THE CASE OF IRIS FARCZADY - A STOLEN LIFE - Part 2
Titus Rivas (publicatiedatum: 23 June, 2012)
In 1933 a Hungarian girl, Iris Farczády, who had dabbled extensively in mediumship, suddenly underwent a drastic personality change, claiming to be reborn Lucía, a 41-year-old Spanish working woman.
Published in Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume69.2, Number 879, pp. 49-77, April 2005
THE CASE OF IRIS FARCZADY - A STOLEN LIFE - Part 1
His [Röthy's] report about schools was as follows: –
In reply to my request for information I received from Dr Tibor Marisek, head-master of the Ladies' College at ödenburg [Sopron in Hungarian] where Iris and Renée spent three years up to 1932, and also from Bela Meller, assurances that neither her teachers, nor her numerous former colleagues, were ever aware that she had learnt to speak Spanish, and this could never have escaped their notice. She had shown a considerable aptitude for French. I received the same information from the principal of the Ladies' College at Szent-Margit, where Iris had also been a pupil up to 22 March 1933, the date at which she had to leave on account of her disorder.
He also took the trouble to write to the Pastor of Zevenhuizen to ask if there was any way Iris could have come into contact with a Spanish speaker. The Pastor was absolutely certain that there was no way that this could have happened in Zevenhuizen. Zevenhuizen means in Dutch seven houses and whiIe the village certainly had more than seven houses it was a village rather than a town, and (as ascertained by TR) it took refugee children only from the former Austria-Hungary. The presence of a Spanish child in this village who would be unknown to the Pastor seems highly unlikely, as would the presence of a young Spanish working woman. TR asked his friend historian Pieter van Wezel to consult the local municipal archives at Leek and found that there were no natives of Spain living in Zevenhuizen in the period concerned.
We have the further testimony of Iris's brother, Zsolt Farczády, given to Röthy that Iris could not have learnt Spanish in Zevenhuizen. Zsolt would then have been between the ages of 7 and 9, and would be expected to have had a good recollectiön of the years spent in the Netherlands, and though he was lodged with a different household from Iris and Renée, it is difficult to imagine that he would not have known if Iris, in addition to Dutch, had acquired Spanish. Renée during this period would have been somewhere between 3 and 6; being only 15 months younger than Iris it seems very likely that the two girls would usually have been in the company of one another, and if Iris had learnt enough Spanish to speak it fluently some 10 years later, then surely Renée, at an age when language absorption would come even more easily, would have known and remembered the elements sufficiently not to be baffled at the newly 'arrived' Lucía's Spanish.
Certainly the sojourn in the Netherlands, away from parental supervision (though no doubt kept under watchful eyes in the Pastor's house) seemed the most likely place where a foreign language might have been acquired by a child in association with another foreign child. But between leaving the Netherlands and being sent with Renée to the boarding school at Sopron there is a gap covering the junior school years between the ages of 7 and 12.
All we are told about this period comes in one sentence from Renée in a statement made to Röthy on the first day of his investigation, viz. that Iris completed her elementary education in Budapest. Renée on this occasion does not say 'we' so we cannot even be sure that Renée attended the same school. It a curious fact that this period was completely passed over by Mr Farczády in speaking to Cornelius Tabori; Tabori reported him as saying that when Iris returned from the Netherlands she was sent to boarding school at Sopron. But know from Röthy's inquiries and Renée's testimony that the Sopron school years were 1929-1932. There is therefore an unexplored black hole that Röthy appears to have ignored in his report.
Fortunately PM has found some detailed correspondence between Röthy and Countess Zoë Wassilko-Serecki, a leading and well respected Austrian searcher, well known for her investigation of the Zugun poltergeist case and the driving force behind the foundation of the then Austrian Society for Psychical Research back in 1927. After telling her in a letter dated 9th May 35 how he had written to the school in Sopron, Röthy went on to say that he intended to investigate Iris's Budapest school in person, and that he had already telephoned the principal and asked if Iris had learned Spanish at the school. She had said that she would have to speak to the teaching staff, and would telephone him with the answer. Röthy said he was not going to rely on that, but would seek a personal interview, and let the Countess know the result of his inquiries.
