The Defamation of Eusapia Palladino
Posted on 27 February 2017, 10:46
My good friend Michael Schmicker, the author of The Witch of Napoli, a somewhat fictionalized version of the story of Eusapia Palladino, an illiterate Italian medium (1854 – 1918), and I meet with other friends once a month or so over lunch in downtown Honolulu to discuss our projects. While Mike and I are of like-mind on most everything, there is one thing we don’t agree on – whether Eusapia cheated in producing some phenomena.
Mike accepts the historical accounts that say Eusapia was a genuine medium but that she cheated at times when her powers failed her, a theme which Mike advances in his book, now a best-seller at Amazon. I argue, however, that there is no solid evidence that the acts taken by researchers to be cheating were consciously carried out by Eusapia. I point to the research of those scientists and scholars who observed her the most and claim that the so-called cheating was not conscious on her part, therefore not cheating, per se. That is, she was in a trance state and controlled by spirit entities, who at times used her arms and legs to produce some phenomenon. At other times, ectoplasmic arms and legs were formed and observers assumed they were Eusapia’s limbs. Mike seems to agree that there were unconscious movements in the trance state, but he also believes that Eusapia consciously cheated at times when her powers failed her. I do not deny that possibility, but I do not accept it as fact, as Mike does.
Sir Oliver Lodge, a renowned British physicist and electricity pioneer, studied Eusapia with Dr. Charles Richet, the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, and two other researchers at Richet’s private retreat on Ribaud Island in the Mediterranean during 1894. He wrote that she resented the charges of fraud and that he was willing to give her the benefit or the doubt, so far as morals of deception were concerned, referring to her as a kindly soul with many of the instincts of a peasant. “She wanted us to understand that it was not conscious deception, but that her control (called John King) took whatever means available, and if he found an easy way of doing things, thus would it be done,” Lodge explained.
“Even if there were no other medium than Eusapia in the world, her manifestations would suffice to establish scientifically the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasmic forms,” wrote Richet, who had more than 200 sittings with Eusapia. He reported that ectoplasmic arms and hands emerged from the body of Eusapia and did what they wished, independent of Eusapia’s will, as she had vacated the body while in trance. While Richet refused to believe in spirits, at least publicly, he referred to a “quasi-identity” between the medium and the ectoplasm that might give “the push that he (King?) hopes will start the phenomena.”
Professor Filippo Bottazzi, who held the chair of physiology at the University of Naples, studied Eusapia on a number of occasions and concluded that “during our sessions neither fraud nor cheating ever occurred. I can affirm this with certainty, solemnly, also on behalf of other participants. Although we all differ with regard to studies, temperament, and age, nevertheless we all agreed and were convinced that the phenomena we had observed were never the product of fraud. They were true phenomena, however mysterious and elusive in their nature.” Bottazzi admitted that there were things happening outside the bounds of scientific observation and that some observers might have assumed that fraud was the only explanation, thereby giving rise to the claims that Eusapia sometimes cheated.
The subject came up again at our latest lunch and another friend joined in to support Mike, saying that he found it difficult to believe that the controlling spirits would be so devious as to make Eusapia appear to be a cheater. I countered that there is evidence suggesting that such spirits don’t fully grasp what is happening on our side of the veil. For example, the discarnate Frederic Myers communicated that he didn’t know how his thoughts were coming through the medium, whether by automatic writing or through her voice. All he knew was that he was projecting thoughts that somehow were turned into words as they passed through the medium to the sitter.
After my recent debate with Mike, I had a dream. The year was 2028, the location being the lower regions of Purgatory, otherwise known as “Stuporland.” Unlike souls below them who are completely earthbound and even unaware that they have “died,” souls in Stuporland drift in and out of consciousness, realizing at times they have died and at other times thinking they are still alive in the flesh. The soul known as Michael Schmicker while incarnate had recently arrived and had been floundering somewhat in a confused state. I had graduated some years before Mike and was there to greet him on his arrival. Here is the conversation that took place:
Mike S. “Who are you?”
Mike T. “Don’t you remember me, Mike? You knew me as Mike Tymn.”
Mike S. “But I thought you died five or six years ago. And you look so much younger than the Mike Tymn I knew.”
Mike T. “Yes, I ‘died,’ as you call it, and so have you. The reason I look younger is that I have evolved back to my prime years.”
Mike S. “Oh! I know we talked about that, but I guess I never really absorbed it. Wow! I’m really dead?”
Mike T. “Yes, you are. You died a few days ago and are still awakening.”
Mike S. “Wow! Wow!”
