Sunday 13 November 2022

Walking with a Victorian through Meiji Japan

The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Looking for Lafcadio" in my book "Matsue, Seven Walks Through Seventeen Centuries," which is available through Amazon.

Lafcadio Hearn was a journalist at the end of the nineteenth century who was born on the Greek island Lefkada to a Greek mother and an Anglo-Irish father. He moved constantly throughout his life, living most of his adult life in the United States, until he arrived in Japan in 1890 in the middle of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). He lived in Matsue for a little over a year, but it was to have a profound effect on him. The local culture and folktales enchanted him and, long after he left the city, he remained steadfast in his love for this pocket of old Japan that he stumbled upon just before westernized ideas swept it away. 

His book Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan contains an account of a walk through Matsue that fascinates with its details about the daily social events at temples, the passing pilgrims dressed in yellow straw overcoats and mushroom-shaped straw hats or the various cries of the late-night street pedlars. In these moments, when Lafacdio takes us through Matsue seeing Japan through his enraptured eyes, it’s easy to be transported back to mid-nineteenth century Japan.

Let us take Lafcadio’s walk now, keeping his text close to hand, to see how things have changed.

He begins on the north shore of The Ohashi River, at the inn where he originally stayed named Tomitaya Inn. There’s still a hotel there called OhashiKan and, while there is an information board about Hearn by its entrance, it has precious few links to the old inn.

He goes into some length about the songs of birds, the emergence of schoolchildren and the comically loud horn on a new ship docked at the quay that used to sit on the river’s southern shore.

He guides us through a road that he calls “The Street of New Timber” which is the narrow road running parallel to the river on the other side of the inn. Hearn describes nets hung up on poles higher than the houses because, despite its name, the street housed fisherman. These days, the only poles here hold up Japan’s complicated network of air-borne wires and cables. These do have an air of Lafcadio’s “prodigious cobwebs against the sky,” but I suspect the atmosphere has changed considerably over the years.

Then he crosses the Ohashi bridge, admiring the mountain Dai-san in the distance to the east as he does (this part, at least, has not changed since Lafcadio’s time) and he describes a very small Jizo temple at the end of the bridge which has now gone.

He writes at length about this bridge. During his stay it was rebuilt, changing from a bridge that "curved over the flood, supported on multitudinous feet like a centipede of the innocuous kind" to an iron construction whose girders formed triangles along the bridge.

Lafcadio describes a well-known fable relating to the bridge. It states that the construction was beset by difficulties and the pillars of the bridge would repeatedly be swept away no matter how many stones they sunk into the river bed. Finally, the daimyo who was overseeing the construction of the new city, decided the only course of action was to have a human sacrifice: a hitobashira, or human pillar, who would be buried alive in the structure of the bridge.

The choice was made at random: the first person to cross the bridge wearing hakama (a kind of trouser) without a machi (a rigid board that covers the knots of the hakama at the back) would be the victim. One man, named Gensuke, crossed in this manner of attire and was swiftly made a sacrifice. According to Hearn, this lead to the bridge standing firm for another three hundred years. The middle pillar of the bridge was called Gensuke’s Pillar, and a flickering red light was sometimes seen over the bridge. Hearn recounts this legend in a newspaper article where he describes in some detail the opening ceremony of the 15th Ohashi Bridge.

Hearn explains how the widespread belief in the Gensuke legend persisted to his present day: how the building of the new bridge caused rumours to circulate that a similar fate could await some unsuspecting citizen: not the first to cross it, but the thousandth. Hearn writes how the question “Has the victim been caught yet?” was commonplace among visitors as they arrived. Despite the superstition, people still flocked to the opening ceremony. Hearn guesses the crowds numbered twenty thousand and said the river was so full of boats of spectators that “one could easily have passed the Ohashi by stepping from one to the other”. When the ceremony was over and the bridge became open to all, there was a huge roar and the citizens of the town swarmed across it, all suspicions apparently forgotten.

Then Hearn guides us towards Tenjinmachi which, he reminds us, is also called the Street of the Rich Merchants. As we approach the end of the bridge looking south, it is directly ahead of us. The dark blue hangings with “white wondrous ideographs” that adorned the shops on both sides have gone. As has much of the energy of the area. Hearn said it contained “the richest and busiest life of the city” where you could find many curious temples as well as “the theatres, and the place where wrestling-matches are held, and most of the resorts of pleasure.” This all changed with the opening of the train station in 1911 which meant goods would no longer arrive in Matsue via Lake Shinji, so instead the area around the station became more prosperous and Tenjinmachi slid into decline. Now this area is best known for its aging population.

We won’t go this way since Lafcadio doesn’t go into any real detail about Tenjinmachi in his book. Instead, we’re going to take a left once we step off the bridge, past a small memorial to an engineer who died in the construction of the current bridge. There is also a long, flat roughly hewn stone here with an information board beside it. This is a musical stone of Oba which, according to the legend recorded by Lafcadio, can only be transported a certain distance. Apparently, one of the Matsudaira feudal lords (Hearn doesn’t specify which one) wanted one in the castle grounds but as they approached Ohashi Bridge the stone became so heavy that not even a thousand men could move it so they left it by the bridge, where it remains to this day.

Walk past this stone and follow the road as it bends south. Now we’re heading into the neighbourhood called Wadamicho (多見町) towards Teramachi (寺町 lit, “Temple Town”) which is a neighbourhood where temples cluster together. When the city was created in 1611, this area also served a military purpose in that the walls of the various temples would offer at least some defence against any attacking forces coming from the south-east. Hearn describes this area as “masses of Buddhist architecture mixed with shreds of gardens and miniature homesteads, a huge labyrinth of mouldering courts and fragments of streets”. When Hearn wrote about these temples, he was struck by how children use the forecourts as playgrounds and how many of them have wrestling rings in the grounds where people can wrestle or watch for free during the summer months.

Things are a little different now, of course. While a district of temples with a history dating back to the 1600s sounds a chance to stroll through avenues of ancient architecture redolent of a vanished age, then one needs to be reminded that these temples are all still in use. The religious sites in Teramachi are pristine and, often, quite similar with black tiled buildings, a courtyard, and little else to distinguish it from its near neighbours. Additionally, Teramachi is no longer on the outskirts but is in the centre of the city, barely ten minutes’ walk from the station, such that any sense of quiet contemplation can't really be sustained while walking from one temple to the next. But we’ll head this way and I’ll try to give a little history of the place with whatever stories I happened to have heard.

