Modern Holy Fool (Holy-Foolishness in Russian Culture: Part Three)

The image of a Holy Fool (read about who is Holy Fool here and here) found its new popularity following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the main reasons is, of course, the recognition of Russian Orthodox Christianity as the official religion, but also the collapse of the beliefs of the socialist regime, when the country as a whole found herself in a momentary chaos, becoming, one can argue, a prototype for holy foolishness as a search for meaning.
The holy fool found a renewed interest in Christian studies, but also in academia. However, it is in the popular forms of media, such as films and even music that the holy-fool found a new ‘fame’, he came back to be yet again a spiritual hero, but he also acquired a new angle, the one of controversy in terms of his ‘madness’. What does lie behind his madness? And can we call someone mad, individually speaking, when the whole society can be considered as mad, especially if we look at what was happening in Russia since the late eighties of the last century? The old regime collapsed, reversing the ideology of communism to the ideology of capitalism in a matter of a couple of years. Old government structures were sold as vouchers to the Russian population, to be immediately bought back by those running these companies for a penny, because the population was suddenly starving, making them oligarchs. Shops got empty, there was shortage of food and clothes, and a total disarray in terms of a spiritual direction of the nation. While Russian Orthodox churches were emerging from their oblivion, Tarot readers and palm readers would sit in their proximity and promise the passers-by some hope for a better life. Hypnotist Kashpirovsky got a prime spot on the TV to hypnotize an entire nation, feeding tales from the national TV in 1989.
It was absolute and total madness, and it found its way into popular art, where painters, artists, and film-makers, would resort to the character of a holy fool to make sense of something which didn’t make any sense.
Russia is often referred to by Russians themselves as a country of fools, and the changes that the country witnessed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, could be delegated firmly in the domain of total madness, where the only way to show the light at the end of the tunnel, was to resort to laughter and the grotesque, as a way to manage the deep spiritual malaise. As Heller and Volkova ask, in relation to the fascination of Russian culture with holy-foolishness: “A question arises: is there something deep inside the Russian mentality that correlates with the state of insanity?” (Heller & Volkova, 2003, p. 153) Some changes that Russia has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union left many Russians at a loss, where they were asked to adjust to a new ideology, new beliefs and new rules, and the popular art showed us the difficulty of the transition, by resorting to holy-foolishness and the character of a holy-fool in order to negotiate the incomprehension and deep spiritual uncertainty that the country and her people experienced then.
During the years of Perestroika, the image of holy-fool became the one of a dissident, adopting the weird behaviour of holy-fool to show the plight of many individuals who struggled to adapt to the changes in Russia on an economic and political levels. We can see this theme clearly in Taxi-Blues by Pavel Lungin, a film which was released in 1990, and which portrays us the reality of Russia at that time.
The film focusses on the life of two protagonists, a taxi-driver, Shlykov, and Lyosha (played by Pyotr Mamonov), a saxophonist. They meet on a ride in a taxi, when Shlykov takes Lyosha and his friends as passengers, but Lyosha doesn’t pay for the ride, after which Shlykov manages to track him down. Both characters then develop a truly bizarre friendship, which becomes a main story on the background of the madness of the country then.
The madness of that time starts from the beginning of the movie. The hypnotist Kashpirovsky greets us on the screen, by delivering his slogan promise: ‘Everything will be calm’. It immediately shows us the absurdity of that times, when ordinary people couldn’t find work, when hard-core communists quickly established their new capitalistic businesses, and when, in the ultimate feat of total absurdity, Mikhail Gorbatchev abolished alcohol, driving many Russians to either create a black market, or resort to the home production of alcohol. Kashpirovsky was put on the national TV in order to try to calm the nation down.
The lives of the two main characters show us how ordinary people managed life at that time. Thus, Shlykov, as it appears, adapted better to the new changes, by working hard as a taxi-driver. He has a room in an apartment, a girlfriend, can afford nice food, and from exterior it looks like a good life. Only by watching the narrative do we discover that he is not really happy in himself, that he doesn’t have many friends, that he struggles to find the spiritual meaning in life. And the aim of the film is also to show that all those who just continued hard-work couldn’t dream of acquiring the same richness that nouveu riches managed to accumulate. Hard-work and integrity were all the values that became suddenly obsolete, not cool and not needed.
