Eusapia Paladino and 'John King' by Oliver Lodge

Source: Chapter XXIII "Psychical Research" of the Oliver Lodge autobiography Past Years (1931)

 
"A White Hand Ringing a Bell."  Caption from Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena: "This photograph shows the exact position of the medium's hands and feet during the production of this remarkable phenomenon.  It will be seen that her hands are held on the extreme opposite corners of the table."


When a contemporary person reads Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena (1909) by Hereward Carrington, if there is any familiarity with this 'physical mediumship' case chronology there should be some degree of consideration that Eusapia Palladino was disrespectfully treated by more than a few of the scientists with whom she'd always cooperated.  As with other famous mediums in whose presence 'physical phenomena' occurred, accusations of there being various types of fraudulent manifestations persisted despite the consistency and forthright manner of Palladino's explanations and conjectures about her circumstances when in a trance state.  
 
Accusations and theoretically flawed perspectives to some extent may have been motivated by social consciousness concerns of the scientists' peers' likely reaction based on what had happened previously when one of them had reported witnessing genuine phenomena related to Spiritualism.  One case study book of a physical mediumship case that offers precise eyewitness details and many photographs documenting the behavior of a 'physical medium' while entranced is Phenomena of Materialization (1920), the English language version of Baron Albert Von Schrenck Notzing’s Materialisations-Phaenomene (1914).  (article)

The primary autobiography passage featured in this article is from Chapter XXIV Further Psychic Adventures, and Psycho-Physical Phenomena of the Oliver Lodge autobiography Past Years (1931).  
 
A book providing a profile of preceding occurrences is Very Peculiar People (1962) by Eric John Dingwall, who reported:
 
According to some sources and to Eusapia's own account, she was born on January 21, 1854, in the village of Minerverno Murge in the province of Bari in Italy.  Perched on the side of the hill, the village was mainly inhabited by poor peasants who eked out a miserable existence from the barren soil.  Eusapia's mother died shortly after her birth, and her father arranged that she should be brought up in a neighbour's house.  When she was twelve years old her father, it seems, was killed by brigands, and Eusapia was left practically to fend for herself.  
 
At that time there were living in Naples a Mr. and Mrs. G. Damiani, who were immensely interested in the so-called spiritual manifestations.  Since 1865, when he was converted, Mr. Damiani had been a keen attendant at séances.  He had married an English lady and had lived in Clifton, where he had seen the famous medium Mrs. Marshall and had been completely puzzled by her remarkable performances. Before leaving London he attended a circle at which the spirit of one John King was supposed to manifest.  This personality claimed to have been the famous Welsh buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan, who died in 1688 and who, when in Jamaica, incurred the wrath of the Earl of Carbery, once protector of Hadrian Vereland.  From the year 1850 onwards John King turned up as a spirit Control in numerous circles, his activities ranging from the Davenport Brothers and the Koon log-house to many English mediums such as Mrs. Marshall and  Mrs. Firman, whilst he is said to have manifested as recently as 1930 in the famous Glen Hamilton circle at Winnipeg.
 
John King's association with Eusapia began in a very curious way.  One day Mrs. Damiani was attending a séance and John King communicated, saying that a powerful medium, by name Eusapia, had arrived in Naples and that he had a mind to manifest himself through her and to produce some marvellous phenomena.  Mrs. Damiani allowed no time to slip by.  She hastened off, found Eusapia, and hardly had the sitting begun when John King arrived and from that day remained Eusapia's chief and most famous Control.
 
One of the earliest accounts we have of Eusapia is in a letter, dated March 31, 1872, and written by Mr. Damiani  himself.  He says that in Naples there was a medium of "most extraordinary and varied powers," a poor girl of about sixteen named Sapia Padalino (sic) who was without parents or friends.  She seemed to combine nearly every kind of mediumship.  Sounds like pistol-shots were heard, lights were seen  and tables rose into the air without visible means of support.  But there were other odd features of her mediumship which were somewhat disturbing.  Objects kept disappearing from the room where she sat and her visitors were beginning to get annoyed at their losses.  Men had to go home without their hats and wallets: women minus their cloaks and watches. 
 
