Rasputin IV: Why is Rasputin Still Famous?

For most of his life, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was little more than a lowly, ill-mannered, poorly educated peasant from the Siberian village of Pokrovsho in the Tyunsky Uyezd of Tobolsk Governate (or for the rest of you the Yarkovsky District of Tyumen Oblast). The very idea that we would still be talking about whether Rasputin we should consider him famous, or infamous, whether he was a good guy or a bad guy, would’ve shocked the Russians, because it means we’re still talking about was a lowly peasant from their era. They probably assumed we’d be talking about one their leaders from the era, their military heroes, their artists, philosophers, or even their murderers, but this lowly peasant wasn’t any of those things. Yet, his story, his legacy, is still the subject of numerous modern movies, bios, news magazine pieces, web articles, and blogs over 100 years after some Russian nobleman, and the richest man in Russia, murdered Rasputin on Dec. 30, 1916. 

6) He Brought Down an Empire. A story about a relatively benign citizen bringing down an empire would be noteworthy regardless the circumstances. The idea that a lowly, ill-mannered, poorly educated peasant did it in early 1900’s Russia is one of the primary reasons we’re still fascinated with Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

For a variety of reasons, there will always be gaps between the classes. There are gaps in every country and every era, but the gaps we have now don’t even compare to the cultures and societies of the early 1900’s and before. Russia’s class structure was so entrenched, in the early 1900’s that if a Russian teacher were caught teaching her students that they could be anything they wanted to be, the parents of those students would’ve complained that the teacher was engaging in a very cruel joke. The idea that a commoner, much less a peasant might climb so far up the ladder to one-day advise the ruling family of the empire was likely so far-fetched that they probably never so much as considered it a possibility before. 

While many historians argue about the actual level of influence the peasant we now know as Rasputin exerted on the Romanovs, some of them argue that Rasputin’s murder precipitated the fall of the Romanov Empire. Whether it was a direct result of Rasputin’s influence, his murder, or some sort of tangential influence, I believe the correlation derived from what I now call The Rasputin Paradox.

The Rasputin Paradox occurs when a team uses a scapegoat to explain their relative lack of success. When the leaders of this enterprise found, or take over, an enterprise they believe they were the ones who can lead it to success. When they fail, they might not view the individual they deem responsible for that failure a scapegoat in the purest sense, of course. They do believe that when they remove that person, it will open their path to success. What often happens, shortly after they remove this person, is that they find themselves exposed to blame for anything that goes awry in the aftermath. The leaders might attempt to convince the team members, and themselves, that the scapegoat’s coattails can still be found in the accounting figures, but the team members eventually focus the blame on the remaining leaders.

In the relationship between the Romanovs, Rasputin, and the citizens of Russia, it’s vital to note that the Romanovs may not have ever considered Rasputin a scapegoat in the purest sense. They probably assumed they were doing just fine. The citizens didn’t, and they might have placed an inordinate amount of blame for the ineptitude of the empire on Rasputin. After his murder, however, their perception of glaring failure on the part of the Russian Empire focused squarely on the Romanovs, and it eventually led to their bloody overthrow in a February revolution that started less than two months after Rasputin’s murder.

5) He was a Piece of Junk who Influenced an Empire. Even by the hierarchical standards of early 1900’s Russia, in which they viewed peasants as below vermin, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a slob. He was an ill-mannered poorly educated drunk who stunk. We’ve all met men who have no regard for standards of politeness, but most of them find a way to conceal their ignorant, belligerent ways around women. They may not revere women the way most of us do, but they’re usually respectful in their company, especially if that woman exhibits impressive levels of refinement. No matter how one chooses to characterize refinement, chivalry, or manners, historians suggest Rasputin was likely the exact opposite. Russians reviled him as a sexual deviant. They suggest that he was a little more than a con man who used women to make political connections and gain influence.

When these women recommended Rasputin to the empire, they informed the court that he had the otherworldly powers necessary to help the Romanovs cure their son of hemophilia. When the Romanovs agreed to see him, his appearance before the court must have shocked them. Did they find some way to overlook his characteristics for the presumed benefit of their son, or did his appearance, and the rumors of his demeanor, lead them to presume he was a conduit to otherworldly powers? When the well-mannered, more attractive men, schooled in refined ways stood before the court, detailing the ways they could help Alexei Romanov, the Romanovs were likely more skeptical. What was Rasputin’s appeal? He had a history of “curing” people long before he stood before the Romanovs, and that word-of-mouth surely made it to Alexandra and Nicholas before the interview, but that likely didn’t prepare them for the appearance of this man. When he appeared before them, they likely fell prey to the very human belief that a person who eschews common pleasantries and niceties is more mysterious and more in tune with spiritual and less conventional means of healing. (Most historians suggest that Nicholas never fell under Rasputin’s spell, but Alexandra did.)  

