Hello! I hope you’re all having a wonderful spring? The season has well and truly woken up here in Lancashire, with many plants and trees bursting in to life! The poplar tree in the garden is starting to fluff up nicely, and will soon scatter it’s seed. Blanketing our garden in a cotton wool-like snow. The nettles are thriving, daffodils are everywhere, and at home, the weather is now warm enough for us to start planting and propagating this years seeds for our urban homestead. Bliss!
I don’t know about you, but this long awaited spring is certainly waking me up to new possibilities and projects. One such project was to do a full house cleansing, a complete top to toe physical clean, followed by a good old drumming and psychic and energetic cleanse of the home. It was while doing this spring clean that I found my automatic writing Planchette! A tool I had temporarily misplaced, which is easily done when you have as many divination tools and decks as I do.
As such, I thought that this would perhaps be the perfect opportunity to share with you some of my own experiences of automatic writing, as well as some of my tried and tested methods for use.
So, as usual, grab yourself a cup or mug of your favourite drink (mines a hot steamy mug of loose chamomile and lemon balm tea), sit yourself down, and join me while we discuss the Planchette.
The History Of The Planchette.
The word ‘Planchette’ is French and stems from the term “little plank”.
The Planchette’s date of origin is often debated, but possibly goes back to the 1700’s and may have been used as a game or source of entertainment in the French courts. I can find nothing to substantiate this theory, but seeing as King Louis XV was rumoured to have had a strong academic and personal interest in the Occult, it is then entirely possible the Planchette, in some form, made it’s first appearance within the French Court.
However, one of the earliest written accounts of the use of this tool for automatic writing comes from France in 1853. French educator and founder of ‘Spiritsm‘, Allan Kardec, recorded that the Planchette was supposedly invented on June 10th 1853. Kardec is said to have witnessed a long winded and complicated séance that involved the calling out of alphabet letters and then waiting to see if spirit would knock in reply to indicate various letters and eventually convey a message.
A participant of the séance then suggested turning a basket upside down, and securing a pen inside, thus allowing other participants to each touch the basket and allow spirit to influence and move the basket and pen in order to write down a message.
The use of the Planchette would go on to become very popular during the ‘Spiritualist’ boom of the mid to late 1800’s, both here in the U.K and in America.
Here in Britain, the death of Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria’s subsequent extensive and even morbid period of mourning, created an increased interest in both death and the after life. Queen Victoria herself was said to have held an interest in spiritualism, and this interest seems to have trickled down through her court, down to outer courts, and then eventually the upper and middle classes. However, it was not just royalty who held occult and spiritualist interests, celebrities and writers of the time, such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also pursued communion with the deceased.
As well as an increase in both spiritualist and occult practices, the Victorians began to construct huge necropolis cemeteries to house their dead. One such necropolis would be Highgate cemetery in North London. A place that is also said to be Europe’s most haunted cemetery, with included sightings of Vampires and the infamous Spring Heeled Jack. Over the pond in America, a fascination with spiritualism was also being explored. A combination of the famous Fox sisters and a desperate need for many to seek contact with loved ones who had died during the American civil war led to many well-to-do American’s exploring table tipping meetings, séances, and also the use of the Planchette.
It’s perhaps an interesting observation to note that it does appear that historically, when the upper classes practiced the occult, divination, or contacted a spiritualist medium, it was seen to be an interesting, time worthy, and even fashionable pursuit…
Yet, when the lower classes explored divination, magic and occult knowledge- or a local cunning person took part in necromancy, they were deemed to be ‘Witches’ and practicing heresy, which ultimately, historically at least, carried a prison and death sentence. In more recent history, one may have been prosecuted for fraud, much like poor Helen Duncan was in 1933 and again in 1944. This is one of the many reasons why I find it perplexing and even frustrating when some naively say that the craft (in general, not particularly Wicca) was, or is, free from classist structures. It really isn’t, and has never been, in my personal opinion.
One of the first recordings of planchettes being produced for the use of communing with the dead was in 1853, France. However, these were on a small scale production and not then made for international use.
