Automatic writing and automatic drawing – a letter from Comfort to Mrs Newton Crosland
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
From Matter to Spirit – The Result of Ten Years Experience in Spirit Manifestation – Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan
A very interesting account of an experiment is given by a lady who signs herself 'Comfort,' in a letter to Mrs. Newton Crosland. It is so much to the purpose, that its entire omission here would be Shakespeare's grandest play without its chief character.
'It is just a year since my hand was first guided by spirit-power to write. The discovery of this new influence dwelling within one, and softly propelling the hand to write words and sentences foreign to the ideas existing within one's own mind, must certainty be one of the most astounding moments in a human life.
I know that to myself the surprise was beyond description, especially as I had been very sceptical regarding all that I had ever heard of “spirit-mediums"
It is true I had heard only of spiritualism and its manifestations through table-tilting, rapping, and occasionally of writing, but had never seen nor had communication with any spirit-medium until this mysterious influence showed itself in our family circle, first in a younger brother, and then in myself.
'We had for years believed in the phenomena of mesmerism, and I immediately felt that this was a kindred phenomenon. The surprise and interest excited by the discovery it is scarcely possible to describe.
‘Of the true nature and of the sacred mysteries to which the writing, or, in fact, any branch of mediumship tends; of its dangers, its trials, and of the laws which guide the development of spiritualism, we were all then entirely ignorant, and to this utter ignorance must be ascribed several months of the most painful bewilderment and extremest distress of mind.
Had we been enabled to profit by the experience of other mediums, my early initiation would probably have been of a far less painful character ; but there must be the pioneers in all new discoveries of untrodden lands, and happy indeed those who through suffering are enabled to save others from suffering!
The first communications written thus mysteriously through my hand, and with ever-increasing sensations as of a most powerful mesmeric influence over my whole frame, were given, as usual, in the names of beloved departed friends and relatives, and were simple messages of affectionate greeting.
Believing that communications proceeding from a higher state of spiritual development than that of our earth, must be heavenly, pure, and true, I of course at first implicitly believed every word written by the spirit-power', believing also every word literally, not, even symbolically.
Little were we any of us aware that the intensest antagonism between truth and falsehood, between light and darkness, encounters the astounded and unprepared pilgrim upon his first entrance into the realm of spirit. The very slightest veil but separates man in the natural world from the spiritual world, which encircles him; and when that veil is raised, as it has been occasionally by the Divine wisdom in many previous ages, even as now in our own time, the soul discovers itself surrounded by a host of new and terrible enemies, as well as by hosts of all-powerful angelic friends.
But the language at first even of the angelic host is an incomprehensible mystery, for it is a language of symbols, which the newly-born child of spirit learns to construe only by slow and painful degrees.
‘Within a fortnight of the day when spirit-mediumship first came through the writing to myself, a gradual and marked change in the communications had set in. Painful messages connected with the temporal life were written, instead of those simple greetings of love from departed friends, which had first arrived. At the same time with these temporal communications came also very lovely explanations of various passages in the Gospels which had always been obscure to myself, and the most earnest commands were given to pray unceasingly to Christ as the Saviour and to trust in the Almighty's “eternal love, mercy, and peace."
The darkness was to come.
Angelic love, however, hastened to place as guides in the hands of the ignorant traveller the staff of prayer and the lamp of faith. By-and-by the messages became more and more painful, more and more temporal and exciting in their nature, because connected with my own family circle and dearest friends. At length, written in the beloved name of a departed brother, came announcements of the approaching deaths of those dearest to myself accompanied with the most painful details, and with directions for all the various medicines which would be required to ease their approaching change.
The physical mesmerisms upon me at this time were extraordinary; I felt frequently as if enveloped in an atmosphere which sent through my whole frame warm streams of electricity in waving spirals from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet; and occasionally, generally at midnight, I was seized with twitchings, and convulsive movements of my whole body, which were distressing beyond words.
All these symptoms at length came to a crisis in a frightful trance.' The writer recovered from this trance, went into the country, and regained a calmer state of mind, with a return of physical strength. She continues: -
'Being too much distressed at the issue of my first experiment in spirit-writing, I was not inclined to return to it, even had I not given my solemn promise to avoid all relapses into the mysterious experience. And thus several weeks passed on. Soon, however, I discovered that the mesmeric life was, though latent, still an ever-present guest within me, a guest who would assert his presence.
My hands, either the right or left (for the influence affected both nearly equally), if lying passive on my lap, or upon a table, or book, would begin to be moved to write; often half a word, or a whole one, or a name, would be written before I could stop them. I found that the tip of my finger placed upon a flat hard surface, would convey ideas and sentences to my brain, as though words were written through the finger instantaneously upon the hard surface. I hardly knew whether I felt the words or read them.
Also, strange knowledges regarding the medical properties of plants and their spiritual significations came to me if I held them or rubbed them upon the palm of my hand. I felt as though my palms had become clairvoyant, as in fact I had in an earlier stage discovered that the region about my heart possessed the same singular faculty when the point of my fingers was pressed against it. ‘The strange idea thus began to dawn within me, that revelation of the most sacred and spiritual knowledges can come through many other portions of the body than those usually employed to read printed books or even the book of Nature.
I began to perceive that the fleshly tabernacle is of so wonderfully spiritual a constitution that every portion of it can reflect the knowledge of the external world through its walls for the edification of the indwelling soul, its guest, whilst the soul can call forth from the invisible world knowledges unrevealed to the ordinary senses, and pour them through every portion of its tabernacle for their manifestation to the external world.
This was a lovely belief, and came in the train of many other beautiful ideas, clearing away much which had been always stumbling-blocks in my entire belief in the Scripture, and the possibility of immediate revelation.
