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The Culture of Charisma: Wielding Legitimacy in Contemporary Russian Healing

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The Culture of Charisma: Wielding Legitimacy in Contemporary Russian Healing

Text of The Culture of Charisma: Wielding Legitimacy in Contemporary Russian Healing

The Culture of Charisma: Wielding Legitimacy in Contemporary Russian Healing Author(s): Galina Lindquist Reviewed work(s): Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 3-8 Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/05/2012 22:00Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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The Wielding

culture legitimacy


charisma Russian healing

in contemporary

GALINA LINDQUIST Galina is Lindquist Assistant in of Professor theDepartment at AnthropologyStockholm Her includes University. work Shamanic on performances the in urban scene: Neo-shamanism Sweden contemporary Studies Social in (Stockholm & Anthropology, Almquist Wiksell International, 1997). Heremailis com. aatmare hotmail, @

included Theillustrations the herearefrom newspaper Orakul for (The Oracle'), the year2000,buttheyalsoappear in other similar newspapers, vlast Tainaia ('The notably I to Secret Power'). amgrateful for three referees anonymous their comments. a 1.Tobe granted licence, havea medical onemust degree a school. from collegeornursing of Sincethebeginning the 1990s there havebeenadvanced or institutions, courses, training which admit healers practising a andgivethem basicbiomedicai education. who People have somehealing abilities, displayed andwhomayhavepractised with healing informally some can success, followthesecourses a that to obtain document them 'folkhealers', certifies as as This andalsocounts a licence. to givesthema legalright advertise 'healers', to be as and in clinic-like employed 'centres', orpara-medical establishments in that their present services the of vocabulary biomedicine.

An important premise for the anthropological study of healing systems is that they are cultural domains, constituted by local systems of knowledge, meaning, and social relations. People undertake their quest for health with more conviction if the medical systems they resort to are meaningful for them, if the conceptualizations of health, disease and cure correlate with their more general cosmology, and fit within broader patterns of personal and collective identity construction. It is this meaningfulness of the systems of healing within the broader domains of meaning-making, their place with reference to the dominant structures of knowledge and power, that may be understood as their legitimacy. This legitimacy may be particularly contestable in a society where multiple medical systems coexist, intertwine, and compete for state funding and paying clients. In such a situation, discursive and performative strategies of legitimation can become a part of persuasiveness, whether of an individual healer or of the ideology behind a certain therapy, which might have bearing on the therapeutic efficacy of treatment. Unravelling strategies of legitimation that particular healers undertake can therefore provide a glimpse of healing systems as reflecting broader cultural dynamics, as windows onto social change - a quest started early on in medical anthropology (see, e.g., Comaroff 1981). The purpose of this paper is to analyse strategies of legitimation employed in the field of non-biomedical healing in contemporary urban Russia. It has been noted that people's health-seeking strategies sometimes reflect more than simply the practical possibilities of access and affordability - more even than the pragmatic search for therapeutic efficacy (Burns McGrath 1999). The therapeutic choices may also be indicative of moral and ideological undercurrents that determine how the users conceive of bigger collectivities in which they belong - a community, a nation, or even the world (imagined as a global entity); and of how they see their place within those formations. It is in this sense that health-seeking strategies can be windows on broader cultural transformations and controversies. of Legitimacy The constitution In Russia, individual health-seeking strategies may be pragmatic last resorts; but they also may be statements of identity, of cultural and ideological convictions, and of attitudes to past and present. In the health-seeking practices of afflicted persons these strategies of cultural positioning may be overshadowed by pragmatic concerns (Lock and Kaufert 1998). Healers' attempts to wield legit-

Melania theowner is Matushka of a luxurious officewith and secretaries, a guards, room, waiting comfortable where clients watch can video recordings herTVshows. of is Little Matushka, Mother, an affectionate of address for form in a prioress Russian Orthodox The cloisters. visual detailsof thead - theiconsandan oilin lamp thebackgroundare devices 'traditional' of through legitimation reference to thechurch. calls Melania a Russian herself 'hereditary '- a Orthodox Babka contradiction terms, the in as church anathematizes magic andhealing theworks as of devil.Melania appearance a 's well-groomed, selfbeautiful, assured in woman herearly stern forties,withsomewhat andauthoritative manner contrasts theimageof the with approachable villagewise woman evoked theterm by '. 'babka

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though Georgii no longer carries these out himself, as the centre employs two other masseurs. His sessions may include acupuncture and acupressure for inflammatory diseases like arthritis or cirrhosis of the liver, but this is all optional. The essence of his treatment, and the only element he uses in his work with children with cerebral palsy or with systemic diseases such as lupus erythematosus, is the 'bio-energy treatment'. The treatment itself takes about three minutes. The patient lies on the couch, under the glass pyramid, and Georgii makes passes with his hand over the ailing parts of the body, or all over the body. These are surgically precise, confident, aesthetically accomplished gestures, but quick as the flutter of a butterfly's wing. They are mimetic movements that iconically represent the operations he performs virtually, in order to smooth out tissues, draw out pus or excise foreign bodies such as cysts. This performance of healing is a masterly pantomime which enables one to see clearly the operation done, with the concrete sequence of healing procedures perfectly embodied in the act. The strange thing, however, is that the observing anthropologist is the only, and very rare, spectator, because the patient always lies with her eyes closed. Other possible spectators may be a child's mother or a patient's close kin, but this is far from always the case. The marvellous pantomime theatre of Georgii and other healers is not meant for spectators. After this brief performance he lights a candle on the wall in front of one of the icons (the lampada always burns, as is traditional in Russian Orthodox households), puts on New Age music, and leaves - to attend to another patient, to answer the telephone, to chat with the staff of secretaries and other paramedics who solve crosswords in the waiting room, or to disappear with one of the girls who are always in attendance waiting for this moment (he has a number of female admirers who often follow him wherever he goes). When I asked Georgii why his treatment takes such a short time, he explained somewhat vaguely that with his quick passes he sets into operation a curing program within the 'bio-energy-information field' of the patient. He also told me that while he was chatting with me or doing something else, part of his mind was with the patient, ceaselessly continuing the healing work, and that he actually knew exactly what the patient was doing lying there on the couch, what she was feeling, if the pain was stronger or weaker, if she stirred, scratched or coughed, thereby disturbing the needles. Nor did he need to look at his watch in order to know when it was time to release the patient. It all sounded fantastic, if it were not for the queues of patients waiting their turn, and the stories of miraculous cures from the clinic's staff, who were rather critical of other aspects of Georgii's personality and behavior. As I heard repeatedly during my fieldwork, it is not unusual for healers to 'suffer from mythomania'. They are powerful individuals, seen by themselves and others as capable of changing the physical reality of the human body. Being able to change the present, many of them seem to want, and dare, to change their own past as well. They do this by weaving narratives of their own life so as to mould their present gestalts for the enquiring listener, be it an anthropologist or a journalist interviewing them for a media programme. Georgii told me that he had three academic degrees, and that he used to be fluent in four foreign languages. But he decided to take a break in his academic career and enrolled in an elite paratroop regiment. He was sent to Vietnam, became shell-shocked there, and lost his foreign languages - and with them, the ability to learn languages at all. 'My first teacher was Baturin, a famous Russian healer then living in Tashkent, founder of a chiropractic and osteopathy school [and a promoter of Tibetan medicine]. I


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