Monthly Archives: November 2011

Micro-Macro Correspondences

In 1564, English mathematician and astrologer John Dee (1527-1607) devised a peculiar but structurally compelling alchemical figure. He called it the Monas Hieroglyphica.  For Dee the Monas was the consummate blueprint for human life in the universe.  It represented the entirety of being in the world in a simple collection of just four basic parts.

Monas Hieroglyphica

The circle with the dot-marked center, the Monas’s “eye,” located prominently atop the intersecting straight lines, represents the sun (Sol).  Both the eye and the sun are symbolic of consciousness.  As the sun literally illuminates the entire universe, opening a vast expanse of space and objects to be cognized, the human eye acts as a conduit for the mind simultaneously to project into and absorb the world of objects.  Human consciousness in turn exerts itself, makes itself known, and collects information in the world of objects by means of the body.  Affixed to the sun is a crescent moon (Luna).   The moon is the feminine complement to the masculine sun.  Together, moon and sun comprise the cosmic equivalent of what C.G. Jung called (in Mysterium Coniunctionis) the anima and animus, or the feminine ego-consciousness in men and the masculine ego-consciousness in women.  The moon stays in close proximity to the sun, Dee suggested, because she yearns insatiably to be impregnated with the sun’s solar rays; her procreative capacity to take in and later bear forth (or reflect) the sun’s brilliant offspring-rays, which in turn illuminate the night sky, Dee captured in the form of the crescent—a cornucopia, or horn of plenty.  United, sun and moon further represent morning and night, and thus they generate humankind’s standard measure of time, the day, according to which men and women lead productive and fecund lives.

The torso and arms of the Monas consist of two lines, with four segments, the juncture of which is the heart of the figure.  This “cross” shape represents the very ground upon which the human race dwells, namely, Earth.  Dee imagined that around the Earth all celestial bodies orbit and synchronize in the same way that the central organ of the human body, the heart, sits centrally in the human body and determines the operation of all other organs distal to it. Dee thus based the Monas Hieroglyphica on the Ptolemaic model of the universe, which reckoned that the Earth was at the center of the universe.  It is possible, though I think unlikely, that Dee, in 1564, had not yet heard of the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, who, in 1543, produced a workable heliocentric model of space, i.e., one with the sun at the center of the solar system.  That Dee intended the Monas Hieroglyphica to provide cosmic knowledge for humankind to understand their microcosmic, homologous modeling of universal entities beyond their direct perception, coupled with Dee’s deep commitment to Anglicanism, suggests that had he been aware of the Copernican model, he likely would not have been willing to accept it (or, e.g., any model that didn’t afford a centrally prominent location for God’s created human habitat, Earth).  Humanity and the place in which humans live was for Dee, as for many throughout history, frequently the lodestone and cynosure for cosmic reckoning.

The converging lines of the Monas’s torso and arms represent the four cardinal directions—north, south, east, and west—throughout which the four basic elements (Elementa)—air, earth, fire, and water—pervade.  Two semicircles connected by a common point, forming an m-shape, are the legs that support the body.  The “m” is the zodiac sign for Aries.  It designates the vital fiery energy (Ignis) that sets in motion all bodies in the universe.

Dee thought a complete understanding of the symmetry between human and cosmic bodies as shown in the Monas Hieroglyphica would revolutionize scientific enquiry and lift the veil of ignorance from all speculation about being human in the universe.  According to Dee’s hieroglyph, each part of the human body has an astronomical homologue, or correspondence, with a specific part of the universal body.  Each independent part contributes to the integrity of the whole body to which it belongs.  A maladjusted or perfected state in one body—human or cosmic—thereby negatively or positively affects the ill/well-being of the other, homological body.  Dee emblematized this micro-macrocosmic correspondence with the name he gave the hieroglyph, Monas, which is the Latin base for our English word “monad,” meaning “unit, unity, one.”  Accordingly, this collection of simple symbols forming a single body is at once, to borrow Clifford Geertz’s famous classification, a model of a balanced cosmological physiology as well as a model for individual human wellbeing in the world.

Mars: A Century of Intrigue (1858-1950)

The following entries (not the images!) are drawn from preliminary research on the place of the planet Mars in Euro-American cultural imagination before and after the turn of the 19th century. This rough-and-ready timeline is part of a larger project on spiritual mediumship, glossalalia, fake languages, and embodiment. I find the Mars intrigue captivating, and thought it might be of interest to EMP’s fair readers.

1858 Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878), a Jesuit monk and director of the Roman College Observatory, draws a map of Mars calling Syrtis Major the “Atlantic Canal.” Secchi, despite his closeness to the Vatican, believed in the plurality of worlds. Earlier, in 1856 he wrote in Descrizione del nuovo osservatorio del collegio romano: “it is with a sweet sentiment that man thinks of these worlds without number, where each star is a sun which, as minister of the divine bounty, distributes life and goodness to the other innumerable beings, blessed by the hand of the Omnipotent.” He conceded that these worlds may not be accessible to his observatory telescopes.  But by analogy to the Earth and the solar system he was persuaded that the universe is a wonderful organism filled with life.

