Articles‎ > ‎

Aspects of Alternative Spirituality

ICSA Today, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2012,16-22

Aspects of Alternative Spirituality in Romania

Rev. Dr. Radu Petre Mureșan


According to the 2002 census, 86.79% of Romanians declared themselves to be Orthodox Christians, which is quite surprising given that Romania was for a long time subject to forced secularization under the communist regime.[1] However, sociological surveys reveal a discrepancy between this apparent commitment to orthodoxy on the one hand, and the beliefs and practices that ought to be entailed by it on the other. For instance, 96% (one of the highest percentages in Europe) of the Romanians interviewed during the European Values Survey (EVS) declared that they believe in God. However, only 37.3% indicated a belief in the incarnate God—that is, in the divine-human person of Lord Jesus Christ, while 45.6% expressed a belief in a life-giving spirit or a life force.[2]

Starting with these findings, we aim to ascertain the focus of our contemporaries’ spiritual search. Over the past two decades, an interest in the most diverse spiritual alternatives has been manifest in Romania. Numerous TV programs and certain periodicals promote everything that relates to magic; the occult and occultism; esotericism; healing techniques; chakras; tarot; star signs; and paranormal phenomena, including UFOs and aliens. Romanian bookstores are flooded with such literature, which sells very well. Our study addresses some of these spiritual alternatives and attempts to portray both their spread throughout Romania and their manifestations as their proponents have described them in their own books, brochures, publications, and official Romanian-language Web sites.
New Age

New Age elements entered Romania during the communist regime and became visible immediately after the 1989 events.[3] However, the actual New Age boom occurred after the year 2000, typically through Occidental trends or movements, such as Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment (RSE) or Humanity’s Team, and the creation of an autochthonous New Age, which stresses the notion of Romania’s esoteric mission.

The first missionaries of the RSE, a New Age movement established by the American JZ Knight, arrived in Bucharest in early 2009. The introductory meeting with interested persons passed almost unnoticed by the mass media, but it was mentioned by Web sites that specialize in esotericism. Similar meetings were concomitantly organized in Iaşi and Timişoara. These free-of-cost events offered by Greg Simmons, one of the school’s trainers, were intended to prepare the ground for the first RSE seminars in Romania, which were held in Brebu Nou (Caraș Severin County) from October 10 through October 18, 2009. I was surprised by the prohibitive cost of participation in the event, which amounted to $1000, plus the $500 cost of the follow-up activities. It is worth mentioning that this sum did not include accommodation, meal, and translation costs. We do not know whether a great number of participants attended the course. The official RSE Web site states that 81 persons attended, with 20 of them having come from Austria and Switzerland.

This year, the course was held in the Sovata resort in Transylvania (May 7–11, 2011). The event addressed “all those interested in finding and experiencing the truth of who they are, where they come from, what their destiny is, and, more importantly ... how they can fulfill this destiny.”[4] In 2011, RSE launched the Ramtha Video program, which provides video-taught Ramtha doctrine, obviously translated into Romanian. In recent years, the bookshops that specialize in esotericism have published several RSE books authored by JZ Knight.[5] RSE also has a Romanian-language official Web site ( www.ram-romania.ro), which is a rather awkward translation of the English version.

In other developments of imported alternative spirituality, Humanity's Team, another New Age movement present in Romania, was established by the American Neale Donald Walsch, the author of the Conversations with God books. Humanity's Team aims to promote Walsh’s ideas throughout the world, especially his pantheist notion that “we are all one.” The Romanian branch, established in the year 2007, organizes events (conferences, workshops, participation in spirituality fairs, etc.), courses, lectures, periodical meditation meetings, participation in international events (peace marches, etc.), activities that promote the protection of the environment and our planet, petitioning for unity, and so on. The movement also has a Romanian-language Web site (http://www.humanitysteam.ro/) and supports the Romanian translation of Walsch’s books.[6]

A number of lectures, courses, and seminars on New Age topics are organized daily in Bucharest and other cities. There are also esoteric clubs, such as the Mandala Club in Bucharest (http://www.mandalaclub.ro/). Interested persons can find here a vegetarian restaurant, a tearoom with ecological teas, a bookshop centered on spirituality, esotericism and personal development, and a silver and semiprecious-stones jewelry store; they can attend music soirees, go on trips and to thematic camps, visit exhibitions, and watch films; they also can receive counseling on astrology and personal development, and coaching on professional and personal life and couples life issues.

