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The Voice: Was It Really Confucius Speaking?

Posted on 22 April 2013, 13:16

If I were to rank all the books I have read on paranormal subjects as to intrigue, first place would likely come down to three books – Psychic Adventures in New York, The Mystery of the Buried Crosses, and The Case of Patience Worth, not necessarily in that order.  However, the first one is my favorite, even if easily the shortest of the three books.  My more detailed account of the story appears in the current (May/June) issue of Atlantis Rising magazine, but there wasn’t space enough in that article to offer the fascinating dialogue that took place between Dr. Neville Whymant (below) and the “voice,” so I thought I would do it here.

whymant

Whymant, the author of the book, was a professor of Oriental literature and philosophy at the Universities of Tokyo and Peking and then a professor of linguistics at Oxford and London Universities.  He served as Far East editor (1926-27) of the New International Encyclopedia (1926-27) and was on the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1927-29).  He was also a foreign correspondent for the London Times (1929-31) and from 1947 to 1950 was an adviser to the embassy of the Republic of China in London.

He was said to be conversant in 30 languages, including several dialects of Chinese.  Among his other books were Chinese and Greek Philosophical Parallels (1917) and , The Psychology of the Chinese Coolie (1920). He does appear to have been someone to put his scholarly reputation on the line with a story that most rational people would consider absurd

Whymant’s experience took place during October 1926 at the New York City Park Avenue home of Judge and Mrs. William Cannon with direct-voice medium George Valiantine.  Whymant had come to the United States to study the languages of the American Indian when the Cannons invited him to their home. They explained that Valiantine had been giving sittings at their home for some time, but only recently a voice that sounded like Chinese was coming through.  They hoped Whymant would be able to interpret.  Whymant said he was highly skeptical and searched the room completely before the seance began.  His skepticism began to erode when his deceased father-in-law came through and spoke to his wife in the same characteristic drawl, reminiscent of the West County of England.  Whymant doubted that Valiantine could have researched his wife’s history and so accurately simulated her father’s accent.  But the most intriguing voice was yet to come.  At first it came through in an ancient Chinese dialect, which Whymant had difficulty understanding.  He asked the voice if he could speak more modern Chinese. The following dialogue then took place in Mandarin, with Whymant keeping detailed notes.

The Voice: “Greetings, O son of learning and reader of strange books!  This unworthy servant bows humbly before such excellence.”

Whymant: “Peace be upon thee, O illustrious one.  This uncultured menial ventures to ask thy name and illustrious style.”

The Voice:  “My name is K’ung, men call me Fu-Tsu, and my lowly style is Kiu.
(This was the given name of Confucius.)  I wasted more than three score years and reached the end of no road.  Peace upon thy house May I know thine honourable name and illustrious style?”  (Whymant still wondered if this was some kind of prank, though he could not imagine any trickster knowing such perfect Chinese, especially the ancient dialect, which was known to very few people, but he decided to play along.)

Whymant: “My humble name is Wang, and men call me Wen-tsu.  My despicable style is Wen-Tsu-Tsang.  I have thrown away two score years in folly and I lack understanding.  Will the Master teach me words of wisdom?”

The Voice: “Alas, my shade is that of a single hair and knowledge is not in me.  What is the honourable question?”

Whymant: “This stupid one would know the correct reading of a verse in Shih King.  It has been hidden from understanding for long centuries, and men look upon it with eyes that are blind.  The passage begins thus:  Ts’ai t’asi chuan erh….”  (Whymant was unable to complete his question before The Voice responded.)

The Voice: “It should be read this way, O master of mysteries (The voice here intoned the poem throughout and on Whymant’s asking for it again, it was repeated.) Thus read, does not its meaning become plain?”

Whymant: “Indeed, O leader of the wise ones, it shines with a myriad lights. There are other things which I would ask of thy wisdom.”

The Voice: “Ask not of an empty barrel much fish, O wise one!  Many things which are now dark shall be light to thee, but the time is not yet.  They shall yield to thy touch in a time (day) which is not yet born.”

Whymant:  “Shall I ask of one passage in the Master’s own writing?  In Lun Yu, Hsia Pien, there is a passage which is wrongly written.  Should it not read thus:...?” (As Whymant began to recite the passage, the voice again interrupted.)

The Voice: “That it may be understood by those who sincerely seek what is hidden in the symbols.  It was a mistake of those who tried to see in darkness, and wrote that which they did not understand.”

Whymant: “There are many dark places, O leader of the thoughtful ones, and I fear they may not be made plain.”

The Voice: “Fear not.  There are those who love learning, and they will not let the treasure lie hid.  Even as thou hast done with Mongolian, so thou shalt do with the problems of my old home.  Those old Mongols waited long for one such as thou art….”

Whymant: “Long years have I sought to give the message of the East to the West, but the clinking of money in the market and the clanking of wheels in the factories have driven away the poor sound of my croaking voice.”

The Voice: “There are those, O silver-tongued, who wait for instruction from thee.  They will listen patiently and long, for they will love thy teaching.”

Whymant: “Where shall I find such, O wise one?”

