deprivation)

If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!


Sensory deprivation can take you to the edge of insanity – and in extreme cases, over the edge. But you don’t have to believe me – here is what Allison Davis wrote after her experience…

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Before I visited Brooklyn’s new Lift/Next Level “float spa,” my entire understanding of sensory-deprivation tanks was limited to an episode of The Simpsons: In “Make Room for Lisa,” Lisa Simpson floats in a coffin-size tub and hallucinates that she’s entered the body of her cat, Snowball… The modern incarnation I encountered was a Zen-like space in Cobble Hill, where you must take off your shoes and everybody whisper-speaks peaceful things at you before you begin your journey. My journey, I was whisper-told, would start in one of the spa’s ‘Ocean Float Rooms,’ as opposed to the claustrophobia-inducing coffin-like pod that most people think of when they imagine a sensory-deprivation experience. Ocean Float Rooms, the attendant whisper-boasted, were better for first-timers. The rooms have six-foot-high ceilings adorned with twinkling LED constellations; I’d be able to stand up fully. In practice, this meant something like a liquid-filled mausoleum — a small, enclosed watery space that was still reminiscent of a container for dead people. The attendant whisper-instructed me to get naked, take a shower, put Vaseline on any open wounds, and prepare to float my way into enlightenment. And then I was alone. Initially, what I discovered was where exactly all my unhealed cuts were: Nothing like a thousand pounds of Epsom salt mixed into ten inches of water to remind you of that blister on the back of your foot. Once I was situated, at first, all was well. My body floated around like a little buoy. I felt like I was headed someplace spiritual, someplace deeper. I decided to turn off all the lights and enter full sensory-deprivation mode, which is when things started to go to hell… Lying in the darkness, I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything save for my own breathing and the drip of the tank’s filter system. I adjusted my leg, flooding another cut with saltwater, and suddenly all I could focus on was an intense burning spreading through my ankle as the saltwater entered the wound. Is this sepsis? I thought. Will I get sepsis? What is sepsis, even? Then a little bead of saltwater rolled into my ear and I started to panic. My whisper guide had pointed out some vinegar that I was supposed to use to flush my ears in case saltwater got into them and I hadn’t asked what would happen if saltwater did remain in my ear. Now I was having a flashback to some girl at camp when I was 10: She’d gotten river water in her ears and for whatever reason it made her barf every day. They took her away to the infirmary, and we never saw her again. Was I going to die barfing? And is this what it would have felt like to be ON THE TITANIC??? I started thinking about how many thoughts my brain was able to form in mere seconds. A voice from somewhere else in my brain started commenting on those thoughts, and judging me for not being able to stop thinking them, thereby forming more very loud thoughts. I couldn’t figure out how many minutes or hours I’d been in the tank, and that’s when I realized there was no panic button in here, and everything became a jumble of death-barf-panic-sepsis-what-is-sepsis thoughts… Before entering my Ocean Float Room, I had been told that the experience would heighten my senses: The world would seem more vibrant, so I should think carefully about what I wanted to see, feel, hear, taste, and feel immediately after leaving. If I had it my way, I’d have eaten pizza and had sex, but sadly, it was a workday. I biked off into Brooklyn, which smelled extra like pee.


Allison’s story is not unique. It’s easy to freak out if you’re not used to being deprived of your senses. But there are many more sensory deprivation situations than just floating in saltwater in the dark. Each one more terrifying than the next. We’ll look at a few when Weird Darkness returns.



Allison’s story of the Ocean Float Room, as they called it, is just one story of sensory deprivation. There are several types of sensory deprivation, and not all of them are as pleasant as the nightmare Allison went through.

Complete Darkness. We’re talking about complete, absolute darkness, not the darkness of the average night. Even in the deepest night, there’s usually some kind of ambient light. Even when the power’s out, there’s still light coming in from outside. But researchers from the University of Rochester have found that even in absolute darkness, we still think we see. Outfitting people with sensors that tracked eye movements and then engulfing them in darkness, they found that about half of us can actually see in the dark. At least, we think we can. Two groups of volunteers were outfitted with what they were told were different types of blindfolds. One was said to allow in a small amount of light, while the other wouldn’t allow them to see anything. In reality, both blindfolds blocked out all light, and when the volunteers were asked to wave their hands in front of their faces, computers tracked their eye movements. About half of the subjects could track the movement of their hand without hiccups or false starts and stops, suggesting that their eyes actually had something to focus on. That’s because of the connectivity between the brain’s movement and visual centers. When the brain knows that something’s happening, it’s enough to trigger a reaction in the visual centers of the brain—what Vanderbilt University psychologists call a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” The connection between what the brain expects to see and what the eyes really do see might one day shed light on the weird phenomenon of synesthesia, when stimuli cause a reaction in senses that aren’t impacted in most people, like smelling colors.

