Eva C. – alias Martha Beraud
Famous French materialization medium, known also as "Marthe Béraud." Eva's real name was Eva Carrière (Waespé by marriage). She was the daughter of an officer and the fiancée of Maurice Noel, who died in the Congo before the marriage could take place. Her psychic powers were discovered by Noel's parents, General Noel and his wife.
General and Mrs. Noel were greatly interested in psychical research and, in the presence of invited mediums at the Villa Carmen, witnessed the materialization of a helmeted phantom, "Bien Boa," a Brahman Hindu said to have died some 300 years previously and who styled himself as the spiritual guide of the Noel family. A "sister" of the phantom, "Bergoglia," who also manifested, later hinted that "Bien Boa" was an assumed name of someone who had figured in Mrs. Noel's life in an earlier incarnation. Indeed, Mrs. Noel claimed a share of credit for Bien Boa's appearances and said that either by the séance table or by direct writing Bien Boa always declared that she was the true medium at early séances.
When the powers of Marthe Béraud were first discovered, a period of two years of experimentation commenced, and Mrs. Noel published many notes on the phenomena in Gabriel Delanne's Revue Scientifique et Morale du Spiritisme. Then the Noels and Béraud invited Charles Richet and Delanne to visit Algiers as their guests.
The séances were held in an isolated building over a stable behind bolted windows and doors. A curtain was thrown across one corner of the room to improvise a cabinet. As a rule a young black woman, Aischa, sat with Béraud behind the curtain, but Richet has said that in the more effective experiments Aischa was not present. Béraud was not tied and wore a thin dress. By making magnetic (i.e., mesmeric) passes to awaken her from her trance, Richet passed his hand all over her body and made sure that she had nothing hidden on her. The presence of Aischa, of which Mrs. Noel made a point, greatly annoyed the medium, who complained that in the tropical heat the odor of the woman was unbearable.
The materializations produced were very complete. Bien Boa appeared five or six times and offered opportunities for many important observations and experiments. Richet's report, published in the April 1906 issue of the Annales des sciences psychiques, created an immense sensation. He was satisfied that he had witnessed genuine phenomena and that Marthe Béraud could not have masqueraded in a helmet and sheet in the guise of Bien Boa. Besides, he asserts in the report, the medium and the phantom were also seen together when no stranger could have entered the room: "I make a point of this, because of the assertions of Areski, an Arab coachman dismissed by General Noel for theft, who said that he 'played the ghost.' A certain starveling practitioner of Algiers, Dr. R., was ill-advised enough to entertain this man and to exhibit him in public at Algiers in a white mantle to play the ghost before spectators. That is the most that had been said against the experiments at the Villa Carmen. The general public blinded by ignoble newspaper tales, imagined that the fraud had been exposed. All that was really proved was that an Arab thief could lie impudently, that he could put on a sheet, could appear thus on a stage, and could get a doctor to endorse his lies. It is averred also that Marthe confessed fraud to an Algerian lawyer who took a pseudonym. But even if this anonymous allegation were true, we know the value to be placed on such revelations, which only show the mental instability of mediums."
Futhermore, according to a Dr. Z., Areski entered the séance room with the rest of the company, and when their attention was diverted by the examination of the furniture, he slipped behind the cabinet and hid behind the curtain. Richet replied to this specific charge, "Now, I declare formally and solemnly that during the séances—twenty in number—at which I was present, Areski was not once permitted to enter the séance room." The later "confession" of Marthe Béraud was alleged to contain a statement about a trapdoor. According to Richet, Béraud has never wrote or said that there was a trapdoor.
Besides the phantom of Bien Boa, a beautiful Egyptian girl also materialized and allowed Richet to cut a lock of her hair. "As I was about to cut a lock high up" stated the professor, "a firm hand behind the curtain lowered mine so that I cut only about six inches from the end. As I was rather slow about doing this, she said in a low voice 'quick, quick' and disappeared." The second important phase of Béraud's mediumship developed under the care of sculptor Juliette Bisson, to whom Béraud had been introduced in 1908. It has been suggested that Bisson and Béraud shared a lesbian relationship following the death of Bisson's husband in 1910. In any case, they lived and worked together.
Between 1909 and 1913 Béraud, by then known as "Eva C.," centered her mediumship on materializations. Joint experiments by Richet and Baron Schrenck-Notzing, with Bisson always present, built upon previous observations and elucidated several obscure points. The period also afforded an added opportunity for Richet to check his earlier findings. During her trances the medium appeared to suffer much, writhing like a woman in childbirth, and her pulse rose from 90 to 120. The materializations, under the control of an entity named "Berthe," were always slow and seemingly difficult. Very few forms were well developed or remained for a long time. All this was in striking contrast with the ease of former years. Perhaps the rigor of the control had to do with this. Eva C. had to put on special dresses. She was subject, both before and after the séance, to meticulous medical examination and often sat nude. A battery of eight photographic cameras, two of them stereo-scopic, were trained on her, and 225 valuable photographs were secured when it was discovered that the séances could be held in comparatively good light, provided the medium was shielded from a sudden flash. At certain times the ectoplasmic mediumship alternated with remarkable phenomena of the intellectual type. She read automatically on an imaginary screen (like that of a cinema) pages of philosophy that greatly exceeded her normal knowledge and power.
