There is little that’s positive about being struck by lightning. Generally, those unfortunate enough to be struck either die more or less instantly or, more likely, survive yet sustain much damage to their bodies. Most lightning strike survivors battle with depression and some commit suicide.
Partly as a result of the changes in personality experienced by many lightning strike survivors, which can involve becoming grouchy, short-tempered, and irritable, it’s not uncommon for marriages to break down and for survivors to end up living in isolation. Yet it’s not all doom and gloom.
Cases exist where people have been healed of medical conditions after being struck by lightning. Then there are cases where survivors have developed alleged psychic abilities. Some survivors insist they are better for the experience and even grateful they were struck.
One survivor who views his ordeal in a remarkably positive light is Harold Deal, a former maintenance electrician in his 70s from Greenwood, Missouri.
After being struck by lightning on 26 July 1969, while standing in the driveway of his home (in Lawson, Missouri), Deal developed severe memory problems, whereby occasionally he could no longer recall how to talk, walk, and perform other simple tasks.
Strangely, he also lost his sense of smell and the ability to experience pain and cold. Because he doesn’t “notice the cold like most people,” some of his fellow townsfolk call him “Weird Harold.”1 He explains: “They call me this because I never wear a coat or long-sleeve shirt no matter what the weather is outside… I have worked outside in twenty-six degrees [F] below zero, plus I have worked in weather with a wind chill as low as fifty-six degrees below zero… I have also worked in twenty-three degrees below zero for up to seven hours at a time. A T-shirt and overalls is what I always wear… whether it is summer or winter.”
Today a dedicated Christian and charity worker, Deal feels that, looking back on the accident, it made his life “so much richer and so much fuller.”
Betty Galvano of Sebring, Florida, a former high-fashion model and widow of the late celebrity golfer Phil Galvano, is a remarkable example of someone who’s been healed by lightning. In 1993, Galvano fell off a seawall and broke her right leg. The accident necessitated an operation in which two 14-inch steel bars were permanently inserted in her leg. Although the operation enabled Galvano to walk again, it left her in pain and unable to use her leg to the extent she could before the accident. She explains: “[I] couldn’t jump or raise my leg. I couldn’t stand on one leg. I couldn’t walk without dipping. My leg always felt like a sandbag.”4
On the afternoon of 11 June 1994, while cutting up broccoli in her son’s kitchen with the window open, Galvano heard “the most unbelievable tremendous blast of thunder.”5 The next thing she knew, she was slumped over the counter, the knife and broccoli having flown from her hands. The bolt of lightning that struck Galvano had entered via the open window. Her husband, who’d been sitting four feet away from her when the incident occurred, helped her to the couch so she could lay down.
While lying on the couch, Galvano experienced a strange sensation in her crippled right leg, as though “a thousand needles had entered the toes and foot.”6 All of a sudden her leg felt “full of vitality.”7 She recalls: “I stood up and everything was fine. I could walk normally.”8 The pain had also vanished. Galvano claims that not only did the lightning strike “miraculously heal” her leg, but that she didn’t suffer any ill effects from it, not even the slightest amount of memory loss. The day after the incident she paid a visit to her doctor, who confirmed that her leg had indeed been healed.
Although the effects of being struck by lightning vary from one individual to another, no one is ever the same as before they were struck. Some survivors undergo a kind of “spiritual awakening,” or at the very least acquire a deeper interest in spiritual matters. Something of this nature happened to Galvano. At the moment she was struck by lightning she saw “gold particles everywhere” and experienced “a beautiful, peaceful feeling that God loves us [and] that the only thing that’s worth anything is love.”9 She adds: “Lightning was a spiritual experience for me. It energised me, it made me feel better.”10 It also left her feeling “totally immersed in God,” so that now “He is with me all the time.”
According to Galvano, her unique relationship with lightning dates back to when she was a newborn infant in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1935. She claims that a tremendous thunderstorm occurred on the day her mother brought her home from the hospital. The storm caused an electrical cable outside the house to break, which then produced an electrical shortage inside the house and much electrical arcing.
Later, when she was three months old, she developed blue baby syndrome and fell into a coma. There was a high chance she might die. As the infant Galvano lay ill in hospital, a raging thunderstorm took place outside. Galvano picks up the story: “My mother looked out the window, and on the lawn she saw a ball of lightning. It floated up, came through the window, and rested on top of me. At that moment a nurse came into the room and watched with her mouth wide open as I came out of the coma.”
As tempting as it is to dismiss Galvano’s ball lightning story as the product of an overactive imagination, it’s not unheard of for ball lightning to approach an individual and brush against their body without causing any harm. So it’s conceivable she had a ball lightning encounter as an infant where the object “rested on top of me.” Whether the object healed her, though, is another matter entirely.
