We continue to publish the materials of Spas TV program My Path to God where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy.
Sometimes the journey to the Light takes people through years of serving dark forces. This is what happened to Elena Smirnova, today’s guest of Father George’s program. She used to practice witchcraft and esoteric arts, and summon evil spirits. Elena will tell us whether those who summon dark forces are masters or slaves of such forces. We will also learn what led her to Christ and what she sees as her mission now.
Priest George Maximov: Hello! You are watching My Path To God, a program about people whose lives were drastically changed after turning to Christ. Sometimes people convert after being infinitely far away from Christianity. The story of the guest of today’s program is a case in point. Before she found God, she used to communicate with evil spirits. Elena Nikolayevna, could you tell us how it all started? Am I correct to assume that you grew up in a non-religious family?
Elena Smirnova: My family was Orthodox, but we weren’t religious. We would go to church once a year on a feast day to light candles. I had some idea about the Church, but it was quite vague. My parents baptized me shortly after I was born. My grandmother helped to arrange it. She invited a priest to our place and he came over and performed the baptism. After that, she cast a spell to protect me from hernia. My parents were just like her. They believed in God and yet they believed in house elves too. My mother used to tell me that a house elf visited her when she was at our summerhouse. My grandmother would tell such stories too. They used to tell me many amazing stories when I was a child. I was into it too. I liked fairy tales. As a child, I kept to myself and liked to daydream. I think I learned how to tell fortunes when I was in the second grade. My mother showed me some simple ways to tell if your wish would come true. These were my first attempts at fortune telling.
I told fortunes to a few girls and understood that this gave me power over people.
Father George: Well, at that time it probably felt like a game?
Elena Smirnova: Yes. But I was already hooked. I was told that we even had some witches among our ancestors and that many of our relatives used to practice these dark arts. When I was a child, I even liked pretending to be such a person. It felt like I already had some inclination toward these matters. However, I developed a real interest when I was in school. I was 14 years old. Once my classmates were picking on me. They saw my beautiful magic medallion and half-jokingly asked, “What are you, a witch?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Prove it!” So I told fortunes to some of the girls. In one case, I had a lucky guess and in another I made a correct assumption, so some of my predictions came true. My classmates stopped mocking me and I understood that this gives me some kind of power over people. I started reading about it and got more involved. My mother showed me how to tell fortunes during Christmastide and explained the meanings of cards. She wasn’t a witch; she simply believed that getting together after Christmas, throwing a boot to find out when you’ll find your love and other similar acts was just regular girlish fun. I really got interested because it seemed very exciting and mysterious to me.
I can’t say that I was looking for God since childhood, but I always knew that there were forces beyond our control. I couldn’t understand how I can be alive now and then be dead and gone? I feel, think, and love. I can’t just disappear! So I started looking for the answer to this question and thought that I could find it in magical rituals. I used to read books on religion too, but they seemed too complicated and boring to me. Going to church wasn’t interesting for me either. Naturally, when I was a child, I liked the church’s beautiful decor, but later when I grew up, I thought that the truth wasn’t there. As a teenager, I was looking for something more exciting.
The girls from my class started asking me to summon spirits, so we organized séances and used a self-made Ouija board to summon the spirits of Pushkin and Lermontov and ask them questions about boys. After those séances, even back then when I was 14, I was not feeling well. I felt like I had a fever and lost some strength. However, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I remember that once I had a dream: I was led through a dark corridor and into the light. Then I heard a voice asking, “Why did you summon spirits on Annunciation day?” I woke up and asked my mother what Annunciation was, for I didn’t even know this word. My mother said that it was some kind of Orthodox feast day. I didn’t pay any attention to it either.
At 16, I was really into all that stuff. I remember going to the bookstore and seeing bookshelves full of books on what they call “Esoteric Sciences”. There were so many books on that!
Father George: Unfortunately, they still sell a lot of these books. So for the most part, did you get the information from these books?
Elena Smirnova: While I was studying at school, I read the books. Later I moved on to things that were more practical. I tried meditation, astral projection and attaining certain states of consciousness. For example, to get in a better mood and make some improvements in life, you have to close your eyes, imagine your “guardian angel” and talk to him. Basically, you have to achieve an altered state of consciousness. At the same time, I started learning how to tell fortunes with playing cards.
