Direct Writing
The claimed phenomenon in Spiritualism of spirit writing
that is produced directly without visible physical contact with
the medium and sometimes without writing material. It dispenses
with mechanical contrivances such as the planchette
and Ouija board and bypasses table tipping or table turning.
Eusapia Palladino is reported to have rubbed the end of
her finger with blue chalk, asked Charles Richet to hold it,
and, advancing to the table, drew two crosses over the tabletop
in the air. The blue marks disappeared from her finger, and
the crosses were found on the underside of the table. She also
drew scrawls on Richet’s jacket with the fingers of F. W. H.
Myers, who was present. A blue mark was found on Richet’s
shirt front under the waistcoat. Then, holding Richet’s clean
finger as though it were a pencil, she drew a blue line on a piece
of white paper in good light. A Professor Schiaparelli bought
a block of new writing paper and asked Palladino to write her
name. She grasped his finger and moved it over the paper as
if it were a pen; the writing was found inside the block.
One of the most well known forms of direct writing was that
made popular by the mediums Henry Slade and William
Eglinton—slate writing. Slate writing was, of course, one of the
easiest of phenomena to fake and Slade and Eglington were
caught in their attempts. In any case, the proximity of the medium
to the writing on the slate would throw doubt on the reality
of the spirit hypothesis. The most convincing direct writing
was that which was not solely dependent upon prepared materials
but was produced anywhere and under any circumstances.
Thus, during a poltergeist disturbance in Stratford, Connecticut,
in 1850 and 1851, direct writing was found on turnips
that sprang apparently from nowhere. An unfinished letter left
for a few moments would be found completed in a different
hand, although of course during the interval it could easily
have been accessible to another human.
In 1856 experiments in direct writing were carried out by
the noted Spiritualist Baron L. von Guldenstubbe. He locked
paper and pencil in a small box and carried the key around
with him. At the end of 13 days he found some writing on the
paper; he repeated the experiment with similar success. Later
he visited galleries, churches, and other public places, leaving
writing materials on the pedestals of statues, on tombs, and so
In this way he claimed to obtain direct writing in English,
French, German, Latin, Greek, and other languages, purporting
to come from Plato, Cicero, St. Paul, Juvenal, Spencer, and
Mary Stuart. The baron was accompanied on these expeditions
by Comte d’Ourches and other friends, and on one occasion a
medium was mentioned as being present. Of course, such communications
are in no way evidence of spirit agency, since
under such circumstances anybody could have written messages
for the baron. However, another experiment on November
24, 1856, was at the baron’s own apartment. He recorded
that while waiting for two other witnesses to join a séance, the
furniture began to creak. Then the medium seated herself at
the piano, directing the group to place an untouched packet of
paper in a particular spot. The medium played for 15 minutes,
then stopped. The packet of paper was opened and communications
from ‘‘Cicero,’’ ‘‘Plato,’’ and ‘‘Spencer’’ were revealed.
The baron’s book La Realité des Esprits et le phénomène merveilleux
de leur Écriture directe (1857) created a sensation.
The Rev. Stainton Moses, a medium with experience of direct
voice phenomena, published the first study devoted entirely
to direct writing, which he named ‘‘psychography.’’ In his
Direct Spirit Writing (1878), he discusses his own experiences
and those of other individuals. It is an uncritical book, but of
great interest for its discussion of the circumstances surrounding
the phenomenon. Moses notes that in his own experience
there were convulsive movements associated with the writing
‘‘I was slightly convulsed, and my hands were moved under the
table while the writing was going on beneath.’’
Moses’ investigation of the direct writing of Slade is particularly
valuable. Slade’s hands were sometimes feverishly hot,
and emitted during the writing (which was nearly always in his
own hand), crackling and detonating sounds. These detonations
occasionally amounted to veritable explosions and even
pulverized the slate at times. The pulsations, throbs, and convulsive
shudders of Slade’s body were frequently communicated
to those holding his hands. The claimed ‘‘exposure’’ of
Slade by a Professor Lankester was partly based on the observation
that the tendons of his wrist were in motion.
