Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
In the second blog in this series I reprint some early comments about the medium before she became an international figure (for the first one click here).
In the words of historian of Italian Spiritism and psychical research, physician Massimo Biondi, in her early days the medium lived in Naples but left for Rome following spiritist Achille Tanfani. “Later she met all the major exponents of Italian Spiritism and would spent at least twenty or twenty-five years of her life from one city to another, even abroad, to display her gifts” (M. Biondi, Tavoli e Medium: Storia dello Spiritismo in Italia. Rome: Gremese, 1988, p. 96).
I am presenting here comments written by Italian spiritist Giovanni Damiani in 1872. Damiani, Biondi wrote to me in a recent email, was “a manager in an English bank (West of England and South Wales District Bank) and in the 1870s, when he openly declared his interest and belief in Spiritism, he was probably still working there. He began to have a strong interest in Spiritism in 1858, when he was 40. His first public action on the topics was – I think – in 1868, with a challenge to some critics of Spiritism.”
One of Damiani’s comments, where he called the medium “Sapia Padalino,” appeared in an article entitled “Spiritualism in Italy.-Mazzini a Spiritualist” (Human Nature,1872, 6, 220-224).
“I am happy to tell you that we have here in Naples a medium of most extraordinary and varied powers. Her name is Sapia Padalino, a poor girl of sixteen, without parents or friends. She is a medium for almost every kind of spiritual telegraphy known, one of which however is peculiarly her own, and consists in writing with her finger, and leaving behind marks as of a lead pencil, while no such article is in her possession, or even in the room. She will also take hold of the hand of the sitters, and cause the same phenomenon of leaving traces as of lead pencil under their fingers. In her presence discharges are heard as from pistols; lights are seen across the room like the tail of a comet. She is a seer, a clairaudient, and an impressional medium. She is, however, far from being developed, and a few investigators sit with her three times a-week for the purpose of development. A peculiar and disagreeable bent of her mediumship, however, is the disappearance of objects from the room where the séances are held, and which causes often great inconvenience to the investigators. For instance, a gentleman is sent home in a cold night without his hat, another without his pocket-book containing money; a lady is robbed of her mantle; another lady has been deprived of her watch; the medium herself has her boots taken and carried away during the séance; and all this is done by one of the spirits, who boldly asserts his being John King . . . We are trying to wean that spirit of his disagreeable propensities, which . . . may cause suspicion of the honesty of the poor, simple medium. I do not doubt we shall soon have in Sapia a test-medium, that will convince thousands of the truth of spiritual intercourse” (pp. 222-223).
Biondi reminds us that the medium was 18 years old, not 16, as stated by Damiani.
Another communication from Damiani appeared in Human Nature for January 1873. I reprint it below taken from Light, where it was reprinted years later in its September 5, 1896 issue (“Pranks of undeveloped spirits.” Light, 1896, 16, 428-429). However, Damiani dated the communication November 24th, 1872. Sapia was referred to as a poor girl who was obsessed by a group of low spirits “determined . . . to torture and drive her to despair.”
“The unpleasant phenomena began with a request from the circle that the spirits might bring in some material object through closed doors and windows. The request was immediately complied with by our hearing an object fall upon the table. On striking a light we found a neatly made-up parcel, and on carefully unfolding it, we were much disgusted to find it containing—a dead rat! I mildly remonstrated with the spirits for the unpleasant joke, and told them to bring in future more genial objects. They said they would, and, at a subsequent sitting, some tawdry brass gilt trinkets were soon brought in (always with closed doors) as a present to the medium. At the next regular seance, they said they would show their power also by taking things out of the room, and sure enough, at the end of the séance, a new mantle belonging to a lady present had been abstracted, and has never been found since.”
“The next day poor Sapia brought a red mantle to the lady, asking if that was the mantle lost, and saying she had found it spread on her bed as she awoke that morning; but it was a different mantle, and remains still in Sapia’s possession. At another séance a member of the society, Signor Lainarra, had his new hat stolen by the spirits. He had to go home without his hat—not, however, before searching minutely the whole house for it; but it has never been recovered. The spirits next pilfered a watch and chain belonging to an ardent Spiritualist, Signora Commetti, who seemed distressed at the loss, as the watch and chain had belonged to her departed husband. This time, in a speech which I made as impressive and instructive for them as I could, I urged the spirits to return the property to the lady, as their mission here was to convince the sceptics, and not to distress the friends, of the spirit world. They promised they would, but not then; and when the lady reached home she found the watch and chain lying on her bed. A few days afterwards, however, both watch and chain were missed from before her eyes, and have never been found to this hour.”
“At the next séance I asked to speak to the spirits, and Sapia said she saw them muster all round our circle in great numbers. I again addressed them in a kind of sermon, explaining to them the law of progression, and how wrong it was thus to squander their time and ours, and give us such serious annoyance by abstracting our property; and that if they wanted to advance in a better sphere and be happier, they should be active in good works and not distress their fellow beings; they should repent their faults, and earnestly pray the Almighty for their deliverance from their present unhappy state. At the end of my speech, Sapia informed us that only one of the band seemed moved, and shed tears, while the others were dancing about and making horrible faces at me.”
