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Was Eva C a medium or a fake?

Posted on 13 May 2019, 8:19

If you put the name “Marthe Béraud” (also known as Eva Carrière or just Eva C) into an Internet search, the chances are that the first thing to pop up will be a Wikipedia entry,  and you’ll read that she was nothing more than a fraudulent “psychic.”  If, however, you go on to the second selection, the PSI Encyclopedia, sponsored by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), you’ll get a much more complete history on her, one that offers objective reports and from which you might accept that she was a true materialization medium, even if not a particularly strong one.

The Wikipedia “bio”  begins by saying Béraud (hereinafter “Eva”) was born in France in 1886 and was a prominent spiritualist and a psychic.  The biographer does not explain in what way she was “prominent,” if she was in fact involved in the Spiritualist movement, which I doubt.  One might infer that the biographer does not know the difference between a psychic and a medium or between a spiritualist and a Spiritualist (with a capital “S”). 

The biographer goes on to say that Eva (below) claimed to materialize a spirit called Bien Boa, a 300-year-old Brahmin Hindu, in 1905, when living with her father, a French officer, in Algiers. The biographer does mention that Professor Charles Richet, a physiologist, was present at “other sittings” and that he reported that Boa moved around the room and touched him.  However, the article goes on to say that a newspaper revealed Boa to be a hoax and that a photograph revealed Boa was a man dressed up in cloak, helmet and beard.  A newspaper revealed and a photograph revealed?  So much for scientific reporting. As if it is factual or relevant, the bio goes on to say that Eva had a sexual relationship with her elder, Juliette Bisson, with whom she performed during her seances.

The 22 references listed for the Wikipedia bio appear to be mostly, if not all, second-, third- and fourth-hand reports by “skeptics” who never observed Eva C.  Some of the “authorities” cited weren’t even born at the time Eva was being studied by a number of scientists.  Interestingly, the reports and books by the three scientists who studied her the most – Richet, a professor of medicine at the University of Paris and the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Gustave Geley, a French physician and Laureate of the French Medical Faculty at the University of Lyons, and Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, a German neurologist – are not listed among the 22 references. 

The well-researched SPR entry on Eva is authored by Benjamin Steigmann and extends to about 12,300 words. It appears to touch all bases, and the primary references are the three scientists who studied her the most, all three being convinced that she was a genuine medium. 

Over a four-year period (1909-1913), Schrenck-Notzing carried out 180 experiments with Eva.  His controls were so strict that he required an examination of all cavities of her body, including the rectum and vagina, to rule out anything being smuggled into the laboratory room.  “The productions of Eva C. are undoubtedly genuine, and only a malicious prejudice could doubt the reality of the occurrences,” declared Schrenck-Notzing, who studied a number of other mediums over a 40-year period. It might be kept in mind that Schrenck-Notzing was not a Spiritualist, Spiritist, or even a spiritualist.  In fact, he was a materialist and believed the spirit hypothesis was “unscientific.”  As he saw it, the phenomena all originated in Eva’s subconscious mind.  However, according to one reference, Dr. Gerda Walther, his assistant, Schrenck-Notzing did not entirely exclude the spiritualistic theory.

Schrenck-Notzing reported that materializations usually liquified or evaporated when exposed to too much light or touch. “The mysterious intelligence, which appears to be concerned in this prepatory work, evidently wishes to make face and head types optically visible, but requires a certain time for doing so, which may amount to as much as an hour,” he wrote in his 1923 book, Phenomena of Materialization, further noting that the materialized hands produce by or through Eva sometimes showed no signs of life and at other times showed their living character by grasping objects held out to them, even digging their nails into the skin of his hands.  Since he didn’t believe in spirits, it is not entirely clear what he had in mind as the “mysterious intelligence.”

Richet and Geley collaborated in their study of the young French woman.  Richet explained that the ectoplasm exuded by Eva, usually came from her mouth but at other times from the top of her head, from her nipples and the ends of her fingers, and was initially invisible. “Then one observes a whitish steam taking the shape of gauze or muslin, in which a hand or arm develops, gains consistency, then moves,” he added.

“I shall not waste time in stating the absurdities, almost the impossibilities, from a psycho-physiological point of view, of this phenomena,” Richet wrote of the many materializations he witnessed, with both Eva and other mediums. “A living being, or living matter, formed under our eyes, which has its proper warmth, apparently a circulation of blood, and a physiological respiration (as I proved by causing the form of Bien Boa (below) to breathe into a flask containing baryta water), which has also a kind of psychic personality, having a will distinct from the will of the medium, in a word, a new human being! This is surely the climax of marvels!  Nevertheless it is a fact.”