Once a friend told me, “You communicate with spirits like Pushkin or Lermontov, but there is a very strong spirit from hell, he is one of the closest to the evil one. If you call him forth, you can ask for your wish to come true.” I don’t know what I thought about it when I was 16 and why I did it, but once when I was alone I did summon this spirit using a self-made Ouija board fashioned out of a plate. I felt very powerful and happy because I could do something that the others couldn’t. I called him forth and asked him to fulfil some of my teenage dreams. The very same night I had my first episode of acute pain. I remember that I felt as if some entity was sitting on top of me and strangling me. I felt pain in my heart and my whole body ached; I felt as if I was dying. I woke up and read the “Our Father”. For some reason, this prayer was the first thing that came to my mind. I didn’t know any other prayers. I fell asleep again and experienced the same thing. This went on for the entire night. I could barely get up in the morning. When I came to school, that girl told me, “Did you think it was simply communicating with spirits? My book says that when you say the invocation, you give your soul away.” Still, I was stupid enough then to summon him again. I told him that I didn’t need any wishes to come true, but this didn’t help and my bad dreams continued. However, I didn’t stop my experiments and kept on looking. I remember that I prayed to God too, standing in front of icons. I asked for some of my wishes to come true. I just thought that all spiritual things are somehow interrelated.
Father George: Didn’t you know that the Church disapproves of magic and fortune telling?
Elena Smirnova: I did, but when I started hanging out with fortune-tellers, I saw that they have icons. They like having them around. The fortune-tellers told me that there was white magic too, and that if you did good things you wouldn’t contradict the Church’s teachings. I didn’t have any religious friends. I somewhat understood that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. So I continued to practice all that. As a result, I got very sick when I was 19. This illness was very strange. In addition to those bad dreams that I kept on having, I started seeing various entities even when I was awake. I felt constant fear, my heart and head ached, my ears were ringing… When we called an ambulance, the doctors would say that I had had a heart seizure or panic attack, however when I went to various doctors, they couldn’t find anything wrong.
I got access to Internet then, and read on one church site that people must go to Communion. I already had a magic-oriented mind, and the meaning of Orthodoxy was not clear to me. I probably wouldn’t have understood it, even if somebody explained it to me. If you have a magic-oriented mind, you think that God is the universe, and when you do anything, the impersonal universe reacts in response. For some reason, I thought that God was something huge and imperceptible, but not a personality. I went for my second confession and communion, which I decided to do as a magic ritual. I didn’t repent and didn’t want to change, but I thought that I would feel better after confession and communion. I did try to prepare and read some information, but still couldn’t understand the profoundness of this, or maybe I simply didn’t want to.
Father George: Sometimes when a person choses some wrong path or succumbs to any sin, such a person experiences a certain inner blindness. This voluntarily sinful state causes a certain blindness of the mind, so you can’t look at the things you’re doing from the outside and reconsider. It is difficult.
Elena Smirnova: It is very difficult. Moreover, all the friends I had at that time played along and encouraged me, “Yes, it is all the same, go to confession and communion, if it helps.”
Father George: I assume that such confession and communion did not do you any good. Of course, you didn’t know that at the time, and in a way did it out of ignorance. However, I want to emphasize for our viewers that if a person comes to confession, communion or baptism for purposes other than becoming one with Our Lord Jesus Christ, especially if they do it for occult purposes, it is a great sin. I have heard people say that they went to some fortune-tellers who told them, “Go get baptized.” or “Go to confession and then we will tell your fortune or do what you ask for.” This makes some people believe that these fortune-tellers are Orthodox. But this is the demons’ deception, for it is more interesting for them to wrong the Christians, rather than non-baptized people. So, I would assume that in your case this didn’t help you get what you expected, because you did it for the purposes that were different from what these sacraments were intended for.
Elena Smirnova: Even though it was done because of false motives, I did experience some relief after Communion. I should have realized that this was a sign telling me where to find protection from the attacks of the evil spirits. But I think that subconsciously I didn’t want to get rid of them… even though I felt bad. When you study esoteric sciences, you feel that you know something mysterious, that you are not like the others, and I think that this pridefulness got in the way. I wasn’t ready. Now when I talk to people who are still into it, they still have their magic-oriented thinking and simply do not hear. It is very difficult to get through to them.
Anyway, when I got older, I studied various methods of fortune telling with playing cards, still thinking that I can find something good in this. I also remember that whenever I heard somebody criticizing Christ, as, for example, some pagans I knew used to do, I always wanted to defend Him for some reason. And when esoteric or Osho1 followers told me that Christianity was all rubbish and that it was invented for slaves, I always felt some kind of inner contradiction. When I got older, I started reading various books by eastern mystics as I decided, so to say, to develop my spirituality.
Father George: And where were you looking for it specifically?
