Frederic W. H. Myers

Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and classical scholar of the nineteenth century. Distinguished psychical researcher and author of "Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death." In 1882 he joined with Henry Sidgwick, William Barrett, and Edmund Gurney to form the Society for Psychical Research.

Motor Automatism

 - Frederic Myers -

No longer merely to breathe in harmony with the surrounding air, but now also to think in harmony with the intelligence that surrounds everything.

Marcus Aurelius

          THE READER who has followed me thus far must be well aware that a large class of phenomena, of high importance, is still awaiting discussion. Motor automatisms - though less familiar to the general public than the phantasms which I have classed as sensory automatisms - are in fact even commoner, and even more significant.

Motor automatisms, as I define them, are phenomena of very wide range. We have encountered them already many times in this book. We met them in the first place in a highly developed form in connection with multiplex personality in Chapter II. Instances were there given of motor effects, initiated by secondary selves without the knowledge of the primary selves, or sometimes in spite of their actual resistance. All motor action of secondary self is an automatism in this sense, in relation to the primary self. And of course we might by analogy extend the use of the word still further, and might call not only post-epileptic acts, but also maniacal acts, automatic; since they are performed without the initiation of the presumedly sane primary personality. These degenerative phenomena, indeed, it is not my intention to discuss. The phenomena with which we shall deal in this chapter include those commonly known as automatic writing, table-tilting, and spirit-drawing. And it will be well to make clear at the outset what kind of relation these automatisms, which I regard as evolutive, bear to the dissolutive motor phenomena which occupy so much larger a place in popular knowledge.

If there be within us a secondary self aiming at manifestation by physiological means, it seems probable that its readiest path of externalisation - its readiest outlet of visible action - may often lie along some track which has already been shown to be a line of low resistance by the disintegrating processes of disease. Or, varying the metaphor, we may anticipate that the partition of the primary and the secondary self will lie along some plane of cleavage which the morbid dissociations of our psychical synergies have already shown themselves disposed to follow. If epilepsy, madness, etc., tend to split up our faculties in certain ways, automatism is likely to split them up in ways somewhat resembling these.

But in what way then, it will be asked, do you distinguish the supernormal from the merely abnormal? Why assume that in these aberrant states there is anything besides hysteria, besides epilepsy, besides insanity?

The answer to this question has virtually been given in previous chapters of this book. The reader is already accustomed to the point of view which regards all psychical as well as all physiological activities as necessarily either developmental or degenerative, tending to evolution or to dissolution. In studying each psychical phenomenon in turn we have to inquire whether it indicates a mere degeneration of powers already acquired, or, on the other hand, the promise and potency, if not the actual possession, of powers as yet unrecognised or unknown.

Thus, for instance, telepathy is surely a step in evolution.(1) To learn the thoughts of other minds without the mediation of the special senses, manifestly indicates the possibility of a of a vast extension psychical powers.

(1) To avoid misconception, I may, point out that this view in no way negatives the possibility that telepathy may be in some of its aspects commoner, or more powerful, among savages than among ourselves. Evolutionary processes are not necessarily continuous. The acquirement by our lowly organised ancestors of the sense of smell (for instance) was a step in evolution. But the sense of smell probably reached its highest energy in races earlier than man; and it has perceptibly declined even in the short space which separates civilised man from existing sax-ages. Yet if, with some change in our environment, the sense of smell again became useful, and we reacquired it, this would be none the less an evolutionary process because the evolution had been interrupted.

Let us, then, consider such motor automatisms as are at any rate not morbid in their effect on the organism, and which I now have to show to be evolutive in character. I maintain that we have no valid ground for assuming that the movements which are not due to our conscious will must be less important, and less significant, than those that are. We observe, of course, that in the organic region the movements which are not due to conscious will are really the most important of all, though the voluntary movements by a which a man seeks food and protects himself against enemies are also of great practical importance - he must first live and multiply if he is to learn and know.

As a first step in our analysis, we may point out certain main characters which unite in a true class all the automatisms which we are here considering - greatly though these may differ among themselves in external form.

In the first place, then, our automatisms are independent phenomena; they are not merely symptomatic of some other affection, or incidental to some profounder change. The mere fact, for instance, that a man writes messages which he does not consciously originate will not, when taken alone prove anything beyond this fact itself as to the writer's condition. He may be perfectly sane, in normal health, and with nothing unusual observable about him. This characteristic - provable by actual observation and experiment - distinguishes our automatisms from various seemingly kindred phenomena. Thus we shall have to include in our class certain simple movements of the hands, coordinated into the act of writing. But here, also, our definition will lead us to exclude choreic movements, which are merely symptomatic of nervous malnutrition.

In the second place, we shall find that our automatisms are all of them message-bearing or nunciative automatisms. I do not, of course, mean that they all of them bring messages from sources external to the automatist's own mind. In some cases they probably do this; but as a rule the so-called messages seem more probably to originate within the automatist's own personality. They present themselves to us as messages communicated from one stratum to another stratum of the same personality. Originating in some deeper zone of a man's being, they float up into superficial consciousness, as deeds, visions, words, ready-made and full-blown, without any accompanying perception of the elaborative process which has made them what they are.

A few concrete instances will make my meaning plainer. And my first example shall be taken from those experiments in muscle-reading - less correctly termed mind-reading - with which the readers of the Proceedings of the S.P.R. are already familiar. Let us suppose that I am to hide a pin, and that some accomplished musclereader is to take my hand and find the pin by noting my muscular indications. I first hide the pin in the hearth-rug; then I change my mind and hide it in the bookshelf. I fix my mind on the bookshelf, but resolve to make no guiding movement. The muscle-reader takes my hand, leads me first to the rug, then to the bookshelf, and finds the pin. Now, what has happened in this case? What movements have I made?

