From India to the Planet Mars, by Théodore Flournoy; tr. Daniel B. Vermilye, , at sacred-texts.com
HAVING endeavored in the preceding chapter to reconstruct in its chief characteristics the history of Mlle. Smith up to the time when spiritism begins to be mixed up with it, I would have preferred in the present chapter to make a detailed study of her psychological life during these last years, without however, as yet, touching upon the content, properly so called, of her automatisms. Not having been able to accomplish this design to my satisfaction, for want of time and patience, I shall endeavor at least to systematize my notes somewhat by grouping them under four heads. I shall trace the birth of Hélène's mediumship as far as it is possible for me to do so from the meagre accounts I have been able to procure concerning a time at which I was not acquainted with her. Then, passing to facts with which I am more familiar, I will describe rapidly her normal state as I have been able to see it for the last five years. This would have been the place for a study of individual psychology, but I have been compelled to abandon the idea on account of multiple difficulties. Finally, I will offer a few remarks on
the abnormal side of her existence, which it is convenient to divide into two groups, namely, the spontaneousthat is to say, springing up of themselves in the course of her ordinary life; or those provoked by the voluntary seeking for favorable circumstances, and which constitute the seances properly so called.
In the winter of 1891-92 Mlle. Smith heard spiritism spoken of by one of her acquaintances, Mme. Y., who lent her Denis's book, Après la Mort. The perusal of this work having vividly excited Hélène's curiosity, Mme. Y. agreed to accompany her to her friend, Mlle. Z., who was interested in the same questions, and who produced automatic writing. They then decided to form a circle for regular experimentation. I take from the notes which Mlle. Z. has had the kindness to furnish me, the account, unfortunately very brief, of the seances at which Hélène's mediumistic faculties first made their appearance.
"It was on the 10th of February, 1892, that I made the acquaintance of Mlle. Smith. She was introduced to me by Mme. Y., for the purpose of endeavoring to form a spiritistic group. She was then altogether a novice in spiritism, never having attempted anything, and did not suspect the faculties that have since developed themselves in her.
"February 20.First reunion: We seat ourselves at the table; we succeed in making it oscillate. We regard Mme. Y. as the medium upon whom we can
reckon. We try for writing. We receive through me encouragements to proceed.
"February 26.Progress; the table moves itself considerably, salutes one by one all the members of the group, and gives us certain names, of which only one is recognized . . . Writing: Mlle. Smith, who tries for the first time, writes mechanically, her eyes closed, some phrases, of which we can decipher some words.
"March 11.Nothing at this seance, except a communication written by myself.
"March 18.Progress; clear communication by the table. Attempt to experiment in the darkness (which was not absolute, the hall outside having some incandescent lights which diffused a feeble light; we could distinguish each other with difficulty). Mlle. Smith sees a balloon, now luminous, now becoming dark: she has seen nothing up to this time. Writing: Mlle. Smith writes mechanically a quite long communication from the father of M. K. [a Bulgarian student present at the seance]; advice to him."
At this point the sitters became so numerous that they broke up into two groups, of which the one continuing to meet with Mlle. Z. does not concern us. Mlle. Smith became a member of the other, which met at the house of a lady named N., where weekly seances were held for a year and a half (up to the end of June, 1893). The records of these meetings, kept by Mme. N., are unfortunately very brief and obscure on many points of interest to the psychologist. Those of the first months are in the handwriting of Mlle. Smith, who acted as secretary of the group for
thirty seances. As she only took down at the time the headings of the communications of the spirits and wrote out the remainder on the following day, we cannot rely very strongly on the objective accuracy of these accounts, which, however, have the advantage of presenting to us the mediumship of Hélène, as related by herself. She speaks of herself in the third person.
The following is a summary of the two first seances held in this new environment:
"March 25, 1892.Eleven persons around a large and heavy dining-table of oak with two leaves. The table is set in motion, and several spirits come and give their names (by raps), and testify to the pleasure it gives them to find themselves among us. It is at this seance that Mlle. Smith begins to distinguish vague gleams with long white streamers moving from the floor to the ceiling, and then a magnificent star, which in the darkness appears to her alone throughout the whole of the seance. We augur from this that she will end by seeing things more distinctly and will possess the gift of clairvoyance.
"April 1.Violent movements of the table, due to a spirit who calls himself David and announces himself as the spiritual guide of the group. Then he gives way to another spirit who says he is Victor Hugo, and the guide and protector of Mlle. Smith, who is very much surprised to be assisted by a person of such importance. He soon disappears. Mlle. Smith is very much agitated; she has fits of shivering, is very cold. She is very restless, and sees suddenly, balancing itself above the table, a grinning,
very ill-favored face, with long red hair. She is so frightened that she demands that the lights be lit. She is calmed and reassured. The figure disappears. Afterwards she sees a magnificent bouquet of roses of different hues being placed on the table before one of the sitters, M. P. All at once she sees a small snake come out from underneath the bouquet, which, crawling quickly, perceives the flowers, looks at them, tries to reach the hand of M. P., withdraws for an instant, comes back slowly, and disappears in the interior of the bouquet. Then all is dissolved and three raps are given on the table, terminating the seance. [M. P. interprets the meaning of the vision of the bouquet and the serpent as a symbolic translation of an emotional impression experienced by Mlle. Smith]."
Such was the birth of Hélène's mediumship. Scarcely anything happened on the 10th of February, when the movements of the table were not attributed to her (although in all probability she caused them); in the following seances she appeared in two attempts at automatic writing (unfortunately lost) in imitation of the writing medium with whom she was sitting. The outcome of this second attempt leads us to suppose that Hélène's faculties would have developed rapidly in that direction if she had not abandoned it and changed her environment.
