I Spent a Day with a New Age Sect in Moscow
I arrive fifteen minutes late for an event with Artur Sita, a Russian New Age guru based in Thailand. I needn't have worried, as there is nothing on stage but an empty chair, smoke illuminated by green lights, and ambient beats. I am asked to choose a seat number from a bag, an interesting tactic: while encouraging attendees to make friends with other followers, it also separates you from friends. I notice the red hearts with an 'A' in the centre which are stuck to female attendee's shirts. Finally, after a long wait, Artur Sita arrives on stage to noisy cheers and applause. In time with his arrival, the smoke clears and the green light changes to white.
This video gives you an idea of the 'vibe':
Recently while going through my notes I found details of this visit from September 2019. It was more of a side quest from my main activities of hiking and getting familiar with Russian dream research. When an acquaintance, Vladimir, told me about this event he was attending in Moscow, I couldn't help myself; although I wouldn't be able to understand what was being said, it seemed like a good opportunity to observe the body language and 'habitus' of a new age sect. I had never heard of Artur Sita before, and he seems to be just one of a multitude of gurus popping up on the scene recently.
It took a subway ride far from the centre of the city with multiple changes, then a bus ride, and a long walk along a busy highway, to arrive in a sort of run down multiplex. Inside, there is a newsagent by the entrance, big enough for only a couple of customers at a time. Besides the shopkeeper, the building is empty and quiet and I mentally role-play a generic horror scene as I navigate a labyrinth of escalators and halls. I'm already 15 minutes late due to my hell-commute and had better get a move on. Finally, I find the door.
After choosing a random seat number, I make my way to the far end of the room, where hundreds have already settled in. The seating rows are ridiculously long, and I have to apologise profusely as I make my way to my seat, noticing how difficult it would be to leave during the event without attracting a lot of attention (very clever). Just in case, I decide that if it gets too much I can always crawl under the wall closest to me, which is really just a massive black curtain.
A lesson in meditation.
I ask the women on either side of me if they speak English (they don't), dashing my hopes in asking them questions about this following. I go back to observing the movements of the crowd and notice that nobody is taking photos except for the organisers. I'm not sure if this is a rule or not. I notice a ghost badge on a male organiser's sleeve as he takes a video, and desperately want to know the meaning behind it.
Once the fanfare dies down, Artur belatedly takes a seat in a spinny chair and smiles at the crowd. His delivery is quick yet calm, and almost everything he says is answered with laughter and applause. I'm not sure why yet, but the way he speaks reminds me of a mix between my narcissistic ex and my least favourite sociology professor.
I see Vladimir in the crowd and think about approaching him to say hello, but I'm halted by the glazed eyes and look of adoration on his face.
The whole session involves Artur answering attendee's questions about their personal lives. Although I can't tell exactly what he's saying, he seems to be asking very simple questions and teasing attendees when they don't have an answer. I already do not like him.
One man speaks with Artur for about 10 minutes, after which they take a selfie and shake hands. However, I noticed that whenever a woman asks him a question, he becomes agitated, walking around the stage, or eating an apple, and otherwise looked bored or annoyed.
Here is Artur's most-watched video, which consists of him sending text messages while meditating.
After the session, there is a mix and mingle in the bar area. I buy some hot chocolate and think about approaching more followers as they stand and eat sandwiches (I don't). As a palate cleanser, I head to a shopping mall in the finance district, take a seat at a Starbucks at the base of an escalator, and observe the disciples of capitalism, regaining a perverse sense of normalcy.