Modern Saints and Seers
by Jean Finot
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The forced labour might cripple their limbs, but it did not weaken their faith, which blossomed anew under the open skies of Siberia, and seemed only to be intensified by their long sufferings in prison.

The martyrs who took refuge in these Siberian paradises were very numerous. It has been calculated that at the end of the nineteenth century they numbered more than sixty-five thousand, and this is probably less than the true figure, for, considering the terrible ordinances of their religion, it is not likely that they would trouble much about registering themselves for official statistics. We may safely say that in 1889 there were about twelve hundred and fifty in the neighbourhood of Yakutsk who had already accomplished their term of forced labour. They formed ten villages, and it would be difficult to specify their various nationalities, though it is known that in Spasskoie, in 1885, there were, among seven hundred and ten members of the sect, six hundred and ninety-three Russians, one Pole, one Swede, and fifteen Finns.

To outward view their colonies were rather peculiar. Each village was built with one long, wide street, and the houses were remarkable for the solidity of their construction, for the flourishing gardens that surrounded them, and for their unusual height in this desolate land where, as a rule, nothing but low huts and hovels were to be seen. A house was shared, generally, by three or four believers, and—perhaps owing to their shattered nervous systems—they appeared to live in a state of constant uneasiness, and always kept revolvers at hand. The "brothers" occupied one side of the building, and the "sisters" the other; and while the former practised their trades, or were engaged in commerce, the women looked after the house, and led completely isolated lives. On the arrival of a stranger they would hide, and if he offered to shake hands with one of them, she would blush, saying, "Excuse me, but that is forbidden to us," and escape into the house.

The existence of the "sisters" was indeed a tragic one. Deprived of the sweetness of love or family life, without children, and at the mercy of hardened egoists, such as the skoptzi usually became, their sequestered lives seemed to be cut off from all normal human happiness.

According to the author of an interesting article on the skoptzi of Olekminsk, which appeared in 1895 in the organ of the then-existing Russian Ethnographical Society, these women were sometimes of an astonishing beauty, and when opportunity offered, as it sometimes did (their initiation not always being quite complete), they would marry orthodox settlers, and leave their so-called "brothers." Cases are on record of women acting in this way, and subsequently becoming mothers, but any such event caused tremendous agitation among the "brothers" and "sisters," similar to that provoked in ancient Rome by the spectacle of a vestal virgin failing in her duty of chastity.

Platonic unions between the self-mutilators and the Siberian peasant-women were fairly frequent, so deeply-rooted in the heart of man does the desire for a common life appear to be.

The skoptzi loved money for money's sake, and were considered the enemies of the working-classes. Although drawn for the most part from the Russian provinces, where ideas of communal property prevailed, they developed into rigid individualists, and would exploit even their own "brothers." Indeed they preyed upon one another to such an extent that in the village of Spasskoie there were, among a hundred and fifty-two skoptzi, thirty-five without land, their portions having been seized from them by the "capitalists" of the village.

Their ranks were swelled chiefly by illiterate peasants. As to their religion, it consisted almost exclusively in the practice of a ceremony similar to that of the Valerians, the celebrated early Christian sect who had recourse to self-mutilation in order to protect themselves from the temptations of the flesh.[1]

The lot of the skoptzi was not a happy one, but they were upheld and consoled by their belief in the imperial origin of their faith. According to them, Selivanoff, the prophet and founder of the sect, was no other than the Tsar Peter the Third himself (1728-1762). They did not believe in his assassination by the Empress Catherine, but declared that she, discovering to what initiation he had submitted, was seized by so violent a passion of rage that she caused him to be incarcerated in the fortress of Petropavlovsk. From there they believed that he had escaped, with the help of his gaoler, Selivanoff, and had assumed the latter's name. What strengthened them in this belief was the marked favour shown by the Tsar Alexander I for Selivanoff. Alexander being naturally inclined to mysticism, was impressed by this strange character, and requested him to foretell the issue of the war with Napoleon. He was equally well disposed to the sect of Madame Tartarinoff, which closely resembled that of the self-mutilators, and, influenced by his attitude, all the Russian high officials felt themselves bound to pay court to the new religions. One of the Imperial councillors, Piletzky, who was supposed to be writing a book refuting the doctrines of the skoptzi, defended them, on the contrary, with such warmth that his volume—obviously inspired by the opinions of the Court—was prohibited by the Bishop Filarete as Anti-Christian.

But though they could talk volubly of the illustrious origin of their leader Selivanoff, "the second Christ," and of their "divine mother," Akoulina Ivanovna, their doctrines were in fact obscure and nebulous, and they avoided—with good reason—all religious argument. They insisted, however, upon the sacredness of their initiation ceremony—which invariably ended in deportation for life, or the delights of the prison-cell.

From the physiological point of view, the skoptzi resembled the Egyptian eunuchs, described by M. Ernest Godard. Those who had undergone the initiation at the age of puberty attained extraordinary maxillary and dental proportions. Giants were common among them, and there was frequently produced the same phenomenon that Darwin discovered in the animal world—enlargement of the pelvic regions.

This doctrine, which ought to have repelled the populace, attracted them irresistibly. The young, the brave, and the wealthy, in the full flower of their strength, abandoned at its call the religion of life and yoked themselves to that of death. It seemed to fascinate them. After conversion they despised all human passions and emotions, and when persecuted and hunted down they took their revenge by expressing profoundest pity for those who were powerless to accomplish the act of sacrifice which had brought them "near to divinity."

They often let this pity sway them to the extent of running into danger by preaching their "holy word" to "infidels." Like the ascetics of Ancient Judea, who left their retreats to make sudden appearances in the midst of the orgies of their contemporaries, these devotees of enforced virginity would appear among those who were disillusioned with life, and instruct them in the delights of the supreme deliverance. In their ardent desire to rescue all slaves of the flesh, some rich merchants of Moscow, who had adopted the doctrine, placed the greater part of their fortunes at the disposal of their co-religionists, and in this way the sect was enabled to extend its influence throughout Russia, and even into neighbouring countries.

At one time in Bucharest and other towns certain carriages drawn by superb horses attracted much admiration. These were some of the strange presents—the price of a still stranger baptism—with which the "Church of the Second Christ" rewarded its members!

[1] Valerius, passionate and devout at the same time, was the first to sacrifice himself thus on the altar of purity, following the example of Origen, who had used this heroic method to safeguard the virtue of the women of his entourage. But while Origen was rewarded for his action by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Valerius was expelled from the church, and retired to Arabia, where his sect flourished in the third century (A.D.).


In addition to the sects having their prophets and leaders and a certain amount of organisation, almost every year in Russia saw—and probably still sees—the birth of many separate heresies of short duration. For instance, in one part a whole village would suddenly be seized by religious ardour, its inhabitants deserting the fields and passing their time in prayer, or in listening to the Gospel teachings as expounded to them by some "inspired" peasant. Or elsewhere, the women would all leave their husbands and depart into the forests, where in the costume of Mother Eve they would give themselves up to meditating upon the sins of humanity and the goodness of God.

On the outskirts of a village near Samara, in East Russia, a forester was one day attracted to a cabin by the resounding cries and groans that issued from it. On entering, a strange sight met his eyes—three women, completely naked, praying and weeping. They were like skeletons, and one of them died soon after being forcibly brought back to the village. In spite of all entreaties she refused to let the orthodox priest come near her, and begged that no cross should be placed over her grave.

The police searched the forest, and found several other women in a similar condition. Inquiry revealed that they had left their homes in the neighbourhood of Viatka in order to expiate the sins of their fellows. For nourishment they depended on herbs and strawberries, and prayer was their sole occupation. Their unquenchable desire was to be allowed to die "for the greater glory of Jesus Christ." They belonged to no sect, and did not believe in sacred symbols or in priests. In order to get into direct communication with God, they discarded their garments and lived in a state of nature, eating nothing but what they could find by the wayside. Thirty or forty of these women were gathered in and sent back to their homes.

The peasants of the Baltic Provinces, although better educated than those of Southern Russia, became victims of religious mania just as frequently. It was in the Pernov district that the cult of the god Tonn was brought to light. The chief function of this god was to preserve cattle and other livestock from disease, and to gain his favour the peasants brought him offerings twice a year. His statue was placed in a stable, and there his worshippers were wont to gather, praying on bended knee for the health of their cows and horses. In time, however, the statue was seized by the police, to the great grief of the peasants of the district.

In another part there dwelt a magician who was said to cure all bodily ills by the aid of the sixth and seventh books of Moses.

The tribunal of Kaschin, near Tver, once had occasion to judge a peasant named Tvorojnikoff who, as a result of his private meditations, had succeeded in evolving a new religion for himself and his friends. After working for six months in St. Petersburg as a mechanic, and studying the "vanity of human affairs," he came to the conclusion that orthodox religious observances were an invention of the priests, and that it was only necessary to believe in order to be saved.