But pain, darkness, and terror accompanied the light and the beauty; and I did not then, nor till long after, arrive at the blessed assurance that antagonism is, under the divine command, one great means of all progression, especially in spiritual and mental things.
These new trials came in terrible words, referring once more to those deaths so much dreaded by myself, being written within my body, spite of my most earnest struggles against the power, sometimes when my eyes were closed. The words were written in white or grey lines upon a dark ground. I felt them within my eyelids, or upon my breast, or within the palms of my hands. I found my physical organism become a mystic book upon which an unknown most subtle and omnipotent power could write His will. These words would often fill me with the greatest horror, and, to prevent their being inscribed, I have many and many a time started up and walked rapidly out into the fresh air, using every power of my mind to withdraw myself entirely from the inner into the external life ; but in vain: a power far mightier than my own will had commenced its lovely mysterious work within me, and was moulding my mind and body into that mystic organism for which we at the present day have no other term, or perhaps dare use no other, than medium of spirit.
So many of these organisms are being developed at the present time, that it is the bounden duty, especially of medical men, to calmly and philosophically investigate the phenomena. .
But to return to the inward spiritual writing. The writing development, no longer permitted to find its natural outlet through the hands, had now become inward. But painful as this was, and produced by a checked effort of nature, still a fresh spiritual manifestation developed out of it, the mediumship of drawing.
Together with the inward written words or sentences, now came single figures and groups of figures, all in outline of white or grey upon a dark ground; the explanations of which were written above their heads, beneath their feet, upon their robes, or on scrolls in the heavens, or upon the earth, upon their hands, upon their swords and shields, or even sometimes as if proceeding from their lips.
I could not wake in the morning without these figures instantly being drawn within my brain, over and through my heart, or within my hands. They were at once a torment and a delight -they were such a wonderful experience, so new, so awful, often of the most portentous nature, and had a character about them very much akin to Michael Angelo's Creation.
Three groups I especially remember -the “Descent of the New Jerusalem "(a majestic woman clothed in wonderful draperies studded with jewels, and wearing many crowns, and a singularly beautiful breastplate), the, End of the World,', and the “Last Judgement."
Also a less majestic figure painfully affected me at this time. Waking in the night, the strange drawing process instantly commenced, and I felt and saw within me the figure, whose countenance greatly resembled that of Christ, descending from a morning sky towards me, and bearing upon his shoulders a large cross, whilst from his lips proceeded, these words, “Love, Mercy, Peace ; but not till after death."
Again my soul trembled with anguish, for that strange portentous word Death was ever written within me or without. 'About this time I took a pencil one day to make a sketch; and whilst talking to a friend who came to speak to me at the table where I was drawing, my hand rested listlessly upon the paper before me for a minute or two. To my surprise, my hand was moved and began drawing, not the design that I had had in my mind to make, but a little head, and then a very curious initial letter, like, and yet not quite like, an initial letter in some old missal. I was surprised indeed, as I had never heard before of spiritual drawing. This, surely, could not bring with it pain like the writing, nor yet 'bewilderment. How little did I comprehend the new class of instruction which was now awaiting me!
The first drawings were very rude indeed, like the uncertain tottering lines of a child, and also singularly resembling the designs of the very early Italian painters-heads of Christ, angels, and curious female figures seated within spheres and hearts; and always these drawings were accompanied with strange ornaments of spiral and shell forms, with dots and scroll-like ciphers, which I thought odd at the time, but only months afterwards, when accidentally referring to them, discovered to be the first undeveloped attempts at writing one of the " spirit languages," so frequently I know to be referred to in your book. . . .
At times the power was withdrawn, and some other branch of spiritual development would take its place. Often, too, when I most earnestly desired to have a spiritual drawing given me, nothing but the merest scribble came. The fear also of the bewilderment of the spirit-writing accompanied me for several months whenever I drew, for at times my hand, while drawing an angel's robe, would have written through it, in curious ornament or pattern upon the drapery, words which made my soul die within me.
There was always that terrible word Death.
At length, through God's blessing, and in His own time, the key came to me. What was this word when translated into the language of heaven -- not of earth - of immortal, not mortal thought?
Change - change of state-of life-a birth into another life! And then many words and sentences began to assume other significances than those we generally assign them. And ideas of most lovely new truths gradually unfolded themselves, and old truths breathed upon by spirit were no longer dry bones, but clothed in the blooming freshness of immortal life. But all had to be learnt through prayer, faith, love, and obedience. .COMFORT.
'Comfort' has spoken of the fact that most mediums whose aspirations are high, and whose state and progress is guarded by earnest prayer, are told of their own approaching death and that of their friends. But as all the language used by the higher spirits is correspondential, this is liable to great misunderstanding if interpreted literally. Unless it be a real prediction, by a spirit still very near earth, of the material change of the medium, the death foretold is that withdrawal of the soul from its earthly loves which must precede its regeneration.
The material death may be truly fore-told by a low spirit whose clairvoyance resembles that of a person in the body, but such a spirit never gives any but an earthly name, and its character has been already sufficiently dwelt on for recognition.
But the death, foretold and insisted on by the higher and purer influences is that ‘death unto sin,' of which the Apostle Paul writes, and which is followed by a new birth unto righteousness.
The prediction of death, then, is the announcement of the first step in a journey whose every portion has its distinct phraseology in the symbolical language of spirit. That soul, whose religion is of an intellectual and moral character, is said to be still 'sojourning in Egypt.’ All the trials, back-slidings, and encouragements attending a rise into a higher spiritual state, are marked, as the events of a weary pilgrimage through the desert.