History always furnishes the most bizarre examples. Most often, the exceptionally bizarre examples come when the times are about to change in some drastic way. Rasputin, then, is one such case. Briefly described, he was a Russian "Holy Man" just before the outbreak of World War I. He was intimately involved in the intrigues of the Tsarist Court. Yet, if we only examine the proximate causes of the actions of Rasputin, we are missing and entirely other world of weird that existed shortly after the American Revolution. For the purposes of trying to understand Rasputin, some of the coloring of the time period leading up to his existence must be understood.
The wave of spiritism that began in the early 1800's began mostly as a response to the emphasized rationalism of the Scientific revolution. It was almost as though rationality was trying to disown its irrational shadow, and so the shadow woke up and began to assert itself in various systems:
Occult books of fortune-telling, dreams, spells, astrology, and speculative mysticism entered medieval Russia as translations of Greek, Byzantine, European, Arabic, and Persian “secret books.” Their prohibition by the Council of a Hundred Chapters (Stoglav) in 1551 enhanced rather than diminished their popularity, and many have circulated into our own day.
The Age of Reason did not extirpate Russia’s occult interests. During the eighteenth century more than 100 occult books were printed, mostly translations of European alchemical, mystical, Masonic, Rosicrucian, and oriental wisdom texts. Many were published by the author and Freemason Nikolai Novikov.
As the nineteenth century began, Tsar Alexander I encouraged Swedenborgians, Freemasons, mystical sectarians, and the questionable “Bible Society,” before suddenly banning occult books and secret societies in 1822. The autocracy and the church countered the occultism and supernaturalism of German Romanticism with an increasingly restrictive system of church censorship, viewing the occult as “spiritual sedition.”
Nevertheless, Spiritualism managed to penetrate Russia in the late 1850s, introduced by Count Grigory Kushelev-Bezborodko, a friend of Daniel Dunglas Home (1833 – 1886), the famous medium who gave seances for the court of Alexander II. Their coterie included the writers and philosophers Alexei Tolstoy, Vladimir Soloviev, Vladimir Dal, Alexander Aksakov, and faculty from Moscow and St. Petersburg Universities.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Russia, like Europe, experienced the French “Occult Revival,” a reaction against prevailing scientific positivism. Spiritualism, theosophy, hermeticism, mystery cults, and Freemasonry attracted the interest of upper- and middle-class Russian society and configured decadence and symbolism in the arts.[^1]
It is likely many of these beliefs varied from outright paganism to witchcraft to mostly harmless frauds. Not unlike the gypsy caravan at a carnival, it was likely very difficult to know fact from fiction. Indeed, we will see this issue affect the narrative of Rasputin's life.
Theosophy, founded in New York in 1875 by Russian expatriate Elena Blavatsky (1831 – 1891), was a pseudo-religious, neo-Buddhist movement that claimed to be a “synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy.” It appealed to the god-seeking Russian intelligentsia (including, at various times, Vladimir Soloviev, Max Voloshin, Konstantin Balmont, Alexander Skryabin, Maxim Gorky). A Christianized, Western form of theosophy, Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, attracted the intellectuals Andrey Bely, Nikolai Berdyayev, and Vyacheslav Ivanov.
Russian Freemasonry revived at the end of the nineteenth century. Masons, Martinists, and Rosicrucians preceded the mystical sectarian Grigory Rasputin (1872 – 1916) as “friends” to the court of Tsar Nicholas II. After the Revolution of 1905 – 1906, Russian Freemasonry became increasingly politicized, eventually playing a role in the events of 1916-1917.
The least documented of Russia’s occult movements was the elitist hermeticism (loosely including philosophical alchemy, gnosticism, kabbalism, mystical Freemasonry, and magic), heir of the Occult Revival. Finally, sensational (or “boulevard”) mysticism was popular among all classes: magic, astrology, Tarot, fortune-telling, dream interpretation, chiromancy, phrenology, witchcraft, hypnotism.[^2]
Clearly, Russia was a hotbed of mysticism. Blavatsky would go on to inspire an interesting blend of Buddhist Nazis later down the road. Most of the rest of these names are still encountered in various mystery schools today and their reach is felt both for better and for worse far and wide. The line demarcating witchcraft and sorcery in most of them reduced to will and intent.
What then can we say of Rasputin? Well, there are salient details that exist in the matter of his life that are firm which is a rarity concerning the man:
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (/ræˈspjuːtɪn/;Russian: Григо́рий Ефи́мович Распу́тин; 22 January 1869 – 30 December 1916 was a Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who befriended the family of Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, and gained considerable influence in late imperial Russia.
Born to a peasant family in the Siberian village of Pokrovskoye, Tyumen Oblast, Rasputin had a religious conversion experience after taking a pilgrimage to a monastery in 1897. He has been described as a monk or as a "strannik" (wanderer, or pilgrim), though he held no official position in the Russian Orthodox Church. After traveling to St. Petersburg, either in 1903 or the winter of 1904–05, Rasputin captivated some church and social leaders. He became a society figure, and met the Tsar in November 1905.
