Speaking in a language unknown to the speaker in the normal
waking state. It is different from what is commonly called
glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, a form of vocalized religious
experience characteristic of some religious movements,
such as Pentecostalism. It has been compared with automatic
writing, writing in a language unknown to the writer.
Speaking in an unknown language is perhaps a far more impressive
phenomenon than writing in it. Subconscious visual
memory may account for occasional reproduction of foreign
sentences, but the explanation becomes more difficult if the
problem of intonation is added, since it necessitates an auditive
memory, the subconscious retention of fragments of strange
languages actually heard somewhere at some time.
In medieval times speaking in foreign languages was one of
the four principal signs of the presence of a demon. The belief
was bound to have its subconscious effect. The Ursuline nuns
of Loudon (according to their earliest historian in La Véritable
Histoire des Diables de Loudun, par un Témoin, â Poitiers, 1634)
spoke Latin, Greek, Turkish, Spanish, and a Native American
tongue and confessed to having been obsessed by the devil.
In later religious revivals, the outbreak was a sign of celestial
inspiration. The recitals of the refugees from the Cévennes, reported
in Le Théâtre Sacré des Cevennes, by M. Misson (London,
1707) contains numerous accounts of the gift among unlettered
Camisard (French Protestant) adults and infants, who spoke
French in the purest diction (see also Tremblers of the Cevennes).
The phenomenon was also noted among the Convulsionaries
of St. Medard in 1730.
It is interesting to note that the psychical researcher F. W.
H. Myers did not believe in the phenomenon. He said that he
knew of only a few instances when a few words, fragments of a
language, came through the medium—some Italian and Hawaiian
words in Leonora Piper’s utterances and a few Kaffir and
Chinese words through another medium, a Ms. Browne. ‘‘We
have no modern case, no case later than the half-mythical Miracles
of the Cevennes, where such utterance has proved to be
other than gibberish.’’
Apparently Myers ruled out or was unaware of many early
cases, among them the testimony of Judge John W. Edmonds.
His daughter, Laura Edmonds, was the first medium in modern
Spiritualism reportedly with a gift for xenoglossy. Supposedly,
foreign sitters could converse through her with spirits in
their native language, even if it was a country as remote as
Greece or Poland. Judge Edmonds wrote in a letter dated October
27, 1857
‘‘One evening when some 12 or 15 persons were in my parlor,
Mr. E. D. Green, an artist of this city, was shown in, accompanied
by a gentleman whom he introduced as Mr. Evangelides,
of Greece. He spoke broken English, but Greek fluently.
Ere long, a spirit spoke to him through Laura, in English, and
said so many things to him that he identified him as a friend
who had died at his house a few years before but of whom none
of us had ever heard. Occasionally, through Laura, the spirit
would speak a word or a sentence in Greek, until Mr. E. inquired
if he could be understood if he spoke in Greek. The residue
of the conversation, for more than an hour, was, on his
part, entirely in Greek, and on hers sometimes in Greek and
sometimes in English. At times Laura would not understand
what was the idea conveyed, either by her or him. At other
times she would understand him, though he spoke in Greek,
and herself when uttering Greek words. . . .
‘‘One day my daughter and niece came into my library and
began a conversation with me in Spanish, one speaking a part
of a sentence and the other the residue. They were influenced,
as I found, by a spirit of a person whom I had known when in
Central America, and reference was made to many things
which had occurred to me there, of which I knew they were as
ignorant as they were of Spanish. . . . Laura has spoken to me
in Indian, in the Chippewa and Menomonie tongues. I knew
the language, because I had been two years in the Indian country.’’
According to the book Modern American Spiritualism, by
Emma Hardinge Britten (1870), in addition to Laura Edmonds,
the gift was demonstrated at an early period by Jenny
Keyes, who sang in trance in Italian and Spanish, and by a Mrs.
Shepherd, Mrs. Gilbert Sweet, a Miss Inman, a Mrs. Tucker,
Susan Hoyt, A. D. Ruggles, and several others whose names
she was not permitted to make public. They frequently spoke
in Spanish, Danish, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Malay, Chinese,
and Indian.
In 1859, 19 people testified in the Banner of Light to 34 cases
of persons who occasionally spoke or wrote in tongues. J. J.
Mapes and Governor Nathaniel P. Tallmadge bore witness to
numerous instances in which uneducated mediums conversed
with strangers in the streets in various foreign languages.
