Enrico Morselli

Enrico Morselli

1852-1929. Eminent Professor of Psychiatry at Genoa University from 1889 (previously at the University of Turin). A bitter sceptic of psychic phenomena until Eusapia Palladino in 30 sittings, completely convinced him of their reality. However, he was equally convinced that the phenomena could be explained by forces connected with the human organism and were not necessarily related to spirit agencies as Spiritualists believed. Morselli also concluded that "John King", Eusapia's spirit guide or control, was not a real entity.

Mediumship and Conjuring (in Connection with Eusapia Paladino)

- Enrico Morselli -

An Apparition from the Dark Cabinet

          AT ONE of the séances given by Eusapia Paladino last year at the house of the Argentine painter, M. A. Berisso, under my direction and in the presence of the celebrated Italian journalist, Luigi Barzini, of the Corriere della Sera, we witnessed, among many others, an apparition from the cabinet which perplexed us greatly; I have given an account of it in my voluminous work on the mediumship of Eusapia, which has just appeared.[1] I quote a few sentences from it:

[1] Enrico Morselli, Psicologia e Spiritismo, Impressioni e note critiche sui fenomeni medianici di Eusapia Paladino (Piccola Biblioteca di Scienze Moderne, Nos. 141-42). Turin, Fratelli Bocca. 1908, two large volumes with 18 plates and about 50 smaller illustrations.

Eusapia was stretched in the dark cabinet on a camp bed, and I had not bound her, wishing to leave the greatest possible spontaneity to the phenomena; the sitters were arranged in a semi-circle, waiting attentively. Suddenly, between the two black curtains which closed in the cabinet in front, there appeared something white, or semi-obscure, having, as I thought, every appearance of a face, though only the middle portion and one eye could be seen. M. Benzini thus described the apparition:

"In the opening of the curtains, the light of the lamp (red, five candles) struck full upon a female face surrounded by white drapery, which covered the forehead and was turned over the mouth after the manner of the Bedouins. It looked at us with a sinister glance, turned slowly to one side, and appeared. This head appeared to be very large, probably on account of the drapery, which prevented us from seeing the outlines. Its gaze was fixed, and its eyelids never moved; the brows were slightly contracted; its colour was pale."[2]

[2] Lulgi Barzini, Nel Mondo dei Misteri con Eusapia Paladino. Milan, Baldini, 1907, p. 132.

I may observe that at other times we saw the same apparition while Eusapia was firmly bound to the bed; that the medium was only clad in a chemise and drawers, without any fabric which could serve to form the drapery around the head of the apparition; and that at a séance at M. Avellino's, in 1902, described by my colleague, Signor Venzano, in The Annals of Psychical Science for 1907, No. 33, an apparition, but more complete, regarded by the spectators as the reproduction of the phantom of Katie King, presented itself, being in many respects similar to the incomplete apparition seen at M. Berisso's.[3]

[3] See J. Venzano, "A Contribution to the Study of Materialisations",  Annals of Psychical Science, August and September, 1907; also in "Luce e Ombra". Milan, 1907. Cf. my work, Vol. II., pp. 244-268.

But what are we to think of this phenomenon? Were we witnesses of the initial formation of a "spectre," of a "teleplasmic phantom"? The question would require an answer which, as in the case of many other manifestations through Eusapia's mediumship, cannot be decisively given. In my work above quoted the difficult and obscure question of "materialisation" is lengthily treated. The present article has a more practical aim, that of touching upon one of the most disputed sides of spirit phenomena, that of the fraudulent substitution of illusory facts for real ones, and I shall discuss the charlatanry of mediumship with special care.

2. Truth and Fraud in Eusapia's Phenomena

The suspicion that Eusapia was looking at us through the opening of the cabinet, as though playing at hide-and-seek with us, made me think of the question of conjuring in spirit phenomena. Unfortunately, this is not a matter that can be solved at a stroke, like cutting the Gordian knot. It is not I, but advanced spiritists and psychists, who say that with professional mediums one is never sure of anything, and that it is when we least think that we are the most cleverly deceived.

Without seeking further, Camille Flammarion, who knows the subject well, and has made a sufficient number of experiments, confessed that out of thirteen classes of phenomena observed by him at Montfort-l'Amaury in 1877, only four appeared to him certain: the levitation of the table, the movements of another small table, without contact, the rappings, as though with a mallet, and the movements of the curtain; two almost certain: an opaque shadowy profile by the side of the red lamp, and the sensation of a beard touching his hand; one often fraudulent: the touchings; six doubtful: the tearing of a paper note-book, the throwing of a pencil, the lifting of the light table on to the large table, the sounds emitted by a small musical-box, the carrying of a guitar over his head, and the impressions of a hand and face on plaster.[4]

[4] See Camille Flammarion, Le Forces Naturelles Inconnues, Paris, 1907, p. 109.

But afterwards, on experimenting in his own dwelling, M. Flammarion was able to increase the incontestable portion of Paladino's phenomena and to diminish the suspected or incriminated portions.[5]

[5] Flammarion, op. cit. p. 181.

I consider, however, that among the phenomena "difficult to admit with certainty" should be counted the apports rather than the touchings, or the carrying of objects over the heads of the sitters, or the actions of the invisibles, because, I have never seen these latter produced under good experimental conditions (even D. D. Home did not believe in them!), while I am sure as to the others, for they were effectuated under conditions which preclude fraud.

