SIR WILLIAM Barrett has pointed out one of the risks which psychical
experimenters should be on their guard against:
"Evil as well as good agencies doubtless exist in the Unseen; this is equally
true if the phenomena are or are not due to those who have once lived on earth.
In many cases, granting the existence of a spiritual world, it is necessary to
be on our guard against the invasion of our will by a lower order of
intelligence and morality. The danger lies, in my opinion, not only in the loss
of spiritual stamina, but in the possible disintegration of our personality, in
the liability to lose that birthright we each are given to cherish, our
individuality, our true self-hood... Our life on earth appears to be, on the one
hand, the upbuilding, strengthening, and perpetuating of our separate and
distinct personalities; and, on the other, the awakening and development, in
each, of the consciousness of an underlying Unity, which links each person into
a larger personal life common to all, 'in whom we live and move and have our
being’; in a word, the realisation of the fact that we are integral parts and
members of one Body. In so far as Spiritualism aids or warts these objects its
moral effect must be judged; like mysticism, I think it aids the latter, but is
apt to endanger former.”
 "Necromancy and Ancient Magic in Relation to
Spiritualism" By W. F. Barrett.
Because there is this possible danger to the integrity of the personal ego,
those who are deficient in self-control, and who know that their wills are weak,
would do wisely to avoid experiment, and to concentrate their efforts upon
acquiring greater centralisation, and consolidating the too fluidic forces of
their own personality; otherwise the passivity required for successful
experiments may render them liable to "invasion." The attitude of passivity must
be balanced by the force of a firm egoism (not egotism). The ego must be capable
of asserting its own supremacy at any moment, in order to alter the conditions
or to break off the experiment if need be.
A state of passivity need not preclude this vigilance of the will; the will may
be functioning as a warden of the integrity of the personality, and may be also
operating to maintain the condition of mental passivity necessary for the
In support of this statement I may refer to an article by Dr. Milne Bramwell,
in which he quotes a statement of Mr. Myers to the effect that in the hypnotic
trance, "while the subject has gained increased power over his own organism he
has not at the same time lost his volition," and he then proceeds to quote other
authorities whose experiments indicate that the will of the subject does not
cease to function in the hypnotic trance.
 Proceedings SPR, December, 1896,
Hence we may fairly deduce that to be in a condition of passivity, even in
trance, does not necessarily involve the impotency of the will. The degree in
which the will is operative in the passive state will probably depend largely on
the degree of its efficiency in the normal state. A person who does not normally
exert his will, will presumably be less able to exercise it in the passive
state. Psychical experiment is a means by which the inner conditions of the
personality are revealed - it does not create or determine those conditions.
A case in point may be found in a book called The Dangers of Spiritualism.
It is the first case cited and, although ostensibly it is used to prove the
dangers of experimental investigation, it shows, in my opinion, the benefit
which may in some cases result from experiments, by proving that practical
investigation may make a man aware of the source of influences, whose danger
lies largely in the fact that their source is often unrecognised. In this case
the subject, "P. F.," discovered by automatic writing that he was in contact
with an evilly-minded discarnate intelligence, a man who, when in the flesh, had
a grudge against him, and whose controlling influence was most undesirable. He
learned, moreover, by the writing that for two years this personality had been
connected with him:
"'P. F.' declared that numerous incidents and occurrences throughout the past
two years of his life, which had often puzzled him, were now fully explained. He
told me that, contrary to his natural religious temperament and disposition,
thoughts had occasionally rushed through his mind the malice of which had quite
startled him, and that temptations to which he had all his life been a stranger
had again and again been suggested to him. He freely admitted that he had not
always resisted these temptations, that he had frequently neglected his
accustomed religious duties, and that his moral tone (and all this his family
subsequently admitted) had become decidedly lowered."
This intelligence wrote through his hand:
"I have tried all I could to gain control of him, and very nearly had
possession. Do pray that I may become happier, and also that I may leave him...
I shall be losing my power when his own will becomes stronger. Keep a careful
watch over him for a time, and do pray for me - a wretched sinner... I am unable
at present to leave him entirely. He must exercise his power of will to resist
me! Pray for me!"
After some further experiences it is added:
"'P. F.' soon regained his good health and spirits, and now the memory only of
these extraordinary occurrences remains with us."
I have cited this case at length because it illustrates the fact that the mind
is liable to be invaded by evil influences quite independently of psychic
experiments. There is no intimation that, during the two years in which "P. F."
believed himself to have been under influence, there had been any attempt at
experiment; indeed, we are told that he had no definite knowledge whatever of
spiritualistic phenomena. It seems, then, that in this case the experiments were
the means of showing to him both the weakness of his will and the source of the
temptations that has assailed him. This instance might be labelled: "The benefit
of spiritualistic experiment," and it emphasises the valuable truth that it is
only be individual self-control that anyone can avoid the dangers involved in
normal existence; for, normally we are compassed by a host of influences -
good, bad, and indifferent - which are continually impinging upon out mental and
moral atmosphere, and perfect safety in the universe is only to be found by
keeping in touch with the Highest. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose
mind is stayed on Thee."