Darkness is one of those things that you expect to be all around us all of the time, but to get a true sense of darkness, there are a limited number of places on Earth that you can still go. The International Dark Sky Association keeps track of light pollution and monitors how much darkness you really get in places across the globe, designating the darkest of dark areas as International Dark Sky Places.

Most of the time, we now exist in a sort of sensory overload, rather than sensory deprivation, when it comes to light. Light pollution is everywhere, and it’s a huge problem. It disrupts the circadian rhythms of humans and animals alike, and that alone has an impact which is compounded as you move through an ecosystem.

So where do you go for a complete sensory deprivation from artificial light and light pollution? Dark sky parks and reserves are the best places to go, recognized for their pollution-free dark skies and, consequently, their unprecedented stargazing. Places like the (gold-tier) Dark Sky Reserve on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula, the (gold-tier) NamibRand IDSR in Africa, and the (silver-tier) Westhavelland IDSR are among the best locations. There are some communities that are even trying to become darker, like the Dark Sky community on Scotland’s Isle of Coll.

Preserving the darkness might seem like an odd thing, but it’s something that even the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is getting involved with. Until fairly recently, light pollution wasn’t a thing. Generations upon generations of people looked up at the night sky in a way that we’ll never be able to truly experience in many places. The night sky over cities is a sight that we’ll never actually see in our lifetimes, and they’re trying to preserve some of the dark areas that are left and keep them the same way that our ancestors saw them.

What about the world’s last quiet places? True silence isn’t just the absence of talk; it’s the absence of the background hum of computers, of traffic in the distance, and—one of the most difficult things to get away from—of airplanes. Even the most quiet of sounds, those we don’t even really recognize as sounds, are received and rearranged by our auditory systems and manifest as tinnitus, most scientists agree. One can experience artificial silence in places like Minnesota’s sound deprivation room, but that’s not the same thing as being out in the world and surrounded by silence.

One researcher from Auckland University described his time in Antarctica, and being the only living thing for miles, as primeval. It was a very, very different type of silence than what’s found in a chamber, a silence that has to be experienced to be believed.

But even in Antarctica, those same scientists are adding noise with their remote outposts, weather monitoring equipment, and boats. Planes are regularly routed over remote areas like the Sahara Desert, the North Pole, and Siberia. One ecologist on a quest for a place on Earth untouched by human sounds went deep into the Amazon rainforest, 1,900 km (1,200 miles) from civilization . . . and still came back with recordings of airplanes.

The general consensus is that there’s no place on Earth that you can go and not hear something manmade or artificial fairly regularly. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to declare various places to be pretty quiet, even areas like a natural retreat in Northumberland. These places notwithstanding, it’s now thought that we simply can’t go anywhere anymore without something interrupting us.

So what happens if you suddenly stop providing input to your vocal cords? While there are some conditions that make speech impossible, it’s a different thing entirely to take a vow of silence and simply stop talking.

Perhaps strangely (especially in a world where dedication to a cause knows no bounds, leading some to record every waking moment in their diaries), it doesn’t seem like anyone’s actually made the commitment to test out just what happens when you swear to a lifetime of silence for science. There are theories, though, and they’re pretty fascinating.

One suggestion, from a Los Angeles speech pathologist, is that absolutely nothing would happen, as there are plenty of other things that you use those same muscles for, like breathing or clearing your throat. That’s certainly supported by patients who wake from comas after a long period of time and can still speak.

But there might be some more devastating consequences than just atrophied vocal cords, and the brain could suffer them. Scientists from NYU’s Center for Neural Research suspect that while talking might not be required for keeping your vocal cords from becoming atrophied, it might be helping to keep the same thing from happening to your brain. Certain areas of the brain can become larger or stronger depending on how often they’re used. For example, the area that governs musical ability is larger in a professional musician. The opposite is likely to happen, too. Neurons that control speech would no longer be used, and it’s likely that those neurons would be requisitioned by other parts of the brain to do other things. While that might in part be negated by the parts of the brain that are responsible for the listening part of conversation, it’s also supported by the brain structure and acute listening ability that people who have been blind for a long period of time have developed. The flexibility of the brain means that it’s likely that deciding to stop forcing sensory input into talking would shrink the part of the brain responsible for it.

