Flammarion, Camille (1842-1925)

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Flammarion, Camille (1842-1925)

Famous French astronomer who also became a notable psychical researcher. Flammarion was born February 26, 1842. He was a student astronomer from 1858 to 1862 and from 1876 to 1882 he was an astronomer at the Paris Observatory. In 1882 he founded Juvisy Observatory, which he directed for the rest of his life. That same year he also founded the French Astronomical Society. As a scientist he made balloon ascents to study the upper atmosphere and was celebrated for his research on double and multiple stars and the topography of Mars. He was named a commander of the Legion of Honor, one of France's highest nonmilitary honors.

His first contact with psychical phenomena was during November 1861. When writing his first book, The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds, he came across Spiritualist Allan Kardec 's Le Livre des Esprits, paid him a visit, and joined the Society for Psychologic Studies, of which Kardec was president. The weekly séances of the society were devoted to inspirational writing. Flam-marion himself tried to practice it and succeeded, after several attempts, in obtaining words and phrases.

The scripts were mostly on astronomical subjects and were signed by Galileo. Flammarion, however, believed them to be wholly the product of his own intellect and had no doubt that the illustrious Florentine astronomer had nothing to do with them. These communications remained in the possession of the society and were published in 1867 in Kardec's Genesis under the head of "General Uranography."

Flammarion soon obtained entrance to the chief Parisian spiritistic circles and even acted as honorary secretary to one of them for several years. Nevertheless, he did not become a Spiritist. After two years of experience in automatic writing, in the use of the planchette, and in rapping communications, he came to the conclusion that the method practiced by Kardec's society permitted a margin for doubt and that the automatic scripts did not prove the intervention of another mind from the spirit world at all.

In 1865, under the title Des Forces naturelles inconnues (Un-known Natural Forces), he published his first book on the subject of psychical research, a monograph of 150 pages that was meant as a critical study "apropos of the phenomena produced by the Davenport brothers and mediums in general." It was not so much about the Davenport brothers that he wrote, but about psychic (he used this word in his early writings) matters, stating that, "these forces are as real as the attraction of gravitation and as invisible as that." His book Les Forces Naturelles Inconnues, published in 1906 (translated as Mysterious Psychic Forces, 1907), is in a sense an enlarged edition of this early work.

Allan Kardec died March 30, 1869, and Flammarion was asked to deliver the funeral oration. In the eulogy he impressed upon all students of the mysterious phenomena that "spiritualism is not a religion but a science, of which we as yet scarcely know the a.b.c."

In 1899, through the Annales Politiques et Litteraires, the Petit Marseilles, and the Revue des Revues, Flammarion started to make his own census of hallucinations. Of 4,280 people questioned 1,824 answered that they had had phantasmal visions. Of these, 786 cases were selected as having evidential value. They were dealt with in the Annales Politiques et Litteraires, for which Flammarion was writing articles on psychic subjects. Revised and amplified, these articles formed the substance of L'Inconnu, published in 1900 in an attempt to prove the reality of telepathy, apparitions of the dying, premonitory dreams, and clairvoyance. Flammarion concludes that the soul exists as a real entity independent of the body; it is endowed with faculties still unknown to science; and it is able to act at a distance without the intervention of the senses.

He reaffirmed his belief in the reality of psychical phenomena in Mysterious Psychic Forces on the basis of very wide experience. "During a period of more than forty years," he writes "I believe that I have received at my home nearly all of them [mediums], men and women of divers nationalities and from every quarter of the globe." He met Italian medium Eusapia Palladino for the first time on July 27, 1897, at Montfort l'Amaury. The report of the séances conducted there form the subject of Guillaume de Fontenay's Apropos d'Eusapia Palladino (1898).

