AUTONOMOUS TRANCE - At the beginning of Chapter XII, we pointed out that
trance-communications were obtained under three different conditions: (1)
Through the habitual Control, which the majority of mediums possess. This we
called control trance.' (2) From a Communicator, who has temporarily assumed
the position of the habitual control. This we called 'directly controlled
trance.' (3) Through a type of trance in which there are no controls, but in
which the sensitive herself remains always in control of her own organism. This
we called 'autonomous trance.' The bulk of the directly assessable evidence for
the instrumentality of discarnate minds comes through the first two types; but
the third type contains much important indirect evidence, and is also full of
interest from the point of view of the modus operandi. It is here exemplified by
the case of Mrs. Willett, and we will now consider a report on her case
published by Lord Balfour(1).
(1) 'A Study of the Psychological Aspects of
Mrs. Willett's Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators concerning
Process,' by Gerald William, Earl of Balfour, P.C., LL.D. (Proc. S.P.R., vol.
xliii. p. 41).
Mrs. Willett has been mentioned in the last chapter as one of the' S.P.R. group
'of cross-correspondence automatists. It seems scarcely necessary to speak of
the bona fides of any member of this group, but it may be worth while to quote
the following paragraph in which Sir Oliver Lodge speaks of Mrs. Willett.
'For my own part,' he says, 'I am assured not only of Mrs. Willett's good faith,
and complete absence of anything that can be called even elementary classical
knowledge, but also of the scrupulous care and fidelity with which she records
her impressions, and reports every trace of normal knowledge which seems to her
to have any possible bearing on the script. We are able, in fact, to regard her
as a colleague in the research, in the same sort of way that we are able to
regard Mrs. Holland'(2).
(2) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxv. p. 115
This was written in 1911, soon after Mrs. Willett had joined the investigators.
After this, she worked for years in close collaboration with Lord Balfour and
other members of the group.
It is often said that automatic writing is done in the normal state of
consciousness, and it is true that automatists are, as a rule, aware of their
surroundings, and even of the words as they come, but I do not think that it is
true to say that the state in which automatism occurs is quite normal. There is
a certain degree of mental dissociation or departure from conscious attention
which enables that portion of the mind which initiates the script to obtain
control of the motor mechanisms of the body, and so to effect the
externalization of the message. This slight degree of dissociation may increase,
and, if it does so with the ordinary type of trance medium, the normal
consciousness disappears and the control takes its place. But with a rarer type
of sensitive, the normal consciousness still retains control of the body, as in
automatic writing, although it has receded in some sense more into the
background and there begins to undergo experiences of a non-physical kind. In
Mrs. Willett's case, the communicators who appeared in her automatic script
deliberately fostered this kind of trance, being very insistent that it should
not be allowed to lapse into the control-trance variety. Put into crude words,
they aimed at drawing the real Mrs. Willett just so far out of her normal
position that they could hold intercourse with her and give her messages, yet
not so far that she would be incapable of passing these messages on to the
experimenters through her own processes of speech and writing. They seem to have
considered that this type of trance would have advantages over the control kind,
and, to judge from results, they were entirely justified.
To read the record of the communications which came through Mrs. Willett is to
enter at once into a different atmosphere. The communicators are strong,
intelligent, natural, and give one the impression of being human beings engaged
in a difficult task, hampered by certain natural impediments, and explaining
their difficulties and what they are doing as they go along. Listen to Myers W
explaining the difference between the Piper and the Willett trance:
Script of April 16, 1911
Myers Let me again emphasize the difference that exists between Piper and
Willett phenomena the former is possession the complete all but complete
withdrawal of the spirit the other is the blending of incarnate and excarnate
spirits there is nothing telergic it is a form of telepathy the point we have to
study is to find the line where the incarnate spirit is sufficiently over the
border to be in a state to receive and yet sufficiently controlling by its own
power its own supraliminal and therefore able to transmit...'
In his book, Human Personality, Myers had used the word 'telergy' to mean the
direct operation of the motor centres of the brain by a mind other than the one
habitually controlling them. Myers W is using the word in the same sense here.