The first temple we come to is on our left and is called Honryu Temple (本竜寺 Honryuji) this temple is more notable for what it lacks than what it has. In 2018, its 175 year old gate had to be demolished because it had become so weak that it would be a hazard in an earthquake. Now, in it’s place, is a clean white wall with pillars either side of the entrance where the gate once stood.

As we continue we soon come to, on our left, Ryukaku Temple (龍覚寺 Ryukakuji) whose gate is still intact – a gleaming white edifice of smooth concrete (I assume). This temple houses a Buddha statue that was found floating in Lake Shinji by a sailor. Next is Joei Temple (常栄寺 Joeiji), which is so close that it shares the same external wall as Ryukaku Temple but whose history eludes me.

Carry on following the white wall until we come to a staggered crossroads, with the road heading south a little to our left. At this junction is Shusen Temple (宗泉寺 Shusenji). I mentioned before how temples would hold wrestling matches, and this temple hosted a fight between two martial artists. One was a monk, Takeda Matsugai, who was famous for his feats of strength. People would ask him to punch wooden pillars in their house, leaving behind the imprint of his fist, as a mark of friendship. He stayed at this temple in 1850 and during that time and he fought against Ogura Rokuzo, later to become the 11th master of the Jinshinryu school of Judo. Matsugai won by throwing his opponent into some tea plants.

We’ll continue south, now walking through Teramachi itself, and we’ll soon arrive at Ryusho Temple (龍昌寺 Ryushoji) with an information board relating to Lafcadio Hearn. It tells us that he would often walk around the graveyard here and once happened upon a Jizo statue. Struck by its beauty, he asked if it were the work of a master craftsman which, indeed, it turned out to be. This confirmed Hearn’s reputation as a connoisseur of art.

The next temple along is Zenryu Temple (全龍寺 Zenryuji). It’s records were lost in a fire, but it does have one notable feature from more modern times. In the cemetery here is the grave of Yamauchi Kakugawa, a poet who was born in the adjacent neighbourhood Tenjinmachi in 1817. Tenjinmachi would have been at its height of its powers as a hub of trade and entertainment at this time. He became an antiques dealer which kindled his interest in the tea ceremony and, from that, haiku poetry. He corresponded with a poet in Kyoto and became more determined to follow poetry as a vocation.

One day, he performed a tea ceremony for his wife as a symbolic way of saying goodbye and, three days later, left Matsue during a snowstorm. He studied in Kyoto and then Edo, before travelling north. Finally, aged 41, he returned to Matsue where he built a hermitage and taught about poetry and the tea ceremony until his death in 1894. His gravestone here carries the inscription 何ひとつ見えねど露の明りかな “I can see nothing but the light of the dew”.

On reaching the crossroads and we can already see the next temple sitting on the junction, just ahead and to our left. This is Jokyo Temple (常教寺 Jokyoji) a temple of the Nichiren Buddhist sect with a statue of Nichiren beside the gate as you enter.

The cemetery here houses the grave of Kobayashi Jodei, a local woodworker who died in 1813. He worked for the 7th lord of Matsue, Matsudaira Harusato, and was famous in his day for his skill. He was also an alcoholic, apparently always drunk, and even invented a wooden sake cup that wouldn’t leak. One story about him details how a young carpenter, indignant that such an old soak should enjoy the patronage of the feudal lord, challenged him to a wood-carving competition...

Kobayashi agreed on the grounds that they both carve mice. The next day, in front of several people, they presented their works. The mouse of the younger carpenter was exquisite. The fur, the tail, the ears, everything was done to perfection. The mouse carved by Kobayashi, well, it looked like a mouse, but was a little sloppy. The young challenger was announced as the winner when Kobayashi raised an objection.

“Surely the best judge of which is more realistic should be a cat,” he insisted and his opponent, thinking it would make no difference, happily agreed.

So a cat was brought in and the two wooden mice put in front of him. The cat immediately pounced on Kobayashi’s mouse and the contest was definitively decided in his favour, leaving the challenger ruing his insolence and amazed at the talent that could fool a cat.

Later that evening, Kobayashi was out drinking when the bartender asked him why he thought the cat preferred his.

“Well,” said Kobayashi, “his mouse was better than mine but, the thing is, he’d carved his from wood, while mine was made from dried fish.”

Following on from this are a number of temples about which I can find little. The first two have impressive gates while the ones further south are tucked away behind shops and houses, accessible down paved alleyways.

Finally we arrive at a junction where the railway line passes overhead. Looking to our left we can see the green roof of another temple gate. This one, the southernmost in Teramachi, is Seigan Temple (誓願寺 Seiganji) and was once a favourite of the Matsudaira family, famous for its opulence.

After this, Lafcadio Hearn passes over the Tenjin Bridge which as far as we’re concerned is under the railway and down the road as it veers right. In Lafcadio’s day this passed over the Shinedote River, but this is now called Tenjin River, and this road lead into what was then a more run down densely populated area with “many a tenantless and mouldering feudal homestead.” These days it’s a residential area whose roads are shaped by the railway line running through it, but it isn’t particularly decrepit or abandoned.

He heads south-west to a soba Noodle shop named Kuribara where he can watch the sunset over the lake but gives scant details that we can follow. However, further south of this neighbourhood there is another location that he wrote about: Toko Temple. He visited here in unfortunate circumstances – for the funeral of one of his students. Hearn described the interior of the main hall, with its candelabras with brass dragons and vessels shaped like deer, tortoise, and stork, but most profoundly he recounted the bell and the sound it made on this onerous day. “Peal on peal of its rich bronze thunder shakes over the lake, surges over the roofs of the town, and breaks in deep sobs of sound against the green circle of the hills.”

