Helen Smith is the pseudonym of Catherine Elise Muller, a late 19th century medium from Geneva, Switzerland, who stirred considerable controversy concerning her alleged visits to Mars. She was born about 1863, and at the age of twenty-nine joined a spiritualist circle and developed mediumistic faculties. Officially Smith never worked as a paid medium, but gave séances for friends and admirers as entertainment. She earned her living by holding a high position in a large store in Geneva.
The séances that Smith conducted were characterized by trances, automatic writing in Arabic, and glossolalia or speaking in tongues. She would hypnotize herself into a trance, and then be controlled by Leopold who spoke and wrote through her.
Smith claimed to have been a Hindu princess and Marie Antoinette in past lives. Her present humble life was a karmic debt for her transgressions as Antoinette. One of the spirits that she claimed to channel in trances was a contemporary of Antoinette, Cagliostro. When the spirit of Cagliostro was present Smith’s appearance changed markedly to drooping and double chin. The spirit using her vocal cords spoke in a deep voice.
Leopold, who controlled an assembly of spirits around Smith, had been transported to Mars, Smith said. The spirits were able to take Smith to Mars while she was in trances. The results of these journeys were crude pictures on Martian landscapes, including plants, houses, and city streets, and automatic writing of the Martian language. Smith had many believers.
By the late 1890s, Smith was being investigated by many researchers. The most notable was Theodore Flournoy, a Swiss professor of psychology. Flournoy, using psychoanalytic techniques, spent five years sitting in on séances, researching Smith’s personal history, and corroborating historical information that she provided during her séances.
Flournoy’s conclusions were the Smith had a fantastic imagination, perhaps complemented with telepathy and psychokinesis. The Martian language that she produced was a childish imitation of French; a Sanskrit expert declared that 98 percent of the words were traceable to known languages. “Leopold,” who was pompous, dignified, and sensible, was probably Smith’s most highly developed secondary personality.
After Flournoy published his findings in From India to Planet Mars (1900) Smith’s supporters stood by her, and Flournoy was banished from her life. The expose only served to increase her popularity as she enjoyed comfortable wealth and fame. A.G.H.