Category: Voices from the Past


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

I am presenting here an excerpt from a book by Morgan Knudsen discussing the psychic activities of her great great grandfather Albert Durrant Watson (1859-1926), described in the Dictionary of Canadia  Biography as a “physician, astronomer, author, and psychical researcher.” (Click here)

Albert Durrant Watson

Albert Durrant Watson

According to this biographical entry Dr. Watson “successfully practised medicine for more than four decades, serving on staff at three hospitals, including Toronto Western.”

Here is the excerpt.

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The Beginning of Psychical Research in Canada 

Excerpt from Teaching The Living: From Heartbreak to Healing in a Haunted Home (2018) by Morgan Knudsen

Morgan Knudsen

Morgan Knudsen

The idea that we have a say in what turns up in our reality has been tossed around a lot in the last number of years and in the early 1900’s, Albert Durrant Watson, my great great grandfather, was no exception. The subject matter comes up repeatedly in his book The Twentieth Plane and Birth Through Death, as both books were allegedly transcripts of the channeling sessions with a strange, then unknown fellow, Louis Benjamin.

image of sequence 7

A.D. Watson was born in 1859 in Mississauga, Ontario. He was a member of the Euclid Avenue Church in Toronto, the Toronto Conference, the General Conference, the Board of Missions, and the executive of the Methodist Social Union of Toronto, and he served as treasurer of the church’s department of temperance and moral reform. His involvement in the church was about to change, unbeknownst to him, when he fell down the rabbit hole of the paranormal. Despite his church involvement, Albert was a man of science. He earned an MD from Victoria College, Cobourg, in 1883. In 1890 he would receive another, ad eundem, from the University of Toronto in recognition of his graduation as a licentiate from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1883 and he practiced medicine for over twenty years. Watson’s life was far from boring.

If that wasn’t enough, Watson was fascinated with Astronomy and dove right in. His papers relating to that field include “The reformation and simplification of the calendar” (1896), “Astronomy in Canada” (1917), and “Astronomy: a cultural avocation” (1918). He joined the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto in 1892, which would eventually become the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and he served as first vice-president between 1910 and 1915 and as president in 1916 and 1917. But his life changed when he founded the Association for Psychical Research of Canada. The world wasn’t ready for what he was about to deliver and the public ridicule became relentless.

If you were born around 1970 or 1980, think about our grandmother’s generation: Growing up in the 1930’s and 40’s, the paranormal was never spoken about. In the Victorian era, it was all the rage! If you weren’t holding seances and spooky occasions then you were just missing the social life! But by the time the early 1900’s hit, the public attitude had changed. A lot. My great great grandfather, Albert Durrant Watson, was an extremely well-respected physician and a strict non-believer. He was a man of art and science, a fluent poet, and a wealthy doctor. He was married and had everything going for him with a rich social life that just happened to have a fair bit of interest in the spiritual. Something he did not subscribe to… at first. His mind started to open up when he began allowing his home to be used for channelling sessions with a man named Louis Benjamin. As he began to overhear these sessions which he labelled as hogwash and entertainment, he began to take some interest in the information that the uneducated and simple Mr. Benjamin should not have had access to, including detailed information about the death of Watson’s very own mother.

These repeated sessions ended up being scribed into two books, The Twentieth Plane and it’s sequel, Birth Through Death.

These books were quite a leap from the science and poetry that his colleagues and friends had come to expect from him, and were met with a negative tongue and controversial uproars. Despite this, Watson held on to his position about what he had experienced and didn’t seek the approval of readers. Instead he offered it as information for a coming age and believed people would either accept it or not, admitting his own heavy skepticism towards mediums. Either way, he put his career on the line to stand for what he believed in and my family never spoke of him. I did not learn that this influential and historical figure was the founder of the very first paranormal research association in Canada until I was well into my career, having founded Entityseeker: Paranormal Research and Teachings in 2002.

My family was steeped in paranormal occurrences and stories: all of them bad. It wasn’t until much later I discovered A.D. Watson had very different experiences, that I reshaped my history with the paranormal. The first words my grandmother spoke to my mother upon one of our visits to her place were very simple: “Don’t let Morgan get involved in the paranormal. It’s dangerous, it’s bad, and it will only cause trouble.”

She held this belief for a reason: Her experiences were no short of awful. She rarely spoke about them but when she did talk to my dad (her son) about them, they were terrifying. She spoke of waking up in the night with a hideous face inches from her own, attacks happening mid day and having absolutely no control over what came into or out of her experience. Being an intuitive woman, things would happen to her regularly and it wasn’t long before her younger son, my dad’s younger brother, began dabbling in the paranormal as well.  When he became a teenager, he was knee deep in it, and having the same horrific experiences.

Albert spoke of a very different relationship: A relationship with nonphysical that was helpful, peaceful, enduring, loving, and beautiful. His books reflected kind conversations and simple, easy access to the loved ones we believe we have lost to the death process. The idea of the spirit ‘getting stuck’ disappeared, and words of empowerment directed towards the living came bubbling forth. These weren’t grave warnings, these were uplifting, fun, and artistic messages from a group of entities that called themselves “The Humble Ones”. This was a game changer and this message were the basis for my program, Teaching The Living, although when I designed it in 2002, I had no idea these conversations had ever happened.

I have never been a big believer in coincidences. In the same breath, I am not sure I have an explanation for why or how I ended up on the niche path of paranormal research and parapsychology as a man who I was unaware of for decades. Regardless, Albert Durrant Watson is not only an important part of parapsychological history in my life, but throughout Canada as well.

It was said of A.D. Watson by Lorne Pierce: “He recognized no national, ecclesiastical or any other frontier, but searched the world through for truth… He sifted the philosophies, the religions and the humanities of the world… No man during this generation in Toronto ever entertained so many strange faces, tongues, sects, systems, enthusiasms, artists, poets, fanatics, sages as he did; no home was more the ante-chamber to the universe.”

If we all could embrace this attitude as we head in to this research, it is my belief that the advancement of this field would accelerate in ways, dare I say, that we could only dream about.

