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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
Twin Telepathy

                                                                                                                                     


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Happy New Year Enfield, from the DDC

Posted on 13 February 2013, 21:57

The latest issue (1- 2013) of the excellent Ghost Club Journal contains an interesting piece from club chairman Alan Murdie, who also chairs the Spontaneous Case Committee of the Society for Psychical Research, which records unusual experiences published in the press or sent in by members of the public, and generally tries to keep up to date with ghostly goings-on around the world. Naturally these include poltergeists, which are reported quite regularly – as I write there is a particularly persistent and destructive one at work in the Turkish town of Siirte, and there have been well reported recent cases from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Malaysia and Vietnam. (More about some of them below).

The Enfield case continues to be remembered after 35 years, though not always as I would prefer it to be. On January 1st 2013, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme included a five-minute slot on it, in which two members of our committee, Alan Murdie and James Tacchi, were invited to take part and were interviewed at length. As Alan reveals, his contribution was ‘edited down by about 95%, including all comments made about paranormal phenomena’, while that of James was edited out altogether, as was that of poltergeist witness Gianna De Salvo. So what was left?

Not much of any value. The reporter did manage to dig out some of the original BBC radio coverage by Rosalind Morris, who put together an excellent piece of reporting on The World This Weekend after spending much of the previous night on site and witnessing a good deal of inexplicable activity, as I describe in This House is Haunted. We heard a few seconds of this, and snatches of what might have been some interesting comments from local residents who remembered the case well, if they had been allowed to describe them in any detail. We also had some typically tendentious BBC agitprop about how those living in modest conditions (i.e. working class people living on benefits) are more inclined to imagine they are having ‘supernatural’ experiences, the implicit assumption being that these cannot possibly be genuine, such imaginings being the consequence of their difficult economic circumstances, a theory Murdie rightly dismisses as worthless since it cannot be falsified.

For reasons known only to themselves, the producers never thought of contacting anybody who was actually there, who could have provided plenty of first-hand testimony. Rosalind Morris, for example, is still alive and well, and as bright as ever as she showed in a recent Channel 4 documentary. They never contacted me either, of course, and in retrospect I’m very glad they didn’t.

This being the BBC, or as I shall think of it from now on, the DDC (Dumb-Down Corporation) the whole piece had to be smothered with background music provided on this occasion by something called Black Sabbath, which I hope never to hear any more of. As Alan Murdie aptly noted, ‘It was only ghosts and poltergeists at issue, but it does make you wonder what else gets distorted on this programme, which prides itself as a flagship of radio news reporting for the BBC.’

To turn to more positive matters, the Vietnamese and Turkish cases mentioned above had much in common with the widely reported 1982 case of Carole Compton, in which I was indirectly involved as described in her book (with Gerald Cole) Superstition. The True Story of the Nanny they Called a Witch (1990). She unwittingly became the focus of outbreaks of fire – a common feature of poltergeist cases – and ended up in an Italian prison without trial, eventually being convicted on two counts of arson and sentenced to two and a half years, but luckily was released in view of having spent more than half that time in detention. During that time she became pilloried as a witch by the Italian press, some of which seemed to be still living in the sixteenth century.

In nominally communist Vietnam and secular Turkey, by contrast, although considerably more fire damage was done in each case – the unfortunate Turkish family having practically all their clothes and bed linen burned - local universities in both countries expressed interest in investigating the two teenagers concerned and even set up special committees for that purpose. This has never happened, to my knowledge, in supposedly advanced Europe. As I said in my previous blog, our authorities take no notice of such evidence as we have been able to record, such as the anomalous acoustic signatures of poltergeist raps or the equally anomalous bass voice produced by the Enfield girls.

Another clue likely to be ignored by the ‘experts’ is clearly seen on the piles of destroyed clothing from the Turkish house. The burn marks are curiously similar to those some of us made when we found we could set pieces of paper on fire by focusing the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass. I have seen identical circular burns on one of the Brazilian cases I investigated and described in The Flying Cow. Just what kind of energy is being focused on poltergeist cases, and how, I have no idea. Yet this, like the other evidence mentioned above, is a clue to the eventual solution of the poltergeist mystery. Let’s hope those Turkish and Vietnamese scientists show more interest in those other clues that we have been able to observe and record instrumentally than has yet been shown elsewhere.

Let’s also hope they make their findings public. You can be sure you’ll never hear them mentioned on the DDC.

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
Twin Telepathy


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The Role of Affinities and the Group-Soul by Anabela Cardoso – Affinities seem to play an important role in the next world. We have touched on the subject in a previous chapter and I have discussed it in earlier publications (Cardoso, 2010, 2003). Indeed, the meaning and importance of the Group-Soul described in the mediumistic literature, e.g. the information received purportedly from the deceased Frederic Myers by Geraldine Cummins (Cummins, 2012), have been emphasized in my own contacts. Read here
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