Authentic Angel Sighting – or Fail?

A reply I offered to a claim of an angel sighting (by an atheist). Below is my answer. I clipped their content, only because several paragraphs were not about this event, but other unrelated stuff. Below, however, is the full content of their text (in red) relating the tale, and my responses:

I checked the e-mail list, and your note didn’t show up in regular e-mail or in spam, so no idea what happened to it. I haven’t been answering mail for a bit, because I’m horribly busy this summer, but will answer this one for that reason. I’ve snipped out all the superfluous paragraphs, and I’m putting your story (whether or not you like the show or are an atheist is not relevant to anyone’s evaluation of the story below) to the blog where it can receive skeptical feedback.

BRIEFLY–what I’m about to write I experienced with my twin sister, myself, and our friend C in about 1986-1987. Three months ago, I revisited this experience and I called them both. I asked my sister what her memories were of this experience–she remembered it in clear detail…

It may seem like “clear detail”–but research on memory says otherwise. Forgetfulness of events varies widely, but learning method makes a demonstrated difference. In your case, there was no method–and no matter how “clear” it feels, none of us, including her, can know how reliable the recollection of any of the three of you is now.

…which were consistent with my own. When I called our friend C and brought it up she responded with GREAT enthusiasm–she remembered it perfectly and was astonished that I would call her to ask her if she remembered it…she was shocked.

This is not only not a surprise, but unfortunately, we have an issue known as “conformity” with memory that causes a sticky wicket here. When cops come to a crime, they pull the witnesses apart to question them. This is to avoid the witnesses contaminating each others’ stories by coloring each others’ recollections by hearing what others say they saw. People have been demonstrated to actually change their correct evaluations to incorrect ones when confronted with very small groups (yes, including three people) with different evaluations. And below, you say you were initially mocked for your reaction and that even the one who mocked you thought the event was “amazing.” It’s unrealistic for me to believe you saw something bizarre and decided not to discuss it among yourselves at the time. And by doing so, you contaminated all three stories/memories for all time. I do get it’s natural to talk about a thing like this. But it’s an unfortunate reality that it calls all your stories into question now. Are parts that align aligning because of what you all independently saw? Or due to influence between you during your later discussion of the event? We now have no way to know.

Here’s what happened.

On a summer day in 1986 or 1987,

Again, far in the past–decades ago.

me and my twin sister S were living in Ft. Mohave Arizona. We went to our friend C’s trailer where she lived. We visited, whatever, I don’t remember what we did or said. We went outside her trailer. Climbed down her steps. Now before I express what we saw let me state the geography because this is very important. We were looking due west at a mountain range that is just across the Colorado River in extreme Southern Nevada/California right where the three states meet. It was just after dusk and when we looked at the sky

OK. So it’s around sunset as you are facing the sun, or it’s after sunset, and light has already begun fading. Either option is not the best for clear sight. You are staring toward what is, or was, a huge source of light that is now filtering at an angle through the atmosphere at a point where atmospheric distortion is common.

we saw a multicolored

Stop right there. When I hear “multi-colored” in the sky, it’s impossible NOT to think “light refraction.” There is a huge list of bizarre light phenomena that cause “multi-colored” phenomena of countless types in the sky when the sun filters through (or other factors are present): rainbows, aurora borealis, halos, coronas, aureoles, and many, many more rare phenomena. Any level of dust or mist can sometimes exaggerate this. So, my first thought is that what you’re describing is a huge candidate for one of these.

angelic being

Since nobody knows what an angel is, this is unhelpful. We don’t know it was a “being” or an “angel.” You give no indication you even tested in any way to see if it was solid and not a mirage of some sort or a light phenomena of some kind.

that can only be measured in size by degrees: It was perhaps if you were to look at the sky 20, perhaps 25 degrees in height/size.

The sky presents size and distance dilemmas that are uniquely problematic. I can cover the entire sun on a summer day in Texas, just with my thumb. That should not be confused with my thumb being as large as the sun. So, I don’t know size/distance of what you describe–nobody does, because saying it covered from x-degrees to y-degrees is as unhelpful as saying my thumb blocked out the whole sun.

It was a being

You don’t ever demonstrate how you determined this.

with wings,

With what appeared to be something shaped like wings.


Again, sounds like light refraction.

with it’s face hidden in it’s right wing.

If the “face” was “hidden”–then how do you know there was a face?

It was not looking at us.

See above question.

It was hiding or shielding its eyes from us.

Then how do you know it had “eyes”?

It was hovering in the sky,

And yet seemed to have “wings”? And this didn’t strike you as evidence that it was potentially illusory rather than real?

just before the mountains but floating if you will in the sky.