Have you heard of the Leningrad Metronome? In 1941, Nazi troops laid siege to Leningrad. It would last for a staggering 872 days, and by the end, nearly one million people would be dead. Some were killed in combat and bombings, while countless people died of starvation waiting for the siege to end.

Descriptions of the conditions within the city are a different kind of sensory deprivation than what comes from inside a water-filled tank. Cold weather and starvation made people even colder, and most public places started to close. Trains stopped, snow filled the streets, and water pipes froze and burst. Freezing, poorly heated apartments became makeshift morgues, and corpses and human waste piled up outside. Those that lived were forced into extreme, despairing isolation. Even gender differences began to fade, along with traditional social roles and identities.

Isolation and deprivation from human contact and normal, everyday lives became greater and greater, and many began to cling to the sounds of their radios. There were fewer and fewer broadcasts as the siege went on, but there was one sound that filled the city of silence, dying people—a metronome.

The Leningrad metronome was played continuously, ticking slowly when all was well. People remembered clinging to the sound as though it were a heartbeat, a reminder that there were other people out there through the loneliness, hunger, pain, and death. The metronome would double in speed when there was an incoming air raid, but when it returned to its normal, steady, 50 beats per minute, it was the maddening sound of resistance and reassurance that even in the most extreme times, people were not alone.

One of the problems with determining just what’s going on with extreme cases of sensory deprivation is an ethical one. How far can you push people before you’re endangering their sanity, and just how much nothingness can the mind recover from? John Lilly started his experiments in 1954, and while he’s perhaps most famous for his odd relationship with dolphins, he also invented the idea of the sensory deprivation tank. Original tanks were a little different than the ones we see today, requiring the wearing of some horrifying blackout masks and total submersion. Gradually, that was adjusted to something a little less terrifying, but listening to Lilly’s claims of his experiences are truly bizarre.

Lilly claimed that absolute sensory deprivation allowed him to come into contact with creatures from another dimension. The tank acted as a portal, allowing him to leave his body behind and enter into a sort of mind meeting with other beings that discussed him as their agent on Earth, whose work was temporarily influenced by what he called “psychoanalysis,” or the process of learning how to remain human while being controlled by, relating to, and doing the work of these otherworldly beings. The entity in control of those beings was called ECCO, or the Earth Coincidence Control Office, and Lilly got to the point where every time he went into the tank, he made contact. He never had an end goal in mind, he said, because that would have been just crazy.

Sensory deprivation and out-of-body experiences (which can also be done with dolphins and apparently allows him to link up with the dolphin hive mind) open the gateway to a whole different sort of reality. Of course, this probably also had something to do with the fact that as a precursor to his experiments, he took LSD and ketamine. It was after doing so that he reported such breakthroughs as getting into a mental state that allowed him to connect with dolphins that were looking beneath the floor to see the stars on the other side of the planet.

While sensory deprivation is the lack of external stimuli, boredom is the lack of interesting external stimuli. It turns out that it’s a weirdly complicated thing, too, and even though we’ve tried to measure it in countless ways, it’s still pretty elusive.

Some people are more easily bored than others, and generally, it’s been found that men are bored more often than women. There are a couple of different scales that have been created to try to measure boredom, but they’re all highly debated. One thing that has been noticed by those who study the phenomenon of boredom (yes, that’s a job) is that there are significant similarities between people who are chronically bored and those who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries. When one researcher was working with patients suffering from brain injuries, one of the common questions was to ask them if they felt bored.

Every one said “yes.”

Just what the connection is, however, is still up for debate. That same researcher, from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, suggests that the higher levels of endorphins found in brain injury patients have something to do with elevating the entertainment threshold. Higher levels mean that it takes more to keep their brains occupied and more to supply the stimuli to make the brain happy. These findings indicate a serious potential for finding a major key in overcoming addictions to dangerous behavior, especially things like alcoholism, drug abuse, and gambling.

People who are easily bored are constantly looking for new ways to fight the boredom, and that makes them more likely to turn to risky behaviors in an attempt to make their environments more interesting. Understanding how the brain works in chronically bored people might help us understand addiction better. For instance, if the root cause is elevated levels of endorphins that make a person repeatedly turn to risky behaviors for fun, then we can figure out how to alleviate that pressure to take bigger and bigger risks for the same levels of enjoyment. Teaching addicts how to fill the boredom gap with other, less risky behaviors might also have a huge impact on recovery. According to studies done by methadone clinics, many addicts said they turned to their addiction when they were bored.

