Spiritualism was first introduced in Russia by people who
had been introduced to the subject abroad, witnessing manifestations
of psychic phenomena and acquaintance with the works
of Allan Kardec, the French exponent of Spiritism.
The new doctrine found its followers chiefly among the
members of the professions and the aristocracy, finally including
the reigning monarch of that time, Alexander II. Members
of his family and entourage also became devoted adherents.
Because of the immense influence of such converts, the progress
of Spiritualism in Russia was made smoother.
Much of the spiritualist propaganda, manifestations, and
publications were conducted under various ruses and deceptions
such as the circulation of a paper entitled ‘‘The Rebus,’’
professedly devoted to innocent rebuses and charades and only
incidentally mentioning Spiritualism, the real object of its
Among the distinguished devotees of the subject was Prince
Wittgenstein, aide-de-camp and trusted friend of Alexander II,
who not only avowed his beliefs openly but arranged for various
mediums, including D. D. Home, to give séances before the
emperor. The Czar was impressed, and, from that time onward
he consulted mediums and their prophetic powers as to the advisability
of any contemplated change or step in his life.
Another Russian of high position socially and officially was
Alexander N. Aksakof, who interested himself in Spiritualism,
arranging séances to which he invited the scientific men of the
University, editing a paper Psychische Studien, translating into
Russian the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and various
French, American, and English writers of the same subject, thus
becoming a leader in the movement.
Later, with his friends Boutlerof and Wagner, professors respectively
of chemistry and zoology at the University of St. Petersburg,
he specially commenced a series of séances for the investigation
of the phenomena in an experimental manner and
a scientific committee was formed under the leadership of Professor
Mendeleyef, who afterward issued an adverse report on
the matter. This accused the mediums of trickery and their followers
of easy credulity and the usual warfare proceeded between
the scientific investigators and spiritual enthusiasts.
At the other extreme of the social scale, among the peasantry
and uneducated classes generally, the grossest superstition
existed, a profound belief in supernatural agencies and cases
were often reported in the columns of Russian papers. Stories
abounded of wonder-working, obsession and various miraculous
happenings, all ascribed to demoniac or angelic influence,
or in districts where the inhabitants were still pagan to local deities
and witchcraft.
The final years of the Romanov dynasty were dominated by
the strange charismatic figure of the monk Rasputin, murdered
shortly before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of
1917. Grigory Yefimovich, was a Siberian peasant who had entered
a monastery at 18, but left, married and had 4 children.
He became absorbed in a peculiar sect that promoted licenEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. RUSSIA
tious behavior—‘‘Rasputin’’ was the nickname he was given because
it means, ‘‘debauched one.’’ Rasputin entered the royal
circle in 1903 in the height of the popularity of the occult
among the socially elite. He did not meet the royal family until
1905, but quickly gained favor particularly with the Czarina because
he was able to help control the young Alexander’s bleeding
due to his hemophilia. Evidence suggests that Rasputin engaged
his hypnotic prowess to calm the child which resulted in
easing the bleeding.
During the same period, Russian philosopher and mystic,
Peter Demianovitch Ouspensky, (1878–1947) who was a disciple
of Georgei Ivanovitch Gurdijeff in connection with the
Theosophy movement of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky began to
rise to prominence in small elite circles of Europe. According
to Peter Washington in his 1993 book, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon,
‘‘The self-taught Ouspensky was tempted more by Luciferean
visions of self-transcendance, dreaming of a humanity
remade in the image of gods by its own strenuous efforts.’’ Ouspensky
was never officially a member of the Theosophical Society,
which was banned in Russia until 1908. By 1914 when
World War I began and the revolution in Russia became imminent,
Ouspensky moved away from Theosophy. He was in an
ongoing search to raise consciousness—his own and others—in
order to understand why, as was his belief, humans continued
to relive past lives, and past mistakes.
In the modern era, especially during the 1960s, there was
widespread modern interest in parapsychology in the USSR. Its
popularity emerged again after the ultraconservative science of
the Stalin era. One of the pioneers in this psychic renaissance
was Leonid L. Vasiliev (1891–1966), who helped to establish
the first parapsychology laboratory in the Soviet Union, at Leningrad.
His book Mysterious Manifestations of the Human Psyche
(1959) was published in the United States under the title Mysterious
Phenomena of the Human Psyche (University Books, 1965).
One possible stimulus for Soviet interest in extrasensory
perception (ESP) was the belief that ESP might have military
significance. In 1959, a story was leaked in the French press
that the United States Navy had experimented with telepathic
communication between the atomic submarine Nautilus and a
shore base.
