Deeper Than Oil: The Doctor Talks Of Magic

© RIA NovostiMarс Bennetts
Marс Bennetts - Sputnik International
As you may have gathered by now, I’m pretty interested in Russia’s obsession with magic and the occult. Some of the most intelligent and insightful pieces of writing I have come across on the topic are by a south Moscow psychoanalyst, one Doctor Nikolai Bogdanov.

As you may have gathered by now, I’m pretty interested in Russia’s obsession with magic and the occult. Some of the most intelligent and insightful pieces of writing I have come across on the topic are by a south Moscow psychoanalyst, one Doctor Nikolai Bogdanov.

Impressed by his precise and humorous articles on the “sorcerer-conmen” that make a living from his more gullible countrymen, I called him up to arrange an interview.
“Well,” he said, “you’d have to bring something along with you to our meeting.”

Something? Was this a not-so-veiled request for cash?

“No, no, not at all,” Dr. Bogdanov replied. “You can’t measure the worth of everything in money. Something to eat with our tea, perhaps.”

A cake?

“A cake would be fine,” the good doctor said.

Dr. Bogdanov, I discovered after arriving at his office, was a bearded (“like all good psychoanalysts!”) and intensely thoughtful man. In fact, if I ever experience psychiatric problems I may well look him up.

We tucked into tea and cake and talked of white and black magic.

 “The average Russian is completely confused and disorientated by modern life,” he told me. “In a certain respect, he is no superior to cavemen who were baffled and frightened by thunder and lightning.”

 “Where did the financial crisis come from, what do the laws they pass in parliament mean, why has my salary been halved? To find his solutions, his truth, he heads to witches and wizards. Maybe they know what is going on and can help him?”

Dr. Bogdanov had a good point. Russia is drowning in a sea of paperwork, of laws that are either incomprehensible or unworkable. Registration, internal passports, multiple stamps and visits to remote offices staffed by ill-tempered staff to receive all these documents, I occasionally found myself wondering if Russia’s torturous system of bureaucracy had not perhaps been deliberately contrived with the sole aim of making life harder and more unpleasant for its citizens.  Imagined into being by some evil witch, perhaps?

 “The Soviet system,” the doctor argued, “taught its citizens not take responsibility for themselves. Someone always took care of us, provided free healthcare and education, and, basically, decided everything for us. Where we should live, what we should eat, what we should wear and were we should or should not go.”

“When it collapsed, lots of people felt like little children lost on the street. The occultists appeared then and said, ‘Come and see us! Pay us, and we will solve all your problems!’ The instability that followed just laid the foundation for the development of the occult business.”

So was the Soviet system entirely to blame? Surely not. After all, it is almost two decades since the USSR collapsed. That reasoning sounded a bit like a serial killer blaming his unhappy childhood for his descent into crime.

“Not at all,” Dr. Bogdanov said. “You only have to look at our folk stories to realise that such things appeal to the Russian national character. We love something for nothing, a free lunch in other words.”

“Look at the folk tales of Ivan the Fool, a lazy, untalented idiot who is one of our greatest national heroes. In all the stories written about him, despite his idleness, he invariably wins the day. The fairy-tale solutions offered by witches and wizards appeal to this element of the national character, this desire for achievement without effort.”

“But then,” he went on, “everyone loves this kind of thing. Even in the West. Look at modern technology, mobile phones, the Internet, and so on. No one cares how that incredibly convenient stuff works, everyone just takes it for granted. It may as well be magic for all they understand of it. Or care to.”

Had Dr. Bogdanov been reading the late science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, who once stated that “modern technology is indistinguishable from magic?” I didn’t bother to ask. The point was still a valid one, either way. We are all ignorant savages when confronted with magic, be it the digital or the more traditional kind.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.

Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).


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