By MICHAEL GROSSO, PH.D
During the Second World War the Americans had an airbase in Bari, about seventy-five miles from San Giovanni Rotondo, a village in Southern Italy that houses Capuchin friary. According to US intelligence, the Germans had a munitions facility in the hills nearby; an officer was assigned the job of bombing it. As the planes neared San Giovanni, the officer saw in the sky before him the figure of a monk waving him back.
Dumbfounded by this spectacle, the officer ordered the planes to turn back. When the war ended, he went to the friary and met the monk who had appeared in the sky. His name was Padre Pio (1887 – 1968).On a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1979, I was unable to learn the officer’s name or any details confirming this fantastic story. According to Father Joseph Pius Martin, an American friar in San Giovanni, the pilot lives in Florida – the only additional lead I obtained.
Stories like the flyer’s are legion. The work of sorting out fact from fiction is still underway. Many incredible claims about Padre Pio are well-documented; but many are based on hearsay, part of the folklore growing around the monk. One extraordinary thing about Padre Pio was his ability to induce belief in the extraordinary. He had a gift for catapulting people into a fairyland of living mythic powers. In Padre Pio’s world, ideas of fantasy and creatures of mythology come to life: Madonnas, guardian angels, shapeshifting demons, bilocation, magical cures, time-travel, and a good deal more. However you rate the literal truth of particular claims, his story is bound to disturb our routine picture of what is possible. Around the Padre, the incredible became credible, the impossible became actual.
And yet, no matter how extraordinary the feats of Padre Pio, he was a human being. I assume therefore that his “miraculous” powers are latent powers of all human beings. I underscore this with reason. Some people will resist the claims about Pio because they might see them as meant to ratify church dogma. (The truth is that miracles have been used for propaganda.) However, while I grant that you cannot fully understand Padre Pio’s miracles apart from the symbols and archetypes of his Christian world, I also think they transcend that world and point to a universal human potential. Moreover, comparable phenomena from other traditions bear this out, the best contemporary example being the case of Sai Baba.1
These phenomena point to possibilities rejected by the custodians of the intellectual and moral establishment: by scientific materialists, who make up the rank and file of academia, and by liberal and fundamentalist Christians, who wear their own conceptual blinkers. Since, however, a critical review of evidence is impossible here, I will restrict myself to trying to give a rough idea of the man, the range of his unusual powers, and to noting their possible implications for human evolution.
EXTRAORDINARY ACCESS TO THE INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT
From early childhood Francesco Forgione lived in a world of visionary hyper realities. At five he cried so much, especially at night, that his father once lost his temper and hurled him to the ground. Recalling these early years, Padre Pio said: “My mother would turn off the light, and a lot of monsters would come up close to me, and I would cry.”2 Padre Pio said of these early experiences: “It was the devil who was tormenting me.” Terrifying visions continued throughout his life, inseparable from his higher visions. Raptures, ecstasies, often lasting hours, in which his senses were suspended, occurred frequently. We know of these from his letters3 and from observations of his spiritual directors such as Father Agostino4 who eavesdropped on the Padre’s conversations with invisible beings. These included Jesus, Mary, Francis of Assisi, and his guardian angel. One has to read Agostino’s Diary to get a sense of the intense reality of Padre Pio’s visionary encounters.
Padre Pio’s internal environment was also infested with dark hostile forces. The higher visions were preceded by shapeshifting diabolic apparitions: huge black cats, naked women who danced lasciviously before him, an invisible entity that spat in his face and tortured him with deafening noises, an executioner who whipped him. According to one of his confreres: “Padre Pio was very alert to unexpected movements and sounds. He said that the devil appeared to him in all shapes. He had fear even of a mouse, because the devil would start out as a mouse and turn into a claw and go for his eyes.”5
These encounters were physical. In Pietrelcina, you can still see claw marks and splattered inkspots made by the alleged demons. Once, the iron bars of the monk’s cell were found twisted out of shape after a night of grappling with invisible forces. Although no one beside the Padre ever saw the demons, the din they made was often heard by eavesdropping monks. Even more striking, Padre Pio was often found unconscious, sometimes on the floor beside his bed, covered with bruises from the uncanny assaults.
