The history of an Italian medium: part 4
The making of the «mediumistic cabinet»
In the period between February and May 1938 Gino Franchi had the idea, perhaps at a suggestion by the guides, to create a cabinet for the medium, isolating the room where the sitters gathered (wich had no windows) from the adjacent kitchen, through a pair of thick black fabric curtains. In the kitchen there was a deckchair (with a certain emphasis called armchair in the minutes), on which the medium usually lay down before the start of the sitting, with open curtains and light on. However, sometimes the medium happened to fell into a trance when he was still in the big room (the living room of Franchi house) and, while in trance, he was transported or dragged by invisible forces on the kitchen chair (sitting of May 20, 1938). When Gino Franchi, who directed the sittings, realized that the medium was in a trance, he switched off the white light and turned on the red bulb. The black curtains were kept open or closed according to the requests of the guiding entities, who sometimes asked for complete darkness, in which case the red light was also turned off. The sitters were arranged in a semicircle in front of the curtains, on two or three rows of chairs (in 1938 some séances were attended by more than 20 people), and Ravaldini's family seated in the front row, so as to create a sort of protective barrier around the medium and the entities that showed up.
Since in the minutes of the séances there is no reference to this period (there is an interruption of 4 months from 17 January to 20 May 1938), the reconstruction of what happened in the first sittings with the medium isolated in the mediumistic cabinet was entrusted to Ravaldini's memory, who recalled those events both in his book Realtà e Mistero, and during our meetings. «The room in which the sittings were held was internal and served as a living room. In order to create the mediumistic cabinet, it was necessary to choose between the two rooms adjacent to the living room, one of which was the kitchen. The latter was chosen, especially due to the fact that the medium should have remained alone, in a trance state, even in winter. Not being the house heated, the kitchen would ensure a temperature higher than that of the other rooms. Two black curtains were applied to the door that connected the kitchen and the living room and a red lamp was installed in the latter. For the medium a deckchair was acquired, which was always improperly called armchair. In the kitchen there was a large fireplace, with its hood and chimney. In order to avoid any drafts coming from the chimney, a wooden cap was built with which the hood was closed during each sitting. The windows of the kitchen were two, with no external shutters. Inside they were equipped with heavy shutters that were closed by small latches. From the kitchen a door led into a toilet, which accessed the w.c. The latter was lit by a square small window, as used then. During the sitting, the kitchen, used as a mediumistic cabinet, remained virtually isolated and nothing could have been introduced from the outside. In the kitchen, the medium's chair was placed in front of the door that communicated with the room of the sitters, who were arranged in a semicircle near the door, in a double row of chairs when they were numerous. Thus, a rather large empty space formed between the sitters and the door».Ravaldini then recalled that the kitchen windows were at a rather unusual height (more than a meter and a half from the floor) and therefore were not easily reachable.
The new phenomenon of direct voice
I quote from Realtà e Mistero what happened in the first three sittings in which the medium, isolated in the mediumistic cabinet, began to produce the phenomenon of direct voice. «After my family had arranged the environment as I have already described, one evening the medium lay for the first time on the armchair in the kitchen. The white light in the sitters' room was turned off and replaced with the red one. The black curtains were open. After a few minutes the medium was in a trance and rapping phenomena began. At a certain moment, my relatives, who could see their friend standing still on the armchair, began to hear something that had never happened before. The medium seemed to emit abundant expiration while at the same time pronouncing vowels in an aphonic voice. These sounds varied in intensity: now they were very weak, then were heard rather strong. Listening to them (and I later listened to them so many times) there were two particularities. The aphonic vowel A, for instance, was pronounced uninterruptedly for a period longer than would normally be possible, since a man, together with the sound of a vowel, exhales the air contained in his lungs, and when these are empty he can not continue without taking a breath. The other peculiarity was that sometimes this sound stopped abruptly, producing a noise similar to a click or a clack, to then be resumed either on a different audio level, or changing the sound, so that the original vowel A could change and resemble an O. And by saying this I can only give an idea of the phenomenon, as I lack appropriate references to the world of sounds that we are normally used to».
