Automatic writing is writing done in a dissociated or altered state of consciousness that is attributed to spirits of the dead or other discarnate beings. The spirits are said to manipulate the writing utensil in order to communicate, especially since the writer often is unaware of what is being written, and the handwriting style is markedly different from his own.
A possible explanation is that the writer writes unconsciously, and messages are formed from material in the subconscious mind or from a secondary personality, or are obtained through extrasensory perception. Various forms of automatic writing go back to ancient times (see Planchette). Automatic writing is the most common form of Automatism.
It has been known to occur involuntarily. Spiritualism made it popular as a deliberate means of attempting to communicate with the dead, and it replaced the much slower methods of spelling out messages with pointers such as the planchette, or counting out letters of the alphabet through Rapping. Through automatic writing, mediums have claimed to produce messages from famous persons in history.
In the 1850s, Judge John Worth Edmonds, an American spiritualist, incited a spate of automatic writing with his alleged messages from Francis Bacon and Emanuel Swedenborg; curiously, the latter always misspelled his name “Sweedenborg.” The material produced sounded nothing like the work of either famous man, but it nonetheless inspired others to communicate with more famous deceased persons, including Christ himself. Literary-minded spirits of the dead allegedly communicated entire books and novels and thousands of lines of poetry (see Patience Worth).
Pens were a common tool, but other spiritualist methods included slate-writing and the use of typewriters. Frederic W.H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), found little evidence of Survival After Death in cases of automatic writing he investigated. After his death, numerous mediums claimed to receive automatic writing messages from him (see Cross Correspondences; Palm Sunday Case).
While late 19th-century psychical researchers pursued automatic writing in terms of the survival question, the budding field of psychology began to experiment with automatic writing in mental illness as a way for the unconscious mind to express thoughts and feelings that could not be verbalized. Automatic writing continues to be used as a therapeutic tool in present times.
Automatic writing also enjoys continuing popular appeal. Some individuals attempt to communicate with the alleged highly evolved discarnate beings made famous in Channeling. Jane Roberts, the American channeler of an entity known as Seth, said she produced automatic writing from Paul Cezanne and William James as well.
Demonologists (see Demonology) argue that automatic writing makes one vulnerable to Obsession or Possession by Demons who masquerade as the dead. However, the real danger, if any, most likely comes from the expression of repressed material in the psyche, for which an individual may not be prepared.
- Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.
- Grattan-Guinness, Ivor. Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles and Practices. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1982.
- Hyslop, James H. Contact With the Other World. New York: The Century Co., 1919.
- James, William. “Notes on Automatic Writing” (1889). In Frederick Burkhardt, gen. ed., The Works of William James: Essays in Psychical Research. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
- Myers, Frederic W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death Vols. I & II. New ed. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1954. First published 1903.
- Pearsall, Ronald. The Table-Rappers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972.
- Stevenson, Ian. “Some Comments on Automatic Writing.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)72 (1978): 315–32.