In the control type of trance, he means, the control telergically operates the
medium's brain. In the autonomous trance, the sensitive receives her messages
from the communicators telepathically and herself transmits them by operating
her own bodily motor-mechanisms in the ordinary way. The process may actually be
much more complicated than that, but this embodies the main idea.
Mrs. Willett remarks on the process as seen from her end in a little aside
passage in the Ear of Dionysius. In the script of March 2, 194, she says: 'Do
you know, it's an odd thing, I can see Edmund as if he were working something;
and the thing he is working is me. It isn't really me, you know; it's only a
sort of asleep me that I can look at.' By 'Edmund' is meant Gurney W.
Mrs. Willett's automatic trance-work extended approximately over the period from
1909 to 1928. She began in girl hood to discover that she possessed the power of
automatic writing, but only took it up seriously when in contact with Mrs.
Verrall in 1908; so that she, in common with the other members of this group of
automatists, developed her faculty within the ideological framework of the
Society for Psychical Research. There is importance in this fact, because it
means that the underlying assumptions of Spiritualism, which are early rooted in
the subconscious of many trance-mediums, were here absent. The atmosphere was
one of balance and criticism.
The Myers and Gurney communicators early took her in hand. Apart from her
automatic writing, she began to feel them. In January 1909, for example, she
says: 'I was at dinner, when I felt a strong impression of F. W. H. M. [Myers-w]
scolding me... I had the impression that he was conveying to me that if I
doubted the impression I was receiving I was to try for script after dinner. I
was quite normal.
Soon after Gurney W said through the script try and set down thoughts can't you
hear me speak it saves trouble I want to say something Gurney yes'; and Mrs.
Willett notes, 'Here I left off writing and held a sort of imaginary
conversation with E. G.... I was perfectly normal.'
A fortnight later, Myers W writes through the script:
' ... I am trying experiments with you to make you hear without writing
therefore it is I Myers who do this deliberately do not fear or wince when words
enter your consciousness or subsequently when such words are in the script ...
do not analyse whence these impressions which I shall in future refer to as
Daylight Impressions-come from, they are parts of a psychic education framed by
me for you...'
After this, the Daylight Impressions became habitual. Lord Balfour abbreviates
them to 'D. I.s' for convenience, and divides them into Silent D. I.s (those
which were written down after being mentally received) and Spoken D. I.s (those
which were spoken in the presence of the sitter after being mentally received).
The attempts of the communicator to establish direct mental communication with
Mrs. Willett were evidently successful, for in a letter describing her
experiences, she said:
'Last night ... I was sitting idly wondering at it all ... when I became aware
so suddenly and strangely of F. W. H. M.'s presence that I said "Oh!" as if I
had run into some one unexpectedly: During what followed I was absolutely
normal. I heard nothing with my ears, but the words came from outside into my
mind as they do when one is reading a book to oneself. I do not remember the
exact words, but the first sentence was, Can you hear what I am saying?" - I
replied in my mind, "Yes."'
One may compare with this Mrs. Willett's introduction to S. H. Butcher-w, one of
the collaborators referred to in the Ear of Dionysius, which took place in
'Last night after I had blown out my candle and was just going to sleep I became
aware of the presence of a man, a stranger, and almost at the same moment-knew
it was Henry Butcher. I felt his personality, very living, clear, strong,
sweetness and strength combined. A piercing glance. He made no introduction but
said nothing. So I said to him, "Are you Henry Butcher?" He said, "No, I am
Henry Butcher's ghost." I was rather shocked at his saying this, and said, "Oh,
very well, I am not at all afraid of ghosts or of the dead." He said, "Ask
Verrall ... if he remembers our last conversation (or meeting) and say the word
to him - Ek e tie." He said it several times. I said "Very well." He seemed only
to want to give that message and then he went in a hurry...'
