Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Григо́рий Ефи́мович Распу́тин) (January 10, 1869? – 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 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.
Rasputin played an important role in the lives of the Tsar Nikolai II, his wife, the Tsaritsa Alexandra and their only son, the Tsarevich Alexei, who was a haemophilia patient.
Meaning of the name Rasputin
The name Rasputin in Russian does not mean "licentious", as is often claimed. However there's very similar Russian adjective "rasputnii" (распу́тный) which does mean "licentious". The name Rasputin may also bear the connotation of "mud", as in rasputitsa (распу́тица) — "mud season" (i.e., "rainy season"). However, most historians agree that his name signifies, roughly, a place where two rivers meet, which describes the area from which the Rasputin family originates. It is said that Rasputin tried to have his name changed to the inconspicuous "Novykh" (Новы́х, "New Man") after his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but this is a subject of dispute. In fact, "Rasputin" is not an uncommon surname, and does not have a "disgraceful" meaning, as the contemporary Russian writer, Valentin Rasputin, would be quick to explain.
Healer to the Tsarevich
Rasputin, whose date of birth is a matter of dispute (generally ranging from 1869 to 1871), was born into a Siberian peasant family in the Tyumen district. Rasputin was wandering as a pilgrim throughout Siberia when he heard reports of Tsarevich Alexei's hemophilia in 1904. 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 practiced 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.
A 1916 cartoon suggesting Rasputin's influence over the Tsar and Tsarina
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. 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.
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.
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), 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 plied their guest with wine and cakes laced with potassium cyanide. The poison was ineffective, possibly because Rasputin 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 claims Yusupov may have deliberately fluffed the murder, because he was in love with Rasputin.
When the Siberian peasant failed to die, 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 the purported corpse into a sheet and dropped it through a hole in the ice into the river Neva, where the sturdy peasant finally drowned, having drifted under the ice, still fighting to free himself. 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.
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' face, which appears to wink when the viewing angle is changed.
"The Spirit of Gregory Efimovich 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...If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you Tsar of Russia, have nothing to fear, remain on your throne and govern, and you, Russian Tsar, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia...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...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."
Why he wrote this prophetic letter 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.
"Rasputin" was also a hit song by the disco music band Boney M.
Grigori Rasputin plays a major role in the game Shadow Hearts 2
Karel Roden plays the main 'evil' character Grigori Rasputin in the comical action hero movie Hellboy 2004. He's seen working with the German Nazis in the film and demonstrates great occult abilities linked with the underworld.
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