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The culture of charisma

Wielding legitimacy in contemporary Russian healing

Galina Lindquist is Assistant
Professor in the Department of
Anthropology at Stockholm
University. Her work includes
Shamanic performances on the
urban scene: Neo-shamanism in
contemporary Sweden
(Stockholm Studies in Social
Anthropology, Almquist &
Wiksell International, 1997).
Her email is

The illustrations included
here are from the newspaper
Orakul (‘The Oracle’), for the
year 2000, but they also appear
in other similar newspapers,
notably Tainaia vlast (‘The
Secret Power’). I am grateful to
three anonymous referees for
their comments.
1. To be granted a licence,
one must have a medical degree
from a college or nursing school.
Since the beginning of the 1990s
there have been advanced
training institutions, or courses,
which admit practising healers
and give them a basic biomedical
education. People who have
displayed some healing abilities,
and who may have practised
healing informally with some
success, can follow these courses
to obtain a document that
certifies them as ‘folk healers’,
and also counts as a licence. This
gives them a legal right to
advertise as ‘healers’, and to be
employed in ‘centres’, clinic-like
or para-medical establishments
that present their services in the
vocabulary of biomedicine.

Matushka Melania is the owner
of a luxurious office with
guards, secretaries, and a
comfortable waiting room,
where clients can watch video
recordings of her TV shows.
Matushka, Little Mother, is an
affectionate form of address for
a prioress in Russian Orthodox
cloisters. The visual details of
the ad – the icons and an oillamp in the background – are
devices of ‘traditional’
legitimation through reference
to the church. Melania calls
herself a ‘hereditary Russian
Orthodox Babka’ – a
contradiction in terms, as the
church anathematizes magic
and healing as the works of
devil. Melania’s appearance – a
beautiful, well-groomed, selfassured woman in her early
forties, with somewhat stern
and authoritative manner –
contrasts with the image of the
approachable village wise
woman evoked by the term

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.
The constitution of legitimacy
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-


imacy through particular repertoires of treatment methods
and through rhetorical strategies of self-presentation can
be recognized as deriving from these same processes. Like
their patients, healers appropriate the existing regimes of
authoritative knowledge in complex and ambivalent ways.
The dominant mode of response to the conflicting claims
of these regimes, ‘ambivalence coupled with pragmatism’
(ibid.:2), is discernible in the strategies of healers as well
as in those of patients.
The question of legitimacy has been extensively discussed in medical anthropology in relation to biomedicine.
In these discussions, biomedicine is regarded as the dominant ‘regime of authoritative knowledge’ (see, e.g., Jordan
1997). The anthropological critique of biomedicine is usually deployed to demonstrate how this regime, by consensus, but sometimes by manipulation and subtle
coercion, is made to carry more weight than other existing
knowledge systems, due to its ‘structural superiority’, that
is, its association with a stronger power base (e.g. DavisFloyd and Sargent 1997). However, alternative healing
practices are also reflections of broader multiple regimes
of power and knowledge. This paper addresses the issue of
legitimacy of non-biomedical healing systems. These are
considered as cultural domains in their own right, and as
integrated by one practitioner in his own, idiosyncratic
ways of wielding charismatic power that in practice translate into therapeutic efficacy.
In the plural medical field of today’s Russia, healers’
arsenals of treatment means are constructed, sometimes
appearing as a bizarre bricolage. Their public personas, the
images they project, are similarly often constructed
through their narrations of their lives, as well as through
the material constitution of their treatment locales and the
apparel of their physical gestalts. As an example, I shall
describe a healer for whom this project of public self-presentation has acquired the dimensions of art and ethos. I
shall contextualize his endeavours by looking briefly at the
field of medical care in contemporary urban Russia, and
by tracing the more general strategies of legitimation used
in articulating its constituent parts.