A decade later, a Mr. Lowenthal testified in England before
the Committee of the London Dialectical Society ‘‘I am frequently
made to speak the language of another nation. I believe
it to be an Indian language. My mouth utters sounds that
I do not understand and which have no meaning to me. I think
it is the language of some North American tribe. It is a soliloquy,
and I get an impression on the brain, an idea that it means
so and so. A voice articulate but not audible conveys a meaning
to me. I have been among the Indians a great deal, and it
sounds to me like their language.’’
Archdeacon Thomas Colley wrote of having heard the
‘‘Mahedi,’’ a materialized Egyptian in the mediumship of Francis
W. Monck (who knew no English), speak in that language
under the control of Monck’s regular guide, ‘‘Samuel.’’ This
appears to be the only instance on record where a claimed
materialized individual was used as an automatic instrument by
another spirit.
The Italian medium Alfredo Pansini, who, with his brother
Paolo, was the subject of reported bodily transportation (see
teleportation) by mediumistic power, spoke in a sort of hypnotic
trance at the age of seven, in French, Latin, and Greek, and
recited several cantos of the Divina Commedia. On one occasion,
according to accounts, he spoke successively in twelve different
voices. Frederik van Eeden recorded in the Proceedings of the
Society of Psychical Research (vol. 17, 1901, pp. 59, 75) a Dutch
conversation with a deceased friend through the medium Rosina
‘‘During a few minutes . . . I felt absolutely as if I were speaking
to my friend myself. I spoke Dutch and got immediate and
correct answers. The expression of satisfaction and gratification
in face and gesture, when we seem to understand one another
was too vivid to be acted. Quite unexpected Dutch words
were pronounced, details were given which were far from my
mind, some of which, as that about my father’s uncle in a former
sitting, I had never known, and found to be true only on
inquiry afterwards.’’
Many German Orientalists testified that when the stigmatic
subject Thérèse Neumann relived the Passion of Christ, she
spoke in ancient Aramaic. The weakness of the case is that the
phrases she used exist in print with translations in modern languages.
The New York Evening Post reported on November 10, 1930,
the case of a four-year-old girl at Warsaw. Although the parents
of Marie Skotnicki spoke only Polish, she developed the extraordinary
habit of talking to herself in a foreign tongue that
no one about her could understand but was later established to
be pure Gaelic. It is important to add that her greatgrandfather
came from the Island of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides.
In The Two Worlds (March 31, 1933), F. H. Wood wrote of
the medium Rosemary and ‘‘Lady Nona,’’ her ancient Egyptian
control ‘‘The fact is now established beyond disproof that over
140 Egyptian word-phrases which were in common use when
the great Temple of Luxor in Egypt was built, have been spoken
fluently through an English girl who normally knows nothing
about the ancient tongue.’’ Howard Hulme of Brighton,
Sussex, the translator of the Egyptian phrases, after a preliminary
test by mail which resulted in an unexpected but correct
Egyptian answer, had also heard Lady Nona speak. After an
amazing dialogue in the dead tongue of the pyramid builders,
‘‘Nona cleared up many points of pronunciation, gave her own
earth name and explained the full meaning of some of her previous
language tests.’’
In the early 1980s, Dr. William H. Kautz also announced a
computer-based project at the Research Center for Applied Intuition
(of which he is founder and director) involving the
preparation of a translation and lexicon of the Rosemary Egyptian
language text, to be studied in conjunction with all relevant
publications relating to Egyptian language of the Eighteenth
Dynasty, and a reconstitution of vocal Egyptian of the same period.
The lexicon was to be compared with written Egyptian
language and also with the reconstitution of the spoken form.
The medium Etta Wriedt reportedly spoke in many unknown
tongues, and no stranger inflection could be imagined
than the archaic Chinese that the voice of ‘‘Confucius’’ used in
speaking through the medium George Valiantine to Neville
Whymant, the renowned Oriental scholar. Whymant heard 14
languages spoken in 12 séances, and the strangest of all was the
speech that came to him in fluent classical Chinese ‘‘Greetings,
O son of learning, and reader of strange books,’’ and gave a
complete new reading of poems and of the analects of Confucius,
over which learned scholars have differed for centuries.
Whymant’s book Psychic Adventures in New York (1931) is among
the most convincing twentieth-century records of xenoglossia.
