“Smiles to go before I sleep” (Lucid dreaming)

Detractors sometimes label us skeptics as joy thieves. A commenter on a Susan Gerbic post chastised the medium buster for taking away the comfort that those who claim to talk with the dead can offer families. The commenter provided no proof of the mediums’ claims, nor did she even necessarily believe it herself, but she thought no harm, no foul. As addressed previously in this forum, there is harm. Further, the commenter committed the appeal to consequences fallacy, where the result of something being true is considered more important than what that truth is. Meanwhile, other groups insist that their favored topic is genuine, be it ghosts, aliens, or cryptozoological critters, and they lambaste any skeptics for their close-minded cynicism.

But the truth is, many skeptics, myself included, would love for some of these to be true. Ghosts means there’s an afterlife, proof of intelligent life on another planet would be the biggest news story of all time, and who wouldn’t cotton to the notion of an real-life Yeti or Nessie?

We only ask that all these pass scientific scrutiny and that has yet to happen. If proof can be shown, we will accept it, even if we had previously been dubious. Consider lucid dreaming. Books on this topic are normally found in the New Age or spiritual sections, alongside tomes on contacting fairies, visiting one’s past lives, and homeopathic remedies.

Yet research and attempts to find scientific legitimacy in lucid dreaming have met with success. To dismiss lucid dreaming because it is normally associated with far-out beliefs would be to commit the composition fallacy.

During lucid dreaming, the sleeper remains aware they are asleep and they maintain an ability to direct the script. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning cited Keith Hearne, a University of Liverpool doctoral candidate, who sought a way to determine if the phenomenon were genuine. So he hooked subject Alan Worsley to a polygraph that used an electrooculograph to detect eye movements and vital signs. The experimenter instructed Worsley to move his eyes left and right eight time if he became aware he was dreaming.

Dunning wrote, “Worsley’s electroencephalogram showed that he was definitely asleep” while Worsley made the requested eye movements. Continued research has yielded similar results.

While lucid dreaming is real, there are those who ascribe greater abilities to it than what the evidence indicates. The Skeptics Dictionary notes that Stephen LaBerge claims the process can help practitioners “overcome limitations, fears, and…explore our minds, to enjoy incredible adventure, and to discover transcendent consciousness.”

Similarly, Dunning writes that some proponents attribute to lucid dreaming an ill-defined “spirituality, philosophy of consciousness, and a holistic mind-body connection.”

Some go further still. “Other researchers have written books advocating Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritualist practices for lucidity,” Dunning said. “When you write on science, it goes into journals; when those same authors stray too far outside the science…they turn to mass media publication, free of scrutiny or peer review.”

“Chasing the tale” (Old Wives Tales)

In a pair of delightful pieces for Skeptical Inquirer, science writer Ada McVean has examined Old Wives Tales to ascertain if there is truth, and if so, how much truth, there is in them.

One of the more ubiquitous is that a person should wait a couple of hours after eating before going for a swim. But McVean cites a six-decade old study in which 100 subjects swam at various intervals after chowing down and there were no cramps reported in any of them. Another study from the same time period showed no changes to heart rates during digestion. This is crucial became the supposed cause of the putative cramps were that blood was being diverted from the muscles to the stomach. So we have known (or should have known) for many years that there is no truth to this tale.

So eating before swimming if fine, but what about walking after sleeping? Should this be allowed to continue, or should sleepwalkers be awakened? McVean found the former to be the case, for the safety of the person doing the waking. She cited several cases of the person being woken inadvertently lashing out physically, sometimes fatally.

While the origin of most Old Wives Tales are lost to history, McVean feels we can pinpoint the one centering on not sitting too close to TV, lest the viewer harm their vision. She thinks it stems from a recall of color televisions in 1967. She explained, “The increased voltage found in new color televisions caused a radiation output that exceeded what the federal U.S. government deemed to be safe.”

