Olufemi A Lawal. Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal. Editor: J Harold Ellens. Volume 2: Medical and Therapeutic Events. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.
The human race has witnessed miracles for as long as it has existed. Reports of miraculous occurrences have been as varied as the experiences that brought them about and have come from all racial, ethnic, sociocultural, and religious groups the world over. This diversity of reports of miracles also mirrors the extent to which different people and different groups of peoples believe and interpret events and occurrences as miraculous. While some experiences may pass as daily routine for many, some others judge them as indeed miraculous. In essence, people’s judgment as to whether an event is miraculous depends on a number of factors, which do not exclude their racial, ethnic, sociocultural, and religious backgrounds. Hence miraculous events, as perceived and experienced by different peoples, may range very widely, for example, from sleeping and waking to rising up after being dead for several days.
Although miracles may vary as widely as their judgments, the history of this phenomenon situates some events as indeed being world acclaimed, with the majority of peoples across continents judging them as miraculous. The miracle of the holy fire, which occurs every year on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, drawing huge crowds of Christians from many parts of the world, is a good example. According to Hvidt (2007), a blue, indefinable light emanates from the core of the stone on which Christ is believed to have been laid after his death, as soon as a patriarch of the Orthodox Church kneels in front of this stone and says certain prayers on this very special day. The miracle is said to proceed with the mysterious kindling of the closed oil lamps as well as the two candles of the patriarch, climaxing in the spontaneous kindling of the lamps and candles of some of the people inside the church and within its vicinity.
Another extant, seemingly world-renowned site that, over the years, has generated reports of miracles, or is believed to bestow miracles on people from some different parts of the world, is the tomb of La Milagrosa, the “Miraculous One,” a Cuban woman named Amelia Goyri de Adot, who died during childbirth, along with her infant, on May 3, 1901. According to John Rivera (1998), the frequent trooping of crowds from different parts of Cuba and the world over to the site is due to the fact that Amelia’s body and her baby’s were found neither contaminated nor decomposed, coupled with the fact that the baby, who was laid at her feet at burial, was found wrapped in her arms, when her body was exhumed a few years after. As this mysterious story spread, her hitherto grief-stricken husband, who alone visited the grave many times every day, was joined by other visitors, whose numbers continue to increase. This arises from the testimonies of miraculous answers to prayers and solutions to problems rendered for the people who said those prayers or presented those problems during their visits to the site.
Although it is clearly mysterious that a human corpse was found neither decomposed nor contaminated years after burial, it is possible, or even likely, that the miracles reported by the pilgrims to the grave of Amelia result from other causes than people believe. For example, that crowds of people congregate there to offer prayers that are answered by God does not suggest that God would not answer the same prayers for the same crowds if said elsewhere. Besides, one’s awareness of the occurrence or discovery of similar mysteries in 1988 and 1997 in the city of Ibadan and the town of Iwo, in Nigeria, makes it evident that this kind of mystery is somewhat commonplace, these few discoveries, so far, having been made by accident.1 However, neither of the sites of the two cases cited from Nigeria has generated as much effect on the peoples of Nigeria as has Amelia’s grave in Cuba, though this may well be due to the fact that the Nigerian sites did not receive wide publicity.
While it could be understood that miraculous events in general, and sites of famous miracles in particular, have strong potential for drawing crowds in intensely populated settings, miracles also take place and are widely reported in nondensely populated regions, without attracting much attention. Why more miracles are usually observed and reported to take place amid dense populations, compared to noncrowded atmospheres, remains a puzzle, and this puzzle seems to cut across religions and cultures. The Bible is replete with records of individuals who experienced miracles alone, amid a few people, or in a tumultuous crowd, or as part of a gathering or a crowd that collectively experienced the miracle.
Other religious books also contain accounts of miraculous occurrences. In the mythologies of the African traditional religion, the gods and goddesses who held sway in the region before the arrival of Christianity, Islam, and other religions were said to emerge from their shrines only when sacrifices were made to them during their festivals. These were held at specific times of the year, and during such festivities, some people among their crowds of worshippers usually reported having miraculously received solutions to their problems. Mythology has it that the goddess of the Osun River, in Osun State, southwestern Nigeria, stopped making her emergence from the Osun River during the annual Osun-Oshogbo festival many years ago. This happened after she was forced to make an emergency return dive into the Osun River because a foreign tourist, witnessing her manifestation, attempted to capture her. Nevertheless, her mammoth crowd of worshippers, both in Nigeria and abroad, who besiege the shrine annually during the festival still report miraculous experiences.