Spirit Languages—The Primeval Tongue
The appearance of xenoglossy is not restricted to languages
known to the people present when the words are spoken. On
occasion, such vocalizations may turn out to be pure gibberish,
or possibly attempts at a subconscious creation of a new language
ple of the latter was reported by William James in an article,
‘‘A Case of Psychic Automation . . .,’’ published in the Proceedings
of the Society of Psychical Research, vol. 12, 1896. Albert
Le Baron (a pseudonym), an American journalist at a Spiritualist
camp, spoke automatically in an unknown tongue. Fragments
of the discourse were written down by himself, others
were spoken into a phonograph in the presence of both James
and Richard Hodgson. The following is a specimen ‘‘Te rumete
tau. Ilee lete leele luto scele. Impe re scele lee luto. Onko
keere scete tere lute. Ombo te scele to bere te kure. Sinte lute
sinte Kuru. Orumo imbo impe rute scelete. Singe, singe, singe
eru. Imba, Imba, Imba.’’
The medium went on to supply the translation, ‘‘The old
word! I love the old word of the heavens! The love of the heavens
is emperor. The love of the darkness is slavery. The heavens
are wise, the heavens are true, the heavens are sure. The
love of the earth is past. The King now rules in the heavens.’’
Some spirit languages were allegedly extremely condensed.
Psychical researcher Frank Podmore, for instance, reported
that the phrase ‘‘Ki-e-lou-cou-ze-ta’’ required no less than 45
words to furnish an adequate translation in English. This relative
difference in the number of words spoken and translation
is again typical of glossolalia.
A Primeval Language
The primeval language and the claimed ‘‘Martian’’ languages
(see Hélène Smith) present the most interesting problems.
The primeval or nature language has been described as
the inner language of the soul, the universal tongue of men before
the Fall, of which Hebrew is a corrupted form. In origin
it is the language of the angels, of which the seer Emanuel Swedenborg
writes in his book The True Christian Religion as follows
‘‘There is a universal language, proper to all angels and
spirits, which has nothing in common with any language spoken
in the world. Every man, after death, uses this language,
for it is implanted in every one from creation; and therefore
throughout the whole spiritual world all can understand one
another. I have frequently heard this language and, having
compared it with languages in the world, have found that it has
not the slightest resemblance to any of them; it differs from
them in this fundamental respect, that every letter of every
word has a particular meaning.’’
In his book Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg further states
‘‘Writing in the inmost heaven consists of various inflected and
circumflected forms and the inflections and circumflections are
according to the form of heaven. By these the angels express
the arcana of their wisdom, many of which cannot be uttered
by words; and, what is wonderful, the angels are skilled in such
writing without being taught, for it is implanted in them like
their speech . . . and therefore this writing is heavenly writing,
which is not taught, but inherent, because all extensions of the
thoughts and affections of the angels, and thus all communication
of their intelligence and wisdom, proceeds according to
the form of heaven, and hence their writing also flows into that
form. I have been told that the most ancient people on this
earth wrote in the same manner before the invention of letters,
and that it was transferred into the letters of the Hebrew language
which in ancient times were all inflected. Not one of
them had the square form in use at this day; and hence it is that
the very dots, iotas and minutest parts of the word contain
heavenly arcana and things Divine.’’
The first record of the existence of a primeval language
seems to be in the experiments of Elizabethan magician John
Dee (1527–1608). The next, apart from Swedenborg’s insights,
was in the visions of the Seeress of Prevorst (Frederica Hauffe),
which were confirmed by a somnambule patient of Heinrich
Werner’s a few years later and cited in Werner’s book Die
Schutzgeister, oder Merkwürdige Blicke zweier Seherinnen in die
Geisterwelt (Stuttgart, 1839).
In Dee’s notes, the invocation of the spirits was given in the
‘‘primeval language.’’ It was accompanied by a word-for-word
translation. The properties of this ancient tongue, claimed to
be that which Adam employed and the angels speak, are singular,
according to Dee ‘‘Every letter signifieth the member of
the substance whereof is speaketh every word signifieth the
quiddity of the substance . . . signifying substantially the thing
that is spoken of in the centre of his Creator, whereby even as
the mind of man moveth at an ordered speech, and is easily
persuaded in things that are true, so are the creatures of God
stirred up in themselves, when they hear the words wherewithal
they were nursed and brought forth . . . the creatures of God
understand you not. You are not of their Cities you are become
enemies, because you are separated from Him that governeth
the City, by ignorance. . . . Men in his Creation, being made
innocent was also authorised and made partaker of the Power
and Spirit of God, whereby he did know all things under his
Creation, and spoke of them properly, naming them as they
In plain language, this apparently means that the original
speech bore an organic relation to the outer world, that each
name expressed the properties of the thing spoken of, and that
the utterances of that name had a compelling power over that
creature. This has analogues in the mystical traditions of the
Hebrew shemhamphorash, the secret name of God, and the
mystical traditions connected with Hindu mantras.
