The aborigines assert that the day will come when the earth returns to the dreamtime …. If this is true, the evolutionary fires that are beginning to flicker and dance through our collective psyche may be our wake-up call, the trumpet note informing us that our true home is elsewhere and we can return there if we wish.

-Michael Talbot,

The Holographic Universe (1991)

Though the ultimate meaning of life eludes intellectual grasp, man still assumes he can-and someday will-understand the laws of nature and how the universe works. So far, however, every space probe, every magnification in microscopic probing, every instance of SHC unveils more mysteries than answers. The world seems destined to be always hidden from ourselves, by ourselves.

Hidden until a divine spark fires the mind to broader, transcendent consciousness.

Dr. Richard Maurice Burcke had such an experience of consciousness inflamed. He described it in his classic book, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1900):

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration… the next, I know that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation and immense joyousness accompanied, or immediately followed, by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe.

At this seminal time in human and planetary evolution, more and more people will likely (if not already) be experiencing an inner fire and its potential for accelerated movement into more holistic consciousness. As bestowed upon Burcke, its promise is to be welcomed rather than feared; its gift a blessing instead of horror. Indeed, fear could be the difference between upliftment and fatality.

Yet the process of divine fire within may not even end here. Ageless traditions teach of overcoming the wheel of life on Earth; of perfecting one’s spirit and being rewarded with a lighter, brighter, noncorporeal body.

Consider fifteenth-century Hindu saint, Radha, whose final moments researcher John White chronicled in “Divine Fire: A Little-Known Psychic Power” for Venture Inward (1990). To the astonishment of those gathered around her, Radha one day humbly announced her death. She then walked a short distance and, to their endless amazement, burst into a fireball of light, leaving behind a small heap of ash upon the ground where she stood.

Consider the twentieth-century holy man, Sadhu Singh. The San Francisco Chronicle (December 17, 1970) reported the news that this 114-year-old venerated Hindu had been sitting in the lotus posture on a straw mat at Ganjudwara, India. A young student approached his teacher, to discover him ablaze in a blue-green “candlelike flame” that grew larger and larger as it radiated from the area of Singh’s solar plexus. (A flame similar in color to those seen lapping at the body of Mrs. Ginette Kazmirczak in 1977?) Other awestruck students gathered to witness this phenomenon. Soon policemen joined the other onlookers marveling at this strange occurrence. No one tried to extinguish him-probably because Singh sat in serene stillness, his peace-filled face radiant with light as his glowing body produced a “pleasant aroma” which wafted through the courtyard.

For six hours Sadhu Singh burned. Burned himself. From the inside out. When it was over, according to the Chronicle, even his organs were reduced to ashes.”

You can make of this what you choose. From the moment I heard about this incident I felt that Sadhu Singh, said to be very evolved spiritually, had chosen this pure and simple (not a pun) mode to exit a body his consciousness no longer wished to (or could) reside in. Not wanting to burden his followers with burying his body, he willfully and in full consciousness utilised the energy within himself to achieve self-cremation.

The spiritual aspects [of SHC] are

probably more interesting than any other.

-Harry Lott, assistant fire marshal;

personal interchange

(December 17, 1994)

Support for this interpretation of physical transition by SHC has since been found in several diverse sources.

First: in his book Living with the Himalayan Master, yoga Swami Rama spoke about ancient techniques of mahãsamãdhi, which means literally to “cast off one’s body.” That is, death can be induced at will and by conscious design. These techniques are still practiced in the high Himalayas today; Swami Rama learned while there, and can lead to death that is methodical, painless, and conscious. It is those deficient in mahãsamãdhi who accept normal methods of dying. Swami Rama then described one “very rare way” to cast away one’s body.

“By meditating on the solar plexus the actual internal flame of fire burns the body in a fraction of a second,” he explained, “and everything is reduced to ashes.” Sound familiar? He said this technique had been imparted long ago by Yama, the king of death, to his beloved disciple Nachiketa in the Kathopanishad.

(I wonder whether Nachiketa is among the SHC deaths in history’s long-ago shadowed past.)

“All over the world,” Swami Rama continued, “instances of spontaneous combustion are heard about, and people wonder about such occurrences. But the ancient scriptures such as Mahakala Nidhi explain this method systematically.”

The power behind SHC is thus both consciousness and energy, he stated. Knowing how to move that energy to affect thermogenesis can warm oneself (tumo) or, if desired, incinerate oneself (SHC).