Firstly, I have made no voluntary movement; and secondly, I have made no conscious involuntary movement. But, thirdly, I have made an unconscious involuntary movement which directly depended on conscious ideation. I strongly thought of the bookshelf, and when the bookshelf was reached in our vague career about the room I made a movement - say rather a tremor occurred - in my hand, which, although beyond both my knowledge and my control, was enough to supply to the muscle-reader's delicate sensibility all the indication required. All this is now admitted, and, in a sense, understood; we formulate it by saying that my conscious ideation contained a motor element; and that this motor element, though inhibited from any conscious manifestation, did yet inevitably externalise itself in a peripheral tremor.

But, fourthly, something more than this has clearly taken place. Before the muscle-reader stopped at the bookshelf he stopped at the rug. I was no longer consciously thinking of the rug; but the idea of the pin in the rug must still have been reverberating, so to say, in nix, sub-conscious region; and this unconscious memory, this unnoted reverberation, revealed itself in a peripheral tremor nearly as distinct as that which (when the bookshelf was reached) corresponded to the strain of conscious thought.

This tremor, then, was in a certain sense a messace-bearing automatism. It was the externalisation of an idea which, once conscious, had become unconscious, though in the slightest conceivable degree - namely, by a mere slight escape from the field of direct attention.

Yet once more. In the discussion which will follow we shall have various instances of the transformation (as I shall regard it) of psychical shock into definite muscular energy of apparently a quite alien kind. Such transformations of so-called psychical into physical force - of will into motion - do of course perpetually occur within us.

For example, I take a child to a circus; he sits by me holding my hand; there is a discharge of musketry and his grip tightens. Now in this case we should call the child's tightened grip automatic. But suppose that, instead of merely holding my hand, he is trying with all his might to squeeze the dynamometer, and that the sudden excitation enables him to squeeze it harder - are we then to describe that extra squeeze as automatic? or as voluntary?

However phrased, it is the fact (as amply established by M. Fere and others(1)) that excitations of almost any kind - whether sudden and startling or agreeable and prolonged - do tend to increase the subject's dynamometrical power. In the first place, and this is in itself an important fact, the average of squeezing-power is found to be greater among educated students than among robust labouring men, thus showing that it is not so much developed muscle as active brain which renders possible a sudden concentration of muscular force. But more than this; M. Fere finds that with himself and his friends the mere listening to an interesting lecture, or the mere stress of thought in solitude, or still more the act of writing or of speech, produces a decided increase of strength in the grip, especially of the right hand. The same effect of dynamogeny is produced with hypnotic subjects, by musical sounds, by coloured light, especially red light, and even by a hallucinatory suggestion of red light. 'All our sensations,' says M. Fere in conclusion, 'are accompanied by a development of potential energy, which passes into a kinetic state, and externalises itself in motor manifestations which even so rough a method as dynamometry is able to observe and record.'

(1) "Sensation et Movement", par Ch, Fere Paris: Alcan, 1887.

And now having to deal with what I define as messages conveyed by one stratum in man to another stratum, I must first consider in what general ways human messages can be conveyed. Writing and speech have become predominant in the intercourse of civilised men, and it is to writing and speech that we look with most interest among the communications of the subliminal self. But it does not follow that the subliminal self will always have such complex methods at its command. It often finds it hard to manage the delicate coordinations of muscular movement required for writing - the attempt at automatic script ends in a thump and a scrawl.

The subliminal self like the telegraphist begins its effort with full knowledge, indeed, of the alphabet, but with only weak and rude command over our muscular adjustments. It is therefore a prior likely that its easiest mode of communication will be through a repetition of simple movements, so arranged as to correspond to letters of the alphabet.

And here, I think, we have attained to a conception of the mysterious and much derided phenomenon of 'table-tilting' which enables us to correlate it with known phenomena, and to start at least from an intelligible basis, and on a definite line of inquiry.

A few words are needed to explain what are the verifiable phenomena, and the less verifiable hypotheses, connoted by such words as 'table-turning', 'spirit-rapping', and the like.

If one or more persons of a special type - at present definable only by the question-begging and barbarous term 'mediumistic' - remain quietly for some time with hands in contact with some easily movable object, and desiring its movement, that object will sometimes begin to move. If, further, they desire it to indicate letters of the alphabet by its movements, - as by tilting once for a, twice for b, etc., it will often do so, and answers unexpected by any one present will be obtained.

But beyond the simple movements - or table-turning - and the intelligible responses - or table-tilting - both of which are at least prima facie physically explicable by the sitters' unconscious pressure, without postulating any unknown physical force at all, - it is alleged by many persons that further physical phenomena occur; namely, that the table moves in a direction or with a violence, which no unconscious pressure can explain; and also that percussive sounds or 'raps' occur, which no unconscious action, or indeed no agency known to us, could produce. These raps communicate messages like the tilts, and it is to them that the name of 'spirit-rapping' is properly given. But Spiritualists generally draw little distinction between these four phenomena - mere table-turning, responsive table-tilting, movements of inexplicable vehemence, and responsive raps - attributing all alike to the agency of departed spirits of men and women, or at any rate to disembodied intelligences of some kind or other.

