From India to the Planet Mars, by Théodore Flournoy; tr. Daniel B. Vermilye, , at sacred-texts.com
THE psychological history of Mlle. Smith and her automatisms is naturally divided into two separate periods by the important fact of her initiation into spiritism at the beginning of 1892. Before that time, not suspecting the possibility of voluntary communication with the world of disincarnate spirits, she naturally manifested nothing more than a few spontaneous phenomena, the first flutterings of her mediumistic faculties which still lay dormant, the exact nature and progress of which it would be interesting to know in detail; unfortunately, in the absence of written documents concerning that pre-spiritistic period, we are confined to the statements of Hélène and her parents in regard to it, and the untrustworthiness of the memory in connection with events of a remote past is only too well known.
The spiritistic period, on the contrary, extending over the last seven years, and infinitely more fertile in artificially promoted (e.g., the seances) as well as in spontaneous manifestations, is much better known to us; but in order to comprehend it intelligently, it is necessary first to pass in review the few facts
which we have been able to gather relating to the pre-spiritistic periodthat is to say, the childhood and youth of Mlle. Smith. That will be the subject of this chapter.
Mlle. Smith has lived in Geneva since her infancy. After attending school, she entered as an apprentice, at the age of fifteen, a large commercial house, where, as I have already stated, she still remains, and where, little by little, she has risen to a very responsible position. Her father, a merchant, was a Hungarian, and possessed a remarkable facility for languages, which is of interest to us in presence of the phenomena of glossolalia, a subject which will be discussed hereafter. Her mother is a Genevese. Both enjoyed excellent health and attained a venerable old age. Hélène had a younger sister who died in early childhood, and two brothers older than herself, who are now fathers of families and established abroad, where they have had successful business careers.
I am not aware that M. Smith, who was a man of positive character, ever displayed any phenomena of automatisms. Mme. Smith, however, as well as her grandmother, has experienced several thoroughly characteristic phenomena of that kind, and one, at least, of Hélène's brothers, it appears, could easily have become a good medium. This is another instance of the distinctly hereditary tendency of mediumistic faculties.
M. Smith, a man of active and enterprising character, died quite suddenly, probably of an embolism, at the age of seventy-five years. He had left Hungary
in his youth, and finally established himself at Geneva, after having travelled extensively in Italy and Algiers, where he remained for several years. He spoke fluently Hungarian, German, French, Italian, and Spanish, understood English fairly well, and also knew Latin and a little Greek. It would seem that his daughter has inherited these linguistic aptitudes, but only in a latent and subliminal manner, for she has always detested the study of languages, and rebelled against learning German, in which she took lessons for three years.
Mme. Smith, who is a kind-hearted woman, with much good, practical sense, is sixty-seven years of age. Neither she nor her husband was ever a nervous or psychopathic subject, but both showed a marked tendency to broncho-pulmonary affections of a somewhat alarming type. Mme. Smith has, besides, suffered frequently from rheumatism. Hélène does not appear to have inherited these tendencies; she has always enjoyed robust health, and has not even had the slight diseases usually incidental to childhood.
Although both M. and Mme. Smith were Protestants, through a chain of peculiar circumstances their daughter was baptized a Catholic shortly after her birth, her name being inscribed some months later on the register of the Protestant church of Geneva. The memory of this unusual baptism has certainly not been lost by Hélène's subliminal imagination, and has duly contributed to the hypothesis of a mysterious origin. Of the years of childhood I know nothing specially interesting. At the intermediate
school, at which she passed only a year, and where I have consulted the records of her class, she was not distinguished either for good or ill from the point of view of deportment, but she certainly did not reveal the full measure of her intelligence, since she failed to pass the examinations at the end of the year, a fact which decided her entrance upon an apprenticeship. On the other hand, the worthy pastor who gave her religious instruction somewhat later, and who has never lost sight of her since, has furnished me with most eulogistic testimonials as to her character; he remembers her as a young girl of serious disposition, intelligent, thoughtful, faithful in the discharge of her duties, and devoted to her family.