After reading Osho’s books, I even started thinking about atheism. Before that, I considered myself Orthodox, although I wasn’t one in the true meaning of the word; but the book was convincingly persuading me that Christianity was not needed. It alleged that Jesus Christ was simply a man who did not die on the cross, but went on living somewhere after crucifixion. These books contained all kinds of stuff that Osho made up. At first I was inspired, but later, after reading his books more attentively, I saw that he kept on repeating the same things over and over and that there were a lot of contradictions. I am surprized that people still believe in all that. Of course, I was ignorant and nobody explained anything to me… I could have searched for the truth on my own, but instead I was looking for something that I needed for myself. After living according to Osho’s teachings for a while, I became a worse person, more lascivious, selfish, and indifferent to other people’s suffering.
Father George: Why do people believe him? Because on one hand his teachings contain some statements of general human wisdom. Osho was a well-read man and could insert various aphorisms in his reasoning. On the other hand, his main message is that people are good the way they are and nobody has any right to tell them what to do. So people should enjoy themselves and their lives and do what they want. This is exactly what people who succumb to their passions want to hear. However, people who live according to their passions are internally conflicted, because their conscience is telling them that what they are doing is wrong. You can fill your head with any ideas and believe that you are a free person, that there is no God, that you are a god or that there are gods who approve of what you are doing. You can make all this up. However ultimately you are still sinning against the One True God. For Solomon said, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” (Ecclesiastes, 11:9). This inner voice of consciousness that tells people that they are on the wrong path creates a feeling of discomfort that leads to depression and stress, even when everything seems to be going well. For example, you can decide that your actions are not sinful and live as you please. As this is your choice, it seems that you can now live and rejoice. But you can’t. There is some kind of inner misbalance. People feel this misbalance and it bothers them. Osho’s teachings seem to help quench this inner misbalance through self-hypnosis and injecting your consciousness with another dose of statements like “Well, everything is fine, I’m right, no need to feel sorry for anything.” That is why these ideas are popular, but these are not the ideas that can help people change for the better.
Elena Smirnova: It’s like painkillers—these tablets help relieve the pain for a while, but do not cure the illness. The same goes for positive psychology books, Feng Shui, etc… I read them all. After reading these books, you get inspired for a while, but then you need to read the book again, because you still feel bad inside. You can’t silence this feeling. You fall into a state of spiritual delusion. Only later I realized that a state of grace and a state of spiritual delusion are two completely different things. God’s grace gives you tranquility, calmness, quietness and peace of mind. When you’re in a state of spiritual delusion, you feel worried inside and want to do some shameless acts, as if there were an internal explosion taking place. You feel like you are a god. All these books tell people to be like gods, so that they won’t need a Church of any kind. So I kept on doing all this.
The worst part was that people started asking me to tell their fortunes and develop horoscopes for them. A friend recommended me to another friend and it went on and on… I saw that I was good at it and decided to open my own fortune-telling business. Although I have to admit that I had a bad feeling after telling fortunes. I would even throw the cards away, but then I’d go and buy a new deck. It was some kind of addiction. I would read the cards before doing anything, for example before getting a new job. The cards would always predict something bad and I would be upset. I’d be waiting for something bad to happen and it eventually would come true. When a warlock summons a ghost or tells your fortune with cards, you start thinking about the prediction and picking the facts that confirm what was predicted. I figured that mechanism out after a while. For example, a girl is told that she will meet a blond guy, so she starts looking at blond men only. Eventually, she meets a blond guy and then believes that the prediction came true. Take for example positive psychology: If a person is inwardly peaceful, he is likely to do good deeds. It doesn’t mean that the universe gave something back to you for being nice and good. This understanding came to me later, but for a while I still was in a state of delusion, in a state of that magic-oriented consciousness.
The breaking point occurred in 2012 during Christmastide. I decided to talk to the spirit of Osho that I liked so much at the time. I thought I would talk to him during the séance. We were going to tell fortunes with the girls.
Father George: Sure, why read the books when you can talk directly to the author (laughs).
Elena Smirnova: We were telling fortunes and having fun. But I thought that it was time for more serious stuff, as I wanted to learn the truth and become a more advanced witch. So we summoned the spirit of Osho. I remember that I asked the spirit, “Who are you? Are you Osho?” And the plate spelled out EVIL. That was how it called itself. Well, we told fortunes as usual, and afterwards everybody went home. I remember that night very well. I came home and a felt a dreadful fear that I had never felt before. I couldn’t fall asleep. I found a church candle, lit it and started praying. I should emphasize that only the name of Jesus, the sign of the cross and Orthodox prayers can drive the evil spirits away. Other prayers don’t work; I know this for sure because I tried. Although I noticed this a long time ago, I couldn’t make the right conclusion. A few daws after Osho had said that he was evil, I experienced a dramatic change.