These potential dangers only applied if a viewer spent excess sitting directly below the TV as opposed to the more eyes-and-screen horizontal norm. And even if favoring the viewing up from the floor method, the radiation danger has long since passed with changes to the televisions’ construction. If the viewer were watching show featuring maritime adventures, he or she may have heard the adage, “Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight. Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning.” McVean rates this one as accurate.

That the sky has any color is the result of the sun’s light hitting the atmosphere, causing it to scatter. McVean explains, “We get a blue sky because these short wavelengths correspond to blue hues. At sunset and sunrise, the angle at which sunlight enters the atmosphere is significantly changed, and light must travel through many more atmospheric particles to reach us. As a result, most of the shorter blue and green wavelengths are scattered before reaching the lower atmosphere, meaning we see more of the orange and red colors in the sky.”

As this applies to the adage, a bright red sunset or sunrise means more charged particles are at play in the atmosphere. This is more likely to happen during systems of high pressure, which brings clear skies. And since weather in the western world usually travels west to east, a red sunset in the west means that a high-pressure system and associated clear weather is on the way. Conversely, red skies to the east indicate that a high-pressure system has passed, so a low-pressure system is incoming.

Now we move onto the notion that swallowed gum will rest in one’s digestive track for seven years. A high school classmate of mine ate gum in the same way other people would eat Smarties, gulping one bite-size piece after another. So was he walking around with a basketball-sized wad in his stomach? No. Our bodies have little trouble excising indigestible items, be it, seeds, glue, paper, or Bazooka Joe. All these will soon come out during a trip to the bathroom. There is one possible danger to swallowing the stuff, though it requires exercising zero gum control. A person could eat such a massive quantity that it could form an indigestible lump that would cause intestinal blockage.

I have swallowed gum before but we now move onto on Old Wives Tale that I have more experience with, the quaffing of alchol. It goes, “Beer Before Liquor, Never Been Sicker; Liquor Before Beer, You’re in the Clear.” I originally heard it with the words reversed, “Beer before Liquor, You’re in the Clear; Beer Before Liquor, You’re Never Been Sicker.”

As it happens, the worst post-drinking experience of my life involved me doing both of the above, so it would have applied either way. It took place over several hours in New Orleans and involved a relatively moderate four drinks. It started with a complimentary glass of wine at dinner, which was followed by a Budweiser in my pre-craft beer days while seated at the bar watching a college basketball game. One bar later, I downed a hurricane, and I then finished with a second beer. This modest amount of imbibing would lead to 20 of my most tortured bathroom visits ever. All night, I would wake up with the room violently spinning and my stomach seemingly ready to explode. Yet no vomiting relief was forthcoming. Instead, I had uncontrollable and massive dry heaves. On and on it went, all through the nightmarish evening. I had always attributed it to my mixing of the drinks. After all, I’ve been known to have four times that many in my alcoholic days without having near the displeasure.

The largest issue is the amount of alcohol consumed. Assuming no beer pong is used, a brew will take longer to drink than a glass of wine and still longer than a cocktail and even longer than a straight shot of scotch. A bottle of beer has eight times as much drink as a shot of liquor, not only taking longer to drink but also filling one up more. The key components are how quickly the drinks are consumed and how many there are. Those are far more consequential than the order, my anecdotal Big Easy queasy notwithstanding.

“Fit to be tide” (Early Earth tsunamis)

When the moon was in its earliest days, Earth and its satellite were closer to each other and orbited faster around one another. Our moon’s gravity controls the planet’s tides, so with the heavenly bodies being closer and spinning faster, there is a notion that all those years ago there were massive waves a mile high, regularly destroying and reshaping the landscape at tremendous speeds every day.

To see if this is real, Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked into the deep past, 4.5 billion years back, to a time when the solar system’s planets coalesced from the dust from leftover material from a dying star.