Her visual faculty, suggested by the experiments at obscure seances, shows itself on the 18th and 25th of March in the form of elementary hallucinations or vague figures having their point of departure probably in the simple entoptical phenomena, the
retina's own light, consecutive images, etc. Then, encouraged by the predictions of the sitters, she attained on the 1st of April to visions properly so called, having a varied content and a real or symbolic signification. At the same time her typtological automatism was perfecting itself. We recognize it in the name of Victor Hugo, coming especially for Mlle. Smith, and suspect it to have been a name already given at the second seance.
Auditive hallucinations follow closely upon the visual, but it is impossible to know at just what date, as the records do not clearly indicate whether the messages recorded had that origin or were rapped out on the table. To these known forms of automatism must be added the frequent phenomena of emotion, shiverings, sadness, restlessness, fear, etc., which are experienced by Hélène without knowing why, and are afterwards found to be in perfect conformity to, and in evident connection with, the content of those emotional phenomena which they generally precede by a few moments.
Thus, in a half-dozen weekly seances, the mediumship of Mlle. Smith was invested with a complex psychological aspect, which from that time it preserved intact for three years, and of which I was a witness after I made her acquaintance. This rapidity of development is not at all unusual; but there is this peculiarity about Hélène, that her mediumistic faculties, after their first appearance, remained for a long time stationary, and then underwent all at once, in the spring of 1895, the enormous
transformation and tremendous expansion which I have described in the first chapter, and to which I will not again refer.
I was about to say that in her normal state Mlle. Smith is normal. Certain scruples restrain me, and I correct myself by saying that in her ordinary state she seems just like anybody else. By this I mean that outside of the gaps which the seances and the spontaneous eruptions of automatism make in her life, no one would suspect, observing her performance of her various duties, or in talking with her on all sorts of subjects, all that she is capable of in her abnormal states, or the curious treasures which are concealed in her subliminal strata.
With a healthy and ruddy complexion, of good height, well proportioned, of regular and harmonious features, she breathes health in everything. She presents no visible stigmata of degeneration. As to psychic defects or anomalies, with the exception of her mediumship itself, I know of none, the timidity of her youth having entirely disappeared. Her physical strength is marvellous, as shown by the fact that she bears up under the strain of a business which demands nearly eleven hours of her time each day, nearly all of which she is compelled to stand on her feet, and from which she takes only one week's vacation in summer. Besides this confining work away from home, she assists her mother about the house morning and evening, in the housekeeping duties,
and finds time besides to read a little, to practise at her piano, and to make the lovely handiwork, which she designs and executes herself with remarkable originality and good taste. To a life so full must be added, besides, the spiritistic seances which she is generally willing to give on Sunday, and sometimes on a weekday evening, very disinterestedly, to persons who are interested in psychic questions or who desire to consult Leopold on important subjects.
While hesitating to affirm that a person presenting phenomena so extraordinary as those of mediumship is perfectly normal in other respects, I am pleased to discover that as far as Mlle. Smith is concerned, through my conversations with her and as the result of my investigations concerning her, she does not present a single abnormality, physical, intellectual, or moral, between the periods of the irruptions of her automatisms. Her field of vision, which she has permitted me to measure with a Landolt perimeter, is normal for white as well as for colors, for which latter she has a very delicate perception. There is no trace of tactile anæsthesia in her hands. There is no known motor trouble. The tremor of the index-finger gives a line, of four oscillations per second on an average, differing not at all from the lines obtained from persons perfectly normal (see Fig. 2).
It cannot be expected that I should paint a full moral and intellectual portrait of Mlle. Smith, as I should be in danger of hurting her feelings in case my attempt should come to her notice. I can only touch on a few points. One of the most striking is her great
native dignity; her bearing, her manners, her language are always perfect, and have a certain quality of noblesse and pride which accords well with her somnambulistic rôles. On occasion she shows a stately and regal hauteur. She is very impressionable, and feels little things very keenly. Her antipathies as well as her sympathies are quick, lively, and tenacious. She is energetic and persevering. She knows very well what she wants, and nothing passes her by unperceived, nor does she forget anything in the conduct of others towards her. "I see everything, nothing escapes me, and I forgive but never forget," she has often said to me. Perhaps a severe moralist would find in her a certain exaggeration of personal sensibility, but that sort of self-love is a very common characteristic of human nature, and is very natural in mediums who are continually exposed to public criticism.
She is very intelligent and highly gifted. In conversation she shows herself vivacious, sprightly, and sometimes sarcastic. Psychic problems, and all questions connected with mediumistic phenomena, of which she is herself so striking an example, occupy her mind a great deal and form the principal subject of her private thoughts and of her conversations with people in whom she is interested.
Her philosophical views are not wanting in originality or breadth. She does not believe in spiritism, in the generally accepted sense of the term, and has never consented, in spite of the advances which have been made to her, to become a member of the Geneva Society (spiritistic) for Psychic Studies, because, as
she says, she has no fixed ideas on subjects so obscure, does not care for theories, and "does not work in the interest of any party." She investigates, she observes, she reflects and discusses, having adopted for her motto, "The truth in all things, for all things, and always."
There are two points in regard to which she is uncompromisingnamely, the objective reality of Leopold, and the supernormal content of her automatisms. No one dares tell her that her great invisible protector is only an illusory apparition, another part of herself, a product of her subconscious imagination; nor that the strange peculiarities of her mediumistic communicationsthe Sanscrit, the recognizable signatures of deceased persons, the thousand correct revelations of facts unknown to herare but old forgotten memories of things which she saw or heard in her childhood. Such suppositions being contrary to her inmost beliefs, and seemingly false in fact, easily irritate her, as being in defiance of good sense and an outrage on truth. But outside of these two subjects she will examine and discuss coolly any hypothesis one chooses. The idea that she should be the reincarnation of a Hindoo princess or of Marie Antoinette, that Leopold is really Cagliostro, that the visions called Martian are really from the planet Mars, etc., all seem to her to conform fully to the facts; but these beliefs are not indispensable to her, and she is ready, should they prove to be false, to change to other theoriesas, for example, telepathy, a mixture of occult influences, a mysterious meeting in her of intuitions coming from some higher sphere, etc.