An action was brought against him, whereupon his mother and sister, who were called as witnesses, refused to take the oath, that being "only an invention of men." Tvorojnikoff described his doubts, his sufferings, and the battle which had long raged in his soul, and declared that at last, on reaching the conclusion that "faith is the only cure," he had found happiness and peace.

"What have I done to be punished?" he demanded. "What do you want with me? Instead of sending me to prison, explain how I have sinned. Read the Gospel with me!"

But his entreaties were ignored. The "religious expert," who was present in the person of a delegate of the ecclesiastical authorities, thought it beneath his dignity to discuss eternal truths with a peasant, and the poor dreamer received a sentence of imprisonment.

The Russian legal records are full of the misdeeds of many such, whose sole crimes consisted in dreaming with all sincerity, and in spite of cruel deceptions and disappointments, of the day when man should at last attain perfection upon earth.



From time to time this thirst for the ideal, this dissatisfaction with the actual, gave rise to a series of collective suicides. We may recall the celebrated propaganda of the monk Falaley, who preached that death was man's only means of salvation. He gathered his unhappy hearers in a forest, and there expounded to them the emptiness of life and the best method of escaping from it. His words bore fruit, and the simple peasants who heard them decided to have done with "this life of sin."

One night eighty-four persons congregated in an underground cavern near the river Perevozinka, and began to fast and to pray. The peasants gathered round their improvised camp, built of straw and wood, ready to die when the signal was given. But one woman, taking fright at the idea of so horrible a death, fled and warned the authorities. When the police arrived, one of the believers cried out that Anti-Christ was approaching, and the poor creatures then set fire to the camp and died—as they thought—for Christ.

A few fanatics who were saved received sentences of imprisonment and deportation, but one of them—Souchkoff—succeeded in escaping, and continued to spread "the truth of God." Whether it was his own eloquence or the misery and despair of the people that helped his doctrine, it bore at any rate such fruits that soon afterwards sixty families in one locality made up their minds to die en masse, believing that simple murder—the murder of the faithful by the faithful—would hasten the day of supreme deliverance. A peasant named Petroff entered the house of his neighbour, and killed the latter's wife and children, afterwards carrying his blood-stained hatchet in triumph through the village. In the barn of another a dozen peasants gathered with their wives, and the men and women laid their heads upon the block in turn, while Petroff, in the role of the angel of death, continued his work of deliverance. He then made his way to a hut near by where a mother and three children awaited his services, and finally, overcome with fatigue, he laid his own head on the block, and was despatched to eternal glory by Souchkoff.

But the kind of death recommended by Chadkin about the year 1860 was even more terrible. In this case it was not a question of a wave of madness that came and passed, but of the prolonged torture of death by voluntary starvation.

Chadkin's teaching was that as Anti-Christ had already come, there was nothing left to do but escape into the forests and die of hunger. When he and his adherents had reached a sufficiently isolated spot, he ordered the women to prepare death-garments, and when all were suitably arrayed, he informed them that in order to receive the heavenly grace of death, they must remain there for twelve days and nights without food or water.

Frightful were the sufferings endured by these martyrs. The cries of the children, as they writhed in agony, were heartrending, but Chadkin and his followers never wavered. At last, however, one of the sufferers, unable longer to face such tortures, managed to escape, and Chadkin, fearing the arrival of the police, decided that all the rest must die at once. They began by killing the children; next the women and the men; and by the time the police appeared on the scene there remained alive only Chadkin and two others, who had forgotten in their frenzy to put an end to themselves.



It seems enough, in Russia, when a single individual is obsessed by some more or less ridiculous idea, for his whole environment to become infected by it also. The ease with which suggestions make their way into the popular mind is amazing, and this reveals its strong bias towards the inner life, the life of dreams. The actual content of the dreams is of small importance, provided that they facilitate the soul's flight to a better world, and supply some link in a chain which shall attach it more firmly to the things of eternity. Consequently, those who have any supernatural experience to relate are almost sure to find followers.

An illiterate woman named Klipikoff one day proclaimed the good news of the divinity of Father Ivan of Cronstadt. The incredulous smiles of her fellow-citizens were gradually transformed into enthusiastic expressions of belief, and Madame Klipikoff proceeded to found a school. About twenty women began to proclaim openly throughout Cronstadt that Father Ivan, the miracle-worker, was divine, and he had difficulty in repudiating the honours that the infatuated women tried to thrust upon him. According to the priestesses of this "unrecognised" cult, Father Ivan was the Saviour Himself, though he hid the fact on account of the "Anti-Christians"—that is to say, the priests and the church authorities. Those who were converted to the new doctrine placed his portrait beside that of the Divine Mother, and prayed before it. They even fell on their knees before his garments, or any articles belonging to him, and though the old man expressed horror at such idolatry, he nevertheless permitted it. One of the local papers described a ceremony that took place in one of the houses where the pilgrims, who journeyed to Cronstadt from all parts of Russia, were lodged. Father Ivan deigned to give his benediction to the three glasses of tea that the hostess proffered him, and after his departure she divided their contents among the assembled company, in return for various offerings.

There were, however, cases in which, instead of kneeling before the garments of miracle-workers or committing suicide, the visionaries strove to reach heaven by offering up the lives of their fellow-men in sacrifice.

In the law-courts of Kazan a terrible instance of one of these religious murders was brought to light. It was revealed that the inhabitants of a neighbouring village had suspended by the feet a beggar named Matiounin, and then, opening one of his veins, had drunk his blood.

There are throughout Russia many records of proceedings brought against such murderers—for instance, the tragic case of Anna Kloukin, who threw her only daughter into an oven, and offered her charred body to God; and that of a woman named Kourtin, who killed her seven-year-old son that his mortal sins might be forgiven.

The vague remembrance of Abraham, who offered up his only son, and the conviction that Anti-Christ, "born of a depraved woman, a Jewess," travels the earth in search of Christian souls—these are the most obvious motives for murders such as we have described. Their real cause sprang, however, from the misery of the people and their weariness of life.

By a kind of reaction these murders—whose perpetrators often could not be found—frequently gave rise to even stranger crimes and disturbances. Suspicion was apt to fall upon any Jews dwelling in the district, and there resulted trials, such as that of Beilis, or Jewish pogroms which filled the civilised world with horror.



The pilgrims and "workers of miracles" who wander through Russia can always find, not only free lodging, but also opportunity for making their fortunes. Their gains mount, often, to incredible figures, and the faith and piety that they diffuse have both good and bad aspects. There are places, for instance, like Cronstadt, which, at one time inhabited mainly by drunkards, became before the war a "holy town." Apart from Father Ivan and his peculiar reputation, there were hundreds of other pilgrims who, though quite unknown on their arrival, soon gained there a lucrative notoriety.

One of these was the staretz (ancient) Anthony, who in three or four years amassed a considerable fortune. His popularity attracted representatives of all classes of society. People wrote for appointments in advance, and went in order of precedence as to a fashionable doctor. It was quite common to have to wait ten or fifteen days for the desired interview. In Petrograd, where the population belonged half to the twentieth and half to the sixteenth century, Anthony was quite the mode. The salons literally seized upon him, and, flattered and fondled, he displayed his rags in the carriages of fashionable women of the world, while the mob, touched by the spectacle of his acknowledged holiness, gave him enthusiastic ovations. His journey from Petrograd to Cronstadt was a triumphal progress. The crowds pressed around him and he walked among them barefooted, in spite of this being expressly forbidden by law. Finally, however, the police were roused, and one fine day he set forth at the government's expense for the "far-off lands"—of Siberia.

Cronstadt, town of drunkards and of miracle-workers par excellence, boasted about two hundred staretz. The most famous among them were the four brothers Triasogolovy—Hilarion, James, Ivan and Wasia.

The crowds, who had formerly visited Cronstadt only on Father Ivan's account, became ever greater, and were divided up among the various saints of the town, one of the most popular being Brother James, who undertook to exorcise demons.

His methods were simple. A woman once came to him, begging to be delivered from the numerous evil spirits that had taken possession of her soul. In view of their numbers, Brother James felt it necessary to have recourse to heroic measures. He rained blows upon the penitent, who emitted piercing shrieks, and as this took place in the hotel where the "holy man" was living, the servants intervened to put an end to the sufferings of the "possessed" one. But Brother James, carried away by enthusiasm in a good cause, continued to scourge the demons until the woman, unable to bear more, broke the window-pane and leapt into the street. Crowds gathered, and the Brother, turning to them, prophesied that shortly he would be—arrested! Thereupon the police made their appearance and removed him to the lock-up, and the crowds dispersed, filled with admiration for Brother James, who not only coped with demons, but actually foretold the evil that they would bring upon him.

