Azerbaijan's market for magic
The services of fortune tellers and healers are so popular and in demand in Azerbaijan that many who work in this market are able to maintain families with the money they make from their work. JAMnews looked into how the market works.
The ‘occult market’ in Azerbaijan has three main sections:
- ‘medical’ magic that deals with diseases;
- ‘black magic’, which includes thousands of ways to drive your enemies to their graves by using any available tools as well as by ‘ordering’ his or her downfall through a ‘professional’;
- ‘white’ magic, responsible for improving your private life, attracting good luck, and, most importantly, protecting you from black magic.
‘Medical’ magic requires particular results, therefore few people work with it. It often deals with diagnosing diseases. For example, there is a female practitioner in Baku, who, after each session of ‘scanning the internals with her mind’s eye’, issues a stamped document (naturally it’s a stamp with an eye image), similar to as it is on the results of an ultrasound examination.
White magic involves a number of rituals that are somewhere between religious rites, psychotherapy and paganism. In other words, you can break a spell that has been put on your office by rivals using holy water from the church or you can light wax candles in a dark room, roast the seeds of some plants on a pan etc.
But the greatest ingenuity is contained in the “dark arts”. A spell could be put on a person or on someone’s whole family just by tossing a bag with magic items into their home. What these items are depends on the evil-doer’s imagination and ‘skillfulness’. The most surprising thing is that there are relatively simple ways to cast a ‘jadoo’ spell, which are widely regarded in Azerbaijan as being very effective. They are considered so effective that we can’t publish the names of the substances used for them, since many people will perceive it as an article about how to produce a homemade H-bomb.
Maryam, Sevil and Leyla
aryam first went to a fortune teller when she was 17. She accompanied her friend just ‘for fun’, as she herself says.
“The Russian woman who we went to read cards. She told me a bunch of lies, that I would get married soon, my husband would be a millionaire, I would have a bunch of children and that I would lead a very happy life.”
Maryam went to other fortune tellers after this. She says she didn’t take them seriously. But at some point things went wrong, especially in her private life. A friend advised her to turn to a woman who ‘breaks spells and opens all roads’.
“Her name was Almaz. She read cards. Besides this, she would make a person sit right in front of her and tell them that she could see everything about him/her on a small screen above his/her head. She said that a short, blonde woman in uniform had put a spell on me. She said I’d been dating her son and she didn’t like it. So, she did something that made us break up, made my private life unsatisfying and made me childless. The description she gave precisely fit the appearance of my ex-boyfriend’s mother.”
Almaz told the young lady to bring some beeswax and come to her any day except Monday and Thursday, since jadoo [a curse] shouldn’t be broken on those days.
“Almaz poured melted wax into a pot with water while chanting something. I think it was a prayer. She is Muslim. The wax burst with a bang, like a balloon. Then she opened the front door, made me sit next to her and started reading prayers again. Then she went to the bathroom and stayed there for quite a long time. She said she did it to clean herself of the negative energy that had come to her. Then she charged me 100 AZN [about USD 60].”
Less than three months later, Maryam met a young man, whom she got married to. She believes Almaz helped her in this matter.
Sevil says she has a vast amount of experience dealing with traditional practitioners of all kinds.
“I was, so to say, raised among them. A renowned psychic in Baku lived next door and his rival was there who belonged to another ‘denomination’, living across the yard. Both were very decent people and certainly both of them had some extraordinary abilities. However, their entourage, a crowd of dependent freaks with an unhealthy glint in their eyes, who couldn’t even scratch without calling their ‘sensei’, was something terrible.”
