Archive for April, 2020


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

This is the third part of a series of blogs designed to provide online reading materials about the old psychical research literature. I hope readers find it interesting, particularly in these days of social isolation due to the virus going around the world.

Here I would like to focus on reading material about the celebrated mental medium Leonora E. Piper (1857-1950). Although there are discussions about her mediumship in recent publications, an example being Michael Tymn’s Resurrecting Leonora Piper (Guildford: White Crow Books, 2013; see also my blog), here I focus on online freely available publications coming from the late nineteenth century to 1929.

Mrs. Piper in Different Stages of Her Life

Leonora Piper 2

Leonora Piper 4

Leonora E. Piper

Leonora Piper 3

Michel Sage’s Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research (New York: Scott-Thaw, 1904) is a good general introduction to Mrs. Piper. The author wrote in the first chapter: “Mrs Piper’s mediumship is one of the most perfect which has ever been discovered. In any case, it is the one which has been the most perseveringly, lengthily and carefully studied by highly competent men. Members of the Society for Psychical Research have studied the phenomena presented by Mrs Piper during fifteen consecutive years. They have taken all the precautions necessitated by the strangeness of the case, the circumstances, and the surrounding scepticism; they have faced and minutely weighed all hypotheses. In future the most orthodox psychologists will be unable to ignore these phenomena when constructing their systems; they will be compelled to examine them and find an explanation for them, which their preconceived ideas will sometimes render it difficult to do” (pp. 1-2).

An interesting biography by the medium’s daughter is Alta L. Piper’s The Life and Work of Mrs. Piper (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1929). Summaries of research with the medium can be found in: Henry Holt’s On the Cosmic Relations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1919, Vol 1, Vol. 2); James H. Hyslop, Science and a Future Life (Boston: Herbert B. Turner, 1905); and Oliver J. Lodge’s The Survival of Man (New York: George H. Dorran, 1920, 2nd ed.).

Piper Life and Work of Mrs. Piper

The first research report with Mrs. Piper was William James’ “Report of the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena” (Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1886, 1, 102–106). This was followed by James’ “A Record of Observations of Certain Phenomena of Trance (5). Part III (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6, 651–659), and “Report on Mrs. Piper’s Hodgson-Control” (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 23, 2–121). In his 1890 paper James stated “taking everything that I know of Mrs. P. into account, the result is to make me feel as absolutely certain as I am of any personal fact in the world that she knows things in her trances which she cannot possibly have heard in her waking state, and that the definitive philosophy of her trances is yet to be found” (pp. 658–659).

William James

William James

Other important research reports included:

Hodgson, R. (1892). A record of observations of certain phenomena of trance. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 8, 1-167.

Hodgson, R. (1898). A further record of observations of certain phenomena of trance. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 13, 284-582.

Richard Hodgson

Richard Hodgson

Hyslop, J.H. (1901). A further record of observations of certain phenomena of trance. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 16, 1-649.

Leaf, W. (1890). A record of observations of certain phenomena of trance (3). Part II. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6, 558-646.

Lodge, O. (1890). A record of observations of certain phenomena of trance (2). Part I. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6, 443-557.

Oliver Lodge younger

Oliver J. Lodge

Tanner, A.E. (1910). Studies in Spiritism. New York: D. Appleton.

The last study, by Amy Tanner, was a skeptical one in which she argued that the communicators were purely psychologically created secondary personalities and that the rest was explained as being due “to a heightened suggestibility to involuntary betrayals of the sitter, with a modicum of guessing, fishing, and inference” (p. 310).

Another study, a massive review of the literature about Mrs. Piper authored by Eleanor M. Sidgwick, also took a psychological view of Piper’s mediumistic communicators (“A Contribution to the Study of the Psychology of Mrs. Piper’s Trance Phenomena.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1915, 28, 1–657). However, she believed the medium produced veridical communications. Sidgwick wrote: “I think it is probably a state of self-induced hypnosis in which her hypnotic self personates different characters either consciously and deliberately, or unconsciously and believing herself to be the person she represents, and sometimes probably in a state of consciousness intermediate between the two. In the trance state her normal powers transcend in some directions those of her ordinary waking self . . . . And further what makes her case of great importance she can obtain, imperfectly and for the most part fragmentarily, telepathic impressions” (p. 330).

Eleanor Sidgwick 2

Eleanor M. Sidgwick

Page scan of sequence 9

This is by no means a complete bibliography about Mrs. Piper. But I hope it will facilitate the study of this important and fascinating medium.

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

Because we are still practicing social isolation due to the virus problem, I am presenting more links to books from the old psychical research literature in case you need reading material.

I hope you find them interesting.

Hereward Carrington (1919). Modern Psychical Phenomena. New York: Dodd, Mead.

HEREWARD CARRINGTON

Hereward Carrington

Théodore Flournoy (1911). Spiritism and Psychology. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Theodore Flournoy

Théodore Flournoy

James H. Hyslop (1919). Contact with the Other World. New York: Century.

James H. Hyslop

James H. Hyslop

Cesare Lombroso (1909). After Death–What? Boston: Small, Maynard.

Cesare Lombroso 3

Cesare Lombroso

Joseph Maxwell (1905). Metapsychical Phenomena. London: Duckworth.

Joseph Maxwell profile 1895

Joseph Maxwell in profile (with Albert de Rochas, in seance with medium Eusapia Palladino)

Frank Podmore (1894). Apparitions and Thought-Transference. London: Walter Scott.

Frank Podmore

Frank Podmore

A. von Schrenck-Notzing (1920). Phenomena of Materialisation. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Albert von Schrenck Notzing

Albert F. von Schrenck-Notzing