As for "materialisation," it will be noticed that it scarcely figures in the above enumeration by the illustrious astronomer and psychist; it seems as though he purposely glided over the subject, which is, in truth, extremely complex. It is, perhaps, on account of his very lukewarm attitude in favour of spiritism (which he contests absolutely, in Eusapia's phenomena) that the spiritists now call him a scarcely "amusing" writer, while formerly, believing him to be a spiritist, they proclaimed him as a "savant of great genius."

The position of Mme. Paladino in contemporary spiritism is very curious. On the one hand, there are the absolute hyper-sceptics, who consider her a clever falsifier, and believe that she has deceived all the men of science who have accepted and counter-proved her powerful physical mediumship. On the other hand, there are the enthusiasts, who blindly accept all the phenomena produced in her presence, and attribute to her all kinds of mediumship, in addition to the physico-mechanical form, so that they proclaim her a seer, intuitive, an evoker, a psychographer, etc.[6] Mr. Hereward Carrington, who, however, only gives a very incomplete biography of her, writes concerning her as follows:

[6] In a publication by an anonymous author which appeared at Genoa under the title, Eusapia Paladino a Genova, 1907.

One-half the world is convinced that Eusapia is a fraud, and the other half is convinced that the phenomena witnessed in her presence are genuine. What the ultimate verdict will be it is hard to foresee; but it is certain that the case, as it stands, is not convincing to the scientific world, and fresh evidence must be forthcoming if the case is ever to be decided in her favour. If Eusapia possesses genuine mediumistic gifts, it ought only to be a matter of time and sufficiently careful experimenting in order to establish that fact.[7]

[7] Hereward Carrington, The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism - Fraudulent and Genuine. Boston, Turner,1907, pp. (See his articles "The Methods of Fraudulent Materialisation Mediums - Part 1" and "The Methods of Fraudulent Materialisation Mediums - Part 2")

I hope and believe that my voluminous work on Paladino's spiritism will give a satisfactory answer to the distinguished American psychist, who is so severe on physical mediumship, and only accepts as valid, in general, the bygone categories of the historical phenomena of spiritism. He is guided by the preconceived idea that in the earlier times, from the Fox Sisters to Home, the physical phenomena were more authentic, because then the mediums did not copy one another, and mediumship was confined to the spontaneous revelation of new bio-psychical forces, without the intervention of mimicry.

The careful researches of the Milan Committee of Charles Richet, Oliver Lodge, and Frederic Myers, of Joseph Maxwell, De Gramont, and Eugene De Rochas, do not seem to have inspired great confidence in Mr. Carrington for Paladino's mediumship. He is hardly moved by the very favourable reports of Maxwell, but he ignores the experiments of M. de Fontenay, my own with Porro at the Minerva Club, five years ago, those of the Psychical Society of Milan, those of Cesare Lombroso, Luciani, and Philippe Bottazzi, and those of Flammarion, Brisson, Richet, Dariex, and Le Bon.[8]

[8] See the complete bibliography, on Eusapia Paladino given in Vol. I. of my Psicologia e Spiritismo, p. 136 et seq., and the Supplement to Vol. II.

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Now it is hazardous to express judgments on a powerful but variable medium like Eusapia on such slight documentary evidence; but Mr. Carrington, like all the English and American psychists, is still under the impression received from the check at Cambridge, caused by an excess of rigidity in the interpretation of the movements of the medium's hands and feet. We have the obsession of trickery by the substitution of one hand for the other, according to the formal accusation made by E. Torelli-Viollier against Paladino in 1892, at the time of the celebrated experiments in Milan, at the house of M. E. Finzi. And in reality, in America also, where the conjuring ability of mediums has reached the highest degree, the trick of the freeing of one hand from the chain of controllers is practised every day by charlatan mediums, who are very numerous there. I append two very significant illustrations which Mr. Carrington has inserted in his book (Figs. 1 and 2), which show very plainly the method of deception used by mediums for evading the surveillance of the controllers to right and left; with the freed hand they are able to produce touchings, raps, noises, slight movements of objects, apports, etc. Very similar illustrations are to be seen in the works of Rochas, Crocq, Stefanoni, and several authors who have treated of the almost inexhaustible subject of fraud in spiritism.[9]

[9] See De Rochas, Extériorisation de la Motricité; Crocq, l'Hypnotisme Scientifique; Stefanoni, Magnétisme et Spiritisme, etc.

But it is also easy to understand that the "jeu des mains" described by Totelli-Viollier (and which is sometimes attempted or executed by Paladino) can only serve to deceive within the very limited circle of action of the medium - that is to say, quite close to her person. This fraud is absolutely impossible for actions at a distance, for the great phenomena of materialisation inside, and more especially outside, the cabinet. I have been able to see and prove that at least nine-tenths of Eusapia's phenomena cannot be explained by this trick.

