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.