The Scientific Spiritualist…

I have always been fascinated by astrophysics. Mars and Stars have been on my mind since time immemorial. One of my earliest memories is actually of wishing on a star.

Noctua copy

The career and works of Camille Flammarion illustrate that he held similar passions. His speculations on Mars and other planets – and the potential for life there – have been part of my musings for some while.

The concept that there may be life on other worlds did not originated with Flammarion. And although we have gone 24± centuries without definitive proof of extraterrestrials, there is a legitimate search for evidence that is considered under the wings of science.

Only recently have I learned that Flammarion’s study and published material also treated on psychical matters. The scientist was also a Spiritualist – for more than 60 years. He was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and they both made “pilgrimages” to renowned figures in Spiritualism, including to Eusapia Palladino. In 1897, what may be considered as the height of that movement, Flammarion’s writing turned exclusively to the conditions and environment(s) of the soul.

Having once been a scientist (chemistry), I must admit to some conflict between logic and the subjects to which I’m attracted as an author. Apart from A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress about the life of the seer Teiresias, I’ve been developing another book about the legacy of Spiritualism during World War II.

Richard Feynman – a theoretical physicist – is purported to have said, “…nobody understands quantum mechanics.” While I don’t believe that such uncertainty demands that all possible explanations are of equal potential validity, I do think there’s enough vagary to support the idea that even those who study quantum physics do not fully comprehend their own field.

The zeitgeist has seen fit to give television shows to some who think beginning presentation of any wonky theory with the phrase, “Is it possible…” is sufficient to intercept skepticism. I am and will remain far from going that far. I am much more comfortable with “What if…”, which has been the spark of every theory. Part of quantum mechanics may prove Flammarion – and all scientific spiritualists – partially right.

“The sight of my soul far exceeded that of my body, and, to my surprise, this power of sight appeared to be subject to my will.” — from Flammarion’s “Lumen”

Two dozen centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.

Look both ways…

seer-book

In preparing to write a novel about more than a few characters who can see the future, it’s been essential to read about the past.

The Seer in Ancient Greece by Michael Attyah Flower, University of California Press, 2009

Michael Attyah Flower has presented a very thorough description of a predominantly obsolete profession – that of seer. Using a wide range of sources from the period of Classical Greece, Mr. Flower weaves a remarkably complete tapestry of the career of those who told the future. There are, as one might suppose, a number of Greek terms throughout the book but the author keeps them clear for the reader.

The details of the craft of the seer, the expectations of potential clients, and the societal climate in which the seer sought employment are all provided in a chiefly coherent manner. A later chapter describes the seer’s role in warfare. The author does not neglect the women who chose this profession, either.

The amount of research that went into this book is obvious and respectable. Where there is scant data, Mr. Flower is honest about speculation. He did not permit the work to wander into hypothesis without at least one historical source to serve as a foundation.

This is not a book about the seers of mythology, such as Teiresias or Melampus, although they are mentioned to make several points about seers in general. The author even takes the time to differentiate between seers and comparable professions, such as priest and magician. After reading The Seer in Ancient Greece, it is easy to imagine how they must have lived and conducted their business. A list of fees and charges is not included nor are precise rituals described.

The timeline chosen the research is before the era I’ve chosen for A Song Heard in the Future. Nonetheless, it is going to prove to be a strong resource for the novel.

Right from the Start…

After Bulfinch’s Mythology and Mythology by Edith Hamilton, there have been four stand out books while researching my novel about Teiresias.

next blog

  • The Seer in Ancient Greece by Michael Attyah Flower
  • Forms of Astonishment: Greek Myths of Metamorphosis by Richard Buxton
  • Magic in the Ancient Greek World by Derek Collins
  • Thebes in the Fifth Century: Heracles Resurgent by Nancy H. Demand

Perhaps more importantly, I have so far interviewed about a dozen good folk who have different experiences than my own regarding philosophy, religion, life and living.

For purposes of the story, I have been assuming Teiresias would have lived about 2750 to 3000 years ago. I decided that he was born two generations after Deucalion’s Deluge. Though it’s largely the same story, the date doesn’t quite match what James Ussher calculated as the time of Noah’s Flood – 4359 years ago.

Mythological stories still resonate with us for at least two reasons:

  1. They are reinterpreted by each generation according to the Zeitgeist and
  2. Regardless of how long it may have been since the Flood, the deity, and the survivors – the myths tell us that – in some important ways – no one’s life experience now is very different from that of the people who heard those tales first.

It probably won’t be long before there’s a trend analysis app that helps us anticipate aspects of the future. I predict it won’t be called Teiresias.