1873 The red color of Mars is (wrongly) attributed to vegetation (Pop. Sci. Mo., vol. IV p.190). In this article, Nicolas Camille Flammarion suggests “May we attribute to the color of the herbage and plants which no doubt clothe the plains of Mars, the characteristic hue of that planet…”

1885 “Vegetation on Mars may be red…”—Langley (Century, Mar. p.705). This article reiterates what Flammarion said about the color of Martian vegetation in 1873. Flammarion later writes in his book La Planète Mars: “Why, we may ask, is not the Martian vegetation green? Why should it be — is the reply?”

1892 Camille Flammarion publishes Volume 1 (a hefty 608 pages) of his encyclopædia of La Planète Mars et ses Conditions d’Habitabilité (Paris: Gauthier-Villars et Fils).

Camille Flammarion

1892 Camille Flammarion suggests that there has been communication with Martians. Flammarion was familiar with experiments Thomas Edison had done with long telephone lines. Edison picked up sounds he felt were caused by “terrestrial magnetism” years before Guglielmo  Marconi established the viability of radio communication, sending his first radio signal in Italy in 1895 (later, in 1899, sending a wireless signal across the English Channel, and in 1902 executing the first transatlantic readiotelegraph message from England to Newfoundland). Flammarion suggests the natural magnetism of the Earth might be harnessed to propagate sounds across space. (NB: 1894: “Wireless” telegraphy is demonstrated by Sir Oliver Lodge – one year before Marconi and one year after Nikola Tesla [Никола Тесла] did the same thing in St. Louis, MO.)

1894-96 Hélène Smith, a Swiss medium (née Catherine Elise Müller) from Geneva, has visions of Mars while under hypnosis induced by the eminent psychologist Theodore Flournoy.  Smith imagines herself standing on Mars, where she meets Martians. She can even speak Martian, which remarkably is rather similar to French. Flournoy later describes his subject in 1900, Des Indes à la planète Mars. Étude sur un cas de somnambulisme avec glossolalie (From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnabulism with Glossolalia, Harper and Bros, 1901).

Martian landscape as described by Hélène Smith

1895 Mrs. Smead (a.k.a., Mrs. Willis M. Cleaveland), an American medium, communicates with her dead daughter and brother-in-law, both of whom are said to be residing on Mars. Smead describes canals on the planet and Martian people as very similar to humans. Smead was examined by psychologist Prof. James H. Hyslop, who concluded that Mrs. Smead had a multiple personality disorder (see J.H. Hyslop, Psychical Research and the Resurrection Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1908; and “Communicating with Mars,” editorial in The Independent (periodical), p.1042-43, 1909.)

1897 The masterwork of Herbert G. Wells (1866-1946), The War of the Worlds, is serialized in Britain’s Pearson’s Magazine (April-December 1897). It is also printed in the US in The Cosmopolitan.

1898 The War of the Worlds is published in hardback (London: Heinemann).

1898 Garrett Putman Serviss publishes the sci-fi novel, Edison’s Conquest of Mars. This was the unofficial sequel to Fighters from Mars, which was a substantially altered rehash of Wells’s War of the Worlds, making Edison’s Conquest of Mars an unofficial sequel to The War of the Worlds.  In it, Serviss has Americans retro-engineer Martian flying machines, travel to Mars, and battle Martians.  Among the scientist-warriors who accompanied the Americans were Lord Kelvin, Lord Rayleigh, Professor Roentgen, Dr. Moissan (“the man who first made artificial diamonds”), and – wait for it – popular sci-fi writer, Mr. Garrett Serviss.

1899-1900 Carl G. Jung’s 15-year old patient, “Miss S.W.,” goes to Mars in trances, and sees canals and Martians in flying machines.  Jung deduces that Miss S.W. suffers from a dissociated personality. (Jung, C., Zur Psychologie und Pathologie sogennter Occulter Phanomene, Muntze, 1902; see also Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology, New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1916).

At the fin de XIXe siècle, the 1900s usher in a gradual end to the old superstitions about Mars (and outer space), spirit mediums, and the simultaneous dawning of the space age.

1909 Camille Flammarion publishes the second volume of his encyclopædia on Mars, La Planète Mars et ses Conditions d’Habitabilité (Paris: Gauthier-Villars et Fils). Vol 2 (595 pages, 426 drawings, and 16 maps collected and composed from the period 1860 to 1901).

1938 October 30: A dramatized version of “The War of the Worlds” is broadcast by Orson Welles on American radio, which has Martians landing at Grovers Mill, New Jersey. It is estimated that six million people tuned in to the show. And despite repeated announcements that it was a fictional play, at least one million people thought it was real.

1950 The sci-fi short story, The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury is published. In it, Bradbury chronicles the colonization of Mars by human beings who are fleeing a decimated Earth and the conflict that ensues between the colonizers and colonized.  Some of the stories contained within the book had been published as early as 1946 for magazine serials.