Category: Voices from the Past

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

While there are earlier accounts of Palladino’s mediumship, probably the most important of the early investigations were those conducted by what has been called the Milan Commission. These sittings took place at Milan in 1892 and were first published in the newspaper Italia del Popolo. They were important due to the men involved in the investigation, individuals such as once Councilor to the Czar, Alexander Aksakof (1832-1903), and others such as  astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), philosophers Angelo Brofferio (1846-1894) and Carl du Prel (1839-1899), and physicists Giuseppe Gerosa (1857-1910), Giorgio Finzi (1868-1958) and Giovanni Battista Ermacora (1858-1898). In some seances both physiologist Charles Richet (1850-1935), and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) were also present.


Giovanni Schiaparelli


Alexander Aksakof


Carl du Prel

Charles Richet 10

Charles Richet

The séances were also published in other places, such as in the influential Annales des Sciences Psychiques (Aksakof, A., Schiaparelli, G., du Prel, C., Brofferio, A., Gerosa, G., Ermacora, G. B., & Finzi, G. (1893). Rapport de la commission réunie à Milan pour l’étude des phénomènes psychiques [Report of the commission gathered at Milan to study psychic phenomena]. Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 3, 39–64). Here I am using the English translation that appeared in the Psychical Review (The psychical experiments at Milan. Psychical Review, 1893, 2, 45-64).


The report was divided in two sections, observations with good lighting and in darkness. Below I present part of the introduction of the report and the section of phenomena observed when the séance room was illuminated. Notice that the translation in the Psychical Review uses the word “psychic” to refer to Palladino, while the French report in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques uses the word “medium.”

“We held in all seventeen sittings . . . The psychic, who was invited to come to these sittings by Professor Aksakow, was presented by Signor Chiaia, who was present at only a third of the sittings, and generally during the first and least important part of them …”

“Before entering upon the subject, however, it will be well to say at once that the results of the experiments did not always correspond to our expectations. Not that we have not had, in great abundance, facts which were apparently or really important and marvellous; but in the greater number of cases it was impossible for us to apply to the same those rules of experimental art which in other fields of experiment are considered necessary for arriving at sure and incontestable results. Among these rides, one which is most important is to vary, one by one, the circumstances of experiment in such a way as to isolate the true causes, or at least the true conditions, of every fact. Now it is precisely in this regard that our experiments seem to us only too deficient. It is true that many times the psychic, in order to prove her good faith, spontaneously offered to change certain details of the experiments, and from time to time introduced such changes of her own accord; but these were concerning circumstances which were of trifling importance according to our way of thinking. On the other hand, the changes which in our judgment seemed necessary, in order to remove every doubt, were either not accepted by the psychic, or, if they were put into effect, resulted usually in rendering the experiment null, or at least were conducive to results which were not clear.”

“We do not consider ourselves as having the right to interpret this fact by injurious suppositions, which to many seems the simplest way. We think, rather, that this has to do with phenomena of an unknown nature, and confess that we do not know the necessary conditions for their production . . . Admitting all this . . . , the fact still remains that the said impossibility of varying the experiments as we wished singularly diminished the value and interest of the experiments performed, taking away, in many cases, that demonstrative rigor to which in facts of this nature we have the right and also the duty to aspire. Therefore, in many cases, ours were not true experiments, but simply observations of that which happened under given circumstances, not fixed, indeed not wished for, by us.”

“For that reason we will not mention those experiments which seemed to us not to be sufficiently demonstrated, and we will touch lightly upon those regarding which the conclusions could easily be diverse among the various investigators. We will note more minutely the circumstances in those where, in spite of the obstacles above mentioned, it seems to us we have arrived at a degree of certainty.”


Palladino with Aksakof at Milan, 1892


“1. Inexplicable mechanical movements with only direct contact with the hands.”

“(a.) Lifting of a table laterally beneath the hands of the psychic seated at one of its ends.”

“We employed for this experiment a pine table, three feet seven inches long, two feet eight inches in height, weighing twenty pounds. Among the several movements of the table, by which answers to questions were given, it was impossible not to observe especially the motion made during the raps; two legs of the table were raised simultaneously beneath the hands of the psychic, without the slightest preceding lateral oscillation of the table, forcibly, rapidly, and several times in succession, as if the table had been glued to the psychic’s hands — a motion more remarkable from the fact that the psychic was always seated at one end of the table, and we did not release her hands and feet for an instant. As this phenomenon is produced usually with the greatest ease, to observe it better we, on the evening of October 3, left the psychic alone at the table, with both her hands above it completely, and her sleeves rolled to the elbow. We stood around the table, and the space above it and below it was brightly illuminated. Under these conditions the table raised itself to an angle of thirty or forty degrees and remained in that position several minutes, while the psychic held her legs stretched out and beat her feet one against the other. Then producing a pressure with our hands upon the raised side of the table, we felt a very considerable elastic resistance.”

“(b.) Measure of force applied in raising the table laterally.”

“For this experiment the table was suspended by one of its ends to a dynamometer attached to a rope fastened to a small beam which rested upon two wardrobes. If the end of the table was lifted to a height of six inches, the dynamometer indicated a pressure of about eight pounds. The psychic was seated at that end of the table with her hands completely above it, at the right and at the left of the point at which the dynamometer was attached. Our hands made a chain upon the table without making a pressure upon it; for that matter our .hands could not in any case have acted in any way except to augment the pressure exerted upon the table. The wish was expressed that the pressure should diminish, and soon the table began to raise itself up- from the side of the dynamometer. Signor Gerosa, who was watching the indicator, announced the diminutions marked by the successive indications, as seven, five, three pounds, and then nothing, after which the lifting was such that the dynamometer rested upon the table horizontally.”

“Then we reversed the conditions, placing our hands under the table, the psychic putting her hands not only under the edge of the table, where she would have been able to touch the framework of it and exert an action from below, but even underneath the framework uniting the legs. She did not touch this with the palms of the hands, but with the backs of them. Thus none of the hands could have done other than diminish the tension upon the dynamometer. Having expressed the wish that the tension should increase instead of diminish, very soon Signor Gerosa informed us that the indications marked an increase from eight to fifteen pounds. During the whole of the experiment both feet of the psychic were under the feet of those at the right and at the left of her.”

Drawing sitters with EP

“(c.) Complete lifting of the table.”

“It was natural to conclude that if the table could lift itself on one side, against every law of gravity, it could also lift itself entirely. In fact this occurred. This lifting is one of the most common phenomena with Eusapia, and permits the most satisfactory examination. It is produced usually under the following conditions. The persons seated around the table laid their hands upon it, forming a chain. Each of the psychic’s hands was held by the hands of those seated next her, and each foot under the foot of her neighbor. More than that, they pressed her knees with theirs. As usual, the psychic was seated at the end of the table, the position most unfavorable to raising it mechanically. In a few moments the table made a movement laterally; it lifted itself to the right and then to the left, and finally raised itself completely, with its four legs in the air horizontally, as if floating in a liquid, to a height of from four to eight inches (at times from twenty-four to twenty-eight inches), then fell to the floor on its four legs simultaneously. Sometimes it remained in the air several seconds and made fluctuating movements, during which we could examine thoroughly the position of the feet beneath it. During the lifting of the table the right hand of the psychic often left the table, locked in that of her neighbor, and remained in the air above it. Throughout the experiment the face of the psychic was contorted, the hands contracted, she groaned and seemed to suffer, as was usually the case when a phenomenon was about to take place.”

“In order to examine better the facts in question, we withdrew from the table one by one, having discovered that the chain of hands on the table was no longer necessary, either in this or other phenomena. Finally there was but one person left at the table with the psychic. That person rested his foot upon both Eusapia’s feet, and placed one hand upon her knetfs. With his other hand he held the left hand of the psychic. Her right hand was laid on the table in plain sight, or even raised above it in the air while the table was elevated.”

