Alternate Perceptions Magazine, December 2022
Beyond Coincidence: Cattle Mutilations, Freud, Me and the Number 23
by: Peter A. Jordan
Nearly every psychic and UFO researcher has, at one time or another, been dogged by strange coincidence. Periodically, for example, there are cases in which clusters of names occur – streets, proper names, towns – that are not only similar, but identical, and that brazenly seem to flout the laws of this probability. For some, so familiar are these occurrences that, like a mother who sits calmly reading a book amid the constant shouts of an attention-seeking child, they no longer seem shocking or strange. Paul Kammerer, an Austrian biologist, recorded hundreds of such coincidences during the early 1900’s. Kammerer believed such extra chance events were guided by an acausal principle he called “seriality” - a principle that, in certain ways, anticipated Jung’s concept of synchronicity. But while Kammerer may have been among the first to document this peculiar affinity among events, it was Jung was suggested that the key to distinguishing them from mere coincidence lay within their inherent meaning.
Though the concept of synchronicity is something I have been familiar with since my freshman year in college, it has, surprisingly, introded in my life on only the rarest of occasions. I say surprisingly, since – dating back nearly to age nine – I have always been passionately interested in the paranormal, and, since the age of twenty-three, have completed more than a hundred field investigations of phenomenon ranging from poltergeists to UFOs. If anyone was to be badgered by such a force of nature, I have always thought, it would probably be me. Instead, while “lady luck” (or “Luckless”, depending on your point of view) has not ignored me, she has only once paid me any special attention, preferring to turn her full attention to others with whom she obviously senses more of a kinship. Considering, though, that she is someone who delights in catching the unaware by surprise, sometimes startling them half to death, it is a situation that, quite frankly, has never at all made me jealous. One rendezvous with this mistress of mayhem is more than I could possibly endure.
Our sordid affair began, actually, in the wake of cattle mutilations I was investigating in Dulce, New Mexico in 1980. I had been commissioned to investigate the subject by Science Digest and spent a week in the Dulce area talking to various ranchers, scientists and law enforcement officials who were acutely puzzled and frightened by these bizarre attacks. Though the data convinced me that the Dulce mutilations were the work – not of some sloppy predators or ceremonial cultists – but of someone intensely methodical, well-organized and technologically advanced, it did not, however, permit me to decide whether the culprits were homo-sapiens, or the inhabitants of some other planet or dimension (Were the matter to be settled even today in a court of law, in fact, I am certain we would find a persuasive case could be argued on behalf of either view). Not sure of my footing, therefore, and in the way of an informal scientific experiment, I contacted four psychics of substantial reputation that were known to me from the New York Metropolitan area and asked them to psychometrize (meaning to feel tactually for psychic impressions) police photos depicting the mutilated carcasses and unusual ground markings in some of the cases. The findings – which I later published in a monograph entitled “Glimpses through A Looking Glass” - surprized me (published in Fortean Times, #38). Despite precautions having been taken beforehand to “neutralize” the psychics by describing the phenomenon in the sparest terms possible and by conducting the readings independently of each other (to guard against possible “cross-contamination”}, a formidable consensus of opinion nevertheless managed to assert itself.
Each psychic – with no prodding whatsoever, and directly contrary to what I expected – identified the mutilators as part of a purely terrestrial, multi-national, “paramilitary” agency whose broad spectrum of covert actvitites encompassed gene-splicing, chemical-bacteriological warfare, radioactivity experimentation, uranium and mineral exploration and psychological warfare. As I (as several of the psychics also privately did as well, I learned later) maintain an unassailable belief in alien/human interactions, the absolute lack of support given to the ET hypothesis in the readings struck me as especially puzzling. Either, I decided, these readings revealed what, in fact, was the “naked truth” of the matter, or we were being confronted with, yet another fine example of what parapsychologists refer to as the “experimenter effect,” in which unconscious bias psychically shapes and determines an experiment’s outcome. Not until the mutilators were caught red-handed, or the government “fessed-up” to its alleged involvement, though, could the matter be settled certainly one way or the other; I was forced to accept that. But I simply could not conquer the urge to follow the psychic’s trail to see where it might lead. For nearly two months I combed libraries and computer files, cross-referencing the countless names, phrases and recurring images in the readings with research files in genetics, biochemistry, psych-warfare, chemical engineering, mineral exploration and political science. My efforts were not rewarded, either; I seemed to hit pay-dirt wherever I looked. So precise, in some instances, was the fit, that I could scarcely believe my own eyes. Never, in all honesty, do I recall having felt so elated as a researcher as I did at that time. Perhaps this emotional state, I have often thought, provided the trigger for the bizarre occurrences that would soon shadow my life.