After his visit to the soba shop, Lafcadio briefly describes his journey as he retraces his steps. On his way back over the Tenjin Bridge in twilight he passes a woman praying for her dead child, dropping strips of paper into the water below, each one with the image of a Jizo Buddha and perhaps an inscription upon it. Once back at the inn, Lafcadio describes the final sounds of the day and the “soft Buddhist thunder” of the bell at Toko Temple in the distance, a few streets from the Soba shop he’d visited earlier.

This passage, which takes up Chapter seven of Glimpses of an Unfamilar Japan, is endearing in its lapses into rhapsodic utterances over minor details. He diligently transcribes the calls of the street vendors, describes students marching past and lists any number of minutiae so banal that most people wouldn’t even think to write about them but Lafcadio captures them in style so we can revisit his Matsue, sharing in his joy at every new discovery.

Hearn’s life in Matsue was by no means perfect. The winter, in particular, disagreed with him. Unable to face a second winter Hearn left Matsue in the summer of 1891 for Kumamoto in the south and, initially, the change was not a happy one. He found the locals too reserved and even the local superstitions which had so delighted him before now seemed hopelessly backward. But the climate suited him and, in time, he came to appreciate his new home. In 1894 he moved to Kobe to work for a newspaper there. In 1896 he became a Japanese citizen and took the name Koizumi Yakumo. A year after this he took a teaching post in Tokyo and lived in that city for the rest of his life.

Lafcadio Hearn passed away in 1904 of a heart attack. The renown he’d built up during his lifetime in the West was slowly undone by Japan’s military expansionism which didn’t sit well with Hearn’s image of a quaint spiritual Japan. Meanwhile, In Japan he initially remained a largely unknown figure, even in the town he most adored. The French author Andre Bellessort visited Matsue in 1919, keen to see Hearn’s home for himself, but he had to go to the local government offices before he found someone who knew where it was.

This changed in the 1920s when Hearn’s work was translated into Japanese for the first time. The Japanese ruling elite were keen to spread the word about this author as an example of a Westerner who really understood Japan, and whose emphasis on old traditions and legends was an image of Japan they wished to maintain. Lafcadio would have been appalled at his work being used to support a regime that he’d despaired at during his lifetime. In his later years he became more cantankerous, disappointed at the country Japan had become. “Carpets – pianos – windows – curtains – brass bands – churches! How I hate them!!” he wrote. A friend of his, Yone Noguchi, recalled Hearn had once said “What is there, after all, to love in Japan except what is passing away?”

These days his reputation sits uncomfortably on two stools. He could be considered as a chronicler of places and stories that most journalists wouldn’t even consider and, as such, he was remarkably ahead of his time. On the other hand, he was a traditionalist, overburdened by nostalgia and spending most of his later life basing his writings on memories or old note books rather than the rapidly-changing world outside. But for all his faults he remains an important and engaging writer from the late Victorian-era who captured something of a now disappeared Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn’s last visit to Matsue was in 1897, just before he moved to Tokyo. He wrote about it for the periodical Atlantic Monthly where he explained his trepidation

“I felt curious in advance as to the nature of the impressions I was going to receive on revisiting, after years of absence, a place known only in the time when I imagined that all Japan was like Izumo.”

He visited his old house with its much-loved garden and the school where he’d taught and, most importantly, an old friend Sentaro Nishida who was suffering with the later stages of tuberculosis.

Hearn’s final departure from Matsue was by steamer, departing from a quayside near Ohashi Bridge where he had first arrived. He was accompanied by Nishida despite the stifling summer weather. This would be the last time that the two friends met and Hearn expressed a pang of regret at his friend’s hospitality in a letter he wrote shortly after.

“I felt unhappy at the Ohashi, because you waited so long, and I had no power to coax you to go home. I can still see you sitting there so kindly and patiently – in the great heat of that afternoon. Write soon – if only a line in Japanese – to tell us how you are.”

And he ends the letter with a brief sentence below his signature that reads,

“I still see you sitting at the wharf to watch us go. I think I shall always see you there.”

Tuesday 25 October 2022

My predictions for Red Dead Redemption 3

 Red Dead Redeption 2 came out four years ago, and since then articles guessing what direction the franchise will take have been popping up in my news feed. None of them ever seem to agree with my assumptions, so I thought I’d jot them down. This way, in the unlikely event that I am right, I can say “I told you so.” (Not just me, of course)

Oh, and spoilers ahead for RDR1 and 2.

Prequel or sequel?

Some writers have suggested that the most obvious choice for RDR3 would be to follow the story of Jack Marston. This would be great, and I'd love to see Rockstar do a game set during the Jazz Age but since RDR2 is a prequel to RDR1 then it would make sense for the third game to follow the pattern.

Also, I think that the story for RDR3 is largely already written and some of the footage already shot. In one interview the actor Peter Blomquist, who plays Micah, describes a hidden scene in which Micah and the gang leader Dutch dance together. Since that scene still isn’t found after four years, I suspect it has been removed and is meant for RDR3. And because we know Micah dies at the end of RDR2, it must be a prequel. Similarly, the end of the third trailer for RDR2 shows the town of Limpany on fire, but in the game itself the town is already a burnt out husk and nothing ever happens there at all.

All of this implies that RDR3 would be a direct prequel, with events leading up to the beginning of RDR2.

Gravestones give clues to some characters we might meet,
if RDR3 is set immediately before RDR2

Main Protagonist?

Since the main protagonist dies at the end of RDR1 (John) and RDR2 (Arthur) then we could reasonably assume the same will happen in RDR3. We have two possible candidates: Davey and Jenny who both recently died when the game begins.

I think Jenny is the most likely of the two, simply because we never see her body so we know little about her. She is sometimes mentioned in dialogue between gang members throughout the game which makes me think that her backstory is better understood by the writers than Davey's story.


If Jenny is the protagonist, then one would assume that feminist issues (the right to vote, domestic abuse) would feature strongly. But I’m inclined to think that because we never see her* that she could well be black or mixed race. This would imply that RDR3 will focus on slavery or, to be more exact, about peony if we bear in mind that RDR3 would probably be set in the mid-1890s. Peony was the method used after the legal abolition of slavery to keep poor workers (largely black) in low-paid work with few rights.