There has also been compelling evidence that the more bored you are, the more likely you are to develop health issues. In 1985, British researchers began a study by collecting information on the boredom levels of civil servants. A few decades later, they went back to see if there was a correlation between boredom, health issues, and dying young. There was, suggesting that external stimuli aren’t just keeping us entertained; they’re keeping us alive.

Not being able to smell or taste anything is a hugely understudied type of sensory deprivation, which is even more surprising considering how widespread it is. Estimates from smell- and taste-loss charity Fifth Sense suggest that about 5 percent of the population in the United Kingdom alone suffer from an inability to smell. Called anosmia, it means constantly living with a condition that most of us only experience when we have a cold. It can be caused by things like head trauma, frontal lobe damage, or nasal polyps, and the consequences can be life-changing.

The majority of people who can’t smell or taste report chronic feelings of loneliness and isolation. Depression is common, too, and it’s not surprising. Not being able to truly share or understand a good meal or a fine wine with friends and family can be incredibly isolating.

There are also potential health risks associated with not being able to smell. If you lack the ability to perceive potentially dangerous smells like gas, smoke, or spoiled food, you’re likely to spend more time sick from them. Smell is also a major factor in bonding with other people. It’s the experience of a favorite perfume, cologne, or detergent, the association of roses with a birthday, or the making of happy memories. Without a sense of smell to remind us of those memories, it’s no wonder that life can seem pretty one-dimensional.

It’s made even weirder with the fact that an estimated 90 percent of people can overcome the condition with treatment. It’s never been on the top of medical radar, though, in part because of the perception that losing the ability to detect smell is less important than other types of conditions which deprive a person of a sense—like deafness or blindness.

Something you might not know about is something called Black Patch Delirium. And yes, it’s as terrifying as it sounds. This one’s a bizarrely specific type of disorder brought on by a very specific sort of sensory deprivation. The term “black patch delirium” was coined by Avery Weisman and Thomas Paul Hackett Jr. in 1958, and it describes the mental state of otherwise healthy patients who go through eye surgery and are required to wear eye patches afterward. Visual hallucinations are common and are described as similar to those suffering from another disorder—Charles Bonnet syndrome.

Charles Bonnet syndrome was first described in 1760, diagnosed in Bonnet’s 87-year-old grandfather. Nearly blind, he was nevertheless seeing incredibly complex hallucinations, including people and animals. It was differentiated from other types of hallucinations by the fact that he was otherwise healthy and understood that the hallucinations were not real.

There’s more to the hallucinations with black patch delirium, though. Associated with the sensory deprivation that comes along with the eye patches (and possibly helped along by the medications that might go along with surgery), it was described as being not just hallucinations, but full-blown delirium.

Even today, cataract and other similar surgeries require the removal of bright light and stimulus for recovery, but today’s post-operative eye surgery procedures were developed with prevention of black patch delirium in mind.

And then there is the horrifyingly sad reality of children who were either born into or lived in some type of sensory deprivation.

We all know that neglect and sensory deprivation can be crippling to a child, but any real scientific research on the impact of such an environment is obviously pretty unethical. Sadly, the world has a way of providing, and in 2000, researchers from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland started working on a study of 136 Romanian children left either in foster care or in government-run orphanages. The comparison allowed them to track just what kind of impact sensory deprivation—especially of touch—has on children.

Under Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanian women were tasked with bearing pretty high numbers of children, and that left about 150,000 of them in state-run institutions that were ill-equipped to deal with so many kids. This meant that babies were left lying in cribs, and one caregiver was in charge of as many as 25 toddlers. In rural facilities, children were simply tied to their beds.

Some stayed there for years.

What they found was horrible. Charles Nelson, pediatric professor at Harvard, talked about the unearthly silence that would greet researchers when they walked into the facilities. Most babies and young children were cross-eyed; with nothing to look at and focus on, their eye muscles didn’t develop. Physical growth was stunted; children that might look like little more than five or six years old were really teenagers. Lack of sensory stimulation led to a lack of growth hormone, and the universally low IQs found in the institutionalized children pointed to environmental causes, not genetic.

Researchers, including Nelson, recruited and trained a group of foster families to see if they could reverse the damage that had been done to the children in their early years of neglect. Over the course of five years, researchers charted the development of the institutionalized children, the children removed to foster care, and another group of children being raised by their own parents.

