Cases of "Impossible" Writing or "Impossible" Speech

In the literature of the paranormal, we sometimes find cases in which we are told that someone wrote what it should have been impossible for that person to write, or when we are told that some speech occurred that seemed beyond any natural explanation. An example of the first thing can be found on page 484 of Volume II of the book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by Frederic Myers.  Hugh Junor Browne and Elizabeth Browne stated the following: 

"When our daughter Nelly was nearly five years old, she had not learned a single letter of her alphabet. She had certainly received no instruction whatever. One day her elder sister was writing automatically. To please the child, we put a pencil in her hand. Presently we observed that she had written some words, and on looking we saw that the words were, 'I am a mesmeric medium.' "  

On the next page A. E. Hempstead states the following about a young Etta who had never been taught any letter of the alphabet, and who was brought to school for the first time:

"The first morning of her attendance a slate and pencil were given her to keep her quiet ; she scribbled awhile, when it was noticed that she had written very distinctly the name Emma. As it was known that the child had never been inside of a school before, and that she knew no single letter of the alphabet, it was a great surprise. The slate belonged to some of the pupils, hence was not preserved by the young ladies. I regretted the loss of such a rare test of spirit control, and urged them, should such a thing ever occur again, to preserve it. The child attended the day following, and instead of slate a leaf from a tablet and lead pencil were given her. After she had amused herself awhile she returned the paper, and it was seen that a number of attempts to write the name Emma had been made. As she handed in the paper she said, 'Nozer,' and another sheet was given, with an improvement; the third was, given, when upon either side was written with bold running hand, 'your aunt Emma,' quite as large and perfect as the above." 

A Laura Hempstead testified to the same thing, and a statement from the mother testified that the child had not been taught the alphabet when this occurred. 

The author Robert Dale Owen (who was once a US congressman) wrote the long fascinating work Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, a work on the paranormal which you can read here on archive.org.  I recently discovered another long fascinating work by Owen, a book that has the rather poor title The Debatable Land Between This World and the Next, with Illustrative Narrations.  The book gives us some fascinating accounts of "impossible writing." 

On page 434 Owen tells of a beautiful young Violet he knew, a woman who died 40 years previously.   On page 445 he discusses how (in the presence of a Mr. Foster and a Miss P.) he saw the name of this departed friend mysteriously written on a piece of paper.  He then tells us this about Mr. Foster:

"His arm seemed slightly convulsed, as by a feeble electric shock ; and he said : 'The name is on my arm ;' whereupon he bared his left arm to the elbow, and I read thereon distinctly the name Violet. I did not, however, pronounce it, but left him to spell it out, letter by letter. The letters looked as if they had been traced by a painter's brush, with pink color...Miss P had never heard Violet's name ; nor, as I have already stated, had Mr. Foster."

On page 56 of the very interesting book On the Edge of the Etheric by James Arthur Findlay, we have some descriptions of apparently paranormal speech at a seance of what is called a direct voice medium: 

"On the first occasion I experienced these voices 
I was decidedly suspicious, and yet as the seance 
went on I wondered how it would be possible for any 
man, even if he had accomplices, to carry on such an 
imposture for over three hours. Thirty separate 
voices spoke that night, of different tone and accent, 
they gave their names, their correct earth addresses 
and spoke to the right people, were recognised, and 
referred to intimate family affairs. Never once was 
a mistake made and the darkness really increased the 
evidence in favour of the genuineness of the whole 
proceedings, as, difficult as it would be to remember 
everyone’s departed friends and relations and their 
family affairs in the light, it would be doubly so in 
the dark, because fifteen people were present and the 
medium would have to remember exactly where each 
one was sitting. The voice on every occasion spoke 
in front of the person who recognised the name, the 
earth address and the details which were given. 
It was all very mystifying, and the fact that 
sometimes two or three voices spoke at once did not make it less so."

On page 57 the same author tells of a seemingly paranormal voice speaking at a seance:

"So ran my thoughts that memorable night of 
the 20th September 1918, when suddenly a voice 
spoke in front of me. I felt scared. A man sitting 
next to me said 'Someone wants to speak to you, 
friend,' so I said 'Yes, who are you?' 'Your 
father, Robert Downie Findlay,' the voice replied, 
and then went on to refer to something that only he 
and I and one other ever knew on earth, and that 
other, like my father, was some years dead. I was 
therefore the only living person with any knowledge 
of what the voice was referring to. That was extra¬ 
ordinary enough, but my surprise was heightened 
when, after my father had finished, another voice 
gave the name of the other person who on earth knew 
about the subject, and this voice continued the con¬ 
versation which my father had begun. No spy 
system, however thorough, no impersonation by the 
medium or by any accomplices, could be responsible 
for this, and moreover I was an entire stranger to 
everyone present. I did not give my name when I 
entered the room, I knew no one in that room, and no one knew me or anything about me." 

