G. White -- the Myth and the Truth
by Å. Kaspersen
15 -Head injury
When Ellen Gould Harmon
(later to become Mrs. White) was nine years old, she suffered an accident which
left its marks upon her for the rest of her life. The consequences of this accident
may be a reasonable explanation for her visions. Quoted below in its entirety
is an article by Dr. Delbert H. Hodder, "Visions or Partial-complex Seizures".
This article was featured inEvangelica, November 1981.
"The Seventh-day Adventist church was born in the period of time that immediately
followed the 'Great disappointment' of 1844. From all religious denominations
sincere people left their churches to join the 'Millerite Movement', a movement
that, with evangelistic fervor not since seen, was predicting the end of the
world and the coming of Jesus Christ on October 22, 1844. In preparation for
this event, earthly possessions were dispensed with, and conflicting family
and social ties were severed as they waited for Christ to return. Christ did
not return as expected on October 22, 1844, and the magnitude of the 'Great
Disappointment' can be only partially imagined today. It was from the group
of people that suffered and survived this disappointment that the Seventh-day
Adventist church was conceived and grew to be a major Protestant denomination
containing more than 2,000 000 members and medical and educational institutions
that circle the globe.
"There is no one individual entirely responsible for the development of the
Seventh-day Adventist church, but there is no question that Ellen G. White was
the one most influential person during the time of its formation. Were it not
for Mrs. White one wonders if there would be a Seventh-Day Adventist church
today. Her 100,000 pages of writing continue to be an authority for the Adventist
church second only to the Bible. Seeing the Bible through the writings of Mrs.
White has resulted in some of the unique doctrines held by the Adventist church.
Mrs. White claimed to be a 'messenger of God' and the church accepted her as
a 'prophet of God' and continues to believe that God gave her specific instructions
and guidance through her visions. It was the supernatural nature of these "visions"
that was one of the most significant early evidences that she was being used
by God as a prophet, and it is these same events that continue to be evidence
of her inspiration to most Adventists.
"When Ellen received her first 'vision' she was distraught and uncertain as
to what to do with the information presented.(1) In an age when there were many
psychics 'prophesying', in an age when the group with which she identified had
fallen into disrepute following the 'Great disappointment', in this age, she
recognized the risk of speaking the "truth" she felt was revealed to her. Based
on her convictions that God was leading, she took the necessary risk and made
her 'visions' public, for she and the early Adventist church were intent on
finding 'the truth.'
"It was several months ago that I casually read Rene Noorbergen's book, Ellen
G. White, Prophet of Destiny.(2) My reading was prompted by my general interest
in Mrs. White and by my need for general information as an elder and sabbath
school superintendent in mv church. As a pediatrician with special interest
in pediatric neurology, I was astonished to discover the similarity between
Mrs. White's 'visions' and a type of seizure called 'psychomotor' or 'partial-complex'
seizure. I soon discovered the similarities between Mrs. White's personality
and the recently described personality of those with this form of seizure disorder.
Although educated from first grade through medical school at Seventh-day Adventist
schools, I had never before critically looked at Mrs. White's 'visions', but
always had accepted them on faith. With my subspecialty interest in pediatric
neurology, the description of these 'visions' had significance that might not
be found by someone without a background in medicine and neurology. As with
Mrs. White, I feel a sense of responsibility to share this information.
"When F.D. Nichol discussed epilepsy in his book, Ellen G. White and Her Critics,(3)
he unfortunately omitted the one type of seizure with which her spells were
consistent. There is no question that her 'visions' are inconsistent with grand
mal and petite mal seizures, but as the following discussion will show, her
spells were consistent with partial-complex seizures in that they contained
all the unique elements of this form of epilepsy. Since this form of epilepsy
is always acquired and not inherited, we must first look at Ellen before her
'visions' were present.
"Ellen was in good health until age nine when she received a significant head
injury. I quote from Rene Noorbergen and his book, Ellen G. White, Prophet of
Destiny, a description of this event and its immediate consequences:
'Ellen's life took a drastic turn when, on the way home from school one afternoon
in Portland, Maine, alarmed by the angry shouts of a classmate, she reeled around.
For a moment she stood there, transfixed, while the girl raised her hand and
viciously hurled a stone at her head. The impact was so great that Ellen was
thrown to the ground. Upon returning to consciousness, she found herself in
a merchant's store where she had been carried by worried bystanders. Refusing
to be driven home, she pulled herself up and clung to the arm of her twin sister.
Bleeding profusely from a head wound, she staggered home, supported by her sister
and a schoolmate, once again falling unconscious before reaching her house.
'For a full three weeks, she wavered between life and death, and when she finally
regained enough strength to get around, she was burdened with a disfigured face
and the after-effects of a serious head injury.
'It influenced her health to such a large extent . . . that it forced her to
forego further schooling. In fact, she never quite got beyond the third grade
. . . Following her misfortune, she became an avid Bible student, fascinated
by the religious revival taking place around her. Being intensely religious,
she did not miss a chance to associate with others who shared her interest,
inasmuch as her regular friends shunned her after the accident.'(4)
"Based on this description, it is clear that Ellen suffered a severe head injury,
using the current medical definition of 'severe.' A severe head injury is associated
with an immediate unconsciousness lasting an hour or more or in the sudden or
progressive deterioration of the level of consciousness after an initial lucid
period. Abnormal neurologic signs may develop and persist for hours or days
or may be permanent. This type of head injury is usually associated with extensive
cerebral edema (swelling), bruising and laceration of the brain, or an intra-cranial
hemorrhage.(5) Approximately 10 percent of the people who suffer such a severe
head injury develop a seizure disorder.(6) If a hemorrhage has occurred, this
percentage is significantly higher. Mrs. White's immediate loss of consciousness
followed by a lucid interval and a subsequent prolonged loss of consciousness
is typical of the presence of a cerebral hemorrhage, specifically an epidural
hematoma, but not diagnostic of such.
"At the age of 14, Ellen had her first 'dream' that seemed to have significant
religious meaning for her.(7) At the age of 17, less than two months after the
'Great Disappointment,' she had her first "spell" that was interpreted by her
as a 'vision.' Ellen is reported as having approximately 2,000 of these 'visions'
during her life with those in the latter part of her life mainly occurring during
sleep and thus being similar to those that occurred at the age of 14.
"From Rene Noorbergen's book once again, I found the following description of
'Suddenly her voice broke clear and musical, and we heard the ringing shout,
'Glory to God.' We all looked up and saw that she was in vision. Her hands were
folded across her breast. Her eyes were directed intently upward, and her lips
were closed. There was no breathing although the heart continued its action.
'As she looked intently upward, an expression of anxiety came into her face.
She threw aside her blankets, and, stepping forward, walked back and forth in
the room. Wringing her hands, she moaned, 'Dark! Dark! All dark! So dark!' Then
after a few moments silence, she exclaimed with emphasis and a brightening of
her countenance, 'A light! A little light! More light' Much light!'
