Writing, Automatic

Writing, Automatic

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

see also Art, Automatic

Performing the tasks of writing, drawing, and/or painting without control by the conscious mind is called automatic writing/drawing/painting. William Stainton Moses (1839–1892) used the term “psychography” for this phenomena, which is common in Spiritualism. To focus on writing (drawing and painting follow the same procedures), the operator uses the same muscles that would normally be used, but in no way tries to govern what is actually written. The true “director” of the writing is believed to be a departed spirit attempting to communicate. Outside of Spiritualism, the practice is followed to gain possible knowledge of the future, with the governing force being thought of as a deity, disembodied spirit, alien or unknown force, depending upon the beliefs of the person acting as medium or channel for the writing.

In the Spiritualist form, the medium takes a pen or pencil and sits with a large sheet of paper on the table in front of, or beside, him or her. The writing produced is frequently voluminous and many mediums will use something like a roll of wallpaper or wrapping paper to ensure having enough paper available without having to look down or to turn pages.

Usually the medium will sit quietly at first, perhaps meditating. Then the hand holding the pen is rested on the paper and the medium directs his or her attention elsewhere. That might be to read a book, watch television, talk with another person, play a game of chess, or anything that will draw focus away from the hand holding the pen.

What usually happens is that the hand starts to move, initially in small movements, and seemingly of its own volition. The movements, of course, cause marking to appear on the paper. Initially these are no more than straight lines, developing into wavy lines, and then squiggles. Gradually it seems the force becomes aligned with the muscles of the hand and arm and able to direct the writing. Squiggles become circles and hooks, which slowly develop into letters. As the spirit hand–operator becomes more and more accustomed to the mechanics involved, the writing becomes clearer and is written much faster. Some automatic writing is done at incredible speed, with the medium’s hand flying across the paper. Many times a normally right-handed medium will use the left hand for automatic writing, or vice versa. Usually the writing that is produced in no way resembles the normal handwriting of the medium.

While a neophyte needs to occupy the mind in order to disassociate from the writing, a medium who is skilled in automatic writing can separate from what is taking place sufficiently without needing outside stimulus, so that he or she does not influence what is written. This can be done to the point where it is then possible to look at the paper and to put questions and receive answers through the writing. If necessary, however, a second person may sit beside the medium and ask the questions, so that the medium cannot see what is written in reply.

There are instances of a medium going into a trance and producing writing, but actually no trance is necessary. A classic case was that of William Stainton Moses, who produced a large number of such writings from various spirits, which were published under the title Spirit Teachings (London 1883). Describing the procedure, Moses said,

At first the writing was slow and it was necessary for me to follow it with my eye, but even then the thoughts were not my thoughts. Very soon all the messages assumed a character of which I had no doubt whatever that the thought opposed my own. But I cultivated the power of occupying my mind with other things during the time that the writing was going on, and was able to read an abstruse book and follow out a line of close reasoning, while the message was written with unbroken regularity. Messages so written extended over many pages and in their course there is no correction, no fault in composition, and often a sustained vigour and beauty of style.

Another, perhaps better known, automatic writer—so far as the purported author is concerned—was Pearl Curran who produced the writings of an entity calling herself Patience Worth. Pearl Curran was a St. Louis housewife who was persuaded by a friend, Emily Hutchinson, to use a Ouija® board. On July 8, 1913, the talking board started spelling out a message which began, “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come; Patience Worth my name.” The spirit identified itself as a seventeenth century Englishwoman. Pearl Curran progressed from the Ouija® board to automatic writing, and eventually produced 2,500 poems, short stories, plays, allegories, and six full-length novels all authored by Patience Worth. This amounted to a total of more than four million words within a period of five years.

Automatic writing has also been produced by such well known people as Victor Hugo, Goethe, Charles Linton, Professor William James, and Mme. d’Esperance. In Brazil automatic writing is known as “psychography.”)


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Ebon, Martin: True Experiences in Communicating with the Dead. New York: New American Library, 1968
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Moses, William Stainton: Direct Spirit Writing. London: L. N. Fowler, 1878
Mühl, Anita M.: Automatic Writing. Dresden: Steinkopff, 1930
Writing, Inspirational see Inspirational Speaking, Writing, Art