I am not at present discussing the physical phenomena of Spiritualism, and I shall therefore leave on one side all the alleged movements and noises of this kind for which unconscious pressure will not account. I do not prejudge the question as to their real occurrence; but assuming that such disturbances of the physical order do occur, there is at least no prima facie need to refer them to disembodied spirits. If a table moves when no one is touching it, this is not obviously more likely to have been effected by my deceased grandfather than by myself. We cannot tell how I could move it; but then we cannot tell how he could move it either. The question must be argued on its merits in each case; and our present argument is not therefore vitiated by our postponement of this further problem.

M. Richet was, I believe, the first writer, outside the Spiritualistic group, who so much as showed any practical knowledge of this phenomenon, still less endeavoured to explain it. Faraday's wellknown explanation of table-turning as the result of the summation of many unconscious movements - obviously true as it is for some of the simplest cases of table-movement - does not touch this far more difficult question of the origination of these intelligent messages, conveyed by distinct and repeated movements of some object admitting of ready displacement. The ordinary explanation - I am speaking, Of course, of cases where fraud is not in question - is that the sitter unconsciously sets going and stops the movements so as to shape the word in accordance with his expectation. Now, that he unconsciously sets going and stops the movements is part of my own present contention, but that the word is thereby shaped in accordance with his expectation is often far indeed from being the case. To those indeed who are familiar with automatic written messages, this question as to the unexpectedness of the tilted messages will present itself in a new light. If the written messages originate in a source beyond the automatist's supraliminal self, so too may the tilted messages; - even though we admit that the tilts are caused by his hand's pressure of the table just as directly as the script by his hand's manipulation of the pen.

One piece of evidence showing that written messages are not always the mere echo of expectation is a case(1) where anagrams were automatically written, which their writer was not at once able to decipher. Following this hint, I have occasionally succeeded in getting anagrams tilted out for myself by movements of a small table which I alone touched.

(1) See Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. ii, pp. 226-31.

Here, (as in automatic writing), a man may hold colloquy with his own dream - may note in actual juxtaposition two separate strata of his own intelligence.

I shall not at present pursue the discussion of these tilted responses beyond this their very lowest and most rudimentary stage. They almost immediately suggest another problem, for which our discussion is hardly ripe, the participation, namely, of several minds in the production of the same automatic message. There is something of this difficulty even in the explanation of messages given when the hands of two persons are touching a planchette; but when the instrument of response is large, and the method of response simple, as with table-tilting, we find this question of the influence of more minds than one imperatively recurring.

A more elaborate form of automatic gesture inspires 'spirit drawings'.

Some of my readers may have seen these so-called 'spirit drawings', - designs, sometimes in colour, whose author asserts that he drew them without any plan, or even knowledge of what his hand was going to do. This assertion may be quite true, and the person making it may be perfectly sane. The drawings so made will be found curiously accordant with what the view which I am explaining would lead us to expect. For they exhibit a fusion of arabesque with ideography; that is to say, they partly resemble the forms of ornamentation into which the artistic hand strays when, as it were, dreaming on the paper without definite plan; and partly they afford a parallel to the early attempts at symbolic self-expression of savages who have not yet learnt an alphabet. Like savage writing, they pass by insensible transitions from direct pictorial symbolism to an abbreviated ideography, mingled in its turn with writing of a fantastic or of an ordinary kind.

And here, before we enter on the study of automatic writing, I must refer briefly to two great historic cases of automatism. One case, that of Socrates, is a case of monitory inhibition; the other, that of Joan of Arc, of monitory impulse.

The story of Socrates I take as a signal example of wise automatism; of the possibility that the messages which are conveyed to the supraliminal mind from subliminal strata of the personality, - whether as sounds, as sights, or as movements, - may sometimes come from far beneath the realm of dream and confusion, - from some self whose monitions convey to us a wisdom profounder than we know.

Similarly in the case of Joan of Arc, I believe that only now, with the comprehension which we are gradually gaining of the possibility of an impulse from the mind's deeper strata which is so far from madness that it is wiser than our sanity itself, - only now, I repeat, can we understand aright that familiar story.

And here I must mention a small group of cases which stand at the entrance of our subject. I speak of motor inhibitions, prompted at first by subliminal memory, or by subliminal hyperaesthesia, but merging into telaesthesia or telepathy. Inhibitions - sudden arrests or incapacities of action - form a simple, almost rudimentary, type of motor automatisms. And an inhibition - a sudden check on action of this kind - will be a natural way in which a strong but obscure impression will work itself out. Such an impression, for instance, is that of alarm, suggested by some vague sound or odour which is only subliminally perceived.

There are cases where some sudden muscular impulse or inhibition has probably depended on a subliminal perception or interpretation of a sound which had not reached the supraliminal attention. For instance, two friends walking together along a street in a storm just evade by sudden movements a falling mass of masonry. Each thinks that he has received some monition of the fall; each asserting that he heard no noise whatever to warn him. Here is an instance where subliminal perception may have been slightly quicker and more delicate than supraliminal, and may have warned them just in time.

In the case which I now quote (from Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. xi, p. 416) there may have been some subliminal hyperaesthesia of hearing which dimly warned Mr Wyman of the approach of the extra train.

