Automatic Writing

An Exploration of Hand-Written Channeling
(The Paranormal)


Automatic Writing


Automatic Writing

Writing executed or speech uttered without the agent's volition, and sometimes without his knowledge. The term is used by psychical researchers and applied particularly to the trance phenomena of the séance room. By spiritualists, writing or speaking produced under these conditions, are said to be performed "under control"—that is, under the controlling agency of the spirits of the dead—and are therefore not judged to be truly "automatic." The general consensus of opinion, however, ascribes such performances to the subconscious activity of the agent. Automatic writing and speaking necessarily imply some deviation from the normal in the subject, though such abnormality need not be pronounced, but may vary from a slight disturbance of the nerve-centers occasioned by excitement or fatigue to hystero-epilepsy or actual insanity. When the phenomena are produced during a state of trance or somnambulism the agent may be entirely unconscious of his actions. On the other hand the automatic writing may be executed while the agent is in a condition scarcely varying from the normal and quite capable of observing the phenomena in a critical spirit, though perhaps ignorant of a word in advance of what he is actually writing. Between these states of full consciousness or complete unconsciousness there are many intermediate stages.

The secondary personality, as displayed in the writings or utterances, may gain only a partial ascendancy over the primary, as may happen in dreams or in the hypnotic trance. As a rule automatic speech and writings display nothing more than a revivifying of faded mental imagery, thoughts and conjectures and impressions which never came to birth in the upper consciousness. But at times there appears an extraordinary exaltation of memory, or even of the intellectual faculties. Cases are on record where lost articles have been recovered by means of automatic writing. Foreign languages which have been forgotten, or with which the subject has small acquaintance, are spoken or written fluently. Helene Smith, the subject of Professor Flournoy, even went so far as to invent a new language, purporting to be that of the Martians, but in reality showing a marked resemblance to French—the mother-tongue of the medium. Automatic writing and speaking have been produced in considerable quantities, mainly in connection with spiritualistic circles, though it existed long before the advent of spiritualism in the speaking with " tongues " of the early ecstatics. These unintelligible outpourings are still to be met with, but are no longer a marked feature of automatic utterance. But, though the matter and style may on occasion transcend the capabilities of the agent in his normal state, the great body of automatic productions does not show an erudition or literary excellence beyond the scope of the natural resources of the automist. The style is involved, obscure, inflated, yet possessing a superficial smoothness and a suggestion of flowing periods and musical cadences. The ideas are often shallow and incoherent, and all but lost in a multitude of words. The best known of automatic writings are the Spirit Teachings of the Rev. Stanton Moses, the works of A, J. Davis, J. Murray Spear, and Charles Linton, and, perhaps most important of all, the Trance Utterances of Mrs. Piper, these last offering no inconsiderable evidence for telepathy. A good deal of poetry has been produced automatically, notably by the Rev. T. L. Harris. Among those who are known to" have produced automatic writings are Goethe, Victor Hugo, Victorien Sardou, and other eminent men of letters. (For the hypothesis of spirit control, see article Spiritualism.)

More About Automatic Writing

Overall, automatic writing is the most common form of mediumship, the source of innumerable cases of self-delusion, and at the same time one of the highest and most valuable spiritual gifts as, if reliable, it opens up a direct channel for obtaining teaching from the Beyond. Between these two extremes many problems of a complex nature present themselves to psychical research.

Let us see first how the power of automatic writing is acquired. In describing his first experience at a seance of Herne and Williams in 1872, Stainton Moses writes in Spirit Identity: "My right arm was seized about the middle of the forearm, and dashed violently up and down with a noise resembling that of a number of paviors at work. It was the most tremendous exhibition of 'unconscious muscular action' I ever saw. In vain I tried to stop it. I distinctly felt the grasps, soft and firm, round my arm, and though perfectly possessed of senses and volition, I was powerless to interfere, although my hand was disabled for some days by the bruising it then got. The object we soon found was to get up the force."

