Hearing Voices, Part I

Originally posted December 30, 2009 at Gaia.com

In March 1998, having dealt with my own spirit contacts for a little over five years, I was introduced to the direct-voice mediumship of Leslie Flint, probably the best-known and most studied medium of his kind.  Flint had died only four years earlier, but unfortunately I had never known he existed.  Here, I am going to discuss some generalities about his work; I’ll write about my own connection to it at another time.

Direct-voice mediumship is a challenging concept even for those of us who are familiar with mediumship overall.  If you’re not used to the idea, it sounds completely crazy; once you’ve spent some time with it, it still sounds crazy, but in a more reasonable and understandable way.  With direct voice, the medium never speaks or contributes any physical movements.  It’s necessary for the medium to be present, but the spirit communications are accomplished by voices that appear in the air of the room, seemingly from out of nowhere, not from the medium’s body.  We are told that this is done by means of an “ectoplasmic voice box,” a quasi-physical construction that is able to vibrate in response to a spirit’s thoughts and intentions, producing voices that are audible to normal human hearing and can be recorded like any other sound.  It is apparently an arduous process, and it is not always successful.  Yet, hundreds of recordings of Flint’s sessions exist, and many can be heard at www.leslieflint.com.

We are told that Leslie Flint was tested in varied and ingenious ways over a period of decades, enduring such indignities as being made to hold a measured amount of water in his mouth while the voices spoke.   “I think I can safely say I am the most tested medium this country has ever produced,” he wrote.  “I have been boxed up, tied up, sealed up, gagged, bound and held, and still the voices have come to speak their message of life eternal.”  (On the Flint website there is a photo of the medium bound and gagged for one of these tests.)  To the best of my knowledge, there is no serious possibility that his work was fraudulent, in the sense of the voices themselves being faked.  As far as I know, there really were disembodied voices, not produced by any “normal,” material means, manifesting in his presence.  But there is still an unavoidable question:  Do the voices really belong to the persons they purport to be? There is always a chance, with any mediumistic work, that there might be entities who have ill intentions, or who simply want attention, masquerading as someone else.  Especially when the speakers purport to be famous figures from history, one wonders about this.  It’s easy to imagine a Gandhi or Churchill or Chopin wannabe.

For a number of reasons, the voices may or may not closely resemble those remembered by friends and relatives of the deceased.  In cases of recently deceased communicators, those who knew them reported the voices as recognizably theirs (and more importantly, they found that the information given by the voices was incontrovertible evidence of their identity).  In some cases, it is possible to check the recordings from the Flint archives against recordings made during the person’s life, and I’ve been able to do this a little bit with the aid of the Internet.  I was able to compare Gandhi-in-life to Flint-Gandhi, and there is similarity in the pacing and articulation, but it’s hard to say anything definite about a resemblance.  I also found a set of analogous clips of Ellen Terry, a British actress from the early 20th century, and I have to say they are convincingly similar to the Ellen Terry of the Flint recordings.  In fact, I find Dame Ellen’s voice in some ways the most convincing of any of the communicators I’ve heard.

With communicators who died before the advent of recording, sometimes it is possible to compare their speech with writings they left or to find clues about the authenticity of their messages through other historical information.  In the case of spirits purported to have lived centuries or even millennia ago, it can be difficult to say anything about their veracity.  One can only evaluate whether the messages themselves appear worthwhile.

One of the most prominent communicators was the one identified as Rudolph Valentino, who had a special connection with Leslie Flint and was crucial to the beginning of his work.  His voice presents some special issues.  Valentino, who still has legions of fans who would love to hear what he sounded like, never had his speaking voice recorded.  There are a couple of recorded songs sung by him, strangely enough, but those don’t help us understand what his speech was like.  The direct-voice sound we hear is beautiful, resonant, and cultured, a most impressive personage– but it doesn’t make one think of a native of Italy.  Yet, I’ve read that in life Valentino, speaking English, actually did not sound particularly Italian, and that one might even think he was French.  I cannot analyze the Valentino entity any further at this point, except to say that the content of his messages seems worth hearing.

My impression is that some groups of voices sound alike, perhaps suspiciously alike.  Valentino, Gandhi, and Chopin, for example, have certain similarities of tone and word choice, though a listener could not possibly mistake one of them for another, and while I’m a little uncomfortable about this, I don’t honestly think it is a matter of one entity faking a number of voices.   This brings up questions about how direct-voice medium ship is actually accomplished, what the nuts and bolts of the process are.  When I attempted to research this intuitively (being unable to find out any objective facts), I was given the idea that it’s all a group process.  In order to bring one voice through, a whole team of entities is needed on both sides of the veil.  Because more than one person is cooperating to produce the voice, there is a degree of overlap between them.   Much later, I heard the voice of Valentino, speaking on July 1, 1967, say that we should not think of him as just one person, that though he is an individual, there is a group doing the work on his side.

And then there are the influences of the mind of the medium himself, a subject I will take up at another time.

Some of the voices, I’m afraid, sound laughably fake.  The “Chinese man,” supposedly an ancient sage, perhaps even Lao Tzu, begins in one session with an accent that is almost French, and a cheesy fake French at that, before settling into an equally unconvincing old-movie Chinese effect.  When I first heard this voice, I almost switched off the recording in disgust, it struck me as so insultingly silly.  Yet, the content of the message was far better than the presentation would suggest.

At first I was put off almost as much by the voice of “Mickey,” who is supposed to be the spirit of a newsboy who died in an accident at the age of 11.  (For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, direct-voice mediums have typically been aided by such child spirits.)  Mickey’s voice seems high and piping, too babyish in tone, nothing like most actual boys I’ve met– an almost cartoonish quality.  Mickey’s personality, though, is another matter, charming, wise, and surprisingly profound.  Flint’s sitters speak to him with obvious affection, and I can see why.

What should a little boy who is not really a little boy anymore sound like?  What should a Chinese sage from thousands of years ago, long before the development of 20th-century English, sound like in that language?  Victor Zammit, who writes and researches on after-death communication, lays out the problem this way at his website, www.victorzammit.com:  “Imagine how difficult it would be for you to remember what your voice sounded like when you were five years old.  And then imagine having to project that memory with such intensity that it is picked by mental telepathy and reproduced by a medium.  This is the task faced by many communicators who have been in the afterlife for some time, in a world where communication is done by thought transfer.  ‘Ellen Terry’ speaking through the direct voice medium Leslie Flint in 1965 said:  ‘When on Earth you have your own particular body , and your own vocal organs…  We are having to do all these things artificially.  We stand in front of the “voice box.”  We concentrate our whole personality as best we can, and our thoughts.’”
Zammit also gives us this quote from ‘Bishop Cosmo Lang,’ responding to a question about his voice in a 1960 Flint séance: “I doubt very much if anyone coming from this side can identically reproduce their voice.  After all, what is a voice?  A reproduction of thought by sound waves.  Do not forget, my friends, that we who are outside your world, no longer having the same physical body, no longer able to speak to you in a normal sense as you understand it, transmitting thought as we do by the power of an instrument or medium, can hardly be expected to reproduce identically, or even remember what the sound of our voice would have been like.…  In any case my voice, like many other voices, no doubt changed from age to age.  My voice in my latter years was not like my voice when I was twenty. And the change of word here and there is of little import.  I speak to you as I am– remember this.  Not as I was.  Remember that I have changed– thank God I have.”


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