Editor’s Introduction

Richard Whipple (real name) earned a B.S. degree in Biomedical engineering and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. He has been employed as a Research Associate in academic settings and currently is employed in industrial research.

I find his account, and his examination of various conventional explanations for it, of great interest. Although unknown to most mainstream scientists, there are world-wide traditions of spiritual teachers being able to induce altered states of consciousness (ASCs) in other people in a wide variety of unexplained (by Western standards) means. Most attempts at Western style explanations postulate some kind of “hypnosis,” and I’m sure this is an excellent explanation in some instances. Lest we get too smug about psychological explanations (which I frequently indulge in), however, we should remember that simply because we can put a scientific sounding label on something doesn’t mean we actually understand much about it at all, even if it makes us psychologically comfortable to do so. I worked in hypnosis research for years, for example, and while I became accepting of many unusual phenomena produced and had the acceptable labels for them, I still find them quite poorly understood at any fundamental level.

What is particularly interesting about Dr. Whipple’s account is that his experience happened while he was a young child with no interest in such phenomena and no expectation of anything happening. He can be contacted at RTWhipple@aol.com.

An Unexpected Alteration of Consciousness
Richard T. Whipple

The exact date of this account is in question. I do know that it was during the cold weather months of early 1975, on a Monday morning.

The previous day my family accompanied, for the first time, my mother to a ‘healing service’ as a part of the Catholic Charismatic movement. She had become involved in the ministry of Fr. Ralph DiOrio some weeks before.

As an 8-year old, the ride to Fitchburg, Mass. for a church service seemed too long as it was. The following service, bilingual in Spanish and English, lasted for approximately 3 hours.

During the service, Fr. Ralph sprinkled ‘holy water’ on the attendants, using a device common in Catholic churches, similar to a large version of a salt shaker, frequently dunked in water to re-fill it. A significant number of the attendants, my father and older brother included, promptly collapsed upon contact with the water. Similar collapsing incidents occurred during anointings with oil. The state of collapse endured for anywhere from 1 minute to 5 minutes.

My personal experience, however, did not occur until the next day. My brother and I were preparing for school, and stopped to hug my father before he left for work, a daily ritual in our home. Upon touching my father, who was incidentally wearing the same wool-lined suede coat he had worn the previous day, I immediately experienced a cessation of all sensory input. I was aware of my existence, however. An undetermined (for somewhat obvious reasons) amount of time later, I found my father holding me up by the arms. He exclaimed something which I cannot recall in perplexity at my collapse.

Contributor’s Comments on the Experience

Through the years I have never attempted to attach specific meaning to this occurrence. However, as a scientist, and rationalist, I note that the most likely theories, other than ‘supernatural’, for this incident are:

a. pharmacological, i.e. The priest drugged the water and oil to cause individuals to collapse, and I contacted residual material on my father’s coat.

I personally have to discount such an idea upon several bases; including the instantaneousness of the effect, which, as systemic as it was, is presumably central-nervous-system based. Any student of pharmacology will note that all drugs administered into venous circulation must return to the heart, be passed through the pulmonary system and back to the heart prior to circulation to the brain. To say nothing of crossing the blood-brain barrier. Second, any such drugs would have to pass through the skin, a formidable barrier. Such solvents as DMSO make this possible, though it is unlikely that a significant volume of any such solvent would remain unevaporated after almost 24 hours.

Finally it must be noted that the proposition that a Catholic priest could obtain a drug which, on skin contact, instantly incapacitates people without such a drug appearing in the context of crime over the last 25 years is absurd.

b. Electrical. Although I have no recollection of a static shock accompanying my experience, it is possible I missed it.

Nevertheless, the similarity of my experience, and my observations from the day before indicate a common cause. There was no opportunity for the involvement of static, or other electrical phenomena in that instance. Also, I have never experienced such an incident again. Though I have received an uncounted number of static shocks. Occam’s razor indicates that explaining an uncommon occurrence with a common phenomenon is nonsense.