Undoubtedly the supposition of her pre-existences in India and on the throne of France seems to her to explain in a plausible manner the feeling, which has followed her from childhood, of belonging to a world higher than that in which the chance of birth has imprisoned her for this life; but she does not affirm a positive belief in that brilliant past, is not wholly convinced of it, and remains in a sensible state of expectancy of the true explanation of these ultimate mysteries of her life.
There is another subject, also, which is close to her heart. She has heard it said that in the eyes of scientists and physicians mediums are considered to be fools, hysterical subjects, or insane, or, in any event, abnormal, in the bad sense of the word. But, in the light of the experience of every day of her life, she protests vigorously against this odious insinuation. She declares emphatically that she is "perfectly sane in body and mind, not in the least unbalanced," and repels with indignation the idea there can be any serious abnormality or the least danger in mediumship such as she practises. "I am far from being abnormal," she wrote me recently, "and I have never been so clear of vision, so lucid, and so apt to judge correctly as since I have begun to develop as a medium."
Leopold, too, speaking through her voice during her trances, has more than once solemnly testified as to her perfect health. He has also returned to the subject by letter; we shall find farther on a very interesting certificate of mental equilibrium dictated by him and written by him with her hand, as if to
give more weight to his declarations (see Fig. 8, p. 137.)
It is incontestable that Hélène has a very well-organized brain, as is evidenced by the admirable manner in which she manages the important and complicated department which is under her direction in the commercial establishment in which she is employed. To accuse her of being insane, simply because she is a medium, as some charitable souls (the world is full of them) do not hesitate to do sometimes, is, to say the least, a most inadmissible petitio principii.
The opinion which Mlle. Smith holds in her normal state concerning her automatic faculties is altogether optimistic; and there is nothing to prove her in the wrong. She regards her mediumship as a rare and precious privilege, with which nothing in the world would induce her to part. True, she also sees in it the reason for the malevolent and unjust judgments, the jealousies, the base suspicions, to which the ignorant multitude have in all ages subjected those who have succeeded in elevating themselves above it through the possession of faculties of this kind. But, on the whole, the disadvantages are more than counterbalanced by gains of a high order, and the inward satisfaction attached to such a gift. And here I desire to emphasize the statement, once for all, that Hélène does not belong to the class of professional mediums, nor to those who use their mediumship for the purpose of coining money. Mlle. Smith, who earns her living in the position which her intelligence and fitness have secured for her, and through which her family enjoys a modest ease,
never accepts any pecuniary compensation for her seances or consultations. Such a traffic in faculties which have a sort of religious signification in her eyes would be absolutely repugnant to her feelings.
Hélène's spontaneous automatisms have often aided her in, without ever having interfered with, her daily occupations. There is, happily for her, a great difference in intensity between the phenomena of her seances and those which break in upon her habitual existence, the latter never having caused such disturbance of her personality as the former.
In her daily life she has only passing hallucinations limited to one or two of the senses, superficial hemisomnambulisms, compatible with a certain amount of self-possessionin short, ephemeral perturbations of no importance from a practical point of view. Taken as a whole, the interventions of the subliminal in her ordinary existence are more beneficial to her than otherwise, since they often bear the stamp of utility and appropriateness, which make them very serviceable.
Phenomena of hypermnesia, divination, lost objects mysteriously recovered, happy inspirations, true presentiments, correct intuitionsin a word, teleological automatisms of every sortshe possesses in so high a degree that this small coin of genius is more than sufficient to compensate for the inconveniences resulting from the distraction and momentary absence of mind with which the vision is accompanied.
In the seances, on the contrary, she presents the most grave functional alterations that one can imagine, and passes through accesses of lethargy,
catalepsy, somnambulism, total change of personality, etc., the least of which would be a very disagreeable adventure for her if it should happen to occur in the street or at her office.
But here I am obliged to leave Hélène's ordinary state to enter upon the study of her automatisms.
The automatisms which occur outside the seances in Mlle. Smith's every-day life, those, at least, which she is able to recall and narrate, are of a frequency very variable and utterly independent of any known circumstances; sometimes presenting themselves two or three times in the same day; at others, two or three weeks will elapse without a single one. Extremely diverse in their form and content, these phenomena may be divided into three categories, based upon their origin. The first proceed from impressions received by Hélène in moments of special suggestibility; the second are the fortuitous apparitions above the ordinary level of her consciousness, the romances in process of elaboration to which we are coming; the last, which differ from the two preceding species (which are always useless, if not detrimental) by their beneficial character and their adaptation to the needs of the moment, are roused by those teleological automatisms to which I have already called attention as having occurred in her childhood, and which have shared in the general recrudescence of her subconscious life under the lash of the spiritistic experiences.
Let us pass these different cases rapidly in review.
I. Permanence of exterior suggestions.The spiritistic reunions are naturally their principal source. I do not mean that she has there been subjected to experiments in post-hypnotic suggestion. Justice to all those who have attended the seances compels the statement that they have never abused the suggestibility which she shows on such occasions, by suggesting ideas of such a nature as to cause her annoyance on the following days. The most that has been attempted has been the suggestion of some small matters by way of harmless experiment, to be executed by her a few moments after awaking from her trance. There is no need of intentional suggestions to influence her in a lasting manner; therefore we have avoided as far as possible everything that might leave disagreeable traces behind, and have suggested to her before the end of the seance that she have on the morrow no headache, fatigue, etc.; but it sometimes happens that certain incidents, often absolutely insignificant, are engraved on her memory in a most unlooked-for manner and assail her as inexplicable obsessions during the ensuing week. The following are some specimens of involuntary suggestion, which generally linger for three or four days, but may occasionally continue for twelve or fifteen.
Hélène told me one Sunday that she had been possessed several times during the day by the hallucinatory image of a straw hat, the inside of which was turned towards her, and-which remained vertically in the air about three or four feet in front of
her, without being held by any one. She had the feeling that this hat belonged to me, and I happened finally to recollect that at the seance of the preceding Sunday I happened to fan myself with this very hat during her final trance, the image of which had been engraved on her mind in one of the flashes in which she opened her eyes and closed them again instantly before her final awaking. This obsession, said she, was very strong on Monday and the following day or two, but lessened somewhat towards the end of the week.
