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The mystery of the Delphic Oracle

If you visit Delphi today – a few hours by car from Athens – you will be treated to spectacular ruins in a stunningly beautiful setting.  Even on a very hot day – and there are plenty of hot days in Greece – the breezes and the mountains give the place an aura of serenity.  You can see the amphitheater, the marble columns, and the treasuries where various city-states sent offerings to be put on display.  There is also one spot, underground, where the Pythia – the priestess of the oracle – sat on a tall tripod, breathed in the prophecy-enabling  vapors coming out of the earth, and muttered.  Her mutterings were then reinterpreted by a priest as an answer to the petitioner who had posed his question.  Why was this place revered?  Did it have any truly prophetic qualities?  Why are people fascinated by oracles, even today?
Mythological Beginnings
There are many stories about the origins of Delphi, a place that was sacred for millennia.  Supposedly it was first guarded by a monster called Python (from which word we get the name of python snakes), a creature belonging to Gaia, who represented Mother Earth.  At some point the god Apollo slew the monster and took over the site, and from that point on Delphi was considered one of his holy places. Many see this as part of the conquest of the female gods by the male gods.  Although the cult of Apollo instituted male priests at Delphi, they kept the Pythias – women who breathed in the fumes, and went into trances and muttered.
Another legend involves Zeus, the King of the Gods, when he wanted to locate the center of the earth.  He took a pair of eagles, and had one fly from the east and the other from the west.  The birds met at Delphi, and since that myth was first told, Delphi has been known as the “navel of the earth.”
Role in Myth and History
The Oracle at Delphi played an important role in many myths.  The Corinthian prince, Oedipus, went there to ask about his parentage – someone had mocked him for his lack of resemblance to his supposed father, the King of Corinth – but instead of getting a direct answer to his question, he received a terrible prophecy.  The oracle informed him that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  Horrified, he left Delphi while resolving never to return to Corinth so that he would not risk fulfilling the prophecy.  Distraught, when his right-of-way was challenged by an angry older man on his way to Delphi, the encounter got out of hand and Oedipus ended up killing the older man.  The man, ironically, was Laius, King of Thebes, and actually his natural father, although Oedipus was unaware of the man’s identity at the time.  Then, even more ironically, while doing all he could to avoid Corinth, Oedipus traveled to Thebes and married the recently widowed queen, Jocasta – his natural mother – thus fulfilling the prophecy.
It is impossible to avoid noticing the circular nature of the prediction at Delphi: if Oedipus had not received the prophecy at Delphi, he would never have fulfilled it.  Perhaps the gods have a harsh sense of humor.  After all, if you’re immortal, things could get rather boring and Oedipus’ situation may have provided some amusement.
There are many other instances of Delphi’s role in mythology, but let’s fast forward through several centuries to Herodotus and The Histories.  His first example pertains to Croesus, a King of Lydia.  Croesus lived long enough before Herodotus that the stories about him may not be as reliable as later stories told by Herodotus, but it is still worth examination.  The Persian empire in the time of Croesus was not as large as it would be later, and Lydia itself was quite powerful.  Croesus, although very rich – he’s the source of the phrase “rich as Croesus” – yearned for still more, and the Persian empire was tempting.  Croesus, though, was not sure if attacking would be a good idea and wanted reassurances from the gods.
Curious, Croesus sent rich gifts to Delphi and asked what would happen if he attacked the Persians.  The Oracle’s response went something like this: “If you attack the Persians, you will destroy a great empire.”  Emboldened by this prophecy, he attacked the Persians, and lost, badly.  The Persians took over his empire and his wealth, but let Croesus live – which allowed him to voice reproachful protests to the gods.  What had they meant by giving him such an inaccurate prophecy?  Especially since he had made such opulent offerings?
The  gods responded that the prophecy had indeed been fulfilled.  They had never told him which empire would be destroyed – it turns out, the empire destroyed had belonged to Croesus and not to the Persians.  Evidently it is important to read prophecy fine print.  The gods maintained, too, that they had demonstrated mercy in acknowledgment of Croesus’ rich gifts, for his original intended fate had been far worse.
The Greeks versus the Persians
