Appendix A

Popular Myths or Fallacies about the Doukhobors

Excerpt from 'Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living',
by Koozma J. Tarasoff, 2002: pp. 379-384. All rights reserved.
Download this file in RTF (rich text format) — Updated April 27, 2016.

The fallacies or myths* I have selected are those that have played havoc with the Doukhobors and non-Doukhobors for well over 100 years. Most have an element of truth, but largely are riddled with mystery, hearsay, contradictions, and often wishful thinking. As we begin the new century, it is important to re-evaluate our past and begin afresh on a new slate of understanding.

The fallacies or myths are sensitive and I realize that some people may resist them. However, a healthy society rests on periodic renewal of its history and philosophy.

*An earlier  skeleton version of these myths was presented by the author at a Conference on 'The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada', University of Ottawa, 24 October 1999 (Donskov, Woodsworth and Gaffield, 2000: 231).
  1. Doukhobor pacifism is passive and not important for the peace movement or for Canada’s foreign policy.
  2. Doukhobor is a ‘sect’ or a ‘cult’.
  3. Queen Victoria met the Doukhobors and is credited with settling the Russian dissidents in Canada.
  4. Doukhobors ‘go nude, burn, and bomb’.
  5. Doukhobors are Christians and believe in the Bible and Jesus Christ.
  6. Doukhobors are dupes of ‘spiritual leaders’ and gullible to their whims.
  7. Doukhobors are vegetarians.
  8. Doukhobors do not vote, pay taxes, or own land.
  9. Doukhobors are gullible to vivid metaphors and prophecies.
  10. The Sons of Freedom, or zealots, are the last vestige of the true Doukhobor spirit.

Myth No. 1: Doukhobor pacifism is passive and not important for the peace movement or for Canada’s foreign policy.

    Not so. The Doukhobor’s most lasting value during their more than 100 years in Canada has been pacifism. Starting from the ‘God within’ to the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, Doukhobors have developed a passion for nonviolence that comes forth as a paradigm shift in society. They have characterized war as ‘mass murder’ and ‘insane’ and contrary to everything that we are taught under the commandment ‘Do unto others that which you wish others to do unto you’. And they have unequivocally stated that we must get rid of the institution of militarism and war — or, these institutions will get rid of us. The United Nations raised this same message in its initial Preamble in 1945.

    The year 2001 is the first year of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), a campaign predicated on the notion of teaching the practice of peace and nonviolence to children, which will promote the purposes and principles of the Charters of the United Nations. The intent of this Decade is to encourage all nations and peoples to build a more peaceful, compassionate, just and sustainable world. Tragically, it is also the year marked by the violent September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, which constitute a crime against humanity and a gross violation of the basic rights of thousands of human beings. But as the United States and allied governments attack war-torn Afghanistan, the United Nations has warned that a great humanitarian disaster is already underway. It is in times like this that we need to reflect deeply and struggle to cultivate values of peacefulness, nonviolence, justice and compassion. Getting rid of the institution of war is an important step in this reflective journey.

    Dr. Glenn D. Paige, President of the Center for Global Nonviolence, summarizes the world situation well and the need for a nonviolent approach: ‘As the world turns to celebrate the Common Era 2000, mostly unaware that it celebrates the message of love and non-killing of Jesus of Nazareth, no tribute to the significance of the date can be more important than your effort to remind the world of the Burning of Weapons in 1895, its historical roots, and the past century of Doukhobor struggle, suffering, and the unquestionably eventual triumph of the Spirit of Toil and Peaceful Life’ (Letter from Paige to Tarasoff, September 26, 1999).

Myth No. 2: Doukhobor is a ‘sect’ or a ‘cult’.

     For the first two of three centuries, people calling themselves ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ tended to isolate themselves from the world, to become secretive and inner-directed. In that narrow sense, they could have been characterized as a sect.

    However, after the courageous 1895 Burning of Arms event in Tsarist Russia, the group transformed itself into a social movement by taking concerted action directed at changing ‘the patterns and institutions of the existing society’ (Heberle, 1949: 348). A classical shift in direction had taken place. From the inside, the aim of the Doukhobors became deep, broad, and universal. From the outside, the church and state recognized them as a threat to the existing social order because their ideas were revolutionary.

    While many Doukhobors do not think of themselves as a social movement, in their actions they have similarities to one. Therefore, today it is more accurate to call them a social movement or a way of life. With concerted action or agitation, they are united in working for a higher plane towards a common goal of a better world.

