The removal of Russia’s Soviet government was a catalyst for far-reaching change, the results of which are still felt today, for better and for worse – depending upon whom you ask.
I’m interviewing AM, a woman with special sensitivities who witnessed the chaotic boom-time of the 1990’s –The Wild East– and who now lives with its legacy.
The Communist system regulated, controlled, and often restricted many aspects of Russian life – although the extent of its overbearing nature varied across its 70 year history. The most draconian regime existed under Stalin, and the least (ultimately resulting in its disintegration) under Gorbachev.
Personal enterprise was declared illegal, as all business was subject to control by the state. Any attempt to garner private wealth was considered exploitative, selfish theft that robbed the citizenship. Worse (and most dangerously for the perpetrator) it was anti-communist and a crime against the state itself.
So did this force everyone into line and create a uniform top-down economy? Of course not; the grey and black economies thrived (and still do), party membership bestowed personal privileges and corruption boomed. Communism finally accepted religion – after failing to eradicate it, and after the Communists left; even older, more arcane practices rose into full view once more.
Now, that’s magic
“People present themselves as a Kaldun or even a Ved’ma!” AM tells me, of those offering specialist services via the small-ads. We’re talking about magic here, not stage sleight-of-hand, but practices and rituals whose roots predate Christianity. Communism would not have not tolerated these either, of course – but similarly, could not eradicate them.
A Kaldun (or Kaldun’ya if female) is a witch or sorcerer that practices white or black magic. The term is broad enough to also encompass wise woman: someone to consult for insights or even healing during times of difficulty. A Ved’ma is a term that is much more specific: an evil witch -and female.
Out of the woodwork
It’s a form of private enterprise that started to appear once the Communist watch dogs had left. AM relates: “Advertising services as magic was more common in the 1990’s, before then it would never have been allowed.” That’s only because of the self-employment aspect, incidentally, not the nature of the business itself. She continues: “Usually there were a lot of adverts in magazines and newspapers. Today, it is also advertised online, especially through social media.” We’ll look at Russia’s supernatural boom-time, plus the paranormal’s relationship to officialdom in the next article.
AM then sends me a link to a dedicated site offering numerous magical services for hire -and no, I won’t be posting it here. She advises me against ever using any of the services listed and is very doubtful about the motives behind (at least some of) the advertisements.
Sure enough though, miracles are ostensibly available at a price; a variety of options, some sold plainly as magical spells to resolve a variety of issues. Common issues that believers seek supernatural help for are “alcoholism, drugs, family issues and love spells” according to AM.
Those purchasing supernatural assistance are usually ordinary people, pure and simple it seems. AM notes a bias away from those living modern, relatively sophisticated city lives.
Magic and superstition is more common out in the wilds, in villages and small towns where traditional ways are more likely to survive. It wasn’t so long ago that such beliefs were more prevalent however, as Marc Bennetts of New Humanist discovered:
“Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sinyavsky detailed a pervasive Tsarist-era belief in superstition, magic and pagan gods, as well as the widespread popularity of sorcerers and faith healers. ‘In Old Russia, almost everyone resorted to elementary magic help,’ wrote Sinyavsky. Magic was used on a daily basis.”
“Of course, a lot of those people move from such places to the city” AM tells me. They still have a desire for such familiar services in spite of their modern surroundings. This in turn allows providers to exist, or even flourish within a ‘sophisticated’ setting. Not everyone that lives in a city embraces modernity wholesale.
AM continues: “The people that go (to witches etc) are usually those with a weak faith”. She is referring to faith in Christian Orthodoxy -or rather the absence of it. It is, after all, an institution that wholeheartedly opposes such occult practices.
“Those with a strong faith would go to their priest and ask for help from God. Atheists would not go (to a witch) either” AM concludes: “As they don’t believe that anything supernatural exists!”, so the customer base is apparently composed of a low-faith, relatively unsophisticated middle-ground? That seems a little unfair, maybe the desperate are there too; those who have exhausted all conventional options and who only have extremes remaining.
The treatment of such customers is a particular bone of contention for AM, as we will discover next time.