Auditory verbal hallucinations, or “voices”, afflict more than seventy per cent of individuals suffering from schizophrenia, and fifteen per cent of people with anxiety and mood disorders. The voices are unbidden and are distinctly different from inner speech, which all people experience daily. The inner voices of schizophrenia can be terrifying, self-deprecating, demeaning, vulgar, or intensely religious. The deeply felt belief that a higher authority is speaking to an individual is evident in a wide range of rituals across cultures throughout time, and when the voice commands individuals to harm themselves or others, extreme and dangerous behavior can result. A classic example is the voices of Saints that commanded Joan of Arc to battle. It is not uncommon for normal individuals to hear their name spoken in noisy environments, or for individuals to piece together indistinct sounds into a recognizable speech pattern.
Musical hallucinations often affect people suffering from hearing loss coupled with dementia. Some researchers believe that the enormous increase of music in our lives – from background music to the personal playlists that accompany many throughout the day - is leading to an increase in the phenomenon of musical hallucinations.
Auditory hallucinations – both speech and music – sometimes occur at, or, perhaps, trigger moments of intense insight or inspiration. Vladimir Nabokov wrote of his hypnagogic hallucinations. Robert Schumann transcribed some of his musical hallucinations believing that he was taking dictation from Franz Schubert. A hallucinatory voice formed the foundation of Rainer Maria Rilke greatest work.
painting by Vera Gutkina