Last week we took a cursory glance at Russia’s magic-related small ads, with the help of AM – someone who knows about these things. Now it’s time to delve a little deeper.
AM has a marked scepticism concerning the motivation and integrity of those fellow Russians proffering magical fixes for life’s woes. Her fundamental distrust is not limited to her own nation of course, there are charlatans and their victims in cultures the world over.
Of particular disgust to her are those falsely offering healing to the impoverished. If there is a hell, there surely must be a special place reserved there for those who rob the sick with such tactics. AM knows how the scenario plays out.
High priest of something?
It’s something of a cottage industry -though without a single cottage in sight. Hope is for sale in the front rooms of city apartments across Moscow and bought by the poor and the desperate. Perhaps they arrive because of an advert or perhaps through the recommendations of a family member.
AM believes that some psychic traders have a gift, others only gall, a superficial charm -and no conscience. It’s the latter group that causes concern.
Well meaning kin can just as easily be fooled as anyone else. In some respects they may be the inadvertent ally of the fraudster – a trusted voice, now extolling the virtues of this or that brand of snake-oil.
AM tells me that in return for a sum of money, the recipient receives a Q and A session and a mish-mash of “Folk and Christian ritual involving group prayers, holy oil, and holy water.” They are then sent away after their “treatment” with the encouragement that their condition will likely respond favourably to further sessions -at a price, naturally. Disconcertingly AM adds: “Some of them work by themselves, others for criminal organisations, some even believe in what they do”.
Wheat and chaff
That’s not to say that that AM disbelieves in miracles; only fraudsters. She explains her position on such healers whether genuine or otherwise:
“Even now we may go to the Babushka (grandmother) in the village for a combination of Christian prayers, paganism and herbal remedies. Usually the good ones do not take money but will accept food or help around the house …
They believe that they have a gift from God, whether inherited and passed through the family -or not, and that it would be wrong to accept money. They believe that they would lose their gift (by doing so). It’s a principle from the Bible, that if you receive something for free then you must give it for free also.”
AM continues: “Sometimes she (the healer) can help -I know this for a fact- but sometimes she can’t. The most trusted come by verbal recommendation.”
This is in spite of the scenario outlined at the start of the article, but AM’s reasoning is sound: “The most gifted never advertise themselves, they already have enough people visiting them. The con artists have no one to recommend them and so rely on such adverts.”
Although the notion of a supernaturally gifted individual, proficient in magic or simply “psychic” predates Christianity, there was something of a renaissance in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s within the Soviet Union, through a decidedly modern medium – television.
AM remembers a boom time following the appearance of western-style, showman psychics on Russian TV. “We’ve always known about such matters but this style was something new”. Psychic healers such as Anatoli Kashpirovskiy and Allan Chumak caught the imagination of the viewing public. Their dramatic broadcasts included the former’s audience-based live-psychic shows and the latter’s ‘fireside-chat’ style “seances” direct to camera, where he even “charged” water through the TV screen.
“It was fun,” AM remembers, “but many believed, many claimed that they had been helped.” These people even included a close relative of hers who claimed that scars on her head and hands had disappeared after viewing Mr Kashpirovskiy in action.
The general public were not the only ones interested in such esoteric artistry. We’ll look at that in some detail next time.