By Elizabeth Prata
Part 1: Making no distinction between Victorian channeling writers of yore and today’s Christian
Part 2: Making no distinction between Victorian channeling writers of yore and today’s Christian
Part 3: Walsch, Young, and Beth Moore: ungodly channelers all (Part 3)
Conclusion: How do Christian authors end up channeling spirits and producing books from them? Pride
Remember when New Age channeling was the thing? In the 70s, Shirley MacLaine promoted it. But channeling is really older than that, it not so ‘new’. At the turn of the last century, many British luminaries participated in the Spiritist/Spiritualist movement of which channeling was a major part. They sat around and had seances all the time. It was wildly popular but despite the many adherents and the wild popularity, Spiritism never really formed into one church or one doctrine because the movement was extremely individualistic. Each person relied on his or her own experiences with the supernatural to discern the qualities of an afterlife and of understanding the supernatural in general.
Sound familiar today? It is. “Christians” of today claim individualistic and personal experiences with the “Divine” and then produce works that are touted as specially insightful because of the personal revelation. Everything old is new again. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccelesiastes 1:9)
When adherents to Spiritism held seances or channeled spirits in private, oftentimes the ‘spirit’ delivered creative products to their brain and hand. This Spiritist activity is called “automatic writing.”
In the heyday of the Victorian Spiritist movement, automatic writing was all the rage. It is “A type of divination where the pen appears to direct the writer instead of the writer directing the pen. With pen in hand, the writer sits back, attempts to clear his mind, and waits for the pen, seemingly, to take on a life of its own. … Spiritualists believe that automatic writing is a form of spirit contact with the living; hence the name “spirit writing”. (source)
Automatic writing is really channeling. It is a method of capturing concepts and thoughts from ‘the other side’ through our hand without conscious thought to interfere or censor the thoughts. Automatic writing in spiritism happens when spirits are claimed to take control of the hand of a person to write messages, letters, and even entire books. Automatic writing can happen in a trance or waking state” (Wiki)
Yeat’s famous poem Second Coming (Slouching Toward Bethlehem) was a product of such a kind of supernatural revelatory delivery system. The poem was delivered in toto to Yeats through a spirit while Yeats was in a trance state. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame was also an adherent to spiritism (Theosophical Society member) and his works were influenced by it as were painter Gauguin’s and many others.
Rudyard Kipling was an automatic writer, too. He has written of his process and product, “My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, Kim, and both Puck books and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not because when those books were finished they said so themselves… When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait and obey.” (source)
Spiritism flourished during the Victorian era from 1840 to 1920. But Spiritism was not born in the 1840s nor did it die out in the 1920s. Its roots extend to today and backward to the 1740s and Emanuel Swedenborg. An inventor and philosopher, in 1741 at the age of fifty-three, Swedenborg entered into a spiritual phase in which he eventually began to experience dreams and visions beginning on Easter weekend April 6, 1744. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, whereupon he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer are credited with birthing the modern Spiritist movement. (Yes, Mesmer’s name is where we get the term “mesmerized”, meaning when spiritual forces come grouped together and you get mesmerized.).
The mystical qualities of communing with spirits that results in written or composed works goes back even further than Swedenborg. There are myriad Catholic mystics such as Hildegarde of Bingen, who in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to “write down that which you see and hear.” Hildegarde wrote, “I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. […] And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places.” (source)
We can go back, and back, and back to the beginning but we won’t go back that far, we can stay in the 20th century with the modern day Spiritualists and their seances and mediums, that gave birth to the New Agers of pharmaceutical trances and automatic writing which morphed into today’s Christian mystics engaged in receiving divinely inspired writings after a lengthy bouts of contemplative prayer. It is all the same, you see. This essay and its companion piece conclusion examines these things, and asks the question:
How is receiving a poem through automatic writing after a seance through a spirit guide any different from holing up in a cabin, having a long conversation with God and writing down by invisible force the ‘Christian’ doctrines that are then published to today’s fervent acclaim?
There is no doubt that automatic writing is thrilling. The Irish National Library says that “automatic writing proved to be a revitalizing force for W.B. Yeats.” It is hard to think up your own stuff. It is easy to let someone/something else plop it into your mind for you.
When we hear of writing that has come from an external, automatic source, such as a seance or a spirit guide, we can comfortably become suspicious because there is the glaring problem of authorship and credibility. Virginia Moore puts the problem of Yeat’s visions and writings gained from automatic writing succinctly: and we can ask this question of all such writers, even (and especially) those who write that way today but claim the writing is from God–
“Invariably students of A Vision ask, Was it really spirit-controlled discourse? Or was it, on Mrs. Yeats’ part, either a garnering of her subconscious, or a telepathic reading of her husband’s mind, neither of which requires extranatural help? Or was it a fabrication on the part of Yeats and/or his wife? Or something else?”
How DOES one discern whether such writings are originating from a subsumed personal will, the subconscious, or a supernatural source either divine or demonic? With the current problem of lack of discernment in the Christian church, these good questions are asked less frequently instead of more frequently. It is easy to point to Victorian Spiritists and mediums holding seances and say that any or all creative products resulting from these sessions have a demonic, not divine, origin. However, we rarely hear of Christians questioning the origin and appropriateness of reading and absorbing as doctrine such writings from today’s pseudo-Christians.
In the next part, I’ll use three examples of popular Christian writers who used the exact same methods as the Victorian Spiritists to produce creative works: they went into seclusion, they contacted or were allowed to be contacted from the spirit world, they were used in automatic writing, and they produced a personal revelation they claim is divine in origin.