Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University
Many students of the history of mediumship, the subconscious and psychical research are familiar with the phenomena and investigations of medium Helene Smith, whose real name was Catherine Elise Muller. She was brought to fame by the research of Swiss psychologist Theodore Flournoy, who achieved much prominence both in popular and in psychological circles when it appeared published in a book entitled Des Indes a la Planete Mars: Etude sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie (1900) (translated to English as From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism, 1900). In addition, Flournoy (1901) published a second study of the medium which is much less known, and which is the subject of these comments.
This second study was “Nouvelles Observations sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie” [New Observations about a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia], an article of over 150 pages published in the journal Archives de Psychologie in 1901 (see the Appendix below for comments about the date of appearance).
Regardless of reviews of this work in English-language journals by figures such as Joseph Jastrow (1902) and F.C.S. Schiller (1902), this article by Flournoy is not frequently cited in many discussions of Helene Smith published in English. In addition to an introduction and a conclusion section, the article is divided in segments entitled:
*Mlle. Smith After the Publication of Des Indes
*Leopold and the Subconsciousness of Mlle. Smith
*The Astronomical Cycles and Astral Languages
*The Oriental Cycles
*The Royal Cycle and the Barthez Episode
*Regarding the Supernormal
In the article Flournoy stated his conviction about the “good faith of the medium.” He also described the purpose of Des Indes as an attempt to show “how the phenomena of a sincere medium can be explained by subliminal psychic processes . . . .”
According to Flournoy, after the publication of Des Indes the medium went through four phases. The first phase was one of irritation in which the medium resented public discussion in the press and being called an actress. Then came a revival in which she produced new phenomena and was still friendly to Flournoy. During the Americanist phase she started giving seances to admirers, including American ladies. In the last phase, in which she had no interest in science, Flournoy lost access to her as a research subject (readers intereted in the relationship between Smith and Flournoy should see their correspondence published by Olivier Flournoy, 1986).
The medium was able to dedicate herself only to mediumship due to the financial support of a benefactress. She is cited as writing: “The science that I served in a simple and disinterested fashion today shows more than ever her ingratitude and all its ignominy.” But Flournoy stated this referred to articles in the press and not to writings by scientists.
The article was summarized by Jastrow (1902):
“Following the Martian revelations which were detailed in the former volume, the medium removed the scene of her visions to a further planet, which is here designated as ultra-Mars; and here again we have descriptions of scenes and peoples, occasional sketches, a new language of strange sounds though of French structure, as was the Martian tongue. Pages of the texts are given, as are also samples of the scenery and interiors of the ultra-Martians . . . . Worthy of note are the ultra-Martian ideograms or set of symbols by which the words are presented . . . . But there are further worlds beyond Mars; and the next trance cycle takes place on Uranus, from which in turn the scene shifts to the moon. Again a curious geometrical alphabet, different from the others, and yet for brief passages consistently maintained; again descriptions of strange scenes and the usual accompaniments of her remarkable imagination. . . . Still more important is it to note that the genesis of these cycles follows one genetic course. They all begin, so far as the linguistic part is concerned, with the subject’s hearing a few words of the unknown tongue, and later on repeating them; still later she sees the characters, and finally is able to reduce them to paper by automatic writing. Leopold, her spirit guide, takes a variable part in the translation. There are always considerable intervals between the stages of such a cycle . . . . There are likewise further revelations of the Hindu cycle, in which the medium had produced a language with recognizable Sanscrit elements, and had become the incarnation of a former Indian princess. . . . The origin of the information which Mlle. Smith possesses in this cycle is not clearly set forth, but enough is shown to make it evident that a retentive memory would have found the data in various incidents accessible to her reading and experience.
The royal cycle in which the medium becomes Marie Antoinette is likewise not neglected . . . . Here too, a historical character is introduced with very unhistoric concomitants, Dr. Barthez, a physician of the court of that period . . . .
Perhaps the most striking part of this sequel is that it differs so little from the former chapters of the detailed story. The story still goes on, and in its continuance emphasizes the correctness of Professor Flournoy’s diagnosis. The source of all this peculiar intellectual activity is the subconscious romancing imagination of Mlle. Smith.”
Commenting about the mediumistic personality of Leopold Flournoy wrote: “The subconscious of Helene possesses . . . a fluid consistency, or at least is very plastic, and Leopold is but a favorite form of temporary crystallization . . . .” Leopold, who manifested the poetic imaginative side of the medium’s subconscious, was an “exaggeration of completely common phenomena that ordinarily are latent, the fanciful and the coarse personality favored by a temporary hypnoid state of subliminal associations ending in an automatic result.”
