Rasputin went from peasant thief in rural Russia to one of the most influential men in the country. Legend has it, he did it after getting his powers from his connection to the Khlysty sect.
Grigori Rasputin went down in history as a deviant, mad monk who basically cursed Imperial Russia and was thus responsible for the tragic end of the Romanov dynasty. Though most stories about him are mere exaggerations concocted by the press of the time, we do know for certain that he was quite an unorthodox monk who was a little frisky and got too involved in the Empire's government decisions through the art of manipulation.
One of the things that make Rasputin such a mysterious character is the fact that he presented himself as a healer and even convinced the royal family that he was the only one who could treat their hemophiliac son during his bleeding episodes. Though some believed it was all a con, for many others (himself included), his powers were real and verifiable. So, how did a peasant and thief from a remote Siberian town become so influential in the Russian political circles as a supposed healer?
According to legend, it all has to do with his religious origins and his connection to the secret sect of the Khlysty. After being banished from his hometown, Rasputin went on a pilgrimage to find God. His journey took him to Khlysty, an unorthodox religious group who strongly believed that the only way to find true happiness was through God’s forgiveness. And in order to be forgiven, one had to have a reason, in other words, one had to sin in order to be fully repentant and thus find God’s forgiveness and grace.
Though there are many theories regarding the word's origin, the most accepted one is that it comes from “khristovovery” (Christ believers). Another accepted etymology is “klyster,” meaning “the one that purges,” and the one given by its critics is “khlyst,” meaning “whip,” since it’s highly believed that one of their practices was auto-flagellation (and ritual orgies), but we’ll get there in a moment.
The origins of the sect are unclear, though it’s believed it originated in the 1640s as part of the Spiritual Christians (also known as “folk protestants”) movement that wanted to separate from the mandatory Russian Orthodox Church. While it’s believed that these groups were mainly conformed by indigenous rural Russians, the truth is they were bigger than anyone knew, since one of the rules for the preservation of their secrecy was publicly obeying and following the precepts of the Orthodox Church. Why such privacy?
Well, for the Khlysty, and some other unorthodox groups, God was constantly revealing himself and communicating with human beings, not only in word and faith, but literally revealing and being in touch with them. How? They believed that the birth of Christ was just one of the many times God had become a man to bring his word directly to people. Moreover, they believed their learnings and precepts were effective to turn themselves into this manifestation of God.
The process consisted of two steps called the “mysterious death” and the “mysterious resurrection.” The first one could only be achieved when the individual managed to submit himself (because, naturally, these groups were formed by men) to the Holy Spirit. In other words, they believed that once an individual reached this stage, he would no longer experience the sensations of the flesh and thus his time to sin was over. The “mysterious resurrection” came when that sinless individual fully accepted the Holy Spirit and now had abilities to heal, prophesize, and even bring back the dead. So, does that mean Rasputin reached the stage of "mysterious resurrection"?
Not really. Though it’s known he spent some time with the Khlysty before moving to St. Petersburg when official priests of the Orthodox Church summoned him, there are doubts about whether he fully belonged to the sect. It’s said that he was an avid learner and drew a lot of ideas and precepts from the sect but skillfully adapted them to his convenience. Most likely, one of the practices he actually experienced and embraced was the “Radenyi,” which were basically ritual orgies where flagellation and sex would allow followers to fully experience their human selves.
Rasputin was kind of a lecher who enjoyed carnal pleasures, but seeing it under the scope of the Khlysty, more than being just a big sexual appetite, it was his way to fully find redemption. Now, as for his healing powers, he might’ve not reached the “mysterious resurrection,” but he learned how to use language and charisma to trick the mind to do the unthinkable.
Did he really cure the young Tsarevich Alexei? Not really, since hemophilia can’t be cured, but he managed to ease the pain and anxiety of the poor boy by entrancing and calming his mother, Tsarina Alexandra. So, at the end of the day, the Khlysty did give Rasputin the keys to success and, at the same time, his downfall. They gave him the ability to trick the mind with a discourse about love and God capable of convincing the most desperate, and the Romanovs were definitely desperate for a miracle, which came in the form of the peasant monk.
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