Again with the mountains. And again, doesn’t “wings,” but “floating,” seem nonsensical? But let me get back to the mountains. There are specific illusions/mirages that are only observed in/around mountains. Not surprisingly, one is a giant human form encased in a rainbow (multi-colored) halo. It is even sometimes called a “mountain specter.” Here is a picture of one that looks like a human figure with wings in a multi-colored background:

I can’t help but relate this to your description. For the record, these things can be quite large and appear above the mountains as well:

It was HUGE. It wasn’t like an angel that you would see in a painting

Which just goes back to “then what sort of angel was it like? A real one?” I don’t know what an angel is, and you’re saying it isn’t like the depictions…so I’m back to square one. Or do you just mean it was exactly like religious depictions, but larger? Except I don’t recall rainbow angels in any old depictions.

…being a bit larger than a person–ten feet high. It was immense.

Like the mountain specters. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it was a mountain specter. I’m saying that you can see a lot of weird crap in the atmosphere–all of which you discounted in Facebook chat when you said it was supernatural. How you determined it wasn’t any sort of atmospheric illusion is beyond me, because you offer no verification or evidence, just a story including that you never verified what it was. So how you rule out a battery of odd atmospheric possibilities is a larger mystery than your story. But, before you write back to insist that a mountain specter isn’t the specific phenomena you observed, don’t bother. It’s never what I suggest to people, and it’s always exactly what they’ve already decided it was–despite the fact it was ages ago and they took no steps to verify any cause (like toss a rock toward it to see if it’s at least a stone’s throw away? Or try to talk to it–since it’s a being?). It may not have been a Broken Spectre (mountain specter), but this is only put forward to suggest there is at least one easy-to-find explanation that matches everything you described so far: multi-colored, winged, large human, no visible face, in the mountains. Bingo. But even if it’s not that–it shows the atmosphere can do some pretty bizarro crap–that you aren’t considering as possible. (Again, based on the Facebook chat where you told me it could only have been supernatural).

It’s size could only be measured in degrees from the top of the mountain to it’s top…probably 20, maybe 30 degrees.

Again, is my thumb as big as the sun?

When I saw this angel, at the age of 16 or so, I IMMEDIATELY fell on my face. I prostrated myself onto the ground in sheer horror and fear. I was praying and was in total shock.

Immediate facepalm. You’ve offered this long, detailed description—and now you say you immediately turned away upon seeing it and laid on the ground praying? Additionally, praying? So, at the time of this sighting you were theistic at some level. This means primed for a vision of an angel in the same way Christians who have NDE seem to always see Jesus.

I don’t know what my twin sister S did when she saw it

Clearly, as you were facing the ground. So, there’s a lot you didn’t see. Additionally, your brain was in a state–you admit you were in “fear”–which releases a lot of odd brain chemistry.

but our friend C mocked me.

Odd reaction, isn’t it–for a woman who just saw, like you, a real live angel and not just a cool atmospheric phenomena?

She said to me, “you’re just like Shirley MacLaine”…you know–kinda mocking me about it.

Again, she wasn’t saying “Wow–we just saw some weird angel being?!” And that isn’t a clue that maybe what she saw was interpreted a bit differently?

For years, I was totally floored that she could react to this experience in such a mocking way.

I’m sure you were–because if she saw what you claim was actually there, her reaction would make no sense, right?

Twenty years or so went by.

Again…big problem with time/distance from the event.

In 2010–don’t remember the month–I was thinking about this. I called my sister. I asked her if she remembered this experience. She did.

Recalling the event is not evidence you saw an angel, just fyi. It’s evidence she recalls an event. I don’t know what her perception of it was–or has become. However, as described above, since you’ve discussed it (contamination in the form of conformity) and it was 20 years ago or more (memory distorts and fades with time, even if it doesn’t feel like to us), her recollection of the event at this point would be little to no help.

I called C. She not only remembered but was like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing, I remember it vividly”.

Again, “vivid” should not be confused with “accurate,” when we’re talking about 20+ years ago.

Again–I can’t PROVE to you guys that I experienced this. There is no way I can prove to you that this occurred other than to take perhaps a lie detector test…maybe in an ideal world us three could come to Austin, take Sodium Pentathol or lie detector tests, or whatnot to try to prove that this is true.

Here is where perhaps the biggest fallacy occurs. Many people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. They tell very similar stories. I don’t doubt their sincerity. I doubt their interpretation of events. Here, I only have your interpretation of the event. And two other people recall “something” happened. You did nothing to verify what you saw–so you don’t know, and I don’t know, and nobody knows what it was. It was 20 years ago, and we can’t go back and investigate. I only have you saying “this is what it was” and offering no evidence except contaminated witnesses of 20+ year-old events.

It’s lost to the past. And there’s nothing in the story–and nothing that could ever be in any testimony-only tale–to confirm whether what you saw was real or illusory–natural or not. However, all verified explanations for all phenomena ever observed that have been explained, have been confirmed as natural events. So, I’m putting my money on “natural event.” But if you ever find a way to demonstrate otherwise (not just insist), feel free to provide your evidence.

[Addendum: I shot the first mountain specter link to a skeptic friend on Facebook chat this morning while I was editing the blog. I hadn’t told him about this correspondence or what I was blogging. I included no context–just said “cool phenomena” and the link. He posted back immediately “It’s an angel!!!”]