All this was done, so it was said, by the spirit of John King, but Damiani thought that, if so, he needed "a deal of educational development."  He went on to say that the circle was trying to wean him of his disagreeable propensities, "which are quite superfluous as a means of inducing to belief, and may cause suspicion of the poor, simple medium."

Oliver Lodge in his autobiography recalled first meeting physiologist and university professor Charles Richet, who had traveled from France to see Eusapia: "I visited Richet in the south, in company with Myers.  We travelled together from England, to go to Carqueiranne, in August 1894 . . . There we received a message that he was not staying at the château, but had migrated, to an island in the Mediterranean . . . the Roubaud, sometimes spelt Ribaud, one of the ancient groups of islands off Hyères . . . Prof. Ochorowicz, the only other visitor . . . Eusapia could speak nothing but Italian, and Neapolitan dialect at that.  She was never seen in the morning that I remember; the time for her performance was the evening.  Usually a M. Bellier, a sort of secretary of Richet's, came to the island to take notes . . . Hyères was completely deserted, the houses seemed shut up and empty.  A hot August in the Riviera does not attract visitors, or did not then.  But, for our purpose the conditions were excellent."
 
Richet wrote in Thirty Years of Psychical Research (1923): "The word "ectoplasm," which I invented for the experiments with Eusapia, seems entirely justified."  Some of Lodge's theoretical statements about the phenomena are articulated in a cautious manner providing examples of perceptions being made during this epoch, one example (as in the following excerpt) being: "The phenomena seem to be of what we call a low grade — that is, they involve nothing greatly higher than animal intelligence; the appearance is as if they were carried out by some lower entities; though the control of their activities maybe supervised and managed by something more on the human scale of intelligence."

Eusapia Palladino seance photo from University of Turin Museo di Antropologia Criminale
  
 

Passage from Chapter XXIV Further Psychic Adventures, and Psycho-Physical Phenomena of the Oliver Lodge autobiography Past Years (1931)

 
After we had had dinner on the  verandah . . . we went into the living- or séance room of the little house, and prepared for the sitting.  This occurred on nearly every evening that I was there.  A complete record of these experiences . . . were reported and printed in the private Journal of the S.P.R. and nowhere else; but the occurrences were very memorable, and were my first experience of psycho-physical phenomena.  I shall make a sort of record of them here.
 
Two of our number, sometimes Richet and Myers, sometimes Myers and I, sat on either side of Eusapia, holding each one hand, and constantly . . . [describing the process of mediumship] for the benefit of the others, whenever anything occurred, "J'ai la main gauche," "J'ai la main droite," making sure which hand it was by the position of the thumb.  I don't say that our hand-holding at these early times was all that could be desired, for afterwards it was found that [this statement seems a matter of ''interpretative memory' and the author doesn't even mention at this point Eusapia being in a trance —MRB] she had a trick of dodging the holder's hand, so that one held the back of one hand, while the other held the front, thus liberating her other hand for doing whatever was necessary.  It is difficult to make this trick clear; but I have found it possible to accomplish it in the dark (and the sittings were in the dark), and I verified afterwards that Eusapia was rather accomplished at this little deception, which, when found out, disgusted Myers, so that he refused to have anything more to do with her.  But I think she only resorted to this trick when the power was failing or was very weak; and then the things she did with her loose hand were only those within her reach.  
 
Sometimes, even at that early date, we were doubtful about the hand-holding, and afterwards expressed to Eusapia this doubt, saying, about one incident, that we were not sure that she didn't have her hand loose.  Upon this she flew into one of her Neapolitan rages, implying that she could not retain control of herself when in trance, and saying words  equivalent to these: "Here am I taking all this trouble to show you these phenomena, and you don't even hold my hands so that I cannot do them normally; it is too bad!"  [speculation]. 
 