So the evolution of phenomenology took place in the following order: during the first sitting the usual rappings were heard, to which the sitters were already accustomed (as there are no minutes of this sitting, we know nothing about the contents of these raps communications), and the medium began to utter some sounds that, although seeming to come from his body, showed some features not compatible with normal human phonation. Then there were those brief contractions of the medium's body (which perhaps were the prelude to the state of cataleptic trance that Fontanelli went into during the following séances), and finally the awakening. A sitting therefore that, although not very relevant with regard to the phenomena, nevertheless let us guess an experimental process of tuning the instrument. In fact, in the following sitting, after the repetition of the same process, suddenly a human voice began to speak, at high volume, in a language unknown to the sitters and considered by them as German, on the basis of subsequent communications by the control entities.
Ravaldini told me that his relatives (especially his mother and aunt) really had a jolt of fear when the voice began to speak abrubtly, loud, steadfast and incomprehensible, also because none of the guides had ever mentioned the direct voice and the possibility that this rare phenomenon would occur. In the recorded conversation of 1973 Luciano and Severino Chesi, who took part in this sitting, recalled the deep impression received by this stentorian voice that spoke in a language unintellegible to them. Also in an article published in Luce e Ombra (issue 2, 1995), Ravaldini mentioned the reaction of his family members: «But one evening, suddenly, a powerful male voice began to speak in the mediumistic cabinet in an unknown language. My relatives jumped on their chairs, while the pulsations of their hearts speeded up. Still on their chairs, and rather fearful, they listened to that incomprehensible voice without understanding how and why, all of a sudden, something they were not used to was happening, but above all they wondered why they had not been warned of that sudden change. The voice spoke for a long time, and this fact gave my family members a little shock».
The guide entities Marzo and Amato
In the next sitting the guide entities, Marzo and Amato, communicated in direct voice, speaking in Italian. At this point we must hypothesize that the entities have identified themselves or have been identified at the request of the sitters. I incline to the first hypothesis, because, from this sitting onwards, the entities, communicating in direct voice, often identified themselves or other entities with their name. For example, in the sitting of June 9, 1938 Amato said: «Marzo, when he was incarnated on Earth, very much nourished himself with faith and sensed with his spirit that life begins when the body falls. He was killed doing good and teaching the way to follow. He did not need a guide when he passed away». These details have their importance, as we will see when we will face the problem of identifying the entities. Marzo and Amato then said that the entity that had showed up speaking in German «had been a musician on Earth, who had lived in Germany»: they themselves called this entity Wagner, pronouncing however the name not in German, but according to the Tuscan use, with the gn as in the English word reign (also the participants in the recorded conversation of 1973 pronounced the name in the same way). Be that as it may, Wagner entity reappeared many other times and was the protagonist, as we shall see, of some of the most spectacular materialization phenomena.
The phonations of the direct voice
As for the phonations, contractions and other phenomena related to direct voice, I report here some interesting observations by Ravaldini: «My family members first, and myself later, thought that the sounds that were heard at the beginning of the phenomenon were necessary so that the voices could take consistency and thus bring to the sitters what from an unknown dimension was wished to communicate. In fact, it was as if someone tried to tune an instrument, or rather, as if someone were tuning the various circuits of an electronic device having a speaker as terminal, which gradually revealed the various phases of this process. After the entities had ceased to speak, the sounds were repeated, even if to a lesser extent. And it seemed that they wanted to put the medium again in the conditions in which he was before the séance, because soon after this process he woke up and came back to consciousness. The contractions of his body were seen only during the first sittings in which the phenomenon of the direct voice occurred; then they disappeared completely. The aphonic sounds we heard at the beginning and at the end of the sittings attenuated over time, and during the last period of this cycle of séances they occurred very rarely, without any change in the phenomenon of voices».
«These aphonic sounds were always localized outside the medium: on his side or in front of him, that is at the exact point where the voice would then speak. Sometimes, while a voice was speaking, there were sudden interruptions. These were always followed by one of those aphonic clacks I mentioned. There was also the possibility that the communication would not resume immediately, and then there followed a small interval during which we heard aphonic vowels. Returning with my mind to this peculiarity of the phenomenon, I had the impression of being in front of something similar to our complex electronic receivers and amplifiers of electromagnetic waves. In these specific cases it seemed that a circuit had broken and that the device was tuning again through some automatism, or was re-tuned by someone. Sometimes it happened that some Entities spoke with rather loud tone. One of these, in particular, with his thundering voice, revealed a strong personality that proved to be that of a leader. The high power of their voice, however, was always short, because after the first sentence the communication was suddenly interrupted, sometimes in the middle of a word. Immediately a clack could be heard. The medium then woke up for a few seconds and, speaking with his own normal voice, addressed the entity in an annoyed tone, reproaching him because he had spoken too loudly. Immediately after he fell back into a deep trance, while the same entity resumed talking, but in a remarkably lowered tone. Sometimes the guide intervened to say that the interruption was due to a too strong signal».
