This is some crazy shit. If you only read one of my articles on secret societies this is it. A tale of peasants and strange beliefs. Of government officials and masochist rituals. A strange mix of people from all classes of society being conned into a belief of a greater mystical power. The Skoptsy. The Castrated. So get a drink, sit back, and enjoy some insane history.
They began as a splinter faction of a group of flagellants, those religious guys that flog themselves on the back. Later in history Rasputin was a flagellant. This Skoptsy sect goes all the way back to 1757, but their existence wasn’t found out about until 1771. It was too late. For some awful reason by that time it had spread too fast and too much and was to continue, somehow, for over a hundred years.
The official record begins then with a guy named Andrei Ivanov. He was arrested, charged, and convicted with convincing 13 people to castrate themselves. During his trial in the city of St. Petersburg people were astonished and confused that people would voluntarily do this to themselves to just become part of some underground masochistic group. It became quite a topic of conversation in the day, as I bet it still would in our society. Ivanov was sent to Siberia for the rest of his life.
But not before he had already converted a deep believer though. Or maybe Ivanov took all the blame and confessed in place of his master because he was a deep believer. Nobody knows for sure anymore.
The Skoptsy said they were mystics, they told converts that they knew the key to salvation. They used a combination of Christian beliefs and mystic pagan rites to spin the tale. They said that evil in the world is because of human sexuality - lepost. That the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden became part of our bodies in the form of the male genitals and female breasts. If these body parts were removed you would be reinstated to a pristine human being, as Adam and Eve were before the Original Sin. That if you removed them then you would then be given a great secret, the supreme power over other humans and other people could not have any power over you. If you removed these forbidden fruits from your body you would then be capable of divine healing, divination, mesmerism, telepathy, and deep trances. Thousands of people believed the story and performed the ritual ceremony.
The ceremony, or radenyi, was designed to create a sort of religious fervor and ecstasy and is said to have happened something like this. They would be dressed in long white robes. Mystic invocations and hymns were spoken while the members swayed and whirled around. The dance would build up in fervor until the members were spinning ever faster. If someone stopped or slowed down, they would be whipped by the master of the ceremony until they resumed. When the Master thought they participants had been induced into a suitable ecstatic state they would collapse into a non-sexual orgy of fits and convulsions.
At the start it was called it the Baptism of Fire. Later it was known as the greater seal. For women, the breasts were cut from the body and sometimes genital mutilation would be done too. For men they had two levels, the lesser seal and the greater one. The former required that the testes be removed, the latter – both the testicles and the penis were hacked off.
It was done without any type of anesthetics or proper medical procedures. In the early days it was said that it was done with a blazing hot poker (the fire part of the baptism)– later on they did it with pretty much whatever was at hand: knives, razors, hatchets, even shards of glass. A nail was placed in the urethra tube to keep it from healing shut. Some members with children would also have their children be ritually castrated.
Anyways, this new guy that took over for Ivanov was named Kondrajti Selivanov. The heat was on where they had been living, and now it was just Selivanov spreading the word. So he escaped south, over to a city called Tambov. From there he was able to build a congregation of believers by preaching his doctrine. One converter became his disciple, by the name of Alexander Shilov. Together they convinced hundreds to join the cult.
Selivanov, now chubby and hairless because of his own castration, moved to Moscow to further the cult by converting people there - leaving Shilov in charge. He had moved too close to the seat of the government though, and was arrested and sent to Siberia while any converts were beaten by the police. That didn’t work out that well because even though the converts were warned to not preach the belief, they did so anyway. The cult continued to grow, astonishing the people and the authorities.
Unlike Ivanov, eventually Selivanov was able to escape Siberia and returned to Moscow.
In 1797 he was somehow granted an audience with the Tsar who, upon hearing the beliefs of the Skoptsy, had Selivanov sent to an insane asylum. Later around 1815, when Alexander I of Russia was on the throne he was under the spell of a lady called Baroness von Krudener, known to be a religious mystic – a prophetess by some. She considered Selivanov a saint and had the new Tsar order his release. She would bring Selivanov along to all the high gatherings and parties of the countries elite. Many of these people were convinced and became converts by his preachings, undergoing the Baptism of Fire.
The most influential was a man named Alexie Jelanski – a State Councillor and as such he had the power to keep the police and other authorities away from the Skoptsy. Selivanov now called the faith The People of God and set up his ‘church’ at a house called Heavenly Zion, and was funded by the donations of all the believers. Remember that he now had converts consisting of the big money elite.
Selivanov’s claims became grander and more outlandish. He was now telling everyone that he was the reincarnation of Christ. That Shilov, his initial disciple, was John the Baptist reborn. That he had castrated himself as soon as he reached adulthood, and told believers about all these miracles he learned to perform because of that. He claimed that he was the true Tsar of Russia, Peter III (1728-1762) and when he had married Catherine II she was repulsed of his lack of manhood and tried to have him assassinated. So he had to flee and swapped identities with a common soldier. He ‘proved’ this by the fact that numerous Russian elite had joined, because they knew who he really was. And his believers ate this Whole. Plate. Of. Shit. Up.
He even wrote a book to spread the word called The Book of the Passion of Peter(really Selivanov) the Redeemer. Where he explained all his grandiose claims of his history. He secretly had this plan to convert people in enough powerful places in politics and the military to overthrow the government and place himself in power. In 1818-1819 there were reports of mass castrations of military garrisons.
The Baroness, meanwhile, had a look alike take her place and joined the cult full time taking the assumed name of Akulina Ivanovna (The last name of the guy that started this whole thing). She was said to be like an oracle and transferred the divine powers to the converts.
A few powerful leaders in the Russian hierarchy got together in 1820 and were able to use their combined power to take Selivanov away. They brought him to the monastery of Suzdal where he stayed until he died in 1832 at a claimed age of 100. But not before saying that he will live forever and return to being the ruler of all Russia.
Even after his death Skoptism continued to draw new converts. No matter how many were caught, they would keep spreading, new groups springing up all over the place. The government would exile many of the ones they caught to Siberia and Yakutsk. To escape prosecution, some moved to Romania where they took up jobs as horse cab drivers and moneylenders. The rules were modified too, so that converts could have up to two children before undergoing the Greater Seal.
It is estimated that Skoptsy numbered as high as 100,000 at the height of the movement in the early to mid 1800s, with around 1000-2000 believers still around in Soviet Russia in 1930. There are rumors that the Soviet Party leader from 1953-1955, Georgy Malenkov, had been castrated by his parents when he was a child. The last Soviet Skoptsy were thought to have finally come to an end in 1962. Some people seem to think that there could still be a few remaining in the deep pockets of Romania.
To promote cross-community relations I have reached out to @rusteemitblog a great group doing dual language posts. @xanoxt has kindly volunteered to translate it for our Russian friends. So big shout out to them. @xanoxt should have his post up for them in a day or two.
My moment of honesty:
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