3. Doubts on Physical Mediumship in General

Fig. 3

Many of the most competent psychists are at present in a probably extreme phase of doubt and suspicion with regard to the physical and mechanical phenomena of mediumship. For instance, Professor James Hyslop, a highly esteemed student of psychism, accepts in his very restricted spiritism only the mental phenomena - that is, incarnations and spirit communications; he absolutely rejects physical mediumship such as is witnessed with Paladino, considering it a negligible argument for his thesis of spirituality and the survival of the soul. Professor Hyslop calls these "higher" or mental phenomena of mediumship the "residues of science," and as for physical phenomena, he scarcely accepts those of Stainton Moses![10]

[10] Hyslop, Enigmas of Psychical Research, Boston, Turner, 1906.

But what would he have said if he had been present at the Spiritualist Congress which was held at Paris scarcely eight years ago (1900), and had heard related the extraordinary adventure of that plaster mask, on which there suddenly grew hair, eyebrows and a beard.[11] The New York philosopher would certainly have taken fright, as I did, and declared that it was all too little to say, as Sir Oliver Lodge asserted before the London Society for Psychical Research, concerning the physical phenomena of mediumship, that "he had never seen any under satisfactory conditions of experiment."

[11] Comptes rendus du Congrès Spiritualiste et Spirite de Paris (1900). Paris, 1902.

Fig. 4

Everyone knows, however little interested in the history of modern spiritism, that not one of the best mediums has been able to escape the accusation of resorting to conjuring tricks. I will only mention Henry Slade, chiefly because, on the phenomena which he produced, Johann Zöllner (whom some psychists - Hyslop, for instance - accuse of naive blindness in experiment and of ignorance of psychology) partly based his Transcendental Physics.[12] Unfortunately, if we read his accounts carefully, we cannot avoid the suspicion that the eminent astro-physicist was imposed upon. Certain phenomena of Slade's - for instance, that of the pretended "penetration of matter," consisting in the passage of a ring over the leg of a table - have too evident an appearance of conjuring. It is enough to look for a moment at the illustration of the phenomenon which I reproduce (Figs. 3 and 4). The suspicions of the hypercritics are, consequently, justified. This is the first thing that we should ask regarding physical mediumship, and so place ourselves beyond the reach of deception.

[12] Zöllner, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, Vol. II.: Die Transcendentale Physik, Leipzig, 1878. Also an English translation.

4. Professional Mediums and Americanism

From the time when the news spread that I was occupying myself with Eusapia, and that my opinion was favourable, although I made reservations as to the admixture of a few mystifications with her authentic phenomena, I began to receive from abroad, and principally from England and America, a number of pamphlets and works on the frauds of mediums. Perhaps they were intended to warn me to keep on my guard and not express an opinion too hastily in favour of a category of facts which, even in the native land of modern spiritism, are considered as being in great part false.

Indeed, these eloquent publications would cause apprehension to their reader, even if he were armed with the characteristic good faith of spiritists. It is shown or explained in them that the vastly greater part of modern spiritism is made up of unblushing charlatanry. This may do for Mr. Abbott, who is a patient exposer of tricks, and appears to be himself a clever amateur conjurer and illusionist;[13] but what are we to say of psychists such as Richard Hodgson, Frank Podmore, Hyslop, Mrs. Eleanor Sidgwick, and Carrington, who take no account of, the immense difference which exists between a private séance with Eusapia and any public one given as a show by the American vampires, who simulate, by bare-faced stratagems, a mediumistic power which they do not possess, in order to get the money of the simple-minded?

[13] Abbott. David P, Behind the Scenes with the Mediums. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co. London: Kegan Vaul, 1907.

I admit that we have to be on our guard with professionals, for long practice in producing the phenomena has given them skill in deceptive artifices; but Eusapia's modus operandi has no analogy with that of the fake mediums of America. The latter work at home, or in hired halls, or in theatres, or at the open air gatherings (revivals and camp meetings) which are held in summer, partly for amusement, partly from religious fanaticism, in the woods and by the rivers of the United States and Canada. From the exposures made by Davenport, Hubbel, Ridgely, Evans, Robinson, and the authors quoted, Abbott and Carrington, it is easy to understand the discredit into which the physical phenomena of mediumship have fallen in the minds of serious savants.

In America splendid imitations are given, by trickery, of the classic dancing of tables, raps, writing between two slates, the untying of knots, the liberation of the medium from bags and nets, the "spontaneous" playing of musical instruments, spirit photographs, impressions and moulds in paraffin wax, apports, clairvoyance and reading of sealed letters, and the whole series of "materialisation phenomena." It is not from any disrespect toward the American continent, from which the present spiritist movement came to us through the Fox sisters, but simply as a practical statement that I use the term Americanism to denote the fraudulent mediumship carried out as a system of speculation.

I should add that thought-reading is also much discredited, since the most popular American diviners, such as Stuart Cumberland, J. Randall Brown and Washington Irving Bishop have confessed the secret of the success, or had it found out - a secret, in a word, similar to that of the Zancigs, who were so much in vogue in London recently. And I must confess that, with the exception of Mrs. Leonora Piper and, to a less degree, Mrs. May Pepper, even the mental phenomena of incarnations, spirit messages, and communications given in trance, have decreased in value on account of the innumerable frauds which have been discovered in such forms of spiritism as incarnations, oratory, psychography, psychometry and evocation.

But I wish to keep to physical phenomena such as are given by Eusapia; there is a whole library to be mentioned, intended to prove that from the Fox sisters to our own day we can only retain very little of all that is related in the libro d'oro of experimental American spiritism.[14]

[14] See the Bibliografia dello Spiritismo which I have compiled and published as an introduction to my Psicologia e Spiritismo, Vols. I. and II.