In three subsequent letters written in June and July, however, the matter is not mentioned, nor, as we have seen, was it referred to in the report. If Röthy had learned that Iris had indeed learnt Spanish then it would have been highly deceptive to suppress this information, and Röthy appears to have been a conscientious researcher. If he received positive assurances one would hav expected them to be in his report. What seems likely is that a definitive reply had to wait on something such as the return of teachers from school vacations, and the matter was not pursued to a conclusion in time for publication.
How large is this loophole? In view of the publicity given to the case we can probably discount the possibility that Iris learnt Spanish at her Budapest school. If she had, one would expect some teacher, parent or pupil to speak up to point this out to newspapers eager as ever to field an exclusive exposé, especially of a case purporting to demonstrate possession or reincarnation. We can also, surely, discount the idea that a primary school child could arrange private lessons for herself without this being known, and paid for, by her parents. Perhaps there was a Spanish pupil at her school, and she learnt to speak the language fluently from her; if so, why should she have kept this a secret from her family? Iris seems to have had a high opinion of her intellectual prowess, and it is difficult to imagine that she would not have boasted about this accomplishment.
There remains the possibility that there was a Spanish cleaner, a person of such negligible status as not to have attracted notice of her existence, and Iris picked up Spanish from her. It is conceivable that this would have counted as a naughty childish secret. But children of that age usually lead fairly regimented lives under the supervision of teachers, and are then handed back to mothers or nannies. The idea of this upper middle class academically inclined child getting on friendly terms with a Spanish working woman, picking up her Madrid accent, learning about Spanish churches and Spanish songs, dances, cooking; and how to handle a strange drinking cup does not seem very plausible. But, however improbable, it still has to be weighed against another improbability, viz. the possession of Iris by a deceased Spanish cleaner.
We shall end this summary of the case by giving our individual conclusions.
It may be that despite various efforts to locate the family of Pedro Salvio the survivors of the 14 children do indeed live somewhere in Spain, and that Lucía once lived a previous life as their mother. Like most people, I would rate the likelihood of this being the case at somewhere close to zero. Apart from the non-productive names and addresses, there is the matter of Lucía's attitude to her claimed children. One can understand that as a minor under the control of her parents she would not have been in a position to take herself off to Madrid to find them. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, followed by the World War, in which Hungary was again on the losing side, succeeded by the Russian donimation, all militated against travel to Spain. In addition, all signs point to her Hungarian children, and presumably their father, regarding Lucía's reincarnation story as a manifestation of mental illness – certainly the verdict given by contemporary experts. A visit to Spain would not have been encouraged.
She is now very impoverished and not in good health, and probably her earnings as an engineer were not very substantial, so that in the freedom afforded by the retreat of the Russians and the onset of widowhood travel may still have been a practical option. Assistance from her presumably moneyed son, Rafael, was not likely to be forthcoming for a visit to Madrid, and up to a point one can understand the passing of years without any attempt being made by Lucía to seek out her children. And yet, one would expect, despite these difficulties and discouragement, that she would have made the effort, had those children been as real to her as her Hungarian children.
When questioned by TR she could no longer name her children. At 80 years of age her brain seemed to be in reasonably good shape, and the names of her children were frequently on her tongue when she talked about them during her early years with the Farczádys some 65 years earlier; but while the names of writers, painters, researchers and mediums may hover in the lower recesses of the mind and refuse to rise to the surface, there are things that people do not forget. If anyone asked me to name some 25 cats that have been members of my household at various times since 1929 I should be able to do so without hesitation. If Lucía no longer wants to know what happened to the young children she thinks she left behind it may be because she is not at heart convinced about their reality.
Does that entirely dispose of reincarnation-type explanations? It seems to me that if there is no plausible way for Iris to have acquired Spanish normally, then these possibilities remain open, and are certainly to be preferred to Warcollier's rather breathtaking assumption that she must have learned this by telepathy. For while there is no precedent for telepathic language acquisition there are cases analogous to the ousting of Iris by Lucía, the case of Shiva/Sumitra (Stevenson et al., 1989) bearing a close resemblance and that of Sharada (Akolkar, 1992) having in common the acquisition of a language not readily explained in terms of learning.