The first experience of William Howitt is similarly described by his daughter in Pioneers of Spiritual Reformation: "My father had not sat many minutes passive, holding a pencil in his hand upon a sheet of paper, ere something resembling an electric shock ran through his arm and hand; whereupon the pencil began to move in circles. The influence becoming stronger and ever stronger, moved not alone the hand, but the whole arm in a rotatory motion, until the arm was at length raised, and rapidly-as if it had been the spoke of a wheel propelled by machinery-whirled irresistibly in a wide sweep, and with great speed, for some ten minutes through the air. The effect of this rapid rotation was felt by him in the muscles of the arm for some time afterwards. Then the arm being again at rest the pencil, in the passive fingers, began gently, but clearly and decidedly, to move."

Mme. d'Esperance said: "I first noticed a tingling, pricking, aching sensation in my arm, as one feels as one strikes one's elbow; then a numb swollen sort of feeling which extended to my finger tips. My hand became quite cold and without sensation, so that I could pinch or nip the flesh without feeling any pain." The insensibility to pain was noticed by Professor William James, and Binet has proved this partial anesthesia by mechanical means.

In Mrs. Piper's case the automatic writing began with spasmodic violence, with sweeping the writing materials off the table. She wrote in trance. Which brings us to the first important classification: automatic writing may be produced in the waking state or in trance. There are many degrees of the two states, blending is frequent, the important point apparently being to bar the interference of the conscious mind. In conscious writing it is the writer who moves the pencil, in automatic writing it is the pencil which moves the writer. In the waking state, of course, the writer is fully conscious of the strange thing which is going on but he must remain entirely passive. He may watch the flow of sentences but if he becomes too interested or anxious the writing becomes disconnected, words are left out, or the meaning becomes unintelligible. It is best if he occupies himself with something else, like Stainton Moses, who kept on writing consciously with his right hand while his left was in control of his communicators. All this, however, varies extremely with different mediums. Nearly every automatic writer has conditions of his own. Accordingly, the script, which at first is hardly more than erratic markings on the paper, discloses many curious features. The medium may have an impression of the sense of the communication or may not. The text may be couched in tongues unknown, the character of the writing may be his own or a strange one. It may be so minute that a strong magnifying glass will be necessary for reading it, it may be mirror writing, if the power is applied from underneath the hand, it may come upside down if the horizontal direction is changed to face a particular sitter, the words may be written in a reverse order, as "latipsoh" for hospital, and it may be executed at tremendous speed. The automatic communications alleged to originate from Philip the Evangelist, from Cleophas, and F. W. H. Myers, obtained by Miss Geraldine Cummins, were sometimes delivered at the extraordinary speed of 2,000 words per hour.

Where do they come from?

The question of paramount importance is the source of the automatic communications. It may be the subconscious mind of the medium or an extraneous mind. This need not necessarily be discarnate. There are cases on record which prove that the contents of the script may emanate from the mind of a living man. William T. Stead, who developed the power of automatic writing, often received such curious messages from many of his friends for a period of fifteen years. He said that, as a rule, these messages were astonishingly correct and the fact of such communication with the living was as well established for him as the existence of wireless telegraphy. He made it a subject of experimental investigation and found that the messages so transmitted sometimes came against the direct intention of the agent. He called the phenomenon automatic telepathy and asserted that he knew at least ten other automatic writers who received similar messages. Miss Felicia R. Scatcherd was apparently one of them. She is quoted in James Coates' book Has W. T. Stead Returned? as follows: "Then came a new phase; I was the recipient of messages from the living-mostly strangers engaged in public affairs, and was startled into a perception of the scientific value of these phenomena. When at a dinner in Paris I met a famous scientist who, in his after-dinner remarks, expressed the identical sentiments I had received as coming from him, many months earlier, in a language with which I was then ill-acquainted. There was no mistake about it. Knowing I should meet him, I had my written record with me, taken down in shorthand and copied in longhand as soon as possible, as was my invariable practice. I disliked receiving information in this way, but could not help it. If I refused these confidences, nothing else came. However, I became more reconciled to it when I found I could often be of service, in one instance preventing suicide, in others forestalling various casualties."