    Parallel to the Doukhobors, Lev N. Tolstoy was always expanding his horizon towards universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Tolstoy particularly warns us against the dangerous sentiment of patriotism which he defines as ‘the preference for one’s own country or nation above the country or nation of any one else’. This sentiment he regards as immoral because it violates the golden rule of trying to benefit ones self interest at the expense of others.

Myth No. 3: Queen Victoria met the Doukhobors and is credited with settling the Russian dissidents in Canada.

    Apparently P.V. Verigin, shortly after arriving in 1902, lied to pacify protestors that he had a secret written agreement with the Crown. After his death in 1924, and ever since, though no hint of evidence has been found in archives in Canada or the U.K, the myth persisted. In general, Doukhobors have no special interest in giving allegiance to kings, queens, or tsars. After all, they were persecuted by Nicholas II, Queen Victoria’s relative.

  • Ewashen, Larry. The Myth of Queen Victoria's Connection to the Doukhobors Exposed! What did Queen Vicotria have to do with the Doukhobor migratino? [Nothing!] — 'Queen Victoria, by this time [1897] a frail and feeble and slightly delusional 78 years old, and occupied with the South African campaign [to what little extent she could be occupied with anything, she died three years later], was not aware of any dealings of the Canadian negotiations or of the Doukhobor emigration.'
  • Plotnicove, Nick N. 'Letters to the Editor: Doukhobor Highlights Provides Valuable Resume', The Inquirer, Vol. 3, no. 1, February 1956, page 52. — Claims that Queen Victoria promised Doukhobors certain freedoms. Editor: We cannot find anywhere in Doukhobor history where Queen Victoria made any promises to the Doukhobors.
  • Swyripa, Frances. Storied Landscapes: Ethno-religious Identity and the Canadian Prairies, Univ. of Manitoba Press, 2010, page 112. — On the golden jubilee of their immigration in 1949, Saskatchewan Doukhobors noted how England alone had listened when Count Leo Tolstoi appealed to the world to save their ancestors. “Good Doukhobor people” they reported Victoria saying, "even though I am a queen I have a good soul and a maternal heart. I love you for refusing to kill, for being vegetarian ... for looking after your poor, and for eschewing alcohol and tobacco” She then promised free land and asylum in Canada for as long as they kept the peace.” In his 1968 history of Canadian Doukhobors, George Woodcock dismissed “the legend.”
  • Torkelson, Lucile. 'Doukhobor Children Born to Terror,', The Milwaukee Sentinel, 3 January 1966, page 4. — According to Miss [Simma] Holt: "He gave his people a Sanction for lawlessness in his first weeks in Canada by telling them he had a secret written agreement, signed by himself and Queen Victoria, granting the Doukhobors complete freedom from the laws of Canada. The agreement was hidden away so the government could not take it from him. To this day no one has even seen such a contract." 

Myth No. 4: Doukhobors ‘go nude, burn, and bomb’.

    This myth has been perpetrated by the media for at least 100 years because sensationalism sells papers and makes money for the owners. While some individual zealots have done these things, this behavior has nothing to do with the Doukhobor movement. In fact, most Doukhobors believe that the moment one participates in an act of violence, he/she ceases to be a Doukhobor.

    Those who participate in arson and bombing are arsonists and bombers. They are not Doukhobors, even though they hide under the umbrella or cloak of the Doukhobors for protection and legitimacy.

    Sensationalistic reporter Simma Holt in 1964 published a book of yellow journalism in which she tarred all Doukhobors with one brush of ‘terror in the name of God’ stemming from their Russian roots. In one of her chapters, ‘An Autobiography of a Fanatic’, Fred N. Davidoff, wrote the piece as a way to show his zealot voice — but his descriptions and that of Holt’s had nothing to do with the model behavior of the mass majority of peaceful Doukhobor citizens. That same Davidoff later wrote another autobiography, this time disclaiming what he had written before and now was seeking parole from the legal system. To raise his name in the same breath as the Doukhobors is not acceptable. By his behavior, this individual disclaimed his Doukhobor connections.

    Consider a recent heading in the Castlegar Sun, 8 September 1999, of a letter to the editor by William M. Rozinkin which responds to a zealot who still supports nudity in public places: ‘Being nude in public is against the law, no ifs, ands or buts’. The heading says it all.

Myth No. 5:    Doukhobors are Christians and believe in the Bible (as the supernatural, ‘holy’ creation representing God) and Jesus Christ (who is said to have died for our sins and was born from a virgin).