Autochthonous forms of promoting the “new age” in Romania have developed alongside the imported options. An example is the Cosmos review, which first appeared in July 2007 and provides a mix of articles on reincarnation, healing techniques, chakras, tarot, esotericism, paranormal and UFO phenomena (even abductions), star signs and astrology, phytotherapy, extinct civilizations, the Galactic Confederation with its light entities, the Illuminati group and other secret societies, Romania’s esoteric mission, the year 2012, revelation of the new world order, the reptilian race, Gaia, and more. The authors of these articles, most of them dissimulated behind pseudonyms (e.g., Count Incappucciato, Asterion, Mahatma), claim to be mediums for various entities (aliens, members of extinct civilizations, angels, etc.) who address various messages to contemporary people.
The Proliferation of Neopaganism in Romania

Neopaganism has found fertile ground in the former communist countries, as well as in Greece. In Central and Eastern Europe, the best organized of such groups are those in the Baltic states, probably because of the late Christianization of these territories, which occurred in the 13th and 14th centuries through the missions and crusades carried out by the Papacy.

Neopaganism organized at the world level attempts to “conquer” Romania by various means, such as holding workshops or endeavoring to gain visibility on the Internet.[7] Currently, two Web sites promote paganism in the Romanian language; respectively, http://www.paganism.ro/ and http://www.ro.paganfederation.org/, which is the Romanian-language Web site of the Pagan Federation International (PFI). Supporters of neopagan ideas are explicitly urged to become members through this site, and the steps to follow for membership are clearly explained.

In 2008, the Romanian branch of the Pagan Federation organized the first course in Romania on Wicca witchcraft; the course was entitled “The First Steps Onto the Path” (August 23–24, 2008). The course was organized by Morgana, the world coordinator of the Pagan Federation, and by Saddie, engaged in organizing the PFI in Hungary. Both these names are, of course, pseudonyms. Workshop attendees received a full initiation package for long-term guidance that contained materials (including questions and answers) about the Wiccan Wheel of the Year and various neopagan books. Trainees also received personal mentors with whom they could communicate by email. Another course, “Elements of Wicca Magic and World,” was held in Cluj-Napoca (April 15–17, 2011) with the declared purpose of “understanding Wicca in the 21st century.”[8]

A simple Internet search reveals that attempts to establish neopagan societies in Romania go back as far as 2004. That year saw the appearance of the online MoonLight Grove review (http://moonlightgrove.3x.ro), self-entitled “the first Wicca review in the Romanian language,” which was published between April and December of 2004. Each issue contained information about the Sabbath; Wicca principles and traditions; healing plants; aromatherapy; the science of trees; and magic performed with gems, crystals, or candles. The Romanian Coven group became visible on the Internet in the year 2006. The group described itself as “a Romanian group attempting to provide the Wiccans in Romania with the information they need, in the Romanian language, as well as the possibility to know other persons sharing their faith.”[9] The group was active the following year, too, when it published a newsletter and organized monthly meetings in Bucharest whose details it communicated by email to the registered members. Another group entitled Romanian Wiccans maintains contact with interested persons through a discussion forum.

It is difficult to assess the current impact of neopaganism in Romania. The forums begun on the above-mentioned Web sites demonstrate a certain interest in this topic, but they do not allow us to know whether this interest has led to established covens organized according to the Occidental model. Everything is virtual and therefore uncontrollable. The organizers dissimulate themselves behind fictitious names, adherents cannot be distinguished from the merely curious, and communication is through email or discussion forums. It is certain, however, that world neopaganism is attempting a “conquest” and its proponents are taking concrete steps to achieve this purpose.

Besides these potential neopagan imported groups in Romania, there also are the so-called autochthonous ones, militating for the revival of the old Thracian-Dacian beliefs. Thracians and Dacians were the population who inhabited Romania before the Roman conquest (1st century AD). An example is the Gebeleizis Society (http://www.gebeleizis.org/), self-described as a “cultural-religious association, whose primordial aim is to establish and develop, on the territory of present-day Romania, ethnic communities faithful to the religion and culture of our Thracian-Dacian ancestors.”[10] Despite its indigenous character, the movement is not alien to the revival of European paganism, whose avant-garde in Romania it claims to be. Moreover, it promotes deities who belong to the Scandinavian pantheon. It considers members of the Gebeleizis Society to be the natural religion of Indo-European peoples, a “more or less intact survivor of Judeo-Christian barbarism.”
The Presence and Activity of the Church of Scientology in Romania

