By Phil Plait | August 13, 2011 7:04 am

Hey, I haven’t posted a fun pareidolia (patterns that look like faces or figures) news article in a while, and this is a good one: a man in Finland found this interesting image on his wall:

[Here’s the Google translation into English.]

Of course, the article claims it looks like the Virgin Mary.

Now look: I know that the standard depiction of Mary is usually with her head bent, covered in a cowl, with a robe of some sort. That kind of figure lends itself to pareidolia — it’s an easy shape to make, from oil stains to an MRI. But this is a pretty far cry from even that! Unless Mary’s head is a perfect sphere.

It looks very much like this is a simple reflection off a window or other shiny object. The way the light plays on the wall makes that clear. Of course, I cannot rule out a supernatural influence… so if it’s not Mary, who is it?

I have a hunka hunka burnin’ suspicion:

Of course, that picture of The King is from his album called… "Promised Land".


Tip o’ the sequined cape to Timo Jousimo.

Related posts:

A fiery angel erupts from the Sun
The fist of an angry cloud
A dragon fight in the heart of Orion
Angry slippers are angry (Best. Pareidolia. EVER.)


Comments (87)

  1. Mike

    And here I thought it kinda looked like a goose preening…

  2. I don’t see anything. *sigh*

  3. Dave R

    It looks more like Bucket Sea Lion to me.

  4. I think it looks like Phil Plait, turned sideways, reading a newspaper.

  5. Jens

    Oh, come now, that’s an obvious Grim Reaper – or Dementor for the Potter fans ūüėČ

  6. Nick

    Looks a lot more like the grim reaper than the virgin mary.

  7. Ronan

    Jens: I was thinking the same thing, only the first thing that popped into my head was that it was obviously one of the Nazgul.

  8. Zuckerfrosch

    I like the Grim Reaper, but with that long chin, I’m thinking the killer’s mask from “Scream”

  9. Joel

    Yep, definitely a Nazg√Ľl.

    Ash nazg durbatul√Ľk, ash nazg gimbatul, Ash nazg thrakatul√Ľk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul….

  10. Gee, the very clear light bouncing off the bumper of the car, through the plants, onto the fence below the Virgin Mary wouldn’t be a clue? If he backed up about 2 feet he’d probably get the whole virginal family in there.

  11. JRQ
  12. Hannu Siivonen

    There’s no “or other shiny object”, since not only is a car right there on picture, it’s quit clearly a subject of heavy sunlight – that’s what makes the picture so funny.

    Also at first it kinda look like something, but after realizing the sphere is where a dart board used to be, you can’t unsee it. After that happens the reflection becomes very shapeless

  13. Andy

    Looks like an ood to me. I guess my song is ending…

  14. I was thinking about the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings but any reaper works as well.

  15. Steve won! That’s exactly what I was going to say.

  16. It looks a bit like Matt Damon without a shirt to me.

  17. I was going to say Assassin’s Creed (and I don’t even play that game), but an Ood is obviously what it is :)

  18. I see Mary… Poppins.

  19. bystander

    But why would “The King” be appearing on a “barn wall in H√§meenlinna”? Seems to be a little out of his regular venue.

  20. I see several “faces” there.

    From the top we have Spock (where the round dartboard was) in Vulcan robes or maybe is it Patrick Troughton the second doctor instead :

    or both?

    The wider area even has a third simian face too.

    Below them and inside it there’s a bearded wise old man type face. Jesus? Or Gandalf or Qui-Gon Jinn?

    Below that (yes there’s more, a whole series of faces running down and diagonally to the right) a more angular face witha pointy white beard – Saruman! Or King Lear? Or cruel and cunning King Edward I “Longshanks” from the Braveheart movie :

    and ancient English history?

    Below that is one more face – again a white bearded wise man but with fatter cheeks and like an Asian painting. Confucious perhaps or an elderly
    Kubilai Khan :


    Look closely. For reference :

    1.) “Spocks” eye’s are in line with the bottom of Elvis’es nose.

    2.) Qui-Gons eye’s (or are they Sub-Zero’s or Scorpions form Mortal Kombat?)are in line with the top of Presley’s hand holding the microphone.

    3.) “Longshanks” Edward I’s eyes are in line with the bottom of Elvis’es microphone holding hand.

