“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact” – Elon Musk
Channeling your misanthropy into a career is a tricky business, unless of course you are one of the lucky few who happen to score a plum position as a psychopath or hired assassin, in which case things are pretty straightforward. Those of us with slightly less edge and a bit of curiosity about the human condition are in a bit of a quandary. You can get your Naturwissenschaften (“Science of Nature”) on and guarantee somewhat more limited exposure to the vicissitudes of interpersonal relations and the minefields of human consciousness or tread carefully into the realms of Geisteswissenchaften (“Science of Spirit”), and try to pinpoint precisely what bothers you most about humanity. Just to be safe, when it came time to tentatively commit to an educational path, I went with astronomy, confident that my objects of study would not only refrain from backtalk, but would also be conveniently distant. Now, I’m all for staying the course, but quickly realized that not only did my personal proclivities lean more towards making sense of the absurdity of sentient existence, but that my math aptitude plateaued somewhere around Calculus, and this does not make for a happy or competent astronomer. At the same time I happened to be deeply immersed in the writings of those sultans of strange such as Robert Anton Wilson, Jacques Vallee, Louis Pauwels, Jacques Bergier, and John Keel and consequently found myself stumbling towards anthropology as my oeuvre, and more specifically, archaeology, as I could still be fairly confident that my subjects of study would at least have been dead for a while. Sadly, had I instead delved into spiritualistic mediumship or automatic writing as a profession, I might have been able to combine all my interests, as a quick perusal of the field amply demonstrates that there is a rarified niche involving lengthy conversations with dead Martians.
To date, we can neither confirm nor deny that there is life on Mars. Luckily, 19th Century spiritualists were at least able to confirm that there is death, reporting deep and meaningful mediumistic dialogues with deceased Martians. Oddly, dead Martians have historically been a chatty bunch, pursuing telepathic pen-pal relationships with everyone from famous French psychic and Surrealist muse Hélène Smith to Swedish engineer and mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. One would think dead people from a dead planet would have a chip on their shoulder, but they generally turned out to be a most solicitous set of expired extraterrestrial critters with a gift for gab.
Hélène Smith (1861-1929), whose real name was Catherine-Elise Müller was big on the French séance scene, widely credited with popularizing automatic writing as a means for communicating with disembodied spirits. While she demonstrated the usual repertoire of rapping, table-tilting, and somnabulatory trances, she claimed multiple reincarnations as a Hindu princess and Marie Antoinette, as well as frequently channeling Victor Hugo and Cagliostro. Not too shabby a spiritualist resume, but by about the turn of the 20th Century she was enthusiastically engaged in automatic writing (the psychic ability to produce writing without conscious awareness) of detailed messages from Martians. Martian communications were delivered to her subconscious in, unsurprisingly, the Martian language and script and graciously translated into French by Ms. Smith. One puzzling aspect of the Martian correspondence was the peculiar consistency of the Martian alphabet. Famed linguist Ferdinand de Saussure studied the reputed Martian language as rendered subconsciously by Hélène Smith and concluded is was a “genuine (if childish)” language with some superficial grammatical similarities to French. Théodore Flournoy, Professor of Psychology at the University of Geneva became friends with and conducted an extensive study of Hélène Smith (until a later falling out when he concluded that Smith’s Martian visions were the product of an infantile imagination), publishing his observations in the 1900 Des Indes à la Planete Mars (“From India to the Planet Mars”). Smith related her communication with several notable Martian personages including those named Esenale, Astane, Pouze, and Ramie, all of which described and gifted her with visions of a society remarkably similar to 19-20th Century Europe, albeit with a slight Asiatic flair. Flournoy, somewhat naturally suspicious, also found the messages from Mars to be distinctly unimpressive in their downright familiarity.