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For more information about Dr. Watson see Chapter 6 of Anatomy of a Seance: A History of Spirit Communication in Central Canada (Montreal: McGill’s University Press, 2004), by Stan McMullin.

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

The French neo-mesmeric movement, which flourished roughly between the late Nineteenth Century and the first two decades of the twentieth, was well represented by individuals who believed that there was a real physical agent called animal magnetism, defined also by some as a nervous force related to the workings of the physical body. This included individuals such as Émile Boirac, Hector Durville, Henri Durville, Paul Joire, Jules Bernard Luys, and Albert de Rochas, among others.

Durville Traite Experimental Magnetisme

De Rochas Exteriorisation Sensibilite

One of the largest and more ambitious works of the period, and the one commented on here, was authored by physician Alexandre Baréty. This was a book over 600 pages entitled Le Magnétisme Animal: Étudié sous le Nom de Force Neurique Rayonnante et Circulante dans ses Propriétés Physiques, Physiologiques, et Thérapeutiques [Animal Magnetism: Studied Under the Name of Radiant and Circulating Neuric Force in Its Physical, Physiological, and Therapeutic Properties] (Paris: Octave Doin, 1887, available online here).

Barety Magnetisme Animal

Alexandre Barety

Alexandre Baréty

Baréty defined “neuric force” as a dynamic agent “probably from the nervous system, which circulates along the nerves or radiates out of them . . . and is susceptible to producing certain sensitive, motor, and psychic modifications on other human bodies” (p. xii).

This author reported tests conducted with a lady he referred to as Mlle C., as well as with other individuals. In Baréty’s view the neuric force was projected from the body through passes, as well as through rays coming from the fingers, from eyesight, and from breath. Inside the body the force had properties such as heat and electricity, and once projected from the body and directed toward another person the force produced effects such as trance, anesthesia, hyperesthesia, and the induction or dissipation of contractions.

Baréty believed the neuric force propagated through space through the ether and that the force could be transmitted through other objects and could be stored in water and in other things. Observations about animal magnetism been stored in objects and substances, such as water, are frequent in the mesmeric literature.

Barety Rays from Hand

Neuric Rays from Hands

Neurisation also took place through induction. As Baréty explained: “The sole presence of a person close to another may affect the specific nervous state of one of them . . .” (p. 234).

Baréty gave many examples of the physiological effects of the force. For example, he treated Mlle C.’s stomach pains by pointing her fingers at her, which he said caused her pain to disappear in seconds. Baréty also claimed to be successful with Mlle C. in other ways. He was able to “anesthetise and hyperesthesise the integuments of different regions . . . abolish or exalt one or another sense” (Baréty, p. 326).

While Mlle C. was in another room separated from him by a brick wall, Baréty said he was able to induce muscular contractions in one of his subject’s wrists and hands by pointing his fingers to the wall.

Barety Passes Anesthesia and Trance

Magnetic Passes Causing Anesthesia and Trance Over Ascending and Descending Nerves

In Baréty’s view the existence and therapeutic value of the neuric force was beyond doubt. Furthermore, he believed that hysteria was related to the force. In his view it was due to a “modification in the direction, the force, and the distribution of nervous or neuric currents” (p. 627).

Furthermore, it was reported that the effects of passes and magnets were similar. In addition, Baréty noticed that those sensitive to the action of neuricity were also sensitive to atmospheric electricity.

Unfortunately this work has not been translated. Consequently many who do not read French are not aware of the magnitude of Baréty’s work. For another discussion of his work in the context of the neo-mesmeric movement see one of my articles.

*Parts of these comments appeared before in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2011, 25,123-124.

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

In 1907 Italian physiologist Filippo Bottazzi (1867–1941) joined the ranks of investigators
of Palladino who became convinced of her phenomena. By this time Bottazzi’s scientific career was established, his having won several awards and important university appointments. He went on to become even more eminent in later years, although it has been argued that he has been somewhat forgotten. His work on Palladino, first published in Italian in the Rivista d’Italia (1907), was translated and published in the same year in French and English).

Filippo Bottazzi

Filippo Bottazzi

The studies received much publicity in several European countries. There were also many discussions of the seances in the United States, as seen in writer Hamlin Garland’s (1860–1940) book The Shadow World (1908) and in historian and writer Gustavus Myers’ (1872–1942) Beyond the Borderline of Life (1910), not to mention many articles in magazines. Somewhat later Bottazzi (1909) presented a similar account of the seances in a book entitled Fenomeni Medianici Osservati in una Serie di Sedute Fatte con Eusapia Paladino (Naples: Francesco Perrella, 1909), which recent translation is the topic of this review (Mediumistic Phenomena: Observed in a Series of Sessions with Eusapia Palladino, by Filippo Bottazzi, translated by Irmeli Routti and Antonio Giuditta. Princeton, NJ: ICRL Press, 2011).

 

Bottazzi Mediumistic phenomena

Mediumistic Phenomena is the result of neurobiologist Antonio Giuditta’s interest in the seances Bottazzi had with Palladino in 1907. His work has been presented to members of the Society for Scientific Exploration both in a paper delivered at the Eighth European SSE Meeting held in Italy in August of 2009 and in an article published in the Society’s Journal (The 1907 psychokinetic experiments of Professor Filippo Bottazzi. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 495–512). The book was translated by Giuditta, together with Irmeli Routti.

It consists of a report of eight seances conducted in Bottazzi’s laboratory in which a variety of instrumental studies were made. Many of the seances were attended as well by physicians and scientists. Some of them included Gino Galeotti (professor of general pathology), Tommaso De Amicis (professor of dermatology and syphilograph), Oscar Carpa (professor of physics), Luigi Lombardi (professor of electrotechnology), and Sergio Pansini (professor of medical semiotics). There were also others who joined some of the seances, among them engineer Emmanuela Jona, senator Antonio Cardarelli, and Bottazzi’s wife. Her full name, which is not mentioned in the report, was Annunziata Fabbri.

