So, what is automatic writing, and is it something I can use in my spiritual practice? Learn how this process can benefit your inner work.
The Origins of Automatic Handwriting
The origins of this method are unknown. It appears on the social scene in the late 1800s, a part of the Modern Spiritualism movement. It was a part of their parlor entertainment for the wealthy social elite, typically orchestrated by celebrity Spiritualists.
Many spiritualists were also grifters. They used their celebrity status to bilk the wealthy using various mystical practices. Their repertoire included séances, spirit channeling, fortune-telling, tarot card readings, and divination.
Automatic handwriting became another popular tool to engage the participants, mainly for contacting the spirits of deceased loved ones. They did not see the potential for automatic handwriting as a technique for inner work.
What is Automatic Writing Exactly?
Automatic handwriting is a technique where you put a pencil or pen on paper and start moving your hand. You give no conscious thought to what you are writing. Many believe this practice is a self-reflection method that creates a window into the subconscious. Others see it as a means of self-hypnosis. Still, others fear it is a doorway to evil spirits and even demonic possession.
It is a simple process; you write on paper with a pen or pencil without engaging the conscious mind. It’s important not to think about writing words; you let your hand move. As a result, it can bring some exciting things to light.
Some, like Sigmund Freud, believe it is a way of accessing the psyche’s deepest secrets. For instance, it shows us underlying thinking patterns, the symbols of our fears, and forgotten memories. It is even a way to understand the meaning of our dreams. Automatic handwriting, rewriting, or spirit writing are all names for the same method.
This practice is a standard tool of the mystic. Evelyn Underhill is a famous Christian mystic. She discusses the process in “Mysticism, A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness.” Here she refers to it as a “method of heightened consciousness or automatic state.”
Ms. Underhill describes it as a method to stimulate dormant intuition and show the connection between memory and emotion. Other writers and poets also use this practice to stimulate their creative minds.
Not coincidently, many writers and poets of this era also had interests in mysticism. For instance, William Butler Yeats talks about using this process. American author Jack Kerouac explains his use of this technique in “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” The pioneers of modern psychology used this process.
“Active imagination and automatic writing, painting and carving pictures from the unconscious, are all indirect methods of finding out what the unconscious means.” — Carl Jung, Jung-Ostrowski PP 18
Carl Jung talks about using the process to channel ancient personalities. Channeling and divination take the practice from the mystical realm of the mind to the supernatural. It is similar to the use of process within the Modern Spiritualism movement. Perhaps this was a contributing factor for his break with both Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche?
How Does Automatic Writing Work?
This process enables us to use the stream of awareness below conscious thinking. The subconscious has several levels; our monkey brain or primitive brain is at the core. Our primitive brain houses our autonomic nervous system, which controls our bodies’ internal systems.
Our monkey brain controls our breathing, heart rate, digestion, liver, kidneys, bladder, etc. Automatic handwriting doesn’t access this aspect of the mind. It is more of a link to our subconscious, but this still accesses our emotions like fear and anger. These primal emotions link to our fight, flight, or freeze response. So, our cultural programming often links to these gut-level emotional responses.
Next, we have the default settings of our Ego. The Ego is the home of our personality and instincts. Each of these has its tendencies and thought patterns. Last is our cultural programming. This programming is the filter that colors our beliefs and values. This technique can create a window to help us see the mechanisms of the mind. This process also links us to our emotional center. Some call this observer of our consciousness the thing we call spirit or soul.
Some believe this process can open access to spiritual energies or entities. Again, this depends on the beliefs of your cultural background.
Is Automatic Handwriting the Same as Morning Pages?
The short answer is yes. It is the same thing. Stream-of-consciousness writing and morning pages are all names for the same process.
What Are the Benefits of Automatic Writing?
Learning about your mind will give insight into your Ego. In turn, this will help you avoid issues and solve various problems. So, it helps to prepare us to meet the challenges of life.
W are creatures of habit. So, it is easy to allow habitual patterns of thought to run our lives, hindering our growth. Automatic handwriting can help us see what’s holding us back. It helps with all kinds of mental roadblocks because it will help you learn about your habitual nature. With this knowledge, you can use practical tactics to turn bad habits into good habits.
Is Automatic Writing a Form of Hypnosis?
It all depends on how you define them. Some people think automatic handwriting and hypnotism are the same things because they both produce an altered state. However, they use two different approaches and create altered states which differ in several important ways.
With hypnosis, you allow someone to guide and focus your attention. Giving your guide control makes you susceptible to “hypnotic suggestion,” resulting in a trance, very much like sleepwalking. You appear awake but are not aware of your surroundings.
On the positive side, this process can access essential details of hidden memories. So, if you are involved with therapy, it can help change unwanted behaviors or addictions. On the negative side, it also enables someone to insert suggestions into your subconscious.
Automatic writing uses a different approach. Instead of concentrating, you allow the mind to wander. Next, add an unfocused stare or gaze and use peripheral vision to keep your hand on the paper.
This recipe produces an altered state of awareness similar to daydreaming. So, you are aware of your surroundings. You are aware you are writing but not directing the content. It allows you to reach the subconscious stream of thought. On the positive side, this produces a wealth of insight into the Ego. On the negative side, it also opens the door to any repressed emotional issues and fears.
