Category: Voices from the Past

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

From the beginning of his career in Spiritism Allan Kardec argued for the reality of reincarnation. This spiritual process, important for expiation and improvement, could take place on Earth and in other planets, and did not involve spiritual retrogression (A. Kardec, Les Livre des Esprits. Paris: E. Dentu, 1857, Chapter 7). As I pointed out some years back (click here), while reincarnation was accepted in Kardecian Spiritism, it was rejected by many in the context of Anglo-American Spiritualism, a topic I revisit here. My interest is historical. I do not pretend to discredit the concept of reincarnation, nor to praise its detractors.


Allan Kardec

Kardec Livre Esprits 1857

In 1865 an author in the Spiritual Magazine, published in England, referred to reincarnation as an “absurd doctrine,” an “excrescence on Spiritualism” with nothing to support it, and dispensing with the comfort of finding our loved ones in the beyond (Anonymous, Spiritualism in France. Spiritual Magazine, 1865, 6, 318–322).

There were some interesting mentions of reincarnation in the English publication Spiritualist Newspaper for 1875. Alexandre Aksakof was of the opinion: “That the propagation of this doctrine by Kardec was a matter of strong predilection is clear; from the beginning Reincarnation has not been presented as an object of study, but as a dogma. To sustain it he has always had recourse to writing mediums, who it is well known pass so easily under the psychological influence of preconceived ideas . . .” (A. Aksakof, Researches on the Historical Origin of the Reincarnation Speculations of French Spiritualists. Spiritualist Newspaper, 1875, August 13, 74–75, p. 75).

Alexandre Aksakof

Alexandre Aksakof

Another commentator remarked on the difficulties to verify reincarnation: “Indeed, the theory seems utterly at variance with the known facts of Spiritualism as they stand accepted before us” (Anonymous, An Inductive Philosopher, Correspondence: Metempsychosis. Spiritualist Newspaper, 1875, September 17, 142).

Another writer in the Spiritualist Newspaper held ideas similar to Aksakof’s. He stated that mediumistic communications in England in support of reincarnation were rare. “The prevalence of the teaching of this doctrine by mediums in France, may be attributed to the circumstance that the sitters at the circles expect such teachings, and the minds of the mediums are full of them . . . The foregoing arguments have little or nothing to do with the truth or error of the doctrine of reincarna­tion, they merely attempt to show that not one tittle of evidence of its truth is contained in Allan Kardec’s book, that the book is of a theological and not of a scientific order, and that it requires to be accepted, if accepted at all, upon authority” (Anonymous [maybe W.H. Harrison], Allan Kardec’s “Spirits Book.” Spiritualist Newspaper, 1875, October 8, 169–170, p. 170).

In the same publication, medium D. D. Home wrote skeptically that he had met many Marie Antoinettes, Mary Queen of Scots, kings and Alexander the Greats, “but it remains for me yet to meet a plain ‘John Smith’ ” (D.D. Home, Correspondence: Mr. D.D. Home on Reincarnation. Spiritualist Newspaper, 1875, October 1, 165).


D.D. Home

The famous trance speaker and writer Emma Hardinge Britten entered the debate arguing that the concept of reincarnation was both irrelevant and bane. (The Doctrine of Reincarnation. Spiritual Scientist, May 20, 1875, 128–129; May 27, 1875, 140–141). She wrote:

“The hapless believer in Re-incarnation can be as little sure of himself or his own identity, as his most intimate acquain­tances are for him. He has not a chance to know who he is himself; who he was yesterday or who he will be to-morrow: and as to the precious ties of parentage, or the divine impulses of family love, kindred and friendship, they are all floating emotions to be blotted out in the grave, and lost in new successions of new lives, new relationships, new deaths, and succeeding oblivions. The most remarkable and certainly not the least indefensible part of the Re-incarnationist’s theory is, however, not only that they have no facts on which to ground their assertions, like the majority of their fellow believers in Spiritualism, but that they infer there must be countless millions of spirits communicating through other channels who have no knowledge of Re-incarnation, and even emphatically deny its truth.”

“Can the controlling spirits of the Re-incarnationists be the only ones enlightened on such a stupendous item of the soul’s destiny?— an item, which if not common to all, must be known So all— and that in realms where such changes must be perpet­ually going on as would render ignorance of the subject impossible?” (p. 129)

Emma Hardinge Britten 2

Emma Hardinge Britten

Britten later referred to “the groundless character of the testimony which the apostles of the Re-incarnation theory rely upon, not one item of which affords the profound analyst a shadow of evidence that their theories are correct” (p. 140). She argued that we should follow the majority of mediumistic communications who do not mention reincarnation, instead of the few that do.

