The Rediscovery of Anna Prado
Posted on 27 February 2013, 15:11
When I started to research my first book, The Flying Cow, in the early 1970s, I kept hearing about a famous Brazilian medium of the past named Anna Prado, who was said to have specialized in that rarest and most controversial of all mediumistic activities – materialization. Little was known about her life, and even the date of her birth was unknown, but she was said to have been active in the northern city of Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon, early in the 20th century. There was a book about her, I was told, called O trabalho dos mortos (The Work of the Dead) by Raymundo Nogueira de Faria, and another – O que eu vi (What I Saw) by Ettore Bosio, but both were long out of print and none of my informants had a copy of either or knew where to find one. So, as I described in the first edition (1975) of my book, I had to leave her out.
When I got down to revising the book for the White Crow edition, little – or indeed nothing at all – did I know that at about the same time a Brazilian Spiritist named Samuel Nunes Magalhães was doing some very thorough research into the life and work of a medium who was still barely known outside her country, which has resulted in his book Anna Prado. O medium que falava com os mortos (The Medium Who Spoke to the Dead), published in September 2012 by the Brazilian Spiritist Federation (FEB), which also reissued the book by Nogueira de Faria, for the first time in almost a century. Suddenly we were able to know who Prado was and what she did, and it is something that deserves to be widely known.
Thanks to Magalhães we learn that she was born in 1883 in Parintins in the northern state of Amazonas, where she grew up and got married to the man who served as the town’s mayor, later moving with him and her children down the river to Belem. Her husband was an enthusiastic Spiritist who had read about the table-turnings in Europe and decided to see if he could repeat them in his home. After a slow start in 1918 his group of local friends soon had the table jumping around all over the place, and apparently communicating with them by raps or tilts.
Quite soon, it seems, forms began to materialize around Anna, and so she found mediumship unexpectedly thrust upon her. Over the next five years before her premature and tragic death in a fire in 1923, her group members, who included both Nogueira de Faria and Ettore Bosio who, luckily for posterity, was a keen amateur photographer, witnessed just about every kind of materialization phenomenon reported earlier by Crookes, Richet, Geley and Schrenck-Notzing. There were raps, apports and direct writing in addition to full-form materialisations – sometimes of two figures at once, plus partial or even total dematerialization of the medium. Anna also gave a demonstration of travelling clairvoyance, now known as remote viewing, while she was in Belem, and described a rebellion then taking place in her home town of Parintins hundreds of miles away.
Although the local press soon got to hear of all this, Anna seems to have escaped any suggestion of trickery. One man who was particularly impressed was Fred Figner, a Jewish immigrant from Bohemia who was the founder of the recording industry in Brazil, issuing its first wax cylinder recording in 1902 and its first disc nine years later. When his eldest daughter Rachel died in 1920 he and his wife attended a couple of sittings with Anna, and both were fully satisfied that the figure they saw emerging from the medium’s cabinet was their Rachel, who even spoke to them and asked her mother not to wear black because she was ‘very happy’ where she was. Figner was so impressed that he wrote up his experiences in detail and published them in a local newspaper, creating something of a sensation in view of his reputation as a successful businessman. I was reminded of the very similar account given me by São Paulo police chief Rafael A. Ranieri as he sat on his desk oiling his revolver, which I included in The Flying Cow. His description of his meeting with his deceased daughter at a sitting with the medium Peixotinho was the kind of testimony I could find no reason to reject.
Several of Bosio’s photographs of Anna’s materialisations survive and they make an interesting comparison to those of other mediums such as Marthe Béraud (‘Eva C’.) and Peixotinho. Some of them do look unconvincing, with their faces resembling portraits torn from newspapers rather than pictures of real living people and their bodies surrounded by what looks like cotton wool. Yet this is not proof of trickery, which does not seem likely from what we now know of Anna’s background.
I hope Magalhães’s book eventually gets an English translation, for Anna Prado deserves her place in the history of materializing mediums. Meanwhile, the only writing on her in English that I know of (apart from what you’re reading here) is to be found in a review of the book in Jack Hunter’s admirable magazine Paranthropology (October 2012) which you can read on the internet.
Some of you may well feel, as I do, that the idea that dead people can appear to return to life, however briefly, is so extraordinary that the evidence for it must be equally extraordinary, and I sympathise with those who may feel that it isn’t yet. When the Society for Psychical Research held one of its regular Study Day seminars on materialization in 1997, I began with an overview of the evidence and asked for a show of hands from the capacity audience of eighty or so from those who had witnessed it. To my surprise, every hand in the room went up – except mine. Was everybody else in the room lying, or suffering from delusions? I have no right to allege that. I also have to admit that the more evidence such as that recently made known in the books mentioned above, the more possible it seems that yes, the departed do occasionally return.
Even so, there will be those who share the view of the fellow who memorably declared, in a similar context:
‘I wouldn’t believe that even if it was true.’
GUY LYON PLAYFAIR was born in India and educated in England, obtaining a degree in modern languages from Cambridge University. He then spent many years in Brazil as a freelance journalist for The Economist, Time, and the Associated Press, also working for four years in the press section of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The first of his twelve books, The Flying Cow, in which he described his experiences investigating the psychic side of Brazil, was translated into six languages and became an international best seller. His most recent book is Twin Telepathy. He now lives in London and is a council member of the Society for Psychical Research.
His books include:
If This Be Magic: The Forgotten Power of Hypnosis
The Flying Cow: Exploring the Psychic World of Brazil
This House is Haunted
Guy, Long gone are the days we knew each other in Rio, but memories remain. All the best, Lennox
lennox Raphael, Thu 21 May, 20:34
Guy, I am reading your ‘Flying Cow; book at the moment and loving it.
I have read some wonderful books on mediums this year, including a biography of Daniel Dunglas Home, ‘Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife, ‘Voices in the Dark’ by Leslie Flint(which I couldn’t buy but luckily found a pdf online), Estelle Roberts ’ 50 Years a Medium’ and an amazing biography of the materialisation medium Alec Harris by his wife Louie. I have also read several books about Joao de Deus, the latter is because I am receiving distant healing from John of God.
I would love to go to Brazil when well enough and see some of the Spiritist activity for myself, especially Joao de Deus at the Casa de Dom Inacio.
Anyway, Your book deserves to be placed among the above really interesting and enjoyable books and I thank you for writing it.
Michael Allen, Tue 19 May, 18:50
Thanks for this fine blog.
Lennox Raphael, Sun 5 Oct, 18:06
Thank you for your kind comments. It’s always gratifying to hear from a satisfied reader.
G.L.Playfair, Mon 8 Apr, 20:10
Back in 1977 when I was around 15, or 16 I came across your book…with the alternative title of The Unknown Power if I am not mistaken. It blew my mind, and it inspired me into a life long interest in all things psychic, and mystical. I wish to thank you for that..once again. And also, my project may be of interest.
Robert Searle, Mon 25 Mar, 20:59
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