Mr Wm H. Wyman writes to the Editor of the Arena as follows:

DUNKIRK, N. Y., June 26th, 1891

Some years ago my brother was employed and had charge as conductor and engineer of a working train on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, running between Buffalo and Erie, which passes through this city (Dunkirk, N. Y.). I often went with him to the Grave Bank, where he had his headquarters, and returned on his train with him. On one occasion I was with him, and after the train of cars was loaded, we went together to the telegraph office to see if there were any orders, and to find out if the trains were on time, as he had to keep out of the way of all regular trains. After looking over the train reports and finding them all on time, we started for Buffalo. As we approached near Westfield Station, running about 12 miles per hour, and when within about one mile of a long curve in the line, my brother all of a sudden shut off the steam, and quickly stepping over to the fireman's side of the engine, he looked out of the cab window, and then to the rear of his train to see if there was anything the matter with either. Not discovering anything wrong, he stopped and put on steam, but almost immediately again shut it off and gave the signal for breaks and stopped. After inspecting the engine and train and finding nothing wrong, he seemed very much excited, and for a short time he acted as if he did not know where he was or what to do. I asked what was the matter. He replied that he did not know, when, after looking at his watch and orders, lie said that he felt there was some trouble on the line of the road. I suggested that he had better run his train to the station and find out. He then ordered his flagman with his flag to go ahead around the curve, which was just ahead of us, and he would follow with the train. The flagman started and had just time to flag an extra express train, with the General Superintendent and others on board, coming full 40 [forty] miles per hour. The Superintendent inquired what he was doing there, and if he did not receive orders to keep out of the way of the extra. 'My brother told him that he had not received orders and did not know of any extra train coming; that we had both examined the train reports before leaving the station. The train then backed to the station, where it was found that no orders had been given. The train despatcher was at once discharged from the road, and from that time to this both my brother and myself are unable to account for his stopping the train as he did. I consider it quite a mystery, and cannot give or find any intelligent reason for it. Can you suggest any?

The above is true and correct in every particular.

In other cases again some subliminal sense of smell may be conjectured. Tactile sensibility, too, must be carefully allowed for. The sense of varying resistance in the air may reach in some seeing persons, as well as in the blind, a high degree of acuteness.

But there are cases of sudden motor inhibition where no warning can well have been received from hyperaesthetic sensation, where we come, as it seems, to telaesthesia or to spirit guardianship.

(From Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. xi, p. 459.)

Four years ago, I made arrangements with my nephew, John W. Parsons, to go to my office after supper to investigate a case. We walked along together, both fully determined to go up into the office, but just as I stepped upon the doorsill of the drug store, in which my office was situated, some invisible influence stopped me instantly. I was much surprised, felt like I was almost dazed, the influence was so strong, almost like a blow, I felt like I could not make another step. I said to my nephew, 'John, I do not feel like going into the office now; you go and read Flint and Aitken on the subject.' He went, lighted the lamp, took off his hat, and just as he was reaching for a book the report of a large pistol was heard. The ball entered the window near where he was standing, passed near to and over his head, struck the wall and fell to the floor. Had I been standing where he was, I would have been killed, as I am much taller than he. The pistol was fired by a man who had an old grudge against me, and had secreted himself in a vacant house near by to assassinate me.

This impression was unlike any that I ever had before. All my former impressions were slow in their development, grew stronger and stronger, until the maximum was reached. I did not feel that I was in any danger, and could not understand what the strong impression meant. The fellow was drunk, had been drinking for two weeks. If my system had been in a different condition - I had just eaten supper - I think I would have received along with the impression some knowledge of the character of the danger, and would have prevented my nephew from going into the office.

I am fully satisfied that the invisible and unknown intelligence did the best that could have been done, under the circumstances, to save us from harm.

D. J. PARSONS, M. D., Sweet Springs, Mo.

(The above account was received in a letter from Dr. D. J. Parsons, dated December 15th, 1891.)

Statement of Dr J. W. PARSONS

About four years ago my uncle, Dr D. J. Parsons, and I were going to supper, when a man halted us and expressed a desire for medical advice. My uncle requested him to call the next morning, and as we walked along he said the case was a bad one and that we would come back after supper and go to the office and examine the authorities on the subject. After supper we returned, walked along together on our way to the office, but just as we reached the door of the drug store he very unexpectedly, to me, stopped suddenly, which caused me to stop too; we stood there together a few seconds, and he remarked to me that he did not feel like going into the office then, or words to that effect, and told me to go and examine Flint and Aitken. I went, lit the lamp, and just as I was getting a book, a pistol was fired into the office, the ball passing close to my head, struck the east wall, then the north, and fell to the floor.

This 5th day of July, 1891.

JOHN W. PARSONS [Ladonia, Texas].

In the next group of cases, we reach a class of massive motor impulses which are almost entirety free from any sensory admixture. Take for instance the case of Mr Garrison, who left a religious meeting in the evening, and walked eighteen miles under the strong impulse to see his mother, and found her dead. The account is given in the Journal, S.P.R., vol. viii, p. 125.

In another case, that of Major Kobbe given in "Phantasms of the Living", vol. i, p. 288, the percipient was prompted to visit a distant cemetery, without any conscious reason, and there found his father, who had, in fact, for certain unexpected reasons, sent to his son, Major Kobbe, a request (accidentally not received) to meet him at that place and hour.

In a third case, given in "Phantasms of the Living", vol. I, p. 285, Mr Skirving was Irresistibly compelled to leave his work and go home - why, he knew not - at the moment when h's wife was in fact calling for him in the distress of a serious accident. See also a case given in "Phantasms of the Living", vol.II, p. 377, where a bricklayer has a sudden impulse to run home, and arrives just in time to save the life of his little boy, who had set himself on fire.

Let us here enumerate the modes of subliminal motor message as nearly as we can in order of their increasing specialisation.

1. We may place first the massive motor impulses (like Mr Garrison's). There was here no Impulse to special movement of any limb; but an impulse to reach a certain place by ordinary methods.