We may admit that the asserted apostasy of the Fox sisters is to be attributed to bigotry, but we have the anonymous and highly significant Confessions of a Medium and Revelations of a Spirit Medium, and the exposure by Lunt, of Boston, in Mysteries of the Séance. And besides these exposures by initiates we have the old but vigorous blows of Truesdell at the fundamental facts of spiritism; of Fin at the follies of science; and the later ones of Shekleton Henry on the too obtrusive Realm of Mystery. And as a final shot there are the formal accusations launched for the public benefit in an anonymous book, the title of which alone - The Great Psychological Crime - reveals in itself a terrible expressiveness.[15]

[15] The titles of the works referred to are: Truesdell, Bottom Facts of Spiritualism; Fin, Seven Follies of Science; T. Shekleton Henry, Spookland: A Record of Research in the Much talked-of Realm of Mystery, all quoted and used by Carrington, op. cit.

Let not this cry of alarm be thought exaggerated: North America is infested by a multitude of "very powerful" and very false mediums, whose fantastic doings consist in imitating to perfection the classic manifestations of spirit phenomena, and in inventing every day more or less paradoxical phenomena.[16]

[16] I refer the reader to what is said by Abbott and Carrington in their well-documented works. But one may profitably read Podmore, Modern Spiritualism, a History and a Criticism, London, Methuen, 1902.

Besides New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, several places of less importance are well-known centres and schools of this fraudulent mediumship, ordinarily associated with practices of divination, magic, chiromancy, necromancy, etc. For instance, at Salem, Massachusetts (the home of the two celebrated Forsters and of Mrs. Piper), Denver (Colorado), Omaha (Nebraska), Los Angeles (California) are continually the theatre of pretended spirit performances, and a little lower down the coast San Diego boasts of its magnificent temple-monastery of Theosophists. There is also a series of mediums of less importance, but still more deceptive, who operate at the camp-meetings, the most frequented of which is held at the delicious Lily Dale, near Lake Erie.

The "exceptional faculties" of these real artists of their kind are usually the result of conjuring, not always very clever, more often clumsy and easy to detect by those who take the trouble to examine them somewhat critically. This is not the case with the great mass of believers, who flock to them, fascinated by mysterious titles like this: "The Oracle-Mystery of the great Pendulum," or "Intelligence and Matter"(!) They repose blind faith in one, Dr. Schlossinger, who announces that he is accomplishing "the special mission on earth of proving absolutely to mankind the immortality of the soul"(!), and at the same time he sells consultations, mesmeric, magnetic, hypnotic, psychographic, and chiromantic!

5. Spiritism on the Basis of Conjuring

The biographies of several of these characteristic American workers is highly significant. I quote a typical example. Dr. M. Lee was, in his young days, an invincible pugilist or boxer, but after his "conversion"(?) he became a minister and propagandist preacher; at present he is a medium in great demand.

We often find that the medium was formerly employed as assistant, or servant - it matters little which - to some celebrated theatrical illusionist. We learn, for instance, that William Eglinton had been associated with Mme. Blavatsky, according to Solowoff and the SPR of London, when, in her mediumistic enterprises of "the Veiled Isis," she deceived the good Colonel Olcott, her successor in theosophy; for this reason alone Mrs. Sidgwick, an authority among psychists, regarded him also as a clever juggler.[17] Again, the conjurer Kellar accompanied the Brothers Davenport in their travels, and certainly helped them in the construction of the famous cabinet!

[17] See Proceedings of the SPR, Vol. II., 1886, p. 332.

All this gives rise to the suspicion that all these spectacular phenomena, with apparition and psychomancy, are based on tricks, optical illusions, deceptions, and may consist in colossal frauds carried on without risk. The auditoriums have trap-doors in the floors and openings in the ceiling by which the phantoms come up and down (Abbott). The cabinet (the "cavern," as M. Winckler calls it) is a storehouse of objects of all sorts which serve for the fitting out of spectres differing in age, sex, quality, and colour (whites, negroes, redskins). A Chicago detective, R. Wooldridge, relates how he went into a room where paid séances were held (26 sitters at a dollar each!), and observed there a spirit in flesh and bones, perhaps one of the numerous "Indians" who appear at séances, and then, after having made himself known as a representative of the police, he took out a wagon-load (sic) of masks, wigs, moustaches, tin trumpets for imitating voices, dresses of every kind, costumes of different periods; in fact, all the baggage for a quick-change artiste like Fregoli!

It should be remarked on this subject that these materialising mediums do not usually allow themselves to be bound or watched. Moreover, when bound and rebound, they have great skill in untying the tightest and most complicated knots, habitues as they are of the Davenport school; once free, they dress up hastily, mask themselves, and come before the astonished and credulous public. The conductor, or impresario, watches that none of the sitters comes too near; during this time the "phantom" speaks, if the medium has the power of altering his voice; if not, he is silent, and gesticulates, or contents himself with kissing some "dear friend" or relative.[18]

[18] This technique of séances is described also by Florence Marryat, the celebrated English novelist, in her book on Spiritism, There is no Death.