The remnants of what are today known as Theia and Gaia became our planet and moon. The two bodies would have stayed in the orbit they were in at the time for billions of years had it not been for Venus happening by and forcing Theia to wobble away. Disrupted from its Lagrange point, Theia plunged toward Gaia, drawn by its gravity, and the two stellar bodies collided.

When Theia slammed into Gaia, the resulting explosion coalesced into Earth. A ring likewise formed and this become the neophyte planet’s satellite. Earthly temperatures were extremely hot, to the point of having lava seas.

Tides cause oceans to move and this movement requires energy, which is taken from the bodies’ rotation speeds. This causes the two bodies to become tidally locked, meaning the same sides face one another. Our Moon is already tidally locked with Earth, and eventually Earth will also become tidally locked with the moon.

When trying to figure out how far away the moon was at some point in time, Dunning writes that there are clues from Earth’s geologic record. Sedimentary rock layers record rhythmic events, including some tidal cycles. This enables geologists to determine annual tide intensity. They know that by the time Earth had liquid oceans, the Moon sat 80 percent as far away as it is now. This would cause a tidal force of about 40 percent greater than today.

But since the intensity of tides varies, this increase is less than today’s normal range. While tides were larger overall, in most places they were still less than the swings experienced today. Dunning wrote, “There were never vast walls of whitewater crashing across the planet…It’s probably for the best, for if that had indeed been the case for a billion or so years of Earth’s history, our advanced form of life likely wouldn’t be here yet, or perhaps ever.”

“Min at Work” (Australian Outback lights)

It’s hard to imagine a more excellent location than an Australian Outback ghost town. So it is fitting that one such locale, Min Min, is infrequently home to a mystery known as the Min Min Light. It has been sighted off and on (mostly off) for decades, though stories about similar lights are featured in Aboriginal tales that predate those accounts.

A composite report of the light mostly describes a white or color-changing fuzzy disc hovering just above the horizon. The greatest variation in descriptors relates to its luminosity, as it is alternately called dim, bright, or in between.

The first printed account of the phenomenon came from rancher Henry Lamond in 1937. He wrote that he initially that it was an approaching car, but that “it remained in one bulbous ball instead of dividing into two headlights, which it should have done as it came closer.” Additionally, the light, size, and location were inconsistent with a traveling vehicle.

Author Mark Moravec examined some possible explanations for the mystery in his book investigating the subject. Some were pseudoscientific, such as ghosts or alien spacecraft. Others were grounded in known entities, such as natural phenomena like phosphorescence, luminescent insects, light reflection, or ball lighting.

With regard to the bioluminescence hypothesis, scientist Jack Pettigrew argued that the lights may be swarming insects that were contaminated by agents in fungi. Or they might be an owl with a bioluminescence source. However, no bug or bird has been confirmed to have the characteristics, nor is any known bioluminescent source as bright as the Min Min. Similarly, marsh gas has been floated as an answer, but the lights sometimes appear far from any marsh.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning ruminated on Piezoelectric effects perhaps being responsible. This effect occurs in some crystals that change shape upon receipt of an electrical current. Dunning notes the opposite is also true, that applying mechanical force to the crystal likewise produces an electrical current. But he also noted there are some challenges with this hypothesis. The effect produces weak electrical voltage but not light. Also, the voltage is measurable only on the crystal and is never projected into the air.

We now move to a possible explanation involving optical science. Pettigrew wondered if the Min Min Light were a manifestation of a Fata Morgana. This refers to mirages caused by a wide temperature difference between air layers, and one in which an object appears higher than its actual position. The phenomenon is the result of the atmosphere’s thermal inversion layers.

And indeed, the Min Min Light often appears in a desert with temperature inversions in the atmosphere. The hollows and ravines trap warm air, and on a cool night at the end of a warm day, the situation is ripe for just such a mirage. With these conditions in place, Pettigrew and his cohorts experimented by parking a car with its headlights on, then traveling six miles in another vehicle, past intervening high ground and out of the line of sight. Upon arriving at their destination, they saw that the headlights resembled past descriptions of the Min Min Light.

