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One For The Spirits: Automatic Writing into The Field

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This article is excerpted from Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind, recently published by Wide Reality Books.

Automatic writing is an eccentric activity with a strange history. Like the ectoplasm which the Spiritualists believed to be the membrane between the living and the dead, when a person has opened their body to be inhabited by the flow of language, amazing things seem to be able to happen. 

Automatic Writing as a tool for divination seems to have been “invented” in the 19th century as news of celebrated mediums such as Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle, who used automatic writing so that she and Arthur could communicate with their son who had been killed in action in World War I, spread into popular consciousness. During this time the humble Baudin sisters were channeling answers to technical questions relating to physics, of which they seemed to have no prior knowledge; and William Yeats and his wife Georgie were contacting spirit guides, which resulted in A Vision, a poetic and philosophical theory of history. 

It’s interesting to think about the popular rise of automatic writing in the dawn of the industrial revolution, which set the stage for the coming 20th century’s automaticity of communication through telephone wires and cables.

It’s as if the Spiritualists were laying the track for the spread of a communication network that eventually would connect people’s minds together in ways that we are, at this moment in time, still experiencing as an unfolding.

It’s interesting to think about automatic writing in the context of the progress of communication:

First ancient civilizations built their villages around rivers.
They carved paths through the wilderness that soon other people traversed in covered wagons.
Then railroads were built along those paths.
Then highways, telephone poles, and canals.
Sewage systems and underground pipes to carry water.
Oil pumped from deep under the ground and put into barrels, onto barges, and filtered across the world to fuel “universal human mobility.”
Then the internet.
That weaving of wires, cables and central network hubs around the globe is already becoming obsolete.
Because now we’re wireless.
And eventually instead of cables, we will traverse the globe through radio waves, or maybe sound waves.
What galaxies will we contact when we are finally telepathic?


In the 19th century the writing hand seemed to be writing through a voice or personage that came from the “outside” — like possession. In his cultural study Modernism, Technology, and the Body, Tim Armstrong charts the shift from the 19th century’s conception of automatic writing as a “secondary personality” to the 20th century’s more psychological understanding of it as a process that reveals “attention and distraction.”

In the 21st century there are still psychic mediums and healers who utilize automatic writing the old fashioned way — as a means to receive information sources that seem to lay “beyond” conscious awareness.

If you are interested in automatic writing as it relates to communication with “secondary personalities,” it is instructed that you practice every day for a period of time being open to the moment when you become like a vessel receiving the muse-bathed waters of the Pierian Spring.

The continued practice of automatic writing — along with the belief that you are contacting external entities — just might result in coherent sentences and concepts that are beyond your conscious scope.

But before that happens, you’ll probably write a lot of seemingly random words, or indecipherable scribbles. Think of this as the laying down of progressively deeper and more visible tracks through a forest thick with trees and overgrowth. Or, think of it as becoming familiar with a process of being that is at peace with confusion, uncertainty, and doubt. Remembering that learning happens in surprising ways.

Whether you believe that automatic writing is the manifestation of spirits or the more psychological ability of our minds to “disassociate,” there is no doubt but that the process is mysterious.

A team of researches from various universities got together to analyze what happens to a medium during an episode of automatic writing. The result is a collaborative study called, “Neuroimaging during Trance State: A Contribution to the Study of Disassociation.”

The results of the study reveal what indeed does seem to be a part of the ether into which the unknown blows: automatic writing is not actually writing.

According to the study, in “normal” processes of writing things like memos, scholarly articles, blog posts, etc. the cerebral cortex along with other parts of the brain is very active. But in automatic writing, these areas quiet down significantly and yet “the writing that results is highly complex” in terms of ideas, execution, syntax, etc.

So what is happening?

Clearly “something other than relaxation” is happening that allows the cerebral cortex — the planning section of the brain — to shut down. And researchers can’t see which area of the brain is firing neural patterns when the person is engaged in automatic writing.  

This suggests what appears to be a blatant contradiction: if what we understand as “writing” follows a distinct pattern of activity in the cortex, then is automatic writing “not” writing? And if automatic writing is “not” writing, then what is it?

Here we are, once again, at that time-old question that scientists are determined to prove: What is the connection between the mysteries of consciousness and the grey, mushy, matter that sits between our ears?

Neuroscience and psychological studies will continue to try and get close to replicating this state of body and mind synthesis on neuro-imaging scanners, neutrino chambers, EKGs, EEGs, and MRIs…let the studies flow on.

With every brain scan and neural feedback loop, the ancient shamanic and spiritual practices that have always indicated the existence of a kind of field are substantiated and brought into a larger awareness.


Image by 9cdc44d26be6b18279f2c024985b742a courtesy of Creative Commons license.


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