    4.) The Elderly Kubiliai Khan portrait face is looking towards the car with his eyes level with the cufflinks at the maximum flare outwards.

    and then :

    5.) Car~wards off all that series there’s another face or even two as well. One hooded and perhaps bearded or not as imagination suits (or make it three faces total for both plus the one on the left of that?) and closest to the car, with the top of the “head” in line with Elvis ‘s second lower ring is none other than Johannes Kepler (see Wikipedia page portrait by clicking on my name) looking as if he’s trying to see into the car’s boot.

    All these just patches with two dots for eyes, stains for shape and memories and imagination at work. Imagination and the brains visual cortex. Wonderful things they can create. As long as you remember these are just illusions and tricks of the light and shade; nothing supernatural here.

  21. Robin Byron

    Sorry, Elvis! I’ve spent most of my life around, on or in the ocean and it looks like a sea lion to me.

  22. keith bowden

    I saw Charles Darwin. I win!

  23. Rachel D.

    well it looks like a Dementor from The Harry Potter movies to me. Maybe it’s a big advertising gimmick, like the angel in an episode of The Simpsons? :-)

  24. Mika

    I like it how the Google translation adds quite a bit irony into it, turning the apparition into “the curved light phenomenon, which could not explain anything”. Yeah, I agree that what is essentially coincidence can’t possibly explain anything.

    (The original, of course, talks about a phenomenon that “could not be explained by anything”. I’m somewhat less enthusiastic about that version.)

    Not to even mention the generally backwards translation of finding a barn on the wall of the phenomenon, as if the phenomenon had always been there, sort of corresponding with the backwards logic of explaining faith in God with seeing a religious figure in a reflection of light, while psychologically it’s pretty clearly the other way around.

  25. Sir Eccles

    “head bent, covered in a cowl, with a robe of some sort”

    So, you’re saying the Virgin Mary was a Muslim wearing a hijab or burkah of some sort?

  26. RwFlynn

    As others have said, I see a Nazgul (a scary image too be randomly seeing about). I also see Altair scratching the back of his head.

  27. Bob

    of course the 8th Doctor would say that he loves humans because they see patterns where there aren’t any!

  28. oldebabe

    Looks like a seal… peering at me…

  29. Other Paul

    Have to agree with #1 @Mike. Before reading anything at all, even that it was a post about pareidolia – much less what others though it might be, I saw a goose with its head cocked (can a cock’s head be goosed/ I digress). A preening goose fit the bill (sorry) exactly.

  30. sophia8

    I see the Holy Mother Elephant with the baby Ganesh.

  31. Corhen

    Anyone else see a grizzly bear?

  32. It’s Dr. Perceptron in a high collared coat

  33. Brian

    #1, #30: It’s not a goose, it’s a pelican in her piety! It is a religious symbol! Call the newspapers! Again!

  34. You’re all wrong. That’s obviously Darth Sidious, aka Emperor Palpatine, sending a holographic message from a galaxy far, far away to command is Terran Sith followers to begin building the Galactic Empire in our galaxy…

  35. MikeW

    Definitely goose or swan, even before I knew this was a pareidolia article

  36. Jason

    I was thinking it looks like a xenomorph (the aliens from the “Alien” series).

  37. Rodin’s “The Thinker” viewed from the rear left.

  38. Michael

    Stumpy legs? Cropped snout? Short tusks? Pot belly? Rounded throat?

    It’s Pumba listening to his hetero life-partner Timone singing to the moon!
    (0:47 for exact pose)

  39. Lee from NC

    Ruh roh!! It’s a g-g-g-ghost!

  40. Chris L.

    Actually it’s an exact replica of the face on Mars after it’s been run through a special HD physics inspired imaging algorithm. Obviously someone is trying to send us a message. :)

  41. Paula Helm Murray

    I thought it looked like some kind of animal. I kind of ignore this kind of thing because my brain is wired to make up this sort of stuff on its own. I would never claim that it’s real, right or whatever though because I know my mind is doing it just because.

  42. Michael Suttkus, II

    I can’t be the only person to see the Klein bottle on the wall.

  43. Renee

    Well … I hesitate to say it, but it just looks like something obscene to me!

  44. Evan

    Huh. I saw the Hedjet of Upper Egypt, with the moon behind.

  45. I think it looks like one of the Silence. And Silence will fall.

  46. gopher65

    That looks exactly like an Auditor from Discworld (the evilest of evil beings).

    The resemblance is frightening. I hope they aren’t making inroads in our universe.