Also peculiar to southwestern Nigeria is the myth of the emission of fire through the mouth by Alaafin Sango, who was reputed to have set things and places on fire merely by releasing real flames through his mouth. That Sango actually existed is largely reflected in legends or oral and written tradition as well as in films done on the old Oyo Empire. In two such films, namely, Oba Koso and Ose Sango, Sango was depicted as a descendant of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba ethnic group. He ascended to the coveted throne of the Alaafin of Oyo town. Alaafin Sango was said to have helped the Oyo Empire to conquer her neighbors and rival kingdoms with his invincible strength, especially his ability to emit real flames from his mouth. With these he was able to destroy the armies, camps, dwellings, and farms of the enemies, a feat that his subjects and enemies found miraculous. This is the reason why some people worship the Legendary Sango still today.
What, therefore, is a miracle and a crowd, and in what ways, if any, can being in a crowd facilitate the occurrence of a miracle? To answer these important questions, this chapter explores the definitions and meanings of miracles and crowds and analyzes the psychological processes that underlie the behavior of individuals in a crowd and the crowd dynamics that can induce miracles, rendering the experience infectious.
What Is a Miracle?
The word miracle was coined from a Latin word meaning “to wonder at.” Miracles are events, that seem to transcend human powers and the laws of nature, resulting from a special divine intervention or to supernatural forces. The Encarta dictionary offers three related definitions of a miracle. First and accordingly, a miracle is an event that appears to be contrary to the laws of nature and is regarded as an act of God. Second, a miracle is an event or action that is amazing, extraordinary, or unexpected. Third, a miracle is something admired as a marvelous creation or example of a particular type of science or skill. David Hume defined a miracle in a more generic light, seeing it as (1963, 127) “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Here Hume uses the word deity to refer to God or any other non-God or ungodly supernatural forces or their agents. If we use Hume’s definition, all magic and sorceries would qualify as miracles. Thus, to the extent that those who believe in the other-than-God sources of supernatural feats define them as miraculous, these feats are indeed miracles in the reckoning of those people. The implication of this is that any “event apparently transcending human powers and the laws of nature, that is attributed to a special divine intervention or to supernatural forces” (Hume 1963, 127), across cultural and religious beliefs, is a miracle.
I define a miracle as a desirable, admired, and amazing event, whose occurrence apparently violates the laws of nature and is thus attributable only to God or to an apparently transcendental force other than God. This definition suggests that no miracle can occur or be experienced without God or an other-than-God force mediating between the laws of nature and the occurrence of that miracle. Miracles occur or are performed in all religions, religious denominations, cultures, and societies. The differences between them lies only in whether they are caused by God or a force other than God. This discrimination has implications for the types, quality, and lifespan of the miracles, as reported by those experiencing them.
Saliba stresses that (2005) “stories of miracles are a common feature of practically all religions.” He points out that many religious leaders and founders, including Zoroaster, Confucius, Laozi (Lao-tzu), and Buddha, have been credited with miraculous powers and actions. Likewise, Moses and the prophets of Israel were said to have performed miraculous acts at God’s bidding. Saliba stresses that (2005) “the Muslim tradition includes accounts of the miracles of Muhammad, such as his extraordinary healings, but did not fail to acknowledge, however, that more attention has been given to miracles in Christianity than in any other religion.” For this reason, this discussion will more prominently feature miracles believed to originate from God, especially as recorded in the Bible and as experienced in contemporary Christianity. How, then, do the Bible and Christian literature define a miracle?
The American Tract Society Dictionary defines miracle as “a work so superseding in its higher forms the established laws of nature as to evince the special interposition of God” (Miracle, 2006a). The Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary definesmiracle as “an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message”; as “an occurrence at once above nature and above man”; and as an occurrence that “shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power” (Miracle 2006b)
What Is a Crowd?
Rod Plotnik (1993) refers to a crowd as a large group of persons, most of whom are strangers to each other and unacquainted. While this definition appears to depict what a crowd is, it leaves out a seemingly important characteristic of large groups of people who constitute crowds. This characteristic appears to have been identified by Donelson Forsyth (2005), who defines a crowd as an aggregate of individuals sharing a common focus and concentrated in a single location. The major difference between the two definitions is that the latter, unlike the former, depicts members of a crowd as people who share a common focus. An important and almost synonymous terminology, used by both, is collective or aggregate and group. By virtue of sharing a common focus, a crowd is a group, and a collective or aggregate is a large number of persons in social interaction.
Against this background and for the purpose of this discussion, a crowd is a large collection of people, most of whom share a common purpose, focus, belief, sentiment, or goal, for which reason they all are concentrated in the same single location. The commonalities of purpose shared by a typical crowd, which are the basis for the dynamism in their behavior, may well explain why miracles tend to generate in crowds and, in turn, generate crowds. Crowd behavior, coupled with those of the individuals who make them up, appear to have potential for facilitating the occurrences of miracles among individuals in the crowd.
