THERE IS a firm tradition that psychic faculties manifest most readily in
abnormal mental states. Although this belief is not supported by recent
experimental evidence, it has had a great influence on the development of
psychical investigation, especially in the investigation of trance mediums.
Mediums of all times, from Greek oracles to contemporary Spiritualists, have
been accustomed to going into a trance before delivering their messages. Many of
the reported cases of spontaneous impressions are said to have come during
dreams or dreamlike states. When hypnotism - or 'animal magnetism' as it was
then known - came into prominence in the eighteenth century through the efforts
of Dr Anton Mesmer, the hypnotic trance was commonly thought to confer
extra-sensory powers. Some of the earliest experiments in extra-sensory
perception were conducted by a French psychiatrist, Pierre Janet, with a
hypnotic subject who was mysteriously sensitive to suggestion, even from a
distance. Janet was able to put her into a hypnotic sleep at unexpected times
merely by concentrating his thoughts upon her. The popular association of
psychic powers and peculiar psychological states was further strengthened,
though no doubt unintentionally, by F. W. H. Myers's posthumously published
treatise on psychical research entitled Human Personality and its Survival of
Bodily Death(1). In this book, Myers quoted many cases of persons carrying
on purposeful activities without conscious deliberation - what he termed
automatism. He began by considering the more commonplace examples of automatism,
such as actions performed while sleepwalking, or the effortless composition of
poetry under the spell of inspiration.
(1) Myers, F. W. H., Human Personality and its
Survival of Bodily Death, London, 1903; revised edition, New York, 1961.
A familiar example of automatism is the party game in which a glass tumbler is
placed upside down in the middle of a circle of letters of the alphabet and
everyone puts a finger on the upturned base. Soon the glass may begin to move,
apparently of its own accord, touching, the letters one by one, and spelling out
messages. An ancient variant of this game, which will work with one person, is
to hold in the outstretched hand a hanging weight or pendulum - a key dangling
on a length of cotton serves the purpose well allowing it to swing gently in one
direction or another. By assigning different meanings to the directions in which
the pendulum may swing or rotate, it can be made to give intelligent responses
to questions. Even when there is no cheating, intelligent movements are still
sometimes produced, without the persons who operate the glass or pendulum
realizing that they are responsible for its movements. These are only
rudimentary forms of the 'automatic' techniques that mediums use. In automatic
writing, the medium holds a pencil lightly in one hand, letting it doodle away
on the paper while he pays attention to something else. With practice, the
doodles and scribbles give way to coherent writings and 'messages'. Automatic
writing is not a prerogative of practising mediums; anyone can try it and with
patience may well surprise himself by succeeding. It is a method that has been
used by doctors with the mentally sick to get them to express the thoughts that
are preying upon their minds.
In his treatise Myers discussed the use of hypnotism to bring about automatism
in suggestible subjects, causing them to perform acts without knowing why they
were doing so. He quoted experiments in post-hypnotic suggestion in which a
subject is given some absurd task, such as opening an umbrella in the
drawing-room, which he is told he must carry out at a specified time. The
subject is also told that when he wakes up he will not remember being given this
instruction. Although, in accordance with the suggestion, he does not remember
the hypnotist's command, nevertheless the memory remains active in his
subconscious and when the time comes he automatically goes through with the
required action. Asked to explain himself, either he cannot do so, or else he
tries to rationalize. He might say, for example, that he wanted to see if there
were any holes in the umbrella.
Myers was one of the earliest to realize the importance of all these
observations, and to see that, in order to produce the phenomena of automatism,
a lot of creative mental activity must go on of which the individual is unaware.
