Hélène Smith

          pseudonym of Catherine Elise Muller of Geneva, the medium whose case was an apple of discord among continental psychologists for many years and has been considered as the Dreyfus case of science by some. Had Professor Theodore Flournoy not written his brilliant work, From India to the Planet Mars, 1899, in which he psycho-analysed and disproved most of the supernormal claims of Hélène Smith, she might have been acclaimed as the greatest medium of all times, the first human being to whom the glory was due of having established intelligent communication with Mars and of having revealed the language and writing of the red planet.

The father of Mlle. Smith, a merchant, was an Hungarian and possessed a remarkable facility for languages; her mother had sporadic visions but showed no mediumistic powers. As a young girl, Hélène Smith was always fond of indulging in daydreams. She used to see highly coloured landscapes, a lion of stone with a mutilated head, fanciful objects on pedestals, etc. These visions made her discontented. She asked her parents on one occasion whether she was really their child or a changeling. When fourteen or fifteen years old she has seen a bright light thrown against the wall of her room which then seemed to be filled with strange and unknown things.

She heard of spiritualism for the first time in the winter of 1891-92. An acquaintance lent her Leon Denis' d'Apres la Mort. It excited her curiosity and led her to a spiritualistic circle. At the second séance which she attended her hand moved automatically. Soon the table began to move and in April, 1892, a spirit communicated through typtology and said that he was Victor Hugo, the guide and protector of Mlle. Hélène Smith. His reign as a control lasted undisturbed for about six months. Then another control appeared, Leopold who, against the warning of Victor Hugo, forced the medium into trance and after a struggle lasting for a year completely ousted his predecessor.

At this period Hélène Smith possessed every attribute of a powerful medium. She produced telekinetic phenomena, strange apports, found lost objects, predicted future events, saw spirit visitors, clairaudiently heard their names and received the explanation of visions which unfolded before her eyes by raps.

Prof. Flournoy was admitted to her circle in the Winter of 1894-95. The séances which he attended for five years alternated with a series given to Prof. August Lemaitre and to Prof. Cuendet, vice-president of the Geneva Society for Psychic Studies.

"I found the medium in question," writes Prof. Flournoy in his book, "to be a beautiful woman, about 30 years of age, tall, vigorous, of a fresh, healthy complexion, with hair and eyes almost black, of an open and intelligent countenance, which at once evoked sympathy. She evinced nothing of the emaciated or tragic aspect which one habitually ascribes to the sybils of tradition, but wore an air of health, of physical and mental vigour, very pleasant to behold and which, by the way, is not often encountered in those who are good mediums".

In describing her triple mediumship (visual, auditive and typtological) he admits:

"Speaking for myself alone I was greatly surprised to recognise in scenes which passed before my eyes events which had transpired in my own family prior to my birth. Whence could the medium, whom I had never met before, have derived the knowledge of events belonging to a remote past, of a private nature, and utterly unknown to any living person?"

The professor made good friends with Leopold. The secret of his identity which for a long time he refused to reveal was already known. He claimed to have been Guiseppe Balsamo, alias Cagliostro. With the exception of Prof. Flournoy everybody believed in his existence as a spirit. He, too, admitted so much that "it would be impossible to imagine a being more independent and more different from Mlle. Smith herself, having a more personal character, and individuality more marked, or a more certain actual existence."

When Leopold wrote with the hand of Mlle. Smith she held the pen in a different way, her handwriting differed from her usual calligraphy and showed the style of the last century. His voice was a deep bass. He had a strong, easily recognisable Italian accent.

But Flournory was firm in his conviction that

"there is no reason to suspect the real presence of Joseph Balsamo behind the automatisms of Mlle. Smith."

He traced the psychogenesis of Leopold to a great fright which Hélène had when ten years old. She was attacked in the street by a big dog. She was terrified but the terror was dispelled by the sudden appearance as if by a miracle of a personage clothed in a long brown robe with flowing sleeves and with a white cross on the breast who chased the dog away and disappeared before she had time to thank him. Leopold claimed that this was his first appearance. Whenever some unpleasant sight or a dangerous encounter lay in her way the phantom always rose at a distance of about ten yards, walked or glided in silence at the same rate as she advanced towards him, attracting and fascinating her gaze in such a manner as to prevent her turning her eyes away either to the right or left, until she passed the place of danger.