'In vision her eyes were open. There was no breath . . . but there were graceful
movements of the shoulders, arms, and hands, expressive of what she saw. It
was impossible for anyone else to move her hands or arms. She often uttered
words singly, and sometimes sentences which expressed to those about her the
nature of the view she was having, either of heaven or of earth.
'Her first word in vision was 'Glory', sounding at first close by and then dying
away in the distance, seemingly far away. This was sometimes repeated. . . .
'When the vision was ended . . . she would exclaim with a long drawn sigh, as
she took her first natural breath, 'D-a-r-k.' She was then limp and strengthless.
'She drew her first breath deep, long, full, in a manner showing that her lungs
had been entirely empty of air. After drawing the first breath, several minutes
passed before she drew the second, which filled the lungs precisely as did the
first; then a pause of two minutes, and a third inhalation, after which the
breathing became natural.
'The time Mrs. White is in this condition has varied from fifteen minutes to
one hundred and eighty. During this time the heart and pulse continue to beat,
the eyes are always open, and seem to be gazing at some far distant object,
and are never fixed on any person or thing in the room. They are always directed
upward. They exhibit a pleasant expression . . . There is never the slightest
wink or change of expression . . . It is sometimes hours and even days after
she comes out of this condition before she recovers her natural sight. She says
it seems to her that she comes back into a dark world, yet her eyesight is in
no way injured by her visions.'(8)
"From these and other descriptions in Ellen G. White, Prophet of Destiny, the
following summary of events during a 'vision' can be made. Mrs. White could
occasionally sense she was about to have a 'vision'; they began abruptly; she
was unaware of her surroundings while in 'vision'; and she was amnesic for events
that took place in her environment. Her eyes were open and she stared upward
without blinking. There was imperceptible breathing, but she did frequently
repeat certain words or phrases while in a 'vision' and never became cyanotic
(blue). Her heart beat was normal. During the 'visions' she sometimes appeared
very anxious. She had various automatic like motor movements such as the wringing
of her hands. The 'visions' terminated with deep sighs and the 'vision were
followed by a prolonged phase where she was lethargic, frequently couldn't see
or hear, and in general, had depressed mental status for a varying period of
"Subsequent to the invention of the electroencephalogram (EEG) in 1929, there
has been a wealth of new information related to the understanding and treatment
of 'epilepsy.' Prior to the last twenty years, in fact, epilepsy was frequently
classified into only two categories, that being big seizures (grand mal) and
little seizures (petit mal). Eighty percent of all seizures were previously
classified as grand mal. Today, generalized grand mal seizures constitute only
20 percent of all seizures, whereas, a type of seizure called psychomotor seizure,
renamed in 1970 as 'partial-complex seizure,'(9) now appears to be the single
most prevalent form of epilepsy constituting 42 percent of all the focal seizures
and 26 percent of all types of seizures.(10) The older term of 'psychomotor'
was first used in 1902 as a label for seizures that combined psychic, and motor
events.(11) The more recent nomenclature is based on the fact that the seizure
involves a focal area of the brain rather than the whole brain and presents
with complex symptomatology. The complexity of the seizure is based on the area
of the brain involved - the temporal lobe and the underlying limbic system -
the parts of the brain that are involved in high level cerebral activity.
"Partial-complex seizures occur only in a brain that has been injured and, thus,
are not inherited or run in families as do other types of seizures.(12) In contrast
to grand mal seizures, these seizures may occur quite frequently in an individual,
are generally not associated with progressive neurologic dysfunction, and do
not shorten one's expected life span. Although partial-complex seizures usually
last only seconds to a few minutes, they very rarely may be prolonged at which
time they are called 'complex partial status epilepticus.'(13)
"These seizures frequently begin in adolescence and continue throughout life.
They generally occur spontaneously, but stresses may precipitate a seizure.
Such stresses are psychological, hormonal changes, drowsiness, illness and sleep.
Another factor that makes these seizures 'complex', the ability of some patients
to not only sense an impending seizure, but at times to be able to abort or
precipitate them. I had a patient whose spells consisted of altered, but not
loss of, consciousness, and a generalized 'good' feeling that swept over his
body. He frequently precipitated these spells by 'concentrating.' He nearly
had a serious automobile accident secondary to a seizure that he had precipitated
while driving. The near accident was enough impetus for this adolescent to stop
precipitating these events, since his joy from driving exceeded his 'joy' from
"Grand mal and partial-complex seizures are followed by period of neurologic
dysfunction typically manifest by headache, lethargy, or sleep; this is called
the 'post-ictal' period. The duration of this post-ictal phase usually varies
directly with the duration of the seizure. This period essentially results from
the exhaustion that has occurred in the parts of the brain that were involved
in the seizure.
"Grand mal seizures are frequently associated with the absence of breathing,
secondary to the respiratory center in the brain and the respiratory muscles
being involved in the seizure. These patients generally become somewhat cyanotic.
With partial-complex seizures, breathing generally continues but may be imperceptible.
Observers of Mrs. White in 'vision' repeatedly emphasized that using the monitoring
equipment available, a candle and a mirror, she was not breathing. Yet, she
is described repeatedly as saying words or even sentences during her 'visions'
which can only be attributed to air passing the vocal cords which suggests she
had to be inspiring air in order to be able to expel enough air to speak. Her
heart beat and pulse rate were also noted to be normal so the heart was continuing
to pump blood through the lungs to the rest of the body as usual. Although it
is possible that something 'supernatural' was happening in that oxygenation
was taking place through channels outside the lungs, the normal oxygenation
of her tissues, as is documented by her normal color, and the presence of a
pulse, suggested that the lungs were the source of her oxygenization and that
shallow, relativelv imperceptible breathing was taking place as would be typical
in a partial-complex seizure.
"In common with all types of seizures is the alteration in the level of consciousness
that occurs with partial-complex seizures. There are several unique characteristics
of partial complex seizures that occur during the altered consciousness and
these include: eyes being open, staring, and frequently turned up, automatisms,
hallucinations, and various psychic phenomena. All of these unique characteristics
were present in Mrs. White's 'visions.'
"In partial-complex seizures, the consciousness is always altered, but not always
completely lost. It is clear by the previous descriptions of Mrs. White's 'visions'
that she had lost consciousness during these spells. She was unresponsive to
various forms of external stimuli and was amnesic for the events which occurred
in her environment during the period of the 'visions.' It needs to be emphasized
that the hallucinations that may be seen during a partial-complex seizure can
be remembered after a seizure, and often can be described in vivid detail. The
amnesia that is characteristic of seizures is for the events occurring outside
of the seizure itself. As is also characteristic of partial-complex seizures,
Mrs. White's eyes were open, staring, and described by some as rolled up.(14)
"One of the most interesting and constant features of partial-complex seizures
is the presence of various automatic purposeful or nonpurposeful movements called
automatisms. These automatisms frequently involve the alimentary tract and include
chewing movements, lip smacking, tongue movements, or swallowing movements.
