Shackleton’s Phantom Guide

Came across this article in the Winter 1948 Occult Review by the intrepid cinematographer J.C. Bee-Mason, a war photographer in France, Belgium and Russia, and cinematographer to Ernest Shackleton on his last expedition south and other Arctic expeditions. He was obsessed with bee-keeping (hence the hyphenated “Bee” in his name) and filmed documentaries about bees.There is quite a bit about him on the web including his belief that if you ate a hundred pounds of good honey every year you would live to 100. Sadly JCB only made into his early 80s. Part of the interest in the piece is the acknowledged influence of Shackleton's experience on some lines in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?

This phenomenon  has been called by the author John Geiger the 'third man factor' - the experience of people at the very edge of death who feel the presence of an incorporeal being who encourages them and guides them to safety. Geiger tells the stories of 9-11 survivors, mountaineers, astronauts, explorers and prisoners of war who have reported this feeling…

Shackleton's Phantom Guide by J.C. Bee- Mason M.B.E.

About 30 years ago the world was staggered by the story of possibly the most wonderful feat of endurance ever made by man.

Shackleton – who died 26 years ago in January – Worsley, and a seaman named Crean, after enduring a journey of 500 miles in a ship's lifeboat in the Antarctic in midwinter, crossed the glaciers and crevasses of South Georgia to obtain help for their shipmates left stranded on Elephant Island. The men at the whaling station were astonished when they saw three men dragging slates down the mountains which had never before been crossed by man.

Shackleton, in his book South, says : "...when I look back at those days I do not doubt that Providence guided us. I know that during that long march of 36 hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it often seemed to me that we were four, not three. Worsley and Crean had the same idea."

Arctic Expedition

I first met Shackleton when I sailed with him on the Quest, and I heard him describe the journey when we were entertained by the members of the English Club at Lisbon. I don't know why, but I had a feeling that he invented the story "we were four not three", knowing it would appeal to the general public.

In 1925, I was a  member of the British Arctic Expedition to Franz Josef Land. Worsley was our leader. We sailed in a little brigantine of about 126 tons register. She had an auxiliary. In pack-ice off  Spitzbergen we broke our propeller and had to carry on under sail. Near Franz Josef Land we got caught in heavy ice and the ship looked like being pinched, so Worsley ordered us to sleep fully dressed in polar kit and be prepared to leave the ship at a moment's notice. He said to me: "if we do, we must walk over the ice to Siberia and God knows how many of us will get there."

Spirit Guidance

It is when men see death staring them in the face, they are more inclined to confide in one another. Whilst pacing the deck one night with Worsley, listening to the timbers of our poor old ship groaning under the ice pressure, I said to Worsley, "Skipper the something I want to ask you." He said "What is it."  I replied: "In Shackleton's book South, he says that, when you were dragging that sledge over South Georgia, you had a feeling there were four men in the party and not three. Is that really true?" Worsley answered: "Yes, Crean was the first to mention it. Whilst he and I were unloading the sledge at the whaling station he said to me, "All the time I was pulling that sledge I had a feeling there were four of us." I replied, "So did I – I wonder if Shackleton did?" Shackleton was standing a few yards away unpacking his kit. I went up to and said, "Crean tells me he had a feeling there were four of us pulling that sledge and curiously enough I had the same feeling, in fact I kept looking around and to see who the fourth man was," Shackleton stopped what he was  doing and said "Worsley, there were four of us."

[The intrepid Bee-Mason recounts a similar occasion in Bolivia's 'Green Hell' with Julian Duguid in 1928, of being surrounded by Toba savages (who torture their captives to death) and not being afraid because 'Like Shackleton's party on the ice- we were not alone.']

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