Speaking with Tongues



A Brief Historical Review of Glossolalia

The pagan graeco-roman world had its priests and priestesses and its oracles, relaying their messages from the gods to men “while their consciousness was in complete abeyance,” the messages often characterized by “obscurity and unintelligibility” requiring interpretation. (19). A condition was produced “in which the normal state was left behind and the inspired person perceived what was external to himself and to sense. The soul was supposed to leave the body, hence the word ‘ecstasy’, a being out of one’s self, while united with the deity, and so the deity spoke in and from the person in that condition.” At such times the ecstatic person had no consciousness of his own, while “both in and outside the sanctuaries the people exhibited ecstatic phenomena and littered unknown, unintelligible speech.” (19).


It is significant in this connection that the two places (Jerusalem and Corinth ) (23) where glossolalia occurred, together furnish an incident that preserves for us for all time our original source material for glossolalia. The New Testament Christians in Corinth (I Cor. 1:11), puzzled (among other things ) about the glossolalists in their midst, had writ· ten to Paul, who was in Jerusalem observing Jerusalem glossolalists, conceming their Corinthian problem. Paul’s reply, as sent back to the church in Corinth, is recorded in his First Letter To The Corinthians, Chapter 14, about which we have written in our previous paragraphs of this article.

Glossolalia in the early Christian church is mentioned by Iranaeus and Origen (18). Glossolalia appears in the middle ages with all the mass hysteria phenomena of that era. The Jansenists in France in 1731 exhibited much unintelligible glossolalia. Norway and Sweden had a Christian revival in 1841 to 1843, with young people, and even children from four to twelve years of age, speaking in tongues. (18). In America, in the hysteria associated with the execution of some thirty-two witches, most of them by hanging, in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 to 1693, the children hysterically shouted and sang glossolalically.

Mormonism especially includes the “gift of tongues” among Joseph Smith’s doctrines of the Latter Day Saints (1833). It was especially the ignorant and illiterate who uttered the uncomprehensible jargon of words and phrases as they were “moved by the spirit” (18). The Shakers, (1787), mixing ecstatic dancing, stamping, jumping, turning and shaking with speaking in tongues, worshipped amid “a scene of awful riot and confusion” in our more sedate New England scene. (18). The Irviugitcs, the CampbeUites (1831 to 1879). the Welsh revivalists ( 1904), as well as the Pentecostal Bands, the Apostolic Faith Movement (1910) stressed glossolalia. They affirmed that “the Holy Spirit took posses· sion of their vocal organs and used them as He willed, while their minds were at rest.” (18).

In a Chicago branch of the Apostolic Faith Movement “the meeting began with singing, praying, and testimonies, increasing gradually in loudness and excitement until motor automatisms appeared in the form of jerking of the body, high jumping, loud shouting, and then speaking with tongues.” Sometimes “sensory automatisms appeared in the form of visions and hallucinations of hearing. Some of the congregation fell to the floor unconscious—and this spread through psychic contagion, so that it became common.” (18).

Within the last decade, glossolalia has appeared and has spread into the main line denominations -the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, including also a few in the Baptist and United Presbyterian churches. (23 and 21). Thus far, to my knowledge, glossolalia has not appeared in the pulpit or church life of any of the churches of the Reformed groups (Christian Reformed, Reformed Church in America. Protestant Reformed, etc.). Nevertheless, the possibility exists that a strong church leader, himself choosing such a “fringe group” overemphasis, might sway a part of his congregation with him.

Personally, my own psychological conditioning to ecstatic religion from earliest youth onwards has been such as to produce a negative reaction, and that not due to lack of contact with nor lack of interest. The noisy, hysterical, ecstatic religious services of a group of Holy Rollers in my childhood neighborhood; the ouija board craze in the post-World War I years, (it refused to yield messages for me); attendance at a few night spiritualistic seances in the dark, with trumpet message, ( I “chickened out” when it came to the point of using the flashlight I had brought with me); a “mind reading” session or two; more orthodox contacts with some splendid and devout Christians of a Pentecostalist group during my missionary years in India; my medical and psychiatric training; all these have left me with the conviction that glossolalia especially can be psychologically explained and is not, in general, a “spiritual” phenomenon.