In 1868, a sensationalist article was published in the British publication ‘Once A Week’, and for want of a better word, this article went viral and was reprinted all over the world! This ultimately led to a huge interest in the Planchette and it being mass produced by toy companies (including the still popular Chad Valley company) This mass production would occur again in the 1800’s with the Ouija board, which was also a Victorian ‘toy’ marketed as a parlour game.
In time, interest in the Planchette waned in favour of the more sensationalist Ouija board. Even today, getting hold of a well made and reliable Planchette is not always easy. I had my current one made from scratch by an Etsy artist.
On a purely speculative note, I think one of the many reasons why the Planchette fell out of favour was because, like the Ouija board, it became a convenient ‘bogeyman’ for American media outlets and Hollywood to condemn as a gateway to hell and it’s demons. After all, how many horrors films are there where both the Planchette and the Ouija board are said to be terrifying tools of soul destruction, or the cause of poltergeist activity? When in reality, both are no more dangerous than the tarot, candle scrying, runes, or any other form of medium or divinatory tool. However, tell a society often enough that something is to be feared at all costs, and eventually they will believe it and become prone to hysteria. I do also wonder if this tools difficulty and unreliability in use contributed to it’s falling out of favour. After all, it can be used by the solitary practitioner, but often yields better results when used by a group. It also requires time and patience, as you will usually find you will get an awful lot of unintelligible scribbles before anything of interest comes through. Another possible culprit for the planchette not being favoured today is because it’s not a clear cut divination tool. Where it certainly can be used for divinatory purposes, it’s main use is to commune with spirits of the dead, and therefore it is a tool often more favoured by spiritualists than us folk witches. That being said, it’s still an applicable tool for those of us that walk a folk way path, especially for practitioners such as myself who regularly commune with spirit but do not conveniently ‘fit’ the medium or spiritualist category- or simply don’t want to be lumped in with them.
A Note On Psychic Protection.
Both the planchette and it’s cousin, the Ouija board, have an unfair and unrealistic reputation of being tools linked to all sorts of sensationalist hype. Such as demonic possession, hauntings, spirit attachments, poltergeist activity and so on.
The reason why I find this reputation to be unfair is because in reality, any tool used to draw information from spirit or the ‘other side’ has the vague potential to draw in mischief or cause psychic attack, this includes tools such as the Tarot and even mirrors! Yet, it is usually only the Planchette and Ouija board that are finger pointed as being dangerous, or have over egged urban myths attached to them.
In part, this has been caused by Hollywood, but more so by American Christian fundamentalists spreading rumours that eventually become urban myths and ghost stories. Their objective being to scare youngsters away from the occult and towards their God.
In truth, or at the very least, the truth that I have both known and come to observe after many many years of being a practicing Witch and Occultist, is that yes, magical tools do have a small to moderate risk of inviting trouble in for the practitioner. However, this is usually only a problem to those who are dabbling, or where the seeker is prone to hysteria, suffers from severe mental health problems, addiction, or has not taken the time to practice and implement adequate psychic and magical protection. That’s not me being ableist, but the truth is, someone who is physically or emotionally more vulnerable is far more likely to experience some negative experience with a Planchette then someone who not only doesn’t have such health problems, but also has a strong occult foundation and protection around them.
No matter the type of practitioner, be that Folk Witch or Wiccan, Druid or Shaman, Occultist, etc, one should always seek to build a strong and sturdy foundation in both psychic and magical protection BEFORE practicing any form of magic, working, ritual, divination, and especially necromancy.
Energetic protection enables the practitioner to work safely and efficiently, and therefore lowers the risk of psychic attack, spirit attachment, possession and so on.
In fact one of the reasons that I suspect tools such as Planchettes and Ouija boards do not always work as well for the more experienced Witch and Occultist is purely because they are so well protected. After all, if a ghost or spirit cannot draw upon your energy to make a tool work, or- if when working in a group to use a Planchette, the other participants cannot combine their collective energy with yours as easily, it can potentially prevent the experiment or ritual from working. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, as experienced practitioners we can, in theory, ‘tweak’ our energetic boundaries to both allow us to stay safe, while simultaneously working with such tools. But that is a complex topic of it’s own, and worthy of an entire workshop or blog of it’s own!