In cooperation with the editor of the Annales Politiques et Litteraires, Flammarion extended an invitation to Palladino to come to Paris. She accepted and gave eight séances in Flammarion's home during November 1898. Many scientists were present and surprising manifestations were witnessed. Additional opportunities for observation with the same medium were afforded by a later series of séances in 1905, and especially in 1906 under Flammarion's own conditions in his home, often in the full light of a gas chandelier. He felt no hesitation in declaring that "mediumistic phenomena have for me the stamp of absolute certainty and incontestability, and amply suffice to prove that unknown physical forces exist outside the ordinary and established domain of natural philosophy."

Nevertheless, he was not yet convinced of survival, and in Mysterious Psychic Forces he makes the following conclusions: "The universe is a dynamism. Matter is only a mode of motion. Life itself is a special kind of movement, a movement determined and organized by a directing force. The vital force of the medium might externalize itself and produce in a point of space a vibratory system which should be the counterpart of itself in a more or less advanced degree of visibility and solidity.

"It is not the body which produces life; it is rather life which organizes the body.

"As to beings different from ourselveswhat may their nature be? Of this we cannot form any idea. Souls of the dead? This is very far from being demonstrated. The innumerable observations which I have collected during more than forty years all prove to me the contrary. No satisfactory identification has been made.

"The communications obtained have always seemed to proceed from the mentality of the group, or, when they are heterogeneous, from spirits of an incomprehensible nature. The being evoked soon vanishes when one insists on pushing him to the wall and having the heart out of his mystery.

"That souls survive the destruction of the body I have not the shadow of a doubt. But that they manifest themselves by the processes employed in séances the experimental method has not yet given us absolute proof. I add that this hypothesis is not at all likely. If the souls of the dead are about us, upon our planet, the invisible population would increase at the rate of 100,000 a day, about 36 millions a year, 3 billions 620 millions in a century, 36 billions in ten centuries, etc.unless we admit re-incarnations upon the earth itself.

"How many times do apparitions or manifestations occur? When illusions, auto-suggestions, hallucinations are eliminated what remains? Scarcely anything. Such an exceptional rarity as this pleads against the reality of apparitions."

As the years passed Flammarion was forced to surrender his old stand. His trilogy La Mort et son mystère (Death and Its Mystery ), its three volumes subtitled Before Death, At the Moment of Death, and After Death (1921-23), aims mainly at demonstrating the continuity of existence. His Les maisons hantées (Haunted Houses ) (1924) discusses the activities of the dead under exceptional circumstances. In his presidential address before the Society for Psychical Research in October 1923, he summed up his conclusions after 60 years of psychical research: "There are unknown faculties in man belonging to the spirit, there is such a thing as the double, thought can leave an image behind, psychical currents traverse the atmosphere, we live in the midst of an invisible world, the faculties of the soul survive the disaggregation of the corporeal organism, there are haunted houses, exceptionally and rarely the dead do manifest, there can be no doubt that such manifestations occur, telepathy exists just as much between the dead and the living as between the living."

Flammarion died at Juvisy Observatory, Paris, on June 3, 1925. His return was soon claimed by Spiritualists, the most no-table account being published in Egoland (1932), by Emily Loweman, through the mediumship of her father, A. H. Lowe-man, a shopkeeper and the postmaster of Little Glemham. "Egoland" was Flammarion's name for the spirit world.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

De Fontenay, Guillaume. Apropos d'Eusapia Palladino. Paris, 1898.

Flammarion, Camille. Death and Its Mystery: After Death. New York: Century, 1923.

. Death and Its Mystery: At the Moment of Death. New York: Century, 1922.

. Death and Its Mystery: Before Death. New York: Century, 1921.

. Haunted Houses. Detroit: Tower Books, 1971.

. "The Unknown of Yesterday and the Truth of Tomorrow." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 29 (1935).

Loweman, Emily. Egoland. London, 1932.

Flammarion, Camille

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Flammarion, Camille

(b. Montigny-le-Roi, France, 26 February 1842; d. Juvisy, France, 3 June 1925)


At the time of Flammarion’s birth his parents owned a small store, but his father had been a farmer and Flammarion often mentioned this with pride. He was the oldest of four children. His interest in astronomy dated from his early childhood, when on 9 October 1847 and 28 July 1851 he was able to observe solar eclipses. By the time he was eleven he was busily making astronomical and meteorological observations.

