Maria Carlson attempted to demonstrate the understudied value Theosophy had on Russia, and that in Russian culture, the influence of Theosophy was not underestimated by its Russian contemporaries. Many pages have been written on the history of Theosophy in the United States and Western Europe, but not Russia. Maria Carlson argues, that Theosophy transformed the “creative intelligentsia” of the Russian Silver Age, and certain aspects of this history could not be understood without a study of the major impact Theosophy made on Russian Culture. This book creates a distinction between the future world of Marx, Science, and Communism versus Blavatsky, eternal return, and Nietzsche. However, what Maria Carlson does also is give a reason why the Eastern [Russian] Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic theologians and historian officials should no longer falsely portray Theosophy as giving birth to a decadent period, that caused and is ideologically equivalent to the New Age movement, as portrayed in John Pope II’s encyclical. Maria Carlson demonstrates, that this more precise view on these currents, picked up in the culture and world, where the church failed to do and fails to still do; and to blame Theosophy is a weak and pathetic position. In the modern period, there is clearly an utter absence of such esoteric circles and associations. As with most scholar’s historical works, the evaluations are not to measure the truths of [or in] the ideas. We should recognize this movement’s value.
Carlson, M. (1993). No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922. Princeton University Press. (pp. 1-9)
The Esoteric Tradition
and the Russian Silver Age
“This study of the Russian Theosophical Movement seeks to restore an important missing piece of mosaic tile to the intricate design of fin de siècle Russian culture. The Russian Silver Age (1890-1914) is widely acknowledged as a critical transitional period in Russia’s cultural history; as such, its literature, history, art, and philosophy have received widespread and eminently deserved attention from both Russian and Western scholars. As they have learned more about this complex period of great intellectual ferment and social upheaval, scholars have inevitably become aware of certain lacunae in the scholarly mosaic. One such lacuna is the Silver Age’s passion for occultism and mysticism in both its refined and vulgar forms. The illegitimate offspring of the Russian religious renaissance, occultism flourished in Russia in the decadent days that preceded world war and revolution.
Like their European contemporaries, the Russians were intrigued by spiritualism, table turning, fortune-telling, magic, and mysticism of every stamp. In terms of intellectual impact, however, the most important form of occultism was modern Theosophy, a contemporary Gnostic gospel invented and disseminated by Helena BIavatsky (1831-1891), an expatriate Russian woman with an enthusiasm for Buddhist thought and a genius for self-promotion. Although her “secret doctrine” succeeded in seducing many leading cultural figures of the Russian Silver Age, it has not received its due as a contributing factor to the aesthetic and philosophical consciousness of the times. Scholars are aware of Theosophy and the other occult and mystical passions of the Silver Age, but erroneously disdain them as trivial; yet, occultism in general and Theosophy in particular are everywhere present, and are, in fact, a major determinant in the artistic and cultural course of the Silver Age. This book outlines the history of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, identifies its leading figures, and begins the documentation of Theosophy’s role as a social and intellectual force in Russian society during the fascinating period of the Russian fin de siècle.