For the "evocation" of relatives, these mediums are often secretly banded together: they impart to each other confidential information about the clients who have consulted them, and as to those who are presumed to be desirous of doing so. At Omaha these rogues have a "Blue-book," in which they inscribe the names of those who are known to be spiritists or on the way to become such, with their descriptions and numerous details, as to the deceased members of their families, etc., so that when they go to a séance, these grave and confiding persons, to their profound astonishment, hear themselves called by their names and what they supposed to be their most intimate secrets revealed! In the same way the professional divining mediums, who answer the questions of sitters by means of a double slate, use a written conventional language. (Yost's Spiritualistic Slate and Dictionary.)

The friendly circulation of the Bluebook and other writings reveals a curious characteristic of American professional mediumship, the mutual support given to each other by the physical "materialising" mediums and the intellectual mediums for "incarnation." Mr. Abbott tells how he was present at a séance given by a "doctor of occult science, astrologer, chiromancer, and spirit medium," of high repute in Nebraska for his direct writing on slates after the manner of Slade, who, one evening, in answer to a sealed letter which Abbott had presented to him, caused the following phrases to appear on the slate:

Mrs. Piper is a genuine medium. She possesses powers of a very unusual nature. Her tests given to Hyslop and others are genuine. Do not be a sceptic. You are making a mistake, dear friend.

This apology for Mrs. Piper, coming from a charlatan, gives rise to some suspicion; one feels a sort of understanding between them, which does no honour to the celebrated and only true demonstrator - according to Hyslop - of the "immortality of the soul."

But the relatives and friends of the sitters are not the only "spirits" who communicate messages; the aplomb and temerity of the professionals know no bounds. One of them, an Omaha medium, makes a speciality of ancient Egypt, for through him appear Queens Cleopatra and Oriana(?). Another characteristic Buddhist medium, the "Reverend Swami Mazzininanda" (in which the name of our great Italian agitator makes its appearance!), has the audacity to evoke the spirit of Krishna by mock rituals! Another, very popular in America, is Dr. Schlossinger, already mentioned, an operator who claims to be guided by a spirit with the biblical name of "Levi," and who, like Hélène Smith in her very latest phase, dares to boast of his vision of "Jesus Christ." This would seem like a sacrilege to the fervent adherents of Christo-Catholic spiritism; and I have never understood how they can reconcile their religious faith and their credulity.

No doubt, skill and effrontery are necessary for every performance; but darkness, the dramatic side which is never wanting in spiritism, suggestion, credulity, and the fear of having spent their dollars uselessly of foolishly, work miracles with the crowd, and in this way we have an unfailing, almost irresistible explanation of the psychology of illusion.[19]

[19] See American Journal of Psychology, Vol. Xl., 1900.

Fig. 5

Where illusion reaches its height, however, is in the photographing of the discarnate. The pitiful history of this branch of physical mediumship is well known: Buquet, Mummler, Hudson Parker, who fabricated "spirit portraits" in the recesses of their laboratories, deceiving their clients, have been exposed by psychism, and are no longer believed in except in the lowest ranks of spiritism. In America the deception continues, and it is useless to call the attention of "believers" to the very visible evidence of fraud, as proved by the fake photograph, which I reproduce from Mr. Carrington's book (Fig. 5); faith removes mountains. Is it not sufficient, for instance, to notice the anomalies of perspective in the left-hand of the spirit, which issues from the ear of the sitter, the horrible mutilation of the face, the disproportion in size between the living husband and the deceased wife?

Professor Hodgson, who was a very keen and almost fierce critic of all physical phenomena, who never left Eusapia alone with his suspicions and his hostility, and who led the Cambridge Committee to its unjust absolute denial - Hodgson, I say, continued in America the cleansing work commenced in Australia, and carried on more vigorously in Europe. He succeeded in getting himself photographed, as shown in the annexed illustration (Fig. 6), with a very clever reproduction of a portrait of an occult "entity," a child's face, placed between his waistcoat and his watch-chain. We have here a surprising optical effect, artificially obtained, which serves admirably to throw light on the charlatanry practised by certain photographic mediums who call up spirits of relatives.

Fig. 6

In Mr. Carrington's work there are reproductions of other spirit photographs obtained by quite evident fraud. Many years ago, at Turin, I had the opportunity of examining some photographs of this kind, which aroused the enthusiasm of Colonel Daviso, a well-known spiritist and convinced propagandist; the tricks I found in them were apparently not different from those here referred to, and represented by the photograph of Dr. Hodgson. I have also seen Captain E. Volpi's much-praised specimens, and I do not venture to pass judgment upon them. How can one have the courage, after those which American mediumship has shown itself capable of producing? In my work on Spiritism I have given the reason for which, up to a certain point, I can admit the authenticity of psychic images, but without the intervention of the deceased!

6. Illusion and Spiritism

The psychology of illusion has not only been marvellously well described by savants of note like Hammond, Jastrow, and Norman Triplett, but it has been illuminated also in an incomparable manner by the "professors" of conjuring. This art is also rightly designated by the name of "illusionism."

In Europe, also, we have had, and have, clever illusionists who have denounced, and, to a large extent, believed that they reproduced the miracles of spiritism; for example, Bellacchini, Maskelyne, Willmann, Levey, Frizzo, Hermann, Grasso, Rainaly:[20] but we are still a hundred miles from America, where there are actually faculties, pseudo-universities, for the formation of "sorcerers," and for the cultivation of "white or modern magic."