This led Myers to put forward the theory of the subconscious mind. In his day
the idea of unconscious mental activity was unfamiliar, but today, as a result
of the diffusion of psychoanalytical ideas, it has become commonplace. Myers
thought that in the same way as a subject may perform some action automatically
in response to a subconscious impulse, so he might conjure up a mental image or
vision automatically without conscious deliberation. This seemed the obvious
explanation of the vivid hallucinations experienced by some hypnotic subjects as
a result of suggestion. On this theory, the visions that some persons are able
to induce by gazing into a crystal ball are created in their own subconscious
minds and do not come from outside themselves. The explanation is, of course,
equally applicable to those visions of sleep, which we call dreams, as well as
to the hallucinations and delusions of the insane. Myers also considered trance
speech and automatic writing as practised by mediums, and concluded that these
too were examples of automatism produced by the medium's subconscious.
Nevertheless he believed in a psychic faculty, but he thought that it was
essentially a function of the subconscious mind. It was fully in accord with
Myers's views that dreams, visions, and automatic writings, all of which come
from the subconscious, should contain extra-sensory impressions.
The spread of psycho-analytic ideas has taken away some of the magical
attraction of automatic writing. Everyone knows now that it is just another way
of giving voice to the 'subconscious'. We need not be Freudians to see that
things spoken without reflection, or in jest, or slips of the tongue, are often
a better expression of real feelings than the most studied formulations. On such
occasions thoughts slip out that ordinarily we should refuse to acknowledge. The
same is true of dreams. We don't accept responsibility for our dreams, so
desires that we should hate to admit when awake can find fulfilment in dream
fantasy. Similarly, after being hypnotized, or being given the 'truth drug'
pentothal, or in automatic writing, in all of which situations the subject can
disclaim responsibility, personal revelations frequently come forth. This is the
reason why automatic writing is so often taken up with sexual topics and
obscenities, for these are the very ideas that in the ordinary way the civilized
person would be careful not to express too crudely.
Automatic writings, like dreams, are not always easy to interpret. Sometimes the
writing is back to front, like blotting-paper impressions, and has to be held up
to a mirror in order to be deciphered. The letters may be scrawled, and words
and sentences may run into each other without breaks or punctuations. Ideas,
instead of being set down fully and coherently, may be compressed into cryptic
sequences of words and phrases. These difficulties are probably signs of the
subject's resistance to the clear expression of the forbidden thoughts and
feelings that strive to find an outlet in the script.
Automatic writing is an aid to the neurotic sufferer in so far as it enables him
to put into words the conflicts that are the root of his distress. In recent
years psychiatrists have combined the techniques of hypnotism and automatic
writing(2). The patient is first put into the hypnotic state and it is suggested
to him that he will be able to do automatic writing. This avoids the long wait
while the subject tries to develop automatic writing on his own. It also has the
advantage that the psychiatrist can use hypnotic suggestion to cause to appear
in the writing topics which he knows to be of personal importance to the
patient. In some experiments by Dr P. L. Harriman the subjects were normal
students. Under hypnosis they were made to live through in imagination some
difficult situation. They were told they would forget all about it on waking.
The subjects had previously been trained in automatic writing, and after being
brought out of their hypnotic state they were given paper and pencil and
encouraged to write while at the same time engaging in desultory conversation.
The automatic writings so obtained were frequently concerned with the anxieties
and conflicts set up by the imaginary difficult situations. One student, who had
been told by the hypnotist that he was summoned to the Dean's office, produced a
screed containing a list of minor offences and neglected duties. He had in fact
been guilty of them all.
(2) Wolberg, L. R., Hypnoanalysis, New York,
Not all automatic writing is of immediate psychological interest. It is common
enough to get long screeds taken up with platitudinous moralizing, or verbosely
expressed spiritual philosophy, most of it on a level inferior to what the
writer could produce in a normal fashion. Automatic writing done by persons
interested in Spiritualism sometimes purports to be dictated by an outside
personality or spirit. The writing may be signed by some strange name and
develop a style and character of its own, a sort of secondary personality. Myers
took an intense interest in these secondary personalities. He quoted cases in
which the secondary phase was not restricted to writing, but for periods
banished the primary personality altogether, so that the individual lived a sort
of Jekyll and Hyde existence, now with one character, now with another.