Another element that aided Rasputin’s rise was that the Romanovs were desperate to end the suffering of their child’s pain, and they exhausted the conventional means of the more conventional men of medicine with far more education. Were they so desperate that they were willing to try anything, or were they more susceptible to what they considered the more spiritual means that Rasputin appeared to fulfill? Whatever the case was, Rasputin managed to use this speculation, based on his appearance, to gain more influence in the Russian Empire, and he used it to achieve a place in history for which Russian peasants didn’t even bother dreaming.

4) His Appearance. “Those eyes,” is the first and last thing we say when we see a photo of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. Some have “nice eyes”, others have “striking eyes”, but there is something notable, striking, and unusual going on in Rasputin’s eyes. We don’t know exactly what we’re seeing when we look into those eyes, but we can’t look away. No matter how we look at those eyes, we cannot walk away without thinking that man had a powerful gaze.

We can feel the power of those eyes, just looking at them. A cheap, con man, hypnotist might pay good money to attain those eyes. We can only imagine how Russian citizens must have reacted under their spell, but the photos we now have of Rasputin are black and white. If those eyes were as coal black as they appear in black and white photos, we might almost feel soothed by the certain consistent definition they appear to have. The idea that they were blue, which some describe as an “intensely, cold blue”, as depicted in the colorized version below, must have proved so unsettling that a part of Rasputin’s purported charm and charisma probably came from reassuring those who saw “those eyes” that he meant them no harm.

We all act to enhance and counteract our physical characteristics, and Rasputin might have developed a soothing tone to counteract the imaginations of the spiritual and easily spooked villagers he knew. Coupled with the eyes, we have the long hair, the infamous beard, and overall unkempt appearance, and we assume we have an appearance trapped somewhere between our caricatures of Jesus of Nazareth and Satan. If the eyes were as hypnotic as some suggest, we can imagine that he would be the most memorable person those of the era ever met in any crowd or gathering. Couple his unsettling appearance, with his much talked and charm and charisma, and the rumored size of his member, and we have a figure who left such a profound mark on history that we’re still talking about him 100 years after his death.          

3) He Cured a Child of Hemophilia. As stated in the Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala article, Rasputin never “cured” the tsar’s son Alexei. Alexei Romanov had hemophilia the day he was born, and he died with it. What is not in dispute is the fact that Rasputin temporarily ended the suffering Alexei experienced as a result of the temporary, painful symptoms of hemophilia. How Rasputin accomplished this is the subject of much speculation. (Some suggest Rasputin used horse-whispering techniques to soothe the boy, some say he understood the healing powers of magnetism, and others suggest he knew more about medicine than most of his peers, including the medical professionals of his day).

No matter what he did, the consensus at the time suggests he did soothe the boy into temporary health. Some historians suggest that Rasputin simply called for Alexei’s doctors to stop giving him aspirin, an agent of blood thinning, as we now know. Did Rasputin know more about aspirin than Alexei’s team of doctors, or did he happen upon someone who just happened to theorize that aspirin thins the blood, and Rasputin happened to witness the results that no other medical professional in his era knew?

As a lowly peasant, Rasputin also had less to lose than the medical professionals who were lining up to be a close advisor to the Romanovs. If he failed, he would go back to living the life he always knew, as a peasant. Did he step in and say something as simple as, “Why don’t we try something different?” That might seem so simple, but we can guess that the medical professionals didn’t want to make all of their other colleagues look bad, or they simply followed the “proper diagnosis” of hemophilia by giving Alexei aspirin. Our modern minds suggest this is less a compliment to Rasputin’s ability and/or know how and more a critique of the medical knowledge of the era. If this speculation is true, we might regard Rasputin as nothing more than a right-time, right place charlatan who took advantage of the lack of knowledge in his era to become a close advisor of the tsarina Alexandra Romanov. In light of this theory, we might even consider the “healing” of Alexei a footnote in history.

Historians debate what Rasputin actually did to cure Alexei, but what is not in debate is that everyone from Alexandra on down regarded what Rasputin did amazing, at the least, and miraculous at most. This poorly educated peasant essentially saved the empire by saving their heir to crown, and mother Russia was so grateful that they (Alexandra specifically) awarded him the role of close advisor.

He would use this seat to not only advise Alexandra on how to treat Alexei’s ailments, but some believe he fostered such a quality relationship with her that he began advising her on matters of state. Some believe she would then whisper such advice to Tsar Nicholas II. When the tsar then went to join his fellow countrymen in battle, the tsarina was left in charge, and some believe Rasputin’s influence grew in that capacity. 

Some, including the British Secret Intelligence Service, believed that Rasputin’s influence on Alexandra, and thus Nicholas, was so strong that it might precipitate Russia withdrawing forces in WWI. They believed that Rasputin, for all of his folklore, was actually something of a pacifist, and that he was advising the empire to withdraw its forces from World War I. This conspiracy theory suggests that Britain needed Germany concentrating at least some of their forces on Russia, until the United States would enter the war. This theory suggest that the British Secret Intelligence Service was so worried about Rasputin’s influence on the empire that they might have encouraged, devised, participated in, or financially funded the murder of Rasputin. The author of this theory, Joseph T. Fuhrman, further states that “Britain’s Military Intelligence, Section Six, (MI6), [recently] promised to publish its files on Rasputin’s murder, but it decided to delay it, we can assume, to avoid cooled relations between Moscow and London.”

