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Didier, Alexis

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The following provides both a helpful background and a brief description of Alexis 

 

From Bertrand Méheust, Somnambulisme et médiumnité, and Un voyant prodigieux, Alexis Didier, - .A historical approach to psychical research: the case of Alexis Didier (1826- 1886)

Before introducing the case of a gifted somnambulist whom I studied in depth, I would like to make some general comments on the magnetic scene in mid-19th century France. Between 1821 and 1842, animal magnetism, and especially clairvoyant powers, had provoked a fierce controversy that turned the Academy of medicine into a battlefield. From the study of magnetic lucidity, the pro-magnetic side expected a great progress in the understanding of human nature. But on the anti-magnetic side, the physicians were afraid that such a study might encourage a return to the dark ages of ignorance and superstition, and dismissed all the facts as mere tricks.

In 1842, after a vote, the Academy of medicine decided that, from now on, any study on animal magnetism would be systematically rejected. It signed a death warrant on all this field of research. Of course, such an official decision was unable to hinder the magnetic current, which kept on developing in French society. But the physicians who wanted to study somnambulistic states did so at their own risk. Rejected by official science, and by those who should study it, the magnetic powers were appropriated by jurists, writers, theologians, philosophers, left-wing agitators, right-wing nostalgists. This strange state of consciousness, that psychology could not understand in the mid-19th century, and is still unable to decipher, became an exciting subject for those who rejected the current state of human knowledge and French society. The Revolution of 1848 was drawing near, and French society was becoming a proverbial powder keg …

 At the same time, and for identical reasons, the mesmeric practice underwent changes. Beforethe French Revolution, mesmerizers were following very strict rules. According to one of them, public demonstrations were prohibited as unethical. After the Academy of medicine's official dismissal, the practice changed. Mesmerizers such as Lafontaine or du Potet de Sennevoy gave public demonstrations as they felt they had no other choice. They performed on stage in order to show what they were able to do with their somnambulists and to prove the facts denied by ‘Official Science’. Against the rejection of the Academies, for the first time (but surely not the last!) they used the new power of public opinion. Such was the atmosphere when, for the first time, in 1843, during a demonstration, a young Parisian, aged fourteen, went on stage and accomplished feats never witnessed before.

By the middle of the 19th century, Alexis Didier has become the most famous somnambulist of his time. Indeed, when he died in 1886, he was celebrated by several magnetic reviews as ‘the greatest clairvoyant in modern times’.

Alexis was born in Paris in march 1826, from a poor family. …. He was thinly built and his health, it seems, was frail. As he suffered fits of epilepsy, at the age of fourteen, his mother sent him to a mesmerist, who succeeded in restoring his health. But, during the process of the cure, he became a somnambulist, and he discovered his powers…………..

 Let us consider now Alexis’ alleged abilities. If we accept the reports, his abilities covered all magnetic powers and extended them to such a point that it challenges not only skeptics, but psychical researchers themselves. While thoroughly blindfolded, he would read texts or words enclosed in boxes, sealed envelopes, or simply people’s pockets. He would read sentences in an uncut book taken at random in a library. People would just give him the number of a page, and he could read a sentence of this page. He could ‘travel’ to a remote place, visit the consultant’s office, and read the title of a book left on purpose on the table. He could give a diagnosis of another person’s health problem. And, based on an object having some link with a person, he could give the name of this person, or her address, or her dog’s name.

Observations

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