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False prophets and bizarre cults - Part I
'Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves' – the Bible

The media and particularly TV have not yet had their fill with the shenanigans of self-styled messenger of God, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim and his evil empire. It was a salacious mix of faux spiritualism, social welfare, sex crimes, castrated males, murders, a gaudy Disneyland and a currency all its own. Surely, this could not have flourished without the patronage of those in high places.

While the above is shocking and revolting, it certainly is not surprising. History is replete with false prophets and conmen, who held their sway over rulers and commoners, alike. Not all necessarily come with flowing beards and spiritual pretensions. Here is a sampling of some such characters from the 20th century:

Grigori Rasputin of Russia

In the 60s a Russian film 'Rasputin' evoked my interest in this phenomenal character, who cast his shadow over Russia and held the royalty and nobles spellbound! Then in 1978 came along a Boney M hit song, 'Ra Ra Rasputin'. Sample some of the lines from the song, which was a hit with youngsters in the family:

'There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the bible like a preacher
Full of ecstasy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

He ruled the Russian land and never mind the Tzar.'

Rasputin has been the subject of films, plays and books. Among experts, the jury is still out – was he a saint or a sinner?

A rustic Siberian, he struggled to enter the official Orthodox Church of Russia. While he never made it to the official church, he gained fame as a faith healer, who had undergone several mystical experiences. Soon, he was much in demand among the high society and powerful court officials. His critics claimed that he hypnotised his way through, for he started exercising power over the elite. He eventually found his way to the court of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. Their son Alexei suffered from the dreaded haemophilia, and desperately they clutched at every straw. When the doctors gave up, Rasputin entered the scene and 'cured' the heir apparent – by 'allowing the child's natural healing process some room'.

After the 'cure', as if he had cast a spell over them the Tsar and Tsarina confided in him on all matters personal and of the State. Openly they referred to him, as 'our friend'. High society women publicly sported with him and he developed a huge female following. In 1916 a cartoon appeared, caricaturing Tsar and Tsarina as Rasputin's puppets on string!

Predictably palace intrigues, power struggles and reports of bribes and unrestrained sexual abuse followed. The royal family was accused of shielding him. His exploits were freely reported in the press, as 'unpatriotic, pro-German' influence on the court. He cleverly persuaded the Tsar to go to the war front, 'otherwise the war would be lost'. On the contrary, under Tsar's inept leadership, the war was lost. During the Tsar's absence, Rasputin had started exercising even more influence on the Tsarina, in matters of court appointments. His open dalliances with high society women earned him many enemies. (See inset)

Rasputin's all pervading amoral influence hastened the decadence of Russian high society and the economy, to the extent that the matter was even discussed in Duma, the Russian parliament. Tsar, Tsarina and Rasputin faced the increasing wrath of the common man. This hastened the fall of the Tsar's dynasty, the famous Romanovs!

Finally, a plot by high officials was hatched to assassinate Rasputin. On 30th December 1916, after a dinner hosted by one of the nobles, he was shot dead, the food and drinks served to him already being laced with poison!

Maria Konnikova, a psychologist who has devoted her career to the study of conmen and cults, points out that the border lines between men of religion, fake confidence builders and cults are very fuzzy. It is very easy to befuddle people by making them confuse one with other. They are particularly good in fathoming the insecurities of their targets. And these are the very areas in which they offer visions of the Promised Land. 'Cults are as scary and as morbidly fascinating as it gets, because rather than losing mere money in a scam, people who fall into cults can lose everything about themselves – and then a fair amount of money, too'.

In Part II, I wish to share brief history of three toxic cults which finally resulted in mass deaths or mass suicides. These are events which we have watched with horror, live on CNN.

I will also narrate how a mendicant 'holy man' tried to hypnotise me and extort money, right in my office!


The rest of the lines of 'Ra Ra Rasputin', quoted above are:

'He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the cassock he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she'd heard the things he'd done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
For power became known to more and more people
The demands to do something about this outrageous
Man became louder and louder

This man's just got to go, declared his enemies
But the ladies begged, don't you try to do it, please
No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute they just fell into his arms
Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they're not to blame
Come to visit us they kept demanding
And he really came

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and said, I feel fine

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn't quit, they wanted his head
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
And so they shot him 'til he was dead

Oh, those Russians.'

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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