Consciousness-Unconsciousness in Individuals and Crowds
The idea or category of consciousness-unconsciousness is popular in medicine, philosophy, and psychology. Rooted in Psychoanalytic psychology, consciousness and unconsciousness are quite broad in scope. While consciousness in psychology shares the same meaning as physical or neurological consciousness, the same cannot be said of unconsciousness; rather, unconsciousness in psychology is viewed in a narrower sense, specifically as something that has to do exclusively with the mind. Arlow and Herma (2005), in a treatise on Psychoanalysis, stressed that the concept of the unconscious was first developed in the period from 1895 to 1900 by Sigmund Freud. He situated it as the hypothetical region of the mind containing wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas that are prevented from expression in conscious awareness. They manifest themselves, instead, by their influence on conscious processes and, most strikingly, by such anomalous phenomena as dreams and neurotic symptoms.
If Freud’s theory can be trusted, the wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas that are held by the unconscious part of the human mind are not available to the holder’s conscious awareness. They are known to exist only because their impacts are seen or felt through the conscious processes that take place in daily human activities. Since it is simply traditional, in Psychoanalysis, to attribute all conscious human processes to the controlling influence of the unconscious, the structure of the human mind portrays the mind as shaped like an iceberg, with the unconscious part being larger than the conscious part, and the conscious part being typically described as just a tip of the iceberg.
A figure of an iceberg in the ocean depicts the structure of the human mind as proposed by Freudian Psychoanalysis. The id, ego, and superego are shown as the components of the human personality. Among Freud’s three basic personality components, only the id is totally unconscious, that is, below the waterline. Most of the superego and some of the ego are also below the waterline. The water represents the unconscious mind, and the air and land above the waterline represent the conscious mind. Therefore the term unconscious is particularly relevant to Psychoanalysis and refers to thoughts and feelings that have purposefully been forgotten as well as to experiences or impulses to which we neither pay nor wish to pay attention but which influence us nevertheless.
Carl Jung (1925), a Psychoanalyst and student of Freud, disagreed with Freud’s analysis of the unconscious as the source of all human psychic energies. Jung, instead, expanded the realm of the unconscious to two parts, the personal and the collective unconscious. In his extensive analysis, Jung (1925) defined consciousness as the ability to focus attention and, more specifically, as that which we are aware of at any given moment. This implies that consciousness is our awareness of things and events in our environments. The personal unconscious contains an individual’s complexes, attitudes, and entire world of experiences, including forgotten and repressed memories, as Freud’s claimed. A good example of this, according to Howard Kendler (1987), is that of a girl with repressed hostilities toward her father developing a father complex that interferes with establishing a satisfactory relationship with her husband.
The collective unconscious, on the other hand, contains the archetypes or primitive patterns of ancestral images associated with significant cultural phenomena, such as birth, death, power, and deity, predisposing persons to feel, think, and act in the same manner as countless generations of ancestors before them. Essentially, the collective unconscious or archetypes are the reservoir of the experience of the human race as accumulated through history and passed from generation to generation. This amounts to the constantly repeated experiences of humanity that are common to the entire human race, whatever our race or culture (Jung 1925).
The personal and the collective unconscious are said to be related in that the ideas that constitute the personal unconscious develop out of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. By virtue of this relationship and the seemingly overreaching influence of the collective unconscious, all individuals in the same society would be expected to react to certain phenomena in similar ways. However, individual human beings may still retain their personal unconscious complexes, thoughts, and feelings about every phenomenon or experience. This may sometimes make them act in very peculiar or uniquely different ways, the collective unconscious notwithstanding. Thus their relationship lies in the fact that the personal unconscious is a subset of the collective unconscious, so that the former is an individual peculiarity, and the latter, a societal commonality (Jung, 1925).
In furtherance of his theory of the unconscious, Jung (1925) depicted awareness as a product of consciousness by stressing that the more aware we are, the more conscious we are. To the extent that this type of awareness is a personal one, it is referred to as self-awareness. What, then, is self-awareness? Self-awareness, according to Forsyth (2005), is the psychological state in which one’s attention is focused on the self, personal standards, or inner experiences: “Reductions in self-awareness may lead to cognitive and emotional changes, including disturbances in concentration and judgment, the feeling that time is moving slowly or rapidly, extreme emotions, a sense of unreality, and perceptual distortions, all of which constitute an altered experiential state that may even be intensely pleasant” (Forsyth, 2005, 46). Thus self-awareness can be regarded as an individual’s consciousness of, and ability to regulate his or her, cognitions and emotions.
Typically, an individual in a crowd is believed to experience reduced self-awareness. This means that most individuals share this reduced self-awareness when in a collective setting. Why do persons in crowds experience reduced self-awareness? How similar or variable are these levels of individual self-awareness for people in the same crowd? Drawing on Le Bon’s (1896) conceptualization of the crowd, Jung (1925) reasoned first that the crowd is essentially a psychological phenomenon amid which people behave differently compared to when isolated, and second, that the unconscious has something to do with crowd thinking and acting.