By the time Bottazzi entered the scene there had been a long history of studies of physical mediums and of Palladino in particular, not to mention a rich Italian history of the subject. But Bottazzi admitted in his Introduction that he “had read little or nothing of” (p. 4) mediumistic phenomena. He stated that he had heard of the studies of Richet and others and that he had been impressed by Barzini’s articles on Palladino published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. The articles led him first to a state of doubt and then to being interested in studying the topic himself. This was a reference to journalist Luigi Barzini (1874–1947), who popularized the medium in his articles, works that were collected in a book (Nel Mondo dei Misteri con Eusapia Paladino. Milan: Baldini, Castoldi, 1907).

Barzini Nel Mondo Eusapia Paladino

Bottazzi stated that not all the phenomena witnessed by him and his collaborators were included in the book. For example, in the account of the first seance he stated: “Given the little relevance of the phenomena observed during the fi rst session, the sequence of their appearance is not worth describing. I will summarize in few words the results obtained” (p. 39). Later Bottazzi said: “Not caring about the precise sequence of observed events, I prefer to describe them briefly” (p. 45). Nonetheless the book contains many descriptions such as the following.

At one point during the fifth seance a switch that was connected to a lamp was moved around and thrown on the seance table by an “invisible hand.” The light was then turned on and off several times. Later on:

“The switch was placed on the table. Eusapia said: ‘Look how it is moving.’ We all fixed our gaze on the small object and we saw that it rose a few millimeters above the table top, oscillated and vibrated, as if invaded by an interior quiver. Eusapia’s hands, held by Galeotti and me, were at least thirty centimeters away from the switch” (p. 113).

Regarding one common phenomena, table levitations, Bottazzi wrote in his
account of the fourth seance:

“We obtained a levitation lasting about 10 seconds at a height of 30–40 cm and a shorter but higher one while Palladino was the only one standing up. Finally, at the end of the session, an additional levitation occurred that lasted several seconds while all of us were standing up at Palladino’s request. . . . Sometimes we tried all together to lower it by pressing its surface with our hands, but without success. It yielded and lowered a little but as soon as we let go our hands it rose up again” (p. 89).

An interesting phenomenon, and one reported frequently by previous investigators of Palladino, was that of synchronisms. As Bottazzi explained: “Any mediumistic event was almost always occurring simultaneously with movements of one or more parts of the medium’s body. . . .” (p. 62)

For example, during the second seance:

“The table started moving by steps, every pull perfectly corresponding to pressures and pulls made by Palladino’s hands on our hands (mine and Pansini’s). . . . Every pull of the small table corresponded in perfect synchrony with a push by Eusapia’s leg against Jona’s knee and with the contraction of her thigh muscles” (p. 46).

Bottazzi stated that the synchrony between actions showed “a common point of origin,” the will of the medium (p. 127).

Interestingly Mrs. Bottazzi seemed to attract phenomena such as touches. In answer to the question if she had mediumistic powers, the medium’s spirit control John King answered in the affirmative. As her husband wrote about the third seance:

“The curtain swelled around her several times, like hugging. She was unceasingly touched, fondled (she said it felt like a cat climbing up her right arm toward her shoulder), tapped on her shoulder with something like the open palm of a hand (and we all heard the blows), and she was the one who saw the largest number of apparitions” (p. 60).

Several of the instruments used produced graphic recordings that were presented by Bottazzi to show the objectivity of the manifestations:

“The telegraph key was struck several times. . . . We all clearly heard the typical sounds of energetic, quick hits. To certify that it was not an illusion, or a collective hallucination,
the second trace from the top . . . shows three groups of signals and two isolated beats in between them” (pp. 71–72).

Bottazzi Palladino Instruments

Instruments used by Bottazzi

Other devices produced graphic recordings as well. There are also brief descriptions of failures to obtain effects on the instruments.

Similar to previous observers, Bottazzi reported some physiological observations of the medium after the seance:

“It is noteworthy that after every session Palladino had considerable hyperalgesia (exaggerated sensitivity to pain) on her hands, especially on their back side. She said it felt like burning, as if her hands had been immersed in lye for a long time. In fact, her hands were always red and hot, and the subcutaneous veins appeared full of blood”
(p. 132).

In addition, analyses were made of the content of the medium’s urine, before and after the sixth and seventh seances. With regard to the sixth seance, Bottazzi stated:

“Comparison of the two samples of urine showed that the one taken after the session was considerably more concentrated. It had a higher specific weight, higher osmotic pressure and electric conductivity. Total nitrogen and albumin were also increased.”

“Kidneys seemed to produce more concentrated urine during the sessions. Despite the presence of albumin and sugar, values of osmotic pressure and electric conductivity of the urine diff ered little or not at all from the normal levels. Microscopic examination never showed the presence of kidney cells nor cylinders. This was a strange case of chronic albuminuria without defi nitive sign of nephritis.”

“The observation of strong urine acidity and abundant content in uric acid was remarkable. Some uric acid crystals were already present shortly after urine was collected. Their number increased enormously, and the layer they formed with time became macroscopically visible while the urine remained acid. Eusapia was undoubtedly a subject of clearly arthritic character, a uricemic person” (pp. 151–152).

Relevant to these results, Palladino suffered from diabetes and died of nephritis.

Synchronic phenomena and observations such as the following led Bottazzi to speculate that the medium produced projections from her body such as “invisible hands.” According to his report of the seventh seance:

“I saw a human hand of natural color, and I felt with my hand the fingers and the back
of a lukewarm, muscular, rough hand. The hand vanished, and my eyes saw it retreat,
describing an arc of a circle. As if entering back into Palladino’s body” (pp. 165–166, italics
in the original)

Interestingly, Bottazzi states that during the eighth seance Galeotti saw two left arms in the medium. He presents in his book what I presume is his recollection of Galeotti’s statement during the seance:

‘I see two identical left arms. One is on the table and is the one Mrs. Bottazzi is holding,
the other seems to come out from Eusapia’s shoulder, to approach Mrs. Bottazzi, touch her, and then return back and melt into Eusapia’s body, vanishing” (p. 180).

Such observations led to ideas about a “splitting of . . . physiological personality” (p. 198) consisting of limbs or complete figures emanating from the medium’s body. Bottazzi believed that with these hands “[the medium] felt form, consistency, cold and hot, hard and soft, humid and dry, exactly the same way she would feel by touching and feeling with her physical hands. . . .” (pp. 117–118).

