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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Magic Inspires Composer's Music




YEKATERINBURG, Ural Mountains -- "Here lives the Urals witch," said Margarita Kesareva as she unlocked the door to her apartment. She was not joking.


Inside, the typical mess of an intelligentsia home is complemented by a bizarre combination of Orthodox icons, colorful portraits of Indian gurus and hanging bunches of dry flowers and branches.


An associate professor of the Yekaterinburg Music Conservatory, Kesareva, 60, is a reputed composer and a prominent member of this city's musical community.


But what makes her unique is her deep knowledge of Ural Mountains folklore and particularly its magical aspect. Over 40 years of study, involving much travel around the villages and small industrial towns of the region, the spiritual eclecticism of Russian folk culture became part of her own personality.


Kesareva said she started to show interest in folklore back when she was a freshman at the Conservatory in Sverdlovsk, the Soviet-era name for Yekaterinburg.


From the 1960s to the '80s, she devoted much of her life to fieldwork in the remote villages of the Ural Mountains, recording folklore that she later used in writing her professional musical pieces. The names of the compositions speak for themselves: Bright Lake, Spell Legend, Shamanism, Green Smoke. Kesareva explains that when snake skins are burned -- an important part of ancient Urals folk rituals -- they produce green smoke.


In the 1960s and '70s, she studied sorcery with Lukeria Karmina, a healer in a remote Urals village, who died in 1986 at the age of 98. Lukeria had started to learn which herbs to pick and how to use them -- in combination with the right charms and spells -- from her grandmother at the age of 4.


"I received a new vision from her," Kesareva said of the old woman. "She saw more than we see and heard what we cannot hear -- it made me look at life with different eyes and understand the great and the beautifulin people's souls."


Kesareva devoted particular energy to collecting traditional charms, good spells designed to protect the recipient from harm. Rural communities had charms for everything: There were special charms to ward off bears and lynx, charms against wolves, charms to protect a flock of animals from attack, charms protecting from a snake bite.


"Charms ... go back to the hunting phase of humanity, where the charm accompanied the pagan spell-making ritual," she said.


Kesareva remembers how Lukeria Karmina yawned when she was "pulling" a disease from her patient while reciting a spell three times. The patient would yawn too and the sickness would be gone. Spells were used in combination with certain herbs, eggs, breads and even a potion made from highly toxic death-cap mushrooms which could reportedly heal tumors.


Kesareva's collection includes bad spells too. One of them, which she picked up on an expedition to the village of Filatova in the 1970s, is used against varnaki and hitniki -- people who stole other hunter's and fishermen's game.


If the spell worked, it meant the thief would come home from his hunting or fishing trip empty-handed.


Casting the spell would require going to the river early in the morning with a sieve, putting it halfway into the water and saying: "Grandpa Waterspirit, come to quiet water. I'll give you money for growth."


Then drop a coin in the water, covering it with the sieve, then raise the sieve, and if its bottom gargles when it separates from water, it means that the Waterspirit accepted the donation. Then one continues the magic:


"That Stepan's tackle is torn by the snags,


That the boat or the oar is taken away by swift water,


That the wave rears


And binds tackle in a bow,


That neither a perch nor a pike gets in his hand,


Bad word is said against a light day,


Fall not on me, stay out, stay out."


"Paganism is the connection between a person and earth," said Kesareva, dragging on her cheap Bulgarian cigarette. "I think that the folk spells have a big future -- our life proves that the land, air and space give energy -- that the energy is transferred from person to person, that it can protect a person, protect the green grass, rivers. It can nurture creative work and become a source of great artistic revelations."


She compares the folk magic to the "ore that contains gold of real poetry, where the ancient perception of nature burns alive."


Little wonder the arrival of western New Age beliefs to Russia has not passed Kesareva -- she is an active member of Yekaterinburg's Siddha Yoga group, enjoyed a free trip last year for an Ashram in South Fallsburg, New York, and exalts over an upcoming trip to India.


"All of America's progressive academic community was there," she said emotionally.