A well-witnessed event occurred in July 1964. A possessed woman was dragged to San Giovanni. When she saw Pio, she cried out in an unnaturally deep voice: “Pio, we will see you tonight.” That night the friars thought the house was struck by an earthquake. The Superior rushed to Pio’s room and found him on the floor, bleeding from the head. Oddly, there was a pillow under his head. Pio explained that the Madonna put it there. In the morning, the possessed woman (undergoing exorcism from another priest) shrieked: “Last night I was up to see the old man. I hate him so much because he is a fountain of faith. I would have done more, except the Lady in white stopped me.” This taxes my boggle-threshold as much as it must the reader’s; nevertheless, Schug based his account on eyewitnesses not disposed to sensationalism. Pio’s face was so disfigured he was unable to appear in public for five days. On another occasion he was found with broken bones in his arms and legs.
The attacks lasted throughout his long life. In 1918 he wrote: “I cannot describe to you how those wretched creatures were beating me! Several times I thought I was near death. Saturday it seemed as if they really wanted to finish me….” (Epistolario, III, p.311.) Sometimes his afflictors came to him under the disguise of his spiritual director, Father Agostino, or as an apparition of a saint or guardian angel. Padre Pio had a technique for exposing these sinister masquerades, but not without having to endure a good deal of anguish and uncertainty.
The psychologically sophisticated reader is bound to be skeptical about these reports of demonic assault. One might turn to Wilhelm Reich for an explanation. Reich believed such experiences were the result of repressed orgone energy turning against oneself. Or we could invoke the pathology of poltergeist phenomena to explain Padre Pio’s demons. I am not certain how smoothly these explanations would fit.
The point I want to make about “demons” and evolution is this: It does appear, as a matter of psychological fact, that the more one advances in higher states of consciousness, the greater the likelihood of attracting combative, destructive forces that try to drag you back down to ordinary reality. The story of the Buddha struggling to meditate on the Immovable Spot under the Bo Tree is a classic Eastern illustration. In Pio’s case, the combat occurred at two levels: Throughout his life he was molested by invisible “diabolic” forces; but throughout his life he was also persecuted by jealous, envious, and malicious human beings, often individuals within the church hierarchy. It has, in fact, been argued by Ennemond Boniface6 that certain individuals in the church were responsible for the priest’s death.
If Padre Pio had to battle sinister forces, he also received supernormal favours. In Padre Pio’s world, for instance, higher help took the form of his “guardian angel.” The notion of guardian angels may amuse modern rationalists; still, new age enthusiasts show a keen interest in the functional equivalent of such helping entities. Carlos Castaneda, you may recall, fascinated us with his talk of “allies,” those unspecified forces out there ready to help us. The phenomenon of “channelling,” its invocation of inner guides and otherworldly helpers, echoes the ancient doctrine of guardian angels. Similar parallels are notable in the UFO contactee literature.
Padre Pio’s guardian angel was no slouch. One of his most striking achievements was to serve as translator of French and Greek, languages Pio was unacquainted with. Paranormal comprehension of Greek is more impressive than French, the latter being in many ways similar to Latin and Italian. In 1912, Agostino, by way of experiment, wrote letters to Pio in French and Greek. When Pio received them he was at Pietrelcina for medical reasons, under care of a parish priest, don Salvatore Pannullo. Pannullo wrote on August 25, 1919: “I, the undersigned, testify under oath, that when Padre Pio received this letter (a letter in Greek and in the Greek alphabet), he explained its contents to me literally. When I asked him how he could read and explain it, as he did not know even the Greek alphabet, he replied: ‘My Guardian Angel explained it all to me’.”
The virtue of this report (unfortunately scant in detail) is that we must assume either that both Pio and Pannullo conspired in an act of pure deception or that the story is true. I personally doubt a conspiracy; the records point to Pio’s lifelong scrupulous adherence to truth.
Guardian angel aside, we can assume the translation occurred by telepathy. But this would be telepathy of a rare order; for the telepathic transmission of skills (such as understanding a language) between living persons is unknown in experimental parapsychology. I might add that Agostino confirmed Pio’s ability to comprehend the letters written in French and Greek. There are also stories of Pio hearing confessions in languages he did not know.