Furthermore, Bottazzi wrote:

Mediumistic phenomena are not mere hallucinations of those attending sessions known as spiritualistic sittings. They are biological phenomena depending on the MEDIUM’s organism. If they are such, they occur AS IF they are operated by the extensions of natural limbs or by additional limbs stemming out of the MEDIUM’s body, and returning and dissolving into it after variable time. During those periods they reveal themselves by the sensations they elicit in us as limbs in no essential way different from natural limbs” (p. 201, Bottazzi’s italics)

The book is a useful contribution in that it presents in English a difficult to obtain book about the medium in question. Contemporary readers will appreciate having a translation of it. The instrumental and physiological tests show the scientific spirit in which some mediumistic research was conducted in the old days, and serve as a reminder of Italian scientific interest in mediumship, a topic that includes the work of other individuals such as Cesare Lombroso and Enrico Morselli.

Cesare Lombroso 3

Cesare Lombroso

*Most of these comments were published before in this review: Bottazzi and Palladino: The 1907 seances. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2012, 26, 159–167.

 

 

 

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

If you are interested in learning about studies of ESP during the Nineteenth-Century you will find much relevant information in Frank Podmore’s Apparitions and Thought-Transference (London: Walter Scott, 1894, available here and here). I have recently summarized the book here: Podmore’s ‘Apparitions and Thought-Transference’ (In R. McLuhan, ed., Psi Encyclopedia. London: Society for Psychical Research, 2017).

Podmore Apparitions and Thought-Transference 2

Frank Podmore

Frank Podmore

I start the article quoting Podmore’s goals for the book: “The thesis which these pages are designed to illustrate and support is briefly: that communication is possible between mind and mind otherwise than through the known channels of the senses. Proof of the existence of such communication, provisionally called Thought Transference or Telepathy (from tele = at a distance, and pathos = feeling), will be found in a considerable mass of experiments conducted during the last twelve years by various observers in different European countries and in America.”

Telepathy experiments are discussed under these headings: “transference of simple sensations in the normal state; simple sensations with hypnotized participants; induction of movements and other effects such as anesthesia; and other effects at a distance, such as images and induction of trance.” This includes studies published by many researchers, such as Max Dessoir, Edmund Gurney, Pierre Janet, Oliver Lodge, Charles Richet, and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing.

Max Dessoir

Max Dessoir

Oliver Lodge younger

Oliver J. Lodge

Albert von Schrenck Notzing

Albert von Schrenck Notzing

But in addition to experiments, Podmore discussed spontaneous incidents similar to those presented in the classic work Phantasms of the Living (1886, click here), by Edmund Gurney, Frederic W.H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. There are also chapters about coincidental dreams, collective hallucinations and induced telepathic hallucinations.

Phantasms of the Living vol 2

Here is a case cited by Podmore from Phantasms of the Living:

“In the spring and summer of 1886 I often visited a poor woman called Evans, who lived in our parish… She was very ill with a painful disease, and it was, as she said, a great pleasure when I went to see her; and I frequently sat with her and read to her. Towards the middle of October she was evidently growing weaker, but there seemed no immediate danger. I had not called on her for several days, and one evening I was standing in the dining-room after dinner with the rest of the family, when I saw the figure of a woman dressed like Mrs. Evans, in large apron and muslin cap, pass across the room from one door to the other, where she disappeared. I said, ‘Who is that?’ My mother said, ‘What do you mean?’ and I said, ‘That woman who has just come in and walked over to the other door.’ They all laughed at me, and said I was dreaming, but I felt sure it was Mrs. Evans, and next morning we heard she was dead.”

I wrote: “The phenomena of telepathy, Podmore states, have no explanation. He says earlier that this lack of knowledge about the telepathic process, ‘is not a defect which in the present state of experimental psychology can be held seriously to weaken the evidence…’ Podmore concludes that we only know about the mental aspects, not about physical forces behind the process:”

Podmore continued: “To begin with, there is no sense-organ for our presumed new mode of sensation; nor at the present stage of physiological knowledge is there likelihood that we can annex any as yet unappropriated organ to register telepathic stimuli… In lacking an elaborate machinery specially adapted for receiving its messages and concentrating them on the peripheral end of the nerves, telepathy would thus seem to be on a par with radiant energy affecting the general surface of the body. But the sensations of heat and cold are without quality or difference, other than difference of degree; whereas telepathic messages, as we have seen, purport often to be as detailed and precise as those conveyed by the same radiant energy falling on the organs of vision.”

Podmore also discussed clairvoyance and the mediumship of Leonora E. Piper. The medium, he wrote, “stated facts which were not within the conscious knowledge of any person present, and which could not conceivably have been discovered by any process of private inquiry.”

Leonora Piper 2

Leonora E. Piper

The article ends with a summary of how the book was received. For example, and representing a negative review: “The British science fiction writer HG Wells . . . [complained]  that the evidence it offered fell far below the standards of mainstream science, a view he held about psychical research works in general.”

H.G. Wells 2

H.G. Wells

 

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

Another interesting report about Palladino’s phenomena was authored by a group of Italian scientists: Aggazzotti, A., Foà, C., Foà, P., & Herlitzka, A. (1907). The experiments of Prof. P. Foà, of the University of Turin, and three doctors, assistants of Professor Mosso, with Eusapia Paladino. Annals of Psychical Science, 5, 361–392.

Aggazzotti Palladino Annals 1907

In the first  page of the report it was stated that these were séances  “held in Turin by Doctors Herlitzka, Charles Foà and Aggazzotti, the assistants of Prof. Mosso, the eminent physiologist, whose works on fatigue, puberty, etc., now looked upon as classics, are universally known. Another Professor of the same University, Dr. Pio Foà, Professor of Pathological Anatomy, Director of the Anatomical Museum, General Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in Turin, was present at the second and most remarkable seance.”

In a section of the article before the description of the first séance the authors describe an instrument they used as follows:

“In order to register objectively the movements that might be made by the medium, we had prepared a cylinder which revolved around a vertical axis, making a complete circuit in six hours. Round the cylinder is rolled a sheet of glazed paper, covered with a layer of lamp-black. This surface is touched by a needle, which, as the cylinder moves, carries away the lamp-black, and makes a horizontal white line on the paper.”