At another time she preserved during a whole week the sensation of the pressure of my thumb on her left eyebrow. (Compression of the external frontal and suborbital nerves is a means I often employ to hasten her awaking, after a hint given by Leopold.)
There happened to her also twice in the same day an auditive and visual hallucination of an aged person whom she did not recognize, but the extremely characteristic description of whom corresponds so well with that of a gentleman of Geneva who had been mentioned to her a few days previously, immediately before the commencement of a seance (when she was probably already in her state of suggestibility), that there is scarcely any doubt but that these apparitions were the consequence of that conversation.
'Following another seance where she had, at the beginning of a Hindoo scene, made vain efforts to detach a bracelet from her left wrist, she preserved for three days the feeling of something grasping that wrist, without understanding what it could be.
In the same way, various feelings of sadness, anger,
a desire to laugh or to weep, etc., the cause of which she was unable to explain, have often followed her for a considerable length of time after the seances of which these feelings were the manifest emotional echo. This is often the effect of our dreams on our waking state: we forget the dreams, but their influence remains, and is often more marked in the dreams of a hypnotized person or a somnambulist than in those of ordinary sleep.
The seances are not the exclusive source of the involuntary suggestions which trouble Mlle. Smith in her daily life without any benefit to herself. It is evident that on every occasion when she finds herself in that particular condition of least resistance which we, in our ignorance of its intrinsic nature, designate by the convenient name of " suggestibility," she is exposed to impressions capable of returning to assail her in the course of her daily occupations. Fortunately this condition of suggestibility does not seem to develop itself readily in her outside of the spiritistic reunions.
2. Irruptions of subliminal reveries.I shall have too many occasions to cite concrete examples of visions, voices, and other spontaneous outpourings of the work of imagination, which are continually going on under the ordinary consciousness of Mlle. Smith, to dwell long on this point. Some general remarks will suffice.
The connection which the unforeseen phenomena maintain with those of the seances themselves is very varied. Sometimes we are able to recognize them as reproductions, more or less incomplete, of episodes
which occurred at the preceding seances, and consider them simple echoes or post-hypnotic repetitions of these last. Sometimes, on the contrary, it appears that we have to deal with preparatory rehearsals of scenes which will unfold themselves at length and will be continued at some later seance. Finally, sometimes it is a question of tableaux, having no connection with those which fill up the seances; they are like leaves, flying away never to return, romances which are continually being fabricated in the deep subliminal strata of Mlle. Smith's consciousness.
Hélène, in fact, does not long remember, nor in much detail, with a few exceptions, those visions which take place in her ordinary state, and which occur most frequently early in the morning, while she is still in bed, or just after she has arisen and while working by the light of her lamp; sometimes in the evening, or during the brief moments of rest in the middle of the day, and, much more rarely, while in the full activity of waking hours she is at her desk. If she had not long since, at my request, and with great good will, acquired the habit of noting in pencil the essential content of these apparitions, either during the apparition itself (which she is not always able to do) or else immediately afterwards, we should have still more deficiencies in the plot of her romances to deplore. Hélène's psychological state, during her spontaneous visions, is known to me only by her own descriptions. She is fortunately a very intelligent observer and a good psychologist.
Her narratives show that her visions are accompanied by a certain degree of obnubilation. For a
few moments, for instance, the room, the light of the lamp, disappear from before her eyes; the noise of the wheels in the street ceases to be heard; she feels herself becoming inert and passive, while a feeling of bliss and ecstatic well-being permeates her entire individuality in the presence of the spectacle which appears to her; then the vision, to her great regret, slowly fades from her view, the lamp and the furniture reappear, the outside noises again make themselves heard, and she is astonished that the idea did not occur to her to put down in pencil the strange words she has heard, or that she did not touch or caress, for example, the beautiful birds of many-colored plumage flying and singing around her. Sometimes she has maintained sufficient presence of mind to scribble from dictation the words striking her ear; but the wretched handwriting proves that her attention, all absorbed by the apparition, could not follow the pencil, and that the hand directed it badly. At other times the reverse is the fact. It appears in the course of the vision as though some one took hold of her arm and guided it in spite of herself; the result is splendid calligraphies, wholly different from her own handwriting, executed without her knowledge, and during the execution of which her mind was wholly absent, if we can judge from the surprise she shows on awaking when she finds before her these strange writings, and from analogous scenes which transpire at the seances.
The preceding is applicable especially to the more frequent casesthat is, to the morning or evening visions which happen to her at home, in that intermediate
condition between sleep and waking, always so favorable, as we know, to the development of unconscious cerebration. But there are innumerable shades and gradations between this middle type, so to speak, and its opposite extremes; on the one hand is the fortunately very exceptional case where she is seized with ecstasy while at her place of business; and, on the other hand, that in which the automatism limits itself to inscribing some unknown characters or words in another hand than her own in her correspondence and writingspeculiar lapsus calami, which she is not slow to perceive on coming to herself.
The following is an example of a case of ecstasy:
Having ascended one day to an upper story, to look for something in a dark store-room, she had an apparition of a man in a turban and large white cloak, whom she had the impression of recognizing, * and whose presence filled her with a delightful calm and profound happiness. She could not recall the conversation which passed between them, which, though in an unknown language, she nevertheless had the feeling of having perfectly comprehended. On the departure of the mysterious visitor she was astonished to find herself brought back to sombre reality, and stupefied on noting by her watch that the interview had lasted much longer than it had seemed to do. She preserved all that day a delicious feeling of wellbeing as the effect of the strange apparition.
