Scripts produced without the control of the conscious self. It is the most common form of mediumship, the source of innumerable cases of self-delusion, and at the same time the source of some of the most interesting and intriguing cases of mediumship. Between these two extremes many problems of a complex nature present themselves to psychical research. Spiritualists consider automatic writing 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." Most researchers, however, have ascribed such performances to the subconscious activity of the agent.
Both automatic writing and automatic speaking necessarily imply some alternation of the consciousness from the common waking state in the subject, though such alteration need not be pronounced, but may vary from a light state such is common in day-dreaming to a full trance. When the phenomena are produced during a state of trance or somnambulism the agent may be entirely unconscious of his or her actions. On the other hand, the automatic writing may be executed while the agent is in a condition varying little from waking and he or she may be quite capable of observing the writing process in a critical spirit.
Between these states of consciousness and complete unconsciousness there are many intermediate stages. The personality, as displayed in the writings or utterances, may gain only a partial ascendancy over the primary personality, 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 that never came to light in the upper consciousness. But at times there appears an extraordinary exaltation of memory, or even of the intellectual facilities.
Cases are on record where lost articles have been recovered by means of automatic writing. Foreign languages that have been forgotten, or with which the subject has small acquaintance, are spoken or written fluently. Hélène Smith, the subject of Theodore 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 in tongues of the early ecstatics. Though the matter and style may on occasion transcend the capabilities of the agent in a normal state, the great body of automatic productions show no erudition or literary excellence beyond the scope of the natural resources of the automatist. The style is generally 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.
Among Spiritualists, the best known of automatic writings have been the Spirit Teachings (1883) of Stainton Moses, and the works of Andrew Jackson Davis, which dominated the movement in the nineteenth century. Possibly more important have been the trance utterances of Leonora Piper, these last convincing many of the reality of telepathy. Much poetry has been produced automatically, notably by the nineteenth century medium Thomas Lake Harris. Among famous individuals known to have produced automatic scripts are Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Victorien Sardou, among other eminent men of letters.
How is the power of automatic writing acquired? In describing his first experience at a séance of Frank Herne and Charles Williams in 1872, Stainton Moses wrote in Spirit Identity (1879):
"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 Anna Mary Watts in Pioneers of The Spiritual Reformation (1883):
"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 even 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."
Elizabeth d'Esperance wrote: "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 William James, and psychologist Alfred Binet verified this partial anaesthesia by mechanical means.
In Piper's case the automatic writing began with spasmodic violence, with sweeping the writing materials off the table. She wrote in trance. This returns us to consideration of the phenomenon that automatic writing may be produced either in the waking state or in trance. There are many degrees of the two states and blending is frequent, the important point apparently being to bar the interference of the writer's conscious mind.
In conscious writing it is the writer who moves the pencil; in automatic writing it is the pencil that moves the writer. In the waking state, of course, the writer is fully conscious of the strange thing going on but must remain passive. He or she may watch the flow of sentences, but if the writer is too interested or anxious, the writing becomes disconnected, words are left out, or the meaning becomes unintelligible. It is best for the writer to be occupied with something else, like Moses, who kept on writing consciously with his right hand while his left was in control of his "communicators." All this, however, varies considerably 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, and 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, Cleophas, and Frederic William Henry Myers, obtained by Geraldine Dorothy Cummins, were sometimes delivered at the extraordinary speed of two thousand words per hour.
Automatic Writing from Living Communicators
A question of paramount importance, especially for Spiritualists, has been the source of the automatic communications. Could they originate from an extraneous mind? This need not necessarily be discarnate. There are cases on record that suggest the contents of the script may emanate from the mind of a living individual. William T. Stead, who developed the power of automatic writing, often received such curious messages from many of his friends for a period of 15 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 sometimes the messages so transmitted even 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.
Felicia R. Scatcherd was apparently one of them. She is quoted in James Coates 's book Has W. T. Stead Returned? (1913) 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 fore-stalling 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?", his dead friend 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 case the message Stead received from a living friend referred to a calamity that happened three days later.
Stead's theory of automatic telepathy appears to have been borne out in experiments with the planchette, as recorded in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 2, p. 235). A long series of communications between Rev. P. H. Newnham, Vicar of Maker, Devonport, and his wife, indicate that Mrs. Newnham's hand wrote replies to questions of her husband's that she neither heard nor saw.
An even more remarkable illustration is to be found in Frederick Bligh Bond 's experiences with S., a woman who figures in the history of the Glastonbury scripts. As Bond wrote 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 enquiry. And after we had met once in the summer of that year, this tendency became increasingly obvious. There was some sort of mental rapport of 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 uprush. 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.
Automatic Writing Through Hypnotic Suggestion
Edmund Gurney was the first to conduct such experiments. When in trance, his subject was given the suggestion to write "It has begun snowing again" after regaining consciousness. When awakened, the subject wrote with a planchette, while his waking self was entirely unaware of what he was doing, "It has begun snowing." Similar experiments were initiated independently by Pierre Janet in France.