In outlining these strategies, I will take as a starting
point the types of legitimacy originally suggested by Max
Weber (1947), and adapted by Carol MacCormack (1981,
1986) to the field of medical care: rational-legal, traditional and charismatic legitimacy. Applied to healing systems, legitimacy translates into the power of persuasion
that compels people to follow certain prescriptions and to
subjugate themselves to certain practices. To analyse legitimacy in health care is to understand why, and how, people
submit to the authority of specific individuals (healers or
biomedical practitioners), placing themselves within the
systems of knowledge and power that these individuals
represent. In Weber’s ‘traditional’ type of legitimacy,
people cope because they believe in the ‘sacredness’ of a
certain order of power; in the ‘bureaucratic’ type, it is the
rational decision that makes them obey an institutionalized
technocratic regime. Weber viewed charismatic power as
based on affective devotion of followers to the figure of
authority, and their motives to subjugate themselves as
‘inspirational’ (Burgess 2000).
The subsequent critique of Weber highlighted the teleological, evolutionary character of these ideal types. This
typology of legitimacy is based on Weber’s vision of human

However. and performative resources. where meanings. Even at times when the economic depression meant that there were few patients and the centre was bringing in little money. practices. By contrast. His resemblance to the historical figure of Rasputin. as Weber’s typology implies. I will argue that an important source of legitimacy in Russia. This is expressed in biological magnetic currents that can be measured on the surface of the body. 2. The range of services on offer includes more extreme varieties such as. and that every vertebra of the spine is connected to a specific internal organ. Georgii is a man in his mid-thirties. is the power of alterity (cf. and one big hall divided into small cubicles by old. Apart from the healers. Master of Black Magic and Voodoo. There is a legend society as essentially developing from ‘lower’.2 Georgii is the main attraction of the centre. The ethnographic research which follows shows that in non-biomedical healing. attraction of lovers and money. perhaps to accommodate some of the more spectacular episodes of his invented biography and to strengthen the aura of wisdom lent by age and experience. for example. including that of the regimes of authoritative medical knowledge. with couches used for massage and acupuncture. These versions of ‘globality’ are both culturally shared and individually idiosyncratic constructions which provide a stock of means for innovation and cultural creativity and constitute a motor for broader changes. an ultrasound specialist. connected by straight lines to the corresponding viscera. Another criticism of Weber’s typology of domination and legitimacy concerns the problematic character of his notion of charisma (for a detailed analysis. and staff salaries are paid out of this money. discursive. In using alterity or otherness as a source of legitimacy. This computer program is based on the premise that the spine is central to the well-being of the body. the centre is unpretentious. as well as by drawing on the whole array of available symbolic. and a battered old computer running the AMSAD diagnostic program. a ten-minute metro ride from the centre of Moscow. see Csordas 1997). the healer wields this authority by tapping into all existing regimes of ‘authoritative knowledge’. When the patient holds an electrode in each hand. where charismatic authority is often the most important type in the therapeutic relationship. Thus. ‘elimination of rivals’ clearly falls outside the domain of ‘white magic’ but may be urgently required for practical reasons. Inside. It consists of two small rooms.1 The healing centre where he works occupies a large. the computer screen shows the person’s spine with the vertebrae in different colours. by the very nature of his thought. seem to be pragmatic. the staff consists of two masseurs. following Csordas. worn cloth curtains. and another electrode in the form of a metallic band is placed on his forehead. Weber could not conceive of charisma as a mystical personal quality. combining Weber’s ideal types and devising new ways never envisaged by grand theories. ‘egiliet’– rendering your husband or lover impotent with all women except for you. 4 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 17 NO 2. the famous Russian self-proclaimed Grigorii Efimovich Rasputin (1869-1916). The distinction between ‘white’ and ‘practical’ magic obviously reflects the fuzziness of the moral domain on the boundaries of legimitacy. Disorders of internal organs are understood to result directly from wrongly positioned vertebrae. we may attempt to deconstruct charisma and to find its specific situational ‘locus’ with a concrete individual healer. Hannerz 1996). It is equipped with ultrasound and ECG equipment. affective and even instinctual forms of social action to more rigorous or rationally located ones. APRIL 2001 . ‘White and pactical magic’ are offered by this ‘International Master’. occupied by the two acting healers. The centre’s income is brought in by the healers. head of the Seventh Legion Order of the Three Winds. Georgii is a licensed healer. two secretaries who answer the phone fourteen hours a day. In practice. and a ‘protective energy shield’. acultural and ahistorical. healers draw on their own versions of globality – the world seen as a single place. the sources of legitimacy that must ultimately be integrated to forge charismatic authority are not fixed. people’s ways of and motives for coping with power. his identification of ‘charismatic legitimacy’ as a separate type may be understood to this effect. but are historically and culturally conditioned. somewhat dilapidated premises on the ground floor of a huge apartment building constructed in the prestigious architectural style of ‘Stalin’s empire’. and a general nurse. as elsewhere. These schematics can be printed out. specifically on the palms of the hands and the forehead. Taussig 1993).The ‘Salon of Supreme Magic’ is presided over by the seventhgeneration heiress to the ancient Babylonian teachings. although he claims to have turned fifty. and people move across national borders and take root in local arenas (cf. Furthermore. techniques. material objects. the healer-monk who played a crucial role in the downfall of the Romanov dynasty. forms. there were always long queues of people waiting to be treated by him. The healing locale Unlike many of his fellow practitioners who operate on an amateur and part-time basis. however. Commentators agree that. Hierarch of the 1st degree. a bookkeeper. The range of services also includes ‘correction of fate’.

