A term indicating organic functions, or inhibitions, not controlled
by the conscious self. The word automatism is actually
a misnomer, as the acts, or inhibitions, are only automatic from
the viewpoint of personal consciousness and they may offer the
characteristic features of voluntary acts on the part of another
F. W. H. Myers divided the phenomena of automatism into
two principal classes motor-automatism (the movement of the
limbs, head, or tongue by an inner motor impulse beyond the
conscious will) and sensory automatism (externalization of perceptions
in inner vision and audition). The first he called active,
the second passive automatism, stressing, however,
that the impulse from which it originates may be much the
same in that one case as in the other. This place of origin is either
the subconscious self or a discarnate intelligence. Myers
suggested that the excitation of the motor or sensory centers
may take place either through the subconscious (subliminal)
mind, or the communicating intelligence may find some direct
way, for which he proposed the name telergic.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Automatism
The phenomena of automatism are often accompanied by
organic disturbances, or changes in vasomotor, circulatory, and
respiratory systems. The sensory impressions are sometimes accompanied
by a feeling of malaise, which is noticeable even in
such simple cases as telepathy. In the phenomena of dowsing,
the disturbance is much keener.
Incapacity for action is an almost rudimentary type of
motor-automatism. It may result from a simple subconscious
perception or it may be induced by an outside agency to save
the subject from grave peril, e.g., from entering a house that
is about to collapse or boarding a train that will be derailed. An
instructive instance is quoted by Theodore Flournoy from his
experiments with Héléne Smith
One day Miss Smith, when desiring to lift down a large and
heavy object which lay on a high shelf, was prevented from
doing so because her raised arm remained for some seconds as
though petrified in the air and incapable of movement. She
took this as a warning and gave up the attempt. At a subsequent
séance, Leopold stated that it was he who thus fixed Helens
arm to prevent her from grasping this object which was much
too heavy for her and would have caused her some accident.
This record of spirit cure was published in Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 3 18287)
On August 17, 1891, the patient felt for the first time a
unique sensation, accompanied by formication and sense of
weight in the lower limbs, especially in the feet. This sensation
gradually spread over the rest of the body, and when it reached
the arms, the hands and forearms began to rotate. These phenomena
recurred after dinner every evening, as soon as the patient
was quiet in her armchair. . . . The patient placed her two
hands on a table. The feeling of magnetisation then began
in the feet, which began to rotate and the upper parts of the
body gradually shared in the same movement. At a certain
point, the hands automatically detached themselves from the
table by small, gradual shocks, and at the same time the arms
assumed a tetanic rigidity somewhat resembling catalepsy.
One day Mme. X. felt herself lifted from her armchair and
compelled to stand upright. Her feet and her whole body then
executed a systematic calisthenic exercise, in which all the
movements were regulated and made rhythmic with finished
art. . . . Mme. X. had never had the smallest notion of chamber
gymnastics. . . . These movements would have been very painful
and fatiguing had she attempted them of her own will. Yet
at the end of each performance she was neither fatigued nor
out of breath. . . .. Mme. X is accustomed to arrange her own
hair. One morning she said laughingly I wish that a Court
hairdresser would do my hair for me my arms are tired. At
once she felt her hands acting automatically, and with no fatigue
for her arms, which seemed to be held up; and the result
was a complicated coiffure, which in no way resembled her
usual simple mode of arrangement. The oddest of all these automatic
phenomena consisted in extremely graceful gestures
which Mme. X. was caused to execute with her arms, gestures
as though of evocation or adoration of some imaginary divinity,
or gestures of benediction. . . . The few persons who witnessed
this spectacle are agreed that it was worthy of the powers of the
greatest actress. Of such a gift Mme. X. has nothing.
Dr. F. L. H. Willis claimed that he performed a difficult and
delicate surgical operation in trance while controlled by Dr.
Mason. At that time Willis had not even started to study medicine.
Myers classified the motor messages in the order of their increasing
1. Massive motor impulses. Case of the bricklayer (Phantasms
of the Living Vol. 377), who had a sudden impulse to run home
and arrived just in time to save the life of his little boy, who had
set himself on fire. Case of Mr. Garrison, who left a religious
service in the evening and walked 18 miles under a strong impulse
to see his mother, then found her dead (Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research Vol. 3 125). Included under this
heading the phenomenon of ambulatory automatism moving
about in a secondary state, as a result of an irresistible impulse,
and forgetting all about it on return to normal consciousness.
It is noticeable in subjects affected with nervous diseases. The
mysterious transportation of the Italian Pansini children was
attributed by some Italian scientists to this cause.
2. Simple subliminal motor impulses that give rise to table
tilting and similar phenomena. Georgina Houghton wrote in
Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance (1881) that on one occasion,
being anxious to find her way to a house which she had not visited
for several years, she entrusted herself to spirit guides and
3. Musical execution, subliminally initiated. Jesse Shepard,
the famous musical medium, George Aubert, and many child
prodigies furnish cases of absorbing interest. The heading
should be widened to include cases of contagious dancing witnessed
in religious revivals, or cases like that of Lina, studied
by Col. Eugene Auguste-A. D. Rochas, and Madeleine, studied
by Emile Magnin, both girls exhibiting remarkable histrionic
and dancing talent in trance.
4. Automatic drawing and painting.
5. Automatic writing.
6. Automatic speech.
7. Telekinetic movements.
J. Maxwell suggested in his Metapsychical Phenomena (1905)
the following classification
1. Simple muscular automatism typtology, alphabetic systems.
2. Graphic muscular automatism automatic writing, drawing,
3. Phonetic automatism trance speaking.
4. Mixed automatism incarnations.
Sensory automatism embraces the phenomena of clairvoyance,
clairaudience, and crystal gazing. Therefore, according
to Myerss scheme, the bulk of the phenomena of psychical research
would range under the heading automatism.