In late 1906, Rasputin began acting as a healer for Alexei, the Tsar and his wife Alexandra's only son, who suffered from hemophilia. At court, he was a divisive figure, seen by some Russians as a mystic, visionary, and prophet, and by others as a religious charlatan. The high point of Rasputin's power was in 1915, when Nicholas II left St Petersburg to oversee Russian armies fighting World War I, increasing both Alexandra and Rasputin's influence. As Russian defeats in the war mounted, however, both Rasputin and Alexandra became increasingly unpopular. In the early morning of 30 December 1916, Rasputin was assassinated by a group of conservative noblemen who opposed his influence over Alexandra and the Tsar.
Historians often suggest that Rasputin's terrible reputation helped discredit the tsarist government, and thus helped precipitate the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, which happened a few weeks after he was assassinated. Very little about Rasputin's life and influence is certain, however, as accounts have often been based on hearsay, rumor, and legend.[^3]
So much for those facts which are concrete. Now we move on to the tentative and tenuous. To establish what sort of mysticism Rasputin was developing, it is necessary to understand his conversion experience:
Born in freezing cold Siberia, Rasputin studied to become a monk at the age of 18 after a life changing revelation where he claimed to have seen a vision from the Virgin Mary. He began to travel around the country as a religious healer. By the time he got to Saint Petersburg in 1903, his reputation as a faith healer was well on its way. That's where he lucked out. At the time, Alexei, the son of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, was a hemophiliac, and suffered from terrible episodes of bleeding. Turns out Rasputin was able to help him with some practical advice that may actually have worked, like relaxation and stopping the use of Aspirin, which was a new drug at the time, and which no one realized was thinning his blood and making things worse.[^4]
So, we know the Virgin Mary appertains to the Catholic Church, and we know the Catholic Church most often features as the "Whore of Babylon". If it was questionable before, certainly with my latest "gay mafia posts" it is certain now. It must be the case, then, that Rasputin is somehow about to participate in the Whore of Babylon at this point. Indeed, it is established later that Rasputin had some "interesting" attitudes toward sex:
As early as 1901, before he'd left Pokrovskvoe, Rasputin was accused by a local priest of belonging to a weird sex cult called a khlyst. He denied it at the time, but once he was installed in Saint Petersburg society, he built a place to have what he called spiritual meetings. Many credit him with awesome hypnotic powers, and he was said to be able to make his pupils dilate at will. Part of the legend surrounding Rasputin – and one of the reasons for the sometimes violent opposition to him in the government and among the people – was that he had the Tsar and Tsarina under some kind of hypnotic spell. The stories of Rasputin's faith healing powers began very early in his career as a holy man, but it should be noted that his parents, at any rate, were not impressed by them. His father was quoted as saying, "Grigori became a pilgrim out of laziness—nothing else.[^5]
Turns out that Boney M song was accurate – this man was a ladies' man to end all ladies' men. There were rumors that he was sexually involved with Tsarina Alexandra, but that seems unlikely, given her extreme prudishness. This was a woman who had the bathroom covered up when not in use, so people wouldn't be corrupted by seeing it. She seems, however, to have been pretty much the only woman in Saint Petersburg and beyond who didn't succumb to his rampant sexual charisma, by most accounts. His followers were dubbed the Rasputinki and crowds that were estimated up to 400 of them would gather in the street in front of his apartment building before sunrise. Some waited in line for two or three days to see the holy man, and many brought him gifts. The favored one became those he called his little ladies, and they were invited to his study for one-on-one visits. The sofa in his study saw so much action that it eventually collapsed.[^6]
It is clear then, that the "whore of Babylon" was present in the actions of Rasputin for what drove his seemingly lascivious behavior were some specific beliefs:
Rasputin has strange ideas about sin and redemption. He was known to say, "sinning brings one closer to God," and it was apparently a philosophy he brought into his everyday life. He felt the best way to be saved was to be in a state of perpetual sin. That meant indulging in a lot of sex and drinking -- and then asking forgiveness from God. He felt that to be constantly in a state of asking forgiveness was the ideal. Rasputin's religious philosophy, supposedly stemming from his vision of the Virgin Mary, was a pretty freaked out version of Catholicism, we'd have to say. It goes something like this: Because Rasputin was a holy man and all, having sex with him actually purified women. So far from being wicked, sex with the Mad Monk was actually a holy thing. It was apparently the right philosophy at the right time, because it worked in spades. He was in the habit of leading his women followers to the woods, where they'd burn some incense, dance naked, and end up in an orgy.[^7]
Clearly, these beliefs were not Biblical because we know YHSVH declares that one should "go forth and sin no more". He does not say anything to the effect of "keep on asking for forgiveness" but rather indicates that if one continues to sin, one is in danger of hellfire. We will learn more about the implications of this belief in Part 2.