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When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’

ACT2:1-12 (NIV)

Basic Information

Glossolalia, or "Speaking in Tongues", is a religious practice performed primarily in Pentecostal Christian churches. The subject feels spiritual power entering himself and enters an ecstatic state in which he begins speaking in an unknown language.

The Book of Acts describes how after Jesus' Ascension, his Disciples received the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit gave them the confidence and the ability to preach the Gospel; but the most notable manifestation was that the disciples began speaking in foreign languages. As it happened there were many pilgrims from distant countries in Jerusalem that day who were amazed that they could understand what the disciples were speaking. (Acts 2).

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul mentions Tongues in his discussion of Gifts of the Spirit. He encourages it as a sign of the Spirit's presence, but warns that it can be overdone. Ideally, he says, it should be a personal experience between the person and God. If people are speaking in tongues in a communal setting, but no one is around who can translate what they're saying, no one gets anything out of it.

After the First Century, the Christian Church tended to downplay glossolalia, but in the early 20th Century, some American Protestant denominations, calling themselves "Pentecostal" after the events of the first Pentecost, elevated it's importance as a sign of God's presence. They increased in popularity in the 1970s and were sometimes known as the Charismatic Movement.

But what exactly is Glossolalia? There are many schools of thought.

In some cases, the person is believed to actually be speaking a different human language. In others, the unintelligible words are thought to be the Divine Language of the Spirit. Or it could just be gibberish, the brain free-associating meaningless syllables that mimic the patterns of a spoken language.

Some groups consider it a form of prophecy, that is, messages from God, and try to interpret the speech's meaning.

Scientific research done into glossolalia suggests that to a certain extent it is a learned behavior, that people who speak in tongues are imitating, whether consciously or unconsciously, the glossolalia of others. The late mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner claimed to have taught himself how to speak in tongues and there are anecdotes suggesting that some individuals will fake it in order to gain acceptance from the community. This does not, however, rule out the probability that the vast majority of tongue-speakers sincerely believe that they are being Moved by the Spirit.

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • Before using it in a game, you will need to determine what this actually consists of - is it the ability to speak in a way that transcends language and so be universally understood (as at Pentecost) or the uncontrolled utterance of (apparent) nonsense (as in the modern version). The first is a very useful, miraculous power that should cost a lot of points … the latter is not very useful at all.
    • Of course, if the apparent nonsense is actually a useful message, it might be more helpful - but if it still relies on the coincidence of someone being able to translate, utility is still low.
  • "Tongues" may turn out to be one of the fabled ancient languages of the Bible or Apocrypha - perhaps Enochian (allegedly the language of angels) or the pre-Babelic language of mankind (which may be the same thing). Anyone who speaks it - because they are very old, very learned or, possibly, carrying hitchhikers, may have a head start.
  • An NPC Holy Man might occasionally speak in tongues.
    • Depending on how you play this, it could come off as silly, or genuinely creepy.
      • Perhaps he really is channelling a Higher Power.
      • Or perhaps he's demonically possessed and only thinks he's communing with angels…
  • The PCs might encounter a religious group or community that practices glossolalia in it's religious services.
  • Perhaps a PC might begin occasionally speaking in tongues following an intense spiritual experience
    • Since this would require the GM essentially taking over the character for brief periods, I would not recommend it, unless the player was okay with the idea of having periodic bouts of amnesia and enjoyed the challenge of role-playing the situation.
  • A fraud might try to fake glossolalia in order to bamboozle pious but gullible marks.
    • He might find himself in trouble if glossolalia is real and the people he's trying to con have experience with the genuine article.
    • He might find himself in trouble anyway if they decide he's a genuine prophet and won't let him leave their community.
    • He might find that he has accidentally consented to becoming a prophet … or a vessel for something else, depending on how these things arise.
      • Given that Satan is often called the Prince of Lies, it would seem oddly appropriate for him to take ownership of someone pretending to be a prophet…
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