Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala


“How could they have been so stupid?” students of history say when they learn of the conclusion of some of history’s greatest stories, and her victims. “How could they not have known?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it can lead the observer to believe that they are smarter than the greatest minds in sports, politics, and history. Hindsight can lead us to call the brightest minds and most celebrated figures of history stupid, incompetent, and inept.

“How could the Romanovs have failed to see Rasputin for what he was?” students of history will ask as they page through the history of the Russian Empire, the Romanovs, and their association with the “Mad Monk” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. “All the signs were there. Why did they ignore, or fail to grasp the totality of what Rasputin was on about?” 

There may be some moments in their brief history together, where a student of history sympathizes with the Romanovs, but for the most part, they will key in on those moments when the Romanovs proved most vulnerable to the “Mad Monk’s” displays of “other worldly” powers of healing to launch himself into a powerful, and influential, position in the Russian Empire and say, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, most historical figures are “right place, right time” opportunists defined by their ability to take advantage of windows of opportunity in their era, and for those that would go on to achieve infamy, the ability to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable moments. Adolf Hitler, it could be said, never would’ve risen to power were it not for the vast vulnerability Germany found itself in, in the aftermath World War I and The Depression, and an illiterate peasant from Pokrovskoye, named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, may never have risen to historical status were it not for one sick, young child.

A Sick, Young Child

In Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s book Rasputin: The Untold Story, we learn that Rasputin’s window of opportunity occurred when Tsar Nicholas II’s son Alexis suffered a serious attack of hemophilia that began at a hunting preserve in a Russian village called Spala on October 2, 1912.

“This particular attack,” Fuhrmann writes, “was not life-threatening, and Rasputin never “cured” or “healed” the Tsarevich (son of the Tsar) of his hemophilia on this, or any other, occasions. The Tsarevich Alexis Romanov had hemophilia the day he was born, until the day he died.” 

In the space of all of the men of medicine attempting to alleviate Alexis of the pain of the symptoms of this particular attack, however, a peasant from Pokrovskoye stepped forward and did something to provide the boy some temporary relief, and that something that he did would eventually enshrine the name Rasputin in history.

As the author writes numerous times throughout the book, it’s impossible to know with absolute certitude what that something was. We can speculate from accounts witnessed and recorded by friends of the empire, and we can sort through the accounts put forth by family members, and others in the empire, but for the most part we are left to speculate, because the Romanovs were so isolated from even the surrounding communities of the Empire, that all historical accounts of this era can be characterized as speculative. The very idea that Alexis was sick was a state secret that the Romanov family kept hidden from the rest of the country. It is the speculation of what Rasputin did, however, that has made the story of Rasputin so intriguing for so many, for near one-hundred years.

How Did He Do it?

Did Rasputin drug the young Tsarevich to health? Was it an hypnosis technique that Rasputin is purported to have studied throughout the course of his life? Was there some form of auto-suggestion that Rasputin used to manipulate Alexis’ mind in a manner that no one in the age knew, so they assigned supernatural, and/or mystical qualities to Rasputin’s actions? Or, did he, in fact, possess those mystical powers that he claimed to have since childhood, and that he ended up using on the young Tsarevich?

Some claim that Rasputin may have had a friend inside the empire who administered drugs to the young Tsarevich, and that Rasputin knew enough about the effects of the medicine to have its effects coincide with Rasputin’s arrival.

Some claim that an auto-suggestion technique employed by Rasputin, calmed the notorious nerves of the mother, Alexandra, and that she conveyed such assurances to her son Alexis, who then calmed to a degree that his blood calmed and the issue passed. This theory also holds true in modern science when they speak about the power of prayer, the placebo effect, and the psychological belief of healing, that led the young Tsarevich to believe he was healed. If Alexandra believed Rasputin could cure Alexis, and she conveyed this belief onto Alexis, Rasputin’s ability to heal Alexis could prove to be greater than those of all the other doctors involved.

Others suspect that Rasputin benefited from some other form of incidental coincidence, or intended coincidence. Those that suspected Rasputin of intentional coincidence, claim that he may have known more about the illness hemophilia than anyone else in the empire, doctors included, and that he knew the precise time to make an appearance in accordance with a lessening of pain to have “the cure” attributed to his presence.

Others claim that the time Rasputin spent mourning the death of his cousin Dmitry led him to ostracize himself from those in his village, and that he sought the comfort of horses. While gaining the favor of horses, and their owners, Rasputin learned horse whispering techniques to calm horses, and that he employed these tactics to calm the Tsarevich Alexis, and thus relieved him from some of the more painful symptoms of hemophilia.

For his part, “Rasputin never claimed to have worked miracles on the boy.” He kept what modern readers would term a political distance from self-aggrandizement, and he allowed those around the incident to fill in the blanks for him. “He claimed that God, alone, could perform miracles. He insisted that his healings were nothing more than manifestations of God’s will,” and by saying such things Rasputin remained in good stead with the Tsar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, that never stated that Rasputin was a saint, or anything more than human, but they did believe that he had spiritual gifts that were made apparent during the miracle at Spala. They also, we can assume, asked the question what’s more important engaging in the debate of Rasputin’s role in the health of their son, or the health of their son? The one thing they knew was that when Rasputin was near their son, he suffered less.

Why was Rasputin Chosen?