To Stead's direct question: "how is it that a person will tell me things with my hand that he would never tell me with his tongue?" Julia replied through automatic writing that the real self will never communicate any intelligence whatever except what it wishes to communicate, but the, real self is very different from the physical self, it sits behind the physical senses and the mind, using either as it pleases. "I find," said Stead in a lecture before the London Spiritualist Alliance in 1913, "that there are some who will communicate with extraordinary accuracy, so much so that out of a hundred statements there would not be more than one which would be erroneous. I find some who, though they will sign their names correctly, apparently in their own character, make statements that are entirely false." To his question "if the real self does not communicate any intelligence except at its volition, how is it that I can get an answer from my friend without his knowing anything about it?" Julia returned the answer that "the real self does not always take the trouble when he has communicated a thing by the mind through the hand to inform the physical brain that he has done so." In one ease the message which Stead received from a living friend referred to a calamity which happened three days afterwards. Stead's theory of automatic telepathy appears to have been borne out in experiments with the planchette recorded in Proceedings, S.P.R., Vol. II, p. 235. A long series of communications between the Rev. P. H. Newnham, Vicar of Maker, Devonport, and his wife, clearly show that Mrs. Newnham's hand wrote replies answering questions of her husband which she neither heard nor saw.

A still better illustration is to be found in F. Bligh Bond's experiences with S., a lady who figures in the history of the Glastonbury scripts. As Bligh Bond writes in Psychic Research, April, 1929: "I noticed a very curious thing. The communications which she sent me began more and more to follow the line of my current archaeological inquiry. And after we had met once in the summer of that year, this tendency became increasingly obvious. There was some sort of mental rapport or attunement apparently present, and this I attributed to the dominance in both our minds of a very specialized line of interest. On one or two occasions in 1922 this correspondence became more pronounced and the communications took the form of answers to questions which were in my mind, though not consciously formulated ... Finally a very strange thing happened. I had a letter from S. in which she sent me a writing she had received automatically in the form of a letter addressed to her by myself and signed with my name, although not in my handwriting . . . I was and am totally unconscious of having mentally addressed it."

Nevertheless, such communications from the living are comparatively very rare. There is no doubt that, whether the contents disclose a rambling mind or powers of lucid reason, most of the automatic scripts represent a subconscious up-rush. Therefore, in judging such scripts the standard of evidence should be very strict. So much more so as automatic writing is known to have been produced by post-hypnotic suggestion. Edmund Gurney was the first to conduct such experiments. His subject was, for instance, suggested in trance to write "It has begun snowing again." Awakened, he wrote with a planchette, while his waking self was entirely unaware of what he was doing: "It has begun snowing." Similar experiments were set on foot independently by Professor Pierre Janet in France. The primary personality will absolutely repudiate the authorship of such scripts and it will also say that they cannot emanate from him because there are things in it which he never knew. Another curious feature of these experimental scripts is that these manufactured personalities, dwelling in separate streams of consciousness according to the depth of hypnotism, will sometimes obstinately cling to their fictitious names and refuse to admit that they are only portions of the automatist himself. In multiple personality the case is still stronger.

The unexpectedness of an automatically received message is yet no proof for its extraneous origin. As Myers suggested, two separate strata of intelligences may be concerned and a man may hold colloquy with his own dream. Besides, automatic writing is often obtained by the collaboration of two people who touch the planchette simultaneously or one is touching the wrist of the other during the process of writing. The source of the messages in such cases may be found in a combined fountain of subconsciousness.

Col. Rochas records a case where the communicator of the automatic script was found to be a fictive being in a novel. The extreme Spiritualist would attribute such messages to lying spirits, the occultist to thought forms, endowed with temporary intelligence. It is very likely, however, that nothing else than a dream of the subconscious has been witnessed in the case. Speculative possibilities are well illustrated by the mediumship of Miss Helen Smith. If the claim of reincarnation and exceptional remembrance of preincarnate states were to be admitted both the information contained in the script and the question of the communicators as preincarnate personalities would have to be considered in this light. The difference in the character of the automatic writing alone does not prove the presence of an outside entity. Prof. Richet proved in experiments, that are considered classical, that the new personality which he created by hypnotic suggestion completely transformed the handwriting of two hypnotized subjects.