M. Smith never showed the least trace of mediumistic phenomena; from having been very indifferent, or even hostile, to spiritism until his daughter began to interest herself in it, he finally succumbed to her influence and became a believer in that doctrine towards the close of his life. Mme. Smith, on the contrary, has always been predisposed to it, and has experienced several phenomena of that nature in the course of her life. At the period of the epidemic of "table-tipping" which raged in our country about the middle of this century, she too experimented quite successfully for a while upon the table with her friends and acquaintances. Later, she had some sporadic visions. The following is one of the most typical. While her little daughter three years old was ill, Mme. Smith awoke in the middle of the night and saw an angel, of dazzling brightness, standing by the side of the
little bed with its hands stretched out above the child; after some moments the apparition gradually dissolved. Mme. Smith awakened her husband and told him of the fatal significance which she attached to the vision, but he, unable to see anything, ridiculed her superstitious fears. As a matter of fact, the child died on the following day, to the great surprise of the physician attending her. This is a fine example of true maternal presentiment, subconsciously felt and transferring itself into the normal consciousness by a visual hallucination which borrowed for its symbolic content an appropriate popular image.
Mme. Smith never knew her mother, who died shortly after her birth; but she recalls and has related to me some characteristic visions of her grandmother, who brought her up; various phenomena connected with one of Hélène's brothers (hearing of steps in the night, etc.) have proved to her that one of her sons, at least, is a medium.
Hélène Smith was certainly predisposed, both by heredity and temperament, to become a medium, as soon as the outward opportunitythat is, the suggestions of spiritismshould present itself.
It is evident, indeed, from her recital of events, that she was more or less visionary from her infancy. It does not appear, however, that she ever manifested phenomena capable in themselves of attracting the attention of her family. I have not been able to discover any indication whatever of crises or attacks of an abnormal nature, not even of sleep-walking. Her automatisms have been always almost entirely con fined to the sensory or mental sphere, and it is only
from her own narratives that other people have any knowledge of them. They assume the double form of reveries more or less conscious, and of hallucinations properly so called.
1. Reveries.The habit of falling into reverie, of building castles in the air, of transporting one's self into other conditions of existence, or of telling one's self stories in which one plays the chief rôle, is more frequent among women than among men, and in childhood and youth than in mature years. This propensity seems to have always been extremely marked in the case of Mlle. Smith, since from her school-girl days she has shown herself to be of a sedentary and domestic temperament, preferring the quiet companionship of her mother to the games of her comrades, and her needle-work to out-door recreations. The fragments which have survived in Hélène's conscious memory are all that is known to us of the content of these reveries, but it suffices, nevertheless, to reveal to us the general tone of her fictions, and to show us that the images suddenly surging up before her mental vision had a peculiar, often very fantastic, character, and which enables us to see in them the beginnings of her later great somnambulistic romances. It is to be noticed also that the designs, embroideries, varied artistic works, which were always the favorite occupations of her moments of leisure and in which she excels, were almost always, from her infancy, not copies of exterior models, but the products of her own invention, marked with the bizarre and original stamp of her internal images. Moreover, these pieces of work grew under her fingers with an ease and
rapidity that astonished herself. They made themselves, as it were.
She was always fond of indulging in day-dreams, and recalls many a half-hour passed motionless in an easy-chair, on which occasions she was accustomed to see all kinds of strange things, but, being of a very reticent nature, she seldom mentioned them to her parents for fear of not being understood. She used to see highly colored landscapes, a lion of stone with a mutilated head, fanciful objects on pedestals, etc. She does not remember the details, but does clearly recollect that they all bore a close resemblance to her Hindoo and Martian visions of later years.
