By Michael Tymn
Skeptics claim that stories involving the paranormal are often exaggerated over time by both the original storyteller and those who pass on the stories. I have no doubt that this is frequently the case. I have retold a personal paranormal experience so many times over the past 10 years that I am not now sure whether I have added to the original story. It was not something I documented in writing at the time of the experience, although I now wish I had.
On the other hand, time has a way of diminishing the impact of certain paranormal stories when subject to attacks by skeptics. Consider the case of medium George Valiantine of Williamsport, New York. Based on several books and articles written about Valiantine by credible researchers, he was a very gifted direct-voice medium, in that extremely evidential information was provided through him to numerous people.
However, he did not particularly impress some researchers representing the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) when they studied him in 1927 and he was accused of cheating in a 1931 séance. When you access information about Valiantine in books or on the Internet today, you read mostly about his failures and alleged cheating and hardly anything about his successes. Thus, the tendency is to completely dismiss him as a charlatan.
Consider the story told about Valiantine by Dr Neville Whymant in his 1931 book, Psychic Adventures in New York. I summarized this case in a previous blog entry, but to further summarize, Whymant was a professor of linguistics at both Oxford and London universities and was in the US in 1926 while studying the languages of the American Indian. He reportedly could speak 30 languages, including several dialects of Chinese.
While in New York City in October 1926, he was invited to the Park Avenue home of Judge and Mrs William Cannon. He didn’t realize until he had arrived at their home that he was being invited to a séance involving Valiantine. Mrs Cannon told him that in several previous séances that a Chinese speaking entity was communicating and she hoped that Whymant could translate if the voice came through again. She was afraid that if she told him the reason for the invitation that he would decline. Whymant wrote that he had no real interest in Spiritualism and was very skeptical of it, but he agreed to sit through the séance.
It is important to understand that in the direct-voice, the spirit voices do not come from the medium’s mouth, as in the trance-voice phenomenon. Rather, they come through a floating trumpet, which amplifies the spirit voices. Generally, the voices resemble that of the communicating spirit when in the flesh.
After hearing voices communicate with others in the room, Whymant heard a spirit claiming to be Mrs Whymant’s father communicate through the trumpet. Whymant noted that the voice had the same characteristic drawl reminiscent of the West County of England that his father-in-law had. Whymant then heard a voice directed at him speaking in an ancient Chinese dialect, which he recognized as that of the Chinese classics and colloquially as dead as Sanskrit or Latin. When Whymant asked the communicating entity if he could speak in a more modern dialect, the entity consented and identified himself as K’ung fu-tsu, the name by which Confucius was canonized.
To test the spirit, Whymant recited the first line of the third ode of the first book of Chou non, after which the voice recited the remaining 14 lines. Additionally, the voice put a new construction on the verses, giving the entire poem a meaning somewhat different than Whymant had understood it. Whymant then asked about another poem which had confused many scholars. The communicating spirit then explained that it was wrongly translated and pointed to two words that were in error. It all made perfect sense to Whymant.
Whymant attended eleven more sittings with Valiantine and heard 14 different languages spoken, including Chinese, Hindi, Persian, Basque, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portugese, Italian, Yiddish, German, and Greek. In one of the sittings, a spirit spoke a strange French dialect, which Whymant recognized as Labourdin Basque. Although he was more accustomed to speaking Spanish Basque, he managed to carry on a conversation with the voice.
Let’s look at the arguments against the validity of the story and Valiantine’s mediumship:
Famous people don’t communicate
‘Confucius, sure, and Cleopatra and Princess Diana, too,’ the ‘clever’skeptic will say with a smirk, as if to suggest only the non-famous dead can communicate, assuming such communication exists at all. Of course, if no one famous ever communicated, those same skeptics would ask why only unknown people communicate. If spirit communication is possible, why wouldn’t we expect to hear from some famous people? Of course, there are indications that devious, low-level spirits sometimes attempt to impersonate famous ‘dead’ people and that is why the New Testament tells us to ‘test the spirits’ and to ‘discern’ the messages.
In the Confucius case, such an impostor spirit would have had to know or have access to the ancient dialect of Confucius and be very familiar with his poems, familiar enough to recite them and point out errors in the modern translations.
Valiantine must have been a skilled ventriloquist
Skeptics claim that direct-voice mediums are skilled ventriloquists. However, researchers were always on the lookout for this. While Whymant was not a researcher, per se, he was aware of such claims and noted that there was enough light for him to observe Valiantine speaking American English to the person sitting next to him at the same time voices were coming through the trumpet. Moreover, it’s one thing to ‘throw’ a voice, quite another for the voice to provide evidential information in 14 different languages, including ancient dialects.
Darkness provided a perfect opportunity to cheat
Skeptics have no problem understanding that darkness is required in developing photographs, but refuse to accept the fact that light affects the ectoplasm produced by the medium and can result in injury or even death to the medium, who must reabsorb the ectoplasm. Skeptics won’t even accept the existence of ectoplasm, which has been seen, handled, and tested by a number of esteemed scientists, including a Nobel Prize winner in medicine. In the direct-voice the ectoplasm is required for the spirits to build the artificial larynx.
