David Fox examines this fascinating figure…
Title: ‘Rasputin and The Fall of the Romanovs’ Author: Colin Wilson Year of Publication: 1964
‘Grigory Rasputin had one curious characteristic that distinguished him from the other village boys; he possessed a degree of the second sight.’
Since his appearance in pre-revoulutionary St Petersburg, Grigory Rasputin has remained an object of intrigue, speculation and rumour throughout the world. The incredible story of the peasant from the obscure village of Pokrovskoe, Siberia, who would meteorically rise to become (albeit briefly) one of the most powerful figures on the world stage, continues to captivate and amaze modern historians. It is said that this mysterious monk held seemingly Biblical powers such as the ability to heal the sick, foresee future events, and demonstrate startling feats of telepathy. Wherever Rasputin wandered, his influence and reputation grew, some venerated him as a true holy man of God, whilst others dismissed him as a confidence trickster and charlatan. This was chiefly due to Rasputin’s well documented affection for the temporal aspects of existence, which is of course at odds with mainstream Christian ideology. How did this shadowy figure of eccentricity and dubious character manage to win over the trust and affection of the Tsar and Tsarina prior to the abrupt and brutal culmination of the Romanov dynasty? In essence it could be readily argued that prior to his assassination in 1916, Rasputin was effectively operating as the last Tsar of Russia. Colin Wilson provides a fascinating analysis and insight into the life story of one of modern history’s exceptional characters.
‘Rasputin preached that all religions are of equal worth and constitute different means of reaching God.’
Wilson’s analysis of Rasputin’s early development and wanderings does reveal a genuinely spiritual character who was clearly motivated by an inner impulse for higher truth, understanding and communion with God. The monk’s charisma, magnetism and uncanny ability to predict future events and demonstrate acts of thaumaturgy, quickly earned him acclaim throughout his home village and beyond. Indeed, on his arrival in St Petersburg in 1905 an Okhrana spy reported that ‘crowds assemble at Rasputin’s, and people wait two or three days before being able to approach the monk.’ Naturally such adoration will be met with jealousy and suspicion, particularly from those with vested interests such as Rasputin’s local priest and the political establishment of the time. This pattern would continue to develop throughout the monk’s eventful life and his enemies did not have to look far for ammunition to slander.
‘From childhood on, Rasputin took his freedom, and the benevolence of the universe for granted.’
The monk’s nocturnal indulgences became well known around St Petersbourg, and Rasputin rapidly gained an unsavoury reputation as an arch-seducer. Indeed, his indiscretions merely provided his political opponents with an angle to promote him as a negative influence upon the royal household. However, Wilson notes that Rasputin exhibited a perennial naivety and there is evidence to suggest that he was influenced by the mysterious Khltsy sect which do not subscribe to orthodox church doctrine. His spirituality was more akin to that of Zarathustra as opposed to St Francis of Assisi. Rasputin refused to deny the temporal and appeared not to differentiate between the spiritual and the material. Wilson appreciates that the ancient notion of finding enlightenment, and ultimately God, through the celebration of life itself, in all its forms, continues to resonate among sects such as the Khltsy which do not conform to the established dualistic views of the church. Nonetheless, such an ambivalent nature would have been considered abhorrent by the majority of his contemporaries. For a high-ranking man of the cloth to have been so openly promiscuous and debauched was an affront to church and state.
‘the speed with which he acquired followers and disciples was amazing… They clung to him like flies to a honey pot.’
Many have speculated about how Rasputin quickly gained such a powerful influence over the Tsar and Tsarina. Wilson does offer considerable detail regarding his thaumaturgical prowess, and cites various accounts from several sources concerning his almost God-like ability. Tsarevich Alexei suffered from the unfortunate condition of haemophilia. Seemingly the only person who could ever stop the bleeding whenever young Alexei had an accident was Rasputin. This was clearly the major factor in maintaining his bizarre influence over the royal household. Political opponents viewed the monk as a menace who had evidently bewitched the Tsarina and was surely conspiring against the national interest. A wave of vitriol directed towards the monk, compounded by the ever-increasing hardships of the first world war upon the Russian people, culminated in the assassination of the Tsarina’s favourite in the early hours of 30th November 1916.
‘Whatever else may be said against Rasputin, he certainly possessed this intuitive optimism and trust, an awareness of the power of the spirit.’
Colin Wilson provides an excellent portrayal of one of the most complex and intriguing figures of the twentieth century. He neither sensationalises nor apologises. Wilson merely provides the reader with a highly engaging, informative and objective view-point of the life and times of Grigory Rasputin. This is masterfully presented along with a concise and enlightening historical context, which the author presents very well to the reader. Indeed, students with little or no knowledge of Russian history could appreciate this text as much as experts, and this highlights the genius of Colin Wilson. Clearly the popularised image of Rasputin needs to be revised and Wilson has gone some way to doing this. The victors will always write history to serve their own agenda, and it was in the Bolshevik interest to demonise, defile and distort the final chapter of Tsarist Russia.
To find out more about David Fox, visit his website: David Fox Magic