Psychical research in Italy between '800 and '900 - 2



Enrico Morselli and Italian psychiatry

In 1908 the two volumes of Psicologia e Spiritismo (Psychology and Spiritism) were published by prof. Enrico Morselli, director of the Clinic of Nervous and Mental Diseases at Genoa University. Born in Modena in 1852, Morselli, immediately after graduating in Medicine in 1874, accepted the invitation of prof. Carlo Livi – director of the asylum in Reggio Emilia – to engage in psychiatry as a volunteer assistant at that institute. He also followed an advanced course in anthropology at the Institute of Higher Studies in Florence under the direction of Paolo Mantegazza, founder of the Italian Anthropological Society. With his colleague Augusto Tamburini (1848-1919), he actively contributed to the renewal of Italian psychiatry. Both wanted a greater opennes of their specialty with respect to the so-called asylum technique, and a greater collaboration with other scientific disciplines. So they decided to found a scientific journal that, thanks to the support and consent of Livi, saw the light in 1875 with the name Rivista sperimentale di freniatria e di medicina legale in relazione con l’antropologia e le scienze giuridiche e sociali (Experimental Journal of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine Related to Anthropology and Legal and Social Sciences). For decades, Morselli worked as a forensic psychiatrist. Among his most famous interventions, we can mention the trial against the bandit Giuseppe Musolino and the trial against the sons of Augusto Murri, the famous clinical doctor. When he was only 25 years old he was called to assume the role of director of the provincial asylum S. Croce in Macerata, where he started an intense reform activity modifying the assistance techniques of hospitalized patients.

In 1880 he became the principal in Turin asylum, working on many projects: while continuing his collaboration with the Rivista sperimentale di freniatria (Experimental Journal of Psychiatry), he also began to write on the Archivio di scienze penali e antropologia criminale (Archive of Criminal Sciences and Criminal Anthropology), founded by Cesare Lombroso, and on the Giornale della Società italiana d’Igiene (Journal of the Hygiene Italian Society). He participated in many conferences, and held anthropology lessons that were later collected in a treatise of general anthropology: L’uomo secondo la teoria dell’evoluzione (Man According to Evolution Theory, 1911). In 1881 Morselli founded the Rivista di filosofia scientifica (Scientific Philosophy Magazine), real organ of Italian Positivism, which had important collaborators and where he wrote, among other things, on Darwinism and Evolutionism. In Turin he had as assistant Eugenio Tanzi (1856-1934), the future director of Florence asylum, with whom he carried out an experimental study of hypnotism and magnetism phenomena, that were arousing a considerable scientific interest also abroad.   

In 1889 he obtained, at his request, the transfer to Genoa University: here he taught over the years different disciplines, including psychiatry, forensic psychology, experimental psychology, anthropology. In 1894 he accepted the direction of the neurologic clinic of Genoa General Hospital, where he had established a mental illness clinic two years before, where he offered both free consultations for indigent people and paid medical examinations. He also organized a private clinic, Villa Maria Pia, in which modern medical care was given to psychopaths, neuropaths, morphine and cocaine addicts. Also in these Genoese years Morselli carried out many activities: from the drafting of the second volume of his Manuale di semeiotica delle malattie mentali (Treatise on Semeiotics of Mental Illnesses, 1894), to his adhesionto new editorial experiences, such as Rivista di patologia mentale e nervosa (Journal of Mental and Nervous Pathology) edited by the Psychiatric Clinic in Florence, and the Rivista ligure di scienze, lettere e arti(Ligurian Magazine of Science,Lliterature and Arts), organ of the Society of Scientific Readings and Conversations of which he himself was president since 1899 to 1910 and which, in the years of his presidency, was characterized by an explicit adhesion to Positivist culture. In 1914 he founded a new monthly, Quaderni di psichiatria, entrusted to the editorial care of his son. He died in Genoa in 1929.    