The other characteristics of automatism involve the motor system and are called
'gestural automatisms.' The most typical of these are wringing of the hands,
fumbling with a button or other object, closing the hands, scratching the head,
rubbing the nose, or other purposeless and graceful movements.(15) Mrs. White
is described as wringing her hands, having slow graceful movements of the shoulders,
arms and hands, and walking back and forth.
"The automatisms with this form of epilepsy may be complex as well as simple,
as described above. A host of complex acts have been described. A petroleum
geologist could continue drawing at his drawing board or eating his meal, though
more slowly, during his seizure. An organist, 'during Christmas services, switched
from playing a hymn to jazz and went back to the hymn at the end of his seizure.
A young woman always recited the 'Ave Maria' during her automatisms. A hospital
janitor bobbed light bulbs in a bucket of water and, on another occasion, dumped
mop water over the hands of surgeons scrubbing at a sterile sink.'(16)
"Another typical automatism involves speech and manifests itself as perseveration
of speech - repeating the same words or phrases over and over again. Examples
of such perseverations in my practice have included, 'Mommy, pick me up' and
'I want a cookie.' These two patients would start saying these phrases and continue
saying them over and over again when their request had been granted. This abnormal
speech was associated with other more typical seizure activity. The words Mrs.
White characteristically repeated were 'Glory', 'Glory to God', 'light' and
"Hallucinations are another typical component of partial-complex seizures and
may involve all the senses, but are typically either auditory or visual.
'An important point in the nature of this altered content of consciousness is
that it constitutes an intrusion upon the patient's onflowing stream of awareness.
No matter how vivid, complex or 'real' the ictal experience, the patient recognizes
that it is an experience imposed upon him. His consciousness is 'split', and
he can still remain the objective observer, the bystander witnessing these curious
"Illusions (distorted perceptions of ongoing stimuli) as we as hallucinations
(sensory perceptions in the absence of stimulus) may be present.
'Seizures arising in the primary visual cortex produce crude sensations of light
or darkness - for example, small circles or ellipses of white or colored light.
In contrast, formed visual hallucinations may range from simple, static, monochromatic
but recognizable objects, to intricate, multicolored progressing scenes. . .
Occasionally a seizure may arise in primary visual cortex and subsequently spread
into association cortex with a concomitant shift from unformed to formed hallucinations.'(18)
"Since it is the patient's own brain that is 'shortcircuiting' and producing
the illusion or hallucination, the content is frequently manifestations of previously
stored information, or is given meaning based on the content of the patient's
consciousness. Since the patients who have partial-complex seizures tend to
be religious, the hallucinations frequently have a religious significance to
"A thirteen year old adolescent whom I follow for his partial-complex seizures
recently glanced at a book his sister had brought home on Satanism and the occult.
Shortly after looking at this book, the hallucination that occurred during his
seizure consisted of seeing a ring of fire in vivid color with several human-like
figures on the outside of the ring. The human-like figures were devoid of faces.
These forms began walking through the ring of fire toward him with their arms
gradually being raised as if they were to strike him and kill him when close
to him. The patient stated that he could feel the heat from the fire and was
described by the mother as screaming in terror with beads of sweat over his
entire body as the seizure ended. When describing the hallucination to me in
my office, he could vividly recall the entire episode and was himself convinced,
that the phenomenon was real and that the devil was 'out to get him.' I had
to read him descriptions of other people's hallucinations that occurred with
seizures before I could convince him that his phenomenon had not been real but
part of his seizure.
"The other unique characteristic of partial-complex seizures is the various
psychic phenomena that can occur with the seizure. Essentially, all forms of
bizarre behavior have at one time or another, been attributed to partial-complex
'Fear was the first ictal emotion recognized and appears to occur most frequently.
In some instances, the fear is intense and patients use terms such as 'terror',
'panic', 'a feeling of impending disaster . . . a feeling that I'm going stark,
raving mad'. . .Some patients express a fear of dying . . . Other patients experience
less intense feelings, which may range from a sense of uneasiness or apprehension
"Pleasure, depression, eroticism, and anger are other psychic phenomena that
may occur with the seizures.
'In certain instances, hallucinatory experiences acquire an affecive coloring.
MacLean (1952) has described a man 'who senses in his stomach a feeling of fright
that carries with it the conviction that someone is standing behind him. If
he turns his head to see who it is, the feeling of fear becomes intensified.'
Williams (1956) described an architect with an even more complex hallucinatory
experience: He sees a man and two smaller figures on a frozen pond, around which
he is skating. He experiences fear which concerns the,figures, and feels he
is 'in the qrip of some power I cannot escape.' The figures are speaking quietly
together about his fear, and he feels that he should get closer to solve the
problem but cannot do so since he is skating in a circle, He then has a major
'In other instances the ictal emotion may attach itself to an otherwise neutral
sensory perception, giving the experience a totally different subjective quality.
Two patients said that when their attacks began, any object at which they were
looking, for example, a telephone or a chair, suddenly assumed a threatening
or malevolent quality which each recognized as totaly inappropriate. If they
shifted their gaze to any other object in the environment, it did not seem threatening
and the sensation of fear would diminish. However, returning the gaze to the
original object would result in an intensification of the fear which in each
patient culminated in a loss of consciousness automatism.'(20)
"From the preceding discussion one cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that
Mrs. White's 'visions' were at least consistent with what is now known as partial-complex
or psychomotor seizures. I believe the quoted examples of the unique features
of these seizures emphasize the complexity of the seizure manifestations and
the confusion and concern that would result if the patient were unaware that
these were seizures. What is of as much significance as the similarity between
her 'visions' and seizures is the presence of Mrs. White's personality characteristics,
typically seen in patients with this form of seizure disorder.
"Among neurologic diseases with confirmed anatomic localization, temporal lobe
epilepsy has been most frequently associated with functional psychiatric disorders.
Although psychiatric disorders are more frequently seen in these patients than
in the normal population,(21) they are still relatively rarely present in these
patients. What is of more interest has been the recent documentation of a specific
profile of psychosocial aspects of behavior very frequently seen in these patients.
In a recent study done at the Clinical Neurosciences Branch of the National
Institutes of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke at the National
Institute of Health,(22) forty-eight patients were studied and demonstrated
that not only did patients with temporal lobe seizures have characteristic personality
traits, but that it was possible to distinguish certain personality traits characteristic
of right temporal lobe dysfunction from left temporal lobe dysfunction. Following
is a list of all the traits frequently seen in patients with partial-complex
seizures, but certainly not all the patients have all the characteristics:
1. Emotionality - deepening of all emotions, sustained intense affect2. Elation
- euphoria, grandiosity, exhilarated mood3. Sadness - discouragement, tearfulness,
self-depreciation4. Anger - increased temper, irritability5. Aggression - overt
hostility, rage attacks, violent crimes6. Altered sexual interest - hyposexualism,
loss of libido, etc.7. Guilt - tendency to self-scrutiny and self-recrimination8.