At one explanatory pole we have (a) possession of Iris by Lucía Altares de Salvio of Madrid, and at the other pole we have (b) a secretly Spanish-fluent Iris dissociating permanently and replacing her identity with that of Lucía. There is also a third possibility: that Spain-obsessed Iris was ousted by a deceased drop-in Spanish entity who took possession of Iris's mind and body, and adopted the persona created by Iris in her mediumistic trance state as her true identity. The one possibility that I am inclined to exclude entirely is that Iris consciously connived at her replacement and that the Lucía of today knowingly maintains a lifelong masquerade that brings her no visible advantage. :There is perhaps a variant on this theme, that what began as Iris's fiction has been adopted by her as a reality, so that she now believes in the independence of Lucía; I find this equally unconvincing.
If Iris did in fact learn the Spanish language and customs normally, then possession by an external entity is manifestly less probable than an obsession with Spain leading to dissociation and change of personality. But if Iris's personality change was not due to intervention by a separate entity, then it was presumably self-induced, and this raises questions about her motivation. Iris's dramatic mediumship, her automatic drawing, her post-séance role-playing her aggressive outbursts, her implied self-assessment as a genius, her father's view of her as nervous (one suspects he means difficult) all taken togethet suggest a possible candidate for some degree of instability and dissociative tendency; but there is nothing to suggest that outside her adventures in mediumship she suffered from alternating personality. And after the transformation there was no alternation, except on the one very early occasion when Iris spoke in response to a hypnotic suggestion put to Lucía. Iris would have had to have some deep-seated and powerful motivation to want to eradicate her own personality and take on a character almost as different from herself as it was possible to be.
We have to ask why a clever and successful schoolgirl should want, even subconsciously, to be transformed into an uneducated, middle-aged Spanish cleaning woman. Was she tired of her mind? Many people under constant intellectual strain feel tired of their minds and fantasise about how much pleasanter life would be if they could be gardeners or carpenters, make models or run a tea-shop. Through mediumship Iris may have found it a relief to be someone other than herself, and her trance state offered an opening for personalities opposed to her own. And though she clearly had a high opinion of herself one must bear in mind that in the 1930s the prospects for a young lady who was brilliant at mathematics were not as inviting as they would have been for her brother; performing as a Spanish dancer would probably have been much more enjoyable than life as a 'bluestocking' at a university, where she might meet with more hostility than admiration from the male students, who would mostly have taken the view that she did not belong in their province, competing with them.
For this same reason I should doubt that she was under pressure to shine academically. Upper-class girls of the 1930s were more likely to be told, 'Be good little girl, and let who will be clever.' We see that her mother was quite happy to see Iris dropping out of school (when her trance personalities lingered on she had to send in a sickness note for obvious reasons) and her father remarked to Cornelius Tabori that, though he missed his clever daughter, Lucía was much less nervy than Iris, and a good cook too; it does not sound as if they were pushing Iris into more intellectual stardom than she wanted. So intellectual over-strain does not seem to provide sufficient motivation for Iris to want to wipe out her life as Iris, and we have to look further.
From Lucía in 1998 we learnt the very important fact that Iris's father had set up home with a younger woman, though no one seems to have mentioned this either to Röthy or to Tabori. It does, however, explain some peculiar features of the narrative, such as Mr Farczády's admission that he was not told about Iris's transformation for several months. We have no record of when he left the household, and whether there was a confusing period of semi-detachment; but Lucía related how she remembered a servant reporting the presence of a strange man in the house, who turned out to be Mr Farczády. Her father's defection would be unusual and scandalous in the 1930s, and his loss of professional status would be a further humiliation reflecting on the family. Presumably these circumstances would have had some effect on Iris, and may have accounted for the hostility displayed by her in her trance state towards her mother, who perhaps was blamed by her for the loss of her father.
