Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

Does the “occult underground” exist in Russia?

The New Age of Russia: Occult and Esoteric Dimensions. Ed. By Brigit Menzel, Michael Hagemeister, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal. Munchen-Berlin: Verlag Otto Sagner. - 2012.

“When gossip ages it turns into a myth” - said Polish aphorist Stanisław Jerzy Lec. Such myths started to appear more often not only on the pages of periodical publications but also in books which in one way or another touch upon life and art of the Roerich family. Among them - collection “The New Age of Russia: Occult and Esoteric Dimensions”, published in Germany in English, edited by Brigit Menzel, Michael Hagemeister, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal.

What makes this edition paradoxical? It’s hard not to notice its claims to be scientific, the more so as the majority of the authors and editors of the collection have academic degrees. It would seem we can expect serious approach to the research subject, objectivity and well-grounded conclusions. However, acquaintance with the book shows that it contains such statements and conclusions that distort the facts of life and art of remarkable Russian scientists and thinkers.

As the collection’s advertising says, it represents all the areas “from cosmism to shamanism, from cosmic research to Kabbala, from neopaganism to science fiction”. Creating this arbitrary aggregation, the authors try to fit Russian culture with its rich spiritual accumulation, profound ideas of cosmism into Procrustean bed of their own flattened and semi-literate notions and classifications. Thereupon the ideas that give our spiritual culture its uniqueness and individuality that can be understood only by a man who loves Russia are distorted to the point that they are unrecognizable.

One of the problems is that the art of Nicholas Roerich, Russian painter, scientist, thinker and public figure of global scope, is linked on the pages of the collection’s articles with religion and occultism. Some Western scientists who do not have enough knowledge and serious approach to their research see him as a “mystic”. Meanwhile, Russian biographers, art critics and historians stated many a time that Roerich’s art has profound literalism that is not linked with any trace of mysticism. So called “occult and esoteric dimensions” of the articles of the collection itself are most of the time vague and ambiguous, as they are far from both real history of Russian spiritual quest and from real facts of life and art of the Roerich family.

Another example of assumptions of the collection’s authors is groundless attribution of certain geopolitical projects and ambitions to Nicholas Roerich. We would like to mention the opus of notorious O.Shishkin “The occultist Alexander Barchenko and Soviet secret police (1923-1938)”. We will leave it to the author’s conscience to determine the level of trustworthiness of the given material and his method of creating conclusions by quotes manipulation. We would solely like to mark that N.Roerich’s name was groundlessly linked to the political intrigues described by the author.

We would like to say a few words about the article “From synarchy to Shambala: the role of political occultism and social messianism in the activities of Nicholas Roerich” written by M.Osterrieder from Munich. This man, whose article contains conflicting data, oddities and simple fantasies, demonstrates clear-cut biased and extremely illiterate approach. His interpretation of N.Roerich’s activities on preservation of cultural heritage that were as a matter of fact acknowledged all over the world, can be seen as an example. This is what he writes about the “Agreement on preservation of artistic and scientific institutions and cultural monuments (Roerich Pact)”, signed by dozens of countries (Washington, 1935): “... initiative “Banner of Peace” aimed at political leaders and the idea of Community that it’s based upon with its bizarre mix of buddhist spirituality, quasi communist public order and american capital (all the above under the “united power of the enlightened Ruler”) looked like synarchic theory of Saint-Yves on social reform”. It seems to us that only Osterrieder himself with his own truly “bizarre mix” can understand what he wrote about this internationally renowned document. For his record continuity of cultural heritage preservation that began with the Roerich Pact then extended to the “International Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” (Hague, 1954) and many other conventions, UNESCO recommendations and other acts adopted in later years.

We can’t overlook the opus of J.McCannon “Competing Legacies, Competing Visions of Russia: The Roerich Movement(s) in Post-Soviet Russia”. The topic of Russia and Roerich movement proved to be unmanageable for the author. His attempt to wholesomely cover a wide range of complicated phenomena turned into a pun, superficial, biased, rich with inaccuracies and fact distortions. McCannon tries to bring “spiritual Renaissance” of post-Soviet Russia into notorious “mystical, esoteric and occult practices”. Besides that, one can see that the article tries to put the public movement of the Roerich family followers that has cultural and educational nature, in line with religious movements, even though the facts of activities of multiple Roerich organizations do not let him do so as he states himself. Bias and narrow-mindedness that do not let the author perceive the real state of facts and negligence, unacceptable in research, speak in the article of J.McCannon for themselves.

We are surprised that such writings were published in the series “Research on language and culture in Central and Eastern Europe”. We are even more preoccupied with the fact that such book causes distinctive damage to the Russian culture, by besmirching the name of Roerich, whose art represents national patrimony of Russia, and by creating distorted ideas about our country in broad public circles.

V.Frolov, Doctor of Philosophy

V.Sokolov, Candidate of Philosophy

B.Sokolova, Candidate of Culture Science

T.Sergeeva, Candidate of Science

A.Lebedenko, Candidate of Philosophy, Candidate of Pedagogic Sciences

February 27, 2013


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