You know the bit in horror flick I Spit In Your Grave that probably made your skin crawl or induced a bit of retching out of sheer disgust? The bit with some absolutely horrendous instances of genital mutilation? Well, here's a reminder in case you have no idea what I'm talking about:
Absolutely vile, I'm sure you'll agree! And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, let me tell you that in fact, it really can. Whilst for many the above is merely the stuff of nightmares, for a small group of people in Russia many decades ago, this was a horrific reality.
What is Skoptsy?
Way back in 1771 in the Oryol region of Russia, a secret sect was discovered practicing the castration of men and the mastectomy of women (cutting their breasts off!) in order to curb sexual lust. The Skoptsy believed that all of the evil in the world had its roots in human sexuality, a dangerous power that has to be obliterated at all costs.
Their methods originated in beliefs that after Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, halves of the forbidden fruit were grafted into their delicate bodies -- for them, this was exactly how testicles and breasts came to be.
In removing them, the sect thought they would return themselves to a state before Eve committed the Original Sin.
Two types of castration
Interestingly, the Skoptsy's beliefs were not as simple as merely fully cutting off crucial parts of the anatomy. In fact, there were two kind of castration for men -- the 'lesser' and the 'greater.' For men, the former meant only the removal of the testicles, whilst the latter resulted in the cutting off of the penis too.
Both methods were excruciatingly done with shaving tools (and no anesthetic!), with many having to spend the rest of their lives urinating through a cow-horn.
Although the practice of female castration was not recognized until later in 1815, it was similarly harsh as no pain relief was provided.
How did such a bizarre practice come about?
As already mentioned, the practice was first stumbled upon in 1771 when a peasant, Andrei Ivanov, was convicted of persuading thirteen other peasants to castrate themselves. Following a trial, he and his accomplice Kondratii Selivanov, were whipped and sent to Siberia.
Escaping a few years later, Selivanov gracefully proclaimed himself as the Son of God, incarnate in the body of the late Tsar Peter III of Russia. It was then that he announced his agenda to provide salvation to believers via castration.
Having settled in St. Petersburg, Selivanov spent the next few years receiving baffled believers who were convinced he was either Christ or the Tsar. Yet, that's not to say the authorities were not onto him in the meantime -- in fact, he was repeatedly locked up and even once imprisoned in a madhouse.
Unfortunately though, when Selivanov ended his days at 100-years-old in a monastery, the bizarre practice of skopticism failed to be exterminated.
Mostly meeting late at night in dark cellars, groups would congregate with the men wearing long, wide, white shirts and white trousers, whilst the women also dressed in white, earning them them the nicknames of "White Doves." Shockingly by 1874, the sect numbered at a whopping 5444 people, with 703 men and 100 partaking in excruciating bodily mutilation.
Do Skoptsy exist today?
Yet in the early 20th century, the Skoptsy may have had as many as 100,000 followers -- ultimately, they believed that the Messiah would not appear until their numbers reached at least 144,000. Luckily decades on, due to repression and persecution under the Soviet regime, the practice has almost died out.
That's not to say that the lingering affects of this type of bodily mutilation continues to haunt society -- and instances of illegal castration in third world countries continue to ravage the news. Let's just hope that with time, these harmful practices are wiped out for good so that individuals can live their lives in harmony with their own bodies.