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Observations placeholder

Rosalind Heywood - Cross-Correspondences (2)



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Cross-Correspondences (2) -  - Rosalind Heywood -

         A NUMBER OF automatists were engaged in tile cross correspondences and their reactions and methods of producing scripts we're varied. Mrs Wilson 'saw' pictures and then described them. Others spoke of their interior impressions; others would both speak and write; others again, Mrs Verrall for instance, would only write. She generally fell into the more or less dissociated state common to most automatists, getting very sleepy at times and occasionally for a moment losing consciousness altogether.

'Whether I write in the light or in the dark,' she said, 'I do not look at the paper. I perceive a word or two but never understand whether it makes sense with what goes before... When the script is finished I often cannot say till I read it what language has been used, as the recollection of the words passes away with extreme rapidity...'

Her daughter, Miss Verrall, would speak more often than write, and afterwards she too could remember but little of what she had said. Both their scripts purported to come from Myers, but Mrs Holland's were sometimes signed Gurney or Sidgwick. A fifth automatist, Mrs Willett, also got scripts signed Verrall after Dr Verrall had died.

Mrs Holland said that she was always fully conscious when writing but that the pencil moved too quickly for her to grasp any meaning. To amuse herself she had written automatically for ten years before she read Human Personality. In it she came upon some experiences similar to her own, which she had been unable to understand, and this encouraged her to write about these to Alice Johnson, the Secretary of the SPR. Miss Johnson asked for details which Mrs Holland sent. Her scripts, she said, had always come at great speed; she once wrote fourteen poems in an hour. On one occasion she had been surprised to find that she had written a letter beginning with a pet name and signed with another, both of which were unknown to her.

'It was clearly impressed on me for whom the letter was intended,' she told Miss Johnson, 'but thinking it due to some unhealthy fancy of my own, I destroyed it ... I was punished by an agonizing headache and the letter was repeated, till in self-defence I sent it and the succeeding ones to their destination.'

The recipient told her that the handwriting resembled that of someone who had been dead some years and that the letters were signed with the name of that person and referred to matters known only to them. Beyond that he did not wish to discuss the matter. On three later occasions Mrs Holland wrote similar letters and these all came as a surprise both to her and to the recipients, with whom she was never more than slightly acquainted.

Mrs Holland's share in the cross correspondences began when she was about thirty-five. She told Miss Johnson that she was not a person with any morbid desire for wonders and she had no connection with spiritualism.

'It puzzles me a little,' she wrote, 'that with no desire to consider myself exceptional I do sometimes see, hear, feel or otherwise become conscious of beings and influences that are not patent to all. Is this a frame of mind to be checked, or permitted or encouraged? I should like so much to know. My own people hate what they call "uncanniness" and I am obliged to hide from them the keen interest I cannot help feeling in psychic matters.'

In this somewhat lonely situation it seems natural enough that when she learnt for the first time from Myers' book that intelligent and balanced people did not consider psi to be necessarily morbid or hysterical, her scripts should claim to be inspired by Myers, even if they were in fact subjectively produced. On the other hand, if a discarnate Myers did exist, it is perhaps conceivable that Mrs Holland's interest in his book might have singled her out for him, turned a searchlight upon her, in some telepathic fashion to us unknown. It was after doing some automatic writing in November 1903 that she first sent a 'Myers' script to Miss Johnson. Her hand had scrawled the letter F, which, although she did not know it, happened to be a habitual signature of Myers. She remarked:

'My hand feels very shaky, shall I let it scrawl?' and the script answered: 'Yes; let it go quite freely, just exactly as it likes!'

F then wrote that he wished to speak to some old friends, Miss J. and A. W. (Alice Johnson and Dr A. W. Verrall) and added:

'There is so much to say and yet so very little chance of saying it - communication is so tremendously difficult - the brain of the agent [the automatist is meant] though indispensable is so hampering.'

After this came a pretty accurate description of Dr Verrall, whom Mrs Holland had never seen, and finally:

'It is like entrusting a message on which infinite importance depends to a sleeping person - get a proof - try for a proof if you feel this is a waste of time without. Send this to Mrs Verrall, 5 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge.'