In fact, had been heading toward that change for a long time. I remember I would sit down and say, “God, if you exist, show me the way You are. I feel that I am drowning in all these attractions and I know that they will do me no good. But I’ll keep on searching.” During those days, I thought a lot. I read about yoga and trips to Tibet—these were the last echoes of my former interests. It is difficult to let go of your “favorite” sin. I started watching a TV program on spiritism, where the priest explained that it was a sin. They showed possessed people; it was scary. Those were difficult days for me.
On January 19, 2012, the day of Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I woke up in the morning and realized that I wanted to be Orthodox. I knew that I would throw away all the books I used to read and wouldn’t talk to my former acquaintances. I would cut it all off and only learn one truth, because the truth was there, in Orthodoxy. I got up thinking like this and did it all right away. I don’t even know where I got the strength to do it. A priest to whom I went for confession later told me, “Somebody probably prayed for you. It is quite rare that a person can quit so abruptly.” I prepared extensively for my confession. I remember that when I started searching the Internet, I would find the answers as soon as I typed my questions. And the answers were all correct and logical. It was different from all those esoteric teachings, when you look for answers and it gets more complicated. Here everything started to fall into place. It was the Truth, and that was it. I prepared myself. One evening I came to a small church in the town of Cherepovets. Right before the confession, I felt very bad. I started shaking and couldn’t utter a word. I thought I would run away.
Father George: Of course, the evil spirits want to get in the way of people who decide to turn to God. Naturally, they won’t just sit back doing nothing and watch their prey get away from them. That is why, not only in your case, but in many similar cases, they try to find a way to prevent people from quitting on them.
Elena Smirnova: Yes, I felt very bad, but I thought, I have my guardian angel near me, I won’t leave, I will go to confession. I prayed to my guardian angel, and the bad feeling went away. I’m very grateful to Father John who received my confession. He felt my pain. We performed the rites for renunciation of Satan. We read the prayer and spat at Satan. I remember that attending services was difficult at first. It is still difficult for me to stand in the church during services. But I endured. I didn’t understand anything, but I felt good. This word doesn’t even describe it well. In the church, I felt that darkness was leaving my soul, and I felt better. I made my choice. It was difficult; it still is. First and foremost, I was trying to get rid of my magic-oriented thinking, so I when I see a bird flying by I won’t think that it is some kind of omen.
Father George: In fact, this type of thinking really enslaves you. Despite all the rhetoric about freedom, the more you yield to such thinking, the more you are weighed down by such things as omens or predictions. Actually, this is how the ancient pagans felt; they wouldn’t do anything without having their fortunes told. Indeed, as you said, this prevents people from being free. The first Christians felt freedom from all of this. I think you also felt this freedom, although it probably wasn’t easy.
Elena Smirnova: Yes, initially I thought that Christians were not free, but it turned out to be the other way around. Christianity is a religion of very strong and free people and it gives people the strength to fight sin. I hope that I have overcome my magic-oriented thinking, and I don’t want to go back. I threw all those books away. The priest told me, “Since you were turning other people to all those bad things, now you must act to undo what you have done.” Indeed, I used to communicate with spirits when my friends were around; I gave esoteric books to some people and told their fortunes. After repenting, I found some girls online who were into similar things. They were in trouble and some of them are still having problems. I understand now that I got away cheaply. I can’t say that everything is completely gone; I think it is going to be a long process. All my previous actions severely affected my spiritual immunity, but at least I understood that I found what I was looking for. It’s a pity that it took me so long and that I had to go through all those misadventures, but I’m happy that God showed me the way to Himself. Now the most important thing for me is to keep going in the right direction.
To those who are afraid that they won’t succeed, I say, “Don’t be disheartened, God is stronger than the demons.”
Father George: I know that you manage a group in VKontakte (a popular Russian social media.—Trans.) dedicated to revealing problems caused by magic and occultism and helping people who suffered from them. For there are many people who have had experiences similar to yours. Basically, it is a spiritual law: Those who in one way or another appeal to evil spirits never get anything good from them, because these spirits are not there to help people. Their objective is to harm people. Maybe you could tell us some stories you learned about the people who were into the occult, and explain what happens to those who continue their interest in the occult, and to those who quit and return to God with repentance?