In addition to the genuine visionaries, there were many swindlers who took advantage of the popular credulity. Such was the famous pilgrim Nicodemus, who travelled throughout Russia performing miracles. In the end the police discovered that he was really a celebrated criminal who had escaped from prison.

But Nicodemus was, as a matter of fact, better than his reputation, for, in granting absolution for large numbers of sins, his charges were relatively small. He is said to have assured whole villages of eternal forgiveness for sums of from twenty to a hundred roubles.

Frequently some out-of-work cobbler would leave his native village and set forth on a pilgrimage in the character of a staretz; or some "medical officer," unable to make a living out of his drugs, would establish himself as a miracle-worker and promptly grow rich. When one staretz disappeared, there were always ten new ones to take his place, and the flood mounted to such an extent that the authorities were often powerless to cope with it. Persecution seemed only to increase the popular hysteria, and caused the seekers after truth to act as though intoxicated, seeing themselves surrounded by a halo of martyrdom.




The flood of religious mania reached even beyond the borders of European Russia, and its effects were seen as much among the followers of other religions as among the Christians.

Mahometanism, although noted for its unshakable fidelity to the dogmas of Mahomet, did not by any means escape the mystic influences by which it was surrounded. To take one example from among many: in the month of April, 1895, a case of religious mania which had broken out among the Mahometan inhabitants of the south of Russia was brought before the law-courts at Kazan. It concerned a set of Tartars called the Vaisoftzi, which had been founded in 1880 by a man named Vaisoff, whose existence was revealed in unexpected fashion. A lawyer having called at his house, at the request of one of his creditors, Vaisoff showed him the door, explaining that he did not consider himself under any obligation "to repay what had been given to him." The other returned later, however, accompanied by several policemen, and Vaisoff's adherents then attacked the latter, while chanting religious hymns and proclaiming the greatness of their leader. They next barricaded themselves into the house, which was besieged by the police for some days, during which prayers issued from it towards heaven and stones towards the representatives of the law. Finally the rebels were overpowered, and sentenced to several years' imprisonment.

The police had a similar experience on another occasion when they tried to arrest one of the Vaisoftzi, but in the end they got the upper hand, and several Tartars were delivered up to justice.

After being judged and sentenced, they presented themselves before the Court of Appeal, but when the usual questions were put to them, all began to pray and sing loudly. Silence was at last reestablished, and the judge again asked one of them for his name and profession. "Who are you, that you should question me?" was the reply, and once again all chanted together in chorus. The Tartars who had crowded into the court seemed deeply impressed by this attitude, and the judge thought it well to dismiss the prisoners while the case was considered. They were brought back to hear the sentence, and again began to sing their prayers and hymns, while one of them cried out: "I am the chief of the heavenly regiment; I am the representative of Vaisoff upon earth; and you, who are you that you should take upon yourself the right to judge me?" The others then calmly continued their interrupted song to the Lord, but they were all condemned to a period of forced labour, and their spokesman, in addition, to twenty-five strokes with the birch.



Let us now travel to the extreme north, to the land where dwell the Yakuts, the Marseillais of the Polar regions. Living a life of gay and careless vagabondage in this snowy world, they took part in one of the most characteristic episodes of the general religious upheaval.

At Guigiguinsk, a straggling village on the borders of the Arctic Ocean, lived a Yakut tribe already converted to Christianity. Their new faith had not in any way modified the happy-go-lucky nature of the inhabitants of this frozen land; neither had it in any way clarified their religious conceptions. "There are many gods," said they, "but Nicholas is the chief"—and no matter how miserable their life, they danced and sang, remembering no doubt how in their ancient home in the far-off south, their ancestors also sang, filling the whole world with their gaiety. Theirs was a fine climate and a fine country! The sun often shone, the grass grew high, and the snow only lasted for six months in the year. So everyone talked and danced and sang. There were orators who held forth for whole days; there were dancers who danced for weeks and weeks. From father to son these two ruling passions have been handed down even to the Yakuts of the present day. Now, as in former times—as when Artaman of Chamalga "so sang with his whole soul that the trees shed their leaves and men lost their reason"—the Yakuts sing, and their songs disturb the "spirits," who crowd around the singer and make him unhappy. But he sings on, nevertheless; though the whole order of nature be disturbed, still he sings.

Now, as in former times, the Yakut believes in "the soul of things," and seeks for it everywhere. Every tree has a soul, every plant, every object; even his hammer, his house, his knife, and his window. But beyond these there is Ai-toen, the supreme, abstract soul of all things, the incarnation of being, which is neither good nor bad, but just is—and that suffices. Far from concerning himself with the affairs of this world, Ai-toen looks down upon them from the seventh heaven, and—leaves them alone. The country is full of "souls" and "spirits," which appear constantly, and often incarnate in the shadows of men. "Beware of him who has lost his shadow," say the Yakuts, for such a one is thought to be dogged by misfortune, which is always ready to fall upon him unawares. Even the children are forbidden to play with their shadows.

Those who desire to see spirits must go to the Shamans, of whom there are only four great ones, but plenty of others sufficiently powerful to heal the sick, swallow red-hot coals, walk about with knives sticking into their bodies—and above all to rejoice the whole of nature with their eloquence. For the Yakuts consider that there is nothing more sacred than human speech, nothing more admirable than an eloquent discourse. When a Yakut speaks, no one interrupts him. They believe that in the spoken word justice and happiness are to be found, and in their intense sociability they dread isolation, desiring always to be within reach of the sound of human voices. By the magic of words, an orator can enslave whole villages for days, weeks and months, the population crowding round him, neglecting all its usual occupations, and listening to his long discourses with unwearied rapture.

Sirko Sierowszewski, who spent twelve years in the midst of these people, studying them closely, affirms in his classic work on the Yakuts (published in 1896 by the Geographical Society of St. Petersburg) that their language belongs to a branch of the Turko-Tartar group, and contains from ten to twelve thousand words. It holds, in the Polar countries, a position similar to that held by the French tongue in the rest of the world, and may be described as the French of the Arctic regions. The Yakuts are one of the most curious races of the earth, and one of the least known, in spite of the hundreds of books and pamphlets already published about them. Their young men frequently appear as students at the University of Tomsk, though they are separated from this source of civilisation by more than three thousand miles of almost impassable country. The journey takes from fifteen months to two years, and they frequently stop en route in order to work in the gold mines, to make money to pay for their studies. These are the future regenerators of the Yakut country.

About thirty years ago there arrived among these care-free children of nature a Russian functionary, a sub-prefect, who took up his residence at Guigiguinsk, on the shores of the Arctic Sea. He was a tremendous talker, though it is impossible to say whether this was the result of his desire to found a new religious sect, or whether the sect was the result of his passion for talking. At any rate, he harangued the populace indefatigably, and they gathered from all quarters to listen to the orator of the Tsar, and were charmed with him.

In one of his outpourings he declared that he was none other than Nicholas, the principal god of the whole country, and his listeners, who had never before beheld any but "little gods," were filled with enthusiasm at the honour thus bestowed upon their particular district. The sub-prefect ended by believing his own statements, and accepted in all good faith the homage that was paid to him, in spite of Christianity. A writer named Dioneo, in a book dealing with the extreme north-east of Siberia, tells us that even the local priest himself was finally converted, and that after a year or so the Governor of Vladivostock, who had heard rumours, began to grow uneasy about his subordinate, and despatched a steamer to Guigiguinsk to find out what had become of him. Upon arrival the captain hastened to fulfil his mission, but the people suspected that some danger threatened their "god" and took steps to hide him, assuring the inquirers that he had gone away on a visit and would not return for a long time. As navigation is only possible in those parts for a few weeks in the year, the captain was obliged to return to Vladivostock. Another year passed, and still there was no news of the sub-prefect. The captain returned to Guigiguinsk, and having received the same reply as before to his inquiries, made pretence of departure. He came back, however, the next day, and with his sailors, appeared unexpectedly among the Yakuts.

An unforgettable spectacle met their eyes.

The little town was en fete, church bells ringing, songs and reports of firearms intermingling. Great bonfires flamed along the seashore, and a solemn procession was passing through the streets. Seated on a high throne in a carriage, the sub-prefect, the "great god" of Guigiguinsk, was haranguing the crowds, with partridges' wings, ribbons, tresses of human hair and other ornaments dear to the Yakuts, dangling round his neck. To his carriage were harnessed eight men, who drew it slowly through the town, while around it danced and sang shamans and other miracle-workers, accompanying themselves on tambourines. Thus did the believers in the new religion celebrate the happy escape of their "god" from danger.

The appearance of the captain and his armed men produced a sensation. The "great god" was seized and carried off, and forced to submit, subsequently, to all kinds of humiliations.



