The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 21
The Devil's Feast
ALWAYS and ever during the Christian era Russia, having accepted the cross as her emblem, has maintained in the customs of her sects the ancient pagan ritual, and has desired instinctively, even subconsciously, from motives hidden in the depth of the souls of those tribes which live amid forests, fields, and mountains, and preserve in their blood so many elements inherited from the primitive nomads—to preserve some link with the "old gods," who, it seemed, perished long ago, annihilated either by the hand of man or the grinding of time.
So it was even in the final period of the Russian Empire of the Tsars, when the Court of St. Petersburg impressed the whole world, when civilised Europe was charmed by the refined Russian aristocracy and intelligentsia, by Russian literature, art, the Russian village described in such poetic words by Tolstoy, when the soul of the Russian people was the subject of animated discussions and studied in the best types of the educated classes, of the learned world, of the novelists, and of soldiers of the Imperial Guard.
None of the foreign visitors penetrated into the gloom of the Russian countryside, where side by side with the pagan nomads swarmed great and varied multitudes of "fiends."
At last the new age has come of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of communism, and sovietism, of the all-powerful, blood-soaked Soviets, at the head of which appeared individuals stripped of religion, prejudice, traditions, old pagan and more recent pagan customs. There has come the rule of materialistic thought, the authority of speculative philosophy, the efforts for the well-being of the body! There is no soul, there is only a "vapour"! Thus spoke the old, scarcely literate, obscure Russian nihilists who left their workshops, mines, or prisons. Thus spoke also, although in another rhetorical form, the "People's Commissars" and dictators while liberating from the bodies of millions of Russians this "vapour."
There has thus arrived the era of profound and true rationalism and radicalism. One would think, therefore, that all religious sects, worships, and prejudices had disappeared from the horizon, that all those wizards, sorcerers, witches, and priests of the old gods had been compelled to put a violent end to their obscure lives.
But reality presents an entirely different picture.
Never before flourished In such fame and such glory the powerful mystic charms of the Church. Never before have the once secret Sectarian temples attained to such gower, have the mysteries of the "floggers" been frequented by such multitudes, has the "seal of the white dove" been preserved with such precision, the simple, fatigued, and hungry folk thronged so passionately to the wizards, and last, but not least, never before has sorcery had such amazing success and importance in the life of the whole Russian nation.
The Orthodox churches are overflowing with pious multitudes praying and invoking the help of the Almighty, not for themselves, but for the country. Persecution and blasphemous mockery frighten them no more. It often happened that the Bolsheviks rushed a church, shouting wildly, and trying to terrify and disperse those that were praying. But in vain. There was no panic, and the crowds did not even turn their heads at the reports of the fusillades. At such moments one was able to understand that Russia has been seized by a mystical readiness to submit to the death of martyrdom for the redemption of future generations.
During the Easter service in 1918 the Bolsheviks in Moscow burst into the church where the All-Russian Patriarch himself celebrated Mass. Not a single member of the congregation moved; one of the Communists shot at the Patriarch and wounded his arm. The Patriarch did not heed the pain; he continued praying till the time came when he turned, the congregated flock intoning the joyful song, "Christ has risen from the dead." It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm and the ecstasy with which the crowds were seized. The Bolsheviks understood the position and left the church without delay.
A similar mood of religious excitement prevails among all sects.
The professors of the old faith have become even more cautious in their relations with people of other beliefs; in the villages of the old believers there reigns an even stricter discipline and severer morality; the most famous bishops and priests of this sect were invited from abroad for the defence of the flock against the moral poison of the Soviets; the old believers have withdrawn their youth from the Red Army, willingly paying high taxes instead. The churches and chapels have been filled with the pious in expectation of Satan, whose servants have already sown the deadly seeds of sin and perdition.
The "floggers" count In hundreds of thousands the members of their sect, which gives them the means of forgetting, of lifting themselves above the unbearable conditions of life, created by the Soviets, of taking some active, physical part In the driving away of Satan, the echo of whose heavy step Is heard everywhere.
But the "floggers" no longer smite themselves with birch or aspen sticks; they flog themselves with twisted wires or Iron, red-hot rods.
"More torment, more self-affliction of the body, more blood!"—thus the priests of the sect incite them, "and the combat with Satan will be more fruitful and gerhaps lead to victory, after which peace and happiness will rule over the earth soaked in blood and Infected with sin."
