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Article

Fortunetellers and Sorcerers in the Service of a Russian Aristocrat of the Eighteenth Century: The Case of Chamberlain Petr Saltykov

Russian History. 2013. Vol. 40. No. 3-4. P. 364-380.
Translator: J. W. Hill, C. Worobec.

The case of Petr Saltykov, which stretched on between 1758 and 1765, with a surprising coda in 1796, is noteworthy in many respects. The material collected in connection with Saltykov’s crime is useful for an investigation into magic belief as such, offering parallels and supplementary information to the dozens of “magic trials” of the 18th century. However, what makes the Saltykov case unique is how the chancellor’s “superstition” managed so compellingly to bring together two cultures – traditional folk culture and the “Europeanized” culture of the imperial court. The case of Saltykov’s “sorcery” brought the diametrically opposed cultures of the court elite and the masses into confrontation. But even opposites can come together. As it turned out, the magic beliefs of the masses and medical practices of archaic traditional culture continued to attract adherents at court, getting along just fine in a high-culture, “Europeanized” environment. The chasm that lay between the culture of the aristocratic court elite and popular culture in the 18th century was not unbridgeable, although possible intersections of these two cultures sometimes took on rather strange configurations.