Seeing Faces in Clouds, Inanimate Objects, and Other Related Phenomena
Seeing Faces in Clouds?
There was a period in my life where I was seeing faces in the clouds quite often. Sometimes the faces were divine and beautiful, other times they appeared menacing...even evil. I don't see so many faces in the clouds now, but I have had periods of synchronicity such as the "faces in clouds" phenomenon. More than one person has emailed me asking my opinion on this phenomenon. To be quite honest, I don't have the cause or even a solid explanation for this phenomenon. And there are many people who experience this, but they also see faces and images in other things besides clouds...in inanimate objects like the side of a building, in a puddle, on a piece of toast and more.
In this article, I plan on taking a look at "seeing faces in clouds" and other imagery phenomenon that people experience worldwide. We will look at psychological, spiritual, and mental comparisons as to the cause for this phenomenon. Is it synchronicity or simple psychology? Let's find out.
Religious Images on Inanimate Objects
Over the past couple decades, there have been random news stories about people who swear they see Jesus or the Virgin Mary in various objects. Two years ago there was a story about a man who swore the Virgin Mary was coming to him through showing her image in a reflected pattern of Christmas lights on his living room wall. Back in 2006, a man in Texas claimed the face of Jesus was etched into the bottom of his frying pan. There was also a woman who believed the Virgin Mary had blessed her grilled cheese sandwich with her holy face.
A reader recently emailed me and was concerned that he was going crazy. He sees faces in inanimate objects very frequently. He even says that many of the faces look evil...like demonic faces. Why was he seeing faces everywhere? Was he going crazy? Possessed? These were all questions running through his mind, and they are all very real questions to the people who experience this phenomenon on a regular basis. As we can see, sometimes the faces seen in clouds and elsewhere are saintly or even divine, while other times they are the exact opposite...demonic, menacing, evil. Strange it seems that these faces and images always have some sort of religious connotation. And that's where the idea of apophenia, pareidolia, and schizophrenia come into play...pure psychology?
On occasion, I have seen a cloud in the shape of something rather significant to my life and it has given me a message of hope or peace. Essentially, seeing faces in clouds is a rather uplifting experience for the person experiencing this phenomenon. This phenomenon can be linked to something known as spiritual synchronicity. Synchronicity is defined as an experience of two seemingly unconnected messages that when put together are of great significance. This is actually a Jungian concept, but it is something that spiritual people attribute to one's "spiritual awakening." Again, synchronicity could be explained away with pure psychology, but it brings into question "is there any such thing as coincidence or is it actually fate?"
A great example of spiritual synchronicity is the experience of seeing the same number repetitively. The 11:11 phenomenon is a popular one among new agists, and you probably have heard of the 23 phenomenon due to modern pop culture (the movie Number 23, among other works). In fact, there are people whom I am rather close to who hold spiritual significance to certain numbers. If they see this number, this indicates that something good is going to happen or that they are making the right decision. If they do not see the number or see a number opposite to it, they are making the wrong decision. This is a more frequent occurrence than most people even realize. Perhaps you have a favorite number or "lucky number", too? This is merely the same thing as perceiving faces in clouds or seeing messages in inanimate objects. Feeling luck or attributing meaning to a number is the same thing.
But again, it pulls into question - are these experiences simply coincidence or are they indeed a higher power (God, the Divine, the Higher Self) sending messages to us?
Shamanism & Pareidolia
For thousands of years, shamans have walked this earth. There are shamans from pretty much every culture on this planet. Shamans are put simply - wise men and women. They are believed to have spiritual abilities, i.e. they can see into the future or travel to other planes of existence. They can have dreams of the future, but they also employ tools from nature in order to see messages from the spiritual side. This is many times called divination and can be seen in the ritual of "throwing bones", in which a shaman tosses a set of bones onto the ground and "interprets" the images seen in the pattern of the bones.
Tea leaf readings are used in the same manner, and inevitably is the reader's experience of the images seen from the random patterns of inanimate objects. Clouds are also interpreted by some in a manner of divination known as "cloud scrying". So when we see faces in the clouds are we actually calling upon an ancient method of contacting the spiritual plane?
But to play devil's advocate (the psychologist), all of these shamanistic practices could be considered a form of apophenia or pareidolia...seeing significance in otherwise logically insignificant objects.
Apophenia & Pareidolia, Schizophrenia?
So are we awakening to our core spirituality or are we losing our minds? Could seeing faces in clouds be attributed purely to psychology? If we look at these faces in the clouds from a logical point of view and through a skeptic's eyes, would we see faces or simply see our own imagination going wild?
Many psychologists explain this type of phenomenon away with the term apophenia. Apophenia is defined as "seeing messages or meaning in random, meaningless objects." To those who do see these faces in the clouds and messages on inanimate objects, these images do not see like purely random or meaningless. In fact, these images seem like divine messages in many ways. That's where the spiritual collides with the psychological. There can be much discrepancy between spirituality and psychology, especially in this type of phenomenon.
But if we were to subscribe to the psychological concept of the "faces in clouds" phenomenon, we might also come across the theory that this experience is a sign that is a precursor to schizophrenia. For example, paranoid schizophrenics are said to experience delusions and hallucinations. These delusions are thoughts that have no real meaning or relevance in reality, but to the person experiencing these delusions...they are quite real and meaningful. So essentially, seeing faces in clouds and attributing a spiritual significance to them could indicate that one is schizophrenic or potentially heading in that direction.
Pareidolia is similar to apophenia, as it again is the experience of a person finding meaning or significance in a random stimulus. Often pareidolia is linked to religious images but has also been linked to dead celebrities (i.e. Elvis Presley seen in the clouds or in other objects in nature).
Even though apophenia and pareidolia are described as an experience that is rather common, they are also portrayed as a psychological concept that could quickly indicate the presence of other problems in one's brain. There is a thin line between a fleeting experience of apophenia or pareidolia and schizophrenia, just as there is a thin line between madness and genius. In observing and researching the artistic aspect of apophenia and pareidolia, we can see that many artists experienced this phenomenon of seeing significance in inanimate objects and meaningless patterns.
Seeing faces in clouds: what do you believe this can be attributed to?
Surrealism - Pareidolia in Art
Straddling the border between madness and genius is a common occurrence for artists world-round. Think of Vincent Van Gogh. What a brilliant artist - such lovely, poignant work in the world of aesthetics...but what is he mostly known for? Cutting off his ear, of course. And then when he was in his thirties, he died of a gun-shot wound that was assumed to be self-inflicted.
Another artist who walked that border quite often was Salvador Dali. And if you've ever studied Dali's work, you would know that he used surrealism as his main form...employing a style that is known as the paranoiac-critical method. Optical illusions were Dali's favorite piece of the artistic puzzle. He loved using objects and patterns in his artwork that provoked a certain emotional/mental response in the viewer, but these patterns and objects when looked at in their entirety or logically were of no real significance or meaning.
Dozens if not hundreds of other artists utilize the technique that Dali invented in the 1930s in their artwork today, though this technique is by no means a new one. This idea has been around since art has been in existence. Da Vinci even mentions seeing patterns and shapes in things that hold no real significance...seeing the beauty in the world when others cannot. So are these artists mad or are they brilliant? Perhaps Van Gogh's brilliance drove him mad? Does seeing beauty in something that most other people dismiss as trivial and commonplace make a person insane or privileged?
Seeing Faces in Clouds...
© 2013 Nicole Canfield