Upon doing some research into Eastern European folklore and paganism I came across Vlach Magic which is still practiced in small villages in Serbia. Similar to Voodoo, its a blend of beliefs from the Orthodox Church and ancient pagan traditions. It’s a very secretive and ostracized practice which has been passed down from witch to witch within families. Black Weddings (marriages at funerals between the living and dead), blood, animal sacrifice, black and white magick are an integral part of the Vlach narrative. Vice did and interesting piece on this below.
Mind control, secret cults, prophecy, and murder all surround the infamous advisor to Czar Nicholas II, Grigori Rasputin. The story of Rasputin’s life and gruesome end is murky, but as time progresses more and more details reveal themselves about the true extent of his influence of the Russian aristocracy.
A humble beginning
Grigori Rasputin was born into meager means in Pokrovskoye, Siberia in 1869. His family were peasants surviving through farming and his father’s employment as a government courier. Surprising to most is that Grigori most likely was illiterate up until his later years. Peasant families often were not formally educated. As he grew, Grigori was no stranger to petty crime and known to be a mischievous young man with a checkered past. Much is unknown about his formative years, which has lead to many rumors about his wrong doings which were seemingly precursors to his blasphemes behavior as an adult in the court of the Czar.
Grigori’s transformation came after he was motivated to go on a spiritual pilgrimage at age 28. The pilgrimage was to St. Nicholas Monastery in Verkhoturye, a roughly 421 mile trip. He studied closely with staret Makary and subsequently learned to read and write. Grigori’s time spent at the monastery lasted several months. After returning home, looking disheveled and unkempt, he was a different man without vices. He traveled as a Strannik, or a “holy wanderer”, for years, gathering a small group of dedicated followers.
While still living at home with his parents even in his later years, Rasputin coopted his family’s basement and converted it to a makeshift church. His acolytes would gather here in prayer, sing unfamiliar strange hymns, and even engaged in sexual acts and orgies. One rumor was that Rasputin has begun following the fringe sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, Khlysty.
Khlysty’s root origin comes from the work “Khlyst” which translated to “whip” in Russian. Khlysts believed that instead of worshipping and communicating with the Holy Spirit through priests and holy texts, people could communicate directly with a higher power. One man and women, physical representations of both “Christ” and the “Mother of God”, lead each Khlysty Ark (or group). Ark’s regularly practiced self flagellation and the attainment of divine grace through sinful means, such as sexual orgies. This group was often persecuted and largely disavowed by church officials.
Later in life Rasputin seemingly continued the practices from this group with his followers and even his wife. Attempting to obtain redemption in the eyes of the Holy Spirit through sin, he was accused by many women of rape and assault.
At one time Rasputin had been caught violently beating his wife while she held on to his manhood, shouting: “I am your ewe, and you are Christ.” It had also been reported that the virgins that he had laid with had locks of their hair cut off. Evidence of hair was found in 1977 when authorities uncovered boxes containing hair in his garden. – Rasputin: Satanic Interpretations Versus Modern Interpretations by Simran Singh
Some of Rasputin’s occult aura may have derived from his abuse of Tantra. Tantra is a sexual energy used to align with the divine which can be misused if combined with desire. If this occurs, a devil resides in the person causing a split personality one of which would harm others. Could this be where he gained his power?
Rise to power
Rasputin’s true infamy and power came through his charisma and influence. In the early 1900s, Grigori Rasputin became well known in monastic circles as a holy man with great powers. This eventually lead to his journey to St Petersburg, during which time he befriended many in the Russian court and aristocracy. This lead him to the Czar in 1905. Rasputin’s influence over the royal family only grew from there. His acted as spiritual guide, healer, and even political advisor to Nicholas II and the Czarina, Alexandra.
One instance that solidified Rasputin’s close bond with the Czarina was the healing of her sick son, Alexei. Alexei was ailed with hemophelia, an affliction which leaves the sufferer with thin blood and the inability for it to clot. In this case, Rasputin was asked to aid in the healing of Alexei after an internal hemorrhage, which could possibly prove fatal. As a known faith healer, Alexandra desperately wrote to Rasputin for guidance.
Rasputin wrote back quickly, telling the Tsarina that “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.” – Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert Massie
Two days later, Alexei made a full recovery, allowing Rasputin full influence over Alexandra.