and a beard that falls onto his wide chest. The strange thing. I 5 . who were rather critical of other aspects of Georgii’s personality and behavior. this means you are in trouble. however. ‘My first teacher was Baturin. and that he used to be fluent in four foreign languages. is clearly not fortuitous. Georgii himself is one of the firm’s Moscow distributors. The absence of licence number in his ad makes these promises legally precarious. the ability to learn languages at all. suede and blue denim in exquisite combinations which betray his healthy financial position and keen interest in the world of clothes. This ‘leading expert’ promises ‘convincing restoration of health at the first session’. It was identified long before the revolution. he has shoulder-length hair swept back from the forehead. narod also connotes a mystical entity or community that in itself bears a supreme value and the knowledge of truth. Other possible spectators may be a child’s mother or a patient’s close kin. given that a bottle of New Ways vitamins costs three times an average monthly salary. in the triad ‘Russian Orthodoxy. and the stories of miraculous cures from the clinic’s staff. He is of medium height and stout. as part of their treatment. This connection between Russian Orthodoxy and the mystical Folk Spirit. if not fat. His face is exceptionally handsome in an icon-like way. scratched or coughed. Selling these products requires a great deal of persuasion. if she stirred. but this is all optional. In the prerevolutionary discourse of the radical intelligentsia. a trait he shares with many Russian Orthodox priests. with glass pyramids suspended above their heads. so that the results of the therapeutic intervention become not only perceptible but graphically representable and visible as well. spectator. your spine and viscera are all coloured blue to red. Georgii told me that he had three academic degrees. and that he actually knew exactly what the patient was doing lying there on the couch. acupuncture charts hang next to Russian Orthodox icons. however. aesthetically accomplished gestures. It all sounded fantastic. as one of the cornerstones of Russian statehood and national identity. many of them seem to want. The treatment itself takes about three minutes. a famous Russian healer then living in Tashkent. if the pain was stronger or weaker. or all over the body. He also told me that while he was chatting with me or doing something else. 3. A large crucifix on his chest and several massive rings with crosses on his fingers. founder of a chiropractic and osteopathy school [and a promoter of Tibetan medicine]. ceaselessly continuing the healing work. but allows him to present himself additionally as a witch: his other services include ‘realistic magic support for business’ and the solution of love and money problems. the Divine Right of the Monarchy. Nor did he need to look at his watch in order to know when it was time to release the patient. Healers usually have patients diagnosed in this way before and after treatment. has deep roots in the Russian culture. under the glass pyramid. are those on whom conventional biomedicine has given up. but this is far from always the case. Most insistently. with the concrete sequence of healing procedures perfectly embodied in the act. But in the history of Russian thought. monk-healer who treated the son of Tsar Nicholas II for haemophilia and contributed to the demise of the royal family. and lost his foreign languages – and with them. an enterprise operating in Moscow through the pyramid sales system. corresponding to the gravity of affliction of the internal organs. part of his mind was with the patient. This performance of healing is a masterly pantomime which enables one to see clearly the operation done. if it were not for the queues of patients waiting their turn. A trained masseur who teaches massage and bone-setting in a nursing school. When I asked Georgii why his treatment takes such a short time. and he prescribes herb mixtures to his patients. to chat with the staff of secretaries and other paramedics who solve crosswords in the waiting room. candles and a lampada (oilburning icon lamp). narodnost). like those of most healers. 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. and very rare. diseases of the bones and spine such as osteochondrosis and scoliosis.for the colours. on the spectrum from red through blue to green. Narod is conventionally translated as ‘people’ or sometimes as ‘nation’. puts on New Age music. A tape recorder plays New Age music during the treatment. samoderzhavie. narodnost. He was sent to Vietnam. in the latest Western fashion – flannel. what she was feeling. complemented and augmented by the third pillar. After this brief performance he lights a candle on the wall in front of one of the icons (the lampada always burns. Folk Spirit’ (Pravoslaviye. As I heard repeatedly during my fieldwork. and leaves – to attend to another patient. as is traditional in Russian Orthodox households). and Georgii makes passes with his hand over the ailing parts of the body. These are surgically