They found that children who were removed from institutions and exposed to all of the sensory stimuli and care of a regular family recovered fairly quickly, but not completely, and only if they were young enough. While many quickly caught up in terms of things like motor development, sitting, and walking, there were still high rates of things like ADHD, repressed brain activity, and small heads.

For Nelson, that seemed to cement the idea that there are critical ages when children learn some of the basic skills needed throughout life. Suffering sensory deprivation at a young age can, in some cases, be irreversible.


When Weird Darkness returns… human history reports strange sightings in the skies with the appearance of three suns, unnaturally shaped clouds, and fireballs in the sky. Do all of these ancient eyewitness accounts have a natural explanation, or could we be seeing reports of extraterrestrial visitations in centuries past? (Flying Saucers In The Clouds)

But first… according to oral tradition, a pair of witches came up from the underworld bringing the Native American Zuni people two gifts… and one of those gifts was death. (Zuni Witchcraft) That story is up next.




Like many other indigenous tribes of the United States, the Zuni believed in magic and witchcraft. For the Zuni, the belief in witchcraft goes back to their earliest times, included in Zuni creation myths. According to oral tradition, a pair of witches came up from the underworld bringing the people two gifts: death, to keep the world from becoming overcrowded, and corn, to feed the people.

Magical powers were not always differentiated as good or evil, with the people using their magical skills for a number of purposes. In fact, the concept of a witch was tied to the concepts of life and human origin, with the people believing that witches existed alongside humans, and not apart from other living beings. Thus, they were not supernatural. The Tewa believed that witches accompany people daily and are defined as those “of a different breath.” However, they had a different physical and spiritual existence, not like “common” humans. Rather, they had to live on the unexpired lives of their victims, by capturing or indoctrinating their souls. Further, they had to continually kill or perish themselves.

Because of this requirement to continually kill, witchcraft was blamed for any disaster of magnitude, like droughts, epidemic diseases, or a flood. Further, any disharmony among the people or infractions of proper behavior were also equated with witchcraft. At one point, witchcraft among the Zuni was the only recognized crime.

The Council of High Priests decided who the witches were and the Bow Priests were tasked for their executions. Because the council was supposed to be removed from any type of violence, the Bow Priests, who were associated with war, enforced their decisions. The Bow Priests were also responsible for examining the accused and reviewing the evidence. If the accused was found guilty, he was hung by the wrists and tortured until he confessed. If the accused revealed the source of his/her power, he might be released or, at least, saved from execution.

Though the Spanish, when they ruled the Southwest, tried to change the culture of the Pueblo tribes, including their belief in witchcraft, they were unsuccessful. After the Pueblo Revolt, the Spanish relaxed their restrictions on the Pueblo culture, and the belief in witchcraft continued. When the United States obtained New Mexico and other areas of the southwest, Indian agents were sent out to monitor the Indians and to once again, attempt to change their culture. Over the years, several reports were made regarding Zuni witchcraft and its punishment.

Reports indicated that in March 1855 Indians of the Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico butchered three men and one woman of their village, in a most horrible manner, for alleged witchcraft. In 1880, an Indian agent reported seeing a man who was tied up by his wrists behind his back and lifted so that his feet could not touch the ground. The Zuni said that he had brought sickness and death to some of the people. The agent reported the incident to his superiors at Santa FeNew Mexico, who came to the Zuni to hold a council. When questioned, the Indians replied, “We have our government and laws, and what has happened is all right. We do not want you to interfere, but we want you to allow us the same privileges as you white people claim.” And they added, “If you will tend to your own business we will tend to ours.”

Another report indicated that a Zuni Indian killed a woman of the same pueblo, believing her to be a witch and that she had caused the death of his children. In August 1889, accusations of witchcraft were agitated because of drought. It was said that someone must be keeping away the rain. A poor old man was accused and he was hung up by his wrists tied behind his back. After he confessed, they let him down. After he received more threats, the man left the pueblo and a Mexican, who took pity on him, gave him a home. The drought continued and the witch excitement spread. In October an old woman was hung up in like manner, as a witch, until she confessed. She then implicated her nephew, a boy of 16 years, a common thief. He was hung in the same way; was let down once or twice; was beaten about his head with sticks; was then hung again, remained hanging all night and all day until he died the next night. A dozen Americans saw the hanging. One gentleman tried to cut the boy down, but was forbidden to interfere and told, “none American’s business.”