The slow descent
But the elite in the Russian court soon grew tired of Rasputin. Referred to as “The Mad Monk”, they viewed him as meddling and immoral. He was even subjected to surveillance, revealed in the “staircase notes”, which detail his many debaucherous behaviors with women, drink, and bribery. These were published widely in newspapers which only fueled the opposition against him.
This tension came to a head during the first World War. While Rasputin was staunchly against war, he did advise the Czar that if he did not personally take charge of the troops and their actions Russia would certainly face military defeat. Bolstered by his advisors words, Nicholas overtook control from his generals and went to the front lines with little experience. Rasputin’s advice provide disastrous.
During the Czar’s time away at war, Rasputin saw an opportunity to gain full control over the aristocracy and government. With Alexandra fully dedicated to Rasputin’s cause, his influence grew to it’s fullest potential. He soon was able to appoint handpicked officials which aligned with his views. Because of these actions, respect for the royal family declined. Alexandra, who was of Anglo-German descent, was even accused of being a German spy. Rasputin’s impact on Russia as a whole was earning him many enemies whose goal was to remove him of power.
One of these enemies was Pyotr Stolypin, the prime minister, who actively appealed to the royal family to remove Rasputin from the court. Once, while engaged in a heated argument, he later stated that Rasputin’s “satanic eyes” had quelled the argument. This was one of the many instances of Rasputin being accused of using hypnosis to bend others’ will towards his own. Stolypin was ironically assassinated soon after.
The final act
In turn, multiple assassination attempts were made against Rasputin’s life, however, the fatal encounter would take place in Moika Palace. Moika Palace was the home of Prince Felix Yusupov. Yusupov, the Grand Duke of Pavlovich, and the politician Vladimir Purishkevich. They would all participate in the final attempt.
Rasputin was lured by the prince to his home and ushered into the basement where he was presented with cakes and wine. Yusupov had laced each with potassium cyanide. After eating some of the cakes, Rasputin seemed unaffected. He then drank the wine. Still, no effect. Frustrated and incredulous to this, Yusupov finally took the Duke’s revolver and shot Rasputin square in the chest multiple times. While laying on the floor, the men took his clothes and one of them put them on and drove to Rasputin’s apartment. This was to give the perception that he had travelled home that night after their meeting.
This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die. – Memoir of Felix Yusupov
Upon returning to Moika Palace, the men returned to the basement to make sure Rasputin was dead. When bending down to take a closer look, Rasputin leapt up and charged the men. He managed to escape upstairs and outside until he was shot in the back and collapsed into a snowbank in the courtyard. He was bundled up, put in the car, and driven to a bridge overlooking the Malaya Nevka river. His body was thrown into the river and later found. His autopsy was rumored to show water in the lungs which could mean he actually died from drowning…not from the numerous attacks against him.
Eerily, Rasputin had previously sent this letter to the Czar shortly before his death.
I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1st.
I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, have nothing to fear, remain on your throne and govern, and you, Russian Tsar, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood, for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands from my blood. They will leave Russia.
Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death then no one of your family, that is to say, none of your children or relations will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people…I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living.
Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family.
Many New Yorkers are oblivious to the existence of a mass grave right below their feet. The AOL series “What Remains” did a fantastic episode on the Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York. The crypt in the park holds over 11,500 bodies of POWs from during the American Revolutionary War. Take some time to watch this episode and learn how the abandoned bodies, left to time on the sandy banks of New York City, made their way to be interned in the Fort Greene crypt.
While walking in New Orleans it’s easy to miss the large brick building with the bright red door at the corner of Ursuline and Royal street. In 1902, it would be home to one of the most infamous vampires in the world outside of the Vlad the Impaler. One could even argue Saint Germain far surpassed Vlad in his thirst for blood. In the dark streets of New Orleans, Germain hid in plain sight as an opulent member of the city elite. Jacques had a mysterious and colored past which he conveniently left behind before his voyage to the recently settled New Orleans which would allow him to lure many a soul into his home to their own peril.