2) His Murder. “They tried poisoning him, shooting him and drowning him,” my History teacher said, “but Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a man who would not die.” The various stories of the assaults on Rasputin suggest that a prostitute without a nose stabbed him, and that he survived, even though his blood loss was considerable, and his internal organs allegedly fell out.

Two years after the prostitute stabbed him, a team of nobles led by Felix Yusupov, the richest man in Russia, attempted to lace his tea and cakes with cyanide to assassinate him. When Rasputin showed no signs of succumbing to the cyanide, they upped the dose they put it in his wine. When that didn’t produce immediate results, they tried stabbing him, and then they tried shooting him. They shot at him five times, and three of those shots hit. He was not dead at this point, allegedly, so they tried clubbing him to death. Convinced that he was finally deceased, the team of assassins rolled him up in a carpet and threw him in the Malaya Nekva river. Some speculate that he was not dead when he hit the water, and that he drowned or died of hypothermia. My History teacher added to this myth stating that “The assassins secured Rasputin in this carpet with chains connected to concrete blocks that they hoped would bound him to the bottom of the river.” The History teacher added that when Russian officials were finally able to crack through the Malaya Nekva river to retrieve the body, they found the carpet, the cinder blocks, and the chains, but they found no body.

“Is he alive today?” one of my fellow students asked.   

“They never found a body,” our teacher answered.

Even if only one-tenth of this story is true, we thought, it’s quite a tale. Historians suggest that it might be quite a stretch to say one-tenth of that tale is true. They all agree that a prostitute with no nose stabbed him, but they suggest that it’s debatable that his interior organs fell out. They agree that a team of assassins gathered to poison, stab, and shoot him. They agree that the nobles shot at him, five times, and three hit. The historical accounts we’ve read suggest that the final shot, the one delivered execution style to the forehead, killed Rasputin. The autopsy report, these reports say, confirm that. The historians suggest that it’s plausible, due to the dose of cyanide and the locations of the bullets on Rasputin’s body, that any mere mortal could’ve survived in the short-term, but that Rasputin would’ve eventually succumbed to them. They suggest that when Rasputin didn’t die immediately, the team of assassins panicked. They may have assumed that Rasputin’s much-speculated supernatural powers kept him alive through all that. Historians speculate that much of what followed Rasputin’s demise, including the clubbing and chaining him to the bottom of the river was based on irrational fears that led the assassins to some literal measures of overkill.   

No matter the much-debated truth of the matter, the myth of the man who couldn’t be killed, and wouldn’t die, fascinates us so much that it comprises much of the reason we’re still reading and writing about him over 100 years after his murder.

The myth of the man who wouldn’t die also probably influenced the writers of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. For many of us the details of how Rasputin lived pale in comparison to the manner in which he was killed. He was the original Man Who Wouldn’t Die. As discussed throughout this article and Rasputin III: The Murder of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, there is speculation, interpretation of eyewitness accounts, and myths surrounding Rasputin’s. There are some facts, such as those detailed in the autopsy report, and official reports, but are those facts? We might never know for sure, but the one thing we do know is most great story tellers don’t let facts get in the way of a great story.

1) The Myth. Some might say the man who wouldn’t die is the number one reason the fascination surrounding Rasputin might never die, but I believe it is a combination of all of the above. If, for example, Rasputin managed to leap through the strict class structure of his culture to the roles of advisor to the empire and Holy Fool, he saved the life of the tsar’s son, and he escaped death a couple of times, but he looked like Jimmy Carter, it might have affected his historical value. The fact that not only are the facts of Grigori Rasputin’s story a little spooky, but he looked creepy and spooky ups his historical value exponentially.  

The Russian Empire, at the time of Romanov rule, was so mired in secrecy that we will never know the truth of what happened during these years. The problem with a government that engages in secrecy is that folklore, myths and conspiracy theories fill the gaps. Yet, we do have to sympathize with the Romanovs for how damaging would it be for them to release information that when the Romanovs finally produced a male heir that he was constantly on the verge of death, until a “lower than vermin” peasant came along and “cured” him. It would do nothing but damage their cause to publicly admit, or historically record that crown, or the court, received advice from a peasant on state matters. When we gather all of the secondhand information together, and we couple it with the notion that some of the information we have about Rasputin, the Romanovs, and their relationships was likely spread by the regime that took over after the revolution to advance their own agenda further complicates any attempts at separating fact from fiction. Even if one tenth of these tales are true, they’re so wild and fascinating that we’ve been passing it down for over 100 years, and those who hear these stories will probably be passing them on for 100 more.  

Is Elon Musk Rasputin or Cosmo Kramer?