Hypermoralism - attention to rules with inability to distinguish significant
from minor infractions9. Obsessionalism - ritualism, orderliness, compulsive
attention to detail10. Circumstantiality - loquacious, pedantic, overly detailed11.
Viscosity - stickiness, tendency to repetition12. Sense of personal - events
given highly charged, personalized significance, divine guidance ascribed to
many features of patient's life13. Hypergraphic - keeping extensive diaries,
detailed notes, writing autobiography or novel14. Religiosity - holding deep
religious beliefs, often idiosyncratic15. Philosophical interest - nascent metaphysical
or moral speculations, cosmological theories16. Dependence, passivity - cosmic
helplessness, 'at hands of fate'; protestations of helplessness17. Humorlessness,
sobriety - overgeneralized ponderous concern; humor lacking or idiosyncratic18.
Paranoia - suspicious, overinterpretative of motives and events
"The above traits that most commonly discriminated the control group from the
epileptic group were paranoia, anger, dependence, religiosity, sadness, philosophical
interest and humorlessness. I emphasize once more that not all these tendencies
were seen in all patients.
"What is of great interest in this research is the finding that patients with
pathology in one temporal lobe differ in their personality traits from those
with pathology in the opposite temporal lobe. Patients with pathology in the
right temporal lobe were distinguished by items stressing externally demonstrated
affects. 'This was manifest in unusual sexual attractions, remonstration of
helplessness, periods of sadness, emotional arousability or moralistic fervor.
Overconcern with details and orderliness also characterized the right temporal
epileptic group more than the left.'(23)
'Left temporal patients were identified with a sense of personal destiny and
concern for meaning and significance behind events. Related items emphasized
powerful forces working with one's life (paranoia) and the need for sober intellectual
and moral self-scrutiny (humorlessness, conscientiousness).'(24) Strikingly
absent are many of the characteristics seen overall in patients with partial-complex
seizures and, in particular, those seen in patients with right temporal lobe
dysfunction. As equally striking, however, is the similarity between Mrs. White's
personality and the description given to patients with left temporal lobe dysfunction.'(25)
"Adventists frequently point to the massive amount of writing Mrs. White did
as evidence of divine guidance. She lacked the education that seemed necessary
to author so many articles and books. As is pointed out in this recent research,
even her extensive writing turns out to be a characteristic behavior of patients
with partial-complex seizures.
"During the last ten years, the puzzle of Ellen White has slowly been pieced
together. Ron Numbers discovered, in much the same fashion as I, that Mrs. White's
health message appeared to be the health message of others of her day with whom
she was probably familiar.(26) Jonathan Butler recently discovered that Mrs.
White's ideas related to eschatology were heavily flavored by the contemporary
emphasis of the Protestant church of her day.(27) With the information contained
in this article, the puzzle takes on a more whole and complete appearance. It
appears distinctly possible that the brain injury Ellen received as a child
resulted in the development of seizure disorder and a personality type characterized
by a deep interest in religion. It was less than two months after the 'Great
Disappointment' that she had her first recorded daytime 'vision' and the lights
she saw in her 'vision' took on significance because of her association with
the small group that survived the 'Disappointment.' Not even the medical authorities
of her day were aware of this type of seizure disorder, and knowing these 'spells'
were inconsistent with self-hypnosis, mesmerism, hysteria, or cataplexy, they
were interpreted as supernatural. Mrs. White seemed unaware that the contents
of the visual hallucinations she thought were 'visions' were related to current
events and opinions of her day. Unaware that her impulse to write was itself
a manifestation her illness, she did what any honest God-fearing person would
have to do in a similar situation - she shared that with others and it was these
others who labeled her a 'prophet' and made her the center of the developing
Seventh-day Adventist church.
The long-term significance and consequences of this formation will be determined,
not by medical personell such as myself, but by the theologians in our church.
These issues raise the distinct possibility that the Seventh-day Adventist church
may now be facing another 'Great Disappointment.'"
(Dr Delbert Hodder, who graduated from Loma Linda Universitv Medical School
in 1970, is a practicing pediatrician with subspecialist interest in neurology.
He is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut.)
1. Rene Noorbergen, Ellen G. White, Prophet of Destiny, (New Canaan, Conn.:
Keats, 1972), p. 31.2. Ibid.3. F.D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics (Washington,
D.C Review and Herald, 1951).4. Noorbergen, ibid., pp. 26-27.5. C.H. Kempe,
H.K. Silver, O.D. O'Brien (eds), Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment (Los
Altos, Cal: Lange Medical, 1972), p. 50.6. Ibid., p. 504.7. Noorbergen, pp.
25-27 [Ellen G. White, Life Sketches, pp. 34-36.]8. Ibid., p. 41 [William C.
White, Review and Herald, Feb. 10, also The Spirit of Prophecy Treasure Chest,
p. 331, pp. 75-76 [Martha Amadon, "Mrs. E.G. White in Vision," Notebook Leaflets
Misc. No. pp. 76-77 [M.G. Kellogg, M.D. in The Spirit of Prophecy Treasure Ch.,
p. 241, pp. 82-83 [George I. Butler, Review and Herald, June 9, 1874.]9. H.
Gastaut, "Clinical and Electroencephalographical Classification, Epileptic Seizures",
Epilepsia 11:102-103 (1970).10. W.A. Hauser and L.T. Kurland, "The Epidemiology
of Epilepsy." Rochester, Minnesota", Epilepsia 16:1-66 (1975).11. Escueta et
al, "Lapse of Consciousness and Automatisms in Temporary Lobe Epilepsy: A Videotape
Analysis", Neurology 27:144 (1977).12. J.K. Penry and D.D. Daly (eds), Advances
in Neurology, (New York: Raven Press, 1975), p. 163.13. Ibid. p. 77.14. Noorbergen,
ibid, p. 89.15. Penry and Daly, Advances in Neurology, Vol. 11, pp. 71-7516.
Ibid, p. 75.17. Ibid., p. 57.18. Ibid., pp. 59-60.19. Ibid., p. 65.20. Ibid.,
pp. 66, 69.21. V.R. Adebimpe, "Complex Partial Seizures Simulating Schizophrenia",
Journal of the American Medical Association 237 1339-1340. (1977).22. D.M. Bear
and P. Fedio, "Quantitative Analysis of Interictal Behavior in Temporal Lobe
Epilepsy", Archives of Neurology 34: 454-465 (1977).23. Ibid., p. 459.24. Ibid25.
