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Rasputin: Sex, Superstition, Hypnosis and Religion

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J Scull writes biographies and historical articles. Occasionally, he writes about common social issues impacting people in general.

Grigori Rasputin, the “Mad Monk”

Grigori Rasputin, the “Mad Monk”

Rasputin’s Beginnings

Today, we know him as one of the most bizarre characters of the last century. He was a wild-eyed, modern-day Dionysus who seduced women through his religious concept of attaining closeness to God through debauchery. His lack of personal hygiene and disheveled attire did not prevent him from bedding women from all levels of society.

Those who knew him claimed he possessed mysterious powers of hypnosis. His fondness for consuming bottles of wine on a daily basis did not restrain his ability to rise to the highest level within the monarchy. His name was Rasputin, a self-appointed monk who went from horse thief to royal adviser and who some blamed for the downfall of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II. His gruesome demise adds to his mysterious life.

He was born Grigori Yefimovich Novykh on January 22, 1869, to a peasant family near Tyumen, Siberia. As a teenager, Grigori became a self-proclaimed mystic and began calling himself Rasputin, a name which in Russian translates to “where two rivers meet.” Some stories suggest he demonstrated psychic or telepathic abilities as a child, although these tales are apocryphal. Documented accounts, however, say that the 6’4” young man was given to drunkenness, inappropriate behavior and sexual promiscuity.

Although he attended school for a short while, he remained illiterate for most of his young adult life, dictating his correspondence to his wife as his writing skills were extremely poor. In 1993, Rasputin’s diary surfaced through the Russian State Historical Archives in St Petersburg. David Raskin, the head researcher, stated the text confirmed Rasputin to be a man of little or no education. The diary, replete with atrocious spelling in which even the word “diary” was misspelt, showed Rasputin to be functionally analphabetic. He may have acquired his sparse literacy during a stay at the St. Nicholas Monastery at Verkhoturye in 1897. Here, he came under the tutelage of a starets known as Makary, from whom he might have learned to read and write.

Makary, Bishop Theofan and Rasputin, 1909

Makary, Bishop Theofan and Rasputin, 1909

The Pseudo Pious Monk and Self-proclaimed Spiritual Healer

His religious conversion came at the age of 18 at which time he went to the monastery at Verkhoture where he was introduced to the Khlysty; an underground Spiritual Christian sect which believed in flagellation. Rasputin did not embrace Khlysty faith fully. Instead, he adopted the parts that served his purpose, while perverting the rest. The doctrine he finally created claimed that a person was nearest to God when feeling a sense of “holy passionlessness.” And the best way to reach such a state was through the sexual exhaustion that came after prolonged debauchery.

Although Rasputin left the monastery before becoming a monk, he donned a religious habit and proclaimed to be a faith healer. He returned to his home town Pokrovskoye, and at age 19 married Proskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina, who later bore him three children. Marriage did not settle Rasputin as he left his family to wonder to far away places. He travelled to Mount Athos, Greece and Jerusalem, living on donations he received from peasants. During this time, he gained a reputation as a self-proclaimed holy man and starets who could heal the sick and predict the future.

Word of his religious and charismatic exploits soon began to spread in Siberia in the early 1900s. During a trip to Kazan in 1904 he came to be known as a wise starets who could help people resolve their spiritual crisis and anxieties. Despite rumors Rasputin was having sex with female followers, he made a favorable impression on local religious leaders. This led to Archimandrite Andrei and Bishop Chrysthanos to give him a letter of recommendation to Bishop Sergei, the rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

During his visit to the monastery, Rasputin was introduced to well-connected Archimandrite Theophane, confessor to Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Theophanes became enthralled with Rasputin, not only inviting him to stay at his home but also introducing him to many of the aristocracy’s influential salons.

Here he partook of the entertainment typical of these large gatherings at the reception halls of the mansions owned by the landed gentry. At this point, he was able to gain popularity throughout the capital. Members of the aristocracy became interested in him as superstition, faith and religion had become fashionable throughout Russia.

Rasputin with his acolytes

Rasputin with his acolytes

Rise to Fame

As his reputation grew a suite of fanatical female admirers began to gather near him. One particular lady of society named Mme. Lochtina, who had become one of his devotees was said to have radically changed her life by leaving her social position and fully giving herself to religion. Under the starets influence she enrolled in the Verkhouturye convent and subsequently became healed of all the maladies her doctors could not cure.

Mme. Lochtine was the first lady from the Petersburg aristocracy to visit Rasputin in his home town of Pokroskoie. The peasants became astonished to see a pretty young woman from high society come to express her admiration for Grigori. After her visit, Rasputin returned to Petersburg, initially staying at a local hostel. Shortly after, however he moved into Mme. Lochtine mansion in an area known as Peski.

At the time, many in Petersburg high society believed strongly in the strength of Rasputin’s prayers. Even Pyotr Stolyin, Russia’s third prime minister, invited the starets to come to his home to pray for his sick daughter. As his reputation grew, his good fortunes progressed to such a point in which Petersburg’s salons competed for his presence. Many prominent ladies of the city spoke of nothing but the divining monk. Many of them took him under their wings and taught him how to dress properly, comb his hair, even how to correctly wash.