How many of us thought we would not live long enough to see the mind-blowing innovations displayed in countless sci-fi movies? How many of us thought we’d live to see portable communication devices that we could put in our pocket? How many of us considered self-driving cars and vision phones where we could see the person on the other end of the line? How many of us thought we’d have a computer in just about every home? How many of us thought with all these wild innovations that defied boundaries that we would all be wearing silver suits while watching TV, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes in the distant year 2000? If you watched movies or TV during the bygone era, you knew these were the visions of life on Earth in the future.

Photo courtesy of American Conservative

How many of us now laugh when we picture our deceased relatives trying to figure out how to use our current innovative gadgets? Our generation now knows that these sci-fi movies portrayed life in the 2000s correctly in some ways and incorrectly in others, but one thing they were right about is we know more technological innovation than our forebears did. Even the generation below us is more accustomed to life with such innovation than we were. Walk into any junior high in the country and you’ll witness work in robotics that is no longer speculative. You’ll also witness the work they do with computers that belies the fact that they are so accustomed to computers being a facet of human life that they’ve worked through any intimidation they might have had with the machines a decade before junior high. The question now is are we so accustomed to technological innovation that we’re more open to wild, crazy ideas than every generation before us, and are we so open to it that we leave ourselves susceptible to the possibilities of more from an ingenious charlatan?

The early 1900’s were another period of great innovation. Individuals such as Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford were at the forefront of innovations that intimidated most of their populations. How many of them had a difficult time initially conceiving of the extent of man’s capabilities? How many people thought the advancements made in medicine alone bordered on the heretical? How many of them feared that “modern medicine” was coming close to messing with God’s plan when it came to prolonging life? As the people of that era attempted to come to grips with the advancements man was making in the fields of automation and medicine, the image of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam must’ve danced in their head. Over time, the people of this era became more open to mankind’s ability to make life easier and better for their fellow man through advancement, but were they so open to these ideas that they became more susceptible to proclamations of a charlatan?

Some say the time Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin spent on farms in small, obscure parts of Russia may have helped him understand the healing properties of some natural medicines better than most. Some say that he might have learned hypnosis techniques elsewhere in life, and he understood how to employ it before most understood it. Others suggest he may have learned autosuggestion techniques that some farmers used to calm their horses, and that Rasputin may have used one or all of these techniques to calm the nerves of the mother of the young heir to the Russian Empire. Whatever the case was, his ability to alieve the young heir of some of the symptoms of bad case of hemophilia was a cause célèbre in the nation of Russia. Some honored the great achievement, and others were in awe of the possibilities of what Rasputin could achieve. Some also fear him with that rationale. The largely ostracized Russians believed Rasputin displayed mystical powers, God-given powers. They thought he was a chosen one, and the Russian Empire gave him an influential role in the empire as a result. Some say that this precipitated the decline of the Russian Empire, but others say that implosion was inevitable.

Is Elon Musk our nation’s modern day Rasputin? Rasputin cloaked his rise in mystical wonderment, and Musk drapes himself in the speculative questions of what a genius in the field of technological innovation can achieve. Both men also used their newfound status to make wildly ambitious claims to cause the citizens of their nation to hold them in speculative wonder.

Columnist Norm Singleton paints a far less provocative portrait of Musk in his, Elon Musk is the Cosmo Kramer of Crony Capitalism” column. In it, Mr. Singleton details the wildly ambitious ideas Elon Musk and his fictional counterpart relayed to their respective audience. The difference between the two, of course, is that Cosmo Kramer never received the federal grants the taxpayer has given Mr. Musk to pursue his wildly ambitious ideas. Another difference, and one Mr. Singleton does not explore, is that Mr. Musk has achieved some results that have established him as a certified genius. He founded X.com, which later became PayPal. He has an admirable record of accomplishment at SpaceX and Tesla, and he has a list of accomplishments that no one can deny. Singleton’s column does not focus on that list of accomplishment, but it does challenge the current resume of Elon Musk in a manner that no politician dare explore by asking if Musk’s current accomplishments align with the continued, all too generous federal and state grants he receives. Some might argue that Musk is not a charlatan, because of those accomplishments, and because he actually believes in all of his ideas, but Cosmo Kramer believed his ideas too, and so did Rasputin.

Somewhere on the road to technological innovation, someone (likely a politician) convinced us that if our nation is fortunate enough to house a certifiable genius, we’re going to have to pay for the innovations he creates to make our lives easier and better. We’re not talking about paying for the final product of ingenuity at the proverbial cash register either, though there are some on the consumer end who don’t understand that concept. (They think the corporate responsibility suggests that all online innovation should be free.) We’re talking about taxpayers funding the creative process of the bona fide genius. For those who haven’t read as much as I have about the creative process, artists love to talk about it almost as much as they love creating. They love to talk about their influences, the structured method they used to bring their product to life, and the future projects they have in store for us. If someone were to pay these artists for such talk alone, I think most artists would give up the painstaking process of actual creation and opt for the life of describing their process instead.