precise. This stern appearance presents a striking contrast to the sudden glances of tenderness and compassion which he focuses on a patient while listening to his or her story. Georgii’s ecclesiastical features are framed in the highest-quality garments. but quick as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing. to buy herbal/vitamin/mineral medications produced by the American company New Ways. ‘for focusing the cosmic energy on their second chakras’ as he explained to me. Healing sessions at the centre might include massage and chiropractic treatment for bone and spinal diseases. Georgii is also adept in acupuncture and zone therapy (acupressure). became shell-shocked there. he urges his patients. with rubies and turquoise in heavy gold settings. They are powerful individuals. His sessions may include acupuncture and acupressure for inflammatory diseases like arthritis or cirrhosis of the liver. and also systemic diseases like lupus. confident. because the patient always lies with her eyes closed. 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. in order to smooth out tissues. leather. with clear and regular features. and a grave and piercing gaze. ‘dematerialization of tumors’. be it an anthropologist or a journalist interviewing them for a media programme. thereby disturbing the needles. as in ‘nash mnogostradal’nii narod’ – ‘our long-suffering people’ – but also with primordial vitality and strength. draw out pus or excise foreign bodies such as cysts. the Divine Right of the Monarchy. and cure from terminal diseases. ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 17 NO 2. 4. The notion is associated with the traditional Russian values of endurance and patience. 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). is the ‘bio-energy treatment’. complete the picture. If. APRIL 2001 though Georgii no longer carries these out himself. His patients. on the schematic. Like them. Being able to change the present. this connotation was spelled out in the expression ‘narod-bogonosets’ – ‘the God-bearing People’. seen by themselves and others as capable of changing the physical reality of the human body. to answer the telephone. Among his specialities are child cerebral palsy. But he decided to take a break in his academic career and enrolled in an elite paratroop regiment. They are mimetic movements that iconically represent the operations he performs virtually. Georgii has a reputation as a very powerful healer. is that the observing anthropologist is the only. and dare. and as much as the whole cycle of fifteen treatments by Georgii. to change their own past as well. as the centre employs two other masseurs. There are always two patients lying on the couches in Georgii’s treatment room. The patient lies on the couch. The marvellous pantomime theatre of Georgii and other healers is not meant for spectators. hormonal growth deficiency in children. claiming to have gathered these himself during summers spent wandering in the mountains of the Altai. They do this by weaving narratives of their own life so as to mould their present gestalts for the enquiring listener. On the walls of the room. the Urals and Tibet. it is not unusual for healers to ‘suffer from mythomania’.

I realized this was what I wanted to do. 6 became interested in massage and bone-setting when I went through his treatment myself. another Georgian. I spent three years in Tibet with him. with stereotypical paraphernalia such as the crystal ball. tracing missing persons. You are a born healer. learning bone-setting and herbal remedies. In this ad for a ‘parapsychology salon’. He taught me to touch patients. and money’. bringing material abundance. of the kind used in official documents.” Still. Services include ‘description of the person who put the evil eye on you’. It offers rejuvenation of skin and internal organs. Healing’ places the emphasis on the mystical and the mysterious. The images of the healers are clichés of folk fantasies of witches.The ‘centre for development and scientific research in human psychology’ is an example of scientificbureaucratic legitimacy. Magic. to ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 17 NO 2. and casting spells on banknotes to make them multiply. When I watched how the masseur worked. along with the usual ‘luck. The no-nonsense photos of the experts. using ‘the best hypnosis techniques available in the world’. APRIL 2001 . convalescing after the shell-shock. listen. But my first real teacher was a Tibetan monk. the slogan ‘That Which is Hidden Will Be Revealed: Clairvoyance. and trains healers. because he was from Buriatiia. protection from a random bullet. and ask questions. He spoke perfect Russian. fortune. He looked at me and said: “You don’t need to be my student. I went to Baturin and asked him to accept me as his student. I was his apprentice for a number of years. This ad also reflects the multi-ethnic composition of Moscow: one healer is Armenian. present a stark contrast with the evocative gestures of the witches and healers in the illustration below. You are already better at this than I am.