Diener (1980) employs the theory of objective self-awareness, proposed by Duval and Wicklund (1972), shedding light on the foci of attention of individuals in a crowd compared to their counterparts who are alone. The thrust of the theory is that among other things, perceptual immersion in a group impacts self-awareness in that it overloads the information-processing capacities of the individual, hence blocking the possibility of self-directed attention. The consequence of this is a state of lowered objective self-awareness, with individuals being unable to retrieve internal standards, thus becoming increasingly influenced by environmental stimuli. This theory is said to identify cohesion and enhanced arousal as factors present in some crowd situations, which lead to people directing their attention outward and correspondingly less on themselves or on private standards. The result is that individual behavior becomes less self-regulated and more controlled by immediate cues and norms in the environment.
As stressed by Forsyth (2005), studies of self-awareness suggest that individuals can focus their attention outward, onto other members of the crowd or objects in the environment, or inward, on the self. When this focus is on the self, people become more self-aware and are more likely to attend to their emotional and cognitive states, carefully consider their behavioral options, and monitor their actions closely. Conversely, when the focus is on features of the situation that are external to the person, whereby people fail to monitor their actions, they will be more inclined to follow the focus, emotion, and attention of the crowd.
One major implication of reduction in individual self-awareness amid a crowd is deindividuation. Festinger, Pepitone, and Newcomb (1952) define deindividuation as the increased tendency for individuals to become so submerged in their group that they feel as though they no longer stand out as individuals. More specifically, Forsyth characterizes deindividuation as “an experiential state, caused by input factors such as group membership or crowd membership, that is characterized by the loss of self-awareness, altered experiencing, and atypical behaviour” (2005, 56).
While the latter definition suggests that deindividuation is a state representing a complete loss of self-awareness, both definitions suggest the existence of another state that is diametrically opposed to deindividuation. This opposite state is known as individuation. In furtherance of his explanations, Forsyth (2005) depicts individuals who have become deindividuated as those who feel lost in the group or crowd and will try to establish their individual identities. Forsyth stresses further that people in large crowds may act very differently, sometimes oddly, to regain their sense of individuality. It is thus clear that while individuals immersed in a crowd are subjected to deindividuation, they may try to get out of this state themselves by actively seeking individuation.
In his biography on Jung, Boeree (2006) focuses extensively on the collective unconscious and its adherents. Citing Jung, Boeree situates individuation as the process of changing an individual’s relationship to the unconscious. Boeree submits that “once an individuation process is successfully initiated, the individual’s identification with the collective herd will slowly be terminated” and “such individuals will discover traits in themselves which will make them stand out from the crowd” (Boeree 2006).
In a crowd, an individual’s unconscious wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas have high potential for momentarily and speedily migrating to the conscious. Furthermore, this implies that certain types and levels of consciousness or unconsciousness are crucially precursory to an eventual migration of wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas from the realm of the unconscious to the conscious, while still being in the crowd. What are these types and levels of consciousness or unconsciousness, and how do they influence the experience of miracles among individuals in crowds?
Miracle as a Product of Entrancement, Conscious-Unconscious State, Individuation, Synchronicity, Transcendence, and Contagion
Day-to-day testimonies and personal observations at Christian crusades seem to suggest not only that people’s states of consciousness are largely altered while in a crowd, but that more miracles occur and are reported at such gatherings. The dynamism of the psychological processes that take place is not a monopoly for Christianity; however, with the manner in which they take place among crowds, they seem to contrive a highly conducive atmosphere for a more effective movement of the Holy Spirit of God among individuals in a crowd. Hence more and greater miracles occur in crowds than in noncrowded gatherings. The psychological states of the conscious, the unconscious, entrancement, individuation, synchronicity, transcendence, and contagion, among others, are identifiable keys to the quicker and surer move of the Holy Spirit among individuals in a crowd. How do these combine to influence the move of the Divine Spirit and hence immediate or later occurrence of miracles?
Entrancement is a concept that explains the attraction, binding force, or synergy among people who make up a crowd. Jung (1925) defined it as an alignment of matching energies and expectations at one of the deepest levels of human experience. These constitute attraction, resonance, and union between thematically similar and congruent persons, similar in thinking and believing, at many levels of their life experiences such as images, feelings, characters, fantasies, and chemistry. He suggests that this increases the likelihood of a trance-like state and eclipses analytical thought. We lose our minds and surrender ourselves to some fantasy or ideal way of living. That involves selective attention, which filters out incompatible information.
Edwards and Jacobs (2003) cite Jung, speaking of synchronicity as a principle whereby apparently separate external events might be connected through an underlying meaningful association in the timeless world of archetypes. Jung spoke further of synchronicity as being an experience occurring in a moment when inner and outer force intersect on anacausal principle, that is, an intersection in which one force does not cause the other. Jung believed that many experiences perceived as coincidences were not merely due to chance, but instead reflected the creation of an event or circumstance by the coinciding or alignment of such forces. The process of becoming intuitively aware and acting in harmony with these forces is what Jung labeled individuation. He stressed that individuated persons would actually shape events around them through the communication of their consciousness with the collective unconscious.