D. Blumer, "Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and Its Psychiatric Significance" in D.F
Benson and D. Blumer (eds), Psychiatric Aspects of Neurologic Disease (New York:
Grune and Stratton, Inc. 1975), S.G. Waxman and N. Geschwind, "Hypergraphia
in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy", Neurology 21:629-633 (1974), S.G. Waxman and N.
Geschwind, "The Interictal Behavior Syndrome of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy", Archives
of (wnc, Psychiatry 32:1580-1586 (1975).26. R. Numbers, Prophetess of Health:
A Study of Ellen G. White. New York: Harper & Row, 1976).27. Jonathan Butler,
This article concludes that the accident Ellen Harmon suffered when she was
nine years old, resulted in a brain injury, which later perhaps was being manifested
by a special kind of epileptic seizures - so called psycho-motoric seizures
or partial-complex seizures. The article proposes that this may be a possible
explanation for her later "visions". Ellens White's personality and behavior
during her "visions" showed many traits characteristic for this type of epilepsy.
Also the writing mania is characteristic for this disorder.
This information was not available at that time, consequently it was naturally
to explain the seizures as "supernatural" or "visions" from God.
In light of the information now available, it is probable that Ellen Whites
"visions" can be explained by psycho-motoric, epileptic seizures, or - as an
alternative explanation - some sort of hysteria, which we also will take a look
at. This latter explanation may be more reasonable. At least it explains the
many false visions which often put Ellen White and others into embarassment,
also the many self-contradictions - also based on "visions".
There is not a shadow of doubt that Ellen G. White suffered a serious accident
at the age of nine. The stone that hit her in the nasal region struck her unconscious
to the ground. According to Girgis, the temporary lobe is particularly vulnerable
for damage because it is located at the base of the brain, between the eye cavities.
This is where the cranium is thinnest, and where external damage may easiest
penetrate the brain. This explains why epilepsy in the temporal lobe is quite
common. (See M. Girgis, Neural Substrates of Limbic Epilepsy. Quoted in Couperus.)
Ellen White's prolonged unsconscious state (three weeks) may give us a clue
to the extent of the damage. It is not common that pasients with damages like
this are unconscious that long. A report for 105 children who suffered brain
damages followed by unconsciousness, showed that only four of the patients were
unconscious more than 24 hours (see M. Couperus, The Significance of Ellen White's
Head Injury. Adventist Currents, June 1985.)
Patients who recover after serious head injuries, experience depressions, impaired
concentration, headaches and dizzyness. In addition, patients suffering from
epilepsy in the temporal lobe often experience fright, light and darkness. Ellen
White had all these symptoms.
Fragrance of flowers
It is quite common that people, during Maria-apparitions and spiritistic seances,
sense the fragrance of flowers, most often roses. We have touched on this earlier.
But such sense-impressions also occur quite common during partial-complex seizures,
eg. seizures in the temporal lobe, without having anything to do with seances
and apparitions. During Maria-apparitions, persons in trance are insensible
to external stimuli, the same applied to Ellen White.
"The seizure experience is usually initiated by a so-called symptom, or aura,
that often involves some epigastric sensations or other automatic manifestations.
There may be a sense of fear or the hallucination of smelling something, which
Ellen White experienced a number of times as the smell of roses, or simply 'flowers.'
She smelled the fragrance of violets, and at another time she was "gathering
the flowers and enjoying their fragrance.' At another time 'she knelt by the
bed, and before the first word of petition had been offered she felt that the
room was filled with the fragrance of roses. Looking up to see whence the fragrance
came she saw the room flooded with a soft, silvery light.'
"Arthur White, when describing a visionary experience of Ellen in 1901 in which
there was 'a sweet fragrance, as of beautiful flowers,' added: 'She knew what
it meant.' Apparently it was a frequent part of Ellen's visions to notice this
fragrance. She also often saw a bright light at the beginning of her visions,
a light that would flood the room, or would appear in various intensities, colors
and shapes. The seeing of bright lights and various colors is very common in
the partial complex seizures of epileptics. Ellen has stated:
'Well, while I was praying and sending up my petition, there was, as has been
a hundred times or more, a soft light circling around in the room, and a fragrance
like the fragrance of flowers, of a beautiful scent of flowers.' (Manuscript
"If one takes seriously the statement 'a hundred times or more,' the circling
light and the fragrance of flowers must have been present in nearly every vision.
The hallucination of music (also associated with bright light) was present in
Ellen's experiences (Testimonies, 9:66), as it is also found in the seizures
of temporal lobe epilepsy." (Molleurus Couperus, The Significance of Ellen White's
Head Injury. Adventist Currents, June 1985.)
Epileptic seizures from the temporal lobe commonly last from a few seconds to
a few minutes. In some cases the seizures can last longer, from a few hours
to a few days. Seizures of such prolonged duration are however rare. In his
book Messenger to the Remnant, Arthur L. White elaborates on Ellens visions,
"While some of the visions were extended in their nature, at times lasting more
than an hour, and on one occasion four hours, there were other times when
the visions were very brief in duration - only a few minutes, or in some cases,
seconds." (A.L. White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, p.
8. Emphasis supplied.)
It has been reported (Lennox) that seizures of this type which last several
hours, occur one or two times a year (W.G. Lennox, Epilepsy and Related Disorders,
1:236.) Such seizures are called 'partial-complex status epilepticus'. They
will often show up as a series of short seizures in rapid succession - so rapid
that the seizures will be perceived as one single seizure.
Symptoms: Writing-mania (Hypergraphia)
It is quite common that pasients suffering from this particular type of epilepsy
gradually develop changes in their personality and behavior pattern after the
injury which caused the disease. Such was the case with Ellen White. Writing
mania is a characteristic symptom for patients suffering from temporal lobe
epilepsy. There's no doubt that Ellen White had this symptom. There are however,
described several similar cases in medical literature. Waxman and Geschwind
described a 24 year old woman who developed her first symptoms at the age of
ten, and manifested aberrant behavior pattern at the age of fifteen. She became
deeply religious, and experienced at least four conversions. She also had visual
hallucinations of blue-green, blinking light. She spent several hours each day
writing, in particular poems with moralistic or philosophical content. She copied
several hundred times a song she had been learning, and she had an obsessional
urge to write. Medical examinations showed that she had an injury in the right
temporal lobe. (Waxman/Geschwind, Hypergraphia in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Neurology,
24 (1974). 929-363.)
Geschwind describes further,
"The degree of hypergraphia in many
of these patients is striking. Thus patients may regularly write essays or sermons.
One patient had trunks filled with his writings. A neurologist in New Zealand
was presented by one of his patients with over twenty volumes of her selected
handwritten works. I have recently seen a patient who developed temporal lobe
epilepsy after partial resection of one temporal lobe during the removal of
an aneurysm. He had never had intellectual interest but, following the appearance
of temporal lobe epilepsy, became consumed with the thought that he had the
mission to write something important." (N. Geschwind,Pathogenesis of Behavior
Change in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Vol. 61. Quoted in Couperus.)