Here, again, there is something very natural and sane about the 'ghostly'
visitor, and his humorous way of introducing himself. Mrs. Willett had no notion
what Ek e tie meant. It was 'Hecate,' and Lord Balfour believes it referred to a
paper by Dr. Verrall in the Classical Review, which Dr. Butcher had almost
Direct Evidence through Mrs. Willett's Trance. - The reader will probably wonder
why, since the communications through the Willett trance are of such a clear and
coherent kind, no evidence is quoted from it which tends, as in the Leonard
trance, to prove directly the identity of the communicators. The answer is that
such evidence exists but cannot be divulged. Lord Balfour says in this report,
'It would be impossible to do justice to the argument in favour of spirit
communication on the basis of the Willett phenomena without violating
confidences which I am bound to respect'(3). Again, on the first page of the
report we read, 'The bulk of Mrs. Willett's automatic output is too private for
publication.' That the material withheld from publication is of a very strong
and convincing kind is apparent from the following declaration of opinion, which
Lord Balfour makes on a later page of his report:
(3) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxv. p. 45.
'If I had before me only those Willett scripts to which I have been referring, I
frankly admit that I should have been at a loss whether to attribute them to
subliminal activity or to a source entirely outside the personality of the
medium. Probably, like Dr. Walter Prince, I should be content to suspend
judgement. But having before me the whole of the Willett scripts, and being in a
position to compare them with the scripts of other automatists of our group and
with facts known to me, but not known to Mrs. Willett herself, I am personally
of opinion that they contain evidence of supernormally acquired knowledge which
no mere subliminal mentation will suffice to account for. My readers are not in
this position, and for reasons stated in the introduction to this paper I cannot
put them in possession of the considerations that have chiefly weighed with
(4) Ibid. pp. 155-6.
It is indeed very greatly to be deplored that such supremely important evidence
must be withheld from publication in the interests of privacy.
Owing to the exigencies of space, it will only be possible to touch on a few
points of the Willett trance, taken from the many with which this report deals -
a report which is second to none in importance for the student of psychical
Mode of Emergence of Trance and Automatic Material: Difficulty in Transmitting
Names - The circumlocutory methods of the control type of trance are well known.
The control will often occupy a whole page in describing something rather than
give its name, and the critic who is unused to these phenomena is at once
sceptical. 'That cannot be so-and-so communicating,' he says. 'Why, he has
forgotten his wife's name,' or whatever it may be. Even in the trance of the
best mediums it is evidently a matter of the greatest difficulty to get a
specific name through, or to answer a point-blank question. There seems to be a
kind of law of deflected effort, which is reminiscent of the mechanical law of
the revolution of spins. The thing directly aimed at is the thing which eludes
you. Something similar occurs in ordinary memory. The most familiar names may be
forgotten for a moment, and when they are, direct efforts to revive them are
useless. We have to describe the thing or person we mean.
In the A. V. B. sittings dealt with in Chapter XIII, Feda described a guitar,
imitated its notes, showed how it was tuned, but could not say its name. On
another occasion it takes her more than a page of description to arrive at the
word 'Sporkish.' She begins by hissing; goes on to 'Spor'; says a 'long letter
comes next - a long letter' above the line'; tentatively tries 'Sporti' and 'Sporbi';
then tries drawing the letters on Lady Troubridge's hand, and arrives at H as
the final letter of the word. Then, just as she is apparently about to give it
up, she ejaculates very loudly the right word, 'Sporkish.'
In the Willett scripts, although we do not get the same round-about
descriptions, the same difficulty in the transmission of words occurs. In a
script of August 25, 1912, the name Deucalion emerges in this way:
'Now another thought - Doocalon
No no try again - Dewacorn
(this word ended in a scribble)
the sound is DEW
- LION not Lion
Write it slowly
I want that said It has a meaning
The stones of the earth shall praise thee
that is what I want said it is I who say it and the word is
that was well caught Good Child
That sort of thing makes one feel out of breath doesn't it on both sides-'
Lord Balfour adds in a note that Mrs. Willett is hardly ever able to reproduce
Greek or Latin words correctly. The way in which she tends to get off the rails
and slip away from the communicators' intention is, indeed, very obvious. In a
D. I. of October 8, 1911, the following occurs:
'Oh he says, back of that again lies something I dimly reach after and you would
call, he says, the Absolom - not Absalom - I'll spell it to you he says: A B S 0
L and then he says o m and rubs o m out and puts instead U T E. Oh he says -
Edmund, when you laugh I can't help laughing too - and he says the ascending
scale bound by gold chains round the feet of God.'
The interjection, 'Edmund, when you laugh, etc.,' is of course addressed by Mrs.