Mike T. “It’ll become clearer to you as you awaken.”
Mike S. “How long does that usually take?”
Mike T. “As we often discussed, Mike, time is different on this side, but in earth time it can be a few days or even years. I can see from your energy field that you lived a good life and that means you should fully awaken shortly. However, I do see a dark obstruction in your field that might delay things just a bit.”
Mike S. What’s that? You’re not talking about the library book I forgot to return, are you?”
Mike T. “No, I’m referring to your having called Eusapia a cheater. You announced it to the world in one of your books.”
Mike S. “Is that why I seem to be experiencing a nightmare here, continually hearing ‘Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!’ over and over again?”
Mike T. “Yes, as you drift in and out of consciousness, you sometimes take on the identity of Eusapia and are now experiencing the woe that she experienced from your libellous and slanderous remarks.”
Mike S. “But everything I read indicated that she did cheat.”
Mike T. “Don’t you remember that we discussed this at Murphy’s over lunch? I explained that the best observers questioned whether she was really cheating and believed that in the trance state the spirit controls were merely doing what was expected of them in carrying out certain phenomena. These were primarily low-level spirits and didn’t really realize that they were making her appear to be cheating.”
Mike S. “Are you telling me that is what actually happened?”
Mike T. “Yes, that is what I have verified as fact since being here.”
Mike S. “But how could you be so certain back then?”
Mike T. “I wasn’t certain then, but when we don’t know things for sure, we need to be open-minded and not make hasty judgments that defame a person. Like Lodge, Richet, Bottazzi, and even Professor James Hyslop, who probably understood the trance state better than anybody else, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. You sort of laughed it off and pretended to know more than the distinguished men who studied her under strictly controlled conditions.”
Mike S. “What’s the big deal? She was already dead when I called her a cheater.”
Mike T. “Death does not exist. She was very much alive and suffered greatly by your remarks and those of others. Defaming what you call a ‘dead’ person is no different than defaming what you call a ‘live’ person. The hurt is much the same. More than that, though, you misled others and retarded them in their attempts to understand.”
Mike S. “Oh, I didn’t realize that.”
Mike T. “I tried to get that over to you when you were in the unreal life, but pride and ego got in the way. They are now responsible for those bad dreams you are having in which you become Eusapia.”
Mike S. “Is there any way to stop them?”
Mike T. “I am going to try to persuade Eusapia to come down here so that you can apologize to her. I’ll be back.”
Mike S. “You mean she is still around?”
Mike T. “She’s at a much higher vibration than we are here, but she can drop down here for a short period. It’s sort of like trying to hold your breath under water when you were in the earth life. I don’t think she can stay long.”
Mike S. “At what level are you?”
Mike T. “Between this vibration and the one Eusapia is at. Because of that I can hold my breath down here somewhat longer than she can. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.”
Mike S. “You seemed to be a pretty righteous guy when I knew you. What kept you from advancing to Eusapia’s level?”
Mike T. “I rented a Blockbuster video one time and let a friend borrow it after I saw it. I cheated the system – two for the price of one. That cost me.”
Mike T. “Mike, I’m back.”
Mike S. “Great, but Eusapia has already paid me a visit and said she was not offended by my cheating allegations. We had a great talk.”
Mike T. “Sorry to inform you, Mike, but that was not Eusapia. That was an impostor spirit trying to mislead you into thinking what you did is OK. You know the old saying, ‘what goes around, comes around’.”
Mike S. “Really? So is the real Eusapia going to visit me?”
Mike T. “Not right now. The Chief says you still have some purging to do, but you can shorten your time in Stuporland by returning to the earth life and making it known to your readers that there was absolutely no good evidence that Eusapia was a cheater. That should get you up to Summerland by tomorrow.”
Mike S. “How can I possibly do that from here?”
Mike T. “As I said, Mike, time is different here, so it has been arranged for you to go back to 2017 and make it clear to your many fans that Eusapia was a good woman and not a cheater.”
At this point in my dream I woke up and so I don’t know what happened after that.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: March 13
Many thanks for sharing your trance experiences. I hope Claudio’s daughter will consider them when she writes her thesis. Then again, she’ll probably get a non-passing grade if she suggests that spirits were involved.
Based on MP’s comment, I apparently flunked Fiction Writing 101, as my tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor seems to have been taken somewhat seriously. I’d better stick with non-fiction.
Michael Tymn, Wed 15 Mar, 10:57
Mike, I’m glad to let you know that my daughter Lydia is writing a thesis on Eusapia for her PhD in Phylosophy that’s due for the next Fall.She too thinks that Eusapia was genuine, but also that she used to cheat sometimes.
