We ended last week’s episode with Russia’s TV-psychic boom of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. AM is guiding me on this bizarre exploration. Who would have thought that Western-style TV showmanship, stoic Russian Orthodoxy and Slavic Paganism would produce such a bizarre chimera? Yet it did, and the audiences loved it.
How times change
There are echoes of our own dubious history in AM’s description of practices, “Carried out by a traditional, old, wise woman or (rarely) man. It was often a combination of mysticism and natural herbal healing.”
Also, interestingly: “Mixed with Orthodox prayers and pagan rituals.” Yes, some were persecuted as witches, although -AM tells me: less harshly within village communities.” Some were tolerated, others not,” indicating that dearly held traditions and beliefs would not be easily relinquished by those who followed them.
The Communist issue with such gifted people was the apparently Divine origins of the abilities in question. AM continues. ”They (the authorities) would consider these to be achievements of mankind, and not gifts from God.”
A twist and a paradox
Stalin did ultimately accept Christianity in 1943; a development that would likely have been dismissed as ridiculous if presented in a work of fiction. Only 12 years earlier he had demolished the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour!
Even more surprising, is the fact that he trained as an Orthodox priest for 5 years, ultimately abandoning the seminary at the age of 20 (1899). Fellow revolutionaries even jovially referred to him as: “The Priest” -no doubt before he became a figure of terror. Not only did Stalin meet with Orthodoxy again -after taking the most nightmarish and circuitous path to arrive, he also took profound mental abilities seriously.
Away from the domain of parlour-tricks, Stalin could accept the existence of something ‘else’, particularly when demonstrated by an individual whose life seemingly embraced the metaphysical.
The last of the Romanov dynasty had the Grigori Rasputin as their intermediary between flesh and the beyond. Stalin had Wolf Messing, a man who had also abandoned the seminary (Jewish rather than Orthodox). Both changed their paths to follow other callings – though here the similarity ends. Tales of Messing vere from the impressive into the fantastical, seamlessly and without warning.
Some of his escapades demonstrate a powerful -though not supernatural- prowess with the art of suggestion. Others defy rational explanation (to us); ostensibly offering mind reading, telepathy and clairvoyance as principal components within Messing’s toolset.
Reportedly, he could persuade his target to “see” official documentation on the blank card or paper that he presented as credentials, he is said to have commanded strangers to perform his desired requests; to which they would comply.
He is said to have predicted the start of the second world war (to within one week), the fall of Berlin and even the death of Stalin himself. Poignantly he even saw his own demise, the ultimate curse to complement a psychic’s gift.
In fairness, it is inaccurate to compare Messing with Rasputin, because “Stalin’s Magician” never shared the familial closeness that the “Mad Monk” enjoyed. It is doubtful that Stalin would have kept anyone around him who could, genuinely, read his mind.
Nonetheless, they did meet on several occasions, and in a flash-forward to the media-performance-psychics of Russia’s late 80’s: Messing did captivate whole audiences with theatrical demonstrations of his unique abilities.
The topic of psychic ability within (and without) the Soviet system was never taken more seriously than during the infamous psychic-warfare experiments of the Cold War.
This is worthy of a separate series in itself, and involved both superpowers military commitment of time, money and expertise, -in an attempt to gain a usable psychic “edge” over the would-be enemy. It’s a field that is often derided though some claim research (and practice) continues today. In 2019 Jason Deheart of War is Boring, quoted Colonel Nikolai Poroskov:
“Russian soldiers trained in ‘metacontact’ can provide interrogation information from the minds of captured enemy soldiers, upset enemy supply lines, destroy crystals in generators, eavesdrop on conversations, jam radio communications, and more.”
It even appears that the Soviet authorities were old-hands in the field by the Cold War era, having researched telepathy since the 1920’s, (forcing the Americans to play catch-up). The link between Stalin and Wolf Messing is therefore not surprising.
By contrast, our vague and impotent newspaper horoscopes are a whole world away from such earnest military and governmental sponsorship: the opposite end of a sliding scale. Today’s practitioners benefit from the New Age boom of the 90’s both in the East and the West -when alternative systems of belief moved closer to the mainstream. Whilst you can still find a witch for hire in the small ads, we now also have suits, brands, book deals and gloss. AM compares the two camps:
“White or even black magic is plainly advertised, it’s often claimed to be an ancestral gift (for credibility). They (the practitioners) plainly offer many spells or rituals that require personal items such as photographs of yourself or of the intended target. These may be used for good or ill.”
The span of the modern ‘alternative’ service industry is vast; embracing psychics and life coaches, merging modern settings and convenience with ancient, familiar arts. AM continues:
“Most commonly they advertise today as Yasnovidyashchiy (clairvoyants), also as healers (tseliteli). Some of them are very helpful, really. Some of them are pretenders -charlatans, however. They can offer the same things but just take money from people. It’s very difficult to distinguish (between the two).”
Such modern exponents can skillfully offer science and mysticism in a seamless blend of western-style coaching and traditional Indian beliefs rather than simple good-witch/bad-witch delineations.
“In modern times, it’s a little different.” AM considers. “We have many ‘gurus’ or ‘coaches’ connected to the astrological, Vedic and Ayurvedic traditions. They offer courses in astrology, self-awareness, business success, life success, psychological help, self development, social and familial development etc.” AM summarises the field. In short: “How to find yourself and your way in life.”