Let us continue with Herodotus. Although he is famous for his digressions, the main focus of The Histories is the conflict between the Persians and the Greeks. As these events were nearer to him in time, he would have been able to interview those who participated, and we can put more reliance on his accounting of the details.  First, it is important to understand how enormous the threat of the Persians was to the Greeks. A professor once described it as equivalent to the Soviet Union taking on Luxembourg – and Luxembourg winning.  Many Greek city-states surrendered immediately, hoping to avoid annihilation, but this option was not available to the Athenians, as they were the ones who had angered the Persians in the first place.  Desperate, they sent a contingent to Delphi in order to ask what they should do.
Like people who ask a question of a Magic 8 Ball and receive an unsatisfactory answer and then shake it again to receive a different fate, this happened with the Athenians and the Oracle at Delphi.  The first response given by the Pythia was very, very bad: she told them that they should flee because if they did not, they would all die.  The Athenians asked again;  the second answer contained a phrase about “relying on the wooden walls.”
Certainly this answer was an improvement over, “You’re all going to die,” but when the message was brought back to Athens, it still caused confusion.  Which wooden walls did the Pythia mean?  Some believed that the oracle’s words had referred to walls within the city or thorn bushes outside of it.  Others believed she meant their fleet of ships, all built from wood.
We don’t have a reliable transcript of the discussion, but eventually the Athenians decided to sail away on their ships instead of staying to defend their city.  Possibly they truly believed this interpretation, although to me it seems that the Pythia could have been more explicit and wooden walls.  Possibly they preferred leaving their citadel to remaining to be slaughtered by the hordes of Persians – which was basically the warning in the Pythia’s first utterance.  Perhaps they were persuaded by Themistocles, an Athenian citizen whose deeds are too long and too convoluted to detail in this article, who was the one who had recommended the building of the ships in the first place.
At any rate, most Athenians fled in their ships, depositing the women and children at a safe distance.  They then engaged the Persians in a naval battle known as the battle of Salamis.  I won’t describe it here, but suffice it to say that through deception and cleverness, making use of the straits and narrows and the fact that the Athenians could swim, the Athenians won, turning the tide of history.
Archaeology and Geology
Although many might scoff at the idea of there being anything factual to the stories that have reached us from antiquity, it turns out there was something to the legends concerning the Pythia.  When an archaeologist, J.R. Hale, teamed up with a geologist, J.Z. De Boer, the geologist pointed out immediately that the area surrounding Delphi was full of fault lines and that the Pythia’s chamber was where two fault lines met.
Because of the fault line intersection, it was possible for fumes to be coming out of the earth.  But did they?  Research indicates that there may have been ethylene, methane, and other gases which induced trances in the various Pythias.
We know from Plutarch that the Pythias who breathed in the fumes experienced shorter lifespans, according to him due to the intensity of the work.  What if it was due to the unhealthy gases which they breathed?  One young woman actually died on the job, so to speak, or a short while after being exposed to fumes.
Why Do People Believe in Oracles?
Why were people ready to trust their decision-making to an oracle?  We could ask the same question of many other activities, both past and present.  Why do people read horoscopes today? Why did people examine livers of sacrificed animals in the past?  Why do people go to fortune tellers?
Sometimes a decision must be made – actions must be taken – without enough information for making that  decision.  In the case of Athens facing the threat of the Persian army, it was a question of survival – not only of their army, but essentially their entire civilization.
By the way, not all Greeks accepted the notion that they should turn to the Oracle at Delphi.  Some preferred more rational solutions.  And although the Pythia’s prediction proved prophetic in the end, we should remember that it was not her first prediction.
Perhaps this means that we should pester fate when we don’t like its initial answer.   And perhaps an answer, open to multiple interpretations, is useful in quelling panic and encouraging creative solutions.
The fumes have long since evaporated from the intersection of fault lines at Delphi, so you cannot go there to listen to oracular responses to your most pressing questions.  Nevertheless the place is worth a visit.  And thinking over your most pressing questions – and coming up with your own answers – will help you fulfill the most famous Delphic maxim, “Know thyself,” which according to the ancient travel-writer Pausanias, was inscribed in the forecourt of Apollo’s temple at Delphi.