Psychological Considerations Relating to Modern Glossolalia

Courting the risk of beooming burdensome in stressing a point, I wish to reiterate my division of glossolalia illto two categories; 1. Authentic. miraculous, Pentecost-day, ApostlePaul-endorsed glossolalia in which a revelation from God is littered in an authentic, recognizable, verifiable language not previously consciously known to the glossoJaJist speaker; and,

2. later, modern glossolalia, a secular, unintelligible, devoid-of-any-message-type of glossolalia, which for brevity sake I call “modern glossolalia.” I do not deny there have been modern cases in which it is claimed the utterances were in a true foreign language, recognizable by some hearer or hearers (and these cases are few), but in every case studied the “proof” has proven to be either no proof at all. Or highly questionable; or the speaker had been exposed to the language previously; or it was a pathological condition of the brain being stimulated by electrode at operation 01′ by fever or other disease. Even in these pathological cases, the utterances were in the patient’s own language, or definite contact with the foreign language was found upon investigation. In all “modem glossolalia,” the so-called “foreign language” in which the glossolalist is speaking is “foreign” only in the sense that what he says is as foreign to his own consciousness as it is foreign to his audience. Hence, it is useless as human communication. It is of this second type that I write in this psychological evaluation.

There are so many psychological facets to glossolalia and glossolalists that a single pat answer diagnostic of one will not apply to the other. It is not a phenomenon the psychologist or psychiatrist would list as “normal.” Viewed as behavior, as a technique, as religious or social or educational communication, as an individual practice or group interaction toward which one must somehow or other have been motivated (and yet one wonders at the motives that motivate), almost without exception authors writing on modern glossolalia and psychologists studying glossolalists, regard the phenomenon as a neurotic manifestation, another neurosis of our modern age following, in general, a pattern laid down long ago before and during the psychoneurotic hysterical middle ages.

As such, it must be viewed as abnormal psychology, as a regression in our modern church life, rather than an advance. In saying this. I am not affirming that the “Pentecostalist type of churches” and glossolalist preachers are devoid of spiritual fruits, of true converts; there is a type of parishioner attracted by the spectacular, the unusual, the exciting and histrionic, who may come to wonder but who stays to worship; glossolalia is only an appendage of these churches, blown up far beyond its own intrinsic value; without the other true manifestations of a church,—with only incoherent, incomprehensible speaking of tongues,—such churches would wither on the vine. Souls arc saved by preaching of the Word in clearly understandable terms of the Scriptures; the Scriptures did not come to man in gibberish.

The neuroticism of modern glossolalia is indicated by modern writers. Cutten (4) mentions the hysteria; the ecstasy of emotion based on the lack of normal self-control; the personality disintegration, which is temporary, (during speech); the take-over of the speech or word center with the subject under the control, not of his rational higher cortical centers but in the control of and obedient to subconscious function; the automatic behavior; the approach of all these resulting phenomena to actual psychosis with visual and auditory hallucinations; the tremendous power which suggestion by leaders has, and the power the expectation of the audience has, on the glossolalist; the progression from inarticulate sounds and grunts to articulate sounds which simulate words; then, as practice grows, to fabrication of words and coined words and articulate speech using fanned words, and disconnected foreign words of which the speaker himself is not even conscious that he has a memory of the words; all resulting in a production that is unintelligible to both speaker and audience. In fact, the incomprehensibility is an asset, it is maintained; it proves the genuineness, for nothing else would prove that this is really the Holy Spirit who speaks and not a man!