The séances in Genoa

What led this man of many interests, dynamic and indefatigable, who had a scientific culture of strong positivist orientation, to deal with mediumistic phenomena? And what conclusions did he draw from his investigations? The answers to these questions are contained in the two volumes of his mentioned work (which deserves a careful reading), whose core consists of notes and reports drafted by Morselli, on a first cycle of ten séances with Eusapia Paladino held in Genoa, at the rooms of Minerva Scientific Circle, from May 17th to June 8th, 1901 (reported in the first volume); on a second series of five sittings which took place in the same place from December 5th to 15th, 1901; on seven other séances held in Genoa but in places other than Minerva Circle, on various dates between June 12th, 1901, and March 1st, 1902; and finally on a series of six sittings held in Genoa at home of Italian-Argentine painter and musician Alfredo Berisso (1873-1931), between December 27th, 1906, and January 10th, 1907. Overall, therefore, Morselli experimented with Paladino during 28 long sittings.    

The psychology of skeptics and other incredulous people

At the beginning of the notes on the third sitting (page 221 of volume 1), Morselli recounted the sensation produced in the city by press reports about the fact that distinguished men of science were seriously dealing with mediumistic phenomena: «It is beyond description the impression made by the reports of our "Paladinian" séances, that prof. Porro began to include on the Secolo XIX Genoa newspaper. The whole city talks about it, and I, whose skeptical attitude towards spiritualism has been known for a long time, am especially targeted: I am stopped in the street, I am surrounded by people everywhere I go, I am questioned, I am faced with questions and doubts (always the same!), I am openly criticized, and no less openly I am already told clearly that I will not be believed, even if I will state to have seen with my own eyes the famous table of Eusapia rise up in the air!» Morselli went on quoting an essy by Alfred Erny (1838-19??), Le Psichisme Expérimental, 1895, whose second chapter describes the psychology of unbelievers: «There are the skeptics unbelievers who deny because they have not yet seen; the well-balanced, who imagine themselves to have the healthiest brain of all the unhappy ones who saw, and whose idiocy they proclaim; the cunning, who smell the deceit, and who "I will never get cheated by anyone"; the pseudo-scientists, who explain everything with medium's fraud and with suggestion of the experimenters; the theoreticians, who struggle to expose their incomprehensible explanations; the ignorant, who can not understand, for example, the necessity of a medium, and persecute you with a crowd of inconclusive questions without any connection with the phenomena; the pedants, which apply right and wrong the rudimentary but dogmatic notions drawn from the booklets of popular science; the scrupulous, who even in the presence of the most obvious phenomena continue to shake their heads and to squeeze doubts and fears of tricks; lastly, the indifferent, who consider it futile to deal with spiritualism and mediumship, since there are many more important practical problems in life! It is not the case to answer everyone, and even less is the case of starting a pro-spiritualism apostolate».   

The reasons why Morselli published Psicologia e Spiritismo

Regarding the reasons why Morselli decided to publish this work (whose manuscript has been ready for some years, with the exception of the part relating to the séances of 1906-1907 and of the last chapters), though being well aware of the fact that it consisted mainly of raw material based on the notes taken on the field, in the Preface he wrote: «I will be asked why, despite recognizing so many flaws in this work, I publish it the same. Here is the reason: I publish it because, although written in great part for myself, it can help those who, being interested in the opinions of a psychiatrist on this subject, want to know their development and reasons. Moreover, I had announced it, and by someone it was and is well-awaited: I think it's time to keep my promise. It ascertains the reality of facts, which many people still deny or ridicule; it shows that a man of science can,and indeed he must, investigate them without putting at risk the scientific character of his work and even without renouncing any norm of the positive method; it examines and debates, as perhaps had not yet been done (if the feeling of paternity does not deceive me), the intrinsic determinism of mediumistic phenomena; it prospects some less obscure sides and can be used as a trace for a program of future researches; it confirms the results of other very trustworthy researchers, yet suspected or accused of overwhelming naivety; it reaches conclusions to which also many of them have arrived, but invigorates them with non-trivial arguments; finally, it exposes a mental process of gradual and, I think, reasoned conviction, and therefore, besides being made up of an essentially psychological material, it is, in turn, an experience of introspective psychology and logic in action. But those who want to find an explanation of mediumistic phenomena that satisfy them and, not finding it in this work, will be disappointed, must benevolently consider that for now this topic has barely been touched and that I myself do not consider concluded my duty and commitment to the Truth».   