At the end of RDR2 there is a lengthy epilogue and the chance for the player (as John Marston) to free roam around the map, occasionally completing any unfinished missions that aren’t story-specific. We know from dialogue in RDR2 that John goes missing at some unspecified time in the past and he isn’t part of the gang at the very start of the game. This would allow, after the story of RDR3 is told, for the player to take up the character of John and free roam for as long as they please.

Map size?

This is tricky. In RDR2, water acts as its southern border, but it has been discovered that there is a “slip zone” south of Flat Iron Lake, indicating that it was once part of the main game too. There are rowing boats, too, on the southern shore even though there is no legitimate way of getting there.

I have found two areas across the river from Thieve's Landing which are marked as hideouts, which is obviously the remains of some mission that had been removed. 

Also, further along the coast, is a right angled patch of discoloured ground which might have been part of a yard, indicating that a settlement was once going to be here. 

Finally, there is an area opposite Annesburg with a large number of wolves and cougars which I wonder might have been part of a challenge to kill them off before the gang was able to set up camp there.

All of these may be reinstated in RDR3. Or they may not. Either way, I expect RDR3 to have Flat Iron Lake more central in the map.

Beyond the “slip zone” the map continues for far longer than is needed. I’ve explored a lot to the south and east and there’s nothing more to suggest that this was ever going to be part of the game, apart from a dirt road that leads from a forest and up a hill but otherwise serves no discernible purpose.

Release date?

No idea. Sorry.

* there is a sketch of her in Arthur's notebook which shows she has long dark hair, which would suggest white or Native American or South Asian. But equally, there are mentions of Lenny (who is black) having been in love with Jenny and, in 1899, a mixed-ethnic relationship between races would have attracted more comments about the racial aspect but in the game there are none, which makes me suppose that Jenny had dark skin. Her surname, Kirk, suggests some Scottish family or Scottish owners.

Thursday 8 September 2022

Have you been in a ganzfeld experiment?

 My new project is a book about ganzfeld experiments in psi research. I'm keen to avoid yet another telling of the debate over the various meta-analyses and instead want more about the people involved. As such I'm looking for anyone who's participated in a ganzfeld psi experiment, either as an experimenter or judge, sender or receiver. If you're happy to answer a few questions about it by email, then please drop me a line at

Many thanks in advance.


Sunday 14 August 2022

The curious case of Charles Brewin and Frank Johnson

 On 9th November 1903, a civil war veteran and tailor, Charles Brewin walked out of his house in Burlington New Jersey and disappeared. Police searches extended all the way to New York after a hat and note with his name on it were found on a New Jersey ferry but were unsuccessful in solving the mystery.

About a year and a half later, a man named Frank Johnson arrived in Plainfield, Vermont from New York and found employment and lodgings. He was a quiet man, a churchgoer and entirely unremarkable.

Then on the 24th or 25th June 1907 a trolley conductor named Alfred Woolman was in Plainfield when he saw a man he recognised as Charles Brewin on his trolley car. But when he addressed him, the man insisted he was called Frank Johnson and knew nothing of any Charles Brewin, and swiftly left the trolley.

Woolman went to get Brewin’s brother and son and they returned to Plainfield where they found Brewin/Johnson again and tried to persuade him that he was Charles Brewin. But Frank was adamant and they failed to change his mind.

This encounter was described in a local paper where a friend of Frank Johnson, Dr Buchanan, took particular note of it. His father, Mr Buchanan was a chaplain in Burlington and he thought his father might know Charles Brewin. And then, on June 30th, he got a call from Johnson’s landlady Mrs Dunn to come at once: her tenant had woken up saying his name was Charles Brewin and he didn’t know where he was, apparently under the impression that he’d left Burlington the previous day.

He went at once, with his father, and found the gentleman in question pale and weak but otherwise fine, now answering to the name of Brewin and seemingly having no memory of the past four years. Brewin and Mr Buchanan did know each other and he was later reunited with his family and, initially, returned to Burlington. After a little over a week, he and his family moved back to Plainfield and returned to the job he’d held previously when he was Frank Johnson.

That was a brief summary of the case as described by James Hyslop in 1913, vol 7, no 4 of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. There are some contemporary newspaper articles that paint a slightly different picture (ie, that Brewin’s memory returned while he was in hospital) but the number of witnesses Hyslop spoke to lends it the most credibility.

It’s a curious and fascinating case but why would a psychiatric case be written up in a psychical journal?

Hyslop had a theory that episodes like these (and he’d collected about five or six) weren’t the result of internal mental processes but external psychic influences. He went to great lengths to check those few details of Frank Johnson’s pre-1915 history. Each fact: former employees, pastors of churches he attended, even the existence of Johnson’s sister, Anne, for whom he had life insurance had no basis in reality, and did not even have parallels to Brewin’s life apart from them having the same date of birth (22nd February) albeit on different years.

Hyslop had hoped to use hypnosis to try and unlock the secrets of Brewin/Johnson’s missing years but Brewin’s doctor (not Dr Buchanan) wouldn’t allow it. As such, after Hyslop had exhausted his attempts at tracking down Frank Johnson’s life in New York, he finished his research and wrote up his findings.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect for me is the strange dreams he had while he was Frank Johnson. He would often tell his manager, Miss Mary Brown, about these dreams and she recalled that some of them had prophetic qualities.

Hyslop wrote “He [Brewin] frequently told of his dreams of this kind [ie, predictive], but Miss Brown and her niece could remember clearly only the two mentioned, and one more recalled a little later.” and he summarises two of these such dreams…

"On the morning of the fire in the dyeing establishment he told Miss Brown of a dream that he had the night previous.

This he told before the fire occurred. It was that she had a fire in the store and that she was almost burned to death. Such a fire did occur that day and Mr. Johnson rescued Miss Brown who would have otherwise been burned to death. Miss Brown showed me the scars on her arm caused by the fire."


"At another time they had sent a fur coat home after repairing it. The owner complained that the lining was in tatters when it came back. Miss Brown and Mr. Johnson did not understand it, and the coat was brought back.

He then dreamed that he took the coat to New York, went up an elevator, saw a little short man, and was told by him that the skins for the lining were not the right kind.

He then said he would take the coat to New York, which he did the next day, and met the man he had seen in his dream and went through the scenes of the dream itself."

