The main reason I pursued an interest in parapsychology was because I was intrigued by the very odd experiences that people report. I was particularly struck by the disaster premonitions; occasions when people seemed to have information about the future, which might allow them to avoid death. On the morning of the 21st October, 1966, the Aberfan coal-mining disaster took the lives of a large number of children and shocked the nation. From the BBC on this Day:
More than 130 people, mainly children, have been buried by a coal slag heap at Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. At least 85 children have been confirmed dead after the tip engulfed a school, some terraced cottages and a farm in just five minutes. Many more are missing or injured. In one classroom 14 bodies were found and outside mothers struggled deep in mud, clamouring to find their children. Many were led away weeping. The deputy head teacher, Mr Beynon, was found dead. "He was clutching five children in his arms as if he had been protecting them," said a rescuer.
So it is another terrible human tragedy. And like many similar disasters, people have reported that they experienced premonitions of what was going to occur. Barker (1967) compiled a collection of 76 premonitions of this particular disaster (thirty-six of the reports were from dreamers, the rest were claims of waking visions, or feelings of impending doom). One of the very best cases of disaster premonition is given in Baker's report:
She was an attractive dependable child, not given to imagination. A fortnight before the disaster she said to her mother…’Mummy, I’m not afraid to die.’ Her mother replied, ‘Why do you talk of dying, and you so young; do you want a lollipop?’ ‘No’, she said, ‘but I shall be with Peter and June’ (schoolmates). The day before the disaster she said to her mother, ‘Mummy, let me tell you about my dream last night.’ Her mother answered gently, ‘Darling, I’ve no time now. Tell me again later.’ The child replied, ‘No Mummy, you must listen. I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it!’ The next day off to school went her daughter as ever. In the communal grave she was buried with Peter on one side and June on the other.’
The day E.M.J went to school the clock stopped at 9.00AM. Had it not stopped, her mother would not have been later going to school and this is what saved her life. (p. 173).
Obviously this is a very striking case, but before you start getting all excited, there are some good, normal explanations for this premonition. Importantly, the danger the coal-tip represented was apparently well known, and not isolated to Aberfan. The fact that the coal tip was directly over a primary school would no doubt have directed concern to the school children. Given anxious parents and anxious school children, it's not surprising that these concerns were reflected in anxiety dreams.
There is also the added fact that this case was compiled by the local minister and merely signed by the parents. It is easy to see how the minister's prior beliefs about the supernatural, could certainly have influenced his retelling of the story. It is also possible that given the tragic nature of the events, the parents themselves may not have been very motivated to ensure the report was an exact record and may well have been comforted to read about the death of their child, as embellished.
And so, though I diligently investigated the question of precognition, I finally concluded that all of the evidence is like this case: interesting but doesn't bear scrutiny.Go Top