Updated at 16:26,22-05-2019

The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures

Siarhiej Leskiec, The Guardian

Photographer Siarhiej Leskiec has spent four years documenting ancient eastern European healing practices, speaking to the women who believe they have God-given powers to heal the sick and exorcise evil

Babka Alena

‘I was the youngest child in our family. My dad was able to heal cattle; my mother treated people and assisted in childbirth. For a long time I did not want to be a healer. I was ashamed and afraid. Then Jesus came to me and said: “Alenka, you must help people and cattle. Don’t worry, I will help you”. Since then I have been a whisperer’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Yanina
‘My husband was seriously ill for a very long time; nothing helped him. The doctors said that they could not do anything for him. I began to whisper in the water and gave him this water to drink – and then he got better. After this people from the neighbouring villages and towns came to me and asked me to whisper in the water. Now I am very old and whispering takes a lot of energy. I have to go into the forest to gather strength. That makes me feel better and I can carry on’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Yanina
‘My uncle taught me to whisper. He was a powerful sorcerer. He knew words that you could say to paralyse a snake. I am able to heal tumours, fears, nerves and stammering. God gave me my gift when I became blind’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Nadzeja
‘My mother’s gift was feared because of the times she lived in: the Soviet government did not recognise anything holy. During the war I fought as a partisan against the Nazis, and then worked in the school. People would laugh at me when they found out about my gift but when they asked for help I could not refuse them. Sadly, I could not help my family. Whispers only help strangers’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Stasia
‘My Catholic family was very religious, but I lost my mother when I was three and my father when I was seven, and I became an orphan. Most whisperers are Orthodox not Catholic. When I was older my mother-in-law and two old women in my village taught me to whisper, and how to burn threads and use smoke to heal people’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Fiadora
‘I never went to school, not even once. When I was young times were hard, and children had to work. For 12 years I looked after cows in return for food. It was my grandmother who showed me how to use herbs and taught me to whisper. It was all word of mouth, because I can’t read. I only treat people when I know I will be able to help them’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Katia
‘There was a communist in our village called Misha. One day he mowed the grass near the river and he was bitten by a snake. He became really ill and was close to death. He sent his wife to me, to ask for help. I was scared because he was a Communist. They disliked us believers so much; they mocked us, closed churches and sent priests to Siberia. But I could not say no, so I whispered in the water and he drank it and he got better. I don’t know if Misha ever believed in God but he knew the power of the word’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



Babka Maria
Old people who know the word are dying and young people don’t want to learn. They don’t believe. But the evil in the word has not become less. Old people and children come to me every day but I don’t know who will whisper after my death’


The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures



All images by Siarhiej Leskiec
Whispering has pagan origins, but the practice endured into Christianity and took on some of the imagery and iconography of the new religion. Now it is in danger of dying out

The last whisperers of Belarus – in pictures