It’s an interesting question: What does a man who doesn’t exist dream about? I could be poetic and suggest that, with no past to dream about, Frank Johnson had to dream about the future, but the supporting evidence is scant. Two dreams in two years (in the third dream, Johnson described how his old boss had been injured and then a year later his business went bankrupt – not very compelling) would not be worth much were it not for Miss Brown mentioning that it frequently happened.

I’ve been trying to find a more recent case of a sustained second personality with no luck. If anyone knows of one, or if they know what the more modern terminology for a case like this is (“double consciousness” doesn’t seem to be in current usage) please leave a comment.


Hyslop, J. (1913), A Case of Secondary Personality, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, v7, n4, p 201-229
“Lost Memory Has Returned,” The Paterson Morning Call, Tuesday, 2nd July 1907, p2
“Brewin is Back In Plainfield,” The Paterson Morning Call, Tuesday 9th July 1907, p1

newspapers found on Fulton Post Cards
I’m not sure but I think you need a US/Canadian IP to access this.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Remote viewing the Iranian Hostage Crisis 1979-81


The Iranian Hostage Crisis began on 4 November 1979 and was initially an anti-US demonstration in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Students, angry at the US agreeing to give medical treatment to the deposed and exiled Shah of Iran, occupied the grounds and buildings of the US Embassy, holding the staff there hostage.

This was not the first such demonstration in Iran that year and, although the US authorities were angry at the situation, it was assumed that it would only last a few days at most. However, when the Ayatollah Khomeni praised the actions of the students, it became something more important and the occupation continued, with 52 hostages being held for 444 days.

The remote viewing project, then called Grill Flame, began work on the hostage crisis within a month and continued to work on it for almost all of the time that Americans were in captivity: the last session is dated 13 January 1981 and the hostages were released one week later.

I wrote a book about the entire crisis called America’s Imaginary Hostage Crisis so if you’re interested in a deep dive into the data, then this is definitely recommended…

But for this blog, I’d like to assess the claims of success that you often see reported in articles or books.

The first is Joe’s recalling of the team being called into a special session on the day the occupation began.

The beginning of the crisis

In the early part of November 1979, I received a call at 4:00 A.M. asking me to report directly to the office [...] So, I arrived not knowing that the American Embassy located in Tehran, Iran, had been invaded by Iranian revolutionaries. It was still dark when all six permanent and part-time remote viewers joined the operations officer, Fred, in the office. He said it was going to sound like a strange request, but that a number of Americans had been taken hostage in a location overseas, and they needed our help in identifying them. He then threw a pile of a more than a hundred photographs onto the tabletop—tell us which are the hostages and which are not. He left the room and left us to the problem.

McMoneagle, Joseph. The Stargate Chronicles: Memoirs of a Psychic Spy: The Remarkable Life of U.S. Government Remote Viewer 001 . Crossroad Press. Kindle Edition. 

Occasionally he recounts this story in talks and presentations, sometimes with the addition that he got it 100% correct.

The story is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, the US authorities knew exactly who was on the US embassy compound at the time the Iranians took over. Indeed, embassy staff in Tehran were calling Washington to keep the US government informed as the Iranians were arriving. Secondly, as mentioned before, this had happened before (in February 1979 the US  Embassy had been occupied in an almost identical event) so the initial reaction to the actions of the students was not one of panic. The US authorities were confident that, after the students had been given some publicity, the Iranian police would move in and clear the compound.

So there’s no reason for an early morning session as described. It doesn’t exist in the declassified articles, nor is it included in lists of sessions or summaries of notable events. So it was either totally unofficial, not even sanctioned by the Grill Flame management, or it didn’t happen at all.

Operation Eagle Claw

Often in articles regarding Grill Flame and the hostage crisis, their role in the operation to rescue the hostages is mentioned. This military plan called Operation Eagle Claw took place in late April 1980, at a time when all of the hostages were still held in the embassy compound.

On 23 April, the remote viewing team were ordered to leave the Fort Meade site, where they were based, and move into three rooms booked in the Best Western Motel. For the next two days they’d run a grueling series of sessions targeted at different parts of the Embassy: twenty sessions in under forty hours.

The army operation taking place in Iran at this time ended in tragedy. Faulty equipment meant the mission was aborted and then, as they were about to return, a sandstorm whipped up and in the ensuing confusion, a helicopter crashed into a plane and eight servicemen died while the rest retreated back to safety.

During the session at the motel, two remote viewers reported seeing something violent. On 24 April at 4pm, Fern described a “quick raid” while describing the Deputy Chief Mission Residence (area I).

“[..] Report the activity as two o’clock in the morning.”

“It’s one of complete mayhem.”

“Tell me what makes you say that.”

“I don’t know.”

“Report the raw imagery to me.”

“People scurrying. Guards scurrying from their cots.”

“Go on.”

“Just a quick impression of a very foreboding quick action.”

“All right. Move in time again one more hour in the future. Three o’clock in the morning. Three o’clock in the morning.”

“I can’t get rid of this imagery of a quick raid.”

Endersby, “America’s Imaginary Hostage Crisis” p98, Kindle

And the second example is often credited to Nancy Stern although it was actually Hartleigh Trent who conducted session CCC84. In her book “Phenomenon” Annie Jacobson writes:

Declassified documents indicate that on April 24, 1980, Nancy S. was conducting Remote Viewing (RV) Session CCC84 when she broke down. The tasker noted, “Admin note 0300 Hours in Iran,” or at 3:00 a.m. local time, Nancy S. reported she was having trouble getting the target she’d been sent to, which was a building in Tehran code-named India. Instead, she said she saw “an attacking force of some kind.” She apologized and stated that perhaps she was “hallucinating.” What she saw was “weird and illogical” but “very vivid, horrible. Like a bad dream…” Her descripion was of “Big chest, big big gorillas. Great big chest beating gorilla leading these apes… they had tiny 9 inch long rockets, hundreds of them.” She apologized again and said she’d “never lost control like this before.” 

Putting to one side any confusion between Nancy or Hartleigh, the fact is that the remote viewing sessions had twice described violent or disturbing scenes. But this was because they weren’t blind to the target, nor to the aims of Operation Eagle Claw. They’d been fully briefed on the topic and so it is not surprising that scenes of armed exchanges would be reported. It’s worth noting, however, that the US forces retreated long before any chance at engaging with enemy troops could take place.

