Piero Cassoli (1918-2005): Dean of Italian Parapsychologists
by Carlos Alvarado
Parapsychology has lost a highly energetic and dedicated member of its community with the death of Italian physician and parapsychologist Piero Cassoli on August 29 of the current year in Bologna. Dr. Cassoli had been a Full Member of the Parapsychological Association since 1965 and was awarded the PA’s “Outstanding Career Award” in 2000. His work was instrumental in the development of parapsychology in his country in ways that few others can claim.
Dr. Cassoli was born on July 25, 1918. He obtained an MD degree in 1943, and in 1948 he married Brunilde Mignani, his life companion and colleague. Dr. Cassoli became interested and active in parapsychology in the late 1940s. Once associated with the Associazione Italiana Scientifica di Metapsichica (Italian Scientific Association of Metapsychics), founded in 1937, he presented a paper at an important meeting that the association held at the University of Bologna in October of 1953.
Some years later Dr. Cassoli’s prominence led to two invitations to participate in conferences sponsored by the Parapsychology Foundation. The conferences, held at St. Paul de Vence, were the “International Research Coordination Meeting” (1957) and “Parapsychology Today: A Geographic View” (1971).
During his career Dr. Cassoli met many important figures in Italian parapsychology, such as Ferdinando Cazzamalli and William Mackenzie. Both he and Mrs. Cassoli enjoyed many years of friendship with Emilio Servadio.
With PA members Brunilde Cassoli and Dr. Enrico Marabini, and others, Dr. Cassoli founded the Centro Studi Parapsicologici (CSP, Center of Parapsychological Studies) at Bologna in 1954. The CSP, still active today (http://digilander.libero.it/cspbologna/), has been very important in the development of modern Italian parapsychology. Its story was recorded in Un Sole Nascosto: Cinquant’Anni di Vita del Centro Studi Parapsicologici di Bologna [A Hidden Sun: Fifty Years of Life of the Center of Parapsychological Studies of Bologna], a book authored by Brunilde Cassoli and Paola Righettini (Rome: Phoenix, 1999). This book clearly shows the important role that Dr. Cassoli played in the CSP. Not only was he president of the organization for many years, as well as a member of its board of directors at the time of his death, but he was also actively involved in its publications and other activities. These activities included a variety of one day conventions and discussion forums. Ten of these, held between 1983 and 2000, were called “Giornata Parapsicologica Bolognese” (Bolognese Parapsychological Day). As Cassoli stated in the 1986 issue of the CSP’s journal, Quaderni di Parapsicologia, the “Giornata” was a means by which those interested in parapsychology in Italy could be brought together to exchange ideas irrespective of their differences. Such meetings did much to create and maintain a sense of identity for Italian parapsychologists, which was one of Dr. Cassoli’s most important contributions to the field.
In addition to work on organization and development of parapsychology in Italy, Dr. Cassoli made many substantial contributions to the field. He is particularly well known for his interest in and work with healing phenomena. His book Il Guaritore (The Healer, 1979, new ed. 1985) is a modern classic that, unfortunately, is virtually unknown by those who do not read Italian. The book has sections on the history and legal aspects of healing, and on laboratory research in PK over biological targets. But Dr. Cassoli’s unique contribution consisted of the presentation of several clinical cases classified according to the quality and detail of their medical documentation. The topic was discussed further in another book, Ricerche sulla Pranoterapia e sui Guaritori (with Giovanni Iannuzzo, 1983), and in an English language paper published in the European Journal of Parapsychology in 1981.
From early on Dr. Cassoli was involved in experimental work. For example in 1954 he published, with Dr. Enrico Marabini as second author, a paper in the journal Metapsichica about ESP experiments conducted in Bologna between 1952 and 1953 which used multiple agents. Following Warcollier, they evaluated the data qualitatively, considering not only direct hits, but partial information such as the notion of color, movement, or part of a shape. They attempted to create a dynamic situation in an experimental context that was similar to the contexts of spontaneous cases by having the agents getting emotionally involved with the targets. In one test the target was a drawing of medicine containers and the words “with the pharmacist,” typed on the target. Dr. Cassoli pretended he was the pharmacist, while another agent pretended he was the cashier. Other persons acting as additional agents came in pretending they were customers. The whole point was getting the agents involved in ways that went beyond mere concentration on a target. The results were not overly impressive, but there were several suggestive effects.