Prof. Flournoy found some curious analogies between what is known to us of Cagliostro and certain characteristics of Leopold, but he believed that they accorded well with the subliminal medley. Leopold did not know Italian and turned a deaf ear if anyone addressed him in that language. His hand-writing showed striking dissimilarities to that of Cagliostro. His answers to questions regarding his terrestrial existence were evasive or vague. He did not furnish a single name, date or precise fact. He was, on the other hand, as archaic in his therapeutics as in his orthography and treated all maladies after the ancient mode. He claimed that his sentiments for Mlle. Smith were only the continuation of those of Cagliostro for Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette was the first great romance of Mlle. Smith's mediumship. Flournoy calls it the Royal Cycle. It was roughly outlined at séances in the house of Prof. Cuendet in December, 1893. The announcement that Hélène was the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette was made by the table on January 30, 1894. In the interval she had for some time believed herself to be the reincarnation of Lorenze Feliciani. When, however, she was told that Lorenze Feliciani did not exist but in the fantasy of Dumas she quickly dropped this role. There was less difference between the autograph of Cagliostro and Leopold than between the handwriting of the real Marie Antoinette and the somnambulic one. The role of the queen was acted in a very life-like manner. Probably the innate tastes of Mlle. Smith for everything that was noble, distinguished and elevated made the task easier. In the surroundings of the queen the king was conspicuous by his absence. Three personages figured most often. Cagliostro, "ce cher sorcier," Louis Philippe d'Orleans and the Marquis de Mirabeau. They were discovered reincarnated in two sitters: M. Eugene Demole and M. August de Morsier. For the spectators the royal somnambulism was the most interesting on account of the brilliancy and life of the role and the length of time during which it was sustained. But for the lovers of the supernormal it was the least extraordinary.

The Hindoo dream in which Prof. Flournoy played the role of Prince Sivrouka Nayaka began on October 16, 1894, eight weeks before his admission to the circle. The Martian romance dates from the same period and is to be attributed, in Flournoy's view, to an involuntary suggestion of Prof. Lemaitre. In the Oriental Cycle Mlle. Smith was Simandini, the daughter of an Arab sheik in the VI, Century and was courted and married by Prince Sivrouka, lord of the fortress of Tchandraguiri built in the province of Kanara, Hindustani, in 1401.

After many years of married life she was burned alive on her husband's funeral pyre. In enacting the role of the Oriental princess Mlle. Hélène Smith spoke Hindustani and wrote a few words in good Arabic. She did not speak it. Strangely enough, while recovering in trance the use of Hindoo, which she formerly spoke at the court of Sivrouka, she appeared to have forgotten her mother tongue. Her Hindoo was a mixture of improvised articulations and of veritable Sanscrit words well adapted to the situation. Which means that it expressed a personal thought and was not merely a series of senseless phrases. Besides Prof. Flournoy another investigator, Prof. Seipel, also figured in the Oriental romance. He was an Arab slave.

Historians appeared to be singularly ignorant of Kanara, Sivrouka and Simandini. Flournoy, one day, accidentally came across an old history of India by De Marles printed in Paris in 1828 and found in it a confirmation of the main facts. It was objected that De Marles was a very unreliable historian. The fact, however, was that only two copies of the work existed in Geneva, both covered with dust and it could only have happened by a combination of absolutely exceptional and almost unimaginable circumstances that the work found its way into Hélène's hands.

Prof. Flournoy saw himself forced to admit that the precise historical information given by Leopold and the language spoken by Simandini defied normal explanation. He said:

"The Hindoo romance, in particular, remains for those who have taken part in it a psychological enigma, not yet solved in a satisfactory manner, because it reveals and implies in regard to Hélène, a knowledge relative to the costumes and languages of the Orient, the actual source of which it has up to the present time not been possible to discover."

