suspended animation

Strange Powers

Mind Power - Strange Cases of Suspended Animation 


When we consider the evidence for suspended animation, as usual with the majority of claims for the paranormal, anecdotal, it is obvious that even within the strange realms of psychic abilities and mind power, cases of suspended animation provoke more incredulity than other 'paranormal powers'.

It has been claimed that many Eastern yogis, fakirs and shamans are known to be able to control physiological activities such as the heartbeat, body temperature, blood pressure and breathing, using mind power alone. Much like how you can control your weight loss program costs by using Medifast coupons. There are reports that the Egyptian Tahra Bey (c1925), could increase his pulse-rate to 140 beats a minute, or slow it down to 40, and sometimes even stop it completely. Another Egyptian, Hamid Bey, who was investigated by three physicians, could control the pulse-rate in his wrist and cause it to differ from the rate of his heart-beat. Such was the power of his mind that in one experiment the left wrist recorded a pulse-rate of 102, the right 84, and the heart 96. All should normally be close to the average of 72.

Taking this psychic or mind power a significant stage further, seemingly well beyond the powers of western mediums, psychics and healers, we have those in the east who, it is claimed, can enter into a state of suspended animation. Here the physiological activities of the whole body are seemingly stopped, and a person shows all the signs of physical death, with no detectable heartbeat or respiration. Sometimes this occurs without warning, and a person thought dead will, after a trance lasting some hours, or even days, unexpectedly come back to life. There was a recent example in a village in the Indian southern state of Tamil Nadu, reported by ABC News Online on 13 October 2003, where an 80 year old man was thought to have died of old age - his sister-in-law describing him as being ‘like wood’ when she found him. He was only woken by being given the traditional cold water bath minutes before he was due to be placed on the funeral pyre. 

Suspended animation. The Egyptian Rahman BeyMind Power & Voluntary Trance

More extraordinary and much rarer are extreme cases of what is known as ‘voluntary trance’, where suspended animation is apparently achieved by will, sometimes as part of a mystical ordeal. Examples of this occur mainly in cultures with a tradition of severe physical control such as India, West Africa and Egypt. In 1974 a jujuman from Togo in West Africa was buried in a coffin covered with concrete slabs and layers of mortar. After a couple of hours the large crowd who had gathered to observe the event started to panic, and begged the authorities to let him free. Suddenly the jujuman burst out through the concrete and the soil – leaving his nailed coffin undisturbed. His secret, he said, was meditating for long periods underground.

The Egyptian Rahman Bey is an expert in this type of phenomenon, and there are other records from 19th century India of yogis or fakirs suspending their breathing or decreasing it to such a degree as to be undetectable, and, if accounts are to be believed, subsequently allowing themselves to be buried alive for days at a time. However, in the last 30 years or so there have been so many fatalities among inadequately trained holy men attempting this feat that the Indian authorities have stopped it completely.  

19th Century Cases 

Two extraordinary 19th century cases of suspended animation involved a Colonel Townshend, and an Indian fakir who allowed himself to be buried alive for nine months.

Colonel Townshend could seemingly ‘die’ whenever he pleased. Using the power of his mind he would stop his heart from beating; there were no signs of breathing, and his whole body would become as cold and stiff as death itself. His features were shrunk and colourless, and his eyes distant and cold. He would remain in this state for many hours and then slowly revive. According to his doctor, Dr. Cheyne, Colonel Townsend’s own description of the phenomenon was that he could ‘die or expire when he pleased; and yet by an effort of both mind and body, or somehow, he could come to life again’. On one occasion three medical men witnessed his phenomena, one of whom kept his hand on the Colonel’s heart, another held his wrist, and the third put a mirror in front of his lips. They found that all traces of breathing and pulse gradually stopped. So convinced were they that he was in fact dead, that they were ready to leave the room when they noticed some signs of life appearing, and slowly he revived.

Mind Power in 19th Century India

Around the year 1838, the Calcutta papers described a dervish or fakir, calling himself a holy man, who had the ability to go into a death-like trance to a much greater degree. He had often demonstrated his odd talent to the natives, and was subsequently asked to do so before some of the European officers and residents. Captain Wade, political agent at Loodhiana, was there when the fakir was exhumed, ten months after he had been buried by General Ventura, in the presence of the maharajah and many of his principal chiefs.

Apparently the man had beforehand prepared himself by some mental procedure, which, he said, temporarily extinguished the digestive powers, so that milk taken into the stomach underwent no change. He then forced all his breath into his brain, which heated up, upon which the lungs failed, and his heart stopped beating. Afterwards, every aperture in his body through which air could enter was blocked up with wax, apart from the mouth, but the tongue was so forced back as to block the throat, upon which he became unconscious. The fakir was then stripped and put into a linen bag, which was sealed with maharajah Runjeet Sing’s own seal. The bag was then placed in a wooden box, which was locked and again sealed, and the box was buried in a vault; earth was spread over it and flattened down, a crop of barley sown on the spot, and guards stationed to watch it. Despite these elaborate precautions, the maharajah was still not convinced of the security arrangements and had the man dug up and examined twice over the ten month period. On both occasions the fakir was found to be in exactly the same state as when they had buried him.

When he was disinterred, the first thing that had to be done to bring the man round was to turn back his tongue, which was discovered to be fairly stiff and needed to be held for some time in its proper position by the finger. Warm water was then poured over him, and his eyes and lips moistened with clarified butter, or oil. He came to relatively quickly and was soon able to recognize onlookers, and begin talking with them. He claimed that during this state of trance his dreams were extraordinary, and that it was agony to be woken from his deep reverie; though he appears never to have gone into detail about his feelings or experiences whilst in this condition. His one fear whilst underground was that he would be attacked by insects, to avoid which the box was attached to the ceiling. His time in hibernation appears to have been spent in a complete state of suspended animation, and when he was released no pulse was detectable, and his eyes had the glazed look of a corpse.

Later, some English officers proposed to implement further conditions on the fakir when he next went into his trance, but he refused to be so restricted, which of course led them to suspect that the whole thing was a fraud. However, the experiment was repeated many times by trustworthy people whose opinions cannot be ignored, and using too rigorous precautions for there to be a hoax involved. Moreover, it is hard to imagine Indian princes allowing themselves made fools of by a person whose life they would not hesitate to end at the slightest indication of fraud.

Is it possible a person can be buried under ground for so long – as if in hibernation – and be brought out alive afterwards? Many conjurors and escapologists think not and attribute the alleged ability to trickery. Using alleged psychic power to gain control over the condition of bodily death is certainly one of the most difficult of paranormal human abilities to believe, though as previously mentioned there are many examples of people who showed all the physical signs of death and were subsequently buried – and only later being found to have been buried alive. Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Premature Burial is based on such incidents. However strange this 'paranormal' power may seem, the fact that there are so many cases of suspended animation exhibiting similar physical traits, though often geographically remote from each other, does lend a slight (very slight) amount of credibility to these otherwise unlikely-sounding stories.

Sources and Further Reading

Crowe, Catherine  The Night Side of Nature. Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Editions Ltd; London, The Folklore Society. 2000 (1848), pp99-101. 

Cavendish, Richard (ed). Encyclopedia of the Unexplained. London & Henley, Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1974, pp195-6.

Picknett, Lynn. The Encyclopaedia of the Paranormal. London, Guild Publishing. 1990, pp97-8.


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