A case of this kind was Ansel Bourne, an American preacher. He was a rather
unhealthy man who had since childhood suffered from depressed moods. When he was
sixty-one, he lost his sense of identity, wandered off into a distant town, and
set up as a store-keeper under another name. After six weeks he suddenly
reverted to his old self and came back home. More interesting still, because it
was studied by a medical man over a long period, was the case of 'Miss
Beauchamp'(3). She developed a secondary personality called Sally, and there
were changes from one to the other almost daily. Ordinarily Miss Beauchamp was a
shy, submissive creature who took pains to conduct herself with propriety; but
Sally was self-assertive, vain, spiteful, and mischievous.
(3) Prince, Morton, The Dissociation of a
Personality, New York, 1906.
Sally affected to look upon Miss Beauchamp as a silly goody goody, and she liked
to play pranks to annoy her, such as leaving nasty things in her bed.
Since the days when Myers and the early psychical investigators first took an
interest in the phenomena of automatism and secondary personalities, there has
been a change in the attitude of psychologists to such matters. Originally great
interest was aroused by the mere possibility of mental dissociation. It seemed
so extraordinary that the human mind could be split into two, the ordinary
conscious self and the other subconscious self that is revealed through
automatic writing and the like. Today it is no longer a marvel, for it is
generally accepted that the conscious mind expresses only a fragment of the
latent feelings, impulses, and stored experiences of the total personality.
Automatism does not really reveal a different self, only a different facet of
the personality. Moreover, the working of unconscious trends is recognized not
only in such extreme examples as automatic writing and trance speaking, but in
the everyday phenomena of dreams, and in the hosts of inhibitions, taboos, and
prejudices from which even the least-neurotic of our race suffer. Since the
coming of Freud, psychologists have transferred their attention from the mere
fact of mental dissociation to its causes, so that now the centre of interest is
the interplay of conflicting forces within the individual that results in the
temporary repression of certain trends. It is clear that secondary personalities
which manifest in automatic writings, or in hysterics like Bourne and Beauchamp,
are not independent individuals, but dramatizations of repressed tendencies.
This is the reason why secondary personalities often have characteristics
seemingly opposite to those of the primary individual. In the case of Miss
Beauchamp there is no doubt that Sally represented a side of her nature which
she had repressed in the interest of maintaining her outwardly modest demeanour.
It is one of the doctrines of the Jungian school of psychologists that in his
unconscious the individual harbours the opposite tendencies to those which he
displays in his normal character. Every feminine woman has in her unconscious
the seeds of a more masculine character, while the aggressive ruthless male
unconsciously harbours the feminine virtues of submissiveness and loving
consideration. That this Jungian theory has some applicability to the secondary
personalities of mediums - the so-called spirit guides - was neatly demonstrated
in the experiments of Whately Carington with the well-known trance medium, Mrs
Osborne Leonard(4). When in trance this medium always spoke in a childish voice
and manner, and was at these times supposed to be controlled by the spirit of a
child named Feda. Feda's alleged role was to act as go-between for spirits who
wanted to communicate with their relatives on earth, but who lacked the ability
to speak through the medium directly. Whately Carington applied psychological
tests to the medium both in her normal state and also when she was entranced and
supposedly possessed by the spirit Feda. He wanted to find out whether the two
would give responses as different as if they were two different individuals. He
used a test originally devised by Dr Jung himself, known as the Word Association
Test. A list of words is read slowly to the subject, who is asked to respond
without thinking and as quickly as possible with the first word that comes into
his mind. A stimulus word might be 'house', and the response 'home' or 'rent'.
The time it takes a subject to respond is his 'reaction time'. This varies
according to the emotional significance to the subject of the stimulus word. A
word that really stirs him causes a very long reaction time. To the same set of
stimulus words, the patterns of reaction times of two different persons are far
less alike than the patterns obtained by testing the same person twice. It is
not as good a test of identity as the fingerprint, but at least it is something
to go upon.