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The Unexplained Phenomenon of Mekong Lights

The Phenomenon of Mekong Lights or widely known as the Naga Fireballs is an Asian mystery, which baffled and stunned many people around the world. These lights occur along an approximate 100km stretch of Mekong River adjoining Thailand and Laos. This strange event happens yearly in late October to early November under a full moon sky. The lights are usually glowing red-orange balls rising out of the Mekong River. Hence, the name Mekong Lights originated from the Mekong river name.

Different Explanation behind the Mysterious Phenomenon of Mekong Lights

According to many locals, the Phenomenon of Mekong Lights or popularly known as Naga Fireballs are actually the fire breath of a giant sea serpent called Naga or Phaya Naga. This serpent lives in the riverbed and awakes every year during the late autumn night of the full moon at the end of the Buddhist Lent. The serpent is believed to be honoring the end of the Vassa or the three-month long period of Rain Retreat or Buddhist Lent.

Naga or sea serpent are described as shape-shifters, they can appear in human form or half human and half serpent creature. In Thailand, the Phaya Nagas are considered as guardians and they are believed to be benevolent powerful servants of Buddha.

Every year, on the 15th day of the 11th lunar Month, locals in Thailand rejoices Phayanak (king of Nagas) Festival, which coincides with the Wan Awk Pansa, the end of Vassa or Buddhist Lent. Since the fireballs are often seen during this period, many locals accept the belief on the serpent Naga.

Evidence of the origin of the fireballs, which is from a large sea serpent, is widely distributed along the Nong Khai Province of Thailand. A photograph showing about 30 American soldiers holding a large and long sea creature was believed to be one of the Nagas. According to some reports, the giant creature is the queen of the Nagas, which was held by American Army at Mekong River on June 27, 1973, in Laos Military Base. However, some reports claimed that the photo is taken from the coast of San Diego, California. According to some research, the sea-creature was not a Naga but a giant oarfish.

This photo is a comparison of an oarfish and the Phaya Naga (sea-serpent). Do you think they are the same creature?

More pieces of evidence are available in a Buddhist Temple in Nong Khai City. Some objects there are believed to be fossilized bones from a Naga, such as an egg and a tooth.

The Naga Fireballs are not just ghostly apparition seen once throughout the history of Thailand and Laos, but many saw the fireballs almost yearly. The Mekong lights were captured and used in movies and documentaries worldwide. Even scientists came to investigate how these fireballs happen.

One scientific explanation of the cause of the Naga Fireballs is the swamp gas theory. Based on this theory, an organic matter at the bottom of the river decomposes and gives off methane gas. This methane gas fizzes up to the surface of the water and it spontaneously ignites when it fuses with oxygen. This process under precise conditions produces a brief burst of flaming gaseous bubbles that form the Mekong Lights.

Earth & Moon from one million miles – NASA

According to a pediatrician, Dr. Manos Kanoksilp, the main advocate of this explanation explained that the precise conditions that allow methane gas to form fireballs are the exact alignment of the sun, moon, and earth.

Another scientific explanation that is almost similar to the Methane gas theory involves a different gas, which is the Phosphine. The Thai Science Ministry’s Deputy Secretary Saksit Tridech and a team of scientists used special apparatus to measure conditions around the Mekong River. They claimed that the fireballs were the result of built-up Phosphine gas. This gas in the presence of diphosphine is capable of spontaneous flammability under certain chemical conditions in the river sediments of Mekong.

These two theories seem plausible but are actually full of flaws. First, the methane gas burns in an oxygen-rich environment within a specific range. It can only ignite in a very narrow range and requires phosphine and phosphorous tetrahydride. These gases are not commonly present in nature. In an experiment to replicate the fireballs through methane gas, the ignited gas produced bluish green sudden burst with black smoke. This is contradictory to the reddish-orange Naga lights that burn slowly and rises up into the air as a fireball.

On the other hand, the Phosphine gas is heavier than air. It will never rise up midair very quickly like the Naga Fireballs. When phosphine ignites, it yields white and dense cloud, which is unlikely of Mekong Lights. In addition, according to some research, the bottom of the Mekong River does not have organic sediments but has a sandy bed with occasional rocks.

Furthermore, if the alignment of the sun, earth, and moon affects the Mekong Lights, why do the fireballs only happen in the Mekong River and is not observed in other lakes or water parts of the world?  If there are other gases involve in the Naga Fireballs, the tedious chemical process of different organic matter should be found in the Mekong River, but explorations did not show anything similar to organic sediments needed by flammable gases. With all these contradictions, the scientific explanations of the Naga Fireballs are not widely accepted.


In 2002, a Thai television network called iTV sent a group of journalists to observe the Mekong River and find out where the fireballs originate. The program “Code Cracking” feature their team who went to the Laotian side of the river during the Naga Festival. What they filmed were Laotian soldiers shooting tracer rounds into the air. Every time they did this, the crowd on the Thailand side were heard shouting, indicating that they’ve seen the Mekong lights. The program received a massive backlash because the locals felt offended about their sacred festival. They felt that the TV program was implying that the fireballs were all just a hoax. Due to this, further scientific explorations were made to figure out where the Mekong lights came from and until now, professionals provided no concrete evidence.

