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ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE

Neihardt refers to this experience (of which there was much more) as the “Great Vision.”

Some New Agers are deeply impressed by native North American religious cultures. This is very understandable. Anyone who has attended a sun dance, participated in a sweat lodge, or, in any other respect, participated in native rituals, soon discovers that these are associated with very profound, highly complex religions. This has been recognized, however imperfectly, by those non-native New Agers who have embraced their own versions of these religions; have attempted, as far as possible, to become holy men and women in native terms. Few if any succeed, and what usually results are a variety of pseudo-native cults, just as those who attempt to revive archaic European paganism only approximate these traditions at best.

Modern Shamanism in Russia

A modern example of a shaman is Gregory Rasputin, a peasant from Siberia, who was one of hundreds of wandering healers. He, however, had exceptional charisma, and captivated the Czarina Alexandra, who called him “our friend.” Rasputin, like most peasants, practiced a mixture of archaic paganism and Russian Orthodox mysticism. This included prayers and magical charms, such as the laying on of hands. He seemed in addition to have occult powers. The young Czarevitch Alexis, heir to the throne, suffered from hemophilia and frequently suffered hemorrhages with which his regular physicians could not cope. Rasputin saved the boy’s life twice, apparently performing miracles.

While Rasputin belonged to no religious order of any kind, he was very much like the Khysti [Кхйсти], wandering mystics who had visions of the Virgin Mary who gave them the wisdom and power to heal the sick. The Khysti conversed with spirits, changed the weather, and much else. This was frequently combined with hypersexuality as the energizing spirit force. Rasputin as well was highly promiscuous. Alexandra, who was very superstitious, believed that Rasputin was a prophet, a medium of divine revelations. She constantly consulted him as to which minister the Czar should appoint. Nicholas, whom a few recent historians credit with stronger political will than most have done in the past, did not follow this advice, and urged the Czarina to keep communications from “our friend” to herself. However, many Russians were convinced that the autocratic Czar was also dominated by Rasputin, and that the latter was running the empire. In 1916, a wealthy aristocrat, Prince Yusupoff, and his associates set out to murder Rasputin, a deed which turned out to be very difficult to accomplish. Rasputin survived drinks laced with cyanide, but was finally shot and dumped in the river Neva. The assassins were never prosecuted.

Faith healers still flourish among Russians in Siberian villages. Their beliefs synthesize adoration of the Virgin Mary, of whom they have visions, and who gives them occult powers, with pagan beliefs. Many Russians prefer these to regular physicians, and, indeed, they are sometimes very effective. This is presumably chiefly because they are practitioners of psychosomatic medicine. They are present day shamans, albeit Europeans.

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