Apparently, guardian angels are well-rounded in their education; the following story shows they know something about automobile mechanics. In 1959, a woman was driving with her husband from Rome to San Severo. (The couple prefer to remain anonymous.) En route their car broke down; for two hours cars sped by without stopping. Toward nightfall, the woman grew anxious and began to pray to Padre Pio. Within ten minutes a black car pulled up and an elegant young man dressed in blue stepped out. He lifted the hood and said: “Look, you lost all the water from the radiator, and it’s burnt out. Take your can and fill it up with water. Near here, there is a farmhouse, which has a well; take the water from there.”
The husband took the can from the car trunk and did as the young man said. The man then took a black box from his car, produced a roll of adhesive tape, and sealed the radiator. He had beautiful hands with agile rapered fingers. The dog, who normally barked at strangers, sat in the car’s back seat, strangely calm. The husband returned with the water and filled the radiator.
“You can return home safely; anyhow, you are quite near,” said the mysterious helper, who then got in his car and drove off.
The couple watched the car pull away and looked for the license plate. There was none! Instead they saw a white strip marked with hieroglyphics. The car moved away slowly on Via Aurelia; suddenly it vanished.
Arriving home in a “dreamy state,” they reflected on further oddities: The young man somehow knew there was an empty can in the trunk; also, that they lived “quite near.” Later they tried to relocate the well and farmhouse but despite diligent efforts were unable to. There was no farmhouse in the area where their car broke down.7
Padre Pio’s extraordinary access to his internal worlds included access to other people’s internal worlds. Two well-attested examples were his ability to read minds, especially in the confessional, and his ability to change or convert minds.
Like Saint John Vianney, the famous Curè of Ars, Padre Pio displayed supernormal powers of mind reading in the confessional. Hearing confessions was paramount in Pio’s long ministry. Hour after hour, day after day for over fifty years, he sat in a wooden booth and listened to people pour out their most intimate secrets.
John Schug, who wrote one of the more critical books in English on Pio,8 tells of a confessor who had the intention to murder his wife. “Murderer!” Padre Pio roared in the church. The man skulked away and returned the next day, penitent and purged of his intention.
Schug provides a detailed first-person account of Federico Abresch’s confessional encounter with Pio. According to Abresch, a Lutheran convert, Pio recalled actions and thoughts he had long forgotten. “He enumerated with precision and clarity all of my faults, even mentioning the number of times I had missed Mass.” Pio reminded Abresch of something he had forgotten years ago when he got married. In fact, it was only through Pio’s remarks that Abresch was able to reconstruct his past. Pio apparently had a more exact knowledge of Abresch’s unconscious mental history than Abresch.
Abresch, by the way, regarded this as proof that something more than merely human “thought-transference” was involved. The fact that Pio could “read” the unconscious of another person seemed evidence of God’s action, something totally beyond human potential. But Abresch is mistaken. Evidence from mediumship and experimental parapsychology show that telepathic leakage from another person’ s unconscious does in fact occur. Once again I believe we are dealing with a general potential of the human mind, brilliantly manifest in exceptional beings such as Pio.
Padre Pio’s access to internal environments enabled him not just to read but to change or convert minds. The Gospels portray Jesus as a man who took immediate psychic possession of his disciples. Pio too apparently had this ability; consider the following example from Schug.
Unemployed Laurino Costa sent Padre Pio a telegram asking for prayer to help him find a job. The Padre telegrammed back: “Come to San Giovanni Rotondo at once.” The young man arrived penniless and was standing with a crowd of men in the sacristy. Padre Pio, who had never met Laurino, shouted at him: “Laurino, come here. I see you have arrived.” Bewildered, the youth approached. “Laurino, you will feed my sick.” (A cook was needed in the new hospital.) “But Padre,” Laurino protested, “I’ve never cooked an egg in my life.” The Padre insisted: “Go and feed my sick. I’Il always be near you.” Laurino went to the hospital and rang the doorbell. The Mother Superior answered: “You must be the experienced cook we’ve been waiting for.” Within three hours he was at work. Laurino admitted to Schug: “To this day (14 years later) I still don’t know what happened. All day long I found myself calmly working and telling others what to do, as though I was carrying out a routine I had been used to.”