The phenomenon of mingling strange writing with her own is of relatively frequent occurrence, and we shall see divers specimens of it in the following chapters, apropos of the romances to which it especially belongs. I will give here only one complex example, which will serve at the same time as an illustration of a special kind of automatism, very harmless, to which Hélène is also subject, and which consists in making verses, not without knowing, but at least without intending to do so, and in connection with the most trifling matters.
There are times when, in spite of herself, she feels compelled to speak in distinct rhymes of eight feet, which she does not prepare, and does not perceive until the moment she has finished uttering them. * In this particular case it is by a quatrain (a very unusual occurrence) that she replies to some one who had consulted her in regard to some blue
ribbon. But this quatrain, by its style, by the vision of the blond head of a child which accompanies it, and by the manner also in which she writes it, causes us to hazard the conjecture that it is an inspiration depending on the underlying Royal cycle; while in the following letter, in which she narrates the affair to M. Lemaître, her pen inscribes, all unknown to her, strange characters evidently due to the cropping out of the Martian cycle, of which she speaks in the letter (see Fig. 1, a passage of that letter making a Martian M and V in the words vers and rimait):
Click to enlarge
Fig. 1. Fragment of a letter (normal handwriting) of Mlle. Smith, containing two Martian letters. (Collection of M. Lemaître.)
"I have heard some Martian words this afternoon, but have not been able to retain them in my mind. I send you those heard a few days ago, when I had the vision of which I am about to make you the design (Martian lamp). Yesterday morning I for the first time spoke in verse, without being aware of it; it was only on finishing the sentence that I perceived that it rhymed, and I reconstructed it to assure myself of the fact. A little later, on examining some ribbons, I began anew to speak in verse, and I send those also:
they will amuse you. It is a curious thing that I had at that same moment the vision of the blond curly head of a child bound with a blue ribbon. The vision lasted more than a minute. What is still more curious, I do not at all recollect having worn ribbons of that shade as a child: I remember some rose-colored, some red, but I have no recollection whatever of any blue ribbons. I really do not know why I spoke these words; it is the more amusing. I was obliged to speak them, I assure you, in spite of myself. I was eager to put them on paper, and I noticed in writing them down that, for a moment, the handwriting was not regular, that is, it was slightly different from mine."
Here is the quatrain, the pencil impression of which is too faint to enable a fac-simile to be reproduced here, and in it I have indicated by italics the words and syllables the calligraphy or orthography of which differs from that of Hélène and becomes the style of automatic handwriting called that of Marie Antoinette:
The head of curly blond hair, ornamented with blue ribbons, also figures in the visions of the Royal cycle, and appears to belong, as is here the case, sometimes to Marie Antoinette herself, sometimes to one or other of her children, especially the Dauphin.
While it is generally easy to connect these eruptions of the subliminal volcano with the various dreams
from which they emanate, such is not always the case, and there are visions the origin of which is doubtful and ambiguous. We must not forget that, alongside of the grand cycles of Hélène which are better known, there also float in her latent imagination innumerable small accessory systems, more or less independent, which supply a large part of the seances, such as revelations of former events connected with the families of the sitters, etc.; it is not always possible to identify the fragments coining from these isolated dreams.
3. Teleological automatisms.The spontaneous phenomena of this category, possessing as a common characteristic a practical utility for Hélène more or less marked, can be subdivided into two classes, according to their direct attachment to the personality of Leopold, or their not belonging to any distinct personality, and which only express in a vivid manner the result of the normal working, although more or less unconscious, of the faculties of memory and of reason. I confine myself now to citing one case of each of these classes, of which we shall see other examples in the chapters relating to Leopold and to supernormal appearances.
One day Mlle. Smith, wishing to take down a large and heavy object from a high shelf, was prevented from so doing by the fact that her uplifted arms seemed as though petrified and incapable of being moved for some seconds; she saw in this a warning and gave up her intention. In a later seance Leopold said that it was he himself who had caused Hélène's arms to become rigid, in order to prevent her from
attempting to lift the object which was too heavy for her and would have caused some accident to befall her.
On another occasion a clerk who sought vainly for a certain pattern asked Hélène if she knew what had become of it. Hélène replied mechanically and without reflection, "Yes, it was sent to Mr. J." (a customer of the firm); at the same time there appeared before her in large black figures about eight or ten inches in height the number 18, and she added, instinctively, "It was eighteen days ago." This statement caused the clerk to smile, because of its improbability, the rule of the house being that customers to whom patterns were lent for examination must return them inside of three days or a messenger would be sent for them. Hélène, struck by this objection, and having no conscious recollection of the affair, replied, "Really, perhaps I am wrong." Meanwhile, an investigation of the date indicated in the records of the house showed that she was perfectly correct. It was through various negligences, with which she had nothing at all to do, that the pattern had not been sent for or recovered. Leopold, on being asked, has no recollection of this circumstance, and does not appear to have been the author of this automatism of cryptomnesia, nor of many other analogous phenomena through which Hélène's subconscious memory renders her signal services and has gained for her a well-merited and highly valued reputation.
Thus we see that if the spontaneous automatisms of Mlle. Smith are often the vexatious result of her moments of suggestibility, or the tempestuous irruption
of her subliminal reveries, they also often assume the form of useful messages. Such compensation is not to be despised.
Mlle. Smith has never been hypnotized. In her instinctive aversion, which she shares with the majority of mediums, to anything that seems like an attempt to experiment upon her, she has always refused to allow herself to be put to sleep. She does not realize that in avoiding the idea she has actually accepted the reality, since her spiritistic experiences in reality constitute for her an auto-hypnotization, which inevitably degenerates into a hetero-hypnotization, as she is brought under the influence of one or other of the persons present at the seance.
