Friday, March 11, 2011

The New Light Experience of Henry Alline

Here is the 2000 pilot we did for a series called "Visionaries" on Vision TV, about great Canadians of faith. The series wasn't picked up, but I still love the concept, and remain an admirer of Henry Alline, the subject of the pilot episode, and I'm proud of the writing, which was based on my graduate studies in history. I've re-edited the original version in what is, I think, now a better film.

I've written about Alline here before, and referred to him on a few of my radio appearances (most recently, on The X-Zone), because I'm intrigued by the similarities between what we might now refer to as a "paranormal" experience, and what someone like Alline would have viewed through a spiritual prism. Perhaps the two have always been the same.

Here is what I wrote in a post call Wrapped Up In God... or ET? back in April, 2006:

Henry Alline, Canada's first great evangelist, and a Christian of a mystical bent, had a profound spiritual experience in the late 18th century that changed his life irrevocably, and set him on his short career as the leader of the first Great Awakening in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and eventually New England.

Here, in part, is how Alline described his experience, which occurred in 1775, and which was about as intense and transforming as one can possibly imagine, and which he attributed to the divine presence of God:

"O the infinite condescension of God to a worm of the dust! for though my whole soul was filled with love, and ravished with a divine ecstacy beyond any doubts or fears, or thoughts of being then deceived, for I enjoyed a heaven on earth, and it seemed as if i were wrapped up in God, and that he had done ten thousand times more for me than ever I could expect, or had ever thought of: yet he still stooped to the weakness of my desires and requests, made as before observed on the 13th of February; though I had no thoughts of it then, until it was given me. Looking up, I thought I saw that same light, though it appeared different, and as soon as I saw it, the design was opened to me, according to his promise, and I was obliged to cry out: enough, enough, O blessed God; the work of conversion, the change and the manifestations of it are no more disputable, than the light which I see, or any thing that I ever saw."

Of course, most people looking at this passage would say that when Alline refers to seeing a light, he was speaking metaphorically, not literally.

Or was he?

He continued:

"I will not say either of those lights with my bodily eyes, though I thought then I did, but it was no odds to me, for it was as evident to me, as any thing I ever saw with my bodily eyes (-in my Life); and answered the end it was sent for."
The excerpts above can be found at p. 63, The Journal of Henry Alline (Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1982), which was edited by James Beverley and Barry Moody, one of my favourite history professors when I was at Acadia University, or at pp. 35 and 36 of the original, which can be viewed on-line here and here.

The phrase "though I thought then I did " gives one pause for thought. Did Alline actually see a light, and perhaps come in contact with some other intelligence, which he perceived as a religious experience (which makes sense given the era in which his experience took place)? Probably not. Almost certainly he's speaking in traditional Christian metaphor, using symbols that were common and well understood in his time. But... if so, what are the genesis of those symbols? At some point, someone must have seen a light? Or, perhaps Alline did actually see a light.

He was a prolific hymn writer as well as a preacher and theologian. Those hymns contain some imagery that - again - was almost certainly traditional Christian imagery. But... Alline did seem to have a preoccupation with variations on the "beams of light" theme. From "The Soaring Mind":

"Break Sacred Morn with beams of Light
And from My Soul Expel the Night
And Sweetly Steal my heart away
With raptures of immortal day -"

And from "Panting For The Spirit of God to Bear The Mind Away":

"Breathe on my Heart O Sacred Dove
And let me Feel Immortal Love
Inspired with One all Conquering Ray
Would Bear my Cheerfull Soul away."

I could go on and on as well about the imagery Alline uses that involves "the sky" or "realms above" or some other some variation thereof. While this was almost certainly metaphor, one wonders whether there might have been more to it than that. Yes, heaven was viewed as being "up there" and hell was seen as being "down there", so that's the most obvious (and, again, the most likely) explanation for the imagery - but why was it seen that way? Could there have been more at work than just superstition, if not for Alline, then for those who came before him and set the mold, so to speak?

I've touched on this before, because it's an aspect of the UFO phenomenon that interests me, which probably has something to do with all the time I spent studying and researching Alline and his successors as an MA student. He was a fascinating, complex, and inspirational man, whether you're religious or not.

