Hi again, everybody! Yet more on linguistic aspects of (allegedly) channelled communications and similar cases. Next: written channelling/ ‘automatic writing’
Analogously to oral channelling, written channelling or ‘automatic writing’ (also known as ‘inspired writing’, ‘trance writing’, ‘spirit writing’, ‘autonography’, etc.) is regarded by ‘believers’ as generated by spirits or other paraphysical entities rather than by the physical writer, who is often in a trance-like state at the time of production. Automatic writers (or typists) typically claim to receive communication from the spirit world by way of involuntary handwriting or typing, allegedly guided by spirits of the deceased. Again, these phenomena may involve languages known to the writer, identifiable languages (modern or other) not known to the writer (again, very interesting, if genuine) or unidentified languages or ‘languages’. Writers often claim no understanding of the material produced where it is not in a language which they themselves know. Some such cases are again interpreted by believers as communication with deceased persons, including long-dead individuals as well as now-dead acquaintances; but there are also cases involving ‘spirit guides’ (who sometimes are quoted as wrongly identifying the language in question).
Karen Stollznow discusses (in the wider context of ‘New Age’ thought) several well-known older cases of automatic writing in ‘the West’, including a case featuring the highly skeptical Harry Houdini (involving a private sitting with automatic writer Lady Doyle, mother of Arthur Conan Doyle) and the Borley Rectory haunting case in the UK (where the automatic writing supposedly occurred without a living medium, being generated by ghosts), as well as recent cases in Australia involving ‘Lisa’, who reports that she receives messages from spirits as ‘thoughts’ in her head; the spirits then guide her handwriting. Other skeptical work on the issue includes that of Joe Nickell, who refers particularly to a case supposedly involving the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and that of Robert Carroll.
One very salient set of cases of automatic writing involves Geraldine Cumnmins, who channelled writings (in contemporary English; see earlier on this issue) supposedly generated by spirits associated with the events reported in the New Testament and expanding on these reports; she also channelled more recent spirits. Much of her work was done in partnership with another medium, Winifred Coombe-Tennant, known as ‘Mrs Willett’.
Nik Douglas reports a complex case involving a male channeller coming to terms with the ‘female archetype’; some elements and motifs relate to Asian and earlier European cultures. The channelling was rapid, forming an unbroken sequence; some sections were in ‘mirror writing’. In contrast, Grace Rosher channelled a recently deceased friend. Shelley Stockwell presents a systematic but rather naïvely conceptualized account of her own automatic writing and ‘hieroscripting’ (the latter often involves access to the channeller’s own unconscious thought and normally consists of artworks and non-linguistic symbols). Stockwell’s presentation is in decidedly ‘New Age’ terms. She also reports on other cases by way of example, including other cases involving ‘mirror writing’ (Jean Sheik). H.F. Saltmarsh offers a positive but not wholly uncritical survey of various cases involving ‘cross-correspondences’ between independent automatic-writers.
One case of channelled written material featuring a spirit guide involves Ann Walker, who claims to be in contact with a Native American spirit entity called White Arrow and another entity called Zipper. Zipper and other spirits spoke to each other in a language which Walker did not know; but they also sent her messages allegedly written in various ancient scripts and languages, notably Greek, Coptic (late Egyptian) and scripts which Walker identifies as the demotic and hieratic Egyptian scripts. (These are the names given to the simplified scripts that were used in Egypt for everyday purposes, as opposed to the more formal hieroglyphic system.) However, the characters given by Walker bear very little resemblance to genuine demotic or hieratic. And, although Walker’s versions of Greek words are in genuine Greek script, they do not correspond with Greek expressions carrying the relevant meanings; indeed, the sequences are meaningless as Greek, and some are phonologically impossible. In fact, virtually all of Walker’s comments about linguistic matters are naïve, confused and wrong, and her conceptualization is often faulty; for example, she confuses languages with scripts.
Anita Mühl provides a now dated but still very interesting survey of various cases of automatic writing, including analysis from a psychological perspective; she herself worked with some channellers.
One very interesting older case, reported by John Ashton, involves an alleged sample of handwriting by the Devil (Satan), who was allegedly summoned up by Ludovico Spoletano and induced to write a short passage in answer to a question. The resulting text was given to Theseo Ambrogio degli Albanesi and discussed in his Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam (‘Introduction to the Chaldean Language’) (Pavia, 1532). It is in an unidentified script; despite the reference in the book-title to Chaldaea (Mesopotamia), some of the characters have been compared to characters found in the Ethiopic abugida, a script often regarded as especially ancient and significant. Boundaries between characters are not always clear, but there are around 175 character-tokens in all. The language represented and the intended meaning are unknown.
More next time!