Another surprising Soviet interest was disclosed in the readiness
of the authorities to permit lectures and demonstrations
by Hindu hatha yogis. This had nothing to do with prerevolutionary
bourgeois cults of mysticism, but rather indicated willingness
to learn about the alleged paranormal physical feats
claimed for yoga. Russians have always placed great importance
on physical training and sport. In addition, any system
of physical culture that promised unusual feats of endurance or
control of automatic nervous functions might also have relevance
to the physical stresses involved in space travel.
By 1966 the Soviet Union was financing more than twenty
centers for the scientific study of the paranormal, involving an
annual budget of around 12 to 20 million rubles ($13 to $21
million). Soviet parapsychologists studied reports of such
American psychics as Edgar Cayce, Jeane Dixon, and Ted
Serios, as well as the parapsychological research of J. B. Rhine
and his colleagues.
Throughout the 1960s, Soviet parapsychologists investigated
the phenomena of their own sensitives in such fields as
dowsings, psychokinesis, telepathy, psychic healing, and eyeless
sight. Soviet individuals such as Nina Kulagina in psychokinesis
and Rosa Kuleshova who claimed abilities such as fingertip
vision (eyeless sight) became widely known and
discussed even outside the Soviet Union.
Perhaps because of such international publicity, Soviet authorities
sporadically suppressed information on parapsychological
research, while a backlash of dogmatic conservatism
impeded parapsychology studies. The essentially practical investigations
into paranormal faculties by Soviet scientists did
hold out hope through the 1970s that they might achieve a real
breakthrough in such fields of study.
In his book Psychic Warfare Threat or Illusion (1983), Martin
Ebon claims that in the early 1970s the KGB took over extensive
parapsychological research to attempt to identify psi particles
in order to discover unknown communication channels in
living cells for the transfer of information and to conduct follow-up
studies on such subjects as hypnosis at a distance. On
a popular level, interest has grown in such areas as thoughtography
and UFOs.
In the book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (1970),
Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder revealed the wide range
of Soviet research in parapsychology. Much of their book was
based on firsthand interviews and observations during visits to
the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. The
book is useful as a record of information on individuals and organizations
at the peak of Communist psychic research.
Eyeless Sight and Psychokinesis
Rosa Kuleshova, exponent of fingertip vision or eyeless
sight, reportedly suffered from overexposure of her talent and
for a time was accused of cheating before her strange abilities
were reasserted. Meanwhile, Abram Novemeisky at the Nizhnig
Tagil Pedagogical Institute in the Urals experimented with
graphic arts students; he claimed that one in six individuals
could distinguish between two colors by fingertip vision.
Yakov Fishelev of the Sverdlovsk Pedagogical Institute confirmed
such findings and also experimented with subjects at
the Pyshma school for the blind, starting with fingertip color
recognition and then developing the ability to distinguish
shapes of letters. S. N. Dobronravov of Sverdlovsk reported
that he had found ‘‘skin sight’’ potential in 72 percent of children,
mostly between the ages of 7 and 12.
At the Filatov Institute Laboratory of the Physiology of Vision,
in Odessa, an experiment was conducted by Dr. Andrei
Shevalev. His subject was Vania Dubrovich, an eight-year-old
boy blind from early childhood, whose eyes and optical nerves
had been removed. Shevalev attached a lens to Vania’s forehead,
and the boy learned to distinguish degrees of light
through the lens. This experiment claimed to open up new
possibilities of ‘‘skin glasses.’’
In the field of psychokinesis (PK), the unusual ability of Nina
Kulagina to move small objects at a distance without contact
was first discovered by L. L. Vasiliev, after Kulagina had demonstrated
a talent for ‘‘skin vision.’’ Vasiliev found that she
could influence a compass needle by holding her hands over
it. In further PK tests it was discovered that she could disturb
or move objects at a distance. Film records were made demonstrating
her PK ability. Among other feats Kulagina apparently
changed the flow of sand in an hourglass and made letters appear
on photographic paper by mental force. In early reports,
her identity was at first hidden under the pseudonym Nelya
In March 1988 Kulagina won a libel action against the magazine
Man and Law, published by the Soviet Justice Ministry.
Two articles by Vyacheslav Strelkov published in the magazine
described her as ‘‘a swindler and a crook.’’ The Moscow court
ruled that Strelkov had no firm evidence on which to base his
allegations, and the magazine was ordered to publish an apology.
In a subsequent appeal to the Moscow city court, the district
court’s ruling was upheld ‘‘the articles published by Man and
Law besmirch the honor and dignity of Nina Kulagina
and. . .it must publish an apology.’’
Recent Developments
In the freer atmosphere of public debate and expression of
opinion arising from the Mikhail Gorbachev policy of glasnost,
public support and discussion of psychic matters increased.
Psychic healing received much attention, and the healer Barbara
Ivanova treated many prominent officials. She has also undertaken
distant healing through the telephone.