Mackie (18) stresses how often the leaders of glossolalic sects exhibited physical, personality or neurotic disease, unstable nervous system; the speech being imitation or simulation, a torrent of unintelligible words resulting from an inner unrestrainable compulsion; the disturbed sex life, perversions, exhibitionisms, masochisms and sadisms of the early saints founding certain groups; the egomania in claiming special spiritual excellence due to their special relationship to the Holy Spirit. Or was it a pious delusion? If so, delusion itself is an abnormal psychological characteristic.

Drummond (20) also mentions how much harder it is to speak glossolalic nonsense in English than in an “unknown” language or gibberish, for with English words one would be tortured by doubts as to the production being really spiritual or merely carnal. He stresses the facilitation by practice; believes it is a hypnotic passive state, with controls inhibited; that loosening of controls of the speech center, or damage of it, can result in increased speech, uncontrolled. A subconscious which is soaked in religion will relate the confused speech to religion, and that person will feel he is motivated to speak because the indwelling Holy Spirit is laboring to get free and communicate through him to others. True foreign language memory deposits may be thus activated, resulting in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and other productions. Drummond mentions the collective unconscious of Jung; “man has buried in his memory all the past ages.” Maybe it is this that is coming forth, especially in the case of children, he states. Drummond also mentions that glossolalia equates religion with feeling. It “feels so good” to be speaking thus. The speaker takes the shortcut of a reflex action, bringing a dissociation upon himself, by which the words do not go before the rational cerebral cortex for inspection, reflection and judgment as to whether they make sense, but are sent out directly via the efferent nerves as speech. Some people have underdevelopment of these higher rational and volitional centers. Drummond’s views thus also stress the neuroticism of the movement.

Donovan Bess (21) states the drawing power of the glossolalia movement among the present day intellectual types is the unconscious need all people have to solve their personality conflicts, to shed their feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Glossolalia gives such folk “instant salvation” the easy way, like a cup of “instant coffee.”Bess quotes four psychologists:

Ungersma (21) mentions the same deep personality conflicts; one glossolalist, during psychotherapy, revealed his homosexual drives, another his guilt for extramarital transgressions, with glossolalia the tension reliever and easy reassurance agent used by the patient to that time.

Moon (21) also stresses the mentally unhealthful climate of glossolalia; sees it expressing a great deal of sexual energy, hysteria, exhibitionism and latent psychosis. No one thing like homosexuality is the origin; the reasons people hun to glossolalia involve the whole life, with unconscious parts of the personality trying to push through into consciousness. It is a dangerous movement, for, the dissociation, the depersonalization in glossolalia, goes off without being related to the wholeness of the person; glossolalia isolates one part from the rest of the psyche, and this is dangerous.

Judah (21) observes that real power is released in glossolalia. It is the power of suggestion that initiates people into speaking with tongues, religious fringe groups primarily being attracted.

Geddes (21) makes an interesting comparison of the “symptoms” of glossolalia with those induced by “LSD”. LSD, the drug lysergic acid (6), when administered to human experimental subjects, temporarily induces syndromes similar to schizophrenia. So does glossolalia, he maintains, as both cause a deep, profound, soul-shaking experience. Glossolalists have told him it is like getting spiritual maturity for nothing. The religious or psychological experience is an end in itself to them, making the glossolalist feel he has some kind of a direct channel into the Holy Spirit. Both of them have the same look in their eyes, their primitive self or id has been released and he considers this can be dangerous. I myself would add as a Christian psychiatrist, that we have reached an all-time low in religious experience if we must use glossolalia “just for the kicks of it” as some unwise self-experimenters have self-administered certain dangerous pharmaceuticals to produce a pharmacologically induced psychosis lasting a few hours “just for the kicks of it.” We are still talking about the realm of religious experience, aren’t we? Or are we not?


