Grigori Efimovich Rasputin (1871?-1916) was one of the most enigmatic and controversial figures in 20th century history. Portrayed as both a saint and a consort of the devil, this Siberian "Mad Monk” reportedly drove hundreds of women into a sexual frenzy with his mesmerizing eyes and shaped the Russian history at a crucial period by gaining the confidence of the of tsar's family by treating Nicholas II's son's hemophilia.
Rasputin had long, dirty hair, parted in the middle, a flaring nose, a bushy, shaggy beard and piercing, deep-set, mesmerizing, "peculiar eyes." He rarely bathed, gave off a terrible smell and ate with his hands. The spell cast by Rasputin over the family of tsar Nicholas II, especially Empress Alexandra, bred resentment and helped bring down the Romanov dynasty at the end of World War I. People who met Rasputin described him as both short and tall, slender and fat. Some thought he was Alexandra’s lover. One of the women who worshipped him claimed he was impotent.
Book: The Rasputin File by Edvard Radzinsky (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday 2000) is regarded as the most authoritative source on Rasputin. It contains information released from Rasputin's KGB file after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Other books include The Life and Times of Grigori Rasputin by Alex de Jonge and a biography by daughter Maria.
Rasputin was born and grew up in Pokrobskoe, a town in the Tura River about 30 miles from Tuyman (currently on the Trans-Siberian Railroad) in western Siberia. Rasputin was the third and youngest son of a village headman and relatively prosperous farmer named Efim Akovleich Rasputin. His mother, Anna Egorovna, may have been a Samoyed of Mongolian origin.
The details Rasputin’s early life are sketchy. According to various reports he spent more time communing with nature than with people; he healed sick people with his touch; The name Rasputin was a name given to him by fellow villagers. It means "libertine" or "debauched one."
Rasputin married locally at 18 and had three children. As a young man he drank a lot and prayed a lot but was not a monk. When he was in his mid 20s, he had a life-changing vision of the Virgin Mary while working in the fields. He left his village and his young wife when an investigation into his practice was called for by the village priest.
Rasputin wandered from village to village like a holy man. His father once said, "Grigori became a pilgrim out of laziness—nothing lese." He left his villages to seek enlightenment and came to believe that the quickest way to become close to God was continually sinning (especially through sex) and repenting.
Rasputin's daughter Maria later wrote, "I think it is fair to say that Efim was never to understand his strange son, although when, in later years, he saw him receiving attention and even adulation, of the aristocracy of St. Petersburg, he began to realize that there might be more to the boy than he thought”.
Rasputin spent two years at the Russian Monastery in Mount Athos in Greece.
Rasputin's Sexual Allure and Lovers
If reports about his sexual exploits are to be believed, Rasputin was well endowed in terms of both size and endurance. He believed that his gifts were given to him by God and he became a member of the Khlisti sect, which practiced eroticism and erotic form of spirituality.
Maria Rasputin wrote: "his female devotees...were drawn to the worship of his phallus, endowing it with mystical qualities as well as sexual ones, for it was an extraordinary member indeed, measuring a good 13 inches when fully erect...As their passions were aroused, there was a tendency to forget the ritualistic aspect...and the participants would fall into a general orgy...Invariably, after one of these rites, my father would spend long hours in meditation and prayer, and he would find that his concentration was undisturbed by any conflicting thought."
Rasputin called himself "The Holy Star" and referred to his bedroom as the "The Holy of Holies." He urged women to "try the flesh" and whip them into sexual-spiritual ecstacy by fondling their breasts during religious rituals. Husbands of the women he had sex with were not angered because believed that sex with Rasputin was an act of redemption willed by God.
Rasputin is believed to have had thousands of mistresses and partners, including peasant girls and aristocratic ladies, many of whom worshipped like a God. In the villages he visited, peasant women threw themselves at his feet and kissed the hemline of his kaftan, murmuring "Father Grigori, our Savior!" Rasputin said that he preferred aristocratic women to peasant girls because they smelled better. His wife Praskovia Fedorovna Dudrovina, a blond blue-eyed village girl, whom he married in 1891, appeared to not have been put off by the attention. "He has enough for all," she said.
