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automatic writing (trance writing)

Automatic writing is writing allegedly directed by a spirit or by the unconscious mind. It is sometimes called "trance" writing because it is done quickly and without judgment, writing whatever comes to mind, "without consciousness," as if in a trance. It is believed that this allows one to tap into the subconscious mind, where "the true self" dwells. Uninhibited by the conscious mind, deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed. Trance writing is also used by some psychotherapists who think it is a quick way to release repressed memories. There is no scientific evidence that trance writing has any unique therapeutic value.

Advocates of automatic writing claim that the process allows them to access other intelligences and entities for information and guidance. They further claim that it permits them to recall previously irretrievable data from the subconscious mind and to unleash spiritual energy for personal growth and revelation. According to psychic Ellie Crystal, entities from beyond are constantly trying to communicate with us. Apparently, we all have the potential to be as clairaudient as James Van Praagh and John Edward.

One 19th century medium, Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller), specialized in automatic writing and even invented a Martian alphabet to convey messages from Mars to her clients in the Martian language. Martian has a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith's native language, French, according to Théodore Flournoy, a psychology professor who investigated her claim (Randi 1995, 22).

Flournoy concluded that Helen Smith's revelations were merely 'romances of the subliminal imagination', derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child). He subsequently coined the term cryptomnesia to describe the phenomenon. Flournoy also concluded that Helen Smith's spirit guide, Leopold, was merely an unconscious sub-personality.*

Skeptics consider automatic writing to be little more than a parlor game, although sometimes useful for self-discovery and for getting started on a writing project. While it is likely that many unconscious desires and ideas are expressed in automatic writing, it is unlikely that they are any more profound than one's conscious notions. There is no more evidence that the true self is in the unconscious than there is that the true self is revealed while drunk or in a psychotic break. Automatic writing may enhance personal growth if it is evaluated reflectively and with intelligence. By itself, automatic writing is no more likely to produce self-growth or worthwhile revelation than any other human activity. In fact, some people have had such bad experiences doing automatic writing that they are convinced that Satan is behind it. For some minds, apparently it is better not to know what's lurking in the cellar. Others may be disappointed to find that the cellar is empty.

See also channeling, medium, Ouija board, repressed memory therapy, and spiritualism.

further reading


McCoy, Edain. How to Do Automatic Writing (Llewellyn Publications 1994).

Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1995),

Rawcliffe, D.H. Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult ( New York, Dover Publications, 1959).


Skeptiseum: Spirit Writing

How to do it

Testing Spirit Writing by Karen Stollznow

Last updated updated 25-Apr-2015

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