Talking in Tongues

Also called glossolalia, talking in tongues is unintelligible, seemingly meaningless speech, usually uttered while in an altered mental state. In some cases the phenomenon is accompanied by convulsions and/or a loss of consciousness, and in many cases the experient later claims to have no memory of the event. The experience can be triggered in various ways. Most often, however, it is connected with the religious fervor produced during gatherings of certain charismatic Protestant sects. The expectations of the participants in such gatherings seem to affect the phenomenon. For example, if the group expects a person to have convulsions while talking in tongues, then that is usually what will happen.

Charismatic Protestants, and some other ardent Christians as well, believe that the person talking in tongues is possessed by the Holy Spirit, and some say that they can translate the glossolalic’s words as a message from God. Psychologists, however, have noted that these translations always conform to the beliefs of the religious community to which the translator belongs. For this reason, skeptics argue that the translator is making the message up, and they suggest that because the phenomenon seems to be shaped by the experient’s surroundings, talking in tongues is not conveying any message from God. In other words, the experient’s own mind is creating the phenomenon, not some outside force.


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

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