Occultism and esotericism have always had their place in intellectual history. The ancient mysteries of the East, the secret rites of the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Persians, the mystery religions of ancient Greece and the Near East were inherited by medieval Kabbalists, alchemists, Hermeticists, and religious mystics; they were passed on by a superstitious seventeenth century (“century of witchcraft”) to the Age of Reason. The eighteenth century, characterized not only by the rationalism of Kant, Hume, and Voltaire, but also by the mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg, the pseudoscience of Franz Anton Mesmer, and the black arts of the Comtes de Saint-Germain and Cagliostro, helped generate the great popular occult movements of the nineteenth century. Nor has interest in the occult disappeared in the twentieth century. One need only mention the popular interests in extrasensory perception (ESP), Gurdjieff, Satanism, oriental religions, and New Age thought that engages Western society today. The occult tradition flows parallel to but unseen below the strong surface currents of prevailing wisdom; mysterious and esoteric, it has been hidden by its initiates from the profane eye, but has never disappeared. According to cultural and intellectual fashions, it may run closer to the surface in some ages than in others. This occult current crested in the last third of the nineteenth century, spilling over into the cultural, intellectual, and artistic life of Americans and Europeans. By the end of the nineteenth century, the European passion for various forms of occultism had been carried eastward to Russia, where it quickly grew in the fertile Russian soil. For some Russians, occultism was entertainment; for others, it was serious science, or philosophy, or even a new faith; for many, it was the merest nonsense, something to ridicule; for almost all, it was a popular topic of discussion. The various forms of occultism were sensationalized in the penny press, dissected in serious journals, debated at public and private lectures, and demonstrated on the stages and at open seances. It was the topic of conversation in fashionable salons and at the family dinner table. “In the journals and newspapers, everywhere, there are publications about books on hypnotism and similar mystical questions,” wrote an overwhelmed Russian contemporary. “In bookstore display windows, at the train stations, all these books about spiritualism, chiromancy, occultism, and mysticism in general leap out at you. Even the most innocent books are sold in covers decorated with some kind of mystical emblems and symbols which assault the eye.”
Occultism, in a bewildering variety of forms, became the intellectual craze of the time. The Russian Spiritualist journal of Rebus reported in 1906 that
according to our correspondent, all of Petersburg is caught up in an unusually powerful mystical movement and at the time a veritable maelstrom of little religions, cults, and sects has taken shape here. This movement embraces both the upper and lower levels of society. Among the upper levels we find the Theosophic-Buddhist trend. Admirers of Theosophy are even beginning to discuss the question of building a Buddhist lamasery (a dormitory) and a Theosophic-Buddhist temple. On the other hand, we observe a great rise in Freemasonry, as well as a resurgence in long-silent forms of religious movements from the last century.
And not only Petersburg was caught up in the trend. Moscow and the provinces buzzed with new secret societies. (…) Every educated reader who was not a recluse had atleast a nodding acquaintance with Theosophy and Spiritualism. But there was also Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Martinism (…) People knew about these things, even if their knowledge was based only on cafe gossip and sensational newspaper articles in Novoe Vremia.
By the eve of the First World War, St. Petersburg had more than thirty-five officially registered and chartered occult circles, but occult circles were not confined to merely Moscow and St. Petersburg. Occult circles were registered in Viaz’ma in northwestern Russia, Blagoveshchensk in the Russian Far East, Tiflis and Ust’-Kamenogorsk in the south, and every place between. More than thirty occult journals and newspapers, published in Russia between 1881 and 1918, attest to the extensive popularity of the occult. (…)
The two most important occult movements in fin de siècle Russia were Theosophy and Spiritualism. They had the largest number of adherents and dominated journals and publications. Of the two, Theosophy was the more philosophically important and culturally influential (…)
Theosophy did not appear at the end of the last century by accident; it was called into being by the frustration and dissatisfaction of a growing number of thinking people who felt intellectually and spiritually cut adrift, unwilling or unable to choose between the sterility of scientific positivism and the impotence of a diminished church. They sought the eternal verities and the dignity of man, and they found dirty factories, alienated workers, crime, Philistinism, and decadence. Theosophy offered these bereft modern seekers a resolution to their quandary, together with a highly structure Weltanschauung and a strong moral ethic. (…)
Theosophy claimed to resolve the “crisis of culture and consciousness” then being experienced by the European and Russian. If faith was no longer alive, Theosophy offered secret knowledge to fill the aching void.”
Maria Carlson tells us, that the influence Theosophy made on Russia at the end of the century (fin de siècle) was not underestimated by its contemporaries.
In 1915 Ivanov-Razumnik (1878-1946), a leading intellectual historian and literary critic, wrote:
“The future historian of literature will undoubtedly have to undertake excavations in the multi-volume “Theosophy” of our time; without this neither Andrei Belyi, nor Viacheslav Ivanov, nor the numerous “Zheorzhii Nulkovs” of Symbolism and pseudo-Symbolism would be comprehensible. The psychologist and historian will find more than a little to interest them in the study of this distinctive sect of our times; the literary historian cannot afford to pass it by.”