On the other side of the spectrum, Lyosha, the saxophonist by profession, refused to adjust. He just goes with the flow. Despite the fact that saxophonists are nor longer needed and struggle to find any employment, Lyosha refuses to change anything, and gets by, by either singing on the streets, or by pure luck, such as meeting Shlykov in a difficult moment in his life and being helped by him. And while Shlykov helps Lyosha on a material level, Lyosha gives Shlykov a new spiritual meaning, found in laughter, unpredictability, and love of grotesque. Lyosha reminds Shlykov to sometimes let go, do something unexpected, believe in the fate.
The character of Lyosha, played by Pyotr Mamonov is often compared to that of a holy fool, but transformed into a modern version of it. We can disagree, however, with that meaning, because while during the whole narrative, Lyosha does exhibit all the characteristics of a holy fool, he fails in the end of the movie to fulfil the ultimate obligation of giving. Lyosha meets a famous American saxophonist at some point, and gets an opportunity to perform in the United States, which re-launches his musical career. Shlykov watches the newly found fame of his friend from a distance, and is desperate to see Lyosha again. He misses the playfulness and cheerfulness of his friend, and he doesn’t understand why Lyosha fails to come and see him when he is back in Moscow. Eventually when Lyosha comes to see him, he brings with him a band of new friends and absurd presents, such as a big doll. We can see that he breaks the heart of Shlykov and lets his old friend down.
But while one can argue whether Lyosha can be compared to the character of a holy-fool, it is the narrative itself that is representative of holy-foolishness positioned at the fall of the Soviet Union. The film shows us how the modern world changed to the worst, where the goodness of character, kindness and empathy are replaced by greediness, strive for material goods, and desire to become famous. It is the story itself that leads us to ask the eternal spiritual questions: but what is the meaning of life if one is lost completely in the material side of it? Should we remain humble even if we get further in life, and still remember those who helped us at the most difficult part of our journey? Shouldn’t we cherish friendship and simple things in life, such as sharing warm soup with friends, laugh even when life is difficult, appreciate people rather than goods?
It is in his next movie, The Island that Lungin returns to the question of deep spiritual meaning. The Island appeared in 2006, quite a few years later after Taxi-Blues. In it we see a story of a modern fictional Russian orthodox monk, played yet again by Pyotr Mamonov.
It starts during the second world war, when sailor Anatoly and his captain, Tikhon are ambushed by the Germans, somewhere at the shore of the white sea. As a grotesque joke, the Germans present Anatoly with a choice: either to shoot Tikhon and live, or die. Anatoly shoots Tikhon after which the Germans blow up the ship.
Anatoly survives and is rescued by the monks from a local monastery, where he stays. It is many years later that the new life of Anatoly is presented to us. He works as a stoker at the monastery and acts as a local ‘wise’ man. It is to him that ordinary people come for advice, prayer and also in order to heal.
The parallels with the holy-fool are much more striking in The Island. Anatoly is a deeply spiritual man, who constantly prays to God. He has a gift of a prophet and of a healer. He sees the future and can predict it. He gives wise advice. At the same time, his behaviour is extremely weird. He rarely washes his face, makes fun of the monks, is always late for the Church services, where he shows up in a truly bizarre attire, one day marching with one foot in a boot, another dressed in a sock.
But while watching the character, we can’t help but fall in love with him and his way of thinking and doing. His faith in God is so beautiful and sincere, that the viewer hopes that he will be forgiven for his ultimate sin. And we are relieved indeed when right before his death (that Anatoly foresees himself several days in advance, by organising his own coffin), we learn that Tikhon had survived. He brings his daughter to see the remote monk due to rumours of his healing gift, and meets Anatoly. Anatoly reassures Tikhon that his daughter is not mad but is possessed by a demon, preforms exorcise, after which she is healed. After that Anatoly tells Tikhon who he is, but Tikhon tells him that he was only wounded in the arm, and that he had forgiven him.
The movie, while basing the character of Anatoly on holy-fool, presents us a different façade of holy-foolishness than the one we have seen in ‘Taxi-Blues’. It reaches a deeper spiritual meaning where we are confronted with the true meaning of holy-foolishness: one has to have faith in God and Jesus, and then and only then, one can become a holy-fool, while renouncing also worldly conventions and material aspects of things. It also shows us Russia as it changed in the years after the turmoil of the uncertainty following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It became quieter in its own spiritual search, firmly embracing Christianity, and by going back to its roots preceding the revolution. The country might still experience turmoil at a political level, but spiritually, it found a new meaning.