All her seances have somewhat of the same psychologic form, the same method of development running through their immense diversity of content. She places herself at the table with the idea and the intention of bringing into play her mediumistic faculties. After an interval, varying from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour, generally in a shorter time if the room is well darkened and the sitters are perfectly silent, she begins to have visions, preceded and accompanied by very varied sensory and motor disturbances, after which she passes into a complete trance. In that state, it rarely happens, and then only for a few moments, that she is entirely unconscious of the persons present, and, as it were, shut up within her personal dream and plunged into profound
lethargy (hypnotic syncope) . Ordinarily she remains in communication, more or less close, with one of the sitters, who thus finds himself in the same relation towards her as a hypnotizer towards his subject, and able to take advantage of that rapport, by giving her any immediate or future suggestions that he may desire. When the seance consists only of waking visions, it lasts generally only a short timean hour to an hour and a halfand is ended quickly by three sharp raps upon the table, after which Mlle. Smith returns to her normal state, which she scarcely seems to have left. If the somnambulism has been complete, the seance is prolonged to double that length of time, and often longer, and the return to the normal state comes slowly through phases of deep sleep, alternating with relapses into somnambulistic gestures and attitudes, moments of catalepsy, etc. The final awakening is always preceded by several brief awakenings, followed by relapses into sleep.
Each of these preliminary awakenings, as well as the final one, is accompanied by the same characteristic movements of the features. The eyes, which have been for a long time closed, open wide, stupidly staring into vacancy, or fix themselves slowly on the objects and the sitters within their range of vision, the dilated pupils do not react, the face is an impassive and rigid mask, devoid of expression. Hélène seems altogether absent. All at once, with a slight heaving of the breast and raising of the head, and a quick breath, a gleam of intelligence illumines her countenance, the mouth is gracefully
opened, the eyes become brilliant, the entire countenance lights up with a pleasant smile and gives evidence of her recognition of the world and of her return to herself. But with the same suddenness with which it appeared, that appearance of life lasts but a second or two, the physiognomy resumes its lifeless mask, the eyes becoming haggard and fixed close again, and the head falls on the back of the chair. This return of sleep will be followed by another sudden awaking, then perhaps by several more, until the final awaking, always distinguished, after the smile at the beginning, by the stereotyped question, "What time is it?" and by a movement of surprise on learning that it is so late. There is no memory of what has transpired during the seance.
A complete description of the psychological and physiological phenomena which present themselves, or which might be obtained in the course of the seances, would detain me too long, since there is absolutely nothing constant either in the nature or in the succession of the phenomena, and no two seances are evolved exactly in the same manner. I must confine myself to some striking characteristics.
Three principal symptoms, almost contemporaneous generally, announce that Mlle. Smith is beginning to enter into her trance.
There are on the one side emotional or cnæsthetic modifications, the cause of which is revealed a little later in the subsequent messages. Hélène is, for instance, seized by an invincible desire to laugh, which she cannot or will not explain; or she complains
of sadness, fear, of different unpleasant sensations, of heat or of cold, of nausea, etc., according to the nature of the communications which are approaching and of which these emotional states are the forerunners.
There are, on the other hand, phenomena of systematic anæsthesia (negative hallucinations), limited to those sitters whom the coming messages concern. Hélène ceases to see them, while continuing to hear their voices and feel their touch; or, on the contrary, she is astonished to no longer hear them, though she sees their lips moving, etc.; or, finally, she does not perceive them in any manner, and demands to know why they are leaving when the seance is hardly begun. In its details this systematic anæsthesia varies infinitely, and extends sometimes to but one part of the person concerned, to his hand, to a portion of his face, etc., without it always being possible to explain these capricious details by the content of the following visions; it would seem that the incoherence of the dream presides over this preliminary work of disintegration, and that the normal perceptions are absorbed by the subconscious personality eager for material for the building up of the hallucinations which it is preparing.
Systematic anæsthesia is often complicated with positive hallucinations, and Hélène will manifest her surprise at seeing, for example, a strange costume or an unusual coiffure. This, in reality, is the vision which is already being installed.
The third symptom, which does not manifest itself clearly in her, but the presence of which can be often
established before all the others by investigation, is a complete allochiria, * ordinarily accompanied by various other sensory and motor disturbances. If, at the beginning of the seance, Hélène is asked, for example, to raise her right hand, to move the left index-finger, or to close one eye, she begins straightway to carry into effect these different acts; then all at once, without knowing why and without hesitation, she deceives herself in regard to the side, and raises her left hand, moves her right index-finger, closes the other eye, etc. This indicates that she is no longer in her normal state, though still appearing to retain her ordinary consciousness, and with the liveliness of a normal person discusses the question of her having mistaken her right hand or eye for her left, and vice versa. It is to be noted that Leopold, on such occasions of pronounced allochiria, does not share this error in regard to the side. I have assisted at some curious discussions between him and Hélène, she insisting that such a hand was her right, or that the Isle Rousseau is on the left as one passes the bridge of Mont Blanc or coming from the railway station, and Leopold all the while, by means of raps upon the table, giving her clearly to understand she was wrong.
A little after the allochiria, and sometimes simultaneously with it, are to be found various other phenomena, extremely variable, of which I here cite only
a few One of her arms is contractured as it rests upon the table, and resists the efforts of the sitters to lift it up, as though it were a bar of iron; the fingers of the hand also participate in this rigidity. Sometimes this contracture does not exist before, but establishes itself at the same instant that some one touches the forearm, and increases in proportion to the efforts which are made to overcome it. There is no regularity in the distribution of the anæsthesia (changing from one instant to another), the contractures, or convulsions which the hands and arms of Hélène exhibit. It all seems due to pure caprice, or to depend only on underlying dreams, of which little is known.
Certain analogous and likewise capricious phenomena of anæsthesia, paralysis, sensations of all sorts, of which Hélène complains, often appear in her face, her eyes, her mouth, etc. In the midst of all these disturbances the visions announce themselves, and the somnambulism is introduced with modifications, equally variable, of other functions, evidenced by tears, sobbings, sighs, repeated hiccoughs, various changing of the rhythm of respiration, etc.