Elena Smirnova: Our group is called “Beware of Occultism and Sects”. At first, there were two of us, a girl named Eugenia and myself. She was more involved in the occult than I was; she went through various initiations and used to live in Osho’s ashrams. Her situation was more serious. Now she is not well and can’t work. But it is worse for those who do not repent. I know of many followers of Osho and other esoteric teachings who ended up badly. However, I would like to take this opportunity to tell people who were also involved in dark magic that they shouldn’t be afraid of demons even if they still come to them at night and frighten them. God is stronger than demons. Some people say that it is all over and it is too difficult, and that they won’t be able to change. They shouldn’t give up.
When we started our group, we had a lot of negative reactions at first. I still don’t know how to get some occultists to see the light of faith. We have to tell those scary stories, rather than simply say, “I felt bad after telling somebody’s fortune.” We describe the feelings in detail and this makes some people think. Sometimes people tell me, “Yes, I also told somebody’s fortune and had similar dreams after that. I should probably stop doing it.” After reading our stories, some people who learned how harmful fortune telling and occultism are not only quit the occult, but went to their first Communion and became religious. You know, shortly after my repentance, I wrote down my life in detail, and now, three years later, when I re-read it to prepare for this program, it seemed that this story was not about me. I didn’t even remember some of the things that happened to me. I think this is a positive tendency.
Father George: Of course. God helped you to get rid of all that. Indeed, you started a new life. It is good that the past doesn’t control you even through memories.
Elena Smirnova: We speak different languages with those who are still into occultism. I think that they are feeling bad, but they look at us and think, “Crazy Christians. Why did you run to the church?” A lot of people think that the Church is full of mean people in headscarves and long skirts, who don’t let you smile or laugh.
Father George: Some stereotypes are maintained, sometimes by anti-Church forces and sometimes directly by evil spiritual forces.
Elena Smirnova: But in truth, people do not want to repent, because in Church you have to work on yourself, control your passions, acknowledge and fight them. With a magic-oriented consciousness, everything is the other way around, and people are looking for happiness without working on themselves. But I don’t see any happiness in them. I see some kind of ecstatic state and deception. I don’t know any people who became millionaires after rustling banknotes somewhere or observing any other superstitions… But people really believe in these superstitions. They are certain that they are sending signals to the universe, and someday their wishes will come true. I used to argue with many people, but now I have become more careful, because sometimes I get angry and start defending myself rather than the truth. This is not pleasing to God. Naturally, I will continue my fight against occultism, at least among my friends. Many people didn’t believe that I became Orthodox. They thought that this was just a whim and it would pass after a few months. But this is not a whim, this is my life. This is the truth.
Father George: My close friend Father Daniel Sysoyev worked in the St. John of Kronstadt Center2 for many years. Many people who suffered after communicating with evil spirits, occultists, fortune-tellers and warlocks have gone to that center. Based on many observations, Father Daniel came to the following conclusion: If you appeal to evil spirits with a request for somebody’s health, that person may feel better after some magical rituals, but this improvement will hold only until that person tells someone about it to involve him or her in this process. After that, the person starts to feel worse, sometimes even worse than they did initially. I remember the example he gave: A woman whose son had a drinking problem asked some old lady to put a spell on him to make him quit drinking. As a result, he stopped drinking, but became very aggressive, beat his mother and eventually committed suicide. This is just an illustration of the fact that evil spirits do not help altruistically. Any contact with them harms people spiritually. As mentioned earlier, people could become possessed. God protected you, but often people become possessed specifically after getting involved in such things or asking evil spirits for help. Unfortunately, people underestimate this danger. When they hear that the Church has a very negative attitude toward sorcery and extrasensory perception, they think that it is simply because the priests do not want any competition. Sometimes people make up some other foolish ideas to explain the Church’s warnings. However, we warn about this danger because we know of people who come to us after being crippled by such experiences. Many of them are hurt so badly that it takes them years to recover.
Elena Smirnova: Even if you participate in it a little, you get hurt. Sometimes people say, “Well, I just got my fortune told once, there is nothing wrong about that, is there? We have to get people to understand somehow that even one time is too much. It gets absurd—I once read in the Internet that people tell fortunes during Christmastide because God is so happy that His son was born, that He lets demons walk the earth and give people information. That is why allegedly it is okay to tell fortunes during this time and it is not a sin.
Father George: This is, of course, utter nonsense. In fact, everything is quite simple. If we need help from God, we can ask God Himself. We do no need any cards or anybody’s spirit… but when people turn to other forces rather than God, it becomes obvious. These are the forces that oppose God, and since God is the source of goodness, it is obvious that these forces, no matter who they purport to be, can only harm people.
Thank you very much for your story, Elena Nikolayevna. May God’s help be with you!