Richet,  who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substance, explained that a kind of liquid or pasty jelly emerged from the mouth or the breast of Eva and organized itself by degrees.  The materializations were usually gradual, beginning with a rudimentary shape and complete forms and human faces only appearing later on.  “At first these formations are often very imperfect,” he explained.  “Sometimes they show no relief, looking more like flat images than bodies, so that in spite of oneself one is inclined to imagine some fraud, since what appear seems to be the materialization of a semblance, and not of a being.  But in some cases, the materialization is perfect.” 

As for Bien Boa, Richet was absolutely certain that no fraud was involved – no servant acting like a spirit, no trap doors, no hallucination, no hypnotism, no trick of any kind.  “No legerdemain can produce a living hand that melts in the hand that holds it,” he wrote, further mentioning that he saw the arm of Bien Boa take form from the ectoplasm coming from Eva’s mouth and shoulders.  “I have seen the form of Bien Boa disappear into the floor under my eyes, but a visual sensation is not nearly so certain as a tactile one.”  Moreover, he observed Bien Boa five or six times, not just once.  But like Schrenck-Notzing, Richet subscribed to the subconscious mind theory, rather than spirits, although indications are that such was his public and “scientific” position and not his private one, at least later in life. 

The very hokey nature of most of the materializations, as seen in various photographs, lend themselves to fraud, until one asks him- or herself why a charlatan would think that such bizarre manifestations, especially those that appear like cardboard cutouts, would fool anybody.  As Richet and Geley came to understand it, the fact that nearly all the forms and objects produced by or through Eva were crude, rudimentary, fragmentary, amorphous or defective in one way or another did not suggest fraud.  Quite the contrary, they served as evidence, Geley declared, of her good faith.  “How should the medium, ignorant as she was of natural science, have conceived the idea of simulating a rudiment?” he asked, going on to mention that he had seen in certain cases a face appear flat, and then become three dimensional, entirely or partially.

“The most remarkable materializations which I have myself observed are those produced by Eva in my laboratory during three consecutive months of the winter of 1917-1918,” Geley reported. “In the bi-weekly séances in collaboration with Madame Bisson, the Medical Inspector General M. Calmette, M Jules Courtier, and M. LeCour, we obtained a series of records of the greatest interest.  We saw, touched, and photographed representations of heads and faces formed from the original substance (ectoplasm).  These were formed under our eyes, the curtains being half-drawn.  Sometimes they proceeded from a cord of solid substance issuing from the medium, sometimes they were progressively developed in a fog of vaporous substance condensed in front of her, or at her side.”

Geley stressed that the experiments were carried out under strict controls, the curtain necessary to protect the ectoplasm from damaging light.  They were held in his Paris laboratory, to which no one was permitted beforehand.  Eva was completely undressed in his presence and then dressed in a tight garment, which was sewn up the back and at the wrists.  Her hair and the cavity of her mouth were examined by both himself and his collaborators before and after the séances.  Eva was walked backwards to the wicker chair in the cabinet and her hands were always held in full sight outside the curtains, the room always quite well lighted the whole time.  “I do not say merely, ‘There was no trickery,’ I say ‘There was no possibility of trickery,” Geley stated.  “Nearly all the materializations took place under my own eyes, and I have observed the whole of their genesis and development.”

Geley added that the better materialized the forms were, the more power of self-direction they seemed to have.  “They evolved round Eva, sometimes at some distance from her,” he continued.  “One of these faces appeared first at the opening of the curtain, of natural size, very beautiful and with a remarkably life-like appearance.  At another séance, through the curtain of the cabinet, I could feel with my hands the contact of human body which caused the curtain to undulate. (Eva was stretched out in the arm-chair, in full sight, and her hands were held.).”

While both Schrenck-Notzing and Richet (below) publicly rejected the spirit hypothesis, Geley came to accept it, if not totally at the time he studied Eva, after his study of Polish medium Franek Kluski and other mediums who produced similar materializations. “The lights, the touches, the apparitions of faces – all showed a directing intelligence which seemed conscious and autonomous,” he concluded, agreeing with Dr. William Crawford, an Irish researcher who initially rejected the spirit hypothesis and then came to accept it.  “The mouldings (below) showed obvious collaboration between the operating entities (whatever they may be) and ourselves.  For instance, the mould of a foot was given at our request.  Similarly it was on my demand that I afterwards received at Warsaw the moulds of a hand and forearm up to the elbow, free from any of the defects previously mentioned.”



Geley’s more detailed explanation and those of other researchers accepting the spirit hypothesis seem to suggest that while the “entities” or spirits were attempting to project images into the ectoplasm by thought, their ability to do so was limited by the power of the mediums as well as by their own power of projection. The latter has been likened to asking a human to draw a picture of him- or herself.  A few will look like the person, but most will resemble cartoon characters or scarecrows.

Sadly, all that is likely a bit too much for the so-called skeptics to grasp. 

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:  May 27

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