Flournoy used the article to answer some of his critics (e.g., Anonymous, 1901), but also to present several general comments about mediumship. A particularly interesting one was his admonition that it is not good for a medium to be investigated all the time by the same person. Such situation, he believed, “inevitably ends in shaping the much suggestible subconsciousness of its subject . . . .” This may limit the performances of the medium to phenomena he or she are used to produce. Studies conducted by others, he believed, may bring the appearance of new phenomena.
Flournoy compared “normal” people (his phrasing) and mediums on their dreams. While the former showed a large separation between wakefulness and dreams, the latter, Flournoy believed, had no “stable barrier between sleep and wakefulness.” In mediums dreams are always waiting to emerge during waking life, possibly caused by all kinds of normal behavioral and social aspects such as surprise, boredom, perplexity, things that may cause in them “psychic dissociation and disaggregate the personality.”
In addition to the above, readers must be aware that the story of Helene Smith was not limited to Flournoy’s writings. The works of others need to be considered to achieve an understanding of her life and fascinating phenomena (some examples include: Anonymous, 1901; Deonna, 1932; Henry, 1901; Lemaitre, 1907).
On the Date of “Nouvelles Observations sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie”
I cite this article as 1901 but this requires an explanation. “Nouvelles” was first published in the Archives de Psychologie (Flournoy, 1901) and reprinted as a booklet (Flournoy, 1902). The Archives article is generally cited as having been published in 1902 (e.g., Ellenberger, 1970, p. 874). But a few others (e.g., Claparede, 1907, p. 334), including Flournoy (1911, p. 1), cited it as 1901.
The use of 1902 may be due to the fact that the first volume of the journal (available online in Google Books and Hathi Trust) shows the date 1902 in its title page and in the introduction written by Flournoy and Claparede. The first page of the “Nouvelles” article in the Archives has a footnote indicating it was published on December 1901 in the first volume of the Archives (Flournoy, 1901, p. 191). A later article uses the date 1902 for the same volume (Lemaitre, 1902), indicating that volume 1 of the Archives covered the 1901-1902 period.
Anonymous. (1901). Autour “des Indes a la Planete Mars.” Bale: Georg.
Claparede, E. (1907). Rapport sur le Laboatoire de Psychologie de l’Universite de Geneve 1897-1907. Archives de Psychologie, 6, 305-338.
Claparede, E. (1921). Theodore Flournoy: Sa vie et son oeuvre. Archives de Psychologie, 28, 1-125.
Deonna, W. (1932). De la planete Mars en terre Sainte: Art et subconscient. Paris: E. de Boccard.
Ellenberger, H. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious. New York: Basic Books.
Flournoy, O. (1986). Theodore et Leopold: De Theodore Flournoy a la Psychanalyse. Neuchatel: La Baconniere.
Flournoy, T. (1900a). Des Indes a la Planete Mars: Etude sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie. Paris: Felix Alcan.
Flournoy, T. (1900b). From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnabulism.New York: Harper & Brothers.
Flournoy, T. (1901). Nouvelles observations sur un cas de somnambulisme avec glossolalie. Archives de psychologie, 1, 101-255.
Flournoy, T. (1902). Nouvelles Observations sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie. Geneve: Eggiman.
Flournoy, T. (1911). Esprits et mediums: Melanges de metapsychique et de psychologie. Geneve: Kundig.
Henry, V. (1901). Le langage martien: Etude analytique de la genese d’une langue dans un cas de glossolalie somnambulique. Paris: J. Maisonneuve.
Jastrow, J. (1902). Review of Observations sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie, by T. Flournoy. Psychological Review, 9, 401-404.
Lemaitre, A. (1902). Hallucinations autoscopiques et automatismes divers chez des ecoliers. Archives de Psychologie, 1, 357-379.
Lemaitre, A. (1907). Un nouveau cycle somnambulique de Mlle Smith: Ses peintures religieuses. Archives de Psychologie, 7, 63-83.
Schiller, F.C.S. (1902). Review of Observations sur un Cas de Somnambulisme avec Glossolalie, by T. Flournoy. Mind, 11(n.s.), 262-263.
Shamdasani, S. (1994). Encountering Helene: Theodore Flournoy and the genesis of subliminal psychology. In T. Flournoy, From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages (pp. xi-li). Princeton: Princeton University Press.