Charles E. Watkins of Cleveland, another slate-writing medium,
always wrote as if in torture. He claimed he felt a sudden
‘‘drawing’’ from his body and was unable to articulate distinctly.
As soon as the writing was finished, with a jerk he was himself
This invisible link between medium and direct writing may
not be solely physical. Most of the direct scripts of Mrs. Thomas
Everitt proved to be quotations from various, sometimes inaccessible
books, bearing on the teachings of Swedish seer
Emanuel Swedenborg. Because the medium belonged to the
Church of the New Jerusalem, her subconscious mind may
have had some part in the contents. There is much reason for
this supposition—C. C. Massey’s experience with Eglinton on
April 23, 1884, suggests that even the sitter’s subconscious
mind may be tapped.
As quoted in John S. Farmer’s Twixt Two Worlds (1886), the
contents of a very private letter that Massey had written alone
in his own room and mailed himself a week before had been rifled,
and, taken out of context, passages were woven into a censorious
communication. ‘‘The postscript was of a peculiarly malicious
character, referring to other confidential
correspondence of mine of a very delicate and personal nature,’’
Massey complains. ‘‘I must own that this particular shot
took effect and caused me no small embarrassment and annoyance.’’
Massey at once wrote to his friend in Paris and received
the assurance that nobody other than himself saw, read, or
heard of the letter.
In Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home (1869), Lord
Adare’s father is quoted ‘‘A sheet of paper was lying on the
edge of the table next to the window, on which a pencil was
placed. We presently saw the pencil moving about on the
paper. Mr. Home saw the fingers holding it. Adare noticed it
also more than once, but of undefined form.’’
Sir William Crookes recorded his first experience in direct
writing with Kate Fox-Jencken ‘‘A luminous hand came down
from the upper part of the room, and after hovering near me
for a few seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote
on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose up
over our heads, gradually fading into darkness.’’
Robert Dale Owen saw, in a sitting with Slade on February
9, 1874, in sufficient gas light, a white, feminine, marblelike
hand, detached and shaded off at the wrist, creep up his knees,
write on the notepaper placed there on a slate, then slip back
with the pencil under the table. Five minutes later the performance
was repeated by a smaller hand that resembled the first.
Such experiences are reminiscent of that most dramatic account
in the biblical book of Daniel (55) ‘‘In the same hour
came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the
candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace;
and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.’’
There are many instances on record when apparently fully
materialized phantoms have left written messages behind. The
spirits of George Spriggs sat down to write letters, ‘‘Katie
King’’ left behind farewell messages when she took her leave.
‘‘Friedrich,’’ a materialized form different from the medium S.
F. Sambor both in stature and gesture, wrote something on the
inside of a watch belonging to ‘‘Mr. S.’’ in Petersburg.
There is a case so unique that it can only be called an instance
of direct automatic writing. ‘‘The Mahedi,’’ a materialized
phantom associated with the medium Francis W. Monck,
wrote in Egyptian characters. The Mahedi was then controlled
Direct Writing Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
by Monck’s guide, ‘‘Samuel,’’ who spoke through him and
wrote with his hand in English characters that Thomas Colley,
from comparison with pieces of direct writing, found to be in
‘‘Samuel’s’’ hand. Colley observed that, while the writing was
going on, the medium, standing some seventeen feet away, involuntarily
or absentmindedly moved his hand and said afterward
that he felt his hand wanting to write, yet he did not know
what was being written.
During a séance with D. D. Home, Crookes desired to see
the actual production of a written message. Crookes noted
‘‘Presently, the pencil rose up on its point, and after advancing
by hesitating jerks to the paper, fell down. It then rose and
again fell. A third time it tried but with no better results. After
three unsuccessful attempts, a small wooden lath, which was
lying near upon the table, slid towards the pencil and rose a few
inches from the table; the pencil rose again, and propping itself
against the lath, the two together made an effort to mark the
paper. It fell, and then a joint effort was again made. After a
third trial the lath gave it up and moved back to its place, the
pencil lay as it fell across the paper, and an alphabetic message
told us—‘We have tried to do as you asked, but our power is exhausted.’