(4) Carington, W. Whately, 'The Quantitative Study
of Trance Personalities', Proc. SPR, xlii, 1934, pp. 173-240; xliii,
1935, pp. 319-96; xliv, 1937, pp. 189-277; xlv, 1939, pp. 223-51.
Carington discovered that the results given by Feda and Mrs Leonard were neither
what one would expect from testing two different persons nor what one would
normally get from testing the same person twice. Superficially their patterns
were grossly dissimilar, but they were related to each other - that is,
negatively correlated. Where the normal Mrs Leonard tended to give a long
reaction time, the entranced Mrs Leonard gave a short one, and vice versa. In
other words Feda and Mrs Leonard were not independent individuals; they were
complementary characters. The result is in keeping with the theory that Feda is
a dramatization of the medium's own subconscious trends. It is very difficult to
reconcile these findings with a Spiritualistic interpretation.
The interposition of a habitual spirit guide provides an easy excuse for
deficiencies in the spirit communications. The medium cannot be held responsible
for the spirit guide's statements, and the presence of a seemingly foreign
personality adds to the illusion that the medium in trance is in no position to
know what is going on or to fish for information. Obscurities and mistakes can
be blamed on the control. The spirit guide uses such circumlocutions as 'Now he
is showing me what looks like a photograph'. So long as the spirit guide is in
control, the sitter cannot question the supposed communicator directly. There is
no doubt that spirit guides are used to create the impression of communications
from another world, but at least, in Mrs Leonard's case, her guide Feda had the
characteristics of a genuine secondary personality rather than a mere conscious
pose. Sometimes the spirit guide is displaced, and the spirit communicator
purports to control the medium directly. It is only fair to mention that
Carington also tested several such direct communicators through Mrs Leonard, but
his results were inconclusive.
Psychiatrists have ceased to regard states of hysterical mental association with
much respect. If Ansel Bourne came to the notice of a doctor today, the first
question would be what drove him into this escape mechanism. Did he, for
example, have a nagging wife? A shot of pentothal or even a little 'shock'
treatment would soon bring back his lost memories. Miss Beauchamp would hardly
have persisted with her alternating personalities so long but for the interest
shown in them by the investigator, Dr Morton Prince. Such hysterical poses are
not deliberate, but they verge on malingering, and they thrive on sympathetic
attention. If Spiritualists would cease to admire and encourage mediums in their
trances and dramatic poses, the spirit guides might die a natural death, in the
same way that the hysterical paralyses and shell-shock cases of the First World
War went out of fashion in the second. In our modern culture it is only in the
mental climate of Spiritualism that hysterical trance and possession are
tolerated. Outside such circles no one develops delusions of spirit possession
unless he is insane.
If Myers and the early psychical investigators neglected to study motivation,
and so failed to discover the role of conflict in leading to mental
dissociation, it is equally true that the early psycho-analysts, preoccupied
with the neurotic conflicts revealed by their explorations, neglected the
evidence for the existence, in the subconscious, of powers beyond those the
individual can normally command. Freud certainly reported many cases of painful
memories of early childhood recalled in the process of analysis, but he did not
concern himself with the question whether, if the resources of the subconscious
could be harnessed, powers of memory and learning could be generally increased.
Clearly there are some mental tasks that are done better without conscious
concentration. When trying to recall a forgotten name, it is often more
effective to go on talking about something else until the name comes to mind,
rather than to make a deliberate effort to recall it. Mathematicians sometimes
puzzle over a problem without finding a solution and then, after a rest or a
sleep, the answer comes without effort. The musician, executing from memory a
complex composition, does not ponder over individual notes; they fall into place
naturally while he is thinking of the sound of the piece as a whole. Some famous
writers have said that on occasions their work seemed to write itself without
their needing to think, almost as if they were possessed. In all these cases
there is probably some degree of mental dissociation which serves to remove the
inhibitory effect of conscious concentration, and release underlying abilities.