[20] Rainaly's book deserves to be better known: Propos d'un Escamoteur, Paris, 1894, with its expressive sub-title, Magnétisme et Spiritisme.

Our mediums are usually more modest, because they are more genuine, and their phenomena are much less easily imitated, being simpler and more authentic. We do not even dream of witnessing the paradoxical apports of the American séances, as when at Stockton, in California, frogs and fresh fish were "brought by the spirits." We are inclined to compare them with the cage-birds and Babylonian coins of the Australian Bailey, who left, as can be well understood, so much anxiety in the minds of the Milanese psychists.[21]

[21] On the medium Bailey and the suspicions aroused by his phenomena, see Luce e Ombra Milan, 1906-7, and The Annals of Psychical Science, 1906-7.

In the same way, we do not understand how mediumship could be successfully imitated by Annie Eva Fay, who, besides producing admirable impressions in wax, increases in weight every night, resisting the efforts of several spectators to raise her from the ground. It is the old game of address of Miss Abbott, exposed by Sir Oliver Lodge; yet it is, perhaps, the same procedure which is used unconsciously by a little Swedish medium, aged twelve, and weighing scarcely seventy pounds, when she becomes very heavy, and cannot be moved if she places one finger on a person in the circle. I am not far from being of opinion that these feats, perhaps subconscious and not fraudulent, may be compared with the elongation of the body (?) of Home, asserted by Lord Lindsay, now Earl of Crawford,[22] and the increase in the stature of Eglinton, another medium, who was very celebrated a few years ago, and as to whose genuineness many doubts arose then, and are now revived.[23]

[22] See the Report of the Dialectical Society of London.
[23] The magnificent biography of Eglinton written by Farmer ('Twixt Two Worlds, London, 1886) is not at all complete or convincing!

In Europe frauds have been chiefly practised in the lucrative branch of spirit photography, of which I have already spoken; we have no private cabinets for the evocation of spirits, although chiromancers, magnetic healers, etc., are not wanting. Therefore the anti-spiritistic literature, although abundant enough, is theoretical rather than practical; the first experimental and methodical essay on anti-spiritism is furnished by my book on Paladino.

In North America, on the contrary, the struggle against the false spiritism which is practised there is conducted on positive methods - the real facts are opposed to the fraudulent imitations.

Among the conjurers who have exposed the tricks of American mediums, or who reproduce them perfectly, the best known are Kellar, Robert Houdin, Weller, Ed. Benedict, E. Ridgely Evans, G. Rasgorshete, and E. Hardin (Pearsons). The Anglo-American library of original and translated works, intended to teach the feats of spiritism, is very considerable. I find among my notes the following works: Baldwin, Secrets of Mahatma-land Explained; Burlinghame, J. H., Tricks in Magic; Ennemoser, History of Magic (translated from the German); Ridgley, Evans, The Spirit World Unmasked; Hoffmann, Professor (?), Later Magic; Hopkins, Magic Stage Mansions; Twentieth Century Magic; Houdin, Robert, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (he explains by a trick the levitation of mediums!);. Kellar, Magic and its Professors; Up and Down and Round About the World; Lilley, Modern Mystics and Modern Magic; Shaw, New Ideals on Magic; Magical. Instructor; Willmann, The Old and the New Magic (translated from the German), etc.

There are also special periodicals; one of them has an Oriental title, The Mahatma, in which we may read, for example, articles on how to produce raps (Vol. XCIX.); and another, The Sphinx, edited by Dr. A. Wilson, of Kansas City, which teaches the method of exposing mediums. Finally, there are also shops for spiritistic secrets, very rich in magic-spiritistic resources of all kinds; I may name Yost & Co., in Philadelphia, and George Williams & Co., of Chicago (7145 Champlain Avenue).

There has, therefore, sprung up a frantic emulation between the pseudo-mediums who invent tricks and the conjurers who imitate them. We find traces of it also in the official publications of the American Society for Psychical Research.[24]

[24] See the Proceedings of the American SPR, March, 1907.

In truth, some of the mediumistic phenomena described by Zöllner, and accomplished in Europe by Slade and Sambor - for instance, the passage of a ring through the leg of a table, the passing of a chair on to the tied or closed arms of the mediums, etc. - have rather the appearance of feats of skill than spiritual manifestations. The highly respectable medium, Miller Wilcox, repeated them in a shed during a revival at Lily Dale. M. Petrovo-Solovoff, an eminent Russian psychist, has thrown strong doubt upon them in regard to the mediumship of Sambor.

It has been said in Europe that several celebrated conjurers, among them Bellacchini and Houdin, declared that they could not explain mediumistic phenomena by artifices; but this is only partially true, or as regards the real phenomena, which are certainly beyond the reach of the art of illusionism, and not for the "American" ones. It results from this, that Bellacchini only declared himself ignorant of the procedure used by mediums, and not that the phenomena could not be reproduced; and Houdin, perhaps better informed by his brother sorcerers, would think very differently to-day. The fact remains that Mr. Abbott has succeeded in imitating a large number of extraordinary phenomena peculiar to the transatlantic mediums, including a process of direct (?) slate-writing between two sealed slates, which everybody thought could not possibly be imitated.

