Historical Suicidology: Investigating Self Immolation of the Old Believers

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Abstract

The paper reviews the main stages of suicide preparation and suicidal acts of the Old Believers. Historical discoveries and psychological research outcomes are combined in this investigation in the attempt to understand mass ritual suicide of the Old Believers in the 17th—18th centuries, an essential phenomenon in the church's past. It was mentors (monastic elders) who played a leading role in these self-immolations and possessed all necessary knowledge, including the technology for building special self-immolation constructions ('zgorely dom') as well as military skills necessary for defending these constructions. But even more crucial were their techniques of psychological indoctrination of peasants gathering around the self-immolation constructions. These techniques involved creating an atmosphere of utmost pessimism, restrictions on food, executing various rites. Special units that were sent to stop self-immolation were perceived as the invasion of hostile power (the world of Antichrist) and almost inevitably expedited the tragic end. All this finally prolonged the epidemic of mass self-immolations and led to the emergence of other types of ritual suicide.

General Information

Keywords: suicide, eschatology, Old Belief, preaching, isolation

Journal rubric: Empirical Research

Article type: scientific article

For citation: Pulkin M.V. Historical Suicidology: Investigating Self Immolation of the Old Believers. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2012. Vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 96–103. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

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Information About the Authors

M. V. Pulkin, PhD in Psychology, Moscow, Russia, e-mail: vmp@sampo.ru

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