There was a second discovery that supported this hypothesis. The morning after their experiment, the team took photos of faraway mountains that displayed the aforementioned distortion. The distortion gradually faded as the atmospheric conditions changed. This lends credence to the idea that a refraction of car headlights over the horizon were reflected and being seen to move in a manner consistent with the Min Min Light.

The answer isn’t as exciting or spooky as some would have hoped, but it is a plausible explanation supported by evidence and research.

“Little Bang” (Banjawarn incident)

Imagine the conservative reaction if an Islamic terrorist cell had killed 600,000 Americans on U.S. soil and liberals were treating it with as much mocking and dismissal as conservatives are the coronavirus. Further, think if there was a near-guaranteed way to painlessly end the slaughter but the left resisted it with as much gusto as right-wingers are fighting vaccination. They also reject masks mandates, even comparing them to the holocaust, the gulag, and slavery. A guy on Facebook told me that having to wear a mask was the same as being burned at the stake. Yet this self-proclaimed Joan of Arc and his ilk have embraced internment camps, Guantanamo, and police killing a sleeping black woman.
These wild contradictions are based on prejudice. They consider a killer shooting up a workplace to be a lunatic if white, an illegal immigrant if brown, a terrorist if a little more brown, and a thug if black.

On a larger scale, they view a Republican president having nuclear weapons capabilities as phenomenal, other nations having the capabilities as undesirable, and foreign national individuals having them as terrifying. Which brings us to the fear that the Australian outback was the scene for that precise nightmare unfolding.

Per the legend, there was a flash, an airborne streak, and buzzing seismometers. Believers refer to it as the Banjawarn Bang and it is said to have taken place in some 400 miles from Perth on the mammoth sheep ranch, Bamjawarn Station.

We can confirm that a 3.6 magnitude earthquake rocked the Outback on May 28, 1993. Though less certain, the claim that the seismic event was accompanied by a mighty boom and blinding light was reported by truckers, prospectors, and the area’s few residents.

The idea that it all meant rouge individuals had acquired a nuclear weapon stemmed mostly from the mind of mining industry worker Harry Mason, who having failed to find a crater that might explain the light and seismic impact, concocted a god-of-the-gaps explanation that it was an electromagnetic weapon based on some Tesla theories.

A few weeks later, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyō unleashed a fatal gas attack on a Tokyo subway. It turned out cult members owned the Banjawarn property, where it developed the weapons used in the assault. An idea then sprouted that the fireball, ground impact, gas attack, and Aum Shinrikyō’s land ownership all meant that the cultists had achieved nuclear weapons proficiency.

To look into this possibility, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology investigated whether the Banjawarn event might have been consistent with nuclear weapons testing. IRIS ruled his out since waveforms of nuclear seismic events have an exceedingly sharp attack that slowly fades. By contrast, the Banjawarn event left a seismic imprint that was much smoother and consistent with an earthquake.

It also turned out that Aum Shinrikyō did not inhabit the property until after the Bang. Additionally, there is no reasonable way to reconcile doomsday cultistd achieving nuclear Armageddon capabilities and keeping it in reserve instead of unleashing it – especially since it launched an attack that killed far fewer people than what a nuclear bomb in the middle of Tokyo would have yielded.

“Green scene” (Woolpit children)

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In a 12th Century tale, English reapers encounter two green-skinned children who wore strange clothes, spoke an unknown language, and ate only beans.

The pair, who townspeople later learned were brother and sister, were taken in by a nobleman. The boy soon died but his sister attained womanhood, assimilated, and married. While she learned English, she was never able to tell anyone much about her strange circumstances.

She could offer few details as to her origins or distinctive appearance. She recalled the two were tending their father’s flock when they heard what sounded like church bells. They followed the ringing through a cavern and emerged surrounded by reapers in Woolpit, England.

