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Hernani Guimarães Andrade 1913-2003. A Centenary Tribute

Posted on 23 October 2013, 10:06

When Hernani (below) founded the Brazilian Institute for Psychobiophysical Research (IBPP in its Brazilian acronym) in 1963, the status of psychical research in his country was much as it had been in England in 1882, when a small group of Spiritualists and Cambridge academics founded the Society for Psychical Research. That is to say, there had hardly been any at all.


There were similarities between the two groups. The SPR founders resolved “to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis”. This is just what they did, and their successors still do, and it is also what Hernani and his small band of friends and acquaintances, all of them Spiritists, set out to do. They were mindful of the fact that Allan Kardec, the French founder of a variant form of Spiritualism which he preferred to call Spiritism, had insisted that it had to be scientific or it would not survive.

There were also differences. The SPR soon attracted several hundred members and is still going strong after 130 years.

The IBPP never had more than a couple of dozen members, and lasted barely twenty years, being disbanded after the retirement of Hernani from his job with the São Paulo state electricity board. Yet in those two decades it carried out an impressive amount of original research, notably into poltergeists and cases suggestive of reincarnation, much of it published in a series of IBPP monographs and in Hernani’s sixteen books, one of which was the first handbook of parapsychology to appear in Portuguese. A few of the monographs were published in English, but it was to be some time before they became widely known outside Brazil.

In the early 1970s they were not even known a couple of hundred miles away in Rio de Janeiro, where I had spent several years as a freelance journalist working for such materialist clients such as The Economist, Time, and the Associated Press, and spending four years in the U.S. Agency for International Development press office.

In those days, Time was owned by hard-line Catholic Henry Luce, and I’m sure he would have been horrified to know that three of his Rio ‘stringers’ or part-time local staff, were well into the local Spiritist scene.

My American colleague David St.Clair wrote up his many first-hand experiences in Drum and Candle (1971), one of the first books to give a detailed and authoritative account of Spiritism in Brazil. Another was by Scottish-Brazilian Pedro McGregor, who had not only published a book entitled The Moon and Two Mountains. The myths, ritual and magic of Brazilian Spiritism (1966), but was also a practicing Spiritist medium who held regular meetings at his own centre. As for me, I had been much impressed by my visits to a ‘psychic surgeon’, which had prompted me to look further into subjects generally dismissed as ‘paranormal’.

Was there anybody in Brazil doing serious research into this kind of thing, I wondered? Pedro said there was a man in São Paulo called Hernani Guimarães Andrade whom he didn’t know personally, but thought he was somebody I should seek out. So did I, but without an address or a phone number, how could I find somebody with a common surname in a huge city with a population of millions?

Suddenly everything happened very quickly. I chanced to come across a book by Hernani which gave the publisher’s address, so I promptly hopped on a bus to São Paulo, found my way to the publisher’s office, and asked an amiable young lady if she could get me in touch with Sr. Andrade. She could, and did immediately, and Hernani invited me to come round to his office, which I did without delay. Half an hour or so later, I knew what I wanted to do, and I did it, abandoning my comfortable and well paid life in Rio and moving to a huge city where I hardly knew anybody, but felt certain that this was where I had to be. In retrospect, it was the best decision I have ever made.

They say that when the pupil is ready, the teacher appears, and they are right in my case. I was more than ready, and Hernani not only appeared but said I would be welcome to join the IBPP.

So I was able to spend the next three years investigating mediums, unorthodox healers, people who remembered past lives, and especially poltergeists of which São Paulo seemed to have a regular supply. Hernani’s institute was entirely financed by its members, all of whom except me had proper jobs, while I was able to survive doing translations.

My time with the IBPP was like an apprenticeship in psychical research supervised by the perfect tutor. Hernani was not only well read in psi literature, including that in English and French, on which he gave regular public lectures, he was also a superb field researcher, able to win the confidence of anybody whatever their age or social class, and as often as not also to persuade them to fill in lengthy questionnaires. These, together with numerous photos and tape recordings, helped to make the IBPP archive (now in the capable hands of its chief compiler, his former secretary and research colleague Suzuko Hashizume) the best source for spontaneous cases in Latin America and one of the best I know of anywhere.

Clearly, I had to write a book, partly to move up a notch from mere journalist to the more respectable author, and partly to bring the recognition I thought that Hernani and his group deserved around the world, and indeed even in his own country – quite a few Brazilians have told me their interest in parapsychology was first aroused by reading the Portuguese translation of The Flying Cow!

The IBPP may have ceased to exist, yet Hernani’s influence endures. In 2013 the status of psi research in Brazil was very different from what it had been before its foundation. The Parapsychological Association now has more Brazilian members than those of any other country outside Europe and the U.S.A. and by holding its 2011 conference in Curitiba, the P.A. put Brazil firmly on the map of centres of psi research. Courses in parapsychology are now available at a number of Brazilian universities, notably São Paulo and Juiz de Fora in addition to Curitiba.

Spiritist mediums have travelled from Brazil to be tested in the U.S.A under strictly scientific conditions. Several Brazilian Spiritist doctors and psychiatrists have attended conferences in London. One, Julio Peres, is the son of IBPP members Ney Prieto and Maria Julia Peres. The centenary of Hernani’s birth was marked at several Spiritist centres in Brazil, while in the town of Bauru (population 350,000), where he went to live after his retirement, there is now a street named Avenida Hernani Guimarães Andrade, perhaps the first to have been named after a psi researcher.

He will be remembered as the founder of parapsychology in Brazil, an active field researcher and laboratory experimentalist, and prolific author of some twenty books and monographs and numerous articles in which he always concentrated on the scientific evidence for the phenomena associated with Spiritism and parapsychology.

Above all, I remember him as a great teacher who became a great friend. He taught me all I know about how to investigate spontaneous cases, and it is entirely thanks to him that I gave up ‘normal’ journalism to concentrate on matters that await explanation. I am proud of the fact that The Flying Cow (1975) was translated into five languages and helped introduce Hernani to those in Europe and elsewhere to whom Brazil was then a faraway land of which they knew practically nothing. I hope that the new revised, enlarged and updated White Crow Books edition (2011) will serve to introduce him to a new generation.

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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