William Howitt, a well-known English writer and spiritualist, joined critics of the “gross and pagan delusion of Re-incarnation” with his article “Re-Incarnation, Its Champions and Delusions” (Spiritual Magazine, 1876, 2(s.3), 49–60). After rejecting the importance of a long conceptual history to defend reincarnation, our author wrote: “Lord deliver Spiritualism from the slime and venom of this devil’s creed” (p. 59).

William Howitt

William Howitt

A little-known figure today, the polemic American spiritualist William Emmette Coleman, addressed the topic in a five-part article (Re-Incarnation—Its Fancies and Follies. Religious-Philosophical Journal, 1878, Part 1: Genes and Growth, November 23, 1, 8; Part 2: Inconsistensy and Contrediction, November 30,1; Part 3: Credulity and Fanatism, December 7, 1; Part 4: Absurdity and Fatuity, December 14, 8; Part 5: Immortality and Demoralization, December 21, 8). Coleman, considered reincarnation a demoralizing dogma, and a “fungus growth” (Part 1, p. 1). Similar to Aksakof, Coleman stated: “Two frivolous French mesmeric sensitives, under the over powering psychological influence of the mind of Kardec … give him a series of responses to questions respecting re-incarnation  and the soul’s destiny, in exact accordance with his own pre conceived opinions; in fact, questions and answers alike, are virtually Kardec’s, the girls only simply giving back his own ideas and principles as reflected and impressed upon their susceptible mentalities” (Part 1, p. 1).

William Emmette Coleman

William Emmette Coleman

Coleman argued that there were many contradictions in the ideas about reincarnation from different authors. Furthermore, in his view: “If the theory of re-incarnation were true, one of the most disastrous of the results there from occurring, would be the utter destruction or all family relationship; the fact that this ensues, as a necessary sequence of its fundamental principles is sufficient in itself to everlastingly damn the vile enormity in its entirety” (Part 4, p. 8).

In addition, Coleman believed that there were contradictions with beliefs in American Spiritualism. “The universal teaching of Spiritualism is, we all know, that the spirit-world is a progressive state of existence. By growth and effort the spirit passes from circle to circle, and from sphere to sphere; but re-incarnation negatives this beautiful philosophy. There is no progress in spirit-life, we are told; the spirit’s progress can only be made on earth during successive bodily incarnations” (Part 4, p. 8).

Finally, Coleman argued that acceptance of reincarnation “leads to the grossest immoralities, and to general demoralization and laxity of conduct” (Part 5, p. 8).

The last person I will consider here is American physician and student of psychometry Joseph Rodes Buchanan (“The Doctrine of Reincarnation, and its Amusing Absurdities.” Buchanan’s Journal of Man, 1889, 3(n.s.), 176–185). He wrote: “The insurmountable objection to my mind, is the absence of corroborating facts. It is maintained that certain spirits, and according to some theorists an immense number, feel a desire to renew their experience of earth-life, and to do that, they abandon their supernal life and enter the womb of some woman in conception, to develop as a foetus and be born as an infant.”

“Have we the slightest evidence that such an event ever occurred? If it did, the reincarnating spirit would be absent from its supernal home during its whole earth-life. But in the millions of interviews or intercourse between spirits and mortals, who has ever heard of any spirit being absent or lost from its spirit-home? Had reincarnationists looked at this subject logically, they would have felt the necessity of proving that the reincarnated spirit was not in spirit-life, but on the earth. In the entire absence of such evidence, I assume that such an event never occurred …” (p. 177).

Joseph Rodes Buchanan 2

Joseph Rodes Buchanan

Buchanan stated that explorations of the opinion of spirits via mediumship or psychometry do not provide evidence for reincarnation. He wrote: “I do not perceive that reincarnationists have ever demanded a rational proof before accepting their theory. They should demand positive evidence that some intelligent spirit has abandoned the spirit-world, and cannot be heard of in spirit-life; that some mortal can give a full account of the details of his former existence, and manifest the possession of his old spiritual identity and capacities; that children should develop regardless of the laws of heredity, and become able to reveal their former life on earth as in heaven, and. that intelligent spirits should give a rational narrative of the lives through which they have passed, capable of being verified. If none of these things are possible, the reincarnation theory as commonly presented must be classed among delusions” (p. 182).

