Mars and Spiritualism: How Psychics Attempted to Contact Mars

By Dr. Emily Simpson

Percival Lowell’s theories of Mars and its canals inspired the imagination and ingenuity of countless individuals of his time and beyond.  But how “beyond” his theories reached could be a matter altogether outside the scope of planetary astronomy.  Inspired by Lowell’s descriptions of advanced Martian civilizations, a number of his readers set out to devise ways to contact Mars.  The period when Lowell produced his most popular works, at the turn of the twentieth century, was also a peak time for spiritualism and psychical research.  The science of spiritualism, not thought of as a pseudoscience or a fringe subject at the time, seemed to be destined to explain the unexplainable and achieve the seemingly impossible here on Earth.  Perhaps, some thought, spiritualist methods and psychic talents could be used to unlock the secrets of the solar system as well. 

One of the most detailed cases of a spiritual medium who set her second sight on the Red Planet was a Swiss psychic who went by the name Hélène Smith.  We receive most of our information about Smith from psychologist and psychical researcher Theodore Flournoy.  Flournoy first met Smith when he attended one of her séances.  He became intrigued by the abilities that she claimed and by her exceptional beauty.  Flournoy attended many more of the young woman’s séances and psychic sittings.  As her career as a medium developed, Smith began going into psychic trances and travelling telepathically to Mars.  There she met many Martians, observed their daily lives, and, as she claimed, became fluent in the universal Martian language.  Flournoy was skeptical of Smith’s journeys as well as her skills as a medium.  But a great number of his readers took his account, published in From India to the Planet Mars (1899), at face value.  Many believed that the young woman could in fact travel to Mars in her mind and talk with its inhabitants. 

Automatic writing in Martian language produced be Hélène Smith during a séance, published in Theodore Flournoy’s From India to the Planet Mars

In 1909, another spiritual medium named Princess D’Antuni claimed to have a similar ability to contact Martians through psychic trance.  Without spiritualism, according to D’Antuni, science would never obtain a full understanding of Mars.  As she described to the Los Angeles Times, standard scientific instruments were “of no practical use” when it came to communicating with other planets.  Instead, psychic methods were “the best and safest option.”  D’Antuni’s latter point, at least, rings true.  The activities of these two mediums, and those like them, were quite safe compared to many of the other attempts made to contact Mars.  The same year, 1909, American astronomer David Peck Todd attempted communication with Mars by taking flight in a hot air balloon loaded with telegraphic equipment.  He did not communicate with Martians either and likely had a lot worse time than he would have at a Martian séance.

Martian city visited by Hélène Smith, published in Theodore Flournoy’s From India to the Planet Mars

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