From India to Mars

Reviewed by Jay Young and Imoreh Frajin

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Helene Smith (Catherine Elise Muller) (1826-1929) was a medium. She was treated as such by everyone around her, with the exception of Prof. Theodore Flournoy who did the famous study on her. It was not called "A Study in Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages" until it was reissued in the '90s.. it was called "From India to the Planet Mars, a Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia", which is not the same thing.

Born in the 1860s to a working-class family. Helene had aspirations to a higher class and disliked working in her father's store. She kept her job, but began attending Spiritualist circles and became an accomplished medium. In perfect keeping with Spiritualist practice of the time, she had a spirit control or guide, Leopold (who claimed to have been Count Cagliostro). She was a full trance medium, which means that she would routinely go into a trance state and Leopold would control her body and choreograph the entrances, exits, and communications of other spirits who wanted to speak through Helene.

In 1896, Helene was being studied by Flournoy, a psychology professor from the Univ. of Geneva. She caused quite a stir in the spiritualist world with a claim of visionary experiences of life on Mars (where she said she may have lived in a past life). She produced many pages of information on Martian civilisation, culture and language, and some beautiful illustrations. For a while she was rather fashionable, her Martian dress designs were copied (it's a flowing, unisex style -- a long blouse (with sash) over loose trousers) and French speakers were pleased to hear that Martian so resembled French, the perfect language.

It comes off a bit like Princess Caraboo, and Flournoy may even have had that lady in mind when he took the information she gave him and ran it past a couple of linguists. While the language hangs together and it is possible to learn to read, write and speak it, the linguists decided that it was an artificially constructed language, based on French particularly in its grammar and sentence structure.

Smith later reported having contacted Marie Antoinette and to have lived a 15th century past life as Simandini, a lady who attracted the attention of Indian Prince Rouka. She grived at being separated from her family, but came to love the prince, and at his untimely demise participated in suttee -- this had been compulsory, but by Simandini's time was an option. Her handwriting for Marie Antoinette looked nothing like Marie Antoinette's, but she had an inexplicable familiarity with Sanskrit.

Smith identified Flournoy as having been her former husband, and was pretty upset when he declined the honour. In fact, she refused ever to see him again. This is certainly a familiar situation to some of our correspondents who've had run-ins with multiples or would-be multiples who got carried away with past-life games. We've heard rumors that she spent the rest of her days living comfortably among her many supporters and took on the identity of the Virgin Mary, full-time.

Flournoy believed that Helene was engaging in very sophisticated play-acting. Noting her artistic talents and aspirations to a higher social class, he felt that this was her way of employing her real creative gifts in order to achieve respect and be treated like royalty as she felt was her due. His patronising attitude in From India to Mars is infuriating; he refers to her language, worlds and stories as "infantile", repeatedly. This is consistent with the behaviour of a French intellectual who thinks he understands Freud.

We see no evidence of multiple personalities in Smith's account. Sneering paternalistic attitudes aside, her presentations seem much more like roleplaying, even soulbonding. She could have gotten information about Cagliostro and Marie Antoinette and even Indian culture from her reading. Even the Martian stuff: speculation on Mars was VERY fashionable and long articles on what their civilisation must have been were printed in respectable news journals as well as tabloids. She got very upset when Flournoy wouldn't "play". We have a lot of respect for her as a creative artist, but not as a medium, and certainly not as a multiple.

Jay Young
Imoreh Frajin

Of possible interest

The Making of Martian A closer look at the records of Helene's seances shows that pushing, leading, and objectification by "scientific researchers" may have detrimentally influenced Helene. She might not even have invented a Martian language if she had not felt compelled to do so.

Encountering Helene Flournoy originally intended to study Helene to create a unified psychological theory similar to Freud's or Jung's. Why did psychologists study mediums?

Florence Cook and Katie King Multiplicity, voluntary possession or a hoax?

Princess Caraboo Phoebe Cates (her last movie role) as a mysterious girl who turned up in Bristol, England in 1817 wearing a kind of Middle Eastern costume and speaking a strange language. Was she a princess, or just a clever fraud? Based on a true story.

A Singular Imposition Journalist John Gutch's account of the real Princess Caraboo.

The Servant Girl Princess A book about the real Princess Caraboo.

Astraea's Bookstore... a full line of books on multiplicity &

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