Saturday, September 15, 2012

Religion and the "Mad Baron"

It was on this day in 1921 that the mascot of this weblog, Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, met his death at the hands of a Bolshevik firing squad (though he still managed to take out one of his executioners in the process). Given that, I thought it appropriate to address a subject that is still the cause of a great deal of confusion regarding the “Mad Baron”; his religion. As with most subjects involving the Baron, there is not much information to go on and what is widely available is quite often absolute nonsense. The most common misconception is that the Baron was a Buddhist, from a family of Buddhists who were converted after an ancestor of his served as a mercenary in India. The story goes that he brought back the religion of “The Enlightened One” to his family in the Baltic and that it was passed on, handed down to the Baron who, at his first opportunity at the end of the Russian Civil War, embarked on a crusade to spread Buddhism, wiping out other religions along with the atheistic communists. “The yellow sun, eclipsing the red star”. Although it is easy to see how such stories came to be spread, it is, quite simply, a load of nonsense. The Baron may have had a certain inclination toward Buddhism, indeed it seems safe to say that he adopted a number of Buddhist beliefs, but officially he was certainly not a Buddhist and that can be easily proven.

First of all, the story of the ‘family conversion’ makes no sense at all. Going to India and being converted to Buddhism just because Buddha was born there would make about as much sense as going to the Caliphate of Bagdad and adopting Judaism just because Abraham was born there (or near about anyway). Going to India at that time and coming back Muslim or Hindu would make more sense but not Buddhist. However, we don’t need to rely on stories in this case because we have the baptismal records of Roman von Ungern-Sternberg from his childhood home in Estonia (though he was actually born in Austria-Hungary) and like most of the Baltic Germans of Imperial Russia he was baptized a Lutheran. As I have often reminded readers, there is very little, in terms of hard facts, that we know about the Baron but this is one thing we do know for sure; he was raised a Lutheran. He had, of course, a great deal of experience with Russian Orthodox Christianity during his schooling and simply being a subject of the Russian Empire and so, throughout his life, he displayed some Orthodox influences as well and certainly regarded the Tsar as almost semi-divine figure. He probably never encountered a Buddhist until he joined a Cossack regiment to serve in the war with Japan in the Far East.

The difficult thing when it comes to assessing the religious beliefs of the Baron is that he often seemed to be several things at once and it would force one to ask the question of exactly how one should define the rules by which the religion of a person is determined at all. Certainly when he came to Mongolia he was immediately very fascinated by their entire culture and religious-political system. The country was, then, a Buddhist theocratic monarchy with the ruling ‘Holy Khan’ being the secular as well as spiritual ruler of the country and third in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy behind the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama. Certainly by the time he rode into Mongolia with his army to drive out the Chinese republicans, he went “native” in a big way. He learned at least passable Mongolian, wore Mongolian style clothes and even married a Manchurian girl. He approached the ‘Holy Khan’ just like any of his subjects would have and gave him every reverence and courtesy. It is during this time that one could have certainly taken the Baron to be a Buddhist. He even wore, around his neck on a yellow cord, a large assortment of talismans but among these were pieces from the Buddhist, Christian and even the old pagan religion of the Mongols. Perhaps he was trying to keep all bases covered. We do know that his most prized possession was his Cross of St George and he was determined, even at the time of his execution, to keep that sacred symbol out of the unholy hands of his atheist enemies.

Today we are inclined to view those adopt various religious beliefs as someone who doesn’t take religion seriously but that certainly was not the case with Ungern-Sternberg. He had a religiously diverse army and made it a point to see to the various religious beliefs of all his men. Time was set aside for prayers for his Christian and Buddhist soldiers alike. The Baron himself was frequently at prayer, even if few knew precisely who he was praying to. He frequently quoted the Bible, even in his official orders, being particularly fond of the apocalyptic passages of the Old Testament. Yet he also attended Buddhist rituals and was known to call upon the services of wandering Mongol shamans who still adhered to the faith Mongolia knew before Buddhism to foretell his future. So, given all of this, would it make sense to say that the Baron had made a change in his religious status? The problem with answering that question would be answering the follow-up question; changed to what? From what accounts do exist, my response would be that the Baron himself would not think his religious label to be terribly important. This does not mean, again, that he thought religion unimportant -quite the opposite. However, he was a rather straightforward, black & white type of man who, it seems to me, simply believed in a divine power, in the supernatural and did not terribly care about differences in interpreting that but only focused on his violent opposition to those who opposed the very existence of religion, of anything divine, of mankind having a soul at all.

The greatest proof though, against any fundamental change in the Baron’s religion away from that he was born into can be found at his death. Usually, when one is about to face eternity, truth comes out and, in spite of his religious dabbling, I think it is extremely significant that, when he gave his vital statistics to his Soviet captors, he identified himself as a Christian. More than that, at his show-trial, the Soviet prosecutors seemed to zero in on Christianity as being the primary, motivating factor behind the crimes and military campaign of Ungern-Sternberg. This, undoubtedly, was due to the antipathy the Bolsheviks had for Christianity and they cited this as an explanation for the “zeal” of the Baron in fighting to restore the Romanov dynasty to the Russian throne. However, it was not necessary to single out Christianity except for the fact that the Baron himself identified Christianity as his religion since the Soviets were opposed to all religion and could have just as easily targeted their attacks at Buddhism if the Baron had identified himself to the court as a Buddhist. Indeed, when Mongolia became the first Soviet satellite the Buddhist religion came under the most vicious attack until it was practically wiped out. So, in the end, officially anyway, the Baron was born a Christian and died a Christian, though he certainly did not fit into the standard mold of what one thinks of a Christian. But, again, he likely would have found such distinctions unimportant. The driving force behind his campaign and the cause he devoted his life to was simply to destroy atheistic communism, defend religious belief and traditional authority and to restore monarchy, be it the Buddhist monarchy of Mongolia or the Orthodox monarchy of Russia.


  1. "The driving force behind his campaign and the cause he devoted his life to was simply to destroy atheistic communism, defend religious belief and traditional authority and to restore monarchy, be it the Buddhist monarchy of Mongolia or the Orthodox monarchy of Russia."

    Right on M.M. I would gladly live under a divie Buddhist Monarchy than the Communist Killing Fields!

    Down with Socialism up with Monarchy!

    Bless the Mad Baron!

    More sane than all the leftist thinkers combined!

  2. That was a great and informative read my friend, thank you very much.

  3. Interesting. The Mad Baron was killed the same day I was born.

  4. Greetings for the Mad Monarchist!

    I am a great admirer of Ungern-Sternberg, and I want to deal more with his biography as well as with his religious and political views. Could you give me some reliable sources (books, publications, articles, etc.) about these topics. (If there is anything) Thank you and Bless the Mad Baron!


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