But it goes beyond just Alline. As I have noted here before, there was a UFO sighting in the same general area where Alline lived (the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia); it came in 1796, over a decade after his untimely death in 1784 at the age of 36 from tuberculosis, and two decades after his conversion experience. That sighting, which I discussed a couple of nights ago with Stan Friedman (who was unaware of it), was described by Simeon Perkins, a well-respected merchant in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, who kept a diary which has become one of the best primary sources for those studying Nova Scotia in the late 18th century:

""A Strange Story is going that Fleet of Ships have been Seen in the Air in Som part of the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Darrow is lately there by land. I enquired of him. He Says they were Said to be Seen at New Minas, at one Mr. Ratchford's, by a Girl, about Sunrise, & that the Girl being Frighted, Called out, & two men that were in the House went out & Saw the Same Sight, being 15 Ships and a Man forward of them with his hand Stretched out. The Ships made to the Eastward. They were So Near that the people Saw their Sides & ports. The Story did not obtain universal Credit, but Some people believed it. My own Opinion is that it was only in Imagination, as the Cloud at Sunrise might Make Some Such appearance, which being Improved by Imagination, might be all they Saw."

The original can be seen here.

Now, one might completely discount the potential extraterrestrial (or extradimensional) angle of Alline's experience, and one might easily discount the UFO sighting report, but when you put the two together... well, it gets just a little harder to completely discount it.

Which leads us to the experience of mystical Protestant Jane Lead in the late 17th century.

In her diary, A FOUNTAIN OF Gardens, or,A SPIRITUAL DIARY OF THE Wonderful Experiences of a CHRISTIAN SOUL, under the Conduct of the Heavenly WISDOM, Vol. III (which can be found transcribed on-line here), she recounts an experience even more "alien" (as we might call it today) than Alline's:

"February 9. 1678.

A Transport.

IN the Morning after I was awaked from Sleep, upon a sudden I was insensible of any sensibility as relating to a corporeal Being, and found my self as without the clog of an Earthly Body, being very sprightly and airy in a silent place, where some were beside my self, but I did not know them by their Figures, except one, who went out, and came in again: and there was no speaking one to another, but all did set in great silence, and I myself with my Eye fixed forward. And I did suddenly see at a pritty distance, where I was, a rich splenderous thing come down all engraven, with Colours, the Ground thereof being all of Gold. It was in the form of a large Ship with Wings, I cannot say, whether more than four, which spread themselves out, being like varnished Gold, it came down with the greatest swiftness as is imaginable. Upon which amazing sight, I asked some by me, do you not see this wonderful sight? And they said no. But I saw my self, or something like my self, leaping and dancing and greatly rejoycing to meet it. But when I came up to it, then it did as suddenly go up again, withdrawing out of all sight, unto the high Orb from whence it came. After which I found my self in my Body of Sense, as knowing I had been ranging in my Spirit from it for a while, that I might behold this great thing."

This seems to combine the ships sighted by the people at New Minas in 1796, and Henry Alline's mystical religious conversion experience in 1775, in what some would probably call an "abduction" experience today (one can only imagine what would happen, and how her story would morph into an alien experience, if Lead was somehow brought forward in time to be hypnotized by Budd Hopkins - one shudders at the thought!).

Is any of this evidence of anything? Absolutely not. In fact, we can't even be sure if Alline saw a light, much less what it was, and we don't know the names of the people who reported the ships above New Minas, and Lead's experience has any number of possible mundane explanations. However, if you do a bit of digging, you'll see that this is just the tip of the iceberg - and that there may be a relationship here that is worth looking into.

So.. is God an alien, or an extradimensional intelligence?

Or - and here's a question that most ufologists don't want to touch with a ten foot pole - are aliens and extradimensional beings God, but filtered through our own 20th (now 21st) century paradigms?

Or is there some other explanation?

Or are these things - Alline's and Lead's experience, the New Minas sighting, other pre-1947 events and experiences - unrelated to the UFO phenomenon at all?

More questions than answers, I'm afraid. But are they questions worth asking?

For my part, I say yes. I consider them intriguing questions which deserve more serious consideration, by ufologists, historians, and religious scholars, than they have gotten in the past.
However one describes it, Henry Alline had a profound experience that seems to defy explanation, and which changed his life.


Paul Kimball

1 comment:

cmp said...

Interesting stuff. Alline's experience sounds like the one Eckhart Tolle had as described in his book The Power of Now - a sudden Buddhist-style revelation of the Selfs separateness from form. It took Tolle years to figure out what happened; Alline would interperate it through a Christian lens of course.

Thanks for posting!