Automatism is an unconscious muscular movement often attributed to supernatural guidance. Automatisms involve physical activity, especially creative endeavours such as writing, drawing, painting, speaking, playing musical instruments, composing, dancing, and singing. Automatisms not attributed to spirits of the dead or divine guidance are the products of spontaneous inner visions and hearing.

Automatisms have been attributed to spirits and the divine since ancient times, when inspired activity was considered to be the gift of the gods.

During the height of Spiritualism, direct automatisms, which had no human Medium, were sensational and also subject to extensive fraud. Many mediums purported to produce direct-spirit automatic writings and drawings, but invariably these were done in the dark during SĂ©ances.

Early psychical researchers investigated automatisms in search of proof of Survival After Death. Most evidence, however, was inconclusive at best. The prevailing contemporary view is that most automatisms are the products of secondary personalities who produce knowledge or information the person has learned and repressed or forgotten; in some cases Extrasensory Perception (ESP) may come into play. Rarely is a case explainable only in terms of spirit guidance.

The most common forms of automatism are Automatic Writing and automatic painting. In the latter, individuals who have little or no artistic training suddenly feel overcome by the desire to draw or paint in distinctive, professional styles. They feel guided by a spirit and may actually feel an invisible hand pushing theirs. In some cases, the style is recognizable as that of a deceased artist. Other types of motor automatisms include impulsive behaviour, sudden inhibitions and sudden physical incapacities. Problems associated with automatisms include compulsion, Obsession and a feeling of Possession.

Sensory automatisms—those produced spontaneously by an inner voice or vision—can include Apparitions of the living, inspirations, hallucinations, and dreams. Hallucinations once were assumed to be caused by physical disorders, but Edmund Gurney, an early psychical researcher and a founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, established that paranormal visions and sounds can occur without physical disorders.

In England, medium Rosemary Brown became renowned for her multiple automatism skills, especially musical compositions dictated to her by the spirits of famous composers. Brown also did automatic writing, including poetry, plays, philosophy and psychology, and automatic painting.

Brown’s mediumistic ability was manifested in childhood, when she was aware of spirits of the dead. At age seven in 1924, the spirit of Franz Liszt, who died in 1886, appeared to her and told her that when she grew up, he would return and bring her music.

In 1952, she married Charles Philip Brown and became a housewife in London. Charles, a freelance journalist who suffered ill health, died of nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver in 1961, leaving Rosemary with two children.

In 1964, she suffered broken ribs in a minor accident and was forced to recuperate at home. To pass the time, she sat down at her piano, which she had not played in 12 years. She suddenly became aware of the spirit of Liszt beside her, guiding her hands to play unfamiliar music.

Beginning with his second visit, Liszt introduced Brown to a number of famous composers who wished to dictate to her: J.S. Bach, Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Claudio Monteverdi, Sergey Vagilyevich Rachmaninoff, Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. Word of her mediumship led to public performances; she gave more than 400 of them by the late 1980s. Some critics said she exhibited the style of the various dead masters; others said she drew on subliminal knowledge that mimicked their styles. Brown was harassed as a “witch” by some persons.

Dictated writing allegedly came to Brown from playwright George Bernard Shaw, psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, and physicist Albert Einstein. Various artists allegedly drew and painted through Brown as well.

English mentalist and healer Matthew Manning writes and draws automatically, communicates with spirits, bends metal, starts and stops mechanical devices, apports objects, communicates telepathically and predicts future events. Manning was 11 in 1967 when poltergeist activity erupted at his home at Shelford, in Cambridge, England. He began having out-of-body experiences, even projecting himself astrally into the past to see the Mannings’ “new” old house in Linton, also near Cambridge, as it looked in the 16th through 18th centuries.

While viewing his house in the past, Manning also began communicating with spirits, first by Apparitions and voices and then through automatic writing. The spirit communication caused the Poltergeist activity to decline and then cease altogether. Many of the messages were incoherent or trivial, but some were accurately predictive. Manning received messages in many languages, including French, German, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, and Arabic, and sometimes in early or medieval forms.

He heard from all types and ages of people; some famous, like mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, and others long forgotten. One Robert Webbe (c. 1733), connected with the past of the Mannings’ house, communicated often and prompted 503 of his relatives and peers to sign the Mannings’ walls, ostensibly to fill in the gaps in Manning’s study of the Webbe family history. Manning also received communications from Greek Orthodox bishop Kephalas Nektarios, who used him and a few others to convince His Eminence Archbishop Athenagoras of Great Britain to build a monastery at Aegina, the bishop’s burial place.

In 1971, Manning’s mother suggested he try drawing automatically. He has drawn pictures in the styles of Thomas Bewick, Paul Klee, Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Dürer, Thomas Rowlandson, W. Keble Martin, Henri Matisse, Arthur Rackham, Francisco Goya, Isaac Oliver, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and Beatrix Potter, as well as anonymous artists. Most are done in pen and ink, and some are copies of the artists’ extant works. They are drawn rapidly with few changes. Manning says he has no artistic ability of his own. See THOMPSON/GIFFORD CASE.


  • Brown, Rosemary. Unfinished Symphonies: Voices from the Beyond. New York: William Morrow, 1971.
  • Douglas, Alfred. Extrasensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1976.
  • Grattan-Guinness, Ivor. Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles and Practices. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1982.
  • Manning, Matthew. The Link. New York: Ballantine Books, 1974.
  • May, Antoinette. Haunted Ladies. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1975.
  • 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.
  • Rhine, J. B., and Robert Brier, eds. Parapsychology Today. New York: Citadel Press, 1968.



The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007