Russian Eco-Cult Community in California

Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with catholic interests. He is currently Projects Editor for MAKE magazine and the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Wendy. 

Anastasia by Vladimir Megre

If you're looking for a way to get back to the land and enjoy an integrated life while society collapses, The Shambhala-Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project has 466 acres of land and is looking for settlers. It sounds nice! I've long fantasized about this kind of thing. Maybe now's the time.

The "Anastasia" in their name refers to the heroine of the "Ringing Cedars" series of books by Vladimir Megre, which came out in Russia during the mid-1990's and started being translated into English beginning in 2004. If numerous websites are to be believed, the series has a large following not just in Russia, but around the world. "Ringing Cedars" refers to the books' claim that when a Siberian Pine tree (sometimes translated as "Cedar") reaches 500 years of age, it becomes a sort of cosmic energy-channeling antenna. And so also rings the New Age BS detector, but please stay with me here...

I read and enjoyed Anastasia, the first book in the series, and I hope to read the rest. On one level, the book is a male midlife-crisis fantasy-- a first-person account of a spiritually empty entrepreneur who finds a stunningly beautiful and brilliant native girl in the forest, and she changes his life forever. Anastasia runs naked, communicates telepathically with animals, is clairvoyant, and possesses vast wisdom that has been lost to modern civilization. She's the "noble savage," and she's also a virgin who fell in love with the author/entrepreneur during a chance previous encounter that he doesn't remember, and she wants to start a family with him ASAP.

What interests me most about Anastasia (and I know I need to read more in the series to confirm/deny), is how it combines deep ecology with traditional, even conservative family values. There's no sense of hippie "alternative lifestyle" in its back-to-the-land message. It honors Christianity and connects with its audience through their experience gardening in dachas (modest country houses) on weekends. It's a container for hard-core downshifting that I sense would appeal to solid, traditional, family-oriented folks. Meanwhile, the book also has some wacky, unexpected ideas that I liked-- for example, the Anastasia character suggests that pollution from roadways could be mitigated by requiring active air purifiers on every vehicle's front bumper.

Websites that sell the Ringing Cedars books also sell products derived from the Siberian Pine-- nuts, oil, and polished slices of the tree to be worn as pendants. And perhaps the initial bolt of inspiration that Megre had, as an inland shipping entrepreneur exploring the Siberian forest, was how to concoct a new religion that would maximize the commercial value of this common regional tree. A 5 gram pendant (slice of branch on a string) costs $4 plus shipping.

Furthermore, according to the cult-watching Center For Apologetics Research, Megre was forced to admit in 1998 that he made the Anastasia stories up, whereupon psychic healer Olga Anatolevnya Guz began to claim that she is the real Anastasia.

But people can change, eyes can open, and how one comes to create a belief system doesn't reflect on the value it contains. Buddha abandoned his wife and baby son in order to pursue his own spiritual journey, but he turned the deadbeat-dad guilt that he must have felt (although his family was rich, so less damage done) into a philosophy and practice of non-attachment that countless people, including myself, have found valuable. There are numerous paths to insight. (But I've also talked to single women in San Francisco who are sick of all the passive, "hey, babe-- no attachments" Buddhist guys.)

So, Siberian Pine products aside-- not that I've tried any-- the Anastasians seem to be onto something constructive, and although I don't think I'll be joining them, I am "rooting" for them.

Loading...