Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1990. The sighting of a glowing red orb in the November night sky ignited Sue Demeter St-Clair’s inquiring mind. Finding “thoughtful and intelligent people who were looking into these extraordinary experiences without prejudice” shaped her investigative mandate.
Introduction. Extraordinarium features personal experiences of the extraordinary as a way to explore their diversity and to broaden the conversation about how such experiences impact people’s lives. Publications such as Fate and Fortean Times have featured such personal experiences over the decades as a way of giving experients a voice, and part of Extraordinarium’s mandate is to do the same – to ensure that those who have extraordinary experiences have a forum in which they can share them first-hand, in their own words. From there, critical inquiry and respectful discussion can follow. (See below for details on how to share your own experience).
Welcome to the first installment of
“In My Own Words.”
.Sue recounts her experience which took place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
On November 4th, 1990, at approximately 1 a.m., I was getting ready to go to bed for the evening. My now ex-husband, children, and my sister who was visiting at the time, had already turned in for the evening. I had been watching an “Elvira Mistress of the Dark” movie with my brother-in-law, when I looked up at the clock. Realizing it was way past my bedtime, I got up to lock the sliding glass doors to our balcony. That singular moment in time, and seemingly mundane and insignificant decision changed the focus of my life in a very profound way.
At the time we were living on the 10th floor of an apartment condo building, and as I had young children, it was my habit to make sure those doors were always locked. I will also mention this apartment had a south-southeast exposure with a clear view of Lake Ontario and the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. As I went to lock the door I observed a large, red, glowing orb through the glass. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I quickly looked back towards the TV thinking it was a reflection. It wasn’t. In my pajamas, I stepped out onto the balcony. I noted that the orb, for lack of better word, seemed to be in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant.
My mind raced with all the possibilities – was this a plane? a search light? – quickly discounting each. In those days there were no readily available and popular “Chinese Sky Lanterns” as there are now. And having set these off in the last couple of years I can, looking back, discount them as a causation for the sighting as well.
Out on the balcony, I yelled out for my brother-in-law who was outside and at my side within seconds. I was pointing and yelling “What is it, what is it?” He started yelling back, “It’s a UFO!” He grabbed my arm, and I glanced down to see gooseflesh. Almost immediately after he said that, the full moon sized orb, began to pulsate. And for some inexplicable reason, which I cannot fathom I said, “They know we can see them.” I include this statement despite the fact it may go against my credibility as a witness in the minds of some. There are too many others who have come forward with their experiences, for me to lack the bravery to be completely truthful with my recounting of this event, even if I do see how others may view my words as odd at best.
After pulsating, the UFO, which appeared octagon in shape, imploded on itself, turning to a speck, and then shooting straight up. At this point my brother-in-law’s memory and mine differ a little. He says he saw the orb implode, but not shoot up into the sky. I cannot explain the difference in our memories/perceptions on that point. I looked down towards the street and saw a single car driving eastward. I remember thinking we cannot be alone in seeing this. We went inside, and sat up in the kitchen discussing everything within our own experiences that could rationally explain what we had witnessed (despite my strange comment of a “them”). We were up until 4 a.m. and I ran back to the sliding glass doors a few times that night to see if the orb had returned. It didn’t, nor have either of us ever seen anything like it since.
My brother-in-law and I failed to report our sighting immediately. We both were afraid of nor wanted to put up with ridicule. We also did not know who we should have reported this experience to. In those days there was no internet or easy way to locate a UFO investigative group. I did pick up a UFO book from the library and sent a letter to CUFOS in Chicago (much of the details written above is based on the recounting from that letter), but the letter was returned to me as undeliverable.
Eventually many years after the fact I was able to report the experience to MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). Despite never answering the question of what we saw that night with 100% certainty, I learned there were thoughtful and intelligent people who were looking into these extraordinary experiences without prejudice. This in turn inspired me to follow suit and eventually towards the establishment of my own group and Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada (PSICAN). I can also say this singular experience changed the course of my life to such a degree that it led me to my current husband and partner in life, my “life’s work” as a psychical researcher, and my ever evolving views on consciousness, reality, the world around me, and the nature of the Universe itself. Extraordinary.
Postscript by Christopher Laursen. Sue’s experience shifted her life into a new mode in which she felt compelled to investigate similar experiences, which has since expanded to study a variety of paranormal experiences under PSICAN and its affiliates. I first met her and her partner, Matthew Didier, in 2006 and was impressed by their knowledge of the history of psychical research. I have happily participated in conversations with them and their colleagues ever since. Sue and Matthew were influenced by the work of the Society for Psychical Research and the Ghost Club in England, as well as the work of Dr. George Owen and his New Horizons Research Foundation based in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s. Through their website, they sought to collect experiences, cataloguing many of them online so the public could read them. Receiving reports, they offer empathetic consultation that refers experients to existing reports to help them understand what happened, as well as the occasional field investigations of spontaneous cases. They are among a new wave of online-based investigative groups that cropped up with the popularization of the world wide web in the 1990s, yet what sets them apart is their mandate to formally train investigators based on what they have found best benefits experients alongside existing practices established by British psychical researchers. They actively read, study, and comment on existing literature, and their Paranormal Blog unabashedly critiques ethical issues, methodologies, exploitative practices, and media sensationalism.
Here, Sue self-reflexively shares an extraordinary experience, even questioning her own response to it, but in the end concludes that whatever it was, it deeply moved her to rethink the world in which she lives (and “the nature of the Universe”). Questioning her own experience and then actively inquiring about that which falls outside of easy explanation marks true scepticism. True scepticism, a process of thorough inquiry, has not an ultimate directive to debunk. It seeks to openly ask constructive questions, to seek explanation (which, indeed, often can be found), to share findings, to respectfully recognize the meaning it held for experients (no matter their findings), and to recognize that sometimes the only answer that remains is “I don’t know what it was, but someone experienced it.”
Share Your Extraordinary Experience. Extraordinarium regularly features people’s extraordinary experiences as told in their own words – written, videoed or in audio format. Our aim is to share and discuss a wide array of experiences that fall outside of the everyday, which carry with them wonder and mystery, and even inspire a transformation in how one think about the world. For more information and to submit your experience, please click here.