Beginning around May of 1980, just after my trek to New Mexico, I began to develop a peculiar attraction to the number 23. At first, it was nothing but a mild flirtation; the incidents seemed isolated and inconsequential. But within a short while they increased in number, until I came to practically dread their visits. At a day job I maintained at the time at a company in New Jersey, I was assigned 23 as a phone extension; 23 also became my assigned spot in the parking garage. The number also invariably turned up in hotel rooms I booked, as well as beckoning to me from road signs, street addresses, license plates, and wherever else it thought it could draw my attention. Even the check sent to me by Science Digest for my mutilation article bore the code number 23! The skeptic would, of course, argue that the number wasn’t hunting me, but that I was hunting the number. But how, I ask, can that be when, in fact, 23 had no special significance for me and was a complete “stranger” in whom I had absolutely no interest? As this “fatal attraction” wore on, I began to discover patterns. Usually the number manifested, I noticed, whenever I was discussing, writing about, or researching the mutilations, seldom at any other time. These experiences, I also found, were almost always associated with a palpable and irrepressible fear, as though I were being warned of some imminent danger. In nearly every case, I realized later, the number 23 had, indeed, foretold of some significant danger or misfortune in my life, much of which directly surrounded my investigation of the mutilations themselves. As much as I wanted to, and except for a woman I was dating regularly at the time, I discussed the matter with no one, fearful my friends and colleagues would suspect that reason had somehow abandoned me. Most of what transpired I, instead, began recording in a diary, documenting the dozens of encounters with 23 I had and that – as far would have it – would plague me for another three years. Then one day, in the summer of 1980, while browsing in the New Age section of a book store, I had an epiphany. Scanning the titles along the shelf, I spotted something that sounded rather intriguing and pulled it down; it was Cosmic Trigger, by Robert Anton Wilson. Thumbing through it, though, something flashed before my eyes that was so amazing that I at first thought I had imagined it. I leafed back through the book until it reappeared, catching the page with my hand. There, in the upper-left hand corner, and printed in bold, black letters, were the words: THE 23 ENIGMA. Flushed with excitement, I stood reading the section, experiencing a profound surge of relief. Here, at last, I had found confirmation. The first two pagers revealed how Wilson first became aware of the significance of 23 during a conversation with the novelist William S. Burroughs:
In the early ‘60s in Tangiers, Burroughs knew a certain Captain Clark who ran a ferry from Tangier to Spain. One day, Clark said to Burroughs that he’d been running the ferry 23 years without an accident. That very day, the ferry sank, killing Clark and everybody aboard. In the evening, Burroughs was thinking about this when he turned on the radio. The first newscast told about the crash of an Eastern Airlines plane on the New York/Miami route. The pilot was another Captain Clark and the flight was listed as flight 23… Burroughs began keeping records of odd coincidences. To his astonishment, 23’s appeared in a lot of them When he told me about this, I began keeping my own records – and 23’s appeared in many of them.
