With pen in hand, the writer sits back, attempts to clear his mind, and waits for the pen, seemingly, to take on a life of its own. Although autography, meaning in one's own handwriting, is the least accurate synonym for automatic writing, both spirit writing and psychography fit in some applications. Spiritualists believe that automatic writing is a form of spirit contact with the living; hence the name "spirit writing". Others believe that automatic writing is the elimination of mental censorship and the ability to tap the thoughts of the unconscious mind (psychography).
Proponents who believe that automatic writing is a spirit contact cite differences in penmanship between the normal handwriting of the person who holds the pen and the material that is written. However, some spiritualists believe that automatic writing can take other forms than handwriting. For instance, poet James Merrill (1926–1995) is most famous for his collection of poetry, The Changing Light at Sandover (1982), which he claimed were inspired through spirit guide messages obtained through a Ouija board.
Merrill was just one of a long list of authors who believed that automatic writing played an important part of their work. Many 20th Century writers attempted automatic writing as a technique to develop surrealistic writings.
However, although the surrealist movement* brought notice to automatic writing, spirit writing and psychography were both practiced before 1920, when the Surrealism became popular.
Spirit Writing, Dual Personality, or Hoax?
On July 18, 1913, Pearl Lenore Curran purportedly came under the control of the spirit, Patience Worth. Over the next three years, Patience Worth "dictated" extensive works of writing that included proverbs, poetry, plays, and novels, automatically written through Ms Curran's hand. Although Pearl Curran had no interest in Spiritualism, had only completed the 8th grade and had never traveled, the writer's talent was labeled as "enviable" by the New York Times. In 1917, five of the poems were published as written by "Patience Worth" in an anthology of the best poetry of the year, a number that surpassed such highly respected poets as Amy Lowell (3), Vachel Lindsay (3), and Edgar Lee Masters (1).
William Butler & Georgie Yeats
Historians still wonder what the attraction was between young Bertha Georgie Hyde Lees (1892-1968) and her elderly husband, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). One theory is that their common interest in spiritualism and automatic writing brought them together. However, in her biography of Georgie (The Life of Mrs. W.B. Yeats, Oxford University Press), Ann Saddlemeyer asks whether automatic writing was a common interest or it was Georgie's "hoax, a joint self-deception, or daimonic intervention"?
Married on October 20, 1917, Yeats and wife, Georgie spent the first seven years of their marriage immersed in the automatic writings that purportedly came through Georgie's hand. Yeats claimed that he drew inspiration from automatic writing and it was the source for many of the images and symbols that color his work. The Irish National Library says that "automatic writing proved to be a revitalizing force for W.B. Yeats."
Alice Macdonald Kipling claimed to have psychic powers and encouraged her children's interest in the occult. Kipling's sister, Trix became one of the few respected mediums of her time, largely due to her interest in automatic writing.
While in India with her husband (circa 1903-1910), Trish engaged in extensive contact with spirits through automatic writing. After relating her experiences to the Society for Psychical Research in London, the Society considered her as one of the most important psychics of the day.
Trix was one of several women involved in "cross correspondences", or automatic writings, of which several individuals received only a piece of the complete message. Some of these women were purportedly not acquainted and lived miles apart. The separate pieces of these cross-correspondences didn't make sense until they were all assembled.
Throughout his life, Rudyard Kipling also showed significant interest in the occult. In his book "They" (1905), Kipling patterned the character Miss Florence after his sister, Trix. And although in 1919, Kipling renounced any connection with Spiritualism, he continued to refer to his personal "Daemon", an entity that some believe was a spirit that contacted Kipling through automatic writing. In "Something of Myself" Kipling admits, "My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, Kin, and both Puck books and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not because when those books were finished they said so themselves... When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait and obey."
*Surrealist Movement: Originating out of Dadaism and Freud's focus on dreams, Surrealism was a literary and art movement that began in the 1920's. Surrealists attempted to bring together the conscious and unconscious, dream and reality, and objectivity and subjectivity in their works .
- John B. Newbrough, a dentist by profession in New York, authored the book Oahspe by using Automatic writing on the recently invented typewriter in 1882.
- Housewife Rosemary Brown claimed to automatically composed music. Though she had learnt to play the piano she was not adept at it. It was said the great names in music compositions were writing through her.
2. James Merrill. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. 20 Oct 2008 <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G2-3404704424.html>.
3. Surrealism definition sources:
4. “Automatic Writing .” Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. The Gale Group, Inc., 2003. 20 Oct 2008 <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G2-3406300158.html>.
5. Jochum, K.P.S. "Mrs. W. B. Yeats: A Review Essay." English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 46.4 (2003): 400+. Questia. 19 Oct. 2008 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002558676>.
6. "GHOST WRITER; Yeats 'Went into Trances with Demons'," Sunday Mirror (London, England) 18 Mar. 2007: 26, Questia, 19 Oct. 2008 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5019899365>.
7.William B. Dillingham, "Kipling: Spiritualism, Bereavement, Self-Revelation, and "They"," English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 45.4 (2002), Questia, 19 Oct. 2008 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002487112>.