Astronomical Communications
From time to time, Spiritualist mediums have delivered
messages relating to astronomy. In discussing the question
whether such communications have led science forward a single
step, Camille Flammarion returned a negative answer. His
conclusion was based on his own automatic scripts which were
signed by Galileo and contained nothing new and on the analysis
of the writings of Major General A. W. Drayson
(1827–1901), professor of military surveying, reconnaissance,
and practical astronomy at the Royal Military Academy in
Woolwich. Under the title The Solution of Scientific Problems by
Spirits, Drayson published an article in the journal Light (1884)
in which he asserted that the spirit of an astronomer, communicating
through a medium at his house in 1858, had made
known the true orbital movement of the satellites of Uranus.
This planet was discovered by William Herschel in 1781. He
observed that its satellites, contrary to all the other satellites of
the solar system, traversed their orbits from east to west. The
spirit communication said on this point ‘‘The satellites of Uranus
do not move in their orbits from East to West they circle
about their planet from West to East, in the same way that the
moon moves round the earth. The error comes from the fact
that the South Pole of Uranus was turned towards the Earth at
the moment of the discovery of this planet.’’
Flammarion pointed out in Mysterious Psychic Forces (1907)
that the reasoning of the spirit is false. There is abundant evidence
that it was really the North Pole which was at that moment
turned toward the Sun and the Earth. Regarding another
claim of Drayson that a medium in 1859 disclosed the facts
about the two satellites of Mars 18 years before their discovery,
Flammarion stated that the claim must remain doubtful as it
was not published at the time. Furthermore, after Kepler pointed
out the probability of their existence, this subject was discussed
several times, notably by Dean Swift and Voltaire. Of
Drayson’s book Thirty Thousand Years of the Earth’s Past History,
Read by Aid of the Discovery of the Second Rotation of the Earth,
which seeks to explain the glacial periods and variations of climate,
Flammarion says that it is full of scientific errors unpardonable
in a man versed in astronomical studies.
No mention is made by Flammarion of the book Nature’s Divine
Revelations by Andrew Jackson Davis which, written in
March 1846, speaks of nine planets. Seven planets were known
at the time. The existence of an eighth was calculated by Leverrier
but was not discovered until September 1846. The statement
of the Poughkeepsie seer that its density is four-fifths of
water agreed with later findings. The ninth planet, Pluto, was
not discovered until 1930. On the other hand, Andrew Jackson
Davis only spoke of four planetoids, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and
Vesta, whereas they are now numbered in hundreds.
Astrology A Comprehensive Bibliography Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
A further indication that psychic experiences may lead to an
advance in science is furnished by the dream of Rev. Charles
Tweedale of Weston, England, of a comet in the East discoverable
before sunrise. He went into the laboratory and found the
comet, which was invisible to the naked eye. Shortly afterward
he learned that he was preceded in the discovery by Barnard
and Hartwig.
Of all the astronomers who devoted time and talent to psychic
research, Flammarion’s name stands foremost. His interest
from 1861 onward was continuous until the time of his
death. Many important books testify to his keen judgment and
to the importance he attributed to this branch of science.
Another famous astronomer whose name is often mentioned
in Spiritualist books was Schiaparelli, director of the
Milan observatory, who participated at a number of séances
with Eusapia Palladino in 1892 at Milan. In a letter to Camille
Flammarion he stated
‘‘If it had been possible entirely to exclude all suspicions of
deceit one would have had to recognize in these facts the beginning
of a new science pregnant with consequences of the highest
importance. I cannot say that I am convinced of the reality
of the things which are comprised under the ill-chosen name
of Spiritualism. But neither do I believe in our right to deny everything;
for in order to have a good basis for denial, it is not
sufficient to suspect fraud, it is necessary to prove it. These experiments,
which I have found very unsatisfactory, other experimenters
of great confidence and of established reputation
have been able to make in more favourable circumstances. I
have not enough presumption to oppose a dogmatic and unwarranted
denial to proofs in which scientists of great critical
ability, such as William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace,
Charles Richet, and Oliver Lodge, have found a solid basis of
fact and one worthy of their examination, to such an extent that
they have given it years of study.’’
Schiaparelli discontinued his investigations because, as he
said, ‘‘Having passed all my life in the study of nature, which
is always sincere in its manifestations and logical in its processes,
it is repugnant to me to turn my thoughts to the investigation
of a class of truths which it seems as if a malevolent and disloyal
power was hiding from us with an obstinacy the motive of
which we cannot comprehend.’’
Flammarion believed the cautious reserves of Schiaparelli
were exaggerated. He declared, after reading the records of
the Milan sittings, ‘‘If fraud has sometimes crept in, still what
has been accurately observed remains safe and sound and is an
acquisition to science.’’
A fellow astronomer of Schiaparelli, Prof. Francesco Porro,
who attended the same sittings and later a number of others,
came to the following conclusion
‘‘The phenomena are real. They cannot be explained either
by fraud or hallucination. From the idea of the unconscious
muscular action of the spectators (put forth half a century ago
by Faraday) to the projection of protoplasmic activity or to the
temporary emanation from the body of the medium imagined
by Lodge; from the psychiatric doctrine of Lombroso to the
psycho-physiology of Ochorowitz; from the externalisation admitted
by Rochas to the eso-psychism of Morselli; from the automatism
of Pierre Janet to the duplication of personality of Alfred
Binet—there was a perfect flood of explanation, having for
their end the elimination of an exterior personality. It is not
possible, and never will be, to have a scientific proof of the
identity of beings who manifest themselves. It will always be
possible to imagine an unknown mechanism by the aid of which
elemental substance and power may be drawn from the medium
and the sitters and combined in such a way as to produce
the indicated effects. It will always be found possible to find in
the special aptitudes of the medium, in the thought of the sitters,
and even in their attitude of expectant attention, the cause
of the human origin of the phenomena. Still I should be inclined
to admit it (the spirit hypothesis), if I did not see the possibility
that these phenomena might form part of a scheme of
things still more vast. In fact, nothing hinders us from believing
in the existence of forms of life wholly different from those we
know, and of which the life of human beings before birth and
after death forms only a special case, just as the organic life of
man is a special case of animal life in general.’’
Other astronomers of renown whose names have gone down
in the annals of psychical research are Arago, Marc Thury, Johann
Zöllner, and Sir William Huggins. Arago made interesting
experiments in 1846 with Angelique Cottin, ‘‘the electric
girl’’; Thury came to positive conclusions in his investigation of
table-turning phenomena and admitted that there may exist in
this world other wills than those of man and the animals, wills
capable of acting on matter; Zöllner’s experiments with Slade
are still widely quoted in books on the subject. Crookes was assisted
for some time, in his memorable experiments with D. D.
Home, by Sir William Huggins, ex-president of the Royal Society,
well known for his researches in physics and astronomy.
(See also Planetary Travels)

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