The news about the tragic end of Operation Eagle Claw broke during two sessions being run simultaneously. Both were cut short as the remote viewing team were brought together to watch the TV news. According to McMoneagle, Nancy was deeply upset at this and, in fact, she soon left the team and would never complete another remote viewing session.

Richard Queen

The next most famous claim concerns Keith Harary’s description of a session he undertook in July 1980.

I received an urgent morning call asking me to report to SRI. I met with a tall, expressionless man who served me a cup of hot coffee before we retired to the white room and got to work.

"We have a person who needs a description," the monitor said, offering me not a clue. Though I hardly understood the process, the question triggered a cascade of impressions about a person in a debilitated state of health. "He seems to be suffering from nausea," I said. "One side of his body seems damaged or hurt." I wondered whether the person I was describing might be some business person or a head of state.

"Where will he be in the next few days?" the monitor asked, again without inflection. I suddenly felt the sensation of sitting on an airplane that was taking off.

"On an airplane," I said.

The target turned out to be the hostage Richard Queen, held by Iranian militants and now desperately ill with multiple sclerosis that affected his nerves on one side. In part due to my input, I was later informed by contacts at SRI, President Carter dispatched a plane to bring Queen home.

Keith Harary was working for SRI in July 1980 and he had recently run a number of sessions against the Hostage Crisis. But SRI work focused on the hostages is largely missing from the declassified archives. Any contemporary notes from this particular session targeting Richard Queen are absent, possibly because it wasn’t part of the Grill Flame Project. The first time it is mentioned is in 1983, in an overview of the Grill Flame project when it is listed among a number of “successful viewings for the DoD/intelligence community”. But there are no further details. And Harary himself has issues with how psychic his vision had been.

“Were my impressions psychic? The hostages had been flooding the news for months.

Reports about Queen's health problems, including the issue of "a lame shoulder," had been in the news as well. I don't know whether such reports infiltrated my unconscious without my realizing it, but it would make sense to consider that possibility before the paranormal alternative.


Ultimately, the efforts of the remote viewing team were not well-received and a report written after the crisis was over stated:

“Comparison of the reports with returnee debriefings revealed a very low correlation between actual hostage locations/ conditions and inferences drawn from Grill Reporting. Only seven reports could be positively correlated with actual location or condition. Approximately 59

reports revealed a possible or partial correlation.

However, these same reports often included erroneous data. Sixteen reports contained inconclusive data making correlation highly subjective. Eight reports were noted as being poor from an administrative/ procedural standpoint and therefore being of no value. One hundred and twelve reports were found to be entirely incorrect.”

So, how much of the data produced by Grill Flame was used operationally? None. The  entire project had been for training purposes, something that the remote viewers were not aware of. But by now, despite the results, Grill Flame had other projects to work on and it seems that simply being involved in the Hostage Crisis had raised its profile and secured its funding for another few years, at least.

Friday 20 May 2022

Remote viewing the hostage William F Buckley 1984

Those connected with the US government sponsored remote viewing project during the 1980s often speak about their work on hostage crises. General Dozier, The Iranian Hostage Crisis and LTC Higgins are frequently cited as high-profile cases that the US intel agencies asked for help with.

But one name is rarely mentioned: William Buckley. He was a US Army office and CIA Station Chief who was abducted from Lebanon and the remote viewing team were assigned to it as part of a massive CIA-wide drive to find Buckley and rescue him.

But Buckley was never found. He was tortured and died after a year in captivity in the most harrowing circumstances. The remote viewing team worked on his case for about one month before dropping it due to insufficient new leads to work from.

William Buckley was abducted on the morning of 16th March 1984 from the basement car park of the Al-Manara apartment block where he lived in Beirut. He was hit on the back of the head with suitcase full of rocks and bundled into a white Renault. After this, his exact whereabouts are never properly established.

Given Buckley’s importance and the top secret documents he’d been carrying at the time, the Director of the CIA, William Casey, took a personal interest in the search for him, insisting that every resource be used.

The remote viewers, working under the project name Center Lane, were assigned to this case. They got the commission on Tuesday 20th March 1984 and the first sessions were run the following day. Joe McMoneagle worked on both sessions that day. The report of the session emphasises that RVer described a kidnapping without knowing the target, as evidence that Joe was on target. However, Joe was told to concentrate on a specific set of geographical coordinates on a specific date, 16 March 1984. This would have been enough to tell Joe who and what the target was, especially since Center Lane had already run a number of informal sessions targeting Buckley. In the Stargate Archive, there are a couple of documents containing handwritten notes dated 16 and 17 March which describe those sessions. On one, the RVer writes William’s Buckley name and date and place of birth. Clearly the team were familiar enough with the abduction that even the slightest reference would be enough to help them recognise the subject matter. Suffice to say that none of the remote viewers taking part in this project was truly blind to the target.

From a report written on 13 April 1984 emphasising 
how the first session was run blind.

McMoneagle’s description of the kidnapping on this day is wrong (he has Buckley getting into a black car parked in the street, not being knocked out in a basement car park) although in the second session, after Joe had been shown a photo of Buckley, McMoneagle says that Buckley’s health is poor.

The following week, the remote viewer Tom did a session (during which a reference was made to “yesterday’s session,” but I can’t find a copy of that in the archive). He was given a map of Beirut as cueing material. This would have been enough to tell him the target of the session. He drew a building connected to the abduction, but didn’t specify which city the building was in.

Further sessions were undertaken into April, with little progress. Potential locations were described and drawn, but never named or placed on maps.

Then on 20th April, something quite unexpected happened. Something that demonstrates how serious the CIA were in bringing in every possible resource on this project: Uri Geller was hired to do a session. At least, I strongly suspect he was. The name of the RVer is redacted, but it contains six characters. Mind you, this means the interviewer (#66) calls him “Geller” which seems a little abrupt to me. On the other hand, this mystery psychic also mentions that he knows Arabic and he calls the Lebanon “my backyard”. Plus, some of the exchanges between the two seem very Geller-esque.

