I cooked an omelet today and found Elvis staring up at me. Not literally, of course. It was just his image in the eggs. I should have saved it and tried to sell it on ebay, like the woman who found the Virgin Mary in her cheese sandwich and sold it for $28,000. I’m not sure if Elvis would fetch as much, but even a few grand would be nice.
It seems that no matter where you look – the clouds, the grain in the wood, the kitchen tiles – you find faces or animals or trees. The whole world is a Rorschach Inkblot Test offering a glimpse into your psyche.
The most common images we see are faces. Recognizing faces is hardwired into our brains. Infants develop this skill as soon as they can see. So it’s not surprising that we see faces in the snowy hillside or in the rocks on Mars. The meaning we give to these faces, however, depends where they are located and whose face they resemble.
In 1976, when Viking 1 sent back images of Mars, people saw a humanoid face in the landscape and speculated that it was evidence of a Martian civilization. The Mars Express disproved the myth with higher resolution photos that revealed the face to be nothing but an optical illusion.
Getting right up close to the face, however, doesn’t always dissuade the true believers. The Virgin Mary cheese sandwich is a prime example. If you cut through the trunk of a tree and find an image that resembles Michael Jackson, you’d probably consider it an amusing coincidence. But if that image resembles deity, suddenly it’s a miracle. In fact, it doesn’t even have to truly look like the deity to be considered a miracle. Yes, I can make out a face in the cheese sandwich, but does it really look like the Virgin Mary? Do we even know what the Virgin Mary looked like?
The water stains on the windows of the Seminole Finance Company in Clearwater, Florida, and the knot in the tree trunk in Sleepy Hollow, New York, resemble Our Lady of Guadalupe, an icon of the Virgin Mary. Thus, many people view them as signs from God. Both of these images existed long before someone pointed out the resemblance. That’s often the case. We don’t see the similarity until someone shows us what we’re supposed to be looking for. We can then use our imaginations and fill in the missing details.
Such images give a lot of people hope. Crowds flock to these miracles and often weep at the sight. Many believe the apparitions hold mystical powers. And it isn’t just Jesus and Mary that cures the afflicted. Sometimes it’s a demon. A recent news story told of a man who looked at his wedding photos eight years after they were taken and saw a demon peering over his left shoulder. The sight convinced him to straighten up his life and liberate himself from drugs. Oddly, the demon took on the appearance of a dog. When I look at the photo, I think it is indeed a dog. He claims there wasn’t a dog at the wedding. Then again, the photo was taken eight years ago and he was on drugs at the time. So yes, I’m skeptical of the whole demon scenario, but if it convinced him to better himself, then we’ll just say it’s a demon.
Satan or photo bomb?
What we see reflects our beliefs. As I mentioned in my article on subjective validation, we see what we expect to see and interpret the world according to our personal belief system. Those who believe in aliens may not buy into the scientific explanation of the face on Mars or may think the government is trying to cover up their real findings. Religionists are more likely to see Jesus in the clouds or the Virgin Mary in the woodwork and feel it is a sign from God.
Psychologists refer to this as pareidolia, which basically means we see patterns and assign significance to them even though they are actually meaningless. We look at an inkblot and see a butterfly when in reality it’s an image of absolutely nothing. We’re merely trying to make sense of things that make no sense.
We don’t only do this with images, but with sounds as well. When I was young, many religious leaders were riled up by the hidden messages found in rock music. I attended a seminar where the speaker pointed out many of these offending songs and encouraged us to destroy our albums.
These hidden messages come in two forms:
- Backmasking – intentionally reversing the audio so that it only makes sense when played backward. When played forward, it sounds like gibberish.
- Reverse Speech (aka phonetic reversal) – actual words that happen sound like other words when played backward.
The Beatles popularized both forms. Songs such as “Rain” and “I’m So Tired” contain backmasking. An example of reverse speech can be found in the song “Revolution 9,” where the words “number nine” played backward become “turn me on dead man.” Many of the hidden messages in Beatles songs reveal that Paul McCartney is dead, which incidentally, a lot of people still believe. Just go to YouTube and search “Paul is dead” and you’ll be amazed how many videos pop up detailing the evidence that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter.
Another famous example of backmasking can be found on Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. When you reverse the gibberish in “Empty Spaces,” it says, “Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm.”
Perhaps the most famous example of reverse speech is in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” When you reverse the sentence “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” it sounds a lot like “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”
Backmasking is deliberate and most of the messages are innocuous. Reverse speech is unintentional and what you hear is subjective. In the seminar I attended, many of the examples they gave came from albums that I owned. Back in the days of turntables, the only way to play a song backward was to manually spin the table in reverse, which I did. I wanted to hear Queen say “It’s fun to smoke marijuana,” which allegedly is what “Another One Bites the Dust” says once you reverse it. And yes, if I really, really force it, I can see how it sounds a bit like that. But I’m sure I’d have never thought they were saying that if someone hadn’t first planted the seed in my brain so I knew what to listen for.
During the seminar, I kept asking myself, “Who in the hell listens to songs backward?” They must have listened to hundreds of albums in reverse to come up with the dozen examples they were providing. Backmasking I get. It sounds like gibberish when played forward, so you listen to it backward to see what they’re saying. But reverse speech? Wow, that takes dedication to find lyrics that almost sound like something backward.
According to the critics, our subconscious picks up these backward messages, deciphers them, and then influences us to do bad things. Apparently, if you listen to “Another One Bites the Dust” enough, you won’t be able to control yourself from smoking pot. If you listen to “Stairway to Heaven” or “Hotel California,” you’re going to start worshiping Satan. Sorry, that’s just the way it is and you have no control over it. A 1983 California bill said backmasking “can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist.”
There’s no scientific evidence to prove this theory. I’ve listened to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, including all of the songs mentioned above, and so far I have no desire to chant “Hail Satan” or to sacrifice a goat. I’m sure the true believers would argue that my disbelief is evidence enough that the subliminal brainwashing has taken its toll on my morality. I’d argue, however, that if you played religious hymns backward, you could also find just as many examples of passages that sound unwholesome or Satanic. In fact, the same would be true of all the conversations you have everyday or hear on TV. If we’re truly influence by every sound that could be misconstrued when played in reverse, then we’re all doomed.
What are your thoughts? Do we need to guard ourselves against backward subliminal messages? Are apparitions of deity coincidental or the work of God? Can these apparitions have genuine healing power or is it merely the placebo effect?