Byrd, Admiral Richard
Type of Spiritual Experience
When Admiral Richard E. Byrd set out on his second Antarctic expedition in 1934, he was already an international hero for having piloted the first flights over the North and South Poles. His plan for this latest adventure was to spend six months alone near the South Pole, gathering weather data and indulging his desire "to taste peace and quiet long enough to know how good they really are". But early on, things went terribly wrong. Isolated in the pervasive polar night with no hope of release until spring, Byrd began suffering inexplicable symptoms of mental and physical illness.
We have here then, a good example of isolation and its effects. By the time he also discovered that carbon monoxide from a defective stovepipe was adding to the effects [and poisoning him], Byrd was already engaged in a monumental struggle to save his life and “preserve his sanity”.
Some of the visions he had were so bizarre that they were not published for fear of damaging his reputation, but at the time few people realised that isolation of this kind can produce very real hallucinations and very extended periods of ‘shamanic travel’
The story is told in ‘Alone’ based on his diaries, but it is very clear from this book that the visions and hallucinations he had at the time – are typical shamanic experiences. Here is an extract of an experience he had early on – when he is still at the stage of ‘enhanced perception’ and not into the later stages of hallucination….
A description of the experience
Alone – Richard E Byrd
. . . Took my daily walk at 4 p.m. today, in 89 degrees of frost. The sun had dropped below the horizon, and a blue -- of a richness I've never seen anywhere else -- flooded in, extinguishing all but the dying embers of the sunset.
Due west, halfway to the zenith, Venus was an unblinking diamond; and opposite her, in the eastern sky, was a brilliant twinkling star set off exquisitely, as was Venus, in the sea of blue. In the northeast a silver-green-serpentine aurora pulsed and quivered gently. In places the Barrier's whiteness had the appearance of dull platinum. It was all delicate and illusive. The colours were subdued and not numerous; the jewels few; the setting simple. But the way these things went together showed a master's touch.
I paused to listen to the silence.
My breath, crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. The wind vane pointed toward the South Pole. Presently the wind cups ceased their gentle turning as the cold killed the breeze. My frozen breath hung like a cloud overhead. The day was dying, the night being born -- but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence -- a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps.
It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of man's oneness with the universe. The conviction came that the rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance -- that, therefore, there must be purpose in the whole and that man was part of that whole and not an accidental offshoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason; that went to the heart of man's despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.
The source of the experienceByrd, Admiral Richard
Concepts, symbols and science items
Activities and commonsteps
OverloadsCarbon monoxide poisoning
Experiencing earth forces
Loneliness and isolation
Alone – Richard E Byrd