“If the point is moved from above downwards, it makes a little vertical line on the paper. The writing-lever could be put in motion by a small electro-magnet (Desprez signal) connected.with an accumulator and a telegraphic key. The revolving cylinder with the Desprez signal is under a glass bell placed on a solid wooden stand. The bell, which at its lower extremity has a thick rim, was fixed to the wooden stand by means of a string which passed through three eyelet holes formed of little ribbons attached to the wooden stand by seals; the string passed round the bell just above the thick rim.”

“Through two holes bored in the wood conducting wires leading from the signal issued from the bell, passing immediately into tubes of glass, so as to prevent contact, either intentional or accidental, occurring between them, and consequently the closing of the electric circuit. One of the wires terminated at the accumulator, and the other ended at the telegraphic key, from which a third wire, also insulated by a glass tube, led to the other pole of the accumulator. All the parts of the wires which could not be insulated by means of glass (the connecting wires of the accumulator) were surrounded by an insulating cord covered with ribbon, sealed with our seal. The key itself was closed in a card-board box, nailed to the stand, and secured by means of two ribbons crossed and sealed. Two little holes in the box admitted the glass tubes containing the conducting wires. The accumulator and the key were fixed on the same stand on which was the revolving cylinder. By this arrangement, a mark could only be made on the cylinder when the key had been depressed. Consequently, if we had found a mark on the cylinder, that would have proved conclusively that the key had been depressed, and if the seals were found intact, there would be absolute proof that no trick had been perpetrated.”

Here is the report of their first séance.

“The first seance took place on the evening of 20th February [1907], at the house of Count Verdun. We thank the Count and Countess, not only for their warm hospitality, but also for allowing us to examine the room minutely, without taking ofence at our, certainly ill-concealed, mistrust.”

“The seance took place in a dining-room, which occupied a corner of the house on the ground floor. One of the outer walls has two windows; the adjacent wall has one only. In front of the two windows is a big sideboard, beside which is a door which communicates with the vestibule; the fourth wall has two doors, the first leads to a little room and remained closed during the seance; the second leads to a small office; between the two doors is a chimney-piece surmounted by a mirror. All the windows were closed. One of them, the angle of which was intended to serve as the medium’s cabinet, was closed with shutters without any openings, which opened from the inside only and were barred with two strong iron bars which crossed each other and were fastened into a ring in the wall. The shutters were attached to each other by a band of gummed paper. The angle of the window, where the cabinet was arranged, was enlarged by a wooden canopy enclosed in front by two black woollen curtains. In the cabinet were two small tables, on one of which had been placed our apparatus and some pieces of cardboard on which were gummed the sheets of smoked paper. On the other table various toys were placed; under the table was a child’s piano.”

“There were present at the seance, besides the owners of the house and the undersigned, Dr. Imoda, Chevalier Rostain and a lady.”

“At the beginning of the seance the two of us who took the control were Dr. C. Foà and Dr. Herlitzka. The seance began in full light, and whilst the medium was still quite conscious, movements at first slight, then stronger, began in the seance-table, which raised three of its feet. In full light the slight outward movements of the curtain on the left were observed. The medium asked by means of the table (five raps) that the light might be lessened; this was done rather slowly, and the strong red light, reflected by the mirror on the mantelpiece, fell directly on to the medium’s eyes, which occasioned in her a fit of hysteria; she wept and cried out as if demented, hitting her face repeatedly with her fists. This was a genuine fit of hysteria, and every doctor at all familiar with these attacks could not fail to recognise it as such. The tears of Eusapia fell on the hands of those seated near her . . .”

“When the attack was over, Eusapia was no longer in her normal state of consciousness, and no longer spoke in the first person; she spoke as if she were John King, remaining in her well-known state of delirium. The medium advised the controllers to fix their attention on her head and one of them, Dr. C. Foà, saw a dark ill-defined profile like a head in a Capuchin-hood, which disappeared and afterwards appeared again at his request. M. Foà  liberated his hand from that of his neighbour to seize the head, but the latter withdrew. The others present did not see the apparition.”

“In the meanwhile, the table on which the toys had been placed, and which we will call No. I, made a noise in the interior of the cabinet, from which it at last came out completely. Then there began to arrive on the séance table many objects from table No. I: a sheet of paper, a little wooden sheep and a mandoline; the latter was accompanied by the curtain which covered the handle; the curtain, being pushed back by M. Foà, came back and covered the handle of the mandoline, and a hand, which was not that of the medium or of the sitters, pulled the hair of the person who had pushed back the curtain. At the same time we heard a scratching on the strings of the mandoline.”

“The little piano, in its turn, issued from under the table, we heard the sound of the keys being depressed of themselves and causing the strings to vibrate. We lit up, and observed that the objects which had arrived were really on the table; nothing abnormal was noticeable in the cabinet behind the curtain.”

“Dr. Foà now gave up his control to M. Rostain, whilst, in full light, table No. I made strong movements which synchronised with the movements of the medium’s hand.”

THE WORK OF THE UNKNOWN FORCE UPON THE APPARATUS
INVENTED BY THE EXPERIMENTERS

“The light was lowered. A peacock’s feather which was on the toy table rose up in the air from the table and stroked several of the sitters. In the meantime—addressing ourselves always to John King, in order to humour the delirium of the medium—we began to express the desire that our apparatus might be set in motion. Then we heard the table, on which the apparatus was standing, moving towards us behind the curtain, and we perceived that some continuous operation was going on round the card-board box; immediately afterwards some fragments of sealing-wax were thrown outside the curtain on to the séance table. After a pause, one of us having taken out his pocket handkerchief and replaced it in his pocket, someone remarked jokingly that he must take care that his handkerchief was not carried off; at once he felt and saw the handkerchief taken out of his pocket, without being able to observe whether it was done by a hand or not. The handkerchief was unfolded and carried to the nose of the owner: then it disappeared behind the curtain and was afterwards thrown upon the seance table.”