Holy Fool in Russian literature and art (Holy-Foolishness in Russian culture: part two)

The Holy Fool, to remind you (please, refer to part one), was a person who became mad for the sake of Christ. It was a well-known, recognized phenomenon in the old Russia. It was a man or a woman who would often wander the streets of old Rus and remind people to live their lives based in Christian values. They would often appear as ‘mad’, as ‘insane’, but several of these Holy Fools were recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church as saints, with one of the most famous Holy Fool being Saint Vasilii the Blessed. It was after him that the most famous Russian Cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Vasilii The Blessed (Saint Basil) was named.

From the beginning the character of the Holy Fool has fascinated Russian writers and we can find this personage in several writing and also paintings. Behind it, is the interest in the unexplainable, in the grotesque, in the spiritual domain, but where things always remain mysterious. It is the fascination with unpredictability, as long as good outweighs the evil, Russian people have been driven to explore the human soul, and the human misery, throughout the history, which can be seen in literature and art.

For example, Nikolai Leskov (1831-95), based his character in ‘Deathless Golovan’ on holy-fool, where the main protagonist is a simple man who takes care of those affected by a plague, despite danger for his own health. He also gives milk to a Jewish man, stupefying his neighbours. In his other writing, ‘Singlethought’ (1879), the main character, a police officer based in a provincial town, becomes slightly ‘mad’ after reading scriptures of the Bible. The reading has such a profound impact on him, that he starts to behave strangely, such as refusing bribes and gifts at his job, as was the custom then. The story highlighted the corruption of the power at that time, but also raised the more important spiritual questions. Who is really a fool here? A simple man who refuses to be corrupted, or the society as such, driven by corruption? And shouldn’t we rather abide by Christian, moral values in our daily life? As in holy-foolishness, the story also contains many grotesque, ‘hilarious’ moments, such as then Ryzhov, the main character, forces the mean Governor of the town to bow in front of the icons in the Church.

Other Russian writers explored the theme of ‘holy-foolishness’ either basing their character directly on holy-fool, or by building a story around the theme of holy-foolishness, where madness always takes on an additional meaning. It is never an ‘illness’, but something deeper, a battle of one’s soul, where the hero, while being ‘mad’, is more connected with God and spiritual aspects of life, than the laypeople, preoccupied with the material sides of things. Gorki explored the theme in ‘A Confession’, Chekov built his short story ‘Ward No. 6’ around holy-foolishness, where both protagonists, a long-time staying psychiatric inmate and his treating psychiatrist share remarkable traits with holy-fools, but also Bulgakov, it can be argued, based his ‘Master and Margarita’ on the motifs of holy-foolishness. The main character, the master, who ends up disillusioned by this world, is a modern ‘holy fool’, but unlike in the Moscovite Rus, he has problems to adjust and adapt to the requirements of the modern world, which in the Soviet Union, was characterised by omnipresent bureaucracy, corruption, ridiculous rules, and greediness, despite the fact that one of the slogans of the socialist regime was an equal society. The story of the Master runs in parallel with the story of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), and some obvious conclusions can be drawn from the novel. There is a deep spiritual need nascent in all humanity, but it is often compromised by scepticism and inability to think outside the box, because of being under too much influence of materialistic world. Many ridiculous, hilarious scenes in the Soviet Moscow of Bulgakov draw a direct parallel with the weirdness and ‘laughter’ of holy-fools.