Filing for government grants has been around for as long as I’ve been alive, and as one who has never filed for a grant, I will admit ignorance on this topic, but I would think that success in field of receiving successive grants requires constant proof of success on the part of the artist. Enter the technological genius. Many consider Elon Musk the rare innovative genius who should not have to worry about pesky concerns like money. Politicians, specifically, appear to believe that Musk should not have to provide continued results for continued money, apparently, for demanding as much from a technological innovator that promises breakthroughs in science, would be tantamount to career suicide for them.

Norm Singleton concludes his piece by saying that the best thing we could do for Elon Musk is to cut off all government funding for his ventures. Those who believe the concept that if we want technological innovation, we’re going to have to pay for the process, have never heard the quote, “The best we’ll ever see from an individual often occurs shortly after they’ve been backed into a corner.” Those who think the removal of financial support damages the creative process might want to go back and read that quote again. The politician who sticks their neck out to remove federal funding from Elon Musk would risk insulting Elon Musk, and Musk’s lobbying group might mortally wound that politician, but that insult might inspire Musk to prove the politician wrong, and that motivation might drive him to pursue greater profits as a result. Cutting him off from all state and federal funding might also force him to be a more traditional CEO, in that he would be more accountable to disgruntled shareholders, more cognizant of his companies’ profit margins, and it might force him to be more of a results-oriented man and less of a theoretical idea man.

I think Mr. Singleton has a great idea, but in order for his idea to work, he would need to find a significant number of politicians who have the fortitude to say no to an established genius in the field of technological innovation. That politician would also have to fight Musk’s powerful lobbying groups and the stigma of the “against science” label. No, Elon Musk carved out an enviable place by being an established genius. He has also developed an enviable formula for all artistic geniuses to follow. Once a person has established themselves as a bona fide genius (no easy feat to be sure) all that genius has to do is develop some ideas for wildly ambitious projects on a semi-annual basis to achieve headlines in major newspapers that no politician can ignore. Their projects may never see the light of day, but they will secure nonstop funding from easily intimidated politicians.

It may be a gross exaggeration to insinuate that the brilliant, innovative Elon Musk might be a charlatan, but when it comes to securing such regular, enormous chunk of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars, we the people, and our representatives, should hold the prospective recipient guilty until proven innocent.

I may be alone in this regard now, as those in charge of allocating our tax dollars appear unafraid of defying logic, but I hold an achievement devoid government funding in higher regard. As former president, Calvin Coolidge said shortly before his demise, “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.” Perhaps I no longer fit in with these times, but if an entrepreneur states that his or her project made it to the marketplace based on individual ingenuity and sheer grit, I respect that accomplishment more. I also appreciate the effort it takes to pound the pavement and secure private funding, but the Elon Musk methods of convincing a bunch of politicians to part ways with other people’s money seems far too beneficial to all parties involved and way too easy.

Rasputin III: The Murder of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin

“They tried stabbing him, poisoning him, beating him, shooting him five times, and they even tried drowning him,” our history teacher said, “but the Russian peasant named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin refused to die.”

This “The Man who Couldn’t be Killed” introduction to a chapter in Russian history was brought to us by our World History teacher, and it led an otherwise rowdy class of sixteen-year-old boys to be silent. Our teacher enjoyed that for a beat, then went on to fulfill his duty of informing us of all of the other details regarding the life of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, including the fact that some believed Rasputin had powers bordered on the supernatural and that this speculation led some to call him “The Mad Monk”. The teacher’s presentation was quite thorough, but few of us cared about that at the time. We were on the edge of our seats waiting for the conclusion of that “The Man who Couldn’t be Killed” introduction. 

We had no idea that World History could be this compelling. History, some of us realized for the first time, is a collection of stories, and in the hands of a gifted storyteller, some of these stories could be absolutely riveting. As interesting as the tales of Rasputin’s life were, we couldn’t wait for him to conclude that provocative introduction. As soon as our World History teacher concluded with the bullet points of this chapter in World History, and the material that would probably appear on the test, he returned to the tale of “The Man who Couldn’t be Killed”. He did not disappoint.

“After Rasputin’s assassins believed they finally murdered him, they rolled his body up in a carpet. They tied this carpet up with chains connected to concrete blocks that they hoped would bound him to the bottom of the Malaya Nekva River once they threw him in. Due to the weather, Russian officials were not able to search the river for the body for some time. When they were finally able to search it, they found the carpet, the cinder blocks, and the chains, but they never found no body.”

“Is he alive today?” one of my fellow students asked.   

“They never found a body,” our teacher answered.

The silence of the sixteen-year-olds ended, as soon as he said that. Some of us looked at each other with “Wow!” faces, but the rest of us immediately began speculating about what happened. Is he dead? How could he not be? What if he was evil incarnate? You can’t kill something that was never alive. Was he the real life influence for Dracula? Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. As horrifying as those tales were, this really happened, and we didn’t learn this from some crackpot on a late night radio show. We heard this from an esteemed World History teacher. If you doubt what I just told you, we would later tell our friends, take it up with him. Our World History teacher didn’t even try to silence us, as the fervor he created grew to a point that he knew he just created a love of some history in some of us. The volume we reached surely disrupted the other classes across the hall. He didn’t appear to care about any of that in the moment. He obviously enjoyed the looks on our faces, the excited tones of our discussion, and all of the other products of his pitch-perfect presentation on Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, “The Man who Couldn’t be Killed”.


