Automatic writing

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Automatic writing or psychography is writing which the writer states to be produced from a subconscious, and/or external and/or spiritual source without conscious awareness of the content.[1]



Automatic writing as a spiritual practice was reported by Hyppolyte Taine in the preface to the third edition of his "De l'intelligence, published in 1878. Besides "etherial visions" or "magnetic auras", bilingual writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) claimed to have mediunic experiences of automatic writing. In his own words, he felt "sometimes suddenly being owned by something else" or having a "very curious sensation" in the right arm which "was lifted into the air without" his will.[2] George (Georgie) Hyde-Lees, the wife of William Butler Yeats, claimed that she could write automatically.[3] In 1975, Wendy Hart of Maidenhead claimed that she wrote automatically about Nicholas Moore, a sea captain who died in 1642. Her husband, who did research on Moore, affirmed that this person had resided at St Columb Major in Cornwall during the English Civil War.[4]

Sample of "Martian" automatic writing by medium Hélène Smith, as found in Théodore Flouroy's From India to the Planet Mars.

William Fletcher Barrett wrote that "Automatic messages may take place either by the automatist passively holding a pencil on a sheet of paper, or by the planchette, or by the 'ouija board'."[5] In spiritualism, spirits are claimed to take control of the hand of a medium to write messages, letters, and even entire books. Automatic writing can happen in a trance or waking state.[6] Arthur Conan Doyle in his book The New Revelation (1918) wrote that automatic writing occurs either by the writers subconscious or by external spirits operating through the writer. As a spiritualist Doyle chose to believe in the spirit hypothesis.[7] Many psychical researchers however such as Thomson Jay Hudson have claimed that no spirits are involved in automatic writing and that the subconscious mind is the explanation.[8]

Alleged examples of automatic writing via external spirits include Helen Schucman's A Course in Miracles (1975) and Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God (1996).[9]

Skeptical analysis

A 1998 article in Psychological Science described a series of experiments designed to determine whether people who believed in automatic writing could be shown that it might be the ideomotor effect. The paper indicated that "our attempt to introduce doubt about the validity of automatic writing did not succeed." The paper noted that "including information about the controversy surrounding facilitated communication did not affect self-efficacy ratings, nor did it affect the number of responses that were produced. In this sense, illusory facilitation appears to be a very robust phenomenon, not unlike illusory correlation, which is not reversed by warning participants about the phenomenon."[10]

Psychology professor Théodore Flournoy investigated the claim by 19th-century medium Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller) that she did automatic writing to convey messages from Mars in Martian language. Flournoy concluded that her "Martian" language had a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith's native language of French and that her automatic writing was "romances of the subliminal imagination, derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child)." He invented the term cryptomnesia to describe this phenomenon.[11]

Spiritist view of Psychography

Psychography is a technique for "channeling" written messages from what is believed to be a disembodied spirit. The usual approach to psychography is to relate it to a special ability, innate or developed, called medianimity. The most extensive treatise on psychography is Allan Kardec's Mediums' Book, one of the works comprised in the Spiritist Codification. Kardec recognises two basic types of psychography: indirect and direct.

Indirect psychography

This type of psychography depends on a material device, like an Ouija board, operated by one or more persons. This type is cumbersome and not useful for large communications, frequently producing gibberish.

Direct psychography

Direct psychography is the most conventional type, in which a person, the medium, writes under the alleged influence of the spirit. It is called "direct" because the relationship between the medium(s) and the spirit is not by means of any mechanical device. This type depends on medianimity alone and is subdivided into five subtypes, depending on how the spirit's message is committed to paper:

Mechanical psychography

In which the spirit takes control of the medium's arm and writes independently from his awareness (the medium may pass the time paying attention to something else while his arm writes autonomously). Considered to be the most reliable and extraordinary type. Communications thus obtained are thought to be completely free from the interference of the medium's conscience.

Semi-mechanical psychography

In which the medium writes keeps relative control of his limb, but still feels a foreign influence on its movement. Unlike mechanical psychography, the medium knows all that is being written and can stop to rest or to turn the page whenever he sees fit. Reliability is almost as high as in mechanical psychography. Chico Xavier was purportedly this type of medium.

Intuitive psychography

In which the spirit communicates with the inner self of the medium (subconscious), resulting in him writing what is on his mind, though it is something different from what the medium would normally think. Sentences come formed, but the medium can amend them with richer vocabulary or a better syntax before writing them down. This is the most common type, but is less reliable and is usually marred by the interference of the medium's conscience.

Inspirational psychography

In which the medium receives vague notions in his mind, which he will write in his own words. This type of psychography is very difficult to tell apart from the regular thinking process, especially in people with a literary talent (a careless analysis would have most writers fall into this category).

See also


  1. ^ Lewis Spence An Encyclopaedia of Occultism Dover Edition, 2003, p. 56
  2. ^ Pessoa, Fernando (1999), Correspondência 1905-1922, Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, pp. 214-219, ISBN 978-85-7164-916-3.
  3. ^ Marjorie Elizabeth Howes, John S. Kelly The Cambridge Companion to W.B. Yeats 2006, p. 11
  4. ^ Ivan Rabey's Book of St Columb (1979)
  5. ^ William Fletcher Barrett On the Threshold of the Unseen Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 162
  6. ^ Dictionary Definition
  7. ^ Arthur Conan Doyle The New Revelation 2010 Reprint Edition, p. 47
  8. ^ Thomson Jay Hudson The Law of Psychic Phenomena Wildhern Press, 2009, p. 252
  9. ^ Sue Lim Good Spirits, Bad Spirits: How to Distinguish Between Them 2002, p. 82
  10. ^ Psychological Science 9.1, January 1998 (emphasis added)
  11. ^ Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1995, page 22).


Further reading