Phoenix, William
A direct voice medium of Glasgow, Scotland, who attempted
feats of xenoglossia. Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
never known as a qualified observer of mediumistic phenomena,
had a number of sittings with him and thought highly of his
powers. However, Phoenix was later demonstrated to have
been a clever fraud.
Lord Charles Hope of the Society for Psychical Research
invited Neville Whymant, a professor of oriental literature and
philosophy, to join him for a sitting with Phoenix in Glasgow
and later in London. In the first Glasgow sitting, the voice of
an Indian attempted to speak in a variety of Persian. In the second
sitting a conversation of real import was being worked up
in Italian but the control’s power failed too soon. Modern
Greek was also heard. The Persian voice reappeared and was
a little more explicit than on the previous occasion. Finally, a
Chinese voice, that of a scribe or commentator apparently, also
spoke and something was said in Japanese. Hope said of the
Glasgow sittings, ‘‘Although the Glasgow sittings had not resulted
in any communication of the order of importance of Dr.
Whymant’s experience in New York they had apparently established
a strong case for the speaking of languages unknown to
the medium.’’
Thereupon Phoenix was invited to London. In September
and October 1927, he gave six sittings. In the first, Chinese and
Japanese voices spoke to Gonoské Komai. But Whymant observed,
‘‘I cannot truthfully say that I gathered anything at all from
this voice. It was over-anxious to tell me something and probably
the keenness of its desire prevented its being understood.
Other voices struggled for expression without achieving more
than whispering and trumpet taps. Then came a voice speaking
a queer idiom; it sounded almost like a jargon of some kind and
I called out that it sounded like Indo-Chinese border dialect,
later giving the impression that it might have been badly spoken
Yunnanese. The voice gave bugle calls of a military nature
easily recognized and several people suggested that it might
have been a soldier.’’
Of another voice Whymant surmised, ‘‘It seemed to me that
the voice was that of a Straits Chinese who had lived in Singapore.’’
Hope added his own conclusion,
‘‘I had become convinced that at any rate on most occasions
the medium left his chair before voices spoke to the sitters. I
had sat next to the medium on several occasions and had distinctly
heard sounds like a creaking boot. After the sitting at
which I had heard these sounds I noticed that one of the medium’s
boots creaked as he walked. The sounds were similar.’’
In a late sitting, Hope obtained proof that the medium left
his chair. Phoenix protested that he was under control. Hope
suggested that he should turn out his pockets to prove that he
had no appliance with which to produce the psychic lights
which appeared at each sitting. Upon Phoenix’s refusal, Hope
gave up and concluded, ‘‘reluctantly I had come to the conclusion
that Phoenix was at least in part a fraud.’’
Hope published an account of the sittings in the Proceedings
of the SPR (vol. 40, pp. 419–427).