On 30 December 1916, a man was dying, slain like a dragon, a man with serpent eyes who blessed crowds, announced Christ’s return and deflowered nuns, pretexting that he was exorcising them. A man who resisted potassium cyanide and revolver bullets, who paralysed people by the power of his gaze, who opened locked doors, and whose death was accompanied by inexplicable perturbations.
This person of malefic charm was called Gregory Efinovitch, but he is better known by the name of Rasputin. The son of a drunken moujik, he was born in 1871 in Pokrovskoi, a village in West Siberia. Having shown his evil instincts fairly early, he had received from his companions the nickname of Rasputnik, which means: debauchee, rake. At twenty, he enters the famous sect of the “Flagellants” whose orgies take on a sacred character. During nocturnal meetings in an isba or a clearing lit by hundreds of candles, the “faithful” try to obtain religious ecstasy at the same time as erotic delirium.
After invocations and hymns, everyone starts to turn in a mad circle, while the head of the sect whips the dancers whose strength weakens. Soon, there are only frenzied couples on the ground… According to the sect’s theory, to repent well, you must have sinned… For God only cares about lost sheep…
Rasputin, whom these sorts of mystico-sadistic practices particularly please, has a house built especially to receive the sect’s meetings. But a scandal having erupted, the young “flagellant” has to leave his village. Then, pushed by a mysterious force, this peasant with no instruction goes to visit the principal Russian monasteries with the aim of acquiring a reputation for holiness. He studies the sacred texts, speaks, preaches, sometimes delivers himself up to fantastic orgies, but astounds the crowds by the penances that he inflicts on himself afterwards. At Saint Petersburg, he is received at the convent of Saint Alexander Nevski by the Superior who, completely mesmerised, thinks that he discerns in Rasputin “a spark of God”.
This success marks the beginning of his career. Little by little, the lower clergy, then the archpriests, are full of consideration for him. His reputation for sainthood grows each day. He is presented as a prophet. However, his lubricity is known: after he has passed through a convent, very few nuns are still virgins, and his worshippers see him leave a brothel, pushing before him a naked girl whom he is whipping with a belt. But everyone thinks that these are probably lessons that you must be able to understand… And then, practically all the women are for him. He only has to appear and plant his eyes into the eyes of a chaste wife for her to become an hysterical Bacchante…
In 1906, he is presented to the Archmandrite Theophane, Rector of the Theological Academy of Saint Petersburg and Confessor to the Tsarine. Immediately welcomed at the Court, he soon exercises considerable influence there. This uneducated moujik stamps his boots across the Palace floors, rudely insulting the Princes and the Grand Dukes. The sovereigns, completely subjugated, pardon him everything. Further, he makes prophecies which come true and everyone is afraid of him. At last, according to certain historians, he manages to do with the Tsarine what he does with all women… From this day, it can be said that it is he who governs Russia…
Naturally, Rasputin has enemies; many people at the Court would like to get this demoniacal being away from Nicolas II and Empress Alexandra. He gets in first by telling the Tsarine:
“I know that there are nasty people who lie in wait for me. Don’t listen to them. If you abandon me, you will lose your son and your throne within six months…”
The Tsarevitch is, in effect, ill, and Rasputin, who has already saved his life in a mysterious way, possesses this sure means of pressuring the Empress. She, completely subjugated, has sent away or deported any person who permits himself the slightest criticism of the “prophet”. Further, she tells him all the State affairs, even the most secret ones. It is 1915, and Russia is at war with Germany.
A few aristocrats, understanding the danger that Rasputin represents for their country, decide to kill him. Among these is the Tsar’s own nephew, Prince Felix Yussupov, aged twenty-eight. But the “prophet” is well protected. Before anything can be attempted, the Prince must make Rasputin’s acquaintance in a normal way, allay his fears, pretend to be his creature and find out about his habits. Afterward, a trap can be laid…
The meeting takes place through a mutual lady friend, who is a fervent admirer of the “holy man”. She is very far from guessing what is being prepared in her salon. But the acquaintance must be continued. Prince Yussupov has an idea. He complains about suffering from something that the doctors cannot cure. Rasputin’s face lights up. He tells him:
“I will cure you, for I treat in God’s way, with divine remedies, and not with common drugs…”
From then on, the Prince can regularly visit his “healer”; but the facility with which his subterfuge has succeeded worries him a bit. One day, he even lives through a few anguishing minutes and thinks that his project has been guessed. The scene is impressive: Rasputin, with the pretext of treating him, makes him lie down on a couch and, looking him fixedly in the eyes, places his hands on his forehead while murmuring a prayer. Their faces are very close and Yussupov can see only Rasputin’s eyes. Terrible eyes full of hate which hypnotise him. For a long time, the two men remain like that without moving. Then the “prophet” rises in one leap and begins to make passes over the Prince, who later recounts:
“I felt that a force was penetrating me and that it was spreading a hot current in all my being. At the same time, a general torpor was invading me; my body was growing numb. I was trying to speak, but my tongue was no longer obeying me and I was sliding little by little into a half-sleep, as if someone had administered a strong narcotic to me. Only Rasputin’s eyes were shining before me: two phosphorescent rays which were melting into a great circle of light which kept closing in on me then moving away from me. I heard his voice, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying; I remained in this state, without being able to cry out nor move.”
To be continued.