Concordant automatism, a scheme allegedly originated by the spirit of F. W. H. Myers to eliminate the hypothesis of telepathy from psychic communications.
Alice Johnson, research officer of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, first discovered that such an idea was in operation when messages were received through various mediums at about the same times in places as far apart as India, New York, and London. In the scripts of Rosina Thompson, Mrs. Forbes, Margaret Verrall, Winifred Willett (pseudonym of Winifred Coombe-Tennant), Leonora Piper, and others, she found fragmentary utterances that had no point or meaning but supplemented one and other when put together, forming coherent ideas.
Reflecting on her find, she noted:
"Thus, in one case, Mrs. Forbes' script, purporting to come from her son, Talbot, stated that he must now leave her, since he was looking for a sensitive who wrote automatically, in order that he might obtain corroboration of her own writing. Mrs. Verrall, on the same day, wrote of a fir-tree planted in a garden, and the script was signed with a sword and a suspended bugle. The latter was part of the badge of the regiment to which Talbot Forbes had belonged, and Mrs. Forbes had in her garden some fir-trees, grown from seed sent to her by her son. These facts were unknown to Mrs. Verrall."
"We have reason to believe that the idea of making a statement in one script complementary of a statement in another had not occurred to Mr. Myers in his lifetime—for there is no reference to it in any of his written utterances on the subject that I have been able to discover. Neither did those who have been investigating automatic script since his death invent this plan, if plan it be. It was not the automatists themselves that detected it, but a student of their scripts; it has every appearance of being an element imported from outside; it suggests an independent invention, an active intelligence constantly at work in the present, not a mere echo or remnant of individualities of the past."
After the death of A. W. Verrall, the eminent Greek scholar and psychical researcher, an intricate Greek mosaic and literary puzzle called the "Ear of Dionysius" was transmitted as cross-correspondence. In the opinion of Gerald Balfour, and other competent judges, this was one of the most striking evidences of survival yet obtained. In the Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, hundreds of pages are devoted to cross-correspondences. They are so ingenious and subtle that their disentanglement requires considerable literary skill.
The subject was thoroughly studied by the Verrall family, "Mrs. Holland" (pseudonym of Alice Fleming), J. G. Piddington, and Eleanor Sidgwick. Frederik Van Eeden obtained cross-correspondences between his own dreams and the trance utterances of "Nelly," Rosina Thompson's control. James H. Hyslop used it for research in cases of obsession.
Many experiments were made to establish cross-correspondence in thought-transference —to find out another's thoughts over distance.
Among the more baffling cases of cross-correspondences came from the mediumship of Margery (i.e., Mina Crandon ). They were instigated by her control "Walter," and given simultaneously through Margery in Boston, George Valiantine in New York, Henry Hardwicke at Niagara Falls, and Sarah Litzel-mann in Maine. Drawings, geometrical figures, and sentences were given in part through each medium, in some cases in Chinese characters. Their reception was immediately verified by telephone or telegraph and the message deciphered by joining the pieces into a whole.
The ingenuity of these cross-correspondences was illustrated by a single instance: A cardboard box was brought into the séance room. It contained slips of paper with certain symbols, and a calendar, the sheets of which could be torn off a sheet at a time, which show a desired number. Walter declared that he had torn off a sheet and added: "Margery will make up a problem and Valiantine and Hardwicke will each make half the answer." He then closed the box.
The sitter placed in charge of the box after the séance did not open it. Margery and the company moved into the library. There Margery passed into a light trance and wrote automatically: "11 x 2—to kick a dead." The box was now opened; they found in it at the left the calendar, the top sheet of which showed the date of the 11th, and next to it an X from the enclosed symbols and last the torn-off sheet which bore the number 2. The internal arrangements of the box, therefore, completely agreed with the part of the cross-correspondence Margery wrote.
In New York, Judge Cannon, who was in charge of the Valiantine circle, reported by telephone that they received from Walter the following message: "2—no one stops." The next morning a telegram from Hardwicke from Niagara Falls announced this fragment: "2 horse." The fragments put together show that the problem Walter worked out was this: "11 x 2 = 22. No one stops to kick a dead horse." While many psychical researchers have been impressed by the cross-correspondence evidence, Eric J. Dingwall, for one, scoffed at the evidence presented since researchers not connected with the project were not allowed to examine the original documents.
Dingwall, E. J. "The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology." In A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology, edited by Paul Kurtz. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1985.
Douglas, Alfred. Extra Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1977.
Hall, Elizabeth. Possible Impossibilities: A Look at Parapsychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
Haynes, Renée. The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald, 1982.
Heywood, Rosalind. Beyond the Reach of Sense: An Inquiry into Extra-Sensory Perception. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1961.
Saltmarsh, H. F. Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross Correspondences. London: G. Bell & Sons, 1938.
Tietze, Thomas R. Margery. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.