Thank you for giving me the opportunity to expound upon the vast and drastic difference between "automatic writing" and the locutions given to our saints - something that has befuddled many of us.
First of all, it should be said that automatic writing has never been part of the mystical tradition of our Church. Many people believe St. Catherine of Siena used a form of automatic writing because of the fact that she did not know how to write and yet received many messages from the Lord which she was able to record. However, St. Catherine actually received the gift to write as if she had always known it and did not participate in any form of guided writing.
On the other hand, automatic writing is similar to the use of a Ouija board, but instead of spelling out answers to questions with a planchette, a person "receives" these answers on paper. They hold a pen which is said to move independently across the page and write out messages, usually from deceased persons or from unknown discarnate entities.
Automatic writing is also known as trance writing because the person goes into a kind of trance and writes whatever comes to mind very quickly and without forethought. New Agers believe this allows a person to tap into the subconscious mind where the "true self" exists and where deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed.
Others use automatic writing to access outside "intelligences" and spiritual entities for advice and guidance.
Some psychotherapists also employ the practice as a way to release repressed memories although there is no scientific evidence proving that trance writing has any therapeutic value.
There are many famous automatic writers, such as a Swiss spirit medium named Helene Smith (nee Catherine-Elise Muller) a French psychic who invented an entire written language with which she claimed to be communicating with Martians. (Believe it or not, the book she wrote about her Martian friends was a best seller in her day!) She also claimed to be a reincarnation of a Hindu princess and Marie Antoinette. In the end, however, her Martian language was found to be suspiciously similar to the French language, which was, by the way, her native tongue.
Another famous automatic writer was Jane Roberts, a psychic and spirit medium who claimed to be channeling a spirit named Seth who imparted all the wisdom of the universe to her which she shared with the rest of the world in a series of best-selling books. Roberts and her husband met Seth while playing with a Ouija board and eventually abandoned the board and took up pen and paper to continue their dialogue. Roberts' husband even painted a picture of Seth, which the entity claimed was a very good rendition of himself. During these sessions with Seth, the entity would take control of Jane and she would speak aloud while her husband wrote down everything she said.
Helen Schucman, the author of A Course in Miracles, is another famous automatic writer who claimed to have been channeling Jesus Christ when she wrote her now famous course in brainwashing which is designed to totally dismantle a person's Judeo-Christian worldview. Schucman insisted that Jesus dictated the book to her over the course of seven years, describing His voice as being "strictly mental . . . otherwise I would consider it hallucinatory activity."
Contrast these examples with the writings of the saints who compose only what God inspires them to write while being fully alert and aware of what they’re writing. They’re not in a trance or allowing themselves to serve as a channel, which is the case with automatic writing.
"Mystics have always been respected in their humanity and their liberty, and have never been guided by God against their will and forced to do things that they could not achieve otherwise," says Father François-Marie Dermine who believes the writings of Vassula Ryden are a form of automatic writing.
While mystics are known to go into states of ecstasy, God does not "possess" their bodies and use them to do His bidding. He always respects the free will of His creatures.
As for the kinds of locutions Christians may experience, these can occur in several different forms.
Corporeal locutions are those actually heard by the physical power of hearing, which are very rare and, therefore, highly suspect. The devil is more than capable of speaking to us and can fool even the most adept soul. The saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, recommend that we ignore these messages entirely.
Imaginary locutions are those referring to the imaginative faculty which receives the same kind of impression it would have received had it heard words.
Intellectual locutions are considered the most reliable. In this type, God imprints what He is about to say in the depth of the spirit, without the use of a voice or sounds. It is often described as an "infusion of knowledge," or a sudden clear understanding of some subject or situation.
Receiving these locutions doesn't occur in a vacuum. They are most commonly found in the lives of people who are deeply committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who are genuinely seeking communion with God.
As for automatic writing, a single blog does not afford enough space to elaborate on the many spiritual dangers inherent in this practice. Suffice to say one is putting their soul at risk by opening themselves to the influence of occult forces.
It is also important to note that because practices such as automatic writing are considered to be a form of divination, they are categorically condemned by the Church because they "all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone." (Catechism No. 2116)
In his book, A Still Small Voice, Father Benedict Groeschel does an excellent job of explaining the difference between authentic and false revelations, as well as how to properly assess the "messages" we may hear.
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