The phenomenon of excitation of the vocal chords without the volition of the conscious self. Today this phenomenon is called channeling. Speech bursts forth impulsively, whether the medium is in trance or a more normal waking state. In the latter case, and in partial trance, the medium may understand the contents of the communication even if it comes in a language unknown to him or her. But the retention of consciousness during automatic speaking is exceptional.
The mediums Horace Leaf and Florence Morse were conscious during automatic speech, and this consciousness was also observed by Eugèn Osty with Mme. Fraya and M. de Fleurière. The curious case William James records in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 12, pp. 277-98), of the experiences of Mr. "Le Baron" (pseudonym) in 1894 in an American Spiritualist camp meeting, is especially instructive on this score. "Le Baron," who was a journalist, at one of these meetings "felt his head drawn back until he was forced flat on the ground." Then "the force produced a motor disturbance of my head and jaws. My mouth made automatic movements, till in a few seconds I was distinctly conscious of another's voice—unearthly, awful, loud, weird—bursting through the woodland from my own lips, with the despairing words 'Oh, my people.' Mutterings of semi-purposive prophecy followed."
James also spoke, as a curious thing, of the generic similarity of trance utterances in different individuals.
"It seems exactly if one author composed more than half of the trance messages, no matter by whom they are uttered. Whether all subconscious selves are peculiarly susceptible to a certain stratum of the Zeitgeist, and get their inspirations from it, I know not."
Spiritualists, of course, reject James's observation and cite as evidence some of the more notable trance utterances and inspirational oratory, such as The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelation's and a Voice to Mankind, originally dictated by Andrew Jackson Davis ) in trance in 1845 and 1846. Thomas Lake Harris produced two long poems in a similar manner: Epic of the Starry Heavens (1854), a poem containing nearly four thousand lines, and A Lyric of the Morning Land (1856), another impressive poetic composition of over five thousand words. Both were dictated in a remarkably short time. David Duguid's curious historic romance Hafed, Prince of Persia (1876), and its sequelHermes, A Disciple of Jesus (1887), were also taken down from trance dictations.
Interesting Cases of Automatic Speaking
The revelations of Catherine Emmerich, the seeress of Westphalia, were taken down and published by Clement Brentano in a work of several volumes. The seeress, who lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century, told the story of the life of Jesus day by day as if she had been an eyewitness of it all. Her account deviated from Roman Catholic teachings at several points, and Roman Catholic apologist Herbert Thurston attacked her work by noting the numerous discrepancies in her visions. He put together a formal critical examination and compared her visions with those of other more "orthodox" ecstatics.
Telka, "Patience Worth" 's poem of sixty to seventy thousand words in an Anglo-Saxon language, was dictated through Pearl Curran as rapidly as it could be written down by a secretary, and the medium was so independent of that which came through her that she was free to smoke a cigarette, to interrupt herself by taking part in the conversation of those present, or go into the next room to answer the telephone. The whole poem, a masterpiece, took a total of 35 hours.
Medium Florence Morse was not only conscious of her inspirational delivery but one of her controls, who had a fund of dry humor, frequently kept her amused by his remarks on some feature of the proceedings, especially when it was a case of answering questions.
Trance singing is a kindred manifestation to automatic speaking. Jesse Shepard was the most notable example. In the case of Mrs. A. M. Gage, a New York soprano singer who lost her voice through an attack of hemorrhage of the lungs, it was accompanied by a complete alteration of personality.
One of the most remarkable examples of trance utterance was that of the British medium Mrs. Louis A. Meurig Morris, who delivered impressive sermons under the control of the spirit "Power." During these addresses, the medium's soprano voice changed to a ringing masculine baritone and all her mannerisms became masculine.
Psychologists who do not accept the claim of spirit utterance through a medium classify the phenomenon as the creation of a secondary personality, and there are many interesting cases on record of individuals who manifested several quite markedly different personalities. Also related to automatic speaking is the phenomenon of glossolalia or "speaking in tongues," as well as xenoglossis, the speaking of a language without having studied it.
Thurston, Herbert. Surprising Mystics. London: Burns & Oates, 1955.