In Darklore Volume 1 I wrote an article titled "Her Sweet Murmur" (available as a free sample article on the Darklore website), which examined reports of sounds heard during paranormal and mystical encounters. I also posted a quick follow-up here on my blog a little while back. So thought I'd post another.
I'm currently reading Archie E. Roy's The Eager Dead: A Study in Haunting - have wanted to do so for a long while, but it's original price and the British pound-Australian dollar exchange rate meant it was very expensive for me. Happily, I've finally got my hands on a copy. Anyhow, came across this passage while reading the book - it was written by Jean Balfour as she sat at the bed of the former Prime Minister of England, Arthur James Balfour (AJB), in his final days. The account of her death-bed vision was written in March, 1930 - I'll quote more than I need because it's fascinating material:
A.J.B. had been a little better the last two days and was, I felt, when I glanced at his attentive face, deeply contented and absorbed in listening to the music he loved with his whole heart. The nurse, having fixed in the records, had gone downstairs.
I had, at first, simply an odd sort of feeling of expectancy, as though anything might happen, and presently I became aware with a sensation of a mighty rushing wind (which was entirely subjective, as nothing around me was even stirred), that the room was full of a radiant, dazzling light. This I felt rather than saw, as a blind person might do, and I started trembling. Now it seemed to me that there were people there too; they had no concern with me, they were invisible; but I knew that they were clustered about A.J.B.'s bed, and that their whole attention was concentrated on him. They seemed to me to be most terribly eager, and very loving and strong; and I recollect feeling a good deal of apprehension because I felt they were there for some purpose, though I did not know what it could be.
I could not stop the trembling, so I was wondering if I ought to go out of the room into the passage for a little while, when it seemed to me that something like a voice within me said, 'You are not to go away,' and I looked at E.M.S (Eleanor Sidgwick) sitting in the armchair to see if she was aware of anything unusual, but she did not appear to be. The music came to the passage where the words occur: 'And in my flesh shall I see God.' At that moment my eyes were compelled to look at A.J.B. His face, transfigured with satisfaction and beauty, seemed to express all the glorious vision which both music and words conveyed; and I stared, fully expecting him to die at that moment, and to pass straight into the Heaven that awaited him on all sides. But his face chnaged, and then he was shaken with the seizure that marked the last phase of his illness, and I was filled with terror and distress. Perhaps my shock was the greater for having just been upon such spiritual heights; and the extraordinary thing was that I was vividly aware that the feeling in the room had not changed, that the radiant joy and light still thrilled around him, and that the agonising spectacle of the poor body's affliction caused no dismay to those unseen ones who watched, but that it was what they had wanted to happen. That was what seemed to me so incredible as I fled for the Nurse; and as I ran immediately afterwards to telephone for the Doctor, I was saying over and over to myself, It was intended - it was intended.'
...Thinking it over afterwards I began to realise that though to my bodily view it was terrible, to those who see the spirit it may have been simply a fierce effort to cast off the body and set free a soul alreadying with them; and since a merciful unconsciousness accompanies the onset of a stroke we do not know, and never will know, into what peace and joy his soul may have receded in that little space...
...During the next ten days he gradually weakened, and died on the morning of the 19th March, 1930.
I've bolded the introductory sensation of a "mighty rushing wind" because it's something I covered in my article. For instance, the account of Pentecost (from Acts 2:1):
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The 'Virgin Mary' vision of Bernadette at Lourdes:
Hardly had I taken off my first stocking, when I heard a sound as though there had been a rush of wind. I looked around towards
the meadow. I saw the trees quite still. So I continued to take off my shoes. Again I heard the same noise. I looked upward towards the grotto. I beheld a lady dressed in white. She wore a white dress a blue sash and a yellow rose on each foot...
I also mention in my article that the famous Fatima 'Virgin Mary' apparitions were allegedly preceded by something similar:
In 1915, two years before the more famous sequence of apparitions, Lucia and her two cousins were said to have been taking shelter from rain in a small cave when they heard the rumble of a powerful wind and then saw a “youth of admirable beauty” who called himself the ‘Angel of Peace’.
James McCampbells list of noises heard during UFO encounters includes "Rush of Air (whoosh, swish)". And then there is this phenomenon noted at the seances of D.D. Home, which seems to mimic the Pentecost narrative:
Lindsay and Charlie saw tongues or jets of flame proceeding from Home’s head. We then all distinctly heard, as it were, a bird flying round the room, whistling and chirping, but saw nothing, except Lindsay, who perceived an indistinct form resembling a bird. There then came a sound as of a great wind rushing through the room, we also felt the wind strongly; the moaning rushing sound was the most weird thing I have ever heard. Home then got up, being in a trance, and spoke something in a language that none of us understood; it may have been nonsense, but it sounded like a sentence in a foreign tongue.
As I note in my article, such 'non-existent sounds' are also encountered in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, ("Simple auditory phenomena such as humming, buzzing, hissing, and roaring may occur if the discharges arise in the superior temporal gyrus"). So perhaps it's simply a case of a 'malfunctioning' brain. But the questions remain as to why it happens to groups as well as individuals, and why there are a number of examples of these sensations at the time of death - recounted by the people sitting around the deathbed, not the actual person dying.
(And quite interesting in itself is how many times the sound is described with exactly the same word: "rushing")