“As the table remained in the air for several seconds, it was possible to take a number of photographs of the phenomenon. Up to this time this had never been done. Three photographic outfits acted at the same time in different parts of the room. The light necessary was produced by a magnesium light thrown on at the opportune moment. There were twenty-one photographs obtained, several of which were excellent. In one of them, the first one made, Professor Richet is seen holding one hand, one foot, and the knees of the psychic; her other hand is held by Professor Lombroso. The table is being raised horizontally, which is shown by the space between the extremity of each leg and the extremity of its respective shadow.”

“In all the preceding experiments our chief attention was turned to controlling the hands and feet of the psychic, and as regards them we feel ourselves able to say that they played no part in the phenomena. Nevertheless, for the sake of exactness, we cannot pass over a fact which became evident to us only on the fifth of October, but which probably existed in the previous experiments also. It consists in this, that all four of the legs of the table could not be said to be entirely isolated during the raising of the table, for at least one of them came in contact with the dress of the psychic. On that evening we noticed that, shortly before the elevation of the table, the left side of the skirt of Eusapia’s gown began to puff out so that it touched the table leg. One of us having tried to prevent such contact, the table did not rise as usual, and we found that it did so only when the observer allowed such contact. This is seen in the photograph taken from that side, and also in those where the leg in question is visible in its lower extremity. It is noticeable that at the same time the hand of the psychic is placed on the surface of the table on that side, so that that part of the table was under the influence of the psychic from the lower portion by means of the gown as well as from the upper part by means of her hand. Nothing could be verified as to the degree of pressure exerted by the hand of the psychic at that moment upon the table, nor was it possible to discover, the elevation of the table being so brief, what part the simple contact of the gown (which appeared to be applied laterally) could have had in sustaining the weight of the table. We tried to avoid the contact of the gown by requiring the psychic and all others at the table to stand up, but the experiment did not succeed. We proposed putting the psychic at one of the long sides of the table, but the psychic opposed this, saying it was impossible. We are obliged, therefore, to acknowledge that we did not succeed in obtaining a complete uplifting of the table, with all four of its legs absolutely free from contact, and there is reason to fear that an analogous difficulty may have taken place in the lifting of the two legs which were on the side of the psychic.”


Seance at Milan, 1892 Standing: Angelo Brofferio, Sitting: Carl du Prel

“In what manner the contact of a thin gown with a leg of a table (at the lower part of it, moreover) would be able to aid in the lifting of the table we are not able to say. The hypothesis that the gown may have hidden a solid prop, introduced to serve as a momentary support to the leg of the table, is not plausible. To maintain the entire table held up on that one leg by means of an attrition which a single hand can make applied on the upper surface of a table would require that the hand should exert an enormous pressure, such as we are not able to believe Eusapia could exert, even for three or four seconds. Of this we are convinced by attempts made by us upon the same table. The only movements of the table not subject to this cause of uncertainty are those where the two legs of the table most distant from the medium are lifted; but this kind of movement is easily produced by a light pressure of the hands of the psychic on the sides of the table next her, and it is not possible to give to this the slightest demonstrative value. The same may be said of the lateral lifting of it on the legs to the right or left of the psychic, which she could produce by the pressure of even one hand.”

“(d.) Variation of pressure exerted by the whole body of the psychic seated upon a balance.”

“This experiment was very interesting, voluntary or involuntary, but very difficult, because, as can easily be understood, every movement of the psychic upon the platform of the scales would cause an oscillation of the platform and also of the steelyard. In order to have the experiment conclusive, it would be necessary that the steelyard, when it had changed position, should remain stationary for a few seconds, to permit one to suspend the weights on the steelyard for measuring. With this hope we made the attempt. The psychic was made to sit upon a chair placed upon the platform of the scales, and we found that the weight marked for both was one hundred and sixty-three pounds. After a few oscillations there occurred a decided descent of the steelyard, which lasted several seconds, and which allowed Signor Gerosa to measure the weight immediately. It indicated one hundred and thirty pounds-—-that is to say, a diminution of thirty-three pounds. The desire being expressed that the opposite phenomenon should occur, the extreme end of the steelyard immediately arose, indicating an augmentation of twenty-five pounds. This experiment was repeated several times and at five different sittings. Once it did not succeed, but the last time a registering apparatus enabled us to obtain two curves of the phenomenon. We tried to produce the same deflections ourselves, and were not able to produce them except by several of us standing on the platform and bearing first on one, then on the other side of it near the edge, swaying our bodies violently, a movement which we never saw in the psychic, and which was impossible in her position on the chair. Notwithstanding, we recognize that the experiment cannot be said to be absolutely satisfactory until we complete it with what will be described in 3 c.”

“In this experiment with the scales it was noticed also that its success seemed to depend upon the contact of the psychic’s dress with the floor upon which the scales were placed. This was verified with an opposite experiment on the evening of October 9. The psychic was placed upon the scales. The one of us who was appointed to watch her feet saw the lower folds of her dress swelling out and protruding over the edge of the platform. Whenever we tried to prevent this (which was certainly not produced by the feet of the medium), the levitation did not take place; but as soon as we permitted the hem of the dress to touch the floor, the repeated levitations took place and were marked by broad curves on the registering dial. Once we tried the levitation of the psychic, placing her upon a broad pallet, extended upon the platform. The pallet prevented the contact of the dress with the floor, and the experiment did not succeed.”

“Finally, on the evening of October 13, another balance was prepared, a Roman balance, with the platform isolated completely from the floor, and distant from it one foot. Carefully watching, and not permitting contact of any sort between the platform and the floor, not even by means of the hem of Eusapia’s dress, the experiment failed. On the other hand, in similar circumstances, a slight result seemed to be obtained on October 18, but on that occasion the experiment was not certain, there being a chance that the mantle which Eusapia requested should be wrapped about her head and shoulders had touched the arm of the balance during the incessant agitation of the psychic. We conclude, therefore, that no levitation succeeded with us while the psychic
was completely isolated from the floor.”


Levitation of Table at Milan, 1892. Sitting: Lombroso (left) and Richet

“2. Mechanical movements with indirect contact of the psychic’s hands, so arranged as to render any mechanical action by her impossible.”

“(a.) Horizontal movement of the table with the psychic’s hands upon a small board on three balls, or on four wheels, which were placed between the board and table.”

“For this difficult but conclusive experiment the feet of the table were provided with rollers. A board twelve inches wide and fifteen inches long was placed on three wooden balls about one and one half inches in diameter, which were placed on the table. The psychic was asked to put her hands on the middle of the board. Her sleeves were rolled to the elbows; those seated beside her placed their feet on her feet and their knees against hers, thus forming, with their legs and those of the psychic, two angles, in the opening of which the two legs of the table stood isolated. Under these conditions the table moved several times, forwards and backwards, to the right and left, parallel to itself, four to ten inches, together with the board which, although on the balls, appeared to be of a piece with the table. In a second experiment of the same kind, the balls, which in the former experiment easily escaped from under the board, were replaced by four movable wheels fastened to the four corners of the board, which gave greater stability without making the movements more difficult. The results were the same as before.”

“(b.) Lateral raising of the table with a board on three balls, or four wheels, interposed between it and the psychic’s hands.”

“This phenomenon, obtained in the first experiment, was repeated with the board on wheels under the conditions stated above. The table rose laterally on the side of the psychic and under her hand, together with the board on the balls or wheels, to a height of four to six inches, without any displacement of the board, and fell again with it. By these experiments, irrefutable proof was obtained that lateral and vertical movements of the table can take place independently of any force whatsoever from the hands of the psychic. In these experiments, the control was limited to that of the hands and feet of the psychic, and as the table was surrounded by several persons, there was no opportunity of seeing whether there was any contact of the legs of the table with the psychic’s skirt, which in the other experiments was found to be a necessary condition of success. The same observation is applicable to the experiment described below in 3 b. To remove every trace of doubt in this respect, a covering of pasteboard was prepared which enveloped the psychic and her chair, in the form of a vertical cylinder, and prevented any external contact with the floor up to a height of about two feet. As soon as the psychic saw this, however, she declared that standing in it would take away all her power, and we were therefore forced to give it up. We made use of it a single time, but under circumstances which rendered its use of no particular value.”