The same thing happens more markedly in some cases of automatic writing and
hypnosis. Under hypnosis, subjects have been made to regress to childhood, that
is, to return to and re-live in imagination events of their infancy. Not only
have such subjects been able to recall things that they thought they had
completely forgotten, but they have been able to talk, act, draw, and write as
they did in infancy. The simulation Will not bear too critical a scrutiny, for
instance, articulation and vocabulary may regress unequally, but generally the
performance far exceeds the clumsy imitations produced by deliberate conscious
effort without the aid of hypnosis.
From time to time feats of this kind appear in the guise of spirit
communications. In a famous American case(5) Mrs Tighe, of Colorado, was
hypnotized by a friend, Morey Bernstein, and made to 'regress' farther back than
her own infancy. She responded by producing 'memories' of a former incarnation
when she was an Irish girl called Bridey Murphy, born in Cork in 1798 and died
in Belfast in 1864. In attempts to check the details given, some points were
confirmed (such as the existence in Belfast at the time of two grocers called
Farr and Carrigan), others were challenged as anachronistic or impossible (such
as her assertion at one time that her father and husband were both barristers),
and still other points were unverifiable (such as the particulars of her birth,
marriage, and death). Nevertheless, even if judged only on the level of an
impromptu dramatization, Mrs Tighe's performance was certainly remarkable.
(5) Ducasse, C. L, 'How the Case of The Search for
Bridey Murphy Stands Today', Journ. Amer. SPR, liv, 1960, pp. 3-22.
An even more puzzling case was that of Mrs Curran(6). She was a middle-class
American woman who in youth had had certain literary aspirations which came to
nothing. She was introduced to automatic writing by way of entertainment at a
party. She took it up on her own and astonished everyone by at once producing
most interesting compositions. The writings were signed by 'Patience Worth', who
claimed to be the spirit of an English spinster of the seventeenth century. Mrs
Curran herself had never been to England; in fact she had never been out of the
Middle West and had never seen the sea. Her chief interests were in music, and
her knowledge of history was very meagre. So far as is known she had had neither
the opportunity nor the inclination to make a special study of Elizabethan
England, yet the Patience Worth writings kept up an extraordinary and seemingly
archaic style, quite different from Mrs Curran's contemporary American. When
some philologists examined one of her longer productions they found that ninety
per cent of her words had Anglo-Saxon derivation. Professor F. C. S. Schiller
remarked, 'When we are told further that the Authorized Version has only
seventy-seven per cent of Anglo-Saxon, and that it is necessary to go back to
Layamon (1205) to equal Patience Worth's percentage, we realize that we are face
to face with what may fairly be called a philological miracle.'
(6) Prince, W. E, The Case of Patience Worth,
Patience Worth's writings had more than vocabulary to commend them. She used old
English similes and sayings freely, and her incidental comments on farm life and
countryside gave a flavour of genuineness to her descriptions of place and
period. She showed a ready wit and could produce poems and epigrams of
considerable merit on topics suggested on the spur of the moment by those
present. She also wrote more studied works, long novels set in different
historical periods, including one about Jerusalem at the time of Christ. These
books won praise from literary critics unaware of their ambiguous origin.
If Mrs Curran had prepared herself by careful study over many years the writings
would still have been remarkable, but so far as one can tell she never did any
such thing. Her automatic writings began in 1913. G. F. Dalton pointed out(7)
that a novel called By Order of the Company by Mary Johnston, published
in 1900, featured a seventeenth-century Irish character named Patience Worth.
Possibly Mrs Curran had read it and got the name from it, but she would have
needed much more than that book to create the spirit Patience. One must suppose
that in the course of her normal reading and conversation, and without realizing
what she was doing, Mrs Curran had been noting and storing up every scrap of
relevant information that came her way until finally it all came out in the
automatic writing. Of course Spiritualists believe that Patience Worth was what
she claimed to be, a spirit who was able to dictate directly through the medium
Mrs Curran. Apart from its intrinsic improbability, this theory is not
consistent with the known facts. If, as she claimed, Patience Worth was a simple
peasant girl of the seventeenth century, how could she change her style and
discourse at will in language of still more archaic flavour? Although the
writings seemed far beyond Mrs Curran's capacity to produce normally they did
have certain imperfections. Renee Haynes, who is certainly not prejudiced
against the paranormal, writes as follows in a letter to the author:
(7) Journ. SPR, xli, 1961, p. 215.