“The truth of Rasputin’s murder,” author Joseph T. Fuhrman suggests, “was not as amazing as the mythology that has surrounded it.”

RasputinWhile it may be true that all of the attempts to kill Rasputin occurred in the manner our history teacher detailed, it is not true, as my history teacher’s verbal commas suggest, that they all occurred on separate occasions.

It is true that Rasputin was stabbed on one occasion, by a prostitute without a nose, but that did not prove fatal. He was shot at five times in the course of one night by a team of nobles led by Felix Yusupov, the richest man in Russia, but two of those shots missed, and two of them penetrated locations that would not have been immediately fatal to any other mortal. It is also true that the conspirators, who would take his life on this fatal night, did try to poison Rasputin, by lacing his tea and cake with cyanide, but it’s conceivable that they failed give him a lethal amount of that poison. When Rasputin showed no signs of succumbing to the cyanide, they upped the dose they put it in his wine. When the poison failed to produce the immediate results they desired, they panicked, and they began shooting at him, and he did survive, but it wasn’t the real life Freddy Krueger/Jason Voorhees-style resurrection my class of sophomore World History students imagined. It was more about the location of the shots, on Rasputin’s body, than anything supernatural, or mystical. One of the bullets, Fuhrmann notes –citing autopsies performed on Rasputin’s body– passed through Rasputin’s stomach and liver, and another passed through his kidney. Neither of those bullets proved to be fatal, as they wouldn’t have on any other mere mortal, but they would’ve … given enough time.

In the intervening minutes that occurred after the first shot –that went through his stomach and liver– Rasputin did manage to regain his feet and make a move on his assailant, but all Rasputin ended up doing, was grab his assailant’s shoulder and tear an epaulet off his uniform. He did not, as some speculate, reach up and begin choking his assailant. He grabbed his assailant’s shoulder, tore the epaulet off, began grumbling the assailant’s name, and fled into the snowy night.

While attempting to flee, Rasputin was shot at four more times, two missed, one struck him in the back and traveled through the kidney, and he dropped. The other, the fifth and fatal shot, went through his forehead. Some have it that that final shot occurred from a distance, but the autopsies suggest it was delivered execution-style, due to the gun residue located at the entry point on Rasputin’s forehead. Some autopsies suggest that there was water in Rasputin’s lungs that would suggest that he was alive when he hit the water, as his assailants attempted to drown him after the shooting, but Fuhrmann suggests that the greater evidence disputes that notion and suggests that Rasputin was dead before he hit the water. 

As for my history teacher suggesting that they tried beating him to death, the evidence derived from the post-mortem examination suggest that the bumps and bruises Rasputin received all occurred as a result of the beating his body received after death. The execution-style gun blast to the forehead ended the story of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but the mythology surrounding the man was just beginning. 

The shock we experience when we hear that Rasputin was difficult to kill speaks to this very human fear we have of how easy it is to kill a person. Movies and TV shows leave the impression that when a person shoots at us, the bullet always hits, it almost always finds our most delicate and vulnerable locations, and we’re dead within milliseconds. The good guys run behind bunkers, amid a flurry of bullets unharmed. The good guys reload and take out eight with eight shots. This happens so often, in the movies and TV, that we’re almost conditioned to believe that good guys are hard to kill bad guys aren’t. When a story, such as Rasputin’s, show that a bad guy is just as capable of surviving an errant shot, we immediately assign supernatural qualities to the survivor.  

Our teacher also told us that Rasputin’s presumed dead body was thrown in the water, with a stone tied to him, and that the Russians dragged the lake and found the ropes and the stone, but they never found Rasputin’s body. This is not true, as it turns out, but it added a necessary ingredient to the “he who never lives can never die” narrative our history teacher was building. I still don’t know if my teacher was such a great storyteller that he wanted to avoid the facts of his narrative, or if he believed what he was telling us, but the captivating details led me to do some research on Rasputin later that night. 

To those of us who love great stories, and the mythology that grows around them, it was disappointing to learn that Rasputin’s body was as vulnerable to those agents that cause death as anyone else’s. We consider it much more interesting to speculate about the differences between history’s good guys, and bad guys, and how history’s bad guys escape that which the rest of us are more susceptible. On a certain level, we all know that none of this is true, but it’s more interesting, and fun, to speculate and mythologize an otherwise normal, albeit brutal tale regarding one’s demise by leaving out key details.

The Parables of History

“Those who don’t study history, are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana said to give history teachers a gift that keeps on giving. 

“All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that,” a cynical student of history might say, when learning of Santayana’s quote, in conjunction with some of history’s greatest failings. They might use this mindset in response to the Romanovs’ involvement with Rasputin. “We’re not as hyper-religious as those in the Russian Empire were at the turn of the century, so we’re not going to be as vulnerable to a charlatan who states that he knows scripture backwards and forwards, who states he has God’s ear, and thus gains a Svengali-like hold on the minds of the citizens.”