In his book The Seeress of Prevorst (1845), Justinus Kerner
‘‘In her sleep-walking state, Mrs. H. frequently spoke in a
language unknown to us, which seemed to bear some resemblance
to the Eastern tongues. She said that this language was
the one which Jacob spoke, and that it was natural to her and
to all men. It was very sonorous, and as she was perfectly consistent
in her use of it, those who were much about her gradually
grew to understand it. She said, by it only could she fully express
her innermost feelings; and that, when she had to express
these in German, she was obliged first to translate them from
this language. It was not from her head, but from her epigastric
region that it proceeded. She knew nothing of it when she was
awake. The names of things in this language, she told us, expressed
their properties and quality. Philologists discovered in
it a resemblance to the Coptic Arabic and Hebrew for example,
the word ‘Elschaddai,’ which she often used for God, signifies,
in Hebrew, the self-sufficient, or all-powerful. The word ‘dalmachan’
appears to be Arabic, and ‘Bianachli’ signifies in Hebrew
I am sighing, or in sighs.
‘‘Here follow a few of the words of this inner language, and
their interpretations ‘Handacadi,’ physician ‘alentana,’ lady;
‘chlann,’ glass; ‘schmado,’ moon; ‘nohin,’ no; ‘mochiane,’
nightingale; ‘bianna fina,’ many coloured flowers; ‘moy’, how;
‘toi,’ what; ‘optini poga,’ thou must sleep; ‘mo li arato,’ I rest,
‘‘The written characters of this language were always connected
with numbers. She said that words with numbers had a
much deeper and more comprehensive signification than without.
She often said, in her sleep-walking state, that the ghosts
spoke this language; for although spirits could read the
thoughts, the soul, to which this language belonged, took it
with it when it went above; because the soul formed an ethereal
body for the spirit.’’
Further on Kerner adds
‘‘With respect to the inner language, the Seherin [Seeress]
said, that one word of it frequently expressed more than whole
lines of ordinary language; and that, after death, in one single
symbol or character of it, man would read his whole life. It is
constantly observed that persons in a sleep-walking state, and
those who are deep in the inner-life, find it impossible to express
what they feel in ordinary language. Another somnambule
used often to say to me, when she could not express herself
‘Can no one speak to me in the language of nature’
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Xenoglossy
‘‘The Seherin observed by Mayers said, that to man, in the
magnetic state, all nature was disclosed, spiritual and material;
but that there were certain things which could not be well expressed
in words, and thus arose apparent inconsistencies and
errors. In the archives of animal magnetism, an example is
given of this peculiar speech; the resemblance of which to the
eastern languages doubtless arises from its being a remnant of
the early language of mankind. Thus, sleep-walkers cannot easily
recall the names of persons and things, and they cast away
all conventionalities of speech. Mayers’ Seherin says, that as the
eyes and ears of man are deteriorated by the fall, so he has lost
in a great degree the language of his sensations; but it still exists
in us, and would be found, more or less, if sought for. Every
sensation or perception has its proper figure or sign and this
we can no longer express.
‘‘In order to describe these perceptions, Mrs. H. constructed
figures which she called her ‘sun sphere,’ her ‘life sphere’ and
so forth.
‘‘Many instances proved how perfect her memory for this
inner language was. On bringing her the lithograph of what
she had written a year before, she objected that there was a dot
too much over one of the signs; and on referring to the copy
which I had by me, I found she was right. She had no copy herself.’’
Heinrich Werner in his book Die Schutzgeister oder Merkwürdige
Blicke Zweier Seherinen in die Geisterwelt (1839), gave a
dissertation on the inner language, traces of which he found in
the babbling of children, and stated that in rare states of exaltation
the inner spirit can recover the lost vocabulary.