  1. Movement of objects at a distance without any contact with the persons present.

“(a.) Spontaneous movements of objects.”

“These phenomena were observed on several occasions during the sittings. Often a chair placed for this purpose, not far from the table, between the psychic and her neighbor, began to move and approached the table. A remarkable instance occurred during the second sitting. This took place in full light. A chair weighing twenty-five pounds, which was at a distance of a yard behind the psychic, approached Signor Schiaparelli, who was sitting near the psychic. He arose and put it back in its former place, but when he was seated again the chair came up to him a second time.”

“(b.) Movement of the table without contact.”

“It was desirable to obtain this phenomenon experimentally. For this purpose the table was placed on rollers, the feet of the medium were controlled as stated in 2 a, and all present made a chain of hands, including those of the psychic. When the table began to move, all raised their hands without breaking the chain, and the table alone by itself made several movements as in the
second experiment. This experiment was repeated several times.”

“(c.) Movement of the steelyard of the scales.”

“After having noted the influence that the body of the psychic exerted upon the scales while seated on it, it was interesting to see if this could be effected while she was at a distance. To that end the scales were placed behind the back of the psychic, seated at the table, in such a way that the platform came to within about four inches of her chair. First we placed the hem of her dress in contact with the platform. The steelyard began to move. Professor Brofferio got down upon the floor and held the hem of the dress with his hand, but ascertaining that there was not the least tension, he resumed his seat. The movement of the balance continuing with much force, Professor Aksakow got down upon the floor behind the psychic, took the dress away entirely from the platform, and assured himself with his hands that there was nothing between the platform and her chair, nevertheless the steelyard continued to beat violently against the restraining crosspieces. This we all saw and heard.”

“A second time the same experiment was performed, at the sitting of September 26, in the presence of Professor Richet. In a few minutes the steelyard began to move in full view of all, and was beating violently against the bars, whereupon Professor Richet immediately left his place near the psychic and assured himself by passing his hand in the air and on the floor between the psychic and the platform that all that space was free from any communication either by a thread or any other contrivance.”

“4. Raps and reproductions of sounds in the table.”

“These raps were always produced during the sittings to signify “Yes” or “No.” Sometimes they were loud and distinct and seemed to resound in the wood of the table; but, as is well known, it is very difficult to localize a sound, and we could not try any experiments in this direction, except by making rhythmical raps and various rubbing sounds on the table, which seemed to be faintly reproduced inside of the table.”

In the conclusion it was stated:

“In making public this brief and incomplete account of our experiences, we must again express our convictions, namely: —”

“1. That, under the circumstances given, none of the manifestations obtained in a more or less intense light could have been produced by any artifice whatever.”

“2. That the same conviction can be affirmed in regard to the greater number of the phenomena taking place in darkness.:

“For the rest, we recognize that from a strictly scientific point of view our experiments still leave much to be desired. They were undertaken without the possibility of our knowing what we should need, and the instruments and different appliances which we were obliged to use had to be improvised. Nevertheless, that which we have seen and verified is sufficient in our eyes to prove that these phenomena are most worthy of scientific attention.”

Richet published a separate account of his experiences in the Milan seances: “Expériences de Milan” (Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1893, 3, 1–31). He was impressed by some of his experiences, but still had doubts. He wrote: “However, the formal proof, irrefutable, that this is not a fraud on the part of Eusapia and an illusion on our part, this formal proof is lacking.”


Richet’s Article in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1893

Carl du Prel also published a discussion of the séances: “Der Kampf un den Spiritismus in Mailand.” (Psychische Studien, 1892, 19, 546-566).

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

Philosopher James H. Hyslop (1854-1920) was an important figure in American psychical research. He was director of the American Society for Psychical Research, and also conducted much research, including tests of the famous Leonora E. Piper. Furthermore he published many articles and books.

James Hyslop, US researcher of psychics

James H. Hyslop


Leonora E. Piper

One of Hyslop’s books was Science and a Future Life (available here,  and here). As the title indicates, the book was about survival of death, with emphasis on work conducted with Mrs. Piper. The author stated at the beginning: “The elaborate Reports of the Society for Psychical Research seldom get beyond the shelves of its members . . . I have endeavored in the present volume to summarise the most important of the Society’s work, more especially with reference to such matter as might
claim to bear upon the problem of a future life . . . I have not intended that the book should satisfy the more exacting scientific standards, but serve the purpose of inducing the scientific psychologist to go to the detailed records where his demands may be better satisfied, and give the general reader some conception of the complexity of the problem with which we have to deal. Hence I have only given samples of the facts which are accessible for the student . . .”




Table of Contents of Hyslop’s Science and a Future Life


This is an excellent book to obtain information about the work with Piper conducted by Richard Hodgson and Hyslop, among others. As Hyslop stated in his introduction the work summarizes reports found in the pages of the Proceedings f the Society for Psychical Research. In fact, this work is one of the best summaries of the initial work done with Piper in the Nineteenth Century.


Richard Hodgson

But the work also presents analyses of possible explanations, and Hyslop defended the spirit agency explanation. A particularly interesting chapter is that entitled “Conditions Affecting the ‘Communications.’ ” Here Hyslop writes about confusions and trivialities in the commnunications caused by various interfering processes. “They are (1) the intramediumistic conditions through which the messages have to come, or the physical and mental conditions of the medium; (2) the intercosmic conditions existing between the ‘communicator’ and those of the medium, and (3) the mental condition of the ‘communicators.’ The second of these divides into three classes, those affecting the transmission of a message from the ordinary ‘communicator’ to the ‘control,’ those affecting the ‘control’s’ interpretation of the messages received, and those affecting the ‘control’s’ ability to send them through the medium’s organism.”

This book is highly recommended as a representative of a survival interpretation of Piper’s communications, as well as an able summary of many of the medium’s early performances.

Selected Examples of Other Publications by Hyslop


Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Resarch, 1901









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

Many were the phenomena produced by Eusapia Palladino. She was well known for her physical phenomena, things such as table levitations and materializations, but her repertoire also included many other effects, among them changes in temperature, imprints on substances such as clay, and luminous manifestations.


Eusapia Palladino

Less discussed were the medium’s mental phenomena. This included, among others, trances and personality changes.

One of the medium’s researchers, Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli (1852-1929), listed and classified Palladino’s phenomena in his book Psicologia e “Spiritismo” (Turin: Bocca, 1908, vol. 2, pp. 507-521).


Enrico Morselli


Here is Morselli’s list of phenomena, showing this was a rich case of mediumship. He used the words “subjective” and “objective” to refer to mental and physical phenomena. Morselli wrote: “The phenomenology of E.P. is varied and intense in the physical sphere, [but] very poor in the intellectual [one]”(vol. 2, p. 507). His classification, he admitted, was somewhat artificial because many phenomena combined mental and physical components.

