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Last Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Russian law conjures with magic
Steve Rosenberg
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC correspondent in Moscow

Russian sorcerer
Russian sorcerers predict they still have a busy future

Entering Yuri Longo's apartment in Moscow is like walking into another world.

Cosmic music wafts from an old tape player. The smell of scented candles fills your lungs.

But that is nothing compared to what is going on in a room at the end of the corridor.

There, a magician in a white robe is brandishing burning twigs, breathing heavily and circling a female student sitting on a chair. Then he places an ancient bible on her head in an attempt to save her from the evil eye.

It all looks a bit too much like hocus-pocus. But Wizard Longo maintains his conjuring can cure - by reaching parts ordinary medicine can only dream of.

Spirit healers

"Wizards like me, we're a bit like doctors, really," the sorcerer told me. "Except we're not treating the physical, but the spiritual. I make people's souls better - I make people happy."

Mr Longo is just one of thousands of witches, wizards and faith healers in Russia. Every day the newspapers here are full of their adverts offering all kinds of remedies.

But Moscow MP Ludmila Stebenkova does not believe in magic. She considers Longo and the like are a danger to society and she has proposed legislation to limit their activities.

MP Ludmila Stebenkova
MP Ludmila Stebenkova wants restrictions on faith healers

"A faith healer who doesn't have proper medical education or who uses religious symbols in their treatment should be stopped from practising," the politician told me.

"We also want to restrict their advertisements in magazines and newspapers. It's very dangerous because a lot of people after this treatment have psychiatric problems."

Forbidden fruit

One such person is Sergei. I found him slumped on a bench in the chapel of a Moscow monastery.

Sergei had fallen into a deep depression and had begun hallucinating after visiting a series of faith healers.

The priest he had come to see, Father Anatoly, has treated more than 20,000 victims of witches and wizards, by encouraging patients to confess and repent in church.

"Banning sorcerers won't solve the problem," Father Anatoly told me. "After all, forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter. What we need to do is explain to people that magic, sorcery and faith healing are the work of the devil."

Father Anatoly
Father Anatoly believes sorcerers practise "the work of the devil"

Paranormal pensioner

There did not seem to be anything satanic about Babushka Katya - another Russian faith healer I found, this time out in the Moscow countryside.

Mind you, there was something a little odd about this paranormal pensioner.

She had two giant puffer fish hanging up on her washing line; an enormous lobster clung to the wall. And sprawled on her living room floor was a half-naked man, waiting patiently for some magical therapy. Babushka Katya has queues of patients: that is why she is not worried by the threat of a ban.

"I've got politicians coming here for treatment," she boasted to me, "policemen, criminals, all sorts. You'll never be able to get rid of the faith healers - we'll always have customers."

So even if parliament tries to magic away the wizards, Russian sorcerers are confident it will not have the power to make them disappear.

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