The primary personality will repudiate the authorship of such scripts and it will also say that they cannot emanate from it because there are things in the automatic writings it never knew. Another curious feature of these experimental scripts is that 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 incidents of 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. Besides, automatic writing is often obtained by the collaboration of two people who touch the planchette simultaneously or one touches 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.
The Identity of Communicators
Eugene Rochas recorded a case where the communicator of the automatic script was found to be a fictional being, a character from a novel. Extreme Spiritualists would attribute such messages to lying spirits, the occultist to thoughtforms, endowed with temporary intelligence. It is very likely, however, that nothing more than a dream of the subconscious had been witnessed in the case. Speculative possibilities are well illustrated by the mediumship of Hélène Smith. If the claim of reincarnation and exceptional remembrance of a preincarnate state 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. Charles Richet proved in experiments, considered classics, that the new personality 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's mediumship, F. W. H. Myers found every requirement satisfactory as both the woman's son and a handwriting expert found the spirit writing identical to that by the woman 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.
Even simultaneously obtained messages are not safe from the suspicion that they arise from telepathy. Stead's communicator, "Julia," often wrote through Stead and his secretary, Edith K. Harper, at the same time, but not until the idea was further developed to cross correspondence: only by obtaining 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 way of 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 by normal means. 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 à 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 communications come from a discarnate mind.
A good case of the latter kind was quoted by Alexander N. Aksakof. A man named Duvanel died by his own hand on January 15, 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 a Miss 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 is worthless if it could have been know to the medium. Every case has to be examined as a whole. Sometimes the display of extraordinary erudition or educational training revealed by the scripts is sufficient alone to establish a claim of paranormal origin. The banality of a 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, and 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 of 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." And Jules Bois quoted questions in Le Mirage Moderne to which the "Lion of Androcles" gave the answers.
The communicator often avails himself or herself of the services of an amanuensis who appears to have more skill in performing the psychic feat of communication. In the séances of Stainton Moses, "Rector" acted as amanuensis for "Imperator" and many others, producing a large part of the automatic script.
In Leonora 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. Richard 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 toward the mouth of the sitter."
In the old days writing was usually mirror writing, which sometimes was obtained in an unusual manner, i.e., 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 of Stainton Moses, "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 in Geraldine Cummins' The Road to Immortality (1932). The spirit of F. W. H. Myers, on the second occasion on which he purported to write through Cummins, wrote:
"The inner mind, 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 Cummins, yet it need not have general application. She was conscious of the use of her brain by someone else. In the introduction to The Road to Immortality, "Myers" observed:
"Soon I am in a condition of half-sleep, 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, saw the six-month old son of 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. Angelo 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 Cesare 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 semitrance, having but an imperfect recollection of the work afterwards. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, claimed that she did not write it: it was given to her; "it passed before her." In like measure William Blake stated that his poem Jerusalem 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 Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) were received through automatic writing, for example 2 Chronicles 21:12 says, "And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet saying …" In 1833, the book of the German Augustinian nun 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 Rev. C. Hammond's The Pilgrimage of Thomas Payne and Others to the Seventh Circle (New York, 1852). The book contained 250 octavo pages. It was begun at the end of December 1851 and completed February 1 of the next year. The following year Judge John W. Edmonds 's and George T. 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 large connected work, the Educator. A year later, Charles Linton, a bookkeeper of limited education, produced a remarkable book of 100,000 words: The Healing of the Nation, which was printed with Wisconsin governor Nathaniel P. Tallmadge 's preface. In the following year Twelve Messages from John Quincey Adams through Joseph D. Stiles was published.
But all these books pale into insignificance before Hudson Tuttle 's Arcana of Nature (1862), a volume of broad sweep and scope comparable to the trance writings of Andrew Jackson Davis.
Two late nineteenth-century cases of automatic writing still deserve attention. First, when Victorian novelist Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood 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. Secondly, a few years later John Ballou Newbrough received through the process of automatic typewriting the New Age Bible, Oahspe (1882). This volume remains in print, the scripture of several small but persistent religious groups. Less than two decades later, Aleister Crowley received a much shorter work through automatic writing, The Book of the Law, which has become the scripture for thelemic magicians. In the next decade, James Edward Padgett would begin receiving the writings, four volumes in all, which became the scriptures for the Foundation Church of the Divine Truth.
In France, in the early days of French Spiritism, Hermance Dufeaux, a girl of 14, produced two surprising books: a Life of Jeanne d'Arc, claimed to be dictated by the maid, and Confessions of Louis XI. Allan 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-tipping "from Christ and his angels," is, according to Flournoy, insipid and foolish enough to give one nausea.
In England, J. Garth Wilkinson published in 1857 an octavo volume of impressional poetry. The first continued a series of automatically received messages deserving serious attention that were produced by William Stainton Moses between 1870 and 1880. His scripts contained many evidential messages, but their main purpose was the delivery of religious teaching.