The case I’m about to describe is hardly an example of someone being healed by lightning, though it involved a healing of sorts. In June 1980, Robert Davidson, then aged 38, was riding his motorbike down Interstate 74 on his way to Indianapolis when suddenly it started to rain. Seated behind him on the motorbike was his wife. The two decided to pull off the road to put on their wet weather gear. Davidson’s wife dismounted the motorbike first.
Just as Davidson was dismounting, with his left foot on the ground and his right leg still on the seat, he was struck on the shoulder by a bolt of lightning. Davidson was sent flying through the air and landed on the ground without a pulse. A physician who happened to be driving by at the moment the accident occurred pulled over to assist Davidson, giving him CPR and calling an ambulance.
Both the physician and the team of ambulance paramedics desperately tried to restore Davidson’s heartbeat, but with no luck. As their attempts continued without success, it began to look inevitable that Davidson wouldn’t make it. What happened next sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel.
A woman carrying a Bible and wearing an old fashioned-style black dress suddenly arrived at the scene. “Let me touch him,” she yelled out, as she made her way toward Davidson.13 Given the hopeless nature of Davidson’s condition, the paramedics decided they had nothing to lose by letting the woman approach him.
“She knelt down beside me,” Davidson said, “and placed the Bible and one hand on my chest and the other hand on the ground. She proceeded to lift the Bible to the sky and muttered something that no one understood.”14 The woman – who came to be known as the “woman in black” – then got up and walked away, and was never seen again. Moments later Davidson had a pulse.
The identity of the woman in black remains a mystery to this day. She appeared in an instant and vanished in an instant. Although some of the witnesses and paramedics at the scene say they didn’t see the woman, others are adamant they saw her and that she indeed saved Davidson’s life.
Paramedic Marylou Shafer belongs in the latter group. “There is no doubt in my mind,” she commented. “She was there.”15 Davidson was taken immediately to hospital, where he remained in a comatose state for seven weeks then spent several additional weeks relearning how to walk. The lightning strike damaged his vocal cords, and it was two years before he was able to talk again and nine years before he was well enough to return to his job at General Motors.
Davidson claims that for many years following the accident he was unable to wear a wristwatch without it malfunctioning within a matter of days. The only watch he could wear that didn’t malfunction (and in fact continued to keep perfect time) was the one he had on his wrist at the time of the accident. Actually, many lightning strike and electric shock survivors claim they exert an odd effect on wristwatches. Furthermore, the claims don’t apply exclusively to wristwatches but involve all manner of electrical gadgets – from computers to automatic garage doors to streetlamps.
In June 1989, former storm chaser Steve Melvin of Ohio, now in his early-50s, happened to get struck by lightning at the precise moment he was taking a photo. The camera was partly melted by the lightning, yet the film inside was undamaged. Remarkably, the photo he took at the moment he was struck shows the ghostly outline of a human surrounded by lightning, even though neither he nor anyone else was situated in front of the lens at the time. Melvin commented: “Some say it was me having an out-of-body experience. Some say it was my grandmother coming down from heaven to push me out of the way of the lightning. Some say it was a glimpse of an entirely different dimension. I’ll never know.”16 Ever since the incident, Melvin has had to replace on a frequent basis the batteries inside the pager he carries on his person; they go flat within days yet are supposed to last for months.
Could there be a mundane reason why the batteries in Melvin’s pager appear to mysteriously go flat? Perhaps the device is damaged in such a way that it uses more power than it should. Or perhaps, due to brain damage sustained during the accident, Melvin has difficulty remembering when he last put batteries in the device. The only reliable way to get to the bottom of the matter would be to carry out a series of experiments involving Melvin and his pager. This aside, the fact that many lightning strike and electric shock survivors make claims similar to Melvin’s means we’re faced with a genuine mystery.
In a 2009 USA Today article titled “Florida Lightning Survivors Share Stories,” one of the stories featured is that of Ralph Weidner of Bonita Springs. Since being struck by lightning in 1968 during a camping trip in Colorado, Weidner has had “difficulty using electronic devices.”17 He elaborates: “Battery-operated watches last only a few months and cellphones are a problem as well. I have had my cellphone keypad fail to work, but when I hand it to someone else, it works just fine. This has happened several times.”18
In Out of the Blue, Friedman presents a number of cases where “lightning survivors have claimed electrical or magnetic powers…”19 One of the cases presented is that of Gabrielle Blanstein. After being struck by a bolt of lightning that entered through the open window of her home in Haydenville, Massachusetts, in 1996, Blanstein became “supersensitive to electrical current.”20 She can tell when an electrical device is plugged in nearby because she can feel in the form of vibrations the EM field surrounding the device. Blanstein claims to have demagnetised by accident two bank cards and a credit card. Could it be that Blanstein suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)? Her ability to sense EM fields certainly suggests as much.