Here is his a brief version of Morselli’s classification and list of phenomena:


1. Modifications of the state of consciousness (e.g., diminution of normal consciousness)

2. Modifications of the physiological state (e.g., changes in sensory and motor functions)

3. Radiations from the body of the medium (e.g., luminous effects) [unclear why this is included here, maybe Morselli is emphasizing the subjective perception of light]

4. Auto-hypnosis (e.g., trance, catalepsy)


Palladino in trance

5. Amnesia from the period of “trance”

6. Exteriorization of sensibility (dubious spontaneous and experimental clairvoyance) [the term is generally used to refer to the projection of tactile sensations from the body]

7. Exteriorization of motricity (parakinesis: movement of objects with slight contact with object; telekinesis: movement of objects without contact) [unclear why this is included here]

8. Hypno-magnetic susceptibility (difficult to hypnotize, easy to magnetize using mesmeric passes)

9. Exogenous susceptibility (e.g., verbal suggestion, perceptions)

10. Monodeism (fixed ideas; e.g., obsessions, beliefs)

11. Hallucinatory dream phenomena (e.g., flying and fearful dreams)

12. Automatisms (dissociative: sensory and motor)

13. Mental regression (dissociative: primitive, infantile, playful ideas)

14. Personifications (secondary personalities)

15. Communications and messages in Italian

16. Communications in languages other than the medium’s

17. Pseudodivination of thought (use of sensory means simulating telepathy)

18. Cryptopsychism (use of mental material from memory and surrounding ideas)

19. Artificial mental suggestion (various phenomena produced via suggestion)

20. Lucidity, clairvoyance, second sight (Morselli stated that the medium was incapable of this)

21. Intrahuman telepathy (spontaneous communication with distant persons)

22. Hyperhuman telepathy (communication with spirits, disbelieved by Morselli)


1. Parakinesis (phenomena with physical contact, e.g., meaningless and intelligent table movements, raising of table)


2. Telekinesis (e.g., movements without contact, e.g., movement of tables, curtain, and various objects)

3. Weight phenomena (e.g., changes in the weight of various objects and medium’s body)

4. Thermic-radiant phenomena (temperature changes, cold breezes)

5. Acoustic phenomena (e.g., raps, sounds from musical instruments, voices)

6. Hyloplastic phenomena (phenomena producing marks or tracings on matter at a distance: e.g., writing, imprints)


Imprints on clay

7. Zollnerian phenomena (molecular phenomena: e.g., appearance of knots in cords, apports)

8. Tangible teleplasty (apparent living form presenting consistency: e.g., touches, limbs)

9. Simple telephany (luminous phenomena: e.g., clouds, luminous points)

10. Visible, active and tangible teleplasm (organized forms: e.g., clear, unclear and human forms, limbs)


Sketch of materialized figure



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

One of my most recent publications is an article about Sylvan J. Muldoon and Hereward’s Carrington’s The Phenomena of Astral Projection that appeared in the online encyclopedia of the Society for Psychical Research (The Phenomena of Astral Projection (1951). In R. McLuhan (Ed.), Psi Encyclopedia. London: Society for Psychical Research, 2016. The book, a modern classic about what today is generally referred to as out-of-body experiences, was published in 1951 and  consisted of discussions of the “doctrine of astral projection,” and of presentations of cases.


Today there are many books about out-of-body experiences, but this was not the case when The Phenomena of Astral Projection appeared. Muldoon and Carrington’s work became an important reference work that presented many cases.

As I wrote: “Muldoon and Carrington believe ‘astral projection’ implies that the mind is independent of the physical body, something that supports the idea of an etheric brain. This, they write, ‘certainly seems but a short step to the acceptance of an etheric body, separate and apart from the physical, which body we may inhabit at death, and which constitutes the vehicle of the mind in astral projections.’ ”


Sylvan J. Muldoon


Hereward Carrington

Muldoon and Carrington discussed evidence for the existence of a subtle body:

“First, there is the massive weight of human belief and testimony, from the earliest times to our own day, in all parts of the world, and among civilized and uncivilized peoples. Second, we have those cases of apparitions in which the phantom-form seems to exhibit a mind of its own—often imparting information unknown to the seer at the time, but afterwards verified. Third, we have those cases in which material effects are apparently produced by the phantom, or its image appears upon photographic plates. Fourth, we have instances of materialization, at séances… Fifth, we have cases of astral projection, in which the subject sees his own phantom body, and is occasionally seen by others. In these last instances especially, we have evidence that the phantom form possesses a mind of its own, separate and distinct from the physical brain and body, which latter may be seen resting upon the bed. The cumulative mass of such testimony is, we submit, most impressive, and gives us the right to believe that such a ‘spiritual body’ exists—as St. Paul long ago stated.”

The authors present many cases classified as those of deliberate  projections, and those that took place while using drugs, in emotional conditions, as well as during accidents, various illnesses, sleep, and during physical activity, a topic I have discussed before.

One of the physical activity cases they presented was the following:

“I was conscious of rising higher and higher, with each gliding step, until I ‘levitated’ about the height of a one-storey building…I was dumbstruck to see ‘myself’ left behind some distance… Looking down at my physical body… I had a great pity for it… I was…fully conscious in my astral body…and saw the eyes in my physical body moving and scrutinizing ‘me’ with a look of wonderment… A moment later my consciousness suddenly shifted to my physical body and, looking through its eyes, endeavouring to figure out the situation, I saw my astral body in space… This occurred several times…”

They also had a chapter entitled “Projections at the Time of Death” in which they presented the testimony of people around deathbeds that saw lights, mista and subtle bodies come out of the body of the dying persons. There is also a chapter with cases in which spirits were seen.

Muldoon and Carrington felt that the cases they presented supported the idea of survival of death:

“The universe seems to be, at basis, rational and spiritual in nature, and there is assuredly a narrow gulf between these phenomena and death itself. As Myers expressed it years ago, ‘death is but the irrevocable projection of the spirit.’ In the one case it is temporary; in the other permanent. But death is no more ‘terrible’ and no more ‘miraculous’ than these projection phenomena, and we have seen that, in many of these cases, the experience proved so delightful that the subject did not want to return to earth life at all! The transition into the spiritual world proved both easy and pleasant, while the experience in that world was little less than ‘blissful.’ ”

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).


Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918)

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).


Eusapia Palladino, circa 1895

“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.

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

The mesmeric literature has various accounts of “travelling clairvoyance.” These were instances in which a mesmerized individual was “sent” to a distant location and asked to describe his or her surroundings. The person in question did not always described feelings of leaving the body or of travelling, but generally there was awareness of being in a different location.

William Gregory

William Gregory

Here I present an excerpt about the topic written by physician William Gregory (1802-1858), who taught chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. This appeared in Gregory’s book Letters to a Candid Inquirer, on Animal Magnetism (1851). It reads as follows:

Gregory Letters Magnetism

“. . . The sleeper, at the request of the operator, and frequently of his own accord,  visits distant places and countries, and describes them, as well as the persons in them. This may, as I have already said, be done, in some cases, by sympathy, but there are many cases in which ordinary sympathy will not explain it.”

“Thus, the clairvoyant will often see and describe accurately, as is subsequently ascertained, places, objects, and people, totally unknown to the operator, or to any one present; and he will likewise, in describing such as are known to the operator, notice details and changes which could not be known to him.”

“The clairvoyant appears, as it were, mentally to go to the place named. He often finds himself, first, in no place, but floating, as it were, on air, or in space, and in a very short time exclaims, “Now, I am there.” The place named is the first, as a general rule, that presents itself to him. But whether it be so, or whether he see, first, some other place, a certain internal feeling tells him when he is right. If it be a distant town, and no house be specified to him, he will either see a general panoramic view of it, as from a neighboring hill, or from a height in the air, and describe this as he would a map or bird’s-eye view, or he will find himself in some street, place, square, or promenade, which, although not specified to him, is at once recognised from his account of it. He sees and describes the trees, roads, streets, houses, churches, fountains, and walks, and the people moving in them, and his expressions of delight and surprise are unceasing. If sent thither, to use his almost invariable phrase, a second or a third time, the sleeper will see the same objects, but remarks the change on the living part of the picture.”