Ivanov-Razumnik suggestion should be pursued, just as James Santucci has said (see Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, W.T.S. Thakara’s October 1997 critique of Peter Washington’s Blavatsky’s Baboon:
“. . . All too often, this subject [Theosophy and its offshoots], when it is discussed in scholarly circles, is presented in a most unscholarly fashion. Falsehoods are perpetuated and original research is not actively pursued. A renewed interest in Theosophy is appearing, however.
. . . It is my hope that [a dispassionate historian of religion giving HPB her due] will take place sooner rather than later. One way of doing so is for scholars to reevaluate — or perhaps read for the first time — Blavatsky’s principal writings in the light of nineteenth century scholarship. Readers will be surprised, in my opinion, at the depth and eclecticism that exist especially in her masterworks Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine.” (James Santucci, Theosophical History, October 1997, pp. 272-3.)
Maria Carlson’s work definitely fits part of this description, and the other part of that, as the Prajna Quest site puts it, regards an evaluation of the ideological component — the ideas in its fullness, as attempted by Jeanine G. Miller in The Blazing Dragon Of Wisdom: The Esoteric Tradition As Enshrined In The Vedas And Beyond and Edi D. Billimoria’s The Snake and the Rope: Problems in Western Science Resolved by Occult Science. In any case, the evaluations are scattered, but not dispassionate. It has been suggested by Theosophists, though it is true, that many of the dispassionate attempts by historians and scholars have produced more confusion the more they wrote about it, because of the demonization of the “occult.” An honest view of the history, especially by Christians might result in something unique in the culture, but eventually, the idea of Theosophy was to, even before and without The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled, expose the public to neglected pieces of history, and religious thought; which still remain neglected, and is often absorbed superficially and further distorted through popular culture.
“Yet, Theosophy (and its Christianized offshoot, Anthroposophy) went far beyond cheering the lives of civil servants, doctors, lawyers, and society matrons in their personal crises of faith; it also transformed the thought, art, and destinies of many of the “creative intelligentsia,” the leading writers, musicians, philosophers, and artists of the Russian Silver Age. It is no exaggeration to suggest that certain aspects of the period could not be understood without the dimension of Theosophy and its sister theories, arcane though they may seem to us.
The opulent epoch in Russian cultural history known as the Silver Age spans the period from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the eve of the First World War. A period of cultural schizophrenia, the Silver Age simultaneously experienced two antithetical worlds. One was the bright, rational, scientific world of Karl Marx and historical materialism, Max Planck and quantum mechanics, and Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity (1905); modern science reigned here. The opposite world was the dark, mysterious realm of Friedrich Neitzsche and eternal return, Richard Wagner and the modern mystery drama, the French poètes maudits, the haunting canvases of Jean Delville, Odilon Redon, and Gustave Moreau; this was the other world of Mme Blavatsky and the occult.
Like their French predecessors, the Russian Symbolist writers, artists, and God-seekers who dominated the Silver Age culture preferred the second to the first. The physical landscape of the first world consisted of expanding industry, strikes, social unrest, and the vulgarity and mediocrity of a growing middle class. The Russian elite feared that it heralded the immanent collapse of culture and civilization. They chose instead to escape from the noisomeness of physical reality into an alternative reality of mind and art where absolute aesthetic and spiritual values still held.
This educated Russian elite, brought up on French decadent literature, influenced by the French occult revival, and trained in German idealist philosophy (infused by Schopenhauer with an undercurrent of Buddhist thought), presided over an aesthetically rich period in which all intellectual endeavors (literature, philosophy, history, theology, music, painting, dance, and theater) interacted with one another and blossomed into the magnificent Gesamtjunstwerk that was the Russian Silver Age. In the face of a fragmenting world marching inexorably toward world war and revolution, the Russian creative intelligentsia sought to structure an ultimate synthesis of culture in which art was identified with religion, and aesthetic theory was transformed into a metaphysical worldview. Their search for a meaningful ontological foundation led them past a weakened church toward metaphysical idealism and Theosophical thought. The result was not only a veritable blossoming of the arts, but also a renaissance in religious and idealist philosophy.”