These phantasmagoria also appeared to her in the night. She remembers, among other things, to have seen, when about fourteen or fifteen years old, a bright light thrown against the wall of her room, which then seemed to be filled with strange and unknown beings. She had the impression of being fully awake, but it suddenly occurred to her that she must have been dreaming, and it was only then that she comprehended that it was really a "vision" which she had experienced.
2. Hallucinations.In the foregoing examples it would be difficult to say to exactly which category the psychologic facts belong, especially the nocturnal phenomena, and one may hesitate whether to regard them as simple dreams of a very vivid character, hypnagogic or hypnopompic * visions, or as veritable
hallucinations. On the other hand, we undoubtedly have the right to give the latter designation to the numerous apparitions which Mlle. Smith has when in full possession of her senses in the daytime.
One day, for example, as she was playing out-of-doors with a friend, she saw some one following her, and mentioned the fact to her companion, who could not see any one. The imaginary individual, after having followed her around a tree for a moment, disappeared, and she was unable to find him again.
Of an entirely different order are the strange characters which she remembers having sometimes involuntarily substituted for French letters when writing to her friends, which must be regarded as graphomotor hallucinations. These were undoubtedly the same characters which at other times appeared to her in visual images.
This was the prelude to the phenomenon so frequently experienced by her in the last few years, and of which we shall hereafter see many examplesnamely, automatic writing, mingling with her ordinary chirography in her waking state.
Alongside of hallucinations like these, which do not show any intentional or useful character and are only a capricious and fortuitous irruption into the normal consciousness, mere dreams or fancies filling up the sub-conscious strata, there are also manifested in Hélène's case some hallucinations of a manifest utility, which have in consequence the sense of messages
addressed by the subliminal consciousness of the subject to her normal consciousness, by way of warning and protection. It is to be noted that these hallucinations, which might be called teleological, have lately been claimed by Leopold, although he has no recollection of, and does not assert himself to be the author of, the earlier ones.
The following is a curious example: At about the age of seventeen or eighteen, Hélène was returning from the country one evening, carrying a fine bouquet of flowers. During the last minutes of the journey she heard behind her a peculiar cry of a bird, which seemed to her to warn her against some danger, and she hastened her steps without looking behind. On her arrival at home the cry followed her into her room without her having been able to see the creature from which it emanated. She went tired to bed, and in the middle of the night awoke in great pain, but was unable to cry out. At that moment she felt herself gently lifted, together with the pillow on which she lay, as if by two friendly hands, which enabled her to recover her voice and call her mother, who hastened to comfort her, and carried the flowers, which were too odorous, out of the room. Leopold, on being interrogated recently during a somnambulism of Hélène as to this incident, coming up again after so many years, has a very clear recollection of it and gives the following explanation.
It was not really the cry of a bird, but it was he, Leopold, who caused Hélène to hear a sort of whistle, hoping thereby to attract her attention to the danger lurking in the bouquet of flowers, in which was
a great deal of garden-mint of powerful odor. Unfortunately Hélène did not understand, and retained the bouquet in her room. He adds that his failure to give a more clear and intelligible warning was due to the fact that it was at that time impossible for him to do so. The whistle which Hélène took for the cry of a bird was all that it was in his power to utter. It was again he who intervened at the moment of her nocturnal illness by raising her head in order to enable her to call for help.
I have no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy either of the account given by Hélène and her mother, or of the explanation recently furnished by Leopold. The incident belongs to the category of well-known cases where a danger of some sort not suspected by the normal personality, but which is subconsciously known or recognized, is warded off by a preservative hallucination, either sensory (as herethe cry of the bird) or motor (as in the lifting of the body). The subliminal consciousness is not always able to give a clear message; in the present case, the auditive automatism remained in a state of elementary hallucination, a simple whistle, without being able to elevate it to a distinct verbal hallucination. Its general warning sense, however, was understood by Hélène, thanks to the confused feeling of danger that she felt at the same time. Moreover, this confused feeling, which caused her to quicken her steps, it seems to me, ought not to be considered as the consequence of the whistle she heard, but rather as a parallel phenomenon; the appearance or the odor of the mint she was carrying, while not attracting her conscious
attention, nevertheless dimly roused in her an idea of the danger lurking in the flowers, and that idea in turn affected her clear consciousness under the double form of a vague emotion of danger and a verbo-auditive translation which did not go so far as to formulate itself explicitly.
