If, interested in the history of the occult and the practice of black magic, you take to Google to find some of the largest figures following the left hand path, you might be surprised at how polite and normal the vast majority of them look. Despite whatever activities and rituals they might get up to behind closed doors, central figures like Aleister Crowley and Marie Leveau, without context, could easily be confused political figures of the time. Bowties, neatly-kempt hair, these are not things that jump to mind when we imagine a follower of the occult. Grigori Rasputin is a different story.

A picture of Grigori Rasputin without a label or name attached to it still likely carries feelings of discomfort, of deviance, a feeling that this is a man living an alternative existence. Between his wild beard, his robes, and his haunting eyes, Rasputin carries himself with the energy of a man who has seen more than you’ll ever know. Rasputin did not need to convince anyone of his qualifications or dark connections with charm or confidence, like a modern cult leader or mystic figure would. If someone who looks like Grigori Rasputin tells you he has powers, you believe him, and you quickly look for someone else to talk to.

A young rasputin

Public Domain

Hey, I uh, just remembered I have to go to the bathroom.

This energy might come from the fact that Rasputin, unlike many other prominent occultists, did not come from money or power. Some already had powerful inroads, and fell into occultism as a hobby, a pursuit of intellectual curiosity and perhaps even boredom. Rasputin was born a peasant in Siberia, and even before his first beard-hair had sprouted, those in the village considered him to have mystical powers. This likely made his reputation all the more ominous. Someone like Aleister Crowley, for all his pomp and circumstance, was basically a black magic bookworm. What he knew he’d read and written. Rasputin, in the opinion of those around him, was the source of strange happenings himself.

A young Grigori acted out. I suppose when those around you consider you to be a level of supernatural, things like reading and writing might seem trivial. Instead of literacy, Rasputin participated much more heavily in sexual exploration, putting in a large amount of hours in his own debauched self-education. It was from this behavior that he actually earned the name “Rasputin”, meaning “Debauched One,” which is metal as hell. This replaced his birth name of Novykh going forward, probably to the slight relief of his relatives. One can imagine a lot of “Wait THAT Novykh?”

As he aged past his teens, Rasputin found his own path to enlightenment, declaring that the closest one could become to God was through “holy passionlessness” which he considered achieved during the period of exhaustion immediately following gratuitous sexual activity. Yes, Rasputin basically celebrated the ascendant qualities of post-nut clarity as religious. Here is as good a place as any to mention another misconception, one that even the introduction of this article may have furthered. Though the manners of his belief and practice were far from orthodox, Rasputin was not a follower of Satan, pagan gods, or any such thing. He was a devoted believer and follower of the Christian god, and it was through him he claimed any powers he may have. In fact, Rasputin was likely closer to a modern day cult leader than the lightning-shooting, incantation-repeating wizard figure he’s sometimes portrayed as.

At this point, Rasputin was traveling the country as a holy man and healer, albeit one who had a deep fondness for women and wine. It was through these travels and tales that he eventually landed in St. Petersburg, where his reputation preceded him. His true ascendancy, however, occurred in 1908.

political cartoon of rasputin

Public Domain

A political cartoon warning of Rasputin's influence.

Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov were the current Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. However, their line of succession was terrifyingly frail, as they only had one son, Alexei, and he suffered from hemophilia. As, well, most diseases in that time were, it was a diagnosis with slim hope for survival. Desperate to keep her son and heir alive, Alexandra called for the mysterious peasant known for mystical healing properties as Alexei entered another bleeding episode.

To their relief and amazement, Rasputin was able to control Alexei’s bleeding. Here is where you can enter debate and look for proof of his mystical powers. Some historians believe that his success in healing Alexei wasn’t via any supernatural means, but a lucky byproduct of Rasputin forbidding doctors from giving Alexei aspirin, which we now know to be a blood thinner. The cause may be disputed, but the success of his treatment is not. And by establishing himself as perhaps the only thing capable of keeping Alexei from an early death, Rasputin, in one fell swoop, both legitimized his claims of mystical powers, and became indispensable to the Tsar and Tsarina.

From then on out, Rasputin was one of the most powerful men in Russia. He was forever close to the Tsar and Tsarina and trusted especially deeply by Alexandra. His indulgent tastes in women, prostitutes, and wine continued, but those raising any complaints or concerns against him were treated as liars, and often found themselves exiled. Even when his behavior became so scandalous as to result in his own expulsion, it was short lived before the Tsarina pleaded with her husband to return Rasputin to their court.

His reign and influence on the Romanovs is often portrayed as dark and mysterious, a shadowy figure who invited in evil elements. There is evidence however, that he was far from evil, and still held a great deal of concern for the peasants and lower classes of the empire that he’d been born into. There are records of notes written begging the Tsar and Tsarina to share food surpluses in times of hardship among the lower class. The notes betray Rasputin’s continued illiteracy, e.g. “kind dear apologies forgive me much meat is needed, let Piter eat, listen help rosputin,” but they warn of a coming revolution if the starvation was ignored, an event that did come to pass.

When it did, Rasputin was not there to see it, having died 2 months earlier. With a life that was anything but normal, it was perhaps natural that his death became one of his greatest legends. Rasputin was said to be nigh-unkillable, as many through the years, despising and fearing his power as advisor, had unsuccessfully attempted his assassination. The tale goes that the final, successful attempt was a series of brutalities that would make an SVU detective lose their donuts. According to his assassin, Felix Yussupov, he first fed Rasputin a feast laced liberally with cyanide, which Rasputin ate without an ill effect to be seen. A terrified Yussupov then unloaded a revolver into the mystic, and claimed even the bullets seemed to have no effect, finally drowning him in a freezing river.

Dead rasputin

Public Domain

Well he definitely seems pretty #&$*ing dead.

These details are disputed today, sometimes attributed to embellishment by a Yussupov who wanted to portray his murder of Rasputin as a more glorious and supernatural event. Rasputin’s own daughter alleges her father was killed by a simple bullet to the head. Which is, to be certain, contains a whole lot less grandeur than a legend of useless poison, tanked bullets, and of course, a massive penis preserved in a jar. (Records of Rasputin’s autopsy say his bits were all present and accounted for, and the general thought is it’s a cow’s penis.)

What is for sure, whether you choose to believe in some sort of mystical healing power, or simply a lucky distrust of aspirin, Rasputin is one of the rare occult figures whose hand and influence has indisputably altered the history of the world.

Top Image: Public Domain/Public Domain

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