Ellen White obviously manifested
this writing-mania. Often she arose in the middle of the night in order to write
"important testimonies" - which from time to time showed up to be false.
"The call to 'write, write, write'
can easily change to 'borrow, borrow, borrow'. Under a strong religious compulsion,
such a writer could well persuade herself that it was God who made her find
the material she wanted to copy; and that she was simply obeying the divine
obligation and prompting of the Spirit to copy the writings of others and put
it out under her own name." (Couperus.)
A characteristic symptom during temporal
lobe seizures are different kinds of automatisms - very often repetitions of
words and sentences. This too was typical for Ellen White.
"Ellen had to write,
and to produce the quantity she did she had no recourse but to copy from others;
and this, with the help of her secretaries, she did well. . . .
"An easily observable trait in the
temporal lobe epileptic is perseveration, stickiness, or viscosity - a form
of automatism, which applies both to speech and writing, in which the individual
repeats words, phrases, sentences, or, as Fenton expressed it, 'a tendency to
adhere to each thought, feeling and action.' For example, many who saw Ellen
White experience a vision report that she often exclaimed 'glory, glory, glory'
at the onset of a vision. Daly describes a case reported by Penfield and Jasper
of a boy who 'at the beginning of attacks heard a voice calling 'Sylvere, Sylvere,
Sylvere' - the patient's first name.' A forty-five year old man was heard to
say, 'Mother, Mother, Mother.' And an admitted agnostic repeatedly uttered 'God,
God - oh, my God.' It would be easy for Ellen's subconscious mind to select
the repetition 'glory, glory, glory' because the word glory was commonly
used in the Methodist meetings she attended in her adolescence.
"Ellen gave evidence of this repetitiveness
in her first publication when, as an eighteen-year old, she repeated the words
'I saw' sixteen times. In a second contribution to the same periodical three
weeks later she used "I saw" thirteen times. Two months after this in an article
in To The Little Remnant Scattered Abroad, she employed 'I saw' thirty-five
times. The repetition of this phase becomes increasingly noticeable in Ellen's
writings, until in some pages nearly every sentence begins with these words,
as seen in an article by her in an 1849 Present Truth where, in thirteen sentences,
she used 'I saw' or 'I was shown' eleven times. . . .
"Ellen had two visions on January
5, 1849, at Rocky Hill, Connecticut. . . .Jesus 'gazed in pity in the remnant,...
raised His hands, and with a voice of deep pity cried, 'my blood, Father,
my blood, my blood, my blood'... Then I saw an angel...crying with
a loud voice, 'Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold!' In the same year she
wrote also: 'I heard an angel say, 'Speed the swift messengers, speed
the swift messengers'.' One year later she quoted an angel's question:
'Can such enter heaven?' Another angel answered, 'No, never, never,
never. . . .
'If the sins do not go beforehand
to judgment they will never go. Thy people, thy people, thy people,
thy people not ready, not ready, not ready. . . .Get ready!
Get ready! Get ready! almost finished' . . .
"In the Sutton vision of Ellen White
in 1850, we have the following example:
'Then I saw we must drink deep,
deep, from the water of the fountain. . . .Swim, swim, swim,
plunge deep, deep, deep, in the ocean of God's love.'
"On January 3, 1875, in Battle Creek,
Ellen had a vision reported by W.C. White that demonstrated some of the typical
features of a temporal lobe seizure, including repetitiveness . . .
'Then mother undertook to pray, and
in a horse, labored voice, she uttered two or three sentences of petition. Suddenly
her voice broke clean and musical, and we heard the ringing shout, 'Glory to
God!' We all looked up, and saw that she was in vision. Her hands were folded
across her breast. her eyes were directed intently upward, and her lips were
closed. There was no breathing, although the heart continued its action. As
she looked intently upward, an expression of anxiety came into her face. She
threw aside her blankets, and stepping forward, walked back and forth in the
room. Wringing her hands, she moaned, 'Dark! Dark! All dark! So dark!'
Then after a few moments silence, she exclaimed with emphasis, and a brightening
of her countenance, 'A light! A little light! More light! Much light!'
. . .Following her exclamatory remarks regarding the lights, she sat down in
"In 1868 she wrote: 'He will not
accept half a sacrifice. All, all, all is God's.'
"In Early Writings (2nd ed., 1882)
she wrote: 'Said the angel, 'Get ready, get ready, get ready,
Ye will have to die a greater death to the world than ye have ever yet died!''
"She also repeated 'drudge,
drudge, drudge, drudge' in a letter in 1892 from Australia." (Couperus.
There are numerous similar examples
of repetitions in the writings of Ellen White. Here is one more,
"My vision comes up before me and
the words of the angel even now seem to ring in my ears, 'Get ready,
get ready, get ready. Time is almost finished, almost finished, almost finished.
Cry, cry, for the arm of the Lord to be revealed, for the arm of the Lord to
be revealed. Time is almost finished. What you do, ye must do quickly!'"
(Letter 26, 1850, p. 2. - letter to Brother and Sister Loveland, November 1,
1850. Emphasis supplied.)
At one occasion, Ellen White became
angry because Fannie Bolton discovered her "working methods", and Ellen got
"Then there came the words rolling
down over the clouds from the chariot from the lips of Jesus, 'Fannie
Bolton is your adversary! Fanny Bolton is your adversary!' repeated three times."
(EGW letter to Marian Davis, Oct. 29, 1895; Letter 102, 1895, p. 42.)
"Another trait in the writings of
Ellen G. White is one that includes hypermoralism, sobriety, humorlessness,
and multiple exhortations. This is particularly evident in writings which were
intended for her fellow church members. A typical example of this is seen in
a letter written to Dear Sister E. in 1873:
'I have been shown that you
need a thorough conversion. You are not now on the right track
to obtain that peace and happiness, which the true humble, cross-bearing believer
is sure to receive. . . .You have a selfish disposition. .
. .Your principal thoughts are for yourself,
to pleaseyourself. . . .You neglect to cheerfully
engage in the work which God has left you to do. Youoverlook
the common, simple duties lying directly in your pathway. .
. .You do not study to make others happy. . . .You
indulge in a dreamy habit, which must be broken up. . . .You
are not improving as fast as you might, and as you
must. . . .You have been a cloud and a shadow in the family.
. . .You have not had the grace of God in your
heart. . . .You love to think and talk about young men. You
interpret their civilities as a special regard for yourself.
You flatter yourself. . . .A reformation must
commence in your father's family. You bear
the stamp of your father's character. You
should endeavor to shun his errors and his extremes. . . .You
do not love children. In fact you do not love anything which
requires steady, earnest, persevering effort.'
"In this seven-page letter, 75 sentences
begin with 'you', and an additional 115 times 'you' is used in the middle of
sentences and is an example of the judgmentalness and hypermoralism seen in
the temporal lobe epileptic, so often encountered in Ellen's writings." (Couperus.