In an Indian Agent report of 1892, it was recorded:

“This evil still goes on. The victims are often those who depart from the old pueblo customs and incline to the ways of civilized life. In the estimation of the ruling Zuni, what we call progress is the most criminal of offenses and must be trodden out by the most summary and vindictive tortures. While this report was waiting the printer, early in December, two Zuni Indians with whom I talked freely last July were seized and subjected to the witch torture methods. They were probably the most progressive of any people in the pueblo. Seized, violently seized, they were strung up by their wrists, beaten with war clubs, and kept hanging all night, all the next day, and until 10 o’clock the second night. They were let down occasionally for a few moments to induce confession but suffered indescribable torture. To end the suffering, they finally confessed that they were witches; and, were let off when life was almost gone. Some perish in these tortures. I asked an intelligent gentleman, a resident in this pueblo for twelve years, “How often do these witch cases occur?”

He replied:

“One nearly every year, either resulting in death or being run off from the pueblo, sometimes followed and killed. Some years more than one. Half a dozen Americans have witnessed some cases. No Zuni Indian has been brought to justice and punished for these outrages; but, now three men are arrested for the late offenses and in jail awaiting trial. They are undoubtedly not the guilty parties. The real offenders, men of influence in managing the affairs of the pueblo, turned over to the authorities these three poor men who were unable to help themselves, and expect thus to clear their own skirts.”

In 1898-99 a smallpox epidemic was blamed for witchcraft and in 1910-11, a measle epidemic was also blamed on sorcery. During the smallpox epidemic, two young men were held responsible. They would have been executed except for an American school teacher who got a detachment of soldiers to protect them. Though the “witches” were saved, some of the soldiers and their horses later died of poisoning.

The U.S. government stopped the Zuni’s public torture and execution of witches, but, some convicted witches were still killed in secret. The last public witch trials of the Zuni were in 1925; however, a belief in witchcraft remained for many years.


Since the beginning of time, people have been looking at the sky observing celestial bodies, and unexplained atmospheric phenomena. Historical records reveal that people from all cultures and times have also observed oddly-shaped clouds and lights in the sky.

Ancient people could not always explain them as comets, planets Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, three stars of Orion’s Belt, or perhaps Sirius, the dog star located to the left of Orion.

How do we explain the sightings of three suns or funnel-shaped clouds on fire and other unusual atmospheric phenomena? Are some of the weird objects seen in the skies cloaked UFOs?

On June 6, 1797, the English newspaper Brighton Advertiser reported a very interesting sighting that cannot be classified as a normal and natural atmospheric phenomenon.

This extraordinary incident took place in the afternoon between the hours of 4 and 5 in St. Malo, a ring walled old town and port in Brittany in northwestern France on the English Channel.

The newspaper wrote that “three perfect suns were seen all in a row above the western horizon. The sky was very clear at the time, and there was no one who saw the unusual sight that believed it to have been a mirage or other atmospheric illusion. The central seemed more brilliant than his two luminous attendants, and between the three there seemed to be a communication in the shape of waves of light composed of all the prismatic colors. At about the same time a rainbow made its appearance at a short distance above the central sun, upside down – that is to say, the two ends pointed toward the zenith and the bow’s neel: toward the horizon.

What did the inhabitants of St. Malo really observe in the sky? Could the “three suns” aligned “all in a row” be brightly shining unidentified flying objects?

Throughout the ages, people of all nations and backgrounds have seen strange clouds in the skies. Ancient Indian manuscripts mention Vimanas that were highly advanced space vehicles used by the gods. Present in the sky of India, these powerful flying machines were powered by using certain chemicals, and a pilot of a Vimana was able to cloak his flying machine and give it the appearance of a cloud.

Strange clouds, which have been visible in the same place for hours have also been witnessed by humans throughout the history of mankind and still are, even in modern times. The Bible offers many good examples of such “clouds”, which were the most common description used when referring to Yahweh’s flying machines.

It is said that Yahweh was moving around the skies in thick, swift, bright, dark, low, huge, and fiery clouds. Possibly all types of clouds one can think of. Moses frequently mentioned the presence of the cloud chariots: “The Lord descended in the cloud”; “The Lord came down in a cloud”; “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way and by night in a pillar of fire.” The prophet Daniel was another who described the use of a cloudy chariot for cosmic transportation.

On August 1, 1888, at 1 o’clock a strange phenomenon was witnessed in Monroe, Georgia, USA. Mr. H.C. Harrison heard a loud noise and went outside to see what was happening.