The image of Holy Fool can be also encountered in numerous paintings, where painters depicted the fascination and also certain reverence towards the character. He can be seen on numerous paintings of Nesterov, and also Syrikov, showing his firm place among laypeople, and not just being a character of Christian writings.

For a Russian culture, the holy fool has a deep meaning. It shows the possibilities of a spiritual domain, reinforces one’s faith, and reassures one that good will always outweigh the evil. Thus, the character of Holy Fool is deeply embedded in Russian culture and tradition.

A God’s Fool Sitting on the Snow, by Vasily Surikov, 1885)

My Moscow

Let’s make a break in psychiatry and return to Russia for a bit, my country, my native land.

I was born into a truly picturesque environment, I was born in Moscow. If you ever plan a trip to Russia, I really advise you NOT to miss that place. Moscow has the true Russian architecture, with its magnificent Kremlin, decorating the central space. There is also a mausoleum of Lenin there, something I never visited and never will, but let’s ignore a small negativity of the legacy of some Egyptian traditions to mummify a dead body, and move on towards the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed,  known as St. Basil Cathedral, and also as Pokrovsky Cathedral, built from 1551 to 1561 on the decree from Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.

The Cathedral is more than magnificent, it is truly, I feel, a symbol of Russia and of Russian Orthodox Christianity. It stands tall and proud across the Moscow river, and when you drive past it at night, you land up in a magical domain, once you see it illuminated, like a star in a beautiful night. It shines by its beauty, and it shines its Christianity. It is a partial museum now, and when on a visit there, I always felt that it should be restored as a proper church. I know that from 1991 Church services restarted there, which is a blessing, of course.

The grave of the Russian Saint, Saint Vasily is there, the Russian Holy Fool (read about holy foolishness on my post here), and it has a shape of a bonfire, a design that is totally unique and as Dimitry Shidkovsky, described in his book ‘Russian Architecture and the West’, “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to the fifteenth century…a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.” (2007, p. 126).

Moscow is full of magical, unexpected places. It is a unique combination of old and new, where almost each corner presents something wonderful and unique, and is truly Russian. If I return to Russia as a tourist, I will start with Moscow, and then proceed to the golden ring, and definitely not miss Suzdal, a city full of churches, but let’s take a walk in Moscow first.

My favourite place to hang out was always the Old Arbat and then walking towards the Kremlin across the bridge, right down to the Oktiabriaskaya underground station. Or turn right after leaving the Arbat and walk through the boulevard park towards Ostozhenka, where the Linguistic University can be found (former Institute of Foreign Languages, where I studied for a year, before moving to Brussels to continue my other degree in languages there). The Old Arbat is a pedestrian street, favourite of the artists, and vagabonds. It always attracted weird crowds of people, and that’s maybe I loved it so much. I felt like a part of the crowd of interesting, unusual people, of artists, painters and performers. My other best friend, Sergei, would often take me there, and we would chat and drink with his friends of the University of Film and Cinema (BGIK) where he studied to become an actor.

The Old Arbat has many interesting cafes, where one can get a good impression of how Russian people eat. It is always a nice warm meal, very delicious, as how pancakes, pastries, delicious porridges, fresh bread from the oven, and the incredible influence we got as legacy from Georgia and Armenia, can not taste good? Tea is more popular than coffee, and drinking tea is a proper ritual. If you are invited for a tea to the Russian family, except a feast. People in Russia, and my native town, are extremely hospitable. You will need to go on a diet, I guarantee you that. Russian host will bring everything he or she has on the table. Last time I was back in Moscow, my best friend, Masha, prepared a table that an army could eat. She made me my favorite meatballs, numerous salads, pastries, and a cake. My other best friend, Anya, made for me a special chicken and a salad of shrimps under the mayonnaise, that is now my signature dish if I am hosting.