In later studies Dr. Cassoli and others studied particular phenomena and gifted individuals. For example, there was the case of traveling-clairvoyance-like studies with Pasqualina Pezzola, palm reading studies with Maria Gardini, psychometry studies with Luisa Godicini, and the study of the mediumistic paintings of Giuseppe Lanzillo. Dr. Cassoli also observed the controversial performances of Uri Geller and Gustavo Adolfo Rol. Furthermore, he was interested in firewalking.
The CSP also conducted some studies of ESP and LSD that did not obtain significant results and were never published. In the above mentioned book about the CSP by B. Cassoli and P. Righettini, the authors noted that Cassoli was the first one to ingest LSD, which took place in November of 1960. Also present in those tests were Emilio Servadio and Roberto Cavanna, among others.
Spontaneous phenomena also interested Dr. Cassoli greatly. In addition to poltergeists, he studied “miraculous” phenomena. In one of his most fascinating papers, published in 1955 in Luce e Ombra, Dr. Cassoli analyzed the case of a young Italian woman who had a “crying” crucifix as well as visions of Mary. He argued that the phenomena took place in a propicious psychosocial context. First, the family in question had strong beliefs in the virgin. Second, the manifestations followed a well-publicized Italian case of a Marian apparition with which the family of the young woman had contact. Cassoli, who seemed to believe the phenomena were not faked and could not discover a conventional explanation for the “crying” crucifix, proposed that the events were related to specific social and cultural aspects capable of modeling, inducing and maintaining the phenomena in question. Another case was an investigation, published with Mrs. Cassoli in 1959, of the “weeping Madonna” of Rocca Corneta.
Dr. Cassoli was also known to be very supportive of newcomers to parapsychology. In addition, he did much to bring parapsychology to the general public. An important event was a course of ten lectures given by CSP members from January to May of 1975 to around 300 students at the Institute of Pharmacology of the University of Bologna. Dr. Cassoli presented three of the ten lectures. He gave a general introduction that opened the course, and spoke later about telepathy and theory. This is only one of the numerous educational activities conducted by Dr. Cassoli and the CSP.
Dr. Cassoli also did much work in popular forums. He wrote for such popular Italian magazines as ESP and Giornali dei Misteri, and had a section in the latter where he answered correspondence sent by readers of the magazine. Fifty-four of these letters form the text of the book Lettere a un Parapsicologo (Letters to a Parapsychologist, 1973), edited by Brunilde Cassoli. The correspondence was mainly concerned with the readers’ spontaneous psychic experiences. Dr. Cassoli offered advice and information about relevant parapsychological studies.
The field was popularized in unprecedented ways when Dr. Cassoli and collaborators conducted an informal radio ESP test in 1972. Over 7500 replies were received. More recently Dr. and Mrs. Cassoli published a small volume to serve as an introduction to parapsychology for the general public, La Parapsicologia (Parapsychology, 2000).
Furthermore, Dr. Cassoli communicated with the Italian medical world through Minerva Medica, one of Italy’s main medical journals. Between 1956 and 1961 the journal carried an occasional section in charge of the CSP devoted to parapsychology. In 1983 the Enciclopedia Medica Italiana (Italian Medical Encyclopedia) carried an article about parapsychology written by Dr. Cassoli.
Dr. Cassoli was very interested in PA affairs. He wrote to me in my capacity as PA President about the Association, as well as to other PA officers, with ideas to improve the PA. He was very appreciative of the significance of the PA. In an email he sent me on May 11, 2003 he said: “For us ‘from the periphery’ . . . [the] PA is a beacon, a point of reference of which we are proud.”
