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WORDBIRTH, a column by Jack Karasch

For centuries psychics have declared that people, and in fact all living things, have an AURA about them.

An aura is a band of colored light that is supposed to indicate some type of information about a living thing. Included are such areas as temperament, health, future events and possibly past lives.

A sky-blue aura was said to indicate serenity; violet, spiritual advancement; yellow, intellectual activity; green, balance. Clear colors were said to be positive, but murky colors suggested negative "uncontrolled" passions.

Skeptics have for almost as long denied the existence of auras or claimed them to be no more than another form of superstition.

Then in 1939 an aura was captured on film by placing a subject in an electrical field and then taking a photograph. Called Kirlian Photography for its developers, Russians Semyon and Valentina Kirlian, this complex process captured a purported aura of energy on a photographic plate. These photographs seemed to indicate color changes with accompanying physiological or emotional changes.

The Kirlians weren't the first to investigate the human aura. In the 1800s a physicist named Karl von Reichenback claimed to have discovered a similar force field. He called it an "odyle" but couldn't substantiate his claim because only clairvoyants could see it. Wilheim Reich suggested he found a comparable phenomenon and called it "orgone." Both insisted the force emanated from non-living objects such as coins and rings, as well as living beings. Both men were ridiculed.

In the early 1900s, researcher Walter Kilner claimed auras could be used for medical diagnoses and seen even by laymen when a dicyanin-dyed screen was placed between subject and viewer. Biologist Oscar Bagnell later confirmed Kilner's work and suggested a medical breakthrough was on the horizon. Only problem was, most people could not see auras through the special screen. It seemed Kilner, Bagnell, and other clairvoyant types alone had this ability.

After the Kirlians' apparent success, several western scientists picked up on the concept and developed other techniques to explore the phenomenon.

Dr. Thelma Moss of UCLA took photos of subjects as they drank alcohol. While the individuals' auras were white or blue at the beginning of the sessions, (those being considered the normal hues) increased alcohol consumption caused the fingertips to become steadily pinker, until, the subjects were "all lit up." Emotional strains and physical illnesses were said to have a similar result.

More recently some medical professionals have used clairvoyants to help diagnose illnesses by viewing patient auras. Some such psychic readings have proved remarkably accurate.

Professor Harold Burr of Yale University School of Medicine spent 40 years studying an auralike electro-dynamic field around human beings. He called it a Life or L-field and also made some startling discoveries which suggest this field may not only indicate, but dictate, development of living tissues and organs - a kind of blueprint for life.

Despite much research and almost a century of related experiments, we still don't have a clear fix on just what an aura is or what it indicates.

The word was first used in its current connotation by Benjamin Franklin in a scientific paper written in 1737.

Get in touch with Jack Karasch at jackarasch@juno.com The next word is: Halloween
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