I used to love walking in Moscow. I would spend days on it. After finishing my classes at the University, I would walk towards the Park of Culture, and admire the tress, and the lake, and then walk towards the Crimea Bridge and admire my native city. From the Crimea bridge that connects the underground station of Park of Culture and Oktyabriaskaya, one can get a glimpse of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and see the House of Artist, where I used to attend lessons in drawing, and that always has interesting, unique expositions.

Moscow is huge, and as a whole, does reflect well the Russian culture. It has churches with bells, numerous parks, incredible underground station, and people that read. One of the most amazing book shops, called Dom Knigi stands proud on the New Arbat, and if you are lucky one day to travel on the Moscow’s underground station, you will get the impression that you travel in a moving library. Everyone reads. Rides are long to connect people who go to work or to study, and they use this time with wisdom: they read.

At night the center is illuminated and if you do believe in magic, you will notice, that you are indeed in a magical land. I left my native, my beloved city at the age of nineteen to study in French in Brussels, another city I fell in love with. But I will tell you more about Brussels in another post.

(a view of Moscow with my best friend, Masha)

P. Tchaikovsky – Pas de Deux (‘The Nutcracker’

The devil, the monster from hell

I finished my last post promising to tell you about how I met the devil as depicted in the scariest Christian stories. However, since then I remembered that I had encountered the character way before in the 90s in Russia, much earlier than that time he appeared to me and my friend, and before I once saw him in one of my lucid-dreaming experiences (and where he showed how he really looks, and he can take many forms and appearances).

It is easier to write about it than talk, because people simply stopped believing in all that stuff, and it’s every day that I wonder how the Christianity survived till today, as everything in it can be judged as ‘delusions’ and according to the psychiatry, all Christians should be proclaimed as insane. I once read a psychiatric article where it was hinted quite clearly that Jesus had suffered from psychosis and exhibited all signs of being a bipolar. Needless to say it wasn’t a nice read, as for yet another time I started to doubt my own mind and my own sanity, because I believe in Jesus, and have seen the manifestations of parallel world many times. Denying this truth to me (and other people) is denying the whole reason of any existence based in spirituality, and once I tried to live a life denied of it, I stopped to see the aim of any life, or at least a life, based in some meaning. How can we wake up and not believe in Jesus, is a question I decided I don’t want to explore any longer. I have to add here that my own ‘search’ for Jesus took a long time, and not because I failed to realize until recently that Jesus is always around, but because I have been obscured by the presence of the devil almost my entire life. Yes, he is constantly around, and yes, I’ve met him and know for sure that he is as real as a glass of nice red wine I am drinking right now, while writing this post.

The problem with the devil is that he made his appearance in my life way before I received baptism in the Russian Christian Church (on my own accord, at the age of twelve), and hasn’t left me since, in terms of his presence. He appeared many times in my life, and I do wonder as to why he is so much interested in my persona. Do I have an interesting soul? Is it because I am indeed a holy fool (a concept to which I will come back again and again) or is it because I can contribute to humanity and he tries to ban me from doing good works? But I will try to quiet my ego for now and go back (in my mind) to that first time I met the devil in my life.

I was three years old then and was sleeping in my cot, on the sixteenth floor in our Moscow’s apartment. We lived on the top floor, and as was established later, the apartment was chased by the spirits or something similar, and my step-mother would discover some sort of insects all the time under the flower pots years later.

I woke up from a dream because I literally sensed a presence and then I glanced at the window, I saw HIM. He looked like a total monster from hell, with horns, and terrifying eyes, and I knew at once that it was the devil, and that he was interested in me.

Interestingly, I didn’t panic or anything like that at that point because, even at the age of three, I knew that there was no point in panicking. If I started to cry, the parents would arrive and tell me that he wasn’t real and that I had simply had a bad dream, and therefore, I did the opposite of child logic. I stared at him without crying and told myself aloud: yes, he is real, and what you see is not your imagination.

