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vol. 1, p. 75
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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Spiritualism in Russia

Dr. A. Butlerof, who is now in England, has published a long and circumstantial account in Psychic Studies of his latest experiences in the examination of mediumship. We quote some portions of his article, as tending to show the thorough manner in which the researches in St. Petersburg have been conducted. Dr. Butlerof gives the following reasons for their publication: —

“Soon after my friend Professor Nicholas Wagner had published his treatise ‘On Psycho-dynamic Phenomena’ in Psychic Studies (March, 1875), another much more detailed one appeared in one of the most influential and widely circulated Russian journals. He there records the observations which he has been enabled to make within the last few months, and which were not described in the paper in Psychic Studies. As I was present at all the observations made by Dr. Wagner, I will supply the missing link by giving a record of our latest experiences. ***

“Professor Wagner mentions the sittings with the Parisian medium, Camille Bredif, which took place at the table; he also speaks of a gentleman who had formerly made experiments of another kind with Bredif, and having informed us of these, we resolved to attempt some of the same kind. ***

“Some of these seances, of which we had a considerable num er, were very remarkable; I will describe one of them. The sitting took place at the house of M. Alexander Aksakof; the campany consisted, besides myself and the medium, of M. A. Aksakof, Madame Sophie Aksakof, Professor N. Wagner, Dr. D. and Frauleio Pribytkof. We began by sit ting round the table, when only the ordinary phenomena took place. After these preliminaries we proceeded to the second and more interesting part of the experiment. One of the doors was closed and fastened with the key, and as the well is of stone, and great thickness, a sort of cabinet was formed by the recess, which was provided with a double curtain of a dark gray material. The two halves of the curtain were arranged with an aparture between; in the space between the curtain and the door stood a small table, near which there was just room for the medium’s chair. The medium was securely bound. I undertook to perform this operation myself in the sight of all present. I used for the purpose a strip of white linen about half an inch wide. This was wound firmly round each wrist. Especial pains were taken to leave no possibility of slipping the hands out of the bonds, still less of putting them in again. Four or five knots were made to each bandage, and the ends were then cut off. The linen strip was next passed under the bandage on each wrist, the two hands were drawn together within an inch of e ch other, and after the strip was firmly knotted, one end of it was passed between the medium's knees under the chair to the brass castor of the right back leg of the chair. By slipping the band through the staple of the castor, it remained so securely and tightly fixed that there was very little play for themed medium’s hands. From the castor the band went back to the right elbow of the medium, and after it bad been wound round the elbow-joint was past across the breast to the left arm, again wound round the arm and knotted, and then drawn through the castor of the left back leg of the chair and firmly tied—thence to the feet of the medium, where it was fastened round the ankles, and, lastly, the band was carried back to the hands and tied again in several knots. Thus securely bound, the medium was convened in his chair to his place behind the curtain. On the little table were a hand-bell, a few sheets of clean writing paper, and a pencil. Before the curtain, and close to it, a small square table was placed, around which the company was seated in a half circle. *** The light stood in a corner of the room on a table, and was shaded by a piece of paper, so that the room was dimly lighted, but sufficiently to show all objects plainly.”

