World got weirder in 1998, Fortean Times says

Reuters/February 10, 1999
By Mike Peacock

London -- The world got weirder last year as the approaching millennium fuelled a global surge of interest in the paranormal, the Fortean Times said Thursday.

The journal of strange and unexplained phenomena said 1998 was a bumper year for reports of reincarnation, prophecies, apparitions and UFO encounters.

"1998 was by far the strangest year since our records began," said Joe McNally, associate editor of the journal. "As we approach the year 2000 we're seeing unprecedented interest in the paranormal world."

Prophecies proliferated as soothsayers rushed to get their predictions for the next millennium into print. There was also more cult activity.

The journal highlighted Hon-Ming Chen, a former professor in Taiwan who led 150 sect members to the Dallas suburb of Garland where he believed God would appear on March 31 last year.

When God failed to show up, Chen was refreshingly apologetic.

"You can take what we have preached as nonsense. I would rather you don't believe what I say anymore," he said.

On the other side of the world, a giant image of a naked Aboriginal man measuring 2.5 miles long was found mysteriously carved into the Australian outback.

But last month, officials found a dedication plaque at the remote site, tipped off by a statement faxed to journalists by an anonymous source who claimed to have created the figure.

Conspiracy theories abounded with speculation about the death of Princess Diana refusing to subside. The journal said the airtime and column inches devoted to her fatal Paris car crash by even the supposedly quality press was astonishing.

There were also any number of instances of bizarre natural phenomenon wreaking havoc.

Strangest of all was the lightning strike which killed all 11 members of a football team during a match in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while leaving the opposing team untouched.

The Fortean Times Weirdness Index, measuring the number of stories printed in the journal, rose by 4.1 percent from 1997. But with the new century fast approaching, the experts expect the weird count to climb further.

Upwards of three million pilgrims are expected to flock to Israel for the millennium, the vast majority of them mainstream Christians. But some are convinced that the end of the world is nigh and are coming for "front row seats" at the Second Coming. The fear of a flood of apocalyptic zealots has galvanized Israel's security services. Last month, 14 members of a U.S. cult group were deported, accused of planning violent acts to hasten the return of Jesus as the new millennium approaches.

But just because it is strange, doesn't mean it is not true, the Fortean Times cautioned, quoting the eminent scientist J.B.S. Haldane, who said: "The universe may not only be queerer than we imagine, it may be queerer than we can imagine."

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