In conclusion, Planchettes are no more dangerous than any other occult tool, but it’s always advisable to avoid using if you’re not confident in your skills or psychic protection.
So, Where Do Folk Witches Come In?
It’s true that the automatic writing Planchette was initially invented for the upper classes and spiritualist circles to experiment with in their meetings. Now, in some ways, this may seem a million miles away from what is often seen as the ‘low magic’ folk ways of the every day Witch, who more often than not, historically at least, was either from a rural farming community, or lumped in with the rest working classes. After all, many of us would still identify as being part of the working classes today, but that does not mean we cannot take up opportunity when it comes knocking at our door…
With the Neo-Pagan boom of the 20th, and still ongoing in this, the 21st Century, it has become much easier to source tools that perhaps our predecessors within previous generations of folk workers could not. Today, in 2023, one can buy almost anything, if you have the pennies to do so. Which means, as folk witches, we can potentially explore tools that are perhaps not historically associated with us and our practices.
There are no hard and fast rules with folk witch practices. What is applicable in practice for one folk witch, may not be so to the next. Especially when taking into account regional inspirations, culture, heritage, and more. This means that for the Witch who has the time, energy, and a proclivity to so, they can take time to explore tools and practices from outside their usual circles. Individual folk witches will often hold different areas of strength, interest, and natural abilities. Some like myself may be Birth Doula’s and practice holistic family care, others may be herbalists, Tarot readers, mediums and so on. So, for the Witch who is interested in communing with spirit, or using spirit for the purposes of divination (necromancy), the Planchette is a worthy tool of exploration.
Sourcing A Planchette.
There are a lot of, quite frankly, shit, Planchettes out there in Google land, and it is wise to take care when looking for a Planchette and parting with any of your money.
Ideally you’re looking for one made in the country you live in, handmade from wood (with exception to the metal wheels and the plastic pen that that it may hold), is plain and not marked with any symbols or motifs, as this can interfere with transmission- even blocking messages if the Planchette is marked with a protective symbol such as the pentagram.
It doesn’t matter whether the tool operates by pen or pencil, providing they are each of good quality, you will still likely get interesting results.
Occasionally both some makers and seekers of the Planchette will place special interest and emphasis upon what wood the Planchette is made from. In all honesty, I’ve not found that it makes a huge difference in the tools efficacy, but if it is something you want to look into, by all means, do so.
If you are going to buy a Planchette, I highly recommend looking at artists on sites such as Etsy. These are not only carefully made by hand, but can often be tweaked according to any specifications you may have- and you’re supporting small businesses.
How The Planchette Works.
In theory, the Planchette works by being an intermediary tool used by one or more people to connect with spirit. Some believe the spirit will seek to join it’s energy with the living who are using the tool in order to influence it and create writing, symbols, or other markings on the paper, which can then be deciphered by the living.
Others suggest that spirit communicates with the living seekers on a subconscious level, and that they, the living, are then able to intuitively move the planchette in accordance to what is being whispered to their subconscious mind by spirit.
There are of course other theories and ideas, in fact there are many of them and this is by no means an exhaustive list or thesis on the matter, but I have listed the two theories that are most in line with my own personal experiences with this particular tool.
Getting Ready, All The Practical’s.
When getting ready to use the Planchette for an automatic writing exercise, there are a few advisories that I would offer, purely based on my own experiences and knowledge on this activity.