Morselli and Eusapia Paladino

From the first sittings in which he took part, Morselli's attitude was always very critical and alert: he assumed in fact that the medium could cheat or deceive, consciously as well as unconsciously, and therefore since the beginning he tried to find out every possible trick. On the other hand, Paladino openly showed her resentment towards those who questioned her powers and the genuineness of the phenomena that she produced, and Morselli was on her black list because he had repeatedly publicly expressed with sarcasm, as an impenitent materialist skeptic as he was, his opinions on spiritualism in general, and on Paladino's mediumism in particular. For these reasons, Morselli took part anonymously in the sittings at Circolo Minerva, at least towards Paladino, as the other sitters knew very well who he was, and the medium herself – having recognized his methods of investigation, or warned by someone – at the beginning of the fourth session addressed him with a contemptuous «You are Morselli!», which did not bode well. Instead, after a moment of embarrassment on the part of the psychiatrist, Eusapia Paladino said she was happy to be investigated by a man of science and fame as he certainly was. It must be recognized that, particularly in the first decade of the twentieth century, Paladino never shifted away from research and investigations by unprejudiced scientists, with whom she collaborated within the range of her possibilities. She had probably been burned and wounded in her pride by the severe examination which she had been submitted to by the Cambridge Commission in September 1895: during twenty sittings held at Frederic Myers' home, not only did not any significant mediumistic phenomenon occur, but the medium had been repeatedly surprised to deliberately cheat. On the other hand the Morselli himself (like other researchers), after observing that «Paladino is more cunning than she appears; she is a vain person, and therefore cares a lot about the success of her experiments», recognized that «Eusapia showed, in her normal state, an extraordinary naivety in cheating». 

Criticism of the methods adopted by the Cambridge Commission

Many critics were advanced by several leading figures in psychical research, about the methods adopted by the Cambridge Commission, which also included Richard Hodgson (prevented against the medium due to a previous controversy with Lodge, Myers and Richet, who had declared the authenticity of many phenomena produced by her) and the famous English conjurer John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917): the attitude shown by the researchers was aimed, rather than preventing fraud, to show that Paladino produced all her phenomena by trickery. Hodgson deliberately left free to move the hands of the medium, who, moreover, used them in a blatantly fraudulent manner. It must be remembered that the woman, after being stripped naked, had to undergo a vaginal inspection to make sure that she did not hide anything inside her body: a totally useless examination – given that the phenomena produced did not consist in the emission of any visible ectoplasm – that Eusapia always considered as the most humiliating episode of her life. This fact, together with the atmosphere of suspicion and open hostility towards the medium shown by some members of the Commission, probably contributed to determine the failure of the séances and the clumsy attempts of the medium to obtain phenomena in a fraudulent way. By the way, Oliver Lodge, after attending two of the Cambridge séances, declared that he had found no comparison between what he had observed in those circumstances and the phenomena produced by Paladino on other occasions, phenomena that he continued to consider genuine. Also the Polish psychologist and researcher Julian Ochorowicz (1850-1917), who had long experimented with Paladino, stated that: «not only had conscious fraud not been demonstrated in Cambridge, but not the slightest effort had been made to ascertain it. The unconscious fraud had been proven to a far greater extent than was found in other experiments. These negative results are to be attributed to the method of examination adopted, clumsy and inadequate to the nature of the phenomena».   

In his book, Morselli observed that even when she was in her waking state «nothing is observed in Paladino which is psychologically abnormal: yet she produces movements and raising of the table, touches, wind, lights, materializations». And went on: «Can the suspicion arise that such phenomena are then, at least in part, conscious tricks? To read the Cambridge report we would come to this conclusion; but those English gentlemen, even worse after the arrival of the skeptical and adverse Hodgson, did not know how to experiment; and I can say that even when she is awake Paladino has a genuine and powerful mediumship, without any need to see falsehood and deceit everywhere».    