The reproduction of the handwriting of the deceased is a much stronger but, in itself, not yet decisive point. Strict evidentiality requires that this resemblance should not be loosely asserted and that the medium should not have seen the writing of the alleged communicator, as hypnotic experiments reveal uncanny powers of perception and retention on the part of the subconscious mind. In the Blanche Abercromby case of Stainton Moses' mediumship Myers found every requirement satisfactory as both the lady's son and a handwriting expert found the spirit-writing identical with that by the lady when living.

The analysis is not an easy task as sometimes the handwriting shows the characteristics of two controls and yet the essential characteristics of the medium may also be discernible. Simultaneously obtained messages are neither safe from telepathic suspicion. Stead's communicator, Julia, often impressed Stead and his secretary, Edith K. Harper, at the same time, but not until the idea was further developed to cross correspondence: to broken off sentences in each script so that they should complete each other, could these scripts be considered exempt from the influence of living minds.

Psychometry may offer an indirect presumption. If the script emanates from an extraneous intelligence its psychometric reading should result in the presentation of a character different from the medium's. There is no telling, however, to what extent the medium's influence may blend with the script and garble psychometric impressions.

The difficulties, therefore, are very great if we set out to prove that a certain message comes from a discarnate mind. It should not only be clear that the contents of the message were unknown to the medium, but also that they were unascertainable. And as we do not know the powers of the subconscious to acquire information those instances in which the information may have been acquired from books should only be provisionally accepted. Stainton Moses' control, Rector, could read books, and proved it in many tests. If a discarnate mind can do so, there is no a priori possibility that an incarnate mind, freed in trance, may not achieve the same thing. Another series of difficulties will be encountered if we consider the influence of telepathy. A rigorous inquiry should be held into how far the message could have been influenced by the knowledge contained in a living mind. If every exaggerated scruple is to be satisfied we will have to narrow down considerably the circle of conclusive messages. The revelation of the contents of posthumous sealed letters, of the whereabouts of intentionally hidden objects, or the sudden announcement of death unknown to the sitters may offer a prima facie case that the communication comes from a discarnate mind. A good case for the latter is quoted by Aksakof. A man named Duvanel died by his own hand on January 15th, 1887, in a Swiss village where he lived alone. Five hours after his death an automatic message, announcing the decease, was written at Wilna by Mlle. Stramm whom Duvanel wished to marry, but who could have received no news of his tragic end. -Nevertheless the enumeration of the many difficulties in the way of convincing evidence does not mean that the message in question if it could have been known to the medium, is worthless. Every case has to be examined as a whole.

Sometimes the display of extraordinary, erudition or educational training, revealed by the scripts, alone is sufficient to establish a claim of supernormal origin. The banality of the message is usually taken as a proof of subconscious origin. This attitude is not justified by any means. If you begin to knock on a wall behind which, unseen to you, people are passing, there is no telling who will stop and answer. It may be a fool, a knave or a man of intelligence and sympathy, bent on helping and teaching. The recipient of the message may have confidence in the good faith of the communicator but no assurance of good faith alone justifies an unqualified belief in the intrinsic worth of the messages coming through. Good faith and ignorance, good faith and presumption often go together in this world. There is no reason to rule out their partnership in the Beyond. The question assumes a different aspect after long association between the automatic writer and the communicator. The latter may succeed in convincing the writer of his sincerity, erudition and high moral purpose. He has his own means of identification. From the sensation produced in the hand the automatist recognizes the presence of the well-known control or the appearance of an intruder. Occasionally the writing is attributed to preposterous sources. Victor Hugo received automatic messages from the "Shadow of the Tomb" and the "Ass of Balaam." Jules Bois quotes questions in Le Mirage Moderne to which the "Lion of Androcles" gave the answers. The communicator often avails himself of the services of an amanuensis who appears to have more skill in performing the psychic feat of communication. In the seances of Stainton Moses, Rector acted as amanuensis for Imperator and many others, producing a large part of the automatic script. In Mrs. Piper's case the communicators were often unconscious whether their messages were delivered by the spoken word or in automatic writing. The scripts of this famous medium are in a class by themselves. While she was writing her voice was being used by another communicator. To quote from Dr. Hodgson's report "the sense of hearing for the 'hand'-consciousness appears to be in the hand, and the sitter must talk to the hand to be understood. The thoughts that pass through the consciousness controlling the hand tend to be written, and one of the difficulties apparently is to prevent the writing out of thoughts which are not intended for the sitter. Other 'indirect communicators' frequently purport to be present and the 'consciousness of the hand' listens to them with the hand as though they were close by, as it listens to the sitters, presenting the palm of the hand, held in slightly different positions for the purpose by different 'direct communicators' so as to bring usually the region of the junction between the little finger and the palm towards the mouth of the sitter." In the old days writing was usually mirror writing, which sometimes was obtained in an unusual manner, i.e., Mrs. Piper wrote a name on paper held to her forehead so that the pencil was turned towards her face. With the advent of the Imperator group Rector took over the role of the scribe for all communicators and mirror writing only cropped up occasionally. Sometimes the letters were spelled in an, inverted order. The writing appeared to be less of a strain than speaking and these séances lasted for two hours or more.