The session notes are quite unlike the usual military notes. This remote viewer rambles and asks questions and, midway through, asks if he can be alone in the room while he tries to locate Buckley, communicating with the interviewer via the intercom. The interviewer is quite happy to answer any questions and the RVer gives out words in Arabic, often asking “do you recognise that” without giving a context. The notes last for 71 pages, which is also much longer than a usual session, perhaps because they knew they wouldn’t be able to work with this person again. This is the last session run by Center Lane on William Buckley [1] and a report dated 14 May 1984 summarised the sessions while mentioning that the information from the remote viewers had been passed to the CIA.

On 7 May the US Embassy in Athens was given a video tape of a silent recording showing Buckley, nude, being tortured. He showed signs of being drugged, tied up and he was blinking a lot, suggesting he was usually kept in darkness. This video, however, did not prompt further remote viewing. Then on 30 May, another video was released. This one had sound, and Buckley’s voice was slurred and his hands and legs shook.

Tom did another session one week after the second video. It contains the co-ordinates 33° 51’ 05” N, 30° 20’ 25” E but this is in the Mediterranean Sea, as far as I can tell. This doesn’t seem to have been part of the Center Lane project since there is a note beneath the co-ordinates reading “For Ingo to run” referring to the psychic Ingo Swann who was working for SRI at the time.

SRI, the non-military side of the remote viewing project, also showed an interest in this topic. In mid-July they ran three sessions. The first session put him 8.7 miles south of Beirut, in good health and not tortured. The second said he’d be released around 22 September. The third used a computer-controlled method of randomly cycling through areas of Lebanon until a user stopped it. This was done 50 times and the two most chosen areas were forwarded to the DIA.

After this, remote viewing on this case ceased. On 24 October a third video of Buckley was released. By now he was in a pathetic state, gibbering, drooling, and occasionally screaming. After this disturbing glance into his predicament, all info on Buckley ceased. In April 1985 the CIA tried to find out if it was possible to get him back as part of a prisoner swap, only to be told he had died.

The best guess for Buckley’s date of death is actually two months after that. A freed hostage, David Jacobson, had been held in the infamous “Beirut Hotel” where multiple hostages were kept and he thought Buckley was there too. "The man was an American. Of that I have no doubt. But he was in a very bad way, delirious and coughing. It was hard for me to make out what he was saying because I myself was hooded. Then, in the end there was just this long silence. After a while I heard the guards shouting in Arabic and then what sounded like a body being dragged away." Jacobson dates this event to 3 June 1985.

Looking at the tasks given to Center Lane from 1982-90 (at least, those I can identify), I can’t help but notice that they weren’t asked to remote view David Dodge, the first American to be taken hostage in the Lebanon in 1982, nor any of the hostages after Buckley until 1988 when LTC Higgins was abducted. I wonder if the poor results from the Iranian Hostage Crisis (which they remote viewed extensively) made Center Lane a less attractive proposition until a major push for intelligence gathering was undertaken, such as for Buckley and Higgins, and their advice was sought.

But the thing that I don’t understand is the reason given for ending the remote viewing project so soon. The aforementioned report from the 14 May, after mentioning how closely they were working with the CIA, concludes “No remote viewing interviews have been conducted on the Buckley case since 20 April because the ICLP [Inscom Center Lane Program] exhausted all current leads. Additional interviews will be conducted when the CIA provides information from other sources which needs to be confirmed or when additional EEI [Essential Elements of Information] are provided.”

But remote viewing was supposed to excel in just these circumstances: that it could get intel when otherwise there was nothing to work from. For the project to end its own involvement in the search for Buckley for those particular reasons strikes me as very odd, especially given that the information seemed to be treated seriously at the time. 

[1] Confusingly, the declassified archive contains handwritten notes from a session dated 24 April 1984, but the information contained is identical to the session conducted on the 20th.


Papers from the William Buckley project


SRI sessions summary

Summary of Center Lane sessions

Monday 2 May 2022

Remote Viewing the hostage LTC William Higgins 1988-1989

 The Lebanon Hostage Crisis lasted for a ten-year span of time in which foreign officials would be abducted in Lebanon by various Islamic groups for the purposes of ransoms or publicity for a cause or bargaining for a prisoner to be released. It began in 1982 with the disappearance of four Iranian diplomats and ended with the release of two German relief workers in the summer of 1992.
Of the many US citizens taken hostage, the remote viewing team focused mostly on LTC William Higgins. He was kidnapped on 17th February 1988 neat the city of Tyre in south Lebanon and he died in captivity, killed by his captors at an unspecified time. At no point was his location identified and out of all the hostages, his is the one case with least information to go on.

The project to try and locate Higgins continued for months. Over one hundred sessions were targeted at this kidnap victim. Trying to trace some kind of narrative through this is difficult, especially given that we know almost nothing about what actually happened to Higgins: the place he was held or how he died. These details are either still a mystery or classified.

Three anecdotes regarding this episode are worth quoting from. Lyn Buchanan relates his memory of remote viewing his murder during a session with Higgins as the target.

“One of the last hostage crises we dealt with was the abduction of Col Rich Higgins, who was yanked from his United Nations jeep and kidnapped in 1988 by Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. As a unit, we tracked his condition and situation for months.

One day, I was in the middle of a session when I was startled by an extremely strong impression: "RASAIN." "Where did that come from?" I asked myself. Knowing that you write down every impression that you get in session, I dutifully scribbled, and continued my session.

Not thinking about the sudden impression, I wrote up my report on the colonel's condition and a description of his immediate surroundings. I turned the session in and went home for the day.

A few days later, given the same task, I found Colonel Higgins standing in an outdoor location. He was on the slight slope of a sandy embankment. Then, suddenly, he was on the ground, head downwards on the slope, face down in the sand, dead. Some men with guns were walking away from the body, laughing and joking with one another. I reported my findings, and three other viewers were immediately tasked with his condition and situation, in order to confirm or disprove my findings. The other three viewers found him to be quite alive. But I was certain of what I had found. The next day we got the report that the Hezbollah had sent pictures of the colonel's dead body overnight. During that session I had evidently witnessed his execution. There was no joy in being right this time.”

