Skepticism

Testing Spirit Writing

Some chicks are given flowers or sexy lingerie as gifts. I received a Ghost Writer Automatic Writing Kit

I tested a spirit writer years ago, and concluded that the practitioner’s pages of ‘channeled’ scrawl were a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that’s about as paranormal as James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.

Alleged Spirit Writing from Borley RectoryI should explain here that there are two types of ‘spirit writing’. One kind is supposedly where an uninvited spirit leaves a message on your wall, a threat written in lipstick on your mirror, or a rude word on your post-it notes. My favorite example is the infamous Borley Rectory, as researched by discredited paranormal investigator Harry Price. In this occurrence, the ‘victim’ Marianne Foyster received spirit writing pleas for “light mass prayers” and “please get help”.

In contrast, automatic writing (or trance writing) is the phenomenon whereby a subject allegedly channels a spirit, becoming an intermediary for the spirit that writes ‘though’ the subject. It’s a form of mediumship, but the communication is written, rather than verbal. Infamous automatic writers include the ‘spirit’ Patience Worth who allegedly wrote poetry and novels through her host Pearl Lenore Curran; and Rosemary Brown, who claimed famous deceased composers dictated new works to her.

“Become your own psychic medium!” gushes the box. For $17.95 you receive the requistite ‘tools’, “all you need to contact the subtle vibrations of the spirit world”. That is, a guidebook, a planchette, and…er…um… a pen.

I thought it was weird that they included a planchette (I know, I know, the whole thing is weird). A planchette makes automatic writing more like a ouija board game. I now suspected the ideomotor effect would come into play. However, without the words, letters and numbers of the ouija board, and the planchette restricting the movement of the hand and the control of the pen, I doubted that anyone could achieve more than an illegible scrawl.

I followed the instructions carefully, and with an open mind. I sat at a table, with a piece of paper and the pen placed in the planchette. Then I had to “center” myself by performing a “Protection Meditation”. This ritual involved closing my eyes, breathing deeply, and visualizing being:

…at one with All There Is, or however you prefer to conceptualize the highest and most powerful force for good in the universe. Concentrate on this, the source of all light and love, for it is from this higher place that you will receive your information.

Upon opening my eyes I was instructed to utter:

The love I have for you is undiminished by time and distance. I know you love me, too, and I feel your protection around me. I invite you to share with me your loving guidance by using my hand to communicate your message for my highest good and greatest joy.

I was to “mentally let go” and begin moving the pen in a figure 8 motion, the “symbol of eternity”, to kickstart the session.  I then requested to speak to my spirit guide. I didn’t know which one to ask for, everytime a psychic has read my spirit guide I’ve been given a different name…

Figure 1 - Automatic writing resultFollowing the handbook, I asked a few questions; “Is there a spirit guide here?” – adapting the Yes = Y or 1, No = N or 2 code as suggested in the book. I asked the spirit, “What is your name?” And I said, “Please write a message for me.”  This was beginning to remind me of electronic voice phenomena.

As suggested in the book, I spent about 5 minutes attempting contact.

The process was a little hypnotic, much like any kind of meditation, but there’s nothing paranormal about that.

When I opened my eyes all I saw was a string of figure 8 shapes, in ever-widening circles. (See Figure 1.) No messages, no words or symbols, other than the one I’d been instructed to draw. (By the way, I wrote the date at the top of the page, it wasn’t Oscar Wilde.)

According to the handbook, there are lots of limitations, caveats, and excuses, should the process fail: Avoid automatic writing when tired, stressed, distracted or skeptical. Even scribbles are meaningful in retrospect (or you’ll ascribe them meaning), and my favorite, if the resultant handwriting is unintelligible, the spirit had bad handwriting when he or she was alive!

After the test, I inspected the planchette. It’s a very flimsy instrument made of thick foam, and if sufficient pressure isFigure 2 - signature using planchette placed on its front the pen could fall out of its holder easily.  I made a careful attempt to sign my name, but my signature looked like I’d tried to sign after I’d been in a fist-fight with you (see Figure 2.). Accordingly, even if one could summon spirits they’d have a hard time trying to write anything comprehensible.

In the end, I think the authors inadvertently stumbled across the explanation, should the process work: “The messages are supposed to come either from your subconscious mind or from a spirit entity” (barring the second bit, of course).

Automatic writing, in this form, is likely to be resultant of subtle motor movement. (See Ray Hyman’s article on Ideomotor Action.)

As the handbook says, don’t expect to receive the next lotto numbers, “spirit guides are notoriously useless when it comes to gambling.” Why? Because if you don’t know the numbers, ‘they’ don’t either, because ‘they’ are ‘you’…

Now for my caveat: this isn’t intended to be a rigorous experiment. However, I followed the instructions closely, and remember that this kit is intended to replicate a result for all users, i.e., the production of a message from a ‘spirit’. I received a result that adhered to my initial hypothesis; I produced the instructed figure 8, and didn’t even invoke the ideomotor effect.

I didn’t recall any repressed memories. I didn’t contact Houdini. My fears of channeling the Fat Elvis were unfounded. Unlike Led Zeppelin, I didn’t receive a satanic symbol that would bring me fame and fortune, and I only created the kind of absent-minded doodle you’d draw when on the phone. It was predictable, but disappointing.

But the biggest anti-climax was not being filled with Jim Morrison’s spirit…

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14 Comments

  1. Hmmm….there may be something to your test. I went to a “psychic” early this morning after being compelled to make a cup of tea for some reason, the “psychic” swiped my credit card and started to tell me in some vague cryptic way that I will meet a woman with long hair who will draw figure 8’s and will take my breath away. I initially wrote off her supposed mental powers, but after reading this post, I am now starting to wonder. heh… ~

  2. It doesn’t work for skeptics, because skeptics attract the spirits of illiterate Chinese peasants. It’s a pretty big demographic, historically. They’re drawn to all the negative energy put out by our habit of kicking puppies and making the baby Jesus cry. The naughty thoughts about nuns are optional.

  3. In fairness, automatic writing isn’t always a useless passtime. The Dadaists used to use it as a creativity tool. If you want some creative inspiration, creating some randomness and then trying to find sense in it might help you out.

  4. Did they really come out and say that this doesn’t work on skeptics? They might as well have written in big letters on the front of the box: “ONLY WORKS ON COMPLETE IDIOTS.”

    “Did it not work on you? You’re probably just enough of an idiot to waste your money on this crap but not enough of an idiot for it to work. Slam your head into a wall vigorously for two hours or until your skull shows through your forehead and try again. This will… erm… let the spirits in, or something.”

    It would probably still sell very well in the States.

  5. Interesting…If a spirit guide isn’t around then how can it write either “No”, “N” or “2”…oh the mysteries of the unknown. Ghost Writer Automatic Writing Kit is also down to only $12.95…quick get then before the horders do…

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