Claudio, Wed 15 Mar, 09:39
I’m not a big fan of the “just wait till you cross over and the spirits get hold of you” line of argument. Even when used in jest, it strikes me as a veiled attempt at bullying and intimidation.
I find it highly unlikely that Mr. Schmicker would be sentenced to a spell of darkness because he honestly articulated an opinion based on diligent research. But the real problem with this tactic is that it can be used against anyone, for any reason. I could pretend to foresee a future in which the discarnate Michael Tymn is plagued by the ghosts of honest, well-meaning skeptics (there are some) or mocked by low-level entities that deceived him on earth with their disinformation.
When I criticized David Thompson’s alleged mediumship, one of his champions predicted that I would face a difficult prospect after crossing over because the spirits who materialized through Thompson were waiting to beat me up! I pictured a gang of toughs in black leather jackets hanging out at a celestial street corner with brass knuckles in their pockets. With a nod to Pulp Fiction, we are really going to “get medieval” if we start thinking like this.
If an honest but unflattering assessment of the evidence is equivalent to defamation, then the only option is to believe everything uncritically. One would hope that the spirits (if there are such) would be more unhappy with us for exorcising our critical faculties than for exercising them.
Michael Prescott, Wed 15 Mar, 00:08
I’d like to add to my last comment, too.
Jane Katra, Mon 13 Mar, 21:53
I appreciate your writings, Michael Schmicker.
Thanks for contributing to thoughtful informed conversation about psychic phenomena!
I’m grateful that you judged me positively….but you, as an author who never talked to me, might not have….You could have easily made my life much harder than it is. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, as I do for Eusapia.
I think we can report about what people observed in the past, and report phenomena that occurred, but not about peoples’ motives, unless you happen to be a validated super-psychic with great power of retrocognition. We will never know about whether or not the personality of Eusapia cheated….And I think that’s what should be written.
Thanks for your very thoughtful piece, Mike, as always. I write here as a parapsychologist, past professor of public health, and present day healing medium.
Jane Katra, Ph.D., Mon 13 Mar, 20:01
I participate in healing interactions that sometimes involve spirits taking over my body and having me say and do things that the personality of Jane would be too reticent to do….My mood becomes very high, people say I look and sound like a different person, and I blurt out information that Jane would deem way too personal to say in public….Sometimes I grab people and hold them close and give them long healing hugs, wherein love energy flows out of my heart. Afterwards I am a bit embarrassed about what I said or did when people report back to me. Onlookers think I was being overtly sexual. The recipients love the healing hugs, and they are in deep gratitude.
Additionally, in Stewart Alexander’s book, he gives a very good explanation of why he won’t allow filming of the ectoplasm that flows from his body. Stewart has no idea what sort of apports will appear, or what ectoplastic forms will appear, or whom they will touch. No matter what an honest, well-intentioned but imperfect medium does, there are always people who will trash the medium. It makes the life of the medium and his or her family relations very difficult.
A person must be committed to service to humanity, and in Eusapia’s case, to science, to continue to do the mediumship. Many researchers have never experienced such being of service to others in their lifetime. It’s highly risky.
I give my vote to Eusapia and Mike Tymn, in hopes that some budding medium today will offer him or herself to humanity, despite knowing that when they are in an altered state, phenomena will occur about which he or she is unaware, can’t control, does not even remember after-the-fact, and about which their integrity will be publicly trashed by ANY person of any level of integrity or understanding at all, including expert parapsychologists and authors, even a hundred years after the phenomena happened, whose reputations and life incomes are made possible by the very people they criticize. It’s so very much easier to be an intelligent critical academic than a medium.
Jane Katra, Ph.D.
Let me add to my last comment. I say it is a toss of the coin on whether Eusapia consciously cheated, or that there is a 50 percent chance she did and 50 percent chance she didn’t. That falls far below the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard and falls short of the “preponderance of evidence” standard.
Michael Tymn, Sat 4 Mar, 20:02
For the record, it should be noted that in considering the comments made by Michael Schmicker, we again return to the fact that some researchers, including Richet, Maxwell, and Carrington, the latter in his earlier years, did not accept the spirit hypothesis or even survival. All accepted Eusapia’s phenomena as genuine but not resulting from spirit possession. As noted above, Richet labeled it a “quasi-identity,” but to protect his reputation as a scientist would go no further.
In effect, they all said that Eusapia’s body occasionally carried out the cheating, but since they wouldn’t admit to spirit control they had no choice but to say that “Eusapia did it.” Carrington came around much later in his career, but not at the time he was investigating Eusapia.