Willett to the communicator.
Many instances could be quoted showing the difficulties which trance-material
evidently encounters in its emergence. They teach us to be careful in making
judgements about what 'ought' to happen. Mr. Kenneth Richmond, in the course of
his valuable notes on the study of the Leonard material(5), says:
(5) 'Preliminary Studies of the Recorded
Leonard Material,' Proc. S.P.R., vol. xliv. p. 25.
'When the psychic phenomenon to be tested is reduced to the simplest type ...
the organization involved is found to be none too simple or easy to understand;
when we come to the very complicated structure of the Leonard organizations it
is most difficult to experiment with any knowledge of what we are about. What is
useless is to form judgements of this type: "If he (a given communicator) can do
this, he should be able to do that." He" is likely to involve an assumption that
the communicator "is" the deceased person, not a complex representation; and
"should" assumes that we know how the representation can and cannot operate,
when in fact we know very little about it.'
This means that, if we are to approach the problems of the trance in a fruitful
and scientific spirit, we must not assume that there are only two alternatives,
either (i) that a communicator, substantially the same as the deceased person in
question was when alive, is standing at the other end of a psychic telephone, or
(ii) that some hypnotic stratum in the medium is playing a part, eked out by
telepathy from the living. It is pretty clear that both these theories are too
crude and too simple. We must patiently try to form new ideas about the depths
of human selfhood, by studying the phenomena intelligently and as far as
possible without prejudice, in a fruitful and scientific spirit.
Telaesthesia. - It will be remembered that in Chapter I, telaesthesia was
defined as a kind of telepathic perception of the contents of one mind by
another, in distinction to telepathy, which was thought of as the definite
transmission of the thought of one mind to another. Myers, in his book, Human
Personality, did not use the word 'telaesthesia' in this sense. He made it the
equivalent of what we have here called Clairvoyance. But Gurney-w uses the word
'telaesthesia' in practically the same sense in the Willett scripts as that
which we have here adopted. It is important to know for our explanation of
trance-phenomena, whether telaesthesia exists or not.
The positive evidence for telaesthesia, as distinct from telepathy, resides in
those cases of trance-communications in which knowledge is shown of things or
events which are unknown to the sitters-such cases as The Dog Billy, Burnham,
and Daisy's Second Father, mentioned in Chapter XIII; and also those proxy
sittings in which the information given was unknown to the sitter, and must have
come from distant minds, of which, as has been said, there are many examples. If
the information is not derived from the mind of the discarnate communicator in
these cases, it must be obtained from whatever mind happens to contain it. And
that would seem to entail telaesthesia, or the reaching out by the
trance-personality to gather the fact it needs from wherever the knowledge of it
is to be obtained.
The faculty of telaesthesia, if it exists in this unrestricted form, would seem
to represent a range of extra-sensory power of quite extraordinary universality
and extent, and evidently if mediums possess it, the theory that communications
are due to telaesthesia among the living rather than telepathy from the dead
would be greatly strengthened. It is interesting, therefore, to notice that
Gurney-w enthusiastically endorses it. In a long D. I. on October 8, 1911, the
'He says, I want to suggest something which, while not contradicting your
question, will open another window. Oh if I could only not drop like that. Oh
hold me tight. And he says, she can select -he says a word to me - telaesthesia
- oh he says, you none of you make enough allowance for what that implies, and
the results of that can be shepherded and guided up to the threshold of normal
'Oh he says, telaesthesia is a bed-rock truth, a power of acquiring knowledge
direct without the intervention of the discarnate mind.
'Oh he says, telepathy's one thing-that's thought communication; telaesthesia is
knowledge, not thought, acquired by the subliminal when operating normally in
(6) Willett Report, p. 293.