Psychological Motivation Back of Initiating Glossolalia

Why does anyone begin on the glossolalia road? Here are some reasons: Many religious minds yearn for a closer contact with God, for a more intimate contact with the Holy Spirit. Some by accident, some by intention, many by virtue of birth into the peculiar religious family, have become initiated into a glossolalic group. Man is a great imitator. Suggestion is a powerful force. Identification with leaders in a group is psychologically very compelling. Religion with action, be it one that promises voices, visions, miracles, or the reward of becoming a person distinguished by almost supernatural powers of special access to the Holy Spirit by conversation in ecstasy conferred only on some of the flock, is alluring to many a mind. One is a member of an inner circle. One is looked upon with awe. Honor and respect become one’s portion.

Especially to a religions person denied other attainments, low on the totem pole as to education or scholastic attainment, whose opinion is seldom asked in spiritual affairs, it is a distinct triumph for him to learn that he can speak in tongues, his agonizing and prayers arc being rewarded by “the gift.” Thereafter he may be called upon by the church leader himself, whose very education prevents the leader from releasing his inhibitions though he desires the gift in vain. There is the stimulus of the group, the expectation, the highly pleasurable excitement, the exultation as the urge to speak becomes almost intolerable. The urge to make an impression, the zeal to demonstrate one’s spiritual powers, one’s intimacy with the divine, becomes overpowering. Surely this is the Holy Spirit speaking utterances through his lowly. earthly mouth-piece in words which, though unintelligible, are like groanings that cannot be uttered?

The words begin to come. One is at first aware of the sonorous cadence, the almost poetic rush of syllables, the onomatopoeia, the thrill like the first plane-ride and we are lifting off the ground, we are up, we have lost contact with earth and reality. The glossolalist is now in a dissociative phase, unless he’s an absolute fraud or consciously staging an act. Most glossolalics remember nothing of this phase, it is a pathological condition, a neurotic condition in which anxieties are gone, the burdens and cares of this world are banished, one’s psyche is like an interested spectator watching a parade going past down there, while one ecstatically talks to the Holy Spirit in mysteries one neither comprehends nor understands nor remembers later. If pathology can be such bliss, ‘tis folly to be normal, non-glossolalic!

There is a contagion about it all. Ideas and exact words matter little, it is the overpowering emotion that counts. Here one has the “spiritual rewards” without the spiritual toil, without the hard work of daily Christian effort. The narcissistic rewards must be tremendous. There is the boost to one’s ego, the pabulum to feed that natural vanity that has been the portion of each man and woman since Adam’s and Eve’s fall from grace in Eden.

How dare one call this a neurosis? How dare one say the glossolalist is choosing the low road, taking the easy way out, while we less spectacular brands of Christians who plod along in orthodox Christian living, meeting our problems head on, in reality are choosing the high road, and that we only can sing: “We climb the steep ascent of heaven, mid sorrow, toil and pain?”

How is this a neurosis? The answer is in the word glossolalia, which literally means“ tongue·-talking.” In a very real sense the glossolalist is “talking with his tongue”; his words are arising from a level no higher than the roof of his mouth while he is in the dissociated state. Normal man uses his tongue, it is true, in speaking, but he really “talks with his brain,” he uses the highest centers, the cerebral cortex, and it is he only who dignifies words as the tools of conscious communication.

Back of all neurosis is anxiety. “Man is born to anxiety as the sparks fly upward.” The problem of anxiety is the problem of sin. Man meets that anxiety, caused by his sinful nature, by communication, communication with God and with his fellow man. If he side steps communication, he has entered the realm of the abnormal. Thus the glossolalist is not a normal human being in those moments of ecstatic speech.