Under circumstances of a nature calculated to cause a strong emotional shock, and especially when the psychic sphere which involves the sentiment of modesty is strongly acted upon, Hélène has a visual hallucination of a man clothed in a long, brown robe, with a white cross on his breast, like a monk, who comes to her aid, and accompanies her in silence as long as the necessity for his presence continues. This unknown protector, always silent, each time appearing and disappearing in a sudden and mysterious manner, is no other than Leopold himself, according to the recent affirmations of the latter.
We should naturally expect that Hélène would have had in her youth many striking experiences of prevision, marvellous intuition, divination, etc., which are among the most diffuse forms of teleological automatism. Such, however, does not seem to have been the fact; neither she nor her mother has recounted to me anything remarkable of this nature, and they confine themselves to a general affirmation of frequent presentiments, which were subsequently justified as to the persons and events with which they were connected.
All the examples which I have above cited concur in bringing to light the strong penchant of Mlle. Smith towards automatism. But from the point of
view of their meaning there is a notable difference between the teleological phenomena, presentiments or hallucinations of a manifest utility, and those which have nonemere reveries and other perturbations, which are altogether superfluous, if not actually detrimental, to Hélène's normal personality.
There are dreams and other automatisms absolutely useless which have insinuated themselves without rhyme or reason into Hélène's normal life. One does not know how or in what manner to interpret these phenomena, capricious and fortuitous as they seem to be, and they remain isolated, inconsiderable facts, without bearing and without interest, since they cannot be attached to any central principle, to one mother-idea or fundamental emotion.
We are, therefore, reduced to certain conjectures, the most reasonable of which is that these diverse fragments make part of some vast subconscious creation, in which all the being of Mlle. Smith, crushed and bruised by the conditions which the realities of life have imposed upon her, as is more or less the case with each one of us, gave free wing to the deep aspirations of its nature and expanded into the fiction of an existence more brilliant than her own. All that we know of Hélène's character, both as a child and as a young girl, shows us that her dominant emotional note was a sort of instinctive inward revolt against the modest environment in which it was her lot to be born, a profound feeling of dread and opposition, of inexplicable malaise, of bitter antagonism against the whole of her material and intellectual environment. While showing herself always very devoted to her parents
and brothers, she had only feeble natural affinities for them. She felt like a stranger in her family and as one away from home. She had a feeling of isolation, of abandonment, of exile, which created a sort of gulf between her and her family. So strong were these feelings that she actually one day seriously asked her parents if it was absolutely certain that she was their daughter, or whether it was not possible that the nurse might some day by mistake have brought home another child from the daily walk.
This want of adaptation to her environment, this sort of mysterious homesickness for an unknown country, shows itself in a characteristic manner in the following fragment of narrative, in which Hélène, who has always attributed great importance to dreams, tells of one in which an isolated house figured. "To me this retired mansion, in which I lived alone, isolated, represents my life, which from my infancy has been neither happy nor gay. Even while very young I do not remember to have shared any of the tastes or any of the ideas of the members of my family. Thus during the whole of my childhood I was left in what I call a profound isolation of heart And in spite of all, in spite of this complete want of sympathy, I could not make up my mind to marry, although I had several opportunities. A voice was always saying, 'Do not hurry: the time has not arrived; this is not the destiny for which you are reserved.' And I have listened to that voice, which has absolutely nothing to do with conscience, and I do not regret it, for since I have engaged in spiritism I have found myself so surrounded with sympathy
and friendships that I have somewhat forgotten my sad lot."