Second: in his The Forge and the Crucible, scholar Mircea Eliade explored the alchemy of fire and those persons said mythologically able to control fire and consciously generate internal combustion. “In theoretical terms,” he remarked, “to produce fire in one’s own body… signifies the attainment of a state superior to the human condition.” I submit such “mastery” is not merely theoretical, but can be actual; practical. That humans have already, and repeatedly, demonstrated an ability not only to generate heightened body heat (tumo) but to kindle real fire outside and inside themselves.

Third: in conversation with Ram Dass, revered advocate of human potential and spirituality in the ’70s and ’80s, I was told about an ancient Tantric concept called bardo. At the moment of death, explained Ram Dass, masculine and feminine energies separate in the body; the former moving to the head, the latter to the genitalia. Then they rush to recombine, he said, crashing “in a cataclysmic flash like nuclear energy-and you get the White Light.” Might this moment of bardo be the brilliant flashes of light associated with some SHC reports?

Fourth: in The Urantia Book-a massive, psychically channeled, controversial tome that constructs a detailed revisionist history for life on and beyond the Earth-one reads about the “translation flash” that occurs when advanced evolutionary humans transcend the natural world. This “fusion” with higher divinity obliterates the physical body in a “blazing glory of consuming fire,” which, explains Urantia, is isolated by “intervening celestial personalities” so that nothing else is destroyed by this “life flash” which can be “well-nigh instantaneous.” SHC is not mentioned per se, yet Urantia is describing to perfection classic SHC. It may be describing with equal precision why surrounding combustibles even to clothing and sheets a person lies upon-escape destruction by the energy of internaised bodily cremation.

Fifth: in Christianity’s Bible, Hebrews 11:5 recounts the final moment of life for the Lord’s servant, Enoch. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” The text differentiates between death and translation; the processes are not the same, though clearly Enoch is no longer in the body. Enoch has pleased his God; that is, he has attained a superior spiritual state. For this mastery, he is specially rewarded. How? Is “translation” a euphemism for the process described by Swami Rama; by Eliade; by Urantia?

By these accounts, then, SHC would not be an event to fear; to abhor; to avoid with pathological zeal; but testament that the person has achieved ascended spirituality. SHC would be a means-one of the doorways through which man is liberated from the physical to enter another of the universe’s “many mansions.” The holy person, through holy fire within, becomes holier.

In my Father’s house are many mansions;

if it were not so, I would have told you.

-Jesus the Nazarene; John 14:2

 Is this what Sadhu Singh had achieved at age 114? Had he so perfected his spirit that it could no longer be constrained by physical matter, and did he, with intent, will his body to self-cremate so it would not be a burden for his students to dispose of once he left it behind?

(To qualify for this form of ascension, one need not be an ascetic atop a distant Himalaya peak. In the realm of the spirit one cannot judge a person’s status by external appearances; the unassuming vagabond, the poor servant girl, the retired fireman who worked honorably and loved his family can be just as worthy of phoenix fire as is the acclaimed spiritual guru, perhaps more so.)

If this theory of the phoenix fire has merit, then SHC speaks to spirituality as well as to science through the challenges its poses. It may indicate that the person consumed has become so evolved in consciousness that he (she) autonomically must become the phoenix… to arise from the ashes of a natural evolutionary fire born of transmuted consciousness and reaise the ancient alchemic dream of homo faber, what-Eliade calls “collaboration in the perfecting of matter while at the same time securing perfection for himself.”

It is a goal many would rejoice to attain.


This last consideration for SHC raises one fascinating aside: the Shroud of Turin.

This linen shroud, historically traceable to the mid-fourteenth century and preserved since 1578 in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist at Turin, Italy, is a 3′-7″x 14′-3″ cloth that features a reverse-negative image of a crucified man. Its very existence causes consternation and controversy among theologians and scientists.

Some say it is a medieval painted forgery (despite its anatomically correct white-for-black reversed rendering). Joe Nickell advocates a “rubbing technique” by an unknown artisan using iron-oxide as an acceptable, non-supernatural explanation for the Shroud. Others argue on behalf of aromatic embalming fluid fumes. Nicholas Allen, a South African photographer, claimed in 1994 that he had solved the Shroud enigma by employing a tenth-century Arab technique that could imprint an image upon linen sensitized in a solution of silver nitrate, using sunlight focused through a quartz lens. Still others vigorously defend scientific evidence that indicates the Shroud dates to the first century A.D.

