“Do you know that I shall soon die in terrible pain?” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin is reported to have said, after being stabbed by a girl with no nose, and before being assassinated. “But what can I do? God has sent me to save our dear sovereign and Holy Russia. Despite my terrible sins I am a Christ in miniature.”
At this point in Russian history, the name Rasputin became synonymous with evil. The mere mention of his name caused such suspicious dread among the subjects of the Russian Empire that they dared not pronounce it. They believed, as writer Meriel Buchanan wrote, “That by doing so they brought down ill luck on their heads.” When the inevitable subject arose, they referred to him as ‘The Unmentionable,’ ‘the Nameless One’, and they did so in whispers.
“Reports of Rasputin’s life are not ‘history’; they are the clash of history with subjectivity.” –historian Colin Wilson.
Whether history or not, the reports of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin would prove to be such a source of speculation and intrigue that they would secure for him an influential role in the Russian Empire, and a place in history. As the prolific English writer and historian Colin Wilson, writes the eye-witness accounts, and second hand reports, are so varied with subjectivity, and agendas, that it’s difficult to know the absolute, irrefutable truth of any of them.
One could say as much with just about every historical figure, but the details of the Rasputin story are so debatable, and so fraught with folklore, that any writer reporting on him should be required to write qualifiers such as “alleged” or “according to sources …” before each report. While that may provide the author of such a piece some latitude in his reporting, it does not provide for very smooth reading. With the idea that every writer wants a compelling read coupled with factual accuracy, the best thing we can do is cite sources, footnote quotes, and provide quality attribution. The author of the book Rasputin: The Untold Story, Joseph T. Fuhrmann does this well without too much distraction. Fuhrmann also lists off some probabilities regarding the various incidents, and their various testimonials, and he attempts to prove, and disprove, them all as possibilities.
There are a number of stories regarding Rasputin’s short life, but three launched him to his current, infamous stature in history. The first, called the Miracle at Spala, occurred in a small village called Spala, in which Rasputin was alleged to have cured the Tsar Nicholas II’s son of hemophilia; the second was Rasputin’s resultant influence over the Tsar Nicholas Romanov’s actions leading up to, and throughout, the portion of World War I Rasputin survived; and the last concerned the alleged reports of Rasputin’s murder.
A Special Child
Some accounts of the Rasputin story –which includes a much talked about movie– state that Rasputin was inspired to become what he became as a result of the death of a twin brother. Fuhrmann, asserts that it was not the death of a twin, or even a brother, named Dmitry, but a cousin named Dmitry, that changed the life of Grigori Rasputin. This would prove to be a minor distinction in that the other retellings match Fuhrmann’s assertion that it was the death of Dmitry that caused Rasputin feelings of depression and alienation that would mark him for the rest of his life. The incident that led to his cousin’s drowning also caused what could be termed a natural speculation in Rasputin regarding why his life had been spared in the incident. This speculation led Rasputin to the unnatural, or supernatural, belief that he had been spared as a result of God’s special purpose for him.
Rasputin’s mother would encourage, or propagate, this speculation, informing Rasputin that he had been endowed with mystical gifts from birth. His mother would claim that a comet rippled across the sky at the moment of his birth on January 10, 1869.
“A shooting star of such magnitude that had always been taken by the God-fearing muzhiks as an omen of some momentous event,” she is quoted as saying.
Fuhrmann writes that there is no record of any comets on the date of Rasputin’s birth.
Rasputin’s mother can be forgiven for such speculation, as Grigori would prove to be the one child of nine, and an alleged other sister, to survive infancy. One could speculate that with such sorrow inflicted upon a young woman, losing seven, perhaps eight children, Rasputin’s mother couldn’t help but assign a certain degree of specialness to the one child who survived the conditions that took the others. The others, who surrounded Rasputin in his youth, should not be afforded the same latitude, for they would encourage the belief that the young Rasputin was gifted with the ability to read minds, and/or “see things that others could not” without the heartache to influence it.
This fervent belief in a grand design for his life, led Rasputin to believe that he was not just special in God’s eye, but that he was so special that he was above God’s judgment.
Fuhrmann asserts that Rasputin’s belief in religion may have been deep, and humble, at one time, but he began to “embrace the dark side, regarding it as a trial sent by God” over time. Rasputin didn’t see temptation as a trial of personal morality, in the manner a mere mortal may, but as a test sent by God to His chosen one. Rasputin made claims that his sexual encounters were sins he took upon himself, to relieve others of such weight.
After having relations with two girls, who happened to be sisters, –one twenty, the other fifteen– Rasputin informed their mother:
“Now you may feel at peace. The day of salvation has dawned for your daughters.”
“At least those two girls, (and the other reported sexual conquests) were willing,” writes Fuhrmann, as were the two nuns that Rasputin audaciously kissed publicly, but one girl was not. This girl charged:
“That Rasputin took her to his cellar and raped her.” Rasputin “Told the young girl, at the end of that episode, that there was no sin in what they had done; and that they had simply been celebrating the Holy Trinity.”
Rasputin statements about taking sins upon himself, and the declarations he made after these sexual trysts, may seem ostentatious manipulations to some, and they may have been, but they may have also been influenced by Rasputin’s loose adherence to the beliefs of a Russian sect called Khlysty.
