The meteoric rise of Grigori Rasputin from a peasant farm in Siberia to the most trusted confidant of the Czarina of Russia and the mystic healer of her son is a lesson in the power of charisma and the willingness of people to believe a charlatan. From his humble beginnings, Rasputin, the Mad Monk, experienced a bizarre religious conversion, became a holy man and spiritual healer and ingratiated himself into the Romanov family by offering false hope. The life of the Mad Monk is one of mysticism, madness and murder.
Grigori Rasputin married a fellow peasant, Praskovya Dubrovina, in February of 1887. Ten years later, Rasputin suddenly announced he was leaving to go on a religious pilgrimage. This move raised some eyebrows. Rasputin planned to leave his pregnant wife and infant child behind to go on his pilgrimage, leading some to wonder if he had ulterior motives for fleeing. Some experts claim Rasputin was involved in a horse theft operation and was, perhaps, skipping town to avoid prosecution. Others claim that the pilgrimage was inspired after Rasputin had a vision. Whichever the reason, Rasputin’s departure from his Siberian village started him on a path that led him to St. Petersburg and the royal family.
Rasputin’s pilgrimage took him to the Monastery at Verkhoturye where he was further inspired by several theologians. He gave up eating meat and drinking alcohol. He became a holy wanderer, or pilgrim and took on the appearance of a crazy, unkempt person. Between his travels, he returned to his village and his family and held religious services in his home for a small group of devoted followers. The local priest grew concerned that Rasputin was pulling followers away from his church and spread rumors that Rasputin had a bevy of female devotees who would ritually bathe him before each service. These rumors were never substantiated. It was even claimed that Rasputin was a member of the Khlysty, a religious sex cult that engaged in orgies, homosexuality and other sexually depraved activities.
Rasputin was personable, powerful, and intense. He had a way of making people believe and trust him. Wherever he went, he quickly amassed a group of devoted followers who fully believed everything the holy man told them. A keen observer and a student of the human mind, Rasputin’s ability to help resolve people’s problems and ease their worries contributed to his reputation of being a mystic spiritualist. Even though it was well known that Rasputin was sleeping with many of his female followers, he was still presented with a letter of recommendation to study at the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. He traveled to St. Petersburg in the early 1900s.
Czar Nicholas wrote about meeting Rasputin in his personal diary, dated November 1, 1905. In the entry, he referred to Rasputin as a “man of God.” The members of the Romanov family, particularly Nicholas’ wife, Alexandra, were mesmerized by the energy that exuded from Rasputin. The Czarina believed that the spiritual healer could cure the evil infliction that threatened their son, Alexei, who, like many in the royal lineage, suffered from hemophilia. Alexandra was convinced that Rasputin was destined to cross their path and that he was the answer to her prayers.
Rasputin began his foray into the lives of the royal family by praying over young Alexei and ‘healing’ him from his disease. But he was grooming the Romanovs to follow his orders. Soon Alexandra and then Nicholas started to rely on the charlatan’s wisdom and advice on matters of the state. When Czar Nicholas left the city in 1915 to oversee the Russian troops fighting in World War I, Rasputin’s influence over Alexandra tightened even more. In her husband’s absence, Alexandra sought Rasputin’s counsel and many of the decisions she made based on his advice made her unpopular among the people of Russia. By December of 1916, the conservative noblemen in the Russian government decided it was time for Rasputin to go.
Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the conspirators, invited Rasputin to his palace where he offered the Mad Monk a selection of tea cakes and tea, all of which had been laced with poison. Rasputin ate heartily, but to the Prince’s surprise, the poison had no effect on him. The Prince next offered Rasputin some Madeira wine, which was also laced with cyanide. The mystic drank three glasses and, again, was unaffected. By this time, the Prince was deeply concerned that his plan was going awry. He excused himself and went into another room where his co-conspirators were waiting. Another nobleman gave Prince Felix a pistol. The Prince shot Rasputin once in the chest and watched as he fell to the floor. He then went to get the other conspirators and brought them back to view Rasputin’s dead body. Imagine their surprise when they bent down to examine him and he sprang up to attack Prince Felix. Rasputin was shot two more times, once in the temple at close range. He was also stabbed. Still, on his feet, Rasputin stumbled out of the palace and collapsed into a snow bank. The conspirators rolled his body in a cloth and dumped it into the icy river. After his body was found, a coroner stated that Rasputin had drowned, despite the gunshot wounds, stab wounds, and poisoning.
The reliance on Rasputin’s guidance contributed to the downfall of the Czar and his family. The Russian people could see that the holy man was really a charlatan who had used his charisma and offers of false hope to insinuate himself into the upper echelon of the Russian royal house. The citizens of Russia felt that the Romanovs were out of touch with the masses and the issues facing the common people. With revolution looming, the Czar and Czarina were arrested and later executed, along with their children. The mesmerizing power of the mystic Mad Monk was a major factor that turned the people of Russia against the royal family.