Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
Leonora E. Piper is well known to students of the history of mediumship. Studied by Richard Hodgson, James H. Hyslop, William James, Oliver Lodge, and others, her séances have been recorded in detail in various specialized publications, such as the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.
I just published in a short communication a report that has been generally neglected in discussions of Piper. My note appeared as a letter to the editor: “Charles Richet on Leonora Piper.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2015, 79, 56-59. This report, authored by French physiologist Charles Richet, has probably been neglected for various reasons. In addition to being published in French, the report did not appear as a separate article, but was included in Walter Leaf’s “A Record of Observations of Certain Phenomena of Trance (3). Part II.” (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1890, 6, 558-646). Being inside a longer report it is no wonder that Richet’s work has been overlooked (see pp. 618-620).
Much of Richet’s report, which I translated in the note, does not include evidential material. Here he discussed some of the information he obtained:
“It seems that Mrs. P. did not know my name: but I admit as very possible that she knew it, or that people of the house had spoken it inadvertently, or that she guessed my nationality. (She was around Mr. William James and Mr. Hodgson for two years, and had read the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research.) She told me that my name was Charles, and that I worked in medicine. Then I told her about my grandfather: she told me his name was Charles like me, which is true, although I had told her it was my mother’s father. She added that he was called Richhet, and she said each letter unaided by me and spontaneously. But I cannot attach much importance to these facts because it is quite possible that she knew my name unconsciously.”
“Then I asked a few details about my grandfather. She had nothing to say, but very inaccurate and numerous mistakes; assuring me he was a soldier—a chemist—a doctor—that I lived with him—that he had a dog; all incorrect facts. I told him he had translated an American author into French. It was impossible to say who. She said, Henry James, Hawthorne, &c., without being able to say Franklin.”
“Because she talked about a dog, I asked her about a little dog I had that was dead. She said Pick without hesitation. Now this fact is very important, and it is, in my opinion, the best result she gave; because my dog was called Dick; and we must admit she absolutely did not know the name, which was unknown at Cambridge and at Boston.”
Another interesting aspect of Richet’s short report were observations of the changes shown by Piper.
“We do not put her to sleep by the procedure of magnetic passes, but she enters trance, so to speak, spontaneously.”
“However all does not happen spontaneously; for she needs to grab someone’s hand for the trance. Then she takes the hand for a few minutes remaining in silence and in half-darkness. After some time—from 5 to 15 minutes—she has small spasmodic convulsions that increase, ending with a very moderate small epileptiform seizure. At the end of this crisis she falls into a state of stupor, with a somewhat gasping breathing, which lasts close to a minute or two; then, all of a sudden, she comes out of this stupor by an outburst. Her voice has changed; it is no longer Mrs. P. who is there, but another character, Dr. Phinuit, who speaks with a deep voice, of manly appearance, with a mixed black patois, and a French and American dialect accent.”