The Globe and Mail has featured The Third Man Factor as part ofits "Ask an author" Q & A series, which some members ofthirdmanfactor.com participated in! Some answers to questions aboutthe book will be published in the Feb. 14 Globe, but the fullexchange has already been posted on Globe books. Here is an excerpt of the first few questions:
Ask an Author
Guardian angels in a secular world
John Geiger on a well-documented phenomenon thathappens to both the deeply religious and the highly skeptical
John Geiger, the author of The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in ExtremeEnvironments, took readers' questions via e-mail this week.These are his responses.
PJ in Canada I'd like to ask John Geiger whetherthe "Third Man" effect has happened to any Canadians other than theguy in the excerpt? I'd also like to know whether he has afavourite example.
John Geiger Third Man cases have happened topeople all over the world, people of different cultures and faiths.The phenomenon is universal. Yet I was struck not only by how manyCanadians have had the experience, but also by the extent to whichthe search to explain the origins of the Third Man has been takenup by Canadian researchers.
So in answer to your question, yes, there are many cases beyondthat of Jim Sevigny, whose dramatic meeting with a Third Man afterhe was severely injured following an avalanche on Deltaform, nearLake Louise, was excerpted in the Globe. Andrew Prossin, a Canadianyachtsman and expedition leader, gives a harrowing account of ameeting during an Atlantic crossing. So does another Canadianyachtsman, a Presbyterian minister named Angus MacKinnon. Thenthere is William Laird McKinley, a member of Stefansson's CanadianArctic expedition of 1913-18, when trapped in ice off the Arcticcoast.
Perhaps none of the cases in the book is more striking than thatexperienced by Ron DiFrancesco, the last person out of the southtower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed on Sept. 11,2001. I'm not sure I would say I have a "favourite" example in thebook, they are so different and each astounding in its own way, butRon's case is literally hair-raising.
Jamal Uddin, Toronto I read with interest theGlobe review by Wayne Grady. He seems to agree with T.S. Eliot thatthe Third Man could be Jesus, and he cites The Waste Land. What about non-Christians andnon-believers? Together we are in the majority!
John Geiger Sir Ernest Shackleton, whoseexperience inspired the passage in The Waste Land, described it as a "Divine Companion," so,yes, he saw it through the lens of Christianity. But the Third ManFactor is not reserved for Christians, although there is obviouslya strong Christian tradition of guardian angels, as well aspassages in Scripture that are certainly relevant to any attempt tounderstand the Third Man.
But this sense of being joined by a benevolent being when undergreat stress happens to people of any faith, and indeed highlysecular individuals, non-believers, have also had the experience.The Third Man Factor includes cases like that of Avi Ohry, anIsraeli soldier who was a PoW in Egypt and had the experience whileunder torture, and Parash Moni Das, an Indian climber.
But more often than not it includes cases like the great climberReinhold Messner, a very secular guy, who saw the Third Man not assome spiritual or religious intervention but as the product ofbrain processes.
Brandon Jorritsma, Beamsville, Ont. In the past,witnesses to the Third Man Factor frequently ascribed religiousorigins to the phenomenon, while today neurological andpsychological theories are becoming more popular. How have thechanging explanations behind the sensed presence influencedpeople's willingness to talk about their experiences with a ThirdMan?
John Geiger I think historically people would havefound it much easier to discuss encounters with the Third Man, forthe simple reason that it would have been seen as a religiousexperience and their report would have placed them in the exaltedranks of holy men, prophets and saints.
In our own, secular world, it's another matter entirely. Manypeople are skeptical about religion or anything that hints at thepossibility of a spiritual dimension, and so absent thatinterpretation this sort of experience has been categorized as anhallucination. Well, hallucinating is not meant to be a good thing,you might get funny looks, you might even get locked up. So I thinkThird Man cases are under-reported. The American polar explorer AnnBancroft only very reluctantly discussed her experience with apresence in Antarctica. The same goes for the early British Everestclimber Frank Smythe, who came clean only at the insistence of hisexpedition leader.
Tory Streather, another great British climber, was involved in aquite incredible life-and-death struggled with a team of OxfordUniversity climbers in the Himalayas. Yet in the publishednarrative of that expedition, The Last Blue Mountain, which describes in excruciatingdetail the disaster, there was no mention that Streather had beenaided by a Third Man. He only discussed it years later.
And in his first account of the famous flight, Charles Lindberghmade no mention of ghostly, helpful presences in the Spirit of St.Louis. It was several decades before he spoke of it. I think a lotmore people have experienced the Third Man than will admit it.