Thus, according to Jung, individuation is brought about in large part by the synchronistic intersection of the personal conscious and the collective unconscious. This means that individuals in a crowd experience individuate when the subjects of their collective unconscious, or archetypes, suddenly coincide with what they are experiencing in reality, while still being in the crowd.
The process through which the unconscious meaning of archetypes is revealed to the conscious mind, ensuring a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness, is referred to as transcendence. The transcendent function, according to Jung (1925), is understood to be mainly that of compensating for the tension between the spiritual and material worlds by facilitating a transition from one unbalanced psychological state to another that is balanced. Jung thought that transcendence was produced by the tension of polarity in our experience or psyche. In his research on transcendence, titled “Signs of Transcendence,” Leskovar (2005) drew on Jung’s views to describe the experiences of people undergoing transcendence. Leskovar thought that people who experience transcendence tend to feel calm, surrounded by love, gratified with a sense of fulfillment, and touched by healing, sometimes of fatal diseases. In the light of the previous discussion, individuation can be seen as a construct that entails two processes: synchronicity and transcendence. Synchronicity here can be understood as the process through which the actions, cognitions, and feelings of an individual in a crowd, who is presumed to be under the influence of the collective unconscious, coincide with that individual’s real or conscious experience. A good example can be that of a blind individual who sings, dances, and prays with a crowd of Christian worshippers at a healing crusade and earnestly hopes to be healed of his or her blindness. In that supposedly unconscious state, the extent to which the individual believes or fantasizes that God, to whom the prayers, dancing, and singing are being offered, can and will perform the miracle determines that individual’s chances of being cured of the blindness.
In synchronistic terms, the chances that such an individual will be cured of the blindness depends on the extent to which he or she holds and expresses beliefs about being healed. Christians call this faith. Moreover, it depends on the extent to which such an expression coincides with or happens by chance alongside signs of or the actual onset of the miracle, which in this case is receiving of sight.
Transcendence can be regarded as a stage through which individuation is completed. It may be understood as the point at which an individual suddenly realizes that his or her physical and realistic experience of a miracle has completely replaced the beliefs or fantasies that took place in his or her unconscious. Essentially, transcendence is the state at which it dawns on the individual that some or all of his or her hitherto expressions of wishes, longings, and yearnings in the unconscious have been transformed into conscious realities. A major point of distinction between synchronicity and transcendence is that unlike in synchronicity, an individual is said to experience transcendence only when he or she has attained full consciousness. This requires having been emancipated from the state of collective unconscious to that of conscious, or, as the previous example suggests, a state of believing in receiving a miracle of sight to that of actually receiving sight.
As Jung felt that as we become more individualized in our development, we deal with our shadow side more directly than when we are children, and then we tend to have a more direct reaction to it in the form of conscious or unconscious resolve to overcome it. Physical ailments can disappear and long standing problems can be resolved. Thus individuation can be identified as an avenue through which individuals in a crowd experience miracles.
The Psychology of Some Miraculous Events In and Outside of the Bible
From the Old Testament (OT) to the New Testament (NT), the Bible is replete with accounts of miraculous events. The focus of this section is on some of the miracles that, reportedly, occurred to individuals or a few people amid huge crowds or that were experienced by the crowd as a whole.
The Bible, in Exodus 14:21 (King James Version, KJV), tells of how God provided the miracle that the children of Israel needed very urgently to escape from the Egyptians, who were chasing them. This need cut across the entire population of Israelites, which saw them thinking, imagining, reasoning, feeling, and acting in very similar ways. This similarity of cognitions, affects, and behaviors, which manifested more when the people congregated to share the same plight, as they did, were products of their collective unconscious. In the light of the analysis in the foregoing sections, it is instructive to imagine that most of these people were experiencing lowered self-awareness and deindividuation, the result of which the KJV of the Bible summarizes as follows: “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” While one can only imagine how deep Moses’ experience of these psychological states could have been, compared to those of his followers, everybody in that crowd can be said to have experienced individuation through synchronicity and transcendence, both of which ushered them into the ecstatic experience of the miracle.