The Martian romance was the most striking of all. In November, 1894, the spirit of the entranced medium was carried to the planet Mars. She described the human, animal and floral life of the planet from night to night and supported her story by writing in Martian characters and speaking fluently in that language. The characters are unlike any written characters used on the earth, the language has many characteristics of genuineness. From the translation she furnished in French Professor Flournoy concluded that the Martian language is a subconscious elaboration. The vowels and consonant sounds are the same as in French, and the grammar, the inflections and the construction are modelled on French. As a work of art he considered the subconscious construction of this language infantile, as a feat of memory prodigious. The Martian descriptions he found similarly childish and the landscapes the suggestion of Japanese lacquer and Nankin dishes.

Curiously enough when the defects were pointed out by Prof. Flournoy to the medium her subconscious mind appeared to have been impressed and set a new task before itself. Not long after an Ultra-Martian romance developed and descriptions were given of the life of still another, more distant planet (Uranus), with grotesque inhabitants and a language totally different from the former one, and having apparently no relationship with the known languages of the earth.

The medium and the other investigators of the phenomena did not share Prof. Flournoy's view of the earthly origin of the Martian romance. In articles published in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques in March-April and May-June, 1897, the extraterrene origin of Martian language was acknowledged by Prof. Lemaitre. The medium's defence was also taken up by an anonymous volume (Autour des Indes a la Planete Mars) published under the auspices of the Society d'Etudes Psychiques de Geneve, 1901. On the other hand V. Henry, Professor of Sanscrit at the Sorbonne, in La Language Martien, 1901, has completely vindicated Prof. Flournoy's conclusions and has shown how the Martian words, with the exception of a residue of 2% are derivable from known terrestrial words.

Prof. Flournoy did not stop at the claim that all the controls of the medium were secondary personalities and that the source of the incarnation dreams is to be found in the strong suggestion which the reincarnationist tenets of Allan Kardec exercised on the minds of various automatic writers. He also disputed the supernormal character of the other manifestations.

"As to the Supernormal," he said, "I believe I have actually found a little telekinesis and telepathy. As to lucidity and spiritistic messages, I have only encountered some brilliant reconstructions, which the hypnoid imagination, aided by latent memory, excels in fabricating in the case of mediums."

At a séance in 1899, Hélène had a vision of a village and a landscape which she could not recognise. At the same time an old man whom she also saw possessed her hand and wrote: "Chaurnontet Syndic." Later further information was divulged. The old man was Syndic of Chessenaz in 1839. At another séance these words came: "Burnier, Cure de Chessenaz." Professor Flournoy made enquiries and found out there is a little village named Chessenaz in Haute Savoie, that in 1839 the syndic of the village was Jean Chaumontet, and the cure was named Burnier and that the signatures resembled the authentic signatures of these two people. Nevertheless, he dismissed the case as he found out that Hélène had relations in a neighbouring village and had been to visit them.

To the physical phenomena of the mediumship he devoted little attention. He was inclined to admit that a force may radiate from the medium which may be capable of attracting or repelling objects in the neighbourhood. How such a force could be employed to levitate a table, play on distant instruments and apport branches of trees, leaves of ivy bearing in legible characters the name of the control, shells filled with sand and still wet from the sea, a China vase full of water containing a rose, Chinese money, etc., he does not even attempt to explain. The physical phenomena did not last long and ceased at an early period.

In 1901 Prof. Flournoy published another extensive study on some further developments in the Archives de Psychologie. ('Nouvelles Observations sur un cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie'). He relates that owing to the sensation which his previous work created Hélène Smith was inundated with letters and requests for spiritualistic sittings. A rich American lady had provided her with a life income. She resigned her position and gave many sittings to her new friends, but Prof. Flournoy and Prof. Lemaitre were not among the invited ones. In the summer of 1900 there came a complete break. Prof. Flournoy was no more accorded facilities for study. The material which he dealt with in his later book hardly covered the period of a year.