The suggestion was that her organism was trying, under control, to get some physical thing done, and that in the effort, if any normal means were available, or if she could contrive to utilise normal means, she would do it in that way.  [speculaton]  She wanted us to understand that it was not conscious deception, but that her control took whatever means were available, and, if he found an easy way of doing a thing, thus would it be done.  [speculation]  I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, so far as the morals of deception are concerned; for she was a kindly soul, with many of the instincts of a peasant, and extraordinarily charitable.  She sometimes went in a boat to the mainland for a stroll, and would come back minus her cloak, saying she had given it to a beggar who needed it.  This is only one kind of incident that I happen to remember.  But in many ways she showed the kindness and generosity of a simple unsophisticated nature.  So much so that I overheard Richet once say that, if a Certain Person visited the island, He would pick out Eusapia as the best of the lot of us.
 
She had has an adventurous life.  Her father had been killed by brigands, and, if you got on the subject of brigands, her gesticulations became violent; she would rise from the dining-table and brandish a knife, standing up and making as if she would stab anything within reach.  She had been left an orphan, in danger of starvation, but some kind benefactor befriended her, and brought her up from childhood.  He is seems was fairly interested in what was then known as spiritualism , and when, as she described it, the furniture began to move about in her presence, he encouraged the phenomenon, and used to have regular sittings; so that in time she became famous.
 
She had a little shop for baby-linen somewhere on the Bay of Naples, but she had been invited to visit some of the capitals of Europe, among others Warsaw, where she described how when she went to a theatre the audience cheered her.  At Warsaw she became acquainted with Ochorowicz, who was a professor at Lemberg, and who subsequently took charge of her, bringing her to the notice of Richet and other European celebrities.  This adulation probably rather turned her head, and made her subsequently feel that England was very cold and dull: she disliked it, and never got her best phenomena there. 
 
On the Mediterranean island her powers were very strong.  They usually began with hand-clutchings, which were vigorous at times when we were quite sure of the control of both her normal hands.  It was as if there was something or someone in the room, which could go about and seize people's arms or the back of their necks, and give a grip; just as anybody might who was free to move about.  These grips were very frequent, and everyone at the table felt them sooner or later.  I also once felt a long hairy beard as if from a man standing behind my chair.  It was said to be John King's beard, and the feeling was certainly eerie on my head, which even then was incredibly bald.  John King, whatever he was, was a frequent and, indeed, the main control of Eusapia's sittings at this time.

Henry Morgan materialization at Charles Williams seance (The Voice Box photo)
 
This statement is based on Eusapia's own account of her phenomena.  I am not presuming to judge what John King really was, but the phenomena were certainly as if she were controlled by a big powerful man.  The grasps and hand-clutches had that suggestion about them, and the raps on the table, which were frequent, were sometimes so strong as to feel dangerous: they sounded like blows delivered with a heavy mallet.  Certainly none of us was doing them.  They struck sometimes as if the table must be broken by the blows; and one could even feel nervous for the safety of our hands upon the table, but they were never struck.  
 
One episode illustrating the occasional exertion of unusual force I will narrate.  Richet had in the séance room a small spring dynamometer, which could be clutched in the hand and squeezed, so that an index, left at the highest point, recorded the maximum pressure used.  Richet's idea was that all the energy used at a sitting must come from the medium or some of the sitters; and so he made everybody clutch a dynamometer with both right and left hands, before a sitting and after, recording the figures obtained.  After, say, two hours sitting in a hot dark room, we were all a trifle exhausted; consequently our hand-grasp on the instrument was weaker at the close than at the beginning, but not very much, except Eusapia, who was sometimes flabby at the end. 
 