The first information about a substantial presence of Scientology missionaries in Romania appeared during the 2006 floods. According to the data posted on the official Web site of Church of Scientology International, Scientology volunteers arrived in Craiova (in the south of Romania) and were well received by the local authorities, who allowed them to install their famous “yellow tent” in the center of the town. The volunteers organized lectures and training courses in cooperation with the local Red Cross representatives, and the volunteers and staff engaged in first aid. The volunteers also presented to the Red Cross staff Ron Hubbard’s techniques, which, according to the adherents of Scientology, allegedly contribute to the healing of the spiritual component of a trauma. A festive celebration in the town center, attended by the local authorities and the Red Cross representatives, inaugurated the activity of the Scientology volunteers in Craiova; this was followed by a folklore show.

Later, a major manifestation of Scientologists in Romania was occasioned by the Scientology Volunteer Minister Goodwill Tour that Scientologist missionaries in Eastern Europe undertook. The Church of Scientology estimates that more than 15,000 Romanians have been introduced to Scientology through the yellow tents installed in Bucharest and other Romanian towns. Before they reached Romania, the volunteers already had visited Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, and Poland during a tour whose declared goal was to popularize Scientology in East European countries.

In May 2008, the Scientologists came to Iaşi and set their tent on Independence Avenue, close to the Students’ Cultural Center. The tour started in Cluj on August 2, 2008. Mihai Viteazu [Michael the Brave] Square in the center of town hosted the famous yellow tent where the volunteering program was presented, as well as an exhibition about various aspects of volunteer work. Between December 16 and January 20, the Scientologists set their tent in the Opera House/Victory Square in Timişoara. According to the mass media, 20 persons requested to attend the training course in order to become Scientology volunteers. Starting on May 15, 2009, the course "The Anatomy of the Human Mind" was organized in Timişoara and, according to the organizers, enjoyed “great success.” The course, based on a series of conferences held by Hubbard between 1960 and 1961, focused on a relevant topic for contemporary man—namely, success and failure, and how one can control these factors in life. The course was organized by Liliana Măndescu, CEO of Nexus DSI, a Romanian-American company.

All these examples are visible aspects of the recent activity the Church of Scientology has carried out in Romania; they were publicized by the press at the respective times. We note that, to Romanian journalists, Scientology is a curiosity, seen as “the religion of Tom Cruise and John Travolta,” as most headlines put it.[11] Academic interest in the study of Scientology is low in our country.[12] This scarcity of interest, compared to the rich bibliography dedicated to the topic in the Occident, may be a result of the general conviction that Scientology has no significant impact in România.

Admittedly, the Church of Scientology does not yet have a Romanian-language Web site, but only a Web site exclusively dedicated to the missionary volunteers in Romania that provides “solutions” to all of today’s world problems: stress and uncertainty, drug addiction, family problems, economic recession, miscommunication, diseases, emotions, conflicts, and the aggressive environment (http://www.voluntari-humanitari.co.ro/). However, several publishing houses in Romania have published the books authored by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The solutions these books offer are simplistic and presuppose resorting to Scientology methods. In Romania, as everywhere else in the world, the Church of Scientology employs several marketing techniques. Scientologists’ presence in Bucharest and other cities was accompanied by the distribution of promotional brochures and thematic leaflets, or the construction of billboards that advertised Scientology books and the humanitarian actions of the Church of Scientology. However, the impact of Scientology in Romania is low in comparison with its impact in the Occidental countries.
Reiki

Reiki is a Japanese healing technique discovered and developed by Mikao Usui. As it is known, this traditional Reiki lost its original character and received many theosophical additions when it was transferred to the Occident. In Romania, as an alternative healing therapy, Reiki is acknowledged by Law no. 118/2007. As a new spiritual alternative with New Age origin and missionary undertones, Reiki has not yet caught the attention of specialists in this field.[13]

Specialized centers promote Reiki in Romania; for example, the Center for Reiki Initiation and Improvement [Centrul de Initiere şi perfecţionare Reiki] in Romania (CIPRR). Călin Petru Cotrău established this center in 2003 to prepare students and trainers for various Reiki methods (www.reikiromania.ro). The center declares itself to be the official representative in Romania of the Healing Association Gendai Reiki Ho and of Komyo Reiki Kai Center of Japan. The training is provided through workshops. For each seminar they attend, students receive the textbook in the Romanian language and a graduation certificate. The cost of Tibetan Reiki Usui, for example, is 250 EURO.