- Choose a time with significance. For example, if a general reading, you may find the night time works better than the day time, as it holds less distractions from the outside world. Or that you want to use more lunar energies and so choose a full or new moon. For others attempting to speak with a specific spirit, you may like to operate on a date that holds significance to the spirit. For example, choosing a date that was their birthday, anniversary, death, or funeral day. For seeking ancestors in general, you may prefer to work on Samhain or even All Souls Day. Another potential date to operate the Planchette on is the Summer Solstice. It is another liminal date within the calendar where the veil is thinner, it’s also a time when some believe you’re more likely to commune with spirits that were never human, such as the Sidhe, Boggarts, or other spirits of the land- So keep your protection up and be careful and aware of who it is that is that you are attempting to commune with, or who is reaching out to you. Faeries or spirits of the land are not all pretty little helpers, like those portrayed in Victorian and Edwardian art. They are often capricious and even sometimes, dangerous entities.
- When You have chosen an ideal date and time, decide if you are going to be working alone, as a couple, or as part of a larger group. DO NOT have people in your group who have serious health issues, addiction, or severe mental health problems, as this particular exercise can exacerbate heath concerns, or be potentially exploited by any unpleasant spirits (should there be any). And even where a spirit is not necessarily ‘negative’, the energy it needs to draw upon in order to influence the Planchette can sometimes be stressful enough to exacerbate severe or complex medical needs in some people.
- Prepare a sturdy table that is clean, tidy and spacious. You will also need a good quality large sheet of paper that is preferably taped
to the table. This stops the paper sliding all over the place when you’re trying to use it!
- Ground, centre, and put in place any additional protection you feel that you need, or tweak already existing protective methods you have.
- It’s often handy to keep a camera and notebook on hand so that you can photograph results in order to document them, as well as writing down any messages from spirit.
- If you are someone who can go into trance, and were planning on using the Planchette alone, you may want to have partner or friend with you to act as an ‘anchor’. One who can bring you back out of trance and help you ground afterwards.
- Keep children and pets away to avoid disruption and accidents. Automatic- or spirit writing requires undivided attention.
Using The Planchette.
When using a Planchette, it will require a lot of time, patience, focus, and energy. How one feels or experiences these exercises is often subjective. Some say they feel as though a spirit is stood behind them, and influencing their hand over the Planchette. Where others will say they feel completely taken over by spirit when doing this sort of activity- though I find this concerning, and do see it as a bit of a red flag. Especially in those who are not experienced and are simply dabbling.
It is common for users to sometimes feel odd sensations in their hands while touching the Planchette, and this can range from feeling hot, cold, or even buzzing sensations- like the Planchette is humming or vibrating. Users have also described the feeling of the Planchette beneath their fingers as being tugged, but by what they cannot see.
It’s a good idea to document any thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that occur for you while using this tool, this will help you to quickly get to grips with how the Planchette works, and understand what are normal activity sensations for you, and what are not.
When operating this tool, be that on your own or as part of a group, it’s always a good idea to set the space up properly. Not just the obvious paper that is taped down to the surface you’re using, but also making sure the room is clean and tidy, warm, has adequate lighting (either overhead or candle light, whichever works for you), and free from pets and any draughts. The more relaxed, confident and prepared you feel, the more likely the exercise will work.
When setting up for an automatic writing session, a good circle of protection is always advisable. Some practitioners like to perform the LBRP (The lesser banishing ritual of the Pentagram) beforehand, where others prefer something a little less ritualistic and high magick, but powerful none the less. I personally create a circle of protection using one of my own methods, marking out the circle with either my wand of witches pin. And this works well for me. As a practitioner, how you cast a protective circle or space to work in is entirely up to you, but it is advisable to do.
When starting a session, I like to offer up a simple prayer, often spontaneous, but one that invokes protection, sets the intention of the exercise, and ideally calls out to a specific spirit that I am trying to reach out to. This works to create connection and ground before working.
It can be quite exciting when and if the Planchette gets going and begins moving around the board or paper, but try to stay calm. Taking slow deep breathes, re-cantering and focusing helps the exercise to remain stable. Getting giddy can sometimes skew results, and that can ruin the whole point of the exercise.
If for any reason, you use a Planchette and become anxious, scared, or you sense something is going wrong, you can stop immediately. Once you stop, I would advise saying aloud a prayer of your choice (either spontaneous or one written) that lets the space, Planchette, and spirits know that the working is done, and that any spirits there are now dismissed in love and respect.
