Michaeline: The REAL* Ghostwriting (*for certain values of real)

Agnes Guppy-Volckman flying over London supported by angels and cupid flying on what looks like a beer bottle. She has a pen in her hand, and is dressed like Queen Victoria.

Oh, wave your magic wand, and let flights of fancy give you wing! (Agnes Guppy-Volckman flies over London with a pen in hand.) (Image Via Wikimedia)

When I was a pre-teen, I haunted the libraries of my school and town for books about the unknown and supernatural – Salem witch trials, Atlantis, pyramids . . . I loved them all, and it seemed somewhat surprising that they’d actually be publicly available in my small town. But they were – I guess stories of the odd and eldritch are popular everywhere.

I can’t remember which book talked about automatic writing – the idea that a spirit or your subconscious could work through your body to write meaningful sentence without conscious control of your hand.

Messages could be spelled out with a Ouija board, but some spiritualists used just a loosely-held pencil on a piece of paper. Wikipedia cites William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925) as a source for this method. In the case of dowsing (searching for an object or resource with a hand-held rod), Barrett thought that the individual’s muscle twitches were responsible for the movement, but that the individual’s unconscious would pick up information through clairvoyance and guide the ideomotor responses. That’s pretty much the theory my half-remembered book put forth.

Some spirits writing messages to the living are often frivolous and write nothing to purpose; others write mysteries hidden in half-riddles. But, there are others who wrote whole books, or at least, so the writers claimed.

Pearl Curran, a housewife in St. Louis in the 1910s, channeled a spirit called Patience Worth, who wrote poetry and two novels through Pearl. This fascinating article from The Smithsonian online details Pearl’s short life and acquaintance with Patience, but as a minor celebrity, there are plenty of contemporary sources that describe her method.

Pearl used a Ouija board, and at first, spelled out each word with the planchette. Eventually, though, the tool proved unnecessary, and just touching the planchette would provoke contact and a recitation. Her husband often took down the words spoken.

There was quite a bit of controversy about Patience’s reality. She didn’t share details of her “life” readily, and she avoided predicting the future. (Ruth Montgomery was a journalist, and popular automatic writer, in the 1960s and 70s who predicted that Atlantis would rise in 1999 due to a polar shift . . . and had to write another book in 1999 pushing back the timeline. So, either her spirit guide was imaginary, or completely unreliable.) In this way, Pearl was able to avoid having Patience being definitively proven false. Many mundane reasons were produced to explain the Pearl/Patience connection, including a split personality.

The Smithsonian article posits that the real truth was in a short story written by Pearl Curran (not her spirit guide) about a young lady who pretends to have a spirit guide in order to get more fun out of life. Perhaps that’s all Pearl wanted, too. At any rate, the flights of fancy attracted the attention of the nation during a world war and an influenza epidemic, which is more than a lot of would-be authors can boast.

I am not proposing that anyone try automatic writing – do your research if you are interested and decide for yourself. I think 2020 is a year full of anxiety and mental instability, anyway, and playing around with it could lead to unhappy confrontations with one’s psyche. I mean, a fly lands on a debater’s head, and the internet went crazy for it. OMG, omen! What would happen if your automatic writing was eerily on point? Never mind there’s at least a 20 percent chance of ANYTHING happening this year. I would be surprised but not shocked if Atlantis made a late appearance and apologized for keeping us waiting.

However, if you are writing ghost stories this month, automatic writing can be a fun driver of the plot, and a way to provide information your characters don’t consciously realize. Fiction is a safe way to play with weird stuff. Enjoy your writing time!

May 1, 1920. Saturday Evening Post A young woman stares rapt at the ceiling as her hands delicately touch the Ouija planchette. A young man stares raptly at her neck, while he also holds the planchette. His feet invade her space, and they are knee-to-knee. Both of their cheeks are glowing.
Ouija fun in the parlor. What kind of ghost do you think they contact? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: The REAL* Ghostwriting (*for certain values of real)

  1. I had a ouija board as a kid, and my memory of using it with a friend is that it worked. Is that even possible, in any way at all? As I recall, if we asked it yes/no questions, we got an answer. If we asked it anything more complicated, we did not. And we did this on my bed, so it wasn’t as though a medium was pulling wires beneath the table. It was heaps of fun and took extraordinary amounts of time, but as an adult, I find this unlikely in the extreme.

    However, this is the season for the supernatural, and it’s fun to play around with the “what-ifs”!

    • (-: When I got a ouija board (for Christmas?) I did it with my mom, and we got all sorts of answers and stuff. There are tons of explanations that go from non-woo to woo.

      1. Somebody is moving it on purpose.
      2. The planchette is on felt feet, and moves quite easily. You are supposed to lightly rest your fingers on it, and when your arms get tired, they make involuntary little jerks, and it’s also possible that in an effort to “go along,” you push it a little bit unconsciously. If we ignore the nonsense and just focus on when the little window or pointer shows a “real” answer, it’s possible to make up patterns.
      3. Our subconscious minds receive messages somehow — (less woo) from things we have read or already know) or (more woo) through some mysterious force (like clairvoyance) — and those jerks and twitches are no accident.
      4. “The spirits” take the energy from those jerks and twitches, and move the planchette with (less woo) little pushes or (more woo) by taking possession of one or both of the players.
      5. “The spirits” are moving things through telekinesis, and the players are just following along.

      I think the Ouija board is a lot of good fun, especially with a friend who is like-minded. My personal theories run along the lines of 2 or 3a, since most of the “answers” are not that useful.

  2. After spending the past eight years writing stories that pillory Satan I think I may be better off staying away from portals into his presence.

    Hmm. So that’s interesting–the ouija board as a communication device with Satan…

    • If there is any woo in a story (and yours have lots of woo, but mostly in the premise, not so much in the actual plot business), I think the Ouija board can be a plot device for conveying information about a lot of things. Distant people, spirits, ghosts who knew stuff in life, or even long-lived entities such as Satan and the angels.

      Even without woo, I think it can be used to show a character’s subconscious thought process or knowledge — kind of like a more-complicated Rorschach test.

      (-: It could be a lot of fun! Check out the couple on the Saturday Evening Post cover . . . knee to knee, ankle brushing against ankle, watching bosoms rise in a dim room as the shadows fall and we look to know “the truth” . . . .

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