This last episode is remarkable: an entity identified as Garibaldi had a strong charge of energy, which manifested itself in a particularly high volume of his voice. So it could happen that Urbino Fontanelli, in a trance, reacted to this loud voice, waking up for a moment, and saying to the entity in a resentful tone, with a typically Tuscan expression: «Oh che boci?!» (Why are you screaming?), to fall back in a trance at once. And the entity resumed talking, but in a lower tone. This is one of the various episodes that prove the participation of the medium, at least at a subconscious level, to what occurred during the trance, and the interaction between the two dimensions: a phenomenon perceived in our dimension (the loud volume voice) was referred to another dimension, and there modified.
Issues related to the identification of the entities
The communicating entities almost always showed up with what we could define as their coherent and constant personality, something to which it is natural to attribute that character of identification that we usually attribute to a human person. For this reason, since the beginnings of spiritualism, and regardless of the form in which communication occurred, a question was always asked to the entities: «Who are you?». A question that almost always was answered by the entities with a name: sometimes the name of a deceased known by someone of the sitters, sometimes the name of a famous person, sometimes a fancy name. Castelfiorentino's séances, under this aspect, were no exception: from the initial rapping phase the ritual question was addressed to the entities, and the most varied answers were obtained (Dante, Marzo, San Carlo, and so on). It is clear how the origin of the identification request (and the expected answer) was mainly due to the cultural approach of the sitters, prone to recognize in the communicating entity the surviving spirit of a person who had already lived in our world. As for the correspondence between the identity declared by the entities (or attributed to them by the siters) and the actual identity of the people actually lived, the issue should be framed in the more general context of the history of mediumistic phenomena, and it has never been resolved satisfactory, as can also be seen from the information given on this site: next to the cases of entities recognized by some of the sitters, or by the tone of their voice, or by the appearance of their materialization, or (more often) by the accuracy of the details of the evoked memories or of the information given (in some cases unknown to the sitters and verified only later), there have always been many cases of dubious or obviously false identifications.
Even in Castelfiorentino, on several occasions, the entities of people recently passed away showed themselves with their identity, which was unmistakable for those who – among the sitters – had known them in life: not only the name thei gave, but also their timbre of voice and their way to express and to speak (a particularly important element for the manifestations in direct voice) were often recognized. Other times, however, the entities gave the names of more or less known or famous personalities – which may have been chosen among those present in the psyche of the medium or of the sitters – or, as in the case of Marzo, adopted symbolic names, which were used without having any relation to their possible name in the earthly life. In some cases the identifications were made intuitively or by induction by the sitters (for example it does not seem, at least from the minutes we have, that the entity of the Tenor had ever explicitly said about himself: «I am Silvio Costa Lo Giudice»). However in other cases, like that of the entity Boccacci, there were communications aimed at confirming the (false) identity, as in the already mentioned sitting of December 1, 1937 («What do you think of my Decameron? Do not doubt that I am Boccacci; I was eight years old when the divine poet died»). Anyway, at the time of the sittings very few investigations were carried out to verify the identity of the entities. The identification of Wagner, for example, was made by Marzo or by Amato, in direct voice. In this case the sitters did not have the slightest idea, at least at a conscious level, about who the entity could be. Unfortunately none of them understood German, so we can not know what Wagner said in his long speech. In the sitting of May 20, 1938, Wagner spoke again for a long time, and it was Marzo who reported that the entity had told episodes of his life with his first and second wife.