Russia’s Silver Age was considered the acme of artistic achievement, yet also the last moments of a corrupt society, even Pre-Bolshevik era. It was the society of cafés, of the Mad Monk Rasputin, of champagne for breakfast and illicit trysts of Italian resort hotels, of salon Satanism and fashionable drug addiction, Maria Carlson tells us. Therefore, the Silver Age was not only a period of refined Symbolist verse and the haunting paintings of the artistic world; but of pornography, vulgarity, ambiguous sexuality, crime, anti-Semitism, and political terrorism.
An observation of the Jews in Russia was made by Helena Blavatsky in the New York World, Sept. 25th, 1877, correcting a statement from The Sun, where it stated that: “In Russia the persecution of the Israelites is continued, with nearly all its ancient cruelty. They are not permitted to reside in many of the greatest cities. Kief and Novgorod as well as Moscow are forbidden to them, and even in the rural districts they are burdened with multiform exactions. (…)” “They have been robbed and oppressed in Bulgaria by the Russians.” Blavatsky states, that this was the opposite of the truth, since the ascension of Alexander II of Russia; four years before his assassination.
“The murdering and plundering at the seat of war, it is now pretty well settled, has been done by the Turks exclusively, and, notwithstanding that the English and other Turkophile organs have diligently cast the blame upon the Russians, the plot of the Ottoman Government, thanks to the honest old German Emperor, is now discovered. The Turks are convicted of systematic lying, and nearly every country, including England herself, has sent a protest to the Sublime Porte against atrocities. As to the condition of Israelites in Russia, it has immensely improved since the ascension of Alexander II to the throne of his father. For more than ten years they have been placed on jury duty, admitted to the bar, and otherwise accorded civil rights and privileges. If social disabilities still linger, we are scarcely the ones to chide, in view of our Saratoga and Long Branch customs, and the recent little unpleasantness between Mr. Hilton and the descendants of the “chosen people.”
If your neighbour would take the trouble to ask any traveller or Russian Israelite now in America, it would learn that Kief, as well as other “greatest cities” are full of Jews; that in fact there are more Jews than Gentiles in the first-named of these cities. Pretty much all trade is in their hands, and they furnish even all the olive-oil that is permanently burnt at the rakka (shrines) of the 700 orthodox saints whose beatified mummies fill up the catacombs of Kief, and the wax for the candles on all the altars. It is again the Jews who keep the dram-shops, or Kabak, where the faithful congregate after service to give a last fillip to their devotional ardour. It is barely four months since the chief Rabbi of Moscow published in the official Viedomosty an earnest address to his co-religionists throughout the empire to remind them that they were Russians by nativity, and called upon them to display their patriotism in subscriptions for the wounded, prayers in the synagogues for the success of the Russian arms, and in all other practical ways. In 1870, during the émeute in Odessa, which was caused by some Jewish children throwing dirt into the church on Easter night, and which lasted more than a week, the Russian soldiers shot and bayoneted twelve Christian Russians and not a single Jew; while—and I speak as an eye-witness—over two hundred rioters were publicly whipped by order of the Governor-General, Kotzebue, of whom none were Israelites. That there is a hatred between them and the more fanatical Christians is true, but the Russian Government can be no more blamed for this than the British and American Governments because Orangemen and Catholics mutually hate, beat, and occasionally kill each other.
New York, Sept. 24th, 1877.
Hovering on the brink of catastrophe, the Russian creative intelligentsia sought eternal verities wherever it could find them (p. 7); and Theosophy offered to fill this spiritual hunger.
