Tolstoy’s Prophecy of a Great War in Europe

Did Leo Tolstoy Foresee the First World War?

On Saturday, 22 August 1914, as the British Expeditionary Force took up positions around the town of Mons in Belgium, the Spiritualist magazine Light published another prophecy of war, this time one attributed to the great Russian writer Count Leo Tolstoy.

Light had published Tolstoy’s prophecy before, now, suddenly made meaningful, it published Tolstoy’s prophecy again.

According to the story, at some point before his death in 1910, Leo Tolstoy fell into ‘an apparently comatose condition’ and started speaking. His grandniece, Countess Nastasia Tolstoy, was by his side to take dictation.

Tolstoy’s Super-Venus and the Flame of War

‘This is a revelation of a universal character,’ began Tolstoy, ‘which must shortly come to pass.’ He proceeded to describe a vision involving a naked woman floating on ‘the sea of human fate’: the ‘super-Venus’ with ‘her beauty, her poise, her smile, her jewels’, who, ‘like an eternal courtesan, flirts with all’. She is an allegory for ‘Commercialism’ and ‘nations rush madly after her’. She has three arms, each holding ‘a torch of universal corruption’: the ‘flame of War’; the ‘flame of Bigotry and Hypocrisy’; and the flame of ‘the Law’. The flame of war inspires honest patriotism, but ends in ‘the roar of guns and musketry’. The flame of bigotry and hypocrisy ‘lights the lamp only in temples and on the altars of sacred institutions’, inspiring ‘falsity and fanaticism’. The flame of the law is the ‘dangerous foundation of all unauthentic traditions’.

Tolstoy Sees ‘Europe in Flames and Bleeding’ in 1913

Tolstoy was not finished: ‘the great conflagration,’ he continued, ‘will start about 1912, set by the torch of the first arm in the countries of South-eastern Europe’. By 1913, it will have developed into ‘a destructive calamity’. In 1913 ‘I see all Europe in flames and bleeding’ and ‘I hear the lamentations of huge battlefields’.

By 1915, approximately, ‘a strange figure from the North – a new Napoleon – enters the stage of bloody drama’. According to Tolstoy’s alleged prophecy he would not be the typical military man, but a writer or journalist; nonetheless, he would hold Europe in his grip until 1925.

After the Great War: A New Era

Like most of the other prophecies, all this bloodshed, death and destruction would bring about ‘a new political era for the Old World’. Empires and kingdoms would be swept aside and in their place would be ‘a federation of the United States of Nations’. After the new Napoleon, Tolstoy envisaged that a ‘great reformer’ would arise to renew ‘religious sentiments’ after the super-Venus’s second torch had burnt the old Church to the ground. Monotheism would be replaced by pantheism and ‘God, soul, spirit, and immortality will be molten in a new furnace’ to inaugurate ‘the peaceful beginning of an ethical era’.

The third torch, that of law, was already burning holes in the family, art and morals. Luckily, ‘a hero of literature and art’ would pop up and purge the world of ‘the tedious stuff of the obvious’. Tolstoy gave all this a racial character: the great calamity would leave only ‘the Anglo-Saxons, the Latins, the Slavs and the Mongolians’. The man from the north was evidently an Anglo-Saxon, the religious reformer was a ‘Mongolian-Slav’ and the artistic hero was one of the Latins.

There were a few other uninteresting details to the prophecy, as there always are, but the prediction of a great war and close dating of 1913 must have caught the attention of the readers of Light. According to the story, the countess forwarded her account to the Czar who had a translation sent to the Kaiser and the Kaiser sent it on to the British monarch. In other versions, Emperor Wilhelm of Germany had asked the Russian Czar to get something new out of Tolstoy and it was the Czar himself who had commanded Tolstoy’s grandniece to extract something novel.

Was Tolstoy’s Prophecy by Tolstoy?

That Tolstoy had actually made this prophecy is unlikely, but here it was: a prophetic pronouncement verging on accurate posing as having come from a Russian genius – and, whoever wrote it, it was still published before the war.

It was not just readers of Light who were exposed to Tolstoy’s alleged prophecy, newspapers across the world would print it.

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