a1 School of Humanities, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
In July 1925, the psychiatrist Albert Moll appeared before the district court in Berlin-Schöneberg charged with having defamed the medium Maria Vollhardt (alias Rudloff) in his 1924 book Der Spiritismus [Spiritism]. Supported by some of Berlin’s most prominent occultists, the plaintiff – the medium’s husband – argued that Moll’s use of terms such as ‘trick’, ‘manipulation’ and ‘farce’ in reference to Vollhardt’s phenomena had been libellous. In the three-part trial that followed, however, Moll’s putative affront to the medium – of which he was eventually acquitted – was overshadowed, on the one hand, by a debate over the scientific status of parapsychology, and on the other, by the question of who – parapsychologists, occultists, psychiatrists or jurists – was entitled to claim epistemic authority over the occult. This paper will use the Rudloff–Moll trial as a means of examining Moll’s critique of occultism, not only as it stood in the mid-1920s, but also as it had developed since the 1880s. It will also provide insight into the views of Germany’s occultists and parapsychologists, who argued that their legitimate bid for scientific credibility was hindered by Dunkelmänner [obscurantists] such as Albert Moll.