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Automatic Writing Explained

Posted on 23 March 2015, 17:08

The so-called skeptics assume that the automatic writing form of mediumship is just so much bunk, baloney, and bosh, nothing more than the imagination playing tricks on the person.  Some parapsychologists believe it is all coming from the individual’s subconscious and unrelated to spirits.  But so much of what has come through automatic writing has been beyond the individual’s knowledge and experience that spirits are a much more reasonable explanation. 

“Automatic writing, I may explain for those unfamiliar with the term, is writing that is written by the hand of a person which is not under control of his conscious mind,” William T. Stead, (below) a British journalist who went down with the Titanic, explained.  “The hand apparently writes of itself, the person to whom the hand belongs having no knowledge of what it is about to write. It is a very familiar and simple form of mediumship.”


Considering the subconscious theory, Stead, an accomplished automatist, wrote that he could not believe that any part of his unconscious self would deliberately practice a hoax upon his conscious self about the most serious of all subjects, and keep it up year after year with the most sincerity and consistency.  “The simple explanation that my friend who has passed over can use my hand as her own seems much more natural and probable.”

William Stainton Moses, an Anglican priest, was also an automatic writing medium.  “During the whole time this communication was written, my spirit was separated from the body,” he explained.  “I could see, from a short distance, the hand as it wrote. In my own room I felt an impression to write, such as I have not felt for nearly two months. I sat at my desk, and the first part was written. I presume I then passed into a state of unconscious trance.  The next thing I remember was standing in spirit near to my body, which was seated holding the pen before the table on which this book was placed. I looked at it and the arrangements of the room with great interest. I saw that my body was there, and that I was joined to it by a thin line of light. Everything material in the room looked shadowy, and everything spiritual seemed solid and real.”

Moses added that the communicating spirit stood behind his body with his own hand over his, and he saw other spirits in the room at the same time. “Through the ceiling streamed down a mild, pleasing light, and now and again rays of bluish light were shot down on my body. When this was done, I saw the body jerk and quiver. It was being charged, as I may say. I noticed, moreover, that the daylight had faded; and the window seemed dark, and the light by which I saw was spirit-light. I could hear perfectly well the voices of the spirits who spoke to me. They sounded very much as human voices do, but were more delicately modulated, and sounded as though from a distance.”

It was explained to him that he was seeing an actual scene, which was intended to show him how the spirits operated. His hand was writing, but it was explained to him that it was not so much that the spirit was using his hand as it was the spirit was impressing his mind.  “[It] was done by directing on to the pen a ray which looked like blue light. The force so directed caused the pen to move in obedience to the will of the directing spirit. In order to show me that the hand was a mere instrument, not essential to the experiment the pen was removed from the hand, and kept in position by the ray of light which was directed upon it. To my great surprise, it moved over the paper, and wrote as before…I do not remember the return to my body. I am perfectly certain as to what occurred, and report it simply and without exaggeration.”

Sidney Dean, (below) a member of Congress representing Connecticut from 1855 to 1859 and later a journalist and author, wrote to Professor William James of Harvard describing the strange writing that seemed to be coming from his hand but not from his brain.  “Some of it is in hieroglyph, or strange compounded arbitrary characters, each series possessing a seeming unity in general design or character, followed by what purports to be a translation or rendering into mother English,” he explained to James.  “I never attempted the seemingly impossible feat of copying the characters. They were cut with the precision of a graver’s tool, and generally with a single rapid stroke of the pencil.  Many languages, some obsolete and passed from history, are professedly given.  To see them would satisfy you that no one could copy them except by tracing.”


But this was a very small part of the phenomenon.  “The ‘automatic’ has given place to the impressional, and when the work is in progress I am in the normal condition, and seemingly two minds, intelligences, persons, are practically engaged,” he continued.  “The writing is in my own hand but the dictation not of my own mind and will, but that of another, upon subjects which I can have no knowledge and hardly a theory; and I, myself, consciously criticize the thought, fact, mode of expressing it, etc., while the hand is recording the subject matter and even the words impressed to be written.  If I refuse to write the sentence, or even the word, the impression instantly ceases, and my willingness must be mentally expressed before the work is resumed, and it is resumed at the point of cessation, even if it should be in the middle of a sentence.  Sentences are commenced without knowledge of mine as to their subject or ending.  In fact, I have never known in advance the subject of disquisition.”
Dean said that the writing was coming in chapters dealing with life and life beyond death.  “Each chapter is signed by the name of some person who has lived on earth – some with whom I have been personally acquainted, others known in history…I know nothing of the alleged authorship of any chapter until it is completed and the name impressed and appended…I am interested not only in the reputed authorship – of which I have nothing corroborative – but in the philosophy taught, of which I was in ignorance until these chapters appeared.  From my standpoint of life – which has been that of biblical orthodoxy – the philosophy is new, seems to be reasonable, and is logically put.  I confess to an inability to successfully controvert it to my own satisfaction.”

Dean said that he was certain that it was not coming from his conscious self and had considered the theory that it was coming from his “unconscious self,” but that theory failed him since it was so in conflict with what he knew and believed.  “It is an intelligent ego who writes, or else the influence assumes individuality, which practically makes of the influence a personality,” he went on.  “...It would be far more reasonable and satisfactory for me to accept the silly hypothesis of re-incarnation – the old doctrine of metempsychosis – as taught by some spiritualists today, and to believe that I lived a former life here, and that once in a while it dominates my intellectual power, and writes chapters upon the philosophy of life, or opens a post-office for spirits to drop their effusions, and have them put into English script.  No, the easiest and most natural solution to me is to admit the claim made, i.e., that it is a decarnated intelligence who writes…[As] my pencil fairly flies over the paper to record the thoughts, I am conscious that, in many cases, the vehicle of the thought, i.e., the language, is very natural and familiar to me, as if somehow, my personality as a writer was getting mixed up with the message.  And, again, the style, language, everything is entirely foreign to my own style.”

