Bad Language: Automatic Writing: Write or Wrong?

By Stollznow, Karen | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Bad Language: Automatic Writing: Write or Wrong?


Stollznow, Karen, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


THERE ARE MANY NAMES AND CLAIMS of Automatic Writing. Also known as Spirit Writing, Trance Writing, Direct Writing, Autography or Psychography, some believe there is a paranormal explanation; that this is when the ghost writers really are ghosts. Others believe the practice has therapeutic value, or is useful as a creative tool.

Whether it's to be found in the New Age or Self-Help section of the bookstore, does it work?

There are several different kinds of written spirit communications. One type is where a spirit, angel, demon or other entity leaves a "message" for the living. During the spiritualism movement, spirit "messages" would magically appear on slates during seances. Slate writing was a simple parlor trick, and many mediums were caught faking the practice, including Henry Slade, who discovered this supposedly paranormal phenomenon. (11)

The infamous case of Borley Rectory offers another example of spirit writing. Borley was known as the "Most Haunted House in England" well before the days of Ghost Hunters. Borley was the scene of poltergeists, a ghostly nun, and a phantom coach driven by a headless horseman. The victim in this story, Marianne Foyster, received strange scrawled messages on the walls of the Rectory. These were supposed spirit pleas for "light mass prayers" and requests for her to "please get help." Today, the claims have been exposed as the product of a bored housewife who faked the phenomena to divert attention from her extramarital affairs. Borley Rectory made and broke the career of seminal paranormal investigator Harry Price. (2)

The most common type of spirit writing is a form of written mediumship. A psychic medium channels a spirit that communicates through the medium's handwriting. Some mediums claim that the spirit dictates the messages, while others assert that the spirit controls the writing tool, or even possesses the medium's body. As a form of divination, spirit writing is similar to the Ouija board, and some use a planchette to guide their pen. The more theatrical mediums fall into a trancelike state, while some report sensitive or empathic abilities, claiming they "feel" the emotion behind the words.

Automatic writing became fashionable during the heyday of the spiritualism movement, but the practice predates this period. An early example is the 16th century "Angelical language" popularly known as Enochian. This was a language and alphabet used to communicate with angels that were allegedly dictated to seers John Dee and Edward Kelley by angels. Linguists view Enochian as an artificial language that attempts to replicate an ancient-sounding language. Angels use a grammar that is remarkably similar to English.

There are a number of infamous historical automatic writers. Patience Worth was a "spirit" who allegedly wrote poetry, plays, and novels through her host, Pearl Lenore Curran (1883-1937). Worth claimed to be a 17th century ghost who spoke in a mixture of pidgin Shakespeare and strangely, the contemporary dialect spoken by Curran. (3)

Rosemary Brown (1916-2001) claimed that Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and other famous (not to mention deceased) composers dictated new works to her. However, commentators remarked that these new compositions sounded like reworked classical compositions. Furthermore, Brown originally claimed to have no musical training, although she later admitted she grew up in a musical household and was a competent musician and pianist. (4)

Chico Xavier (1910-2002) was a Brazilian medium who wrote over 400 books. Well, his spirit guide Emmanuel wrote them. According to Xavier, Emmanuel first lived as a Senator in ancient Rome, then he was reincarnated as a Spanish Priest, and then as a professor at the Sorbonne. According to one source, spirit letters channeled by Xavier were accepted as valid evidence by Brazilian courts in at least two murder trials. (5)

Swiss medium Helene Smith (1861-1929) was a famous spirit writer who claimed to have been both a Hindu princess and Marie Antoinette in her former lives. …

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