“After this interlude, the operations round our apparatus were begun again and a ribbon was thrown on to the table with the wax seal. We lit up immediately, and one of us hastened into the cabinet holding in his hand a little lighted electric pocket lamp, but he observed nothing indicative of trickery. He observed that the card-board box containing the key was unfastened, that a glass tube was broken, and that one of the ribbons which fastened the box was missing. There was no mark on the cylinder; the bell was still sealed. We assured ourselves by opening the box that the key acted all right, then we closed it again, sealed it afresh and lowered the light.”

Eusapia Palladino 5

Eusapia Palladino

“The work began again round the apparatus; we heard the seals being torn off, and the lid of the card-board box being removed. We asked that the instrument might be carried through the air on to the seance-table, and the lid at once approached us, accompanied by something white, which everyone saw but no one could identify.”

Dr. Herlitzka asked permission to seize the lid; the medium consented, through the table, which rapped three times, and Dr. Herlitzka stretched out his hand and touched the lid, but the curtain advanced and it was rapidly removed.”

“At the same time Dr. Herlitzka felt himself pulled by the ear, and received a blow on his shoulder which was heard by all the sitters. The lid again appeared in the air, was thrown on the table and was taken into the hands of some of us.”

“We then asked that the key of the apparatus might be pressed down. Eusapia replied, pronouncing the words very indistinctly:”

“The key is uncovered and as I can do this, I can also press the key down.”

“When she said the word this Dr. Herlitzka felt a finger press strongly on his shoulder. Eusapia’s hands were at this moment firmly held by her two neighbours.”

“A few minutes later several raps on the key were heard at intervals of a minute or so from one another. At the same time, the seance-table rose up and one of the controllers felt his arm seized by an unknown hand. Dr. Herlitzka also felt himself touched on the shoulder, and felt the curtain pressed against his nose; he had the impression that a hard spherical body was behind it.”

“We asked that the lid of the box should be replaced and at once a white luminosity which several of us saw, but which no one could identify as a hand, felt about on the table for the lid. It could not find it and, as if annoyed, it rapped forcibly two raps on the table and disappeared. Supposing that the lid was too far outside the “ sphere of activity,” one of us placed it nearer to the medium; immediately the curtain advanced on to the table, enveloped it and carried it away. It is needless to repeat that the medium continued under strict control. Dr. Herlitzka saw the usual white form come out from the curtain and make the action of throwing something; and at once a piece of ribbon bearing a wax seal was thrown forcibly on the hand of Dr. Imoda, who was at some distance, opposite the medium.”

“The table with the toys was then pushed completely outside the cabinet.”

“The medium, sighing and groaning, managed to ask, uttering the words indistinctly, whether she might make an apport of the glass bell. We did not consent, fearing that the marks registered on the smoked paper would be smudged, and we said that the bell was sealed; the medium laughed ironically, and the table rapped twice as a sign of negation.”

“Then seven raps informed us that the medium wished to terminate the seance. Before we lit up, Eusapia was carried by the experimenters into an adjoining dark room, where she gradually came to herself.”

“Then we examined the field of operation of the unknown force, and we found that the cardboard lid was lying imperfectly on the box, and that the ribbon which surrounded the bell had been removed. On the smoked paper of the cylinder, we found the marks made by the pressure on the electric key. The diagram was fixed, signed by the sitters, and preserved.”

“The window was closed and barred, there was no indication of trickery in the little room, which had been under constant supervision.”

The report of this séance was signed by Drs. A. Herlitzka, C. Foà, and  A. Aggazzotti.

As in other séance reports, there were several mentions of movement of objects, mainly the table, but also of other objects such as a sheet of paper, a mandoline, the cabinet curtain, and a handkerchief. In addition some musical instruments were played, some sitters felt things (pull of an ear, blow on shoulder), there were raps, and a luminous form and the profile of a head were seen. Also interesting was the fit the medium had, and possesson by her control John King.

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

In 1908 Italian physician Enrico Imoda published a short report of of Palladino’s attempt to influence an electroscope: “The Action of Eusapia Paladino on the Electroscope” (Annals of Psychical Science, 1908, 7, 410–412). He was later known for his séances with materialization medium Linda Gazzera.

Enrico Imoda

Enrico Imoda

Imoda wrote:

“At the mediumistic séance held with Eusapia Paladino, on the evening of April 10th, 1908, at the house of the engineer, M. F., I experimentally obtained a phenomenon which appears to demonstrate that radiations resembling those of radium and the cathodic rays of Crookes emanated from the medium. The phenomenon consisted in the rapid discharge of an electroscope without contact.”

“At the end of the séance, and when I she was completely aroused from her trance condition, I asked Madame Paladino to stand beside a table on which I had placed a charged electroscope, the dielectric portion of which was made of pure sulphur, so that the insulation might be perfect. I got her to stretch her hands forward to a distance of about four inches from the electrode. Her hands were watched by a friend of mine, so that there was no possibility of her touching the electroscope, whilst I attentively observed every movement of the gold leaves, separated by the charging of the electroscope.”

“For perhaps two minutes no visible effect was produced, but after that the leaves began to fall together, very slowly, but perceptibly; at length, after three or four minutes more, the gold leaves of the electroscope suddenly came together, showing that the electroscope was discharged.”

“Since the conditions under which the phenomenon was obtained (the room was lighted by six small oil lamps, with red glasses) precluded the possibility that Eusapia had touched the instrument, it seems to me possible to argue that the discharge was due to the surrounding air having become a conductor of electricity, just as if I had approached to the electroscope a radium salt or a Crookes’ bulb. But there was one difference between the action of the radium and that of the medium—viz., that whilst the discharge of the electroscope by the approach of a radium salt produces an instantaneous effect as soon as the radium is brought close to it, in the case of Eusapia the discharge did not take place until after several minutes, as though the body of the medium, previously passive, suddenly projected a jet of these radiations. That is to say, the emission of the mediumistic rays appeared not to be continuous, but by shocks, as, perhaps, is the case with the electrical discharge of the gymnotus and torpedo.”

