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Palladino, Eusapia

Category: Ill or disabled


Eusapia Palladino (alternate spelling: Paladino; 21st January 1854 – 16th May 1918) was an Italian medium. 

She was born into a peasant family in Minervino Murge, Bari Province, Italy and received little, if any, formal education.

Her mother died at her birth, and her father when she was twelve years old. 

The History of Spiritualism – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  CHAPTER XV - THE CAREER OF EUSAPIA  PALLADINO

The mediumship of Eusapia Palladino marks an important stage in the history of psychical research, because she was the first medium for physical phenomena to be examined by a large number of eminent men of science. The chief manifestations that occurred with her were the movement of objects without contact, the levitation of a table and other objects, the levitation of the medium, the appearance of materialized hands and faces, lights, and the playing of musical instruments without human contact. ….. Needless to say these experimenters were at first sceptical in the highest degree, and so-called " tests " (those often silly precautions which may defeat the very object aimed at) were the order of the day. No medium in the whole world has been more rigidly tested than this one, and since she was able to convince the vast majority of her sitters, it is clear that her mediumship was of no ordinary type.

It is little use pointing out that no psychic researcher should be admitted to the seance room without at least some elementary knowledge of the complexities of mediumship and the right conditions for its unfoldment [sic], or without, for instance, an understanding of the basic truth that it is not the medium alone, but the sitters equally, who are factors in the success of the experiment. Not one scientific man in a thousand recognizes this, and the fact that Eusapia triumphed in spite of such a tremendous handicap is an eloquent tribute to her powers.

with Henry Sidgwick, photo by Evelyn Myers

The source of her powers

Eusapia had a peculiar depression of her parietal bone, due, it is said, to some accident in her childhood. 

The parietal bones  are two bones in the human skull which, when joined together, form the sides and roof of the cranium. Each bone is roughly quadrilateral in form, and has two surfaces, four borders, and four angles.  In essence Eusapia had brain damage

It is interesting that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has this to say about brain damage:

The History of Spiritualism – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - CHAPTER XV - THE CAREER OF EUSAPIA  PALLADINO

Such physical defects are very often associated with strong mediumship. It is as if the bodily weakness caused what may be described as a dislocation of the soul, so that it is more detached and capable of independent action. … Her nature was hysterical, impetuous and wayward, but she possessed some beautiful traits. Lombroso says of her that she had " a singular kindness of heart which leads her to lavish her gains upon the poor, and upon infants in order to relieve their misfortunes, and which impels her to feel boundless pity for the old and the weak, and to lie awake at night thinking of them. The same goodness of heart drives her to protect animals that are being maltreated by sharply rebuking their cruel oppressors."  This passage may be commended to the attention of those who think that psychic power savours of the devil.


Eusepia in 1892 - table lifting and in trance

Life and Career

The first manifestations

Her mediumship began to manifest itself when she was about fourteen years of age. At the house of friends with whom she went to stay she was persuaded to sit at a table with others.

At the end of ten minutes the table was levitated, the chairs began to dance, the curtains in the room to swell, and glasses and bottles to move about. Each sitter was tested in turn to discover who was responsible for the movements, and in the end it was decided that Eusapia was the medium.  She took no interest in the proceedings, and only consented to have further sittings to please her hosts and prevent herself from being sent to a convent.

The discovery of Eusabia by Signor Damiani

It was not until she was twenty-two or twenty-three that her ‘Spiritualistic education’ began, and then, according to M. Flammarion, it was directed by an ardent spiritualist, Signor Damiani living in Naples. 

Signor Damiani’s English wife was told at a table séance by a spirit, giving the name of John King, to seek out a woman named Eusapia, the street and the number of the house being specified. He said she was “a powerful medium through whom he intended to manifest”.  In effect Eusepia was to be a channel. 

Madame Damiani went to the address and found Eusapia Palladino.  In order to check to see she had the right person, the two women held a séance and, indeed, ‘John King’ appeared and  controlled Eusepia.  As such throughout Eusepia’s career, she was actually under the influence of a third party, much of the time she was in a state of trance.

The start of scientific interest

Eusabia and table tilting

Her first introduction to the European scientific world came through Professor Chiaia, of Naples.  In 1888, he sent a letter to a journal published in Rome, which both described his own experiences of Eusepia’s abilities but also invited Professor Lombroso [a skeptic] to investigate the situation for himself.

It was not until 1891 that Lombroso accepted this invitation, and in February of that year he had two sittings with Eusapia in Naples.

He was converted, and wrote: " I am filled with confusion and regret that I combated with so much persistence the possibility of the facts called Spiritualistic."

It proved to be something of a turning point and from that time a number of European scientists started to take an interest. Madame Palladino suddenly found herself very busy with test sittings.

