CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2005 International Conference
June 2-5, 2005 – Palermo, Sicily
Religious Movements, Globalization and Conflict: Transnational Perspectives

The Revival of Occultism in Lithuanian Society

Milda Alisauskiene

A paper presented at the 2005 CESNUR Conference in Palermo, Sicily. Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


This presentation is a part of the research in New Age milieu which I am currently working on. It was invoked by the discussions about revival of occultism in Lithuanian society that began early this spring in the mass media. On the one hand they were inspired by broadcasts in the commercial TVs; on the other hand they were provoked by the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church. The main participants of these discussions were Catholic Church, journalists and representatives of occultism scene – fortunetellers, witches and clairvoyants. This presentation focuses on two aspects of these discussions – the role of mass media in disseminating ideas of occultism and a brief introduction to the scene of occultism in Lithuania. The concept of occultism in this paper means “a doctrine stating that mysterious supernatural powers are hidden in human and nature and that psychologically trained human with special methods may interact with them”. [1] The scene of occultism is the public sphere of the life of society where its doctrine is spread; within the modern and postmodern context the occultism is widely spread in the so-called New Age milieu.

Politics, occultism and Church

By surprise the presidential elections of 2003 when President Rolandas Paksas was elected opened a new page in the history of religiosity of Lithuanian society. For the inauguration the new president of Lithuania Paksas did invite own clairvoyant Lena Lolishvilli to the official feast that was broadcasted on TV. The comments of Paksas and his wife revealed that Lolishvilli was an important person in their everyday life; it appeared that she had healed a mysterious illness of the former president as well. Later the journalists found out that Lolishvilli healed with the help of water and toilet paper that she had “charged” with her energy before. I would suggest that this story was like a djinn freed from the bottle that allowed similar topics to gain large space in the public discourse. There were a few consequences of this case but the main one is the attention that occultism received in the public discourse sphere. On the one hand, it opened the new era for different articles and broadcastings on lifestyle that appeared soon and are continuing till now, that involved coverage of beliefs in occult phenomena. The case of Lolishvilli brought confusion in the circles of clairvoyants and divided them into those supporting Lena and those who question the source of her energy. There was also the official reaction of Roman Catholic Church and Cardinal Bačkis had questioned the source of energy of Lolishvilli, reminding the statement about “false prophets” and said, “That this is the work of Satan”. [2]

On the other hand the case of Lolishvilli revealed the nonofficial religion of society – the scene of occultism and, more widely, the milieu of New Age and its participants from clairvoyants to well-known politicians applying to them for advice and healing.

The story of Lolishvilli and her relations with president Paksas might be also seen as a strategy and a failure of public relations together. On the one side it might be suggested that the purpose of the PR strategies was to show new president as much as possible close to the ordinary human who believes in mysterious supernatural powers. In this case the failure of the PR was that they had too little knowledge about religion in general and Roman Catholic Church and its attitude towards clairvoyance. On the one hand the knowledge about religion would have suggested to them not to use the occultism in the political affairs that “contradict established scientific or religious knowledge”. [3] But it also might be asserted that the result had satisfied them because it invoked the subdivision of society in those who support Church and the other side – occultism scene and its representative – Lolishvilli. This subdivision was also followed by another subdivision in the society – the part that support newly elected president Paksas and other part that did not elect him. 

The case of Paksas is already a history but the discussion between Church and those who support occultism, between the official and nonofficial religions, still continues. The discussion that might never end in the modern times that, according to Berger, almost inevitable bring religious pluralism. [4] On the other hand the question is how religious communities deal with such pluralism. The dominating church in Lithuanian society, Roman Catholic Church, in May, 2005 issued a letter about the revival of occultism in Lithuanian society and stated that government has to react to this situation by restricting the registration of different occult science institutions with names like academy, institute; by achieving the adherence to the rules set out for the mass media about broadcasting the occult topics; and by informing the society about possible outcomes of receiving the healing services from non licensed specialists. The letter also stated that occultism is very popular among Roman Catholics. However, there was nothing written about the measures that the church is going to take dealing with such situation. [5]

Mass media and occultism

The role of mass media in covering above-mentioned events is apparent. Here I would like to make distinctions between two types of mass media – the secular is the one that is not connected to any religious or spiritual group and the occult that is related to the persons supporting occultism. The secular types of mass media are different publicist broadcastings and publications involving experts from occultism scene – clairvoyants, fortune tellers, astrologers and etc. The types of occult mass media are different broadcastings where persons supporting the doctrine of occultism and in general coming from New Age milieu participate as a company and the authors are openly sympathizing to such ideas. There also might be occult press edited by New Age institutions. It is obvious that secular mass media is searching for the topics that are well sold. The occultism seems to be among these topics together with the new religious movements.