2. Next, perhaps, in order of specialisation come the simple subliminal muscular impulses which give rise to table-tilting and similar phenomena.

3. Musical execution, subliminally initiated, might theoretically be placed next; although definite evidence of this is hard to obtain, since the threshold of consciousness with musical performers is notoriously apt to be shifting and indefinite. ('When in doubt, play with your fingers, and not with your head.')

4. Next we may place automatic drawing and painting. This curious group of messages has but seldom a telepathic content, and is more akin to genius and similar non-telepathic forms of subliminal faculty.

5. Next comes automatic writing, on which much remains to be said in this chapter.

6. We may place next automatic speech, with which I deal in Chapter IX.

7. Lastly come telekinetic movements of objects, raps, etc.

In Europe and America the phenomenon of automatic writing first came into notice as an element in so-called 'modern spiritualism' about the middle of the nineteenth century; but the writings of W. Stainton Moses - about 1870-80 - were perhaps the first continuous series of such messages which could be regarded as worthy of serious attention. Mr Moses - a man whose statements could not be lightly set aside - claimed for them that they were the direct utterances of departed persons, some of them lately dead, some dead long ago. However they were really to be explained, they strongly impressed Edmund Gurney and myself and added to our desire to work at the subject in as many ways as we could.

It was plain that these writings could not be judged aright without a wide analysis of similar scripts, - without an experimental inquiry into what the human mind, in states of somnambulism or the like, could furnish of written messages, apart from the main stream of consciousness. By his experiments on writing obtained in different stages of hypnotic trance, Gurney acted as the pioneer of a long series of researches which, independently set on foot by Professor Pierre Janet in France, have become of high psychological, and even medical, importance. What is here of prime interest is the indubitable fact that fresh personalities can be artificially and temporarily created which will write down matter quite alien from the first personality's character, and even matter which the first personality never knew. That matter may consist merely of reminiscences of previous periods when the second personality has been in control. But, nevertheless, if these writings are shown to the primary personality, he will absolutely repudiate their authorship - alleging not only that he has no recollection of writing them, but also that they contain allusions to facts which he never knew. Some of these messages, indeed, although their source is so perfectly well defined - although we know the very moment when the secondary personality which wrote them was called into existence - do certainly look more alien from the automatist in his normal state than many of the messages which claim to come from spirits of lofty type. It is noticeable, moreover, that these manufactured personalities sometimes cling obstinately to their fictitious names, and refuse to admit that they are in reality only aspects or portions of the automatist himself. This must be remembered when the persistent claim to some spiritual identity - say Napoleon - is urged as an argument for attributing a series of messages to that special person.

I pass on to consider the contents of the messages, and shall endeavour to classify them according to their apparent sources.

A. In the first place, the message may come from the percipient's own mind; its contents being supplied from the resources of his ordinary memory, or of his more extensive subliminal memory; while the dramatisation of the message - its assumption of some other mind as its source - will resemble the dramatisations of dream or of hypnotic trance.

Of course the absence of facts unknown to the writer is not in itself a proof that the message does not come from some other mind. We cannot be sure that other minds, if they can communicate, will always be at the pains to fill their messages with evidential facts. But, equally of course, a message devoid of such facts must not, on the strength of its mere assertions, be claimed as the product of any but the writer's own mind.

B. Next above the motor messages whose content the automatist's own mental resources might supply, we may place the messages whose content seems to be derived telepathically from the mind of some other person still living on earth; that person being either conscious or unconscious of transmitting the suggestion.

C. Next comes the possibility that the message may emanate from some unembodied intelligence of unknown type - other, at any rate, than the intelligence of the alleged agent. Under this heading come the views which ascribe the messages on the one hand to 'elementaries', or even devils, and on the other hand to 'guides' or 'guardians' of superhuman goodness and wisdom.

D. Finally we have the possibility that the message may be derived, in a more or less direct manner, from the mind of the agent - the departed friend - from whom the communication does actually claim to come.

My main effort has naturally been thus far directed to the proof that there are messages which do not fall into the lowest class, A - in which class most psychologists would still place them all. And I myself - while reserving a certain small portion of the messages for my other classes - do not only admit but assert that the great majority of such communications represent the subliminal workings of the automatist's mind alone. It does not, however, follow that such messages have for us no interest or novelty. On the contrary, they form an instructive, an indispensable transition from psychological introspection of the old-fashioned kind to the bolder methods on whose validity I am anxious to insist. The mind's subliminal action, as thus revealed, differs from the supraliminal in ways which no one anticipated, and which no one can explain. Again we must not take for granted that a message which does contain facts not normally known to the automatist must therefore come from some mind other than his own. If the subliminal self can acquire supernormal knowledge at all, it may obtain such knowledge by means other than telepathic impressions from other minds. Parallel with the possibilities of reception of such knowledge from the influence of other embodied or disembodied minds lies the possibility of its own clairvoyant perception, or active absorption of some kind, of facts lying Indefinitely beyond its supraliminal purview.

I will first quote in illustration of the simpler type of message one short case recounted by Mr H. Arthur Smith (author of "The Principles of Equity", and a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research) who has had the patience to analyse many communications through 'Planchette'.

(From Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. II, p. 233.) Mr Smith and his nephew placed their hands on the Planchette, and a purely fantastic name was given as that of the communicating agency.

Q. 'Where did you live?' A. 'Wem.' This name was quite unknown to any of us. I am sure it was to myself, and as sure of the word of the others as of that of any one I know.