The felling of the walls of Jericho is another miracle that can be said not only to have occurred to a crowd as a whole, but also to have been facilitated, made faster, and made more certain by the collective attributes of all the individuals making up this crowd. Perhaps the Israelites who were involved in this big miracle were not as populous as those who experienced the parting of the Red Sea; the fact that these people wanted the same thing to happen and demonstrated their belief in God’s ability to make it happen is enough to suggest that all these constituted their collective unconscious, under the manifestation of which they were all subject to the lowering of their individual self-awareness to the point that they became deindividuated. The Bible states, in Joshua 6:20 (New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]), that “the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”
As it is not unexpected for incredulity to follow miraculous occurrences, skeptics and scientists who would make desperate attempts to explain the felling of the wall of Jericho as an event resulting from natural or physical causes, that is, the blowing of the trumpet and shouting, are right on one hand but wrong on the other. They are right, albeit unknowingly, in the sense that the crowd’s entire actions were borne out of their collective unconscious, owing largely to the fact that the individuals making it up found themselves expressing the same wish and pursuing this wish in the same manner. But they are wrong in that they try to attribute the felling of the wall to the physical impact of the Israelites’ shouting and trumpet blowing.
The shouting and trumpet blowing, which was a practical demonstration by the people of their belief in God’s ability to fell the wall, served the purpose of galvanizing the crowd into a state of lowered self-awareness and, later, deindividuation, which were crucial to a state of individuation during which such a miracle could have happened. Therefore, because the entire crowd of the nation of Israel needed the miracle at that time and demonstrably believed they would get it, it was delivered to them collectively, the joy of which they shared both individually and collectively.
The story is also told in Luke 7:11-15 of a young man, the only child of a widow, whom Jesus raised from the dead amid a huge crowd of people who followed Jesus up to that location. This includes the role of several mourners and those who were carrying the man’s body out to the site of burial outside the city called Nain. The World English Bible relates the story as follows:
It happened soon afterwards, that he went to a city called Nain. Many of his disciples, along with a great multitude, went with him. Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, one who was dead was carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Many people of the city were with her. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, “Don’t cry.” He came near and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” He who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.
Similar to this is the story of how a man called Lazarus arose, at the command of Jesus, in the presence of a crowd of friends, relations, and mourners, after being dead for four days. The American Standard Version of the Bible in John 11:41-45 relates the story as follows:
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Many therefore of the Jews, who came to Mary and beheld that which he did, believed on him.
The two miracles share the same progression in at least three specific ways. First, they both present cases of people who were already dead and thus could not have wished for any miracle again. Given their circumstances, only Jesus, who performed the miracles, and the crowd present could have had the faith and sought the miracles on behalf of the dead persons. The implication of this is that although the dead were the immediate beneficiaries of the miracles, they were not part of the crowd from whose collective unconscious and altered experiential states they had benefited.
Second, in both instances, to execute the miracle, Jesus directly addressed the dead persons, telling them to arise. One may wonder here what business the crowd had with the miracle if Jesus addressed the dead directly for the miracle to take place. This will simply mean that the crowd’s collective unconscious notwithstanding, the miracle would still have taken place. On one hand, the purpose that the relevant altered experiential states of lowered self-awareness, deindividuation, and individuation play in the occurrence of a miracle, especially a mass or crowd-type of miracle, is to prepare the recipient’s consciousness and state of mind to receive it, given the obvious fact that in most faiths, especially Christianity, a very strong belief on the part of the would-be recipient that he or she will receive or partake of a miracle is crucial to a miracle taking place. It is therefore instructive to assert and emphasize what has been implied so far: that the phenomenon of faith is related to the issues of self-awareness, deindividuation, and individuation. It is no surprise, then, to read, regarding his many miracles, that Jesus made specific reference to the faith of the recipients.
On the other hand, because the dead unconscious cannot possibly share in the collective unconscious of people around them who may be interceding on their behalf, communicating with these physically unconscious may require a high degree of immersion into the collective unconscious. While this depth is certainly either unfathomable or definitely not necessary at all in Jesus, it appears to be a prima facie precursor for this kind of miracle among humans who believe in Jesus and seek miracles from God in Jesus’ name. This implies that the physically unconscious and the dead, who are not privileged to share in the collective unconscious of a group interceding on their behalf, may need to be directly addressed for the intercession by fellow Christians to be effectual.
Alternatively, as implied previously, a high degree of immersion of the intercessors into the collective unconscious may be required for such a miracle to take place. This degree of immersion appears to be what was demonstrated in a story told by the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Eunuch Adeboye, during a sermon at one of the monthly Holy Ghost services that I attended at the Redemption Camp, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, in Nigeria. According to him, a bridegroom suddenly slumped and died during the signing of the marriage register in the vestry of the church where he was being wedded to his bride. This, of course, threw the officiating ministers, relations, and friends who witnessed the occurrence into utter confusion. The bride and immediate family members were stunned. In the midst of this confusion, however, the officiating ministers tried to manage the situation such that news of the incident was kept carefully away from the rest of the congregation, who continued to sing praises in enthusiastic expectation of the newest couple.