In another version, the two were rescued from the bottom of a pit farmers used to lure wolves into. In both versions, the girl’s skin turn returned to a normal color once she consumed a healthy diet instead of one consisting entirely of beans.

Her original language was determined to probably be Flemish, which would explain her foreign tongue and different attire. Those preferring a more exciting answer may be interested in the one bandied about by Duncan Lunan, who holds that the pair hailed from another planet. Little Green Men, indeed. For evidence, he cited, “Some strange things happening in the sky at the same time.” Could he be a little more vague? A similar suggestion is that the verdant pair emerged from a subterranean habitat.

As there is no way to either prove or disprove such notions, we will spend no more time in the sci-fi realm. A more grounded idea, championed by Paul Harris, is that perhaps the duo may have hidden in the forest long enough to develop green sickness. This conditions results from B6 deficiency and low iron intake, both of which could be the consequence of a one-food diet.

There are both hereditary and acquired forms of the sickness and those most seriously afflicted can have a notable greenish tinge. This makes for a plausible scenario, although it should be noted that most persons who die of starvation do so without changing colors.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen proposed that the story is an allegory about racial difference in which the green children represent the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britons. He further posits that the siblings represent a spoiling of William’s dream of a unified England.

In another analogy, Robert Burton suggested the siblings fell from the heavens, a staple of religion and mythology, with examples such as Lucifer, Aurora, and Ataar.

“Mud dud” (Tartaria)

One attempt to drastically alter history purports that a 19th Century disaster obliterated much of the world, and in this misfortune’s wake sprung up most of today’s nations and societies.

A mud flood sludge, in all its rhyming glory, is said to have been the cause. Homes, businesses, farms, railroads, streams, and much more were said to have been swept under by the deluge. In this tale, villages that were partially buried were part of an advanced civilization called Tartaria. Residents of this futuristic landscape are described as giants who were already enjoying free wireless energy. In the same way that the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake forever bumped Portugal from its status as the world’s most powerful nation, the mud flood relegated Tartaria to the historical dustbin and allowed Western Civilization to flourish.

In what passes for their evidence, adherents point to any early photograph showing sundry town or country folks digging through high mud. Or they will refer to a modern picture of well-worn buildings featuring floors below grade, especially if there basement windows or if excavators are busy next door, having basement walls or foundations. They claim this as proof those lower layers had been topped by mud. This is no more convincing that using early photos of sailors to claim the entire world was once covered with water, or point to same era photos of planes as evidence were once an entirely airborne species.

Now let’s transition to a linguistic note. Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning noted that until the mid-1800s, Europeans used the term Tartars to describe residents of largely unexplored Asian regions, such as Manchuria, Siberia, and Mongolia. Less than 200 years ago, world maps displayed an area dubbed “Tartary” in what we today call Asia. This cartographic tidbit is presented by proponents that not that long ago there existed a great civilization that succumbed to wet dirt.

This is a reverse the Great Mounds theory or of Mormon theology, both of which hold that Native American tribes were predated by White settlers. These palefaces made the greatest contributions to North America, and between those accomplishments and having been here first, are therefore entitled to the land. In the Tartaria belief system, it is those who constituted the minority in North American who are fetishized and made into inhabitants of an exotic, exalted kingdom. But the common ground between the two ideas is that they are bereft of any historical or anthropological evidence. Another charge bandied without proof is that governments are dedicated to suppressing this evidence. If so, the authorities are failing miserably, as the mud flood hypothesis can be found with a Google or YouTube search.

Dunning wrote that city officials sometimes raise their street levels, which necessitates burying the first few floors, in order reduce the steepness of some hills. “Similar earthmoving projects have been undertaken in cities all around the world, particularly in the decades around the turn of the 20th century, when streetcars and automobiles quite suddenly came into wide use and required regrading in areas that were already developed,” he explained.