MASTERY OF TIME AND SPACE
Reports abound of Pio’s double appearing everywhere, from the American midwest to China and Africa. The idea of bilocation blatantly contradicts the belief that a human being is a physical object occupying one space. The idea that Jack could be at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in New York and simultaneously at Main and Third in Shebogan, Wisconsin, is obviously absurd. Nevertheless, the annals of saints, yogis, and psychics are full of bilocation stories, sometimes well attested.
Padre Pio bilocated by means of his voice, his presence, his aroma; he appeared in people’s dreams and sometimes he appeared fully materialised.
Mary Pyle, one-time secretary to Maria Montessori, spent the last 45 years of her life in San Giovanni Rotondo. In her diary she wrote: “One day I went into the sacristy and said to Padre Pio: ‘Father, I believe my mother is in Florence today.’ His immediate answer, given with certainty was: ‘No, she is in Umbria.’ Surprised I said, ‘No Father, I do not believe she was supposed to go to Umbria.’ But he insisted, looking far into space. ‘She’s been in Umbria.’ A few days later I received a letter from my mother who told me: ‘Thank Padre Pio for the visit he paid me while I was sick in bed in Perugia (which is in Umbria). I did not see him with my eyes, nor did I hear him with my ears, but I felt his presence near my bed’.”9
Padre Pio knew in advance he would be able to bilocate at a particular place. The Vicar General of Uruguay, Monsignor Damiani, a frequent visitor at San Giovanni, once told him he wanted to die in San Giovanni; he wanted Pio to assist at his death. Pio said the Vicar would die in Uruguay, but promised assistance anyway when the day of reckoning came. In 1941, the Vicar died in Uruguay. Cardinal Barbieri was in the house where Damiani resided the night he died. Someone knocked on his half-open door. He noticed a Capuchin pass, got up and went to Damiani’s room. The Vicar had just died of a heart attack, but left a note on his dresser: “Padre Pio was here.”10
Many bilocation stories revolve around healings. A typical example: June 12, 1952. Lucia Bellodi, stricken with pernicious diabetes was on her death bed when she sat up and began to wave her hands. She cried out that Padre Pio had appeared to her, told her she was cured and that she should come to his monastery. By June 16 she regained her speech and stopped having to consume twenty-five quarts of water a day. When she visited the Padre he smiled and said: “I’ve been waiting for you.”
A tantalising case is that of Cardinal Mindszenty. According to a reliable Vatican source he once received a “visit” from Pio while imprisoned in Communist Hungary. The monk of course was in San Giovanni, but his double turned up with water, wine, and altar breads, served Mass and vanished. When Schug wrote to confirm this from Mindszenty, he received back a one-sentence letter: “I cannot say anything about that.” If the story were false, it’s not clear why the Cardinal didn’t say so, unless he meant to perpetuate a pious myth.
This form of bilocation, if it actually occurred, implies materialisation of the double and teleportation of objects. There are, in fact, many reports, some of them reasonably compelling, of other saints bilocating at great distances and teleporting physical objects. Two outstanding examples are Saint Martin of Porres and Sister Maria Agreda of Spain. Scott Rogo’s book, Miracles,11 documents the prodigies of these two saints.
I want to note in passing another phenomenon related to Pio’s bilocatability. He was, on many occasions, said to disappear from the confessional, a structure in full view and always surrounded by crowds of devotees. He would reappear in the rectory or sacristy. Asked about these disappearances, which occurred when he had a hard time breathing, the Padre would casually remark, “I flew over your heads.”
Perhaps the best authenticated type of Pio’s bilocation was via his characteristic odour. The odour of sanctity is linked with the phenomenon of bodily incorruption.12 The incorrupt bodies of saints are known to give off inexplicable fragrances, but with Pio the paranormal fragrance made his presence known to people at a distance. The scent emanated from his person and also, contrary to nature, from the blood that came from his stigmata. The first doctors who examined him actually complained that the monk was using perfume. Padre Pio’s brand of “perfume” however, was noticed by people far away from him, sometimes thousands of miles.
