Automatic writing is a psychic phenomenon in which discarnates, or spirits, purportedly communicate by controlling the writing hand of a human sensitive, or medium. It usually involves the sensitive, also referred to as an automatist, being in a disassociated state and delivering words not in his or her conscious or subconscious, although mainstream psychology attributes it all to the latter.
Automatic writing differs from direct writing and inspirational writing. In the direct writing phenomenon, the writing instrument moves without any human touching it, although the medium must be nearby in order to supply the psychic force. Inspirational writing usually involves a somewhat passive state in which the writer supposedly collaborates, knowingly or unknowingly, with an advanced spirit entity in delivering enlightened messages or essays. There appears to be considerable overlap between automatic writing and inspirational writing.
A more modern term often applied to automatic writing is channeling. However, this “new age” term is also applied to other forms of mediumship and is not limited to “spirits.” It can involve receiving and conveying information from any being or source not physically embodied or located in physical reality, including extraterrestrials, the higher self, the collective unconscious, and the Universal Mind, or God.
During the second half of the 19th Century, a planchette was often used in automatic writing. This wooden or metal device was designed to hold a pencil centered in the middle. The sensitive would lightly touch the sides of the planchette to provide the psychic force and the spirits would then cause it to write. Often, a second person would also touch the device, thereby providing additional psychic force. A different type of planchette was used in operating a Ouija Board, where the device was moved from letter to letter on a board to spell out messages. In effect, the Ouija Board is a form of automatic writing.
Hester Travers Smith, an Irish automatist who produced writing with both the Ouija Board and by means of automatic writing, explained the process in her 1919 book, Voices from the Void: “A pencil is held generally between the first and third fingers of the hand of the medium; it touches the paper, and as a rule, after some preliminary flourishes and twirls, the pencil begins to write coherent words and messages. These messages vary according to the communicator, and the handwriting changes as different personalities appear. Sometimes the writing is that of a child, then of an old person, etc. One of my objections is that the script is generally difficult to decipher, as the pencil cannot be lifted as in ordinary handwriting, and the manuscript is full of scrawls and hard to read. This is not my only objections on automatic writing, which, for some unknown reason, leads in certain cases to continual pain in the arm, an irresistible desire to write, nervous upset, and consequent physical prostration. However, without doubt, most interesting and evidential results have been obtained by automatic writing, and my objections to this method do not hold good in all cases.”
In the 1918 classic, The Seven Purposes, author Margaret Cameron described her sensation in automatic writing as “comparable to that of holding a quiet, live bird, wrapped in a handkerchief, its energy muffled but palpable. Sometimes this sensation of a current from without is communicated to the hand and arm, sometimes only to the fingers.”
In Beyond the Horizon, a 1961 publication, Grace Rosher explained that she was writing letters to friends one afternoon in 1957 when she heard, apparently clairaudiently, the words, “Leave your hands there and see what happens.” To her amazement, the pen started to move without any effort on her part. Words began to form, and the message, “With love from Gordon,” slowly appeared. Thus began her regular communication with Gordon Burdick, a long-deceased friend from her youth. Burdick described life on the Other Side and delivered many profound messages.
In the course of time, Rosher was told not to grasp the pen but to simply close her hand in a loose fist and to let the pen rest on top of it. The writing then flowed more fluently. “…I watched the pen move without any conscious effort on my part and write about things I had never dreamed of, and in a style of writing as different from my own as it could possibly be,” Rosher wrote.
Probably the most famous and studied case of automatic writing was that of Pearl Curran of St. Louis. First from a friend’s Ouija board, then a pencil, then a typewriter, flowed the writings of a spirit identifying herself as Patience Worth, a 17th Century English woman. In some of her scripts, she used Anglo-Saxon words that are no longer part of the English vocabulary; yet, researchers were able to confirm that these words did exist at one time, although it would have been virtually impossible for Curran, an uneducated 31-year-old woman, to have come upon them.
According to Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, one of the men who studied the phenomena, Patience Worth’s writing “displayed original genius, enormous erudition, familiarity with literature and history of many ages, versatility of experience, philosophical depth, piercing wit, moral spirituality, swiftness of thought, and penetrating wisdom,” qualities and characteristics which were totally foreign to Pearl Curran. Moreover, Curran was witnessed carrying on simultaneous mental operations as she was recording.
“Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through but not originating in the subconsciousness of Mrs. Curran must be acknowledged,” Prince concluded.
William T. Stead, a British journalist who went down with the Titanic, was an accomplished automatist. In one of his books, Letters from Julia, Stead 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 seem much more natural and probable,” concluded Stead, who was observed by Titanic survivors serenely sitting in the smoking room and reading his Bible as pandemonium took place all around him.