“Theosophy found its proper niche in Russian Silver Age culture without much effort for a simple reason: despite its exotic coloring, Theosophy in its Russian variant shared the major concerns and vocabulary of the creative and God-seeking intelligentsia . Theosophy rejected physical reality and its deadening positivism, and turned instead to the world of spirit; Theosophy was obsessed by the history of religious thought, especially by mystery cults and ancient rituals; Theosophy believed in and worked for Russia’s cultural mission to the world and subscribed to the “Russian Idea”…
And she goes on about the neo-Platonic and gnostic subtext of Theosophy. It was a compelling, though now silent and forgotten voice in the passionate religious dialogue of the Russian Silver Age. By the “Russian Idea,” she could be referring to the Slavophile movement. Despite conspiracists, who provide no historical and ideological context to the movement of ideas, the universalist aspect in Blavatsky’s philosophy, was apart of the thought of many Russian philosophers. Carlos Cardoso Aveline argued, that Leo Tolstoy, Helena Blavatsky and Feodor Dostoevsky lived the universal aspect of the Russian Culture, i.e., the “Russian Soul” (Slavophilism and Theosophy), stressing that “Russia and Ukraine have a long-term importance for the theosophical movement.” This movement is not in such a condition, nor in its modern Post-Blavatsky presentation, capable of this, without action and active persons in these regions. In the United States, we are made to believe the Ukrainians are a society in chaos and war, between the negatively viewed Russian President Putin and Ukraine’s hard-line “Neo-Fascists.” A quite different and brave theosophist would be needed for such a task.
Slavophilism and Theosophy on
Russian Philosophy and Political Thought
By Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Philosopher N.O. Lossky wrote:
“In the history of Russian philosophy and especially of Russian political thought it is usual sharply to contrast two mutually opposed tendencies represented by the Slavophils and the Westernizers. The Slavophils strove to work out a Christian world conception, basing it on the teaching of the Eastern Fathers of the Church and on Orthodoxy in the particular form given to it by the Russian people. They immoderately idealized Russia’s political past and Russian national character. They highly valued the specific peculiarities of Russian culture and insisted that Russian political and social life had developed and must go on developing along its own paths, different from those of the Western nations. In their opinion Russia’s task in relation to Western Europe consisted in imparting health to it through the spirit of Orthodoxy and Russian social ideals, and in helping Europe to solve its political problems, both internal and international, in accordance with Christian principles.”
“The Westernizers, on the contrary”, Lossky proceeds, “believed that Russia had to learn from the West and go through the same process of development. They wanted Russia to assimilate European science and secular enlightenment. They took little interest in religion or, if they were religious, they did not see the value of Orthodoxy and were inclined to exaggerate the shortcomings of the Russian Church. With regard to social problems some of them greatly valued political freedom and others supported socialism in one form or another. Some historians of Russian culture believe that these two opposed tendencies have been preserved to this day under different names and in different forms. It should be noted that some Westernizers passed through several stages in their development and, either at the beginning or at the end of their life, considerably departed from the typical Westernizers’ standpoint.”
Slavophils were not xenophobic. They preferred deep thinking and rejected the idea of blindly imitating the West, as Russian Westernizers tended to do. They were closer to the Asian aspects of Russian soul.”
This explains Russia in the present-day. In a critique of Pat Buchanan’s column, “Is God Now on Russia’s Side?,” an article of AIM (Accuracy in Media) tells us, that Putin who runs the “Evil Empire” (Russia, “the first intelligence dictatorship in history”) and is a “virtual dictator,” is not Christian, nor is Russia in general, according to Putin’s violations of human rights, including murders of journalists, and the invasion of Ukraine, Cliff Kincaid argues:
“As we noted in an AIM Report back in 1984, John Barron’s authoritative book, KGB, said that the KGB’s Directorate 5 is assigned to “clandestinely control religion in the Soviet Union” and to “insure that the Russian Orthodox Church and all other churches serve as instruments of Soviet policy.”
In the U.S.-Russia conflict of today, several articles have been written also by political left leaning writers, whenever it involves the Alt-Right, Trump, Russia, and the Occult together. Evola and Blavatsky have been brought up, and it’s predictable what they will next conclude, like this article from a right-leaning writer. The KGB/FSB is a Trojan Horse, and the Church is the espionage of Putin, the article states, and this is when libel about Theosophy — which no contemporary Theosophists never recognize or respond to in their recluse and “positive vibe” lives — comes into the picture:
“The scholarly paper, “The Occult Revival in Russia Today and Its Impact on Literature,” demonstrates the existence of something as sinister as the regime’s domination of the church for its own political purposes. It describes how “post-Soviet Russia” has embraced New Age and occult ideas, even what the author, German academic Birgit Menzel, calls “dark” or “evil forces.”