The transformation of her daughter from a clever young girl into a foreign working-class slum-dweller must have been very painful for Iris's mother. The entire package of floor-scrubbing, cleaning, washing up, cooking, popular singing and dancing, a proletariat history of teenage marriage, 14 children, poverty and hatred of the upper classes, were all features that her mother could not wish to see associated with a daughter of the house. Was Iris motivated to punish her mother? Not only by turning into Lucía, but ensuring that the transformation was manifestly her mother's fault. Yet the greatest punishment was inflicted on herself. Iris had had a very comfortable lifestyle, and apparently took pleasure from her intellectual life. Since she excelled in them she presumably enjoyed languages, literature and mathematics. For a girl who had presumably not hitherto undertaken rough domestic chores an imposed regimen, dishwashing and house cleaning would have ranked as a severe penance. But this is what the transformed Iris/Lucía inflicted on herself. It could of course be argued that she obtained some benefit in turning from a thoughtful, studious, imaginative, moody, nervy intellectual into an uneducated, unthinking, crude, practical and cheerful domestic toiler, because these changes probably increased her general level of happiness; for while intelligence and sensitivity often lead to sadness and sorrow for the misery of the world, stupidity and lack of imagination usually make a good basis for placid contentment. Scrubbing floors was the sort of activity to divert the mind both from personal cares and from the troubles of society.
Perhaps rather than being tired of her cultivated mind Iris had some more deep-seated reason for self-hatred, something that made her choose to re-cast herself as a creature from the bottom of the pile, so as more efficiently to destroy and blot out her former self. As to the hypothetical reason one can only resort to unsupportable speculation. But when Iris made her one post-Lucía communication casting herself as a genius ready to die young the tenor of her discourse does not fit in with the sort of self-mortification scenario one might expect if she had been, to take an extreme possibility for which there is no evidence, subjected to sexual abuse. Another thing that does not fit in with the notion of a fragile Iris who could not take the strain of being her clever self is the photograph of her published by Röthy as a very robust-looking girl posing with a beach ball, and giving the impression that she saw herself as an athlete, cheerful and extrovert. The girl who looks rather timid and unsettled is the transformed Lucía, in a photograph taken together with Röthy and Renée.
Before seeing photographs of Iris I had wondered if she was brilliant but plain, and would have preferred to be stupid and pretty. But she was quite attractive, and an exchange with a 41-year-old mother of 14 children could hardly be seen as fulfillment of a wish dream. Our main, and almost sole, informant about the case is Röthy, who did not think in terms of dissociative disorder, and information about Iris's background that might support or contest this hypothesis is not likely to be found in his reports, so we are not in a position to form a judgement as to why Iris should have suffered this self-imposed annihilation, if this is what really happened. The nearest we have to character assessment comes from Pastor Veltman, of Zevenhuizen, who describes her as a good child, clever, appreciative of everything done for her, and lovable. Her sister Renée speaks of her in affectionate terms, saying how close they were, and how she still loved her replacement-sister. If Iris wanted to extinguish herself, the reason for this remains obscure, so obscure that one is justified in considering the possession alternative.
Iris complained to Guido Kassal that the invading woman had taken her body. Instances of apparent possession, such as theMary Roff/Lurancy Vennum case (Stevens, 1887) are sufficiently documented to make this a precedented hypothesis. In her role as medium Iris put herself into a state where, like all trance mediums, she invited temporary occupation of her mind by other entities, including, no doubt, discrete segments of her own subconscious. According to Mrs Czipkay there were dozens or even hundreds of takers, claiming to come from all directions and speak assorted languages, real or imaginary. One must assume that these personalities were creatures of Iris, who probably had the makings of a fertile novelist in her had she continued in her own persona. She obviously had some strong penchant for Spain, perhaps because it was one of the most remote and therefore exotic countries in Europe, starting from Hungary. Lucía, with her 14 children, is more original than a Gipsy dancer or toreador, but still something of an archetype.
Supposing deceased persons to persist in some state, let us imagine that a Spanish entity, seeking some conduit linking her with living humans, was attracted to the vacancy created by Iris and took possession of her, being welcomed by the circle and assumed to be the character sketched out by Iris.