Sevil believes that the fulfilled prophecies foretold by fortune tellers are nothing but a primitive trick:
‘You will be told that a young lady followed some sorceress’s advice, she went to a crossroad at 6 a.m., smashed a plate and her fiancé showed up some two weeks later. Those people don’t understand that any young lady will have a fiancé sooner or later, especially in our region, where all mothers are obsessed with the idea of marrying off their children. It’s like sitting with a clever face and predicting a thunderstorm in May. As for the clientele, it’s much easier to believe that your problems are due to some wizard than to trying to solve them by normal means’.
owever, not all the clients are satisfied. For example, Leyla’s visit to a psychic ‘just for fun’ remained just that, fun: “It’s been a long time since I’ve been a student. Rovshan, a psychic, was highly commended during that time. One person in the same year as me advised me to go see him. He said: “I can see great potential in you. You could have even enrolled in a master’s degree program, but unfortunately you aren’t interested in that.” I laughed to myself when he said that, since I had always focused on my studies and career [as a sidenote, Leyla later successfully accomplished her goal of studying abroad]. I guess he drew that erroneous conclusion by judging my appearance – I was wearing a mini-skirt and pink pantyhose. There was nothing extraordinary in the magician’s appearance. He was just an ordinary, middle-aged Russian-speaking man.
All those stories about visiting fortune tellers are just for close friends. Skepticism seems to be commonplace in the public, generally speaking. You will not find any stories about the amazing abilities of traditional practitioners in the popular mass media, whereas there are plenty of stories that expose them. Meanwhile, any newspaper’s announcement section will offer a whole page of proposals such as ‘I am a hereditary sorceress. I read cards based on an old, traditional gypsy method; I can break a hex and cast a strong love or break-up spell, 100% guaranteed’. There are also some sophisticated businessmen who work distantly: for example, they cast or break a spell by using a photo, Skype or social media. Then the client is told that he needs to transfer some money as a service fee to the appropriate banking account.
Meanwhile, local TV channels offer shows similar to the Russian ‘Battle of the Psychics’. Psychics are frequently invited to participate on talk-shows. Ziraddin Rzayev, a participant in the Russian Battle of the Psychics, is the most renowned Azerbaijani fortuneteller.
However, the local ‘celebrities’ don’t lack fame which is reflected in the amounts they charge. For instance, Anar Abdullayev’s fee is reportedly 100 AZN [about USD 60] for 15 minutes. “My specialty is in the exorcism of evil spirits and demons. I take people to cemeteries to capture and strangle their demons,” he says.
Science and religion
Apart from cards and coffee, there is another ‘local’ form of fortune-telling – ‘Quran achdyrma’ [meaning literally ‘Opening the Quran’]. The idea is that a person poses a question to himself and the fortune teller opens the Muslim sacred book to a random page and looks for an allegorical answer to his client’s question.
Akram Hasanov, a Ph. D. in Theology, claims that visiting fortune tellers means that one is interfering in Allah’s affairs and it is regarded as a great sin. “In his Surah ‘Al-Baqarah’ (ayah 102) God refers to those who casts spells as follows: “They are engaged in useless business that is harmful. In the theologian’s opinion, under Islamic law, those who practice magic should be put to death. However, since there is no death penalty in our country, they should be sentenced to life imprisonment.”
Kerima Kerimova, a neurologist, believes that not everything in the world can be explained through the laws of physics: “A thought is an entity that hasn’t yet been described by physics. The brain is an organ that hasn’t been completely studied.”
“There is no magic in psychic powers. If viewed in terms of physiology, it’s just the ability to perceive and capture more subtle stimuli.”
Ellada Gorina, a consulting psychologist, talks about the so-called ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, when a person is programming himself/herself, aspiring to fulfill whatever he/she has been foretold by a fortune teller.
Why are people more inclined to seek the assistance of supernatural powers? It’s all about generic history, says the psychologist. This is due to the fact that our nation has a rather short history and just recently mediums, healers and sorcerers have come about. “No matter how knowledgeable and educated we are, as soon as we become vulnerable, we quickly and easily turn to the occult, and it really does work in certain cases.
The state and the law
Elnur Guliyev, a lawyer, says that although the activities of psychics, fortune tellers and seers are not regulated by legislation, ‘charging money with the promise to solve people’s problems without any results can be regarded as swindling and fraud’. For example, in the lawyer’s words, under Article 178 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a breach of trust, misappropriation of property or the rights to property by means of deceit, are elements of fraud.
Although there have been some precedents, they are still very rare. For instance, the director of the Parapsychology Center Jannat, known by the name of Hazrat Sabir [St. Sabir], was arrested last year. His clients, who paid him huge amounts and didn’t received the happiness and success in business that they were promised accused him of fraud.