What Is Automatic Writing in the Abrahamic Religions?
That depends on what you believe. Many people believe in demons. Demons are part of the Persian mythology of the dying gods that made their way into Western theology. It includes the three branches of the Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Together these systems have over 4 billion members.
These systems dominate our cultural narrative, and their massive social reach affects non-believers. Demons are potent symbols or typologies in our culture. They are a popular genre in TV and movies as well as religion. However, that doesn’t make them real.
So, it’s important to remember that automatic handwriting can trigger our primal protective instinct, our fight, flight, or freeze response. Whatever typologies or symbols you associate with your deepest fears are likely to show up, triggering primal anxieties can cause hallucinations. Thus, if you are prone to seeing aliens or demons, these typologies may surface. We’ll discuss this more in the dangers next.
The Dangers of Automatic Writing
The most significant danger is to venture unprepared. See the above concern about symbols of your fear typologies. Next, the second danger is to use it as a parlor game. Remember, this is a profound inner work tool.
This process will also bring up repressed memories, along with emotional and psychological truths. Prepare yourself properly before engaging in any inner work. By all means, make sure you are ready to use this process.
Please take this process seriously. Ask yourself some questions about why you are using this process. What is the purpose or goal of using automatic writing? What are my desired outcomes?
Determine Your Readiness to Use the Process
Readiness to learn is a significant step. Determine if you are ready to use this process before you try it. Be honest with your answers to the following questions. These are the best practices that make sure you get the most out of this process:
First — Prepare Mentally
If you are undergoing mental health treatment, be sure to consult your doctor before using this process. They may give you further instructions for your situation. Above all, keep your overall health and wellness in mind. After all, this is a robust process that can bring up repressed memories and feelings. So, you want to start the process with a grounded, healthy state of mind. Otherwise, we recommend you wait until you are.
Again, don’t discount the typologies of your cultural narrative. Whatever fears your religion instills will probably surface. It’s how they keep you a paying customer.
Second — Use a Journal
We recommend you use a spiritual journal of your experiences during the process. Some people include all the scribblings from their handwriting session. Your journal should consist of your dreams, experiences in spiritual practices, and automatic writing data. It will give you a more accurate picture of your psyche.
A spiritual journal is also your book of shadows because it exposes the shadows of your subconscious mind. Above all, keep these journals secure. They are for your personal use.
It’s essential to check the data from your sessions for trends. The more sessions you complete, the more you will learn. Review it for repeating typologies or patterns and designs. Remember, you are the best person to understand what this data means.
Three — Use The Enneagram Profile
Complete the Enneagram Personality Profile personality and instinctual stack tests. Find out about the default though patterns associated with your type. These will probably surface during the automatic writing process, and the Enneagram can also show you how to handle the standard practices and fears for your personality type.
You can use this process on your own to determine your personality type. You can use it with a partner for serious inner work. And, many people use it in group exercises. Either way, set a timer for your practice. Take it slowly at first.
Tips for Automatic Handwriting
Here are some best practices for this process:
- We recommend you record in a spiritual journal. Always use a pen or pencil on paper. It doesn’t matter if it is blank or lined.
- Sit until you feel ready, then just let your hand move.
- Use Peripheral vision. Don’t focus on the writing surface.
- Some prefer sitting in silence while others like to listen to music. You decide.
- Don’t care about what you write, and don’t force anything.
- Trust yourself. Don’t think about what you are writing.
- Doodle, draw pictures, let anything happen.
- Your handwriting style and tempo are significant; the slant in the letters, the size, and the characters’ spacing are clues to your state of mind.
- Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about grammar and spelling.
- You may end up scribbling. That’s okay. You may see patterns, designs, or trends that develop over time. Don’t discount what you do not immediately understand.
- It’s important to realize that things may come up after the exercise is complete. So, keep your journal handy throughout the day if possible. Later thoughts may come to you that relate to your spiritual practice. Be sure to write them down, but not while in traffic or walking.
- Don’t judge the value of your writing.
- Writing like this is hard inner work. Stop when you need to.
- Review the notes of your practice after you’ve rested—this will give you a fresh perspective.
Use Emotional Checks
Anytime you engage in spiritual research, we recommend using emotional checks. It’s a process to help you stay as unbiased as possible. It can help you keep calm during your automatic writing sessions.
Emotional checks will reduce stress and increase the accuracy of our research. So, think of it as a safety net. It will catch us when we fall into emotional distress. When we face ideas conflicting with our current opinion, it creates a dilemma. We instinctively react to protect our sacred ground. You don’t want to avoid researching while in a state of distress.
If someone asks you, what is automatic writing? Now you know how to answer them. Perhaps even show them how the process works. A complimentary exercise we use in our introductory phase we call exploring memories. It dovetails perfectly with this handwriting exercise.
Thank you for reading this article. We hope it provides some food for thought. You can find more mind-opening topics on our blog.
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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
The Modern Spiritualism Movement, Wikipedia
Mysticism, A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness by Evelyn Underhill
William Butler Yeats, Poetryfoundation
Jack Keroack, Essentials of Spontaneous Prose
Carl Jung, eyeofthepsyche.com
Sigmund Freud, Wikipedia
Friedrich Nietzsche, Wikipedia
Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
List of Religions Populations, Wikipedia