Morselli's prudence and precautions

As we have said, and as all of his book shows, during the sittings Morselli's attitude was always suspicious, cautious, aimed to discover and investigate any possibility of fraud. Even with regard to phenomena he considered genuine, the terms in which he expressed himself always testified his caution: «These facts are of exceptional gravity to me, so that I almost can not believe my eyes by reading my own lines as they come out of my pen». «To me these two phenomena... seemed to be very dubious, although the fraud could not be detected on the fact». «The phenomena are wonderful because of the way they are produced, but in their essence and content they are the most stupid imaginable». «A heavy typewriter of the Barlock type has risen by itself, has passed between the shoulders of two of us and has settled down slowly on the table. Here are some extraordinary facts that I would not believe if told by others, but that I must admit because they happened before my eyes, or rather, what matters most to me, under my surveillance». «The intervention of spirits is so far untenable for me: it seems to me impossible that people of wisdom, as Brofferio or Wallace, can see in these phenomena, albeit of an unknown and occult origin, but of such vulgar and low nature, the work of erratic spirits or extra-human intelligences». «If in the first sitting I thought I found Paladino in fraud two or three times, during the second, despite my very careful observation and my inexorable coldness (which gives so much concern to the medium, who always keeps her eyes fixed on me, even in semi-darkness), I could not discover any deception, or, at least, I did not succeed. But is this enough to exclude some hocus-pocus?». «All in all, the environment is therefore favorable to good observation... if there is a spiritual group in which the veracity and seriousness of the phenomena can be beyond any doubt, this seems to me the one». «I believe that no one has ever carried out the observation of spiritual facts with greater skepticism than mine: yet I must admit that my suspicions were excessive... I can not deny this very simple fact: the table rises up and moves without any contact, without any push by Eusapia. I can repeat to myself over and over, "be careful, for she is deceiving you"; but if the deception I can not find out, what should I conclude?».       

As for the insinuations, advanced by some, that Paladino used an accomplice, here is Morselli's sarcastic reply:  «Instead, I would like to assure the benevolent ones who advise me to be cautious, and the malevolent ones who accuse me of not being enough... that we ten of Circolo Minerva are neither pranksters nor fooled. Someone seriously put forward the suspicion that a confederate of Eusapia could enter into the Club rooms, to whom she entrusted the task of making mysterious noises, moving the furniture, making hands or heads appear from the mediumistic cabinet, remaining hidden by the curtains, playing there the trumpet and the mandolin, printing the prints; in short, to act as an Invisible-tangible entity, atrociously mocking us. These very cunning people do not understand the emptiness of their explanation. As if we do not search the club room every evening, where never before 5 p.m., and never if not for the sittings, Eusapia has put or puts her foot! as if we were always operating in the thickest darkness, and we had no means of suddenly illuminating the field of Paladino's deeds! just as if ten people, endowed with a sound mind and a good intellect, suddenly became imbeciles, just because they close in an apartment in Via Giustiniani! just as if sitting in a chain around a table with a modern Pythoness, would suffice to make a group of scholars and serious people the laughing-stock of a vulgar and very childish cunning, lasted for several hours in a row!... Some antispiritists have thought for some time that cav. Chiaja, the very zealous escort of Eusapia across the world, had a role not unlike the one I have just decribed. But the suspicion, insulting to this earnest Neapolitan gentleman, has no foundation in the procedure now used by Paladino: she goes alone, and the séances can also be directed by those who have, like myself, no sympathy for the Occult, no reason to defend Invisible entities from investigations aimed at ascertaining, for now, the existence and genuineness of their manifestations».  

Authenticity of the observed phenomena

With regard to the phenomena observed, after six sittings Morselli believed that those certainly veridical were 75%, those attributable to fraud 10%, and those more or less doubtful the remaining 15%. The repertoire, during the first series of séances, was the one typical of Paladino: levitations of the table, movements of objects, raps of all kinds, touches in various parts of the body by well-formed and solid human limbs, luminescence, levitation of the medium (standing as well as sitting, including her chair), footprints left in plasticine, etc. Most of these phenomena occurred in very weak white light (given by the glow of two candles on the ground in the anteroom, which filtered in the sitting room when the door remained open) or in red light (a darkroom red light bulb hanging from the ceiling above the sitters). Sometimes complete darkness was required, while in other cases the phenomena were produced in full light (given by a gas lamp with an Auer's net suspended in the middle of the room). However, Morselli was able to observe how the same phenomena for which tiptologically was requested by the control spirit (that John King whom he considered an alter ego of Paladino) a weak light or complete darkness, were then produced in full light when – usually towards the end of the sittings – the mediumistic activity was more intense and the sitters were more involved in the phenomena. According to Morselli, all the requests and behaviors of the medium – either in a trance or in a waking or semi-vigilant state – had no connection of cause and effect with the phenomena produced, but were expedients or rituals of which Paladino felt the need, in order to reach a condition of adequate mediumistic efficiency: once this state was achieved, the phenomena occurred even without trance and with light.      

