The Strange Peasant, Invisible Authors, and Spiritual Music

By on Sep 13, 2011 in Essays

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Strange Peasant graphic

Eusapia Palladino during a seance

A chapter from The Mystics

The history of the occult contains a considerable gallery of materializations by mediums, and among the most discussed in all records of spiritualism was Eusapia Palladino, who was born January 21, 1854. The event occurred in the Italian town of Bari on the Adriatic, and her actual name was Minerverno Murgeo. As an infant, her mother died, and little more than ten years later her father was slain by bandits. Soon afterwards she was across the peninsula, on the opposite coast, in Naples.

It is said that she displayed one of her unusual talents, table tipping, early on and in semi-illuminated rooms. She married a conjuror, and later a man of more financial substance, but she had no prominence beyond the Neapolitan community until, at the age of thirty-six, she was observed by a visiting physician and criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. [1]  He had come to the city to see her perform, assuming she was likely a medical hysteric, which he actually diagnosed her to be. According to the reports available, at the initial séance there were hard raps and ringing bells. He felt phantasmal fingers stroke his face, and the table levitated, despite the skeptic holding firmly onto the medium’s hands. On the occasion of the second sitting, which was being held in full light, he saw a small table slipping across the floor and witnessed a saucer of threshed flour invert without an iota spilling. He uncomfortably conceded: “I am bewildered and regretful that I opposed so persistently the possibility of the facts known as ‘spiritist;’ I say ‘fact’ because I am still opposed to the theory.” [2]

The medium quickly became a cause célèbre and was invited to all of the capitals of Europe, giving a dozen-and-a-half seances in Milan within a couple of years after her “discovery.” Major scientific figures assembled to see her exhibitions, including the French physiologist and subsequent Noble Prize winner Charles Robert Richet, [3] the world-famous astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, [4] and a host of others. One investigator, Signor H. Morselli, asserted that he was able to classify forty-two types of phenomena demonstrated by the teleplastic medium, she being of the rarest of all orders of sensitives.

As with all cases of mediumship, especially of the physical kind, hers was accused of deceptions at times. One instance cited by Sudre was the altering of the balance of a scale by use of a “hair.” That researcher contends that photographs [5] illustrate the alleged filament from her head was, in fact, an ectoplasmic thread.

Incidents of deliberate fraud in physical seances can be defended against by introducing extreme controls over the medium. Sometimes the examinations have been exhaustive, including the examination of the stripped medium, even to natural orifices. Garments for the sensitive are provided by the investigator, and the medium may be completely bound. Sometimes the arms, hands and feet are taped with phosphorescent tape.

However, Eusapia was rarely so constricted and, therefore, numerous doubts about her performances were raised. Oddly, some of the results, which were accepted by certain critics, involved the “appearance” of individuals who granted that they were fictitious, that they had never had a corporeal reality. In some cases they asserted they were basic “principles,” such as “life forces.”

As with virtually all teleplastic mediums [excepting Home], and many clairvoyant ones, Eusapia had a control or guide. His name was John, and whimsically, he was purported to be the father of Katie King, the control of medium Florence Cook. He was her advisor and protector and instrumental in producing the physical phenomena, such as strong, masculine hands, however, his thought processes and personality seemed little different from Eusapia’s. The description of these phenomena where the medium produced fragments of ectoplasmic anatomy on scores of occasions had one of the investigators, discussing her exhibition of apparitional extremities, writing that “these hands were different from Eusapia’s own.” When they were visible they were whitish in color and of indefinite contours. It sometimes happened that these hands were attached to what were called ‘supernumerary limbs,’ which were of a dark color and emerged from [various parts] of the telepast’s [6] [medium’s] body. [7] As was true of many other physical mediums, Eusapia rarely produced entire figures, nonetheless at various times she is said to have summoned up an ill-defined shape of a fairly substantial male, the form of a child, and two young girls.

Brought to New York by the English-born [8] American psychologist and psychical researcher, in the autumn of 1909 she submitted to two dozen monitored seances. Some of these, under very poor control conditions, were conducted at the physics department of Columbia University being observed by the zoologist Edmund Wilson. [9] In this instance he was deceived by an old parlor trick of mediums. When he attempted to grasp her wrist, on her left side, she rejected the gesture and simply placed a couple of fingers on the back of his hand. In the dark she drew her two hands, lying on the table, to a close proximity and subtlety replaced the left hand fingers on the back of his hand to ones of the now adjacent right hand [still held by the wrist by her right hand sitter]. At that point her left hand was free to be done with as she wished.


1 Lombroso (1836-1909) was very famous, even then. He later was Professor of Anthropology at Turin. His thesis that there was a discernible “criminal type” determinable by an evaluation of heredity, atavism, and innate degeneracy, held sway in many quarters long after his death and still has its adherents today. Back to text

2 Parapsychology. p. 42. From Cesare Lombroso. Ricerche sui fenomeni ipnotici e spiritici. Turin, Italy. Back to text

3 (1850-1935). Researcher in serum therapy and discoverer of anaphylaxis (method of testing for bodily rejection). His prize was awarded for physiology and medicine. Very prominent investigator of psychic phenomena. Back to text

4 Italian. (1835-1910). Director of Milan Observatory (1862-1910), discovered asteroid Hesperia, that meteors swarm in cometary orbits, and noted many double stars. His observation of “canals” on Mars was taken to mean actual constructions. Back to text

5 Taken by the investigators Ochorowicz and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. Back to text

6 Tēle- (Gk.) = at a distance + plastos (Gk.) = molded. Back to text

7 Parapsychology. René Sudre. The Citadel Press, New York. 1960. P.270. Back to text

8 Jersey, the Channel Islands 1880- ??, came to U. S. at the age of nineteen. Author of almost a dozen volumes on the paranormal. Back to text

9 (1856-1939), specialist in cytology (the structure of cells), embryology (development of living organisms), and experimental morphology (forms and structures of living organisms). Not to be confused with noted author and critic of that name. Back to text


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Paris Flammonde was born in Virginia a long time ago of ancestry (almost half English, with a element of Welsh, and a quarter Scot and a quarter Irish) that dates to the 15th Century in the British Isles. He attended university at Chicago and then moved to Greenwich Village where, in 1954, he initiated the “performance coffee house,” which was quickly echoed in San Francisco, and afterwards everywhere. During the quarter of a century living in that New York community, he was the producer of the Long John Nebel Radio (and television) Shows (6,000 hours), on which he appeared regularly as “house poet & panelist” (1,500 hours). He has had fifteen books published, including the first on the inquiry of the JFK murder by New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison, for whom he was to do some investigative work (The Kennedy Conspiracy, Meredith, 1968). A score of years afterwards, Flammonde did the definitive historical study, The Assassination of America, a four-volume work. He has published in Harpers, Cavalier, The Village Voice, Mysteries, and in more than fifty poetry journals, including four dozen issues of the English Candelabrum since 1985. He also writes songs and paints. Much information, including data on many of his books and more biographical details, can be found at his Web site,