After praying in the vestry with the dead turning colder and colder, the ministers switched to praises. After a good 35 minutes of intense praise and worship to Almighty God, the dead man pleasantly shocked everybody present in the vestry with a loud sneeze! Behold, he came back from the dead! A pertinent question here is whether the people in the congregation, who were not aware of the incident until it became a testimony, also shared in the collective unconscious that facilitated the miracle. My ready answer is yes. Just as several people in the crowds in the two Bible stories referred to previously might not have looked forward to any miracle, as their mission or expectations were simply to join the bereaved in mourning their dead, that they were present in that crowd was more than enough to predispose them to sharing the same outcome with other members of the crowds, albeit unconsciously.
The convergence theories help explain some psychological underpinnings of the collective behaviors. The central thrust of these theories, as pointed out by Forsyth (2005), is the assumption that individuals with similar or compatible needs, desires, values, motivations, emotions, or goals tend to converge to form a single group; that is, individuals join collectives because they possess particular personal characteristics that, though they may be merely latent or virtually unrecognizable, are the true causes of the formation of both large and small collectives and contribute to their consequences. According to Forsyth, by joining such a collective, the individual makes possible the satisfaction of these needs, and the crowd situation serves as a trigger for the spontaneous release of previously controlled behaviors.
Those particular personal characteristics, as stressed previously, are what constitute the crowd’s collective unconscious. That thrust, in fact, captures the idea of collective unconscious quite accurately as it suggests that the characteristics may be latent or virtually unrecognizable. The idea is that all persons who turn up to form a collective share certain things in common that pertain more to these characteristics than anything else but of which they themselves may be unaware. This defines no other phenomenon than the collective unconscious. To corroborate this is Eric Hoffer’s assertion that (2002, xi) “all movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.” With this assertion, what appears to be crucial to the amazingly faster and more effective move of the Holy Spirit of God in Christian crowds is the commonality of cognitions, affect, and actions shared by most, if not all, the members.
Next is Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5,000 men, in addition to women and children, doing it with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This miracle is reported in Mark 6:35-42 (Revised Standard Version, RSV):
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
A pertinent question here is whether the crowd imagined that another groundbreaking miracle was on the way for them. The answer is yes. Matthew 14:14 (Montgomery’s New Testament) tells of what happened before the miraculous feeding of the crowd: “So when he landed he saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.” Therefore, as people who had been under Jesus’ tutelage at least for that day, and whose illnesses he had healed, most of them already knew that Jesus was capable of any miracle. Besides, having gathered together all day to listen to Jesus teach and having had him heal their various infirmities, the people can be said to have shared enough in common as to muster the requisite synergy and faith needed to facilitate this kind of collective miracle. Nevertheless, as stated earlier, irrespective of the consciousness of the crowd, Jesus could still perform miracles as he is the custodian of these miracles.
Apart from these explanations, and as strongly implied in the story of the feeding of the crowd, it was already late to go out and get food, and the people, having been there for long hours, were hungry. So they, in addition to their similar spiritual and psychological needs, also shared the physiological need for food, which if not satisfied, according to Abraham Maslow (1970), will not allow any other kind of need to become immediate in human beings.
The itinerant healer that Jesus was can best be appreciated with close reference to the fourfold Gospels. But a couple of instances of this shall be examined here. Apart from the account of Matthew 14:14, the same Gospel in 15:29-31 (Weymouth’s New Testament [WNT]) also relates Jesus’ healing of many sick people amid a crowd:
Again, moving thence, Jesus went along by the Lake of Galilee; and ascending the hill, He sat down there. Soon great crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were crippled in feet or hands, blind or dumb, and many besides, and they hastened to lay them at His feet. And He cured them, so that the people were amazed to see the dumb speaking, the maimed with their hands perfect, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they gave the glory to the God of Israel.
Again, the conscious among the sick who were brought to Jesus, their conscious bearers, and the spectators were all part of the crowd in this particular context. By virtue of this, their needs, thoughts, emotions, actions, motives, and belief or unbelief constituted the collective unconscious in this particular context. These were the factors that paved the way for the onset of other pertinent psychological states to which they were subjected, preparing their psyches for the miracle. The fact that people openly expressed their amazement at these wondrous healings by praising God makes it evident that though Jesus was in charge, the people attained individuation through synchronicity and transcendence, thus creating the conditions for the miracle.
Acts 5:14-16 (RSV) relates quite a dramatic miracle occurring after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. The story goes as follows:
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
In this story, several people suffering from either physical or spiritual infirmities were laid along the street that Peter, an ardent disciple of Jesus, was to pass. Thus, when he was passing, his shadow would be cast on them and they would be healed by this shadow. True to their expectations, Peter’s shadow actually healed all these people. The fact that Jesus Christ was not physically present in this location, although he was spiritually, brings to the fore the role that faith, defined as the trust in an individual that what he or she desires, and is working and praying toward or expecting, will be done for him or her by God, plays in miracles. Being an avenue for multiple miracles to happen, the chances that an individual with x amount of faith, in a crowded gathering, will receive miracle(s) appears to be greater than those of his or her lone counterpart with the same x amount of faith.