The hand-grasp of each was recorded.  Mine was the top, then Richet's, then Myers's and Ochorowicz's, and then Eusapia's, which, of course, was much weaker.  But one night, at the end of the sitting, while Eusapia was giving her feeble clutch, when the light had been lighted after the sitting, she began to exclaim and complain and shout, "Oh, John, you're hurting!" and to our surprise we saw the needle going up, indicating a force far beyond what any of us could exert.  She wrung her fingers afterwards, and said John had put his great hand round hers, and squeezed the machine up to an abnormal figure. 
 
This phenomenon is known to medical men, I believe, as an hysterical increase of strength noticed with some patients.  It should be studied for what it is.  Calling a thing hysterical is no explanation.  Eusapia's is a sort of explanation, though a supernormal one; but when we are dealing with these strange occurrences, we need not shy at the idea of supernormality.  We do not know everything that is possible to a human organism, and we certainly are not aware of all existences in the universe.  We must just make a careful study and be guided by the facts.
 
Whatever Eusapia's control was, I shall call it "John King," to distinguish it from Eusapia, who, a little elderly kind of peasant woman, was sitting there in trance, her limbs thoroughly controlled, as reported on by a man on either side of her, and sometimes by a third man standing behind the chair, and holding her head.  To guard against activity of her feet, an electrical apparatus by Ochorowicz was employed.  I had myself brought a foot apparatus with me, but I found it unsuitable.  The design of Ochorowicz was much more ingenious, inasmuch as it allowed some ordinary moving of her feet, such as inevitable in a long sitting, and only if a foot were completely taken off the apparatus did an electric bell ring.  There was a screen or network surrounding each foot which effectually prevented one foot doing duty for two.  It had been designed after long continued knowledge of the circumstances, what to allow and what to guard against, and to it Eusapia made no objection; though she was liable to demur to any new-fangled system of control, when she didn't understand it.  She needed, and indeed demanded, control; she claimed that she would do the things normally in trance if she could (conjecture): it was our business to prevent her — that is, to control her organism so that no normal part of it should be used.
 
In these circumstances John King occasionally showed his hand, or what he called his hand; a big, five-fingered, ill-formed thing it looked in the dusk.  We only had the illumination that came through the curtains at the window.  These same curtains sometimes took part in the phenomena, swelling or bulging out, and sometimes blowing over the head of one of the sitters, as if there were a strong wind outside, whereas it was perfectly quiet.  Once, while the curtains were bulging as if with a body inside them, I got up and went and pushed at the curtain, feeling a hard resistance.  Immediately after, the curtain collapsed, and there was noting there.  
 
Once John King said he would show his face at the window; and there, high up, behind Eusapia, appeared a sort of profile, more an imitation of a face, large and masculine; but, on examining it, I found it was built up out of the fringe of the window curtain, the curtain being supernormally manipulated, so that its fringed edge gave the appearance of a large face.  No one was touching the curtain when this happened, and soon afterwards the curtain relapsed into its usual form.  I regarded it as rather instructive concerning the appearance generally.  It seemed to indicate that the power, whatever it was, made use of any piece of matter that it could find. 
 
The appearance of hands and faces shown to ordinary vision did not seem to be real hands and faces, but some material manipulated so as to imitate them.  When a tractable or organised material was used, the imitation, or sculpture, or whatever it ought to be called, was good and fairly lifelike.  When some inorganic thing was used, it was a rude imitation.  No attempt was at that time made to produce a ful-form apparition.  So far as I know, these were not claimed in the case of Eusapia.
 
One night while we were sitting at the table a discussion arose as to whether the door had been locked, or whether it had been forgotten.  The door was quite out of reach, but we then heard the key being fumbled with in the door, and presently it appeared on the table.  Another episode I remember vividly occurred on the last day of our first visit, which the control had insisted on our giving to the investigation, so that we had stayed an extra night at some inconvenience.  Hitherto the phenomena had seemed as if a confederate must be in the room; but our isolated circumstances rendered that impossible, unless one of us was acting as confederate.  Suspicion will inevitably fall upon Ochorowicz or upon M. Bellier, the secretary to Professor Richet, who took notes outside the window, as they were less thoroughly known.  The note-taker sat outside the room on the veranda, so that we shouted through the open window what was happening, while he recorded it.  
 