Next is this except from an article “An Interview with Angela Ford” in the remote viewing magazine, Eight Martinis, issue 14

“Angela initially placed him physically in a specific spot on the map, and advised that he was being held in a building at that exact location. Unfortunately, photos of that specific location indicated that it was nothing but open and bare ground. No building. So the reaction by Dames and others to Angela’s initial effort was a smirk. Later, a released hostage who spent time with Higgins in captivity reported that Angela was absolutely right on the money. The photos which supported the psychics’ effort was outdated – old. In fact, Higgins had been held in a specially constructed shed in the exact location designated by Angela. Photographs might have revealed the building, if current photos had been used to support the psychics’ efforts.”

Third is this paragraph from Jim Schnabel’s 1997 book “Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America’s Physic Spies”

“In February 1988, a senior U.S. Marine Officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, was kidna[[ed from Beirut by the Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah. DT-S was asked to try and find him. Ed Dames, running a team of CRVers, came up with a description of a house where it seemed that Higgins was being held in South Lebanon. Angela Dellafiora, front-loaded with reconnaissance photographs of the area and monitored by Fern Gauvin, picked out instead a certain field near a road; she believed that Higgins was being held underground there, somehow. Several days later, the CRVers began to report that Higgins was dead. Angela reported that he was alive, and would soon be released. Both sets of data were sent downtown, but of course they conflicted, and were probably ignored.”

Going through the archive day by day, a slightly different narrative emerges.

On 18th February, the day after the abduction, the five remote viewers (Mel R, Angela D, Paul S, Lyn B and Gabrielle P) record their initial impressions. Oddly, this is the time when Lyn sees the word “Raisan” as described above. But in the story according to his book, a few days later he saw the execution of Higgins whereas in reality that session wouldn’t happen for over a year. Paul said Higgins was “Surrounded by land. Hills, valleys, farming” and Angela got the phrase “Bladd-ish” or “Blabd-ish.”

Map showing approx locations of predictions made on 18th February 1988

These were all in the southern part of Lebanon near the area he went missing. Interestingly, on the 22nd, the Lebanese radio station Voice of the Nation reported that, according to Hezbollah, Higgins had been moved out of the south of the country. Coincidence or not, future sessions placed Higgins’ location further north.

On the 25th Paul did a dowsing session, pin-pointing three locations, two of which were in the sea. The following day, he placed Higgins 20 miles SW of Lake Qaraoun. On the 4th of March both Lyn and Mel give sessions that locate him in a quarry. A couple of weeks later, different viewers give his location as South Beirut, Blazdah or Nabatieh.

In mid-March Angela made predictions of all of the hostages locations. I believe this session is the source of the “empty field” prediction mentioned twice in the anecdotes above. It appears that these locations were very close to where US intelligence believed Higgins was being held: the village of Arab Salim. 

Angela's predictions of hostage locations (numbers taken from declassified report)

As such, the DIA arranged a follow up session in which Angela (and two other RVers) was told to focus on that area. In the typed notes, the area she chose is labeled “Y” with the note that “(Y appears to be an open field).” However, Angela predicts his imminent move to another area. The next time she specifies an area for Higgins, it is a long way from Arab Salim.

The grey circle shows the approx location where the DIA thought Higgins might be

It’s also around this time that Angela starts to predict his release: she said 22nd April in mid-April, then in May this changed to “the near future” and “prior to 13 June 1988” and then at the end of June the prediction became late July or early August.

In fact, Angela seemed very invested in this case. She continued to target him in sessions long after the rest of the team had stopped. Indeed, apart from a flurry of team activity in January 1989, she is the only one working on Higgins between August 1988 and the news of his death in late July 1989.

On 21st April 1988, a photo of Higgins in captivity was released by his captors and after that, what happened to him remains a secret. In May, the DIA asked the RV team if Higgins was still alive. All of the sessions report him as living.

Photo of Higgins released 21st April 1989

Then, in May, came a number of sessions that all seemed to point to Higgins being in the sea. Looking at media reports on the hostage crisis leading up to this time, I can’t find any reason why this might be. Nevertheless, it’s a curious chapter that’s worth mentioning. On 18th, Lyn tries dowsing and gets two locations: one between Beirut and its airport and the other in the sea. The next day, Angela says Higgins is in a rowboat and on the 21st Gabrielle says he’s on a vessel, Lyn says it's a fishing boat and Angela calls it a skiff.

Whatever the reason for this, after a two week break, when the team reconvene, Higgins is no longer at sea. In June and July only Mel and Angela work on this target. Mel puts Higgins in South Beirut while Angela continues to cast her net much further field: Anan, Ayn Nub, Beirut Airport, Bsaba, Khadah are all mentioned.

After this, only Angela continues this project. Most of these session notes aren’t in the archive and one wonders if these sessions were officially requested or something Angela felt compelled to do. Looking at the list of sessions completed at a time when the intelligence services had all but given up on Higgins it resembles a vigil, to be honest, and I’m impressed at the dedication shown by Angela during these months.

Finally, on 31st July, a video showing Higgins’ dead body was released to CNN. On the week commencing 2nd August, three weeks since Angela’s last session about him, the team as a whole was asked to determine if Higgins was alive or dead.

On that day, Angela doesn’t answer that question and still can’t during another session the following day. Another remote viewer, Robin, said Higgins was alive and that wasn’t his body in the video. Lyn’s session is dated 4th August and his tasking is for the location where Higgins was last alive. Oddly, despite his later claim to have seen his execution on the 30th July, here he says Higgins’ date of death was 1st August: the day after the video was released. This clearly contradicts Buchanan's story about remote viewing Higgins’ execution. The final session on this project is dated 15th August 1989 and in it Robin still maintains that Higgins is alive.

In truth, although his captors said they’d executed him in revenge for the kidnapping by Israel of the imam Sheik Obied, Higgins had actually died long before his body was used in the video. His body was finally recovered in 1991, found in the streets of Beirut. The reason for death and his physical state have never been made public.

The remote viewing team clearly had little success on this project and the anecdotes that claim some kind of accuracy rely on reporting only the best guess, or inventing a best guess entirely, and also by changing the time involved from almost a year to just a few days. Below is a map of the predictions by the team that I can specify a location for, up to the summer of 1988.