“For example, Mr. D., a clairvoyant, magnetised by myself, when in an early and imperfect stage of lucidity, was asked by me to go to Aix-la-Chapelle, he never having left Scotland. He agreed, and after a very short, apparently an aerial voyage, said he was there. He was in a beautiful walk, bordered with trees, saw green turf, and the walk stretched on both sides, till lost, at either end, by a turning, not sharp, but gradual. This was evidently the boulevard. Another time, I specified the Friedrich Wilhelmsplatz, where he saw houses on one side, and at both ends, [p. 124] some much higher than others, the place itself of irregular oblong form, wider at one end than the other, and partly shrouded in a mist, of which he long complained; on the other side a long building, not a house. In the middle, a road, with small trees, having no branches till the stem rose rather higher than a man, and then a number, but the top obscured by mist. Another time, he saw the door of Nuellen’s Hotel, large enough, he thought, to allow a carriage to enter, but not more, if that; people were going in and out; and a man stood at the door, with a white neckcloth and vest, and no hat; as he thought, a waiter. In the saloon, he saw tables, all brown, no one there. Another time, some tables were white, and people sat at them eating, while others moved about. According to the hours of experiment, he was most likely right both times, although their dinner hour differs so much from ours. One day, I sent him to Cologne. There he noticed, from a bird’s-eye position, a large building, seen rather misty, but much higher than the houses. He got into a street near it, and described its long pointed windows, showing with his fingers their form, and its buttresses, which he described, but could not name. In the street, he saw people, indistinctly, moving; but he saw, pretty clearly, one “old boy,” as he called him, fat and comfortable, standing in his shop-door, and idling. He had no hat, and wore an apron. Mr. D. was much surprised, without any question being asked, at the fact that about half of the men he saw, both in Aix and Cologne, wore beards, and he described different fashions of beards and moustaches. One time, when I sent him to Bonn, he gave a beautiful account of the view from the hills to the west of it, of the town, arid the Rhine, stretching out and winding through the plain, with the rising grounds on the other side, such as the Ennertz. But it was remarkable that he stoutly maintained, that the hill on which he stood was to the east of the town, the town to the east of the Rhine, between the hill and the river, and the Rhine running towards the south; whereas I knew every one of these directions to be reversed.”

“The same subject has often spontaneously visited other places, unknown to me, but has given such minute and graphic accounts of the localities, the people, houses, dress, occupations, and topography of these places, that I should [p. 125] recognise them at once, were I to see them . . . .”

“It often happens, that a clairvoyant, who can see and describe very well all that is in the same room, or the next room, or even in the same house, cannot thus travel to a distance, without passing into a new stage. This generally occurs spontaneously, but may sometimes be effected by passes, or by the will of the operator.”

“The new or travelling stage, in such cases, is marked by peculiar characters. Thus, in one very fine case, which I had the opportunity of studying, the clairvoyante, in her first lucid state, could tell all that passed behind her, or in the next room, and could, by contact, perceive, and accurately describe, the state of body of other persons. She could hear, and she very readily answered, every question put to her by any one present, but could not go to a distant place. Yet, as I saw, she would often spontaneously pass from that state or stage into another, in which she was deaf to all sounds, even to the voice of her magnetiser, unless he spoke with his mouth touching the tips of the fingers of her right hand. Any one else might also converse with her in this way, but when first addressed, she invariably started. And now, not only could she go to a distance, and see very plainly what passed, but she was already in some distant place, and much occupied with it. She called this going away, or, when it was done by her magnetiser, being taken away, and when tired, would ask him to bring her back, which he did by some trifling manipulations. She then remembered (in her first state, to which she came back,) what she had seen on her travels [p. 126] . . . .”

“[Gregory described further observations with Mr. D.]. One day, while observing the town above mentioned, and describing it spontaneously, as I always encouraged him to do, he became suddenly silent, and after a short time told me, that he was travelling through air or space, to a great distance. I soon discovered that he had spontaneously passed into a higher stage . . . . As soon as he had come to the end of his journey, he began to describe a beautiful garden, with avenues of fine trees, of which he drew a plan. It was near a town, in which he could see no spires. At the end of one principal avenue was a round pond, or fountain, enclosed in stone and gravel, with two jets of water, and close to this fountain or pond stood an elderly man, in what, from the description, seemed to be the ancient Greek dress, the head bare, long beard, flowing white robes, and bare feet in sandals. He was surrounded by about a dozen younger men, most of whom had black beards, and wore, the same dress as their master. He seemed to be occupied in teaching them, and after a time, the lecture or conversation being finished, they all left the fountain, by twos and threes, and slowly walked along the avenues. Looking down these avenues, Mr. D. saw glimpses of the neighboring hills, and of the town, which lay nearer to the garden than the hills, although still at some distance. This singular vision also recurred spontaneously two or three times; that is, Mr. D. saw the gardens and the localities, but not again the group at the fountain, although other persons were seen enjoying the walks, and on one occasion two ladies were noticed, whose dress seemed also to be ancient Greek. But what particularly struck me was, that this vision only occurred in a peculiar state, of which the consciousness was quite distinct, not only from his ordinary consciousness . . . . This peculiar, third consciousness was interpolated, and he always slept out his full time, as previously fixed, in the more common magnetic state, while the time spent in this new state was added. On returning, which he always did of himself, to his first magnetic state, he had not the slightest recollection of the new vision, nor did he ever remember [p. 322] it, except when he came into the new state. It certainly seems probable that, in that new state, he was transported to distant times and past events.”

“Another time he spontaneously passed into a similar state, but which I think had a fourth consciousness of its own, divided from all the others. He told me one day that he was travelling through the air or through space, as before, but all at once began to appear uneasy and alarmed, and told me he had fallen into the water, and would be drowned, if I did not help him. I commanded him to get out of the water, and after much actual exertion and alarm, he said he had got to the bank. He then said he had fallen into a river in Caffraria, at the place where a friend of his was born. But what was very remarkable was, that he spoke of the river, the fields, farm-houses, people, animals, and woods, as if perfectly familiar to him, and told me he had spent many years as a boy in that country, whereas he has never been out of Scotland. Moreover, he insisted he was not asleep, but wide awake, and although his eyes were closed, said they were open, and complained that I was making a fool of him, when I said he was asleep. He was somewhat puzzled to explain how I, whom he knew to be in Edinburgh, could be conversing with him in Caffraria, as he declared he was; and he was still more puzzled when I asked him, how he had gone to that country, for he admitted he had never been on board a ship. But still he maintained that he was in Caffraria, and had long lived there, and that he knew every man and every animal at the farm he described. It was evident that he had heard of Caffraria from his friend; but as he described all that he saw, precisely as a man would do who was looking at the place and the people, and as he maintained that all were familiar to him, I could hardly avoid supposing, that, his mind having been interested in what he had heard, he had, in some of his previous sleeps visited Caffraria by clairvoyance, without telling me of it at the time; for it often happened, that he would sleep for an hour or half an hour without speaking; that when he had spontaneously passed into that state on this occasion, he not only saw, but recognised as well known, and as seen in previous portions of that peculiar consciousness, the localities, persons, &c. whom he described. Certainly his descriptions were such as to convey to me the [p. 323] impression that he actually saw these things as they exist. On two other occasions, he spontaneously got into the same state, and always then spoke as he had done the first time; but he retained not a trace of recollection of this South African vision in any other state but that one. Nay, when I asked him about Caffraria in his ordinary magnetic sleep, he seemed not to understand me, and thought I was making fun of him when I asked whether he had ever been in Africa.”

“In these three distinct kinds of vision, that of R., that of the Greek garden and philosopher, and that of Caffraria, it is hardly possible to verify the visions; but when I reflect, that Mr. D. was able, in a certain state, to see and describe accurately towns, such as Aix and Cologne, countries, and persons, at a great distance, and quite unknown to him, I am disposed to think that in these visions also he saw the real places actually before him. It would have been most interesting to have studied more minutely the powers exhibited, or which might have been developed, in this very interesting case; but, as I have mentioned, Mr. D., whose extreme susceptibility at that time may have depended on the very unsatisfactory state of his health, was taken ill, and confined to bed with an affection of the chest, for five or six weeks; and when he had recovered, I found that his general health was far better than when he was first magnetised, but his extreme susceptibility was gone. I can still magnetise him, although with far more difficulty; and since his recovery, I have only once been able to get him to see the town formerly described, and R. . . . .” [p. 324].

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

Following previous writers defending the existence of a spiritual principle through accounts of apparitions and other phenomena, social reformer Robert Dale Owen explored similar grounds in his book Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1860). For the purposes of these comments I will focus on a chapter of the book devoted to apparitions of the living in which the author presented several cases originally reported to him.

