“Tongues” in other religions (or not)

"Speaking in tongues" is not only a Christian  phenomenon.  Regardless of whether or not the "gift" is for today, one still cannot point at speaking in tongues as "proof" that they are baptized in the Holy Spirit.


History of the Church 1:295-297, November 1832: "About the 8th of November I received a visit from Elders Joseph Young, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball of Mendon, Monroe county, New York. They spent four or five days at Kirtland, during which we had many interesting moments. At one of our interviews, Brother Brigham Young and John P. Greene spoke in tongues, which was the first time I had heard this gift among the brethren; others also spoke, and I [Joseph Smith] received the gift myself."

While Mormons share our Scriptures (while translating and interpreting them differently) and are (in their own sense) followers of Christ (although not a Christ who is in full equality and deity with the Father), are not "saved", in the way we are.

The Oracle at Delphi needed interpreters to pass along her "wisdom".  There is speculation as to whether or not the wisdom was "tongues" or "riddles" that needed interpreting.  There does also seem to be some indication that the trance of the Oracle was due to some intoxicating substances that seeped out of the lower regions of the cave that she prophesied from.

This is not a wonderful example, but it does indicate that "ecstatic speech" was an indicator of the prophetic in religions other than Christianity - and before Christ walked on earth.


in 1956 Carlyle May wrote an article in "American Anthropologist", "A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in Non-Christian Religion."  I cannot get to the entire article, but the first page is here.

"Ecstatic vocalization in the form of incoherent sounds and foreign words has long been on interest to students of religion.  (...)This paper will show that glossolalia and similar speech-phenomena occur in various forms during shamanistic rites of the New and especially of the Old World. (...)

Herodotus (Lombard 1910:90) speaks of an inspired priest in Greece who suddenly spoke in a barbarian language, and Virgil in the Aeneid (1953: vi. 44-49, 97-99) tells of a Cumaean sibyl who spoke strangely while possessed.  The Old Testament (Lombard 1910:89) alludes to a form of ecstatic behavior similar to glossolalia.   Guillaume (1938:144-45) states that in 853 B.C. four hundren prophets raved in ecstasy before the gate of Samaria, and in ancient Egypt (Erman 1894:352-55) necromancers uttered formulas, believed to be revelations from the gods, made up of foreign words and senseless noises.  The more mysterious and incomprehensible these formulas were, the greater their power was thought to be.


What about xenoglossia?

  • Swarnlatta Mishra:[1] A girl in India who lived entirely among Hindi-speaking people but was able to sing songs in Bengali, as identified by Professor P. Pal of Itachuna College in West Bengal, who studied the case after Professor Stevenson and transcribed some of the songs.
  • Uttara Huddar:[2] Uttara was a woman in India who normally spoke Marathi but, after participating in a meditation during a hospitalization, began speaking in Bengali, much to the bewilderment of her parents.
  • Two hypnotic regression cases: Professor Stevenson is quite skeptical of most hypnotic regression work but he did have two cases that included responsive xenoglossy; that is, hypnotic subjects who could converse with people speaking the foreign language, instead of merely being able to recite foreign words. One is that of Jensen[3], an American woman who, while under hypnosis conducted by her physician husband, described being a Swedish peasant farmer and was able to converse in Swedish. The other is Gretchen[4], an American woman who was hypnotized by her Methodist minister husband and began spontaneously speaking in German. She described the life of a teenaged girl in Germany, and Professor Stevenson, who is able to speak German, was able to converse with her. (from wiki...hopefully the links to the citations are there, the link to the page is here.


It seems clear that (whatever "tongues" is) and whether or not "tongues" is for today, that the phonomena is not limited to Christianity, or even to religion.

In "testing the spirits", we need to look at all the evidence and not blindly follow.  It may very well be real (in some cases and in some cases not), but we need to look realistically.

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6 thoughts on ““Tongues” in other religions (or not)

  1. Yep, I agree. I think there have always been false (as opposed to fake) miracles. (I'm thinking of the slave girl in the book of Acts who prophesied, but her power came from being possessed by a demon and not from God.)

    I wonder though, perhaps those who believe that tongues is an evidence of salvation (or just baptism in the Spirit?) would say that it also must be accompanied by other evidences and would not be a stand alone proof.

  2. Fr. Boadt began a series on the exilic prophets by observing that prophecy is a phenomenon of religion, not just of Judaism and Christianity. Gods are always talkative. No peoples honor gods who don't communicate.

    He also said that the oracle's utterances were probably brought on by inhaling the smoke of burning narcotic leaves. A lot like the Wizard of Oz, if you ask me.

    I happened to read Eph. 5:18-19 a couple of days ago and thought about this thread of yours and the oracle. It seemed to me that perhaps some Christians tried to produce those ecstatic results in themselves through artificial means, i.e., drinking too much wine. There's a cross-reference back to Acts 2:4; they are there accused of being drunk (2:13); both verses affirm that the Spirit is the source and impetus.

    I'm not addressing the issue of whether or not tongues are for today ... I'm just contributing a couple of possible verses, Eph. 5:18-19, to the discussion.

    Monroe County, NY ... ahh, yes, I remember it fondly! 🙂

  3. Hi...(I saw your little girl photos...she's a "keeper", huh)

    I have read convincing argument both for and against tongues being for today. Some of the "against" ones were very upsetting to me...it seems that the writer was attempting to "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

    I will most likely get around to looking at that - along with prophecy (and I do believe that I have had my brushes with the prophetic...yesterday for one.

  4. Thank you, Ellen. Snap enough pictures, we were bound to get a good one.

    I am curious about your brushes with the prophetic ...

    “humanist” didn’t carry the negative meaning that it does now.

    I think our present-day moral/ethical decay is related to that negative view of the humanities. Even though value is placed on reading literature and learning history, we disagree about which books and whose history.

    I envy the gifts and abilities of "Renaissance men" ... and women.

  5. I have always wondered why the Holy Spirit always seems to manifest Himself in the speaking of "tongues", but not the interpreting of tongues.

    One seems easy to fake and the other doesn't.

  6. One seems easy to fake and the other doesn’t.

    As Ellen said on another thread, there are dire consequences for getting it WRONG, is all.

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