Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Synchronicity And The Devil's Footprints

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning of February 9th 1855, in Devonshire, England, a set of hoof prints appeared in the snow. The prints extended from Exmouth, up to Topsham, and across the River Exe to Dawlish and Teignmouth. This was a track of over 100 miles. But that wasn't the unusual part. The trail of prints was reportedly unbroken. It went through gardens, up the walls of houses, over their rooftops, and back down again and on to the next property. The prints went to the banks of rivers, appearing on the other side. They literally went up the sides of fences and back down the other side. Apparently no other prints appeared near them. The phenomenon has become known as the Devil's Footprints, and was the inspiration for the title (and much of the plot) of my recently referred-to "Unborn Child," the story over which I've obsessed for over a decade. But that story was just the beginning. In fact, it wasn't the first story that got this ball rolling.

In 1930's Detroit, a man by the name of Joseph Figlock was walking by an apartment building when a baby fell out the window from above. Figlock caught the child, and both were unharmed. A year later, the same baby fell out the same window, and Figlock was again there to catch the child - and both were unharmed.

Nebraska, March 1st, 1950. Every member of a church choir was late to practice, all for different reasons. A gas explosion destroyed the church shortly before they arrived.

Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were twins, separated at birth, named by their adopted families independently. Both were trained in law enforcement. They each married a woman named Linda, and had a son each - James Alan and James Allen. They both had dogs named Toy, and before they were reunited, had divorced and remarried women named Betty.

London, November of 1971. A gifted architect, still recovering from a nervous breakdown, threw himself onto the tracks of an oncoming train. The train stopped before it could kill the man. This was not due to the conductor's quick timing - in fact, the conductor would not have had time to react in such a way. It turns out a passenger - on a complete whim and unsure why he did so - pulled the emergency cord, seconds before the architect took his leap.

Carl Jung wrote in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche: “A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to the golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata) which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient has remained unique in my experience.”

Google "synchronicity" and it's amazing what you can find. Of course, back in the late 90's, there was no Google (in today's form anyway) and I didn't have a computer - so I just kind of collected these stories. I found more and more of them, and was fascinated by each one. I understand that there are billions of people in this world, and the hundred monkeys will write a sonnet. But I was also looking into the theory of the cosmic trickster at this point.

Most major religions feature the trickster. Greek mythology's Prometheus always held fascination with me, stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. He, more than any other of the world's tricksters provided the most inspiration.

But what do the cosmic trickster, synchronicity and the Devil's Footprints all have in common? I happened on this one after the story had already taken shape and I was in England. I stumbled on the story of the Devil's Footprints while I was researching the Trickster in various religions. It was, one could say, a coincidence that I hit the wrong link on the search engine page. Before I could hit the back button I began reading on the incident in Devonshire, and a new cord was struck.

I immediately wondered what the consequences of such an event on these communities would have been at that time. Did a man, frightened back into religion suddenly start going to church and meet his future bride? If so, what became of his children and their children? Did an unknown journalist get a name for himself in writing about the hoof prints? Was a child forbidden to go outside and play the day after the events - thus keeping her from falling through thin ice on a nearby pond? What were all the effects of this one peculiar incident? There had to be many - every cause has an effect.

So I then began thinking about it in reverse. What are the causes of each event happening around us all the time? Think about where you work. Why do you work there? What prompted you to apply? Why did you go to school to work in this vocation? What was your inspiration? You can trace it all back to your birth, and your parents' conceiving of you - why did they do so on that night? How did they meet? Why did they live where they did?

Every event has a birth in a previous event. Such a massive network of events would eventually, following their leads, form larger and fewer branches. The branches converge at the base - the trunk - that itself can be traced to a seed, the birth of the universe itself.

And starting from the moment of the universe's creation - the instant the big bang began - each particle had a path written for it, based on its trajectory, itself written by the ambient temperature and the particles around it - themselves following the same rules. Each particle's path became the stuff that formed stars, and eventually - us. We are all made of the same thing, born of the same instant.

Is this an argument for preordained existence? I'm not really sure, as I go back and forth on that one. But it is an argument for the existence of a pattern in nature, and synchronicity as being part of a very real, unimaginably large-scale structure.

Everything you do - every action you take - affects the world. Every automobile accident that slows the travel of hundreds or thousands of individuals has somehow changed their lives. They were late for appointments, had time to ponder decisions. In fact, every time you take a step, the Earth itself moves - however immeasurably - in the opposite direction. It's the ripple of a small pebble in a lake that changes the shape of the entire surface.

A few people asked what this story I've obsessed over is about. Well, this is why it's so hard to explain. I'm trying to take the big picture and repaint a microcosmic version of it onto the canvass of a few lives.

The rotting wood in a forest, giving a home to millions of bacteria and hundreds of insects, was once a seed - itself possibly carried in the belly of the bird whose descendants will dine on those very insects and bacteria. I have no idea how to paint such an immeasurably large picture onto such a tiny canvass. There's no doubt that I cannot begin to capture its complexity and beauty. But I'm working on it anyway.


Mandy said...

Very interesting. There have definitely been some very strange/amazing coincidences in my life. Seems the older I get the more it happens, but it is a fun subject to write about.

Really interesting blog!

Evil Twin's Wife said...

I was adopted and was reunited with my biological mother a couple of years ago. Both of my children are my biological children. I share traits with my bio family that I just chalked up to "Just being me" all my life. My children have definite traits and physical characteristics of myself, my husband and both of our bio families, so it's wild to see it all play out.

Doc said...

Very interesting read... I am not sure of my take on it. Fate or just circumstance?