Q. 'Is it decided who is to be Archbishop of Canterbury?' A. 'Yes.'

Q. 'Who?' A. 'Durham.' As none of us remembered his name, we asked

'What is his name?' A. 'Lightfoot.' Of course, how far the main statement is correct, I don't know. The curiosity at the time rested in the fact that the name was given which none of us could recall, but was found to be right.

Now, this is Just one of the cases which a less wary observer might have brought forward as evidence of spirit agency. An identity, it would be said, manifested itself, and gave an address which none present had ever heard. But I venture to say that there cannot be any real proof that an educated person has never heard of Wem. A permanent recorded fact, like the name of a town which is to be found (for instance) in Bradhsaw's Guide, may at any moment have been presented to Mr Smith's eve, and have found a lodgment in his subliminal memory.

Similarly in the answers 'Durham' and 'Lightfoot' we are reminded of cases where in a dream we ask a question with vivid curiosity, and are astonished at the reply; which nevertheless proceeds from ourselves as undoubtedly as does the inquiry. The prediction in this case was wrong.

What we have been shown is an independent activity of the subliminal self-holding colloquies with the supraliminal, and nothing more. Yet we shall find, if we go on accumulating instances of the same general type, that traces of telaesthesia and telepathy begin insensibly to show themselves.

Mr Schiller's case (see Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. iv, pp. 216-24) is a good example of these obscure transitions between normal and supernormal, and introduces us to several phenomena which we shall afterwards find recurring again and again in independent quarters - as, for instance, the dramatisation of fictitious personalities, which form so marked a feature in Professor Flournoy's celebrated case.(1)

(1) See Professor Flournoy's "Des Indes a la planete Mars: Etude sur un cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie" (Paris and Genes a, 1900).

I pass on, then, to evidence which points, through motor automatisms, to supernormal faculty; and I shall begin by quoting some early experiments in thought-transference through table-tilting which were published by Professor Richet in the "Revue Philosophique" for December, 1884. A critical discussion of these by Gurney appeared in the Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. II, pp. 239-64, and a briefer report in Phantasms of the Living, vol. I, pp. 72-81. I quote from the latter a description of the method used:

The place of planchette was taken by a table, and NI. Richet prefaces his account by a succinct statement of the orthodox view as to 'table-turning'. Rejecting altogether the three theories which attribute the phenomena to wholesale fraud, to spirits, and to an unknown force, he regards the gyrations and oscillations of sťance-tables as due wholly to the unconscious muscular contractions of the sitters. It thus occurred to him to employ a table as an indicator of the movements that might be produced by 'mental suggestion'. The plan of the experiments was as follows: Three persons (Q D, and E) took their seats in a semi-circle, at a little table on which their hands rested. One of these three was always a 'medium' - a term used by M. Richet to denote a person liable to exhibit intelligent movements in which consciousness and will apparently take no part. Attached to the table m - as a simple electrical apparatus, the effect of which was to ring a bell whenever the current was broken by the tilting of the table. Behind the backs of the sitters at the table was another table, on which was a large alphabet, completely screened from the view of C, D, and E, even had they turned round and endeavoured to see it. In front of this alphabet sat A, whose duty was to follow the letters slowly and steadily with a pen, returning at once to the beginning as soon as he arrived at the end. At A's side sat B, with a note-book; his duty was to write down the letter at which A's pen happened to be pointing whenever the bell rang. This happened whenever one of the sitters at the table made the simple movement necessary to tilt it. Under these conditions, A and B are apparently mere automata. C, D, and E are little more, being unconscious of tilting the table, which appears to them to tilt itself; but even if they tilted it consciously, and with a conscious desire to dictate words, they have no means of ascertaining at what letter A's pen is pointing at any particular moment; and they might tilt for ever without producing more than an endless series of incoherent letters. Things being arranged thus, a sixth operator, F, stationed himself apart both from the tilting table and from the alphabet, and concentrated his thought on some word of his own choosing, which he had not communicated to the others. The three sitters at the first table engaged in conversation, sang, or told stories; but at intervals the table tilted, the bell rang, and B wrote down the letter which A's pen was opposite to at that moment. Now, to the astonishment of all concerned, these letters, when arranged in a series, turned out to produce a more or less close approximation to the word of which F was thinking.

Trivial though they seem, such experiments may with a little care be made absolutely conclusive. Had Professor Richet's friends, for example, been willing to prolong this series, we might have had a standing demonstration of telepathy, reproducible at will.

And now we come to the palmary case of the late Rev. P. H. Newnham, Vicar of Maker, Devonport, who was personally known to Edmund Gurney and myself, and was a man in all ways worthy of high respect. A long series of communication between Mr Newnham and his wife, provide trustworthy examples of a telepathic transference where the percipient's automatic script answers questions penned by the agent in such a position that the percipient could not in any normal manner discern what those questions were. No part of our evidence seems to me more worthy of study, than this. (Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. III.)

It must be distinctly understood that Mrs Newnham did not see or hear the questions which Mr Newnham wrote down. The fact, therefore, that her answers bore any relation to the questions shows that the sense of the questions was telepathically conveyed to her. This is the leading and important fact. The substance of the replies written is also interesting, and Mr Newnham has some good comments thereon. But even had the replies contained no facts which Mrs Newnham could not have known, this would not detract from the main value of the evidence, which consists in the fact that Mrs Newnham's hand wrote replies clearly and repeatedly, answering questions which she neither heard nor saw.

