Around the time Russia's financial pyramids crashed five years ago, ruining millions who believed in easy wealth for a handful of rubles, Russian self-styled scientist Aleksandr Golod set about building another kind of miracle pyramid -- out of plastic. He says he is soaking up healing energy from the earth, and many Russians believe him. RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini reports.
Moscow, 19 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Over the past decade, Moscow's western suburbs have come to resemble an architectural playground for the rich, with four-story brick castles with gothic turrets, colonial mansions, and front porches made to look like Captain Hook's ship -- complete with cannons. In that context, a 44-meter gray plastic pyramid is almost a welcome diversion.
Set on a hill overlooking the Moscow-Riga highway, the pyramid has become a draw for pilgrims. Dozens of people visit it every day to absorb what its maker, Aleksandr Golod, calls its "beneficial energy field." People leave their cars parked by the side of the highway, as no exit and no parking spaces are provided. Old babushkas from nearby villages shuffle across the speedway, dodging cars, their hands laden with the five-liter canisters of water they bring to the pyramid for "treatment."
The pyramid, Golod's 17th such structure in Russia, is meant to re-establish world harmony, Golod explains on his English-language website (http://www.glasnet.ru/-abo/english.htm). According to the site, all bad things -- from AIDS to hurricanes to the devaluation of the ruble -- are provoked by the messy mental activity of humans. Since you can't keep people from thinking, the best way to bring the structure of space into harmony, Golod says, is to stand "in the zone of a pyramid's activity."
Visitors walk into the structure of translucent plastic plates through a narrow door. From inside, the pyramid could pass for a storage shed. Sand and bits of stones litter the ground and give the air a dusty smell.
Visitors walk around picking up pebbles, while men in blue uniforms unload crate after crate of bottled mineral water. The five-liter plastic bottles sit in the pyramid for a short time, ostensibly to soak up healing energies, before being moved out again to be sold.
Natalya is in the pyramid for the first time, and she is convinced the atmosphere is beneficial. She takes a few deep breaths of the dusty air.
"Well, coming in here, I can tell you my impressions. Well, in general, on the streets I have the feeling that I'm suffocating, and when I walked in here, right away it was different."
Nikolai, a smartly-dressed man of 50, swears that the pyramid has healing properties. He says he first came here last December.
I had arthritis in my neck, maybe also some heart ailment. I didn't go to see any doctors. But the next morning after visiting the pyramid, I woke up a healthy man. So the pyramid probably has some positive effect."
Nikolai watches carefully over a half-full bottle of water he set up in exact center of the pyramid to soak up positive vibrations. For extra effect, he also collects small stones to set out on a plate at home.
Next time, he says, he'll take his children along for "pyramid treatment" before sending them off to summer camp, where food poisoning is a common ailment.
No proof has been offered that the pyramid has any effect on health whatsoever. Isn't this just a hoax meant to fill one scientist's pockets by capitalizing on people's despair?
Nikolai says no. He points out that entrance to the pyramid is free, and no one is forced to buy souvenirs.
A makeshift stand outside sells other objects that are said to have been "treated by the pyramid." For example, little pebbles -- about a dollar each -- are supposed to create a safe field around any object. The instructions claim that if you put one on your cell phone, it will neutralize the radio waves that are said to cause brain cancer.
Golod suggests using his pebbles to combat world disasters like wars and pollution, and offers to export pyramid product to the United States, Germany, and Australia. He suggest lining the borders of a city or even a country with stones that have been inside the pyramid. He says people will live longer and earthquakes will be weaker.
The pyramid 30 km outside of Moscow was finished at the end of last year, just in time to capitalize on millennium-inspired interest in the unexplained. It is Golod's seventeenth such pyramid -- for an overall investment of almost $2 million -- and it is also the best visited.
Some people, like Nikolai, visit the pyramid as regularly as they go to church. Nikolai, who calls himself a practicing Orthodox Christian, says "the pyramid is the temple of Nature's forces" and is compatible with the force of God.
But at least one of the pyramid's neighbors disagrees. While Golod set up his million-dollar pyramid last year, the village of Pavlovskoye Sloboda was painstakingly rebuilding its church. The village priest, Father Vladislav, says the pyramid is a demonic object meant to lure Christians away from God with promises of quick and painless healing through pagan practices.
The Russian Orthodox Church as a whole has not yet taken a position on the pyramid movement. Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Patriarchate's External Affairs Department, told RFE/RL that church teachings do not allow placing faith in anything, including natural healing, more than in God.
But he says the church is withholding judgment until more research is done on the pyramid's alleged healing powers.
"It is difficult for me to say anything concerning this pyramid because I haven't seen it. If it turns out that it can have some natural effect, then maybe there's nothing bad about it. But if it's something occult, if some magical symbolism is used, if they call upon invisible spirits, then of course, it can be seen in a negative way. If there's some fake underlying spiritual base to it, then probably the church cannot agree to this."
As much as the pyramid's visitors want to believe in the structure's beneficial effects, its only confirmed results so far are that it indirectly caused at least one death. Sergey Voloshin, a cook for a summer camp near Moscow, recently set off to visit the pyramid to try to cure his recurring bouts of nausea. He made it only halfway across the five-lane highway before he was hit by a car.