Magic has been around in Russia for ever. And it's always been practised by both sexes, including in Siberia, where traditional shamans may be of either sex. Interestingly, in European Russia, and in contrast to the West, the female practitioners, zhanarkas, generally had a better reputation than the male kolduns , who were feared, and often accused of unholy practices. However there was little organized persecution of magic-workers, whether male or female, though that did not mean individuals didn’t sometimes suffer. Part of the reason for the absence of witch-hunts in Russia is that belief in magic was so widespread that people in all classes of society knew and used a few spells themselves. And the Orthodox Church has always had an uneasy relationship to magic, with some clergy dead against it and many others much more ambiguous, with respect for ‘white’ or sympathetic magic still very common amongst believers, and ‘black’ or malefic magic much feared still.
On occasion however there have been attempts by the State to suppress magic. For example, in Soviet days, you could be sent to the gulag for practising traditional magic or the newer occult practices. These days, the Russian government attempts sporadically to regulate both traditional and ‘newer’ magic, but does not try to ban it. After all, millions of Russians use magical services frequently, with the booming ‘occult industry’ estimated as being worth at least 30 billion dollars. One lawmaker complained recently that the ‘pro-occult lobby’ was so powerful that it was very difficult to get any laws on the matter passed at all!
But while the Soviets might have banned traditional magic and New Age style practices, they were very keen on psychic research, examining talents such as remote vision, telekinesis and telepathy. The work of people like Semyon Kirlian, who invented Kirlian photography popular now with aura-readers, led to new semi-magical tools to be used, and psychics like Nina Kulagina were feted by the intelligence services for their abilities–in Kulagina’s case, she was shown as being able to not only being able to move objects about by sheer mind power(telekinesis) but apparently stopping, and starting, a frog’s heart! (You can see this on You Tube!)
Today, that research into psychic matters continues, with Russian researchers studying such things as whether psychic abilities are encoded in DNA, as well as how to develop workable ‘psychotronic’ weapons. These would supposedly use laser, sound or microwaves or even simple electrical impulses to send ‘messages’ directly into people’s minds. Though the Parliament banned the use of ‘psychotronic’ weapons a few years ago, in recent times the Russian Defence Minister has hinted that research into them is ongoing–but in Russia, it is wise not to take such things at face value!
Meanwhile, traditional magic continues to flourish, as well as more 'New Age' practices. The number of practitioners in the various branches of the occult today has been estimated as high as 100,000 people–more than the total number of doctors, making the practice of magic more popular than that of medicine!
All kinds of new beliefs have sprung up, such as stories of the listless legions of ‘energy vampires’ who suck vitality and initiative out of you(cure involves not only traditional garlic, but a good shower–a rather contradictory cure!). These new pests join traditional Russian supernatural beings such as rusalki and vodyanoi(murderous water-spirits), domovoi(capricious house spirits) and leshii(dangerous forest spirits) in the teeming world of the magical imagination. Meanwhile, the ‘guessers’ and soothsayers of the past have morphed into ekstrasens (literally 'extra-sensers' or psychics), astrologers, aura-readers, Tarot-readers and numerologists. Witches and wizards of the ‘white’ sort advertize openly in the daily columns of newspapers and take part in TV shows, while ‘the dark side’ is also reputed to be very active, though much more secretive, producing curses and jinxes for their customers. And ekstrasens and kolduns and the others are regularly consulted by all classes of society, from housewives to businessmen, TV producers to politicians, students to farmers, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. In a country like Russia, where huge historical forces have swept and continue to sweep people into enormous turmoil over the centuries, it's not a question of anything might happen—everything already has happened, and people are prepared to use whatever protection they can, magical or otherwise.
So you can see why I thought it was the perfect setting!
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About the author...
Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than 60 novels for readers of all ages, published in Australia and many other countries. Her adult novels include the popular historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia). Sophie has always had a great interest in Russian myth and history, an interest reflected in several of her books for younger readers. Her new adult novel, Trinity: Koldun Code (Momentum), is the first in an exciting urban fantasy series set in modern Russia.
Author website: ww.sophiemasson.org
Author blog: www.firebirdfeathers.com
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