Estonians desert Church but pay to 'commune' with angels

While church attendance has sharply declined in Estonia in the last century, belief in things mystic and spiritual has gained ground in the small Baltic state -- including paid sessions to talk to one's personal angel.

A dozen Estonians sprawled on the floor of a room in the capital's National Library to learn more about this hotline to the heavens.

They closed their eyes and, under the careful, soft-spoken guidance of Katlin Roovik, tried to commune with the angels and gain greater belief in "self."

"Ask your angel to guide and help you. We will take a trip to the magic garden and, when we return, all the bad from our past will be behind us," 30-year-old Roovik urged her audience of businessmen, teachers and an opera singer during a three-hour session.

Roovik asks 16 euros (20 dollars) for a three-hour lesson, or 75 euros for a day-long chance to get in touch with your own angel -- a hefty fare in a country where the average monthly wage is 600 euros, according to the national statistics office.

"I don't hesitate to ask people to pay - it teaches them to invest in themselves," Roovik said.

After a few minutes in the "magic garden," the trainee angel-communicators opened their eyes and shared their feelings.

The more accomplished angel-chatters claimed they had seen -- as instructed by their trainer -- an entire rainbow of colours as they cavorted in the garden.

They urged newcomers, who complained that the scene before their tightly shut eyes had remained monochrome, to be patient, that the angels will come and bring with them the entire spectrum of light and colour -- as well as other benefits.

"Whether you believe it or not, the angels are out there. Everyone has at least one angel. My mission is to teach people how they can put angels to work for them," Roovik, who insists Archangel Michael has attended her workshops, told AFP.

The Estonian-born, South African-trained aminologist -- studier of angels, if you will -- had returned to her native country from Norway, her current home, to hold a series of workshops.

"On Sundays ... most churches in Estonia are almost empty," Lutheran pastor Toomas Paul told AFP.

Prior to World War II, most of Estonia's slightly more than one million people belonged to the Lutheran Church, and nearly 300,000 made regular, financial contributions to the Church.

When the Soviet occupation ended in 1991, less than 60,000 Estonians still paid into the Church collection boxes. Last year, the number had dropped to just 40,000.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Estonians believe in paranormal healing with hands, a quarter believe in ghosts, and more than half in aliens, Paul said, citing a recent survey.

"When the traditional Church is not so visible any more, belief in all kinds of paranormal things and supplementary beliefs become more prevalent," Paul said.

"It's easy to make those beliefs attractive by combining them with modern 'scientific' terms like 'cosmic power' or 'bio-energy'," he added.

Church and individual wealth were frowned on during Soviet rule. Paul surmised that the growing belief in the paranormal at the expense of the Church could be down to an increase in materialism.

"Christian Churches don't say our belief can grant success in business, for instance, but in old Estonian mythology and pagan rites, there was great belief in the little mystic helpers who could help you to gain wealth," said Paul, who writes columns on religious and social affairs.

At the angel evening in Tallinn, 51-year-old IT manager Katrin Ilison said she had left the Church for the angels because "the traditional Church is too restrictive."

The angels, she said, had given her concrete "proof that heaven exists", going on to reinforce Paul's viewpoint that people are driven largely by the rapid and tangible results they believe they get from the angels.

"A few days ago, the angels helped me to get very cheap airline tickets to go to a conference I had been invited to. The offer came to my email just hours after I had bemoaned that I couldn't afford the cost of getting there," she explained.

"I didn't ask a travel agency for help, I asked the angels!" Ilison said.