The Entrancing Flame

The Entrancing Flame 1996 is a book by John E Heymer, which gets its title from one deductive conclusion that he has reached from examining many cases of alleged spontaneous human combustion (SHC).

  • Victims apparently remain motionless while on fire, even though they are alive when it starts. Jeannie Saffin is a good example of this. Heymer observes that it is very rare for people who find themselves alight to remain motionless, yet all alleged SHC victims seem to have gone to their deaths peacefully, without struggle.
  • Victims also show no sign of awareness while alight.
  • Victims do not cry out while alight.
  • Survivors of apparent "mini" SHC events (see Jack Angel and Wilfred Gowthorpe) have no memory of what happened to them. Even hypnosis cannot retrieve the memory—meaning that there is no memory there at all and the victim cannot have been conscious when they were burned.

While there is natural uncertainty over whether all these criteria fit all alleged victims of SHC, the circumstances are broadly supported by circumstantial evidence in the best cases for the SHC hypothesis.

Victims such as Saffin (1982) and Gowthorpe (1991) are known to fit the above descriptions, although it must be said that Saffin did not speak between her combustion and eventual death meaning that amnesia cannot be proven.

Heymer therefore concludes that SHC victims fall into a form of trance before catching fire. He does not reach any conclusion about why this might be.

Heymer also notes that all of the victims have one thing in common: aloneness and probably loneliness.

He points out that mentally handicapped Jeannie Saffin may have burned to death in front of loving relatives, but observes that she had been devoted to her mother.

Her mother (in her 90s) had died a year before Jeannie herself caught fire. Heymer observes that Jeannie had mourned and pined constantly since her mother died, and that she could not understand where her mother had gone (Jeannie, in common with many six-year-old minds, had no concept of death).

She had had the one constant presence in her life inexplicably removed and was under great emotional stress as a result. Heymer says that Jeannie Saffin may well have been the loneliest victim of all.

As for the putative mechanism behind SHC, Heymer speculates that defective mitochondria in the body are to blame, breaking down and allowing free hydrogen to build up within the cell.

The potential for such accident certainly exists, when hydrogen is generated (and normally bound) during the Krebs Cycle. However, it is not a known malfunction of the Krebs cycle to produce free hydrogen.

Heymer then supposes that a small pocket of hydrogen is detonated by the 0.225 volt of electricity generated across the inner membrane of the mitochondrion.

Heymer claims that the human body, through mitochondria, carries 45,000 volts per cubic centimetre and that the process of a single cell erupting sets off neighbouring cells in a chain reaction that destroys the body until biological action ceases.

In support of his hypothesis, Heymer points out that it is typically the lower extremities (the legs, below the knee) and skulls of alleged SHC victims that survive combustion.

This, he says, indicates that SHC typically begins in the region of abdomen and burns very rapidly outwards (the skull, he suggests, often falls down into the body during combustion, and is therefore destroyed outright).

Heymer suggests that by the time the process has consumed the heart and lungs, all circulation ceases and the fire comes to an abrupt halt just seconds after commencing—hence the reported blue flames, the sharp edges of burns to clothing, and the failure to ignite surroundings.

Heymer also thinks that a psychosomatic process in emotionally-distressed people can trigger off his supposed mitochondrial explosion.

Famous quotes containing the words flame and/or entrancing:

    Do but consider this small dust, here running in the glass,
    By atoms moved.
    Could you believe that this the body was
    Of one that loved?
    And in his mistress’ flame playing like a fly,
    Turned to cinders by her eye?
    Yes, and in death as life unblest,
    To have’t expressed,
    Even ashes of lovers find no rest.
    Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

    Religion is the dream of the human mind. But even in dreams we do not find ourselves in emptiness or in heaven, but on earth, in the realm of reality; we only see real things in the entrancing splendor of imagination and caprice, instead of in the simple daylight of reality and necessity.
    Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872)