In addition to these centers, there are individual Reiki masters who specialize in complementary therapies; many of these Reiki masters also are the authors of books or informative materials about Reiki (e.g., Dumitru Hristenco, Risvan Vlad Rusu, Constantin Gheorghiţă, Ovidiu Dragoş Argeşanu).[14] In browsing through their books, we noted their complete freedom in creating their own Reiki styles, in which New Age elements blend with radiesthesia and more or less distorted Christian teachings. We also must mention that these Reiki masters promote theories adverse to the Christian doctrine: the idea of evolution and God’s imperfection; Darwinism; polytheism and other pagan notions; reincarnation; theosophical ideas about the physical, esoteric, and astral bodies; and so on.

These Reiki systems contain numerous New Age tenets concerning reincarnation and karma, life on other planets, spiritual guides, and the like. Some authors even state that Reiki initiation opens the way for man’s unexpected psychological or parapsychological resources, such as premonitions, second sight, and aura visualization. Romanian Reiki masters recommend that the would-be initiates should attend church services, confess, pray, receive the Eucharist, and use holy water. The Reiki promoters I have met in my pastoral activity mutually asserted that there can be no harm in something that brings you closer to the church and its worship services.

I have, however, remarked that these respective persons were dominated by their masters, whom they regarded as idols (gurus); they evinced certain patterns in thinking and used a peculiar language that only they could understand; and they were isolated from their families. All these aspects demonstrated manipulation, and even elements characteristic of the brainwashing process. Therefore, as it is currently practiced in Romania, we may consider Reiki as one of the “spiritual alternatives.”
Conclusions

The above-mentioned spiritual alternatives have gained significant momentum in Romania since the year 2000 and are currently in full swing, promoted by books, brochures, publications, Web sites, daily newspapers, and radio and TV programs. We can divide this development into three categories: a) purely Occidental phenomena imported into Romania (Scientology, certain New Age or neopagan movements); b) autochthonous phenomena (other New Age or neopagan movements); and c) original movements, born through the adjustment of New Age tenets to Romanian realities. In the latter case, the most telling example is Reiki, which is quite widely practiced in Romania as a healing therapy and which has gained many adherents and followers as a form of spirituality. Reiki’s success is accounted for by the fact that it does not presuppose, at least theoretically, a break with the beliefs and practices of the Orthodox Church, to which most Romanians belong. Reiki claims only to read orthodoxy in a different key. On the contrary, Scientology, with its beliefs and practices, is far from the Romanian people’s culture and spirituality, and therefore its impact is rather limited.

About the Author

Rev. Dr. Radu Petre Mureșan is a lecturer and member of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Bucharest (radupetremuresan@gmail.com).

[1] The latest population census in Romania took place between October 22 and 31, 2011, and the official results are expected to be released this year.

[2] Mălina Voicu, “România religioasă. Pe valul european sau în urma lui?” [“Religious Romania: Riding the European Wave or Lagging Behind It?”], Institutul European, 2007, p. 54. The international research project European Values Survey is periodically conducted in all European countries to explore Europeans’ values. In Romania, two research sessions were conducted in 1993 and 1999, respectively. Their results also have been analyzed by Elena Iulia Gheorghiu, “Religiozitate şi creştinism în România post-comunistă” [“Religiosity and Christianity in Post-Communist Romania”], Sociologie românească [Romanian Sociology], No. 3 (2003), pp. 102–121.

[3] For more information about the New Age in the Romanian language, see Rev. Dan Bădulescu, Împărăţia răului. New Age Originile, istoricul, doctrinele şi consecinţele sale din perspectivă ortodoxă [The Kingdom of Evil: New Age. Its Origins, History, Doctrines and Consequences from an Orthodox Perspective], Christiana, 2001; Wilhelm Dancă, “New Age sau Era Vărsătorului. Religia postmodernităţii?” [“New Age or the Age of Aquarius: The Religion of Postmodernity?”] in Fascinaţia binelui. Creştinism şi postmodernitate [The Fascination of Good: Christianity versus Postmodernity], Sapientia, 2007; Wűrtz, Bruno, New Age. Paradigma holistă sau revrăjirea Vărsătorului [New Age: The Holistic Paradigm or the Re-enchantment of the Aquarius], Timişoara, 1994; Rev. Dr. Nicolae Achimescu, Noile Mișcări Reiligioase [The New Religious Movements], Cluj Napoca: Limes (2002), pp. 229–270; Rev. Ciprian Marius Cloșcă, Ortodoxia și Noile Mișcări Religioase [Orthodoxy and the New Religious Movements], Iași: Lumen (2009), pp. 199–266.