Similar to the case of Peter, the Bible, in Acts 19:11-12 (RSV), also tells of mass miracles that God enabled the apostle Paul to perform, as follows: “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” In this account, God performed so many miracles through Paul that his personal effects taken to the sick were healing as effectively as his very hands. The recipients of the miracles, those who took them to the venues of the miracles, and the spectators can be said to have witnessed a new dimension to Jesus’ kind of miracles, especially with Jesus not being physically present.
Yet Philip, another disciple of Jesus, is said in Acts 8:6-8 (World English Bible [WEB]) to have performed all kinds of miracles in his ministry after the ascension of Jesus to heaven. The biblical account says, “The multitudes listened with one accord to the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice. Many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. There was great joy in that city.” This undoubtedly is another series of multiple miracles among a multitude.
The kind of miracles performed by Peter, Paul, Philip, and other apostles, especially amid multitudes, are being reenacted in the contemporary world. Testimonies abound, here in Nigeria alone, of grand and mass miracles taking place in churches and crusade grounds amid crowds. In the televised, weekly program of Christ Embassy, a Pentecostal church in Lagos, Nigeria, tagged “Atmosphere of Miracles,” it is usual to watch people not only becoming physically healed, but also rendering testimonies of other miracles that they had previously received. Also televised are the occurrence and testimonies of miracles, especially of physical healing, at the Synagogue Church of Nations in Lagos, Nigeria. This particular church is so popular for its miracles that it has continued to attract people from many parts of the world. For example, although the church is located in Nigeria, it is usual to see many white people worshipping there regularly.
On the strength of the visible evidence, the fact that these miracles are actually taking place is not in doubt. However, mixed reactions trail the occurrence of these miracles. While many skeptics agree that there is a supernatural power behind the miracles, they also insist that in many of the churches, the supernatural powers derive from the occult, voodoo, or sorcery. Several, for reasons of not being able to deny the evidence of their own eyes, simply insist that there must have been some arrangements behind the scene and that the testifiers must be confederates of the prophet or miracle worker. As alluded to in the beginning of this chapter, though miracles are not a monopoly of Christianity, there are different types of miracles, and miracles are actually in the eyes of the beholder; but if the manner in which Aaron’s rod-turned-serpent swallowed Pharaoh’s sorcerer’s-rod-turned-serpents (Exodus 7:10-12) is anything to go by, miracles caused by Almighty God are the only genuine miracles. Nevertheless, the psychological processes that galvanize humans into states that are compatible with the occurrence of mass or multiple miracles can occur in all crowded gatherings.
Apart from watching or reading about miracles, real life witnessing of multiple miracles in Christian crusades further convinces one of the potential for enhancement that crowd psychology may lend to the probability of miracles. As a regular attendee of the monthly Holy Ghost service of the Redeemed Christian Church of God at the Redemption Camp, near Lagos, Nigeria, it is quite usual for me to see many people getting physically healed and many others testifying to other breakthroughs that they are convinced they got at previous Holy Ghost services.
Lee Grady’s (2002) report on the Holy Ghost Congress 2001 goes a long way to corroborate this. Grady estimated the crowd on one of the days of a weeklong festival of faith to be in excess of 2 million people. He also vividly described how a shout that followed a prayer session shook the ground, a million fists raised into the air, and another million voices shouted the name of Jesus. Grady reported the events that led to a subsequent occurrence of mass miracles as follows (2002, 14): “The prayers continued, followed by more preaching, then more deafening music. When the next altar call was given at 3 AM, hundreds of men, women and children walked to the stage area to seek physical healing. Some of them left their crutches at the altar when they returned to their seats. They had found their miracle.”
With Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit is the force through which God alters the course of nature to pave the way for the occurrence of miracles in the name of Jesus. For Christians, who discern that miracles come from God, the Holy Spirit underlies all the psychological processes to which people are subjected while immersed in a crowd, ushering them into states that are compatible with receiving miracles from God. Specifically, from immersion in a crowd, through reduction in self-awareness, to deindividuation, contagion, and then to individuation through synchronicity and transcendence, the Holy Spirit mediates, while the entire process, complex as it may seem, is all an expression of faith.
This chapter set out to implicitly provide support to the proposal that people in crowds receive more and grander miracles than people who are alone. Although there is no empirical evidence to support this assertion, theoretical and conceptual analyses seem to provide some forms of support and ways of understanding this apparent reality. Besides, instances drawn from both the Bible and present-day events appear to converge at the same point, lending heuristic weight to the thesis. Against this background, it can be concluded that a higher realm of miraculous experiences characterizes crowds because their psychospirituality produces the altered states of consciousness that individuals in the crowd undergo. Theoretical and conceptual analyses have suggested that these products of crowd psychology are highly compatible with the states of mind that are best suited for receiving miracles.