Imoda Palladino Electroscope

“If we compare this phenomenon of the mediumistic discharging of an electroscope with the phenomena already certified by myself and others, such as impressions on photographic plates tightly sealed up in paper or wooden boxes, the hypothesis that radium emanations, cathodic rays, and mediumistic rays are one and the same thing appears to gain in probability.”

“One other phenomenon equally well vouched for by myself and others as occurring in mediumistic séances, appears to support this hypothesis; namely, that a small white cloud, floating like a vapour, and resembling a slightly luminous fog, is frequently seen above the surface of the table during séances. In one instance I saw, surrounding the head of Professor Lombroso, a thick cloud of white vapour, the medium having asked us to blow our breath in that direction.” [On this medium and Lombroso click here]

“We know that one of the properties of the cathodic rays is precisely that of causing the formation of a fog when they pass through a layer of air saturated with moisture. It would be interesting to ascertain whether mediumistic radiations, as well as cathodic rays and the emanations of radium, have the property of phenomenon, equally rendering phosphorescent a screen of platino-cyanide of barium placed in their track; up to the present I have not had the opportunity of trying this experiment.”

“The phenomenon of the discharge of the electroscope, taken by itself, would not, for me, be an absolute proof that the surrounding air had become a conductor of electricity, because the phenomenon can be explained in another way.”

“We have only to suppose that a materialised limb had placed the hand of the medium in direct contact with the instrument, and that this small degree of materialisation, sufficient to discharge the electroscope, but not to make an impression on my retina, had remained invisible to me. We know, in fact, positively, that the lower degrees of materialisation are not visible to the physical eye, while they may be sufficiently powerful to impress a photographic plate, even by reflected light.”

“But this hypothesis, reasonable in other respects, is contradicted by the two classes of phenomena mentioned above: The cloud of vapour and the impression on the covered photographic plate. Therefore, the former one seems to me more probable—viz., that the mediumistic radiations are able of themselves to render air a conductor of electricity, and that, in consequence, the radiations of radium, the cathodic radiations of the Crookes” bulb, and mediumistic radiations, are fundamentally the same.”

“I would strongly urge experimenters to undertake researches in pursuance of this idea; for if we can definitely establish the identity of all these radiations, one of the mysteries of an obscure and complex problem—that is, the physical nature of mediumistic force—would begin to be cleared up.”

Eusapia Palladino 16

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

William Henry Harrison was an English journalist and a publisher of works on Spiritualism. He was the editor of The Spiritualist (an influential publication later called The Spiritualist Newspaper) and the author of several works. This included his anthology Psychic Facts (1880) in which he collected accounts of psychic phenomena, particularly mediumship, from various writers.

In the book commented here, Spirits Before Our Eyes, Harrison presented an examination of apparitions, mainly apparitions of the dying. His purpose, he wrote, was “to classify some of the authenticated apparitions of our own and past times, to examine the conditions under which the spirits of human beings are seen, to show that the spirit of man can sometimes temporarily leave the earthly body, and to seek to draw only those conclusions which well-proved facts warrant. Thus may laws and principles be deduced, to guide future explorers of the realm between the known and the unknown, in relation to spirit existence.” (p. 14)

Harrison Spirits before our Eyes

Harrison believed that, unlike mediumship, which critics tried to attribute to non-spiritual processes, apparitions could be explained “only by the presence of the spirit, the whole spirit, and nothing but the spirit” (p. 21). He started discussing what he referred to as deathbed apparitions. Not to be confused with what we refer to today as deathbed visions, or those visions experienced by a dying person, Harrison defined deathbed apparitions as the “occasional appearance of the spirit of a person in one place, at about the time that his body is dying in another place,” cases he believed were “so common as to indicate some connection beyond that of accidental coincidence between the two occurrences” (p. 24).

Such deathbed apparitions, the author believed, were caused by the spirit leaving the body. In his view the dying body provided the spirit “enough materiality to make itself visible” (p. 62). This speculation was similar to those presented by others at the time to account for materialization phenomena observed with mediums, something that was part of a rich history of ideas of vital forces to explain psychic phenomena.

Related to this idea, Harrison stated that some apparitions produced physical effects, being “objectively and palpably temporarily materialised” (p. 55). He further wrote about materialization to illustrate the point: “Spiritualists who have seen much of materialisation seances know that spirits have a remarkable power of duplicating, not only the forms of their mediums, but their clothes. . . . Still there is no creation of new matter. The law of the conservation of energy is not broken. Recent experiments . . . have shown by means of self-recording weighing apparatus that, while the duplicate form of the medium and his clothes is being materialised in one place, the weight of his normal body and clothes is diminishing in another, and vice versa. There is a play of forces between the two, underlying the vulgarly known phenomena of molecular physics. . . .” (pp. 60–61).

But Harrison also entertained some cases being explained differently. He believed some apparitions were perceived through normal vision and others were seen psychically, in response to the thoughts of spirits. As he wrote, “when apparitions are psychically recognised, what the spirit thinks the medium sees, and . . . the unearthly visitor becomes visible in consequence of his mesmeric influence over the spectator” (p. 83).

The thoughts of distant living persons were also believed by Harrison to be a cause for some apparitions of the living, an idea that had been discussed by others before. Harrison also argued that some cases of veridical dreams in which the dreamer visited a distant location were not necessarily the projection of the spirit. They “might be instances of natural clairvoyance, or of a dreamer seeing that which a spirit or mortal in rapport with him thought” (p. 146).

Like other writers before him Harrison cited a variety of cases to illustrate the existence of the spirit and its powers manifesting during life. He discussed apparition cases in which the appearer was not dying, cases in which the content of dreams was affected, and cases of mediumistic communications from living persons. As stated in the first chapter of the book, Harrison’s intent was an attempt to validate the movement of spiritualism by showing how the human spirit could act at a distance producing mental and physical effects, an idea that was in direct contradiction to the materialistic assumptions of the times.

Furthermore, Harrison made the observation that both apparitions of the living and of the dead were similar. He wrote that “there is no break of continuity in the phenomena of apparitions in consequence of the death of the body. So impossible is it to find any indication in the phenomena, of a natural dividing line coinciding with the death moment, that in this volume several cases of after-death apparitions are included, differing in no way from the apparitions of living persons whose mortal bodies are in a sleeping or quiescent state” (p. vii).