Morselli's accounts were always very detailed, and his observations covered every possible aspect of the séances, including the medium's mood and behavior, the attitudes and reactions of the sitters, the carrying out of the control activities, etc. He wrote his notes immediately after each séance or the following day, and in order not to alter the content of these observations on the field, he decided to publish them as they were, without reworking them to make them more stylistically correct or more effective. We can observe how, with the progress of the sittings, Morselli's attitude towards mediumistic phenomena has gradually changed: if at first he thought he could easily get over it, either by unmasking the medium's tricks or by getting rid of the annoyance of having to deal with valueless things, he later became convinced that mediumship was a much more complex field of study than he had imagined, which was certainly worth investigating. Already after the first sitting he wrote: «Yesternight I went to the sitting with the purpose to well observe the way Eusapia proceeded, perhaps with the certainty of catching her in fault, trusting in my habit of the most complex and delicate exams, such as those related to the exercise of neuropathology and psychiatry, the two most difficult branches of medicine; and I said to myself, "You will see everything, you will know everything you wish to know". But at one a.m. I found myself in Via Giustiniani, convinced that with just one sitting you can begin to orient yourself in this world of wonders, and I doubt that even with ten sittings I will have the right to conclude... I have to prepare myself for a long and painful training».    

Here are some of Morselli's reports about the phenomena he had witnessed: «The table moved and lifted, under my eyes, even when the hands formed a chain in the air and did not touch its top!». «With great astonishment, I got convinced that Eusapia's muscular contractions, although undeniable, visible if in light and perceptible by the tactile-muscular sense if in darkness, have no causal proportion with the mechanical effect that would be attributed to them. If there is deception, it certainly can not consist of those muscular movements that Eusapia does not inhibit, showing them, indeed, with ostentation!». «I am sure that the touching and pressing hand or body came from inside the cabinet and at a certain distance from Eusapia's hip: it came, indeed, covered by the black curtain. Shortly after I was touched again several times, and the curtain was thrown on me; and I know that I always hold the medium's left hand: how could she have used her right hand, even if free, moving it behind her back, behind my shoulders on my side, and push or throw the fabric hanging from inside the black cabinet? It is inexplicable!». «...then, raising of the table, transporting around of a chair through the chain, spontaneous movements of the heavy table located to the right of the medium, spontaneous sounds by the guitar hanging on the wall, ringing of bells, and at the same time always hands that palpated me... e final handshakes granted to everyone by an invisible entity through the curtain».          

«Last night instead the movement of my chair... it happened (I'm sure, firmly convinced) without intervention of the (anatomical) right arm of the medium, because I held it with my left hand, I felt it against my chest and did not leave it for a moment. As for Paladino's right foot, it was on my left and never left me: moreover, how to raise a chair on a table and how to make it descend with a foot in the shoe, without an unimaginable acrobatism of the whole body, that was instead still?» «I saw clearly, though in semi-darkness, a candlestick mediumistically carried, bowing, moving, dancing on the whitish and visibly free top of the table: no hand was touching it». «Through a curtain, behind which, as it was somewhat raised, emptiness could be seen (in the full light of a lamp...), I clearly felt a handshake: the hand seemed to me big, robust, like the one of a man devoted to rough work, and it grabbed and pressed the tip of my four fingers between its minor fingers on one side and the thumb on the other. You could see so clearly that you could read; and looking at the curtain while it touched me, I saw with my own eyes some folds forming in it, as around a real hand. Needless to say that when the curtain was raised at that moment, there was nothing behind it: and that Paladino stood firmly at her place».  «...objects were seen moving in the air without any hand supporting them. At a given moment you would say that all those objects were animated: a tambourine passed through the room; a guitar moved from where it was hanging and took flight, it literally flew over our heads; a bouquet of flowers came to be sniffed by our noses; a bottle full of water came and placed itself on the table after one of us had exclaimed that it was too hot and that we had to drink...».            