Of course, there were exceptions to these negative beliefs, as seen in Kardec’s translator, journalist, and poet Anna Blackwell (see her book The Philosophy of Existence. London: J. Burns, 1871; and “The Law of Re-Incarnation.” In H. Tuttle and J.M. Peebles (Eds.), The Year-Book of Spiritualism for 1871 (pp. 69–79). Boston: William White, 1871).

Anna Blackwell

Anna Blackwell

Certainly, some of the critiques may be questioned. For one, the assurance that the minds of the French mediums presenting positive communications about reincarnation was affected by the influence of suggestion over the medium’s minds, while a theoretical possibility, has no clear evidence it its support.

The topic deserves further study considering the intellectual context in which each author was writing from. The problem of lack of evidence changed in later years with the rise of research on the subject, a topic discussed in a recent author interview in this blog.



D.D. Home’s Mental Mediumship

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

Modern discussions about the mediumship of D.D. Home typically focus on his physical phenomena (e.g., S. Braude, Daniel Dunglas Home. Psi Encyclopedia, 2016). These include raps, movement of objects, luminous effects, touches, materializations, and elongation and levitation of the mediums’s body. However, the authors of accounts of Home seances also describe phenomena that are seldom mentioned. These include accounts of trances and spirit communications, some of which were reported to take place via raps. Here are some examples.


D.D. Home


Home in Test Conducted by William Crookes

There are several interesting accounts of trances. In one of them it was stated: “Mr Home now passed into the trance state, and, rising from his seat, his eyes closed, his arms rigid and drawn across his chest, he walked to and fro; opening the door, he beckoned for the unseen friends to enter” (H.D. Jencken, Elongation of Mr. Home, with Measurements. Human Nature, 1869, 3, 138-141, p. 139).

In addition to Jencken, other writers described how Home used to walk around during trances, usually talking. Here is one account in which he did not talk: “Home now went into one of those strange trances in which he is unable to speak; he bandaged his eyes with a handkerchief, walked about the room a little, then brought the candle, two sheets of paper and a pencil, and placing them on our table, sat down; then spreading open one of the sheets he commenced writing the alphabet on it in large capital letters. He proceeded with a firm bold touch as far as the letter F, when his hand became violently tremulous, he went on to the letter L, the shaking of his fingers gradually increasing, when he made a gesture as if he could not proceed, and handed the paper and pencil to me. I finished the alphabet. He then, following the lines that I had made, traced over the letters R, S, T, U, V, W, with the same tremulous motion of his hand, and proceeded to decorate with leaves and flowers the letters A, G, S, T, U. He drew a cross in the letter U, a heart pendant on T, a star or double cross in S, an anchor in G, something resembling a bird in A, and marked the letters A and U with the figure 2” (Viscount Adare, Experiences in Spiritualism with Mr. D.D. Home. London: Thomas Scott, n.d. [1869], p. 129).

Adare also recorded an instance in which Home talked much, and physical phenomena also took place: “I was seated at the table in Home’s room at Ashley House writing; he was seated at the opposite side, reading; we heard raps upon the door; Home said ” Your grandfather has come in, do you not see him sitting in that chair yonder?” “I see no one,” I answered; “Which grandfather do you mean?” “Your father’s father; you will at any rate hear him.” I heard a sound as if some one sitting on the chair he had mentioned had put his foot on the ground. Home, while speaking, went into a trance. The chair moved very slowly up to the table (no one touching it) a distance of eight feet eleven inches. ‘He is moving the chair,’ Home said, ‘He is pleased to be able to do that, he says you never saw a much prettier manifestation than that; Ah! he has gone over there now.’ Another chair moved close up to me, a distance of about a foot. Home said ‘He is sitting in that chair near you; he has come because he wishes to speak to you; you are rather in difficulties he thinks.’ He then spoke to me about certain private matters. Presently Home said ‘Your mother does not wish you to think that she forgot you because she said so little about your marriage; she could not say more then, and after all what could she do more than pray God’s blessing upon you in this as she would in everything that you undertake, honestly, and with a desire to do that which was right. She has much more to say on the subject, but not now” (Adare, pp. 148-149).

