ORBS: THE SOULS OF THE DEAD?

Posted on November 18, 2012

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By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

            Spirit photography includes a variety of strange phenomena associated to the spirits of the dead. The phenomenon of Orbs is a controversial issue among paranormal researchers. What exactly Orbs are depends on the beliefs motivating the theories. In regards to the common paranormal theory promoting the belief that Orbs are the spirits of the dead, the following definition provides some of the basic, but most popular, views:

ORB: The spherical shape of a soul or spirit; is thought be comprised of a mass of some form of energy. Orbs are translucent, and the sizes of Orbs vary. They appear in photographs and video recording devices.

It is interesting to note that the various paranormal theories in favour of Orbs representing the spirits of the dead have been influenced by the belief systems of psychics and mediums promoting heretical concepts about angels and spirit guides. Once again, modern spiritualism serves as the source for so much misguided spirituality, yet manages to penetrate popular culture through the fascination people have with the paranormal. Orbs are hardly ever reported through direct eye-witness accounts. Numerous photographs are presented as evidence, and practically all photographic evidence do provide genuine images of tiny – sometimes large – transparent spherical objects. However, defining these objects as the souls of the dead, or angels, etc., is not based solely on the photographic evidence of the objects themselves. Indeed, the occult and new age belief systems have much to do with attempting to define what souls and spirits are.

            The OCPRS has on many occasions photographed this curious phenomenon. Are these strange Orbs actually the souls of the dead? The OCPRS does not believe so, and the reasons have much to do with the wisdom found in the Holy Traditions of the Church – Patristic and Biblical examples. Through these examples, it will become obvious that Orbs are not souls or spirits, but something else entirely. Of course there is a rational explanation for Orbs, and this will also be explored here in this article. For now, consider how the paranormal theory in favour of Orbs attempts to define what the soul looks like.

What the Church says about the Soul:

            In his monumental work, City of God, St. Augustine provides an insight into what the soul looks like. He writes, “For the man himself who is in such a state, though it be in spirit only, not in body, yet sees himself so like to his own body that he cannot discern any difference whatever.” It may be argued that the image perceived by the soul – of itself – is a question of discernment between the soul and the material body. However, St. Augustine provides a glimpse into the perception of the soul, and the spherical shape of Orbs is not mentioned. It is not an assumption to suggest that he is describing the appearance a soul takes. The fact that St. Augustine takes the trouble to point out this self-perception of the soul, serves also to instruct the living on what the soul looks like; in what state the soul will be.

            The Church Father, Tertullian, presented his views on what the soul looks like in his Treatise on the Soul. He uses the example of Lazarus and the rich man found in the Gospel of Luke 16:23-24. He writes:

“In hell the soul of a certain man is in torment, punished in flames, suffering excruciating thirst, and imploring from the finger of a happier soul, for his tongue, the solace of a drop of water. Do you suppose that this end of the blessed poor man and the miserable rich man is only imaginary? […] the image of a soul could not possibly contain a finger of a bodily substance; nor would the Scripture feign a statement about the limbs of a body, if these had no existence.”

Once again, attention is given to the appearance of the soul. The image of man’s soul was clearly an important matter. There are other commentaries concerning the soul, and St. Gregory of Nyssa also examined the aspects between the corporeal and incorporeal aspects of the soul and body; in terms of defining what the soul is along with its relationship to the body. St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica also provides some insight into the nature of the soul. He writes, “But since the soul is united to the body as its form, it must necessarily be in the whole body, and in each part thereof.” What St. Thomas Aquinas is suggesting is that the soul exists throughout the form of the body. In turn, this implies a form of the soul.

            The wisdom of the Church does not support the paranormal theory that Orbs are the souls of the dead. The nature of the soul is important to understand in terms of examining the afterlife. Paranormal phenomenon does not simply explore questions about the afterlife, but attempts to define the afterlife apart from the teachings of the Church. Here, Orbs do not simply serve as something paranormal, and therefore in need of explanation. An entire set of beliefs emerges around photographs depicting peculiar images, which do not present any indication of the presence of a soul. Despite the wisdom of the Church, the anti-Christian mentality accompanying the development of spirituality through paranormal theory remains dismissive against the teachings of the Church.

            In regards to disproving the paranormal theory concerning Orbs, NDE (Near Death Experience) studies provide some helpful details. Many documented cases of NDE describe the soul in similar terms to St. Augustine’s views. None of the NDE studies examined by the OCPRS made mention of Orbs. This does not suggest that NDE studies serve to support the Christian interpretation of what a soul is, or is not. The differences between NDE studies and Patristic works are many, but at the very least there is common ground in terms of recognizing statements being made about the nature of the soul.

Rational Explanation for Orbs:

            Like other forms of technology used in paranormal research, photography can be misapplied, especially where paranormal theories are concerned. Photography produces a 2-dimensional image, whereby the problem of depth perception of objects within the photograph, occurs. Orbs are no exception to this aspect of photographic images. The actual size of the Orb in relation to – for example – a person standing in a room, may be very difficult to measure. Why? Orbs are not mysterious spheres from the beyond. Dust particles, moisture, and in most cases, rain or snow can produce Orb phenomena. Using flash photography in low light conditions increases the potential for creating Orb images. It should be noted that other light sources may also contribute to this phenomenon when the flash on the camera is not used. How Orbs are produced in regards to light, is as follows. The light source is reflected off of the dust or water particle. The dust or water particle may be inches away from the camera lenses. Since pictures are 2-dimensional, the actual size and sense of depth in relation to other images in the picture can make it appear as though the Orb is much further in relation to the camera. Besides this problem, the transparent Orb often produces different colours. Some paranormal theories suggest that Orbs of different colours represent different types of spirits. The different colours of the light spectrum occur as a result of refraction. Whether it is dust, rain drops, or snow, light can be refracted and separate or isolate a colour from the wavelength of white light. This is very similar to how a prism works. Although dust and water particles do not function exactly as prisms do, they can have refractive qualities under certain conditions. Overall, Orbs are not spirits of any sort. The OCPRS has encountered the so-called Orb phenomena on several occasions, and under different circumstances.

Conclusions:

            The paranormal theory concerning Orbs is owed to the desires and imagination of people engaged in occult and new age beliefs and practices. Among paranormal researchers, Orbs are not universally accepted as anything absolute. Whether people believe they are spirits, or dust and water particles continues to make Orbs a controversial subject. The Christian perspective reveals how such paranormal theories seem to gravitate towards belief or disbelief. On one hand, the belief Orbs promote, is highly misguided, even in terms of spiritual truth. The rational explanation certainly promotes disbelief in Orbs, and rightly so. However, rational explanations do not address the problem of defining the soul. Among those who believe in Orbs as evidence of spirits, rational explanation may convince them, but such people are left with damaging doubt. It is the desire to believe in, and understand the unknown that compels such people. It is for this reason that the OCPRS has included a Christian perspective on the problem concerning the nature of the soul. The existence of the soul has not been satisfied through a few simple Patristic examples, but it is the hope of the OCPRS that people who are seeking answers to spiritual questions turn their attentions onto the wisdom of the Church. After all, the concern the OCPRS has for paranormal theories has much to do with helping people distinguish between false spirituality and the truth found in Christ’s Church. The misconceptions of spirituality seem to flourish through paranormal theories and practices, which attempt to define the spiritual world.

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