Robert Dale Owen

Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877)

Owen Footfalls

Owen started his discussion with a case of an apparition seen six weeks before the death of the appearer (pp. 327-328). This was followed by cases such as the following. A woman referred to as Mrs. E. was dying at a place distant from her residence, unaware her little daughter had died at home. A Miss. H., who was visiting the family and who had a history of seeing apparitions, entered the room where the body of the little girl was lying in a coffin. She saw the little girl’s mother in the room. As Owen wrote:

“Standing within three or four feet of the figure for several minutes, she assured herself of its identity. It did not speak, but, raising one arm, it first pointed to the body of the infant, and then signed upward …This was a few minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon … Next day she received … a letter [from the lady’s husband] informing her that his wife had died the preceding day … at half past four. And when, a few days later, that gentleman himself arrived, he stated that Mrs. E’s mind had evidently wandered before her death; for, but a little time previous to that event, seeming to revive as from a swoon, she had asked her husband ‘why he had not told her that her baby was in heaven.’ When he replied evasively, still wishing to conceal from her the fact of her child’s death … she said to him, ‘It is useless to deny it …; for I have just been home, and have seen her in her little coffin …’ ” (pp. 343-344).

From this case, Owen went on to discuss what he called the “visionary excursion.” This was an experience taking place in 1857 in which a woman woke from sleep to find herself “as if standing by the bedside and looking upon her own body …” (p. 345). During the experience she traveled and visited a friend, who later verified she had seen the experiencer and had conversed with her. Owen was told of the vision by the experiencer, and later talked with the person who perceived her. In his view, this phenomenon suggested that her physical body “parted with what we may call a spiritual portion of itself; … which portion, moving off without the usual means of locomotion, might make itself perceptible, at a certain distance, to another person” (pp. 347-348).

Owen Visionary Excursion

 This idea seemed to Owen to account for other cases of apparitions of the living he presented in the chapter. He also seemed to include within this explanation cases of recurrent apparitions taking place around an individual who had no awareness of the phenomenon. This was the case of Emélie Sagée, a French teacher whose double was repeatedly seen by her students, sometimes collectively (pp. 348-357). This remarkable, but evidentially weak case, and with no evidence that the teacher felt she had left her body, has been cited repeatedly by many authors both in the old, and modern literatures. In Owen’s description of some interesting incidents:

“One day the governess was giving a lesson to a class of thirteen …and was demonstrating, with eagerness, some proposition, to illustrate which she had occasion to write with chalk on a blackboard. While she was doing so, and the young ladies were looking at her, … they suddenly saw two Mademoiselle Sagées, the one by the side of the other. They were exactly alike; and they used the same gestures, that the real person held a bit of chalk in her hand, and did actually write, while the double had no chalk, and only imitated the motion …Sometimes, at dinner, the double appeared standing behind the teacher’s chair and imitating her her motions as she ate, — only that its hands held no knife and fork, and that there was no appearance of food … All the pupils and the servants waiting on the table witnessed this” (pp. 349-350).

Owen Sagee

Owen commented that while some cases of apparitions of the living coincided with death, others did not. In fact he pointed out that some cases (such as Sagée’s) did not seem to involve any special state or condition. Owen believed that the cases he presented showed that the spiritual body “may, during life, occasionally detach itself, to some extent or other and for a time, from the material flesh and blood which for a few years it pervades in intimate association; and if death be but the issuing forth of the spiritual body from its temporary associate; then, at the moment of its exit, it is that spirit body which through life may have been occasionally and partially detached from the natural body, and which at last is thus entirely and forever divorced from it, that passes into another state of existence (pp. 360-361).

Taken from my paper The spirit in out-of-body experiences: Historical and conceptual notes. In B. Batey (Ed.), Spirituality, Science and the Paranormal (pp. 3-19). Bloomfield, CT: Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, 2009.

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

In Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena (New York: B. W. Dodge, 1909) psychical researcher Hereward Carrington (1880-1958) presented an overview of the career of Italian medium Eusapia Palladino, who lived between 1854 and 1918. In addition to providing us with one of the best general sources of information about this medium up to 1908, the book is still important today for several reasons.

Eusapia Palladino title page

Carrington included: (1) a summary of particular incidents of Palladino’s mediumship of relevance to the history of psychical research; (2) biographical material about the medium; (3) examples of the phenomena reported around her; (4) an overview of seances with Palladino up to 1908; (5) a report of his sittings with the medium in 1908; (6) an overview of attempts to explain physical phenomena through conventional processes; (7) a review of explanations of Palladino’s phenomena through various unorthodox concepts of force (including the author’s speculations); and (8) arguments defending the reality of the medium’s phenomena. In addition, the book has other valuable lessons for us today that I will comment on later.


Hereward Carrington (1880-1958)

Although Palladino produced mental phenomena, she was mainly a physical medium. In addition to a variety of movements of objects, such as table levitations, and to the materializations of limbs, the phenomena reported to take place in her presence included temperature changes, sounds, direct writing, imprints on plaster, and luminous manifestations. Although these phenomena are rare today, they were once widely discussed in the literature of Spiritualism and psychical research.

Eusapia Palladino levitation Flammarion

Table Levitation, with Camille Flammarion, ca 1897

Eusapia Palladino Milan 2

Table Levitation, Milan, 1893

Eusapia Palladino Moulds Hands Face

Moulds of Hands and Faces

Morselli Palladino materialization sketch

Drawing of Materialized Figure, from Enrico Morselli’s Psicologia e “Spiritismo” (1908)

Palladino was brought to the attention of the world beyond small spiritistic circles in 1891 when Cesare Lombroso sat with her and became convinced of the genuineness of her phenomena. Soon after, in 1892, the medium was investigated in Milan by a variety of researchers, producing a report that circulated through Europe and in the United States. The report included a description of the use of instruments to measure the forces applied to the table and changes of weight of the medium (Aksakof et al. Rapport de la Commission Réunie a Milan pour l’Étude des Phénomènes Psychiques. Annales des Sciences Psychiques 1893, 3, 39–64).

Eusapia Palladino Milan First Page ASP 1893

This was followed by many investigations that made Palladino well-known in psychical research. Some of them were those discussed in such works as Albert de Rochas’ L’Extériorisation de la Motricité (Paris: Chamuel, 1896), Jules Courtier’s “Rapport sur les Séances d’Eusapia Palladino a l’Institut Général Psychologique” (Bulletin de l’Institut Général Psychologique, 1908, 8, 407–546), and Enrico Morselli’s Psicologia e “Spiritismo”(Turin: Bocca, 1908, Vol. 1: click here, Vol. 2: click here), among many other sources.

De Rochas Exteriorisation Motricite 1896

Courtier Report

Morselli Psicologia

Barzini Nel Mondo Eusapia Paladino

Although Palladino persuaded many of the reality of her phenomena, she was caught in fraud on several occasions. Still, Palladino’s mediumship, Carrington argued in his book, was very important. He wrote:

“Eusapia Palladino holds almost a unique place in the history of spiritualism, and for several reasons. The chief reason is this: That in her may now be said to culminate and focus the whole evidential case for the physical phenomena of spiritualism. If it could be shown that—in spite of all these years of work, in spite of the elaborate precautions taken, in spite of the testimony of the numerous scientific men who have carefully investigated her, and brought in favorable reports—her performances were fraudulent throughout, and that nothing but fraud entered into the production of these phenomena—then the whole case for the physical phenomena would be ruined—utterly, irretrievably ruined. . . . If, on the other hand, it becomes evident that fraud will not cover all the facts, and that genuine phenomena do occur in her presence—phenomena as yet inexplicable by science—then it will be proportionately more probable that many of the historic cases were genuine also. . . .” (p. 4)

The section of the book reporting Carrington’s seances with this medium referred to seances held with his colleagues Everard Feilding and W. W. Baggally. They were all commissioned by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to study the medium. Extracts of the report published by the SPR (Feilding, E., Baggally, W.W., Carrington, H. Report on a Series of Sittings with Eusapia Palladino. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1909, 23, 309-569) appear in Chapter 4. To assess the importance of these seances for Carrington, and to understand why he included them in his book, we need to see the issue in its historical context.

