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Was it Confucius communicating from the Afterlife or a Clever Trickster?

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Was It Confucius communicating from the Afterlife or a Clever Trickster?

Posted on 24 May 2021, 8:08

A friend who read Chapter 15 of my most recent book, No One Really Dies, told me that the story about Confucius communicating through the direct-voice mediumship of George Valiantine (below) in 1926 exceeds his boggle threshold. He said he accepts the reality of mediumship and spirit communication, but that one is too much for him to take in. He is highly skeptical. 


The story is told with some detail in my book as well as in my blog of April 22, 2013 in the archives at left and the White Crow book Psychic Adventures in New York. To briefly summarize, however,  Dr. Neville Whymant, (below) a professor of linguistics at Oxford and London Universities, as well as the Universities of Tokyo and Peking, who spoke some 30 languages, reported that he attended 12 séances at the home of Judge and Mrs. William M. Cannon in New York City beginning in October 1926.  He was in the United States to study the languages of Native Americans when invited to the Cannon home. There, through Valiantine’s trumpet mediumship (voices came through the trumpet, not directly from the medium), he communicated with “spirits of the dead” in 14 different languages, including Chinese, Hindi, Persian, Basque, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Yiddish, German and modern Greek.”  One spirit identified himself as K’ung-Fu-Tzu, the actual name by which Confucius was known, and began speaking in an ancient Chinese dialect, but because Whymant was not totally familiar with that dialect, the “voice” switched to a more modern dialect.


Though highly skeptical, Whymant could not imagine a trickster knowing the ancient Chinese dialect or even the more modern dialect with its little twists of the tongue. The ancient dialect was as dead colloquially as Sanskrit or Latin, Whymant explained.  “If this was a hoax, it was a particularly clever one, far beyond the scope of any of the sinologues now living,” he recorded.  Whymant also reported that his wife’s deceased father communicated in his familiar “tone and slight drawl,” reminiscent of the West Country of England.

Whymant tested the “voice,” asking “it” about a poem written by Confucius, providing the first line. The voice responded by reciting all 15 lines of the poem.  The voice also explained a mistake made in modern translations of another poem, stating that the copyists were in error, as the character written as sê should have been i, and the character written as yen was an error for fou. 

I examined the possible skeptic’s arguments with my friend, as follows:

Valiantine was a very clever illusionist:  Sure, and this uneducated mechanic from New York learned 14 languages, including some ancient ones, even speaking them without an American accent of any kind. “Then it burst upon me that I was listening to Chinese of a purity and delicacy not now spoken in any part of China,” Whymant wrote of the ancient dialect he first heard.

Valiantine had a very educated confederate hidden away in the Cannon home: Such a confederate would have had to know and properly pronounce the ancient dialect of Confucius and be very familiar with his poems, familiar enough to recite them at length and point out errors in the modern translations.  According to Whymant, there were only a half-dozen scholars in the world capable of participating in such a hoax. However, it is highly unlikely that those half-dozen knew all 14 languages spoken, so Valiantine would have had to have many accomplices.  And the Cannons would have had to be in on the deception for those accomplices to remain hidden and have some electrical apparatus to get the voices through the trumpet. It should be noted that William M. Cannon is listed as chairman of the New York section of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in its November 1928 issue of its journal.

Whymant made up the whole story so he could sell some books: Whymant received both his Ph.D. and Litt.D. at Oxford.  In addition to his teaching positions, he served as Far East editor of the New International Encyclopedia and was on the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was a foreign correspondent for the London Times, and an adviser to the embassy of the Republic of China in London.  Among his other books were Chinese and Greek Philosophical Parallels (1917), The Psychology of the Chinese Coolie (1920), and China (1923). An internet search indicates he also wrote books in Mongolian, Japanese, and Polynesian languages and that he was only 23-years-old when his 1917 book was published. Clearly, he does not seem to have been a man to be easily duped or to put his reputation on the line by telling a story that he knew most rational people would consider absurd.
If we can believe Whymant, he didn’t even want to write the book, but tired of telling the story over and over again and was persuaded by friends to write it after first reporting on it in the ASPR journal. And, if Whymant made it up, he must have shared the profits with Judge and Mrs. Cannon, along with Valiantine. 

Valiantine must have been a skilled ventriloquist:  Whymant noted that there was enough light for him to observe Valiantine speaking American English to the person sitting next to him at the same time two and three foreign voices were coming through the trumpet.  Moreover, it’s one thing to “throw” a voice, quite another for the voice to provide evidential information in 14 different languages.