Materialized apparitions

For a more in-depth examination of the phenomena experienced and witnessed by Morselli, it is better to read in full the detailed notes reported in the first and second volumes. Special attention deserve the materialized apparitions seen in the last sitting of the third series (the twenty-second, which took place on March 1st, 1902, at Avellino home in Genoa): although these phantasmal apparitions did not have the details and consistency of those which showed up during experiences with other mediums (see, for example, Katie King photographed by William Crookes), however, they were clearly visible in good light conditions, which allowed to clearly see Eusapia's body tied on a bed inside the mediumistic cabinet, while the ghosts materialized also outside it. «When I have added that the gas-lamp, suspended in the middle of the room, was always on and its flame was lowered only according to need, I will have also made the explicit statement that none of the phenomena occurred in the darkness: all, mind you, all of them occurred in decent light; some, moreover, in bright light». By the way, while the medium was in a state of catatonic rigidity, «...from 10.10 to 10.20 p.m. an impetuous typological phenomenology is unleashed beneath us. The table does not move, but slams and jumps in the air vehemently, giving us the spectacle of some extraordinary levitations in full light and where every trick is impossible». It was not possible to photograph the apparitions, but Morselli immediately made some sketches that were then reworked (almost in the form of an identikit) by the painter Alfredo Berisso, and are reproduced on the book's pages.   

Psychodynamic hypothesis

Since the first sittings, Morselli began to elaborate a psychodynamic hypothesis in an attempt (a bit premature) to explain the phenomena produced by Paladino. It must be recognized that at the time the psychiatrist did not yet have sufficient information about mediumistic phenomenology as a whole, and consequently, experimenting with that single medium, focused his attention on the correlations between her psychophysical activity (in the various states of wakefulness, semi- and full trance) and the phenomena produced. Morselli did not doubt that it was Paladino's conscious or (more or less) unconscious will to determine the phenomena, to which, even when they were genuine, corresponded articular movements, energetic efforts and muscular contractions of the medium's body that, without being the direct cause of the phenomenon, seemed to influence a powerful invisible apparatus connected to Eusapia's psyche. It could be objected that in this way Morselli – even without admitting it – corroborated the hypothesis of the existence of a kind of invisible energetic aura, something like a perispirit: but why could this psychophysical apparatus exist only in mediums?           

Morselli saw as smoke in his eyes any hypothesis of a spiritual intervention, and to him John King, the presumed control spirit of the medium, was nothing but a personification (elaborated in the light of a superficial indoctrination on the most in vogue spiritual theories at the time) of the medium's will, only partly unconscious: in support of this interpretation the psychiatrist presented various proofs, many of which are rather convincing, highlighted when they were tested in the course of the sittings. However, as a whole, the psychodynamic hypothesis is not supported by any experiment, and in our days – after more than a century – we would expect that the existence of a possible fluidic body, capable of interacting with matter by transmitting real forces ( able to move a table or a piece of furniture, or to turn into human limbs that perform concrete actions), could be confirmed by some laboratory instruments or technological devices designed and built in the meantime. But none of this – as far as I know – has happened, and if Morselli's intuition would be right, the fluidic body would be, to modern science, as enigmatic as dark matter: a hypothesis necessary to explain certain facts, but not supported by any instrumental detection.     

Studies on metapsychics

During the time lapse between the first three series of sittings (1901-1902) and the fourth series (1906-1907), Morselli was able to update himself on the progress of research on mediumistic phenomena, which were now included in a new field of studies called metapsychic (a term proposed in 1905 by Charles Richet). He therefore added some appropriate considerations to his notes and observations on the séances of the fourth series. First of all, he recognized that: « the field of Metapsychics there have occurred remarkable events that have changed the attitude, both of the old adherents and doctrinal spiritualist, and of many scientists who were previously obstinate adversaries or detractors of these studies». And then: «...these and other similar occurrences of recent spiritism have revealed the progress of an irresistible current of beliefs, and the actual existence of an unexplored category of natural phenomena on which science must, sooner or later, pronounce itself». By these words, Morselli intended to assert, in the cultural context of his time, the reality and genuineness of mediumistic phenomena: a matter of fact that, however, has always been questioned in the following decades, up to our days, by scientific communicators (some of them culturally influential) characterized by aprioristic skeptical psychic tunings, and generally poorly and badly informed about psychical research. On the other hand, Morselli himself knew very well how it is impossible to convince the skeptics to the bitter end, and declared:  «What is important for me is to convince or disabuse my Mister Ego: what drives me to write is to explain how long, and perhaps tortuous but sincere, was the empirical and logical process by which I arrived at my present state of belief. It is incomprehensible how one is always in an attitude of struggle, not about the explanation, but about the reality of the so-called spiritual facts after over sixty years since they were seen and touched, described and illustrated by a crowd of ordinary people and remarkable personalities. Yet it is so...».   