In Realtà e Mistero Ravaldini reported another exceptional performance by Wagner, which is not recorded in the minutes but which is confirmed by the participants in the recorded conversation in 1973. «One evening, after the guides Marzo and Amato and many other entities had spoken in direct voice, the sitters suddenly realized that a person was moving in the kitchen. In the sitters' room, at the request of the guides, the red light had been turned off and the black curtains closed. Then someone opened the water tap on the kitchen sink. Almost immediately a dazzling light invaded the mediumistic cabinet. At first the sitters thought that the normal white lamp that was used for lighting the kitchen had been turned on, but with a hundredfold power, because the black curtains became transparent. Those who were closest to the door, however, realized that there was a light source, like a spotlight, located near the water tap, while the water kept flowing into the sink. This light source was circular, about forty centimeters in diameter, but it did not appear homogeneous, and whirled around itself like a vortex. However, the light was so intense that the kitchen was visible even through the closed curtains, and the same living room was indirectly illuminated».
«The medium was lying on the armchair and looked deeply asleep. On his left there was a man dressed in old-fashioned clothes, wearing a characteristic headgear, like a beret. The man spoke in German. My relatives already knew that voice: it belonged to a Musician who had already showed up speaking directly. The ghost, or rather the man, because these were the unequivocal features of the materialized apparition, moved and spoke addressing to the sitters, and in doing so the light that hit him in full from behind highlighted his profile, which showed a well pronounced nose. This phenomenon went on for a short time. Suddenly the intense light went out and the water tap was closed. The sitting continued in complete darkness and there were only phenomena of direct voice, that is, entities who spoke addressing the sitters or conversing directly with some of them». Although Ravaldini was not a direct witness to this phenomenon, he heard about it very much from his family members (who had been deeply impressed by it) with the plenty of details given in his report. The light must indeed have been very intense to allow Wagner's silhouette and clothings to be seen through the black curtains.
And here is another materialization of Wagner, not reported in the minutes but recalled by Ravaldini, which should have occurred before May 20, 1938, as can be deduced from the detail of the warmers, which shows a still winter climate. «The participants in the sittings were always numerous and my family had to gather all the chairs in our home. Some were now very old and corroded by woodworms. Two of these chairs were used that evening by my mother and my aunt, who took part in the séance with a hand-warmer, since it was still cold and our house – as indeed almost any house in the pre-war period – lacked a heating system. The sitters arranged themselves as usual, in a semicircle, and in front of the kitchen's open door the usual wide empty space was left. After the medium seated on his armchair and reached a deep trance, the guides spoke in direct voice and one of them asked to perform the usual operation: close the curtains and turn off the red light. Then other entities spoke directly until the well known voice of the Musician was heard: he materialized in the mediumistic cabinet and, while continuing to speak in his language, came among the sitters. He approached my aunt, took her gently by her arms, and placed her standing where the semicircle of the sitters ended, so that she was between the wall and a sitter's chair. He gently took the warmer from her hands and, moving to the center of the wide empty space, began to swirl it rather quickly, so that the embers inside the basin, due to the rapid air flow, became incandescent. Thus, in the darkness, it was possible to see again the same man who had been observed in other previous sittings».
«Suddenly the entity ceased that whirling movement; he put the warmer down and took hold of the empty chair, picked it up and strongly threw it on the floor. The chair, given its age, shattered, and some wooden splinters were heard falling to the floor after the crash. My family and their friends were now used to a bit of everything during the sittings, but I do not know what the reactions of the other siters were: we can only imagine them, also because in the dark it was difficult to realize what was happening. The silence that followed that small tragedy was immediately broken by the voice of Marzo, which spoke from the mediumistic cabinet: "He has done evil, now he must do penance: he will rebuild it". The Musician, after the words of the guide, went back to the cabinet in silence, but no one was able to establish the possible duration of his materialization. The sitting followed its regular course. Other entities showed up speaking directly and both guides entertained themselves with the sitters. Then it all ended. At the end of the séance the chair was found standing on its legs, in the middle of the empty space, in the conditions in which it was before the sitting, except for its back, which lacked a splinter of wood about seven to eight centimeters long, and one and a half thick. The sliver, then found on the floor, perfectly matched with the missing part. Everyone wanted to examine the rebuilt chair, but nothing was noticed that could show what had happened shortly before, except the splinter. This, perhaps, was deliberately left so that we had no doubts about a phenomenon that occurred completely in the dark and maybe thought of a deception of the sitters' senses. The splinter of wood, kept for a long time in memory of that sitting, was then lost during the vicissitudes of the last war conflict».
