MARTOR no. 28 / year 2023

Witches, Sorcerers, and Demons in a Remote Corner of Northern Russia at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

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Christine D. Worobec
Northern Illinois University, USA
ORCID: 0000-0001-6535-4641

Christine D. Worobec is Distinguished Research Professor Emerita in the Department of History, Northern Illinois University (USA). She is a specialist on Russian and Ukrainian peasants, women and gender issues, and lived Orthodoxy in the modern era as well as witchcraft in Russia and Ukraine in the early modern and modern periods.

PAGES: 14-30

KEYWORDS: Kargopol’skii region; bewitchment; magic; evil eye; forest demon.


Ethnographic materials from Kargopol’skii region at the turn of the twenty-first century demonstrate that while paradigms of witchcraft and beliefs in the supernatural still existed, the paradigms had been somewhat narrowed when viewed within the historical context of the longue durée. Due to a reduction in the scope of bewitchments, entire communities no longer experienced epidemics of demonic possession brought about by the evil intent of an individual. Instances of bewitchment in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras became restricted to individuals who believed that they became ill because of the evil eye or a hex. The range of illnesses subsumed under bewitchment also decreased. Yet, depersonalization of witchcraft accusations did not occur. Kargopol’skii residents continued to identify individuals whom they or a family member believed were witches and sorcerers. The gendered feminine discourse of the nineteenth century had also been weakened somewhat. Finally, community violence against witches was not discernable in the Kargopol’sk discourse. In essence, these rural communities remained tied to a rhetoric of magic to explain imbalances within the social fabric caused by individual transgressions of boundaries, suspicions against individuals for causing illnesses, and other violation of norms that could only be corrected by way of counter-magic and the restoration of “the notions of social equality and social” harmony.


Worobec, Christine D. 2023. “Witches, Sorcerers, and Demons in a Remote Corner of Northern Russia at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.” Martor 28: 14-30. [DOI: 10.57225/martor.2023.28.02]

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