| Putting the psycho in|
|Men who stare at goats|
|By the powers of tinfoil|
| Style over substance|
Automatic writing is a form of psychic channelling whereby the alleged psychic takes a pen, scribbles with their eyes closed and then tries to read what they "wrote" in the scribbles. The "automatic" term comes from the fact that the psychic is supposed to be doing this all subconsciously and in a trance like state — enabling them to converse with the spirit world. It is often seen in two general forms: one where writing is vaguely legible and another that is mostly random scribbles.
You'd think that, if mediums really could make contact with the dead—and their spirits could move objects about the room—the medium could simply leave a pen and paper on the table and the dead would do the writing themselves.
If the writing is legible, it's difficult to say whether the writing was done "automatically" or not. Like a psychic medium putting on a funky accent, it might be clear that the channeller is, in fact, consciously writing down what they — or their audience — want to see. Like with any psychic power, there has never been any confirmation that this works better than guessing the information the channeller has been asked for.
Often automatic writing is "taught" by having students relax and let their pens wander over paper freely. This can be different to where legible writing is produced because most of the trick lies in the interpretation of the result after it is written. At least with legible writing there is something to read clearly, but with scribbles it may be a case of extreme pareidolia that provides the information content of the writing. In this case, it could be that the medium can be excused of fraud and deceit as rather than actively tricking people they are merely letting their audience see what they want to see (and possibly fooling themselves into thinking they are really channeling the "beyond").
Naturally, both of these forms of automatic writing can blend together. A performer can start with fairly basic and free-flowing pen movements and gradually get far clearer writing as their "trance" deepens and their "connection" to the spiritual world increases. This can combine into an impressive and convincing performance that exploits all the usual tricks that mediums utilise to fool their audience.
Automatic writing and drawing have also been used by many artists, hoping to stimulate creativity and produce something artistic without the effort of having to think about it. It was particularly popular with the Surrealists, such as André Breton and Philippe Soupault's prose work The Magnetic Fields (1920) and André Masson's drawings. Claims by surrealists that it revealed unconscious desires and thoughts, or would create a better world by bringing about a union of the conscious and unconscious, are probably as silly as any claims that dead people were guiding the pencil. However as an aid (or shortcut) to creativity, it can potentially have its uses. Just don't think there's anything supernatural about it.
It isn't always clear how much the writing is really unconscious, as the less planned it is, the more incomprehensible and worthless the output tends to be. But assuming there is some unconscious influence, it shouldn't be confused with "free writing" where the writer tries to write as quickly as possible without editing, because in free writing the author is assumed to be more or less in control over what is created.
- See the Wikipedia article on Automatic writing.
- Automatic Writing, An Alternate Method Of Spirit Communication, Bob Olson, Best Psychic Mediums
- See the Wikipedia article on Surrealist automatism.