Bernard Ruffin, whose book on Pio is the best in English,13 gives a detailed account of the fragrance occurring to a Lutheran seminarian, Robert Hopcke, in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1978, ten years after Pio’s death. William Carrigan, normally skeptical of miracle stories, reported to Ruffin his perception of the aroma at his desk at Foggia (about twenty miles from the monastery): “I had no trouble in identifying the aroma as that of Padre Pio. It wasn’t something you could confuse with any other odour.” Padre Alberto D’Apolito, Pio’s confrere for many years, wrote in 1978: “The reality is that hundreds of thousands of individuals, even unbelievers, have testified and continue to testify that they have suddenly and inexplicably perceived the perfume of Padre Pio.” Emilio Servadio, a Jew and leading Roman psychoanalyst, had a powerful experience of Pio’s scent during a visit to San Giovanni in 1937.
If the Padre had a knack for “prolonging his personality”14 in space, he could also prolong it in time. Precognition, if a fact of nature, wrenches our normal view of time, cause and effect. (It seems impossible for something that hasn’t occurred to influence us in any way). Even so, there are countless claims of Pio’s paranormal forays into the future. These were usually done offhandedly, never as public pronouncements. Pio was unusually prescient about what Italian cities would be bombed during the war and what soldiers would return.
Like spiritual masters in other traditions, Pio foretold the year of his death. He often had prevision of others’ deaths. A young priest, Father Dionisio, on his way to Venice for studies, said goodbye to Pio. “Studies! Studies!” Pio muttered, “think of death, instead, so that when it comes…. “ His voice trailed off. A confrere who overheard commented on Pio’s strange way of saying goodbye. Pio shrugged wistfully. Twenty days later the young priest was dead. In 1983 Pope John Paul was almost assassinated; I watched a Vatican official on TV say that Pio had told the Polish Cardinal years ago he would one day be Pope; he also said the Polish Pope would be brought down in blood early in his tenure. I hope Pio’s prophetic gift is flawed, for he once said a war was coming which would destroy two thirds of humanity.
SYMBOLIC TRANSFORMATION OF PHYSICAL REALITY
In my view, supernormal psychic phenomena reflect an evolutionary trend toward increasing porousness of matter to the goals of consciousness. It is as if some restless shapeshifting creative spirit were struggling to make matter plastic and permeable to human dreams and desires – especially the matter of the human body.
Eastern, occult, and Christian traditions speak of the subtle, astral, pneumatic, or light bodies. The physical phenomena of mysticism reflect this trend toward the symbolic transformation of the body of flesh into a more expressive body of light. Incorruption, luminosity, inedia, the odour of sanctity, levitation, and other phenomena may be looked at from this perspective.
The stigmata illustrate the malleability of the human body to the power of the spiritual imagination. Francis of Assisi was the first to reproduce the wounds of Christ in his own body, and since Francis hundreds of cases have been reported. The Church by and large takes a dim view of these often bizarre lesions, recognising they may be symptoms of hysteria as much as signs of heroic sanctity.
But Padre Pio’s stigmata were unique. Visible for over fifty years, the apertures in his palms were perfectly circular, and were never inflamed, infected, or suppurated; the blood, which gushed from all five wounds, was copious and bright red. It effused an unnatural fragrance. At his death the wounds healed without a trace of scar tissue, a fact that is dermatologically inexplicable. While some cases of stigmata can reasonably be ascribed to hysteria, let me at least note that nobody adequately informed would dare to characterise this down-to-earth, often uncouth, ironical, and fanatic-despising man as hysterical.
With Francis and Pio, the wounds arose from a passionate identification with the crucified Christ. Whether we think of the stigmata as miraculous or pathological, at the very least they say something about the physical power of the imagination; if imagination can produce such extraordinary lesions, it could be mobilised for healing purposes. The stigmata show the power of the imagination to mold the human body. Here life imitates art; both men, be it noted, were first stigmatised while contemplating artworks showing the crucifixion. The stigmatised body is a living sculpture.
Padre Pio’s fame is also due to his reputation as a healer. Reports of extraordinary healings continue even after his death. Many, if not most, of the healings ascribed to Padre Pio were probably psychosomatic. Intense faith, expectation, contact with an authoritative figure like Padre Pio might well lead to improvement in many functional, psychogenic disorders.
