Barker, Elsa - Communication from X and automatic writing
Type of Spiritual Experience
We should bear in mind that it is also possible she was receiving the channelled thoughts of her friend, a bodied soul.
A description of the experience
Introduction to Letters from a Dead man
ONE night last year in Paris I was strongly impelled to take up a pencil and write, though what I was to write about I had no idea.
Yielding to the impulse, my hand was seized as if from the outside, and a remarkable message of a personal nature came, followed by the signature "X."
The purport of the message was clear, but the signature puzzled me.
The following day I showed this writing to a friend, asking her if she had any idea who "X" was.
"Why," she replied, "don't you know that that is what we always call Mr.—?"
I did not know.
Now, Mr.—— was six thousand miles from Paris, and, as we supposed, in the land of the living.
But a day or two later a letter came to me from America, stating that Mr.—— had died in the western part of the United States, a few days before I received in Paris the automatic message signed "X."
So far as I know, I was the first person in Europe to be informed of his death, and I immediately called on my friend to tell her that "X" had passed out. She did not seem surprised, and told me that she had felt certain of it some days before, when I had shown her the "X" letter, though she had not said so at the time.
Naturally I was impressed by this extraordinary incident.
"X" was not a spiritualist. I am not myself, and never have been, a spiritualist, and, so far as I can remember, only two other supposedly disembodied entities had ever before written automatically through my hand. This had happened when I was in the presence of a mediumistic person; but the messages were brief, and I had not attached any great importance to the phenomena.
In childhood I had several times put my hand upon a planchette with the hand of another person, and the planchette had written the usual trivialities. On one occasion, some months before the first "X" letter, I had put my hand upon a planchette with the hand of a non-professional medium, and the prophecy of a fire in my house during a certain month in the following year was written, supposedly by a dead friend, which prophecy was literally verified, though the fire was not caused by my hand, nor was it in my own apartment.
A few times, years before, I had been persuaded by friends to go with them to professional seances, and had seen so-called materialisations. I had also seen independently a few appearances which I could not account for on any other hypothesis than that of apparitions of the dead.
But to the whole subject of communication between the two worlds I felt an unusual degree of indifference. Spiritualism had always left me quite cold, and I had not even read the ordinary standard works on the subject.
Nevertheless, I had for a number of years almost daily seen "hypnagogic visions," often of a startlingly prophetic character; and the explanation of them later given by "X" may be the true explanation.
Soon after my receipt of the letter from America stating that Mr.—— was dead, I was sitting in the evening with the friend who had told me who "X" was, and she asked me if I would not let him write again—if he could.
I consented, more to please my friend than from any personal interest, and the message beginning, "I am here, make no mistake," came through my hand. It came with breaks and pauses between the sentences, with large and badly formed letters, but quite automatically, as in the first instance. The force used on this occasion was such that my right hand and arm were lame the following day.
Several letters signed "X" were automatically written during the next few weeks; but, instead of becoming enthusiastic, I developed a strong disinclination for this manner of writing, and was only persuaded to continue it through the arguments of my friend that if "X" really wished to communicate with the world, I was highly privileged in being able to help him.
"X" was not an ordinary person. He was a well-known lawyer nearly seventy years of age, a profound student of philosophy, a writer of books, a man whose pure ideals and enthusiasms were an inspiration to everyone who knew him. His home was far from mine, and I had seen him only at long intervals. So far as I remember, we had never discussed the question—of postmortem consciousness.
Gradually, as I conquered my strong prejudice against automatic writing, I became interested in the things which "X" told me about the life beyond the grave. I had read practically nothing on the subject, not even the popular Letters from Julia , so I had no preconceived ideas.
The messages continued to come. After a while there was no more lameness of the hand and arm, and the form of the writing became less irregular, though it was never very legible.
For a time the letters were written in the presence of my friend; then "X" began to come always when I was alone. He wrote either in Paris or in London, as I went back and forth between those two cities. Sometimes he would come several times a week; again, nearly a month would elapse without my feeling his presence. I never called him, nor did I think much about him between his visits. During most of the time my pen and my thoughts were occupied with other matters.
Only in one instance before the writing began had I any idea as to what the letter would contain.
One night as I took up the pencil I knew what "X" was going to write about; but, though I remember the incident, I have forgotten to which message it referred.
While writing these letters I was generally in a state of semi-consciousness, so that, until I read the message over afterwards, I had only a vague idea of what it contained. In a few instances I was so near unconsciousness that as I laid down the pencil I had not the remotest idea of what I had written; but this did not often happen.
When it was first suggested that these letters should be published with an introduction by me, I did not take very enthusiastically to the idea. Being the author of several books, more or less well known, I had my little vanity as to the stability of my literary reputation. I did not wish to be known as an eccentric, a "freak." But I consented to write an introduction stating that the letters were automatically written in my presence, which would have been the truth, though not all the truth. This satisfied my friend; but as time went on, it did not satisfy me. It seemed not quite sincere.
I argued the matter out with myself. If, I said, I publish these letters without a personal introduction, they will be taken for a work of fiction, of imagination, and the remarkable statements they contain will thus lose all their force as convincing arguments for the truth of a hereafter. If I write an introduction stating that they came by supposedly automatic writing in my presence, the question will naturally arise as to whose hand they came through, and I shall be forced to evasion.
But if I frankly acknowledge that they came through my own hand, and state the facts exactly as they are only two hypotheses will be open: first, that they are genuine communications from the disembodied entity; second, that they are lucubrations of my own subconscious mind. But this latter hypothesis does not explain the first letter signed "X," which came before I knew that my friend was dead; does not explain it unless it be assumed that the subconscious mind of each person knows everything. In which case, why should my subconscious mind set out upon a long and laborious deception of me, on a premise which had not been suggested to it by my own objective mind, or that of any other person?
That anyone would accuse me of deliberate deceit and romancing in so serious a matter did not then and does not now seem likely, my fancy having other and legitimate outlets in poetry and fiction.
The letters were probably two-thirds written before this question was finally settled; and I decided that if I published the letters at all, I should publish them with a frank introduction, stating the exact circumstances of their reception by me.
The actual writing covered a period of more than eleven months. Then came the question of editing. What should I leave out? What should I include? I determined to leave out nothing except personal references to "X's" private affairs, to mine, and to those of his friends. I have not added anything. Occasionally, when "X's" literary style was clumsy, I have reconstructed a sentence or cut out a repetition; but I have taken far less liberty than I used, as an editor, to take with ordinary manuscripts submitted to me for correction.
Sometimes "X" is very colloquial, sometimes he uses legal phraseology, or American slang. Often he jumps from one subject to another, as one does in friendly correspondence, going back to his original subject without a connecting phrase.
He has made a few statements relative to the future life which are directly contrary to the opinions which I have always held.
These statements remain as they were written. Many of his philosophical propositions were quite new to me. Sometimes I did not see their profundity until months afterwards.
I have no apology to offer for the publication of these letters.
They are probably an interesting document, whatever their source may be, and I give them to the world with no more fear than when I gave my hand to "X" in the writing of them.