Automatic expression

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Automatic expression means any form of artistic expression (most commonly writing and drawing) done without conscious effort in order to recieve messages from any intra - or extrapersonal entity other than the conscious everyday mind.

Automatic expression is a term I am coining to have a word that includes automatic writing, automatic drawing, and any other automatic art, including, but not limited to embroidery, sculpting and music. Anyone who knows an established term for this should feel free to move the article.


Automatic writing bacame first fashionable among the spiritists of 19th century and onwards. They used it primarily to communicate with the dead. It is still often used to that end. The Surrealists, a group of early 20th century painters, used it widely to gain access to their own subconsciousness, and as a means of artistic expression. They developped a variety of related techniques, called surrealist games. One of the first magicians to promote automatic drawing was Austin Osman Spare, who also was a painter and used such techniques for both magickal and artistic purposes.


Any medium or art form can be used for this purpose. magicians tend to embed such techiques in rituals, and develop their own style. So an overview article can't contain detailed instructions. Any such instructions can only be suggestion, not the definite way to do it. Instead,it will be tried to to classify the myriads of used techniques in categories and general methods.

Of course, more than one of the described methods can be used in one session, and many will practice their own unique mix of them. All of them can be used for their own sake or in the context of a bigger working. Not every technique may be suitable for any purpose, or any practitioner.

Distraction method

The practitioner holds writing, drawing or whatever else equipment in his/her hand and then gets distracted from this hand to the point of completely forgetting it. This can be done for example by reading, watching TV or even talking to someone else. For some people, the hand will write or draw intelligible things. This was among the preferred methods of 19th century spiritists. Some people, usually called mediums thanks to this, are naturals in this method. It seems to be very difficult to learn for those who are not naturals at it.

Emotional expressive method

The practitioner works himself or herself into an intense emotional state and then expresses the emotions with the chosen medium, but not by thinking up a symbolic picture. The exxpression of emotion should be as direct as possible, without thinking or planning, and without giving heed to what is produced. This seems to be most easy using music or painting/drawing, but other things are possible either.

In fact, some art and music therapies are just the same thing. It is better for consulting one's own subconsciousness than for contacting external entities (exept during invocations). This can be eaesiely combined with all sorts of rituals, especially if the objective of the automatic work is something like obtaining a sigil, helping to reach excitatory gnosis or documenting the ritual.

It is not always clear weather a particular experience should be counted here or among the several trance techniques. But that isn't important for practice at all.

Trance techniques

Flow/ artist's mode of consciousness

The practitioner paints, writes or whatever with the intention to create art.May be he/she feels inspired or guided, but not necessarily so. The artists gets very absorbed by what he/she does and the ideas flow almost automatically. Almost every artist knows the feeling that he/she is only a passive vessel for the creative power, and things just happen without conscious efford of the artist. They tend to do best, and have most fun when working in this mode. Psychologists call that Flow. This state may or may not be percieved as altered state of consciousness. One possible explanation for this state of mind is guidance by unconscious parts of the mind or even external entities. One can easiely slip into even more automatic modes of working from here. In fact some writers and musical composers claim that some of their works were done by automatic writing, although they were no spiritists or occultists. Most probably they started out from here and the rest came naturally.

This "technique" is natural to most creative persons. When empoyed consciously, it is especially useful for the creation of artwork with spiritual or magickal significance. It also can be a way to get started on automatic expression techniques. It can be easiely integrated with all kinds of rituals, or be used for creating "magickal items".

light gnosis method (Inspiration method)

The practitioner creates something with the intent to recieve communications from external entities, or unconscious parts of the own mind. Usually the practitioner will use some kind of ritual to state that intent and prepare for it. Often, but not always, this includes a means to reach light to moderate gnosis. During the experience the practitioner somehow knows what to do, he/she clearly feels guided, but still looks at his/her work, and maybe even puts conscious efford into putting down intelligible words / pictures or whatever. The experience is ussually percieved as altered state of consciousness, but the depth of that state may vary. Some may argue that this is in fact the same as the previous method, exept for the perception of the practitioner. the usual "sit down, relax, start writing" approach of the spiriitists would belong here.

deep gnosis method

The practitioner is in a deep altered state of consciousness, usually something that would be best described as trance or gnosis. He or she fumbles with some material like pencil and paper, without really knowing what he/she does. If the trance isn't very deephe/she will still know what he/she is playing with, but won't see any sense in the emerging pictures, or care to do so. This may produce clearly understandable results in some cases, but more often the results will require interpretation. This can be done in Tranceor after it, by the medium or another person.

This method isn't necessarily different fom the previous one because the gnosis is deeper, but because the practitioner has no idea what he/she is producing, and doesn't put any efford into making it intelligible.

See also