'Oh he says, Here comes in our work again. Oh he says, What I'm saying may be
used to cut at the spiritualistic hypothesis, but it doesn't. Again, who selects
what of the total telaesthetically acquired knowledge shall externalize itself -
shall blend itself with those elements received by direct telepathic impact? Oh
he says, Supposing I take her into a room, and I screen off any action of my own
mind on hers: her subliminal with its useful copious pinch of Eve's curiosity
takes stock of the contents of the room. Normal consciousness is later regained,
and lying in the subliminal is knowledge of certain objects perceived, not as a
result of the action of my mind, but as the result of telaesthetic faculty. Oh
he says, Here come I on script intent. Here be arrows for my quiver. Who
selected which of the- Have patience with me, oh, Edmund, I am trying, oh, I'm
such a great way away. Oh, Edmund, - Oh he says, Who applies the stimulus under
which certain ideas - use that word, not what I wanted - emerge, blended, which
upon study will be found to be relevant to the total aim of that particular
piece of automatism? Oh he says, of all the contents of that mythical room say
she carries back a rough and partial knowledge - ... in the process of
externalization, there is where the loss occurs. Oh he says, of those ten say
two emerge-to me how interesting. I see the work of my hand, the double process.
'Say I wrote of horses. I get telepathically the idea of sound, clatter of the
horses' gallop. I get the idea in a Verrall channel, for instance, of Pegasus; I
get the idea perhaps of chariot races - equus, or something like that, he says -
and I select and push up into its place where it will be grasped and
externalized two trump cards telaesthetically acquired - call it horseshoe, or,
he says, the steeds of Dawn. The point is, I didn't place them there; I found
and selected them; and the eight other elements - or objects - seen in the room
remain dormant and never externalize themselves perhaps. The spiritistic agency
decides what element appropriate to its own activity shall emerge alongside and
intertwined with matter placed in position by direct telepathic impact.'
There is much food for thought in this interesting script. It is part of a
description given by Gurney-w of the process involved in getting
cross-correspondences through, as he is describing it from his end. Another
script, too long to quote here, describes the process of externalizing selected
topics through different levels of the automatist's self. Telaesthesia takes
place in a deep stratum of the automatist's mind and in that of the
communicator's, where some kind of mutual agreement takes place as to what is to
be selected. It seems that Gurney-w is referring, in this telaesthesia, to a
faculty of cognition, natural to a very deep level of the self, which Gurney-w
calls the 'H-self,' but far removed from anything of which, in our supraliminal
state of consciousness, we have experience. This telaesthetically acquired
material is put into the 'uprushable' self, 'just the grade below the uprushable.'
'But in putting it into the uprushable focus, as it were, it will know that a
sort of crystallization, often through symbolism, must be arrived at: and we
will imagine, if you like, that that having been foreseen both by me and the
H-self, we determined upon what sort of crystals to aim at, so that the
uprushable self has, as it were, presented to it what I called a "room," the
knowledge which the H-self is informing to the point where it becomes uprushable.'
After that, Gurney explains, there comes a moment of 'binding' and finally the
material emerges as written or spoken word or dream or precognition, etc.
According to this, as I read it, the emergence of so-called 'automatic' material
is a very complex process, the ideas rising, under guidance, through level above
level of the self and finally crystallizing into the clear-cut and discrete
ideas with which we do our normal thinking, and in which form alone they can
attain verbal expression. But they originate as thought of some more universal
and less atomic character in the depths of the personality. Telaesthesia may be
called a deep-level faculty of cognition, and the question which of course
arises is: If this faculty can work between the sensitive and the communicator,
why not between the sensitive and a living person? Gurney-w evidently realizes
that the argument can be used to tell against the spiritualistic theory, for he
points out that the telaesthetic faculty does not explain the communicator away,
since the communicator is needed to select and to control, guide and shepherd
the material into the right channels for externalization.
There are many points of the greatest interest which are dealt with in this
report of Lord Balfour's on Mrs. Willett, which cannot possibly be condensed
into an outline summary. and it is hoped that readers of the present volume will
turn to the report and study it for themselves. The question of the nature of
the Subliminal Self and its relation to the Supraliminal occupies much question
and answer between Lord Balfour and Gurney-w; and the latter gives his
description of the nature of the persistible self, saying that it consists to a
large extent of the. subliminal element together with 'an admixture - and a very
vital admixture - of the supraliminal.'
We will now consider, in connexion with the Willett material, a subject we have
touched on more than once before, namely, the subject of sense-imagery.
Source: "Science and Psychical Phenomena" by G. N.
M. Tyrrell (New York: University Books, 1961).