In using the word “romance” to designate the Martian communications, taken as a whole, I wish to state that they are, to my mind, a work of pure imagination, but not that there are to be found in them characteristics of unity and of internal co-ordination, of sustained action, of increasing interest to the final denouement. The Martian romance is only a succession of detached scenes and tableaux, without order or intimate connection, and showing no other common traits beyond the unknown language spoken in it, the quite frequent presence of the same personages, and a certain fashion of originality, a color or quality badly defined as “exotic” or “bizarre” in the landscapes, the edifices, the costumes, etc. Of a consecutive plot or intrigue, properly so called, there is no trace. I naturally speak only of that which we have learned from the séances of Mlle. Smith, or from the spontaneous visions which she recollects sufficiently to narrate afterwards. But this fails to shadow forth the hidden source whence they all spring. Without determining the question, I am inclined, nevertheless, to accord to the Martian romance, in some profound stratum of Helene’s being, a much greater continuity and extent than would appear from judging it solely by the fragments known to us. We have only, in my opinion, a few pages, taken at hazard from different chapters; the bulk of the credible, but it is, notwithstanding, the exact truth. The whole was done so quickly that I marveled at it. The house of Astane, and the extensive landscapes are also the products of a quasi-automatic activity, which always gives great satisfaction to Mlle. Smith. It is, in a way, her subliminal self which holds the brush and executes, at its pleasure, its own tableaux, which also have the value of veritable originals. Other drawings, on the contrary, which have given Helene much trouble without having satisfied her very well, should be regarded as simple copies from memory, by the ordinary personality, of past visions, the memory of which is graven upon her mind in a manner sufficiently persistent to serve as a model several days afterwards. In both cases, but especially in the first, Helene’s paintings may be considered as faithful reproductions of the tableaux which unfold themselves before her, and consequently give us better than most verbal descriptions an idea of the general character of her Martian visions. Let us see now what kind of information the messages and somnambulisms of Helene furnish us in regard to the brilliant planet whose complicated revolutions formerly revealed to a Kepler the fundamental secrets of modern astronomy. Volume is wanting, and the little we possess does not enable us to reconstruct it in a satisfactory manner. We must, therefore, be content with sorting this debris of unequal importance, according to their content, independently of their chronological order, and grouping them around the principal personages which figure in them. The anonymous and mixed crowd which forms the base of some of the Martian visions only differs from that of our own country by the large robe common to both sexes, the flat hats, and the sandals bound to the feet by straps. The interest is confined to a small number of more distinct personages having each his own name, always terminating in an “e” with the men and in an “i” with the women, except only in the case of Esenale, who occupies, however, a place by himself in his quality of disincarnated Martian, fulfilling the function of interpreter (Flournoy, 1900, p172-173).
One would think that if discarnate Martians found it necessary to communicate with us, that they would at the very least oblige us with some ethnographic peculiarities, but alas as Flournoy concluded, civilization on Mars seemed to be more or less just like our own with a few minor trappings that signified a superficial otherness. Or perhaps it is our own fantasy that were we to encounter the alien inhabitants of other worlds, they would be vastly different from us. Quite a disappointment if the universe is populated by countless species that are all more or less the same. At the same time that Hélène Smith was receiving her Martian dispatches, an American psychologist and psychical researcher named James H. Hyslop was looking into reported Martian communiques to a certain Mrs. Willis M. Cleaveland (a spiritualist medium who went by the professional name “Mrs. Smead”), utilizing a planchette (think Ouija board) to talk to her deceased infant Maude, resident of a “baby’s heaven” on Jupiter, but frequent tourist on Mars. Hyslop recorded the séance for posterity, and was also unimpressed by its distinctive mundanity.
It was, however, at the next sitting, August 28th, that the most interesting “communications” began regarding the planet Mars. The sitting started with the drawing of a map in considerable detail, giving the names of the zones which were represented on it. The “communicator” was Maude, the deceased child of Mr. and Mrs. Smead. The names given and interpreted for the several zones were “Zentin” (cold), “Zentinen” (very cold), “Dirnstze” (North Temperate Zone), ” Dirnstzerin” (South Temperate Zone), and “Emerincenren” (Equator). Also the name “Mimtenirimte” (Continent) was given for the land represented in the map. After the map was drawn the following dialogue took place between the “communicator” and Mr. Smead. “At it we had a fine time. We could go all around there easy. The people are bigger and there are not so many as on this earth. The people there could talk with the people here if they knew their language, but they do not. (Do the people in Mars have flesh and blood as we do?) Yes. (Do they look like us?) Some. (Are there big cities there?) No, the inhabitants are most like Indians. (American Indians?) Yes. (Are they highly civilized?) Yes, some are in some things. (What things?) In fixing the water. (How in what way?) Making it so that it is easy to get around it. (How do they do that?) They cut great canals from ocean to ocean and great bodies of water” (American Society for Psychical Research, 1918, p48).
Another roughly contemporary psychic adventurer, the spiritualist medium Sara Weiss purported to be in contact with a Martian spirit named Gexessano Allis Immo (apparently the Martians refer to themselves as “Ento”) through the intercession and editorial direction of the recently deceased terrestrial spirit Carl de L’Ester. In counterpoint to the somewhat dry reports offered by Smead and Smith, Weiss automatically transcribed a rollicking romance (said to be based on a true Martian story), peppered with spiritualist philosophy, and while it had the advantage of a plotline, openly admitted to the possibility that Martians and Earthlings were not that different. The Martian storyteller Gexessano Allis Immo is a strangely modest fellow.