The Khlysty and Sexual Spirituality
Khlysty was an underground, anti-church sect that engaged in sexual trysts as a ritualistic exercise. It involved dancing in a whirling motion until one got so dizzy that they fell to the floor. Once on the floor, the participants were instructed to engage in sexual intercourse with the person closest to them. Their goal, in performing this ritual, was to procure a “transcendental energy flowing through the arc” to achieve a peculiar and extreme religious state. They called this moment a spiritual frenzy that they believed would bring all participants closer to God. They also believed that by attaining the “dark knowledge” of sinning one could become more familiar with the nature of sin, and this level of familiarity would then allow them to purge it from the heart and be saved.
That Rasputin disavowed any participation in this Khlysty sect throughout his life, may have had something to do with the fact that it was outlawed in Russia at the time. This illegality led to its members being either arrested, or killed, and if Rasputin showed any allegiance to this outlawed sect, it would inhibit his ability to become influential later in life. It may have also had something to do with the fact that Rasputin regarded himself as a leader and not a follower. Rasputin was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church his entire life, but he didn’t view himself as a follower of the religion, but a leader that was never officially ordained by a church. He would, instead, develop his own following, that some believe was influenced by the Khlysty, without, Fuhrmann stipulates, the sexual portion of the Khlysty’s ritual.
This is not to suggest that Rasputin refrained from sexual activity with his followers, but he considered that sexual activity to be a more tangential aspect to his religion than did the Khlysty. Rasputin was a married man for much of his life, but he and his wife recognized the adultery, and flagrant sexual activity, as something Rasputin was forced to endure to relieve his followers of the dark knowledge of sin.
The teaching that sexual activity was, at least, a tangential part of the path to learning sin and receiving redemption from its knowledge –coupled with the fact that he gained quite a female following– has led many historians to speculate that his followers, a majority of which were female, may have been attracted to the quality of his leadership by way of his alleged large sexual organ. The theory being that with his endowment Rasputin could provide greater assistance to those female followers seeking to learn the depths of dark knowledge through greater states of ecstasy, and its subsequent spirituality.
The theories abound on whether this holy relic still exists, and if it does, what happened to it. One theory has it that those Russian soldiers who were called to the scene of Rasputin’s murder, stripped the dead carcass of Rasputin’s body bare, soon after death, and began measuring the enormous artifact with a brick. It was then alleged to have been cut off and stolen from the scene by a servant who preserved it in formaldehyde, after which a group of a Russian women then preserved the holy relic in Paris throughout the 1920’s, until it could be displayed, in a proper fashion, in an Erotica Museum in Saint Petersburg where it now rests, and is now regarded with great respect by a group of Rasputin’s devotees. The author Fuhrmann claims that the museum’s explanation, and all other explanations regarding its veracity, have never been proven to satisfaction.
Dispelling the Myths of the Mad Monk
The author goes through many of the debatable aspects of Rasputin’s life to prove the many things that he was not. He cannot be called a “Mad Monk”, for example, because he was never ordained as a monk. He was, at his pinnacle, nothing more than a starets, which was an informal title given by followers to one who advises or teaches. Fuhrmann also points out that Rasputin was not illiterate on the day he died, as many have suggested in a narrative that suggests that he was nothing more than an “illiterate peasant who rose to some of the greatest positions in the Russian Empire”. Fuhrmann writes that Rasputin received no formal education, but he did learn how to read, though never to the point that one regard him as well-educated.
In some portrayals of Rasputin, some speculate that his malevolence was intentional, and that he was the monster that many paint him as in their monster stories. Others suggest that Rasputin loved the Russian Empire as much as any of his fellow countrymen, and that he always had the best intentions when he advised the Romanovs. With his education, and his experiences in life, Rasputin just wasn’t qualified to be an adviser, as many of the Tsar’s advisers warned him. The fact that the Tsar took Rasputin’s advice over his more qualified advisers on some matters, and that that eventuated in the fall of the Russian Empire, is as much the fault of the Tsar’s for falling prey to the mystique of Rasputin, as it is Rasputin’s, if not more so.
For all that Rasputin was not, however, the one thing that can be stated about Rasputin, without refutation, is that he was a “right place, right time” mystical charlatan. In Rasputin’s Russia, Ouija boards, mystics, and holy men were nothing new, but when combined that with the strides that the rest of the world was making in science and medicine in that era –manipulating God’s power as it were– even the educated class was beginning to wonder how much of a leap it would be for one man to now manipulate God’s power in mystical ways. It was the first era in which electricity began to be manipulated in a safe manner; it was the first era in which automobiles began to roll off assembly lines; and it was also an era in which numerous other tremendous leaps in man’s ingenuity with respect to harnessing God’s power for everyday use began to occur. Learned men understood the principles of physics these ingenious men were manipulating, but most of the rest of the world just stood by in silent awe struggling to understand how these incomprehensible leaps could be made in the outside world. So, when Rasputin stepped into this chasm of confusion, at the right place and time in history, to “cure” or “heal” an ailing young boy of his hemophilia, he did so to an awed audience that was just beginning to believe that it wasn’t as far-fetched as previous generations may have believed for one man to harness God’s healing powers.
Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2013. Print.