are stressed to be developed. and explicitly spelled out by his claim to have been ordained as an Orthodox priest. this type of legitimation is of great importance. as well as Masters of Indian and Tibetan medicine. like Mother Melania (see illustration. traditional legitimacy might draw on ‘small’ local traditions. village and city. where people often seek the help of medical/ritual specialists from other ethnic groups (Rekdal 1999). In present-day Russia. The traditional babka is a wise old woman who possesses a gift of healing power as well as a vast repertoire of spells and herbal remedies. especially the intelligentsia. the main medical system that the state continues to finance (to a degree) and that the majority of people still resort to on a daily basis. It is associated with concrete human links connecting generations of kin and providing continuity between past and present. monastic tradition.3).Seraphim Kassandré is presented in his ad as ‘the living legend of magic. p. whose very identity and pride lie in having resisted changes brought about by both Western and domestic (Communist) modernity and in preserving the essence of the national Russian soul. like the shamans of Chukotka or the lamas of ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 17 NO 2. This larger world.”’ Once I remarked on his crucifix. not mentioned by Weber and MacCormack. traditionally. evoking the unbending spirit of distant ethnic groups which has miraculously survived the ideological and political steamroller of the Soviet state.6 This may be the reason why Georgii. a large proportion of healers (and gurus) eagerly resort to this strategy of legitimation through alterity. methods. Or they might offer healing through ‘Russian Orthodox prayers from the Church prayer books’. Another kind of legitimacy. Strategies of legitimation According to MacCormack (1986). Globalization: The human consequences. however. APRIL 2001 Buriatiia. At the same time. The reference to the church is salient. but also appeals to the nostalgia for the pre-industrial rural past. after Weber. is adamant in vilifying all kinds of healing. And in the end she also told me: “You are ready to go and work on your own. healing can achieve short-term physical betterment at the cost of the perdition of the soul that will then burn in eternal flames. and Baba Nastia saw me heal it. rationalist epistemology and a reductionist and mechanistic cosmology. 1998. When I first came to her. Master of Voodoo’. New York: Columbia University Press.” After that I studied with sorcerers in Iran and with shamans in Siberia. traditional legitimation plays a crucial role. Baba Nastia lived in a tiny hut deep in the forest with her sister who helped her with herbs and with the household chores. and in his presentation of them).4 Resorting to this legitimation strategy. Babka. is corrupt. or babushka. By contrast. as it emerges from his ethos. In the view of some Russians. chooses not Russian but Greek Orthodoxy. The second type of legitimacy. healers can advertise as ‘a hereditary Russian Orthodox babka’. she was very stern with me. ascetic. who is also a Buddhist lama). High-tech modern biomedicine also backs up his sales pitch for the medications of the New Ways company. 13 (4): 483-505. and defiantly blending these two facets of ‘tradition’. as many Russians do. but it emerges gradually. but claims that it comes from the devil. is a folk term for village or neighbourhood female healers who. This is true of the attitude to Western medicine in Third World countries. Swimming from island to island: Healing practices in Tonga. Many diseases can be healed by bone-setting to begin with. notably a more radical section of the scientific and Western-oriented intelligentsia. read in his entire appearance. There are experts who claim to master ‘the secret techniques of ancient Scandinavian runes’. as a highly visible social institution. Bauman.). The photographs that often accompany written advertisements for healers may present them in monastic garments and ecclesiastical head-dresses. and very important. There are many contemporary urban healers/gurus who advertise as babki (pl. Available at: www. in his crucifix and the rings decorated with crosses. I will show you how to heal. The grounds on which healing is rejected by these two sources of social authority are however quite different. which. together with biomedicine. systems. their wilful co-optation of the church for legitimation. Accordingly. and by their professional position within the institutions established by the state. The Russian Church. against the backdrop of icons and icon lamps (lampada) – the objects that epitomize the Russian Orthodox religious folk spirit. and a number of followers of Reiki – ‘a Japanese tradition which allows you to extract the life force. His teachers represent the great Russian tradition (Baba