This appeared first as a book review in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2011.

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

Over the years many episodes of fraud have been reported in connection with materialization mediums. An interesting one was reported by A. Wallace: “Spiritualists Unmask a Pretender: Exposure of Mr. Eldred” (Light, 1906, 26, 111, click here and go to p. 111).

This was the case of Charles Eldred in England, who sat with a special chair he owned. After several suspicious incidents a group of spiritualists discovered a secret compartment in the chair and made a key to unlock it in the medium’s absence. They found in the secret compartment paraphernalia to simulate materialized forms.

Charles Eldred's chair

Charles Eldred’s chair

According to the report these consisted of a “collapsible dummy head, made of pink stockinet, with flesh-coloured mask . . . ; six pieces of fine white China silk containing in all thirteen yards; two pieces of fine black cloth . . . three beards of various shades; two wigs . . .; an extending metal coat-hanger for suspending drapery to represent the second form, with an iron hook on which to hang the form; a small flash electric lamp with four yards of wire with switch . . . ; a bottle of scent, pins, &c.”

The medium was later confronted, and he confessed his guilt.

The photograph above was printed in Light (1906, 26, 129), where it was stated “We give the above photograph as an ‘object-lesson’ that Spiritualists may in future be on their guard against, and ready for, the crafty tricks of pretenders to mediumship, and also in the interest of all honest mediums, that they may realise the necessity for fraud-proof conditions . . . so that they may not be classed with the plausible and conscienceless rogues who seek to exploit our movement in their desire to get rich quickly.”

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

Polish psychologist and philosopher Julian Ochorowicz (1850-1917) presented a few observations about Palladino in an article about Polish medium Stanislawa Tomczyck. The article in question, a section of a multi-part paper, is “A New Mediumistic Phenomena” (Annals of Psychical Science, 1909, 8, 333-399).

Julian Ochorowicz 3

Julian Ochorowicz

Eusapia Palladino 8

Ochorowicz (left) in séance with Palladino (Carqueiranne, 1894)

The observations took place in 1893 and 1894 in Warsaw. Here is the relevant excerpt:

“In my report of her sojourn at my home at Warsaw in 1893 and 1894, a report which has not yet been published, but which was drawn up immediately, I find amongst others the following details:-“

“December 31st, 1893.– After having explained the duplication of the medium’s hands in the fluidic attouchements, John, that is to say, Eusapia, in complete trance, gave me still further explanations as to the transport of slates. With the view of obtaining some sign by writing, we had prepared two slates tied together and placed in the centre of the table.”

“When John was explaining to me that it was easier for him to materialise the tips of the fingers and the nails than any other part of the arm, I felt something hard tapping lightly on my head.”

“Those are the slates, said John.”

“In answer to my question as to how he was able to hold them in the air, he gave me all his theory, which I will try to reproduce as faithfully as possible:-”

“The hands of all present, and principaly the medium’s, release an emanation which John simply called fluid. This fluid forms bundles of straight rays, which are like stretched threads and support the slates. When these threads or rays are sufficiently strong, the object may perhaps be raised above the heads, because then the rays converge on to a surface or a point of the object, becoming, so to speak, rigid, and the object rests on them as on shafts. But their power depends upon certain conditions, and, above all, on the harmony established between, the various fluids. By suddenly changing the conditions, for example, by breaking the chain of hands, you cut the current and the power from the fluidic rays is dispersed.”

“In order to verify this assertion of John’s, I suddenly withdrew my hand from my neighbour on my left, and immediately the slates fell on to the table.”

” ‘That is true,’ I said to John; ‘but do you know that I had an impression as if the slates had fallen from the medium’s head?’ ”

“ ‘I shall prove to you by-and-by that you made a mistake.’ ”

“We re-formed the chain, as he directed, and a few minutes afterwards the slates were again in the air, above our heads. ‘And now lift up your hand,’ said John. We raised our hands, Eusapia and I, as high as it was possible without letting go of each other’s hands, and the slates manifested their presence at that height several times by touching our hands.”

“It was evident:-”

“1. That the slates were much higher than the medium’s head;”

“2. That the raising of both our hands, without breaking the chain, did not in any way interfere with the mechanical action of John’s rays.”

“When, several seconds afterwards, I unexpectedly left go my left hand neighbour’s hand, the slates fell with a crash.”

“John’s assertions were thus confirmed by experiment. The same thing occurred on the occasion of a complete levitation of the medium, whom John wished to raise in her chair and put on the table.”

“At my request, this levitation which, like all the previous experiments with Eusapia, took place in total darkness, had to be accomplished slowly, in order to facilitate observation.”

“When he medium sitting on her chair was levitated to the height of the table, one of the controllers, M. Prus, loosed his hold of Eusapia’s hand; her chair fell to the floor immediately, and she herself fell on to the edge of the table uttering a cry of pain.”

“On another similar occasion, when the medium (without a chair) was already on the table, she gave suddenly a cry of distress, asking that we place our hands, without breaking the chain, underneath her.”

“It therefore seems that even in a levitation of the medium, executed by the hands of her double, the rays from John . . . come in play . . .”

“I also find in my notes for 1894, the enumeration of the sensations experienced by Eusapia Paladino . . . :”

“1. From the first she felt a shiver passing down her back by the arms, up to the fingers, which became numbed;”

“2. Then came disagreeable pricking in the fingers;”

“3. A cold breeze was felt between her hands or about them;”

“4. The skin of her hands became very dry;”

“5. Finally, synchronising with the phenomenon, she felt a sharp pain in her arms . . .”

Eusapia Palladino table movement IGP

Ochorowicz (far right) in Séance with Palladino at the Institut Générale Psychologique (Paris), Around 1905-1908

 

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-2

Giovanni Schiaparelli

aksakof

Alexander Aksakof

carl-du-prel-3

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).

aksakof-et-al-asp-ep

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.”

eusapia-palladino-aksakow

Palladino with Aksakof at Milan, 1892

“I. PHENOMENA OBSERVED IN THE LIGHT.”

“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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).