The legend of Grigori Rasputin, commonly referred to as simply, “Rasputin,” has a significant reach.  Even before I was aware of the tsarist government in Russia that allowed his rise to power, before I know who Tsar Nicholas II was, pop-culture had left me acutely aware of the Russian mystic that proved so difficult to kill, his death became the stuff of legend.  Like Aleister Crowley, those heavily involved with the occult look to men like Rasputin as undeniable proof of the power available to human beings if they could only master a twisted and darkly real version of Harry Potter’s spells.

Little is known about the early life of Rasputin, though there’s plenty of conjecture.  What we can surmise for sure is that he was likely born in January of 1869, and by 1897 he converted and joined the Russian Orthodox Church.  Despite holding no official position within the church, he managed to captivate church and social leaders while on a pilgrimage sometime between 1903 and 1905, and by November of 1905, he met the man who would be the final Tsar of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II.

Nicholas II had only one heir to inherent the throne, but the child’s hemophilia threatened to leave the Russian nation without a dynastic replacement for its leader.  Enter the mystic healer Rasputin, who captivated both the Tsar and his wife, Alexandra.

Soon, Rasputin had developed a powerful rapport with the Russian Tsar, and with many others in the nation.  Russians far and wide saw him as a powerful mystic, a magician, and even a prophet.  Still, many others within the Russian elite saw him as something else entirely: a charlatan, and more importantly, a threat.

Grigori Rasputin in 1916, shortly before his death.

The story of Rasputin’s death was relayed by the powerful Russians that claimed to have killed him, and seemingly eager to demonstrate their own power, they painted a picture that was in keeping with Rasputin’s reputation.  A group of Russian nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and the politician Vladimir Purishkevich lured the mystic to Yusupov’s Moika Palace with an invitation from Moika’s wife.  According to their tale, they led the man to the cellar, where they fed him cakes and red wine laced with what should have been more than enough cyanide to kill “five men;” yet he remained unaffected.

Prince Yusupov grew concerned that the poison may be taking too long to take effect, allowing the man to survive the night and potentially to reveal their crime, so he spoke to his co-conspirators before coming back downstairs and shooting Rasputin in the back with a revolver.  After the shooting, the group chose to leave the palace for a bit, but Yusupov claimed that he returned to the basement for his jacket – only to have Rasputin’s body regain consciousness and lunge at him in an attempt to strangle his killer.  The other conspirators, apparently nearby, leapt into action, firing three more shots into his back.  Rasputin fell to the floor, and as they approached him to confirm he was finally dead, they were shocked to find him awake and struggling to get back to his feet.  They clubbed him repeatedly until he stopped moving, and according to some legends, they severed his penis for good measure, before binding him and wrapping him in a carpet like the victim in a poorly written movie.

The group of conspirators then, per their own accounts, tossed Rasputin’s body into the icy Neva River.  When his body was recovered days later, doctors claimed to find more than enough poison to kill a man in his system – but more interestingly – water in his lungs, suggesting that the Russian magician had survived the poison, shootings, beatings, and possible even the penis-severing, only to finally succumb to drowning when he couldn’t escape his carpeted prison.

Of course, the story was corroborated by those involved, eager to secure their own places in Russian history amidst a revolution that would end the Romanov Dynasty and the rule of Rasputin’s benefactor, Tsar Nicholas II… but can we really believe this account of events?  Could Rasputin truly have been immune to poison, maybe even to gun shots and blunt force trauma?  Could he really have possessed some kind of other-worldly power?