On the outskirts of Jaransk, in the Viatka district, a race called the Tcheremis has dwelt from time immemorial. While Russian scholars, like Smirnov, were employed in unveiling all the mysteries of their past, the authorities were endeavouring to imbue them with Russian conceptions of religion and government. But these people were not easily persuaded to walk in the right way, and from time to time there arose violent differences of opinion between them and the representatives of officialdom.

In 1890, at the time of the Scientific and Industrial Exhibition at Kazan, an appeal was made to the Tcheremis to send some objects of anthropological and ethnographical interest. They responded by sending those representing their religion, for, having rejected orthodoxy, they wished the beauties of their "new faith" to be admired. They therefore exhibited at Kazan large spoons and candles, drums that were used to summon the people to religious ceremonies, and various other articles connected with their mysterious beliefs, and the Committee of the Exhibition awarded them a medal for "a collection of invaluable objects for the study of the pagan religion of the Tcheremis."

The natives, knowing nothing of the complicated organisation of scientific awards, simply concluded that the medal had been given to them because their religion was the best, and the leader of their community wore it round his neck, and recounted everywhere how "out of all the religions that had been examined at Kazan, only that of the 'Great Candle' had been found to be perfect." All the believers rejoiced over the prestige thus won by their faith, and a wave of religious ecstasy swept over the country. Three of the fathers of the church affixed copies of the medal to their front doors, with the inscription: "This was given by the Tsar to the best of all religions," and the people made merry, and gave themselves up to the bliss of knowing that they had found the true and only way of salvation, as acknowledged by the representatives of the Tsar himself.

Poor creatures! They were not aware of the contents of Article 185 of the Russian criminal code, which ordained that the goods of all who abandoned the orthodox faith should be confiscated, until they expressed repentance and once more acknowledged the holy truths of the official church. So it came about that in spite of the triumph of their religion at the Exhibition of Kazan, legal proceedings began, and in 1891 and 1892, as many as fourteen actions were brought against the adepts of the Great Candle, and numbers of them were sentenced to imprisonment and to the confiscation of their goods. All this in spite of the fact that their beliefs did not in any way threaten to undermine the foundations of society.

"There are six religions contained in the books which the Tsar has given to his people"—they said, when brought before the tribunal—"and there is a seventh oral religion, that of the Tcheremis. The seventh recognises neither the sacraments nor the gospel. It glorifies God in person, and the faith which has been handed down from father to son. It has been given to the Tcheremis exclusively, because they are a poor, unlettered people, and cannot afford to keep up priests and churches. They call it the religion of the Great Candle, because in their ceremonies a candle about two yards in length is used; and they consider Friday a holiday because on it are ended the prayers which they begin to say on Wednesday."

When questioned by the judge, the accused complained that the orthodox clergy expected too many sacrifices from them, and charged them heavily for marriages and burials, this being their reason for returning to "the more merciful religion of their forefathers."

According to the Journal of the Religious Consistory of the Province of Viatka, the Tcheremis were guilty of many other crimes. They did not make the sign of the cross, and refused to allow their children to be baptised or their dead to be buried with the rites of the orthodox church. Truly there is no limit to the heresies of men, even as there is none to the mercies of heaven! Further, the missionaries complained with horror that, in addition to seven principal religions, the Tcheremis acknowledged seventy-seven others, in accordance with the division of humanity into seventy-seven races.

"It is God," they said, "who has thus divided humanity, even as He has divided the trees. As there are oaks, pines and firs, so are there different religions, all of heavenly origin. But that of the Tcheremis is the best. . . . The written Bible, known to all men, has been falsified by the priests, but the Tcheremis have an oral Bible, which has been handed down intact, even as it was taught to their forbears by God. . . . The Tsar is the god of earth, but he has nothing to do with religion, which is not of this world."

The prayers of these dangerous heretics, who were punished like common criminals, mirror the innocence of their souls. They implored God to pardon all their sins, great and small; to grant good health to their cattle and their children. They thanked Him for all His mercies, prayed for the Tsar and all the Imperial family, for the soldiers, for the civil authorities, and for all honest men; and finally for the dead "who now labour in their celestial kingdom."

The tribunal, however, implacably brought the law to bear upon them, and thinking their punishment too great for their crimes, they had recourse to the Court of Appeal, where they begged to be judged "according to the good laws of the Tsar, not the bad ones of the Consistory." But the sentence was ratified, and the religion of the Great Candle procured for its followers the martyrdom that they had so little desired.



Although most of the sects of which we have spoken sprang from the orthodox church, the molokanes and the stoundists were indirect fruits of the Protestant church, and even among the Jews there were cases of religious mania to be found.

Leaving out of account the karaitts of Southern Russia, formerly the frankists—who ultimately became good Christians—we may remark from time to time some who rejected the articles of the Jewish faith, and even accepted the divinity of Christ. Such a one was Jacques Preloker, founder of the "new Israel," a Russian-Jew philosopher who discovered the divine sermon on the Mount eighteen hundred and seventy-eight years after it had been delivered. This was the beginning of a revolution of his whole religious thought, which resulted in 1879 in the founding of a new sect at Odessa. The philosopher desired an intimate relationship with the Christian faith, and dreamed of the supreme absorption of the Jewish Church into that of Christ. In his new-found adoration for the Christian Gospel, he tried by every means in his power to lessen the distance between it and Judaism, but, though some were attracted by his ardour, many were repelled by the boldness of his conceptions.

Towards the end of his life, the bankrupt philosopher, still dignified and serious, although fallen from the height of his early dreams, made his appearance on the banks of the Thames, and there endeavoured to continue his propaganda and to explain to an unheeding world the beauties of the Jewish-Christian religion.



It is as difficult to pick out the most characteristic traits of the innumerable Russian sects as it is to describe the contours of clouds that fleet across the sky. Their numbers escape all official reckoning and the variety of their beliefs renders classification very difficult. In these pages the sectarian organism has been presented in its most recent and most picturesque aspects, and its chief characteristic seems to be that it develops by a process of subdivision. Each existing sect divides itself up into various new ones, and these again reproduce themselves by breaking apart, like the first organisms in which life was manifested on the earth. Every separated portion of the parent becomes an offspring resembling the parent, and the number of divisions increases in proportion to the number of adherents. As in the protozoa, multiplication commences with a mechanical rupture, and with the passage of time and the influence of outside elements, the sects thus born undergo visible modifications. By turns sublime or outrageous, simple or depraved, they either aspire heavenwards or debase the human spirit to the level of its lowest passions.

Making common use of the truths of the Gospel revelations, they include every phase of modern social life in their desire for perfection. Liberty, equality, wealth, property, marriage, taxes, the relation between the State and the individual, international peace, and the abolition of arms—all these things, even down to the very food we eat, become the prey of their reformatory ardour.

The sects that abound in Anglo-Saxon countries do little but copy one another in evolving new and amazing variations of Bible interpretation. Confined within these limits, they rarely even touch upon the serious problems that lie outside the text of the Gospels, and we might say of them as Swift said of the religious sects of his day—"They are only the same garments more or less embroidered."

But the Russian sects vividly reveal to us the secret dreams and aspirations of millions of simple and honest men, who have not yet been infected by the doctrinal diseases of false science or confused philosophy; and further, they permit us to study the manifestation in human life of some new and disquieting conceptions. In their depths we may see reflected the melancholy grandeur and goodness of the national soul, its sublime piety, and its thirst for ideal perfection, which sometimes uplifts the humble in spirit to the dignity and self-abnegnation of a Francis of Assisi.

The mysticism which is so deep-rooted in the Russian national consciousness breaks out in many different forms. Not only poets and writers, painters and musicians, philosophers and moralists, but statesmen, socialists and anarchists are all impregnated with it—and even financiers and economic reformers.

Tolstoi, when he became a sociologist and moralist, was an eloquent example of the mental influence of environment; for his teachings which so delighted—or scandalised, as the case might be—the world, were merely the expression of the dreams of his fellow-countrymen. So was it also with the lofty thoughts of the philosopher Soloviev, the macabre tales of Dostoievsky, the realistic narratives of Gogol, or the popular epics of Gorky and Ouspensky.

The doctrines of Marx took some strange shapes in the Russian milieu. Eminently materialistic, they were there reclothed in an abstract and dogmatic idealism—in fact, Marxism in Russia was transformed into a religion. The highly contestable laws of material economics, which usually reduce the chief preoccupations of life to a miserable question of wages or an abominable class-war, there gained the status of a veritable Messianic campaign, and the triumphant revolution, imbued with these dogmas, strove to bring the German paradox to an end, even against the sacred interests of patriotism. The falling away of the working-classes and of the soldiers, which so disconcerted the world, was really nothing but the outer effect of their inner aspirations. Having filled out the hollow Marxian phraseology with the mystic idealism of their own dreams, having glimpsed the sublime brotherhood which would arise out of the destruction of the inequality of wages and incomes, they quite logically scorned to take further part in the struggle of the nations for independence. Of what import to them was the question of Teutonic domination, or the political future of other races?

