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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A Voice Out of Nowhere

     If the 1894 survey of hallucinations is anything to go on, one in ten of you has encountered by sight, sound, touch, or smell something which, on reflection, you realised was not physically present. In other words, a ghost. Since life is not yet over, no doubt even more will have the experience before they expire. In most cases, it will be something they saw. But how many of you have heard a voice from out of nowhere? And if you did, how did you react? I have heard more than one such incident. Here is a good example.
     Thirty years after the event, a Yorkshire vicar, who asked the Society for Psychical Research not to publish his name, related what happened to him in 1858, when he was nineteen years old. At the time he was literally at the ends of the earth: Invergargill, on the far south coast of  New Zealand. For the previous two days he had been staying at the sole hotel, which was virtually the only building of note, when - talk about a small world! - he was hailed by someone he knew. This person was a sailor who had been put in irons temporarily for mutinous language on the voyage over.
     That evening, he went down to the large kitchen-cum-dining room and found his friend chatting with the landlord and several others. Apparently, they had stolen the ship's whale boat and deserted. Now they intended to head off in the morning to the island of Ruapuke, where a missionary was in residence, for one of the party wanted to get married. It is not mentioned where the prospective bride might have been but, in any case, the narrator said he wouldn't mind seeing the mission station himself.
      "Why don't you come with us?" they urged. They had plenty of supplies, even a couple of bottles of champagne for the wedding breakfast. They intended to sleep on the boat for a few days, and spend the time hunting wild boar. However, they would have to leave about 4 in the morning, for the bar was very shallow, and high tide was at 5. "Well, as I shall have to be up before 4, I won't sit up any longer," he told them, for it was already about 11 p.m. They were eager for him to join them, and offered to rouse him in the morning.
    It was dark, but he knew his way around. He crossed a couple of large rooms, and had just climbed four or five steps when a voice said, "Don't go with these men."
    There was no-one there. "Why not?" he asked the invisible presence.
    The voice was low, but emphatic. "You are not to go." It was a stranger's voice, which seemed to speak into his chest rather than his ear.
    "But," he replied, for he was still eager to go, "I have promised to go."
    "You are not to go."
    "How can I help it? They will call me up."
     "You must bolt your door." He was still on the staircase. There was no-one there. He couldn't even remember if there was a bolt on the door. For a moment he thought to disobey, but them a "strange feeling of mysterious peril" came over him. He got to his room, struck a match, lit a candle, and discovered that there was a bolt present after all. Even then he hesitated. He was, after all, only nineteen, and used to doing what he darned well liked. But you don't argue with The Voice. He shot the bolt, went to bed, and a great calm descended on him. About 3 o'clock they called for him. They pounded on the door, shouted, and swore, but he lay as silent as a mouse, and they went away.
     Abut 9 o'clock he went down to breakfast, and was told the news. The boat had capsized at the bar, and everyone aboard had been drowned.
     In an earlier post I described how people, not known for any psychic experience, can suddenly receive vivid premonitions of danger or disaster. Perhaps the same psychic power can manifest itself subconsciously as an external voice.

Reference: Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore (1886), Phantasms of the Living, part I, pp 481 - 2, accessible here.

1 comment:

  1. Malcolm,

    This is totally intersecting Jaynes's Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind at several points. The voice coming from his chest, i.e. the thumos, and demanding it is the voice of reason. Very good read if you haven't taken a moment.