“As opposed to the messages in modern media, history is replete with charlatans, both religious and non,” that history teacher might respond. “It’s also replete with victims who fail to learn from the mistakes made in history and proceed to repeat the same mistakes when the next charlatan comes along with different promises of something bigger and better. If your takeaway from this lesson is that a charlatan follows a uniform code of conduct, or that you can locate a charlatan by spotting a cross in their ensemble, you’re more likely to become one of history’s next victims.”

“How could they have been so stupid?” will still be on the lips, and in the minds, of these cynical students reading through the history of the Romanov Empire, just as it will be when they learn of the lead up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now that we know the outcome, we can’t help but feel superior to those who ignored, or misread, the tea leaves that led up to the great deceptions in history.

Are we superior now, after learning history’s lessons, or will future students of history be shaking their heads, and condemning our generation, for missing all of the undeniable signs of inevitability that led to the terrorist attack on 9/11/01? “How did your generation’s leaders fall for all that?” these future students may ask. “There were so many signs. How could they have been so stupid?”

“All I can tell you,” we may say to that member of another generation studying our history, “is that you have the advantage of hindsight. You weren’t there.”

Other than the rise to influence that Grigori Rasputin attained in the Russian Empire, and the healing of Alexis Romanov at the miracle at Spala, Rasputin’s name is etched into history by the manner in which he was murdered, and the mythology that surrounds it.

The Mythology of the Mad Monk

The lone mythology of the murder of the “Mad Monk” that Fuhrmann willing entertains is the idea that the British Secret Intelligence Service (the BSIS) either organized the plot to kill Rasputin, or they encouraged it. He states that what lends this speculation plausibility is the idea that Britain may have believed that Rasputin was influencing Nicholas II to end Russia’s participation in World War I (WWI).

“Rasputin was not doing this,” Fuhrmann writes, “but Britain may not have known this, and Britain needed (WWI adversary) Germany concentrating at least some of their forces on Russia, until the United States would enter the war.” Fuhrmann further states that “Britain’s Military Intelligence, Section Six, (MI6), promised to publish its files on Rasputin’s murder, but it decided to delay it, we can assume, to avoid cooled relations between Moscow and London.”

Those who portray Rasputin as a towering figure that loomed over the Russian Empire may be putting too much weight in the characterizations put forth by Rasputin fans, and those who seek to characterize the man as a monster for the benefit of their monster stories.

In our mind’s eye, we picture Rasputin as being about 6’5″ with broad shoulders, but objective reporters state that Rasputin was 5’9” and relatively thin. We might also project some scintillating intellect with Svengali-like powers of manipulation on Rasputin, but while some suggest he was not an illiterate peasant his whole life, he died having never achieved what observers would call a well-educated background. Those same reporters will concede that he did make the most of that limited education however. They will report that far from being detached from tangible possessions, or status, Rasputin accepted and showed off gifts from the Romanovs and their loyalists with child-like glee. Witnesses characterized this glee as similar to that which a dog may display after receiving treats for performing tricks, and like that dog Rasputin never recognized that the treats were laced with unintended condescension. These objective historians will also report that if Rasputin ever towered over the Russian Empire, in the manner some historians suggest, it was dealt a hefty blow when the girl without a nose stabbed him. Favorable renditions claim that Rasputin recovered, and they leave it at that to further the mythology surrounding him. Rasputin did recover, but it took a considerable amount of time in which Rasputin could be found wounded, sick, frail, and paranoid from that point forward. In the time he spent healing from his wounds, Rasputin was deeply affected by it. Witnesses suggest he was scared, even paranoid, and in that state of mind, he lost whatever influence he may have had at one time. Even if all of these objective reports are true, it could still be stated that Rasputin achieved a position that was light years above the station his friends and family in Pokrovskoye ever knew.

The Politics of Grigori Rasputin

Reflecting on the life of Grigori Rasputin, some historians suggest that he was nothing more than a “right place, right time” opportunist who wasn’t as proactive in shaping his story as others suggest. Fuhrmann refutes that, to some degree, by stating that Rasputin exhibited a politician’s ability to make connections, and that he was particularly adept at choosing those connections that would prove most conducive to advancing him into an influential position.

He also managed to persuade those in power, in a political manner, to change his name from Rasputin to Rasputin-Novyi, or “New Rasputin”. The modus operandi for doing this, according to Fuhrmann, was that the name Rasputin carried some negative connotations within the Russian Empire of the day. Rasputin further managed, as some “more adept” modern politicians have done, to persuade those in the Empire to deem it “unethical” for anyone to use his true name. Rasputin later stated that it was never his idea to change his name, but Fuhrmann states that the name change was made as a result of Rasputin’s petition to Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin also managed to have the Tsarista Alexandra refer to Rasputin, in the letters she wrote of him, with a capital ‘H’ on the pronoun him, a convention of the English language most reserve for God. Thus, it could be said, Rasputin did have some hand in manipulating the legacy we know today, in that he knew how to manipulate his perception in ways the modern culture will when they attempt to soften perceptions of criminals and terrorists with more pleasing terms, even if those calculated manipulations tend to appear inconsequential at the time.