I also forgot that vision till later in life, but I had to resuscitate the memory once I had met him on that bench in Moscow, overlooking the church. You might ask me, but how do you know for sure? And the only answer I have, is that yes, I know, and the truth runs sometimes deeper than anything else. It is the whole core of your being which tells you that what you see and hear, while not visible to everyone else, is happening in reality. I also learned from experience that people simply don’t want to believe in uncomfortable truth, because once they do, the only remaining path is to embrace Christianity and pray for the return of Christ. And the path of a true Christian is indeed much harder than anything else.

I met the devil several times later in my life and will tell you more about the encounters. You don’t have to listen to me, of course, and you don’t have to believe in me, but I am sharing you my story from a vintage point of view of hexagram number 41 of the Chinese I Ching, line nine in the second place. The text of the oracle says: “…without decreasing oneself, one is able to increase to others”, which means that I share the story from the position of personal truth. You might believe and hear and see, but it’s obscured by what others reply to you in return. Jesus is real, and so is the devil, and the fight between good and the evil is taking place now on earth as never before.

In the next post I will tell you about how I attended the devil’s ball.  It was during one of my lucid-dreaming, just for those who might start saying, but is she insane? All these whispers (implying insanity) are just whispers of the devil preventing so many of us from saying the truth, according to my gypsies cards (demons, card 47, in straight position). But I studied all the enemy tools (including all Tarot cards and oracles) for years, and therefore, yes, I have the tools and the courage to say the truth as I see it, and not as others tell me it should be.

Hear, hear.

 

Bibliography:

Wilhelm, R. (1967). I Ching: a book of changes. Penguin.

Touchkoff, S. (1992). Russian Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards. Harper San Francisco.

0TheFool

(the fool in Tarot cards is, of course, showing us the path of a Holy Fool, it is all real, and it is all based in reality. Tarot cards taught me many lessons, and I am grateful for that)

Foolishness for Christ. Encounter with the devil

There is a reason as to why I go back to the 1990s in Russia so often on my blog, because it was exactly at that time that devil made his appearance in my country. The Christianity was proclaimed as official religion, and he, quite, obviously, couldn’t miss the opportunity to battle for a few remaining souls.

I could watch what was happening in my country from a vintage point of a teenager, which helped me somehow, because it is much more difficult to survive the battle between good and evil when you are an adult. The mundane daily responsibilities don’t allow space for any deep philosophical inclinations, and then, of course, it is hard to believe in anything, yet, allow oneself any ‘magical’ thinking, because one is always at risk to end up on the radar of the psychiatrists. The psychiatrists rule the world based in normality, and no one dares anymore to proclaim loud and clear: yes, there is the devil, and yes, there is God, and Jesus was real.

Back in the 1990s in Russia I met the character, the devil, on numerous occasions. He was lurking around, and once when I was with one of my best friends, he announced himself around us, right when we were admiring the visitors to a local church. My friend Anya and I were skipping a class in algebra, and were sitting on the bench on the hill, above a Russian Orthodox Church where some people started to go because Christianity had seen its return, and people didn’t have to hide anymore their faith in secret.

It was an interesting development for both me and Anya as we had grown up in a country without any religion. The Soviet Union’s doctrine was based on absence of any belief system, besides the building of a communal goal, with  stuff like ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’ considered to be absolute madness, and where those who had dared to proclaim otherwise, were deemed to be mad, and had to undergo a psychiatric treatment. Interestingly enough while I live now in a so-called free society, the mantra that you can believe in anything you want as long as you remain silent, is truer than anywhere else. You are proclaimed as insane immediately if you start talking about God and the devil, and especially if you hint at the fact that you see their manifestations in a daily reality.

So, Anya and I were watching the church with deep curiosity, it was indeed totally beyond any logical thinking. How come, we both wondered, that a country of absolute atheists suddenly turned into zealous church devotees?

“Look, even young people go now there,” I made a remark to Anya, and she nodded to me an agreement, noticing as me, a couple of what looked like students entering the door of the church.