Another case presented by Friedman is that of Nina Lazzeroni, a dental assistant and part-time motorcycle safety instructor in her late-50s from Dover, Delaware. On the afternoon of 8 April 1995, Lazzeroni was struck by lightning while standing in a parking lot in Troy, Ohio, in front of a number of students to whom she was delivering a lesson on motorcycle safety. Her students witnessed the entire event. She said, “They told me I flew up like a rag doll and landed on my head.”21 Lazzeroni spent a week in hospital. The accident left her with a shattered left eardrum (which later healed but developed into tinnitus), an abnormal heart rhythm, permanent numbness in parts of both feet, memory issues, personality alterations, and difficulty reading and talking. Lazzeroni surmises that the lightning entered her brain and fried her pituitary gland and other parts of her endocrine system, because after the accident she began to experience “such drenching menstrual periods that I was forced to have a hysterectomy.”22
Fortunately, Lazzeroni has made a dramatic recovery and now finds it much easier to read and talk. Of those symptoms that remain from the accident, one is extremely peculiar: Lights of all kinds, particularly ones in public places like streetlamps and billboard lights, have a tendency to switch off in her presence, though at unpredictable moments. She explains: “They come back on after I leave the area and turn off again if I return. It’s not uncommon to have three or four go out while I’m driving somewhere at night. I feel no electricity or any other sensation – I just find myself in the dark periodically.”23 The phenomenon described by Lazzeroni falls into the category of streetlamp interference (SLI). [For more on this, see Louis Proud’s article “Streetlamp Interference: A Modern Day Paranormal Mystery” in New Dawn Special Issue Vol.7 No.2.]
Kurt Oppelt, who with Sissy Schwarz won a gold medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics in the pairs figure skating event, was struck by lightning in 1989 while standing in his bathroom. Doctors he consulted the following day could find nothing wrong with him. And yet, explains Oppelt, “audio receivers, cash registers, and computers broke when I touched them… A friend of mine gave me a laptop, but I can’t use it. I told my cardiologist that my ‘electrical system’ was disturbed, but the doctors say they have no scientific proof. I told another doctor what happens when I touch electrical gadgets, and he said, ‘So don’t touch them’.”24
The alleged development of psychic abilities is not an uncommon feature among cases where people have survived a lightning strike. While looking through the many lightning strike “survivor stories” posted on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website, I came across two claims of psychic ability. The first claim concerns a woman named Missy. Missy was struck by lightning through a landline telephone while ordering pizza during a thunderstorm. At the moment the strike occurred, she heard a “loud explosion” and noticed at her feet “a bright white light… which was football shaped and had spikes.”25 (This is a perfect description of ball lightning, which can indeed emerge from telephone handsets and also assume a “spikey” appearance.)
The explosion knocked Missy backwards, and for a moment she remained on the floor in an unconscious state. She then experienced a strange “numbing feeling” work its way up one side of her body. Missy was taken to the hospital emergency room, where doctors confirmed she’d been struck by lightning. After the accident, according to Missy, she developed as a “side effect” (her term) extrasensory perception (ESP). She explains: “There have been times where I speak someone’s name, someone that I haven’t heard from or seen in many years and all of a sudden they walk in the door… I’ve had eerie feelings about things just before they actually happen… Most people that know me are amazed. And so am I. This periodic thing only started after my lightning incident.”26
The second claim of psychic ability on the NOAA website concerns a nurse in Nashville, Tennessee, named Thais. Thais was struck by lightning on two separate occasions. The first time, in May 1985, she had been standing next to an open window drawing blood from a patient seated on a chair when lightning entered the building through the window and struck both her and the patient. The event was witnessed by the patient’s wife, who described the bolt of lightning as orange in colour and added that it appeared to go around as well as pass through the bodies of both Thais and the patient.
Thais’s encounter with lightning left her with few if any injuries. A couple of months after the incident, however, she noticed two strange aftereffects. First, she could no longer wear a watch without it “losing 10-20 minutes and becoming unreliable.”27 She adds: “At first I kept thinking I was buying watches that were too inexpensive. It took a couple [of] years to realise it wasn’t the watches but me that was the problem!”28 The second strange aftereffect is that her psychic abilities became heightened. She comments: “This [heightened psychic abilities] is not something I previously had interest in and definitely not something I was looking for. I have always been a very private person and didn’t want to know things about other people, but I found myself somehow knowing things about folks I didn’t know well.”29
The second time Thais was struck by lightning was while talking on the telephone during a Thanksgiving weekend some six to eight years after the first strike. Since then, she says, the well pump at her home has been struck by lightning twice.