According to The New York Times August 2, 1888: “Though the sky was clear and sun shining in all its splendor a small funnel-shaped cloud was seen approaching from the southwest at a rapid rate, attended with a rumbling sound like thunder. The whirling body rose and fell and occasional reports were heard described as sounding like an explosion of oil barrels on fire. The body passed between Mr. Harrison’s house and the colored Baptist church and crossed the street. It then turned in the direction of the old Stilwell place. In crossing a sandy flat a shaft of sand was elevated high in the air, having the appearance of almost a solid pillow. The body afterward assumed the appearance of fire and great flaming tongues emerged from the top of as from a burning building, emitting heat for some distance, which was felt by those who witnessed the scene. In passing through a cotton patch some leaves were scorched to a crisp and others on the same stalk were unharmed. The body passed into a skirt of pines and disappeared.”

Did Mr. Harrison perhaps see an extraterrestrial craft that used clouds as a form of camouflage to move around unnoticed?

In 1973, physicist David Kubrin and his wife were visiting the Pinnacles National Monument in California. They suddenly noticed a light streak by just above the treetops, producing shockwaves in the air. Then it stopped without deceleration, as if weightless. The light was basically ovoid in form, and as it stopped it seemed to go into a spin, causing its light to dissipate. It lost its shape and merged somewhat with the surrounding air. David Kubrin took a photo when the object began spinning. It should be noted that beneath the Pinnacles there is a cave system largely still unexplored by archaeologists. Unfortunately, there are no surviving Indian legends that refer to the use of the caves.

Another incident that can easily be classified under the category unexplained atmospheric phenomena occurred on February 11, 1922, when a mysterious fireball was seen off the Brazilian coast.

On the arrival of the Lamport and Holt Liner, Vauban from South American ports, Frank C. Blessing, the second officer reported witnessing an unusual astronomical phenomenon, which lit up the ship and startled people on deck.

According to the New York Times on February 20th, 1922: “The officer said he was in charge of the bridge at bells in the first watch at 9:30 P.M. when he saw a huge ball of fire rise above the horizon in the West and describe a low arc ahead of the ship and disappear below the horizon. When he took his observations the fireball, which was as large as the full moon in the Southern hemisphere and surrounded by a flaming halo, lighting up the sky and sea, was about 10 degrees above the horizon. It was traveling at great speed and was in sight three minutes and twenty seconds.”

In describing the strange sight Officer Blessing said: “The ball was very fiery and a brilliant red, with a tall and long fiery trail, which lit up the sea in all directions. The ship, and for a quarter of a mile around, was lit up like day, and the light was so brilliant that it dimmed the lamp in the binnacle and the smoking room lights, which caused passengers inside to rush out on deck to see what was the matter. I was scared at the strange sight because I thought it had to do something with the end of the world. It was too large for a meteor and came up from the horizon on the west and did not drop from the zenith. I could not estimate how far it was from the ship when it passed across the bows. I called the Captain to see it but by the time he reached the bridge the ball of fire had disappeared. I cannot imagine what it could have been and the astronomers attached to the observatories could not explain it to me. When we arrived at Rio de Janeiro the scientists from the observatory came on board and questioned me as to the time I had seen the phenomenon and what it was like, and the same thing took place in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. From what the astronomers told me the big ball of fire must have been visible within a radius of 700 miles north, southeast, and west of the Vauban when we observed it.”

Unexplained atmospheric phenomena intrigue astronomers and other scientists, but also numerous ufologists who seriously consider that the presence of extraterrestrial spacecraft can explain many of these sightings.

Until scientists can present an adequate explanation for unexplained oddly-shaped funnel clouds, strange behaving whirlwinds, and mysterious fireballs, we can assume that certain unusual atmospheric phenomena can be related to the cloaked unidentified flying objects.


Up next… A U.S. Air-Force chaplain is called to duty not against a human enemy – but a spiritual one. (Air Force Exorcist) That story, when Weird Darkness returns.



The headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan (the Yokota Air Base) may also be home to supernatural activity, according to a couple who claim to help anyone dealing with paranormal disturbances to rid their homes of unwanted spirits.

Chaplain (Capt.) Lance Brown, of Yokota’s 374th Wing Staff Agency, and his wife, Karen Brown, who is working on a master’s in counseling, have been performing home cleanses, or anointings, for the past eight years in homes where “odd things occur.”