A journalist that I interviewed is producing a publicist broadcasting in one of the commercial TVs told me that these topics are quite interesting for the audience. One episode in her broadcasting was dedicated to the Unification church with the story of a young man who left the movement; the other episode was about the house where spirits live and the well-known clairvoyant who tried to “clean” it. These episodes were shown in the commercial TV but according to their author they were not successful or they hadn’t attracted the expected audience. The episode about the man who committed suicide in the store and his charismatic leader has attained much more attention from the audience. According to the journalist this event was the topic of that week. [6] This raises questions about popularity of occult ideas and what kinds of people are attracted by these ideas. According to this journalist the episodes about the extra powers of some people attracted people with the similar characteristics. According to her, the episodes about clairvoyants usually attract specific audience that as an effect of snowball gives other topics for the program, but, from the commercial side, such episodes usually do not pay.  She also expressed an opinion that journalists are wrongly accused by the members of the Church about attempts to popularize the occultism.

There are also occult mass media broadcastings in two different commercial TVs and that have attracted audience of accordingly to the popularity of the TV channel. These broadcastings are on air for the second year. Their ratings are not very high but stable and this also might indicate the group of the society interested in occultism. There are few journals that might be entitled as occult press that usually advertises the services of people with extraordinary powers.

The adherents of occultism and the development of New Age milieu

The last census of 2001 did not raise questions about the religious identity of the society – it is mainly Roman Catholic. It also doesn’t reveal a lot of so-called religious movements that refer to New Age milieu – Sai Baba organization with one hundred members and Osho movement with 12 members are the only ones visible. It also might be observed that the Census found around three hundred persons who said that they are “Christians” and 15 percent of those who did not indicate their religious affiliation or did not affiliate themselves to any religious community.[7]  It might be suggested that the largest part of the New Age milieu adherents are among these Census respondents.

But there is also another part of sympathizers with occultism that is among Roman Catholics. The European Value Survey of 1999 revealed that 76 percent of population believed in life after death, 43 percent believed in reincarnation, 76 believed in telepathy, 33 percent were reading horoscopes every week. The EVS answers also revealed that in 1999 75 percent of population were Roman Catholics, 19 percent were non believers and 6 percent belonged to other communities. [8] It seems that nonofficial religious beliefs are prevalent among those who declare their religious belonging. If such data was obvious already in 2000 why the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church is so overdue? I suggest that one of the answers might be in the role of mass media and its interest in occultism. The other alternative answer is the development of the New Age milieu. Although occultism practice existed in the society as a nonofficial religion even during Soviet regime after its collapse New Age ideas were brought together with the scientific news about extraordinary powers hidden in humans and nature through publications in journals and lectures in the scientific societies. Later the development of New Age entered another stage when the first institutions spreading its ideas where established but still they gained interest from a specific part of society. For instance my research in the audience of the Academy of Parapsychology conducted in 2004 revealed that 88 percent of its adherents are middle aged women with professional education. [9] This research also revealed that the adherents of Academy of Parapsychology were native Roman Catholics (84 percent) and belonged to Roman Catholic Church (78 percent). 80 percent of my respondents were attending lectures in the Academy for already few years. Such kind of research in the Academy might be helpful for characterizing the New Age seeker in Lithuania but it might not be helpful enough describing the religiosity of Lithuanian society and even more stating the revival of occultism.

New Age milieu together with occultism practices in it entered the new stage of development in achieving support from society with the help of secular mass media that gave air for occult broadcasting. In this case the interests of representatives of New Age milieu and the mass media have coincided – both received use – New Age milieu received advertisement and mass media attracted audience. Paradoxically but occult broadcastings have the better time of airing than traditional religions and attract bigger audience. The reasons for that might be a topic for following discussions but from the perspective of religious affairs it seems that modernity with inevitable religious pluralism has reached Lithuania. And rephrasing Berger it might be said that Roman Catholic Church has to try retrieving “lost souls” from the developing New Age milieu.



1.     Tarptautinių žodžių žodynas. 2003. Vilnius: Alma Littera. P.526.

2.     Skinder, Marija. L.Lolišvili – pranašė ar šėtono įrankis. Vakaro žinios. 2003 03 04. Nr. 52.

3.     McGuire, Meredith B. 1992. Religion: the Social Context. Belmont: Wadsworth Publ.Co. P. 108.

4.     Berger, Peter L. 2005. Religinio pliuralizmo amžius. In: Veidas. 2005 05 05, Nr.18.

5.     Lietuvos vyskupų laiškas dėl okultizmo paplitimo. 2005 05 26  In: www.bernardinai.lt

6.     The interview with journalist A.Kudabienė, an author of publicist broadcasting “Antroji banga” (Second wave). Conducted on April 29, 2005.

7.     Official website Department of Statistics to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (Statistics Lithuania)

8.     Žiliukaitė, Rūta. 2000. Religinių vertybių kaita Lietuvoje 1990-1999 metais. In: Kultūrologija. Nr. 6. Vilnius: Gervelė.

9.     Alisˇauskiene˙, Milda. 2004. New Age milieu in Lithuania: the Case of the Academy of Parasychology. A paper presented in 2004 CESNUR conference in Waco, USA.