In 1856 his parents’ disastrous financial condition led them to move to Paris. For the young Flammarion, this was a decisive event, since Paris offered him immensely greater opportunities for selfimprovement. He found employment as apprentice engraver, attended evening courses at the Polytechnic Association, learned English, and pursued his studies of algebra and geometry.

A chance encounter in 1858 marked the start of his career; a physician who was treating Flammarion noticed a bulky, 500-page manuscript written by the young man and entitled Cosmogonie universelle. The doctor read it and was so impressed that he brought it to the attention of Le Verrier, who was director of the Paris Observatory. A few days later, Flammarion was hired by the observatory to work in the Bureau de Calcul as an apprentice astronomer.

In 1861 Flammarion wrote La pluralité des mondes habités, his first book to be published. In this he revealed the pleasant literary style that was to make him the most important popularizer of science at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1862 he was calculator to the Bureau des Longitudes. He wrote for the Annuaire du cosmos and published the Annuaire astronomique et météorologique, first in the Magasin pittoresque, then later in L’astronomie. During the same period he also wrote many popularizing articles for the newspapers and delivered very successful series of lectures in Paris, the provinces, and several other European capitals.

Flammarion became greatly interested in the problems of the atmosphere. Between 1867 and 1880 he made many balloon flights in order to study atmospheric phenomena. In 1871 he published L’atmosphère. Les terres du ciel appeared in 1877 and then, in 1880, the famous Astronomie populaire, his best-known work, a true best seller that was translated into many languages and which, more than any other book ever written, spread interest in astronomy. It was followed in 1882 by Les étoiles et les curiositès du ciel.

At this point in Flammarion’s career, his scientific output was considerable and concerned with many subjects, including volcanology, atmospheric electricity, and climatology. Special mention must be made of his research concerning Mars. Scientific opinion of that time held that Mars was the only planet on which traces of life might be found. At the Juvisy Observatory, founded by him in 1883, Flammarion made numerous observations of the planet. As early as 1876 he had noticed the seasonal variations of the dark spots. In 1909 he completed La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, a compilation of all known observations since 1636.

In 1887 Flammarion founded the French Astronomical Society, a model for all groups aiming to spread interest in science among the general public. For the first time relatively powerful astronomical instruments were put at public disposal, thus allowing numerous amateurs to indulge their taste for science. The activities of the French Astronomical Society created a reservoir of scientists from which emerged most of the outstanding French astronomers of this century.

It was inevitable that Flammarion, who possessed an extraordinary intellectual curiosity and imagination, take an interest in what today is called parapsychology. His taste for scientific precision and his intellectual honesty led him to unmask the inaccuracies, lies, and hoaxes that have always encumbered this field. He directed investigations of and performed experiments in psychic phenomena and gathered most of the results into several books, including La mort et son mystère, L’inconnu et les problèmes psychiques, and Les maisons hantees

His love of life and his profound sensitivity led Flammarion to a literary as well as a scientific career. He published several novels, in which science serves as a backdrop.


Flammarion’s most important works in astronomy and geophysics, all published in Paris, are Astronomie populaire (1880); Les étoiles et les curiosilés du ciel (1882); Les terres du ciel (1877); Les merveilles célestes; La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité (1892); La planète Venus; Les etoiles doubles; L’atmosphère (1871); Mes voyages aériens; Tremblements de terre et éryotuibs voucaniques; L’eruption du Krakatoa; Les caprices de la foudre; Les phenomenes de la foudre (1905); and Le monde avant la crèation de l’homme (1885)

In philosophy, see La pluralitè des mondes habitès; L’inconnu et les problèmes psychiques (1900); Les force naturelles inconnues; La mort et son mystère, 3 vols.(1920-1921); and Les maisons hantèes, all published in Paris.

His autobiography is Mèmoires biographiques et philosophiques d’un astronome. His novels include Uranie (1889) and Stella.

Roger Servajean

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Nicolas Camille Flammarion

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