“And I still remember how the doors to the same church were totally closed in the seventies,” we both jumped from fright as we hadn’t noticed the man, sitting now next to us on the bench, approaching us, let alone, materializing himself, suddenly on the bench. But here he was, wearing an interesting red hat, and staring longingly into the distance at the church, furtively giving me a wink in the process, locking his eyes with mine for a brief moment.

A though immediately entered my mind that he was the devil, and I allowed it to remain there, because I was still a teenager, and radical thoughts and visions are more tolerated when you are still at a precarious age. I haven’t yet reached the years when you learn that weird thoughts are not allowed, and that the psychiatry as an institution has the reins and power to silence all ‘different’ individuals once and for good. All those that have seen the devil, met him and know that he is real, are sitting behind the psychiatric bars. Since I am not there, I decided that I have the liberty to say whatever I want, and therefore, I am taking this opportunity to reassure you that everything ever written in the Bible is totally real, not that I had read all of it, due to the difficulty of the scripture. But I live the stories written in it in real life, and manifestations of it and the truth, reach me on a daily basis, usually in my dreams.

And so I allowed the thought to remain there and it was scary but at the same fascinating. Oh wow, I thought, it isn’t all fables and just stories then, is it? Here he is, the devil, and once I permitted the thought to stay there, it took that definite proportions when you realize that perhaps, magic is all real, and I was blessed (or cursed) to see and witness the manifestations of it in my daily reality. It was also interesting to observe that Anya jumped from fear and started to run away, while I remained sitting on the bench for another good couple of minutes, to (and I realize it only now) come to terms to my ‘raison d’etre’ from now on. Yes, I would be chased by the presence of the devil my entire life, and it’s only with experience that I learned that the only way to fight him is via Christianity and belief in Jesus.

Amazingly enough we didn’t talk with Anya about that particular manifestation of the character. I think that like me, she realized the significance of the presence of the man in the red hat, but it was too scary to admit the reality as it is: yes, the devil is real, and he is chasing the earth for a few remaining souls.

It was also the same year that I went to receive baptism and became a Russian Orthodox, embracing a difficult and run with obstacles life. Because the life of a true Christian, the life of a Holy Fool, is one of a martyr, and I ended up fighting with the devil my entire life.

Having met the character many times since that first encounter, I will tell you more about him from now on. He is a great manipulator, and uses clever tactics to lure one into his kingdom. He can also take different forms, and only once I saw the real him, as depicted in Christian scary stories, when I was lucid-dreaming in my sleep.

But this is a tale I will share with you next time.

holy fool

(Saint Nicholas of Pskov – Russian Holy Fool)

Bad Witches in Russia

But let’s go back to the 1990ies in Russia to continue with chronology of the events, not just influencing me and my life after, but also the fate of Russia and how it has become.

When I talk about witches, and apologies to all nice white witches, who wish no harm, I talk about bad witches, and in order to ban you from telling me what I am deranged, I will present you a picture of Moscow on one day in June in 1991.

It was a beautiful day, as far as I remember, and I was strolling the lovely streets of the Moscow city, together with my cousin, who came to see me from the South of Russia. We were then really young, fourteen, fifteen, care-free, and very independent. I, for instance, due to the fact that I was constantly moving from the house to my dad and step-mother to the house of my grandma, and back, had lots of freedom. I really could do anything I wanted, and once I came back home at seven o’clock in the morning from a party of my boyfriend, and no one even noticed.

I was proud of my city then, because Moscow still stood as it was meant to: large streets with scare construction, old beautiful buildings, the view of the Kremlin, undisturbed, amazing museums, and not than many shops. I was slightly boasting to my cousin, even if I also actually envied her, with her nice, simple, very friendly life in an old mining town in the Eastern Ukraine, where she could visit our grandparents, proud Cossacks, in the South of Russia, whenever she wanted.