In a 1924 sitting with Valiantine, Joseph DeWycoff, one of the sitters, reported seeing a floating trumpet, hearing Valiantine groan in distress, after which the trumpet fell to the floor. He was about to turn on the light when Bert Everett, one of Valiantine’s spirit controls, told him not to turn it on. Nevertheless, there was enough light for DeWycoff to observe Valiantine enveloped in a whitish sort of film. Another sitter, Carodac Evans, touched it and said that it felt a slimy, frothy bladder, which his finger could not penetrate. Valiantine was able to reabsorb the ectoplasm, but remained weak and in bed the following day. DeWycoff reported that there was a large black bruise on Valiantine’s stomach, apparently caused by the shock of the returning ectoplasm.
Perhaps the skeptics think the darkness allowed Valiantine to smuggle a gramophone into the Cannon’s home, then turn it on and play various voices in different languages, but this would not account for the give-and-take dialogue that took place, as well as ‘Confucius’ responding to questions put to him by Whymant.
Whymant made up the whole story so he could sell some books
If we can believe Whymant, he didn’t even want to write the book, but tired of telling the story over and over again and was persuaded by friends to write it. And, if Whymant made it up, he must have had Judge and Mrs Cannon, along with Valiantine, to share in the meager profits.
Whymant must have been hypnotized or hallucinating
If you can believe this theory, you’re probably the type of person who thinks the Holocaust didn’t take place.
Whymant didn’t really hear the voices as well as he suggests in the book
This is a theory that was advanced by the SPR and accepted today by some modern parapsychologists. It seems to be based on a sitting Valiantine had with the SPR in 1927. That sitting produced ‘whispers,’ some of which sounded like Chinese to the researchers but were very 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 suggests that Whymant was a complete idiot. It also suggests that Valiantine learned enough of 13 other languages, including Sanskrit, 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.
Whymant gives no indication in his book of not being able to understand the voices, other than having difficulty understanding the ancient Chinese dialect. He stated that some of the voices were so strong that he could feel the vibrations off the floor. He further describes the ‘Confucius’ voice as ‘tremulous,’ which is consistent with the theory that advanced spirits, as Confucius must be, have a more difficult time communicating as they must lower their vibrations much more than lower-level spirits whose vibrations are closer to the earth plane.
What many people don’t understand is that a sympathetic link and harmony are usually necessary for good communication to take place. SPR researchers were sometimes intent on debunking a person and the hostility they displayed toward Valiantine resulted in poor phenomena. This hostility seems to have resulted from conflicts the SPR had with H Dennis Bradley, one of Valiantine’s biggest supporters. Bradley was an SPR member himself, but at some point in time took issue with the SPR over the need for strict controls on Valiantine, i.e., tying him up and gagging him, etc. Bradley’s feeling was that the darkness had no bearing on the mental phenomena, i.e., the evidential information and that constantly making Valiantine uncomfortable would discourage him from continuing with his mediumship.
As a result, the SPR called his research unscientific and this seems to have created a bias against Valiantine. Much of the SPR report on Valiantine focuses on lack of strict controls in the physical phenomena, offering different ways he might have cheated, while admitting much in the way of evidential information that came through the trumpet, information which could not have been researched beforehand.
Valiantine was caught cheating in 1931; therefore, he was clearly a fraud
The most damaging evidence that the skeptic can offer is that sometime in 1931 Valiantine was accused of cheating. It had nothing to do with voices. Rather, the case involved an attempt to fingerprint a communicating spirit claiming to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had died the prior year. Apparently, an attempt was going to be made to compare the print with an actual thumb print left by Doyle. A print was somehow obtained, but it turned out to be Valiantine’s big toe. Bradley, Valiantine’s biggest supporter, was present and wrote about the incident. Valiantine claimed he had no idea how his toe was imprinted in the plaster cast.
Certainly, Valiantine could not have been so stupid as to think his toe print would match up with a thumb print left by Conan Doyle or with anyone’s thumb. The only conclusion one can come to here is that some devious, low-level spirits were playing games with the researchers.
Telepathy or Super PSI might explain the voices
A popular theory among some parapsychologists is that the medium is reading the mind of the sitters and feeding information back to them. Since some of the information coming through to Whymant was unknown to him, this theory fails. The Super PSI theory suggests that there is some ‘computer in the cosmos’ which the medium can access. This is the ‘God without an afterlife theory,’ God being the computer. However, it is one thing to access some bit of information in the cosmos, quite another to have the computer dialogue with the person. The Super PSI theory is clearly more fantastic than the survival hypothesis.
The bottom line
There is absolutely no reason to believe that Whymant was not a credible reporter of facts. He was a distinguished scholar who had little to gain and much to lose by making up such a story. The phenomena he reported goes far beyond any known tricks employed by charlatans and similar phenomena were observed by many other people over a period of years. Applying Occam’s Razor, I contend that the spirit hypothesis offers us the best explanation of what Whymant reported.