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Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Russian: Григо́рий Ефи́мович Распу́тин) (January 23, 1871 – December 16, 1916 (O.S.)) was a Russian mystic with an influence in the later days of Russia's Romanov dynasty.
Rasputin was also known as the Mad Monk, although he was not actually a monk, but a starets (ста́рец), or religious pilgrim. He was believed to have been a psychic and faith healer. He can be considered one of the more controversial characters in 20th century history, although Rasputin is viewed by most historians today as a scapegoat. He played a small but extremely pivotal role in the downfall of the Romanov dynasty that finally led to Bolshevik victory and the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Meaning of the name Rasputin
The name Rasputin in Russian does not mean "licentious", as is often claimed. There is, however, a very similar Russian adjective rasputny (распу́тный) which does mean "licentious" and the corresponding noun rasputnik. There is no definite explanation of the origin of this not uncommon surname, which does not have a "disgraceful" meaning, as the contemporary Russian writer Valentin Rasputin would be quick to explain. There are at least two options for the root of the word One of them is "put' ", which means "way", "road". Close nouns are rasputye, a place where the roads diverge or converge and rasputitsa (распу́тица, "muddy road season"). Some historians argue that his name signifies, roughly, a place where two rivers meet, which describes the area from which the Rasputin family originates. Another possibility is "put", which gives rise to the verb "putat": "entangle" or "mix up", with "rasputat" being its antonym: "detangle", "untie", "clean up a misunderstanding", etc.
However the most grounded explanation is a standard Russian surname derivation from the old Slavic name "Rasputa" ("Rasputko") (recorded as early as in 16th century) with the meaning "ill-behaved child", the one whose ways are against traditions or the will of parents.
It is said that Rasputin tried to have his name changed to the inconspicuous "Novy" (Новый, 'New') after his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but this is a subject of dispute.
Healer to the Tsarevich
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin was born a peasant in a small Siberian village along the Tura River called Pokrovskoye (also spelled Prokovskoe) on January 10, 1869. This village was located in the Tyumen district. When he was around the age of eighteen, he spent three months in the Verkhoturye Monastery. There, he joined the Skopsty, a renegade sect within the Russian Orthodox Church that “believed that the only way to reach God was through sinful actions. Once the sin was committed and confessed, the penitent could achieve forgiveness." Rasputin married Proskovia Fyodorovna in 1889; he had three children with her (and another child with someone else). In 1901, he left his home in Pokrovskoye as a strannik, or pilgrim. During the time of his journeying, he traveled to Greece and Jerusalem. In 1903, Rasputin arrived in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), where he declared himself a staretz, or holy man, who had healing and prophetical powers.
Rasputin was wandering as a pilgrim throughout Siberia when he heard reports of Tsarevich Alexei's haemophilia in 1904, a disease inherited from his great-grandmother (Queen Victoria). He was regarded as the last resort of the desperate Tsar and Tsarina. They had tried everywhere to find a cure for their son and in 1905 asked the charismatic peasant healer for help. He was said to possess the ability to heal through prayer, and he was indeed able to give the boy some relief. Skeptics have claimed that he did so by hypnosis, though during a particularly grave crisis, Rasputin, from his home in Siberia, apparently eased the suffering of the tsarevich (in Saint Petersburg) through prayer. Since this was not the first time that he healed the tsarevich, it does not prove that the healing resulted from prayer rather than from a psychosomatic effect, but it does cast grave doubt on the hypnosis hypothesis.
The Tsar referred to Rasputin as 'our friend', a sign perhaps of the trust the family put in him. Especially on Alexandra he had a considerable personal and political influence. They considered him to be a man of God and a religious prophet. Their relationship can also be viewed in the context of the very strong, traditional, age-old bond between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian leadership.
Controversial activities and beliefs
Rasputin in the meantime became a controversial figure, leading a scandalous personal life with his mostly female followers from the Saint Petersburg high society. Furthermore, he was frequently seen picking up prostitutes and often drank himself into a stupor.
According to Rasputin's daughter, Maria, Rasputin did "look into" the Khlysty sect, and rejected them. While the Western world is particularly interested in the sexual aspects of this sect (supposedly tied to a belief that one can obtain humility only by debasing oneself), Rasputin was particularly appalled by the belief that grace is found by harming one's body.
Like most Orthodox Christians, Rasputin was brought up with the belief that the body is a sacred gift from God. (Attaining divine grace through sin seems to have been one of the central secret doctrines that Rasputin preached to (and practised with) his inner circle of society ladies). The idea that one can attain grace through sin is not secret. It is also understood that sin is an inescapable part of the human condition, and the responsibility of a believer is to be keenly aware of his sins, and willing to confess them, thereby attaining humility.
