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  • Bryan Williams

An Auditory Phantom Experience at Christmas


Although they don't seem to be as common as visual sightings, phantom sounds do tend to make up a fair proportion of the kinds of apparitional experiences that people report having; surveys of reported apparition cases tend to indicate that auditory experiences comprise roughly one-third of the reports [1-2]. Some of the sounds seem to represent percussive noises (such as knocks, bangs, thuds, crashes, footsteps, and objects heard to be shifting or falling over) that have no apparent source, and which tend to be reported in association with haunt experiences. Others may be said to represent human voices, with some seeming to convey subtle information or warnings about a particular person or event that is later found to be accurate. A few examples of the latter type were briefly examined in a blog entry from September of 2018, and the following report - which appeared in the November 1890 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research [3] - represents another example which is somewhat more complex, in that more than just a few words were apparently heard. It was given by Dr. E. W. Symes, the British physician who'd reportedly experienced it on the morning of Christmas Day, which makes it fitting to relate on this particular occasion. As he stated in his account of the experience: It was in the early morning of Christmas Day, about 12:30 a.m., when I heard a ring at my night bell, and speaking down my speaking tube [an early version of an intercom] (which is close to my bed) - my wife heard me conversing - I was told by a gentleman, whose voice I well knew and recognised, that I was to go at once to see his wife, who was in labour, and urgently needed my assistance. I got up, dressed, and went to the house, knocked...several times on the back door, but failing to get an answer, returned home to bed. I went to church the next morning, Christmas Day, at 7 a.m., and shortly after 9, the same gentleman called again and said I was to go at once to his wife. I asked him whether he came in the night and he said, "No, but I nearly did at 12:30 this morning." I said nothing, but went and attended [to] the lady, and then asked for particulars, without [asking] any leading questions. They told me she had been much worse at 12:30 a.m., and had wanted me to be sent for, but that the nurse didn't think it necessary. They also said they heard my knocks on the back door, but being Christmas morning, they thought it was "the waits," and so did not answer. [3, pp. 326 - 327] Dr. Symes' wife later confirmed her husband's account, stating that she did hear him seemingly conversing with someone through the speaking tube, although she couldn't hear any other voice apart from his. Assuming that it had indeed taken place as it was recounted, could this experience possibly have had an ordinary explanation? On the surface, there seemed to some slight hints that it might have: For instance, in his active duty as a physician, Dr. Symes indicated that he would get called upon by his patients during the night, and that this would occasionally lead him to imagine hearing the night bell go off (when it really didn't). However, he stated that in this instance, he also clearly recognized the voice of Mr. S. [the gentleman, whose voice he knew well] and felt certain that he did have a conversation with him - a conversation in which information, later found to be accurate, was apparently conveyed. Knowing that Mr. S.'s wife was pregnant and close to her due date, one might also figure that this knowledge might've made Dr. Symes prone to an expectancy effect with regards to the start of her labor, leading him to logically infer that he would be needed at the S.'s home. However, the close correspondence in time between Dr. Symes' experience and Mrs. S.'s worsening condition may be a bit difficult to account for this way, seeing as how Dr. Symes had apparently received no clear notification (through ordinary sensory means) of the precise moment of Mrs. S.'s distress. One might also figure that Dr. Symes' wife might have simply imagined hearing her husband have a conversation in the night, possibly through a hallucination experienced in the border condition between wakefulness and sleep. However, as British psychical researchers Celia Green and Charles McCreery pointed out when briefly discussing this case: ...when the companion is apparently not sharing in the rest of the subject's experience, there seems to be no particular reason for supposing him [or her, in this case] to be undergoing any sort of hallucination. [1, p. 38] The fact that Mrs. Symes apparently didn't hear the phantom voice heard by her husband seems to also be consistent with a trend noticed by parapsychologist Louisa Rhine [4]: In surveying similar cases where two or more people were present during a phantom sound experience, she found that only one of those people had heard the sound - while the other(s) didn't - in a majority (72%) of the cases. The PRF hopes everyone has a very festive and joyful holiday! ********* References: [1] Green, C., & McCreery, C. (1975). Apparitions. London: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd. [2] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildford, UK: White Crow Books. [3] SPR Literary Committee. (1890). Cases received by the Literary Committee: L 852 - auditory. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 4, 326 - 327. [4] Rhine, L. E. (1963). Auditory psi experience: Hallucinatory or physical? Journal of Parapsychology, 27, 182 - 198.

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