On this last evening Bellier was gone; he had left the island, and Ochorowicz sat outside the room in his place and took notes, so that his imaginary co-operation was eliminated.  (As a matter of fact, he was as careful as anybody, and was an experienced investigator, in whom Eusapia had confidence.)  It had to be noted that under these conditions, on that last evening, the phenomena were just as strong as before, and the blows on the table were exceptionally violent, while only I and Myers and Richet were sitting with Eusapia.  Before the sitting closed, Eusapia got up, still in trance, and, held by two people, stood in front of the window sideways, where I could well see the space in front of her, the night not being dark.  There was an escritoire standing against the wall, about a yard from her, and she proceeded to make a gesture towards it, as if she were intending to reach it or push it, her hands being well and visibly held.  Every time she did this, the piece of furniture tilted back against the wall, just as if she had had a stick in her hand and was pushing it.  This happened three times. 
 
There must have been some connexion between her and the furniture to make it move like that, but it was nothing that appealed to the senses.  It suggested an invisible ectoplasmic rod — that is, some structure unknown to science, which could transmit force to a distance.  Indeed, that is the appearance of the ectoplasmic phenomena altogether.  Objects far beyond normal reach are moved.  There must be some mechanical connexion to make matter move:mental activity could never do it.  The appearance was as if she had long, supernumerary limbs, and we spoke of them as invisible pseudopods, by which she accomplished these feats.  So strong was this impression that I was doubtful if her anatomy was quite normal; but she had been medically examined, and reported on as quite ordinary.
 
Yet there appeared to emanate from her side, through her clothes, a sort of supernumerary arm, which occasionally I could see, once sitting behind her for the purpose, while Myers and Richet were holding her normal arms.  I saw this protuberance gradually stretching out in the dim light, until ultimately it reached Myers, who was wearing a white jacket.  I saw it approach, recede, hesitate, and finally touch him, when he immediately reported, "On me touche," and said it felt like a hand.  This, I presume, was the way in which the clutches were managed.  Richet invented the name "ectoplasm" for these abnormal projections, emanating from the medium's body, and achieving physical effects, controlled apparently by some intelligence not her own. 
 
As far as the physics of the movements were concerned, they were all produced, I believe, in accordance with the ordinary laws of matter.  The ectoplasmic formation which operated was not normal; but its abnormality belongs to physiology or anatomy — it is something which biologists ought to study.  It was something which Richet, as a physiologist, found repugnant and was very loth [variation of 'loath'] to admit, but the facts were too much for him.  He often said, "C'est absolutament absurde, mais c'est vrai" — or words to that effect.
 
I have spoken of the ectoplasm as variable in texture, often either not at all or dimly visible , but readily tangible.  One example of that was conspicuous when I sat behind Myers in his white jacket, and heard him being slapped on the back many times; though closely scrutinising, in quite sufficient light, I could see nothing.  I could hear the blows, however, and he could feel them; it may be that something could have been photographed with a quartz lens, but we made no such attempt.  There were no facilities for trying photography, and we had plenty to do, with the multiplicity of phenomena offered in ordinary modes of investigation.
 
There was a railway weighing-machine in the room, and once we got Eusapia to sit on the platform to be weighed, while still in trance.  But it is very difficult to weigh live creatures, unless they keep quite still, and even then one cannot be certain that they haven't got something pressing on the floor or on something outside the platform.  Weighing experiments were carried out by Crawford at Belfast afterwards, but we did not succeed in getting any satisfactory results with Eusapia.  We wanted to find what effect on her weight the extrusion of ectoplasm would hvae; but the balance-arm went up and down, as if she were exerting a varying pressure on something: and I have no doubt she was, through one of her normal or abnormal limbs.
 