More recently, Suzy Smith explained the process in the 2000 book, the Afterlife Codes: “Finally, after a long time, a message began to write itself on the paper. It was the most peculiar feeling I’d ever experienced. The hand was just writing by itself without my conscious will being involved in any way. It wrote scragglingly across the page in run-together words.”
Smith pointed out that her fingers seemed to move of their own volition and that what she wrote was much different from what she wanted to say. “Can you imagine how it feels to sit at your typewriter and have your fingers type information that mind does not consciously instigate, that you don’t even know?”
Many automatists, including Smith and Rosher, have questioned whether the subconscious mind was playing tricks on them, as is so often claimed by psychologists. Both wondered how things they had never been exposed to or thought about could come from the subconscious. Smith recognized that her own thoughts and beliefs were sometimes “coloring” the messages and worked diligently to “blank out” her mind.
Rosher consulted a graphologist who compared the handwriting with that in letters received from Burdick when he was alive and concluded that it was indeed the same. Rosher had never heard anything about Burdick’s final days and asked him to provide her with some detail. He did and she confirmed the information with mutual friends. Burdick explained that in order to come into real and tangible contact with Rosher he had to get down to a lower vibration, something which he found very difficult at first but was able to perfect with practice.
Both Smith and Rosher were warned by their communicators about intruders. “[The communicating spirit] said the misinformation had been written by spirit intruders who were sometimes able to exert more power than she and so could push her aside and take control of the pencil,” Smith wrote, further stating that “everyone who dies rebellious is a potential source of mischief.” Burdick warned Rosher that there are spirits on his side “who would try to use you in a wrong way.”
The New Testament’s advice to test the spirits to determine if they are of God (1 John 4:1) and to be discerning of the spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10) make sense in the light of these warnings.
Perhaps the most accomplished automatist of the 20th Century was Geraldine Cummins of Ireland, who was introduced to the subject by Hester Travers Smith. In the Introduction of The Road to Immortality, published in 1953, Beatrice Gibbes described the method employed by Cummins. She would sit at a table, cover her eyes with her left and hand on concentrate on “stillness.” She would then fall into a light trance or dream state. Her hand would then begin to write. Usually, her “control” would make some introductory remarks and announce that another entity was waiting to speak. Because of her semi-trance condition and also because of the speed at which the writing would come, Gibbes would sit beside her and remove each sheet of paper as it was filled. Cummins’ hand was quickly lifted by Gibbes to the top of the new page, and the writing would continue without break. In one sitting, Gibbes stated, Cummins wrote 2,000 words in 75 minutes, whereas her normal compositions were laboriously put together, perhaps 800 words in seven or eight hours.
Gibbes added that she witnessed the writing of about 50 different personalities, all claiming to be “dead,” all differing in character and style, coming through Cummins’ hand.
Cummins’ book, the foreword of which was written by the esteemed British physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, sets forth the communications purportedly coming from Frederic W. H. Myers, a pioneer of psychical research who died in 1901, during the period 1924 to 1931.
The entity identifying himself as Myers explained the difficulty in communicating by means of automatic writing. “The inner mind is very difficult to deal with from this side,” Cummins recorded. “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 the mere mechanism. The inner mind is like soft wax, it receives our thoughts, their whole content, but it must produce the words to clothe it.”
Myers went on to explain that success in sending the thought through depends on the inner mind of the automatist, which must contribute to the body of the message. “In other words, we send the thoughts and the words usually in which they must be framed, but the actual letters or spelling of the words is drawn from the medium’s memory. Sometimes we only send the thoughts and the medium’s unconscious mind clothes them in words.”
Myers also offered that when discarnate beings want to communicate through a sensitive, they must enter a dream or subjective state which detaches them from the memory of concrete facts in their past lives. “Further, if we communicate directly through the medium, though we often retain our personality, our manner of speech, we are frequently unable to communicate through the medium’s hand or voice many exact facts about our past career on earth, sometimes not even our own names.”
The anonymous spirit communicating with John Scott of England, as documented in Scott’s 1948 book, As One Ghost to Another, seems to have said much the same thing as Myers. “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,” the unseen communicator explained. “There is no way of describing to you with your present knowledge the intricate process of communication.”
In the preface to the book, Scott states that he had previously regarded such things as “a pathetic delusion provoking humour in the daily press and anger in the churches.” However, after he had retired to the country, he began experimenting with psychic matters and soon found that in his right hand a “vague urge.” When he allowed his muscles to collaborate with the urge, he found his hand scrawling across the paper under it line after line in the semblance of writing. After some experimenting and practice the words became legible and made much sense.
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,” he ended, “I remain the ordinary human animal of social routine, distinguished from the herd merely by the label.”