If Hélène is experimented upon and questioned too long, the development of the original visions is obstructed, and she easily reaches a degree of sensibility where she falls into the standard class of public representations of hypnotisma charmed and fascinated state in which she remains riveted before some brilliant object, as, for example, the ring, trinkets, or cuff-button of one of the sitters; then
precipitates herself in a frenzy upon the object, and tries to secure it; or assumes emotional attitudes and poses under the influence of joyous airs upon the piano; experiences suggested hallucinations of all kinds, sees terrible serpents, which she pursues with a pair of pincers; beautiful flowers, which she smells with deep respirations and distributes to the sitters; or, again, bleeding wounds which have been made on her hand, and which cause her to shed tears. The common-place character of these phenomena causes their long continuance to be deprecated, and the ingenuity of all is exercised in endeavoring by different means, none of which is very efficacious or very rapid, to plunge her into profound and tranquil sleep, from which she is not long in passing of her own accord into complete somnambulism and in taking up the thread of her personal imaginations.
If all these disturbing investigations have been successfully avoided, the spontaneous development of the automatisms is effected with greater rapidity and fulness. It is possible then to behold, in the same seance, a very varied spectacle, and to listen, besides, to certain special communications made in a semi-waking state to one or other of the sitters; then, in complete somnambulism, a Hindoo vision is presented, followed by a Martian dream, with an incarnation of Leopold in the middle, and a scene of Marie Antoinette to wind up with. Ordinarily two of these last creations will suffice to fill up a seance. One such representation is not performed without the loss of considerable strength by the medium, which shows itself by the final sleep being prolonged sometimes
for an hour, interrupted, as I have said, by repetitions of the preceding somnambulistic scenes, easily recognizable by certain gestures or the murmuring of characteristic words. Passing through these diverse oscillations and the ephemeral awaking, of which I have spoken above, Hélène finishes by returning to her normal state; but the seances which have been too long continued or too full of movement leave her very much fatigued for the rest of the day. It has also sometimes happened to her to re-enter the somnambulism (from which she had probably not completely emerged) during the course of the evening or on returning home, and only to succeed in recovering her perfectly normal state through the assistance of a night's sleep.
As to the real nature of Hélène's slumbers at the end of the seances, and her states of consciousness when she awakes, it is difficult for me to pronounce, having only been able to observe them under unfavorable conditionsthat is, in the presence of sitters more or less numerous and restless. The greater part certainly consist of somnambulisms, in which she hears all that passes around her, since although she seems profoundly asleep and absent, the suggestions then given her to be carried out after awaking are registered and performed wonderfullyat least when Leopold, who is almost always on hand and answers by movements of one finger or another to questions put to him, does not make any opposition or declare that the suggestion shall not be carried out I There are also brief moments when Hélène seems to be in a profound state of coma and kind of syncope
without trace of psychic life; her pulse and respiration continue to be regular, but she does not react to any excitation, her arms, if raised, fall heavily, no sign of Leopold can be obtained, and suggestions made at that instant will not be acted upon.
These lethargic phases, during which all consciousness seems to be abolished, are generally followed by cataleptic phases in which the hands and arms preserve every position in which they may be placed, and continue the movements of rotation or of oscillation which may be forced upon them, but never for more than one or two minutes.
In default of more complete experiments, I submit the following comparison of Hélène's muscular force and of her sensibility to pain before and after a seance lasting nearly three hours, the second half being in full somnambulism. At 4.50 o'clock, on sitting down at the table three dynamometric tests with her right hand gave kilos. 27.5, 27, 25average, 26.5. The sensibility to pain measured on the back of the median phalanx of the index-finger with the algesiometer of Griesbach, gave for the right, grs. 35, 40, 20, 20average, 29; for the left, 35, 20, 20, 15average, 22.5 grs. (Sensibility slightly more delicate than that of another lady present at the seance, not a medium and in perfect health.)
At 7.45 o'clock, some minutes after the final awaking: dynamometer, right hand, 8, 4.5, 4.5average, 5.7; algesiometer, complete analgesia both as to right and left, on the whole of the back of the index as well as the rest of the hand and wrist, the maximum of the instrument (100 grs.) was attained
and passed without arousing any painful sensation but only an impression of contact.
One hour later, after dinner: dynamometer 22, 22, 19average, 21; algesiometer, 20, 18 for the right: 15, 20 for the left. It is possible, then, to say that her muscular force and sensibility to pain, both normal immediately before her entrance upon the seance, are still abolished in the first fifteen minutes after awaking, but are found to be restored in about an hour. Perception of colors, on the contrary, appeared to be as perfect immediately after awaking as before the seance. The tremor of the index-finger; normal before the seance, is very much exaggerated in its amplitude for a certain time after awaking and reflects sometimes the respiratory movements, as can be seen by the curves of Fig. 2. This denotes a great diminution of kinesthetic sensibility and of voluntary control over the immobility of the hand.
The state in which Mlle. Smith carries out the post-hypnotic suggestions made to her in the course of her somnambulisms, when they do not come into collision with either the pronounced opposition of Leopold or the states of lethargy of which I have spoken, is interesting on account of its varied character, which seems to depend upon the greater or less ease with which the hallucination or the act suggested can be reconciled with Hélène's normal personality. Their execution in the full waking state seems to be confined to suggestions of simple acts, free from absurdity, the idea of which would be easily accepted and carried out by the normal self when the desired moment arrived. If, on the contrary, it is a
question of more complicated and difficult things, compatible, however, with the rational points of view of the normal waking state, Hélène falls momentarily into somnambulism for the execution of the order given, unless she has permanently remained in that state, in spite of her apparent awaking, in order not
Click to enlarge
Fig. 2. Tremor of right index-finger. A, B, C, fragments of curves taken in the normal state before the seance (A and C with closed eyes; B, with open eyes looking at the index-finger); D, E, F, fragments of curves received in succession a quarter of an hour after the seance. The curve F reflects the respiratory oscillations. The curves go from right to left, and the interval between the two vertical lines is ten seconds.
to re-enter definitely and completely upon her ordinary state until after the execution of the order, of which there then remains to her no recollection whatever.