  47. John Sandlin

    Oh, I didn’t know they got a picture of that, when I…er, I mean Death sucked the last soul from a dying Tyrannosaurus Rex. I was tasty, too. I mean, that’s what I heard.


  48. Marina Stern

    Are you sure it’s not a schmoo?

  49. Mark Schaffer

    How can it look like someone who no one has any idea what she looked like, if Mary even existed???

  50. Istas

    The things that came to my mind were already mentioned: first, a preening long-necked bird, and then a nazgul / dementor / ‘death’. If it’s a bent figure in a shawl, why not a homeless person? A homeless person sheepishly rubbing their neck. Surely there’s more than one of them floating around, and a bit more recent than two millennia ago. Tipping head to the right, a cobra with big eyes and its hood spread.

  51. I kinda got a dementor myself…

  52. Bill the Splut

    I vote with the Duck camp. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like stained wood, it’s…um, stained wood.

  53. Ken

    To me it looks like a vampiric version of Marvin the Paranoid Android ( ) leaning menacingly over a prone, bikini-clad, female victim.

  54. Yvon of the Yukon

    Now this is what I call “pareidolia”. Forward to 1:25.

  55. Anchor

    “Hey, I haven‚Äôt posted a fun pareidolia (patterns that look like faces or figures) news article in a while…”

    Hey, are you kidding???

  56. Dark Jaguar

    It looks like a dolphin to me. I can’t for the life of me see a person in it.

  57. Svlad Cjelli

    It’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.

  58. Dr.Sid

    Definitely Nazgul .. or that guy from Scream movie.

  59. Captain Obvious

    I don’t see anything. Really I don’t. And I’m really trying.

  60. andrew

    to me it looks like a young lady, with her hair up… she’s wearing a bikini top… and theres a guy standing behind her putting a towel over her shoulders (drying her off? covering up her modesty? haha)… the guy behind her is wearing a hood, obscuring his face

    i tried to find “mary”, but i just cant see it… but i wonder if anyone else can see what i do?

  61. Scott

    It looks more like Saruman from the LOTR movies.

  62. Chris

    Am I the only one who thinks it looks like a dog?

  63. Gene Doctor

    It looks like the burning Monk on the front cover of the self-titled Rage Against the Machine album (but reversed).

  64. Tara Mobley

    My daughter thought it looked like a fish.

  65. John

    My first thought was Galileo’s hand holding a lens between his fingers, but I also see an eagle head holding a marble.

  66. Garry

    It’s the Grim Reaper, of course.

  67. Kevin R. Bridges

    I tried to decide what it looked like before I read what it was supposed to look like, and I saw the grim reaper, cloak, scythe and everything. I didn’t include the circle, which I don’t think counts in the Mary version, either.

  68. JibberJabber

    Looks like quite a nice bit of work with a waterblaster and a slightly dirty soccer ball ,to me anyways.

  69. Monty

    Polar bear. It is most definitely a polar bear … in the jungle. Like in Lost.

  70. John

    Now I see a naked bald man, with his back to us, playing the violin. do you fiddle, Phil?

  71. Put another vote for the ‘Scream’ mask in here.

  72. Me

    But of course it’s a dementor from Harry Potter!

  73. Grand Lunar

    I see Death!

    From the skies, of course. ūüėČ

  74. ggremlin

    Why is everyone getting excited about a brontosaurus grazing?

  75. Other Mika

    The kicker was the comment that even the cat ran and hid. He should have moved the car and see if the cat would return.

  76. Don

    low and left of the dart board circle is a tent. To the right (the bright area) is the Grim Reaper. He is obviously on vacation in the woods. (Or looking for Sara Palin perhaps?)

  77. db26

    This is obviously a warning sign of an immenant massive solar flare, destined to hit Earth head on. We are all going to die.

  78. I’m not sure what language that “translation” is translated into, but it certainly isn’t English!

  79. Aubri

    Looks more like a Ringwraith to me.
    Shire! Baggins!

  80. Bill Roberts

    I see a moose, in profile, sans antlers.

  81. Venture Free

    It looks like a dementor to me.

  82. CB

    I see a singing sea lion.

  83. Neil

    It’s…..The Banshee!!!!!

  84. Mike

    I see a refracted light pattern, but nothing else.. hrm.

  85. Geri Monsen

    Looks like an elephant seal to me.


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