If what the iTV broadcasted were true, why would the Laotian side do this for the Thai festival? Another baffling contradiction is that after this incident with the Laotian soldier, no reports were made that they were actually seen firing again during the Naga festival. Moreover, the fireballs are often seen in very secluded places where organizers of the festivals won’t have any chances to impress visitors. In addition, numerous people closely watch the river yearly, days before the festival and no one was caught in the act doing fake Mekong lights.


For now, we don’t know what causes the Naga Fireballs. This unexplained phenomenon of the Mekong lights will remain a mystery to many but will continue to impress visitors from all over theof the world with a spectacular light show every year.

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The Curious Case of Orion Williamson

July 1854 Selma, Alabama. It was a hot sunny afternoon when Orion Williamson, his wife and son relaxed on the porch of their farmhouse. The family watched horses graze under the sunshine in the distance.

It was then Orion stood up and ventured towards the grassy field to tell his farm worker to move the horses into a shaded area.  Williamson picked up what is described as a stick lying nearby and began to play with it and he walked forward.

Armour Wren and his son James were the neighbors of the Williamson family. They were passing by in a buggy when they too saw Williamson walk into the field. The Wren’s stopped to wave hello, and as Williamson waved back to his neighbors, he suddenly disappeared, vanishing without a trace in thin air!

Wren rushed to the spot where Orion Williamson last stood, soon joined by Mrs. Williamson and her child. They scoured the area hoping to find the lost farmer. But it was simply grass and land as if Williamson had never been there. What just occurred was impossible to explain. How could a grown man completely vanish in front of his family and neighbors?

With the sudden realization and shock from what happened to her husband, Mrs. Williamson fainted and was taken to the local hospital.

When word of the mysterious occurrence spread throughout town, three hundred people gathered and went to the field to look for Williamson. The crowd carefully searched the entire area. Bloodhounds tracked every turn. Hours passed, and darkness came, torches lit, and still no sign of the poor farmer.

The next day, more citizens from communities outside of Selma came to participate in the search. Volunteers went as far as digging into ground where Williamson disappeared only to find bedrock. Eventually, the search parties gave up. Orion Williamson was never found, dead or alive.

The next spring, investigators returned to the site and oddly saw a barren and dry patch of grass nearby where Orion last stood. When Mrs. Williamson learned of this, she related to them that she and her son kept hearing her husband’s voice calling out for help for weeks after he disappeared. But every time they ran to that spot, they could not find him. She said she kept hearing his voice until it slowed down and gradually faded away.

Whatever happened to Orion Williamson?

Some investigators developed theories to explain the mystery. One hypothesized that an unstable “universal ether” was responsible that could disintegrated matter. Another claim proposed a magnetic field transported the missing man to another dimension.

Juanita Rose Violini included the incident in her book, Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible, and the Ignored. Violini narrated two other similar events in 1880 and 1885. The 1880 disappearence occurred in Tennessee, the farmer who vanished was David Lang. Like Williamson, Lang sat on the front porch with his wife and children, walked to a field, and was never seen again. In this case, David Lang’s daughter, Sarah, wrote about the incident in great detail.

Isaac Martin’s disappearance in 1885 tells the tale of a man vanishing in a farm field in Virginia. The New York Sun posted an article about the oddity. But it was not known if there were any eyewitnesses.

In the book, Disappearance and the Theory Thereof, the author, Dr. Maximilian Hern purports the missing men entered a “void spot of universal ether”. Unfortunately, not much useful information is provided to further explain this.

Another popular publication, Among the Missing: An Anecdotal of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present, by Jay Robert Nash, cities again the conclusions of Hern and another person, Ambrose Bierce, who investigated the Williamson case.

The universal ether, was theorized and proposed by Aristotle during ancient Greek times. In those days it was believed energy traveled through a mysterious substance that exists everywhere. This substance was known as an ether. It was used to explain the principals of natural phenomena such as light and gravity. Sound and light are forms of waves that could travel by ether. In the case of Orion, this ether must have been the medium through which his wife and child heard his voice in the absence of a physical form as presented by Hern and the others. But the theory of the universal ether has weakened through modern time as science gradually developed and understood matter and energy better than before.

The concept of a magnetic field sucking Orion into another dimension is interesting but is certainly something that can’t be expained by modern science. Perhaps String theory which talks of multi-universes might provide insight to how strange cases of physical disappearance may occur. Can a rift in the delicate balance of space and time fabric be responsible?

Ironically, Ambrose Pierce, who wrote a satire to the event, also mysteriously disappeared more than 50 years later under different circumstances.

But the question remains: Whatever happened to Orion Williamson?

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Evidence Of An Alien Or Lost Civilization In Antarctica?

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