In his book, Prophetess of Health,
Ronald L. Numbers says,
"In her correspondence and autobiographical
writings Ellen White reported a dazzling array of physical and psychological
problems (see Appendix 1); yet despite even repeated expectations of imminent
death, she lived to the ripe age of eighty-seven. A self-described 'great sufferer
from disease' and 'lifelong invalid,' she from time to time complained of weakness
and fainting, episodes of unconsciousness, breathing difficulties, 'heart disease,'
pain in her lungs, 'pressure of blood on the brain,' intense headaches and 'inflammation
on the brain,' dropsy, weak back, lameness, 'tenderness of the stomach,' nosebleeds,
pleurisy, and rheumatism. On occasion she experienced dimmed eyesight, paralysis,
lack of sensation, and muteness-to say nothing of repeated visions and hallucinations.
She frequently suffered from depression and despondency."
"For understandable reasons, Ellen
White attributed all of her visions and many of her ailments to supernatural
causes." (Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health, p. 210. The University of
Tennessee Press/Knoxville, 1992.)
Dr. Numbers does not really believe
that partial-complex seizures may fully explain Ellen White's visions and behavior,
even if she had many of the symptoms characteristic of that disease.
"To be sure, White in vision displayed
many of these symptoms; however, her behavior also differed in significant ways
from what might be expected of someone experiencing complex partial seizures.
She apparently spoke clearly and lucidly during her visions, emerged from them
with a clear mind, and did not suffer the amnesia, disorientation, or terror
so often associated with complex partial seizures. . . .
"Complex partial seizures also shed
little light on her manifold physical complaints, and they inadequately account
for the degree to which her visions depended on the approval of others. But
most telling of all, this diagnosis fails to recognize the large number of White's
contemporaries who claimed to have had visionary episodes similar to hers-but
reported no brain-damaging injuries. Thus we must look beyond complex partial
seizures for an adequate explanation of her distinctive medical history.
"A more convincing diagnosis, which
not only accounts for many of her physical and psychological symptoms but acknowledges
the importance of social and cultural factors, is what mental-healtb experts
today call somatization disorder with an accompanying histrionic personality
style. These categories encompass the behaviors and symptoms formerly grouped
together under the now-discarded label 'hysteria.' . . . .
"In other words, persons suffering
from this disorder repeatedly complain of a wide range of physical problems
and believe themselves to be sickly but are not physically ill. Symptoms, which
range from gastrointestinal difficulties, chest pains, shortness of breath,
palpitations, and dizziness to loss of voice, blurred or double vision, fainting,
paralysis, difficulty walking, and amnesia, usually begin in the teens and occur
most commonly in females. Although often described in a dramatic or exaggerated
manner, the symptoms are neither intentional nor conscious; the typical sufferer
has no sense of controlling thern and sincerely believes them to be of organic
origin. . . .
"People with this disorder constantly
seek or demand reassurance, approval, or praise from others and are uncomfortable
in situations in which they are not the center of attention.'" (Ronald Numbers,
Prophetess of Health, p. 212-13.)
This malady may explain the source
of Ellen White's long list of more or less real ailments. In addition, her visions
are to be judged in light of the time she was living in.
"In this diagnostic context, which,
for our purposes, possesses greater heuristic than deterministic value, White's
frequent dreams and visions shrink to mere epiphenomena. Histrionic persons
today rarely report seeing visions, largely because such experiences have gone
out of fashion. In the nineteenth century, however, trances and visions were
the order of the day for a host of mesmerists, spiritualists, and religious
enthusiasts. Self-proclaimed seers not only mod- eled themselves after the biblical
writers, particularly Daniel and John the Revelator, but saw themselves as the
fulfillment of the prophecy that 'in the last days . . . your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old
men shall dream dreams' (Acts 2:17). In view of White's suggestibility and the
atten- tion and reinforcement her dissociative experiences elicited from others,
her claim to visions is hardly surprising. The exact mechanism that triggered
these apparently self- hypnotic episodes is of less historical interest than
the fact that phenomenologically her visions in no way differed from the trances
of the run-of-the-mill mesmerist or spiritualist. The proof of this claim is
White's own inability to distinguish empirically between her visions and those
of her contem- poraries. She distanced herself from other trance mediums not
on the basis of physical evidence, but spiritual content.
"From White's own testimony we are
convinced that beginning in childhood she suffered from episodes of depression
and anxiety that often left her debilitated and at times even crippled. . .
. By her adult years she had developed a full-fledged somatization disorder
and a histrionic personality style." (Numbers, Ibid., p. 214-15.)
Ronald Numbers elaborates further,
"In reading White's autobiographical
accounts, one is immediately struck by the exaggerated, dramatic manner in which
she portrays personal events. For example, she tells of how in 1858, following
her vision of the 'Great Controversy' between Christ and Satan, she suffered
from temporary paralysis and loss of speech, followed by several weeks of unsteadiness
and impaired sensation. Her explanation:
'Satan designed to take my life to
hinder the work I was about to write; but angels of God were sent to my rescue,
to raise me above the effects of Satan's attack.'
"White hungered for the attention
that attached to her role as a latter-day prophet. As early as 1845, public
questioning of the divine nature of her visions so filled her with anguish her
family thought she would die-at least that's what she reported. Later, in the
mid-1850s, when her self-conscious husband refused to publish her testimonies
and fellow believers neglected them, her visions dwindled and she sank into
despair. . . .
"Ellen White often relied on her
visions and ill health to control the distasteful behavior of family members
and followers, at times even holding her own children responsible for her indispositions.
Writing of her offspring in the mid-1850s, she said: 'I was keenly sensitive
to faults in my children, and every wrong they committed brought on me such
heartache as to affect my health.' Blaming her sons for her suffering may not
have changed their behavior, but it undoubtedly induced considerable guilt.
Even for relatively mundane matters she invoked the threat of becoming sick.
When congregations failed to meet her demands for the ventilation of buildings,
she on one occasion 'fell very sick with nervous prostration . . . suffering
much with inflammation of head, stomach, and lungs,' and on another she refused
to speak altogether out of fear that the poisonous air 'would cost me my life,'
in effect saying, 'Open the windows, or I'll die.'"
"White's visions, like her ailments,
served to keep family and followers in line. For how could they acknowledge
her as God's inspired messenger and still dispute her messages, whether theological
or personal'? Those audacious enough to challenge her authority found themselves
the objects of divinely sent reprimands. When Fannie Bolton, one of White's
literary assistants, raised embarrassing questions about her boss's writings,
White beard a voice saying, 'Beware and not place your dependence upon Fannie
to prepare articles or to make books. . . . She is your adversary. . . .She
is not true to her duty, yet flatters herself she is doing a very important
work.' Similar warnings discredited the claims of rival prophets, present and
future. 'I have been shown,' said White, that there will be 'many who will claim
to be especially taught of God, and will attempt to lead others, and they will
undertake a work from mistaken ideas of duty that God has never laid upon them;
and confusion will be the result.'" (Numbers, Ibid. pp. 218-21.)