The Scripts of Cleophas, Paul in Athens, and The Chronicle of Ephesus, produced by Cummins under the alleged influence of Philip the Evangelist, and Cleophas, bear signs of close acquaintanceship with the Apostolic Circle, an early American Spiritualist group which claimed close contact with Jesus' apostles and other New Testament characters. Sir Oliver Lodge claims to have received independent evidence concerning the inspiration of The Road to Immortality, Cummins's fourth book, with communications said to be from the spirit of F. W. H. Myers.
The quantity of automatically written books is such that it is difficult to mention more than a few. W. T. Stead's After Death: Letters From Julia (1914), was widely read by Spiritualists as was Hester Travers Smith's Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (1924). The Glastonbury Scripts by F. Bligh Bond have an importance of their own because of their role in actually guiding the excavation of the medieval site. Other notable volumes from the early twentieth century would include Elsa Barker's Letters from a Living Dead Man, War Letters from a Living Dead Man, and 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 Pearl Curran of St. Louis, The Seven Purposes, by Margaret Cameron (New York, 1918), which unlies the Betty Book literature of Betty and Stewart Edward White, the anonymous Private Dowding (1917) (by New Age movement precursor W. Tudor Pole), and the curious and interesting automatic scripts of Juliette Hervey of France, which Eugèn Osty studied.
Automatic writing has continued as a phenomenon through the twentieth century, though only rarely have it attained any notice, most scripts being privately printed and circulated. Many of the UFO contactee writings were so produced. With the emergence of channeling and audio recording equipment, automatic speaking (channeling) has become a far more popular endeavor. Among the few products of automatic writing that have attained some notice would be the several writings of New Age author Ruth Montgomery, which she received while sitting at her typewriter, such as Here and Hereafter (1968), A World Beyond (1971), and Companions Along the Way (1974).
Mühl, Anita M. Automatic Writing: An Approach to the Unconscious. New York: Helix Press, 1963.
Thurston, Herbert. Surprising Mystics. London: Burns & Oates, 1955.
"Automatic Writing." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 15, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/automatic-writing-0
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On the evening of July 8, 1913, "Patience Worth," who claimed to be the spirit of a seventeenth-century Englishwoman, became a spirit control for Pearl Leonore Curran, a young woman in St. Louis, Missouri. Curran was not a practicing medium, nor did she have any interest in Spiritualism, yet during a period of three years, Patience Worth dictated through the process of automatic writing a stream of proverbs, lyric poetry, and plays, and a number of intricately constructed novels.
Curran's formal education had ended with the eighth grade. She seldom read, had never traveled, and was completely unfamiliar with literary people or people of a scholarly bent. At no time in her life had she ever given any indication of a latent creative gift. Yet, of one of the spirit-dictated novels, a reviewer for the New York Times wrote that the plot was fashioned with such skill, deftness, and ingenuity that such talent would be envied by many a novelist "in the flesh." In an anthology of the "best" poetry for the year 1917, Patience Worth had five poems selected, as against three of Amy Lowell's (1874–1925), three of Vachel Lind-say's (1879–1931), and one by Edgar Lee Masters (1869–1950)—all highly respected American poets, critics, and novelists.
Was Patience Worth a spirit or a secondary personality of Curran's? Whoever she was, the large body of literary works that bears her name was transmitted through the process of automatic writing, wherein a medium produces a script without the control of the conscious self—but allegedly under the control of a spirit entity.
The vast majority of those men and women who practice automatic writing on a regular basis do so because they believe that they receive spiritual and material guidance from intelligences in the spirit world or from a higher aspect of their own mind. Most of these individuals cherish this information as highly personal and seldom to be shared with others. Few practitioners of automatic writing seek to channel another "Patience Worth" and produce extensive literary works.
Those who practice automatic writing seat themselves comfortably at a table, a piece of paper before them, a pen or pencil held in their hand in the manner in which they normally write. The tip of the pen or pencil rests lightly on the paper. The writer's wrist and arm are kept loose, the wrist preferably in such a position that it does not touch the table at all. No direct light is allowed to shine on the paper. If necessary, it will be shielded with a piece of cardboard or something similar.
Automatic writers must learn to wait quietly and patiently and then give in to the slightest impulse to move the pen or pencil, keeping the paper smooth with the free hand. It is not necessary—and not even desirable— that the writers concentrate on their hand and what it is doing. If the writers do not wish to keep their eyes closed, they may even read a book while experimenting, just to keep their thoughts occupied.
With practice and patience, messages begin coming through. Those individuals who are successful at automatic writing say that it usually takes three or four sittings before the first intelligent results are achieved. They advise beginners that the length of the sittings should not be prolonged unduly, even after meaningful messages have begun to appear.
Ahmed, Rollo. The Black Art. London: Arrow Books, 1966.
Petrie, Jodra. Tell Fortunes and Predict the Future. New York: Award Books, 1968.
Post, Eric G. Communicating with the Beyond. New York: Atlantic Publishing, 1946.
"Automatic Writing." Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 15, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/automatic-writing
"Automatic Writing." Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. . Retrieved June 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/automatic-writing