An extremely interesting intellectual aspect of automatic writing is given, from the other side, by F. W. H. Myers in Miss Cummins' "The Road to Immortality":

"The inner mind-wrote Myers on the second occasion on which he purported to write through Miss Cummins-is very difficult to deal with from this side. We impress it with our message. We never impress the brain of the medium directly. That is out of the question. But the inner mind receives our message and sends it on to the brain. The, brain is a mere mechanism. The inner mind is like soft wax, it receives our thoughts, their whole content, but it must produce the words that clothe it. That is what makes cross-correspondence so very difficult. We may succeed in sending the thought through, but the actual words depend largely on the inner mind's content, on what words will frame the thought. If I am to send half a sentence through one medium and half through another I can only send the same thought with the suggestion that a part of it will come through one medium and a part through another."

The explanation may have been very true in the case of Miss Cummins, yet it need not have general application. She was conscious of the use of her brain by someone else.

"Soon I am in a condition of half-sleep-she writes in her introduction to The Road to Immortality-a kind of dream-state that yet, in its peculiar way, has more illumination than one's waking state. I have at times distinctly the sensation of a dreamer who has no conscious creative control over the ideas that are being formulated in words. I am a mere listener, and through my stillness and passivity I lend my aid to the stranger who is speaking. It is hard to put such a psychological condition into words. I have the consciousness that my brain is being used by a stranger all the time. It is just as if an endless telegram is being tapped out on it."

Like any other mediumistic faculty, automatic writing may appear at a very early age. Mr. Wason, a well-known Spiritualist from Liverpool, has seen the six months old son of Mrs. Kate Fox-Jencken, write: "I love this little child. God bless him. Advise his father to go back to London on Monday by all means -Susan." Susan was the name of Mr. Wason's wife. Myers and Hodgson saw a girl of four write the words "Your Aunt Emma." Celina ' a child of three and a half, wrote in the presence of Drs. Dussart and Broquet: "I am glad to manifest through a charming little medium of three and a half who promises well. Promise me not to neglect her."