It is much the same with the peasant class. The partition of the land is their most sacred dogma, and they can scarcely imagine salvation without it. This materialistic demand, embellished by the dream of social equality, has become a religion. Mysticism throws round it an aureole of divine justice, and the difficulty—or the impossibility—of such a gigantic spoliation of individuals for the sake of a vague ideal, has no power to deter them.

The land—so they argue—belongs to the Lord, and the unequal way in which it is divided up cannot be according to His desire. The kingdom of heaven cannot descend upon earth until the latter is divided among her children, the labourers.

The far-off hope of victory faded before these more immediate dreams, and the continuation of a war which seemed to involve their postponement became hateful to the dreamers; while the emissaries of Germany took advantage of this state of affairs to create an almost impassable gap between the few who were clear-sighted and the mass who were blinded by visions.

The extreme rebelliousness which characterises the Russian religious visionaries is manifested to an almost equal extent by all political parties and their leaders. Consequently the spirit of unity which prevailed (during the war) in other countries met with insuperable difficulties in Russia.

The whole nation seems to have been driven, by the long suppression of free thought and belief, added to the miseries brought about by the old regime, to take refuge in unrealities, and this has resulted in a kind of deformity of the national soul. It was a strange irony that even the aristocracy should end by falling victim to its own environment. Exploited by miracle-mongers, thrown off its balance by paroxysms of so-called mysticism, it disappeared from view in a welter of practices and beliefs that were perverse and childish even at their best.


It seems appropriate to call attention here to an article from the pen of Prince Eugene Troubetzkoy, Professor of Law at the University of Moscow, which appeared in the Hibbert Journal for January, 1920. Writing apparently in the autumn of 1919, the Prince declared that the civil war then in progress in Russia was "accompanied by a spiritual conflict no less determined and portentous," and pointed out that the doctrine of Bolshevism was a deliberate distortion of Marxism, immediate revolution having been substituted by the Bolshevists for the evolution preached by Marx. He went on to say that one of the most striking characteristics of Bolshevism was its pronounced hatred of religion, and especially of Christianity, the ideal of a life beyond death being "diametrically opposed to the ideal of Bolshevism, which tempts the masses by promising the immediate realisation of the earthly paradise." And, Bolshevism's practical method for realising its Utopia being "the armed conflict of classes . . . the dream of the earthly paradise, to be brought into being through civil war, becomes instantly the reality of hell let loose." After dwelling in detail on various aspects of the situation, the writer makes some statements which will be of special interest to readers of M. Finot's study of pre-war religious conditions in Russia. He speaks of the growth of unbelief among the masses, and declares that "the empty triumph of Bolshevism would have been impossible but for the utter enfeeblement of the religious life of the nation"; but—and this is the point of interest—"thanks to the persecutions which the revolution has set on foot, there has come into being a genuine religious revival. . . . The Church, pillaged and persecuted, lost all the material advantages it had hitherto enjoyed: in return, the loss of all these relative values was made good by the absolute value of spiritual independence. . . . This it is that explains the growing influence of the Church on the masses of the people: the blood of the new martyrs won their hearts. . . . These awful sufferings are becoming a source of new power to religion in Russia." The Prince then describes the complete reorganisation of the church which was carried through at Moscow in 1917-18, and the restoration of the patriarchal power in the person of the Archbishop Tykone (now Patriarch), a man of great personal courage, high spirituality, and remarkable sweetness of disposition. The people rallied round him in enormous numbers, attracted by his courageous resistance to the Bolshevist movement—(a resistance which had then frequently endangered his life, and may since have ended it)—and by his determined avoidance of all pomp and ostentation. In the great religious processions which took place at that time, hundreds of thousands passed before him, but he had no bishops and very few clergy in his retinue, only one priest and one deacon. When urged to adopt more ceremony and display in his public appearances, he replied, "For the love of God, don't make an idol of me." He was always ready with a humorous word, and filled with a serene and unshakable confidence, even in the most dangerous situations. The people looked upon him as "Holy Russia" personified, and said that "the persecutors who would have buried her for ever had brought her back to life."

In an appendix to the above-quoted article appears a statement "from a responsible British source in Siberia" to the effect that "a strong religious movement has begun among the laity and clergy of the Russian Church. . . . The moujiks are convinced that Lenin is Anti-Christ;" and an urgent appeal for Russian Testaments and Bibles to be sent from England, the writer having been told by a prominent ecclesiastic that "Russian Bibles are now almost unprocurable."

Thus, having long revolted from orthodoxy in the day of its material prosperity, the masses seem, in the day of adversity, to be returning to it. Further developments may, of course, take place in almost any direction, but we may rest assured of one thing—that no changes of government, however drastic, will ever succeed in stamping out the mystical religious strain which is so deeply embedded in the soul of the Russian people.






In the American of the United States there exist two distinctly opposed natures: the one positive and practical, the other inclined to mysticism. The two do not clash, but live, on the contrary, on perfectly good terms with one another. This strange co-existence of reality and vision is explained by the origin of the race.

The American is, to a very great extent, a descendant of rigorous Puritanism. The English, who preponderated in numbers over the other elements of the European immigration into North America, never forgot that they had been the comrades of Penn or of other militant sectarians, and never lost the habit of keeping the Bible, the ledger, and the cash-book side by side. They remained deeply attached to their religion, which they looked upon as a social lever, although for many of them their faith did not go beyond a conviction of the immanence of the supernatural in human life. Thus it was that their spirits were often dominated by a belief in miracles, all the more easily because their intellectual culture was not always as highly developed as their business ability, and consequently the clever manufacturers of religious wonders were able to reap incredible harvests among them.

There is perhaps no country where the seed sown by propagandists springs up more rapidly, where an idea thrown to the winds finds more surely a fertile soil in which to grow. A convinced and resolute man, knowing how to influence crowds by authoritative words, gestures and promises, can always be certain of attracting numerous followers. In America the conditions are without doubt propitious for the founders of new religions.


How is a new religion started in the United States? Joe Smith wakes up one morning with the thought that the hour has come for him to perform miracles, that he is called thereto by the Divine Will, that the existence and the secret hiding-place of a new Bible printed on sheets of gold have been revealed to him by an angel, and that its discovery will be the salvation of the world. He proclaims these things and convinces those who hear him, and the Book of the Mormons which he produces becomes sacred in the eyes of his followers.

In ever-increasing numbers they hasten first to Illinois, then to Utah; and when Brigham Young, Smith's successor, presents the Mormon colony with religious and political laws which are a mixture of Christianity, Judaism and Paganism, and include the consecration of polygamy, they found a church which claims more than a hundred thousand adherents, and is ruled by twelve apostles, sixty patriarchs, about three thousand high priests, fifteen hundred bishops, and over four thousand deans.

After being dissolved by the decree of the 10th of October, 1888, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints seemed to be lost, without hope of revival. The State of Utah, where Brigham Young had established it in 1848, was invaded by ever-growing numbers of "Gentiles," who were hostile to the Mormons, but these latter, far from allowing the debris of their faith to bestrew the shores of the Great Salt Lake, succeeded, on the contrary, in strengthening the foundations of the edifice that they had raised. The number of its adherents increased, and the colony became more flourishing than ever. If, at one time, it was possible to speak of its dying agonies, those who visit it to-day cannot deny the fact of its triumphant resurrection.

Two principal causes have been its safeguard: the firm and practical working-out of the economic and philanthropic principles upon which its organisation has always rested, and the resolute devotion and capability of those who direct it as the heads of one great family. Every member is concerned to maintain the regular and effective functioning of its mechanism, and all work for the same ends in a spirit of religious co-operation.

We must not lose sight of the fact that in addition to the elements they borrowed from Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Islam, the Mormons introduced into their new Gospel a social ideal inspired by the Communistic experiments of the first half of the nineteenth century. The founders of Mormonism—Joseph Smith, Heber Kimball, George Smith, the brothers Pratt, Reuben Hedlock, Willard Richards, and Brigham Young—were not visionaries, but men risen from the people who desired to acquire wealth while at the same time bringing wealth to those who took part in their schemes. We find in their doctrine, and in their legal and religious codes, not only the idea of multiple union claimed by Enfantin and his forty disciples of Menilmontant, but also the theories of Buchez, who desired to free labour from the servitude of wages, to bring about solidarity of production, and to communalise capital, after first setting aside an inalienable reserve. They followed the example of Cabet in making fraternity, which should guarantee division of goods, the corner-stone of their social structure, and, avoiding the delusions of Considerant and other Communists, they brought about, stage by stage, the rapid and lasting development which has characterised their successive establishments in Missouri, Illinois, and on the borders of California.