During World War I he became a focus of accusations of unpatriotic influence at court; the unpopular Tsarina was of German descent, and her confidante Rasputin was accused of being a spy in German employ.
When Rasputin expressed an interest in going to the front to bless the troops early in the war, the Commander-in Chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, promised to hang him if he showed up. Rasputin then claimed that he had a revelation that Russian armies would not be successful until the Tsar personally took command. This the ill prepared Nicholas proceeded to do with dire consequences for himself and for Russia.
While Czar Nicholas II was away at the front of the war, Rasputin’s influence over Czarina Alexandra rose immensely. He soon became the confidante and personal advisor of Alexandra. He also convinced Alexandra to fill some government offices with his own handpicked candidates. To further increase his power, Rasputin slept with upper-class women in exchange for granting political favors. Because of World War I, and to a lesser extent, Rasputin, Russia’s economy was declining at an extreme rate. Many blamed Alexandra and Rasputin, because of his influence over her, for this. Here is an example:
Vladimir Purishkevich was an outspoken member of the Duma. On November 19, 1916, Purishkevich made a rousing speech in the Duma, in which he stated, 'The czar’s ministers who have 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 czarina…who has remained a German on the Russian throne and alien to the country and its people.' Felix Yusupov attended the speech and afterwards contacted Purishkevich, who quickly agreed to participate in the murder of Rasputin.
Rasputin’s influence over the royal family was used against him and the Romanovs by politicians and journalists who wanted to weaken the integrity of the dynasty, make the czar give up his absolute political power, and separate the Russian Orthodox Church from the state. Rasputin unintentionally contributed to the propaganda by having public disputes with clergy members, bragging over his ability to influence both the czar and czarina, and by his dissolute lifestyle. Nobles in influential positions around the tsar as well as some parties of the Duma, the Russian parliament, clamoured for his removal from the court of the tsar.
Prince Felix Yusupov, Duma member Vladimir Purishkevich , and the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov, important members of the St. Petersburg elite, finally took the lead in the decision to murder Rasputin, because they viewed him as a source of major disgrace for the Tsar's family. They killed him on the night of December 29/December 30, 1916 (16 December according to the Julian calendar that was still used in Russia at the time).
How exactly they killed Rasputin is not clear. There was no police investigation after his death, so we know only their own version. According to them, Yusupov invited Rasputin to his palace on the pretext of his wife Irina needing his attentions as a healer. In a dining room in the palace basement, the two served their guest with wine and cakes laced with potassium cyanide. The poison was ineffective, so they shot Rasputin three times in the chest, back and head, and beat him around the head with a dumb-bell handle. They then tied him up in a sheet and dropped him through a hole in the ice into the Neva River. He drifted under the ice, still fighting to free himself.
It is unclear why Rasputin survived potassium cyanide, if he indeed swallowed it. One possible case is that he was a heavy drinker and thus he suffered from achlorhydria (an absence of stomach acid, which is required to transform harmless potassium cyanide into lethal hydrogen cyanide), which meant that the poison had no effect on him. Alternatively, the sugars in the wine and cakes may have inhibited the cyanide, or the chemical used may have been non-toxic either deliberately or accidentally. A book by Edvard Radzinsky suggests Yusupov may have deliberately fluffed the murder, because he was in love with Rasputin.
The dead body of Rasputin washed up on shore three days later. There was no water in his lungs, meaning he did not drown, but died some other way (most likely freezing).
For some reason, there was no police investigation. All three killers died much later from natural cases.
Supposedly, his penis was cut off and preserved after he died. The Russian museum that displays what they claim to be Rasputin's penis has measured its length at 30 centimeters, or about 12 inches. This, however, contradicts the memoirs of one of his friends who saw him in a banya and claimed that his body looked pretty ordinary (except that he looked much younger than his age).
There is some evidence that the British Secret Intelligence Service, worried that Rasputin may influence the Tsar to make peace with the German Empire and thus free up German troops for the Western Front, was also involved.
Prediction of Disaster
On the night of his murder, Rasputin said to Yusupov: "The aristocrats can't get used to the idea that a humble peasant should be welcome at the Imperial Palace. They are consumed with envy and fury. But I'm not afraid of them. They can't do anything to me. I'm protected against ill fortune. There have been several attempts on my life but the Lord has always frustrated these plots. Disaster will come to anyone who lifts a finger against me". Within three months Nicholas II and the Romanov dynasty were overthrown; within 19 months the tsar and his family were all dead.