Famous people don’t communicate: “Confucius, sure, and Cleopatra and Princess Diana, too,” the “wise” skeptic will say with a smirk, as if to suggest only the non-famous dead can communicate, assuming such communication exists at all.  Of course, if no one famous ever communicated, those same skeptics would ask why only unknown people communicate.  If spirit communication is possible, why wouldn’t we expect to hear from some famous people?  Of course, there are indications that devious, low-level spirits sometimes attempt to impersonate famous “dead” people and that’s why the New Testament tells us to “test the spirits” and to “discern” the messages.

“It does not seem necessary to assume the actual presence of the great Chinese Sage himself,” Sir Oliver Lodge, the renowned physicist who arranged for Valiantine to be tested by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), wrote in the Introduction to Whymant’s book, “but it is possible that some disciple of that period may be exerting himself, as so many others on that side are exerting themselves, to give scholarly proof of survival, and to awaken our dormant minds to possibilities in the universe to which we are for the most part blind and deaf.”

As Lodge and a few other researchers came to understand, superior spirits, such as Confucius, Jesus, Socrates, and Swedenborg must be, have no need to be identified with their teachings; but because humans seem to need an identity in order to fix their ideas, elevated spirits who identify with the teachings of those superior spirits and belong to the same “soul group” may take that famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the teacher, that is important.  In some cases, the communicating spirit would say that it was not one spirit talking but rather several of them offering a group essence based on the teachings of the superior spirit.  This appears to have been the case with Imperator and his group of 49 spirits who communicated through the mediumship of William Stainton Moses.

Telepathy or Super PSI might explain the voices: While telepathy and super psi defy the philosophy of materialism, a popular theory among some parapsychologists is that the medium is reading the mind of the sitters and feeding information back to them.  Since some of the information coming through to Whymant was unknown to him, this theory fails.  The super psi theory suggests that there is some “computer in the cosmos” which the medium can access.  However, it is one thing to access some bit of information in the cosmos, quite another to have the computer dialogue with the person.  The super psi theory is clearly more fantastic than the survival hypothesis.

Whymant didn’t really hear the voices as well as he suggests in the book:  This is a theory advanced by some members of the SPR in London based on a sitting Valiantine had with them in 1927. That sitting produced “whispers,” some of which sounded like Chinese to the SPR researchers but were very unclear.  When the SPR later asked Professor Whymant to listen to the gramophone recording of the voices, he couldn’t make them out, either.  One SPR researcher, in her report, pointed out that there are many “Chinamen” living in America and Valiantine probably learned a little Chinese from them, enough to make Whymant think that he was hearing Chinese with Valiantine, and he subconsciously filled in the blanks.  It suggests that Whymant was a complete idiot.  It also suggests that Valiantine learned enough of 13 other languages, including Sanskrit, to further dupe Whymant and also that he memorized the poems of “Confucius,” or Whymant just imagined he heard the voice recite a lengthy poem and also imagined that “Confucius” explained the mistakes in one of them.

Whymant gives no indication in his journal report or in his book of not being able to understand the voices, other than having difficulty understanding the ancient Chinese dialect. He stated that some of the voices were so strong that he could feel the vibrations off the floor.  He further describes the “Confucius” voice as “tremulous.” 
Valiantine was accused of cheating in 1931; therefore, he was clearly a fraud: The most damaging evidence the skeptic can offer is that sometime in 1931 Valiantine was accused of cheating. It had nothing to do with voices or languages. Rather, the case involved an attempt to fingerprint a communicating spirit claiming to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Apparently, an attempt was going to be made to compare the print with an actual thumb print left by Doyle, who had died the prior year.  A print was somehow obtained, but it turned out to be Valiantine’s big toe. Valiantine claimed he had no idea how his toe was imprinted in the plaster cast. Could Valiantine have been so stupid as to think his toe print would match up with Doyle’s thumb, or anyone’s thumb? The only conclusion one can come to here is that some devious, low-level spirits were playing games with the researchers or someone involved with the tests was intent on framing Valiantine.

The bottom line: It would have been helpful if Whymant had included more detail as to what came through in other languages for other people, but he was not there to take notes or write a book.  He reports taking notes on the Confucius communication, but not on the others. He was too busy interpreting. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Whymant was not a credible reporter of the facts he did report.  His language ability suggests a photographic memory. He was a distinguished scholar who had little to gain and much to lose by making up such a story. The phenomena he reported go far beyond any known tricks employed by charlatans and similar phenomena were observed by many other people sitting with Valiantine over a period of years.  I understand my friend’s skepticism, as the story also exceeds my boggle threshold, but I can’t come up with a debunking theory that makes sense.  Perhaps a reader of this blog can.

Next blog post:  June 7

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

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