In this case we have the advantage of seeing before us the entire series of questions and answers, and thus of satisfying ourselves that the misses (which in that case are very few) are marked as well as the hits, and consequently that the coincidences between question and answer are at any rate not the result of chance. In several other cases which I have known, where the good faith of the informants has been equally above question, the possibility of an explanation by chance alone has been a more Important element in the problem. All our evidence has tended to show that the telepathic power itself is a variable thing; that it shows itself in flashes, for the most part spontaneously, and seldom persists through a series of deliberate experiments. And if an automatist possessing power of this uncertain kind has exercised it at irregular moments and with no scientific aim; - and has kept, moreover, no steady record of success and failure; then it becomes difficult to say that even some brilliant coincidences afford cogent proof of telepathic action.

I shall next give a resume of a case of curious complexity received from M. Aksakof; - an automatic message written by a Mdlle Stramm, informing her of the death of a NI. Duvanel.(1) The principal incidents may here be disentangled as follows:

(1) Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. vi, p. 343.

Duvanel dies by his own hand on January 15th, 1887, in a Swiss village, where he lives alone, having no relations except a brother living at a distance, whom Mdlle Stramm had never seen (as the principal witness, NI. Kaigorodoff, informs us in a letter of May 1890).

Mdlle Stramm's father does not hear of Duvanel's death till two days later, and sends her the news in a letter dated January 18th, 1887.

Five hours after Duvanel's death all automatic message announcing it is written at the house of M. Kaigorodoff, at Wilna in Russia, by Mdlle Stramm, who had certainly at that time received no news of the event.

From what mind are we to suppose that this information came?

1 - We may first attempt to account for Mdlle Stramm's message on the theory of latency. We may suppose that the telepathic message came from the dying man, but did not rise into consciousness until an opportunity was afforded by Mdlle Stramm's sitting down to write automatically.

But to this interpretation there is an objection of a very curious kind. The message written by Mdlle Stramm was not precisely accurate. Instead of ascribing Duvanel's death to suicide, it ascribed it to a stoppage of blood, 'un engorgement de sang'.

And when M. Stramm, three days after the death, wrote to his daughter in Russia to tell her of it, he also used the same expression, 'un engorgement de sang', thus disguising the actual truth in order to spare the feelings of his daughter, who had formerly refused to marry Duvanel, and who (as her father feared) might receive a painful shock if she learnt the tragic nature of h I's end. There was, therefore, a singular coincidence between the automatic and the normally-written message as to the death; - a coincidence which looks as though the same mind had been at work in each instance. But that mind cannot have been NI. Stramm's ordinary mind, as he was not supraliminally aware of Duvanel's death at the time when the first message was written. It may, however, be supposed that his subliminal self had received the information of the death telepathically, had transmitted it in a deliberately modified form to his daughter, while it remained latent in himself, and had afterwards influenced his supraliminal self to modify the information in the same way when writing to her.

2 - But we must also consider the explanation of the coincidence given by the intelligence which controlled the automatic writing. That intelligence asserted itself to be a brother of Mdlle Stramm's, who died some years before. And this 'Louis' further asserted that he had himself influenced NI. Stramm to make use of the same euphemistic phrase, with the object of avoiding a shock to Mdlle Stramm; for which purpose it was needful that the two messages should agree in ascribing the death to the same form of sudden illness.

Now if this be true, and the message did indeed come from the deceased 'Louis', we have an indication of continued existence, and continued knowledge of earthly affairs, on the part of a person long dead.

But if we consider that the case, as presented to us, contains no proof of 'Louis" identity, so that 'Louis' may be merely one of those arbitrary names which the automatist's subliminal intelligence seems so prone to assume; then we must suppose that Duvanel was actually operative on two occasions after death, first inspiring in Mdlle Stramm the automatic message, and then modifying in NI. Stramm the message which the father might otherwise have sent.

And lastly, I give a case which in one respect stands alone. It narrates the success of a direct experiment; - a test-message planned before death and communicated after death, by a man who held that the hope of an assurance of continued existence was worth at least a resolute effort, whatever its result might be. Ills tests, indeed, were two, and both were successful. One was the revealing of the place where, before death, he hid a piece of brick marked and broken for special recognition, and the other was the communication of the contents of a short letter which he wrote and scaled before death. We may say that the information was certainly not possessed supraliminally by any living person. From Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. viii, pp. 248-51. The following letters were received from the principal witness, Mrs Finney:

ROCKLAND, MASS., April 19th, 1891

Mr Hodgson; - Dear Sir, - Some weeks ago I received from you a few lines asking me to give you an account of the communication received from Cousin Benja in spirit-life, some twenty-five years ago.

For weeks and months before my brother left the form we conversed freely on the subject of spirit communion and such matters, and one morning he requested me to bring him a small piece of brick, also pen and ink; he then made two marks on one side, and one on the other with the ink, then breaking the brick in two, gave me one piece, telling me at the time to take care of it, and some day he would hide the other piece away where no one but himself would know, and after leaving the form, if possible, would return in some wax and tell me where it was. I could then compare them together, and it would be a test that he could return and communicate, and my mind could not have any influence over it, as I did not know where he put it.

After he left the form our anxiety was very great to hear and learn all we could of communicating with spirits, and for months we got nothing satisfactory.

We then commenced sitting at the table at home (mother and myself), which we did for some little time; at last it commenced tipping, and by calling the alphabet spelled out where we could find the piece of brick that he put away, - that was the way we got the test. To us that was truth that spirits can and do communicate with us, and nothing but the influence and power of Benja could tell us that test. - Truly yours,


ROCKLAND, May 3rd, 1891 
Mr R. Hodgson, - Dear Sir, - Yours of April 21st received, and I will add a few more lines as to statement of brother Benja's communication.

