Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Psychic Who Wrote to Einstein

To complete a trilogy of Einstein related magic stories let’s take a look at the invulnerable Mirin Dajo. Dajo might be described as a fakir though he believed his skills came from God not practise. He was a Dutchman, born Arnold Gerritt Johannes Henskes in 1912 who adopted the name of Mirin Dajo which, apparently, in Esperanto meant ‘wonder.’

Dajo was indeed a wonder, demonstrating the ability to withstand 24” rapier swords pushed through his torso in various directions and under the closest scrutiny. In one instance a double-edge flat bladed sword also penetrated the wonder worker. It wasn’t a trick and was observed, photographed and filmed by reputable experts. You’ll find a lot of the footage on You Tube. It was shot in Switzerland during May of 1947 and is most impressive.

Dajo declared he could not be destroyed by any kind of weapon and even referred to having survived a bullet to the head.  He claimed he heard messages from angels telling him that his great gift would be of service to all mankind. The idea being that having been inspired by his healing powers all wars would cease. It was less than two years after WWII so not surprising that world peace might be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Many articles and several books have been written about Dajo but what puzzles me most is how Dajo managed to convince his friend Jan de Groot to become his official swordsman. At what point in your life do you ask your friend to push a sword through your body? And what kind of friend says yes?

In December of 1947 Dajo wrote to Albert Einstein who was at Princeton University. He asked Einstein to facilitate his travel to the USA so that Einstein himself might supervise more tests and that together they could collaborate in bringing peace to the world. This four-page letter is reproduced in Luc Bürgin’s book on Mirin Dajo entitled Das Wunder (2004). The author is less sceptical than I am about the supernatural origins of Dajo’s powers but it is here that I discovered the letter containing Einstein’s reply and for that I thank him. 

Einstein might well have already heard of Dajo, in fact Dajo suggests as much in his letter. The story of the tests conducted in Switzerland had made the US newspapers but Dajo had also enclosed some photographs that depicted his various miraculous impalements so that Einstein would be in no doubt about the importance of the matter. Einstein’s reply was brief, saying that he hoped there was some trickery to the demonstration because he did not like to believe that Dajo was truly mutilating himself. Regardless, Einstein said he did not want to be part of Dajo’s project and did not want to encourage others to carry out Dajo’s demonstrations. It seems clear that Einstein did not consider the matter supernatural.  Both Dajo’s and Einstein’s letters can be found in the Einstein Archives. 

One year on from the demonstrations that made him world famous Dajo came up with another feat, possibly to repudiate a sceptical article published by E Schläpfer in the Swiss Medical Weekly.

On instructions from his guardian angels he announced he would swallow a long needle and, according to some reports I’ve read, it would dematerialise from Dajo’s body. Dajo did swallow the needle but a couple of days later, May 13th, it was removed by surgical means. Quite what that was supposed to prove is not clear to me and ultimately it might have lead to his demise. Barely two weeks had passed when Dajo began to feel ill and retired to his hotel room to rest. He was dead when he friends found him three days later, May 26th 1948. 

The autopsy revealed he’d died of an aortic rupture. As expected it also found numerous scars all over Dajo’s body and internal organs. But it found no evidence that he’d once been shot in the head as he claimed.

Aside from God-given powers the most reasonable explanation for Dajo’s invulnerability compares the slow pushing of a sword through the body to a far more lethal violent stabbling. The tissue of internal organs move aside, blood vessels too, to allow the sword to pass rather than tear the body open. It is also thought that Dajo had a higher pain threshold than normal although if you look closely at the video, at one point he seems to be sweating a lot and far from comfortable.

In 1948 a researcher in Brussels, Albert Bessemans, investigated the effect of Mirin Dajo style skewering on anaesthetised animals and found that they survived their ordeal perfectly well.  I haven’t read the paper but it reminds me of an 18th century magic trick entitled To Thrust a Knife in the Head of a Cock or Hen without Killing it. The secret was to push the knife through the bird’s head but miss the brain, which, fortunately for the conjuror lies to the rear of the skull. The instructions said that the chicken would feel no ill effects and that the conjuror could “suspend the bird on the knife as often as one pleases." It’s not a trick you’ll find in many repertoires today. And, to date, no one has duplicated the feats of Mirin Dajo.