Put the Planchette away, change the lighting, blow out any candles, and release your circle. You can then do a grounding exercise of your choice, and if you want to, you can cleanse the space with drumming, incense, or whatever method you prefer.
Practice Makes Perfect.
Don’t be disheartened if you find that your first, second, or even third attempts yield no interesting results! This seems to be quite normal. The reason for this is because there are so many variables. For example:
1) What time did you do the experiment?
2) Who was participating?
3) Were they seekers or sceptics? (sceptics can not only knock the confidence of believers, but also don’t offer any genuine energy to an exercise that that do not believe in)
4) Whether you were nervous, or over confident.
5) What dates, moon phases, or significant cultural dates you were working on.
6) Who you were trying to contact etc
These are all some of the many variables that go into whether you have a successful experience with the Planchette or not. I’ve found it takes time to get the hang of this tool and gain some fascinating encounters, but once you get the hang of it, it’s well worth the time. And remember, a Planchette not working for you might not be because you’re ‘useless’, it could be that whoever you’re trying to reach out to just isn’t in the mood for chatting. It’s important to remember that the spirits of loved ones, ancestors and so on, are not at our beck and call.
Documenting Your Experiences.
As previously touched upon, it’s important to document your experiences with either written records in your journal or grimoire, and if you want too, with photographic records of what the planchette wrote down too- even if it’s just scribbles, or a seemingly random message. What may seem irrelevant today, may prove to be very relevant and important in the future. A prime example of this would be an experience I had with a Ouija board in my twenties.
Usually Ouija boards, like the Planchette, are very touch and go as to whether or not you get an intelligible message or not, but on one occasion, back in 2011, the Ouija board offered me the word “Warning”, and then gave an odd series of numbers that made no sense, and did not seem to be a calendrical date of any sort. Anyway, as usual, I wrote down the message, along with the time, date, location etc, and promptly forgot about it. After all, it seemed to be gibberish to me.
Nearly five years later, after fleeing an abusive relationship, I was packing up my belongings when I found some of my old diaries and grimoires. It was while flicking through one such journal that I came across this old Ouija message, and I nearly dropped the book in shock. It was one digit out, but in all other respects was an identical match to my Ex’s army service number!
Had a spirit been trying to warn me all those years ago? The reading was in the early summer, and I met this particular person in the winter of that year. I think it quite likely that spirit was trying to warn me, but with it seemingly being a random series of numbers at the time, I had dismissed it. Never dismiss a message from spirit, even if it seems irrelevant at the time. And ALWAYS document it.
Can You Manipulate The Planchette.
Yes, you can. But it is tricky to do so not easily done- especially when multiple people are using the Planchette at once. For the purpose of this bog, I tried to see if the Planchette could be manipulated to write my name and year of birth, Zanna 1986. And I couldn’t do it. In part, this is because I cannot see exactly what the pen in the Planchette is doing, and also because unlike writing with a pen in just my dominant left hand alone, I can’t lift the pen to account for spaces in lettering or between words. The Planchette stays flat on the paper. So trying to manipulate it to write anything consciously is no easy task!
The Planchette is not usually my number one go-to tool in my personal Witches arsenal. It’s clunky, it’s awkward, not always reliable, and has far too many variables when you’re looking for quick and reliable contact with spirit. It also requires a lot of patience and perseverance. However, that being said, it’s not a completely useless tool, and I do dig it out from time to time. But it tends to be one of those now and then curio pieces. I do believe that the Planchette works, and is capable of acting as a helpful tool for spiritualists and Witches, but I have to say if you’re in a hurry, this isn’t the tool for you.
It’s an interesting piece to explore, especially in a group or as part of a coven- if only for the practice and exploration of the piece.
I hope that you enjoyed this weeks blog, the next blog will be part of the familiar spirits and spirit guides series, where I shall be discussing the hedgehog as a familiar spirit.
From the time, mists, and distance between us, blessings from me to you.