By calling the alphabet we spelled out:

'You will find that piece of brick in the cabinet under the tomahawk. - BENJA.'

I went to that room and took the key, unlocked the cabinet, which had not been touched by any one after fie locked it and put away the key. There I found that piece of brick just as it had spelled out, and it corresponded with the piece I had retained, fitting on exactly where he broke it off the piece I had. It was wrapped in a bit of paper and tucked into a shell, and placed in the bottom of the cabinet exactly under the tomahawk, as was spelled out by the alphabet.

This is truth, and no power but Benja's could tell that.

Mother is not living; I am the only one of the family that is living. - Yours respectfully.


ROCKLAND, May 11th, 1891

Mr R. Hodgson, Dear Sir, - Yours of 6th received. I will continue to say, in answer to your questions, that the piece of brick was entirely concealed in the shell, so that it could not be seen from outside of cabinet. It was wrapped in a piece of paper stuck together with mucilage and tucked into the end of the shell, then a piece of paper gummed over that, so that nothing was visible from the shell. The shell was on the lower shelf of the cabinet, and only the top of the shell was visible outside the cabinet.

One more little me I dent I will mention, for to me it is as valuable as the other. He wrote me a letter (about the time he gave me the piece of brick) and sealed it, saying at the time it was not to be answered, but the contents of the letter to be told. I got that in the same way I did the other, by calling the alphabet and the table tipping. It was these words:

'Julia! do right and be happy. - Benja.'

That was correct. Just the contents of my letter. I have no particular objection as to giving my name, for I have stated nothing but the truth.

At my home in Kingston I have that little shell with the piece of brick, and if you would like them I will send them to you. Will place the brick into the shell as it was when I found it. Of course, the paper that was around it then is worn out years ago. The cabinet is disposed of.


Mrs Finney further writes:

ROCKLAND, June 26th, 1891.

I send you by express a box containing the letter and shell with the piece of brick. I have placed one piece in the shell just as it was when I found it, so you can see how nicely it was concealed in the shell. The papers that were around it then are worn out. You can retain them if you like, as I do not care for them now.

To me it is a positive truth that he did communicate to us, and our minds could have nothing to do with it.


ROCKLAND, July 19th, 1891.

The shell was placed on the same shelf with the tomahawk, and no other shells on that shelf. It was placed with the open side down, and the tomahawk stood directly over it. I cannot say why he did not tell us to look inside of the shell. We started to look as soon as he told us. It was in the cabinet under the tomahawk. We did not wait for any more to be said.

I am not intimately acquainted with many public people. As to my integrity, will refer you to Rev. C. V. de Normandie, of Kingston.


Dr Hodgson writes:

The shell is a large Triton, about ten inches long. The piece of brick was wrapped in folds of soft paper and tucked deeply into the recess. Another piece of paper was then gummed around the sides of the shell in the interior, so as absolutely to prevent the piece of brick from falling out. When I received the shell from Mrs Finney and looked into the interior and shook the shell violently, there was nothing to indicate that the shell contained anything but the piece of gummed paper.

The piece of brick in the shell weighs one and a half ounces, and the piece of brick retained by Mrs Finney weighs about two and a quarter ounces. The shell with the piece of brick and paper wrapping weighs about eleven and a half ounces.

Mrs Finney also forwarded me the letter written by her brother. The shell and the pieces of brick and the letter are now all in my possession.


We have a letter (in original) from the Rev. C. Y. de Normandie, of Kingston, Canada, to Mrs Finney. 'I expressed then,' he says, speaking of a former note to Dr Hodgson, which accidentally went astray, 'that to the best knowledge I had of you and to my firm belief your word could be implicitly relied on. I felt confident that you would state a matter as you understood it, as you regarded it, without reference to the consequences; and that you would not be any more likely to be misled and deceived about a matter of that kind than others similarly situated.'

There are two other cases (Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. vi, pp. 353-55 and vol. viii, pp. 238-42) where information given through automatists may hypothetically be explicable by telepathy from the living, although, indeed, in my own view it probably emanated from the deceased as alleged. In one of these cases the place where a missing will had been hidden was revealed to the automatist, but it is not clear whether the will was actually discovered or not before the automatic writing was obtained (although the automatist was unaware of its discovery), and in any case, apparently, its whereabouts was known to some living person who had hidden it, and may not have been known to the deceased before death.

In the other case the whereabouts of a missing note of hand was revealed to the automatists, and even if this could be regarded as absolutely unknown supraliminally to any living person, it is not by any means certain that the fact was known before death to the deceased person from whom the message purported to come.

These cases, therefore, are not such strong evidence for personal identity as the one which I have given, as recording what purports to be the successful accomplishment of an experiment which every one may make; - which every one ought to make; - for, small as may be the chances of success, a few score of distinct successes would establish a presumption of man's survival which the common sense of mankind would refuse to explain away.

The evidence as to motor phenomena here set forth confirms and extends the conceptions to which the cognate sensory phenomena pointed; - the expansion of normal leading on to the development of supernormal faculties. The motor phenomena suggest more strongly than the sensory the hypothesis of 'psychical invasion', which, if sufficiently prolonged, becomes a persistent 'control' or 'possession'. When the subliminal self is affected by a telepathic impact which works itself out by automatic movements, it becomes a question whether the movements are executed by the subliminal self or by the external agent.

This leads us on to the problem to be discussed in the next chapter; - in what ways may two spirits co-operate in the possession and control of the same organism?


Other articles by Frederic Myers

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