I shall conclude this rather inconclusive introduction to a Romance of Ento by saying that I, an Ento spirit, am aided in expressing myself by an Earth-born, Carl De L’Ester, who is counselor and guide of a band of the Evon Thia; and I am so presumptuous as to hope that my recital of the little story may, in the minds of the thoughtful, awaken an interest in peoples so clearly resembling themselves and in a planet which, like their own fair Earth, was, in the fullness of time, thrown from the glowing heart of the great central magnet, the sun of our solar system, into space and held there by the Omnipotent, Intelligent Force pervading, not only all worlds, but every atom of a boundless universe – Gexessano Allis Immo, Once a mortal man of Ento; which is known to Earth-borns as the Planet Mars (L’Ester, 1906, p12-13).
Lest you think that communication with dead Martians was an artifact of the 19-20th Century spiritualist movement, it just so turns out that 17th-18th Century Swedish polymath Emmanuel Swedenborg also had a little discourse with disembodied Martian spirits. Swedenborg’s dead Martians outlined a much more lively society and threw is serious disdain for Earthly ghosts (whom they regarded as stark raving mad).
Once when the spirits of Mars were with me, and occupied the sphere of my mind, some spirits from our earth came and wished to infuse themselves also into that sphere. But then these spirits from our earth became as it were insane, for the reason that they did not at all agree. For the spirits of our earth in the greatest man have reference to the external sense, and thus they were in an idea turned to the world and to self, while the spirits of Mars were in an idea turned from self to heaven and to the neighbor; hence there was contrariety. But angelic spirits of Mars then came, and at their approach communication was taken away, and so the spirits of our earth withdrew. The angelic spirits spoke with me about the life of the inhabitants on their earth, that they are not under empires, but are arranged in societies larger and smaller, and that they associate with themselves in their societies such as agree with them in mind, which they know at once from the face and speech, and are rarely deceived. Then they are friends at once. They said also that their associations are delightful, and that they speak with one another of those things that are done in the societies, especially those done in heaven; for many of them have manifest communication with the angels of heaven. Those in their societies who begin to think perversely, and from this to will evil, are dissociated, and left to themselves alone, and thus they pass their time very miserably out of the society, among rocks or elsewhere; for the society no longer has a care over them. Certain societies try in various ways to compel such to repentance; but when they cannot affect this, they separate themselves from them. Thus they take care lest the lust of dominion and the lust of gain creep in; that is, lest any from the lust of dominion subject any society to themselves, and then many more; and lest any from the lust of gain seize the goods of others. Everyone there lives content with his own goods, and everyone with his own honor, in being esteemed just and one that loves his neighbor. This delight and tranquility of mind would perish, if those that think and will what is evil were not cast out, and if the love of self and the love of the world were not met prudently and severely in the very beginnings. For these are the loves for the sake of which empires and kingdoms have been established, within which there are few who do not wish to have dominion, and to possess the goods of others. For there are few who do what is just and equitable from the love of what is just and equitable; still less who do what is good from charity itself, rather than from fear of the law, of life, of the loss of gain, of honor, and of reputation on account of those things (Swedenborg, 1928, c.89-90).
It stands to what passes for reason in my split-level head that if we’ve been talking to Martians, they are probably Martian ghosts, since all indications seem to be that Mars has been relatively inhospitable for a really long time. A word to the wise, take anything a Martian, living or dead, says to you with a heaping tablespoon of salt. They’re probably still pissed that for the past few billion years we’ve been obstructing their view of Venus.
Flournoy, Théodore, 1854-1920. From India to the Planet Mars: a Study of a Case of Somnambulism With Glossolalia. New York: Harper, 1900.
L’Ester, Carl de (Spirit). Decimon Hûŷdas: a Romance of Mars: a Story of Actual Experiences In Ento (Mars) Many Centuries Ago. Rochester, N.Y.: Austin, 1906.
“Summary of the Martian Incidents”. American Society for Psychical Research (1906- ). Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research v12. Boston, Mass.: H.B. Turner, 1918.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, 1688-1772. The Earths In Our Solar System: Which Are Called Planets And the Earths In the Starry Heavens; Their Inhabitants And Spirits And Angels Thence From Things Heard And Seen. Rotch edition. Boston, Mass.: B.A. Whittemore, 1928.