    For most Doukhobors, these notions are parables of an earlier form of Biblical Christianity. Three hundred years ago they rejected the Church as being exploitative of innocent peoples through the mechanism of fear. Instead, they chose the “voice of God within” as being accessible to all and central to their way of thinking. They consider the Bible as a good book. But as with any good book, they say, it must be approached with discretion, judgment, and common sense, not just swallowed whole in an act of blind faith. In fact, most Doukhobors read the Bible as a form of literature, not a sacred script. Jesus Christ is considered a good man, a human being who performed good acts. Sin and ‘salvation through the blood of Christ’ are notions foreign to them. Doing good, according to the Doukhobors, is the way of being good, rather than speaking about it.

    There is an old saying: “Bog, da Bog, no ti ne budi plokh” [You may speak of God all you like, but behave yourself.]. Good behavior is of central importance to the meaning of being Doukhobor.

Myth No. 6: Doukhobors are dupes of ‘spiritual leaders’ and gullible to their whims.

    There is some truth to this. In their 350-year-history, Doukhobors have at times failed to use their own critical thinking and, as a result, some have allowed leaders to exploit them.

    The Doukhobor vision of God’s presence within each individual envisaged a society without an established class structure ? priesthood, bureaucracy, or aristocracy. At the same time, a contradiction arose in the late 1770s when leader Ilarion Pobirokhin had proclaimed himself Christ and claimed that his divinity had been passed down from the time of the apostles. His successors accepted this aberration as a way to institutionalize their power, a theocracy brought to Canada by the Verigin family. This mistake resulted in splits between those who supported the Verigins’ divine leadership (the Community Doukhobors) and those who opposed it (the Independent Doukhobors). While all today agree on the central values of pacifism and non-violence and the use of a cappella singing, and the rejection of the church, the priesthood, and the Bible, the sharing of power has been the principal cause of internal divisions throughout the past centuries.

    It is revealing to note that Lukeria Kalymikova, whose ‘Golden years’ leadership occurred from 1841 to 1886, was more interested in the people than in herself. Generally she did not take advantage of her so-called ‘divine’ position (Epp, 1964:5).

    In brief, the notion of primogeniture fundamentally clashes with the earlier belief that each person has the spirit of God in him or her, and therefore are equal. Primogeniture has been a legitimacy device, the power structure used by kings, queens, the Tsars, and the Orthodox Church through the centuries, but the Doukhobors rejected this practice long time ago. Today, most have adopted democratic leadership and the rule of law as the way of the future.

Myth No. 7: Doukhobors are vegetarians.

    Some are. Some are not. Vegetarianism has never been a necessary part of the Doukhobor movement. This idea was suggested by Peter V. Verigin in 1894 as a disciplinary measure for activists in preparing for the 1895 Arms Burning event. The group needed a moral argument, reverence for life and harmony with nature, to show a moral face. In modern times, vegetarianism is popular amongst many Doukhobors (and non-Doukhobors alike) because of its health benefits and a feeling that the practice is part of a spiritual journey towards purity. Meals at traditional funerals and festive events are always vegetarian.

    Vegetarianism is not a prerequisite to being a Doukhobor. It is certainly right to respect animals and to prevent cruelty to them; but to say that one should not eat them is strictly a matter of personal opinion. Throughout human history, animals have been an essential part of many diets.

Myth No. 8:  Doukhobors do not vote, pay taxes, or own land.

    False, of course. The exception is a handful of zealots in the interior of British Columbia who refuse to pay taxes. They condemn private enterprise because of the envy and greed they feel it fosters. Their agenda is to get attention to themselves on the claim that they are outstanding examples of a civil society. Nonetheless, the mass of 40,000 Doukhobors in Canada today have an ingrained morality not to exploit people and as much as possible to strive to live honest lives.

    In 1928, leader Peter P. Verigin brought forth a ‘Declaration’ of the ‘Named Doukhobors’ of Canada which stated: ‘They have never given nor will they ever give their votes during elections, thereby they are free from any responsibility before God or man for the acts of any government established of men.’ That statement makes little sense today for practically all Doukhobors vote; also it has made little sense for many decades when Doukhobors ran for local and even federal elections. Historically, this myth came forth at a time when racists in the Canadian federal and provincial governments sought ways to take away the franchise of the Doukhobors.

    Against politics? No! Remember that the Arms Burning event was one of the most political acts in any history. Remember, too, that the Order of Canada (1976) and the Order of the Peoples’ Friendship (l989) were highly political acts of the last decade which the present representative of the Community Doukhobors received.