Bolshevik papers at the beginning of 1920 were jeering at a priest-flogger, who addressed the following letter to the Soviet Government:
"Do you not behold Satan? Lo! he strides in the fire of conflagration which reddens with blood his hands, his face, he strives in his mantle purple with gore. His head reaches the black, high-soaring clouds pregnant with thunder and lightning; his heavy iron feet press human blood out of the earth, destroy cities, crush millions of innocent men, and threaten mankind with destruction. Do you not see, do you not hear the echo of his heavy foot resounding everywhere? Save the people, save the country, save yourselves before it is too late."
The Sectarians as well as the non-Sectarians behold Satan upon the soil of Russia. Perhaps they have reasons for their visions? Who knows. …
In Russian towns—from Petersburg and Moscow to the most obscure little provincial townships—everywhere one can find—now, during Soviet dictatorship—the newly founded worship of the Devil. Unofficially, this worship was fostered by Soviet authorities and certain private groups. Its aims are comprehensible: the crushing of Christianity, the destruction of the Church, of the old worships based on ethical foundations, so utterly hostile to the rationalistic ideology of Communism, The worship of the Devil was started among the young. They read the story of Julian the Apostate, a work on the devilists of various epochs, they acquainted themselves with the worship of Baal, they took up the history of the mysterious Cagliostro, they scoured the pages of the books on black magic, kabal, translated portions from the records of the Holy Inquisition, from the epoch when the Inquisition was suppressing the devil-worshippers in Spain and the Netherlands. All these studies were fertilising the soil for the launching of a bacchanalian orgy of religious morals. Black Masses were said, at which Communion was administered in the form of human blood and other elements of the body, in an atmosphere of ghastly moral depravation.
There appeared priestesses of the Devil, recruited mostly from variety stars and prostitutes. From the depths of society came forward obscure figures of connoisseurs of devil-worship, popes deprived of their priesthood for profligacy and crime, drunken, outcast monies, some "scientists" who had studied all their lives the history of the different kinds of worship.
In Petersburg an ex-actress from Odessa, known by the name of Irene Helnzel, achieved fame as the priestess of devil-worship; her real name is unknown to me, but she was the head of the Bolshevik prison in Ufa, where she distinguished herself by appalling cruelty. Her licentiousness and her terrible, blood-stained past have given to this priestess of Satan a peculiar charm and fame. She is frequently invited on solemn occasions to the dark mysteries and celebrations in other towns, where her perversions, her hystero-mania, and pathos make a deep impression.
Equally popular is the pope Elias, a well read and eloquent profligate and epileptic, who knew how to excite the masses. In his younger days he was as a friar condemned to hard labour in Siberia for the murder of a monastery servant After the Bolshevik revolution he was able to return and to occupy a prominent position among the Diabolists.
At the present time diabolism in Russia numbers a great many professors, and disposes of large and ever increasing funds. A very energetic propaganda of this idea is being carried on in a number of special publications; and all of it, together with the magnificence of the ritual, is attracting ever greater numbers of men, who, amidst the hateful servility of Russian life, are searching for sensations, for some guiding light, for nervous excitement Because nowadays, prison, death, penalty, persecution, hunger, and misery do not move, do not excite the nerves any more.
People have become indifferent to almost everything, and they must needs live up to something. And they are attracted by sects, by profligacy, or morphia, or diabolism.
The internal politics of the Soviets favour the spread of vice, which is sapping family ties, which undermines society and civilisation. Thus Communism and all it conceals encounters ever less resistance and fewer obstacks in its spread. No wonder the State tolerates vice among old and young, and even among children.
Satan has descended upon earth. Sectarians, priests, priestesses, and devil-worshippers all behold him. But is it Satan, Devil, or Beelzebub? …
No! … declare the Orthodox ecclesiastics. It is not he, it is his forerunner—the Antichrist.
This problem was very seriously and at great length discussed and considered during the congresses of the clergy in Novgorod, Moscow, Yaroslav, Kiev, Chernigov, and Omsk in 1919.
The movement was originated by the Bishops Yevdokim and Sylvester and the Metropolitan Makar.
It started with a passionate study of the revelations of the Apocalypse by Saint John the Apostle. His fiery, confused, and mystical words called forth prophecies and predictions. Hazy dates and pictures evoked curiosity and a desire to solve the mystery. I knew men of profound learning who studied for hours the tangled texts of the Apocalypse, which in pre-Bolshevik times they only knew by name.
