Angelos Tanagras – My Memoirs: A Collection of Short Stories, by Fotini Pallikari
Fotini Pallikari published the memoirs of psychical researcher Dr. Angelos Tanagras (1875-1971) in Greek in 2016. Tanagras began writing them in 1957, and spent six years on the task. They were not published in his lifetime, but a copy of the manuscript was sent to the Parapsychology Foundation in New York, and it was this that was used by Pallikari for the 2016 publication.
The present volume supplements the memoirs with 23 short articles in English based on them. It expands various articles published online by Pallikari, and the foreword notes that as these were originally published separately there is some overlap in the content. Collectively they describe the personality, life and career of Tanagras and the times through which he lived, but the main focus is on his contributions to psychical research. The first chapter reproduces an illustrated lecture given by Pallikari at the City of Athens Cultural Centre in July 2017 which sets the scene, describing briefly the range of Tanagras’s activities through his long life, and subsequent chapters expand on the lecture’s sections.
Tanagras was a colourful character, a career officer in the Greek Royal navy in which he served as a medical doctor. On this evidence he was rather shallow where women were concerned: he never married, largely it seems because he prized beauty above character and could not bear the thought of a woman aging. More than once he describes an encounter with a woman he had known years before, and notes the decline in her looks, congratulating himself on a lucky escape from matrimony.
He resigned from the navy in 1923 order to concentrate on the Hellenic Society of Psychophysiology, which he founded and ran until 1957. As well as conducting experiments intended to withstand scrutiny by the professional community, he was keen to publicise the field, giving lectures at the Academy of Sciences and the University of Athens, and publishing books, newspaper articles and a journal, Psychikae Ereynae, running from 1925-42. He was always concerned to find practical applications for his findings, lecturing trainee police officers on the uses psychic abilities could be put to in investigations.
In addition, he pursued international collaborations, participating on long-distance telepathy experiments with groups in a variety of countries, a type of enterprise that became rare in later years. As part of his efforts to forge links he participated in international parapsychological conferences, and organised, and to a great extent funded, the 4th International Conference for Psychical Research held in Athens in April 1930.
Tanagras did not find evidence for survival convincing, and although Pallikari employs the term medium to describe the ladies who acted as agents in his experiments, this was not in a Spiritualist context: they were trained in self-hypnosis techniques to be able to exclude external influences in experiments. His rather was a ‘religion of science’, as he put it. He concentrated efforts on exploring telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. Tanagras also investigated poltergeists and fire-walking, even making an unsuccessful attempt to resurrect the oracle at Delphi. One of his mediums, Cleio, was filmed moving the needle of a compass under hypnosis, predating the more celebrated Ninel Kulagina’s ability to perform the same action.
Cleio was influential in helping Tanagras to formulate his theory of psychobolia, a compound word formed from ‘psyche’ and ‘throw’, which he first published in 1929 and expanded in his 1934 book Le Destin et la Chance (the English-language edition was published by the Parapsychology Foundation in 1967 as Psychophysical Elements in Parapsychological Traditions). He characterised psychobolia as a form of energy that could be projected from an individual and influence others, explaining such phenomena as telepathy, psychokinesis, precognition and the Evil Eye. This ‘psychic fluid’ was latent in people generally and could be released given the right circumstances.
Despite his conviction that communication between living and dead was impossible, in the 1930s he did arrange with the SPR in London a survival test, using a code to preclude the solution being arrived at by telepathy. He described a series of acts he would carry out at set numbers of days after his death, from 50 days to five years, but he made some coding errors, and unfortunately in any case by the time he came to write his memoirs the details were hazy.
Worse, the SPR was not informed of his death and the test was forgotten; his envelopes were only opened in 2007. The test was not particularly practical, involving physical acts such as breaking windows and knocking over crosses (plus the crescent on the dome of the Hagia Sophia at Istanbul, or Constantinople as Tanagras still insisted on calling it), which might have been a difficult feat for his discarnate self, had it survived.
A lengthy section recounts an unfortunate controversy with J B Rhine’s group in Durham, North Carolina. This revolved around Tanagras’s psychobolia theory. Tanagras was vexed when Rhine published The Reach of the Mind (1947), as Tanagras felt it utilised work done by himself but ignored his priority. When Rhine attempted to smooth the situation down, Tanagras escalated the matter, complaining about Rhine to researchers at a variety of centres, which must have caused Rhine some embarrassment.
Unfortunately Tanagras had assumed his American colleagues were able to read a variety languages and much of the dispute hinged on linguistic misunderstandings, with Rhine desperately trying to explain he had not plagiarised the notion of psychobolia but had written a popular book on the findings of his own team at Duke University. Journal of Parapsychology managing editor Betty Humphrey, who commented on the correspondence for Rhine, considered the notion of psychobolia to be woolly. Despite efforts to mollify Tanagras, he continued to feel he had been slighted by Rhine.
Fotini Pallikari has produced a very accessible introduction to Tanagras that stands on its own; it is not necessary to have read the memoirs first. As well as his contributions to psychical research, Tanagras had a literary career (Tanagras in fact was originally a pen name, his real one being Angelos Evengelidis), and it would be good to see more of his writing translated into English and made available to a wider audience. It is also to be hoped further publications explore the history of Greek psychical research.