Rasputin and the Family of Nicholas II
Rasputin arrived in St. Petersburg and caught the attention of noblemen with his reputation for compassion, generosity and depredation through promiscuity. He has a soothing, appealing voice and charisma the outweighed what the French ambassador called "a strong animal smell, like that of goat."
By 1905, Rasputin's ability to successfully treat the pain and bleeding the tsar's hemophiliac son Alexei won the confidence of tsarina Alexandra, who believed that Rasputin was responsible for keeping her son alive. Rasputin became "a member" of Nicholas II's family. When he was summoned to the tsar palaces he embraced and kissed the tsar and tsarina and treated the boy with prayers, gentle massage and Siberian folk stories. Somehow he managed to successfully reduce Alexi's swelling and pain and was embraced by the Tsarina who called him "the new friend."
Rasputin seemed to cast a spell over the family Nicholas II, especially Empress Alexandra. Rasputin was sometimes called the "Tsar above Tsars" because the tsar and tsarina sought him out for decisions on important state matters. Rasputin acquired such power he hired an fired ministers and generals.
Rasputin is sometimes credited with convincing Nicholas II to refrain from entering the Balkan War of 1911 and some he might have convinced the tsar that was it against the interest of Russia to enter World War I but the monk was preoccupied by a suicide attempt.
In 1915, when Nicholas moved to the army headquarters near the Polish border, he gave Alexandra the power to run Russia. She relied on Rasputin for advise and both she, Rasputin and Nicholas resisted pleas by aides and advisors to appoint a more responsible government. Using his influence on the empress, Rasputin maneuvered ministers favorable to him into key positions and effectively ran the country for about a year and a half.
The spell cast by Rasputin over the family of tsar Nicholas II, especially Empress Alexandra, bred resentment and help bring down the Romanov dynasty at the end of World War I. A pamphlet entitled "The Holy Devil" published by a priest that went by the name "the curser" alleged that Rasputin had a sexual relation with the tsar's wife and backed his claims by quotes from the tsarina's letters which he had stolen from her desk. There were also accusations that he had sex with the tsar's daughters. Rasputin was protected by the tsar's secret police from women who claimed she was raped by the peasant monk.
Rasputin's Assassination and Legacy
There were may attempts to assassinate Rasputin. One former prostitute who found religion attempted to assassinate Rasputin by posing as a pilgrim begging for money. When Rasputin reached into his pocket to withdraw some coins, she plunged a knife into his abdomen, shouting, "I have slain the anti-Christ!. The mad monk pulled the knife out and quickly placed his had over the wound to prevent excessive bleeding and rushed to the royal palace where surgery was performed on the tsar's dining room table. Rasputin survived. Later he prophesied: "If I die, the Emperor will soon lose his crown."
At a midnight party hosted by an aristocrat named Prince Felix Yusupov, Rasputin drank several glasses of poisoned wine and cakes filled potassium cyanide. When Rasputin didn't keel over from the poison he was shot in the palace. When Yusupov kneeled over him, Rasputin grabbed him by the throat. At this point Yusupov ran off to get reinforcements. In the meantime Rasputin dragged himself outside. Yusupov's group found him and shot him a few more times and beat him with sticks. Rasputin was stabbed several times and fell into in Moyka Canal of the icy Neva River where he died of drowning at the age of 44. His death was mourned by peasants and women who loved him.
Rasputin’s three children survived into adulthood. Little is known of his son Dimitri and daughter Varya, both of who returned to Siberia after their father's assassination. Rasputin’s daughter Maria married a White Russian officer, worked as a cabaret singer in Bucharest and worked as circus animal trainer, performing for Ringling Brothers Circus as the "daughter of the Mad Monk.” She became an American citizen in 1945 and wrote various books about her father, including Rasputin: The Man Behind the Myth (1977). In her final years she survived by working as a baby sitter and a part time Russian teacher.
It's very possible that if there had been no hemophiliac son and no Rasputin the Bolshevik revolution could have been crushed. A popular song in Russia during the late seventies was a song about Rasputin by Boney M. The lyrics went, "Rah! Rah! Rasputin, Russia's greatest love machine!, It was a shame, How he carried on!"♪
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2016