Tag Archives: Glossolalia


"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.


I still don't have the capability to post youtube videos on the blog...but PLEASE go watch this.

Lisa Gerrard is best known for her deep, haunting contralto voice. She has received a Golden Globe award and an Acadamy Award nomination for the score for the film "Gladiator" (which she collaborated on).

Gerrard has achieved her greatest fame by never saying a word. Rather, she sings in tongues, a habit formed and nurtured in the early days of Dead Can Dance, continuing through to her present-day solo and soundtrack work. It’s a technique that allows her voice to join the chorus of synths, organs, strings, and (why not) dulcimer, basically, any instrument that can play a note for a very long time, without the words that could potentially distract from that chorus (...)

While these tracks are pretty, however, Gerrard shows in other places that she can lend this technique a lyrical quality that just about doubles the intensity of whatever song it appears on. “Swans” is a solo standout, on which Dimitry Kyryakou provides an incredible, almost dance-like bouzouki backdrop that sets the song far apart from the Dead Can Dance material and the soundtrack contributions. Gerrard reciprocates with a vocal line that sounds like a narrative except for the fact that there are no words. Even without the words, however, we can hear her story slowly increase in intensity, lull, climax, and slowly fade, mindful of the repercussions of the events that precede that fade. It’s an all-encompassing sort of story arc, allowing us the opportunity to provide our own words to the music

There is some indication that Gerrard claims Christianity...but what is important about this story is that

1)  singing in tongues is a habit

2) it is formed

3) it is nurtured

4) in Gerrard's case it has nothing to do with the religious experience.


Side note:  Spell check knew "glossolalia", but not "xenoglossy".

Both  can be referred to as "speaking in tongues", but they are different and (as one website put it) should be distinguished from each other as often as possible.


Glossolalia. From (from Greek γλωσσολαλιά and that from γλῶσσα - glossa "tongue, language" and λαλεῖν (lalein) "to talk") - this is copied and pasted so if it's not exactly correct, hopefully it's good enough for a lay person.
Trying to find an "official" definition that clearly defines glossolalia as different than xenoglossy and isn't biased in terms of Continuationist vs. Cessationist has turned out to be an interesting side trip.  It was easier to get the definition from a secular dictionary.

The ability or phenomenon to utter words or sounds of a language unknown to the speaker, especially as an expression of religious ecstasy. Also called glossolalia, speaking in tongues.

The important key words are "words or sounds".

A less generous defintion (both from answers.com):

Fabricated and nonmeaningful speech, especially such speech associated with a trance state or certain schizophrenic syndromes.

Xenoglossy.  (from Greek ξενογλωσσία - xenoglossia, from ξένος - xenos, "foreign" + γλώσσα - glossa, "tongue, language").

This was an easier defintion (from worldwidewords.com):

The ability to speak a language without having learned it.

The important key word:  language.


  • both glossolalia and xenoglossy use "sounds" or "words" that do not belong to a language that the speaker knows.
  • Both can be associated with religious activity.

and contrast:

  • glossolalia belongs to no known language.  Pentecostals call this "tongues of angels" and it may be referred to as a "private prayer language" that nobody (except presumably God) can understand.
  • xenoglossy can be identified as a real language and can be understood by a person who speaks that language.  In some cases it is claimed that a 2-way conversation has taken place between a native speaker and the "tongues-speaker" who has never been exposed to that language.

In short:  real language vs. not real language.

Other handy definitions:

  • Cessationism:  the view that the charismatic (or prophetic) gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing, were only given to the new church for a period of time and ceased either at the end of the apostolic era or shortly after.
  • Charismatic: the general term used to describe Christians who believe that these same gifts are available to Christians today (see "Continuationism").  Closely related to Continuationism, and I'm not sure of the difference, other than continuationism is the belief and charismatic is the movement.  Also see "Pentecostal" - although, you can be charismatic without being Pentecostal.    Mark Driscoll refers to his church as being "charismatic with a seatbelt", which I think is a way of saying, "we're charismatic but not Pentecostal."
  • Continuationism: the view that these same gifts continue to this present age and are available for all Christians alive today.
  • Pentecostal: the belief that a "born again" Christian can (and should) receive a subsequent experience of a "baptism of the Holy Spirit", the initial evidence of which is speaking in tongues as the Sprit gives utterance.  Some Pentecostals believe and teach that a person who has not spoken in tongues (received the baptism of the Holy Spirit) is not saved.  All Pentecostals believe that the "gift" of tongues is THE gift that proves the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).  The other gifts were given later and a believer does not have tongues or another gift...it is always tongues plus the rest of the gifts listed later.

Here's the problem:  Christians are not the only group of people who experience glossolalia and xenoglossy.