With the advent of modern Spiritualism, the idea of the primeval
tongue faded out. Nor did spirit languages hold out for
long. Camilla Crosland was one of the last of its recorders in
Britain. In her book Light in the Valley (1857) she writes
‘‘Three years ago a young lady, a medium whom I shall designate
The Rose was taught by spirits, directly communicating
with her, three spirit languages; that is to say, she was taught
the meaning of certain characters and inflections, which are
quite distinct, so far as I have been able to ascertain, from any
known languages ancient or modern. . . . Introduced last autumn
to another medium, a young lady whom we have been instructed
to call Comfort, The Rose discovered that her new acquaintance
wrote by spirit power the first-taught of these mystic
languages. . . . Subsequently five other mediums, all personally
known to me, have developed as writers of the first spirit language;
and one of them, an author of repute and M.A. of the
University of Oxford, has also on two or three occasions written
in the second of the spirit languages, the characters of which
seem mainly composed of dots.’’
The universal language of Swedenborg, according to Crosland,
developed dialects. Unfortunately the sample of spirit
writing in Light in the Valley is the plainest scribble and no evidence
whatever was introduced to show how the identity, if any,
was established among the strange ornaments of spiral and
shell forms, with dots and scroll-like ciphers adorning the spirit
drawing illustrations.
Writing in Tongues
Writing xenoglossic script is a comparatively frequent phenomenon.
According to Richard Hodgson, ‘‘the chief difficulty,
apparently, in getting another language written by the hand is
that strange words tend to be written phonetically unless they
are thought out slowly letter by letter. The medium William
Eglinton, caught in fraudulent activity on several occasions,
produced messages in a séance with the statesman Gladstone
in Spanish, French, and Greek in direct writing. He did not
know Spanish or Greek. An apparition at a séance held by Elizabeth
d’Esperance, calling herself ‘‘Nepenthes,’’ wrote in classic
Greek in Professor L.’s notebook, ‘‘I am Nepenthes, thy
friend. When thy soul is oppressed by overmuch pain, call on
me, Nepenthes, and I will speedily come to assuage thy trouble.’’
According to Charles Richet, Mrs. X. (Laura Finch), a
young woman of thirty, ‘‘wrote long sentences in Greek, with
some errors, that clearly show mental vision of one or more
Greek books. After much research . . . I was able to discover the
book from which Mrs. X. had drawn most of the long Greek
sentences that she had written in my presence. The book is not
to be found in Paris except in the National Library—the GrecoFrench
and Franco-Greek dictionary by Byzantios and Coromelas.
As it is a dictionary of modern Greek, it is not in use in
any school.’’
Richet further stated that Mrs. X. wrote some twenty lines
of Greek with about 8 percent of small errors, that she was looking
into space as if she were copying from the text of a language
unknown to her of which she saw the characters without knowing
their meaning, and that Mrs. X. knew no Greek at all and
could not understand the sentences that appeared before her
mental vision.
Several other examples of this phenomenon are to be found
in Florizel von Reuter’s books, Psychic Experiences of a Musician
(1928) and The Consoling Angel (1930). The Chinese crosscorrespondences
of Mina Crandon (known as ‘‘Margery’’ in
the literature) furnish especially striking instances.
Recent Research
The emergence of the charismatic movement in the 1970s
led to a revival of claims that the glossolalia commonly experienced
in Pentecostal services was in fact xenoglossy. To bolster
this argument anecdotal accounts of xenoglossy in church services
and on the mission field were reprinted. However, rather
thorough research largely laid these claims to rest.
The most impressive reported incidents of xenoglossy were
collected in Unlearned Language New Studies in Xenoglossy, by
psychical researcher Ian Stevenson, more known for his research
on cases of reincarnation. Additionally, through the
1970s and into the 1980s, he supposedly recorded some cases
of speaking an unlearned language that he had witnessed. He
also noted that the publication of his first book on the subject
brought numerous reports that, while interesting, were poorly
Bozzano, Ernesto. Polyglot Mediumship (Xenoglossy). London
Rider, 1932.
Flournoy, Theodor. From India to the Planet Mars. New York
Harper, 1900.
Kautz, William H. ‘‘The Rosemary Case of Alleged Egyptian
Xenoglossy.’’ Theta 10, 2 (summer 1982).
Lombard, Emile. De la Glossolalie chez les Premiers Chrétiens et
des Phénomènes Similaires. Lausanne, Switzerland Bridel, 1910.
Stevenson, Ian. Unlearned Language New Studies in
Xenoglossy. Charlottesville University of Virginia Press, 1984.
———. Xenoglossy A Review and Report of a Case. Charlottesville
University of Virginia Press, 1974.
Wood, F. H. After Thirty Centuries. London Rider, 1935.
———. This Egyptian Miracle. London Rider, 1940. Rev. ed.
London J. M. Watkins, 1955.

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