Does this seem alarming? Ought life to make us
afraid? Most assuredly it ought not. The of Christ's message, and the appeal of
all God's great messengers, have ever been: "fear not." It is "the fearful
and unbelieving" who can find no resting-place in the city of God. It does teach
us, however, wherein consists the danger of the safety of the soul; the we
cannot hope to escape danger simple by avoiding psychic experiment; and that the
moral danger may be greater for the main who shuns investigation than for
the man who seriously investigates.
The internal proclivities of the soul will determine
the extent of its moral security or moral peril. External conditions may
stimulate and co-operate with internal conditions; they cannot create or reverse
In the above instance there is reason to hope that
benefit accrued from the investigation, not only to "P. F.," but also to his
"control," who showed evident tokens of desire for prayer and for improvement.
It seems as if the discovery of the the bad effects which his influence was
producing quickened some compunctions, since we are told that he begged them to
pray that he might be able to leave his victim.
Excessive exercise of the psychic faculty is quite
as deleterious physically, and perhaps more deleterious spiritually than
other excesses. Excess in any direction, involving as it does overstrain and
loss of self-poise, must be injurious. The results are often seen in
professional life in a "breakdown," sometimes accompanied by recourse to opiates
and stimulants. Excess in the use of all or any faculty is a danger to the moral
being as well as to the physical; whether this danger is greater in the use of
the psychical faculty than in the use of the intellectual and physical, is open
to question. It is unquestionably true, however, that there is danger
when the sensitive psychic faculties are unduly strained, and this point should
be clearly emphasised by all who offer advice to beginners.
"Let him that striveth for the mastery be temperate
in all things." Only be a temperate, moderate use of our forces can we become
their master and make them serve a high and useful purpose.
Automatic Writing - A Warning
Is there danger in the exercise of this faculty?
And, if so, what is the nature of the risk incurred?
There questions ought to be considered. To be aware
of the possible risks is the necessary preparation for avoiding them.
The faculty of passive writing, i.e., of the
expressing through the hand and pencil thoughts which the writer does not
consciously originate, is not a universal faculty. It may perhaps be universal
in the senses that it is a potential faculty in everyone; but certainly in
present conditions it is not in everyone's power to exercise it.
When exercised wisely in the spirit of service, it
has proved valuable, as a means of communication with unseen intelligences, and as a
means of obtaining evidence of the existence and nearness of spirit helpers. All
faculties need to be exercised with wisdom; the animal instincts are, on the
whole, safe for the animal, but man is gifted with reason, and he cannot trust
himself to exercise instinctive faculties, or, indeed, any faculties at all,
without self-examination, without seeking guidance from the Spirit of Wisdom.
Some persons deprecate the exercise of automatic writing, because they think it
places the writer too much at the disposal of discarnate spirits whose purposes
and character may be unknown.
This is possible, but the danger may be much exaggerated.
"By their fruits ye shall know them," is a test which may safely be applied.
There is another danger much less obvious, and therefore frequently not
Automatic processes tap the subliminal deeps of thought and character, and it is
from and through these "deeps" - this subliminal region of human personality -
that automatic writings and speech proceed.
When the communication is really from an unseen intelligence, other than the
medium, it is still through this mental state below the normal consciousness
that the message is conveyed, that is to say, when the writing is really
It should be distinctly recognised that the messages are frequently blended with
this region of the mental life of the recipient. Very rarely can they fail to be
so; and in many instances what rises to the surface in this way originates in
that region, and is the expression of the subliminal self, and not a direct
message from an independent source. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Whilst
this text may be safely applied to test the moral value of what is expressed, it
is not so easy to apply it to discover the source.
There are many communications which bear the hall-mark of being genuine
"messages"; there are some which do not bear that hall-mark, obviously, and yet
which are genuine messages. But in many cases automatic writing is really self-expression, and danger lies in the
fact that it is not recognised to be so. Experience shows that this is a subtle
danger, because the writer may accept as from an independent intelligence and a
being of a higher order, statements which are actually the outcome of his or her
mental and moral character, or personal desires.
Anyone who has been a careful student for many years will be ready to recognise
that this is so; but beginners are not likely to do so.
A tendency to conceit or ambition, to suspicion or obstinacy, will probably find
expression in flattery, or in remarkable claims, or in self-assertion, or in
insinuations against others, which are very misleading, unless the recipient by
self-examination has became aware of the weak roots in his character, and is
therefore on guard against any automatic scripts which foster the faults which
he knows to be latent in himself.
How few really know themselves! It is easy to see how dangerous and misleading
automatic writing may prove to be to those who have not this self-knowledge.
Many can endorse this warning from their own observation. If the automatic
writer did not too readily assume independent source, there would be less
danger; indeed, self-revelation might be salutary. The peril lies in the
unquestioning acceptance which might well lead later on to disillusionment and
Source: Objections to Spiritualism
Answered (London: London Spiritualist Alliance, 1909).