He says that the Martian romance passed into oblivion, but of the Martian personalities Astane and Ramier were retained as guides and interpreters in the exploration of the Ultra-Martian and Uranian worlds. A Lunarian phase, at a later period, also developed with descriptions, language and writing. But of this Prof. Flournoy had no first hand information. The Ultra-Martian romance was accompanied by several painted scenes. The writing was ideographic. Its curious hieroglyphs did not express letters but words. The ideograms showed no resemblance to the objects which they represented. In this Prof. Flournoy finds another proof of infantile imagination. This essential characteristic was omitted because the medium strove to create something defying all analysis. The Uranian language and writing totally differ from the Ultra-Martian. But, says Prof. Flournoy, the phonetic and alphabetic system is a copy of the Martian, and the Uranian language differs less from French than French from the languages of the neighbouring countries. The origin of the strange notion of Lunarian inhabitants presumably sprung from reading an article in La Paix Universelle in which, after flattering allusions to Hélène Smith, mention was made of the claims of certain Yogis of psychic visits to the inhabitants of that side of the Moon which is turned away from the Earth.

The duration of the astronomic cycle was not long. It was superseded, after a complete break with the spiritualists, by a religious cycle in which Christ, the Virgin, the apostles and the archangels play the dominant role. In 1903 a luminous vision filled the room of Hélène Smith. Christ appeared and she heard the voice of Leopold: "You will draw him." Two years later she began with crayon. This was later changed to oil. On large wooden boards, in a state of trance she executed twelve religious tableaus.

Prof. Lemaitre says in a study that according to certain mediumistic communications which she had received, Hélène Smith was a reincarnation of Raphael, or of Michaelangelo; the medium herself, however, refused to believe these absurdities.

In May, 1913, at the International Congress for Psychical Research at Geneva eight of her striking pictures had been exhibited. In a statement to Light (Oct. 11, 1913) she said:

"On the days when I am to paint I am always roused very early - generally between five and six in the morning - by three loud knocks at my bed. I open my eyes and see my bedroom brightly illuminated, and immediately understand that I have to stand up and work. I dress myself by the beautiful iridescent light, and wait a few moments, sitting in my armchair, until the feeling comes that I have to work. It never delays. All at once I stand up and walk to the picture. When about two steps before it I feel a strange sensation, and probably fall asleep at the same moment. I know, later on, that I must have slept because I notice that my fingers are covered with different colours, and I do not remember at all to have used them, though, when a picture is being begun, I am ordered to prepare colours on my palette every evening, and have it near my bed."

Brush was very seldom used in these pictures. She put on the first coating of paint with her three middle fingers in the same way as if she pressed an electric bell. For the second coating she moved the same fingers very lightly from right to left and back, thus producing a very smooth surface. The outlines were made by the nails, and the sky with the palm of her hand.

This last phase of Hélène Smith's mediumship is exhaustively dealt with by Prof. W. Deonna in De La Planete Mars en Terre Sainte, 1932. As the medium did not again subject herself to scientific investigation, Prof. Deonna's psycho-analytic examination is based on the voluminous correspondence which Hélène Smith left behind and on the paintings themselves. The religious cycle was arrested in 1915 in its further progress by the shock which the medium received when her dearest Italian friend died. Her later years were dominated by visions and automatic communications of and from this friend.

To the paintings Prof. Deonna attaches no particular value. He says that their inspiration does not surpass the usual level of religious imagery. The tableaus do not have an elevating effect, indeed a striking mediocrity is often noticeable. But he also admits qualities and says that the paintings are far above what she normally could produce. He looks for an explanation to the regression of infantile memories. He offers no explanation for certain supernormal features. It was a habit of Hélène Smith to have photographs taken of the successive stages of the pictures. To her utter despair some of the negatives of the painting Judas, were spoiled. Her guardian angel appeared and announced a miracle. Two days later the portrait began to fade out. The beard, the moustache, the tears of Judas and other details gradually disappeared until the painting returned to the stage where it was last successfully photographed. Then an inscription appeared: "God's will, November 18, 1913." The photographs were taken again. The inscription vanished and Hélène Smith finished the picture as before.

She always painted from vision. The eyes appeared first. But Judas was painted into the landscape from leg upwards. The visions were accompanied by luminous phenomena. They began with a ball of light which expanded and filled the room. This was not a subjective phenomenon. Hélène Smith exposed photographic plates which registered indeed strong luminous effects. But to Prof. Deonna they have no scientific value as they are only supported by the good faith of the medium.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



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