Thus the door is effectively closed
to any messenger other than Ellen White. And she testifies this in heaven's
In earlier years, Dr. Russell T.
Trall predicted that her visions would decline after the menopause.
"The 1870s also marked the
end of Ellen White's dramatic daytime visions, the last one coming
about 1879 at age fifty-two. Years earlier Dr. Trall had privately predicted
that the visions would end after menopause, and whatever the cause-they did.
In the summer of 1869 Mrs. White wrote Edson that she was going through the
change of life and fully expected to die, as her sister Sarah had done . . .
"Somehow she survived the ordeal,
which may have lasted until the mid-1870s; but thereafter her public visions
apparently grew less and less frequent. For the remainder of her life she received
her heavenly communications by means of dreams - 'visions of the night' - unaccompanied
by any outward physical manifestations." (Numbers. Ibid. pp. 180-181. Emphasis
By accident, this coincided with
the death of her husband James, who died on August 6, 1881.
Dr. Merritt Gardner Kellogg (half-brother
of John Harvey) wrote a letter to John,
"Now about my position as to the
testimonies of Mrs. E.G. White. I think that in much of her writings we have
clear evidence that the Spirit of God guided her thoughts as she wrote,
but her inspiration came to her through the Holy Scriptures contained in the
Bible. The Bible has been her constant study and has been the source
of her inspiration.
"Her early vision was the
result of an abnormal nervous condition and the subject of the visions were
the result of her conceptions of things when in a normal condition. Her dreams
may be accounted for in same manner. Of this I am full convinced."
(Letter, M.G. Kellogg to J.H. Kellogg, Aug. 1, 1909. Emphasis supplied.)
Wrote Dr. W.J. Fairfield in 1887,
Battle Creek, Mich., Dec.
28, 1887."Dear Sir: You are undoubtedly right in ascribing Mrs. E.G.
White's so-called visions to disease. It has been my opportunity to observe
her case a good deal, covering quite a period of years, which, with a full knowledge
of her history from the beginning, gave me no chance to doubt her ('divine')
attacks to be simply hysterical trances. Age itself has almost cured her.
W.J. Fairfield, M.D." (Dr. W.J. Fairfield, quoted in Canright, The Life of Mrs.
E.G. White. Emphasis supplied.)
Dr. William S. Sadler, a very intelligent
man with great knowledge of human nature, was an aquaintance of Ellen White.
He was one of the men who received a false testimony from her. In 1912, Dr.
Sadler wrote the following observation,
"It is not uncommon
for persons in a cataleptic trance to imagine themselves taking trips
to other worlds. In fact, the wonderful accounts of their experiences,
which they write out after these cataleptic attacks are over, are so unique
and marvelous as to serve the basis for founding new sects, cults, and
religions. . . . It is an interesting study in psychology to note that
these trance mediums always see visions in harmony with their own theological
beliefs. . . . Nearly all these victims of trances and nervous catalepsy,
sooner or later come to believe themselves to be messengers of God and
prophets of Heaven; and no doubt most of them are sincere in their belief.
Not understanding the physiology and psychology of their afflictions, they sincerely
come to look upon their peculiar mental experiences as something supernatural
while their followers blindly believe anything they teach because of
the supposed divine character of these so¡called revelations." (Dr.
W.S. Sadler, The Physiology of Faith and Fear, pp. 461-62. Quoted in W. Rea,
The White Lie, p. 211. Emphasis supplied.)
Ellen White came from Methodist background,
in addition she was involved in the Miller-movement. Her visions were accordingly
coloured by legalism and Millerism. An interesting question is, how would her
visions turned out if she had come from Roman-catholic background or from Islam?
Isaac Wellcome, who was baptized
by James White in 1844, was among the questioners of Ellen White's visions.
"Ellen G. Harmon. . . .was strangely
exercised in body and mind. . .falling to the floor. . . .(we remember catching
her twice to save her from falling upon the floor). . . .in meetings she would
speak with great vehemence and rapidity until falling down, when, as she claimed,
wonderful views of heaven and what was being transacted there were shown her.
She claimed to have seen that Christ had left the office of mediation and assumed
that of Judge, had closed the door of mercy, and was blotting out the names,
from the book of life. . . .We saw her in Poland, Portland, Topsham, and Brunswick
during the beginning of this career, and often heard her speak, and several
times saw her fall, and heard her relate wonders which she said her heavenly
Father permitted her to see. Her supernatural or abnormal views were not readily
understood as visions, but as spiritual views of unseen things, which were quite
common among the Methodists.... These visions were but the echoes of Elder [Joseph]
Turner and others' preaching, and we regard them as the product of the overexcited
imagination of her mind, and not as facts." (Isaac Wellcome, History of the
Second Advent Message (Yarmouth, Maine: Advent Christian Publication Society,
Dudley M. Canright was of the same
"At the age of nine she received
a terrible blow on the face, which broke her nose, and nearly killed her. She
was unconscious for three weeks. (See her life in "Testimonies," Vol. I., pp.
9, 10.) This shock to her nervous system was doubtless the chief cause of all
the visions she had afterwards." (D.M. Canright, The Life of Mrs. E.G. White.)
"Now read the life of Mrs. White,
and she tells it over and over, times without number, about fainting frequently,
pain at the heart, and about being so sick that she expected to die. And
it is remarkable that most of her visions were immediately preceded by one of
these fainting death spells. This shows plainly that they were the
result of nervous weakness . . . .
'I often fainted like one dead.'
The next day she was well and 'rode thirty-eight miles' (1T, p. 80). This is
characteristic of hysterical persons, as all know who have seen them. They are
nearly dying one hour and all well the next. Mrs. White went through that experience
a thousand times. She was just dying, was prayed for, was healed by God, and
all well in a few minutes. In a few days she went right over it again. But
if God healed her, why didn't she stay healed? This used to bother me. When
Jesus healed a man, did he have to go back and be healed again every few days?"
(Canright, Ibid. Emphasis supplied.)
The information we have gathered
so far, makes it very plausible that Ellen White's visions were of a somatic
nature. There are far too many false visions and testimonies which turned out
to be an embarassment both to herself and others. In addition her writings and
visions often contain self-contradictions and other anomalies. On account of
that, we cannot in an uncritical manner accept her visions as true heaven-sent
messages, and herself as a true prophet of God.
She came out from the great disppointment
in 1844, and she partook in enthusiastical, fanatical meetings. This was in
a time when quite a few persons claimed to have visions, revelations and other
"gifts", trances etc. Ellen White drank deeply of this enthusiastical spirit,
and this showed up in her own manifestations.
This may be hard to digest for some,
and many refuse to believe it. But we are to keep to facts, and not let emotions
and sentimentalism govern our faith.