The name “Eva C.”—the “C.” was supposed to stand for “Carriere”—was given to Marthe Beraud by Schrenck- Notzing in his book, Phenomena of Materialisation (1913; English-language edition 1920). Richet had used the medium’s real name in reporting his earlier studies, but these met with so much ridicule that Schrenck-Notzing seems to have felt the need to disguise the identity of his subject by giving her a fictitious name.
Beraud was the daughter of a French army officer stationed in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, in northern Africa. Her date of birth is not known exactly. Her mediumistic talents were discovered by a General Noel and his wife, to whose son, Maurice, Beraud became engaged before the young man was killed on an expedition to the Congo. With a Ouija board, Madame Noel had been contacting a personality who called himself “Bien Boa,” and who claimed to have known Beraud in a previous incarnation (see Reincarnation). Beraud, in mediumistic trance, seemed to be able to materialize Boa’s physical form. Richet responded to Madame Noel’s invitation to visit Algiers and attended 20 Séances with Beraud at the Noels’ residence late in 1905. He observed Bien Boa on a number of occasions, and even took photographs of him. In these photographs, many of which he later published, the figure looks twodimensional, almost like a cardboard cutout. This resemblance gave the inevitable critics a field day.
The skeptical position was strengthened when a former chauffeur of the family (who had been fired for stealing) came forward and claimed that he was responsible for the materializations, and when a family friend claimed that Beraud herself had confessed to fraud, an accomplice having sneaked into the Séance room through a trapdoor in the corner. Investigation, however, showed there to be no such trapdoor, and the chauffeur was too tall and massive to have played the part of Bien Boa.
Whatever the genesis of Bien Boa, it is a curious fact that he did not manifest except at the Noels’ residence. Richet held sittings with Beraud elsewhere in Algiers in 1906, at which he claimed to have seen a gooey substance, for which he coined the term Ectoplasm, emanating from various parts of Beraud’s body—particularly from her mouth, ears, vagina, and the nipples of her breasts. The Ectoplasm would quickly organize itself into the shape of a hand or head, on which a face might appear, sometimes in miniature. It would then solidify into a sort of paste, dry to the touch, before retracting into the medium’s body, or disappearing.
The materialized faces often had the same two-dimensional quality that characterized Bien Boa. Richet considered the behaviour of Ectoplasm (which he had seen sometimes at the Noels’ as well) to be so outlandish that he held off publishing his notes until the phenomenon had been reported by others. Bien Boa he believed to be more acceptable, because so-called “full-form” materializations had been reported before, most notably by Sir William Crookes, in reference to Katie King, the alleged spirit Control of Florence Cook.
In 1908, when she was about 22, Beraud moved to Paris, where she met the playwright Alexandre Bisson and his wife, Juliette. The Bissons were interested in Psychical Research, and in 1910 they invited Beraud to live with them, the better to study the phenomena she produced. When Alexandre died in 1912, Juliette Bisson changed quarters, taking Beraud with her. Critics were quick to allege that Bisson was Beraud’s helpmate as well as her patron, but Bisson worked closely with psychical researchers such as Richet and Schrenck-Notzing to design a careful research program, and published a detailed account of her work (Les Phenomenes de materialisation, not translated) in 1914.
Schrenck-Notzing’s study of Beraud began in 1909, when he was introduced to her and to the Bissons by Richet, and was to last for more than four years. The sittings were held both in Paris and in the baron’s personal laboratory in Munich, with Bisson absent. Schrenck- Notzing had spent 15 years studying physical mediums throughout Europe, and he was experienced in designing controls against fraud. Before each Séance, Beraud was obliged to submit to a strip search, then was dressed in a tight-fitting costume. (When alone with Bisson, she was nude.) She was made to drink blueberry syrup before Séances, so that if she had swallowed “Ectoplasm” in order to regurgitate it during the sitting, it would be stained, and at the end of a sitting, she was given an emetic. These and other precautions never produced any reason to doubt the paranormal source of the Ectoplasmic formations, which closely resembled those observed by Richet in Algiers. Schrenck-Notzing and Bisson between them took more than 200 photographs of the strange substance, many of them published in their books.
Although Schrenck-Notzing’s work with Beraud was broken off by the outbreak of World War I, it was partially compensated by the addition of French researchers, including such figures as Camille Flammarion and Gustave Geley, connected with the Institut Metapsychique International(IMI). Geley’s sittings with Beraud were conducted from 1916 to 1918, and the results were similar to those of his predecessors.
The phenomena were, however, becoming less strong, as occurs with many mediums as they age, especially those whose effects are primarily physical. Twenty of the forty sittings Beraud held at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London in 1920 were “blank,” and the investigating committee, even though they could come up with nothing better than the “regurgitation hypothesis” for the successful sittings, declined to rule in her favour. Two years later, the phenomena were weaker still. Three professors at the Sorbonne in Paris held 15 sittings with Beraud, at 13 of which nothing happened. These investigators, also, concluded that regurgitation was the mostly likely explanation for the phenomena they did witness, even though precautions which should have obviated this possibility had been taken.
In 1922, Beraud was only about 36, but she seemed to have exhausted her talent. Her subsequent history is not known, but the research with her did have a sequel. Twenty-five years after Geley’s death, skeptical psychical researcher Rudolf Lambert published an article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)in which he declared that Eugene Osty, Geley’s successor at the IMI (and recently deceased), had shown him a set of photographs that looked suspiciously like the two-dimensional Ectoplasmic faces were pinned to Beraud’s hair and body by wires.
The photographs in question were never published and are not now known to exist. Moreover, all the persons Lambert mentioned in his communication were deceased at the time he wrote. This is the type of hearsay evidence that would be heavily discounted if it were in favour of a medium’s ability, and it would seem best to make a similar discounting in this instance. Many published photographs show signs similar to those described in Lambert’s letter, but the discussion by those who were present and saw the Ectoplasm in the process of formation, suggests that they should be understood as Ectoplasmic threads, rather than wires.
- Braude, Stephen. The Limits of influence: Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.
- Inglis, Brian. Science and Parascience: A History of the Paranormal from 1914–1939. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.
- Lambert, Rudolph. “Dr. Geley’s Reports on the Medium ‘Eva C.’ ” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)37 (1954): 380–86.
- Salter, Helen. “The History of Marthe Beraud.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)27 (1914): 333–69.
- Tabori, Paul. Pioneers of the Unseen. New York: Taplinger, 1972.