The anonymous spirit communicating with John Scott of England, as documented in Scott’s 1948 book, As One Ghost to Another, explained it this way:  “I send out my thought to your mind and it fuses with yours, and then you and I produce words together, which you, or rather we, write with your hand. There is no way of describing to you with your present knowledge the intricate process of communication.”

At some point in the discourse, Scott asked his communicator why more spirits do not communicate in such a manner.  “There are a few who at first return and communicate through your mediums, but their experience does not encourage them; in fact they soon despair of effecting any notable good,”  the communicating spirit told him, going on to inform him that it is very difficult to find minds which have the ability to receive such communication.

“I think I may say that most of them become thus absorbed [with their new environment], to the exclusion of all thought of earth,” the communicating spirit further told Scott, also mentioning that absolutely no communication comes through without a portion of error, which further frustrates communication.
Scott concluded the preface of his book with the comment that the product of his hand has been laughed at by family and friends, while doctors have diagnosed him as suffering from a morbid state of schizophrenia. “I have broken into the shadowy abode of the suggested subconscious, seeking ‘compensation for frustration’ and ‘escape,’ thus letting loose an actor to simulate two dead persons, one not known to me at all and the other through hearsay,” Scott wryly summarized one medical opinion.  “Meanwhile, I remain the ordinary human animal of social routine, distinguished from the herd merely by the label.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.

Next blog post:  April 6



Nearly all of the Piper transcripts can be found in the archives of the Society for Psychical Research in London at their web site, and many can be found in various books, probably the best one being Henry Holt’s 1915 book, “On the Cosmic Relations.”

To my knowledge, Sidney Dean’s automatic writing was not preserved.  Reference is made to it on page 49 of “William James on Psychical Research” by Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou, Viking Press, 1960. 

If additional information needed, email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  I hope that you are aware of James’s wimpish tendencies.

Michael Tymn, Fri 7 Aug, 20:11

Hi Michael!
I’m writing my PhD thesis on James and psychical research. I’m presently in Boston doing part of my investigation in Houghton and Widener Libraries at Harvard looking through James’s Papers.

Could you please tell me where are Sydney Dean’s automatic writing’s manuscripts? Or any manuscript of Piper’s early seances to which James might have attended?

I hope to hear from you very soon, since I1ll be here only until 10 August!!!!

Thanks for your cooperation



Alexandre Sech Junior, Thu 6 Aug, 03:59

I have never experienced automatic writing, despite a great deal of trying.  However, I’ve experienced something like what Mr. Dean called “impressional” writing, what I’ve thought of as “semiautomatic” writing.

Some years ago I was at a session with my mentor Mendy Lou Blackburn, and we had a visit from our disembodied friend who is known to us as Chopin.  At the time he came in, I was bemoaning the fact that I could not get communications as easy or clear as one could with automatic writing.  I had the feeling that it might be possible right then, and Mendy Lou handed me a notebook and a pen.

Some simple ideas immediately came through, and I dutifully and delightedly wrote them down. After a couple of sentences, the entity switched gears and suddenly poured a great many thoughts into my head at once, explaining that this was much more efficient than the laborious method of writing down one word at a time.  I had to admit that he was right. 

Mendy Lou could see what was going on, and wryly asked, “Happy now?”

But with the communications that are possible for me, I must remember what has been conveyed long enough to write it down later, meaning that I have to stay in normal consciousness so that I can process it, and probably don’t get as much information as I could if I were able to let go a bit more.  On the upside, I can get images and ideas that can’t easily be put into words.

Elene Gusch, Thu 7 May, 06:44

Wonderfully informative article! I have studied A Course in Miracles for16 years and Sidney Dean’s description of his writing process is very similar to how Helen Schulman, who received the Course described her process.  The one strong difference is that the entity (Helen perceived it as Jesus) very obviously made use of her knowledge of psychology and religion.

Gloria, Fri 24 Apr, 04:15

Replying to Erich, I was unable to find any indication that Sidney Dean ever published the material he received.

Replying to Jane, “Letters from Julia” by W. T. Stead and “The Road to Immortality” by Geraldine Cummins are the two references.

Thanks for your interest.

Michael Tymn, Sat 28 Mar, 20:43

Excellent article, Mike!
As a medium who has experienced
this special type of writing a few times, it is spot on.

Yvonne Limoges, Thu 26 Mar, 20:25

It was very interestin account. I am agree with the author : spirit beings act in automatic writing and prove therefore that there is a life after death. Moreove it is a prof that subconscious mind is only a “too” for the use of spirit being and not a mere expalanation with spirit communications.

Alan, Wed 25 Mar, 09:50

Very interesting and important information, Mike!
I have had the similar experience of being helped by a discarnate in doing healing/ channeling higher vibration frequencies.
I’d like to read your source books. What are they? Are they available?

Jane Katra, Mon 23 Mar, 20:12

Fascinating. I am curious to know what the spirits said to Dean - through automatic writing - about the conditions of the afterlife.

Erich Avedisian, Mon 23 Mar, 17:52

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