[4] From the official Ramtha School of Enlightenment (RSI) site in Romania, http://www.ram-romania.ro/ram-romania/index.php

[5] In 2009, the following books were published by Mastering Mind and Soul (MMS) publishing house: Cine suntem noi de fapt [Who We Actually Are], Trezirea la o viaţă extraordinară [Awakening to an Extraordinary Life], Ghidul începătorului pentru crearea realităţii. O introducere în învăţăturile lui Ramtha [The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Reality: An Introduction to Ramtha’s Teachings].

[6] Dumnezeul de mâine- cea mai mare provocare spirituală a noastră [Tomorrow’s God: Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge] (For You, 2006); Acasă cu Dumnezeu, într-o viaţă care nu se sfârşeşte niciodată [Home with God, in a Life That Never Ends] (For You, 2007); Conversaţii cu Dumnezeu [Conversations with God], Vol. 3 (For You, 2008); Ce vrea Dumnezeu [What God Wants] (For You, 2009); and so on.

[7] For more information on neopaganism, see the articles written by Rev. Dr. Nicolae Achimescu, published in the Lumina daily newspaper of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Rev. Dr. Radu Petre Mureșan, “Forme ale neopăgânismului în societatea contemporană” [“Forms of Neopaganism in Contemporary Society”], The Yearbook of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Bucharest University Publishing House, year IX (2009), pp. 685–708.

[8] http://www.ro.paganfederation.org/activitati.html

[9] http://www15.brinkster.com/romaniancoven/index.html

[10] http://www.gebeleizis.org/

[11] Tiberiu Fărcaş, “Religia lui Tom Cruise şi John Travolta vine la Cluj” [“The Religion of Tom Cruise and John Travolta comes to Cluj”] in Ziarul de Cluj, July 29, 2008; Dumitru Manolache, “Biserica Scientologica încearcă să-şi facă adepţi in Romania” [“The Church of Scientology attempts to gain adherents in Romania”], Gardianul, August 2, 2008; Sorin Grecu, “Scientologii caută adepţi şi la Cluj-Napoca” [“Scientologists Seek to Recruit Adherents in Cluj Napoca”], published in Cetăţeanul Clujean [The Cluj Citizen], August 5, 2008; Georgeta Petrovici, “Biserica Scientologică a ieşit cu fast la racolat bănăţeni” [“The Church of Scientology Holds Festivities to Recruit Citizens”], Evenimentul Zilei, Thursday, December 18, 2008; “Tom Cruise caută moldoveni pentru Biserica Scientologica” [“Tom Cruise Seeks Moldavians for the Church of Scientology”], Evenimentul Zilei, Friday, May 16, 2008; Andreea Archip, “Biserica lui Tom Cruise caută adepţi la Iaşi” [“Tom Cruise’s Church Seeks Adherents in Iasi”], Evenimentul Zilei, May 15, 2008.

[12] Rev. Dr. Radu Petre Mureșan, “Scientologia: religie sau știință?” [“Scientology: Religion or Science?”], Theological Studies (The Journal of the Faculties of Theology within the Romanian Patriarchate), year III (January–March 2007), pp. 101–130; Rev. Dr. Nicolae Achimescu, “Noile Mișcări Religioase” [“New Religious Movements”], Limes, Cluj Napoca, 2002, pp. 201–228; Rev. Dr. Ciprian Marius Cloșcă, “Ortodoxia și Noile Mișcări Religioase” [“Orthodoxy and the New Religious Movements”], Lumen, Iași, 2009, pp. 161–173.

[13] Rev. Dr. Radu Petre Muresan, “Reiki,” The Yearbook of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Bucharest University Publishing House, year X, 2010, pp. 417–440.

[14] Ovidiu Dragoş Argeşanu, “Reiki. Între mit şi realitate” [“Reiki: Between Myth and Reality”], Dao Psi, 2008; Constantin Gheorghiţă, “InfoReiki,” Dao Psi, 2009; Dumitru Hristenco, “Reiki modern” [“Modern Reiki”], Teora, 2002; Dumitru Hristenco, “Reiki tradiţional. De la gradul I la maestru” [“Traditional Reiki: From Level One to Master”], Teora, 2008; Risvan Vlad Rusu, “Compendiu ilustrat de Reiki” [“Illustrated Reiki Compendium”], Dao Psi, 2007.