The History of Spiritualism – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - CHAPTER XV - THE CAREER OF EUSAPIA  PALLADINO

Lombroso's Naples sittings in 1891 were followed by the Milan Commission in 1892, which included:
 - Professor Schiaparelli, Director of the Observatory of Milan ;
 - Professor Gerosa, Chair of Physics ;
 - Ermacora, Doctor of Natural Philosophy ;
 - M. Aksakof, Councillor of State to the Emperor of Russia ;
 - Charles du Prel, Doctor of Philosophy in Munich ; and
 - Professor Charles Richet, of the University of Paris.


Seventeen sittings were held. Then came investigations in Naples in 1893; in Rome, 1893-4; in Warsaw, and France, in 1894 -the latter under the direction of Professor Richet, Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. F. W. H. Myers, and Dr. Ochorowicz; in 1895 at Naples; and in the same year in England, at Cambridge, in the house of Mr. F. W. H. Myers, in the presence of Professor and Mrs. Sidgwick, Sir Oliver Lodge and Dr. Richard Hodgson.

They were continued in 1895 in France at the house of Colonel de Rochas ; in 1896 at Tremezzo, at Auteuil, and at Choisy Yvrac ; in 1897 at Naples, Rome, Paris, Montfort, and Bordeaux ; in Paris in November, 1898, in the presence of a scientific committee composed of

-          MM. Flammarion

-          Charles Richet

-          A. de Rochas

-          Victorien Sardou

-          Jules Claretie

-          Adolphe Bisson

-          G. Delanne

-          G. de Fontenay and others ;

also in 1901 at the Minerva Club in Geneva, in the presence of Professors Porro, Morselli, Bozzano, Venzano, Lombroso, Vassalo, and others. There were many other experimental sittings with scientific men, both in Europe and in America.


Eusepia with controller Aksakof

So a lot of tests!!

The results of all this testing

Initially, Eusapia was very co-operative and sitting after sitting to all these men of science came up trumps.  The observations provide some of the details of the tests.  After the sittings at Professor Richet's house on the Ile Roubaud in 1894, for example, Sir Oliver Lodge in the course of his report to the English Society for Psychical Research said:

Journal SPR Volume VI November 1894

However the facts are to be explained, the possibility of the facts I am constrained to admit. There is no further room in my mind for doubt. Any person without invincible prejudice who had had the same experience would have come to the same broad conclusion, viz,: that things hitherto held impossible do actually occur…… The result of my experience is to convince me that certain phenomena usually considered abnormal do belong to the order of nature, and, as a corollary from this, that these phenomena ought to be investigated and recorded by persons and societies interested in natural knowledge.


Sir Oliver Lodge's report was adversely criticised by Dr. Richard Hodgson, who had been absent the entire time in the United States.  Presumably one of those with 'invincible prejudice'.

As a consequence Eusapia Palladino and Dr Hodgson were invited to England, and a series of sittings were held at Cambridge at the house of  F. W. H. Myers in August and September.  These " Cambridge Experiments," as they were called, were for the most part unsuccessful, and it was claimed that the medium was repeatedly detected in fraud. A great deal has been written on both sides in the acute controversy that followed. It is enough to say that competent observers refused to accept this verdict on Eusapia, and that “they roundly condemned the methods adopted by the Cambridge group of experimenters”.  Suffice to repeat the comment of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

It is little use pointing out that no psychic researcher should be admitted to the seance room without at least some elementary knowledge of the complexities of mediumship and the right conditions for its unfoldment, or without, for instance, an understanding of the basic truth that it is not the medium alone, but the sitters equally, who are factors in the success of the experiment.


This was a turning point in the career of Eusapia, and I now wish you to imagine yourself in her place. 

Initially all the interest would have been quite flattering, and the travelling at the expense of others and the sympathetic treatment would have all been very nice.  Eusapia was something of an innocent initially, so she would not have cottoned on to the fact that there are some really rather unpleasant cunning ‘clever’ men in the world of the skeptic.  She was probably fairly trusting at first, her only language Italian.  But a good medium has intuition and a good medium is very good at picking up what roughly is going on even though language may not be there.

Baron Johan Liljencrants (1918) in his Spiritism and Religion: A Moral Study sponsored by the Catholic University of America, had a real go at her inventing all sorts of spurious untruths about her and accusing her of being married to a conjurer – hence the ‘tricks’.  This rather overlooks the fact that most magicians are - well - magicians.

An American reporter, on the occasion of Eusapia's visit to his country in 1910, even had the affrontery to bluntly ask her if she had “ever been caught tricking”  – tantamount to saying she practised deception.  Now what would you have done?