I have had another look at the Patience Worth
material published by W. F. Prince  ... No one familiar with the cadence,
rhythm, structure, and atmosphere of seventeenth century writing could possibly
believe these to be the work of someone then alive...
(8) Prince, W. E, The Case of Patience Worth,
Her grammar, though olde worlde, is inaccurate (cf.
p. 307 'thou shouldst rest ye' instead of 'thee'; and again, p. 227 'His blood
wert shed' instead of 'was'). Her history is telescoped (cf. p. 41 'my
tea is brewed'). Tea was a great rarity in the seventeenth century and would not
have come the way of a poor country girl...
Since Mrs Curran produced the writings, more than
likely Mrs Curran herself should have the credit for the intellectual feats
involved. To postulate a spirit intellect in the background is only to put the
explanation one stage farther away. It is a great pity that Mrs Curran and her
secondary personality, Patience Worth, were not thoroughly investigated by
psychologists. Intelligence tests applied to them both might have gone a long
way towards finding out whether Patience really had fundamentally superior
abilities, or whether it was a case of exploiting to the utmost a restricted
sphere of knowledge. It is well known that some mental defectives can perform
complicated arithmetical calculations that would baulk the ordinary person. The
reason is that such defectives develop one-track minds, and dwell upon figures
for hours on end, memorizing big multiplications until they become adepts. A
normal person who ruminated as long might do still better. Perhaps Patience
Worth was the product of years of subconscious rumination.
No other case of automatic writing by an untutored hand has achieved the
standard of Patience Worth, but there are cases that show more clearly how
subconscious dramatization can build up a secondary personality with unusual
abilities. There is the case of the medium Mlle Hélène Smith, who was studied by
the French psychologists Flournoy and Deonna(9). In this case the hysterical
origin of the 'spirit' was clearer because she failed to achieve the high degree
of realism characteristic of Patience Worth. Hélène's supposed spirit control
was called Leopold. He manifested through automatic writing and inspirational
speech and in visions that came to Hélène during ecstatic trances. Leopold, like
Patience Worth, dictated poems that were beyond the medium's capacity to compose
in the ordinary way. He also purported to teach Hélène all about life on the
planet Mars, including a Martian language with a picturesque calligraphy
reminiscent of Chinese. That the medium was able to speak and write this
language consistently was a considerable feat of memory, even though it proved
to be composed mainly of distorted French roots strung together with hardly any
grammar. In order to compose and retain this curious language, Hélène must have
had the whole idea incubating in her mind - at any rate subconsciously - for a
long while before it burst forth with the maximum of drama so characteristic of
hysterics. The important point for psychical researchers is that here is a case
clearly hysterical in origin, where an imaginary spirit personality was
dramatized so ably that it seemed beyond the medium's powers. But it was not
beyond her, for the reason that she was a hysteric who was practised in mental
dissociation and in the free use of her latent powers of subconscious
(9) Flournoy, T., From India to the Planet Mars
(transl.), London, 1900.
Spiritualists believe that dead authors have sometimes returned and dictated
posthumous works through mediums. One such case concerned Charles Dickens, who
died suddenly leaving unfinished his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood(10).
Four years later there was published a completion of the story, supposedly
written automatically by the medium T. P. James, an uneducated mechanic of
Brattleboro, Vermont. The style was in many ways an excellent parody of Dickens.
Certain passages seemed flat and uninspired, but others were quite successful.
