The Stranglers

A sect no less extraordinary than the last was that of the Stranglers

(_douchiteli_). It originated towards the end of 1874, and profited by

a series of law cases, nearly all of which ended in acquittal. The

Stranglers flourished especially in the Tzarevokokschaisk district, and

first attained notoriety under the following circumstances.

A large number of deaths by strangling had been recorded, and their

frequency began to arouse suspicion. Whether they were due to some

criminal organisation, or to a series of suicidal impulses, the local

police were long unable to decide, but in the end the culprits were


Were they, however, in reality culpable?

The unfortunate peasants, after much reflection, had come to the

conclusion that death is not terrible, but that what is indubitably to

be feared is the last agony--the difficult departure from terrestrial

life. They decided, therefore, to come to the assistance of the Death

Angel, and, when any sufferer approached the final struggle, his

neighbours or relatives would carry him off to some isolated spot, tie

up his head firmly but kindly in a cushion--and soon all was over.

Before, however, they had recourse to such drastic measures, they would

inquire from the wizards (or _znachar_) of the district, doctors being

almost unknown, whether the invalid still had any chance of recovery,

and it was only after receiving a negative reply that the pious

ceremony took place. We say "pious" because there is something

strangely pathetic in this "crowning of the martyrs," as the peasants

called it. Arising in the first place from compassion, the motive for

the deed was, after all, a belief in the need for human sacrifice. The

invalid who consents to give up his life for the honour of heaven

accomplishes thereby an act of sublime piety; but what merit has he who

dies only from necessity?

The corpses were buried in the forest and covered with plants and

leaves, but no sign was left that might betray them to the suspicious

authorities. When a member of the community disappeared, and the

police made inquiries, they always had the greatest possible difficulty

in finding his remains. Sometimes even his nearest relations did not

know where the "saviours of his soul" had hidden him.

But there was one thing that marked the discovery of a dead Strangler.

His body never bore any trace of violence, and as dissection always

proved, in addition, the existence of some more or less serious

disease, the sham "murderers" were eventually left in peace. A small

local paper, the _Volgar_ (April, 1895), from which these facts are

taken, reports that several actions brought against them ended in their


Lord Avebury recounts that certain cannibal tribes kill those of their

members who have reached the stage of senile decay, and make them the

substance of a more or less succulent repast. These savages act, no

doubt, whether consciously or unconsciously, from some perception of

the misery and uselessness of old age, but the Russian peasants cannot

be compared to them. The Stranglers are not moved by any unconscious

sentiment. Their belief is the logical application of a doctrine of

pessimism, whose terrible consequences they have adopted, although they

know not its terminology. What is the life of a _moujik_ worth?

Nothing, or nearly nothing. Is it not well, then, to accelerate the

coming of deliverance? Let us end the life, and, snapping the chains

that bind us to mortals, offer it as a sacrifice to heaven! So reason

these simple creatures, inexorable in their logic, and weighed down by

untold misery.