Feilding Baggally Carrington PSPR 1909

Eusapia Palladino 1908 Naples Seances

Palladino, 1908 Naples

Palladino was at Cambridge in 1895 and had seances with SPR members. Their report was negative, concluding that the phenomena were fraudulent and that the SPR would not have anything further to do with the medium (Sidgwick H. Eusapia Palladino. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1895, 7,148–159).

Some criticized this conclusion, as can be seen in a classic paper generally neglected in the  English-language literature authored by Julian Ochorowicz (La Question de la Fraude dans les Expériences avec Eusapia Palladino. Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1896, 6, 79–123). Because of the accumulation of independent positive testimony in favor of the medium in later years, and the good impression Carrington and Feilding had in preliminary seances with her, the SPR decided to sponsor another investigation. As Carrington had stated in a previous book, he was skeptical of Palladino’s phenomena. He summarized his view in the work commented on here:

Ochorowicz Question de la Fraude ASP 1896

“As for myself, I can but say that, during ten years continued investigations of the physical phenomena of spiritualism, during which period I have sat many score, if not hundreds of times, with mediums, and traveled many hundreds of miles in order to see genuine physical phenomena, if such existed—I had invariably been disappointed, and until I had attended my first seance with Eusapia, had never seen one single manifestation of the physical order which I could consider genuine. On the contrary, I had always detected fraud, and, being an amateur conjurer myself, was enabled in nearly every instance to detect the modus operandi of the trick, usually the first time I saw it. In my Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism [1907] I devoted more than three hundred pages to the psychology of deception, and to a detailed exposure of the tricks and devices of fraudulent mediumship” (p. 154).

Carrington Physical Phenomena Spiritualism Cover

The report of the 1908 sittings at Naples was unique in the Palladino literature for several reasons. First, it was more detailed than previous reports, consisting of stenographic notes dictated by the researchers. Second, the report included descriptions of control at the same time that the phenomena were described. Third, Feilding, Baggally, and Carrington were all highly experienced in the investigation of mediums and the tricks many of them employed.

Carrington not only became convinced, but he became the champion defender of the medium, as seen in the book commented on here and in several other publications. But his conversion took place gradually. He wrote: “Seance after seance, we remained doubtful, until the sixth, when we felt that we had become finally and irrevocably convinced. The facts had at last found lodgment in our minds, and we felt that our observations had not been mistaken” (p. 323). This is a reminder of the way many psychical researchers have become convinced of the existence of mediumistic phenomena, a process that involves a measure of familiarity with unusual phenomena achieved through repeated exposure to them, combined with personal involvement with the precautions taken to control the medium. Such observations should be of interest to current researchers of dramatic physical phenomena.

Carrington Eusapia McClure's

Eusapia Palladino: The despair of science. McClure’s Magazine 33, 660-675.

Carrington Personal Experiences

Referring to further studies with the medium, Carrington wrote:

“It is earnestly hoped that sufficient money and sufficient interest will soon be raised in this country to bring Eusapia to America, and to study her by means of a long series of experiments; and, when once the facts have been established (as I feel certain they would be), to begin a scientific investigation . . . of the medium and her phenomena. Certain it is that the present state of things is a disgrace to science—particularly in a country which boasts of its wealth, its progress, and its openmindedness!” (pp. 336-337).

Carrington brought the medium to New York, where many seances were held between November 1909 and June 1910. Although there were phenomena that could not be easily explained, as argued by Carrington throughout his career, and as seen in his book The American Seances with Eusapia Palladino (New York: Garrett Publications, 1954), the New York séances were disastrous for the reputation of the medium. Unfortunately, rather than helping to get Palladino’s phenomena accepted or better understood, the New York seances were not systematically conducted and ended up creating a media circus. The seances generally did not reach the stage of scientific investigations referred to by Carrington. Many of the sitters were inexperienced sitters and journalists who were more interested in reporting to the public than in understanding the phenomena. To this day the seances remain a good example of the need to separate systematic research from media-laden environments. Furthermore, a factor contributing to the controversies was that Carrington was believed by some to have had financial interests in the venture and was publicly perceived as the medium’s “manager.”

In the book discussed here, Carrington also reviewed various explanations offered to explain the medium’s phenomena. Among the conventional ones, he mentioned hallucination and fraud. Carrington did not believe hallucination explained anything, pointing to the instrumental recording of some of the phenomena. In addition to photographs of the manifestations, particularly table movements, Carrington wrote: “Additional evidence is furnished by those cases in which records of the phenomena have been obtained by instrumental means. The actual occurrence of a phenomenon has been proved, e.g., by means of revolving cylinders, electrical apparatus, and other devices which have checked the progress of the phenomena by purely automatic means” (pp. 243-244).

Fontenay Fraud

Fraud and the hypothesis of hallucination in the study of the phenomena produced by Eusapia Paladino. Annals of Psychical Science, 7, 181–191

Fraud, Carrington stated, was a more serious objection, and one he had documented through personal experience with Palladino. But he refused to accept the idea that her case had to be rejected on the basis of some instances of trickery. A good part of the phenomena, he stated, simply could not be explained by the simple tricks the medium was well-known to perform. He assured his readers: “In our own seances I am absolutely certain that fraud was not and could not have been employed in the vast majority of cases. Not only did we feel the hands controlled by us, not only did we encircle them with our hands, trace the arm to the body, and ascertain from the relative position of the thumb and fingers which hand we were holding, but we could frequently see, as well as feel, the medium’s hands resting in ours upon the table or stretched before us perfectly visible” (pp. 246-247).

Furthermore, Carrington pointed out that there were many instances in the seance records in which movement of objects and other phenomena took place at a distance and out of reach of the medium. There were also particularly impressive incidents under conditions that Carrington considered to be fraud-proof. The following, from his seances with Feilding and Baggally was an example:

“During the ninth seance, the small stool which we had placed just outside the cabinet, about three feet distant from the medium, came out of its own accord and moved up to within a foot of her. Eusapia waved one of her hands, still controlled by ours, above the stool, and it moved in various directions, corresponding to the movements of her hand. She then approached her hand to the stool and a complete levitation resulted. One of us then passed his hands between the stool and the medium’s body, and along the carpet, showing that no thread, hair, string, or other attachment was possible. We picked up the stool and examined it, replacing it on the ground. We did not allow Eusapia to touch the stool with hand or foot, after it had been placed on the floor, but held her hand in ours about three feet above the stool, and held her leg by knee and ankle on the side nearest the stool. There was a brightly illuminated patch of carpet of about eighteen inches between the small stool and her skirt. In spite of these precautions, however, the stool immediately began its movements, and rose into the air several times under the hands of one of the investigators and without being touched in any way by Eusapia” (pp. 259-260).  Eusapia Palladino side dress

Carrington then went on to summarize the ideas of those who postulated forces coming out of the medium’s body. In fact, and as I have argued elsewhere (Alvarado, C.S. Gifted Subjects’ Contributions to Psychical Research: The Case of Eusapia Palladino. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1993, 59, 269–292), Palladino’s mediumship provided a context for, one may say an opportunity for, many of her researchers to develop ideas of this sort using a concept that preceded her mediumship.

Writing in a previous book,  Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition (New York: Rebman, 1908), Carrington stated his belief that the human body was ruled by a vital force independent of metabolic processes and that this force was the real principle behind life in the organism. To explain Palladino’s phenomena, Carrington postulated that this vital principle, a connecting link between mind and matter, and usually at work only inside the body, could exteriorize on rare conditions and produce physical phenomena. Carrington postulated phenomena that were not particularly intelligent—referred to by him as “class one” phenomena—could be under the control of the subconscious mind of the medium. But there was a second class of phenomena that seemed to express intelligence.