As we have seen, Mrs Holland, being sceptical, did not obey these instructions but sent the script to Miss Johnson. She wrote in a covering letter:

'... I am glad to know that you agree with me as to the harmlessness of automatic writing for a person of average common sense. Its snare for me lies in the direction of boredom rather than of blind faith. However in September I experimented for one week ... every morning ... at 11am. That is a good commonplace hour when one is not likely to be over imaginative ... Will you forgive me for troubling you with the writing? I do not like to suppress it as it gave me the impression of someone very anxious to establish communication, but with not much power to do it ...’

Two years later a previous 'Myers' script by Mrs Holland was discovered to be a correct description of Mrs Verrall's dining-room, except that she had described a filter which stood in a dark corner as a bust. Such trivial incidents provoke a number of questions. If Mrs Holland drew her information by telepathy from the obvious source, Mrs Verrall, why did she mistake the filter for a bust? If it came by direct clairvoyance of the actual room, has clairvoyance limitations in common with physical vision? For the same mistake had been made by a Cambridge friend of Mrs Verrall's, and when Mrs Holland's script was read to him he exclaimed:

'But there is a bust in your dining-room.'

Could she have drawn her information from this total stranger? Or if, as the script claimed, it came from Myers, when did he make the mistake, in life or after?

Other Holland scripts could well have resulted from direct telepathy with Mrs Verrall. Two contained good descriptions of her and in one was written 'a new dress not a black one this time', at a time when Mrs Verrall was being persuaded to order a new coloured dress instead of a black one as she had intended. Such cases, however, merge into others when the explanation of simple telepathy becomes more difficult. And it may always be that to seek such an either/or type of explanation for any of them is barking up the wrong tree.

In January 1904, when Mrs Holland had been getting scripts from her 'Myers' for thirteen months, he wrote:

'... It is impossible for me to know how much of what I send reaches you and how much you are able to set down - feel as if I had presented my credentials - reiterated the proofs of my identity in a wearisomely frequent manner - but yet I cannot feel as if I had made any true impression upon them. Surely you sent them what I strove so to transmit - Your pride, if you name nervous vanity pride was surely not strong enough to weigh against my appeals - Even here under present conditions I should know I should thrill responsive to any real belief on their part - Oh it is a dark load ...'

Another script, signed Gurney, also showed signs of displeasure.

'... Back again in the old despondency. Why don't you write daily? You seem to form habits only to break them...'

Mrs Holland told Miss Johnson that when this script came she had in fact been steadily resisting any impulse to do automatic writing, for she was very busy and interruptions jarred on her painfully. One cannot escape a certain sympathy with the communicators, whatever they were, for this script too joined the others in Miss Johnson's file, since she had not yet noticed the links between the Holland and Verrall scripts. Both these scripts also lament another shortcoming, the fear felt by educated automatists of being led up the garden path.

'... Do try to forget your abiding fear of being made a fool or a dupe. If we ever prompt you to fantastic follies you may leave us... It's a form of restless vanity to fear that your hand is imposing upon yourself as it were... You should not be discouraged if what is written appears to you futile - Most of it is not meant for you... I do wish you would not hamper us by trying to understand every word you write ... '

Mrs Holland's 'Gurney' was quite tough with her.

'... If you don't care enough to try every day for a short time, better drop it altogether. It's like making appointments and not keeping them. You endanger your own, powers of sensitiveness and annoy us bitterly - G.'

Her 'Myers', on the other hand, was gentle but sad.

'The nearest simile I can find to express the difficulties of sending a message is that I appear to be standing behind a sheet of frosted glass - which blurs sight and deadens sound - dictating feebly - to a reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretary. A feeling of terrible impotence burdens me ...'

This sort of lament was repeated again and again.

'Oh, if I could only get to them - could only leave you the proof positive that I remember - recall - know - continue.'

'Yet another attempt to run the blockade - to strive to get a message through - How can I make your hand docile enough - how can I convince them?... Oh, I am feeble with eagerness - How can I best be identified? ... Edmund's help is not here with me just now - I am trying alone amid unspeakable difficulties ...'