Objects were often brought from some part of the room to the table; and once, when her head alone was free, a large melon was brought from behind on to the table, which, as Richet said jocularly, must have been done by her mouth — meaning it could not be done normally at all.  There were many examples of telekinesis far beyond her reach.  One of the objects with which she was accustomed to play in her normal state was a musical-box shaped like a Swiss chalet, with doors which opened when you turned a handle, disclosing cigars, at least when the box was in normal use.  Directly the doors opened, the musical part began to play.  The whole was smeared outside with luminous paint, so that it was a dimly visible object in the dark.  This was often moved about during a sitting. 
 
Before one of the latter sittings I spent the whole afternoon in the séance-room making preparation, and seeing that no other preparation was made by Eusapia; though really the idea was ridiculous, she had no interest in the phenomena in her usual state, and was rather bored by them.  I then took the opportunity of hanging this musical-box high up near the ceiling, so that it was out of everybody's reach when they were sitting at the table, and I let the musical part run down.  It could be wound up by a handle at the bottom of the box. 
 
During the ensuing sitting we asked John King if he could find the musical-box, which he had moved about several times already on former occasions.  We heard him begin to fumble with it, as it hung, but complained that it wanted winding up.  We said, "Very well, wind it!" which accordingly he did; at least, we heard it being wound up — an operation which required the use of two hands, with the box hanging by a string like that.  Then we saw the doors open, and it began to play.  Then the string broke, and then it sailed placidly down and round the circle, ultimately alighting on Myers's chest, where it was left.  The movement was exactly as if it was being carried by a hand. but it wasn't any of our hands.  The place where I had hung it was three yards away from Eusapia, and out of reach from anyone.
 
The only simple explanation offered of these telekinetic and plastic phenomena is the ectoplasmic one, namely, that they are done by the aid of organised material derived from the medium or from the sitters.  This is an explanation which removes the necessity of postulating any abnormality of physical performance, but it is abnormal as regards biology — a circumstance which Richet fully admitted.  Some day, biologists will take it up, and arrive at the laws of its behavior.  The phenomena seem to be of what we call a low grade — that is, they involve nothing greatly higher than animal intelligence; the appearance is as if they were carried out by some lower entities; though the control of their activities maybe supervised and managed by something more on the human scale of intelligence.
 
Incidentally, I must say that the manifestation of this abnormal substance called ectoplasm is often liable to lead to an accusation of fraud by novices, when there is no fraud.  Eusapia, for instance, sitting in America, was supposed to be exposed by someone feeling some substance which he concluded must be her foot, which to get loose she would have to have extracted from her footwear, whatever it was. 
 
I hold no brief for Eusapia; she was liable to use her hand in a fraudulent manner, and she may have used her foot, but there is no proof of that; it may just as well have been an ectoplasmic protuberance which was felt; and the conclusion that it was her foot may have been a hasty one.  Robert Browning made the same mistake about Home, and expressed his disgust by writing, "Mr. Sludge 'the Medium.'"  He described his experience by saying that he was sitting for a manifestation by his wife or child; he saw something dimly white, he grasped it, and said it was "the scoundrel's naked foot," a serious accusation, to which a physical medium always renders himself liable, when producing in trance a form of matter unfamiliar to anyone present, and liable to be taken as one of his normal organs, on small evidence, in default of any other explanation.  
 
These "exposures" are only genuine when there are signs of prearranged devices.  An accusation of fraud based upon what may be only an ectoplasmic emanation ought not to be made.  Let it be noted that ectoplasm proper is more than a secretion or extrusion of material: if genuine, it has powers of operating, it can exert force, and exhibit forms.  A mere secretion from the mouth, which hangs down and does nothing, is of no interest; attention to such stuff encourages its fraudulent production.
 
I may add a few further details about our sittings in 1894. We sat at a small table which frequently moved about and levitated.  But there was also a large heavy table in the room, and this occasionally was moved and raised and turned right over, no one being near it.  A chair also, visible behind the medium, and four feet away, was seen to move about, approaching and receding, and then tilting so as to give knocks ostensibly as if in answer to questions.

 
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