Phoenix, William

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Phoenix, William

A direct voice medium of Glasgow, Scotland, who attempted feats of xenoglossia. Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, never known as a qualified observer of mediumistic phenomena, had a number of sittings with him and thought highly of his powers. However, Phoenix was later demonstrated to have been a clever fraud.

Lord Charles Hope of the Society for Psychical Research invited Neville Whymant, a professor of oriental literature and philosophy, to join him for a sitting with Phoenix in Glasgow and later in London. In the first Glasgow sitting, the voice of an Indian attempted to speak in a variety of Persian. In the second sitting a conversation of real import was being worked up in Italian but the control's power failed too soon. Modern Greek was also heard. The Persian voice reappeared and was a little more explicit than on the previous occasion. Finally, a Chinese voice, that of a scribe or commentator apparently, also spoke and something was said in Japanese. Hope said of the Glasgow sittings, "Although the Glasgow sittings had not resulted in any communication of the order of importance of Dr. Whymant's experience in New York they had apparently established a strong case for the speaking of languages unknown to the medium."

Thereupon Phoenix was invited to London. In September and October 1927, he gave six sittings. In the first, Chinese and Japanese voices spoke to Gonoské Komai. But Whymant observed,

"I cannot truthfully say that I gathered anything at all from this voice. It was over-anxious to tell me something and probably the keenness of its desire prevented its being understood. Other voices struggled for expression without achieving more than whispering and trumpet taps. Then came a voice speaking a queer idiom; it sounded almost like a jargon of some kind and I called out that it sounded like Indo-Chinese border dialect, later giving the impression that it might have been badly spoken Yunnanese. The voice gave bugle calls of a military nature easily recognized and several people suggested that it might have been a soldier."

Of another voice Whymant surmised, "It seemed to me that the voice was that of a Straits Chinese who had lived in Singapore."

Hope added his own conclusion,

"I had become convinced that at any rate on most occasions the medium left his chair before voices spoke to the sitters. I had sat next to the medium on several occasions and had distinctly heard sounds like a creaking boot. After the sitting at which I had heard these sounds I noticed that one of the medium's boots creaked as he walked. The sounds were similar."

In a late sitting, Hope obtained proof that the medium left his chair. Phoenix protested that he was under control. Hope suggested that he should turn out his pockets to prove that he had no appliance with which to produce the psychic lights which appeared at each sitting. Upon Phoenix's refusal, Hope gave up and concluded, "reluctantly I had come to the conclusion that Phoenix was at least in part a fraud."

Hope published an account of the sittings in the Proceedings of the SPR (vol. 40, pp. 419-427).