A Ghost in the Making: Russia

russia
Optional audio transcript

You are a serf in Russia in 1722.

What is about to start is the Russo-Persian War, where you will be forced to work more hours to feed soldiers. You want Russia to succeed and grow out of serfdom. Alas, you cannot shake that knowing that it will be Peter the Great who benefits the most. Your back aches from raking the ground for a sowing of radish pieces. Your stomach growls in protest as you place food into the ground and cover it with soil. Ragged clothing shields you from the cold, but not so much as to keep it completely from grazing your skin. You shiver.

Your landlord walks over to you, telling you that you would be transferred to another area of Russia. You oblige since you don’t have any money to say no. You dust off what you can off your clothing, the best that you can, and hop on a buggy to the next town over. Sadly, nomads were on the road and struck you dead as they wanted what you had, which wasn’t much. A few tattered cloth items, some food, and very little coin. You are left on the ground as the carriage gets taken away.

This is Russia.

               But wait. This story is about ghosts, why are we talking about a random serf in Russia? We see ghost stories in many places around the world. Russia is vast and has had many wars, revolutions, and en masse killings of its own people. People who were dead before they even realized it. The history of Russia is a massive game of “mine, not yours”. It expands over 5,600 miles and has gained and lost territory many times over in its 1,200 years of existence. Furthermore, death was an essential part of what made Russia what it is today, and it serves as a holding station for many ghosts.

Rasputin from Universal Images Group, russia
Gregory Yefimovich Rasputin 1869 from Universal History Archive/Getty Images

There is the House of Rasputin, a man whose rise in stardom ending up being a major downfall for Russia. He was a “holy man”, coming up from lower-middle class (of 1890’s Russia standards), to the inner workings with Nickolas II. Rasputin was a monk, a poor monk, who was charismatic and religious enough to land a spot as the czar’s advisor. His stare could haunt a man and save his soul from internal damnation. His charm, well, could be from the devil himself. He spoke to Nicholas II often on confidence and was not a prude man. Rasputin had many affairs and strange kinks, and the Russian people knew about it.

Poor Nicholas II.

Nicholas II was not a great leader as he was not taught how to be one, which made him susceptible to being taken advantage of. He was strict, ruthless, and had bad timing. He tried to give his people gifts and food, but it turned ugly, and a stampede killed many. Instead of staying at home to grieve with his people, he went to a French gala instead. Bad move, I’d say. His people were not happy about it. He was in war after war that just never panned out for Nicholas, some of which were with his own people.

His wife, Alexandra, became enamored with Rasputin, completely convinced that she was to save her son, the future emperor, of hemophilia. It was even rumored that her and Rasputin were intimate with one another. His death came first, in December of 1916, by a group of nobles who were just done with his absurdity and outlandishness. He was shot many times. The House of Rasputin is the location of Gregori Rasputin, who is rumored to be still there. There, haunting, being weird, and staring into various souls like Valak the demon.

And then war happened

During the times of World War I, Nicholas stepped down in 1917. The Bolsheviks (literally means ‘majority’) took over and in July of 1918, the family of 7 tried to escape and were shot dead. The whole family gone, in an instant. They were in the Ipatiev House, a home owned by a merchant in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The Ipatiev House was set as historical importance until 1977, when Boris Yeltsin had it torn down. In 1991, the Church on the Blood was built in its place. Its full name is the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land. Say that 4 times fast.

There are no accounts of it being haunted, sadly, and trust me, I looked. Nicholas II has been seen in the Imperial palaces from time to time, but overall, nothing as grand as the great Rasputin.

But what makes a ghost, a ghost?

Both groups were shot dead. Both had unfinished business. Maybe Rasputin wasn’t aware of his death coming, so he sticks around. Maybe Nicholas II wasn’t wanting to be at the brunt of his mistakes anymore. We are not sure. This is asked because over the course of ghost hunting, we see these great names of great people who still roam the halls they have once ruled over. There are shows of random folk retelling stories of past owners.

We have watched the ghost of a small pilgrim girl playing with light switches on national television, a possible slender man closes a door, and a doll wreak havoc on a locked basement. But, why? Does that serf mean to be carried by a buggy to this day in his afterlife because he wants to? Does Rasputin want to keep his groove going with the living instead of accepting that he is dead?

Domovoy from Ivan Bilibin, Wikipedia, russia
Domovoy from Ivan Bilibin, Wikipedia

In Russian folklore, ghosts exist in a variety of ways. They have names like ‘domovoy’, a spirit living within the household, much like the little pilgrim girl. There is a belief from the Russian Orthodox Church and ghosts, stating that they can stay on living ground for about 40 days after their death, but can stay longer if they like.

The 40 days idea is very common in Eastern Orthodox findings and can also be found in Judaism (30 days) and Islam, but that is more related to grieving. That poor serf, who was quite likely baptized as an Orthodox Christian in his baby days, roaming the road for a few fortnights. Many of the ghosts spoken of have some sort of terror connected with them, which isn’t uncommon in Russia. Their typical ghost haunting is the same as other countries, though.

Conclusion

In summarization of this Paris Review article, ghosts have a wide range of existing, and in Russia, it could just be to settle a debt or get revenge, but not on the people, but on society. Russia did have a major cultural and societal problem when it came to czars and government types. While some rulers didn’t really care about control over culture, like Vladimir Lenin, some really went all in on dictatorship, like our lovely Nicholas II. We would have to ask which came first: ghosts against the government or the republic?

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