The entity, who had only unstable memories of her real past life, accepted therole and believed herself to be Iris's Lucía. She remembered her language, she remembered how life used to be, but names, places and other memories were taken from Iris, and therefore had no reality. The idea of opportunist deceased entities cruising around looking for the offer of a vacant mind may sound like science fiction, but there is a possible precedent for this in the case of Sumitra Singh and Shiva Tripathi,one of the cases reported by Stevenson and colleagues (Stevenson et al., 1989).
In this case we have the reciprocal of Iris and Lucía. Sumitra was a fairly uneducated Indian girl, who was only just able to read and write, and the entity who responded to her implied offer of a vacant mind was college-educated Shiva. Sumitra, who probably had every reason to be tired of her life, as would many Indian girls, more or less advertised a vacancy by saying that in three days' time she was going to die; three days later she went into what was thought to be a coma and the onset of death, but it was more probably a trance state. She woke up as Shiva, who effectively replaced her, and incidentally took over the duty of looking after Sumitra's children. After a few weeks Sumitra made a brief return, and, apparently satisfied by Shiva's performance, departed for good (though as this is an ongoing case the balance may change).
It will be remembered that when Lucía was hypnotised by Guido Kassal, Iris responded, and after a brief protest about the invasion by Lucía she seemed to accept her ousting, because geniuses commonly died young, and she was a misunderstood genius. After a long discourse on what Kassal described as philosophical matters and world affairs, Iris then departed and never came back. (It will be remembered that Lucía strenuously denied to us that she had ever 'lost time' when Iris might have taken over). It seems that, like Sumitra, she was willing to go. Though Lucía may have been a fiction created by Iris and infiltrated into the mind of the possessing entity, the claimant who displaced Sumitra identified herself clearly as Shiva and gave veridical information about her life and death; she also gave many details that were verified by Shiva's father, who accepted her as his daughter. Sumitra/Shiva sounds like an actual case of possession, and Lucía just could be another Shiva but with false recovered memories.
As there is no reasonable explanation in normal terms for Lucía's Spanish, and as possession is the only plausible paranormal explanation, the logical conclusion is that this is the true explanation. A logical argument is not necessarily a convincing one, and though I prefer possession to dissociation, it is by a narrow margin.
Before entering the discussion a few remarks on the personality of two of the witnesses might be appropriate.
Guido Kassal: indeed he was a Spiritualist, but definitely not a Professor of Theology (I have no idea how this wrong description has entered the story). In fact, he was a magnetizer or magneto-therapist. Röthy's description of him as a "dreamer" appears to hit the nail on the head when Kassal is judged by his publications (in German only) on various topics related to the field: he appears to have been inclined to believe in almost everything. In modern terminology, he belonged to esotericism rather than to parapsychology.
Although Karl Röthy (Röthy Karol) had a deep and genuine interest in parapsychology, he was not trained as a scientist and appears to have been rather uncritical. He was a sympathizer of the spiritualist persuasion and was always after convincing phenomena and 'positive' outcomes. He was not the person who would serve as a devil's advocate, actively searching for observations that would cast some doubt on the case in question or on alternative viewpoints in order to get the 'pro' and the 'con' balanced – on the other hand he is described (by Countess Wassilko and others) as absolutely honest, which means that he would not have suppressed any 'negative' evidence if he happened to come across such. He might have exaggerated a case but by and large his testimony can be trusted.
As to interpretation, one preliminary point needs to be emphasized: the difference between knowledge (information) and skills. An example of knowledge' in the present context would be when an ostensible communicator during a séance makes remarks such as "on page so-and-so of a certain volume found on this-or-that shelf in my library the text reads as follows ..." Such book tests are found frequently in the older spiritualistic literature. Cases of this kind may easily be explained by ESP– actually this is what ESP is about, to obtain knowledge/information by paranormal means. Another incident of 'knowledge', coming closer to our topic, is the kind of tests a boy contender for the position of the new Dalai Lama has to undergo, such as to identify a number of items that have been in the possession of the deceased former Dalai Lama or, in other words, in 'his own' possession during 'his previous life'. Lucía's case, her knowledge of the interior details of various Madrilène churches (not very convincing, though, as statues of saints and details of altar cloths may well follow standard patterns), her knowledge of how to use a certain vessel, and her ability to name all its parts fall into this category. All the above are pieces of information that may – theoretically at least – be learned and memorized easily, by normal means as well as by ESP.
