IN THE four preceding chapters I have tried to record and classify some of the
most interesting experiences which have come to me personally through
automatism, the only method by which I have endeavoured to hold communication
with the Unknown. These are records of some six or seven years' work, which was
never strenuous and always intermittent, and that for many reasons, one being
that, although psychical research has offered me many fascinating problems and
has given me many delightful friends, it is not my chief interest in life.
Indeed, I will go further, and say I am glad it has never absorbed me.
This may seem discouraging to the enthusiast but I make the statement advisedly,
partly because I believe that, for the average sensitive, good results can only
be obtained by great moderation in the expenditure of psychic power. Evil
results follow almost invariably on too constant sittings. I am entirely
convinced that, in practising any artificial branch of psychic study or in the
cultivation of mediumistic power, great and incalculable dangers are run: an
exhausted sensitive is practically useless for experimental work, and may lose
his or her power completely, in addition to seriously impairing his or her
When I speak of "artificial" branches of psychic work, I mean that work which is
produced by a deliberate attempt to obtain results - séances or sittings of any
kind, table-turning, etc. A "natural" sensitive comes under a different heading.
When this gift appears early in life its exercise cannot be avoided. Results
come to the medium; the medium does not seek them, and probably in these cases
they are not injurious, and certainly they are inevitable.
The "cultivated" medium who has limited gifts and who wishes to strengthen these
gifts should be content with the limitations set on the work he can do, and
should not attempt to force them in any way. He should never "sit" when he is
ill or tired, and in his best condition he should deliberately make up his mind
that this subject is not going to absorb him.
In this way more satisfactory work can be done. When I reflect how irregular our
own sittings have been, and that we have never ventured on more than two in a
week, I am fairly well satisfied with the modest results we have achieved, and I
am quite convinced that these results would not have been achieved had we worked
our small fund of psychic power more strenuously than we did. If all circles
would be content to work patiently and slowly, not to become possessed by this
one topic, and not to expect anything sensational, I believe the mass of
evidence thus accumulated would throw more light on the study of the Unseen than
they realise. In the formation of small circles many matters have to be
considered, the chief one being a combination of really suitable sitters. At the
ouija-board, where two persons work together, it is all-important to discover
mediums whose respective qualities balance and assist each other. The control
will generally say he requires "a negative and a positive." What this means
exactly it is hard to understand, but from watching many combinations at the
ouija-board I have gathered that a "positive" medium receives the message
through his or her brain and transmits it to the board, while a negative
possesses the driving force - I mean that, apparently, one sitter supplies
mental, and the other muscular power. Force is necessary, and the sitter whose
brain and eyes are used does not seem to supply as much force as the negative,
whose senses are less suited to serve the control. In arranging a circle for
automatism, two sitters should be chosen who possess respectively the qualities
I mention as far as can be discovered. A quick, intelligent recorder should be
the third element. Great care, accuracy, and rapidity are necessary to read the
ouija-board, and this office should be taken entirely off the sitters'
shoulders. They should be in a quiet and relaxed state of mind - in fact, the
less they realise what is taking place the better.
The gift of "seeing without eyes" is certainly comparatively rare. I have sought
diligently for mediums who possess the power of working blindfold, and find they
are few in number. In fact, I have only met four out of the many I have tried
who have this gift. I generally distinguish a blindfold worker by the fact that
before he has had any suggestion that we should close our eyes he will close his
of his own accord, and prefer to sit without looking at the letters. Blindfold
sitting is very exhausting as a rule; I find it so especially when the control
or communicator works chiefly through me, as it invariably does when my
fellow-sitter is a beginner. Here I should like to refer to the mental state of
the sitter for automatic experiments, for it is difficult for persons who have
not been sitters themselves to judge how far the psychic is in a normal
condition when practising automatism.
The crux in deciding whether or not an external influence is at work consists in
determining how far the subliminal self plays a part in these experiments. No
one present is in a more difficult position to judge of this than the automatist
himself. When at the board I am not conscious that my condition is other than
normal, but if I were asked whether or not I used my hand to push the traveller
to certain letters I should be quite unable to reply. If I do this, it is an
entirely subconscious action on my part. What I can state confidently is, that
after a short time messages come through my brain before they are written down,
and I am again unable to say whether they are suggestions from an external
entity or not. I am inclined to believe they are. For sometimes sentences come
through which are quite contrary to what I should expect, and again, when I am
most desirous that the traveller should move for me, it stands stock-still.
