Flammarion on automatic writing

December 23, 2009

Mysterious psychic forces
by Camille Flammarion 1909

In chapter II Flammarion discusses his participation with the Kardec group and his own experiences with automatic writing.

He describes the meetings of the Spiritists, the group participation and leadership of Kardec reminds me of surrealist meetings:

The members came together every Friday evening in the assembly room of the society, in the little passageway of Sainte Anne, which was placed under the protection of Saint Louis. The president opened the seance by an ” invocation to the good spirits.” It was admitted, as a principle, that invisible spirits were present there and revealed themselves. After this invocation a certain number of persons, seated at a large table, were besought to abandon themselves to their inspiration and to write. They were called ” writing mediums.” Their dissertations were afterwards read before an attentive audience. There were no physical experiments of table-turning, or tables moving or speaking. The president, Allan Kardec, said he attached no value to such things It seemed to him that the instructions communicated by the spirits ought to form the basis of a new doctrine, of a sort of religion.

His experience with automatic writing and skeptism about the results being from anything other then himself

I myself tried to see if I, too, could not write. By collecting and concentrating my powers and allowing my hand to be passive and unresistant, I soon found that, after it had traced certain dashes, and o’s, and sinuous lines more or less interlaced, very much as a four-year-old child learning to write might do, it finally did actually write words and phrases.


These astronomical pages taught me nothing. So I was not slow in concluding that they were only the echo of what I already knew, and that Galileo had no hand in them. When I wrote the pages, I was in a kind of waking dream. Besides, my band, stopped writing when I began to think of other subjects.

long quote from his The Worlds of Space (Les Terres du Ciel):

The writing medium is not put to sleep, nor is he magnetized or hypnotized in any way. One is simply received into a circle of determinate ideas. The brain acts (by the mediation of the nervous system) a little differently from what it does in its normal state. The difference is not so great as one might suppose. The chief difference may be described as follows:

In the normal state we think of what we are going to write before the act of writing begins. There is a direct action of the will in causing the pen, the hand, and the fore-arm to move over the paper. In the abnormal state, on the other hand, we do not think before writing; we do not move the hand, but let it remain inert, passive, free; we place it upon the paper, taking care merely that it shall meet with the least possible resistance; we think of a word, a figure, a stroke of the pen, and the hand of its own volition begins to write. But the writing medium must think of what he is doing, not beforehand, but continuously; otherwise the hand stops. For example, try to write the word ” ocean,” not voluntarily (the ordinary way), but by simply taking a lead-pencil, and letting the hand rest lightly and freely upon the paper, while you think of your word and observe carefully whether the hand will write. Very good; it does begin to move over the paper, writing first an o, then a c, and the rest.

In the mediumistic writing experiments it is very easy to deceive ourselves and to believe that the hand is under the influence of another mind than our own. The most probable conclusion regarding these experiences has been that the theory of the action of foreign spirits is not necessary for the explanation of such phenomena.

His final conclusion is very similar to the surrealist position on automatic writing as being a subconscience process without any spirits:

I came to the positive conclusion that not only are the signatures of these papers not authentic, but that the intervention of another mind from the spirit world is not proved at all, the fact being that we ourselves are the more or less conscious authors of the communications by some cerebral process which yet remains to be investigated.

Allan Kardec on automatic writing pt 2

December 21, 2009

Formation of Mediums from Experimental Spiritism

This section is practical guide for developing automatic writing, chopping out all the spiritualist stuff condenses it nicely:

page 246:
The process is of the simplest: it consists solely in taking pencil and paper, and the position of writing, without other preparation ; but to succeed, several recommendations are indispensable.

As a material point, we recommend the avoidance of everything that can interfere with the free motion of the hand ; it is even preferable that it should not rest at all on the paper. The point of the pencil should rest enough to trace, but not enough to experience any resistance. All these precautions are useless when the person has come to write easily, for then no obstacle can arrest it: these are only the preliminaries of the scholar.

page 252:
The first indication of a disposition to write, is a kind of trembling in the arm and hand ; little by little the hand is carried along by an impulse that it cannot master. It often traces, at first, but insignificant signs; then the characters are drawn more and more clearly, and it ends by acquiring the rapidity of ordinary writing. In all cases the hand must be abandoned to its natural movement, neither resisting nor propelling.

Some mediums write easily and rapidly from the beginning, sometimes even from the first sitting, which is quite rare; others for a long time make lines and genuine calligraphic exercises ; the spirits say to limber the hand.

page 256:
The writing is sometimes very legible, words and letters perfectly detached ; but with some mediums it is difficult to decipher for any other than the one who writes it; the habit must be acquired. It is quite often formed in large characters ; the spirits are little economical of paper. When a word or phrase is illegible, ask the spirit to please begin again, which he is usually willing to do. When the writing is habitually illegible, even for the medium, he can almost always succeed in obtaining clearer copy by frequent and continued practice, bringing to it a strong will, and earnestly requesting the spirit to be more correct. Some spirits often adopt conventional signs, which pass current in habitual circles. To mark when a question displeases them, or they do not wish to answer, they will, for instance, make a long bar, or something equivalent.