Many sindonologists-the technologists who study the Shroud-have arrived at a stunning consensus that is quite different. Their analyses suggest the image is best explained by thermoluininescence-what Shroud scholar Frank C. Tribbe calls a “blast of light” likened to a heatless nuclear flash that transposed the body’s three-dimensional contours “through space, not by contact” onto the fabric.

“What we see on the Shroud is a radiation-form image,” optics expert Kevin Moran has testified. “It is impossible to duplicate today, let alone five hundred years ago!” When asked how it had been formed, Moran spoke of a process beyond our accustomed dimension of space and time: “a radiation particle caused the disappearance of this body into N-space.”

On the other hand, Samuel F. Pllicori, member of The Shroud of Turin Research Project, concedes: “We cannot exclude natural processes as causing the image on the Shroud.”

Yet the challenge of this curiosity remains. As Shroud scientist Dr. John Heller has admitted, “We are left with the question ‘How is the image produced?’ And for that, the answer is a mystery.”

I have proposed an answer, a radical solution to this vexing problem confounding the sindonologists, which is both natural and Paranormal: that the person wrapped inside the Shroud experienced with absolute thoroughness what hundreds of people have experienced in diverse ways during the last few hundred years. SHC.

With a difference. In this particular instance, SHC instantaneously transformed 100 percent of the body into a higher energy state. Every atom became transmuted in an E=Mc2 empyrean radiance-the pure fire (light) of the highest heaven in ancient cosmology-which left behind not one extremity, not one bone, not one gram of ash; only a negative-image imprinted by flash photolysis onto unsinged linen and a residuum of low level radiation that would throw off by more than a millennium the Carbon-14 dating technique that would be applied to slivers of the Shroud in the late 1980s.

With this explanation arises (so to speak) the issue of why something comparable to but more complete than Mrs. Satlow’s spontaneously flamed corpse might have happened inside the Shroud of Turin. Was it a freak accident of nature? Or the fulfillment of mankind’s hope for ultimate human ascendancy, with absolute SHC being a natural consequence of the transmutation of all atoms in the body of a perfected human being?

Is this what SHC might ultimately be about? “I want to go through this myself,” said Moran about the process that produced the Shroud’s imagine, “to see what the resurrection is like.” Might he be wishing himself, someday, into SHC?


I am the first to admit that SHC defies common sense and smacks of the unknowable. I don’t have all the answers to it; I may have none of the answers. And certainly I don’t have all the pieces to this jigsaw of enigmas.

What I can say with confidence is this: spontaneous (as well as preternatural) human combustibility happens, though it has remained well hidden. When Deputy Sheriff Pat Berry investigated Mrs. Oczki’s death, he discovered that many fire officials in the Chicago area did believe in SHC but wouldn’t admit it publicly. Explained Berry: “They don’t want to look foolish.”

So it has been, for far too long. But more than the fear of looking foolish has hindered the investigation of SHC.

 Spontaneous human combustion raises deep psychological xenophobia. How else to explain uninterest and outright rejection of a phenomenon whose very nature intrigues and inspires engrossing possibilities?

The search for truth is in one way hard and in another easy.

For it is evident that no one can master it fully or miss it wholly. But each adds a little to our knowledge of nature, and from all the facts assembled there arises a certain grandeur.

– Aristotle

Whereas the wide-eyed innocence of elementary school students leads them to ask thoughtful questions about SHC, men with Ph.D.s have often felt compelled to pontificate (usually outside their scholarly expertise) against spontaneous human combustion with other forms of SHC-silly histrionic claims and scurrilous hysterical countercharges. Sadly, even fire science and medical professionals express attitudes about SHC that usually range from benign neglect to brazen denial.

One surgeon quickly turned down the opportunity to look at my photographs of SHC, exclaiming “It’s too scary to think about!”

Two leading Soviet physicians, when I asked them in 1989 about SHC and if they knew of occurrences in the U.S.S.R., had diametrically opposite reactions.

Dr. Mikhail Paltsev, Dean for eight thousand students at First Moscow Medical School, showed complete uninterest and said curtly, “I don’t know anything about it.”

By contrast, his colleague, Surgeon General Eugene Maloman of the Moldavian Ministry of Public Health, responded quite differently. “I know nothing about it,” Dr. Maloman admitted. Then, instead of walking away, he asked to see the photographs. He studied photograph after photograph that I handed to him, excitedly and animatedly asking questions in Russian about what he was looking at. “You know,” he finally said through his translator, “there are phenomena science knows nothing about. Things science can’t explain. One day perhaps this will be known. I wish you luck!”

