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Since the early days of Spiritualism, automatic writing has been accepted as a way for trance mediums, and sometimes ordinary people, to receive communications from the spirit world. Man has always longed to communicate with the spirits and thanks to the founding of the Spiritualist movement, he now had a method of doing so. The original communications, like those of the Fox Sisters in Hydesville, were little more than knocks and raps that spelled out long and elaborate methods. Most became frustrated by such slow methods of communication and began looking for something faster -- and much more direct. Not long after, the art of "automatic writing" was born.

Automatic writing is essentially writing that is done in an altered state of consciousness that is attributed to spirits of the dead. It is believed by some that the spirits literally manipulate the writing utensil in the hands of the medium to communicate, as the writer is often unaware of what is being written and often even scrawls out text in handwriting that is markedly different than his own. Others believe that perhaps the spirits may also communicate by forming messages in the mind of the medium, which reproduce on the page. Most likely though, the medium is writing unconsciously and messages are formed from material in the subconscious mind or from a secondary personality that is gifted with extrasensory perception. One of America's most famous mediums, Leonora Piper, thought that perhaps her uncanny abilities came from such a personality, which manifested in automatic writing later in her career.  

Through automatic writing, mediums have claimed to produce messages from famous persons in history, deceased authors and even classical music composers. In the 1850's, John Worth Edmonds, a judge on the New York Supreme Court, became interested in Spiritualism after the death of his wife. After a séance with the Fox Sisters, he became intrigued with the movement and publicly acknowledged his support of it, despite the potential damage to his legal career. He became most interested in spirit communications and began encouraging a medium friend, Dr. George T. Baxter, to try and contact famous and literary figures who had passed over. In no time, Edmonds and his small circle of Spiritualists were receiving discourses from Francis Bacon and Emanuel Swedenborg, or as the Swedish seer insisted on spelling his name when communicating with the judge -- "Sweedonborg". 

The material produced by these sessions sounded nothing like the earthly work done by either man and were described as being pompous, artificial, slightly condescending in tone and often sounded as though the entire personality of the author had been eliminated. As William James stated: "One curious thing about trance utterances is their generic similarity in different individuals ... It seems exactly as if one author composed more than half of the trance utterances, no matter by whom they are uttered."

Despite the fact that the judge's communications were on the questionable side, his work inspired others to communicate with other famous deceased persons, from Benjamin Franklin to even Christ himself. Literary spirits dictated new works, books, novels and thousands of lines of poetry. Pens were common tools but some mediums used slates and even typewriters to keep up with the fast flow of material. Perhaps the most famous example of spirit dictation was the case of Pearl Curran, a St. Louis housewife who managed to get into contact with an entity named Patience Worth. The two collaborated for years and turned out entire novels and thousands of poems, all filled with material that the uneducated Curran could have known nothing about.

Some documented incidents of automatic writing include other aspects of the supernatural. In the early 1900's, famed society belle Marguerite Du Pont Lee began claiming that she was taking eerie spirit photographs at the direction of messages that she received through automatic writing. Lee, the daughter of the Delaware Du Pont's, was of impeccable lineage, spotless reputation and apparent good sensibilities. After her friend, Episcopal minister Kemper  Bocock died in 1904, Lee began having episodes of automatic writing that she credited as coming from Bocock. The writings told her to take up photography and she did, usually placing a portrait of herself or Bocock in a chair and taking pictures of it. Some of the resulting photos showed inexplicable blobs of light and spectral faces, some blurry and others distinct. Some of them looked like the dead minister. 

About that same time, Lee started having her photograph taken by William M. Keeler, an alleged spirit photography expert. With Keeler's assistance, Bocock's appearances increased dramatically and soon there were photos of him dancing, preaching and more. Concerned, Lee contacted James H, Hyslop, a philosopher and psychical investigator in 1919. He stated that he did not believe that there was any fraud involved with Lee's photos, but with Keeler he could not be certain. Hyslop passed away in 1920 and Walter F. Prince began looking into the case. By this time, the Keeler photographs numbered over 4,000 and Prince had little doubt that devious methods were at work.

Although deferential to Lee, Prince clearly regarded Keeler as a fraud and noted that in all of the Bocock photographs, the minister's head appeared facing about one-third off center, right or left, or almost in profile, right or left. The two poses were amazingly like the only two existing photographs of Bocock while he was alive. Prince also observed that the static Bocock head was often at odds with the alarmingly movable Bocock body -- which appeared variously as fat, thin, tall, short, long-necked or no-necked. The photos, Prince believed, were obviously faked.

Unfortunately though, because of the obvious trickery involved with Keeler's photos, we will never know what became of the photos taken by Lee -- which may have portrayed real phenomena!  

Other forms of automatic writing go beyond mere messages and include drawing and painting and even music that is allegedly inspired by the dead. In some cases, mediums or individuals with little or no artistic training will suddenly feel compelled to paint or draw in distinctive, professional styles. They fell guided by a spirit, as if another hand is guiding their own. In some cases, the paintings are recognizable in the style of a famous artist. 

In England, medium Rosemary Brown became renowned for musical compositions that she claimed were dictated to her by famous composers. Her mediumistic abilities manifested in childhood and at age 7, in 1924, she received communications from late composer Franz Liszt who told her than when she grew up, he would return and bring her music. In 1952, Rosemary married Charles Phillip Brown, a freelance journalist with chronic health problems. He died young and left Rosemary to care for their two children in 1961. A few years later, in 1964, she suffered several broken ribs in an accident and was forced to convalesce at home. To pass the time, she sat down at the piano, even though she had not played in more than 12 years, and suddenly became aware of the spirit of Franz Liszt beside her, guiding her hands over the piano keys.

When he returned again, Liszt introduced Brown to a number of famous composers who wished to dictate to her, including Bach, Brahms, Chopin, DeBussy, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Schubert and others. Word of her mediumship led to public performances and she had given more than 400 of them by the late 1980's. Some critics say that she does exhibit the styles of the various dead masters while others contend that she is merely drawing on subliminal knowledge to mimic their styles. Who knows?