Nastia) and the small non-Russian ethnic or native traditions (the Siberian shamans as well as the healer from Buriatiia. treated diseases in people and livestock for symbolic fees or free of Burns McGrath. and he told me that he was also a priest. Arena Working Papers. Biomedicine and natural science often dismiss healing as superstition and healers as charlatans who dupe gullible people. Law and cultural identity. in Africa. where healing is researched by laboratory methods as part of the ‘unknown’ (nepoznannoe). I have taught you all I know. Once her dog hurt its paw. is constituted through reference to the foreign origin of the craft. places healers and their methods within a deeper temporal range and within the contexts of personal and national identity. Georgii refers to the state scientific establishment when he mentions his four university degrees. and to the rural. You are born with the gift. In today’s Russia. and to transmit it through your hands’. and individual healers from afar are often considered especially powerful. ‘He gave me the crucifix as a sign that I was ordained. to become one with it. In many societies. In his narratives. opportunistic. the persuasiveness of this system draws on the high authority of natural sciences. But my next personal teacher after my Tibetan guru was an old wise woman (babka or babushka) from Briansk [a forest area in mid-Russia]. produced and tested ‘scientifically’ (both in the accompanying brochure that he sometimes shows to patients. our age’s Caliostro. In today’s Russia. It underlies biomedical health care. and only watched from a distance how she treated her patients. and also of the ‘crosscultural healing’ notable. traditional legitimacy draws not only on concrete lineages and locales. the world seen as a single place. in turning to the church for legitimation. make more precise diagnoses.5 claiming to have received their knowledge and skills from an unbroken lineage of powerful village healers. a high priest of Voodoo initiated personally by the supreme Voodoo archpriest Babalua Vonban Conbobo’. Healers’ reference to the church as a bearer of tradition. Another. The worth of practitioners is judged on the basis of formal examinations leading to legal entitlements. Burgess. Everything starts from the spine. calls traditional legitimacy. I stayed with him for three years. with its diagnostic apparatuses. still remain the basis of their world view. Orthodox Greece. He claims that ‘only the secret knowledge of the ancient Voodoo magic can work genuine miracles’. In Georgii’s mythology of the self. and associated with darker political forces of xenophobic nationalism. knowledges. with ancient church books in hand.’ he said. 5. These. Advertisements feature ‘the seventh-generation heir to ancient Babylonian teachings. since very basic biomedical health care is still free – an important consideration for those who barely manage to survive from day to day. But nobody can teach you to heal. Then she said to me: “Come in now. and his work as a teacher in a medical college. Medical Anthropology Quarterly . the church does not deny the power of healing. untainted by mundane involvements with the powers-that-be. Barbara 1999. she was known far and wide. and then he said: “Now you are ready to leave: you know all I know. Georgii’s religious reference is to Russia’s spiritual precursor. even if sometimes highly dangerous. are often businesslike young women who receive their patients in modern consulting rooms with fax machines and electronic security equipment. This has its pragmatic reasons. According to the church. Legitimation through biomedicine can be discerned in the physical organization of the centre described above.arena. anathematizing it as a work of the devil. Patients came to her themselves. though ‘natural preparations’. is however strikingly reminiscent of the map of the world presented to Russian 7 . ordained by a Greek Orthodox bishop somewhere in a distant monastery in Greece. which MacCormack. for example. I had to sweep her yard and scour her pots for half a year. Zigmund. the values of ‘land’ (zemlya) and ‘people’ (narod). rational-legal legitimacy in health care places a healing system within the context of a modern bureaucratic state. and the healers’ proudly displayed Ministry of Health licences and medical diplomas.3 Alternatively. conservative. facet of ‘tradition’ is represented in Russia by the Orthodox church. is however rather precarious. Georgii forges legitimacy as a man of power and knowledge by referring to alterity as a combined set of influences that constitute a very particular version of ‘the global’. She taught me a lot about bone-setting and herbs.uio. there is a whole field of ‘paranormal studies’.” I stayed with her for about a year. 2000. the Russian Orthodox Church. which for many people. Peter J. 6. Ideologically and affectively.