    At the same time, a case can be made for people of conscience that they should not be forced to pay for the military through our taxes. Conscience Canada* is one of these organizations that provides options for peace trusters to deposit that portion of their income taxes into a Peace Trust Fund as a formal objection to paying to kill. Although the Canadian Parliament has not yet officially ruled on the legitimacy of this action, Canada has recognized the rights of conscientious objectors to military service since 1793. During times of military conscription, alternative non-combatant service has been arranged for Canadians who cannot participate in war for reasons of conscience. On 6 December 1898, Doukhobors as a group were given exemption from military service on similar grounds by Order in Council approved by the Governor-General, basing their arguments on precedents set earlier by Mennonites, Quakers and Tunkers. During World War II, another Order in Council dated 24 December 1940 confirmed that the Doukhobors and Mennonites are entitled to indefinite postponement of military service.

    Today more than a dozen Doukhobors are members of Conscience Canada* and several of these are peace trusters.

* Conscience Canada, Inc., 901-70 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario M5A 4R1. E-mail: Web site:
Before the Doukhobors Came

Sub-section 3 of Section 21 of the Militia Act, Chapter 41 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1873, in part: ‘Every person bearing a certificate from the Society of Quakers, Mennonites or Tunkers and every inhabitant of Canada of any religious denomination, otherwise subject to Military duty, who, from the doctrines of his religion, is averse to bearing arms and refuses Military Service, shall be exempt from such service when balloted in time of peace and war, upon such conditions and under such regulations as the Governor in Council, from time to time prescribes’.

An extract from a Minute of Privy Council No. 2747, approved by His Excellency the Governor General on December 6th, 1898, in part ‘... The Minister considering that the Doukhobors would appear to be most desirable classes of settlers to locate upon the vacant dominion lands of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, is of the opinion that it is expedient to give them the fullest assurance of absolute immunity from Military Service in the event of their settling in this country. The Minister recommends that under the power vested in Your Excellency in council by the above provision, the Doukhobors, settling permanently in Canada, be exempted unconditionally from service in the Militia upon the production from the proper authorities of their community....’ John G. McGee, Clerk of the Privy Council.
The Order in Council Now

Privy Council 7215, Dec. 24Th, 1940, Government House, His Excellency, the Governor General in Council, in part: ‘Whereas the Minister of National War Services reports that experience in the administration of the National War Services Regulation, 1940 ... said regulations require amendments ... they are hereby amended as follows: ... Sub-Section two of section revoked and the following is substituted therefore: Persons whose registration cards disclose that they represent themselves to be members of the sect or denomination of Christians called Mennonites or of the Community of Doukhobors, shall not be required by the Divisional Registrar ... to report for military training; provided, however, that every such person shall after men of his age class are called out, be required to report for medical examination .... Furthermore he shall be required to report for military training unless he claims ... to be entitled as Mennonite or as a Doukhobor ... to indefinite postponement of his military training. ... Any man who claims that he conscientiously objects ... may apply .... Sub-section one of section eighteen is revoked and the following substituted therefore: Any man who claims that he conscientiously objects to bearing arms or undertaking combatant service, may apply for an order or direction postponing his military training indefinitely ....’ A.D.P. Heeney, Clerk of the Privy council.

Myth No. 9:  Doukhobors are gullible to vivid metaphors and prophecies.

    Some are, but most Doukhobors see the fallacy behind the myths, and otherwise understand the statements as colourful metaphors and stories. One of the prevailing prophesies was attributed to Lukeria Kalmykova who, in the 1880s, was supposed to have predicted that the Doukhobors would return to Russia after forty years or so. As a result, some Doukhobors are anticipating the day when they would resettle in Russia as a way to revive and give new spirit to the movement. It was often said, ‘We’re not immigrants, we are exiles in a foreign land. We will go on to another country some day’ (Marie Maloff in Iskra, 12 March 1997: 27). The USCC Doukhobor Future Committee has examined this question as the way to revive the movement (USCC, 1989). However, the stimulus for this move stopped suddenly with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

    Another prominent myth comes forward as a prophecy. It comes in the form of three banquets, metaphors, mission statements, or historical steps. The first is Breakfast, which refers to the Doukhobors rejecting the priests and ikons three centuries back. The second is Dinner, which was carried out with the historic 1895 Burning of Arms in Tsarist Russia including refusal to serve the state in waging wars. The third, Supper, is less clear, and is something that Doukhobors in Canada are supposed to do in order to survive.