This brief lesson on city planning and engineering is a tidy answer that obliterates any need for a mud flood explication.

The gentle giant Robert Wadlow is sometimes insinuated by believers to be of many such behemoths to have roamed Earth at this time. Wadlow is the only one of unusual size in those photos, but that is glossed over by believers. His era was no more populated with giants than our time is chockfull of potential trillionaires because Jeff Bezos walks amongst us.

“Indolent bystander” (Kitty Genovese)

When an assailant raped and murdered New Yorker Kitty Genovese in 1964, The New York Times reported that dozens of people witnessed the attack and did nothing to stop it.

But in the early 2000s, another Times piece found the claims in the 1964 article were exaggerated and sensationalized. Probably less than 10 people had knowledge of the attack, with three of them intervening.

But at the time, the tragedy and the supposed apathy that surrounded it, led to a burgeoning field looking into a possible Bystander Effect, including the Smoke Filled Room study of 1968. Social psychology researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley ran a series of experiments testing their hypothesis that when other people are around, bystanders are less likely to intervene.

In the best-known of their studies, the pair recruited subjects to fill out a questionnaire. The first group consisted of subjects who answered questionnaire by themselves, while the second group involved several persons filling out the form.

A few minutes into the experiment, thick smoke pored through a vent. Those by themselves, for the most part, left the room immediately and informed Latane and Darley.

Subjects in the second group, however, responded differently. Only one was an actual subject, the other persons were in on the experiment and had been instructed to take no action. Most of the time, the subject likewise failed to act.

In all, 75 percent of solo subjects intervened in the smoke, while just 10 percent of the subjects surrounded by confederates did. This seemed to confirm Latane and Darley’s hypothesis. Similar experiments yielded similar results, though not all of them as pronounced. But the differences were consistent enough that the duo concluded that there was a casual effect to the number of persons present and the likelihood of intervention.

But then in 2019, publications reported that the Bystander Effect was largely nonexistent, that a review of public conflicts showed that most people do intervene.

This research focused on public altercations captured on video. More than 1,200 conflicts were examined, in Lancaster, UK, Amsterdam, and Cape Town. In each city, intervention occurred nine times out of 10. Further, stepping in was most likely to occur if there were more bystanders.

As to the opposite conclusion being reached in the Smoke Filled Room studies, that can be explained by the study’s flawed methodology. Other than a lone subject, participants were instructed to not act. Had smoke began filling a room of 20 persons not in on the charade, some of them would have almost certainly taken action, as the results of the 1,200 public altercations demonstrate.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning wrote that a better-designed experiment would have had no confederates and, indeed, that would have produced a more authentic result. The test, he noted, served as an experiment on peer pressure, but not the bystander effect it was presuming to examine.

“Rose-colored splashes” (Red rain)

Colored rains, most often in red hues, have been sporadically observed in India since the 19th Century, with the most recent occurrence in 2012.

The picturesque precipitation usually falls on areas of just a few square miles, with some extremely localized cases that were spread over mere meters. During their investigations of the phenomenon, scientists have discovered that a brownish-red solid they separated from the rain contained 90 percent round red particles and the rest debris.

One hypothesis, long of conjecture and light on facts, speculates that the debris might be an extraterrestrial life form that rode in on a comet. The proponents this interstellar idea, Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar, were employed as physicists at Mahatma Gandhi University in 2001 when such rains occurred. When the pair examined the red particles under a microscope, the particles appeared to living cells.

Pairing this with a loud bang heard early in the morning of the first red rainfall that year, Louis and Kumar concluded this was the sonic boom of a comet. They further speculated that its contents were spewed throughout the sky and into rain clouds.

But this idea failed to explain how debris from a meteor could have continued to fall on the same area over a period of two months, despite the changes in climatic conditions and wind pattern spanning over two months. Or why it would have been limited to such a small geographic area.

