"The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine." ~ J.B.S. Haldane
Russian Royalty - Rasputin and the Romanovs
The observance of the 91st anniversary of one of history's most tragic events has just recently passed. On July 17, 1918, the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and sole son, Alexei, the thirteen year-old heir to the throne, were brutally put to death by Bolshevik soldiers in the basement of a house in Ekaterinburg in central Russia. Executed along with the imperial family that night were four loyal household members -- the tsarina's lady-in-waiting, the tsarevich's physician, a footman and cook.
Though many diverse events led to the doomed Romanov's martyrdoms, one of the most prominent causes was the controversial presence of an amoral mystic holy man often called "The Mad Monk". Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was a Siberian peasant who became a strannik, a sort of wandering religious pilgrim, after a revelatory vision of the Holy Virgin Mary. He bore the reputation of being a powerful psychic and prophet who effected healing through prayer. Alexei, the future emperor, suffered from the "royal disease" hemophilia, an inherited genetic disorder more widely known as "free-bleeding". His parents, despairing of his fragile condition, sought cures with numerous physicians and healers but when none were successful, his mother Alexandra resorted to calling upon Rasputin,
In 1908 the monk came to be the boy's health advisor, successfully through prayer and mysticism aiding in alleviating the misery the young heir endured during crisis moments. Theories have been put forth to explain Rasputin's miraculous cures. Hypnotism and the prescribing of the new wonder drug aspirin are only two among many. Counter-arguments point out that he didn't know hypnosis and aspirin's anticoagulant properties would have been more detrimental than restorative. In 1912, while visiting Spala, Poland a careless fall, which for a healthy child would have resulted in no more than a minor bruise, was for Alexei a grave injury seemingly ensuring his imminent death. Though Rasputin had not accompanied his charge on the trip, he assured the frantic empress by telegram, "The young one will not die. Don't let the doctors bother him too much." The tsarevich made a remarkable recovery, thus cementing the royal family's, and most especially Alexandra's, faith in his powers.
The holy man's reputed ability to heal was not limited to only frail Alexei. A close friend of the tsarina, Anna Vyrubova, was injured to the point of death in a train derailment. Her body crushed and broken, she lay in a coma and her physicians had given up all hope when Rasputin entered her chamber. He stretched forth his hand over her bed and as perspiration beaded his brow he concentrated and then commanded, "Annushka, Annushka, rise." Within moments Anna opened her eyes and struggled to sit up. Rasputin then declared that she would survive her injuries though she would never walk again. And so it came to pass.
Levying the Romanov's trust in him into a position of political and spiritual influence, he brushed aside his foes' accusations of accepting bribes, of engaging in depraved sexual orgies, of violating a nun, of membership in a banned religious sect and of interfering in international policy. Rasputin was aware of the hatred and jealousy borne him as Alexandra's confidante, though there is no evidence of truth in the rumors that he was the tsarina's lover. He was certainly guilty of using his influence for blackmail and personal gain, often reveling in the power he wielded and the awed fear he inspired. He was characterized by admirers as a saint, by detractors as the Antichrist. His very presence constituted a quandary of unsolvable proportions. The aristocracy despised a dirty, drunken peasant risen above his station. Russian peasants felt the royals demeaned themselves by constant association. Religious patriarchs loathed him because he was the antithesis of the orthodox clergy. The imperial family would not do without him for fear of Alexei's life. As international tensions erupted into World War I and Russian internal unrest simmered, Rasputin's political meddling became more pronounced, yet the Emperor and Empress refused to heed council where the monk was concerned.
Whether inspired by Rasputin's astuteness regarding the potential consequences of his nefarious actions or his mysterious psychic powers, shortly before his murder in 1916 he wrote a letter prophesying of his own death and the fate of the Romanov family.
"I write and leave behind me this letter at Saint Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1. I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the Children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood, for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands of my blood. They will leave Russia. Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigori has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then no one in the family, that is to say, none of your children or relations, will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people. I go, and I feel in me the divine command to tell the Russian Tsar how he must live if I have disappeared. You must reflect and act prudently. Think of your safety and tell your relations that I have paid for them with my blood. I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living. Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family."
On December 29 two members of the extended royal family, Grand Duke Dmitri Palovich, a cousin to the tsar, and Prince Felix Yusupov, husband of the tsar's niece Irina, along with an accomplice, conspired to assassinate the monk by poisoning. In an elaborate ruse to get Rasputin alone, they lured him into Prince Felix's palace where they offered up cyanide-laced cakes and wine. After two hours without exhibition of any ill effects, the stymied nobles resorted to more direct tactics. They shot their "guest" at least four times, thrice in the back and once in the head. Despite apparent mortal wounds he continued to struggle against his panicked murderers who began to heavily bludgeon and stab him before binding their prey in a carpet and tossing it into the frozen Neva River. When the body was pulled from the icy water three days later an autopsy revealed the cause of death as drowning. The grief-stricken tsarina had Rasputin interred on the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, the imperial family's summer estate south of St. Petersburg, but his remains were dug up after the February Revolution of 1917 and taken to be burned. Horrified witnesses reported that during the cremation the Mad Monk sat up and tried to move out of the fire, his contorted dead body seeming to reach for those who profaned his rest.
As his death had come at the hands of boyar nobles, so came true his final prophesy. Within nineteen months of Rasputin's murder, Nicholas and Alexandra and their five children were shot to death in a cellar on a mild summer night in 1918. Often overlooked but worth attending is the monk's prediction of twenty-five years without nobles. That too came to pass. Of the few remaining blooded family aristocrats who escaped execution by Bolshevik firing squads, none ever set foot upon Mother Russia's soil again. They all died in exile, and thusly the tragic Romanovs were the last of an imperial dynasty which had reigned absolute for greater than three centuries while one mystic peasant, Grigori Rasputin, will live forever in the lore of PARANORMAL CURIOSITIES.