In an editorial in the 1990 Quaderni di Parapsicologia Dr. Cassoli described himself as an “old ‘torch’ ” near extinction. While his life may be over, his “torch” is very much with us in terms of the example he gave us. I always saw Dr. Cassoli’s work as an example of great tenacity, energy and positive disposition. Here was one man who, together with a small group of collaborators, actually made a difference for parapsychology in Italy. Although I had intermittent correspondence with him over the years, and he sent me copies of most of his books, I only met him once. The meeting took place at Riccione, Italy, where Nancy Zingrone and I were attending a three- day popular conference in March of 1995. He arrived, accompanied by Brunilde Cassoli and Dr. Enrico Marabini. If I remember correctly, they had just been studying some poltergeist manifestations. Dr. Cassoli, deeply interested in international and political aspects of parapsychology, engaged in conversation and at one point, in a good-natured way, he literally “grilled” us with specific questions about some political issues involving a particular figure and organization in the field. His interest, however, transcended gossip. He was truly interested in parapsychology from a global perspective and liked to be informed about its dynamics and events. To this day this encounter remains one of my best memories of my visit to Italy.
To remember Dr. Cassoli’s optimism and tenacity we cannot do better than read his words of hope. Referring to the “Giornata” meetings, but relevant to the field at large, in 1986 Dr. Cassoli wrote in the Quaderni di Parapsicologia that the work must go on: “The obstacles are many . . . It does not matter. We will continue in this road. Time and our constancy will demonstrate our good faith.”
I wish to thank Dr. Massimo Biondi for providing me with important information about Dr. Piero Cassoli’s life and work.
Selected Bibliography of Piero Cassoli
Cassoli, P. (1973). Lettere a un Parapsicologo [Letters to a Parapsychologist] (B. Cassoli, ed.). Firenze: Corrado Tedeschi.
Cassoli, P. (1979). Il Guaritore [The Healer]. Milan: Armenia.
Cassoli, P. (1985). Il Guaritore [The Healer] (new ed.). Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori.
Cassoli, P., & Cassoli, B. (2000). La Parapsicologia [Parapsychology]. Milan: Xenia.
Cassoli, P., & Iannuzzo, G. (1983). Ricerche sulla Pranoterapia e Sui Guaritori: La Pratica e i Risultati Valutati dalla Scienza [Research on Pranotherapy and Its Healers: Practice and Results Evaluated by Science]. Como: Red.
Cassoli, P. (1954). Esiste la bilocazione? Studio di una sensitiva marchigiana. [Does bilocation exists? A study of a sensitive from Marche]. Metapsichica, 9, 72-84.
Cassoli, P. (1954). Indagine clinico-metapsichica sul caso della miracolata Cristina B. di Bologna [Clinical-metapsychical investigation of the case of the miraculously cured Cristina B. of Bologna]. Metapsichica, 9, 109-123.
Cassoli, P. (1955). Di un caso di medianità a estrisecasione religiosa: Il "contagio psichico" in metapsichica e Angelina Ronza da Frignano D'Aversa [On a case of mediumship with religious expression: “Psychic contagion” in metapsychics and Angelina Ronza da Frignano D'Aversa]. Luce e Ombra, 55, 129‑159.
Cassoli, P. (1955). Il movimento parapsicologico nel mondo: Panorama storico ed orientamenti attuali: Conferenza d’apertura dell’anno accademico 1955-56 al Centro Studi Parapsicologici [The parapsychological movement in the world: Historical panorama and current approaches: Opening lecture of the academic year 1955-56 to the Center of Parapsychological Studies]. Minerva Medica, 46, 1050-1060.
Cassoli, P. (1958). La pirobazia in Grecia (le Anastenaria) [Firewalking in Greece (the Anasteria)]. Minerva Medica, 49, 3677-3686.
Cassoli, P. (1960). II serie di esperienze di telepatia collettiva (esseguite nella città di Bologna) [Second series of experiments of collective telepathy (at the city of Bologna)]. Minerva Medica,51, I-XII.
