I just finished reading Edvard Radzinsky’s investigation and reconstruction of Grigory Rasputin’s life and death. I cannot escape the fact that Rasputin deserves some serious writing, a comprehensive perspective. He, initially an illiterate peasant and a heavy drinker, became one of the few most influential persons in the last years of the Imperial Russia. I feel that before I am ready to author a serious work on Rasputin (if that ever happens) I need to write this short note now.
|Grigory Rasputin gives his blessing|
The renowned historian Radzinsky, who is famous for his exalted emotionality as exhibited in the TV shows that he hosts, concludes his Russian biography of Grigory Rasputin with a statement that Rasputin was a faithful Christian who ended up in lust and sin and “serving Antichrist.” I want to subject that Radzinsky’s statement from the concluding paragraph of the otherwise beautifully and neutrally written biography to doubt (it is understandable what presuppositions the statement seems to be based on) and note here that Rasputin is ungraspable with black-and-white judgments. As most phenomena in pragmatic happenings of the world he does not conform to simplistic labels “good” or “evil”; and as a complex personality that stirred and influenced some of the major events in pre-Soviet Russia and Europe Rasputin needs to be apprehended with a perspective of profound complexity.
There is no doubt that Grigory Rasputin was a Christian mystic and healer, that kind of personality which uses altered states of consciousness, shaman-like ecstasies, and what in some spiritual traditions is known as “subtle energies” in order to catalyze a therapeutic effect. At the same time he was a man coming from the lowest and most underprivileged class (caste) of Russian society—peasants—which is essential to remember in order to be realistic about the probable structure of his personality.
Why Radzinsky calls Rasputin a person who believed that he served Christ while in fact serving Antichrist? “Father Grigory,” who in pre-Revolutionary 1910s has had the reputation much alike to that of a controversial rock star, with (mostly exaggerated) rumors about sex orgies and alcohol parties always surrounding him, belonged, as Czarina Alexandra firmly believed, to Holy Fools, Russian Orthodox Christian variation of what is known in the East as “Crazy Wisdom.” Indeed, in the last years of his life (he was violently murdered in December 1916 by high-profile conspirers who deserve more than a passing mentioning) Rasputin appeared to have transformed into a drunkard in the brutal state of Russian binge drinking (zapoy)—and it is interesting to note that, according to reports made by the secret police, he was able to become sober when it was needed (that is, whenever Czarina summoned him for a healing session with her only son Alexey who suffered from hemophilia) within a very short time.
But it is unfair to make an absolutistic, reifying statement that his apparently open views on human sexuality—and his use of sexual energy (known in India and China as prana or chi) for mystical purposes—were “sinful” (at least if we don’t really use the word “sin” as an excuse to label and negate the multiplicity of people and attitudes). In fact, the remarkable book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Human Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá shows that our assumptions regarding what is normal, what is and isn’t sinful in terms of sexual relationships are largely misinformed and require further investigation and reflection. Our common assumption that the Eurocentric conservative model of sexuality (with its emphasis on monogamy) is universal appears to be false and distorted; and, as Ray Harris points out in a number of his works, the totality of human sexuality is more like a spectrum with different styles appropriate in different contexts (see, e.g., his article on Integral Sexology).
Grigory Rasputin became both a hero and a victim of his time. Rasputin managed to achieve that which seemed impossible: coming from a poor peasant family he entered the elite circle of the most powerful people in Russia, appointing and firing ministers together with his clique that operated under the auspices of the Czar and Czarina. But in the largely mythic mentality of Russian society at that time his unorthodox (for mainstream “moral majority”) views, enormous vitality, folk sexuality, simple origins, provocative behavior and multi-faceted personality made him a victim of the constant social pressure that always came with shadow-driven attacks.
The combination of sex, spirituality, and power triggered the entire spectrum of mass projections on what the nature of Rasputin’s relations with the Emperor’s family was—including insisting rumors that he was sleeping with the Czarina (caused by repressed sexuality of the masses) or that he was cooperating with German spies during the World War I (caused by war paranoia and seeking for a scapegoat in the times of a crisis). It is important to note that Rasputin and Czarina Alexandra used all their political power in an attempt to prevent the World War I; and it was their opponents who were outraged by “the peasant’s influence” on international affairs. The World War I brought the Russian Empire to its end; and many Rasputin’s enemies died with its demise, as history of the 20th century has demonstrated. Indeed, history tends to have that appearance of an ironic bitch sometimes.