Faith healers licensed to practice in Moscow

Associated Press/December 28, 2008

Mikhail Fadkin claims he can cure a long list of disorders - pancreatitis, bronchitis, digestive problems, even infertility - by using his hands to manipulate what he describes as a person's bioenergy field.

Many laugh at such ideas and might call him a quack. But the 63-year-old healer, who practices out of an office in a Moscow suburb, holds a license from the Russian government.

For the past two years, the Federal Health Service has been issuing licenses to practitioners of what it calls "traditional medicine," meaning anything from the use of herbal treatments to the manipulation of auras. His claims buttressed by officialdom, Fadkin charges patients $150 per session.

And he says business is very good.

"Every day, I learn something new," the smiling Muscovite says, gesturing to what he says is an invisible aura surrounding him - "because all the information I need is out there, in the vast energy field surrounding us."

So far, 130 healers, including Fadkin, have passed the service's voluntary testing program, which promoters in the government say can determine whether someone has the inherent ability to cure. The program is limited to Moscow, but a Russian lawmaker is pushing to extend it nationwide and make it mandatory.

Skeptics scoff at the notion that such testing is meaningful and criticize the government for lending credibility to people who claim paranormal powers.

"I think that this entire system is a result of ignorance and corruption," says Eduard Kruglyakov, a laser physicist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Science has certain rules that must be followed, and this system of certification hasn't passed any serious scientific tests."

He deplores the whole notion of legitimizing folk healing through licensing.

"This kind of healing has nothing to do with science or medicine," he said.

The program includes a background check, a scan of electrical activity in the brain and a committee review of the results. The agency charges applicants $428 for the tests.

Andrei Karpeev, director of the Federal Scientific Clinical Center for Traditional Methods of Diagnostics and Healing, which administers the tests, insists that folk medicine, including psychic healing, is backed by scientific studies. While he acknowledges some of the criteria for determining who has healing powers are subjective, he claims the tests are able to wean out "charlatans." According to Karpeev, there are perhaps 100,000 people in Russia offering to use magic, psychic or other extra-sensory methods to cure illnesses, read minds or cast spells.

Faith in magic and the occult lingered for centuries in Russia, long after the Renaissance, with its emphasis on rationalism and empiricism, weakened similar beliefs in Western Europe.

Russia is among a small number of nations where traditional healers are licensed at any level. In Indonesia, where mysticism is deeply rooted in traditional culture, local governments certify those claiming to use magical charms or psychic powers for healing. And in India, a country with ancient folk medicine traditions, the government licenses healers who use yoga and homeopathy, although not people who claim extrasensory powers.

Albina Domolazova, 70, paid $156 to an unlicensed clairvoyant to cure her son of drug addiction. When the woman recommended Domolazova toss chunks of beef to black dogs and then light a candle in seven churches, she dutifully obeyed.

After completing the ritual, which included burying the last chunk of meat in a graveyard, Domolazova's son was still addicted. The healer refused to refund the fee - which represented half of Domolazova's monthly pension. While Domolazova is now more wary, her faith that some people have healing powers has not been shaken.

Every year, thousands of Russians claim to have been defrauded by people calling themselves clairvoyants, occultists and self-styled witches, who advertise their services in Russian media. In July a Moscow court handed an 11-year prison sentence to Grigory Grabovoi, a cult leader who allegedly promised to resurrect children killed in the Beslan school siege in 2004. He reportedly charged grieving relatives $1,700.

In response to cases like Grabovoi's, legislators in the Duma, or lower house of parliament, have proposed a law banning traditional healers from advertising.

But Lyudmila Stebenkova, a deputy in the Moscow city legislature, said the answer is to weed out the false healers from the true ones. She wants to expand Moscow's testing and licensing system to the rest of the country and make it mandatory, creating a licensing system similar to the one for physicians.

"The measures we're proposing will protect Russia's population from fraudsters," Stebenkova said.

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