The contemporary press as well as sensationalist articles and books that were published in the 1920s and 1930s (one of them even by Yusupov, Rasputin's main murderer) turned the charismatic peasant into something of a 20th century folk myth. To Westerners, Rasputin became the embodiment of the purported Russian backwardness, superstition, irrationality and licentiousness, and an object of sensational interest; to the Russian Communists, he represented all that was evil in the old regime and had been overcome in the revolution. Yet to the ordinary Russian people, he remained a symbol of the voice of the peasantry, and many (Russians) to this day reject the myths, honoring the man. In fact, after the fall of the Communist government, key documentation was discovered, and the Church considered canonizing Rasputin as a martyr.
Since the end of Communism in Russia in the 1990s, some Russian nationalists appeared to have tried to whitewash Rasputin's reputation and use the powerful 20th century archetype that he has become for their own end. New evidence that has surfaced since the end of the Soviet Union, however, at first appeared to refute their claims of his saintliness.
This documentation is primarily in the form of notes written by individuals who were paid to keep surveillance on Rasputin's apartment, recording his comings and goings as well as visitors to the apartment. That this was being done was not a secret at the time, and Rasputin occasionally expressed annoyance at this. It has been noted in books written as early as 1919 that those notes are, at best, highly questionable, intended to "prove" the allegations of those who paid to have such "proof" documented.
A brand of vodka, made in Germany, and once heavily advertised in Russia, also bears the name Rasputin, featuring a hologram of Rasputin's face, which appears to wink when the viewing angle is changed.
"The Spirit of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin"
After his death, his secretary Simonovich realised that Rasputin had moved a lot of money into his daughter Maria's account and generally set all his affairs in order.
Weeks before he was assassinated in December 1916, and according to his secretary Simanovich, Rasputin wrote:
"I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1. I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the Children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood, for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands from my blood. They will leave Russia. Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigori has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then no one in the family, that is to say, none of your children or relations, will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people. I go, and I feel in me the divine command to tell the Russian Tsar how he must live if I have disappeared. You must reflect and act prudently. Think of your safety and tell your relations that I have paid for them with my blood. I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living. Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family. -Grigori"
Why he wrote this prophetic letter, if it was not made up by Simanovich, is a mystery. Some speculate that Rasputin had a spiritual vision foreshadowing such an event. Others believe that Rasputin knew that he was widely reviled by the Russian people at the time he wrote the letter and that some wanted to kill him.
Rasputin is reputed to have cut locks of hair from the virgins he had sex with. When his house was pulled down in 1977, the authorities unearthed several boxes containing hair buried in the garden.
Rasputin in arts
There have been several books, cartoons, films, and even musicals about this legendary figure. One in particular was developed by Michael Rapp and stars Ted Neeley, of Jesus Christ Superstar fame, as the mad monk. A collaboration with Ozzy Osbourne, the show is currently in talks to appear on Broadway.
Alan Rickman played Rasputin in a film produced by and first aired by HBO in 1996. Rasputin also starred Ian McKellen and Greta Scacchi as the Tsar and Tsarina. Rickman and Scacchi each won an Emmy for their performance, and Rickman and McKellan each won a Golden Globe. Rasputin has also been played by actors such as Tom Baker and Christopher Lee.
Grigori Rasputin plays a major role in the game Shadow Hearts 2.
He plays the main villian in the comic book series Hellboy, appearing often as a spirit that takes human form. Karel Roden plays the main 'evil' character Grigori Rasputin in the 2004 film version. He's seen working with the Nazis in the film and demonstrates great occult abilities linked with the underworld. Somewhat immortal as every time he dies, he ressurects with a part of his god within his body.
In White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness role-playing game metaverse, many factions of supernaturals claim Rasputin as one of their own, including one faction of mages (the Cult of Ecstasy), at least two factions of vampires (the Brujah and Followers of Set), and one faction of werewolves (the Shadow Lords). The "truth" is still disputed.
- The Evil Monk: The Life and Times of Gregory Efimovich Rasputin
- Rasputin, Grigory Yefimovich, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia
- Russian Revolutions of 1917
- The Alexander Palace Time Machine Bios-Rasputin
- The Murder of Rasputin
- Russian Museum to Exhibit Rasputin's Penis
- Rasputin the Musical by Michael Rapp and Ozzy Osbourne
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