Neurosis is a partial failure of communication of a human being via his highest centers (the cerebral cortex) (13), with his fellows and with his God. Psychosis is a more complete failure of communication, a side-tracking, an avoidance of the upper centers to a greater extent than neurosis does. One of man’s prime avenues of communication is by use of words. “Words are the tools of the conscious.” (14) Glossolalia expressly avoids human speech, human communication by words, substituting instead a meaningless gibberish of syllables or combinations of syllables. Can one conceive of a greater travesty of communication, a greater avoidance of the God intended pathways? We are endowed with this “standard built-in equipment” by birth. You and I have been meant to be the author and the person responsible for our conscious decisions. Dare I side step this responsibility? Dare I by-pass the higher judgmental centers? Dare I blot out anxiety and all subconsciousness and guilt by the bliss of temporary oblivion, and choose the numbed consciousness or unconsciousness while speaking in tongues? I may feel for a time that r am one especially called, chosen of God, especially gifted, and thus feel reassured that my anxieties caused by sin have been dealt with. In fact, they have not been dealt with. It is an escape mechanism, a refusal to face the higher self or to face God. I will have drawn a psychic curtain between myself and God.

Spurgeon once said: “I looked at Christ and the dove of peace came into my heart. I looked at the dove of peace, and it flew away.” Making glossolalia and the bliss of it an end in itself is a looking away from Christ at the ecstasy, the glow of pseudo-spiritual ego build-up, the amazement that “I can speak in unknown tongues!” At its basis is a narcissistic exercise, a neurotic phenomenon. I will have created a block between my lower mental faculties and my higher rational zones. “Come, let us reason together,” saith the Lord.


A Postscript: A Very Humbling But Honest Confession (25)

It is the morning of my “day off from work,” the day I have reserved for the finalizing of my paper on glossolalia. I had planned to “sleep in” a bit longer today. 1 awakened, as usual, as the first faint streaks of day shone through the window. My thoughts were on glossolalia. Suddenly there flashed into my mind the disturbing thought: “I can be a glossolalist if I but wish to, if I but try!”

It was crystal clear to me exactly how it would begin and how it would extend. It could happen when I was alone, but no doubt was far more likely of starting if I were addressing a large group. It could occur right now!

A sentence in Urdu from my ten years in India was pul. sating, crowding for expression, through my mind: “Ager tu yih kam karta hai, to apne apko dunya par zarur kar!” The words were those which Christ’s brethren had said, tempting Him, goading Him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles: “If you can do these things, then reveal yourself to the world!” How easily this Bow of foreign words, and other words, sensible and senseless, could continue, (it occurred to me lying there), with the large store of all the memorized Urdu and Punjabi embedded in my memory storehouse, lying back there inert right now, but which could begin to press for utterance. Many of the words are almost rolling out, but would most likely issue as meaningless jargon if I did not right now exercise my will to hold them back. The Amharic and the Galla of my six years in Ethiopia would mix with it. The faulty German, the Latin, the Greek, and even the one semester of Hebrew of my college days, all these, too, were there, for I had been a pre-seminary student the greater part of my college career, my mother having fondly thought I would “make a fine minister,” bless her dear dedicated Christian heart! But medicine and the sciences had won out. The Holland words I had heard from my youth onwards, as my parents had come from the Netherlands and I grew amid Dutch theology, a child in a “Dutch church and a Dutch school” in my early days, these, too, would demand utterance. What a reservoir of words, including the English stored there, might pour forth if I but permitted tile sluice gates to open. Yes, and perhaps even a cesspool, also, in addition to a clean reservoir, might spew forth its contents! What a wealth of ingredients to make a real shot-gun prescription of glossolalic confusion!

In my psychiatric training I had taken an intensive week of formal training in hypnosis. A part of that course consisted in permitting one-self to undergo hypnosis by the instructor. I vividly remember that experience this early morning. I have slipped away from my bed and am now writing in tile living room beneath a lamp, lest I disturb my sleeping wife. That brief hypnosis, then, bad been very enlightening. I had been aware that I was there, yet dissociated from myself, I remember. I was in a half dream state then. The words I was uttering in response to questions then were my own and yet not my own in a sense. I was in control, yet not in control. I could break the hypnotic relationship at any moment but I did not desire to do so.