We walked for a long time, stopping at different places, to admire the view. We didn’t go inside the Kremlin that time, but stared at it from the bridge, taking in the breathtaking view of that amazing establishment. Kremlin is indeed breath-taking, encompassing beautiful imposing building, the most beautiful cathedral in the whole world, and the Kremlin tower itself, as well as the canon, and park and river around. All Kremlins in Russia were built on the river, surrounded by it, to protect themselves from the enemies.

And then we reached the old Arbat, a famous street in the center, forbidden for cars, where so many Russian writers created their stories, and where artists and vagabonds loved to assemble: to play guitar, to have a laugh, to share artistic ideas, to fall in love and to experience magic. Old Arbat was magical.

But no anymore. In the summer of 1991 I got for the first time a definite feeling that something wrong was going on in my native country. We entered the street, and there it was: witches parlors on almost every corner. At each corner, they were sitting, the witches. One was saying on a poster in front that she could read your fortune and make it better. The other had an announcement that she could ban certain people out of your life, and one man claimed to be a hypnotizer, looking similar to the idiot Kashpirovsky, promising to hypnotize one to good health or death, depending on your wishes (he didn’t mention ‘death’, but he looked like he could do it).

Ah, all that is innocent, and doesn’t mean anything, you might say at this point, especially if you are an atheist, or a psychiatrist.

Well, it does, of course it does. Queues of people were assembling next to each witch, wishing, hoping to get something that would make their lives better. It was indeed a desperate moment for my country: there was nothing to eat, nothing to buy, with uncertain future and total turmoil in politics and economics.

I didn’t like any of them, and I kind of felt a sort of despair myself when I saw these crowds of people, and because I was curious by nature, I joined the queue of a palm reader, a woman who didn’t look kind, and who started to give me weird looks before I even approached her. My cousin was standing next to me, but I told her I had money only to pay for my reading, not for hers. Something protective was always in me, in regards to my one year older than me cousin. She was vulnerable, fragile, thinking that she had lost on points, because my father had made a life in Moscow, while her dad, my uncle, worked in a mine. We both didn’t understand then, yet, that the life of her parents, in a small mining town, was the one that was full of beauty and wonder, and nice, kind people, who earned their bread with honesty and integrity.

By the time I approached the palm reader, I wasn’t feeling that well, I think it was probably due to the fact that all people who had a reading with her, had sad, desolate faces when they departed after receiving their reading. She was piercing me, with her unkind, calculating eyes all the way through, and I assumed it was due to my quite sexy, revealing top, that my mum had brought me from Italy. I was standing out in terms of my clothes, and the woman probably didn’t like it, was my guess.

When I sat in front of her, I had a massive headache, not helped by the fact that what she was telling me, a fourteen years old, was beyond being disturbing, it was pure bad madness.

“You will soon have an operation and you might survive, but it is all in the hands of the fate. You should never work as a teacher, or become a doctor. You will be unlucky in love.”

There was nothing nice coming of the mouth of the woman, and I don’t even know where I found the strength to contradict her, but I did. When she finally revealed her trick, such as asking to paying her lots of money to correct my outrageous fortune, I put a hand on top of hers, looked into her eyes and said:

“You are a liar.”

I then stood up and took my cousin firmly by the hand. I stopped for a good measure as well, looking at the crowd still waiting for their reading, really wishing for them to never approach that monster psychic, to never deal with her madness, greediness and ill-will.

Something unexpected happened then. The bad psychic stood up and started to assemble her chair and her tools (cards or whatever), and then she said:

“No more reading today, I am going home.”

I experienced enormous relief then.

The next day, I took my cousin from the south of Russia, and my cousin from Moscow, my sisters really, I don’t like the term ‘cousin’ to the Zamoskvorechye, a district full of churches, right outside of Moscow (now, a part of it), to baptize all three of us.

We received baptism, someone stole my best hat on the train back to Moscow, and I did feel something. Something really good entering my life.

It wasn’t enough though to fight with the negative energy my native town was dealing with then, but we will come back to it in my next post.

zamockvorechie