It may take luck to solve the riddle wrapped in the mystery inside the enigma of SHC. An inquiring attitude, such as Dr. Maloman demonstrated, will be mandatory.

Fortunately, opinions and attitudes are changing about spontaneous human combustion.

“I believe it does exist-there’s something, even if I don’t know what it is,” acknowledged Fire Marshal Robert Meslin about SHC. ” Weird to say the least.”

“We have to believe that it does happen,” voiced Assistant Fire Marshal Edmund G. Knight III, public information officer for the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Bureau of Fire. Knight had just shared the stage with me on WGAL-TV’s Live! (November 13, 1990), which that day featured Dr. Edward Sullivan’s own (and only) televised statement about his personal SHC. “It used to be that a fire department would write it off as electricity,” said Knight, “and that was that. But we’ve grown up in the past ten years. If we don’t know what causes a fire after investigating it, we will say so.”

SHC, discussed in an eighteenth-century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica but subsequently banned from its pages, warrants resurrection and recognition by science and medicine as the newest (or oldest unrecognized) malady to afflict the human body. SHC deserves listing in Cumulated Index Medicus; in Glaister’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology; and in the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Almanac as a cause of death. It warrants inclusion in medical school curriculums, especially in forensics and pathology, and in the course work at the U.S. Fire Academy.

True, SHC severely challenges credibility. This I have always acknowledged. However, that doesn’t mean SHC can’t happen. Who can prove the limits of human potential? Years of investigating pyrophenomena have prepared me to expect the marvelous; to respect the diverse manifestations of energy within Homo sapiens and in the cosmos. Despite remarkable advances in medical science, our bodies remain quite capable of magic and mystery for which explanations still await.

I’ve offered numerous theories, theories based on the largest database of SHC-type fires yet published, in an attempt to resolve these fantastic occurrences. If you don’t like one of the theories, throw it out; if you like none of them, trash them all.

What you cannot do, unless you know more about fire science than scores of professional firefighters who refuse to explain away their firsthand encounters with fierce locaised (even witnessed) human burnings, is to dismiss the cases themselves.

The cases stand on their own. Some may not be SHC; some can never be determined with certainty either way. Throw out one, a dozen, or a hundred cases. Accept just one, and SHC becomes a real phenomenon in search of a solution.

Unless you are prepared to call Peter Jones and his wife liars, and to write off Robert Meslin and Harry Lott as inept observers ignorant of fire behavior, you cannot discard all the cases. And you are obligated to develop your own alternative explanation(s), if you find displeasing the ones submitted for your consideration.

In the century past, SHC was hotly debated. In this century, as transportation advanced from the horse carriage to supersonic airflight, the debate has been lukewarm at best; mostly, it has been frozen under the icy repression of officialdom’s denial. So long as SHC remains relegated to tabloid sensationalism, and elicits smirks from scientists and from officials whose duty it is to protect the public from the hazards of fire, SHC will remain deniable-though it will continue to happen and to mystify those who confront it honestly.

I don’t understand the whole damned thing,” Jack Angel said as he waved the stump of his right arm in front of my face. I don’t know anything about human combustion theories. But something has to cause it, doesn’t it?”

The longer we investigate, the less we seem to know. The more answers we think we have, the more questions develop. Will SHC remain a subject of never-ending, enigmatic affronts to common sense? I suspect there are questions we may never know how to form, answers we will never be able to get to. But one can never know that for sure, if one does not first ask the questions.

Somewhere in the asking, I sense that some thing-perhaps many things-can be revealed that can intercede to prevent some SHCs if, in the first place, effort is made to understand what precautions would prove most effective.

Therefore, the search for the fire within will continue. Someday that search, with cooperation from alert officials and the public, may find answers that Jack Angel and others have sought about their enigmatic inflamings.

Many mysteries await us, the small accretions of subatomic particles that we truly are, in all of the vast universe. It’s so intriguing. Can’t imagine being on any path, but a searching one. What a waste it would be not to be enthralled by the unknown.

So many questions remain unaddressed. So much is yet to be discovered about the human body, indeed about energy in general-through the study of spontaneous human combustion… a pursuit that will someday, hopefully, arrive at knowing how people can literally bum themselves to ash. And how to safeguard oneself from that fate, rare though it is.

Unraveling the mysteries and meaning of SHC has only just begun.

The truth is out there-The X-Files

“Every phenomenon is unexpected, and most unlikely until it has been discovered. And some of them remain unreasonable for a long tune after they have been discovered.”

-Eugene Wigner,

twentieth-century Nobel laureate physicist


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