Since the date on which the minutes are resumed (May 20, 1938), the séances are very frequent, with a cadence of one sitting every two or three days. Presumably the mediumistic cabinet must have been prepared in February 1938, and in any case in a period still in winter: it can be inferred from the concern to close the chimney hood so that chill air flows could not reach the medium, and from the use of warmers by some sitters. It is likely that also in March, April, and in the first half of May 1938, frequent sittings were held, with plenty of phenomena such as those reported above and others which we will see later, of which unfortunately any written report is missing in the minutes. For these reasons, even if the interruption of the minutes is only four months, many are the phenomena lacking any reference and which could be of great interest. And if for some of them it was possible to rely on Ravaldini's reconstruction, while he was alive, he himself recognized that every trace of some phenomena had unfortunately been lost.
Wagner plays the piano
Also from this period is the following episode in which Wagner played a piano. «Here is another sitting in which the Musician materialized. Marzo had made it known that the Musician wanted to play the piano in one of the future séances. After this explicit request, the manager of a movie theater, who attended our sittings, kindly offered to lend the instrument that was in his local. Some porters carried the piano to our house, and it was placed in the medium's cabinet. Of this episode I still have a very vivid memory, because I witnessed all the operations necessary to carry the instrument up the stairs. I also remember that the piano was then placed in the sitters' room and stayed there for a few days. Also of this séance I miss many elements and therefore the report that I will make is only partial. The guide Marzo, speaking in direct voice, invited my uncle to operate as usual. By now complete darkness and the curtain screen between the sitters and the medium – except in special cases – were necessary to obtain materialization phenomena. I do not know what happened soon after: my uncle's detailed narration always started from the moment when, with open curtains, the materialized Musician turned on the kitchen lamp, while the medium was lying on his armchair».
«The somatic features and the clothing of the materialized apparition were those of the previous sittings. He always spoke in German, of course. The entity approached the piano and thanked the sitters for fulfilling his wish. Marzo was the interpreter of what the Musician said. On the piano stool, which had been transported together with the instrument, my relatives had put a low cushion, as if by an act of respect towards he who should have sat on it. The man took the cuschion and, with an angry gesture, threw it on the floor; then he sat on the stool and began to play. The piece or the pieces that the soloist performed were unknown to everyone present. The kitchen remained lit only for a short time and I do not know who turned off the light, nor if the curtains were closed and when it was done. Anyway, the recital went on and ended in the dark. At the end of the concert the materialized entity was no longer heard. Instead, Amato spoke directly and stayed for a long time with the sitters. This phenomenon, like all the others that happened during that sitting, leads us once again to consider that something had happened that neither the sitters nor the medium could have done, because no one of them could play the piano».
The person who offered to bring the piano to Franchi house was Mr. Bondi, the owner of the movie theater Puccini and a regular sitter. The instrument was the one used in his theater during the shows. Ravaldini still remembered the fatigue and imprecations of the porters in carrying the heavy piano up the stairs, and then placing it in the kitchen. During this sitting a kind of theatrical play took place, at least for the period during which the light of the kitchen remained lit, with the acting of the cushion thrown angrily away. It seems, however, that Wagner entity played the piano well. Another remarkable performance by Wagner occurred during the sitting of May 20, 1938 (which lasted three hours), and was thus reported in the minutes: The first manifestation is that of Wagner who speaks in pure German language telling episodes of his life with the first and second wife. (As none of the sitters knows the German language, Marzo, the guide spirit of our circle, acts as an interpreter between us and the entity that communicates). Full darkness is made, Wagner materializes, takes a guitar that is in the dark cabinet and, using a pencil, masterfully plays the Aurora... Wagner draws his profile and makes his signature on a paper sheet. He brings the guitar from one room to the other and moves a chair. Then he approaches each of the sitters and removes a shoe to everyone. Then he goes back into the medium's cabinet, turns the light on and off several times, and so it is easy to see him fully materialized not far from the medium is in deep trance.