“One of the most remarkable phenomena occurring through Sapia’s mediumship consists in noises, either as from the explosion of firearms in the room, or as from a large hammer striking the séance table. One evening, Signor Barone, an old Spiritualist and medium, felt alarmed at the concussion on the table so near his hands, and said aloud he had withdrawn them from the table in fear. A Spiritualist present observed that he had not the least apprehension of being hurt by the spirits, but he had no sooner said the words than he was struck with a very severe blow on his hand, the painful effects of which he felt for nearly a week. Sapia said she saw the spirits strike the table with an instrument like polished iron in the shape of a funnel or cone.”
“Their next trick was to throw to the ground from a table where they were standing five cages containing my pet canaries, and they did so by drawing a table-cover on which they rested. On hearing the crash we struck a light, and found the poor little things motionless, as if they were dead. They recovered a few minutes afterwards, and I cannot help thinking that they were mesmerised by the spirits, who, perhaps, felt compunction at hurting the poor little things.”
“Again, a séance was held at the house of another member of the society. A pet cat, seeing—or feeling, no doubt—the presence of ungenial beings, began loudly to mew. The sitters expressed their annoyance, and the spirits said they would soon quiet the beast, and the poor thing was found dead the next morning. At the same house the spirits broke a table almost shapelessly, and a large, expensive clock-shade. One day, at the house of Signor Lamarra, some object was missed, and he jocularly said to a friend who lives with him, ‘Ha! it must be Alessi’ (the chief of the band of low spirits who torment Sapia, and who, in life, had been a poisoning doctor) ‘who has stolen it!;’ Sapia knew nothing of this circumstance, but that same evening this spirit appeared to her whilst she was in bed, surrounded, as she said, with a sinister light, saying to her, ‘Tell those scurvy friends of yours, Lamarra and Co., that I am not going to stand their insults, ascribing to me that which I have not done. I have never been a thief, and if they say so again I will twist their necks, and yours too, if you do not speak more respectfully of me!’ Sapia says that as the spirit stamped the ground with his foot the whole room trembled, and all the objects standing on a chest of drawers against which the spirit leaned, moved and jingled most violently. She was, indeed, so frightened that she called the landlady where she lodged to her succour, and begged not to be left alone that night.”
“One evening Signor Lamarra, on entering his club, was set upon by two young lawyers of the Positivist school, who publicly ridiculed him for believing in spirits. He asked them if they had investigated Spiritualism. They said, No, but would he take them to the spirits? Lamarra boldly assented, and there and then they started for the medium’s lodgings. A dark séance was immediately held, and the light was scarcely put out when numerous very loud explosions, as from fire-arms, were heard in the room. This rather startled the new visitors; but they were still more surprised when blows were heard falling on the table as from a large hammer. The sceptics, however, charged their friends with producing these noises with some hidden machinery, at which Lamarra placed in the hands of the new visitors his own and those of the medium. The noises then ceased, but instead the affrighted voices of the non-believers were heard piteously asking for a light; for one of them had had his hair and beard pulled, and his face handled by a large, callous, ice-cold, perspiring hand; and the other was touched upon the head and face with an instrument in the shape of a club, cold and hard as iron. A light was struck, but nothing was perceived except the pale faces of the scoffing young lawyers, who do not like the subject being mentioned again. In this case, we must admit, the low intelligences did their business well.”
“Having tried every means to deliver this poor girl from her tormentors, the Naples society thought it better to suspend the séances for a time; and as the girl wanted employment, she was recommended to a nice place as a servant. In the night previous to her going to her new master’s the spirits appeared, and mockingly intimated to her that they would take care that she should not remain there. She expostulated with them, but they laughed and disappeared. She, however, did go, and was immediately set about cleaning a large drawing-room, her master, an old gentleman, being present. All at once a small table, in a part of the room opposite where Sapia was, began to move about. This much astonished her new master; but while he was wondering in bewilderment, an awful crash was heard, and a large shade and some china that were on a chiffonier some distance from the poor girl, had fallen to pieces. Frightened more than vexed at these strange occurrences, and believing them to be the work of Satan—whose escutcheon in Naples preserves still its ancient effulgency—Sapia’s master bid her immediately to leave the house, and the poor medium is again dependent on her friends and sympathisers.”
“We have had Sapia mesmerised and thrown into a trance, in which state kinder spirits have spoken through her, who, interrogated, have told us these unpleasant phenomena would give way if we could induce Sapia to cultivate her mind. This we have tried to do with unremitting patience, but without avail, as she shows the greatest reluctance and impatience at being taught the elements of letters. We have done all in our power to remedy this evil, which deprives us of one of the best physical mediums in existence. Can any of your correspondents give any suggestion, that we might, by some new tactics, reclaim this remarkable medium, Sapia Padalino?”
Biondi informs me that the first mention of Palladino in an Italian publication was in Achille Tanfani’s Lo Spiritismo Dimostrato e Difeso (Rome: Tipografia di Ludovico Cecchini, 1872). Tanfani stated he saw in a séance with “Padalino” that a “table suddenly raised, transported by itself without touching the ground to the outer wall of the room” (p. 10).”
Other comments by Damiani appeared in The Spiritualist in 1873. See also one of my articles in which I discuss an autobiographical essay supposedly written by Palladino and information about the medium’s early development and personal life.