“The occult has always been used for different ends, for purposes that range from benignly spiritual to totalitarian or fascist,” she writes.
Menzel’s detailed article notes the impact of Theosophy on Russia and Russian Marxists. Founded by a Russian mystic named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), who wrote The Secret Doctrine, Theosophy teaches that man can become God through mystical experiences, and can even perform miracles.
Traditional Christians have a different view. Theosophy, writes Dr. Peter Jones, one of the world’s foremost experts on paganism and the occult, is part of a movement which “plans to eat the Christian church alive in the days ahead.” He says Theosophy is at “the spiritual heart” of the United Nations and notes that the Lucis Trust (originally the Lucifer Trust) is an occult Theosophist group in charge of the United Nations’ Meditation Room.
In Russia, Menzel cites evidence that the Soviet secret police had “special agents for occult matters” who monitored the theosophical society in Russia, several esoteric orders, and even a “secret society” of some kind.” (Cliff Kincaid, Modern-Day Russian “Dupes.” 2014 April 4. Retrieved from https://www.aim.org/aim-column/modern-day-russian-dupes/)
Yes, before the Soviet secret police, the conservative Orthodox Synods lied about the Theosophical Society, just as this conservative is telling falsities to explain the influence of Aleksandr Dugin. Maria Carlson’s “No Religions Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia” charts this aspect of the Russian Theosophical Movement. This briefly involves the split, or independence of the Smolensk Society and the Parent Society.
There’s a chapter discussing the Smolensk Theosophical Movement. Basically the Smolensk Theosophical Society, although having an ecumenical Christian orientation (Christian brotherhood), endured the brunt of opposition from the Synod. The Parent Society thought they should stay independent from them.
It first made its plea through a telegram to Tsar Nicholas II, and it was welcomed as an “interesting case of the refraction of the principles of Theosophy through the Russian Christian mysticism.” But, these religious conservatives in Russia did not like Theosophy, and saw it as alien and inimical to Orthodox Christianity.
The Society further garnered attention when archimandrites within membership and monastery brethren were organizing under such societies and lecturing on subjects of occultism as displayed in Isis Unveiled. Apparently, there were independent Theosophical circles in Odessa and Moscow, whom were not apart of the foreign Parent Theosophical Society. To the “Holy Synod,” Theosophy was an abomination!
According to the conservative Orthodox Synods in Russia in the nineteenth-century, Theosophy was a front for Freemasonry with political motives, it claimed and shouted. It was the Synod of the Russian Church that cropped up the idea, that the Theosophical Society is really secret Freemasonry, Maria Carlson tells us; but where were their proofs for such instigation, as well as with Cliff Kincaid?
Who was this “evil occult” Slavic woman, us “fear of the Bear” Westerners, like this conservative, have so demonized? Carlos Cardoso Aveline tells us that:
“H.P.B. was a cosmopolitan. She questioned Western society and its materialistic inclinations. In more than one aspect she saw Russia with the eyes of a Slavophil, and Katkov, the editor of the Russian newspaper which published articles by H.P.B., was a Slavophil of note.
Being herself a bridge between East and West, H.P.B. lived long years in Western countries while teaching Eastern esoteric wisdom. She expressed in her articles deep admiration for Dostoevsky and Tolstoy – two Slavophils.