One thing that struck me in particular about the instances in which 23 revealed itself to Wilson was how they so strongly embodied the themes of death and decay. Wilson notes, for example, that the mad bomber in the film Airport had seat 23, and that in the climax of a stage production of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton was the 23rd man to be guillotined. In telegrapher’s code, he discovered, 23 means “bust” or “break the line,” while hexagram 23 in the I Ching means “Break Apart.” And in Aleister Crowley’s Cabalistic Dictionary he found 23 defined as the number of “parting” and “removal.” As the cattle mutilations literally translated as busting open, breaking apart, removal, and, of course, death, I could not help but wonder if 23 might have been intended merely as a kind of numerical exclamation point, a symbol of the violent and destructive forces enshrouding the mystery. If any other meaning awaited discovery, IO was incapable of imagining what it might be. Several years went by, and the number showed no signs of flagging; by now, however, I had weary and bored with its antics; no longer did I see the point in even keeping a diary. But as my passion for “Lady Luck” began to wane, my research into the mutilations intensified. By 1982, my investigations had extended far beyond New Mexico, into parts of Iowa, Montana, Colorado and even Canada. I sought, and found, natural explanations for some of these cases, but a substantial number stubbornly concealed their cause. In spite of an almost uninterrupted stream of new cases, however, the evidence failed to propel me even one step closer toward a solution. Remarkably, not one witness to a mutilation-in-progress had yet to materialize; nor had the curtain of secrecy surrounding these events developed even a single leak! The mutilators, whoever they were, were fast earning my left-handed admiration, not just for their clinical fastidiousness, but for their infallibility as well.
As I continued to agonize over the problem, there occurred still another epiphany. This time the source, of all things, was Science Digest, which I had picked up off a newsstand in August of 1982. As before, I was flipping through it randomly coming to rest on a page that showed Sigmund Freud sitting at a desk. A small book lay propped open by his left hand, the number 23 appearing in the corner of one page. Glancing up at Freud’s familiar face, I found myself unable to suppress an incredulous laugh: a ghostly 23 stared back at me from the glasses of his spectacles! My mind is beginning to crumble, I remember thinking. My eyes, however, then drifted over to the previous page: FREUD AND THE NUMBER 23, read the title of an article written, no less, by “Dr. Crypton”! How much more of this I could endure, I didn’t know. Of all people, Freud! Back in graduate school, of course, I had been forced to digest near volumes of his work, but could not recall hearing so much as a murmur from my professors about such a connection. The article, however, exposed a ten-year salacious affair Freud had with the number 23, and which apparently many of his partisans, even today, would apparently rather soon forget. Freud’s introduction to 23 was made, it turns out, by Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin nose-and-throat surgeon who developed a passionate friendship with Freud during the late 1800’s.
Fliess maintained that all human beings possess both feminine and masculine traits that manifest themselves according to certain numerological laws: a 28-day cycle for women (as in menstruation) and a 23-day cycle for me. Fliess even went so far as to link these cycles to periodic phenomena in the cosmos, prompting Freud to hail him as “the Kepler of biology.” (1) Intriguing as Fliess’ ruminations on 23 were, however, their relevance to the mutilations seemed anything but clear. How was I to interpret the message? Was the focus male reproductive sex cycles? Or was my attention perhaps being drawn to the equal contribution of 23 chromosomes made by the male and female in the formation of life? There was no way of knowing for sure. After the incident with Science Digest, 23 and I began drifting apart. Whether she felt misunderstood or frustrated at no longer being able to startle me as fiercely as she once had, I cannot say. Why she lavished so much attention on me, I probably will also never know. But I do know she was no chimera. And in those years, she held me within her hypnotic grip, I, like many before me, experienced her charismatic power.
1. In reading Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, I uncovered a clue to what might well have been the inspiration for Fliess’ obsession with the number 23. “According to Bengali Tantrists,” Wilson states, “there is a five-day lag between the male and female sex cycles, the female 28 days and the male 23.” (emphasis mine) Did Fliess, I wonder, deliberately conceal the mystical origins of his theory from Freud so as not to risk damaging his credibility? Or did his theory spring from an altogether different source? Postscript: It has recently come to my attention that Richard Price, a UFO abductee, claims also to have undergone a prolonged haunting by the number 23. Price’s account of the experience will, I am told, be contained in his forthcoming book, What Affects Your Life.
Editor’s Note: This article reposted with permission of the author, Peter Jordan. It originally appeared in The Anomalist 3, Winter 1995-96.