despite the rhetoric of the multinational state that was also current during this period. The articulation of Western and traditional systems of health care. suffering and enduring masses. In: DavisFloyd. 13 (4): 458-482. These feelings. as a power to heal. Research monograph No. is likely to be prominent in countries and among population groups where the search for group identity nourished by ‘roots’ plays an important role. and reflect. the USA is a source of fascination for Georgii. manifested at a very early age as an inexplicable radiation or ‘energy’. Cambridge University Press. Centers. Weber. Sometimes it reappears in healers’ children. pp. one is born with this capacity as a kind of divine gift. Charismatic political leadership: A theory. as locally imagined. as elsewhere. John 1999. even as it represents. Language. In Georgii’s case. Mimesis and alterity. in medical practitioners in all sections of the pluralistic health care system in Russia. The second. Crosscultural healing in East African ethnography. Galina 2000. Healing in Russia may be clad in the ritual and poetry of the folk tradition. 15B: 423-428. ‘Not my will but Thine be done’: Church versus magic in contemporary Russia. Healers say that they recognize it in other people by intuiting it at first sight. In: Chavunduka. as it is for many of his compatriots. Carol 1986. Max 1947. New York: Free Press. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. G. MacCormack. pp. Transnational connections. and their lives as being shaped. Terry (eds) Culture and its creators: Essays in honor of Edward Shils. and ed. in his capacity to project successfully the image of himself as an extraordinary person (1968:4).) The healing gift as a divine endowment is stressed repeatedly in Georgii’s narratives. are by dint of their social position locked in immobility – increasingly tend to imagine the world as a single place. in various combinations and with varying patterns of emphasis. Healing and cultural transformation: The Tswana of Southern Africa. was a metonym for the world. But in the context of healing this kind of power is also the most fragile. as it is contingent on the perceived efficacy of therapeutic intervention. a seemingly ineffable force of attraction that some people exude. connect him with ‘entities [bearing] ultimate. Health care and the concept of legitimacy. Rekdal. Princeton: Center of International Studies. especially in places and with people who are in a position to enjoy the advantages of communication and mobility. Thus. not a source of learning. Tomlinson. and flowing from the hands of the healer to the ailing parts of the patient’s body. Lock. among other things. Charisma. Healers in Russia. since he loses his four foreign languages because of the Vietnam war. Ole Bjorn 1999. by welding together the performative. These strategies of legitimation are also likely to inform the health-seeking behaviour of the users of medical care. in the face of a condescending biomedical system and a castigating church. what images are projected. Clearly. legitimation through alterity. also pragmatically. They are audacious personalities who dare to take responsibility and control over the bodies and lives of others. Thomas 1997. was also expressed in his putatively unlimited sexual prowess. is a pure power of consciousness. Michael 1993. because they are determined by. Local folk models of globality are likely to be reflected in the methods of legitimation by alterity to which local healers will resort. As figures of power. so God can always take it away. they arouse admiration and fascination as well as apprehension and mistrust. Its perceived essence is concealed under layers of occult or para-scientific terminology and behind speculations about the unknown and unknowable ‘bio-energy-information fields’. contested and confirmed by culture. as it engages the consciousness of the patient in toto. Even those who are deprived of access to globalizing technologies. This theme of God’s gift figures prominently in a broader discourse on healing. Georgii’s charisma is manifested in his reputation as a ‘powerful’ healer. pp. Social Science and Medicine 15B: 367-378. in Geertz’s words. (It is worth remembering that the charismatic power of Georgii’s apparent role model. Carolyn (eds) Childbirth and authoritative knowledge. and what means are used to project them. the fruit of Russian technical inventiveness. Somewhere on the other side of the world there was the USA – an evil counterbalance to the good represented by Russia. Or it is expressed in some spontaneous healing feats. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. the critical doubt of patients. Globalization and culture. London: Routledge. The locus (in Csordas’s terms) of Georgii’s charisma is ‘a new moral synthesis’ (Csordas 1997:147) that he achieves by referring to contemporary political processes and salient cultural discourses. Cambridge: Polity Press. Ann Ruth 1968. Robbie. in the story of Baba Nastia who finally decided to initiate her disciple after he healed her dog. all his other global pathways move from the outside inwards. 