Image result for adare experiences in spiritualism with mr. d.d. home


Like other mediums of his era, sometimes Home delivered long speeches about a variety of general subjects while he was in trance. Once he stated: “There are laws which govern the approach of spiritual beings to earth, and their organic life, and there are epochs of darkness when the spiritual spheres are far removed from the earth; when the approach of spirits. is all but impossible. These epochs have been called by those on earth the dark ages; they mark the absence of spiritual intercourse. There are also times of near approach, not unlike your winter and summer seasons . . . You are now entering upon a period of very near approach. It is coming like the tide in a river—irresistible, overriding the current, overcoming all; it is coming grandly and Godly” (Adare, p. 18).

On another occasion the trance was accompanied by possession:

“In the midst of our conversation Mr. Home fell into a trance; this was, perhaps, the most salient feature of the séance, for while in this state, which must have lasted about an hour, he appeared to be influenced or possessed by the spirit friends who surrounded us, personating in manner those whom he had never seen, but who had been known by the several members of our circle. This was most remarkable in the case of one whom we will call by the name designated to her by Mr. Home, namely, that of Margaret, although she had only been known by that of Christy, as a servant in the family of one of the gentlemen present, and had been drowned forty years ago. Mr. Home went through the action of drowning, and gave such proofs of the identity of ‘Christy,’ that the son of her former master, who was the gentleman present, was fain to accept them as unmistakable” (L.M. Gregory, A Seance with Mr. Home. Spiritual Magazine, 1866, 1(n.s.), 226-227, p. 227).

Another example of veridical information: “Mr. Home had by this time gone off into a trance state. Whilst in this trance he said he saw a spirit-form standing next to my guest. The form, character, and past history were so accurately detailed that the identity of the spirit-friend was unmistakably established, much to the surprise of the gentleman, whose departed friend had been quite unknown to Mr. Home” (H.D. Jencken, New Spirit Manifestations. Spiritual Magazine, 1868, 3(n.s.), 30-39, p. 36).

image of page 30

In the same article Jencken also reported what follows: “On one occasion the friends present had only casually met; and were seated round the drawing table. Suddenly Mr. Home, who had all the while been engaged conversing with the ladies, changed the expression of his countenance, rose, and, having played a few chords on the piano, returned to resume his seat, but now in a state of trance; his face rigid, hands cold, and the fingers extended. He steadfastly gazed across to where Mrs. — was seated, and said, ‘L— S— is standing between you and Mr.—. I see her as she was in life— mark, not as she is, but as she was when on earth.’ Mr. Home then accurately described the personal appearance of the spirit when on earth. So marked and clear were the traits he delineated that no doubt as to identity remained in the minds of those present. He said a child which had passed away in early infancy was standing next to L — S— , and that the spirit of L — S— was much pleased, and anxious to communicate with Mrs.—, whom she had loved on earth; and to prove her identity recalled a conversation that had taken place years ago between the two friends. He then said that L — S— wished to say that since passing away her views had much changed— that she had first to unlearn in order to learn. The spirit then impressed Mr. Home to remind Mrs.— of a conversation Mrs.— had recently held with her husband, and repeated part of the conversation that had taken place. I must mention that Mr. Home was a perfect stranger to the deceased person, whose name he had never even heard of. We have here what borders very narrowly upon a proof of the actual presence of the spirit of a departed friend, tor we have name, description of person, marked incidents in past life, all given, sufficient to establish an identity in any court of law; but possibly not proof enough to dispel the doubt of a sceptic” (pp. 37-38).


In the words of someone who had several seances with Home: “All who have seen Mr. Home in this state of trance, are aware how clearly he sees and communicates with spirits that have passed from the body. And marvellous and marvellously beautiful have been the communications made by them, through him, which it has been my fortune to hear. The gestures, the most trivial actions of bodily life, the mode of walking and speaking, the voice, the infirmities of persons who have passed away long before he was born, and concerning whose peculiarities in all these particulars Mr. Home had not the least possible means of obtaining any knowledge, are all repeated by him when in this state with an accuracy of detail which leaves no doubt, either that he is at the moment possessed by the spirit whose earthly characteristics he is delineating, or that he is receiving from them or from other spirits impressive communications which enable him to reproduce them” (M. D., Guardians of Strength. Spiritual Magazine, 1867, 2(n.s.), 112-118, p. 112).

Interestingly another author stated: “The communications we received were always strikingly characteristic of those by whom they were made, and in strict accordance with the opinions they had always in life expressed; the rapidity and clearness of their replies to mental interrogation was also remarkable in the extreme. I have also seen communications made by means of the alphabet in several languages, Polish amongst the number, with which neither Mr. Home nor any one present (except the individual communicated with) was acquainted” (Mrs. Eric Baker, Fraud, Fancy, Fact: Which Is It? An Enquiry into the Mystery of Spiritualism. London: J.S. Hodson & Son, 1862, p. 19).
Here are two other accounts about deceased persons.