Led by a similar desire, Moses made the following observations
in an out-of-the-body experience from ‘‘the other side’’
‘‘It was not done, as I had imagined, by guiding my hand or
by impressing my mind, but was by directing on to the pen a
ray which looked like a blue light. The force so directed caused
the pen to move in obedience to the will of the directing spirit.
In order to show me that the hand was a mere instrument not
essential to the experiment, the pen was removed from the
hand, and kept in position by the ray of light which was directed
upon it. To my great astonishment it moved over the paper
and wrote as before. I cried out with astonishment and was
warned to keep still lest I should break the conditions.’’
Horace Greeley quoted in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine the experience
of former Senator James F. Simmons of Rhode Island
in obtaining direct writing by a pencil dropped through the
ring of a pair of scissors. The pencil stood firmly poised and
slowly and deliberately traced the words ‘‘James D. Simmons.’’
The handwriting was a facsimile of his deceased son’s signature.
It was obtained in daylight.
In direct-writing séances with Everitt, Crookes noticed that
no matter how thin the paper was, the pencil produced no indentation.
Nevertheless, it was clear that the pencil had been
used, since once, the words appeared double, because the lead
had a double edge. Another supernormal phenomenon was the
speed with which the scripts were delivered and the success in
overcoming the handicaps that had been experimentally set
up. The paper had often been placed in a closed book, in a
locked box and slates; the sheets were marked and writing was
demanded on a given page in a book or on folded sheets in a
sealed envelope. In Everitt’s case, the writing often covered one
side of the marked sheet and when, after examination, the light
was again extinguished, it was continued on the back side of the
same paper. Everitt’s husband, Thomas, declared during meeting
of the Marylebone Association of Inquirers into Spiritualism
that he had known as many as 936 words to be written in
a second.
To test the powers of the medium Sambor, a cone of sheet
iron was prepared under the direction of the head of the printing
works at Petersburg. A piece of paper and a pencil were
placed inside. The engineers had an iron lid fixed on with special
rivets. The cone was then left for several days in a room that
Sambor never entered. In a later séance Sambor declared that
writing would be found in the cone. After much difficulty, the
cone, which was found intact, was opened. The paper was inscribed
with a few words.
The direct writing produced by Lujza L. Ignath in Oslo
(September 30, 1931) on wax tablets in a closed box appeared,
under microscopic enlargement, to have been ‘‘melted’’ into
the wax by fine rays, swinging together from the direction of
the sitters.
The writing may be in the medium’s hand or in strange
characters. The language of the writing may also vary and the
script may contain words or sentences desired by the company.
The Beginning of Direct Writing
The scene of the most ancient instance of direct writing was
perhaps Mount Sinai, where Moses obtained the Ten Commandments.
The first modern record of experiments is to be
found in Baron von Guldenstubbe’s book La Réalité des Esprits.
The phenomenon was observed during the poltergeist disturbances
in the house of a Rev. Phelps at Stratford in 1850. Direct
scripts were delivered in the locked spirit room of the Koon log
house in Vermont.
Mary Marshall, the first English professional medium, produced
direct writing on sheets of glass that were smeared over
with a composition of oil and whitening and kept under the
table. This was the rudimentary beginning of slate writing, of
which the first English account, with Marshall in 1861, was published
by Thomas P. Barker.
The explanation often given at to why slate writing came
into vogue is that it furnished a comparatively quick message
from departed friends without an excessive drain on the medium,
since the space between the slates served as a convenient
dark chamber. However, the process was abandoned in the
early twentieth century. Laura Pruden, of Cincinnati was one
of the last mediums claiming to produce the phenomenon.