Glimpses into Automatic Literature

The claims of discarnate authorship present a delicate problem. Brofferio, knew a writing medium "to whom Boccaccio, Bruno and Galileo dictated replies that for the elevation of thought were assuredly more worthy of the greatness of that trio than on the level of the medium; I could cite competent testimony to the fact." According to Lombroso "' Dante, or one who stood for him, dictated to Scaramuzza three Cantos in terza rima. I read only a few strophes of this but so far as I could judge they were very beautiful." Many famous writers wrote in a semi-trance, having but an imperfect recollection of the work afterwards. Mrs. H. B. Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"said"that she did not write it: it was given to her it passed before her." In the preface of his famous poem Jerusalem, Blake says that it was dictated to him. "The grandest poem that this world contains; I may praise it, since I dare not pretend to be other than the Secretary; the authors are in eternity." Again: "I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without premeditation and even against my will." Parts of the Old Testament were received through automatic writing. "And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet saying . ." (2 Chronicles XXI. 12). In 1833 the book of the German Augustinian nun, Anna Catherine Emmerich, The Lowly Life and Bitter Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, was accepted by Catholics as divinely inspired. The remarkable contents of the book came to her in visions and were noted and edited by the poet Clement Brentano. In America one of the earliest automatically-written books was the Rev. C. Hammond's The Pilgrimage of Thomas Payne and Others to the Seventh Circle, New York, 1852. The book contains 250 octavo pages. It was begun at the end of December 1851 and completed February 1st next year. The following year Judge Edmond's and Dexter's Spiritualism was published, which also contains many spirit messages. The same year saw the appearance of John Murray Spear's Messages from the Spirit Life, which was followed in 1857 by a big connected work, the Educator. A year after, Charles Linton, a book-keeper of limited education produced a remarkable book of 100,000 words, The Healing of the Nation, which was printed with Governor Talmadge's preface. Next year Twelve Messages from John Quincey Adams through Joseph D. Stiles was published. But all these books pale into insignificance by Hudson Tuttle's Arcana of Nature, a profound scientific book with which, in sweep and scope, only the trance writings of Andrew Jackson Davis compare. Two astonishing cases of automatic writing should yet be mentioned. The first dates from 1874. It is The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens, when he died, left this novel unfinished. T. P. James, an American mechanic of very slight education, completed it automatically. According to many critics the script is characteristic of Dickens in style and is worthy of his talent. The second is Oahspe, 1882, a new cosmic Bible which Dr. John Ballou Newbrough received in automatic type-writing. In France, Hermance Dufeaux, a girl of 14, produced in the early days of French spiritualism, two surprising books: a Life of Jeanne d'Arc, dictated by the Maid, and Confessions of Louis XL Allen Kardec vouched for the honesty of the girl. On the other hand, the Divine Revelations of Geneva in 1854, obtained by a little group of ministers and professors by means of the table from Christ and his angels, is-according to Prof. Flournoy-insipid and foolish enough to give one nausea.

In England Dr. J. Garth Wilkinson published in 1857 an octavo volume of impressional poetry. The first continued series of automatically received messages deserving serious attention was produced by William Stainton Moses between 1870 and 1880. His scripts contained many evidential messages but their main purpose was the delivery of high religious teaching. Nothing, except the writings of the Rev. George Vale Owen and the present-day communications of Miss Geraldine Cummins has equalled these scripts in interest. The Scripts of Cleophas, Paul in Athens, and The Chronicle of Ephesus produced by Miss Cummins under the alleged influence of Philip, the Evangelist and Cleophas, bear signs of close acquaintanceship with the Apostolic Circle. It is very curious that Cleophas describes the Pentecost meeting and declares that the Apostles sat round in a circle with hands clasped, as the Master had taught them. As to the inspiration of The Road to Immortality, Miss Cummins' fourth book, by F. W. H. Myers, Sir Oliver Lodge claims to have received independent evidence.

W. T. Stead's Letters from Julia is widely known, and Mrs. Hester Travers, Smith's Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde offers great intellectual thrill. The Glastonbury Scripts have an importance of their own. The quantity of automatically-written books is such that it is difficult to mention more than a few as, for instance, Elsa Barker's Letters from a Living Dead Man, War Letters from a Living Dead Man, Last Letters from a Living Dead Man (the probable communicator being David P. Hutch, a magistrate of Los Angeles), the remarkable books of Patience Worth produced through Mrs. John H. Curran of St. Louis, The Book of Truth, claimed to have been written under the divine guidance of Osiris, Submerged Atlantis Restored: or Links and Cycles, Rochester, N.Y., 1911, inspired by "atlantean spirits" through Mrs. C. C. Van-Duzee, Meslom's Messages from the Life Beyond and To Woman: from Meslom, by Mary McEvilly, New York, 1920, The Seven Purposes, by Margaret Cameron, New York, 1918, J. S. Ward's Gone West and A Subaltern in the Spirit Lands, the anonymous Private Dowding (by W. Tudor Pole), the Revelations of Louise, Claude's Book, 1918, Claude's Second Book, 1919, and Claude's Third Book, 1920 by Mrs. Kelway Bamber, The Twentieth Plane, by Albert Durrant Watson, Philadelphia, 1919, Oscar Wilde in Purgatory and the curious and highly intellectual automatic scripts of Mme. Juliette Hervey of France which Dr. Eugen Osty studied.

Communications obtained through the planchette, ouija board or table tipping are modifications of automatic writing and may be obtained by an interchange of methods. The Oscar Wilde scripts came partly through the planchette, partly through automatic writing.



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