In the field of dowsing and radiesthesia, Soviet scientists
like G. Bogomolov and Nikolai Sochevanov have collected data
RUSSIA Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
to support the reality of such phenomena. With recently developed
techniques and apparatus, dowsers have been used to locate
damaged cables, water pipes, and electrical lines, as well
as underground minerals and water. One series of dowsing
tests suggested that women dowsers have a higher ability than
men. Dowsing and radiesthetic work is now reported as the
‘‘biophysical effect.’’
Soviet experiments in telepathy are well advanced. Vasiliev
studied spontaneous telepathy for nearly 40 years and collected
hundreds of circumstantial accounts. In 1967 Yuri Kamensky
in Moscow claimed to successfully relayed a telepathic message
to Karl Nikolaiev in Leningrad; the message was in a form of
Morse code. Other telepathy experiments involved the transmission
of emotions, monitored by EEG records. A number of
experiments were conducted to ascertain optimum conditions
for telepathic transmission, involving a complex of touch, visualization,
and thought.
Sometimes a biological sympathy between sender and receiver
(heartbeat, brain wave, and similar synchronism) was
found to facilitate transmission. Even the influence of highfrequency
electromagnetic waves on telepathy was studied,
while the neurologist Vladimir Bekhterev experimented with
telepathy between human beings and animals.
One development in Soviet parapsychology claiming a significant
amount of attention in the 1970s was Kirlian photography,
developed by Semyon D. Kirlian and Valentina C. Kirlian,
as a method of photographing a corona discharge in
human beings and other objects both living and inanimate. It
was hoped that an auralike phenomena had been discovered,
but the effects reported early in experimentation were later
shown to be an effect of differential pressure placed on the film
by objects being photographed.
In 1960 the Soviet Academy of Sciences declared that the
search for UFOs was ‘‘unscientific.’’ However it seems that reports
of UFOs were closely studied, a matter of control of Soviet
air space, and some Soviet researchers were prepared to consider
the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligences.
Over the past two or three decades, there have been many
reports of UFO phenomena from the USSR. On October 9,
1989, the Soviet news agency, TASS, astonished the world by
reporting claims that a UFO had landed on the evening of September
27, 1989, in a park at Voronezh, a city of 900,000 inhabitants
some three hundred miles southeast of Moscow, and
that the UFO occupants had walked about and been seen by
many people (cf. Flying Saucer Review, vol. 34, no. 4, 1898).
The practical and scientific investigations of Soviet scientists
into every major aspect of the paranormal was in sharp contrast
to the more romantic interest of Western countries, where psychics
demonstrate for entertainment. The down-to-earth Soviet
approach into the how and why of the paranormal appeared
to be yielding results with clearly practical applications.
The strong, and long-held folk traditions of the Russian
people are expected to emerge as the country re-shapes its
identity. In his book, The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000,
Russian ex-patriate Alexander Yanov, living in the United
States since 1975, discussed the issues facing the country since
the fall of the Soviet Empire. He noted that, ‘‘Orthodox marxisim
has been exhausted as an ideological resource for the system,
just as the ideology of tsarism was exhausted at the beginning
of the twentieth century. Alternative ideological resources
are needed to enable the empire to survive a ‘systemic’ crisis.’’
Published two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yanov’s
book offered an interesting perspective while reform was anticipated.
As Russians continue to pursue a free, elective government
as a commonwealth, political reform will begin to shape
other apsects of Russian life, as well. The curiosity that they
have demonstrated for centuries regarding the inner workings
of their consciousness—throughout artistic, cultural and religious
pursuit especially—could evolve dramatically in the area
of parapsychology, as well. While continuing in the economically
stressed atmosphere of the demise of the USSR and the
emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States, parapsychology
has suffered and its future is as yet not discernible.
(See also Slavs)
[Note For an authoritative survey of Soviet research in
parapsychology and psychotronics, see the journal Psi Research,
edited by Larissa Vilenskaya, published quarterly by Washington
Research Institute and Parapsychology Research Group,
San Francisco, California.]
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Ebon, Martin. Psychic Discoveries by the Russians. New York
Parapsychology Foundation, 1963. Reprint, New York New
American Library, 1971.
———. Psychic Warfare Threat or Illusion New York
McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Hobana, Ion, and J. Weverbergh. Unidentified Flying Objects
from Behind the Iron Curtain. London Souvenir Press, 1974. Reprint,
London Corgi, 1975.
Ostrander, Sheila, and Lynn Schroeder. Psychic Discoveries
Behind the Iron Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall,
1970. Reprint, New York Bantam, 1971.
Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon. New York
Schocken Books, 1993.
Yanov, Alexander. The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000.
Oxford Basil Blackwell, 1987.