The usual phenomena followed. Raps, as of knuckles, on the door at the back of the cabinet, a small white hand at the opening, the hand-bell rung in time with the musical box which bad been set going, movement of the paper, sound of writing, then the paper was given out through the opening, more was asked for by means of raps with the pencil; when the papers were examined, the name Jeke was found written; on some only a part of the name. This word often occurs at Bredif’s seances. The hand touched or grasped the hands thrust inside the curtain. Once it seized Dr. Wagner’s hand, and attempted to withdraw a ring from his finger. During this time the writer satisfied himself that it was not Bredif's hand by feeling the hands of the medium through the cloth of the curtain. Dr. Wagner also saw the medium’s hands through a little opening in the curtain, tightly bound as at first Afterwards the curtain was raised from within, and the 'medium and the tight bandages were distinctly seen. The hands, however, were not visible on this occasion. When the signal was given to break up the circle, a light was taken into the cabinet, and the medium was found tied as at the beginning. At other seances various modes of tying were invented. The medium’s hands were put into muslin bags, which were sown together and to the medium’s coat-sleeve. The linen band was wound three times round the root of the little finger of each hand, then round the wrists and throat, then knotted and passed in and out of the legs of the chair as before, being marked, for additional security, at various points with a lead pencil. On one occasion the bell and paper and pencil were placed on a stool behind the medium's back. All went on as before. A second bell was presented by the sitters outside, was grasped by the hand on the outer side of the curtain, and rung in the sight of all present. The position of the hand was that of a foot and a half above the medium’s head, and behind his back. The electrical tests used by Mr. Crookes with Mrs. Fay was also applied with equal success. On this occasion the medium was searched, and every article of his clothing examined, for the satisfaction of a sceptic, who was forced to admit that the manifestations did take place.

Dr. Butlerof sums up in these words: —

“This is an unvarnished account of that which we have witnessed. The phenomena were of that fugitive character which often — though by no means always — accompanies medial operations. But be the character of these appearances what it may, their reality is beyond all doubt. The recognition of their reality will very soon be the inevitable duty of every honorable observer, and finally of all humanity. This recognition will destroy many of the present prevailing views; life and science will have to come to terms with it. Our old notions about the essential nature of matter dissolve in the light of the actuality of these facts, and new ideas present themselves of the endless variety of degrees and forms of existence.”

H. S. Olcott[2]

Col. Olcott Explains

In a letter to the Banner of Light Col. Olcott makes several personal explanations concerning his connection with Spiritualism; answers several of the many correspondents who are busily buzzing their opinions concerning his theories, and closes by saying: —

“Occultism is something that can be tested and proven by all ‘competent’ persons, and is not a mere tangle of assertions and theories. Nay, more, it has been tested and proven by competent persons a thousand times over, in all countries and in all ages. It is so tested and proven now—in this nineteenth century—and testimony to the fact is borne by some of the most learned, virtuous and unprejudiced of our contemporaries.

“Do you want me to name over the authors who corroborate my statement? It would nearly fill every column of this issue of the Banner. Do you complain that I have given the public no proofs of the existence of elementary spirits and their subjection to human control? I could occupy your paper a whole year without exhausting the accessible supply of anecdotes. If you want a perfect reservoir of authenticated cases of magic (the Jesuit author calls it Demonology, as he does all spiritualistic and magnetic phenomena), read Des Mousseaux’s series of volumes in the French language; if you wish to know what the Chinese and Thibetan thaumaturgic priests perform, read Hue and Schlangentweit. If you would know of the power of man to change his corporeal form and assume whatever shape he chooses, read the memoirs of Simon Magus (who is mentioned by St. Luke), and of Apollonious; reau Pierre Manor’s treatise against the sorcerers; Henry de Coulogue’s “De Lamceis;” the “Vie des Peres du Desert:” read the stories of magic and sorcery brought back from Mexico and Central America by M. Brasseur de Bourbourg; read about the occultism of the ancient Peruvians, in Prescott and Tscuddi. If you wish evidence of ancient occultist practices, read Pausonias, Plato, Cicero, Iamblichus. Tacitus, Herodotus, Manetho, Sanchoniaton, the Sohar and the Egyptian and Jewish Kabbollahs.

“You see that here is a wide enough field of study to test the intelligence and perseverance of the most ambitious champion of Modern Spiritualism. When my windy critics have gleaned over ever so small a corner of it, I would be glad to hear what they think of my ‘unsupported assertions.’

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Editor's notes

  1. Spiritualism in Russia by Blavatsky, H. P., Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 8, October 28, 1875, p. 88
  2. This note most likely is reffered to the next article
  3. Col. Olcott Explains by Olcott, H. S., Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 8, October 28, 1875, p. 89