Militant as well as constructive, the Mormon leaders, like many other reformers, believed themselves to be charged with a mission from on high, and were quick to condemn as rebels all who failed to rally to the standard of the "Latter-Day Saints." Joe Smith was not content with making thousands of converts, but, after having turned his colony at Independence into an "Arsenal of the Lord," and surrounding himself with a veritable army, he proclaimed that, as the Bible gave the saints empire over all the earth, the whole State of Missouri should be incorporated in his "New Jerusalem." The "Gentiles" replied with a declaration of war, and Joe Smith and his twelve apostles were seized, publicly flogged, divested of their garments, tarred and feathered, and chased out of the State with shouts and laughter and a hail of stones.

The Mormons took up arms. The Governor of Missouri called out the militia. Vanquished in the encounter that followed, the Mormons had to abandon all their possessions and take flight. They then founded a town called Far West, and remained there for three years, at the end of which time fresh aggressions and more battles drove them out of the State of Missouri into that of Illinois, where they built the large town of Nauvoo. Many thousands of fresh recruits were won over, but once again their designs for the acquisition of land—as well as of souls—stirred up a crusade against them. Joe Smith and the other leaders of the sect were taken prisoners and shot—a procedure which endowed Mormonism with all the sacredness of martyrdom. To escape further persecutions, the Saints decided on a general exodus, and the whole sect, men and women, old people and children, numbering in all about eighty thousand souls, set forth into the desert.

It was a miserable journey. They were attacked by Red Indians, and decimated by sickness; they strayed into wrong paths where no food was to be found; they were buried in snowdrifts; and many of them perished. But the others, sustained by an invulnerable faith, and by the undying courage of their leaders, pushed on ever further and further, until in the summer of 1847, after the cruel hardships of a journey on foot over nearly three hundred leagues of salt plains, the head of the column reached the valley of the great Salt Lake. Here Brigham Young's strategic vision beheld a favourable situation for the re-establishment of the sect. He himself, with a hundred and forty-three of his companions—the elite of the church—directed the construction of the beginnings of the colony, and then returned to those who had been left behind, bringing back a caravan of about three thousand to the spot where the New Jerusalem was to be built.

It was given the name of Utah, and Filmore, the President of the United States, appointed Brigham Young as governor. The latter, however, desired to become completely autonomous. He was soon in conflict with those under him, and his open hostility to the American constitution caused him to be deposed. His successor, Colonel Stepton, finding the situation untenable, resigned almost at once, and the Mormons, recovering their former militancy and independence, then sought to free themselves altogether from the guardianship of America, and to be sole masters in their own territory. In order to reduce them to submission, President Buchanan sent them a new governor in 1857 with some thousands of soldiers. The Mormons resisted for some time, and finally demanded admittance into the Union. Not only did Congress refuse this request, but it passed a law rendering all polygamists liable to be brought before the criminal courts. The War of Secession, however, interrupted the measures taken against the sect, which remained neutral during the military operations of the North and South. Brigham Young, who had remained the Mormons' civil and religious head, occupied himself only with the economic and worldly extension of his church, until in 1870, five years after the termination of the war, the attention of Congress was once more directed towards him. For the second time the Mormons were forbidden by law to practise polygamy, under penalty of deportation from America, but they resisted energetically and refused to obey. Defying the governor of Utah, General Scheffer, they rallied fanatically round Brigham Young, who was arraigned and acquitted—and the Mormon Church remained ruler of the colony.

After Young's death, government was carried on jointly by the twelve apostles, until on October 17th, 1901, George Smith was elected universal President of all branches.

A Frenchman, Jules Remy, who visited the Mormons some time back, has given a striking description of them:—

"Order, peace and industry are revealed on every side. All these people are engaged in useful work, like bees in a hive, thus justifying the emblem on the roof of their President's palace. There are masons, carpenters, and gardeners, all carrying out their respective duties; blacksmiths busy at the forge, reapers gathering in the harvest, furriers preparing rich skins, children picking maize, drovers tending their flocks, wood-cutters returning heavily loaded from the mountains. Others again are engaged in carding and combing wool, navvies are digging irrigation canals, chemists are manufacturing saltpetre and gunpowder, armourers are making or mending firearms. Tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers, potters, millers, sawyers—every kind of labourer or artisan is here to be found. There are no idlers, and no unemployed. Everybody, from the humblest convert up to the bishop himself, is occupied in some sort of manual labour. It is a curious and interesting sight—a society so industrious and sober, so peaceful and well-regulated, yet built up of such divers elements drawn from such widely differing classes. . . .

All these people, born in varied and often contradictory faiths, brought up for the most part in ignorance and prejudice, having lived, some virtuously, some indifferently, some in complete abandonment to their lowest animal instincts, differing among themselves as to climate, language, customs, tastes and nationality, are here drawn together to live in a state of harmony far more perfect than that of ordinary brotherhood. In the centre of the American continent they form a new and compact nation, with independent social and religious laws, and are as little subject to the United States government that harbours them as to that, for instance, of the Turks."

Such they were, and such they have remained, ever developing their activities and industries, and—as another traveller has said—having no aim save that of turning their arid and uncultivated "Promised Land" into a fertile Judea—an aim in which they have marvellously succeeded.


Mormonism owes its success chiefly to its practical interpretation of the Communistic ideals, and to its determination to encourage labour by means of religion and patriotism, setting before it as object the satisfaction of each individual's social needs, under the direction of those who have proved themselves capable and vigilant and worthy of confidence. It is a republic from which are banished the two most usual causes of social collapse—idleness and egotism; a hive, according to its founder, in which each bee, having his particular function, is always under the eye of those who direct individual activities in the interests of collective welfare. The President of the Mormon Church is its moving spirit. He surveys it as a whole, encourages or moderates its energies, according to circumstances, preserves order and regularity, and exercises his paternal influence over every cell of the hive, giving counsel when needed, redressing grievances, preventing false moves, yet leaving to every corporation not only its administrative freedom but its own powers for industrial extension.

Under these conditions the Church of the Latter-Day Saints unites the social and economic advantages of individual and collective labour. The corporations are like stitches that form a net, holding together through community of interests and a general desire for prosperity, yet each having its own separate formation and the power to enlarge itself and increase its activities without compromising the others or lessening their respective importance. One of the most remarkable is the "Mercantile Co-operative Society of Sion," the central department of wholesale and retail trade. It was founded in 1863 by Brigham Young, who was its first president, and is in direct relationship with the Mormon colonies all over the world, having a capital fund of more than a million dollars which belongs exclusively to the Mormons. Its organisation, like that of all Mormon institutions, is based upon the deduction of a tithe of all profits, which practically represents income tax. The "Sugar Corporation" has an even larger capital, and was founded directly by the church through the advice of Brigham Young, who recommended that Mormon industries should be patronised to the exclusion of all others. The salt industry also is of much importance, the Inland Crystal Salt Company having at great expense erected elaborate machinery in order to work the salt marshes around the Great Lake, and to obtain, under the best possible conditions, grey salt which is converted into white in their refineries. Other corporations under the presidency of the supreme head of the Mormon Church are the "Consolidated Company of Railway Carriages and Engines," the "Sion Savings Bank," the "Co-operative Society for Lighting and Transport," and the chief Mormon paper, the Desert Evening News, which is the official organ of the church, and has a considerable circulation.


These corporations are not only commercial or industrial institutions, but are animated by a spirit that is pre-eminently fraternal. Their heads are concerned with the well-being of every member, and material, moral or intellectual assistance is given to all according to their needs.

To each corporation is attached a "delegate," whose functions do not appear to be of great importance, but who renders, in reality, services of considerable value. The man who holds this post is one of unimpeachable honesty and integrity, with a kind and conciliatory disposition, chosen for these qualities to act as intermediary between the bishop and the "saints" of all classes, from the highest to the lowest. He has free entry into the Mormon homes, and is always ready to give advice and counsel to any member of the church in his district; and he even penetrates into the houses of the Gentiles, wherever a Mormon, man or woman, may happen to be employed. Take, for instance, the case of a young Scandinavian servant-girl, living with "unbelievers." The mother, who had remained in Europe, wished to rejoin her daughter, but the girl had not been able to raise more than a third of the sum necessary to pay the expenses of the journey. The delegate took note of this and referred the case to the bishop, who, after inquiry, sent the old mother the required amount.