This quotation speaks volumes in regard to the turn of mind and the emotional disposition which ruled Hélène as a little girl. It is surely, so to speak, the vulgar story and the common lot of all; many a child, many a youth, many an unrecognized genius, feel themselves suffocating in their too narrow environment when the latent energies of life begin to ferment. But there are differences in kind and in degree. With Mlle. Hélène Smith the sentiment of not having been made for her environment, and of belonging by nature to a higher sphere, was intense and lasting. Her mother always had the impression that Hélène was not happy, and wondered that she was so serious, so absorbed, so wanting in the exuberance of spirits natural to her age. Her father and her brothers, not comprehending the real reasons for this absence of gayety, taxed her very unjustly with pride and hauteur, and accused her sometimes of despising her humble surroundings. There are shades of feeling which can only be understood when they have been experienced. Hélène well knew that she really had no contempt for her material and social environment, which, on the contrary, inspired her with respect, but which simply was not congenial to her nature and temperament.
To this fundamental feeling of imprisonment in a too paltry sphere was joined, in Hélène's case, a timid disposition. Darkness, the least noise, the creaking of the furniture, made her tremble; by day, a person walking behind her, an unexpected movement,
the ringing of the door-bell, gave her the impression that some one wishing to harm her had come to seize her and carry her off. On the whole, Hélène's tendency to be startled by everything and nothing constituted with her a grievous panophobia, a state of fear and insecurity which greatly strengthened her impression of want of unionof mésalliancewith an environment to which she was decidedly superior.
It is easy now to see the connection between that depressing emotionalism which was the attribute of Hélène's childhood and the slightly megalomaniac tone of her later subliminal romances. The idea intrudes itself that, in spite ofor by reason oftheir apparent contrast, these two traits are not independent of each other, but bound by the tie of cause and effect. But this causal connection is in great danger of being interpreted in a precisely inverse sense by the empirical psychologist and the metaphysical occultist. The latter will explain Mlle. Smith's curious impression of strangeness and superiority to the base conditions of her actual existence, by her illustrious previous incarnations; the psychologist, on the contrary, will see in that sane impression the wholly natural origin of her grandiose somnambulistic personifications. In default of a complete understanding, always dubious, between these so different points of view, of which we shall speak later, it will be advisable to adopt at least a provisional modus vivendi, based on the party-wall of the native constitution or individual character of Mlle. Smith. On the farther side of that wall, in eternity,
so to speak, a parte ante which precedes the arrival of Hélène into this life, the occultist will have full latitude to imagine such a succession of existences as it shall please him in order to explain the character she has had from her infancy. But on this side of the wallthat is to say, within the limits of her present lifethe psychologist will have the right to ignore all these prenatal metempsychoses, and taking for his point of departure the innate constitution of Hélène, without troubling himself about anything she may have received by the accidents of heredity or preserved from her royal pre-existences, he will endeavor to explain by that same constitution, as it reveals itself in her daily life, the genesis of her subliminal creations under the action of occasional exterior influences. The occultist, then, can have the pleasure of regarding Mlle. Smith's characteristic trait as a child, that impression of solitude and wandering about in a world for which she was not made, as the effect of her real past greatnesses, while the psychologist will be permitted to see in it the cause of her future dreams of grandeur.
The emotional disposition which I have depicted, and which is one of the forms under which the mal-adaptation of the organism, physical and mental, to the hard conditions of the environment, betrays itself, seems therefore to me to have been the source and starting-point for all the dreamings of Hélène in her childhood. Thence came these visions, always warm, luminous, highly colored, exotic, bizarre; and these brilliant apparitions, superbly dressed, in which her antipathy for her insipid and
unpleasant surroundings betrays itself, her weariness of ordinary, commonplace people, her disgust for prosaic occupations, for vulgar and disagreeable things, for the narrow house, the dirty streets, the cold winters, and the gray sky. Whether these images, very diverse, but of the same brilliant quality, were already existent in Hélène's subconscious thought while still a child or a young girl, we are unable to say. It is, however, probable that their systematization was far from attaining to such a degree of perfection as they have presented during the past few years under the influence of spiritism.
