In describing his first experience at a seance of Herne and Williams in 1872, Stainton Moses writes in Spirit Identity: "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."
Long associated with the seance room the phenomena of automatic writing saw subjects either in a waking state or hypnotic trance produce unrelated words, fragments of poetry, epithets, puns, obscenities, or well-organized fantasies.
Frederic Myers, one of the founding fathers of the Society of Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882, was clear about his objectives whilst he investigated the varied phenomena of automatisms. According to his interpretation and analysis, automatic writing in particular when involved with spirit possession, “must rank, in my view, among the most important phenomena yet discovered by man.”
Myers suggested four possibles sources of automatic writing or drawing:
- From the writer’s subliminal mind,
- By telepathy from another person still living,
- From some unembodied intelligence of unknown type,
- The possibility that the message may come from the departed mind of a friend or family member.
He conducted experiments with subjects by placing writing implements or planchettes in both of their hands. He fully expected the two hands to write the same communications. To his astonishment in some cases the communications, produced simultaneously, were different. He concluded that each hand was being controlled by a different spirit.
Paranormal investigator Harry Price exposed the supposed automatic writing in the Borley Rectory as the wall-scrawling of a housewife attempting to hide an extramarital affair. You can find out more about that by taking a listen to the following podcast:
A prominent alleged example of automatic writing is the Brattleboro hoax. When Charles Dickens died in 1870 he left The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished. Thomas Power Jamer, a publisher from Vermont, would finish the novel claiming he was able to do so by channeling the spirit of Dickens.
Automatic writing was not something only observed in the realm of spiritualism. Pierre Marie Félix Janet was a pioneering French psychologist, physician, philosopher, and psychotherapist in the field of dissociation and traumatic memory. Pre-Freudian psychoanalyst Pierre Janet was particularly fond of automatic writing, crystal gazing, and trance as a means of proving the persistence of memory in the amnesiac patient. Janet theorized two discrete layers of consciousness (which often separated completely in the hysteric patient, producing a condition known as dédoublement). Automatic writing was utilised as a tool to bridge the gap.
How to Use Automatic Writing for Divination
First, as is always a good idea for divination, eliminate all your distractions. For many people who practice automatic writing, it’s most comfortable to sit at a table but the goal is to be wherever you are most comfortable and relaxed. A notebook/ paper, pen or pencil are really all that you require.
The next step is to clear the mind. As you begin to ground yourself and relax then place your writing tool on the paper and write the first words that appear in your mind’s eye. It is important to keep going and not analyse what you are recording (that is to be done later.)
Continue until it feels like the words have stopped. Then you are free to look over what you have produced. Note any patterns, themes, names.