Friday, 28 December 2012

Martian for Beginners

In France, March 1894, a woman named Mme Mirbel went to see a medium to try and contact her deceased son. A circle of several people sat, contact was made, and the usual assurances of peace in the afterlife were given by the son, as well as a spirit of a doctor called Raspail who gave Mme Mirbel medical advice on the eye condition she had.

Some months later, in November, she went back for a second seance. This time there was no Dr Raspail (perhaps sulking since Mme Mirbel had not followed his advice) and to everyone's great surprise it was revealed that the son had been reincarnated, and now lived on Mars and spoke no French. Instead, he spoke through the medium in a stream of intelligible noises which, apparently, was the Martian language.

Writing about this in "From India to the Planet Mars", Theodore Flournoy describes the events because he knew the medium well and had been present at both seances, as well as seances that followed. The language uttered by the medium, Hélène Smith (a pseudonym given by Flournoy. Her real name was Catherine-Élise Müller) appeared to be consistent, with the same words, prefixes and suffixes being used.

Over time, it became more sophisticated until some Martian handwriting was produced by the medium in August 1897. Despite his friendship with the medium and his belief in telepathy, he had doubts about this case.

A sample of Martian handwriting

It soon became clear that, despite the different vocabulary, Martian followed the rules of French grammar almost exactly. Flournoy writes of his examination of written Martian:

"It is not always easy to represent a language and its pronunciation by means of the typographical characters of another. Happily the Martian, in spite of its strange appearance and the fifty millions of leagues which separate us from the red planet, is in reality so near neighbor to French that there is scarcely any difficulty in this case." (p 210)

A translation of the same handwriting shown above

Also, the spirits from Mars seemed quite ignorant of those subjects that people asked of them, such as the canals on Mars, and about the snow seen at the poles. Instead, they preferred to talk about the social structure of Martian life.

Müller was born in Switzerland, and although she professed a dislike of learning languages she had studied German. Flournoy notes that she had a multi-lingual father and posits that her talent for languages may have been hereditary, subliminally rising to the surface when in a trance.

In October 1898, having convinced himself that Martian was just French in fancy clothes, he told Müller about his findings (oddly, he had first told one of Müller's spirit guides about his doubts during a seance when the medium was in a trance. The spirit guide insisted that Martian was genuine). She refused to accept his reasoning, saying that science was not infallible and since no one had been to Mars, she couldn't be disproved.

But shortly after this, a new identity from Mars appeared in her seances, this time with the promise of a new language. Additionally, Fournoy noticed a slight change in Martian that focused on those aspects that he had discussed with her earlier. But by now Fournoy had grown quite tired of Martian, and he closes the chapter before any example of this new language had been given.

Flournoy, T., (1900) "From India to The Planet Mars, a Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia", translated by D.B. Vermilye, Harper and Brothers Publishers
Engles, H., (2008) "Understanding The Glossolalia Of Hélène Smith, The Famous Spiritist Medium", Psychiatries dans l’histoire, J. Arveiller (dir.), Caen, PUC, p. 141-148

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