The Voice:  “They shall find thee!  From long searching shall they come, having sought thee out.  Rest, my son, and do not strive too eagerly.”

Whymant:  “I will seek peace.”

The Voice:  “I go, my son, but I shall return… Wouldst thou hear the melody of eternity?  Keep then thine ears alert…”

Whymant attended 11 additional sittings at the Cannon home, conversing with spirits in Hindi, Persian, Basque, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German and modern Greek.  Upon returning to England, he told the story to Sir Oliver Lodge, a world-renowned physicist and psychical researcher, who then arranged to have Valiantine tested by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).  However, the SPR researchers heard only “whispers,” some of which sounded like Chinese to them but were unclear. When the SPR asked Whymant to listen to the gramophone recording of the voices, he couldn’t make them out, either.  One SPR researcher, in her report, pointed out that there are many “Chinamen” living in America and Valiantine probably learned a little Chinese from them, enough to make Whymant think that he was hearing Chinese and he subconsciously filled in the blanks. It was an explanation suggesting that Whymant was a complete fool.  It also suggested that Valiantine learned enough of 13 other languages spoken through Valiantine’s mediumship to further dupe Whymant and also that he memorized the poems of “Confucius,” or Whymant just imagined he heard the voice recite a lengthy poem and also imagined that “Confucius” explained the mistakes in one of them. 

Valiantine was said to have had his good days and his bad days, the latter being the result of a lack of harmony or too much hostility by the sitters. Indications were that the SPR researchers were hostile toward Valiantine, thereby defeating good phenomena.  While skeptics scoff at such an explanation as self-serving, such was found to have been the case by many more sympathetic researchers.

At the urging of Lodge, Whymant first told the story in the April 1928 issue of the Journal for The American Society for Psychical Research .  He said that he tired of telling the story so many times and put it into a book so that he wouldn’t have to tell it again.

Valiantine’s reputation suffered a severe blow in 1931, when an attempt was made to fingerprint a spirit claiming to be the recently-deceased Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes series.  As it turned out, however, the print obtained was that of Valiantine’s big toe.  Valiantine claimed that he had no idea how his toe became imprinted in the plaster cast.  It was surmised by Valiantine’s supporters that devious low-level spirits interfered and had a good laugh, but debunkers saw it as evidence that Valiantine was a fraud, even if the direct-voice phenomenon could not be so easily dismissed.  If Valiantine was a fraud, could he have been so brilliant as to learn more than a dozen languages, including an ancient Chinese dialect, and to have memorized the poems of Confucius, yet so dumb as to think his toe print would match up with Doyle’s thumb print?

Many other people reported hearing from deceased loved ones through Valiantine’s mediumship and were convinced of the genuineness of it.  British playwright H. Dennis Bradley, also very skeptical at first, told of a 1923 sitting with Valiantine in which he carried on a conversation with his deceased sister, Annie.  Bradley prefaced his report by saying that his sister was a purist in her choice of words and spoke in an odd way.  “When she addressed me after ten years of silence, she said sayings in her own characteristic manner,” Bradley reported.  “Every syllable was perfectly enunciated and every little peculiarity of intonation was reproduced.  We talked for fifteen minutes, and about such subjects as only she and I could have known.”

Lodge told Whymant that it was not necessary to assume that it was Confucius himself communicating with him. His research suggested that superior spirits, as Confucius may have been, have no need to be identified with their teachings delivered while on earth and are represented by “group souls” who take the famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the teacher, that is important. 

Psychic Adventures in New York has been republished by White Crow Books and is available at Amazon.com.
http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/psychic_adventures_in_new_york/

Michael recently gave an interview to Spirittoday.com and it can be found here.
www.spiritoday.com

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

Next blog post:  May 6.


Comments

“One SPR researcher pointed out that Valiantine probably learned a little Chinese to make Whymant think that he was hearing Chinese and he subconsciously filled in the blanks.”

This “theory” is about as rational and likely as the “William Crookes and Florence Cook in bed”- hypothesis. But I am aware that denial of spirits is fashionable among “intellectuals”, especially among those who are obsessed with their own minds. Is it only my observation or could it be that some people prefer their own logic to facts? If our subconscious minds had the “power” to fulfill our wishes, where do all the depressed come from? Maybe they enjoy to suffer? Certainly not all of them.

The theory that mediumship can cause mood swings and other problems should be taken seriously. Schrenk-Notzing wrote that Eusapia Palladino suddenly broke out in laughter, started to cry or shouted for no apparent reason. Maybe this had another cause, but how can we expect that slipping into trance and being possessed by some entity has no effects one’s mental stability? Spirit guides claim they protect their mediums carefully, and yet they are just ordinary people who can be mistaken. In light of these hints I suspect that most, if not all, of these alleged “frauds” were due to either bad spirit influence or mental disturbance of the medium, in that she was unable to visualize the after-effects of her actions.
On the other hand, I have attended six physical séances with three different mediums, and they seemed all stable after years of practicing their ability.

