“Traditional” in Russian New Age Communities of Ecovillagers
Author: Julia Andreeva
For many religious groups in Russia references to “folk,” “traditional,” and “heritage” play an important role in their popular theology. Usually, these markers allow them to emphasize the antagonism they perceive between their own culture’s richness and modern Western lifestyle and its ‘wrong’ values. This contrast is combined with the appeal to return to pristine origins, which can be interpreted in various ways. New Age culture also uses the “traditional” label and reproduces it among the creators of intentional communities or ecovillages.
The Anastasia Movement
The ideological basis of Russian ecovillages was the book series The Ringing Cedars of Russia. It gave birth to the Anastasia movement, one of the Russian New Age movements that emerged in the mid-1990s. The main heroine of these books is Anastasia, a woman who has lived all her life in the forests and possesses information about ancient ancestors, which she receives directly from God. According to the story, the author of these books – Vladimir Megre – had met Anastasia in Siberia, where she had shared with him her knowledge about changing the world and acquiring special abilities (like teleportation, telekinesis, communication with animals) and had asked him to transmit it through the books (Megre 2008).
The heterogeneous milieu of spiritual seekers, who build their lives along the contents of Megre’s Ringing Cedars of Russia book series, also stresses the national traditions. One of the group’s main ideas is the construction of intentional communities (ecovillages which are referred to as “Kin’s Domains”), where they want to escape from urban miseries and find God’s presence, enjoy a good ecological environment, have a family, and reconstruct national values.
Each Kin’s Domain should comprise at least one hectare of land, is owned by a family, and handed down from generation to generation. These so-called “Spaces of Love” are believed to have a connection with the Universe, which bestows spiritual strength and powers. The project of the Kin’s Domains is declared the most successful way for prosperity in Russia and the whole world. It is worth noting that it is a fully urban project because most of the participants have never lived in rural areas before. According to the website Poselenia.ru, there are almost 500 “Anastasian” ecovillages with 6,000 inhabitants in Russia and abroad (http://poselenia.ru/statistic).
These ecovillages differ significantly from many other European ones. There is a Global Ecovillage Network, which unites different ideological projects including some of the Russian Kin’s Domain settlements. However, Russian intentional communities focus not as much on ecological questions as on kinship territory and ancient traditions. That is why most of them prefer to distance themselves from global movements, considering them as positive, but still mostly spoiled phenomenons. Although ecovillagers speak about unanimity when all details of co-existence concord in negotiations, they do not have a communal life that ensures a harmonious family project.
Many aspects of everyday life in Kin’s Domains abound with traditional markers; referring to traditions is more important than practicing them. The attempts to revert to nature are combined with ideas of a revival of national customs.
Pointing towards the crisis of the modern world is a popular motif in traditionalists’ narratives, which often includes references to René Guénon and other theorists of the Traditionalist School. Contemporary traditionalists seize upon their major theme in finding new reasons to lament over the spoiled modern civilization criticizing inverted family values, loneliness, bad ecology, and health problems. New Agers offer a simple solution to all these miseries – establishing Kin’s Domains and thus restoring ancient traditions.
Moving to Kin’s Domains, new farmers are faced with difficulties in making a living; selling traditional products is one possible source of income.
One of the most popular products of intentional communities in the north-western part of Russia is a fireweed tea known as “Ivan Chai”. Usually, Ivan Chai is declared an indigenous and authentic Russian beverage. Russian farmers used to drink it as a substitute for tea, which was very expensive and unavailable for the majority of population.
Russian New Agers attribute the traditional practices of making and drinking tea to a lost ancient Russian civilization. There are no any historical sources to prove this claim. The identification of herbal tea as originally “Russian” is especially relevant for producers who live in ecovillages and adhere to some ideas of Slavic paganism. They use a conspiracy theory to assert that the fireweed tea had been very popular in ancient Russia and had even been exported to other countries. Their legend explains the neglection of Ivan Chai with an allegedly secret agreement between Western producers who had spread false information about the bad quality of Russian tea, which had caused a loss in export revenues and led to the replacement of Russian tea with Indian tea. Only Russian peasants had kept drinking Ivan Chai. The modern farmers serve Ivan Chai when you visit any Kin’s Domain and for everyone the choice of drink is certain: you cannot have either foreign or harmful beverages. Russian herbal tea suits for body and soul for Russian people.
The salespeople now use a good marketing strategy, drawing the attention of their potential audience to the past. They sell not only products but also information and service. For example, there are special tours to ecological and spiritual places to collect medicinal herbs and especially fireweed tea. Moreover, the collectors promise that Ivan Chai has a healing and relaxing effect on people.
The Anastasians say that aside from the internal market (i.e. among like-minded people) Ivan Chai is better sold in souvenir shops than in usual supermarkets. This shows that the tea is more symbolic than a real product. So, the majority of consumers are the inhabitants of ecovillages, like-minded people in the cities, and amateurs of herbal tea.
The founders of Grishino ecovillage in Leningrad region were among the first to start collecting and selling Ivan Chai. Several years ago, they managed to organize a festival of Russian tea with support of the local administration. In their ecovillage, the selling of Ivan Chai and other folk goods is accompanied by folk dances and music, baking bread in the oven, and master classes of making tea.
In the public sphere, New Age is often presented as a commercial movement within the “spiritual supermarket” that centers on money earning (Mikaelsson 2014). The world-affirming mood includes material prosperity and self-spirituality, which was extensively described by Paul Heelas (2008). New Age ecovillagers are very inventive in selling different services and products to urban society and praise well-being, while holding on to the idea of the mysterious Russian soul and refusing to compromise on specific questions, such as gender equality and capitalist economy. Rejecting Western lifestyle and values, they view and use original and authentic tradition as a both service and a сommodity.
- Ivan Kupala holiday (St. John’s Day) is a traditional Eastern Slavic holiday related to summer solstice. On Ivan Kupala Night, young people wear wreaths symbolizing purity, people sing and dance around bonfires and jump over them. The rituals of jumping over bonfires and water pouring are believed to purify people and to have curative powers.
- René Guénon (1886–1951) was a French philosopher who is considered to be one of the most important writers of the Traditionalist School. According to the Traditionalist philosophy, there is a primordial wisdom in all world religions which was lost in the modern world.
Heelas, Paul. Spiritualities of Life. New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
Megre, Vladimir. Anastasia. The Ringing Cedars Series, Book 1. Ringing Cedars Press, 2008.
Mikaelsson, Lisbeth. “New Age and the Spirit of Capitalism: Energy as Cognitive Currency.” In New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion, ed. by S. J. Sutcliffe and I. S. Gilhus, 160–173. London / New York: Routledge, 2014.
This blog post in Russian
Cite this article as: Julia Andreeva, “‘Traditional’ in Russian New Age Communities of Ecovillagers”, in New Age in Russia, 17/10/2019, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/1524.