Besides, a joint report issued by the Indian government and private science organizations concluded that there was no meteoric, volcanic, or desert dust origin present in the rainwater. Moreover, its color was not found to be caused by dissolved gases or pollutants.

And the joint report concluded, “The color was due to the presence of a large amount of spores of a lichen-forming alga belonging to the genus Trentepohlia.” The red rain has even happened several times since 2001 and each time botanists have found Trentepohlia spores to be the cause.

“Shakespeare Trip” (Macbeth curse)


My cat is named Hamlet, but had I gone with Macbeth instead, he may have quickly used his nine lives. At least if a longstanding theater legend is to be believed.

The euphemistic “Scottish Play” is said to be associated with onstage deaths, riots, and lesser misfortunes.

Supposedly, performing Macbeth or even uttering the name in a theater, potentially unleashes the curse. The cause is said to be the play’s references to witches, ghosts, and regicide. But those elements are in other Bard productions, so why does only Macbeth carry a curse? That stems from the assertion that for this play, William Shakespeare employed genuine witch incantations, specifically, Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

The story holds that practicing witches saw the play and took great offense at this misuse of their sacred craft, and so placed a curse upon any who might perform the play thereafter.

Supposed manifestations are: Actors being killed or injured during the stage fights when real weapons were used by mistake; natural disasters happening during performances; and accidents and illnesses striking the crew before, during, and after shows.

While there is ample room for selective memory with such claims, there is one documented tragedy associated with a Macbeth production. It took place in 1849 at New York’s Astor Place Theater.

At least 25 persons were killed and 120 were injured, many of them by National Guard soldiers who had been proactively summoned to quell the expected riots. The melee stemmed from two actors playing Macbeth on the same night at two different New York theaters, each representing a different social class. That last part is the key. Economic and cultural turmoil caused the riot, with Macbeth being a bit player.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explained, “The Astor Place Theater had been built as a way for the well-heeled to have somewhere to go other than the Bowery Theater, which catered to all classes. That the rising American star with a blue collar image, Edwin Forrest, planned his opening on the same night as the upper class’s favorite British actor, William Macready, was largely seen as a slap in the face.”

This caused a long-simmering feud to boil over.

“Unrest had been growing for years between the working class, which included many Irish immigrants, and the Anglophile upper class,” Dunning wrote.  “Irish and American workers planned to express themselves by crashing the opening night of Macready.” They did so violently and the heartbreaking results included a dead child.

While this is one instance of real-life tragedy associated with Macbeth, the play in question could have been Othello, West Side Story, Annie, or a musical based on the Bad News Bears. The competing performances that night in New York were merely what finally lit the powder keg.

In other less-known instances, blaming misfortunes on a curse requires extreme cherry picking.  And when it comes to thinking what might cause the curse, let’s not yield to Tooth Fairy Science. Before trying to explain why something happens, we need first to ascertain that it does.

We are talking about one of the most performed plays in history, a production that has been shown non-stop for close to half a millennium. With so many chances for something to go wrong, it would be more remarkable if nothing ever did.

There is no reason to suspect that Macbeth has a higher percentage of mishaps than any other theater offering. And even if there did prove to be a little more tragedy associated with it, the production usually involves dim lighting, trap doors, flying harnesses, trick scenery, and stage weapons, all of which could explain harmful results without needing to invoke vengeful witchcraft.

Rather than a curse, we have a time-honored legend, which has been told and retold, embellished, grown tangentially, and become part of folklore and fun.

It also represents a chance for veteran actors to spook newbies with stories about when they’ve seen the curse manifest itself. In these cases, it’s not unlike my basic training first sergeant who, during our bivouac, warned us that an escaped murderer was on post.

There was, of course, no such killer, and any deaths associated with first sergeant’s putative murderer were as fabricated as those in the Scottish Play. And it seems that just as made up are real-life deaths associated with one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works.