The Skoptsy, literally "self-castrators," were a schismatic Russian religious sect that arose in the mid 18th Century as the inevitable counterpart to the orgiastic Khlysty sect, which sought to "get rid of sin through sin" by engaging in group sex. The founder of the Skoptsy, Kondraty Selivanov, rose to prominence by inveighing against the desoluteness of the Khlysty and preaching that true godliness lay only in the absolute subjugation of lust and the most absolute victory could only be achieved through the "fiery baptisim" of castration.
The Skoptsy drew their inspiration directly from the Bible. In Matthew 19:12, Christ tells his disciples that,
"There are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs by men; and then there are eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
The result of this bit of biblical literalism
was a wave of fanatical self-mutilation. Males were usually castrated with a hot iron
(hence the "fiery" baptism), although axes were also used. Female castration under the Skoptsy was particularly horrid, as all external sexual organs, including nipples and sometimes even whole breasts, were lopped off. A "supreme degree" of castration was also invented: the complete removal of the male organ.
All these mutilations were performed voluntarily by willing adherants - coercion held no place in the Skoptsy belief system, as the act of castration's very voluntariness was what gave it its spiritual power. The Skoptsy were preparing themselves for eternal life, and saw themselves as having come through their terrible trial as a superior class of men - "God's people" or "Living Christs" who would be rewarded with everlasting glory in Heaven. Thus, Skoptsy ceremonies were full of singing and dancing as the expressed the joy and exultation of their spiritual triumph over the dark forces of lust.
Considering the pain and suffering involved, the Skoptsy sect was surprisingly popular across a broad spectrum of Russian society, as everyone from peasants to landowners to government officers, and even Russian Orthodox clergymen voluntarily submitted to the mutilation. The father of the movement, Kondraty Selivanov, even won a personal audience with Tsar Alexander I at one point, but the Tsar ultimately rejected the Skoptsy plan to assign a personal Skoptsy "Christ" to the Tsar and each of his top ministers to provide them with spiritual guidance.
It is a tribute to the strange allure of its teachings that the Skoptsy heresy lasted into the early 20th century, but suffice to say, it never achieved anything close to the widespread popularity of the free-loving Khlysty movement.