Automatic Writing

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Automatic Writing

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Automatic writing is a form ofmediumship (spirit contact) in which an individual allows an outside force or entity to take control of the motor functions in his or her arm to write messages reputedly from either a spirit being or from the individual’s own higher consciousness. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, automatic writing played an important role in the development of Spiritualism, and it continued to be an element in the New Age movement during the 1970s and 1980s.

At the very beginning of the Spiritualist movement, Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910) channeled many of his books by this method, as did his contemporary Thomas Lake Harris (1823–1906). Among the first generation of British mediums, William Stanton Moses (1939–1892) produced books channeled from a host of spirit entities under the collective title of Spirit Teachings. By the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of published communications from the spirit world were produced by automatic writing, a situation that would only change as means of recording verbal channeling improved through the twentieth century.

Among the more interesting products of automatic writings were the Glastonbury Scripts, produced by Frederick Bligh Bond (1864–1945). In 1908, Bond was placed in charge of the archeological excavations that were about to be undertaken at the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, a medieval center of Catholic Church life that had been destroyed by Henry VIII. Though a competent amateur archeologist, Bond began to work with a medium, John Allan Bartlett, who worked under the pseudonym Alleyne, to produce maps of the site which Bond used to direct excavations. As excavations began, Bond quickly found the main buildings of the old monastic complex, much to everyone’s astonishment.

Given the number of mediums engaged in automatic writing, it is not surprising that psychical researchers initiated investigations of the phenomenon. As with much spirit communication, it was difficult to assign the material to any independent spirit activity. This problem was attacked through some experiments in what was known as cross-correspondences. In these cases, several mediums at vast geographical distances received messages that were meaningless themselves, but when put together made sense. A large set of material generated by some of the more famous of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century mediums was assembled, only a small portion of which has been thoroughly analyzed and the subject of scholarly papers. Much of this material is stored in the archives of the Society for Psychical Research in England.

While many continue to use automatic writing as a technique to make contact with the realms of spirit beings, many others, both those skeptical of all paranormal claims and those open to many of them, have come to believe that automatic writing is largely the result of individuals tapping their own unconscious mind and is subject to purely mundane interpretations.

Sources:

Douglas, Nik. The Book of Matan: Automatic Writing from the Brink of Eternity. Suffolk, UK: Neville Spearman, 1977.
Muhl, Anita M. Automatic Writing: An Approach to the Unconscious. New York: Helix Press, 1963.
Wright, Theon. The Open Door: A Case History of Automatic Writing. New York: John Day Company, 1970.
Zmuda, Joseph. Automatic Writing: Occult … or a Way to the Unconscious Mind? San Francisco: Z-Graphic Publications, 1981.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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