testing psychic claimants, the need often arises to let the person
take away some target material from the laboratory, in order to
try to obtain a psi effect on it in his or her own home.
Until a short time ago, the importance of using
fool proof containers when conducting this kind of experiments
was not fully recognized. nsider, for example, the naivety with
which some parapsychologists have investigated the claimed PK
powers of children and teenagers in the past . Since children
or teenagers were considered unable to cheat, they were all too
readily left alone with target material - for example spoon or
pieces of metal to bend - and then, when bends were found in them,
psychic investigators quickly assumed that some kind of psychic
force was at work.
Further investigations have shown these suppositions
to be wrong  and now stricter controls are (or should be) used
in this kind of experiments.
One of the problems encountered has always
been that of preparing "fool-proof" containers (e.g. bags, envelopes
or boxes), that is containers which do not allow the psychic access
to the item contained inside .
However, we believe that it is not so important
to prevent access to the item (as would be the case with a steel
safe), as it is to make sure that the container is "tamper-evident",
i. e. prepared in such a way that any improper attempt to open
it could be easily detected.
Special security items are now used to this
end. The old sealing wax, for example, has been replaced by self-adhesive
labels that can show signs of physical tampering, such as attempts
to peel it off and the application of heat or solvents. These
strips also carry unique identification numbers, to prevent the
container being opened and the strip being replaced by a duplicate
We wish to report here on the investigation
of a purported macro-PK case, in which an important role was played
by a simple tamper-evident, home-made container.
Debora Moscogiuri is a 22-year-old mystical seer living in Manduria
(Taranto), in southern Italy. During ecstatic periods, she
can supposedly see the Virgin Mary, and receive messages from
her to Italian worshippers.
Other phenomena are said to take place in and
around the seer's home: for example, religious icons (pictures
and statues) allegedly weep blood. None of these phenomena
have been carefully investigated or documented however, nor have
DNA tests been performed to ascertain the origin of the blood.
In 1995 it was said that a statue of the Virgin Mary had started
to drip olive oil. In addition, closed containers, such
as small bottles or jars, left in the proximity of the statue
were later found to be partially filled with oil. These had been
tied with ribbons, taped, sealed with wax, and further sealed
inside polythene bags. As requested by the claimant, some olive
leaves were to be placed inside the bottles before sealing them.
The phenomena produced by the young lady were
also followed by Dr Gagliardi , a physician from Milan (northern
Italy), who prepared two such wax-sealed containers: one was kept
in his office in Milan, a second identical one was sent to Manduria,
and weeks later it was returned to him with some oil in it - and
still sealed. Nothing had happened inside the jar in Milan.
Realising that wax and tape sealing was not suitably adequate,
Dr Gagliardi contacted us asking for secure, "tamper-evident"
We confirmed that the kind of seals he had
used can be easily opened and later replaced . Therefore,
we prepared a set of sealed test tubes as follows:
An olive leaf was put into each glass test tube.
The tubes were flame-sealed on a Bunsen burner, taking care not
to scorch the leaf inside.
Each tube was numbered in several positions using a vibrating
Each tube was checked for invisible gaps by holding it under water;
in such conditions small air bubbles would escape from those imperfectly
The tubes were weighed on a precision lab balance (calibrated
just prior to this operation), recording all digits with a milligram
Each tube was then photographed with additional close-up lenses,
in such a way as to record the etched number, and the shape of
the sealed tip, where the glass had been melted.
It was noticed that when these tubes were slightly heated, a few
tiny droplets of water were given off by the leaf inside.
The general look was quite different from that of oil, the total
weight of course did not change, and the droplets were re-absorbed
after a few days. Thus we decided not to worry about this details.
Each tube could now be identified by its weight and photograph,
and was "tamper-evident", as there is no way that glass can be
melted and resealed exactly in its original shape.
Eight of these phials (numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10) were
delivered to Miss D. M. through Dr Gagliardi and Father Civerra,
a catholic priest who follows the seers.
We had no idea of the whereabouts of the sealed
tubes, nor about what was happening to them at the other end of
Two noticeable events followed: we received a fax from Fr. Civerra,
wherein D. M. reported a mystical vision of the Blessed Virgin:
a large tongue of flame (of the Holy Ghost) had approached the
tubes, taking one of them away and leaving just seven (the number
of the Virgin's sorrows).
Later, rumour was heard that some of our tubes
contained oil. So, again through the intermediacy of Dr
Gagliardi and Fr. Civerra, we managed to have our tubes back to
The meeting was attended by Fr. Civerra and
Dr Gagliardi, videotaped, and a statement of the results was then
signed by all participants.
Fr. Civerra had put the tubes we had prepared
into a jar and then into a plastic bag; each of these containers
had been wax-sealed. For the reasons given above, we disregarded
these extra security measures, and requested that only our tubes
be taken out and checked. It should be noted that, when
asked, Fr. Civerra admitted that he had no way of verifying whether
his wax seals had been tampered with and replaced.
turned out that:
- One of the eight tubes (No 3) was missing.
- Tubes No 1, 2 and 7 were intact and did not contain any liquid.
- Tube No 4 had a broken tip that had produced a small gap; no
liquid was present.
- Tubes No 6, 8 and 10 did contain a yellow viscous liquid.
A comparison with the photographs of the original showed that
the tips had been melted and re-sealed. The shape of the tips
was quite clearly different. One of the tubes had been tampered
with on the side, and the glass was deformed leaving a large bubble.
One tip was also slightly cracked. In all of these three
phials there were traces of a black substance, and the leaf was
partially or completely carbonised.
We deemed evident that some crude tampering
had occurred, and that this was indicative not of a miracle but,
on the contrary, of some sort of fraud carried out by somebody
in Miss D. M.'s group.
Fr. Civerra's reaction was different: he did
not accept such a conclusion, claiming that he placed more trust
in his own external wax seals, and that if the tubes were deformed
it had been due to the "Holy Ghost's flame" in D. M.'s vision.
In conclusion, we believe that these flame-sealed glass test tubes
- with these few simple control procedures - can be a useful tool
in the hands of researchers testing psi abilities, in particular
macro PK or clairvoyance.
a) Taylor, John. Superminds. The Viking Press. 1975
Hasted, J. B. The Metal Benders. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul. 1981.
a) Hanlon, John. But what about children? New Scientist,
June 5. 1975
Randi, James. Flim flam! Prometheus Books. 1982.
Besterman, Soal and Jephson. "Report on a series of experiments
in clairvoyance conducted at a distance under approximately fraud-
proof conditions". Proceedings of the SPR, 39:375-414;
quoted in: A Skeptic's Handbook of Parpsychology, ed. Paul
Kurtz, pag. 102.
R. Wiseman and R. Morris. Guidelines for testing psychic claimants.
University of Hertfordshire Press, p. 72, and references cited
Dr Gagliardi is a member of the "Centro studi e ricerche sulla
psicofisiologia degli stati di coscienza" , Via Villoresi 5 -
20143 Milano (Italy)
J. M. Harrison, Ed. CIA Flaps and Seal Manual, Paladin
Dept. Organic Chemistry, University of Pavia
Via Taramelli 10
27100 Pavia, Italy
Researcher of CICAP (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle
Affermazioni sul Paranormale - Italian Committee for the Investigations
of Claims of the Paranormal)
P.O. Box 60
27058 Voghera (PV)
Investigative Researcher of CICAP and editor of Scienza &