Cassoli, P. (1973). Parapsychology in Italy today. In A. Angoff & B. Shapin (Eds.), Parapsychology Today: A Geographic View (pp. 187-197). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.
Cassoli, P. (1976). Guaritore e fenomeni fisici (note preliminare) [Healers and physical phenomena (preliminary note)]. Metapsichica, 30, 55-61.
Cassoli, P. (1977). “Il parapsicologo” [The parapsychologist]. Metapsichica, 32, 41-46.
Cassoli, P. (1981). The healer: Problems, methods and results. European Journal of Parapsychology, 4, 71-80.
Cassoli, P. (1983). Parapsicologia [Parapsychology]. In Enciclopedia Medica Italiana (Vol. 11). Torino: UTET.
Cassoli, P. (1984). Una “fascia inesplorata” della psicologia: La pittura medianica [An “unexplore aspect” of psychology: Mediumistic painting]. Bolletino del C.S.P., No. 9, 21-25.
Cassoli, P. (1986). Camminare sul fuoco: Un antico rito oggi di moda: Interpretazioni e commenti [Firewalking: An ancient rite that is fashionable today: Interpretation and comment]. “Bolletino:” Organo di Informazioni del C.S.P., No. 12, 26-30.
Cassoli, P. (1986). Contributo allo studio della pranoterapia (contributo alla casistica, al laboratorio, alla interpretazione del fenomeno) [Contribution to the study of pranotherapy (contribution to case and laboratory studies, and to explanations of the phenomena]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 17, 69-89.
Cassoli, P. (1986). Immagini e voci indeterminate [Indeterminate images and voices]. “Bolletino:” Organo di Informazioni del C.S.P., No. 13, 25-29.
Cassoli, P. (1986). Introduzione – Saluto del Presidente [Introduction – Greetings from the President]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 17, 5.
Cassoli, P. (1988). La “medianità” di G.A. Rol: Fatti e commenti da un libro di Renzo Allegri [The “mediumship” of G.A. Rol: facts and comments on a book by Renzo Allegri]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 19, 9-20.
Cassoli, P. (1989). Parapsicologia e scienza [Parapsychology and science]. “Bolletino:” Organo di Informazioni del C.S.P., No. 19, 34-42.
Cassoli, P. (1990). Editoriale: I “Quaderni di Parapsicologia” rivista periodica del C.S.P. [Editorial: The “Quaderni di Parapsicologia” periodical journal of the C.S.P.]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 21, 5-7.
Cassoli, P. (1991). La parapsicologia nella Repubblica Popolare Cinese: Da una relazione di L. Zha e T. McConnell [Parapsychology in the Popular Republic of China: On an account by L. Zha and T. McConnell]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 22, 13-22.
Cassoli, P. (2001). Circuito chiuso: Il futuro della parapsicologia secondo Rhea White [Closed circuit: The future of parapsychology according to Rhea White]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 32, 94-105.
Cassoli, P. (2002). La metanalisi in parapsicologia [Meta-analysis in parapsychology]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 33, 10-14.
Cassoli, P. (n.d.). Quando i fenomeni si definiscono paranormali [When the phenomena are defined as paranormal] (http://digilander.libero.it/cspbologna/csp-new1/speciali/cassoli-quando.htm#inizio).
Cassoli, P., & Iannuzzo, G. (1988). La medianità: Introduzione al tema [Mediumship: Introduction to the topic]. Quaderni di Parapsicologia, 19, 76-79.
Cassoli, P., & Marabini, E. (1954). Esperienze di telepatia collettiva nella città di Bologna [Experiments of collective telepathy in the city of Bologna]. Metapsichica, 9, 39‑54.
Cassoli, P., & Marabini, P. (1957). Esperienze triennali di lettura della mano con una sensitiva Bolognese, Maria Gardini: Proposta di nuovo metodo [Triannual experiments of palm-reading with a Bolognese sensitive, Maria Gardini: Proposal of a new method]. Minerva Medica, 48, 2130-2134.