Michael Tymn, Sat 4 Mar, 19:44
The issue is not whether Eusapia’s body carried out the cheating but whether her conscious self carried it out. If it is accepted that her conscious self vacated her body in the trance state and that her body was controlled by John King or another discarnate, it becomes much more clear that there was no conscious fraud on Eusapia’s part, or at least there is no solid evidence of such cheating. Again, I say, there might have been, but if this were a criminal court the evidence does not meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard and Eusapia is exonerated of all charges.
Aloha all! Mike Schmicker here. Really enjoy all of your comments.
I do want, however, to make sure you all don’t think I came to my position that Eusapia deliberately committed fraud at times without being able to cite some support for my position. If Eusapia ever came back to earth and sued me for defamation, I would bring to the trial two points in my defense that I made to my good friend Mike Tymn when we debated this subject.
Comment one: Hereward Carrington, whom I believe was a fairly strong supporter of Palladino, declared that Eusapia deliberately use trickery when she could. In his book “Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena”, page 54, Carrington states: “It has always been well know that if Eusapia were allowed to trick her sitters, she would do so.” On the next page (page 55), he says “This has been our own experience also. We noted in our own séances that when Eusapia resorted to fraud, as she did occasionally…” To me, both are pretty clear, straightforward statements. There are no qualifiers offered up, no mention/suggestion of any exculpatory explanation (e.g. unconscious fraud or playful spirits). In Carrington’s opinion, Eusapia resorted to fraud. I don’t see how we can read these words any other way, without resorting to some exceptional verbal gymnastics.
Comment two: In his book Metaphysical Phenomena: Methods and Observations”, author Joseph Maxwell defends the possible reality of some of Eusapia’s phenomena. But he also quote Charles Richet himself as declaring Eusapia practiced fraud at times. On page 412, Maxwell writes: “As Richet says, the Cambridge experiments prove only one thing, which is, that in that particular series of séances, Eusapia frauded with her well-known methods, but it is rash to conclude thereupon that she has always frauded.” He then footnotes the original French quote from Richet himself: “ A Cambridge Eusapia pendent une serie des séances a fraude avec ses precedes connus.” I’m not a French expert, but based on my four years of school French and a summer spent working in France in 1968, I conclude Maxwell translated Richet correctly: Eusapia (subject) committed fraud (a fraude – did fraud). Occam’s Razor suggests we take Richet’s comment as face value—that Richet in writing declared Eusapia herself committed fraud at times, using some tricks Eusapia used that were well known (precedes connus). Again, Richet did not offer up exculpatory explanations like subconscious fraud or spirit agency. He could have— and should have if he truly believed she was innocent of fraud on account of those other possible explanations. But he didn’t.
In my humble opinion, both Carrington and Richet’s comments are clear – Eusapia practiced deliberate fraud at times (though both says she also performed some real PK feats—a conclusion I share.)
Mike and I disagree on how to interpret these two comments, but I would be happy to have a jury decide between us. ☺
Michael Schmicker, Fri 3 Mar, 21:09
I’m not a lawyer and can’t tell you what your legal rights are as a medium. As I understand it, however, people who voluntarily place themselves in the public eye, whether as politicians or performers of one kind or another, have a more difficult time in pursuing legal action against those who defame them. I suspect that the burden would shift to you to prove that you are real deal. No doubt a lot of legal expense would be involved one way or the other.
One can doubt, but when that doubt turns to maliciousness and is expressed to others, then I think the doubt becomes defamation. But then we also get into the opinion vs. fact issue.
I do believe that one of the reasons we don’t have the trance and direct-voice mediumship of old is that so many genuine mediums were defamed by know-nothings that the Spirit World decided they’d best pull back.
Michael Tymn, Fri 3 Mar, 01:43
Yes, “Best Evidence” by Michael Schmicker is an excellent book and has even been used in some college classes. Mike also co-authored “The Gift” with Sally Feather-Rhine. Were it not for his disparaging remarks about Eusapia and his failure to return that library book, he might be a candidate for sainthood.
Incidentally, the quote you offered seems to support the idea that any “cheating” was unconscious cheating, as one might infer from that quote that her conscious self did not want to cheat. Again, however, there is the question of whether Eusapia said that or John King said that.
Michael Tymn, Tue 28 Feb, 22:59
As I mentioned, many of the researchers said “Euasapia said…” or “Eusapia did…” when she was in trance and her body supposedly under the control of John King or other spirit entities.
I agree, Keith. It’s a good book.