While Germain moved into the New Orleans mansion in 1902, oddly enough he was rumored to had been born sometime late in the 17th century. Jacques Saint Germain claimed he was a descendant from Comte (Count) de Saint Germain. Details point to Comte being a prolific alchemist during the 1600s (far before his supposed birth). During the time, society became enamored with alchemy. Alchemy was the sibling to modern day chemistry and involved transforming matter into various materials, specifically base metals into gold. Another goal of the alchemist was the search for the Philosopher’s Stone; a stone that grants the wielder immortality. Many believed Comte was the holder of this stone. Supporting this theory, Jacques looked hauntingly familiar to his supposed ancestor.
The Undying Time Traveler
But if Saint Germaine was born in the late 17th century, why did people believe he was immortal? Well, sightings of the Count can be traced all the way back to the wedding at Cana during the time of Jesus Christ. Imagine being a witness to infamous water turned to wine transmutation! He may have also been present for the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D..
Regardless of rumored history, a handful of notable historical figures spoke regularly about a character eerily similar to the Count; these included Voltaire, Casanova, King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Franz Anton Mesmer, the father of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. To add to the err of mystery, New Orleans residents commented on the uncanny resemblance between the two and even started believing that Jacques could be Comte himself, ageless and immortal (an accusation Jacques would neither confirm nor deny).
The first record of his suspected immortality was at a party at the manor of Madame de Pompadour, then mistress of King Louis XV of France. The year was 1760 and a confused Countess von Gregory approached the man, thinking it was the son of the man she knew in 1710, whom she knew to be the Count de Saint-Germain also. On approach she discovered it was the same man who didn’t seem to have aged a day in the fifty years that had passed. It is noted that the Comte didn’t even deny that it was him, or play himself off as the son. It is even said that he joked with the Countess that he was indeed over 100 years old. – Mardi Gras: Celebrate New Orleans with Vampires, Parajunkee
There is a record of Comte’s death in 1784, however, he continued to be sighted across Europe. Each sighting he was reported to never appear a day over 45 years old, despite pushing at least a century and a half.
The Mysterious Stranger of Royal St
Why Saint Germain traveled to New Orleans is anyone’s guess, but when he arrived, he arrived with a bang. Upon moving into the home at Ursulines and Royal street, he threw a lavish party to essentially announce his arrival. Jacques had a mysterious past but it didn’t matter to the local elite since he was one of the wealthiest and cultured people in the city. He was charismatic, spoke numerous languages, and told engrossing tall tales of adventure. These parties became a regular occurrence for the new debutant. Despite never eating any of the food provided, and only drinking what appeared to be red wine, the public took to the charismatic new character of the French Quarter. But Jacques’ time in the Big Easy would be short lived.
A Bloody Turn
It wouldn’t be the rumors of his past history that would plagued Saint Germain in the end. Instead, it only took one jarring incident to truly immortalize the vampire of New Orleans.
During one of his extravagant parties, a young woman somehow coerced into a secluded area of the mansion, found herself exploring the luxe room. With her back to Saint Germaine, she was unaware of his intentions. She spun around to see him charge at her with alarming speed and ferocity. Upon pinning her to the wall he began biting into her neck, drawing blood.
Party goers looking to find their host ventured to the room and began pounding on the door, coaxing Jacques to come out and join the rest of the party. This startled Jacques and allowed for the woman to get away. Not seeing any other mode of escaping her attacker, she eyed a window leading out to a balcony, which she threw herself out of. Upon hitting the street she had broken bones in her feet and legs and cried out for help. Police arrived and the woman taken to the hospital. The explanation from Jacques? She was just drunk.
The police, not taking this justification at face value, told Saint Germain they would need him at the station first thing in the morning. Because all criminals should be allowed to get a good night’s rest, right? Morning came and Saint Germain was not at the station. The police immediately went to his home only to find that not only was Jacques Saint Germain no longer in the residence, neither were any of his belongings. Out of some of the trivial trinkets left behind police found no food, utensils to eat with, or any evidence of someone who consumed any sort of food. There was one macabre memento left behind; Saint Germain’s many bottles of red wine which upon taste were found to be partially mixed with blood. Upon further inspection police found rooms covered in blood stains, each seemingly having occurred at different points in time.
A bloody and violent history left behind, no one could ever track down the vampire of New Orleans, Jacques Saint Germain.