Hereward Carrington perhaps explains its loss of popularity
‘‘Now there are so many different ways by which such writing
[slate writing] may be obtained by trickery that it is almost impossible
to obtain conclusive evidence by this means. Personally,
I have never seen a genuine example, in all the years during
which I have been investigating this question.’’ This statement
also refers to his experiences with Pierre Keeler, with whom he
had two sittings at Lily Dale, the Spiritualist camp, in 1907 (he
came to the conclusion that fraud was practiced on both occasions)
and the sitting with Laura Pruden, of Cincinnati. In the
latter case, Carrington admitted that the evidence was not so
conclusive; indeed, his detailed account fails to show anything
but a strongly imaginative possibility of fraud.
Henry Slade, Monck, Eglinton, Watkins, and W. H. Powell
were the best-known exponents of slate writing. The commotion
caused by the Slade trial resulted in some interesting public
testimonies. William Barrett, in a letter quoted in the book
Psychography by Moses, declares that he noted the same suspicious
circumstances to which Lankester alluded and also that
Slade always sat with his back to the light and sideways, so that
the front of his person was in comparative shade, though generally
in full view. Barrett suspected fraud, but instead of forcibly
interrupting Slade to discover whether the writing was already
on the slate when it was not supposed to be, he took a
clean slate, placed a crumb of a slate pencil below, held it firmly
down with his elbow and only allowed the tips of Slade’s fingers
to touch the slates. He observes
‘‘While closely watching both of Slade’s hands which did not
move perceptibly, I was much astonished to hear scratching
going on apparently on the under side of the table, and when
the slate was lifted up I found the side facing the table covered
with writing. A similar result was obtained on other days; further,
an eminent scientific man obtained writing on a clean
slate when it was held entirely in his own hand, both of Slade’s
being on the table.’’
In a letter to the Spectator of October 6, 1877, Alfred Russel
Wallace describes a remarkable experiment. The sitting was
held in a private house with the medium Monck. Two slates
were examined, cleaned, and tied together by Wallace and
placed on the table, never out of his sight. Monck asked Wallace
to name a word he wished to be written on the slate inside.
He named the word ‘‘God.’’ Monck then asked how it should
be written. He replied ‘‘lengthways of the slate and with a CapEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Direct Writing
ital G.’’ In a very short time writing was heard on the slate. The
medium’s hands were convulsively withdrawn, Wallace himself
untied the cord, and on opening the slates found on the lower
one the word written in the manner he asked.
The general procedure with Slade was to place the slates
under the table against the slab or lay his hands over them on
top of the table. The process of writing (a scratching sound) was
not only heard, but the tremors could be felt if a hand was
placed over the locked slate. The finishing of the message was
usually indicated by raps. The crumb of slate pencil, worn away,
was usually found at the end of the written line.
With other slate-writing mediums the conditions varied. In
Mrs. Harman’s case, as reported by J. L. O’Sullivan (former
American minister in Portugal), a steady stream of rapid little
ticks was audible. In the case of Mrs. Francis, of San Francisco,
the direct movement of the pencil on the slate was seen by Elliot
Cowes and E. Coleman. Charles E. Watkins was offered
$50,000 by Hiram Sibley, of Rochester, for the secret of his
slate-writing trick. He claimed he did not know it himself. E.
Crowell asked how the writing was effected and received the
following answer in a séance with Slade ‘‘The smaller the pencil
the more easily we can write, the larger the pencil the greater
the difficulty. We move the point by our willpower entirely,
and that enables us to write. Very few spirits can directly control
the pencil. That is the reason why the medium’s wife comes so
often to show other spirits how to do this.’’
Precipitated Writing
Fred P. Evans, of San Francisco, obtained slate writing in
colored chalk. The phenomenon was witnessed by Wallace in
San Francisco in 1887. Two thick lines drawn across the slate
with a slate pencil seemed to prove that the colored chalk, not
provided by the medium, was precipitated after the slates had
been locked. Examples of precipitated writing offer some of the
more curious instances of psychic phenomena on record.