When the spirit has finished what he had to say, or will no longer answer, the hand remains immovable, and the medium, be his power and will what they may, can obtain no further word. On the contrary, until the spirit has finished, the pencil goes on without the hand being able to stop it. If he wish to say something spontaneously, the hand seizes the pencil convulsively, and begins to write without power to oppose it. The medium almost always feels within him something that indicates, if it is only a suspension, or if the spirit has ended. It is seldom he does not feel when he is gone.

page 257:
If, after useless attempts followed up for some time, no indication of involuntary movement is produced, or if these movements are too weak to give results, he should not hesitate to write the first thought suggested to him, without troubling himself as to whether it come from himself or a foreign source ; experience will teach him to make the distinction. It very often happens that the mechanical movement will be ulteriorly developed.

ideomotor effect (magnetism too!) page 250:
One method, which often succeeds, consists in employing as temporary auxiliary a good, flexible writing medium already formed. If he rests his hand or his fingers on the hand that is wanted to write, it is seldom that it does not succeed immediately: this is easily comprehended: the hand that holds the pencil becomes, in a manner, an appendage to the hand of the medium, like a basket or a planchette; but that does not prevent this exercise from being very useful when it can be done, inasmuch as if, often and regularly repeated, it helps to overcome the material obstacle, and develop the faculty. Magnetizing strongly the arm and hand will sometimes suffice; often even the magnetizer may simply rest his hand on the shoulder, and we have seen persons write at once under this influence. The same effect may be produced without contact, by the sole effort of will. It may easily be seen that the confidence of the magnetizer to produce this result will make a great difference, and that a skeptical one would have little or no action

group effect (individually not planchette) page 251;
Another means, that may also powerfully contribute to the development of the faculty, consists in gathering together a certain number of persons all animated by the same desire and by a community of intention; then let all simultaneously, in absolute silence, and with a religious concentration, try to write, each appealing to his guardian angel or to some sympathetic spirit. One of them may, without special designation, and for all the members of the assembly, make a general appeal to good spirits, saying, for instance, In the name of Almighty God, we pray good spirits to please communicate by the persons here present. It is very seldom that among the number there will not be some who give prompt signs of mediumship, or even write easily in a very short time.

This can be readily explained. Persons united by a community of intention form a collective whole, whose power and susceptibility are increased by a kind of magnetic influence which aids in the development of the faculty. Among the spirits attracted by this concourse of wills, there are some who find the instrument suited to them ; if not one, it will be another, and they profit by it.

different hand writing page 259:
A very ordinary phenomenon, with writing mediums, is the change of writing according to the spirits who communicate ; and what is more remarkable, the same writing is constantly reproduced with the same spirit, and sometimes it is identical with that he had while living ; we shall see, by and by, the results that may be drawn from this as to identity. The change of writing takes place only with those mediums who are mechanical or semi-mechanical, because with them the movement of the hand is involuntary, and directed by the spirit; it is not the same with mediums purely intuitive, for in such case the spirit acts solely on the thought, and the hand is directed by the will, as in ordinary circumstances, but the uniformity of the writing, even with a mechanical medium, proves absolutely nothing against the faculty, change not being an absolute condition in the manifestations of the spirits ; it pertains to a special aptitude, with which the most mechanical mediums are not always endowed. We designate those who have this aptitude under the name of polygraphic mediums.

Allan Kardec on automatic writing pt 1

December 21, 2009

Experimental Spiritism
Allan Kardec

trans 1874 (written 1861)

Allan Kardec was founder of French Spiritism, a movement dedicated to a quasi-scientific investigation of spirits and their interaction with humans. Its heyday was pre world war i, I think it could be said to represent mainstream occultism in France at the start of the 1920s, making it the primary doctrine of any spiritualist discussion or journals at the time of formation of surrealism.

The more I read about Spiritism the more it reminds me of early surrealism, the same emphasis on research and investigation except substituting the subconscience for spirits.

As far as automatic writing, Kardec defined it as psychography with two different types: indirect (two or more people using planchette) and direct/manual (one person usually with pencil). The direct is the most interesting type, it is subdivided into three groups (page 219):

  • mechanical: the highest level; no conscience of content of writing, movement independent of will
  • semi-mechanical: mix of highest and lowest levels; conscience of the writing as rapidly as it is formed, movement independent of will
  • intuitive: lowest most common level; conscience of writing, though it isn’t mediums thoughts, movement voluntary and optional

or to summarize:

  • mechanical: conscience follows writing
  • semi-mechanical: conscience accompanies writing
  • intuitive: conscience precededs writing

This goes to the point of the source of the automatic writing, whether it is from the conscience thought of the writer or from the subconscience; Kardec admits to it being a mix:

page 257:
All that we have said applies to mechanical writing ; it is that all mediums seek to obtain, and with reason ; but purely mechanical writing is very rare ; it is more or less mixed with intuition. The medium, having the consciousness of what he writes, is, naturally, prone to doubt his faculty ; he does not know if it comes from himself or the foreign spirit. He need not be disquieted, and should continue all the same; let him observe with care, and he will easily recognize in what he writes a crowd of things not in his thought, that even are contrary to it — evident proof that they do not come from him. Let him then continue, and doubt will be dissipated by experience.

We have said above that there are cases in which it is indifferent to know if the thought is from the medium or a foreign spirit; when a purely intuitive or inspired medium writes a work of imagination, it is little matter if he should attribute to himself a thought suggested to him ; if good ideas come to him, let him thank his good genius, and he will have other good ones suggested to him. Such is the inspiration of poets, philosophers, and savants.