Russians have always had a centuries-long passion for the occult, and in times of social and political change the paranormal mushroomed, with all manner of psychics, wizards and sorcerers popping up to offer so-called “magical services”, on a much grander, and to some, a far more appalling scale than in the West. Behind the facade of today’s Russia is a bizarre place unknown to most westerners, a world where businesspeople turn to urban witches for solutions to their problems and lawyers consult psychics to predict the results of upcoming cases. Although it’s hard to get exact figures, there are an estimated 100,000 professional occultists and psychics in Russia, with the business apparently very lucrative, as it is through the Balkans and into Transylvania as well.
Besides the Orthodox religion, all the ancient faiths are reviving, mixing Slavonic paganism to Siberian rituals. More popular than movie stars, miracle healers fill football stadiums and group sessions are broadcast on prime time state television.channels. Hypnosis via satellite, resurrection, promises of a better world and warnings of apocalypse are reported every day on the front pages of newspapers. The extrasenses, as the Russians call them, can cure AIDS, bring back an unfaithful husband or fertilize plants.
“Occult powers seem to be a matter of national temperament. Second sight and telepathy come naturally to the Irish. The Germans seem to produce more gifted astrologers than other nations. The Dutch produced two of the most gifted clairvoyants of the last century: Croiset and Hurkos. Russia tends to produce mages — men or women who impress by their spiritual authority; no other nation has a spiritual equivalent of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Certainly no other nation has come near to producing anyone like Madame Blavatsky (1831), Gregory Rasputin or George Gurdjieff (1877). Each is completely unique.” ( Colin Wilson )
Initially,the emergence of Rasputin, as a starets, or faith healer did not arouse suspicion in a country somwhat jaded by their ubiquity. Nobody knew much about him, and indeed his background is still obscure. Legends festoon such a character like seaweed around a drunken ship. By the time he was lured to his death in the basement of a St. Petersburg palace in 1916, he had aroused such intensities of hatred and loyalty that the facts of his early life already had slipped beneath the surface of reality; they shimmer murkily there, distorted by the refracted light of partisan views.
Was he, truly, at sixteen already known in his part of Siberia as an insatiable lecher whom the peasant girls somehow could not resist? Did he, at the same time, show gifts of second sight and prophecy that cast a glow of religious mysticism around his head? Did he disappear from home for long intervals, wandering about Russia and even to the Holy Land as a starets, a pilgrim of God, who was still a drunkard and an indefatigable satyr? Was he a member of the secret group known as ''Khlysts'' , outlawed fanatics who held frenzied rites in torchlit forest glades that ended with wild, naked dancing and abandoned sexual orgies?
All of these suppositions were part of the Rasputin legend long before he died, and there probably is a kernel of truth in most of them. It is known on better evidence that he was born, about 1870, in the village of Pokrovskoe, in a fertile and prosperous part of Siberia, the son of a relatively well-to-do peasant, who may have originally come from the city, but was forced into exile for some form of white collar crime, likely theft of property.
He was christened Grigori Efimovitch, and it has been claimed that ''Rasputin'', which means ''dissolute'', was a nickname given him later for sufficient reasons; but it has also been claimed that it was an alternative name for his village, which stood at a crossroads. In a slightly different form, ''Rasputin'' means just that.
”As an adult, Rasputin had a dram
religious conversion while visiting a monastery and became a Priest. After a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that he made entirely on foot, Rasputin returned to Russia and settled in St. Petersburg. The “mad monk” Rasputin was very popular at the court of the last Czar of Russia, because he healed the Czar’s hemophiliac son through prayer.”
He grew up as a farm boy and in his teens was a carter. Soon after that, his wanderings began, as well as a reputation as a mystic, and from there on it is more and more difficult to sift fact from legend until he moves into the limelight of St. Petersburg after 1905. What is known for sure is that Rasputin possessed one of those charismatic personalities that mysteriously exude an aura of singularity. He stood out in any crowd, not for his average size, but for that radiating singularity. In attempts to explain it physically, most people who knew him attributed it to his eyes, but the pupils were small and bright and had a ”piercing” quality; many felt there was something distinctly hypnotic about them.
Then there was his manner. he was rough and uncouth, yet there was about him none of the deferential humility of the typical Russian peasant only half-escaped from serfdom, whose costume he persisted in wearing no matter what high echelon of St. Petersburg society he touched. There was instead a disconcerting self-assurance, as if he knew some unique secret and was on easy terms with unseen, supernal forces.
”The Czar needed a peasant” wrote one of Nicholas’s head courtiers; and the czarina needed one too, for she cherished a romantic notion that, despite her unpopularity with the upper classes, the millions of obscure Russian ”muzhiks” were lovingly loyal to her and the czar. Even Rasputin,s air of supernatural sponsorship did not strike Alexandra as contradictory to the idea that he was typical of the people, since she devoutly believed that in their untutored faith the simple peasants of Russia were more directly in touch with God than the priests of the Church.
“When I was writing my book on Rasputin I noted the coincidence — that Rasputin and Archduke Ferdinand had been struck down at about the same time — and tried to find the actual date when Rasputin had been stabbed. The accounts seemed to differ; the most reliable historian [of the times], Sir Bernard Pares, seemed to think it was on Saturday, June 26, 1914. But Maria Rasputin’s book on her father states quite definitely that they all arrived at Pokrovskoe on the [sic] Saturday, and that it was the following day, Sunday, when Rasputin was stabbed. This was made even more likely by the fact that he was stabbed after he returned from church. So Rasputin was stabbed on the same day the Archduke was shot. Maria Rasputin gives the time as shortly after two in the afternoon. ( Nancy R. Fenn )
”There did not seem to be anything satanic about Babushka Katya – another Russian faith healer I found, this time out in the Moscow countryside.Mind you, there was something a little odd about this paranormal pensioner. She had two giant puffer fish hanging up on her washing line; an enormous lobster clung to the wall. And sprawled on her living room floor was a half-naked man, waiting patiently for some magical therapy. Babushka Katya has queues of patients: that is why she is not worried by the threat of a ban.
“I’ve got politicians coming here for treatment,” she boasted to me, “policemen, criminals, all sorts. You’ll never be able to get rid of the faith healers – we’ll always have customers.”
”An unusual crowd hustles at the doors of Moscow’s famous Dinamo stadium. Five thousand dressed up young women and babushkas clinging to their plastic bags, wait for the show of Nikolai Pantelimon, the Shaman of Chukotka, the “Master of Orgasm”.
More Apache Indian than Siberian, in his multi-colored fringed costume, Pantelimon performs a tribal dance with a tambourine. With his voice from beyond the grave, he speaks of biological fields and evil spells: “Remember,” he screams, “remember the green snake(alcohol) and the devastation brought into your home.” so saying he collapses on the stage. Echoing moans rise out of the darkness from the audience. Zombies stand up raise their raise their arms as sleepwalkers and stagger towards the stage. Moans turn into terrifying shrieks as, stripped to the waist, Pantelimon, falls into a trance. All of a sudden, projectors illuminate the public, revealing the hundreds of bewildered women, who are crawling towards the shaman. Panelimon’s assistants help thirty of them up the stage, leaving the others in tears at the foot of the stairs.