At the time Mrs Holland was writing this Mrs Piper's 'Myers' wrote that he was 'trying with all the forces to prove that I am Myers'. All this, whatever its source, is characteristic enough of the living Myers, who with dedicated intensity had given his life to an effort to prove survival by the methods of science. The same intensity is often found in Mrs Willett's scripts. Her 'Gurney' wrote:

'... the passionate desire to return to drive into incarnate minds the conviction of one's own identity the partial successes and the blank failures ... I know the burden of it to the uttermost fraction ...' Mrs Willett noted that in this script there was a terrible sense of struggle - almost of pain.'

It is worth pausing again to imagine the problems facing such men, did they indeed survive death with the same basic consciousness as before. How, lacking a physical vehicle, could they communicate scientifically acceptable evidence of their identity to the living, whose attention is normally concentrated on physical impressions? Myers in life had believed the answer to lie in that mysterious form of linkage he labelled telepathy, by which the living seem able to dispense with physical methods of transmission between themselves. But even between the living, telepathic communications are sporadic, vague, disjointed and short. Few people can make lengthy contact with their subconscious 'receiving layer' and when they do they bring up very mixed bags culled from diverse sources which it is hard for the investigator to locate or disentangle. Moreover, items of genuine outside information are often distorted or overlaid by the sensitive's own associations which the outside item itself has stirred up as a falling stone stirs up mud in a pond. A typical example of this occurs in what is known as the Spirit Angel cross correspondence(1). Mrs Verrall's 'Myers' wrote:

(1) Proceedings SPR, Vol. XXII, p. 200 et seq.

'But you keep going round the idea instead of giving three plain words, "Lost Paradise Regained".'

These words were a direct allusion to the subject of the cross correspondence. Then followed the irrelevant phrase, 'Of man's first disobedience...' and then, after a pause, 'No, that is something else...' But such pauses and comments are exceptional. Only too often the cross correspondence sensitives, like all others, wander along a train of thought of their own which has been aroused by what may have been a genuine outside stimulus. Hence, even if the Myers group scripts do originate with their purported authors they are likely at best to be greatly coloured and modified by the personality of the automatist. The communicators themselves often complain that the automatists are very inefficient channels, and they add that on their side too they have their troubles. To approach the incarnate, they say, is like diving into a black fog(2).

(2) A hypothetical communicator might also be faced with the problem of what to talk about. Even when a living person's brain is experimentally or pathologically modified, he finds the words and concepts of physical life unsuited to describe his resultant experiences and is driven to analogies and poetic images. This would presumably apply even more to discarnate conditions.

There are reasons enough, then, why sensitives wander up pointless byways and get involved with extraneous matter in a fashion exasperating to the clear cut mind and either/or outlook of the investigator trained in physical science. But if the scripts do not originate with Myers and his friends, what are the alternatives? Could chance coincidence account for the thirty years' linkage between dozens of scripts? To check this it is worth doing a simple test: with closed eyes place a finger at random on a number of passages in various books and try to create from them a cross correspondence with a controlling theme. The results have little in common with the recorded cross correspondences. Are these, then, due to conscious fraud on the part of all concerned? If so, we have to believe that men and women of the calibre of Balfour, Lodge, Mrs Sidgwick and Dr and Mrs Verrall jointly indulged in this fraud for thirty years. Or if the automatists only were cheating, we must suppose that the austere and upright Mrs Verrall trained a team of virtuous Edwardian ladies, such as Dame Edith Lyttelton and Mrs Coombe-Tennant, year after year to palm off spurious scripts on the ,investigators, scripts too which were often written under their own eyes. The motive here would be far to seek, for in Cambridge society Mrs Verrall's automatism was anything but a social asset. Moreover, long term hoaxes at cross correspondence level would involve a great deal of work. Mr W. H. Salter, who has been Honorary Secretary of the SPR for thirty years and who saw the cross correspondences at first hand, as he married Miss Helen Verrall, has pointed out that this too is easy to test. To construct an elementary cross correspondence, a topic or quotation from a particular author must be chosen and further quotations collected from his work which allude to this topic but do not mention it directly. Puns are allowed. Finally an independent investigator must find the clue which binds the quotations into a coherent whole. Anyone who tries to construct a cross correspondence of the quality of those which claimed to come from the Myers group will sympathize with the remark in Mrs Willett's script which purported to be made by Dr Verrall shortly after his death:

'This sort of thing is more difficult to do than it looked.'