But it is especially the "materialisation" of phantoms which, counterfeited by hundreds, are now almost entirely out of favour with all serious psychists, both in America and in Europe.

The celebrated journalist, W. T. Stead, who is, or has been, a very fanatical spiritualist, wrote in 1892 that real materialisations appeared to him to be impossible; he had never seen any! He remarked upon the strangeness of the fact that "whereas in the early days they were so frequent, they should be so rare at the present time." He also declared that he believed that there did not exist, in the whole United Kingdom, "more than two genuine materialising mediums, one of whom was Mrs. Mellon."

Mr. Carrington is even less generous; according to him all the great materialising mediums (I say all) are suspected, "because sooner or later they have been caught tricking." He quotes all the most remarkable names of the aristocracy of mediumship: Home, Charles Williams, Miss Cook, Eglinton, Dr. Franci Monck, Miss Fowler, Miss Wood, Miss Fairlamb, Mrs. Anderson, Eddy (of Cheffenden, Vermont, highly esteemed for apparitions), etc.

Many of these names are mentioned every time that tricking mediums are spoken of. I have quoted them myself in several places in my work.[25] Now, it is necessary to say that Miss Fairlamb is the same person as Mrs. Mellon, the medium whose genuineness Mr. Stead swore by! Yet even she, Mrs. Fairlamb Mellon, was caught in Australia coming out of the cabinet, with a mask on her face and white drapery round her shoulders, to play the "spirit."

[25] See my Psicologia e Spiritismo, Vol. I., pp. 96-97, and Vol. II., passim.

Miss Cook also, who materialised the form of Katie King in Sir William Crookes' study, is the same person as Mrs. Corner, who a few years later was caught in the act by Charles von Buch and other German spiritists, at a private séance which she gave at Berlin.[26]

[26] The story of this adventure may be read in the "spiritualist" journals of the time.

7. Excess of Distrust for Physical Mediumship

After this, was the English Society for Psychical Research right in refusing to examine mediums for physical effects? No, it was wrong, just as the Paris Academy was wrong when, seventy years ago, it decided to accept no more communications on animal magnetism.

There are false magnetisers and genuine magnetisers, just as there are those who are really magnetised and those who only pretend to be. This is not to say that there does not exist a very large group of phenomena, well worthy of study, such as that which Mesmer called by a pseudo-physical name. In the same way there is a great deal of fraud and trickery in militant spiritism both in America and in Europe; but we must not infer that all the physical phenomena of mediumship are false. And just as from the old mesmerism, when freed from its doctrinal errors, so many assured facts of supernormal psychology have been derived, the same will be the case with mediumship; it only needs to be freed from the follies and falsities of traditional and psychoendemic spiritualism. Mr. Carrington, whom I still quote for precaution, for he is not only a firm believer in immortality, but also a psychist of authority, assumes an attitude of extreme distrust when he says:

It is not only probable, but certain, that the vast majority of modern occult phenomena are fraudulent. I am disposed to believe that fully 98 percent of the phenomena, both mental and physical, are fraudulently produced.[27]

[27] Carrington, op. cit. p. 336.

Now I am only a positive psychologist with a bad inclination to "materialism," in the eyes of believers in official and semi-official spiritism (including the lukewarm ones who accept it at present as a "working hypothesis"), and yet I am disposed to be much more indulgent and benevolent. I think that in the mediumistic manifestations of Eusapia Paladino, and other great mediums, the proportion of false and genuine is completely different from that reported above; I cannot state it in figures, but without any doubt the greatest proportion of the phenomena is real, and only a very small portion of them false.

The fact remains that at a séance with Mme. Paladino there can be no suspicion of the use of mechanical devices, a wardrobe of articles of clothing, an arrangement of trapdoors, or a hidden stock of implements, as with the fake mediums. If Eusapia has cheated (and the fault is real in a very small proportion of her séances, not in all of them), her trick of liberating a hand or a foot may enable her to perform little deceptions within the very limited circle of action of her arm or leg. But no pseudo-medium, whether American or Belgian, Australian, or Russian, could play his conjuring tricks on the spectators in place of Eusapian phenomena, if he were obliged to strip and reclothe himself in their presence; if he were taken to "work" in a place which was new to him, with strange persons, among objects which he had never seen, and furniture not manufactured for the purpose, like Eldred's stuffed chair. A group of experimenters like Lombroso, Schiapparelli, Lodge, Richet, Flammarion, Julien Ochorowicz, Luciani, Bottazzi, is quite another thing from an assembly composed of persons hastily collected, who pay for their places, are anxious for emotions, suggestionable and curious.

No critic or sceptic, were it Dr. Hodgson returned to earth, could ever convince me that, in a long series of séances with Eusapia, and especially in the last ones of 1906-07, I had only seen, in all, two genuine phenomena in every hundred! This is my opinion, and I live in this confidence towards myself and my fellow investigators, notwithstanding all that Carrington writes about Eusapia Paladino; he devotes the first three hundred pages of his volume to destroying almost the whole of physical phenomena, and then stops short in the last hundred pages to plead (in a lukewarm manner, it is true, but still to plead) the cause of supernormal psychology through the few phenomena which he qualifies as genuine.

