Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Russia: Cults, Pagans, NewAgers, Losers

"For 70 years, they were told not to believe in God, so people believed in everything else."

- Alexander Dvorkin, professor of religion at Moscow's St. Tikhon's Orthodox University, who studies Russian cults

The proliferation of home-grown cults is a relatively recent phenomenon. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became a destination of choice for every variety of faith, from Western-based evangelical churches to exploitive con artists eager to tap this new market.

But Russia's fondness for mysticism isn't entirely new. Its pre-revolutionary religious history is steeped in rituals and superstition. Christianity came to Russia in the 10th century, and though it replaced paganism, it didn't fully stamp it out.

Even today, many Russians are superstitious, openly discussing omens and bad luck.

In the back pages of Moscow's tabloids, magicians and healers offer to solve everyday problems, ranging from love woes to business dilemmas, and offer as well to cast and remove spells on enemies and friends.

Alexander Dvorkin,...said followers tend to be idealistic, middle-aged people, who were ill-equipped to deal with Russia's switch from communism to capitalism. Others are disillusioned by the materialism of modern life.

He also noted that 70 years of state-sponsored atheism forced many Russians to seek spiritual answers outside religion, namely in science, new-age concepts or in a return to pagan rituals.

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