Some might speculate that by the time that the incident at Spala occurred, the Romanovs reached a point of desperation, and that they Rasputin as their last, best hope, and that they had little choice in the matter when Rasputin proved to be a healing agent in the years that followed. If it’s true that the Romanovs met Rasputin on a number of occasions prior to the incident at Spala, and as Fuhrmann points out they were afforded a number of opportunities to see “the real” Rasputin firsthand. If that’s true, why did they keep him around? Why was Rasputin afforded the chance to “heal” or “cure” Alexis in the first place? If there were that many men vying for the position of Holy Fool in the Empire, how did a semi-literate peasant from Pokrovskoye rise to the top?

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, Rasputin was characterized as an illiterate to semi-literate peasant, with no formal attachments to religion, or formal education, and some would suggest that these characteristics would forever lead to Rasputin and the Romanovs down separate paths. Others would suggest that it was these very characteristics that led Rasputin to gain entrance into the Empire.

As with every aspect of this story, some of the answers of why the Romanovs continued to have some faith in Rasputin lies in conjecture, some in speculation, but knowing human nature the way we do, we can speculate that a “more normal” citizen of St. Petersburg, with “equivalent mystical powers” but a more sensible haircut, and a normal temperament, may not have been regarded for this particular position in a serious manner. We can assume that the Romanovs wanted someone that had a mysterious air about them, someone that looked a little more bedraggled, and wild. They wanted someone who fit their perceptions of what it took to fit the role of Holy Fool in the empire.

Rasputin, as witnesses suggest, often smelled like a goat, his hair was famously unkempt, he did not bathe often, picked his nose in polite company, criticized and seduced women in public, and often had food in his beard, but he also had a “Blazing gaze in his magnetic light colored eyes,” and people stated that he could dilate his eyes at will. Rasputin, it could be said, fit the mold of the “Holy Fool” the Romanovs sought, as if by central casting.

One can also guess that the Romanovs chose Rasputin to stick around, to “heal” their son based on the same unintended condescension that leads some to believe that the uneducated are superior in spiritual mediums, and more in tune with God than those focused on more formal training. The Romanovs were given to the very natural speculation, we all are, that those not attuned to standardized measures of intelligence, are attuned to something different, something greater, and something their more normal citizens would never be able to understand. One can also guess that some degree of privileged guilt caused Alexandra, and Rasputin’s eventual followers, to assign superhuman, spiritual qualities to Rasputin in the same manner the modern day American attaches exotic and spiritual characteristics to children, the indigent, and those with characteristics deemed foreign to our experience. It’s an unintended form of condescension that derives from the guilt of the haves when dealing with the have nots, and if the have nots play it in a strategic manner, as Rasputin did, the process can provide benefits to both parties involved.

Fuhrmann provides the impression that had Tsar Nicholas II been in total control of the interaction between Rasputin and the empire, Rasputin may never have achieved influence he did in the Empire. Nicholas’ philosophy of life, Fuhrmann writes, was guided by the “Classic Russian acceptance of fate (sudba), God’s will, or the force that ruled the cosmos.” Nicholas saw to it that Alexis’ fate was not unnecessarily precipitated, but Nicholas was not one to believe that he, nor any other human, could control fate in any manner. Tsarista Alexandra, however, was not guided by the same beliefs. She was more prone to believe in what she saw as proactive measures. She believed that fate could be controlled, and altered, through prayer, and she believed that what God needed to work his miracles was a spiritual conduit, in the manner she believed a illiterate, bedraggled peasant could best provide, and it was probably Alexandra’s belief that Rasputin fit this somewhat unintended, unspoken, and condescending mold.

Most readers who have had a near-death experience with their child will find some sympathy with Alexandra’s desperation to save, or at least relieve her only son of pain. Readers may extend further sympathies when they learn that Alexandra’s knew her genes caused her son, the Tsarevich Alexis, the heir to the throne, this severe case of hemophilia. They may further sympathize with Alexandra’s desperation after the Empire’s doctors informed her that there was little they could do to ease her son’s suffering. They may sympathize with Alexandra’s desire to keep Rasputin around after the “Miracle at Spala”, and they may forgive her for being so grateful to the man that she ended up allowing him to influence her mind on matters on the empire in a manner she allegedly shared with Tsar Nicholas II to make, but there will be those moments in which the reader, knowing how this story turned out, will say to themselves, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

Next: Part III: The Fall of Rasputin

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.  2013. Print.

 

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Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises


“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 had become 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. 

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

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 author, of any story, wants a compelling read coupled with factual accuracy, the best thing any author 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 much of 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, 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, Rasputin’s speculation, informing him 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 of nine children, 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 that survived the conditions that took the others. The others, that 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, that 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 could one know sin, and thus 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 happened to never be ordained by a church. He would, instead, develop his own following, that some believe was influence by the Khlysty, without, Fuhrmann stipulates, the sexual portion of the Khlysty’s ritual.

This is not to suggest that Rasputin refrained 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 exists, and if it did, what happened to it. One theory has it that those Russian soldiers that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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. Rasputin malevolence was not intentional, or as evil as some have suggested in their attempts to paint him as the monster of their monster stories. He never set out to destroy the Russian Empire, as he loved Russia as much as any of his fellow countrymen. He was just not well-equipped to advise the Russian Empire on their selections of people for powerful positions. The fact that the Romanovs took Rasputin’s advice on such matters, and that that eventuated in the fall of the Russian Empire, is as much the fault of the Romanovs 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 that was combined that with the strides 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 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 it to be for one man to harness God’s healing powers.

Next: Part II: A Miracle at Spala

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2013. Print.