Consequently, a number of people within the circles of high society in which Rasputin frequented, began to think of ways of using him to advance their status and intrigues. His extraordinary gift of suggestion and ability to foresee certain events gave many the idea to use him to attract the attention and goodwill of the royals. Perhaps even to influence them in a way that would be profitable for them.

Before long, Rasputin was being showered with attention and often with cash donations. Slowly, the peasant monk began to change. He began to see himself as someone who was destined to do something great and good for the Tsar and Russia. He began to speak to some of his followers of how he thought the Tsar was surrounded by lies and injustice. He accused the nobility who approached the Tsar as deceitful. In a self-promoting tone, he would say that only a sincerely devoted man, disinterested and simple could ultimately serve the Tsar and the people.

The conviction that through this mission a future of grandeur and fame awaited him, grew stronger as time passed. Much of these feelings were encouraged by those who wished for him to develop a relationship with the royals, maybe even secure a permanent position at court.

Alexandra Feodorovna with her children, Rasputin and the nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, 1908

Alexandra Feodorovna with her children, Rasputin and the nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, 1908

Rasputin and the Royal Family

Empress Alexandra, who was fascinated with the esoteric and occult, often spoke with clairvoyants in search of a miracle that would cure her son Alexei’s hemophilia; a hereditary disorder in which the blood does not clot properly. Some of these spiritual advisors brought up the name of Rasputin. In 1905, Rasputin was introduced to the “Black Princesses” Militsa and Anastasia of Montenegro, who had married the tsar’s cousins Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich and Prince George Maximilianovich Romanowsky. Both sisters were instrumental in arranging a meeting between the starets and the royal couple on November 1st, at the Peterhof Palace.

Rasputin returned to Pokrovskoye shortly after his first meeting with the royals and did not return to St. Petersburg until July 1906. On his return, he met with Nicholas and Alexandra on July 18 and again in October, at which time he first met their children. During his October trip, it is believed the royal couple first asked Rasputin to pray for the health of young Alexei.

During these meetings, Rasputin quickly endeared himself to the royals in spite of his ragged appearance, offensive smell and lack of etiquette. He would address Nicholas and Alexandra as “Papa” and “Mama,” terms that would cause anyone else in court to be banned or worse. Eventually, they placed their trust in him with their most valued family member; their youngest son and heir to the throne, Alexei.

In 1908, the royals summoned Rasputin to the palace during one of Alexei’s bleeding episodes. Rasputin succeeded in easing the boy’s suffering. Historians and medical experts are divided on how the starets had achieved stopping the bleeding the young boy was experiencing. Some have suggested Rasputin use of hypnosis and massages. Others believe Rasputin’s calming deportment and his dismissal of the over-attentive court physicians that swarmed around the tsarevich’s bed may have helped the boy.

Upon leaving the palace, Rasputin issued the parents an ominous and somewhat pretentious warning: That the destiny of both the child and the dynasty were irrevocably linked to him. This statement foreshadowed a decade of the starets’ powerful influence on the royal family and many other affairs of state. Even his death was followed by the downfall of the monarchy and the assassination of all the members of the royal family.

Another incident which solidified the royal couple’s trust in Rasputin occurred in 1912 when Alexei experienced a jolting carriage ride at the family’s hunting grounds. This caused a severe hematoma that brought on extreme pain and a delirious fever that appeared to threaten the life of young Alexei. Fearing for her son’s wellbeing the tsarina had a telegram sent to Rasputin in Siberia asking him to pray for the boy. Rasputin telegraphed back telling the tsarina that “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.”

Within a couple of days, the bleeding had stopped and the young tsarevich began to improve. Alexei’s recovery was inexplicable to the doctors who treated him. Later, Dr. Fedorov, one of the attending physicians exclaimed it was understandable why Alexandra perceived Rasputin as a miracle man and said: “Rasputin would come in, walk up to the patient, look at him, and spit. The bleeding would stop in no time…. How could the empress not trust Rasputin after that?”

Although Alexandra was convinced Rasputin had performed nothing less than a miracle, many believe his insistence in not letting the doctors disturb Alexei was responsible for his recovery. This allowed the boy to rest giving him time to heal. Additionally, his message had a calming effect on the tsarina in turn reducing the emotional stress on the boy.

Another factor to consider is that Rasputin would disallow the administration of aspirin to the tsarevich, a medication widely used for pain at the time. However, today we know the anti-clotting properties of the drug makes it contraindicated for hemophilia sufferers.

Status, Power and Detractors

The royal family’s belief in Rasputin’s healing powers brought him significant status and power at court. The tsar appointed Rasputin the palace’s lampadnik (lamplighter), which made him responsible for keeping the lamps next to religious icons in the palace lit. This gave the monk regular access to the palace and in turn to the royal family. As his influence on he royal family grew, Rasputin used his position to his maximum benefit by accepting bribes and sexual favors from his admirers as well as expanding his position in court.