It will be interesting to give a brief enumeration of these. Carrington divides them under four heads:

(1) The raps. He regards as authentic those observed by Crookes with Home; those heard by Jacolliot in the East, produced by fakirs(!); those of the medium Karin, described by Hjalmar Wijk;[28] and those of which M. Maxwell speaks; now these latter are mainly the "raps" at séances given by Eusapia in France.

[28] See Annals of Psychical Science, September, 1905.

(2) Telekinesis. Mr. Carrington again quotes the unfailing experiments of Crookes, and the feats which Jacolliot relates as having been performed by fakirs (?), the case of the haunted house, known as the Amherst Mystery, several examples related in an old work by Mrs. Crowe and scattered through the writings of Andrew Lang, and, lastly, the telergetic phenomena attested by Myers in 1894-5 and by Maxwell in 1903; now these last are due in great part to Eusapia!

(3) The manifestations of the mediumship of D. D. Home, among which he declares to be authentic the playing of the accordion without contact, the levitation, the lengthening of Home's body(?), and his incombustibility(!). Now I have been present when sounds have been emitted by musical instruments which were certainly not touched by Eusapia, and I am surprised that Maxwell, from whom the American author might have gained information, does not speak of them; but the trumpet or mandolin of Mme. Paladino are substantially equivalent to Home's accordion which so astonished Sir W. Crookes.

(4) The state of trance of Mrs. Leonora Piper, with her not less unfailing "incarnations." Here, however, the rigid psychist will pardon me for saying that we are outside of physical mediumship.

No matter; the Neapolitan medium may think herself fortunate in coming out of the universal hurricane which destroys all the forms of mediumship equal to her own. We see, then, in Carrington's work, Eusapia received, along with D. D. Home and Leonora Piper - that is to say, with the two triumphant mediums - into the ark of safety of the most austere psychism.

8. The Genuineness of Mme. Paladino's Phenomena

Talking everything into account, I remain calmly confident in the same conclusions to which I had come at the commencement of my researches on Eusapia's phenomena, while as yet I knew nothing of the austerity of which the Anglo-Saxon neo-spiritualists are capable, who are the most serious and most estimable in the world. However the negativists may talk and prate, and compare the stupid and simple phenomena produced by her "John King" with conjuring tricks, it is none the less clear and plain that the largest and most important part of the mediumistic productions of Eusapia do not belong to the circle of conjuring as I have drawn it above, and that it is even absolutely removed from that. It is only necessary to re-read the descriptions of her séances, to consider the circumstances of place, time, company, light, etc., under which the phenomena were produced, and to examine their psychophysical origin, in order to see at once that there is no need to set before our eyes, as affirmative observers, the bugbear of "Americanism."

It seems to me that the mental and subjective phenomena of the Piper style are much more uncertain and easily falsifiable than the purely physical and objective phenomena of Paladino. Professor Hyslop himself, after having constituted himself the partisan and herald-at-arms of the Salem medium, confesses that with her the precautions to be taken are infinite, certainly much more complicated and strict than with Eusapia. Mental mediumship can be simulated to an extraordinary degree. This, at least, is the impression which has been left on my mind by several excellent mediums for incarnation and by psychographers whom I have observed during the last few years; their personifications, their automatic writings seemed to me, after all, much more easily simulated than those phenomena which depart from the physical laws of gravitation and distance, from the physiological laws of muscular effort, etc.; certainly no conjurer would be capable of reproducing them under the same conditions in which, voluntarily or by coercion, a medium like Eusapia is placed.

In any case we see that conjuring imitations of spirit phenomena are not exempt from criticism. Those who have examined them find, for, instance, that the conjurer Dewey could scarcely give even a mediocre imitation of writing between two slates and of raps at a distance (Ochorowicz, Maxwell); therefore, he would have succeeded even less well in imitating the materialisation of forms behind curtains, if he were seated, like Eusapia, with his back to the cabinet, in a room in which he had never set foot before.

By different procedures, but with equal want of skill, the conjurer N. Maskelyne imagined that he had discovered Eusapia's "trick" of levitation of the table; but when he leaned upon the table in order to prevent it rising, he only showed his incompetence as an experimenter in typtocynesis.[29] Long afterwards came the childish performances of Dr. X., at a sitting at my house, and of which I have spoken particularly in my work. He also tried to hold with his thumb the chair carried on to the table by "John," thinking that he would thus reveal our simplicity and his own shrewd intelligence. He also supposed, in his ignorance of metapsychics, that he could imitate the "spirit lights," but he did not succeed in deceiving us with his lucifer-match(!).[30]

[29] With regard to Maskelyne, see the articles in the Daily Chronicle, October, 1895.
[30] See my Psicologia e Spiritismo, Vol. II.

Some of Eusapia's phenomena, and not the most complicated, appeared to me incapable of being imitated, such as levitations of the table in full light or in the middle of the room, the cold wind from the cabinet, the wandering lights, the carrying of objects about in half-light, the tangible materialisations behind the curtain, and those visible under absolute control; no art of an American, Malabar, or Lapp juggler could reproduce them before a small group of intelligent and competent experimenters, cool-headed, sane-minded, and unprejudiced, as the author of this article flatters himself that he was during the thirty séances with Eusapia at which he has been present.

Genoa April, 1908.


The above article was published in "The Annals of Psychical Science", August-September 1908, Vol. VII, Numbers 44 & 45.

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