Luigi Barzini's articles

The séances of 1906-1907 were sponsored and organized by Corriere della Sera, who entrusted the reportage to one of its leading journalist, Luigi Barzini, who wrote a series of brilliant articles collected later in the booklet  Nel mondo dei misteri con Eusapia Paladino (In the Mystery World with Eusapia Paladino), with a preface by Cesare Lombroso. The fifty-two years old medium was then a tired and sick woman (diabetes and nephritis), but still managed to produce mediumistic phenomena of a certain entity, even if reduced compared to those occurred above all during the last sittings of 1902. The control was always performed by Morselli and Barzini, and the hall of Berisso's apartment in which, as has been said, the sittings were held, was lit by an electric lamp with 16 candles white light or 5 candles darkroom bulbs in green or red glass, while a diffused glow was ensured by a night-light placed under a grand piano. Morselli thus described the light conditions: « we did not want to satisfy the insistent demand made by Eusapia's subconsciousness with five strokes (darkness!), we often found ourselves embarrassed, not increasing, but moderating and appropriately grading the light... we got, during the six sittings, a remarkable variety of degrees of illumination: almost never, complete darkness... we have almost always found ourselves in a condition to be able to exercise our visual faculties on the phenomena: and these have also occurred in a full and lively light».

About the controls, Morselli once again confirmed the scrupulous way in which both he and Barzini worked and investigated: «I affirm this at once and bluntly: both of us are sure, during all six séances... to have always kept in our hands the two distinct hands of Eusapia, I the left, Barzini the right... Being someone who possesses some notion of anatomy and anthropology and who has a bit of attention, I can not understand the deception of the exchange of hands: a left hand is always a... left, and will have its fingers, maximum the thumb and the little finger, easily recognizable even in darkness... After all, surveillance has been facilitated by the fact that Eusapia's hands have remained very often visible, since, as I have said, very few times we have allowed complete darkness. Eusapia immediately declared herself satisfied with our meticulous vigilance: given her obsession with her own truthfulness as a medium, our severity corresponds to her desire». And finally, Morselli pulled a dig at all the critics to the bitter end of control methods: «...for those who considered us to be unskilled observers, and of course less shrewd than Mr. Critical, we would not be able to find enough eloquent sentences to convince them of our ability. The experience I have acquired in so many séances and the comparison that I have been able to make among the many investigators of mediumistic phenomena, whether amateurs or scholars, either believers or skeptics, allows me to affirm (without fear of sin of immodesty) that myself and Luigi Barzini constitute an excellent and secure couple of watchmen for intelligence and shrewdness; and I challenge those who personally know both of us, to affirm the contrary».  

The explanatory hypotheses of mediumistic phenomena

The most interesting part of the second volume of Psicologia e Spiritismo is the last one: after a chapter dedicated to the attempts made by the most authoritative scholars to classify the various mediumistic phenomena investigated directly or reported in the extensive literature about them, the next chapter examines all the hypotheses put forward to explain mediumship and its phenomenology. Morselli, while complaining about the lack of a comparative critique of these various hypotheses, engaged in listing those with the greatest impact (not necessarily the most coherent) in an organic scheme that still today can be very useful for identifying the different psychic tunings activated by this complex and anomalous field of research. Here is a summary of Morselli's classification: for an explanation of each hypothesis, please refer to the text (page 528 and following).

A – Extra-scientific hypotheses:
            I) - Theological: 1.Satanism - 2.Diabolism - 3.Purgatory souls.
          II) - Metaphysical: 4.Psychocosmos, hylozoism, etc. - 5.The Unconscious - 6.Intuition of the Being.
         III) - Occultist, Esoteric: 7.Hermetism - 8.Magical forces - 9.Elemental spirits - 10.Intelligent and occult entities 
                                                     11.Superhuman terrestrial beings - 12.Prehuman terrestrial beings.
        IV) - Teosophical: 13 e 14.Astral plane.

B – Ultra-scientific hypotheses:
         V) - Hyperphysical or transcendental physical: 15.Multidimensional space - 16.Fluidism.
        VI) - Metabiological: 17.Human polizoism, psychic pluralism - 18.Animism - 19.Spiritism.

