Visions due to Mental Illness
At the age of nine, Ellen was struck with a rock thrown by a fellow student, which left her in a coma for three weeks. Some neurologists have commented that this may have caused partial complex seizures and hallucinations, which led her to believe that she had visions of God.1
The symptoms experienced by patients who are recovering from a severe head injury include headaches, dizziness, depression, slowness in thinking, and impairment of concentration and memory. These symptoms are noted in Ellen White's experience following the head injury.
Experiences during Visions
In some respects, her physical experiences during the visions resembled symptoms of an epileptic fit, such as becoming unconscious, losing control of her arms and legs, shallow breathing, and visual phenomena.2
Another symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy is the frequency and degree of hypergraphia (compulsive, repetitive writing). Ellen White wrote some 100,000 pages of typewritten material during her lifetime.
Nobody would claim that Ellen White’s accident did not affect her severely. To claim that this impact was to her benefit, however, is unsubstantiated. Seizure disorders of whatever kind never enhance a victim’s mental abilities. No one has ever accomplished anything worthwhile during a seizure or as the direct result of a seizure. If a person with seizures are successful in life, it is not because they have epilepsy, but in spite of it. Many successful people are reported to have had seizure disorders, among them Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Mohammed, Napoleon, van Gogh, Pascal, Socrates, Dante, Tchaikovsky, Lord Byron, Alfred Nobel, and Dostoevsky, but the seizures did not make them prominent or successful.
Experiences during Visions
While her experiences partly match those of people with seizure disorders, there are distinct differences. Many times Ellen White had visions in the company of large groups of people. These visions were sometimes accompanied by unusual physical phenomena, such as supernatural strength or an extended interruption in breathing. The record also shows that although she was usually unmindful of the content of her visions immediately upon regaining consciousness, she was later able to recall what she had seen in great detail. This is not true of partial complex seizures. In the latter case amnesia for most of the attack is a classic feature.
Hypergraphia is characterized by endless repetitions of the same, mundane sentences. It is so devoid of literary merit that no authority has ever thus characterized the published works of a recognized author. Prolific writing that is publishable is not evidence of hypergraphia as the term is used in connection with seizure disorder.
As so often, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. “Ye shall know them by their fruit,” the Bible says in Mat 7:16. This, everyone is invited to judge personally.
- 1. Gregory Holmes and Delbert Hodder(1981).Ellen G.White and the Seventh Day Adventist Church:Visions or Partial Complex Seizures?Journal of Neurology,31(4):160-161.
- 2. Sample New Jersey, USA, medical report form: http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/Violations/MVC-Form_MR-4.pdf