“If I die, or you abandon me,” Rasputin is reported to have told Nicholas II, “you will lose your son, and your crown in six months.” 

This has been regarded as an ominous prophecy by Rasputin, based on the fact that the Romanov rule would end seventy-five days after Rasputin’s murder. If one dissects the timeline, however, they realize that once the one that plagued the empire was out of the way, the excuses for the failures of the ruling family would be gone too, and the Romanovs would then become the center of the focus for any of Russia’s failures.\

Rasputin’s Legacy and the Clash of History with Subjectivity As fascinating as our history teacher’s provocative introduction was, those of us who did our own research on Rasputin in the years that followed learned that speculation and uncertainty looms over just about every event that occurred in the life of Grigori Rasputin, including his death. Interested parties can now read numerous books, watch numerous documentaries on the Bio Channel and Discovery, and learn different perspectives on just about every story told about the man on the internet. Some stories contradict all prior stories and others contradict the contradictions. My personal favorite, as should be obvious to the reader at this point, is Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s excellent book Rasputin: The Untold Story. Fuhrman approaches each tale with what I view as detailed, and sourced, skepticism that is more measured than the typical contradictory biographer who claims, “Everyone else is wrong. My book should, heretofore, be regarded as the preeminent source.” Fuhrman chose to synthesize archival sources with published documents, memoirs, and other studies of Rasputin into a single, comprehensive work. Should we regard Rasputin: The Untold Story the preeminent source of all things Rasputin, or is it just another in a long line of books about the man? We don’t know. You don’t know, and I don’t know, but Fuhrman did go to great pains to avoid speculation, and many of what I believe are his fact-based theories are as negative as they are positive. We don’t know how many copies of this book he sold, but we can speculate that a Rasputin: The Mad Monk, the Monster title probably would’ve sold better.  Fuhrman instead chose what I view as a more fact-based approach to answering the questions, was Rasputin truly evil, or was he an innocent pawn used by the monarchy as a scapegoat? How much influence did he have on the Russian empire? Was Rasputin an opportunist who seized upon a vulnerable empire with a level of political savvy that allowed him to manipulate some of the most educated, most influential people of his day as well as any manipulator in history has? Fuhrman’s Rasputin, does not appear to have an agenda, a marketing gimmick, or a focused approach other than truth. Having said that, as Colin Wilson states, we’ll never know if Fuhrman, or anyone else at this point, can know with 100% certitude the facts regarding what Rasputin did or did not do in his involvement with the Russian Monarchy, or his eventual murder.   

“No figure in modern history has provoked such a mass of sensational and unreliable literature as Grigori Rasputin,” writer Colin Wilson states. “More than a hundred books have been written about him, and not a single one can be accepted as a sober presentation of his personality. There is an enormous amount of material on him, and most of it is full of invention or willful inaccuracy. Rasputin’s life, then, is not ‘history’; it is the clash of history with subjectivity.”

The Beginning: Part I: Rasputin Rises

Part II: A Miracle at Spala

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


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 us to believe that we are smarter than the greatest minds in politics, history, and sports. Hindsight can lead us to call the brightest minds and most celebrated figures of history stupid, incompetent, and inept.

“How could the Romanovs fail to see Rasputin for what he was?” students of history will ask as they page through the fall of the Russian Imperial family, 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, when 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 who 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 vulnerabilities in Germany, 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 a 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 only 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 temporarily passed. Modern science also talks about how the power of prayer, the placebo effect, and meditation can calm a person and lead to the patient, like the Tsarevich, to believe that they are healing. 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 what we now call 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, who 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?

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? Some speculate that by the time that the incident at Spala occurred, the Romanovs reached a point of desperation, and that they viewed Rasputin as their last, best hope. Then, when Rasputin proved to be a healing agent in the years that followed, they felt they had little choice but to keep him in the empire and close to the young Tsarevich. 

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 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 who had a mysterious air about them, someone who 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 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 might extend further sympathies when they learn that Alexandra knew her genes caused her son, the Tsarevich Alexis, the heir to the throne, this severe case of hemophilia. They might 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 might sympathize with Alexandra’s desire to keep Rasputin around after the “Miracle at Spala”, and they might forgive her for being so grateful to the man for what she believed he did for her son that she ended up allowing Rasputin to influence her mind on matters of grave importance in the empire to the point that she allegedly shared Rasputin’s opinions with Tsar Nicholas II and compelled him to follow through with them. There will be great sympathy for the Romanov family when the reader finds out how their story turned out, but when it comes to the subject of Rasputin, they will still say, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.” 

Previous: Part I: Rasputin Rises

Next: Part III: Rasputin III: The Murder of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin

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


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 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. 

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 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.

Next: Part II: A Miracle at Spala, Rasputin III: Rasputin’s Murder 

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