Well, she certainly didn’t do what I would have done, not a single man was harmed [I jest] and her reply was gracious and truthful:

"Many times I have been told so. You see, it is like this. Some people are at the table who expect tricks -in fact, they want them. I am in a trance. Nothing happens. They get impatient. They think of the tricks - nothing but tricks. They put their mind on the tricks, and-I-and I automatically respond.  But it is not often. They merely will me to do them.  That is all."


In other words, you get what you deserve.

It is very noticeable that the researchers on the Continent of Europe were a great deal more respectful and kindly towards Eusapia and as a consequence the results were at times quite spectacular.  Professor Morselli noted no fewer than thirty-nine distinct types of phenomena.

To show the difference, in one experiment our more kindly Continental researchers  noted “Not being successful in this, we did not wish to fatigue the medium….  “ – so no criticism or disrespect just a simple recognition that the ability to do this is not something one has much control over. 

Perhaps if the USA based and UK based researchers had been reminded that if they had been stood up in front of a panel of thirty researchers who all wished to prove the fact that ‘an erection’ existed, as they themselves had never seen one,  they might not have been able to pull out the stops, so to speak either.

Final outcome

 The History of Spiritualism – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - CHAPTER XV - THE CAREER OF EUSAPIA  PALLADINO

It will be asked what has been the outcome of all the years of investigation conducted with this medium.

A number of scientists holding with Sir David Brewster that " spirit " is the last thing they will give in to, have invented ingenious hypotheses to account for the phenomena, of the genuine nature of which they are fully convinced. Colonel de Rochas tried to explain them by what he called "exteriorization of motivity." M. de Fontenay spoke of a dynamic theory of matter ; others believe in " ectenic force “ and " collective consciousness" and the action of the subconscious mind, but those cases, well authenticated, where the operation of an independent intelligence is clearly shown, make these attempted explanations untenable. Various experimenters were forced to adopt the Spiritualist hypothesis as the only one that explained all the facts in a reasonable way.



Dr. Hereward Carrington

My own sittings convinced me finally and conclusively that genuine phenomena do occur, and, that being the case, the question of their interpretation naturally looms before me. . . I think that not only is the Spiritualistic hypothesis justified as a working theory, but it is, in fact, the only one capable of rationally explaining the facts."


Tired and wearied by the nastiness, Eusapia
in the 1900s

The sceptic world has indeed been very very unkind after Eusapia’s death with numerous accounts trying to discredit her and her abilities.  The USA in particular has been the source of books of stunning vitriol, written by people who were not there at the time and have no evidence for their sniping.  Eusapia was and is a threat to the new religion of ‘science’.  The material scientists looking to replace religion by science with all the power and money that accompanies it, find people like Eusapia an uncomfortable thorn in their sides and a block to their ambitions.

Those who try to explain away all Eusapia’s mediumship by alluding to her habit of playing conscious or unconscious tricks upon the more unpleasant sitters are simply deceiving themselves. That such tricks were played is beyond all question. Lombroso, who entirely endorsed the validity of her mediumship, described the tricks thus:

Many are the crafty tricks she plays, both in the state of trance (unconsciously) and out of it-for example, freeing one of her two hands, held by the controllers, for the sake of moving objects near her ; making touches ; slowly lifting the legs of the table by means of one of her knees and one of her feet ; and feigning to adjust her hair and then slyly pulling out one hair and putting it over the little balance tray of a letter-weigher in order to lower it. She was seen by Faifofer, before her seances, furtively gathering flowers in a garden, that she might feign them to be " apports " by availing herself of the shrouding dark of the room. . . . And yet her deepest grief is when she is accused of trickery during the seances accused unjustly, too, it must be confessed, because we are now sure that phantasmal limbs are superimposed (or added to) her own and act as their substitute, while all the time they were believed to be her own limbs detected in the act of cozening for their owner's behoof.

Towards the end of her life, exhausted by the endless tests, the nastiness, the lack of belief, understanding or genuine desire to know, of being treated like a side-show freak, and unkindness, and now largely working for money and little else, she lost many of her powers as is often the case.  During her visit to America, when her powers sank to a particularly low ebb, she was frequently detected in these obvious tricks, by which time she just didn’t care. I think she had decided all her sitters were complete fools and even offended her sitters to such an extent that they abandoned the séance.

Alone stood Howard Thurston, the famous conjurer, [see the observation] who narrated that he determined  to disregard these things and continue the sitting, with the result that he obtained an undoubted materialisation. Another well-known sitter said that at the very moment when he was reproaching her for moving some object with her hand, another object, quite out of her reach, moved across the table.

The History of Spiritualism – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - CHAPTER XV - THE CAREER OF EUSAPIA  PALLADINO

Her case is certainly a peculiar one, for it may be most truthfully said of her that no medium has ever more certainly been proved to have psychic powers, and no medium was ever more certainly a cheat upon occasions. Here, as always, it is the positive result which counts.


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