There is, for example, the case of Moses’ interaction with his
several spirit controls. Moses wrote a note beneath the signature
of ‘‘Imperator’’ under a communication received on
March 3, 1876 ‘‘While I was writing the above automatically,
the underwritten pencil letters grew under my hand. No pencil
was near me. I watched them from time to time, merely covering
the page so as to get darkness.’’ On his inquiry he was told
by ‘‘Prudens’’ that it was not necessary for the communicators
to have the materials for direct writing. As a demonstration,
‘‘Magus’’ wrote in blue when there was no blue pencil in the
room and produced a red message in a closed book. When
Moses asked for a message in multicolors, the names of various
controls were signed in a closed book after a count of five in
red, blue, and black pencils.
Henry Steel Olcott also obtained colored slate writing with
the medium Cozine without the use of pencil or crayon
‘‘Papus’’ (pseudonym of Gérard Encausse) in a lecture before
the Society d’Etudes Psychiques at Nancy in 1907, related
‘‘In 1889 a well-known magnetiser, named Robert, had succeeded
in putting two subjects to sleep, a man and a girl, and
he placed them in such a state of hypnosis that these subjects
projected characters and lines of writing on blank sheets of
paper, without using a pencil or pen. The characters appeared
of themselves on the paper. Dr. Gibier and I went to study this
phenomenon. During this séance we were able to obtain in full
light on a sheet of paper, signed by twenty witnesses, the precipitation
of a whole page of written verses signed ‘Corneille.’
I examined the substance which formed the writing under the
microscope and I was led to the conclusion that it consisted of
globules of human blood, some altered and as if calcined, others
still quite distinct. ‘Papus’ believed that the blood of the medium
and his nervous force exteriorized itself and reconstructed
itself at a distance. The medium was preparing for the stage
and had studied Corneille during the whole of the preceding
day’’ (Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1907).
Sometimes direct writing was witnessed in strange forms.
Blavatsky’s Posthumous Memoirs, published by Joseph M. Wade
(1896) in Boston, is claimed to have been produced by the direct
spiritual operation of a typewriter. Direct typewriting was
also claimed by the Bangs sisters of Chicago.
Sheets of unexposed bromide paper or photographic plates
may also be impressed with direct scripts. These messages are
called psychographs. They may appear to the medium’s eyes
like luminous scrolls. The theory is that they are built on ectoplasmic
patches. They have been found on the plates of spirit
In poltergeist cases the phenomenon has also occurred. In
The Great Amherst Mystery, Dr. Carritte is standing by Esther
Cox’s bedside when all present hear the sound of writing on the
wall and looking round they see cut deeply into the plaster on
the wall the terrible words ‘‘Esther Cox, you are mine to kill.’’
The writing remained visible for years afterward.
Frau Gilbert’s control, ‘‘Dr. Franciscus Nell,’’ apparently
produced direct writing by engraving his name on cigarette
cases held under the table.
Writing in fire (i.e., by psychic lights) is another variety of
direct writing. In a séance with Ada Bessinet, Admiral Usborne
Moore saw names traced in the air in front of the sitter in letters
of bright light. The effect was not permanent and the beginning
of a letter disappeared before the end was completed.
James Hyslop writes in Contact with the Other Worlds (1919) of
his experiences with the medium Miss Burton ‘‘The messages
were written in letters of fire in the air in pitch darkness and
gave cross-references with other psychics. They had to be read
sometimes a letter at a time and repeated until I could be certain
of them.’’
Dermography, or skin writing, may also be considered a
form of direct writing, related to some aspects of stigmata.
Cholmondely-Pennell, H. ‘‘Bringing it to Book’’ Facts of SlateWriting
through Mr. W. Eglinton. London, 1884.
Holms, A. Campbell. The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy
Collated and Discussed. London, 1925. Reprint, New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1969.
Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves, First Series. Madras,
India, 1895.
Owen, J. J. Psychography. San Francisco, 1893.