Supernatural activity is reported so often at this base in western Tokyo that it inspired a Facebook group, Yokota Ghost Hunter Club. Its members post about paranormal phenomena they’ve experienced at their homes and workplaces.

Lance is endorsed by the Pentecostal Church of God, and the home cleanses are not officially sanctioned by the Air Force, he told Stars and Stripes in an interview.

“Ghosts or spiritual demonic activity, things of an evil nature, God combats that,” he said. “We have the ability to be that beacon of hope as people invite us.”

The Browns said their cleansings are sometimes about helping someone cope with anxiety, heartbreak or a troubled past than about literal evil spirits, though Lance said they are not suggesting the supposed presence of spirits is “all in the person’s head.”

Laurie Pope, who lives in one of Yokota’s garden units, said she started to feel uncomfortable in her home last year.

“My 3-year-old daughter has been experiencing sleep regression the past year,” she told Stars and Stripes over Facebook Messenger on March 1. “There have been several times when I would be watching her video monitor and I would see orbs of light in her room. There have been a few instances where I’d be in my bedroom and I would see a white streak of light run past the foot of my bed. And, more recently, my daughter has been saying she’s seeing monsters and that she’s scared.”

Pope and her husband, Master Sgt. Austin Pope of the 374th Maintenance Squadron, decided that since Laurie is six months pregnant, they needed to do something to help their daughter feel less afraid and sleep through the night before bringing a new baby home.

The family found the Browns on Facebook, and, despite not identifying with any religion, decided to give it a try.

“I know it won’t happen overnight, but I’m hoping we can all live more comfortably in our home regardless if there was a spirit existing here,” Laurie said.

The Browns’ anointing process starts with talking to the family about what is happening at home.

“We discuss what they are seeing, hearing and sensing to determine if it’s just a creaky house or if something evil is going on here,” Lance said. “Some people call it a ‘spidey sense,’ but we refer to it as a discernment of spirits, a heightened sense of things that are different or off.”

They then apply anointing oil — a mixture of frankincense, myrrh, aloes and herbs — to anything that needs to be blessed, including people and objects. They also use incense and holy water.

“It’s not as intense as movies like ‘The Exorcist’ or anything like that,” Karen said. “After we have left, the situation has never gotten worse, ever.”

The Popes, who had their home anointed March 1, are hopeful that the process worked for her family.

“My daughter still isn’t sleeping through the night,” Laurie said. “But I feel a much greater sense of peace being home alone, especially at night.”

The Browns do the cleanses free of cost, judgment or disclosure, they said. People need not be religious to have a home cleansing, and the Browns said their objective is not to convert anyone’s belief systems.

The couple said they received more calls at Yokota over the past year than they did at their previous assignment in Fort McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. The Browns weren’t certain exactly how many calls they have received on Yokota but explained that they receive a steady flow of requests, and had a cleansing arranged for right after their interview with Stars and Stripes.

Belief in hauntings, dark spirits and exorcisms is rooted in several factors, including religious beliefs about the afterlife and people’s desire to connect and find patterns and significance in unusual or seemingly inexplicable incidents, according to Michael Shermer, a science historian and the founder of The Skeptics Society in Altadena, Calif.

“Incidents seem significant when you are looking for it,” he said in a phone interview on March 9.

The uncertainty and restrictions associated with the yearlong coronavirus pandemic possibly amplifies stress and emotion, Lance said. Add to that the feeling of isolation and separation from family and friends that comes with living in a foreign country.

“These feelings can make someone more heightened to portals for spiritual activity,” Lance said.

The Browns declined to share the details of specific cleansings, but said they have experienced fear and emotional responses themselves during some visits.

“It’s not anything of Hollywood, but evil is a very real thing,” Lance said. “You just sense an absolute darkness, and your skin tingles and the hair on the back of your neck raises and you get a sense of ‘I don’t want to be here.'”


Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at darren@weirddarkness.com. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead” and a retro-style science fiction podcast called “Auditory Anthology”, you can visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.

“Zuni Witchcraft” by Kathy Weiser for Legends of America
“The Disturbing Effects of Sensory Deprivation” by Knowledge Nuts, Debra Kelly for List Verse and Allison P. Davis for The Cut
“Flying Saucers In The Clouds” by A. Sutherland for Message to Eagle
“Air Force Exorcist” by Erica Earl for Military.com

WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.

Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:26

And a final thought… “Sometimes angels are just ordinary people who help us believe in miracles again.”

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.



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