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vol. 1, p. 90
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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The Russian Experiment

Up to the present writing, the prospects of sending American mediums to the St. Petersburg scientists, seem slight. We learn from Col. Olcott and Mme. Blavatsky, the official agents of Councillor Aksakof, that those whom they are willing to send do not care to leave home, even with the brilliant chances of fame and fortune that are held out to them.

Offers have been conditionally made to Mrs. Huntoon, Dr. Slade. Mary Andrews, Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. Youngs, and perhaps one or two others; but all have declined, for one reason or another. They have made a great mistake in our opinion, for mediums never had such an opportunity to help the cause by gaining world-wide celebrity for their wonderful powers; and, so doing, at the same time help themselves. The Russian nobility and wealthy merchant class are proverbial for their lavish generosity in money matters. Primae-donne while there are smothered by flowers and overwhelmed with civilities, and come away laden with costly presents. At the same time, the nobles are noted for their polished education and general intelligence, and by what might seem a curious freak of Nature, the temperament of the people evince more of the warmth that one might expect from a tropical nation than the coldness of their own cold climate.

Our mediums have looked at the long journey and the moderate compensation offered for the time their services are required by the University, instead of at the lasting reputation and immediate advantage they would have reaped as the result of successfully passing the scientific ordeal.

The London Spiritualist suggested, some time ago, that the behavior of men of science towards Spiritualism, in the past, was not a very good guaranty that our mediums would have fair play in this instance; but we do not think the point well taken. The character of M. Aksakof is so high for honor, impartiality, and moral courage, that there is no room to doubt that he would have fully made good every obligation incurred in his behalf by his American representatives. He is not only a nobleman but a true gentlemen, in every sense of the word; and he would not have suffered the slightest wrong to be done to our mediums by scientists or anybody else.

In another place we copy from the London Spiritualist a report by M. Aksakof upon his own experience in England, which will be read with interest.

The Selection of Mediums for the St. Petersburg Investigation


When I resolved to search after mediums to visit St, Petersburg, in order that their manifestations might be observed by the scientific committee appointed by the University for the purpose. I decided upon a line of action which I communicated to Col. Olcott, whom I deputed to select suitable mediums in America. I told him that I wanted our committee to have the means of proving the abnormal movement of solid objects in the light without contact with any living person. I further wished to find mediums who could get the movement of solid objects in the dark behind curtains, while they were seated in front thereof in full view of the sitters, as it seemed to me that this class of phenomena would give plain, absolute evidence, and that the fact would be thereby tested in the easiest way, without the mediums being subjected either to suspicion on to painful treatment by tying or otherwise. As I learned from the newspapers that sittings of the latter class were held at Newcastle with the Pettys, I was curious to see whether the facts had been accurately recorded; so I went to Newcastle last week, and found there just the kind of phenomena I wanted to have.

At one of these seances at Newcastle, at which I was present, a comer of the room was screened off by two curtains suspended from an iron rod; the mediums Mrs. Petty, her daughter Sarah, aged nine, and her son Joseph, aged fourteen, were seated at a distance of three feet in front of the curtains, to which no one in the room was nearer. A banjo, handbells, pencil, paper, and other things had been placed inside the recess on the top of a small table. Under these conditions the musical instruments were played inside the recess in a good light; distinct knockings inside the curtains were also heard. Some direct writing was done upon the paper on the other side of the curtains, the words written being, “My dear friend, believe in us. God bless you.” Some other remarks were also written. Several forms clothed in white presented themselves at the opening of the curtains. After the seance nothing was found in the simply constructed cabinet, but the table, the musical instruments, and other articles previously placed there.

I invited the mother and mediums to come to St. Peters burg, and was informed that the mother could not go because of the state of her health. Then I resolved to try the powers of her two boys alone, without the presence of Mrs. Petty, so I had two sittings with them, during which objects were moved behind the curtain, while the boys were seated wit? their backs to it, and all their four hands tied by myself. I also held them by means of a piece of common tape tied to them, which I kept in my left hand, while I took notes with my right. There was sufficient light to see the hands of the mediums, and that they did not move. Under these conditions the manifestations occurred. Nevertheless, as they took place in a house which was permeated by the influence of the mother, I resolved to try a sitting with the two boys alone in another house. Under these conditions I likewise had the movement of objects behind the curtains.

One of the tests which I tried at a sitting with the boys was this. I took two bells to the house, one of them larger than the other; one of them was put by me upon the floor behind the curtains, with a piece of tape tied to its handle: I then passed the tape over the curtain rod, and passed it down outside, where I fastened the end of it to another bell placed upon a table in our midst. The test I then required of the spirits was that the tape behind the curtain should be pulled, and made to move the bell upon the table, so that the evidence of eyesight should be obtained in addition to that of hearing. The tape outside was altogether beyond the reach of the mediums, and was clearly visible: we could have seen the act had it been touched. Under these conditions the tape was pulled inside, and the bell moved a foot along the top of the table towards the curtain; I then pulled it back to its former place, and it was drawn a second time along the table, after which the bell behind the curtain was rung frequently. This I considered a sufficient test.

At one of the sittings with the boys, whose names are William and Joseph, the mother was not in the room with us although she was in the house: the sitters and mediums were three feet from the curtains, and we had plenty of light; a figure, clothed in white, appeared between the curtains and put forth her hand which I was allowed to examine closely, and to touch for about two minutes. It seemed to be a perfectly materialized female naked hand, visible to the elbow; it was cold and moist. This occurred in the Betty's house The mother was asked afterwards if she felt anything during the seance, and answered that she felt a great deal of power had been taken from her. She was washing the other children at the time and was hardly able to finish the work.

I had occasion to attend the meetings of the Newcastle Spiritualistic Society, and once, while Miss Wood was tied with strings to a chair in a very secure manner, a materialized figure, calling himself Benny, came out and remained in the circle for three-quarters of an hour. At another sitting this same figure came out with the medium. Miss Wood, and walked round the circle, which consisted of thirty-five or forty persons, with all of whom it shook hands. The medium and the veiled figure were both walking together, and were both unmistakably living.

Editor's notes

  1. The Russian Experiment by Aksakoff, A. N., Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 10, November 11, 1875, p. 114
  2. The Selection of Mediums for the St. Petersburg Investigation by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 10, November 11, 1875, p. 111