S. P., Sun 26 May, 21:36

What a treasure, to have someone so well educated in ancient languages on the scene for these events.

Elene Gusch, Wed 22 May, 01:54

Thanks Mike! Of course,it would help if I spelled his name correctly.  Probably that’s why I found material the first time I searched but had no luck the next time when I searched an incorrectly spelled name.  What a dork! I did find an interesting article by Ronnie Pontiac about Valiantine and others on “Newtopia Magazine” at http://newtopiamagazine.wordpress.com.  Once I got my brain on straight, I see that there are many articles.  Thanks again Mike!

Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 28 Apr, 19:13

Amos,

See http://www.answers.com/topic/george-valiantine

Also, keep in mind that Valiantine was in a trance state and I believe it was well established, as with Eusapia Paladino, that the spirits would often use the medium’s body to effect some phenomenon.  Thus, the comments about him leaving his chair, etc., do not necessarily point to conscious fraud.

Michael Tymn, Sun 28 Apr, 14:16

Amos,

There is quite a bit on the Internet about Valiantine.  It looks like you have misspelled his name, i.e., an e instead of an a for the fifth letter.

There are also three books by H. Dennis Bradley about Valiantine.  I have the first two—Toward the Stars, and The Wisdom of the Gods, but the third one, which came after the toe print fiasco is difficult to find.  I have looked for it for years.  I can’t recall the name off the top of my head, but it is something like, “After this, What?” or something to that effect.  The first two books can be found at bookfinder.com

Those first two Bradley books offer some amazing phenomena, much of it witnessed by credible observers.  I also have a book about Valiantine’s time in Italy.  I can’t recall the author, but Valiantine was observed by Ernesto Bozzano, probably Italy’s best known psychical researcher of the time, and Bozzano put his stamp of approval on him. This books also offers some amazing phenomena.

It may be that Valiantine was a mixed medium, i.e., turning to trickery when his powers failied him, but I think there was some low-level spirit activity involved.  As I mentioned, he could not have been so stupid as to think his toe would match up with Doyle’s thumb.

Michael Tymn, Sun 28 Apr, 13:36

I wish there were more information available about George Valientine, especially about the “big toe” incident.  It would be nice to know the details of the séance at which the big- toe impressions were obtained.  Were those in attendance so naïve that they placed the wax plates or wet plaster on the floor near Valientine’s feet?  Did the séance begin with Valientine bare-footed?  If the plates were not on the floor where were they—-on a table?—- and if not, why not? How did Valientine manipulate his legs so that he could make a toe impression and no one notice his movements, especially if the plates were not on the floor? How were the comparisons made between Conan Doyle’s prints and the prints in the impression?  I think there is a lot that remains to be seen in this case.

The Confucius story is a fascinating one, hard to explain if true. How could an “illiterate” man from the U.S. speak so many languages, especially ancient Chinese, with appropriate pronunciations and all?  Unfortunately there seems to be very little about Valientine on the internet. My browsers keep bringing up sites for Valentine rather than Valientine.  I have previously found good material about him but now I can’t find it.

Amos Oliver Doyle, Sat 27 Apr, 19:10

Keith, I have heard about the recording, but I have no idea where it can be found.  Perhaps the SPR in London knows.

Antony, I agree 100%.  I think Forests has retired from the debunking business, but I am sure he would, like other pseudoskeptics, point to the Doyle toeprint mystery as proof that Valiantine was a fraud and say that that incident discredits everything else he did.  As I asked above, how could Valiantine be so stupid as to think his toe print would match Sir Arthur’s thumb print?  It just doesn’t make sense.

A thorough investigation would have included statements from Judge & Mrs. Cannon, the physician who witnessed it, as well as all other witnesses.  Although they might not have understood the language, they might still have attested to what they saw and heard. 

H. Dennis Bradley wrote three books about Valiantine and it is difficult to discount all the observations he recorded, although he, too, was stymied by the toeprint incident.

Michael Tymn, Thu 25 Apr, 11:53

I read whymants book some years ago & it would seem preposterous to me that a fraudster could somehow manage to dupe a sophisticated linguist like Whymant. The notion that he was subconsciously filling in the gaps to make a dialogue with the voice seems to stretch incredulity to the breaking point. How could a phony medium (which I grant there have been many)possibly learn obscure languages/dialects without any background education in the first place. To a westerner the eastern languages such as hindi,farsi, arabic, chinese are notoriously difficult to master let alone have a conversation about some obscure passage in a poem which itself would require extensive knowledge.  The only downside to these sittings is that no recordings were made.

I wonder what Forests explanation would be!!

Antony Lea, Tue 23 Apr, 22:37

I first read about Whymant and Valiantine several years ago and I integrated their story into a ‘spiritual’ novel I wrote - but which has never been published. It is interesting to have this tale recalled by Mike Tymn once again. It intrigued me so much that there was reportedly a recording of Confucius by a British commercial recording company while Valiantine was in England, that I tried in several directions to track it down - BBC archives etc - but without success. If anybody knows of such a copy, I’d be interested to hear from them.

Keith in UK, Mon 22 Apr, 23:33


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