Her theosophy has a significant common ground with the views of Alexei Khomiakov, the main Slavophil thinker. She taught for instance that only an altruistic mind can attain to true spiritual enlightenment, and Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860) teaches the same…” (Carlos Cardoso Aveline, Slavophilism and Theosophy)
Maria Carlson continues:
“The Silver Age figures who lives Theosophy touched (for better or worse) are among the most illustrious representatives of the creative and God-seeking intelligentsia. They include the religious philosopher Vladimir Solov’ev; his brother, the novelist Vsevolod Solov’ev; the philanthropist Anna Filosofova; the poets Konstantin Bal’mont and Nikolai Minskii-Vilenkin; the critic and philosopher Dmitrii Merezhkovskii and his wife, the poet Zinaida Hippius; the Symbolist and writer Andrei Belyi; the writer and translator Lev Kobylinskii-Ellis; Aleksei Petrovskii, Patel Batiushkov, Mikhail Sizov, Nikolai Kiselev (from the Argonaut and Musaget circles); Anna Mintslova, a Mme Blavatsky double who “Theosophized” the eminent scholar, writer, and critic Viacheslav Ivanov; the journalist and philosopher P.D. Uspenskii, who later joined forces with another Russian mystic, Georgii Gurdjieff, before finding his own mystical path; the writer Ol’ga Forsh; the respected religious philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev; the poet Max Voloshin and his wife, the painter Margarita Sabashnikova; the actor and director Mikhail Chekhov; the composer Aleksandr Scriabin; and the painters Nikolai Roerich and Wasily Kandinsky, to name only the most visible figures among the creative intelligentsia who embraced Theosophy. Even Maksim Gor’kii and Anatolii Lunacharksii, both dedicated socialists and colleagues of Vladimir Lenin, were interested at certain points in their lives in Theosophy and occult thought.
The interest of these important Russian cultural figures in Theosophical doctrine affected their work, their philosophy, and, in some extreme cases, even molded their entire worldview. As leading cultural and literary figures with an educated and devoted audience, they were in a position to disseminate certain Theosophical thought. To understand what motivated them to turn to Theosophy, what they expected to find there, what they did find there, and how it affected their art and their lives, it is imperative to reach some understanding of what Theosophy is and how it fits into the rich mosaic of Silver Age culture.
The importance of Theosophy’s role in Silver Age Russian culture is crystallized in the work of Andrei Belyi, whom the idealist philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev called “the most characteristic figure of that epoch.” Berdiaev elaborated: “Belyi is characteristic of the various trends of the beginning of the century because he was unable to remain within the framework of pure literature and aesthetic consciousness; his Symbolism had a mystical and occult character, he reflected all of the spiritual moods and searches of the period.” Gifted, admired, influential, profoundly sensitive to the fears, neuroses, and hopes that tortured his generation, Andrei Belyi acted out in his personal life and in his art the symbolic spiritual dramas of the time.
Belyi divided Symbolism into two branches: Symbolism as an aesthetic school, and Symbolism as a worldview. He went so far as to define the Symbolist worldview in Theosophical terms as “a new religio-philosophical doctrine,” synthetic in nature, and based on idealist, religious, and occult philosophies. It is fairly easy to spot the Solov’evian and neo-Kantian elements in Belyi’s thought, but that third line, occult philosophy, is more problematic for the contemporary scholar. Pursuing this occult line in Belyi’s philosophy leads in various directions, but primarily in the direction of Theosophy and its “Westernized” modification, Anthroposophy (or “Christianized Theosophy”), and to its impact on Silver Age thought. Belyi led an entire generation of young, well-educated Russians in this direction; their influence on Russian culture did not cease in 1917, but continued well into the 1930s and is subtly visible in Russia today.”