This is a very synthetic account of a remarkable phenomenon: probably the sitters, and especially Gino Franchi who drafted the minutes, had already become accustomed to these events, which were reported concisely without giving any detail that could satisfy our curiosity. Regarding the performance of the piece and its impossible technique, Ravaldini's description was more exhaustive: «A voice – coming from the medium's cabinet – begins a long speech. The voice, which comes clear and sharp, at a rather high audio level, speaks in German. It is the Musician, who often manifested himself. His speech goes on for some time. When he stops talking, another voice is heard, which speaks in Italian with a sweet and persuasive accent. It is the guide Marzo, who translates and summarizes the Musician's communication, about episodes of his life on earth with his first and second wife. Then Marzo invites to close the curtains and asks for complete darkness in the sitters' room. The red light is turned off. After a few minutes that the room is in complete darkness, the sitters realize that a materialization took place in the mediumistic cabinet. One person – the Musician – is heard moving in the other room and speaks in direct voice like in his previous intervention. The Musician takes the guitar and masterfully plays one of his compositions entitled L'aurora (as the guide Marzo then reports)».
A weird operation
«I said masterfully, because despite the piece of music has never been heard by those present, the performance and the melody deeply affect everyone. The sound of the guitar, however, was perceived in a completely different way from that to which we are accustomed with this instrument. It seems that the performer is holding a viola and not a guitar. The sitters imagine that the pencil previously placed on the cabinet table has been used as a rudimentary bow, even if the guitar strings are all aligned on the same level. Thus the mystery of the performance of that music remains and does not seem solvable... The Musician still materializes. He speaks and moves in the cabinet. Then the sitters can hear the pencil running quickly on the paper. At the end of the sitting, one of the sheets will be found drawn and written on both sides by that entity. The Musician still takes the guitar and, making some arpeggios, brings himself among the sitters. Every so often he speaks in his own language. He returns to the cabinet, but he comes out almost immediately and this time he no longer has the guitar».
«Now he is among the sitters: they hear him talking, breathing and moving. Suddenly he bends over and, continuing to speak, removes a shoe from the foot of a sitter; then he repeats the operation on another and so goes on until he has removed a shoe, only one, to everybody, men and women. In the operation performed by the ghost, the sitters feel two normal hands that act on their shoe and on their foot, nothing more. After this strange operation, the Musician goes back to the cabinet. From the beginning of the first materialization and until that moment, all the phenomena occurred in complete darkness. Suddenly the Musician, turning the key of the electric switch, turns on the light in the kitchen. The curtains are completely open. So it is possible to see clearly the other room with the entity fully materialized, dressed in clothes of nineteenth-century fashion. The Musician had already been observed, as I said, in a paranormal light. It is the same man: an elderly person, dressed in dark, with a cap similar to a beret on his head; almost white hair, his sideburns are prolonged under the chin; under the soft collar of his shirt there is a large bow, perhaps blue in color. The Musician is on the left of the medium, who is always lying on the armchair in a state of complete trance. The ghost has at its fingertips the light switch that he turns on and off several times, saying in German "Light, light". Once the complete darkness has returned, the Musician is no longer heard».
According to a chronological reconstruction, Wagner had already been seen in normal white electric light (the kitchen lamp) when he played the piano. The portrait that is given (the beret, the bow, the sideburns, the pronounced nose) corresponds to the iconographic representation of the German composer. Much less similar to the real Wagner is the self-portrait (if so) drawn in pencil on the sheet of paper. Although I promised myself to limit to a minimum the comments on what happened during the séances, I can not help but notice that some of Wagner's behaviors are really weird. Why did he want to take a shoe off to all the sitters? In the minutes of the sitting of June 9, 1938, we can read: Wagner speaks and he tells us that at certain séances in Germany he talks a lot about our medium and the faith that reigns in our circle. He thanks and says that much he has improved with these séances, and he says: "Now my light shines".
The following Ravaldini's reflection may also be interesting (from Realtà e Mistero): «From the other dimension we have been given an explanation tending to justify this type of phenomenology. The guides partly said clearly, and partly made us understand, that that long cycle of paranormal manifestations, as well as allowing themselves to perform a series of tests above all in order to put in contact two different dimensions – consequently involving a small group of people with an exceptional medium – also had another purpose: to help, through limited micro-experiences in the human dimension, some entities still very bound to earthly memories and too conditioned by spatio-temporal factors, to overcome certain obstacles. One may think that this was the case of the Musician, whose apparently contradictory behaviour revealed a strange personality». It should be remembered that Ravaldini was a convinced spiritualist.