This article appeared in The Textbook Letter for January-February 1998.
It accompanied a review of the 1997 version of the high-school textbook
Glencoe World Geography.
When Paul Thomas and I reviewed the 1995 version of Glencoe's book, I explained that the revival story is phony: The writers have used part-truths to generate a false impression. [See "What About the Wizards and Witches?" in The Textbook Letter for September-October 1996.] What has arisen throughout the former Soviet Union is not merely a revival of old religions but a boom in supernaturalistic and occult attractions of all kinds, including vampirism, spiritism, astrology and witchcraft, as well as new brands of religion imported from the West. And the people have flocked not only to "religious services" but also to the dens of psychics, faith healers, mediums, curse-lifters, aura-benders and other magical mountebanks.
A good, first-hand report on this aspect of post-Soviet life appeared in The Wall Street Journal for 13 January, and it surely will be valuable to social-studies teachers. The man who wrote it, Neil King Jr., has visited some mountebanks in St. Petersburg, and his descriptions are delightful. Here is an excerpt from his account of one Vitaly Efimenko, who runs a swindle-shop called the Scientific Research Institute of Karma:
Mr. Efimenko traffics in fields of energy, almost all of them foul. It takes him just half an hour to map out a patient's myriad woes on a da Vinci-like chart of the human body. He covers the chart with snakes and thunderbolts and dark miasmic clouds. Hardly anyone comes to him, he says, who doesn't carry some grave illness or life-threatening curse. . . .
Some of the institute's cures are more complex than others. In the treatment room, there is a Madonna and Child on the wall. Herbs and crystals are scattered about on shelves. But the chief apparatus is a stove ventilator suspended from the ceiling with a tube running out the window. There's a chair beneath it.
"I sit the patient down here," says Mr. Efimenko, tapping the chair. "Then from across the room I concentrate, very hard, on ridding the person of his evil energies. The fan sucks the energies out the window and pushes them into the stratosphere."
What a business! And what a revival!
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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