We find, that the Christian Church, before any KGB existed, were hostile to the presence of the modern Theosophists, and the accumulated contradictory accusations since then have been pathetically and confusedly slanderous, and disrespectful portraying Theosophy as being: founded by a Russian spy and charlatan; “Satanism, Luciferianism and devil-worship”; a front for Freemasonry, or of some plan of the Taxil hoax letter about our Mazzini and Pike; aimed at founding Universal State-Church and Religion; proto-Fascists, or its inspirers and lazily of National Socialism; helpers of Socialists and Communists, and inspirers of Atheists and the God-less (!). Which means, they have no clue what they’re talking about. But lets consider this context:
“The theosophist Prince Emil de Sayn Wittgenstein who was a cousin of the Empress, was a close friend of Blavatsky and was instrumental in generating interest in Spiritualism in spite of the militant Church opposition. He probably, at a later date, introduced into royal circles, covertly, information about theosophy. In 1882 a small magazine called Rebus was begun which was really devoted to spiritualism, but had to introduce the subject very prudently; Blavatsky was a frequent contributor. In the early 1880’s Blavatsky’s aunt Nadyezhda de Fadeyev formed a theosophical lodge, presumably in Moscow. Over the ensuing years a few theosophical groups came into existence, but all of them faced fierce opposition from Church and State until, finally, when the Communists assumed power, progressively from 1917 to 1922 all religious and spiritual activity was suppressed and Russian theosophy was maintained by scattered groups of ex-patriots in various parts of Europe. In 1990, immediately after the break-up of the communist block, Radha BURNIER, the International President of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, was invited as a philosophical author by the Russian Writers’ Union to give some lectures in Moscow. Following this event, at the request of Peace through Culture Association, she offered, on behalf of the TS, five thousand copies of the Russian version of The Secret Doctrine to be dispatched to all public libraries in Russia. In 1991, she visited the Ukraine. In its capital, Dnepropetrovsk, formerly Ekatarinaslav, where Blavatsky was born, Burnier unveiled a commemorative plaque at the house where Blavatsky once lived.” (Theosophy in Russia and Ukraine, Theosophical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://theosophy.ph/encyclo/index.php?title=Russia_and_Ukraine,_Theosophy_in)
The late Radha Burnier is shown unveiling the commemorative plaque, on the eve of liberty from the Soviet regime, in this Helena Blavatsky Biography Russian Documentary, which is actually quite contemplative and reflective.
As to the last word on Russia, and remembering that it is not a Western European country, Russia also serves as a cultural bridge between Asia and Europe; and therefore, from a non-American-EU centred worldview, serves an important role in the coming periods. President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev said it best during the Conference dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of Kazakhstan’s Constitution, when he stated that:
“I know that we are often accused of autocracy. But how can one talk about autocracy, when every 4 or 5 years people vote to elect their President and Parliament at free alternative elections. We are told to move faster towards democracy practiced by western countries, from the USA to Europe. We understand it all well. Democracy is a path towards development of humanity. We are making our way there. But we also have to consider that our country is an Asian society. Our traditions differ from Western ones. Our cultural and religious views are different. That is why we must pave our way carefully. Moreover, unlike in other countries, no culture of democracy or politics existed here in the past 300 years. When others evaluate our livelihood, I would suggest our friends study our system, history, culture and traditions of the Asian society deeply.” (Nazarbayev Suggests Studying Asian Mentality, 2015)
RUSSIAN MILLENNIALS ON AMERICA
Liza Krilova says curiously of Russians and their sense of spirituality:
“Russia is a nation with a unique level of spirituality. We’re very different. As far as I’m concerned, I would never get close with any foreigner. I simply do not relate to them. I talk to them; I can speak Spanish, French, and of course English, but I do not have any connection with them. Something that I feel from my own countrymen. I think spiritually, we are very different.”
Dmitry Gluhovsky (Best-Selling Russian Author and Journalist) suspected, that the Russian Anti-Western mood is being engineered, saying that: “I thought of myself as of a specialist in predicting potential futures for Russia; and I thought I could really understand the Soul of my People; but the things that are currently happening are beyond my imagination.” He says, that after 1992, when Russia opened up to the world, it had a Western craze; but in fact, we can find the true origins of the Russian desire for its own self-rediscovery and Eurasian mission, and why it really bothers our Western leaders. Perhaps, Anti-Putin TV Host of the non-Kremlin sponsored Russian Television Network of America can provide some balance in To this Russian-American community, Russia has become a political scapegoat.
In the meantime . . .
The influence of Theosophy during the Silver Age sounds very familiar to the influence of Republicanism during the Enlightenment period in Gordon S. Wood on Republicanism.