What if suddenly in glossolalic energy I broke forth amid a startled group! It was a heady thought. This is heady stuff, like wine! It is not surprising some who were no doubt tipplers themselves, (for they seemed to know what wine can do in confusing one’s speech), had said at Pentecost: “These men have been drinking.” What was the answer?: “It’s not alcoholic spirits but the Holy Spirit!”? What an amazement there would be in my audience if I broke forth! What an almost reverent-like regard the people would manifest afterwards toward me!

But, ah, there is the uncertainty of what happens next if I begin to allow the words to Bow. What awaits there in that unknown zone of dissociation? I might continue to be aware I had myself induced this state as I rattle on from sonorous phrase to sonorous phrase, becoming enthused in my own unknown utterances, beginning to gesture, perhaps to plead as if in prayer to someone who had not been the author of this all; for, if I now let go into speech I am fully aware that it was a world or unknown motives, unworthy motives, that started me all this glossolalic path! People might come later to tell me my discourse sounded like Greek, like valid language and surely must have been a genuine revelation.

But is this the way one goes “from strength to strength in Zion?”, grows “in grace and in the knowledge of God?” Is this the way I “know how great is my sin and misery, how great is my deliverance through Christ’s shed blood, and how great must be my thankfulness” in life for this salvation? No! This is not the way! The Christian way is one of running and not being weary, walking and not fainting, studying the Word of God, walking humbly before my God. True, there may also be times when I mount up with wings like an eagle. But these will he rare. The goal is attained by the rational use of my faculties, the sober life of adhering to duty! Be still, my soul! For many this gift of tongues may well be a blessed, cherished gift. I cannot say. But to me, now, it seems to be not a great opportunity, but rather a great temptation! It is not my door to a more direct communication with God through the Holy Spirit! For me it may even he the yawning of the abyss, the pit.

“Try the spirits to see if they he of God!” Dare I? Dare I make the first step by beginning to recite audibly: “Agar tu yih hm karta hai —-” No! This is dangerous stuff! Hands off!

I returned to bed. I could not sleep.


(References 1 to 15 are listed in the November 1964 issue)

16. McCandlish Phillips: “And There Appeared To Them Tongues of Fire,” Saturday Evening Post, May 16, 1964, pp. 31–40.

17. Robert L. Dean: Strange Tongues, S.K.&:F. Psychiatric Reporter, May-June, 1964, Number 14, pp. 15–17, Smith Kline &: French Laboratories, Philadelphia Pa.

18. Alexander Mackie: The Gift of Tongues, A Study in Pathologic Aspects of Christianity. George H. Doran Co., 1921.

19. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, by Samuel M. Jackson, Funk and Wagnells Company, 1911, New York. (quoted in a personal communication to the author, as was also # 18 and #20, by Britannica Library Research Service. Several other volumes, esp. #4,6–15 are available through the loan courtesy of the library of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan)

20. Drummond, A.L.: Edward Irving and Circle, Including Some Considerations Of The “Tongues” Movement In The Light Of Modern Psychology. London; J. Clarke and Company, 1937. pp. 260–267.

21. Bess, Donovan; “‘Speaking In Tongues’: The High Church Heresy,” The Nation, Sept. 28, 1963, pp. 173–177.

22. Kooistm, Remkes: “I Would That Ye All Spake With Tongues But…” Torch and Trumpet, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Number 8, October, 1964, pp. 8–10.

23. Farrell, Frank: Outburst Of Tongues: The New Penetration: Christianity Today, Washington, D.C., Vol. VII, Number 24, September 13, 1963.

24. Lapsley, James N., and Simpson, John H., Speaking In Tongues: Infantile Dabble Or Song Of The Sell, Pastoral Psychology, Manhasset, N. Y., May 1964 and September 1964 issues.

25. This item (Section VII of this article on Glossolalia ), is all actual experience written during the ten or fifteen minutes of its occurence, given here almost verbatim as I had then written it in an almost undecipherable, almost illegible rapid scrawl.