Greta Alexander (1932–1998) of Delevan, Illinois, was a famous psychic whose expertise included palmistry, numerology, “medical intuition,” and assisting police with missing persons cases. Born on a farm in Manito, Illinois, she spent the first part of her adult life as a regular mother and housewife. One night in April 1961, while pregnant with her fifth child, she was lying in bed watching a thunderstorm out the window when “a white light came at me through the window, and the next thing I knew the Venetian blinds were wrapped around me and there was a fire burning a hole in the bed.”30 Although the bolt of lightning damaged her bedroom window, knocked down the chimney, and set fire to her bed, it didn’t harm her or her unborn child in any apparent way.
Shortly afterwards, she suffered an electric shock while plugging a second-hand refrigerator into a faulty electrical outlet. It was soon after the lightning strike and subsequent electric shock that Alexander’s psychic abilities were “awakened.” She found herself answering the telephone moments before it rang, and noticed she was able to “read” the minds of others. She eventually established herself as a professional psychic, being paid by clients to perform palm readings and the like.
Her work assisting police with missing persons cases (for which she received no payment) began in 1974. Perhaps the best known case in which her psychic talents proved useful was the 1983 murder of Mary Cousett by her boyfriend Stanley Edward Holliday Jr. At the time Alexander was asked to assist in the case, Holliday had already been charged with Cousett’s murder, yet the whereabouts of Cousett’s body remained unknown. Thanks in part to Alexander’s help, the police located Cousett’s body on 29 October 1983. “She told us a lot of things that turned out to be true – 20-some points that fit,” commented Lt. Donald Sandidge, “like that the head and foot would be separated from the [victim’s] body, [and] that a man with a crippled hand would find her.”31 (The man who found her body, an auxiliary officer by the name of Stephen M. Trew, had a deformed left hand due to an injury he’d sustained in the past.)
That Alexander was highly psychic is difficult to refute. However, the reason she deserves mention here is not to illustrate the fact that psychic abilities are genuine and can be used to help solve crimes but that both lightning strike and electric shock play an important role in the “awakening” or attainment of psychic abilities. Given that Alexander was struck by lightning then soon after sustained an electric shock, there’s no way to know which of the two incidents was responsible for her “psychic awakening.” Very likely both were.
Had Alexander lived in a society where shamanism is practiced, it’s likely she would have been considered a shaman as opposed to a mere psychic. According to German ethnologist and psychologist Holger Kalweit, in shamanic traditions the world over, being struck by lightning is one of the ways by which people are initiated into shamanism. “The Greeks believed a person struck by lightning was in possession of magical powers,” he explains, “and in tribal cultures throughout the world lightning shamans are often venerated and feared as the mightiest of shamans.”32
To be initiated into shamanism is to take up the shamanic path. Apparently, this happens not by personal choice but under the will of a higher power. During shamanic initiation, the initiate symbolically dies (undergoes dismemberment) and is reborn (put back together). They acquire as a result of this challenging and traumatic process mediumistic and other psychic abilities.
There is a belief among the North American Indian tribes known collectively as the Sioux that when a person is struck by lightning or has visions featuring Wakinyah (“thunderbirds” or “thunder beings”) it can indicate they’ve been chosen to become a special type of medicine man called a Heyoka (“thunder dreamer.”) A Heyoka differs from a conventional medicine man in that he does everything in a contrary fashion. He is a sacred fool, whose clownish antics are a source of amusement to others. The powers with which Heyokas are gifted derive from the thunderbirds. A thunderbird is a spirit of lightning and thunder in the form of a huge Eagle-like bird. Lightning they produce from their beaks; thunder they produce through the beating of their wings. They are also responsible for the production of rain.
The famous Sioux Indian warrior and holy man Black Elk (1863–1950) followed the path of Heyoka. At the age of nine he was taken de̳a̳t̳h̳ly ill and confined to bed for approximately twelve days. During this period of illness, he experienced a great vision in which he was visited by the thunder beings and taken to see the “grandfathers.” The grandfathers taught him important lessons that contributed to his eventually becoming a shaman. “Only those who have had visions of the thunder beings of the west can act as heyokas,” he explains. “They have sacred power, and they share some of this with all the people, but they do it through funny actions.”33 These “funny actions” can include running around naked in the middle of winter and shivering and complaining of the “cold” in the middle of summer; answering “yes” when one actually means “no”; and wearing one’s clothing and boots back-to-front. (One is reminded of Harold Deal’s inability to feel the cold.)
Since, in spiritual terms, lightning is sacred and powerful because it originates from heaven, to be struck by lightning and survive is to be rendered powerful and sacred. To be struck by lightning and die, on the other hand, is to be punished for having done something to challenge fate.