Aksakof, Alexander N. (1832–1903)
Imperial councillor to the czar and the pioneer of Spiritualism
in Russia, as well as a Swedenborg enthusiast. He was born
in Repiofka, Russia, in 1832 and educated for civil duty at the
Royal Lyceum, St. Petersburg. He was introduced to modern
Spiritualism by Andrew Jackson Davis’s Nature’s Divine Revelations
in 1855.
In order to form a correct judgment of both physiological
and psychological phenomena, he studied medicine at the University
of Moscow for two years. He translated Emanuel Swedenborg’s
Heaven and Hell, Count Szapary’s Magnetic Healing,
and the principal works of Robert Hare, William Crookes, J.
W. Edmonds, Robert Dale Owen and the Report of the Dialectical
Society. Because works on Spiritualism in Russian were
suppressed by the censor but German publications were tolerated,
his literary activity of necessity centered in Germany.
He founded the Psychische Studien which, under the new title
Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, was instrumental in provoking the
first strictly scientific Russian investigation of Spiritualism.
Daniel D. Home, who visited Russia for the first time in
1861, became connected through marriage with Aksakof’s family.
In 1871 Aksakof introduced Home to Professor Boutlerof
and to other professors of the University of St. Petersburg.
However, the body of savants was left unconvinced of the reality
of his phenomena.
In 1874 the French medium Camille Brédif paid a visit. Professor
Wagner attended a seance and was deeply impressed.
His article in the Revue de l’Europe aroused such a storm that the
university felt impelled to delegate an investigating committee
and asked Aksakof to make the necessary arrangements for
them. Aksakof went to England in 1875 and engaged a nonprofessional
medium, using the name of Mrs. Clayer (to whom he
was introduced by Crookes) for presentation to the committee.
The lady, who is mentioned in Crookes’s Researches, produced
strong physical phenomena in good light. The committee,
however, refused to be impressed and Professor Mendeleyeff,
its principal member, declared in his report Materials by Which
to Judge Spiritualism that the medium had an instrument under
her skirt and produced table movements and raps by this agency.
To this report Aksakof published a caustic reply under the
title A Monument of Scientific Prejudice.
In 1876 his request for permission to publish in St. Petersburg
a monthly Review of Mediumship was refused. In 1881 he
founded the publication Rebus, which was largely subsidized by
Aksakof after funds dwindled. It popularized the teachings of
Aksakof experimented with Henry Slade and Charles Williams
when they visited St. Petersburg, and he made arrange
ments for Kate Fox-Jencken when the czar desired to consult
her for the safe conduct of the coronation ceremonies. William
Eglinton, Elizabeth d’Esperance, and Eusapia Palladino were
the next mediums who engaged his attention. His wife was herself
mediumistic and helped him in his work. In a Case of Partial
Dematerialisation (1896), he recorded testimonies of an astounding
occurrence with d’Esperance.
His most important book, Animismus und Spiritismus (1890),
was published in answer to Dr. Edward von Hartmann’s Spiritualism.
F. W. H. Myers reviewed it in Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research, where he stated: ‘‘I may say at once that
on the data as assumed I think that Mr. Aksakof has the better
of his opponent.’’ In the book Aksakof says that for the comprehension
of mediumistic phenomena we have three hypotheses:
1. Personism (or change of personality) may stand for those unconscious
psychical phenomena that are produced within the
limits of the medium’s own body, those intra-mediumistic phenomena
whose distinguishing characteristic is the assumption
of a personality changing to that of the medium. 2. Under the
name animism we include unconscious psychical phenomena
that show themselves outside the limits of the medium’s body.
Extra-mediumistic operation of objects without contact and finally
materialisation. We have here the highest manifestation
of the psychic duplication; the elements of personality overstep
the limits of the body up to the point of complete externalisation
and objectification. 3. Under the name spiritism we include
phenomena resembling both personalisation and animism
but which we much ascribe to some extra-mediumistic
and extra-terrene cause. They differ from the phenomena of
personalisation and animism in their intellectual content which
affords evidence of an independent personality.
Spiritualism and Science (Der Spiritualismus und die Wissenschaft)
[1872] was another of Aksakof’s important works. His literary
output was considerable, and during his lifetime he translated
or wrote over 30 books relating to Spiritualism and
psychic research. In 1874, he started a German monthly journal
Psychische Studien (Psychic Studies). One of his last translations
was Colonel De Rochas’s Exteriorisation of Motricity. Under
dreadful physical handicaps Aksakof kept on working to the
last. His right hand became useless, his eye almost sightless. He
died January 17, 1903, after an attack of influenza. Aksakof bequeathed
a large sum of money to the British Society for Psychical
Research. His own work as an experimenter and psychical
researcher was well ahead of its time and not properly
Aksakof, A. N. Animism and Spiritism. Leipzig: Oswald Mutze,
Britten, Emma Hardinge. Nineteenth-Century Miracles. New
York: W. Britten, 1884.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism. New York:
Charles H. Doran, 1926. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1979.
Society for Psychical Research. Proceedings Vol. 6: 665.