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The Religion Of Rasputin

The career of Rasputin provides one of the most disquieting chapters in
the history of sexual and religious emotions, and furnishes remarkable
proof of the close relationship which exists between these two sides of
human life, to all appearances diametrically opposed.

The supposed monk had undoubted hypnotic powers, and through his
success in sending people to sleep in his native Siberian village (in
the neighbourhood of Tomsk), he earned the reputation of being a "holy
man." As they had never heard of either suggestion or hypnotism, the
Siberian peasants were all the more impressed by his miracles. Before
long he decided to make use of his mysterious power on a larger scale,
and departed for St. Petersburg, where the news of his exploits had
preceded him. The Tsarina, who suffered from insomnia, sent for him,
and--thanks also to certain qualities which it is best not to
specify--Rasputin's fortune was made in a day.

The village of his origin had an undesirable reputation, for its
inhabitants were loose-livers, and the scandal of the surrounding
countryside. But even in this environment the monk's family had made
themselves conspicuous by their low and unmentionable customs. The
young Gregory, known by the diminutive of Gricha, began his exploits at
a very tender age, and earned the sobriquet of Rasputin, which means
"debauched." He was mixed up in all kinds of dubious affairs--for
instance, thefts of horses, the bearing of false witness, and many acts
of brigandage. He was even sentenced more than once to be flogged--a
penalty of which the local law-courts made generous use in those days.
One of his boon companions, a gardener named Vamava, later became
Bishop of Tobolsk through his influence.

But the time came when Gricha thought it well to abandon his small
misdoings, and take up a more lucrative trade. He discarded his
peasant costume, and adopted a robe similar to that worn by monks.
Grave and serious, declaring that he was ranged "on the side of the
Lord," he went about begging importunately, on the pretext of wishing
to build a church. In this way he succeeded in amassing a very
considerable sum of money, and subsequently founded a new sect whose
bizarre nature surpassed that of any others that had recently seen the

Its chief doctrines were borrowed from the _chlysty_, with some
modifications to suit the decadent atmosphere of the Russian Court. It
taught that none could be saved without first having repented; and none
could repent without first having sinned. Therefore to sin became a
duty, and it may be imagined how full of attraction was this "religion
of sin" for those who had neither the will nor the desire to practise

Rasputin began proceedings in his native province. He was a marvellous
preacher, and easily attracted many followers, though some of the forms
taken by the new religion were indescribable. The believers of both
sexes were in the habit of assembling in an open field, in the midst of
which a bonfire was lighted. They would form a chain and dance round
the fire, praying for their sins to be forgiven, as they had repented
of them. Gradually the fire would die out, and the leader then
launched his command--"Now, my children, give yourselves up to sin!"
The sequel may be left untold, but truly the _saturnalia_ of ancient
Rome grow dim before the spectacle of the ceremonies established by

His hypnotic practices, combined with the attractions of his
"religion," only served to augment his popularity, and, burdened with
past glory, he arrived in the capital to win the favour not only of
ladies of high degree, but also of many prominent members of the
established church.

Father John of Cronstadt, whom he first visited, was deeply impressed
when Rasputin revealed to him the extent of his "intimacy with the
Lord," and introduced him to the Archbishop Theophanus, almost as great
a celebrity as himself.

Finding it impossible to establish the Siberian practices openly in St.
Petersburg, Rasputin made great use of hypnotism. The fascination that
he wielded over all in his vicinity gave authority to his words, and he
devoted himself to exorcising the demons that slept in the bodies of
the pretty sinners of high society. In this, scourging played a
considerable part, and as all sorts of illnesses and unsatisfied
desires were attributed to the "demons," the number of cases treated by
the "holy man" was almost incalculable.

Even the prelates whom Rasputin ousted from their positions in some
cases still continued to believe in him after his death. The Bishop
Hermogen, whom he disgraced at Court, declared, the day after the
assassination, his conviction that Rasputin possessed "a spark of
godhead" when he first arrived in Petrograd.

Next: The Inspired Seers

Previous: The Divine Men

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