Again, two neighbours might be disputing over the question of the boundary between their respective properties. The delegate would do all in his power to settle the affair amicably, and to restore harmony; and failing in this would bring the two parties concerned before the bishop. Or there might be an invalid requiring medicine and treatment, an old person needing help, a layette to be bought for a new-born child—in all such cases the delegate sees that the needs are supplied, for the strength of this Church of the Latter-Day Saints lies in the fact that all the Mormons, from the President down to the humblest workman, call themselves brothers and sisters and act as such towards one another. Thanks to the delegate, who is friend, confidant and confessor in one, immediate help can be obtained in all instances, and no suffering is left unrelieved.

Thus it comes about that there are no poor among the Mormons, and very few criminals. The delegate has no need to search into the secrets of men's minds, for all are open to him. To a great extent he is able to read their innermost hearts, for men speak freely to him, without veils or reservations. As far as is possible he sees that their desires are granted; he notifies all cases of need to the Relief Societies; he conducts the sick and aged to the hospitals; he is the messenger and mouthpiece for all communications from the people to the bishop and from the bishop to his flock.

It is the delegate also who is charged with the duty of seeing that one-tenth of each person's income, whatever its total sum may be, is contributed for the upkeep of the Mormon faith and its church. He reminds the dilatory, and admonishes the forgetful, always in friendly fashion. In fact it is he, who—to use a popular expression—brings the grist to the mill. This contribution of a tenth part obviates all other taxation, and as it is demanded from each in proportion to his means, its fairness is disputed by none.


Brotherly co-operation also prevails in the Mormon system of colonisation. The leaders of the church have always been aware of the dangers of overcrowding, and at all times have occupied themselves with the founding of new settlements to receive the surplus population from the centres already in activity. It is for this reason that the church has been so urgent in seeking and demanding new territory to irrigate and cultivate, in Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho, and even as far afield as Canada. The transplanting of a swarm from the parent hive is undertaken with the greatest care. Let us take for example the colonisation of the Big Horn Valley, in the north of Wyoming. Before coming to a decision the apostles themselves inspected the locality, which had been recommended as suitable for a new colony of saints. Finding that it fulfilled all requirements, they published their resolve in the official Press, and invited all who desired to become members of the colony to present themselves before their bishop with the necessary guarantees. The President of the church then sought out a brother capable of organising the scheme, and this brother, proud and grateful at being chosen for such a mission, sold all his goods and took up his new responsibilities. On the appointed day the new colonists grouped themselves around their leader, with their wagons, baggages, provisions, agricultural tools, horses and cattle, and so on. One of the twelve apostles being appointed as guide, they set forth for the Big Horn Valley. Here they built their dwelling-places, dug a canal to provide water for the whole settlement, founded all kinds of co-operative societies, including one for the breeding of cattle—and prospered.

In this way, upon a Socialism quite distinct from that of the European theorists, and differing widely from that practised by the New Zealanders, are built up institutions, which have given proof, wherever started, of their power of resistance to human weaknesses. The Mormon colonies, fundamentally collectivist, like the sect from which they originally sprang, still bear the imprint given to them by the initiators of the movement. Each one becomes industrially and commercially autonomous, but all are firmly held together in a common brotherhood by the ties of religion. The Big Horn Mormons, although so far away, never for a single day forget their brothers of Salt Lake City, and all alike hold themselves ever in readiness to render mutual assistance and support.


The Mormon considers activity a duty. Co-operation implies for him not only solidarity of labour but union of will, and these principles are applied in all phases of his public or private life—in politics, education, social conditions of every kind, and even amusements. He holds it obligatory under all circumstances to contribute personal help or money according to his means, knowing that his brothers and sisters will do likewise, and that he can rely upon them with absolute certainty.

Nevertheless, dissension does occasionally arise in the heart of this close-knit brotherhood. The authority of the President, or that of the apostles and bishops may be the cause of rivalries and jealousies, as in the case of Joseph Morris, Brigham Young's confidant, who wished to supplant his chief. He and his partisans were assaulted and put to death by Young's adherents. A spirit of discord also manifests itself at times in the national elections, and there are plottings and intrigues, especially when there seems to be hope of supremacy in Congress, or when one of the twelve apostles offers himself as candidate for the Senate without first consulting the Mormon Church.

Such shadows are inseparable from all human communities. What it is important to study in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is the evolution of a communism which has more than half a century of activity to its credit, and which, in contrast to so many other fruitless attempts, has given marked proofs of a vitality that shows no sign of diminishing.



Joe Smith was, to speak plainly, nothing but an adventurer. Having tried more than twenty avocations, ending up with that of a gold-digger, he found himself at last at the end of his resources, and decided, in truly American fashion, that he would now make his fortune. He thereupon announced that he was in close communication with Moses, and that he had in his possession the two mosaic talismans, Urim and Thummim, and the manuscript of the Biblical prophet, Mormon—the latter having as a matter of fact been obtained from Solomon Spaulding, pastor of New Salem, Ohio, in 1812.

It was different with John Alexander Dowie, who with remarkable wisdom seized the psychological moment to appear in the United States as a Barnum and a Pierpont Morgan of religion combined. By what was an indisputable stroke of genius, he incorporated into his religion the most outstanding features of American life—commerce, industry, and finance, the tripod upon which the Union rests. What could be more up-to-date than a commercial and industrial prophet, business man, stock-jobber, and organiser of enterprises paying fabulous dividends? And—surely the crowning point of the "new spirit!"—the man who now declared himself to be the most direct representative of God upon earth was accepted as such because people saw in him, not only the Messianic power that he claimed, but an extraordinary knowledge of the value of stocks and shares side by side with his knowledge of the value of souls!

He was of Scottish origin, and had reached his thirtieth year before his name became known. As a child he was disinclined to take religion seriously, and had a habit of whistling the hymns in church instead of singing them. Later he was distinguished by a timidity and reserve which seemed to suggest that he would never rise above the environment into which he had been born. His studies and his beliefs—which for long showed no sign of deviating from the hereditary Scottish faith—were under the direction of a rigidly severe father. At the age of thirteen his parents, attracted by the Australian mirage of those days, took him with them to Adelaide, and he became under-clerk in a business house there, serving an apprenticeship which was to prove useful later on. At twenty he returned to Edinburgh, desiring to enter the ministry, as he believed he had a religious vocation, and plunged into the study of theology with a deep hostility to everything that was outside a strictly literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Full of devotion and self-abnegation in his desperate struggle with the powers of evil, he read the Holy Book with avidity, and was constant in his attendance at theological conferences. Thus, nourished on the marrow of the Scotch theologians, he returned to Australia and was ordained to the priesthood at Alma. Soon afterwards he was appointed minister to the Congregational Church in Sydney, where his profound learning was highly appreciated.

He who desires to attract and instruct the masses must have two gifts, without which success is impossible—eloquence and charm. Dowie had both. As an orator he was always master of himself, yet full of emotion, passionate in his gestures, and easily moved to tears.

We must admit that he did not, like so many others, owe his influence to his environment. In New South Wales, where he made his debut as a preacher at Sydney, his eloquence and his learning made so great an impression—especially after he had emerged victorious from a controversy with the Anglican bishop, Vaughan, brother to the Cardinal—that the governor of the province, Sir Henry Parkes, offered him an important Government position. He refused to accept it, desiring, as he said, to consecrate his life to the work of God. Persuaded—or wishing to persuade others—that he had been personally chosen by God to fulfil the prophecy of St. Mark xvi. 17, 18, he took up the practice of the laying-on of hands, claiming that in this way, with the help of prayer, the sick could be cured. On these words of the evangelist his whole doctrine was based. Through assiduous reading he familiarised himself with medical science, as well as with hypnotism, telepathy and suggestion, his aim being to organise and direct a crusade against medicine as practised by the faculty. He gathered together materials for a declaration of war against the medicos, attacking them in their, apparently, most impregnable positions, and showing up, often through their own observations, the fatal inanity—in his eyes—of their therapeutics. At the same time he managed to acquire experience of commerce, finance and administration, and, thus equipped, he opened his campaign. Thaumaturgy, science, occultism, eloquence, knowledge of men and of the world—all these he brought into play. The prestige he gained was remarkable, and of course the unimpeachable truth of Bible prophecy was sufficient to establish the fact of his identity with the expected Elias!

"Logic itself commands you to believe in me," he said in his official manifesto. "John the Baptist was the messenger of the Alliance (which is the Scotch Covenant), and Elias was its prophet. But Malachi and Jesus promised the return of the messenger of the Alliance, and of Elias the Restorer. . . . If we are deceived, it is God who has deceived us, and that is impossible. For the office with which we are charged is held directly from God, and those who have helped us in founding our Church, and who have given us their devotion, testify that they have been instructed to do so by personal revelations."

