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Medium of the Century? The Eternal Will to Believe

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Last year I wrote a column for CSI about a branch of Spiritualism most popular in Brazil, Spiritism, and its major leader, the late Francisco “Chico” Xavier. Now Guy Lyon Playfair publishes a short book, “Chico Xavier, Medium of the Century” mainly reusing some older material. In last month’s Fortean Times, Tom Ruffles graded the book a 7, as a “useful, if somewhat uncritical, introduction for English speakers”. This is probably an understatement, and here’s an interesting story about it.

Vitor Moura Visoni is a Brazilian Spiritist who, very atypically, doesn’t believe that Chico Xavier had any mediumship at all. He believes that figures like Lenora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard probably had extraordinary powers, and he once believed in Xavier’s too. When I met him, several years ago, he was a supporter of the “medium of the century”’s powers. Now he is one of the very few people actually doing research on what Chico Xavier’s feats may actually have been. In his blog Obras Psicografadas, in Portuguese, one can find several examples Visoni has been collecting of instances where what was published as a supernatural messages from the afterlife by Xavier was actually copied sometimes verbatim from very terrestrial sources. Obviously without correct attribution, because few would find very inspiring the act of publishing excerpts from different books from other authors with the correct attribution.

Now, last year another review of Playfair’s book was published on Michael Tymn’s blog, and Visoni promptly made his comments there. “Chico Xavier was a fraud and I have all the proof of it. I accuse him of borrowing from other books in his automatic writing”, he wrote. Pretty heavy accusations. Milo replied quoting Playfair’s own book, where Xavier published a story which was originally published in English:

“This story appears in Joan Grant’s The Scarlet Fish & Other Stories, published in 1942 & as far as I have been able to discover, never translated into Portuguese.  Chico’s version is from the Introduction, by his chief guide Emmanuel, to Libertaç?o (Deliverance) published in 1949” [“Chico Xavier, Medium of the Century”, p. 78]

As Milo argues, “it does seem rather obvious that Chico himself didn’t use the book, since he seems not to have known English”. This is an unfortunate comment, since Xavier did learn English, as Playfair himself wrote later on: “Chico did speak some English – when we met he greeted me in quite respectable English”. Chico Xavier had English classes in 1965, when the visited the USA. It is said that he mastered in a month what to some people took years. But then, he published his version of Grant’s story of the Scarlet Fish in 1949.

“It is most unlikely that he ever read Joan Grant’s story, or indeed much else”, argued Playfair.

This is an unfortunate comment, because amazingly we do know for sure whether or not Xavier read the story, because he himself wrote to the effect thanking Wanda Amorim Joviano for translating the story for him:

“Dear friends, all the peace: We thank the cooperation with which you helped us to publicize the new work [Libertação], acknowledging, just as well, the story of the ‘Little Scarlet Fish’ that so well fitted our purposes of presentation. … We thank sister Wanda for the timely and faithful translation”. [“Deus Conosco”, Wanda Amorim Joviano]

So there’s no doubt Xavier did come to know Grant’s story through the translation of Wanda Joviano, and this is yet another example of a source allegedly inaccessible to Xavier being found. It’s also another example of omitted attribution, as in his introduction the closest he comes to giving correct credit is:

“Before the open access doors of Christian work and to the timely knowledge that André Luiz is revealing, we fondly remember the old Egyptian legend of the little scarlet fish”.

As noted, it would probably not be very inspiring to fully mention that he came to know of this story from Joan Grant’s book through the translation of a friend, as he acknowledged in a private letter. It’s much more convenient for Xavier instead to claim he “remembered the old Egyptian legend”.

Still defending Xavier’s powers, Playfair asks:

“When would he have had the time after his day job and after-hours writing sessions (many of them in public) to do all the research needed for his historical novels? Lew Wallace took several years to research and write Ben-Hur. Chico dashed off his huge books about the same period in a matter of months or even weeks. Not bad going for a ‘fraud’”.

It seems he bought the myth and have not actually discovered the fact Xavier, even in his young and very modest age, read profusely whatever he could put his hands on and even had several scrap books where he collected poems. Very convenient for a man who would then claim to channel these dead poets. Even so, his literary production was relatively small – one or two short books of simple poems a year – in his beginnings. He only started to write more profusely, and over factual and historic subjects, when he had access to bigger libraries. Even then, Xavier’s “historical” books are full of inaccuracies, and have excerpts which can be traced back to 19th century books, copied almost verbatim.

As with many believers, one can understand that Playfair may buy the religious myth of Chico Xavier as a semi-literate man who wrote hundreds of extraordinary books, something which can only be understood by supernatural or paranormal means. The reality, accessible to anyone who does their homework, is quite different, and one can only pity the fact the myth is now sold in English too.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. my name is philip December 31st, 2011 1:33 am

    There’s an interview with Guy over at the Subversive Thinking blog where he’s asked about some of these criticisms. I do not find his response satisfactory.

  2. Davi Lopes Ramos March 3rd, 2012 8:56 am

    What an uninformed load of crap you wrote. Typical of the american mind, full of prejudices about what you think is “supernatural”. You don’t know half of Chico Xavier’s history, and your sources are clearly compromised. Even though I can’t say I master the english language, I can and will provide any information you wish about the life and work of Chico Xavier you want. Please, be more carefull with your aproach on spiritism, which is mucho more complex and logical than you think. Cheers. Please contact me by email.

  3. Mori March 3rd, 2012 5:40 pm

    Davi, I’m actually Brazilian, born, raised and living right here in our tropical country enjoying the summer.

  4. jose May 22nd, 2013 4:40 pm

    Você sabe alguma coisa sobre espiritismo? Leu a fundo os livros de Kardec? Revisou sua lógica e seus métodos? estudou o homem e educador que ele foi?
    Or, maybe you are just just showing off yourself for the American Dogmatic Pseudo Skepitcs. Who knows.

    Tell me boy.

    ps: Para você que parece ser um puta cientista e analista:
    Debunk the paper below:

    http://www.drgaryschwartz.com/files/QuickSiteImages/Schwartz_EXPLORE_Proofs_FINAL_3_7_11_for_distribution.pdf

    abraços do Brasil

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