But many stories, if true, imply a radically higher type of healing. For example, there is the account of Vera Calandra’s dying child materialising a new bladder; of Gemma di Giorgio’s pupilless blind eyes being made to see; and of Giovanni Savino’s blown out eye (due to a dynamite accident) being rematerialised. So far, however, the medical documentation I’ve seen for these claims is less than compelling.
Claims for medical clairvoyance also exist. In the early 1950s Padre Costantino Capobianco had a sinus problem. X-rays were taken; three doctors recommended surgery. “What are these things?” asked Pio about the X-rays. “They’re all wrong.” A fourth specialist was consulted; the X-rays were misinterpreted, the surgery unnecessary.15
Padre Pio once said his real work would begin after his death. Moreover, the Church requires of her duly canonised saints evidence of postmortem miracles. This seems like a tough requirement, but a possible example may be the following: Teacher Alice Jones of Liverpool, England, suffered from neurofibroma, which paralysed her from the left hip to the toe. Alice, 50, a Protestant, was visited by a Catholic priest, Eric Fisher, who prayed over her. “As he knelt there,” said Alice, “there appeared another figure rising from his body. I was so frightened I couldn’t move. The figure had the face of an old man with a white beard. He spread his hands in front of me and I could see the holes in his palms. I seemed to hear the words, ‘Stand up and walk.’ So I did. And I suddenly felt whole again. Suddenly I was no longer crippled and the man was gone.” Later she recognised the face of the man who cured her in a photo of Padre Pio. Dr. Francis Mooney, a Liverpool physician, testified: “I have very often come across neurofibroma and have never heard of a single case where it has cleared up spontaneously…. I had her X-rayed. There is no medical explanation for the fact that she is completely cured.”16
The healed body is a foretaste of the resurrected body. Supernormal healings are symbolic of the transformation of the corporeal body into a spiritual body. The odour of sanctity is another example of the symbolic transformation of natural bodily existence. The symbolism is clearest in bodily incorruption. Once the Christian imagination projected the vision of a new man – a new spiritual body – the dead bodies of Christian saints begin to behave oddly. They don’t decay like other corpses. Perversely, they stay intact, moist, flexible, for months, for decades, sometimes for hundreds of years. They exude mysterious oils, occasionally bleed, and often give off remarkable fragrances. It is as though an energy has been released that opposes bodily decay, something that holds entropy in contempt and wants to revise the symbolism of death.
Another phenomenon expressing this symbolic modulation of matter is levitation. Levitation is not well-attested in Pio’s life (whose speciality seems to have been bilocation). However, the phenomenon has been well-documented among the saints, notably Teresa of Avila and that all-time great, mystical acrobat, Joseph Copertino. Numerous creditable witnesses observed Joseph’s aerial antics for decades.17 Levitation strikes against one of the fundamental forces of nature – the forces of gravity. Among the saints, it is a dramatic physical expression of the soul’s ecstatic flight. Levitation, as displayed by Joseph and Teresa, symbolises the ascent toward the Most High.
It shows humanly formed matter shedding fundamental limitations; I think in the case of Joseph we are witnessing one of the creative prodigies of the symbolic imagination, a phenomenon that throws open the doors to new worlds of speculative possibilities. A careful study of Joseph’s aerial flights will show that they were occasioned by specific types of imagery of a) heavenly elevation and b) the Madonna or archetype of the feminine. The levitations were physical expressions of imaginal worlds, and I would put them on a continuum with the stigmata or other types of expressive imaginally-guided human products such as works of art.
As for Paranormal Man, perhaps the ecstasy of the saints holds the secret to our escape from planet Earth, our entree to navigating the galaxies. Anyone acquainted with the literature of flying saucers knows how frequently levitation phenomena are reported. The phenomena take many forms. Gravity-suspending beams of light, for instance, seem to lift individuals into apparent spacecraft. The alien spaceships themselves make light of the rules of terrestrial flight dynamics. In the case of Joseph of Copertino, the greatest levitator in recorded history, passionate sublimated love, aimed toward the archetypal figure of Mary in Heaven was the fuel enabling him to suspend the geometry of the universe. In Joseph’s future space technology, ecstatic love is the power that suspends the law of gravity.
