Northern Illinois University Press


Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia

Christine D. Worobec

Heldt Prize Winner, 2001

"Exceptionally well-researched and exhaustive."
—Association for Women in Slavic Studies

"Worobec is at her best as a storyteller.... Her scholarship is marked by a meticulous reading of sources and a sensitivity to and respect for the people she studies."—Russian Review

Women known as "shriekers" howled, screamed, convulsed, and tore their clothes. Believed to be possessed by devils, these central figures in a cultural drama known as klikushestvo stirred various reactions among those who encountered them. While sympathetic monks and peasants tended to shelter the shriekers, others analyzed, diagnosed, and objectified them. The Russian Orthodox Church played an important role, for, while moving toward a scientific explanation for the behavior of these women, it was reluctant to abandon the ideas of possession and miraculous exorcism.

Possessed is the first book to examine the phenomenon of demon possession in Russia. Drawing upon a wide range of sources—religious, psychiatric, ethnographic, and literary—Worobec looks at klikushestvo over a broad span of time but focuses mainly on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when all of Russian society felt the pressure of modernization.

Worobec's definitive study is as much an account of perceptions of the klikushi as an analysis of the women themselves, for, even as modern rationalism began to affect religious belief in Russia, explanations of the shriekers continued to differ widely. Examining various cultural constructions, Worobec shows how these interpretations were rooted in theology, village life and politics, and gender relationships.

Engaging broad issues in Russian history, women's history, and popular religious culture, Possessed will interest readers across several disciplines. Its insights into the cultural phenomenon of possession among Russian peasant women carry rich implications for understanding the ways in which a complex society treated women believed to be out of control.

(2001) 319 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-273-2
cloth $42.00

ISBN: 978-0-87580-598-6
paper $25.50

Christine D. Worobec is Associate Professor of Russian History at Northern Illinois University. She is author of Peasant Russia

Table of Contents

Confronting Klikushestvo: An Introduction
1. State and Church Perceptions
The Legal Case
Orthodoxy's Triumph over the Devil
Scientific Rationalism and the Miraculous
2. Peasant Views
Popular Orthodoxy
3. Literary and Ethnographic Portrayals
Romantic Images
Images of Serfdome
An Ethnographic-Historical Account
Feodor Dostoevsky
Leo Tolstoy
The Dark Side of Peasant Beliefs
4. Psychiatric Diagnoses
The Search for Klikushi
Scientific Rationalism versus. Popular Practices
Hysteria versus. Somnambulism
Mass Psychology
5. Sorting through Multiple Realities
Appendix 1: Database of Klikushi/klikuny
Appendix 2: Database of Witchcraft Cases

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-273-2
cloth $42.00
ISBN: 978-0-87580-598-6
paper $25.50