Psicologia e “Spiritismo:” An Italian Psychical Research Classic

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

My article “Morselli’s ‘Psicologia e Spiritismo’ ” was recently posted in the Psi Encyclopedia. It is about Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli’s two volume work Psicologia e “Spiritismo:” Impressioni e Note Critiche sui Fenomeni Medianici di Eusapia Paladino (Psychology and “Spiritism”: Impressions and Critical Notes  about the Mediumistic Phenomena of Eusapia Paladino; 2 vols. Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1908).

 Morselli Psicologia

 

Enrico Morselli 2

Enrico Morselli

Here is the summary:

“Enrico Morselli (1852-1929), an Italian psychiatrist, contributed to the study of the mediumship of Eusapia Palladino, notably regarding its clinical and psychological aspects. This work is contained in his 1908 two-volume book, little known to English-language writers, Psicologia e ‘Spiritismo’ (Psychology and ‘Spiritism’) on which this article is largely based (the original Italian edition can be read online). Morselli adopts an anti-survival stance, rejecting discarnate agency in favour of fraud, psychological processes, or psychic means involving human agency.”

Eusapia Palladino side dress

Eusapia Palladino

Morselli became convinced of the phenomena of medium Eusapia Palladino. In his view mediumship  was “an abnormal fact of the human physio-psychic personality which, like all other abnormalities and individual abnormalities . . . is directly linked to the normal somatic, physiological and mental conditions of the Homo sapiens animal. . .” Palladino was believed to be a hysteric, but a hysteric that could produce movement of objects, materializations, and other physical manifestations. This view was shared by another Italian psychiatrist, Cesare Lombroso.

Most of the book is about reports of séances with Palladino. “This is not a scientific report, but rather a compilation of summaries and impressions of séances attended by Morselli during the 1900s, by which time she had been studied by several scientists and scholars . . . The séances took place at the Circolo Scientifico Minerva (Scientific Circle Minerva), in Genoa, a private group that included psychical researcher Ernesto Bozzano, astronomer Francesco Porro and journalist Luigi Arnaldo Vassallo.” He reported that in his first séance, held in 1909, the medium was seated at the head of the table and was controlled by two persons. Morselli wrote: “The table was in motion: it was bowing now from one side, it went up on two feet and on one, and in the end I saw it stand up to 10-15 centimeters, remain suspended for a few seconds below the hands that protruded in the chain, and then, as if suddenly the thrust that pushed it or the strength that supported it lessened, it fell noisily on the floor.”

Morselli listed that the following physical phenomena took place in the séances:

Parakinesis (movement of objects with some physical contact)

Telekinesis

Changes of weight in objects or the medium

Thermal-radiant phenomena (such as breezes and cold areas)

Sounds, including voices

Hyloplastic phenomena (production of marks or tracings)

Zollnerian phenomena such as apports and knots on cords

Tangible teleplasty (materializations)

Simple telephany (luminous phenomena)

Visible, active and tangible teleplasmy (materialized forms and limbs)

 

Sketches of Materialized Forms Observed in Seances in which Morselli was Present

Morselli Palladino form 2

Morselli Palladino form 4

Morselli Palladino materialization sketch

There is much in the book about the medium’s psychological and medical aspects. “Morselli noticed that Palladino perspired profusely during trance. She told him her menstrual period was more copious and erratic when she held many séances. Coming out of trance, she sometimes was amyosthenic (muscular weakness), and experienced paralysis in her limbs, mainly on the right side.”

The phenomena were believed by Morselli to be caused by a force exteriorized from the medium’s body. Morselli wrote: “We say that everything happens as if the medium’s body exteriorizes its bio-psychic force . . .  This fact of exopsychicity is not more unintelligible than electricity which propagates at a distance without conductors and produces movement, chemical, luminous, [and] sonic phenomena . . .”

In addition, Morselli presents two useful bibliographies.  One is about Spiritism and psychic phenomena in general, while another is a list of publications about Paladino. Both include materials in French, and Italian that are usually missed by English-speaking students of her mediumship (on these bibliographies see an article here, starting on page 1900.

Morselli Bibliography

Finally, in the encyclopedia entry I also presents examples of the book’s reception, among them a negative one by Eleanor M. Sidgwick (Review of Psicologia e “Spiritismo.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1909, 21, 516-525).

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