However, Rasputin soon became a controversial figure. His enemies as well of those of the tsar lobbed accusations at him of rape, religious heresy and exerting undue political influence on Nicholas. Rumors began to circulate he was even having an affair with the tsarina. Opposition from the church also grew. In 1907, members of the clergy in Pokrovskoye denounced the starets as a heretic and the Bishop of Tobolsk accused him of “spreading false, Khlyst-like doctrines.”

In St. Petersburg, prominent government officials, including prime minister Peter Stolypin and the Okhrana (Department for Protecting the Public Security) were among his detractors. After launching an investigation into Rasputin’s activities, Stolypin unsuccessfully confronted the tsar on reigning in on the monk’s influence in court by exiling him from St. Petersburg.

Caricature of Rasputin and the Imperial couple, 1916

Caricature of Rasputin and the Imperial couple, 1916

In 1909, Kehioniya Berlatskaya, an earlier follower of Rasputin in St. Petersburg accused him of rape. She approached Archimandrite Theophane for aid which helped to convince him that Rasputin was a danger to the monarchy. Soon after, other female followers came forward accusing the monk of similar behavior. Other rumors circulated claiming he had behaved inappropriately on visits to the royal family; particularly with the tsar’s teenage daughters Olga and Tatyana. This rumors began to get widely reported in the press starting in March of 1910.

The hatred for Rasputin within certain circles of government took a turn for the worst when in 1915 Nicholas traveled to the front line to oversee the war efforts. He left Alexandra in charge as regent in the capital St. Petersburg. Once Alexandra was running the governmen on her own, she fired and appointed ministers based on Rasputin’s self-serving advice. In a period of sixteen months, the tsarina dismissed and appointed four prime ministers, five ministers of interior and three ministers of war.

In addition to the chaotic fashion in which government business was being conducted, Russia was in the midst of a severe economic decline. For many, this was due to the challenges and cost of World War I, the abolishment of feudalism and a meddling government; all of which were blamed on Alexandra and her “evil” spiritual advisor, Rasputin.

In November of 1916, far-right Duma member Vladimir Purishkevich stated that he felt the tsar’s ministers “had been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna — the evil genius of Russia and the tsarina…who has remained a German on the Russian throne and alien to the country and its people.”

Rasputin, Hermogen and Iliodor next to each other in 1906. In 1912 Alexandra ordered Hermogen to be banished to a monastery after he beat Rasputin with a crucifix; Iliodor went into exile after the attack by Khioniya Guseva in June 1914

Rasputin, Hermogen and Iliodor next to each other in 1906. In 1912 Alexandra ordered Hermogen to be banished to a monastery after he beat Rasputin with a crucifix; Iliodor went into exile after the attack by Khioniya Guseva in June 1914

Attempt on Rasputin’s Life

Sometime during the late evening hours of December 29, 1916, Rasputin the self-proclaimed holy man was murdered by Russian nobles seeking to end his influence over the royal couple. This was not the first time an attempt on his life had been made. In 1914, while walking in the village of Pokrovskoye a beggar woman known as Khioniya Guseva, approached him seeking alms.

When Rasputin put his hands in his pocket reaching for a coin, the woman stabbed him in the stomach. She ran away screaming “I have killed the Antichrist!” After six weeks at a hospital and a laparotomy, he recovered.

Guseva, who was a follower of Hieromonk Iliodor AKA Sergei Michailovich Trufanov, a former priest who had supported Rasputin before denouncing his sexual escapades and arrogant social climbing. A radical conservative, Iliodor had been part of a group of government figures who had attempted to force the tsarina to sever relations with Rasputin in 1911.

When this effort failed, Iliodor was banished from St. Petersburg and eventually defrocked. While Guseva claimed to have acted alone only after having read about Rasputin in the newspapers and believing he was a “false prophet and even an Antichrist,” both the police and Rasputin believed Iliodor had instigated her. Eventually, Guseva was found not guilty by reason of insanity and Iliodor fled the country before he could be questioned.

Felix Yusupov, husband of Princess Irina Aleksandrovna Romanova, the Tsar’s niece, 1914

Felix Yusupov, husband of Princess Irina Aleksandrovna Romanova, the Tsar’s niece, 1914

Death

Sometime in December of 1916, Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Vladimir Purishkevich decided Rasputin’s evil influence over the tsarina could only be stopped by his death. They concocted a plan to lure him into Yusupov’s Moika Palace and assassinate him. During the early morning of December 30, 1916, the would-be murderers fed Rasputin pastries and wine laced with potassium-cyanide.

He ate the sweets and drank the wine throughout the early part of the evening with no ill effect. This frustrated the group who wished him dead. At this point it is unknown who shot him first but the monk took a bullet in the chest at close range. He got up and started running away at which time he was shot in the head and spine. As he fell, he received a severe kick to the head. He was then rolled up in a rug and dumped in an unfrozen section of the Malaya Nevka River.

The murdered Rasputin

The murdered Rasputin

Despite all this, police investigators claim his hands were frozen near his face as if he were trying to loosen the rope his killers tied around him. Possibly, he had survived all previous attacks of that night, only to finally die of drowning.

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