32. Geertz. Robbie and Carolyn Sargent (eds) 1997. occupying one fifth of the earth’s land area. still underlies the dominant part of health care system in Western countries. Tomlinson 1999). or in the armour of ingenious machinery. as is still the case for some contemporary Russians. — 1981. order-determining power’ and with ‘symbolic centers of the social order’ (1977:151). Deconstructing charisma Georgii comes across as an undeniably charismatic individual.132-157. Manchester University Press. Kapferer 1997). T. the legendary Rasputin. University of California Press. and creativity: The ritual life of a religious movement. the locality. The complementary embodiment of his healing power is the male erotic power that lends him his image as a womanizer (much sneered at and ridiculed by the other. Margaret and Kaufert. These folk models of globality deserve careful study. empowered and imperilled by ‘global connectivities’ (cf. it is his performative talents and his personal endowments that make him an attractive and desirable man in the terms and symbols of his culture. Charismatic power on the part of a healer implies the strongest loyalty of his clients (who in many instances are better conceptualized as followers). rather. Brigitte 1997. and thus severs his symbolic connection with the North American and European world. Insofar as charisma can be seen as a quality of the individual. crystallized in the directed force of intent (cf. Kapferer.Comaroff. But it is also his ability to tap into the discourses that. and charisma: Reflections on the symbolics of power. Bruce 1997. Taussig. and tough competition among themselves. As it is understood to come from God. University of California Press. Clifford 1977. its history and culture. 1(2): 247-276. Csordas. standing out against the background of the sick. kings. Joseph and Nichols Clark. Authoritative knowledge and its construction.or herself as a man or woman of power are offered. as Bauman (1998) poignantly remarks.55-79. Willner. rational-bureaucratic legitimacy. healing in Russia appears as a form of what I would like to call ‘power transactions’. The third. discursive. Conclusion The strategies of legitimation outlined in this paper using the example of one particularly striking individual can be discerned. Jordan. Childbirth and authoritative knowledge. His current involvement with America – his connection with the New Ways natural medicine company – is a purely pragmatic undertaking. ! ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 17 NO 2. London: Routledge. and Sargent. Deconstructing charisma would then mean discerning what qualities can contribute to this capacity to project. Yet for him the USA is also a cause and a place of loss. University of Chicago Press. The theory of social and economic organization (trans. the trust and devotion to the charismatic healer is withdrawn. a source of income. and in the consensus on the efficacy of his interventions. as Willner suggests. University of California Press. Jean 1981. But the masks and garments through which the healer constructs him. just as Russia was a metonym for the Soviet Union. In many instances it manifests itself. not an input into his knowledge and healing art.151162. as his paratrooper story and his purported involvement in Vietnam indicate. and symbolic resources offered by his culture. corollaries of power. The route from Russia out into the Western world is thus closed to him. Lindquist. and the God-given gift of the healing power is denied. are charismatic individuals. Pragmatic women and body politics. are indispensable elements of the therapeutic efficacy of healing. female. The feast of the sorcerer. occurs in different historical and cultural contexts. as when a child heals a family pet just by laying a hand on the sick animal (this is a story told by Georgii about his own five-year-old son). but highly culturally valued in Russia). This narrative also returns in Georgii’s ethos. and Last Murray (eds) The professionalization of African medicine. his teachers tell him again and again that nobody can teach healing. healer at the centre. If the patients fail to experience the healing as effective. Social Science and Medicine. Ulf 1996. Parsons).L. it consists. The USSR. APRIL 2001 . Davis-Floyd. and that attracts women to him in droves. but a materialistic supplement to his healing. in a passionate act of devotion. Hannerz. Culture and Religion. narratives and oppositions. Its main agency. however – those who. traditional legitimacy. seems be increasingly important. In: Ben-David. But beyond all this. 8 children of the Soviet era in their geography lessons. charisma. Patricia (eds) 1998. The first of them.