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Automatic writing or psychography is a claimed psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing. The words purportedly arise from a subconscious, spiritual or supernatural source.[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", Fernando Pessoa claimed to have experienced automatic writing. He said he felt "owned by something else", sometimes feeling a sensation in the right arm that he claimed was lifted into the air without his will.[2] Georgie Hyde-Lees, the wife of William Butler Yeats, also claimed that she could write automatically.[3] Sri Aurobindo as well as The Mother (Mirra Alfasa) regularly practiced Automatic writing.

William Fletcher Barrett wrote that "Automatic messages may take place either by the writer passively holding a pencil on a sheet of paper, or by the planchette, or by a 'ouija board'."[4] 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.[5] Arthur Conan Doyle, in his book The New Revelation (1918), wrote that automatic writing occurs either by the writer's subconscious or by external spirits operating through the writer.[6] The Surrealist poet Robert Desnos claimed he was among the most gifted in automatic writing. Some psychical researchers such as Thomson Jay Hudson have claimed that no spirits are involved in automatic writing and that the subconscious mind is the explanation.[7]

Alleged cases of automatic writing have included Joseph Smith,[8] Aleister Crowley,[9] Jane Roberts,[10] Helen Schucman [11] and Neale Donald Walsch.[12][13] In 1975, Wendy Hart of Maidenhead claimed that she wrote automatically about Nicholas Moore, a sea captain who died in 1642.[14]

Scientific analysisEdit

Scientists and skeptics consider automatic writing to be the result of the ideomotor effect.[15][16][17][18]

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.[19]

Physician Charles Arthur Mercier in the British Medical Journal (1894) criticized the spiritualist interpretation of automatic writing, concluding, "there is no need nor room for the agency of spirits, and the invocation of such agency is the sign of a mind not merely unscientific, but uninformed".[20] In 1927, psychiatrist Harold Dearden wrote that automatic writing is a psychological method of "tapping" the unconscious mind and there is nothing mysterious about it.[21]

According to skeptical investigator Joe Nickell, "automatic writing is produced while one is in a dissociated state. It is a form of motor automatism, or unconscious muscular activity."[22]

Neurologist Terence Hines has written that "automatic writing is an example of a milder form of dissociative state".[23]

Automatic writing behaviour was discovered[by whom?] in three patients with right hemispheric damage.[24]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Spence, Lewis. (2003). An Encyclopaedia of Occultism. Dover Edition. p. 56. ISBN 0-486-42613-0
  2. ^ Pessoa, Fernando (1999), Correspondência 1905-1922, 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. ^ William Fletcher Barrett On the Threshold of the Unseen Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 162
  5. ^ Dictionary Definition
  6. ^ Arthur Conan Doyle The New Revelation 2010 Reprint Edition, p. 47
  7. ^ Thomson Jay Hudson The Law of Psychic Phenomena Wildhern Press, 2009, p. 252
  8. ^ Dunn, Scott C. (2002). "Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon". American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. Vogel, Dan, and Metcalfe, Brent Lee, Eds. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 1560851511. OCLC 47870060. 
  9. ^ The Book of the Law (1904)
  10. ^ Seth Speaks (1972)
  11. ^ A Course in Miracles (1975)
  12. ^ Conversations with God (1996)
  13. ^ Sue Lim Good Spirits, Bad Spirits: How to Distinguish Between Them 2002, p. 82
  14. ^ Ivan Rabey's Book of St Columb (1979)
  15. ^ Burgess, C.A., Kirsch, I., Shane, H., Niederauer, K.L., Graham, S.M., & Bacon, A. (1998). Facilitated Communication as an Ideomotor Response. Psychological Science 9: 71-74.
  16. ^ Heap, Michael. (2002). Ideomotor Effect (the Ouija Board Effect). In Michael Shermer. The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience. ABC-CLIO. pp. 127-129. ISBN 1-57607-654-7
  17. ^ Erickson, Milton H; Hershman, Seymour: Secter, Irving I. (2014). The Practical Application of Medical and Dental Hypnosis. Routledge. pp. 68-69. ISBN 0-87630-570-2
  18. ^ Stollznow, Karen. (2014). Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-137-40484-8
  19. ^ Randi, James. (1995). An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St. Martin's Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-312-15119-5
  20. ^ Mercier, Charles Arthur. (1894). "Automatic Writing". British Medical Journal. 1 (1726): 198-199.
  21. ^ Dearden, Harold. (April 9, 1927). How Spiritualists are Deluded. The Graphic pp. 50-51.
  22. ^ Nickell, Joe. (2007). "A Case of Automatic Writing From Robert G. Ingersoll’s Spirit?". Retrieved 2014-10-11.
  23. ^ Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 48. ISBN 1-57392-979-4
  24. ^ Evyapan, Dilek; Kumral, Emre, (2001). Visuospatial Stimulus-Bound Automatic Writing Behavior: A Right Hemispheric Stroke Syndrome. Neurology 56: 245-247.

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