Paladino, Eusapia (1854–1918)(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle starts Chapter One of The History of Spiritualism (1921) with the words, “The mediumship of Eusapia Palladino marks an important stage in the history of psychical research, because she was the first medium for physical phenomena to be examined by a large number of eminent men of science. The chief manifestations that occurred with her were the movement of objects without contact, the levitation of a table and other objects, the levitation of the medium, the appearance of materialized hands and faces, lights, and the playing of musical instruments without human contact.”
Eusapia Paladino (sometimes spelled “Palladino") was possibly the most famous of Italian mediums. She was certainly the most spectacular. In later years, she was caught as a fraud on several occasions, but these few instances could not eclipse the vast majority of her séances that were undertaken in the most rigid of investigative circumstances, totally precluding falsity. As a physical medium, she was thoroughly investigated for more than twenty years in many different areas of Europe and America. Among those who investigated her were Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor Charles Richet, Richard Hodgson, and Frederick W. H. Myers.
Paladino was born at Minervo-Murge, near Bari, Italy, on January 21, 1854. Her mother died in the childbirth. As a child, Paladino heard rappings on walls and furniture. She also saw eyes looking at her through the darkness in her bedroom at night, where invisible hands often stripped off her bedclothes. When she was twelve, her father was killed by brigands. She then went to work as a nursemaid for an upper class family in Naples. It was psychical investigator Signor Damiana who discovered her amazing psychic abilities in 1872. He was led to Paladino by spirit.
Damiana’s wife had attended a séance in Naples and been told by the spirit guide there—John King—that she should seek out a woman named Eusapia who would be found at a specific address in Naples (the house number and street were given). King said that the woman had been his daughter in a previous lifetime. When the Damianas went to the house, they met Eusapia Paladino.
According to Doyle, Paladino’s mediumship started shortly after she went to live with the family in Naples. The family would sit in a circleand would ask Paladino to join them. As Doyle says, “At the end of ten minutes the table was levitated, the chairs began to dance, the curtains in the room to swell, and glasses and bottles to move about. Each sitter was tested in turn to discover who was responsible for the movements, and in the end it was decided that Eusapia was the medium. She took no interest in the proceedings and only consented to have further sittings to please her hosts and prevent herself from being sent to a convent.”
Paladino’s powers increased at a rapid rate. Initially she seemed to concentrate on psychokinesis, moving objects without touching them. Nandor Fodor says, “Her control … communicated through raps and in trance spoke in Italian alone. Eusapia Paladino was always informed about the phenomenon about to take place, so that she could warn the sitters. She suffered extremely during the process and exhibited a very remarkable synchronism between her gestures and the movement without contact. If she glared defiantly at a table it began to move towards her, if she warned it off it backed away. A forcible motion of her head was accompanied by raps and upward movements of her hand would cause the table to lift in the air.” Then materializations began to take place. Phantom limbs would spring from her body and gradually build into almost full, but somewhat incomplete, figures. Professor Galeotti, at one séance, stated, “Look! I see two left arms, identical in appearance! One is on the little table, and it is that which M. Bottazzi touches, and the other seems to come out of her shoulder—to approach her, and touch her, and then return and melt into her body again. This is not an hallucination!"
On August 9, 1888, the psychical researcher Professor Ercole Chiaia, of Naples, published an open letter to Professor Cesar Lombroso, the Italian psychiatrist and criminal anthropologist, who had written an article stating that he laughed at Spiritualism. Chiaia challenged Lombroso to investigate Paladino, saying, “be it by day or by night she can divert a curious group for an hour or so with the most surprising phenomena. Either bound to a seat, or firmly held by the hands of the curious, she attracts to her the articles of furniture which surround her, lifts them up, holds them suspended in the air like Mahomet’s coffin, and makes them come down again with undulatory movements as if they were obeying her will. She increases her height or lessens it according to her pleasure. She raps or taps upon the walls, the ceiling, the floor, with fine rhythm and cadence.” He went on to list other marvels he had witnessed at Paladino séances. It was two years before Lombroso was able to respond and himself have a sitting, but he ended up a fully converted Spiritualist, as did such other original skeptics as Professor Theodor Flournoy, Professor Porro, and Colonel Eugene D’Aiglun Rochas.
All the major psychical researchers investigated Paladino. It was quickly determined that, if given the chance, she would cheat and she was many times exposed. An explanation once given for this was that she obviously experienced pain during some of the phenomena and was frequently completely exhausted for two or three days after a sitting. She cheated rather than subject herself to that pain and exhaustion. But for the few times that she was caught cheating, there were innumerable sittings given where there was no such possibility yet amazing results were obtained. On March 1, 1902, a séance was held in Genoa. Present were Professor Morselli (who recorded and published the results in Psicologia e Spiritismo Vol. II, pp 214-237), Ernesto Bozzano, Dr. Venzano, and six other people. The cabinet was carefully examined. A camp bed was placed in it and Paladino lay down on it. Morselli tied her to the bed “in a manner defying attempts at liberation.” In fairly good light, six spirits materialized, presenting themselves one by one in front of the cabinet. The last of these was a woman with a baby in her arms. Each time after the spirit returned into the cabinet, Morselli “rushed into the cabinet and found the medium tied as he had left her.” There was no doubt in the minds of any of the sitters that the materializations were genuine.
In The Story of Psychic Science (1931), psychical researcher Hereward Carrington wrote, “To sum up the effects of these séances upon my own mind, I may say that, after seeing nearly forty of her séances, there remains not a shadow of doubt in my mind as to the reality of the vast majority of this phenomena occurring in Eusapia Paladino’s presence … I can but record the fact that further study of this medium has convinced me more than ever that our Naples experiments and deductions were correct, that we were not deceived, but that we did, in very truth, see praeternormal manifestations of a remarkable character. I am as assured of the reality of Eusapia Paladino’s phenomena as I am of any other fact of life; and they are, to my mind, just as well established.” The great stage magician Howard Thurston added, “I witnessed in person the table levitations of Madame Eusapia Paladino … and I am thoroughly convinced that the phenomena I saw were not due to fraud and were not performed by the aid of her feet, knees, of hands.” He offered to give a thousand dollars to charity if it could be proved that Eusapia could not levitate a table without trickery.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recorded, “Eusapia had a peculiar depression of her parietal bone, due, it is said, to some accident in her childhood. Such physical defects are very often associated with strong mediumship. It is as if the bodily weakness caused what may be described as a dislocation of the soul, so that it is more detached and capable of independent action. Thus Mrs. (Leonore) Piper’s mediumship followed upon two internal operations. (Daniel Dunglas) Home’s went with the tubercular diathesis, and many other cases might be quoted.”
Eusapia married a merchant named Raphael Delgaiz, who lived in Naples. Although illiterate, she managed a shop for her husband. She died in 1918.
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933