I am absolutely certain that the sitters' condition is abnormal once the control
or communicator takes possession of the arm. In the case of Mr. X., he closes
his eyes and turns involuntarily away from the board, and often, after a few
minutes, gets into a state of half trance. He appears to become seized by the
emotions of the control in communication; grief, anger, etc., overcome him, and
if the emotion is intense he becomes hypnotised and is unable to continue the
sitting. A point which is very marked in ouija-board work is the obedience and
caution of the influences that speak. It is quite easy, as a rule, to get rid of
an unpleasant entity; it is easy also to call up any special person, though I
have a great objection to doing this, as it seems to leave the field open for
fraud and impersonation. If a dangerous or unpleasant subject is spoken of, it
is quite amusing to observe the prudence and tact displayed by the control. It
rather points to the subconscious theory. Only once in all my experience have I
known a control make a really untactful remark.
An interesting point I have noticed in automatism, as practised by two mediums
working jointly at the ouija-board, is the transference of force from one to the
other according to the nature of the control or communicator. For instance, in
the case of Peter and Even the force seems to come chiefly from me. With Astor
(who professes to be her spirit guide) Miss C's hand is powerfully controlled,
and I appear to add practically nothing to the force which moves the traveller
from letter to letter. In the case of Sir Hugh Lane, Mr. Lennox Robinson's hand
and arm are literally seized and pushed about so forcibly that it is most
difficult to read the communications which come through. The traveller has more
than once been flung off the board in a violent way with this communicator.
Those who are inclined to dismiss what we psychical students have to tell as
foolish and unconvincing should always bear in mind the difficulties we labour
under. The evidence of survival laid before the public is at best only a small
fraction of what we possess. From the very private and intimate nature of most
of the messages we receive it is impossible that the really convincing part of
our work can be exposed to the public gaze. Personal feeling constantly stands
in our way. We may be quite positive ourselves that we have spoken to those we
loved who have passed out of our lives, and yet a seal may be set on our mouths
and we dare not say the word which would silence the sceptic.
I have already said that the messages received from the Unknown, so far as I
have had any knowledge of them, are essentially personal messages. The control,
and still more the communicator, appear to be out of touch with the earth,
except so far as they enter into the "aura" of some living human being. The only
instance I can recall of a message concerning a public event coming directly to
my circle was a very vivid and perfectly correct prophecy concerning the Balkan
War which was sent to us by Peter through a communicator who called himself
"David Isaac Solomons," during our first blindfold sittings on October 19th,
1912. It ran as follows:
"Blood, blood, everywhere in the Near East. A great
nation will fall and a small nation will rise. Blood everywhere. A great
religion will stand in danger. News that will astonish the civilised world will
come to hand within the next week."
A week after this message came the first Bulgarian
victory - Kirk Kilisse - was announced, and later Turkey fell and Bulgaria rose.
I do not consider the news of the sinking of the Titanic an instance of
information of a public event through a communicator, as I believe that case to
have been telepathic, and in the Lusitania case a personal interest was
Before closing this chapter I have only a few remarks to make. One of these is
on the value of practical experiment.
I urge anyone interested in this subject to try his own powers as a medium.
Until practical experiments are attempted, no fair estimate of the subject can
be arrived at. Many admirable books have been written concerning every branch of
psychical study, but the reader of these who has never been at a séance or used
an autoscope has, with all respect to him, no notion of what he is talking of.
As I have said, much that cannot be explained to the public is what is most
convincing to the student, and I say further, there is much of what is
convincing to the medium that cannot be explained to the student. If possible,
sit yourself, with the precaution necessary; analyse your feelings, and try to
do so with a clear and open mind, not starting with any prejudice, religious or
The personal element is really the chief element in psychic matters. Messages
received through the autoscope are usually personal. Hence the great difficulty
in handing them over in their entirety for public dissection. Personality counts
in sittings more than anything else. One uncongenial person can upset a whole
evening. A cold or unsympathetic individual, an ultra-sceptical or contemptuous
person, is detected at once from the other side, and can reduce the results of a
sitting to mere nonsense.
Again, a sitter who is even slightly ailing retards results. The controls talk
of nothing else when this happens; physical conditions seem to count even more
than mental ones. What is strange and entertaining to the observer is that the
personal element tells as much on this side as on the other. I have often
watched, with infinite amusement, how someone contemptuous or indifferent to a
distressing degree becomes keen and vivid when some element concerning his own
personality enters into the message! Something said by a friend of his own, or
relative, or, better still, a visit from his own "spirit guide," who, no matter
what nonsense he talks, can rouse and excite him. In fact, one of the interests
one finds in psychical work is that it not only reveals the personalities of
controls and communicators, but also human personalities. For nothing calls
human emotions into play more vividly than this converse with the Unknown!
Pleasure, anger, grief, joy, vanity, common sense, curiosity, and wonder, all
appear at the ouija-board, both in sitters and spectators.
I trust that what I have said in this chapter may serve the purpose which I have
intended it should - that is, that it may help the really earnest student to
approach these investigations in a sane and enquiring spirit, without prejudice,
and realising that great patience and perseverance are required if even a few
grains of gold are to be found among the mountains of dross.
The above article was taken from "Voices from The Void" by Hester Travers Smith
(London: E. P. Dutton, 1919).