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.

 

 

 

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