    The metaphorical Supper is presumably aimed at getting rid of private property and material greed; it is motivated and spearheaded by the continuing appeal of the zealots that ‘land, a gift of God, should not be bought or sold or taxed’. Private ownership is supposed to be a source of all evil which will lead to ‘ecclesiastical terror’ when billions of people will die in the world (Mike Chernenkoff in Iskra, 29 March 1995: 68). This step, according to its proponents, was ordained by God and therefore there is ‘no escape, without dire consequences’ (Mike Chernenkoff in Dove, Oct. 1997: 8). Most Doukhobors reject this myth as naive thinking, even though most people recognize the need to pay attention to providing a balance between material and spiritual needs in our society. The third great banquet is presumably directed at the whole world declaring peace and universal brotherhood and sisterhood.

    The legend of the Doukhobor origin and its invincibility was attributed to Kapustin as a way of getting the living Christ to move into the Doukhobor people, and therefore give it continuity. A police report recorded this myth well:

    ‘“There are 77 faiths in all on the earth and they are all false, while the true faith is the 78th, the Doukhobor faith.’ Kapustin convinced the Doukhobors that their faith was derived from Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, and as such Doukhoborism was older than Christianity and Christ himself was a Doukhobor...” (Woodsworth, 1999: 28).

    There have also been many prophecies connected to the leaders. With the birth of Peter V. Verigin in the 1800s, a special star is supposed to have appeared above his residence. This was obviously a way to make a connection to Jesus of Nazareth so as to give royal credence to the birth and therefore special power to the new birth and the future leader.

   ‘Verigin obviously needed the story of Petr Kalmykov’s liaison with Anastasija Verigina to justify Savelij Kapustin’s prophecy regarding the succession of the “soul of Christ” in his descendants and to ensure the Doukhobor “throne” for Petr Verigin, and especially the estate that came with it, to which Verigin would otherwise have had no claim’ (Police report in Woodsworth, 1999:34).

    Speeches by the leaders were often spiked with vivid stories that were often misunderstood. For example, Peter P. Verigin spoke of the zealots as the Head, the Community Doukhobors as the Body, and the Independents as the Tail. Consequently, some zealots took this as an acknowledgment that they are the ‘avant garde’ movement of ‘true Doukhobors’. Also, the same leader created the White Horse Fund which was a mythical horse designed to gather large amounts of 
money to pay off local debts, and also to lead the group to Mexico or Russia (the problem occurred when kabila syela, the white mare, ate the funds).

  Suffice to say that these and many other legends and prophecies are colorful metaphors and myths of the mind often designed to influence less educated people in a particular way so as to gain control of them. As such, verbal tradition is not to be trusted because people often say and hear only that which supports and reinforces their particular point of view. An Independent member who holds a PhD in English, wrote: ‘Like gossip, prophecy starts bending out of shape the moment it is spoken and repeated’ (Allan Markin, in Iskra, 6 September 1989:24). Indeed, prophecies, myths, and legends have more often hindered than bolstered Doukhobor development over the centuries.

Myth No. 10:  The Sons of Freedom, or zealots, are the last vestige of the true Doukhobor spirit.

    The 1902 trek of nearly 1700 Doukhobors was a genuine response of the spirit to the pressures that the new migrants were facing. We need to acknowledge the depth of sincerity of that act. However, we must also look critically at the behavior that followed so that we will have a proper perspective for a future without the destructive baggage of the past.

    Most of the acts that followed the early events transgressed the very basis of the nonviolent movement that the Doukhobors have promoted. Some of its proponents today, the zealots, wish to ensure that they have a place in history. Tactically, as with many of their earlier predecessors, they have sought to capture the agenda of the Doukhobors. This is rhetoric at best, and clever manipulation at its worst.

    As rational individuals, we need to reveal the transparency of these zealot actions and place them in proper historical perspective. We must go forward without the psychological baggage of gullibility to false rumors and upside-down behavior ( i.e. ‘Don’t do as I do, but as I say’). We must not be intimidated by nudists, arsonists, and terrorists. We must in fact demonstrate our true Spirit Wrestler’s behaviour of nonviolence and love thy neighbour as thyself. This is no easy task for we have to have the courage to ‘love our enemies and those who hate us by treating them as ourselves’ (from Lev Tolstoy's The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, 1909 ).
In summary, these are ten dark troublesome Doukhobor myths or fallacies that have endured for well over a one hundred years. At the beginning of the 21st century, it is time to challenge their assumptions and expose them to the light of critical thinking. We need to clear away the garbage of half-truths in our path so that we can get on with the task of building a healthy and peaceful society.