Skills are different. Skills need to be trained and exercised for long periods in some instances for years. For playing the piano it is by no way sufficient to be able to identify the keys of the keyboard and to associate them with different tones on a sheet of music. Playing the piano needs much more, i.e. training of different muscle groups in order to hit several keys simultaneously (the correct ones, of course), acquiring a 'feeling' where those keys are on the keyboard without watching them as the eyes follow the notes on the sheet, etc. Yet the piano is a comparatively easy instrument; playing a stringed instrument like a violin or – in deference to MRB– a cello requires much more ability and training, Speaking a foreign language falls into the same category (Note 1). Just learning the vocabulary would not do, one needs grammar in addition, idioms and phrases, etc. The pronunciation, too, is an obstacle that needs to be overcome, whereby the voice box needs to be trained to produce the sounds particular to the new language (actually the hearing must adjust first in order to perceive minute nuances). On top come the regional variants (the Madrilène dialect in the Lucía case). ESP cannot explain all this. If we stretch our imagination the knowledge of even a large number of words of a foreign language could perhaps be attributed to ESP (to telepathy, as Warcollier had it); however, the mastering of a language to the degree Lucía achieved most certainly could not. At least there is no precedent in the history of parapsychology of acquiring skills such as correct pronunciation of a language or a dialect by means of ESP. Mastering the choreography of Flamenco and other Spanish (or Gypsy) dances falls clearly into the same category of 'skills'.
Secondly, I am very reluctant to discuss hypotheses such as 'possession' and 'over-shadowing', as these hypotheses make sense only on the basis of the supposition of the existence of discarnate entities, spirits, etc., the way the followers of the spiritualistic belief system have it. There are a number of sound arguments in favour of a dualistic world view (John Beloff is the best advocate of this approach in our time– e.g. Beloff, 1976); however, it must be admitted that empirically we encounter mental activities only in the context of a functional neural basis. Future research on the OBE phenomenon might widen this view; however, as of now there is still no evidence for the independent existence of a soul– a 'shin' as I am inclined to call it following Thouless & Wiesner (1947) – and the mind-body-problem is not yet solved. Hence as the very existence of an entity able to 'possess' or 'overshadow' a human being is not proven it cannot be accepted as a 'causa vera' in order to base further argumentation on it. This would entail explaining one unexplainable by another unexplainable, wich must – from a meta-theoretical point of view– be strongly rejected.
Some minor Issues:- Eighty-year-old– Iris/Lucía has forgotten the names of her 14 children, though MRB is able to memorize 25 or more cats? I have met old people who were no longer able to quote the names of their grandchildren. In Lucía's very particular case the same could be true for her 'Spanish children'. I don't feel that her forgetting of names is a strong argument.
On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that during the early stages pure fantasy productions such as communicators from other planets (cf. Mrs Csipkai's report) have taken place. This indicates that the role of imagination must by no means be underestimated.
Summarizing, the crucial point of the case is Lucía's mastering the Spanish language in its local Madrilène dialect. All other issues, interesting as they may be, pale beside that. Her mastery of the Spanish language goes way beyond what could be explained away by normal means, or even standard-paranormal (telepathy). Her Spanish identity might very well be fictitious, but her language skills have been assessed as real; nevertheless the two are apparently connected to one another. My personal conclusion is that her case is truly inexplicable and remains an enigma.
Immanuel Kant once remarked that the words 'we don't know' are rarely heard in academia. Yet I prefer this straightforward statement, 'we simply don't know', to hypotheses that are based on suppositions which in turn are highly questionable or unfounded.
On one hand there are certain aspects of Lucía's knowledge about Spain that are correct and at the same time quite specific and non-trivial.
1. AItarez and Salvio cannot be considered as stereotypical names anyone would recognize as Spanish. Therefore I was surprised to learn that the names do indeed occur in Spain, something that in my view cannot be ascribed to mere coincidence: either Iris read about these names in connection with Madrid, say in a novel, or her knowledge of them should be considered paranormal.
