Theosophist, September, 1880
In the article entitled “War in Olympus” (Theosophist for November 1879), an allusion was made to a great row then raging in Russia, between the defenders and adversaries of the modern mediumistic phenomena. One of the most rabid assailants of the spiritists has long been Mr. Eugene Markoff, a well-known contemporary Russian critic. No one was ever more bitingly sarcastic or combative against what he called the “modern superstition.” The Russian press is now having a laugh at his expense. In an incautious moment, he suffered himself to be betrayed into an admission of some wonderful phenomena that had come under his personal knowledge some years ago. Treating, in the Golos, of the various superstitions of the Russian peasantry, he says that to them the “house-spook” (domovoi) or “house-keeper” (hozyaene)—as this familiar spirit is also called—“has as perfect an objective reality, as the living persons about him. In it the peasant puts his trust, and takes it into consideration in every domestic affair.” . . . Then comes this confession:
“I well remember that in my early manhood there was a learned old man, Stepan Andreyevich, celebrated far and wide in all our neighbourhood, and even far beyond its boundaries. Before the magical achievements and occult powers of this son of the village deacon, before his weird knowledge and prophecies, our people literally prostrated themselves. He was not regarded as a practitioner of black art, but as a benevolent magician; he was simply credited with the performance of the most astounding miracles. He would see and describe to others events transpiring many miles off: he prophesied the day of his own death, and that of various well-known land-owners in our neighbourhood; at a single word from him, a whole pack of wild dogs, that were tearing after a carriage, fell dead in their tracks: at Orel, he evoked, at her prayer, the shade of a widow’s deceased husband, and discovered where he had hidden some important family papers. As for all manner of illnesses, it was as though he drove them away with a wave of his hand. It was positively said that one lady had paid him 17,000 rubles for curing a case of lunacy; and it was alleged with like positiveness that he had been taken more than once to Moscow and other towns, to cure wealthy invalids. Hysterical diseases yielded to a single touch or even glance of his. In our own house, he relieved an obsessed woman by simply causing her to drink twelve bottles of some infusion of herbs. The obsessed creature would feel beforehand the approach of Stepan Andreyevich; she would be thrown into terrible convulsions and scream loud enough to be heard in the village—’he comes. he comes! . . .’”
As if the above were not wonderful enough, Mr. Markoff cites an instance which has quite recently come under his own observation, and in which he places a faith quite refreshing to behold in so uncompromising an opponent of everything smacking of “superstition.” This is what he tells us:
“In my cattle-yard, there is a superb young bull, purchased by me from a very wealthy breeder. This bull had no progeny, strange to say, and I, believing it to be the keeper’s fault, rated him soundly for it. The intelligent moujik would only doff his cap and, without replying, shake his head with an air of total disagreement with my opinion.
“’Eh! Master, master!’ he once exclaimed, with an expression of deep conviction, ‘Did you not purchase the brute from a wealthy peasant? How then can you ever expect that he should breed?’”
The fact is that a popular superstition in Russia assures that no rich breeder trading in fine cattle, will ever sell a beast unless it has been made previously barren by the magic means of the “word” (a spell, or mantram). And Mr. Markoff, the great opponent of spiritualism, evidently shares in the superstition, since he adds the following profound reflection:
“There are sufficiently strong reasons to believe that such exorcisms and spells are not merely limited to a ‘word’ but too evidently in many a case become ‘a deed.’”