On page 64 Findlay gives this impressive summary of experiences with mysterious arises arising in seances:

"Eighty-three separate voices have spoken to me. or 
to personal friends I have brought with me ; two 
hundred and eighty-two separate communications 
have been given to me or to them ; one hundred and 
eighty of these I class  'Al,' as it was impossible 
for the medium or any other person present to have 
known about them ; one hundred I class as ' A2,' 
as by means of the newspaper or reference books the medium could have found them out."

In the chapter beginning on page 92 Findlay gives three examples of such "A1" communications, the first one involving Findlay's soldier brother speaking to a mysterious voice claiming to be a dead soldier, one who seemed to know quite a few details known only to Findlay's brother and his fellow soldiers.  

In his book The Voices (which can be read here) the writer William Usborne Moore (formerly a Vice-Admiral) discusses his experiences with the medium Etta Wriedt.  The excellent scholarly work Psychics, Sensitives and Somnambules by Rodger I. Anderson says this on page 186 about Wriedt:

"Wriedt's voices regularly carried on intelligent conversations in Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Serbian, and Spanish....Wriedt's communicators were often very successful in identifying themselves to the sitters, providing correct names and personal histories, referrring to facts and circumstances that were unknown to the sitter at the time but subsequently verified as correct....Wriedt was investigated scores of times by multiple researchers, all finding in her favor." 

Moore's long 400-page book (published in 1913) gives very many accounts corroborating such claims. He describes seances  occurring mainly in 1912, in a room without any audio equipment, at a time when all voice transmission technology was bulky and primitive. The loudspeaker was not really invented until four years later, judging from this quote:  "When Bell Labs introduced the first electronic vacuum tube amplifier in 1916, the true loudspeaker became possible." (Another source dates 1915 as the date when the first "practical dynamic audio speakers" were invented.)

 For example, on page 6 we read this about a mysterious voice speaking at a seance:

"Then, to my own and my Croatian friend's astonishment, a loud voice began to talk to him in the Croatian 
language. It was an old friend, a physician by pro- 
fession, who died suddenly from heart disease. My 
friend Hinkovitch could not identify who that might 
have been, but they continued for some time the con- 
versation in their native tongue, of which, naturally, 
I heard and understood every word. Mrs. Wriedt, for 
the first time in her life, heard how the Croatian 
language sounds." 

On page 51 Moore quotes a friend of his (Colonel E. R. Johnson) describing his experiences hearing mysterious voices at a seance:

"This was the first voice heard at the daylight seance. All the others were identified with certainty. They consisted of seven relatives, some of whom spoke only once, others on three or four occasions. Several times the individual conversations must have lasted from twenty minutes to half an hour, and related to incidents and events which could not have been 
known to the medium, and in some cases to anybody 
now living except myself. References were made to 
objects that have disappeared for twenty or thirty years, 
which were accurately described, and, on the other 
hand, to conversations and events which took place 
between the seances. Besides relatives, I was spoken to by seven personal friends and acquaintances, and three of these asked me to carry messages to living people. In one case an incident was referred to which was entirely unknown to me, but which I afterwards ascertained to be quite correct."

To give another of countless examples in Moore's long book, on page 190 we read this account by Mr. Munro in 1912 hearing a mysterious "spirit voice" at a seance of Etta Wriedt:

"The first spirit to speak was my cousin's late husband, Joe Crowther ; and I must confess that I felt a little disappointed, for in no way could I recognise the voice, or any other particular char- 
acteristic. It was not long ere the voice approached, and 
held conversation with myself, which, of course, was what 
I desired. After the usual preliminaries, I asked this 
spirit if he remembered the last conversation he and I 
had had together ; to which he answered : ' Yes, per- 
fectly.' Q.: 'If you remember that, can you tell me 
what it was about ? ' A. : ' Do you mean to say you do 
not remember?' Q.: 'I remember perfectly; but it 
would convince me much more that this was indeed you, 
Joe, if you could detail it to me.' A.: ' Well, do you 
remember I was showing you some photographic mining 
prints I had. taken, and explained the various strata ? ' 
(This was exactly what took place.) Q.: 'Yes, that 
is quite correct. And now, can you tell me where we 
had that conversation, and if anyone else was present 
besides ourselves?' A.: ' It took place in this house.' 
Q.: ' Yes, but in which room?' A.: 'In the library, 
and there was no other person present.' I may say that 
nobody, to my knowledge, ever knew of that conversation besides Joe Crowther and myself."