Jon, Tue 28 Feb, 15:07
For anyone now having doubts about Michael Schmicker as a consequence of this blog article, can I recommend his earlier book ‘Best Evidence’ which I thought was one of the most impressive sources of evidence for survival that I ever read, and it has become a classic since it first appeared. Available on Amazon.
Keith P in England, Tue 28 Feb, 14:57
I think “faction” is good, because many people like to read stories. I’m sure people have and will become aware of Eusapia as a result of Michael’s book, and consequently some will investigate further. I imagine that was his intention.
Jon, Tue 28 Feb, 12:44
Aloha Keith: Be careful. Suggestiions like that might land you in Stupirland with me. 😀 All joking aside, I do seem to recall reading something similar when I was researching Eusapia. Cheers
Mike Schmicker, Tue 28 Feb, 04:10
Very interesting. I, like you, prefer to go w/verified facts.
Too much fiction floats thru the internet on so many subjects
H. Stanley Jones, Tue 28 Feb, 03:47
I am sorry to say but I think that “somewhat fictionalized” stories about real people are perhaps the worst kind of misinformation there is because people who know nothing about the real person being ‘fictionalized’ will tend to believe everything that is written about the person including those parts that are fiction. And. probably the majority of people who read this Amazon best seller know little or nothing about Eusapia Palladino or those who do know something might think that they are getting more detail about her. Before long, quotes from the book begin to show up all over the internet as if they were factual.
Since I haven’t read the book it may be that the fictional parts of the story were identified somewhere in it. That would be a help.
I don’t know Michael Schmicker, haven’t read his book and I wish him no ill: if he is a good friend of Tymn’s then he must be an honest man. I just think it may have been less confusing to people and less confounding of the real evidence of the paranormal that exists if no reference to Eusapia Palladino had been made in the book at all and if it had been presented as a novel of fiction only. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 27 Feb, 22:44
Mike: Fun piece! Many thanks for the plug for my book. While we continue to agree to disagree, I do hope that both of us eventually have the pleasure of meeting the celebrated Eusapia in the afterlife. She was a fascinating character!
Michael Schmicker, Mon 27 Feb, 18:52
It’s important to remember that the researchers often recorded it as “Euaapia says…” or “Eusapia did..” when it was really John King, her spirit control who said it or did it. It would have been admitting that spirits were involved to put it that way and no scientist, at least one subscribing to a materialistic/reductionistic world view would have admitted that a spirit was controlling the actions of Eusapia’s body. Thus, it was not all “hearsay,” per say, but also involved a rejection of the spirit hypothesis.
Michael Tymn, Mon 27 Feb, 16:56
For what it is worth, my opinion is that spirits, once freed from the fear of death might have a more light-hearted attitude about everything. Wouldn’t it be great fun to toy with those poor earthlings making them think that they were communicating with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra or some other renowned personality when it was really ‘Joe Blow’ who was communicating and what fun to manipulate a ‘medium’ on earth to say and do things that might invite criticism just to pinch and poke the medium a bit, so to speak. It doesn’t have to be a low level spirit to do this; just any ol’ happy-go-lucky spirit in a happy mood will do. Spirits might have a tendency to want to please and if one wants to speak to ‘Aunt Margaret’ then some obliging spirit with perform as ‘Aunt Margaret’ for you.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 27 Feb, 15:59
All of these criticisms of mediums have to be taken with ‘a grain of salt’ and one must look at a compendium of all of the reports of spirit communication in its many forms, over time—-meaning at least a period of a couple hundred of years or so—- until it finally dawns that there is way too much evidence to disregard. Something is happening out there. Whether it is spirit communication or something else, that is our challenge as we try to learn what this existence is really all about. -AOD
I hope that Schmicker, being your good friend and all, gets a kick out of your dream dialogue. Very creative!
I guess that I would tend to believe people like Richet who reportedly had 200 sittings with the living Eusapia Palladino rather than a modern day writer who wrote a somewhat fictionalized version of ‘the witch of Napoli’ almost 100 years after her death. It used to be that people did not speak ill of the dead. Now I know that that is not always possible when we try to figure things out about mediums of the past but in today’s terms, fake information and personal opinions about mediums only contribute to this current great ‘Age of Misinformation’. Before long I suppose we will be living in another “dark age” when nobody really knows anything that is true about anything. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 27 Feb, 15:35
That was a fun piece Mike. It jogged my memory of stuff I’ve read about Eusapia. Unfortunately I cannot quote where I read this, but I recall she once said something like, “Quick, hold my hands, I’m going to cheat!”
Keith P in England, Mon 27 Feb, 12:01
Add your comment