From the foregoing facts we may conclude that little or nothing of that which goes on around her escapes her subconscious intelligence, and it is from this source that her somnambulistic romances are nourished afresh.
A word more as to the preparation for the seances. I do not refer to a conscious preparation, but to a subliminal incubation or elaboration, unknown by her, showing itself on the level of her ordinary personality in the form of fugitive gleams and fragmentary images during her sleep at night or the moments of awaking in the morning. Mlle. Smith, in reality, has no hold, possesses no influence, upon the nature of her visions and somnambulisms. She is able, undoubtedly, up to a certain point, to aid their appearance in a general way, by cultivating tranquillity of mind, securing darkness and silence in the room, and by abandoning herself to a passive attitude of mind; or to hinder it, on the other hand, by movement, or distraction of attention; but with the fixed and concrete content itself of her automatisms she has nothing to do and no share in the responsibility for it. So far as her great cycles or her detached messages are concerned, they are fabricated in her in spite of herself, and without her having a word to say about their production, any more than one has in the formation of his dreams. When it is recollected, on the other hand, that the phenomena of incubation, of subliminal preparation,
or unconscious cerebration, are universal facts, playing their rôle in the psychology of every human being, we can rely upon finding them also among the mediums, and upon their holding a place with them much more important than with others, owing to the fact that their subconscious life is so much more fully developed.
With each one of us the expectation or the simple perspective of any eventa departure, a visit, an errand, or undertaking to do anything, a letter to write, in short, all the more insignificant incidents of daily existence, when they are not absolutely unforeseenpromote a psychological adaptation more or less extended and profound.
Alongside of and underneath the conscious expectancy, certain physical or mental attitudes, voluntarily assumed in view of the event, always effect an underlying preparation of an inward kind, a change which we may regard, according to the side from which we consider the individual, as a peculiar psychical orientation or cerebral adjustment, a modification in the association of ideas or in the dynamics of the cortical nerves. But everything points to the fact that in persons gifted with mediumship this underlying preparation is capable of assuming on occasion a greater importance than is the case with ordinary mortals, a much more complete independence of the ordinary consciousness
To return to Mlle. Smith, when she knows some time in advance who will be present at her next seance, and what people she will almost surely meet there, it would be altogether natural that such previous
knowledge of the environment and of the sitters would influence her subliminal thoughts and in some degree direct the course of the latent incubation. It may well be asked, therefore, whether the varied spectacle which the seances furnish is really always impromptu and has its birth on the spur of the moment like ordinary dreams, or whether it has been subconsciously thought out, the seance being only the performance of an arrested programme, the representation coram populo of scenes already ripened in the deep subliminal strata of the medium.
Neither of these two hypotheses, held to exclude the other, answers to the facts, but there is some truth in both of them.
The menu of the seancesif the expression is permissibleis always composed of one or two plats de résistance, carefully prepared in advance in the subliminal laboratories, and of various hors doeuvres left to the inspiration of the moment. To speak more exactly, the general plot, the chief lines and more striking points of the scenes which unfold themselves are fixed according to a previous arrangement, but the details of execution and accessory embellishments are entirely dependent upon chance circumstances. The proof of this is found, on the one hand, in the suppleness, the perfect ease, the appropriateness with which Hélène's automatismsif we can still apply the word automatism to those cases in which spontaneity, self-possession, free use of all the faculties constitute the dominant characteristicsoften adapt themselves to unexpected situations in the environment or capricious interruptions on
the part of the sitters; on the other hand, in the fact that Leopold, interrogated at the beginning of the seance, ordinarily knows very well and announces the principal vision or incarnations which are about to make their appearance, provided, at least, the spectators do not hinder their unfolding by their tempestuous clamor for something else.
The animated conversations, sometimes full of spirited repartee, between Leopold or Marie Antoinette and the sitters, could not have been prepared in advance, and are altogether opposed to the stereotyped repetition which is generally expected of automatic phenomena. But, on the other hand, such repetition, almost entirely mechanical and devoid of sense, presents itself on frequent occasions. I have, for instance, seen somnambulistic scenes presented which were entirely misplaced, and constituted at the time veritable anachronisms, which would have perfectly fitted the situation eight days previously in another environment, and for which the aforesaid scenes had been evidently intended; but, having been withheld until the last moment by unforeseen circumstances, the following seance gets the benefit of these postponed messages.
Here is proof that Hélène's subliminal imagination prepares up to a certain point her principal productions, in view of the conditions and surroundings under which the seance will probably take place, and also that these products, once elaborated, must be eliminated and poured forth with a sort of blind necessity, at the right or the wrong time, whenever the entrance of Hélène into a favorable hypnoid state furnishes
them an opportunity so to do. It follows also that her normal personality has nothing whatever to do with the preparation of the seances, since she can neither suppress nor change scenes badly adapted to the actual environment, the appearance of which sometimes greatly annoys Mlle. Smith when they are recounted to her after the seance; nor can she provoke the messages, the production of which she desires and vainly hopes foras, for example, a medical consultation with Leopold, the incarnation of a deceased parent, or a scene from one cycle rather than from the others, for the benefit of a sitter who particularly desires it, and whom she is very desirous to please.
Much more could be said concerning the psychological side of the seances of Mlle. Smith, but I must limit myself. It will be possible to gain a more complete idea of this subject by studying the illustrations in the following chapters on the chief cycles of her brilliant subliminal fantasy.
54:* Vision relating to the Oriental cycle; the man was the Arab sheik, the father of Simandini.
55:* The following are some of these impromptu rhymes, surely up to the level of the circumstances which inspired them, but by which we ought not to judge the conscious poetic faculties of Mile. Smith:
To a little girl proud of her new shoes:
In a "culinary" discussion:
To a person slightly vain:
64:* The confusion of sensations in the two sides of the body, as when a person locates in the right leg a touch upon the left leg.
64: See, on allochiria, P. Janet, Stigmates mentaux des hysteriques, pp. 66-71; and Nevroses et ideés fixes, vol. i. p. 234.