Could this have been mind-reading and some kind of ventriloquism by Mrs. Wriedt? Apparently not, for Mr. Munro states the following on page 191:

"At the same time my friend Joe continued to speak to me quite clearly, without the trumpet. I distinctly heard his voice, the voice of the trumpet, and Mrs. Wriedt's voice (endeavouring to explain some message which the recipient could not quite grasp) ; that is to say, three distinct voices speaking at once."

On pages 239-240 a witness gives this account of mysterious voices at seances of Mrs. Wriedt:

"One evening a lady was present who is a professional 
musician, and, as there was some delay, she consented, 
after considerable pressing, to sing. Hardly had she 
began the 'Jewel Song' from Faust when a strong 
tenor voice came from the trumpet and sung the song 
with her, making a wonderful duet. She afterwards told 
us that it was her husband's voice, and that no one but 
herself knew that he used to sing this song with her." 

On pages 324-325 we have testimony by an Edith K. Harper who attended very many of Etta Wriedt's seances.  She states she heard messages given in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch and Arabic, "with which the medium was quite unacquanted" and "two, three and even four spirit voices speaking simultaneously to different sitters."  She also reports the appearance of luminous "etherealized" forms, as Moore does on quite a few times. 

At the link here you can read an edition of the Annals of Psychical Science (Volume 8, Number 49). The first article is by Professor Charles Richet, and is entitled "My Experiments with Madame X."  Richet discusses experiments in Paris, France with a  woman who would write in Greek. The Greek she wrote was sometimes quotations from ancient Greek literature (for example, some of the Greek consisted of quotations from Plato's Apology).  Such writing was inexplicable, because this woman did not know any Greek. Richet witnessed the woman produce the Greek writing below. 



 Example of the Greek written by Mme. X

Richet states this on page 23:

"In the first place, Mme. X. does not know Greek. Certainly it is impossible to prove absolutely that a person does not know a language. It is easy to prove that one knows a foreign language, but it is radically impossible to prove that one is ignorant of it. However, we can establish the following facts: that Greek is a difficult language to learn, and cannot be acquired offhand: that Mme. X. has never, either in her childhood or later, studied Greek books; that she has no Greek books at her home; that neither her husband, nor her sister, nor her children, nor her friends, nor I have ever seen her studying Greek; and consequently, .even a priori, the improbability that she has studied Greek and knows Greek is very great."

Richet was the winner of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is the author of the classic parapsychology work "Thirty Years of Psychical Research," which you can read online here

The word xenoglossy is used for such an ability to write and speak in a language you never learned. A much more modern case of xenoglossy is described in a publication of the Parapsychological Association (Volume 9, Issue 1).  In the article "A Case of Xenoglossy" on page 18, we read the following:


"We examine the case of a Caucasian 32-year-old female
psychiatric patient (Jacquie) living in San Diego, California, who spontaneously spoke, wrote, and translated complicated
Sanskrit-related languages about spiritual concepts from four different traditions. Eleven hours of video recordings of these phenomena were taken from June 6th – July 31st, 1983. She had no prior knowledge of these ancient languages, concepts, or traditions. Jackie heard 14 Sanskrit messages consisting of from 5 to 8 lines that she immediately wrote down phonetically in English script in various situations, including four while she was in a psychiatric hospital and under watch while heavily medicated. Additional recordings show Jackie in a trance, spontaneously speaking phrases and uttering incomplete messages in Sanskrit-related languages. A review of the patient’s life and an analysis of the complex messages she received provide compelling evidence that she could not have learned this composite of languages secretly nor constructed the text by culling the necessary materials during this pre-internet period. The patient was unable to hold a job because of frequent episodes of severe headache and seizure-like activity thought to be psychogenic in nature; periodic hospitalizations were required to protect her from suicide; and she needed federal assistance for food, money, and medical care. These medical, psychological, economic, and social problems made it further unlikely that she could travel and perform the necessary study of obscure texts to master the topic."