Carrington Vitality

Carrington wrote in the book reviewed here:

“This same vital energy, which is controlled by the medium’s own mentality, when producing the phenomena of class one, is utilized by the manifesting intelligence in very much the same manner (when the medium is in trance) in producing the manifestations and phenomena of class two. We might conceive that this vital energy is utilized by the manifesting intelligence, who imbibes and clothes himself with it, as it were—creating a sort of temporary fluidic body through which it can manifest—can come in contact with the material world, move material objects, be seen, felt, and even photographed. . . . The vitality would act as a sort of sheath or cloak, a semi-material substance through and by means of which a spirit can manifest to us here, and initiate the varied phenomena witnessed at Eusapia’s séances” (p. 300).

Such a concept, Carrington recognized, without presenting examples, was not completely novel. In fact, Carrington’s idea of a vital principle capable of being used by spirits was similar, to give one example among many, to the concept of the perispirit discussed by French spiritists such as  Allan Kardec and Gabriel Delanne.

Delanne Evolution Animique In another chapter, Carrington focused on psychological and psychophysiological aspects of the medium. Among the points he raised was the importance of keeping the medium in a good mood so as to obtain phenomena. Carrington wrote that the medium hiccupped going into trance. Furthermore: “She also sighs, groans, and seems to be extremely uncomfortable, until the phenomena are well under way; and especially during the production of any larger phenomena she cries, ‘Oh, dear! Oh, dear!’ and groans repeatedly. When she passes into trance, however, this suffering is lost. . . . The lesser phenomena are, apparently, nearly always remembered—the more remarkable ones are forgotten” (pp. 319-320).

The chapter also included speculations about the causes of the medium’s fraudulent performances. In Carrington’s view, fraud could be conscious, caused by “her love of mischief” (p. 327). But Carrington believed that most of the fraud was unconscious, taking place during trance: “There is a strong impulse to produce phenomena, and, if she is not restrained, she will endeavor to produce them in a perfectly normal manner. But if she is restrained, genuine phenomena will result—as we repeatedly ascertained” (p. 328). Carrington’s writing, together with those of others such as the above-mentioned article by Ochorowicz, reminds us that Palladino’s mediumship contributed to the development of the concept of unconscious fraud in mediums.

Carrington ended his book by restating his belief in the reality of the phenomena and hoping that further investigations would make the world see Palladino “not as a vulgar impostor, but as a rarely gifted individual, possessing powers worthy of the deepest study and respect; as a delicate and sensitive piece of organic machinery, which should be guarded and cared for with the utmost kindness and consideration” (p. 338).

Carrington’s wish has not been fulfilled, as is clear from many later writings about the medium. Not everyone sees Palladino today positively, even within parapsychology. But perhaps we may learn from Carrington’s experiences. Even if physical mediumship is not a main line of research in current parapsychology, and if concepts of force such as Carrington’s are not widely accepted by researchers, some of the points made by him in the book are still valuable today. Among them I will mention the value of having knowledge of trickery, something that is clear in Carrington’s discussion of his own seances. Unfortunately, there are examples of researchers coming from old to more recent times who, without any particular expertise in the detection of trickery, have presumed that they are capable of conducting research on macro-PK phenomena solely because they have been trained in an academic discipline. Although this may not be a problem in some cases, Carrington’s book reminds us of the importance of researchers having the proper qualifications to conduct credible and well-controlled research with physical phenomena.

Carrington’s work is also a reminder of important but often forgotten aspects of past theory, and of the difficulties of achieving personal and collective conviction in the study of phenomena that, even within parapsychology, are very controversial.

Eusapia Palladino Courtier 2

A slightly different version of these comments appeared in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (2010, 24, 126-133).

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

The topic of a double with physical properties was the main concept discussed by Adolphe D’Assier (1827–1889), once member of the Académie des Sciences de Bordeaux, and known for his writings about matters such as grammar and language. His book Posthumous Humanity: A Study of Phantoms (1887) was translated from the original French edition Essai sur l’Humanité Posthume et le Spiritisme (1883).

D'Assier Posthumous Humanity

D'Assier Essai

In the book, D’Assier speculated on the posthumous personality as manifesting with phenomena such as apparitions, and argued that during life there was a principle that could leave the body and that could continue after physical death. Some cases of doubling during life, the author argued, were remembered by the experiencer, but others were forgotten.

D’Assier speculated about this principle, which he believed had physical properties. He wrote:

“The child who comes out of the body of its mother is attached to her by a vascular system which brought it strength and life. It is the same in this doubling; the human phantom is constantly in immediate relation with the body whence it has wandered for some moments. Invisible bonds, and of a vascular nature, so intimately connect the two extremities of the chain, that any accident happening to one of the two poles reacts (se répercute) instantaneously upon the other (p. 51) . . . . The phantom possesses a circulatory apparatus as well as the body of which it is the double. Invisible capillaries unite the one to the other, and the whole forms a system so homogeneous, so closely connected, that the slightest prick received by the phantom at once reacts . . . on all the vascular apparatus up to the extremity of the chain, and blood flows immediately. . . .” (p. 57)

D’Assier presented many cases of apparitions in his book. In his view, the phenomenon of duplication “is observed only in some organizations exceptionally gifted in the matter of sensitiveness; and this explains its extreme rarity” (p. 250). The posthumous apparition, he believed, was the same entity manifested in doublings and apparitions of the living:

“The living spectre and the spectre from beyond the tomb, having the same origin, can present in their manifestation the same common characteristics. Such are the noises that occur in certain habitations, where the chairs, furniture, crockery, &c., are seen to change place or to shake under the impulse of an invisible hand” (p. 256)

This was reprinted with permission from the Journal of Scientific Exploration 2011, Vol. 25.

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

When Max Dessoir’s (1867-1947) creation and use of the term parapsychology to designate the study of a particular set of phenomena is discussed, writers place his first published use of the term in 1889 (see, for example Thalbourne, M.A., & Rosenbaum, R.D. (1986) The origin of the word “parapsychology.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 53, 225-229). However, the term was used with a different meaning in 1887 in an unsigned article in the journal Science: “Mental science: Para-psychology” (Science, 1887, 9, 510-511).

Max Dessoir

Max Dessoir

In its early years Science carried news and reviews about psychological topics. The note in question, concerned with psychopathology, appeared in a regular section about psychological topics called “Mental Science”.

The anonymous author of the note stated that “the term ‘para-psychology’ may be invented to apply to those weirdly imaginative systems of thought by which some intellects strive to satisfy their inner longings, and to make the world seem rational” (p. 511). An example of this mental delusion was a case of an architect who went to India to study “internal truth” and developed a system of symbols, presented in a series of drawings. There were five stages of evolution in his system, the fifth of which was described as so ideally spiritual as to entirely surpass our finite conceptions, and only glimpsed perhaps now and then by a supersensitive clairvoyant” (p. 511). This fifth stage was said to “require a fourth dimension to do it justice . . .” (p. 511).

This “para-psychological system” was accompanied by “a fanciful application of arithmetical, geometrical and harmonic progression . . .” (p. 511). The whole project was described as a “sad spectacle of misused talent (and that can be seen in any insane-asylum) . . . [that] illustrates the great danger of mono-ideism, and of that unchecked imagination which has prepared so many victims to the snares of a mad symbolism” (p. 511).

Such early use of “parapsychology” was clearly not meant to designate the field of study to which the word refers today. Instead it was invented as a label for a delusional system of thought, something “beside” normal psychology. The frequent use of “parapsychology” to refer to the systematic study of psychic phenomena had to wait till later German authors popularized the term, as can be seen in the title of the Zeitschrift für Parapsychology (since 1926). Later on the term was used in the United States to designate the experimental approach to the field. But that is another story.

Zeirschrift fur Parapsychologie

This note appeared before in Psypioneer, 2006, 2, 248-249.