2. Lucía talked about an Indian impresario who was connected to a dancing company called Nemaka [Correction of: an Indian impresario called Nemaka who was connected to a dancing company] in the thirties and who, according to her, saw similarities between her Flamenco dances and Indian classical music.
Flamenco dances are related to an early phase of the Kathak dancing tradition of India, which was part of the cultural heritage the gypsies brought to Spain. Flamenco dancing has a difficult choreography that cannot be imitated just by watching performances.
3. She told us that there were local gypsy healers in Madrid who were inly known as 'las tías' (the aunts), an expression which is reminiscent of the habit of the Spanish gitanos to refer to each other as relatives: primos/as (cousins) for individuals of the same age, and tíos/tías (uncles/aunts) for who are older.
4. Calle de Lista (the street name now replaced by calle Ortega y Gasset) seems to have been named after a minor Spanish poet and is not a common name, nor is it one likely to have figured in a travel agency brochure in the thirties. So Lucía may have had at least some knowledge of Madrid.
These items, though far from conclusive, suggest real experience of life in Madrid rather than knowledge derived from a written source such as a novel, travel guide or encyclopaedia. Therefore I agree that unless we find a normal source for Lucía's knowledge and skills, the paranormal hypothesis of some kind of possession or 'postnatal' reincarnation cannot be excluded.
On the other hand, the weakest points in this case are that Iris had an extraordinary gift for languages, that she had been a trance medium who apparently created a lot of secondary personalities, and that Lucía Altarez and Pedro Salvio cannot be found anywhere in the municipal archives of Madrid, as was confirmed once more by the Registro Civil Unico in 2002. For anyone unfamiliar with or sceptical of ostensibly paranormal cases such as that of Shiva/Sumitra, mentioned by MRB, it will seem obvious that the case should be explained psychologically.
As long as we have no additional confirmation of Lucía's statements, I am personally inclined to adhere to the (ab)normal hypothesis of dissociation plus cryptomnesia. My reason for this is not that I want to be a sceptic (or perhapsmore accurately 'debunker'), because I have a strong 'rational belief' – as Stevenson terms this – in reincarnation and related matters, based on the considerable scholarly evidence available.
The problem here is that this specific case resembles cases of mediumistic dissociation such as that of Helene Smith (Flournoy, 1900) because it also includes fictitious secondary personalities. Thus, a hypothesis in terms of multiple personality seems more plausible than average. However, I realise that this feature is in itself inconclusive, as most cases of possibly authentic drop-in communicators also occur within a spiritualistic context and mediums often have imaginary 'controls'. Apart from facilitating dissociation, it is quite conceivable that the practices of mediumship sometimes also attract real discarnate personalities. I therefore certainly would not want to exclude the hypothesis of a real possession case with xenoglossy. Had the case been more thoroughly researched in the 1930s I might even have been convinced of this interpretation.
All in all, our research has been fascinating but also quite frustrating as no definitive conclusions seem possible as yet, and perhaps this awkward situation will not change any more. I ascribe it to the lack of experience among the original researchers of the case and the general sceptical climate in which it was investigated. If we discovered a similar European case today we would certainly go about it differently. We would try to exhaust any possible normal hypotheses and verify every single statement made by the subject. We would also try to reconstruct an extensive psychological profile of the original personality and to trace possible psychodynamic factors that might underly a hypothetical process of dissociation. Let us hope that the story of Lucía Altarez inspires many scholars to acknowledge that meticulous research into spontaneous European cases of reincarnation and possession is certainly worth the effort (Barrington, 2002; Rivas, 2003, 2004; Stevenson, 2003).
MARY ROSE BARRINGTON
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1. Not only Flournoy's Helene Smith (Flournoy, 1900) comes into one's mind when considering this language issue, also the 'Ancient Egypt Speaks' case should not be forgotten. The issue of pronunciation is not of course present in either case, as the purported inhabitants of the planets do not exist and the ancient Egyptians failed to leave behind audiotapes containing voice samples.
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Published in Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume69.2, Number 879, pp. 49-77, April 2005
- Het geval Iris Farczády/Lucía Altares: een voorlopig verslag (Dutch), by Titus Rivas
Lucía Altares and Titus Rivas