Regarding a séance of April 15, 1912, held in the presence of Count Cesar de Vesme and Bisson, Richet is quoted as follows: "The manifestations began at once. White substance appeared on the neck of the medium: then a head was formed which moved from left to right and placed itself on the medium's head. A photograph was taken. After the flashlight, the head reappeared by the side of Eva's head, about sixteen inches from it, connected by a long bunch of white substance. It looked like the head of a man, and made movements like bows. Some 20 appearances and reappearances of this head were counted; it appeared, retreated into the cabinet, and emerged again. A woman's head then appeared on the right, showed itself near the curtains, and went back into the cabinet, returned several times and disappeared."
Richet adds, "Marthe was examined and searched before and after the experiments. I never lost sight of her for a moment and her hands were always held and visible."
To eliminate every possibility of fraud Baron Schrenck-Notzing employed detectives for several months to watch for any suspicious circumstances in Eva's life. To answer the charge that the ectoplasm of Eva C. was regurgitated material, a strong emetic was administered on November 26, 1913, after the ectoplasmic flow reentered her mouth. Ten minutes later the experimenters were satisfied that the medium swallowed nothing with which the phenomena could have been produced.
Another important series of experiments took place in 1917-18 in the laboratories of Gustav Geley with Bisson's collaboration. About 150 representative individuals, including many scientists, witnessed the phenomena. In his From the Un-conscious to the Conscious (1920), Geley observes: "It is needless to say that the usual precautions were rigorously observed during the séances in my laboratory. On coming into the room where the séances were held, and to which I alone had previous access, the medium was completely undressed in my presence, and dressed in a tight garment, sewn up the back and at the wrists; the hair, and the cavity of the mouth were examined by me and my collaborators before and after the séances. Eva was walked backwards to the wicker chair in the dark cabinet; her hands were always held in full sight out-side the curtains and the room was always quite well lit during the whole time. I do not merely say: There was no trickery; I say there was no possibility of trickery. Further, and I cannot repeat it too often, nearly always the materializations took place under my own eyes, and I have observed their genesis and their whole development."
He adds in a footnote: "I am, moreover, glad to testify that Eva has always shown, in my presence, absolute experimental honesty. The intelligent and self-sacrificing resignation with which she submitted to all control and the truly painful tests of her mediumship, deserve the real and sincere gratitude of all men of science worthy of that name."
The results of these experiments were the subject of a conference at the College of France, published under the title La Physiologie dite Supranormale (Bulletin de l'Institut Physiologique, January-June 1918.
In 1920 Eva C. and Bisson spent two months in London. Of 40 séances given to the Society for Psychical Research, half were entirely blank, the rest very weak. As a result, the regurgitation theory was again put forward as a possible explanation. Of the London work, in his Thirty Years of Psychical Research (1923), Richet states: "The official reports of the séances lead to very distinct inferences; it seems that though the external conditions were unfavorable to success, some results were very clear and that it is impossible to refer the phenomena to fraud. Nevertheless, our learned colleagues of the SPR came to no conclusion. They admit that the only possible trickery is regurgitation. But what is meant by that? How can masses of mobile substance, organized as hands, faces and drawings, be made to emerge from the oesophagus or the stomach? No physiologist would admit such power to contract those organs at will in this manner. How, when the medium's hands are tied and held, could papers be unfolded, put away, and made to pass, through a veil? The members of the SPR, when they fail to understand, say 'It is difficult to understand how this is produced.' Mr. Dingwall, who is an expert in legerdemain, having seen the ectoplasm emerge as a miniature hand, making signs before disappearing, says 'I attach no importance to this.' We may be permitted to remark that very great importance attaches to Mr. Dingwall's testimony."
In 1922, 15 sittings with Eva C. took place at the Sorbonne. Thirteen sittings were totally blank and the committee returned a negative report. After the death of Geley in 1924, there was a whispering campaign that some very suspicious photographs of Eva C. had been found among his papers, suggesting the possibility of fraud by the medium and contradicting Geley's published laudatory reports. In fact, his unpublished papers revealed that Bisson had been Eva C.'s active accomplice in fraud, and his pictures plainly showed wires attached to her hair that supported the materialized forms. However, Eva C.'s supporters countered with the published evidence of the 200 photographs and the careful reports of Schrenck-Notzing.
On the whole, the mediumship of Eva C. remains a matter of controversy. The materializations of Bien Boa in 1905 appear crude and suggest fraud, as do the Geley papers and pictures. On the other hand, the careful investigations and remarkable photographs of materialization obtained by Schrenck-Notzing cannot be so easily dismissed. In the end, Eva C. seems to be another clever fraud who was able to confound some of those who observed her séances and lacked the training or resolve to uncover her methods. The inability of Eva C. to manifest under tightly controlled conditions, along with the lack of supporting evidence for the existence of ectoplasm, make a most damning case against her.
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