“He then said, ‘There are other spirits behind your chair, Elizabeth, Mary, Harriet.’ The two first puzzled me, but Harriet I knew well; she was my old school-fellow and earliest friend. I begged Mr. H. to describe her. He directly began scribbling, (she was a great writer) and looked very merry. Soon after, my chair was playfully pushed twice-—just what Harriet would have done, had she been present in the body; for she was full of fun” (A. Branker, Correspondence. Spiritual Magazine, 1861, 2, 431-432, p. 431).

“Mr. Home then suddenly went into the trance and saw ‘Charles,’ and gave such a description of his appearance and manner, that Mrs. W. recognised her late grandson, whose name at birth she had wished to be called Charles, but the wish had been over-ruled! and another name was given. Shortly, a sprig from a verbena plant in the room was broken off by invisible agency, and placed on the table by her right hand, and the sounds spelt out ‘Grandma, this is from little Charles.’ The lady was much affected, even to tears” (J. Jones, Correspondence. Spiritual Magazine, 1861, 2, 479-480, p. 479).

The latter part of the previous quote is an example of physical manifestations apparently guided by spirits related to the sitters, as is the following account of raps: “Q. (by Mr. Home) Is there a spirit present ? A. Yes.— Q. (by one of us whom I forget) What do you want to say ? A. My dear Ned, watch over you; be patient, you will be cared for.—Henry, your father! This message was written down, letter by letter, without word division, and we had to spell it over afterwards before we could understand it” (E.H. Chawner, Letter. Spiritual Magazine, 1865, 6, 45-57, p. 45).

Other physical phenomena showed relationship to actions in the séance room. “During this séance, Mr. Home recited a poem . . . As he repeated it the table rose with two feet into the air, and with the other two beat time to the rhythm of the poem on the floor. At a particular passage, with words to this effect, ‘And when I opened my eyes, a thrill went through me,’ the table gave such a thrill and shake, that even Home started back” (W. Howitt, Some Séances with Mr. Home Some Years Ago. Spiritual Magazine, 1872, 7(n.s.), 424-428, pp. 425-426).

Raps were reported to follow verbal statements: “Five raps is the understood signal whereby a Spirit (supposed) signifies its presence and desire to communicate . . . The communication itself is thus obtained:—The alphabet is in some leisurely manner repeated: A—B—C, etc. When a particular letter is arrived at, three raps on the table—or risings of it, indifferently—as the understood sign of assent (yes), indicate it as that wanted: it is accordingly taken down; and the alphabet being begun anew, a series of other letters is in the same way obtained, and noted. Two raps indicate the close of the communication ; and the word, or sentence, as it may be, is then readily deciphered and read out” (P.P. Alexander, Spiritualism: A Narrative with a Discussion. Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1871, p. 21).

Alexander Spiritualism

Another example involved a communication via raps: “A spirit announced its presence, and rapped out, ‘It is Pophy Sophy? ‘Pophy Sophy!’ said Mr. Home; that is very odd. It does not seem like a name, either in English or any other language known to me. Can any one at the table explain?’ Whereupon a lady present gave signs of great agitation, and presently she burst out, ‘Pophy Sophy’ Oh! that is our poor dear little Sophia, whom we lost two years ago. Pophy Sophy!—that was the dear little pet name she always went by in the family, as she had given it to herself when an infant.’ On this, another lady present (the aunt of little Pophy, as it appeared) began to cry bitterly. Five raps were then again heard, and the following was rapped out—’Do not cry, Auntie dear! You were not to blame, and I am happy, happy now.’ And immediately after came this: ‘I did not die. Am I not alive? And could I forget you all?’ The story, as after inquired into by my friend, was thus :—The little child, left under charge of her aunt, during absence of the parents in England, had died of scarlet fever, and the poor lady had been eaten up with morbid remorse, as supposing that, through some blind carelessness on her part, the infection might have been caught” (Alexander, pp. 35-36).

A consideration of these phenomena will provide us not only with more information about D.D. Home, but with a wider and more complete view of his mediumship.

Image result for d.d. home

Psychic Studies in Canada: Albert Durrant Watson

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.


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.


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.

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 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.

An Old Case of Fraud: Charles Eldred

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.”