Some Spiritualists hailed the 'return of Dickens' with enthusiasm, claiming that
an uneducated man could not have produced such a parody unaided. However, as the
case of Hélène Smith shows, one cannot easily set limits to what latent powers
of dramatization may accomplish, and in this instance there is some direct
evidence against the spiritistic interpretation. Many years after Dickens's
death, a manuscript was discovered containing a later portion of the story of
Edwin Drood. This portion does not feature at all in the James version.
Moreover, Dickens's intentions as to the end of his story were very definite and
well known to his son, Charles Dickens the Younger, and to his illustrator, Sir
Luke Fildes. There are many indications in the completed portion of the novel
that he was sticking closely to his declared plan. In the James version the plot
is rather clumsily changed, and no use is made of various pointers to the
solution of the mystery that Dickens had incorporated in the first half of the
(10) Flournoy, T., Spiritualism and Psychology
(transl.), London, 1910.
A thorough appreciation of the possibilities of mental dissociation in phenomena
like those of Mrs Curran, Mlle Smith, and T. P. James is an essential
preliminary to an understanding of mediumistic cases. Without this background
knowledge of the latent powers of dramatization, and their utilization to create
the impression of an independent personality, there is a danger of accepting
apparent spirit communications too readily at their face value.
An interesting case of a medium making use - apparently subconsciously - of
unusual feats of memory in order to create the impression of spirit intervention
was reported by an SPR investigator, Mrs K. M. Goldney(11). The medium was Mrs
Helen Hughes, who frequently gave public demonstrations of spirit communication.
She would stand on the platform and point out various members of the audience
and give them 'messages'. In addition to the customary expressions of goodwill,
these messages usually included mention of one or two names, supposedly
relatives of the member of the audience who was being addressed. On the occasion
in question, Mrs Goldney was in the audience, and Mrs Hughes pointed to a friend
of Mrs Goldney who was sitting in the next seat. 'There is someone here who has
come for you: Bessie - wait [apparently listening to a spirit communicator] -
Bessie White. Do you know Bessie White?' Mrs Goldney's friend did not know the
name, and Mrs Hughes said, 'No, wait, it is not for you but for the lady next to
you' - indicating Mrs Goldney. After Mrs Goldney had rather hesitantly
acknowledged this name, she continued, 'Bessie White and Alec - Alec White. Do
you know him too?'
(11) Goldney, K. M., 'A Case of Purported Spirit
Communication', Proc. SPR, xlv, 1939, pp. 210-16.
Mrs Goldney had had a private sitting with Mrs Hughes two years before. While
apparently in deep trance, she had given Mrs Goldney many names and allusions
which did not apply at all. Towards the end of the sitting she had mentioned two
names, Bessie White and Alec White, which Mrs Goldney acknowledged, not because
she really knew them, but because she wanted to see if the same names would be
given to her again at a later date. Mrs Goldney attended various public meetings
given by Mrs Hughes, but she never received any 'message' until this occasion,
two years later, by which time she had forgotten all about the incident. It was
only by looking through her old records that she was able to verify the origin
of the two names. The incident is interesting because these names do not seem to
have been a favourite standby, such as some mediums have for use with all and
sundry. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Mrs Hughes kept a written note of the
names, otherwise she would have used them long before. The most probable
explanation is that the association between Mrs Goldney and these two names
stuck in the medium's mind as a latent memory which for some reason emerged from
her subconscious years afterwards.
The trances and other signs of mental dissociation often seen in mediums, though
doubtless imitative and traditional, may also have a practical function. Myers
and many after him have believed that such states facilitate psychic faculties.
Experiments in the artificial induction of dissociation by hypnosis have so far
failed to confirm this, but they have confirmed the release of potentialities of
dramatization which readily deceive the unwary. The incredible claims
occasionally put forward by psychologists and psychoanalysts, about subjects
under the influence of hypnosis or drugs recalling the events of their own
births, suggest that others beside parapsychologists need to exercise caution in
this tricky field.
The above article was taken from Donald West's "Psychical Research Today"