All the believers in Dowieism affirmed that John Alexander Dowie was Elias the Second, or Elias the Third (if John the Baptist were considered to be the Second), but Dowie himself went further still. He was too modern to base his influence on religion alone, and he actually had the cleverness to become not only a banker, manufacturer, hotel-keeper, newspaper proprietor, editor and multi-millionaire, but also the principal of a college and the "boss" of a political party which acknowledged him as spiritual and temporal pope and numbered over sixty thousand adherents. He had ten tabernacles in Chicago, and ruled despotically the municipal affairs of one of the suburbs of the city.


It is interesting to study closely the way in which Dowie gradually attained to such a powerful position. Up to his arrival in Chicago, and even for some years after it, his career differed little from that of the ordinary open-air evangelist with long hair and vague theories, such as may be seen at the street-corners of so many English and American towns. In New South Wales his excessive ardour at temperance meetings in the public squares caused such disorder that he was twice imprisoned, and he came to the conclusion that Melbourne would offer better scope for his mission. He went there to establish a "Free Christian Tabernacle," but almost immediately an epidemic of fever broke out, and he became popular through his intrepidity in visiting the sick, whom he claimed to be able to cure by a secret remedy, the use of which, as a matter of fact, only resulted in augmenting the lists of dead. But to his religious propaganda the Australians turned a deaf ear, and after persevering for ten years he gave up, partly because the authorities had intimated that he had best pitch his camp elsewhere, partly, perhaps, because he was glad to leave what he later referred to as "that nest of antipodean vipers."

We find him in San Francisco in 1888, preaching his new religion at street-corners, and once more causing almost daily disturbances by the vigour of his eloquence. Here again his hopes miscarried, and from thenceforward he fixed his eyes on Chicago, where he should "meet the devil on his own ground."

This final resolution bore good fruit, for Chicago is pre-eminently "the city of Satan," and those who desire to wage war against him can always be sure of plentiful hauls, whatever nets they use. It is that type of American town where all is noise and animation, where the population is cosmopolitan, and confusion of tongues is coupled with an even greater confusion of beliefs; where it is possible to pursue the avocations of theologian and pork-butcher side by side, and no one is surprised. Called "Queen of the West" by some, Porkopolis (from its chief industry) by others, it is a giant unique in its own kind. While its inhabitants, in feverish activity, climb or are rushed in lifts to the nineteenth and twentieth storeys of its immense buildings, there is heard from time to time a call from regions beyond this life of incessant bustle; the voice of a preacher dominates the tumult, and this million and a half of slaughterers of sheep and oxen, jam-makers and meat-exporters, factory-hands, distillers, brewers, tanners, seekers of fortune by every possible means, suddenly remembers that it has a soul to be saved, and throws it in passing, as it were, to whoever is most dexterous in catching it. In such a milieu Dowie might indeed hope to pursue his aims with advantage.

His personality had a certain hypnotic fascination. His eloquence, his patriarchal appearance, his supposed power of curing even the most intractable diseases, his use of modern catch-words, his talent for decorating the walls of his little temple with symbols such as crutches, bandages and other trophies of "divine healing," all combined to bring him before the public eye. He had a dispute with the doctors, who accused him of practising their profession illegally, and another with the clergy, who attacked him in their sermons; the populace was stirred up against him, and laid siege to his tabernacle, and he himself threw oil upon these various fires, and became a prominent personage in the daily Press.

It is true that the arrest of some Dowieists whose zeal had carried them beyond the limits of the law of Illinois was commented upon; that long reports were published of the death of a member of the Church of Sion who had succumbed through being refused any medical attention save that of the high-priest of the sect; that much amusement was caused by the dispersal of a meeting of Dowieists by firemen, who turned the hose upon them; and much interest aroused by the legal actions brought against Dowie for having refused to give information concerning the Bank of Sion. All these affairs provided so many new "sensations." But what is of importance is to attract the public, to hold their attention, to keep them in suspense. The time came when it was necessary to produce some more original idea, to strike a really decisive blow, and so Dowie revealed to a stupefied Chicago that he was the latest incarnation of the prophet Elijah. Then while the serious Press denounced him for blasphemy, and the comic Press launched its most highly poisoned shafts of wit against him, the whole of Sion exulted in clamorous rejoicings. For the prophet knew his Chicago. Credulity gained the upper hand, and the whole city flocked to the tabernacle of Sion, desirous of beholding the new Elias at close quarters.


The definite organisation of Dowieism—or Sionism, as it is more usually called—dates from 1894. From this time forward Dowie ceased to be merely a shepherd offering the shelter of his fold to those desiring salvation, and, allowing evangelisation as such to take a secondary place, became the director, inspector and general overseer of a religious society founded upon community of both material and moral interests, and upon fair administration of the benefits of a commercial and industrial enterprise having many sources of revenue. In this society, political, sociological and religious views were combined, so that it offered an attractive investment for financial as well as spiritual capital. Dowie was not only the religious and temporal leader of the movement, but also the contractor for and principal beneficiary from this gigantic co-operative scheme, which combined selling and purchasing, manufacture and distribution, therapeutics, social questions and religion.

Like most founders of sects, the prophet of the "New Sion" was at first surrounded by those despairing invalids and cripples who try all kinds of remedies, until at last they find one to which they attribute the relief of their sufferings, whether real or fancied. Such as these will do all that is required of them; they will give all their worldly goods to be saved; and they paid gladly the tenth part which Dowie immediately demanded from all who came to him, some of them even pouring their entire fortunes into the coffers of the new Elias. The ranks of his recruits were further swelled by crowds of hypochondriacs, and by the superstitious, the idle, and the curious, who filled his temple to such an extent that soon he was obliged to hire a large hall for his Sunday meetings, at which he was wont to appear in great magnificence with the cortege of a religious showman.

These displays attracted widespread attention, and indeed Dowie neglected nothing in his efforts to make a deep and lasting impression on the public mind. Here is the account of an eye-witness:—

The prophet speaks. The audience preserves a religious silence. His voice has a quality so strange as to be startling. To see that broad chest, that robust and muscular frame, one would expect to hear rolling waves of sound, roarings as of thunder. But not so. The voice is shrill and sibilant, yet with a sonority so powerful that it vibrates on the eardrums and penetrates to the farthest corners of the hall.

Presently the real object of the sermon is revealed. The enemies of Sion are denounced with a virulence that borders upon fury, and the preacher attacks violently those whom he accuses of persecuting his church. He poses as a martyr, and cries out that "the blood of the martyr is the seed of faith"; he pours out imprecations upon other religious sects; calls down maledictions upon the qualified doctors, who are to him merely "sorcerers and poisoners"; consigns "the vipers of the press" to destruction; and, carried away by the violence of his anathemas, launches this peroration upon the ears of his admiring audience:

"If you wish to drink your reeking pots of beer, whisky, wine, or other disgusting alcoholic liquors; if you wish to go to the theatre and listen to Mephistopheles, to the devil, to Marguerite, the dissolute hussy, and Doctor Faust, her foul accomplice; if you wish to gorge yourselves upon the oyster, scavenger of the sea, and the pig, scavenger of the earth—a scavenger that there is some question of making use of in the streets of Chicago (laughter); it you wish, I say, to do the work of the devil, and eat the meats of the devil, you need only to remain with the Methodists, Baptists, or such-like. Sion is no place for you. We want only clean people, and, thanks to God, we can make them clean. There are many among you who need cleansing. You know that I have scoured you as was necessary, and I shall continue to do it, for you are far from clean yet."

Then, entering into a dialogue with his hearers upon the vital point of Sionism, he asks:

"Does America pay her tithe to God?"

The audience replies "No."

"Do the churches pay their tithes to God?"


"Do you yourselves pay your tithes to God? Stand up, those of you who do."

The listeners stand up in thousands.

"There are a number of robbers here who remain seated, and do not pay their tithes to God. Now I know who are the robbers. Do you know what should be done with you? I will tell you. There is nothing for you but the fire—the fire! Is it not villainy to rob one's brother?"


"Is it not villainy to rob one's mother?"


"Is it not the vilest villainy to rob God?"


"Well, there are some among you who are not ashamed of committing it. You are robbing God all the time. You are like Ahaz, the Judean king famed for his impiety, and if you remain as you are, you will be doomed to eternal death. To whom does the tithe belong? What is done with it? I am going to answer that. If anyone here says that what I possess is taken out of the tithes, he lies—and I will make his lie stick in his throat. The tithes and all other offerings go straight to the general fund, and do not even pass through my hands. But I have a right to my share of the tithes. Have I—or not?"


"Yes, and I shall take it when I have need of it. It is you whom I address—you vile robbers, hypocrites, liars, who pretend to belong to Sion and do not pay the tithe. Do you know what is reserved for you? You will burn in eternal fire. Rise—depart from Sion!"

But no one departs. All the defaulters hasten to pay, for the prophet inspires them with a terror very different from their dread of the tax-collector, and there is no single example of one sufficiently obstinate to brave his threats of damnation.

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