All the facts of automatism to which Hélène can assign a vaguely approximate date group themselves around her fifteenth year, and are all included between the limits of her ninth and twentieth years.
This evident connection with a phase of development of major importance has been confirmed to me by Leopold on various occasions, who says that he appeared to Hélène for the first time in her tenth year, on an exceptional occasion of extreme fright, but after that, not until about four years later, because the "physiological conditions" necessary to his apparition were not yet realized. The moment they were realized, he says, he began to manifest himself, and it is at the same period, according to him, that Hélène commenced to recover memories of her Hindoo existence, under the form of strange visions of which she comprehended neither the nature nor the origin.
After the age of about twenty years, without affirming or believing that her visions and apparitions
ceased altogether, Mlle. Smith has no striking recollections of any, and she has not told me of any psychic phenomenon experienced by her in the series of years immediately preceding her entrance into spiritism. We may infer from this, with some reason, that the ebullitions of the imaginative subconscious life gradually became calm after the explosion of the period we have mentioned. They had been appeased. The conflict between Hélène's inner nature and the environment in which she was forced to live became less fierce. A certain equilibrium was established between the necessities of practical life and her inward aspirations. On the one hand, she resigned herself to the necessities of reality; and if her native pride could not yield to the point of condescending to a marriage, honorable undoubtedly, but for which she felt she was not intended, we must nevertheless pay homage to the perseverance, the fidelity, the devotion which she always brought to the fulfilment of her family and business duties. On the other hand, she did not permit the flame of the ideal to be extinguished in her, and it reacted upon her environment as strongly as possible, making its imprint upon her personality well marked.
She introduced a certain stamp of elegance into the modest home of her parents. She arranged for herself a small salon, coquettish and comfortable in its simplicity. She took lessons in music, and bought herself a piano. She hung some old engravings on her walls, secured some Japanese vases, a jardinière filled with plants, cut flowers in pretty vases, a hanging lamp with a beautiful shade of her
own make, a table-cover which she had put together and embroidered herself, some photographs curiously framed according to her own design; and out of this harmonious whole, always beautifully kept, she evolved something original, bizarre, and delightful, conforming well to the general character of her fantastic subconsciousness.
At the same time that Mlle. Smith succeeded in accommodating herself to the conditions of her existence, the state of latent timidity in which she lived gradually diminished. She is still occasionally overcome by fear, but much less frequently than formerly, and never without a legitimate exterior cause.
Indeed, judging her by these latter years, I do not recognize in her the child or young girl of former days, always timid, trembling, and frightened, taciturn and morose, who has been depicted to me by herself and her mother.
It seems to me, then, that the wildness of the dreams and automatisms, which were symptoms of a tendency to mental disintegration, which marked the years of puberty, was succeeded by a progressive diminution of these troubles and a gradual gaining of wisdom on the part of the subliminal strata. We may presume that this harmonization, this reciprocal adaptation of the internal to the external, would in time have perfected itself, and that the whole personality of Mlle. Smith would have continued to consolidate and unify itself, if spiritism had not come all of a sudden to rekindle the fire which still slumbered under the ashes and to give a new start to the
subliminal mechanism which was beginning to grow rusty.
The suppressed fictions aroused themselves, the reveries of former years resumed their sway, and the images of subliminal phantasy began to be more prolific than ever under the fertile suggestions of occult philosophy, rallying-points or centres of crystallizationsuch as the idea of former existences and reincarnationsaround which they had only to group and organize themselves in order to give birth to the vast somnambulistic constructions the development of which we shall be obliged to follow.
21:* This term is used to designate the visions which manifest themselves at the moment of awakening from sleep immediately p. 22 prior to complete awakening, and which form a pendant to the well-known, much more frequent hypnagogic hallucinations, arising in the intermediate state between sleep and waking.