But it is possible that the cross correspondences resulted from subconscious fraud on the part of the living, since subconsciously even the most upright can be shameless dramatists. If this is the answer the main suspect is obviously Mrs Verrall, for she knew two of the purported communicators, Sidgwick and Myers, personally, she was interested in psi and she was a very good classical scholar. But in all there were seven communicators, three of whom she did not know, and she did not recognize the many references to them in her scripts. If she were indeed the designer of the cross correspondences the network of telepathy implied is still astounding. For years she must subconsciously have taught the subconscious selves of her scattered pupils their roles in the long term hoax - which was of course perpetrated on her own surface self as well as on other people. But she died in 1916 and the interlinked scripts still went on, when there appeared to be no one left who combined her personal knowledge of the Myers group with the classical scholarship and deep interest presumably needed to induce the subconscious to work out such elaborate patterns.

If subconscious deception by the living is still the answer it looks as if, unknown to himself, some other classical scholar was holding a subconscious class in deception, or as if the team of automatists were subconsciously pecking their scholarship from some sources and the personal memories of the Myers group from others(2).

(2) That this is conceivable is suggested by experiments conducted by Dr S. B. Soal with a Mrs Stewart many years later. These are recorded in Chapter XVI

Although Piddington disliked the idea of survival, as the years went by both he and the other investigators were more and more driven towards the authorship claimed by the scripts as their most plausible explanation. But we have already seen that psychical research is like a treasure hunt in which some invisible humourist places wonderful clues, and then, when these appear almost conclusive, throws in just one more which may lead in the opposite direction. This is what happened in what is known as the Sevens case. Piddington decided to leave a sealed letter containing information about himself known to nobody else and he hoped to be able to communicate its contents through g sensitive after his death before the letter was opened. (This seemed a more watertight proof of survival then than it does since experimental evidence of clairvoyance through packs of cards has been obtained.) In the letter he described his habit, which he called a 'tic', of playing with the number seven. walking m groups of seven steps, counting objects in sevens, observing sevens 'm literature and so on. Of course he kept the letter a strict secret, but three years after he wrote it six of the cross correspondence automatists began to bespatter their scripts with allusions to seven. Mrs Piper's preference was for 'We are Seven', and she also wrote about the clock on the stairs going 'tick, tick', - typical twist this of the kind that results from the medium's own associations. The existence of a cross correspondence shouted itself aloud to those who read the scripts, and at last Mr Piddington was driven to confess that the allusions tallied with the content, of his intended posthumous letter.

What is the answer here? Did Piddington have a leaky mind? Did it leak to so many automatists because of their common interests? And was it unable to leak until he had ceased to give the letter much conscious thought? The scripts themselves proffered another explanation in some quite plausible detail. They said that Myers had observed Piddington's plan and had caused the leak. It is true that at the time when Piddington was writing his letter in London, Mrs Verrall's 'Myers' wrote the cryptic sentence in Surrey:

'Note the hour - in London half the message has come ... surely Piddington will see that this is enough and should be acted upon.'

In view of later events this can be interpreted as suggesting that Myers thought he would produce evidence of his own survival by broadcasting his knowledge of Piddington's message before the latter's death. Moreover, when the cross correspondence had been achieved, but before Mrs Verrall knew that Piddington had written his letter, her 'Myers' also wrote:

'Has Piddington found the bits of his sentence scattered among you all?'

He had indeed. It is noteworthy that the Sevens case developed a secondary and meaningful cross correspondence not implicit in Piddington's letter and for which therefore it cannot be assumed that he was psychically responsible. This was a series of references to the meeting with Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise Cantos of Dante's Purgatorio.

So once more the explorers were left with plausible evidence for communication between the living and the surviving dead, but once more that evidence had a leak in it. In the end, however, it did bring conviction to Mr Piddington, who had spent much of his life on the scripts, and it led even the ultra-cautious Mrs Sidgwick to commit herself to the statement:

'I myself think that the evidence is pointing towards the conclusion that our fellow workers are still working with us.'

And Lord Balfour's personal belief, arrived at, he said, after much study and reflection, leaned 'strongly in favour of an affirmative answer'. But they could only say: I believe. They could not say: I know.


"The Sixth Sense" by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and Windus Ltd).


The source of the experience

Verrall, Margaret

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Automatic writing