Greetings, readers young and not-young, short and tall, and everyone in between! I hope everybody is — well, I know that I, for one, am tired of writing “I hope this finds you well” after years of these pandemic emails. I’m sure that we, as a human race, would like to collectively yeet it into the sun to burn for a thousand millennia. So instead, let’s just say I hope that everything is hunky-dory in your patch of the world.
Well, I’ve been writing for over five years for this site now, and I have to say that there are definitely different columns and points of interest that vacillate in their level of intrigue to me as the seasons come and go. And as we start to hunker down for the winter months in the northern hemisphere, I always find myself more drawn to the darker, more nuanced Rogue Bis column. Why? Well, reader, I’ll tell you: I love seeing great, sunny representation of our much-maligned sexual orientation as much as the next person, both in media and throughout our human history (Julie d’Aubigny, anyone?). Maybe it’s the longer nights, but as the days grow shorter, I love to look more at the darker, more complicated bi historical figures — even if they’re considered dastardly. This is what drove me to write about the life of the notorious Russian mystic and court advisor to the doomed Romanovs, Grigori Rasputin.
Before I get into this brief bio, I should note — this will not be a full, annotated version of this historical figure’s life. I’m also not praising him by taking a moment to examine his life or saying he was an exemplary bi man. What I am saying is that he was a remarkable one who changed the course of Russian history, and I think that is worth a bit of rumination.
Rasputin was born in 1869 in a region of Siberia to peasant parents. The only child of the family that survived to adulthood, he was illiterate until his late teens, which was common for the region’s demographic. Experiencing a religious conversion at the age of 18, Grigori headed off to a monastery in Verkhoture to study, but he instead found he felt the closest to God through the afterglow of sexual exhaustion after a licentious bender. This conclusion didn’t exactly align with the teachings of the church, and within a year he left the monastery. At the age of 19, he met and married Praskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina, with whom he had seven children (though only three survived to adulthood). While Praskovya remained devoted to her husband until his demise, the same faithfulness could not be said for her husband.
After a decade of domestic life, however, in 1897, Rasputin grew restless and instead began to wander further east into Russia as what is called a strenek, which is not really a monk but a kind of religious wanderer or pilgrim. These wanderings would take him to the Holy Land, places in Greece, and holy sites all over Russia.
In 1903, these travels brought Rasputin into St. Petersburg, where aristocrats quickly became fascinated with his mysticism, supposed healing powers, and gift of foresight as a source of entertainment. By 1905, the mystic was brought before Czar Nicholas Romanov and his wife, Alexandra. Hearing the rumors of his work as a faith healer, they soon appealed to him to work any magic he could on Alexei, their young son, in line to be czar and plagued with hemophilia. In the spring of 1907, he was summoned by the tsarina to pray for the boy’s internal bleeding to stop — which it did the next morning. It is unclear if the change in Alexei’s condition that day was due to Rasputin working with hypnotism, magnetism, or other forms of healing, but the results were in — the young heir felt better, and Rasputin quickly became a trusted adviser to the tsarina.
Over the next decade, this new position of court advisor and healer to Alexei contributed to Rasputin’s meteoric rise in prominence and influence. This led to favored positions in aristocratic circles, which the mystic took full advantage of with licentious behavior with the women, apparently claiming that sexual connection with him led to purifying and healing effects. He was also known to have lovers of all genders during this time and was also known for moving easily around the gay circles of aristocracy in St. Petersburg.
As World War I went on, Rasputin was assigned more responsibilities as Nicholas moved to command the Russian Army; he was given more of a chance to advise Alexandra, who took on more domestic policy. However, the true reach of his power is debated — whether it was more about his advising Alexei medically or being a comfort to Alexandra and more political appointments through her, seems to be an item of debate.
What is clear, however, is that many became concerned about the mystic’s undue influence on the tsarina as well as the empire. Many assassination attempts were made on his person, but none were successful — until the end of December 1916, wherein a way, he was killed many times over.
The story goes that Prince Felix Yusupov, husband of the czar’s niece, as well as a few other grand dukes, lured Rasputin to Yusupov’s house with the idea that he could come there to seduce his wife. He was given both cakes and wine, which were laced with cyanide — and though he partook of both into the wee hours of the morning, the poison seemed to have no effect. Rashly moving to a Plan B, Yusupov shot Rasputin at close range in the chest and left him for dead. When he returned a short time later, Rasputin surprised him by leaping up from the floor and trying to fight him. At this point, he was shot again multiple times and was beaten to a pulp. To ensure they did the job right, Rasputin’s body was then wrapped up in a rug, taken to the nearby Bolshoy Petrovsky bridge, and pitched over and into the icy waters of the Malaya Never River. Rasputin’s body was discovered a few days later, under a sheet of ice covering the river, this time definitely devoid of all life.
While he was originally buried within a day, in March of 1917, concerned that his gravesite would be an inspiration as a gathering sight for old regime supporters, his body was finally exhumed and burned to deter meetings at any burial site. However, it is rumored that, at the burning, the corpse sat up in the fire. (This is likely due to the corpse not being prepared for the fire and the tendons shrinking and contracting the corpse at the waist. Whether true or mass delusion by the crowd — still spooky!)
It may not have been known at the time, but Rasputin’s demise was part of the death knell of the Tsarist regime, as the Romanovs were assassinated within months of his murder, and the Bolsheviks began the Russian Revolution.
Again, I know this was not a complete history of the life of this influential Siberian mystic, and one may have many questions about him and his life after reading this article. Please consider this just a taster about the life and work of Rasputin. But if you are curious to learn more (such as the lurid sexual rumors about him or the fact that his daughter grew up to become, I kid you not, a lion tamer), you can find more books about him at your local library.