The funny sky epiphanies we call UFOs might, for all we know, be dislocated dreams or ecstatic projections of alien visionaries from other worlds. The phenomena of bilocation and levitation may be clues to the secrets of hyperspace travel and the answer to the great UFO mystery. Other beings on other worlds are likely to have had millions, if not billions, of years to evolve these crudely and fleetingly manifested capacities of our terrestrial saints and shamans.
Another item in Pio’s supernormal physiology was hyperthermia. Padre Pio produced abnormal amounts of bodily heat. Doctors had to use huge bathroom thermometers to take his temperature, which often shot up to 125 degrees; the mercury in ordinary thermometers broke the glass. Extreme irregularities in bodily function are well known among shamans18 and other ascetic types. Teresa Neumann19 who had the stigmata and who evidently neither ate nor drank for years, is a modern case of an ecstatic plagued by bizarre bodily symptoms. In the case of Padre Pio, supernormal heat production is definitely related to what’s going on inside the man. It seems clear to me that we are dealing with a case of symbolic transformation.
From his letters and statements, we know one thing for sure: The Capuchin was literally burning with love for Jesus. Young Pio wrote a letter to Padre Benedetto on October 22, 1919, describing what happened to him just before acquiring his fully visible stigmata: “I cannot tell you what happened in that moment,” he wrote, “which was a moment of sheer martyrdom. On the evening of the 5th, I was hearing a boy’s confession (a seminarian at San Giovanni Rotondo) when all of a sudden I saw a most exalted heavenly person. I was plunged into extreme terror. He stood before the eye of my mind, holding some kind of special instrument in his hand, like a very long iron spear with a well-sharpened point. It seemed that fire shot out of its point.
“Seeing this person and watching him plunge the instrument violently into my soul happened in an instant. I groaned with pain and felt as if I were dying. I told the boy to go away because I felt ill.
“This agony lasted without interruption until the morning of August 7…. It seemed that even my viscera were being pulled out by that spear. Every fibre of my being was consumed by fire.” The heat effects, observed in saints known for their holy ardours, proceed from internal causes; they do not seem to be produced by normal physical forces.
When I spoke with reliable informants at San Giovanni I was told of even stranger powers the Padre had over physical nature. For instance, Pio had the apparent ability to direct the behaviour of animals; in one story, a woman with problems getting up on time for Mass was sent a bird to awaken her and a troop of local stray dogs to escort her to the church on time. Francis of Assisi tamed the Wolf of Gubbio with soultalk and (in a practical vein) with the help of a decent meal. Linnets and lambs, hares and songbirds were said to obey the commands of Joseph of Copertino.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus calmed a storm at sea. There are contemporary reports of shamans commanding the elements. For instance, John Neihardt witnessed Black Elk conjure rain from a cloudless afternoon sky “during a season of drought, one of the worst in the memory of the old men.”20 David Barker, an anthropologist, was in Dharamsala, India, on March 10, 1973, when he observed a Tibetan priest-shaman, Gunsang Rinzing, stop a rainstorm to permit a festival of mourning. The shaman had built a large fire and recited with intense concentration mantras for 20 hours. Barker writes: “ …the rain had diminished to a drizzle, and by 10 o’clock it had become only a cold fog over a circle with a radius of about 150 meters. Everywhere else in the area it continued to pour, but the crowd of six thousand refugees was never rained on…” Barker observed that the atmosphere had an “airless” quality and reports feeling disoriented for weeks after the experience.21
In light of these observations it is easier to entertain accounts such as those of a Roman engineer Pasquale Todini who said Padre Pio sent him away from the monastery during a torrential rainstorm but arrived in town dry. In the course of the engineer’s walk, the rain around him was reduced to a sprinkle. (See Carty’s account of this, pp.57-58.)
Enough has been said to indicate the range of Padre Pio’s curious capacities: special access to internal environments, mastery of time and space, symbolic transformation of physical reality. I offer no attempt to explain any of this, or for that matter to prove it rigorously. Padre Pio, though a unique spiritual personality, is only one example of extraordinary types from the world of Western and Eastern mysticism, mediumship and shamanism. The interesting thing is what all this might be saying about the possible future of humanity.