The Victorian era (from 1837 to 1901) was a time when people were surrounded by death. Many families were forced to confront death directly whether it was because of the lack of medical advances, the mourning of Prince Albert by Queen Victoria (the queen after which the era was name) 40 years after his death until her own, or the Civil War that was being waged in America where over 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. This period is unique since we see such a strong development of mourning culture. Many of the historical tales I’ll share on this blog took place at this time, but today I’m going to focus on Victorian hair art.
Wear mom’s hair as earrings
When most people think of hair and mementos they think of a lock of hair in a locket worn around the neck. A simple representation of keeping a piece of a loved one close after they’re gone. During the time it was even practice among the living seen as a gesture of friendship. Girls would exchange locks of hair similarly to the friendship bracelets we see today. Hair is an extremely personal thing. The power in which a color or tone of hair holds, the style in which its worn, the length, it’s health, it’s age are all incredibly representative of the wearer.
Beyond the simple locket, women of middle class standing, would make elaborate wreaths, earrings, brooches, and even dioramas from the deceased’s hair. A blend of the deceased and living’s hair could also be used as a sentimental representative of the closeness of the family to the deceased. Hair from the dead would be collected and saved in a “hair collector” so it’d could be used to weave into elaborate designs. Hair was collected one by one as each family member passed away. The practice was viewed as a simple part of tending to your home and was featured in publications for women at the time. You could find patterns similar to dress patterns available today.
This art had an incredible amount of symbolism built into the designs, patterns, and material as well. For the deceased, wreaths wear shaped as horseshoes with the opening at the top signifying the loved one’s ascent to heaven. In wreath’s made with multiple family member’s hair the deceased’s hair would have a more prominent placing. It can’t be understated how popular and outright trendy it was to wear this jewelry at the time.
What does assassination have to do with hair art?
The art form slowly fell out of style towards the end of the era as embalming gained popularity. After Lincoln’s assassination his body was preserved and carted around the country by train to allow his people to mourn. This journey would require a method to preserve the body. Any decay, odor, or shocking changes to the visage that the American public was so familiar with would need to be avoided at all costs. It was a rather macabre event. Oddly enough Lincoln’s son who has died of Typhoid at the age of 11 was also disinterred and brought on the ghoulish tour and reburied next to his father in Springfield.
Previous to Lincoln’s assassination, Dr. Thomas Holmes would be on the battlefield serving as a part of the civil war. Holmes would test a new procedure called “arterial embalming”. This procedure gave way to the modern day practice of draining the blood from the arteries and replacing it with preservative chemicals. When the public realized they could have their son’s corpse sent home for a proper viewing and burial, demand skyrocketed. This paved the path to the undertaker (soon to become the funeral director) gaining a position of stature and respect within local communities. Previously, the undertaker carried no weight within popular social circles and was often viewed as a grim figure.
Fear of the Dead
So what does Lincoln’s assassination and the rise of the funeral industry have to do with the decline of Victorian hair art? With families having their deceased embalmed by a professional, this meant the power and control over mourning was slowly being handed over to the funeral directors and embalmers. There was no certification or schooling required to become a mortician, but they soon held the same stature as a surgeon or distinguish doctor.
Families were made to believe corpses were somehow dangerous to families and could spread disease. Shocker: Dead bodies pose no risk to the living, unless their death was caused by something contagious like tuberculosis. Best to hand over these ticking time bombs to the professionals, right?
Families were slowly having to confront the reality of death less and less. This lead to the significant deterioration of mourning culture. This included the art of Victorian hair craft. The decline can also be attributed to the shifting in preferences when it came to fashion and interior design. Both were becoming more simplified, straying from the elaborate fabric patterns, layering of wallpaper, and detailed furniture pieces. Hair art simply didn’t fit in with the fashion of the time.
Keepers of the craft
Present day there are some organizations which strive to keep the art alive. Most infamous is the Leila’s Hair Museum, which is run by Leila Cohoon who begin her collection in 1952. She’s been collecting every since, so you can imagine how many pieces she’s acquired over the ages. At the now defunct Morbid Anatomy Museum, there were previously classes devoted to crafting Victorian hair art. You can also find some originals at auctions, estate sales, and antique stores. With the art not completely lost, a small sect of the public strive to keep it alive.
Do you own any Victorian hair art? Would you like to? Would you make a piece from your loved one’s hair?