C – Pre-scientific hypotheses:
        VII) - Negativistic empirical: 20.Fraud and prestidigitation - 21.Illusions and sensory hallucinations.
       VIII) - Psychopathological empirical: 22.Hysteria, neurosis, hypnotism and related states - 23.Suggestion and self-                                               suggestion - 24.Disintegration of personality - 25.Automatism and secondary egos.
        IX) - Metapsychical: 26.Telepathy and mental suggestion - 27.Induced and telepathic hallucinations - 28.Externalization of                                          motor skills and sensitivity - 29.Collective-psychic production - 30.Externalization of the subconscious -
                                         31.The subliminal, the trascendental Self - 32.The wider consciousness, the extracorporeal Mega-Self.
        X) - Metadynamic: 33.Human radioactivity - 34.Energetic - 35.Psychodynamism.

As you can see, it is a complex and detailed scheme, within which everyone can decide – based on their own psychic orientation – what can be considered acceptable and what must certainly be rejected as absurd. It can be added that most of the hypotheses that Morselli included in the Metapsychical category have more recently been merged into the super-ESP (or super-PSI) theory, which we have already mentioned. Already this classification makes us understand how Morselli, as his mediumistic experiences went on and his studies deepened, became more attentive to the explanatory hypotheses advanced by other authoritative researchers: on the other hand, he was of the opinion that the various mediumistic phenomena do not necessarily have to be traced back to a single cause, but different hypotheses could be used depending on each case.     

Anyway, for the reasons explained in the last chapter of his book (My experiences), Morselli never took into consideration the spiritualist hypothesis, as Lombroso or Brofferio had done – albeit in a non-dogmatic, but metapsychic, form. Morselli appreciated Brofferio for the logic of his arguments, which however the psychiatrist was trying to demolish: «...if I have collected a vast material demonstrating the exceptional powers designated under the metaphorical mediumistic label, I have not yet seen a single authentic, incontestable, reasonable fact of spiritism, and much less of spiritualism. Brofferio's book in favour of the spiritual doctrines, based almost exclusively on the same Eusapian phenomena experienced by me (and also much less effective), is a sincere and lively work: but his reasons, stringent as much as you want in arguing, perspicuous and very lucid in style, no longer convince me...». Actually, Brofferio's book was not, as Morselli affirmed, in favor of the spiritual doctrines, but simply and logically led to conclude that, among the various hypotheses, the existence of alien and autonomous intelligences with respect to the medium was the least inconsistent one. In any case, Morselli, after having listed in turn all the motivations and contradictions for which, in his opinion, the spiritist hypothesis did not stand, concluded his book stating that he recognized to the psychodynamic hypothesis of work, «that sees in the Cosmos the existence of unknown psychic forces, and temporarily puts them in the series of other natural forces admitted by science and philosophy», the rank of most suitable in the study of mediumistic phenomena and of «more in accordance with the reliable heritage of knowledge».  

Morselli's unsympathetic attitude towards Paladino

A single critical remark, in my opinion, can be moved to Morselli, once the value and importance of his work has been recognized: he always treated Eusapia Paladino with an aloofness and a sense of superiority that sometimes manifested as a form of ill-concealed contempt. Among the thanks he addressed in his book to the people who helped, motivated and advised him in his demanding work, not one is dedicated to the medium. Certainly Paladino made herself paid for her performances, even if – as we have seen – she then gave to charity almost everything she earned, and lived poorly, so that she ended her days as a sick and miserable woman. It is equally true that she was an illiterate commoner: yet she did not lack her capacity for judgment and her dignity, which she manifested defending the genuineness of her mediumistic powers – even if in an ineffective and incongruous way. For this reason she always proved herself available to participate in experiments conducted by renowned researchers, hoping to see her mediumship recognized, beyond the expedients and the undoubted frauds that she was rightly accused of. On the other hand it must be said that outstanding mediums like Paladino were not to be found every day and at every corner, and this fact would suffice to say that a little more respect (and human sympathy) towards her by Morselli, would not have compromised any of the experiences.      


Kant & Swedenborg
Hypnotism & psyche
Hypnosis research
Research hypotheses
Myers' research
Frederik van Eeden
Dualism of theories
Research in Italy: 1
Research in Italy: 2
Research in Italy: 3
Ernesto Bozzano
Theories about spirit
Joseph B. Rhine
G. A. Rol's faculties
Ugo Dèttore
Limits of paranormal
Psyche, reality & will
Two levels of reality
Beyond the Ego