Alfred Russell Wallace, it may not be too well known, was the co-founder along with Charles Darwin of the modern theory of evolution. What is even less well known is the fact that Wallace, a scientist of unquestioned genius, was a close student of psychic phenomena. Most mainstream scientists prefer to shove this embarrassing fact under the rug. In my opinion, however, Wallace’s openness to psychic phenomena prove him to be an even greater scientist than is supposed; for Wallace took a second giant step in trying to build a bridge between psychical research and the theory of evolution.
Wallace did firsthand investigations into the physical phenomena of mediumship and, as he said, found himself “beaten by the facts.” Wallace took spiritualism quite seriously. “It would appear then,” he wrote in 1878, “that if my argument has any weight, that there is nothing self-contradictory… in the idea of intelligences unrecognisable directly by our senses, and yet capable of acting more or less powerfully on matter.”22 Wallace suggested that some principle of psychic intelligence was needed to round out the approach to the problem of evolution. He stated emphatically that Natural Selection “is not the all-powerful, all-sufficient, and only cause of the development of organic forms.”
Modern biology has followed Darwin, who was not interested in the strange phenomena Wallace had taken the trouble to investigate. But in my opinion, Alfred Wallace laid the groundwork for the better evolutionary paradigm. Open to all the crucial data, it was a paradigm based on the hypothesis of a general intelligence at work in evolution, capable of transcending space and time, and geared toward the transformation of organic nature in accord with the creative imagination of the human spirit. Wallace opened new horizons in our thinking on human evolution; he would have found an ally in Padre Pio.
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1. E. Haraldsson, Miracles Are My Calling Cards: An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated With Sathya Baba, Rider: London, 1987.
2. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina: Acts of the First Congress of Studies Padre Pio’s Spirituality, Ed. Gerado Di Flumeri, San Giovan: Rotondo, 1972.
3. Epistolario of Padre Pio, Vol. 1, San Giovanni Rotondo: 1973.
4. Diario, Agostino da S. Marco in Lamis, San Giovanni Rotondo: 1975.
5. J. Schug, Padre Pio: He Bore the Stigmata, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, p.55, 1975.
6. E. Boniface, Padre Pio Le Crucifie, Nouvelles Editions Latines: Paris, 1971.
7. A. Parente, Send Me Your Guardian Angel, Our Lady of Grace Friary: San Giovanni Rotondo, 1983.
9. The Voice of Padre Pio, Vol. 5, No.3, 1975, pp.14-15.
10. C.M. Carty, Padre Pio the Stigmatist, Rockford, Illinois: Tan, 1973.
11. D.S. Rogo, Miracles, The Dial Press, New York, 1982.
12. C. Cruz, The Incorruptibles, Rockford, Illinois: Tan, 1977.
13. B. Ruffin, Padre Pio: The True Story, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1982.
14. This was the expression Padre Pio used to explain how he bilocated when someone asked. Other times he just said God sent him places. The interesting point is he himself continually affirmed the reality of his excursions through hyperspace. For another angle on the evidence, his confreres often heard him giving absolution or otherwise conversing with invisible or far-off beings.
15. See Ruffin, p.266.
16. The Friends of Padre Pio (newsletter), Vo1. 2, 3, pp.14-16.
17. A. Pastrovicchi, Saint Joseph of Copertino, Rockford, Illinois: Tan, 1980.
18. M. Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.
19. C.M. Carty, Who is Teresa Neumann?, Rockford, Illinois: Tan, 1974.
20. J. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, New York: Pocket Book, 1972. See the postscript.
21. D. Barker, Psi phenomena in Tibetan culture, Research in Parapsychology, 1978, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1979, pp.52-55.
22. A.R. Wallace, Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, London: Spiritualist Press, 1878.
MICHAEL GROSSO, Ph.D in philosophy from Columbia University, is presently affiliated with the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia and is on the Board of Directors of the American Philosophical Practitioner’s Association. His most recent books are Experiencing the Next World Now (Simon & Schuster) and Irreducible Mind, co-authored with Edward Kelly et alia. Michael is especially interested in paranormal phenomena and the origins of religious belief. His website is www.parapsi.com.
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