An immense literature has sprung up of commentaries on the Apocalypse, drawing practical deductions for the realisation of its hazy predictions and prophecies. There is no corner in Russia which this mystical literature has not reached. Nothing appealed more eloquently to the comprehension of the infatuated who wanted to believe ardently in the fulfilment of their cherished dreams.
When it was pointed out that all the time limits set by the Apostle John had passed long ago, and nothing had changed in Russia, that the prophesied ruler of the name of Michael could not become the Tsar of Russia because the only Grand Duke of that name had been murdered by the Bolsheviks in Perm; when one laughed at the apocalyptic monster, at the riders on pale, black, and scarlet horses, in which some perceived England, Japan, and France, others Denikin, Kolchak, and Wrangel, one received in reply explanations not less hazy than the Apocalypse itself, one was confronted with an assurance impossible to be shaken, because those who possessed it had no alternative but to believe or to die of despondency and despair.
While the educated classes were engrossed in revelations, the clergy launched an agitation among the popular masses. Hundreds and thousands of monks, priests, and friars, who had lost their employment through the closing of churches and monasteries, set to work among the mass of workmen and peasants.
The Apocalypse, apocrypha, personal ingeniousness, improvisation, eloquence, piety, asceticism all of it was mobilised for the purpose of propagating the idea of Antichrist in Russia.
Antichrist has already been born, and is already assembling his army of anarchists and criminals. Already he has dispatched his servants to ruin and break tip the richest of all countries and nations Russia and the Russians. And lo! where once were the Bars, anointed of the Lord, where great Patriarchs used to offer up their prayers, where the sacred remnants of saints are buried, there the rabble of the enemies of God and of the Cross are now doing the will of Antichrist! …
This is the leading idea of the movement.
It is necessary to prove this to obtain visible symp toms of its existence.
And here one is thrust back into the Middle Ages with all their dark realities.
Just as at the time of the Napoleonic wars people used to find out from the apocalyptic numbers, from the initials of the people's commissars the name of demon, of Satan, trying to find the proper name of Antichrist, so they find new symptoms of the approach of "the last times" in astronomical phenomena, and even in common, every-day incidents of nature. The eclipse of the sun or the moon, falling stars, the shape and colour of the passing clouds, all impress the conviction of the professors of the Antichrist idea, everything they encounter suggests terrifying thoughts. Here a boy was born with long red hair or green eyes, there a girl with a couple of teeth in her gums or abnormal finger-nails—they are regarded as children of Antichrist, as his forerunners.
Many such babies born during that dark period of spiritual distraction were strangled or drowned.
Or else, the first cry of the new-born babe sounds almost like the name of Beezlebub. Then the child is regarded as the servant of Satan, whom it is praising on its birth. In the province of Olonetz several sentences were pronounced on parents who had killed their children by pouring boiling water over them in vapour baths.
A double-headed calf, a calf with five legs, the strangely twisted horns of a cow or a goat, entangled or disjoined branches of some trees, acquire a peculiar significance, and cause in diseased, hypnotised brains strange imaginings in a certain definite direction.
Wild beasts, birds, fishes, and insects, reptiles and spiders in particular, furnish numerous proofs of the existence of the Evil One; often the searcliers after Antichrist decipher the mysterious syllables of his name from the trail of a snake creeping over sand, or from the artistic web of a spider.
The unexpected cracking of a pot or mirror, the crack of unseasoned wooden furniture, inexplicable voices resounding in the dead of night all of this stimulates imagination, causing stray guessing or definite assertions.
People remember the words uttered in the distant past by various "men of God," beggars, tramps, idiots, epileptics, "klikushas," village prophets, hysteriomaniacs, and even unknown passers-by, all of whom acquired under the influence of the universal mania a certain seal of mystery. All ancient legends, stories, tales, prophecies, visions, even those existing for ages, have been dragged out again and submitted to selection and criticism.
In a word, under the very eyes of the twentieth century there has been created a terrible and hopeless legend.
The people are bending beneath its horrors. Drug-doping and self-immolation of the most insane kind are spreading. For although men may still feel capable of fighting men, they cannot reasonably fight against the Power of Evil, who boldly challenges the Maker of the world and plunges the earth Into darkness. So they cut their throats, hang themselves in barns and forests, drown themselves in rivers and marshy lakes, pour boiling water over themselves, swallow poison, or fling themselves into flames. …