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Schizoid culture and the Russian esoteric underground

I fell down a Russian rabbit hole. A while ago I ran into a ‘spiritual auto biography’ of a Dutch woman. The reason was that she was shortly member of a mixed gender lodge of Freemasons, but in her book she mentions “spiritual Russians”. It turned out she actually helps publishing books of one of them: Konstantin Serebrov.

I have not found when Serebrov was born and if he still lives, but the best thing I found is that he was born: “in the Caucasus region in the fifties of the last century” (1), so there is a good chance that he is still around.

In his books, Serebrov describes how he met his spiritual “Master G.” and follows him around the esoteric underground in Russia in the 1980’ies.

“Master G.” was Vladimir Stepanov (1941-2011) whose name led me to the “Iuzhinskii Kruzhok” (‘Iuzhinskii Circle’, sometimes spelled ‘Yuzhinsky’). A few of those involved you can see on the photo. This “Iuzhinskii Circle” attracted the interest of some English speaking scholars, so here and there you can find some information about it. I stole the photo from a talk of Maria Engström, a scholar on Russian culture and literature connected to the Uppsala University, which can be found on YouTube (2).
Other scholars who investigated the circle are Marlene Laruelle (3), Mark Sedgwick and others in New Age Of Russia (4) and more recently Jafe Arnold (5).

The book New Age Of Russia Occult and Esoteric Dimensions is a collection of essays, describing the ups and downs of esotericism in Russia under different regimes. Sometimes it was downright dangerous to possess esoteric books, you could be send to a psychiatric hospital or worse, other regimes tolerated it. Still, there have always been more or less radical thinkers getting together. Some investigators have called these gathering “salons”, even though they seldom met in public places, but rather in somebody’s house. The “Iuzhinskii Kruzhok” thanks its name to the address of the appartement of the author Iurii Mamleev (Yury Mamleyev) (1931-2015) at Iuzhinskii Pereulok (Iuzhinskii avenue). The appartement that gave the group its name was demolished in 1968. Other sources say that the group actually met at the smoking room of the Stalin Library where -ironically- a lot of esoteric literature survived. There were more of such clubs, but this is probably the best known one.

Also interesting it is to note that there are some connections to underground music. The book Soviet Rock (6) describes small and hidden concerts and musicians who had deviating ideas. Some of them were inspired or even in contact with -for example- people who frequented the “Iuzhinskii Circle” (the book does not mention the circle). It has a chapter about Mamleev and one about Golovin. Zaitsev writes:

It is hard to grasp the aesthetics of Soviet rock if one ignores its most important spiritual predecessor, the so-called schizoid
culture. Schizoid culture which emerged 30-35 years ago is hardly known outside the circle of its protagonists.

That predecessor seems to be the esoteric underground of the 1960íes. That could refer to a group such as the “Iuzhinskii Circle” which had been meeting since those 1960’ies.
The group seems to have started as a gathering of people who opposed the Russian state (also in times of “de-Stalinization”) and the West. It is an open question if this was anything like a fixed group of people, but a lot of names can be connected to the circle. It is said that up to 50 people came together. A few of their names are:

  • Iurii Mamleev (1931-2015)
  • Evgenii Vsevoldovich Golovin (“Admiral”) (1938-2010)
  • Geidar Dzhakhidovich Dzhemal (“Ali”?) (1947-2016)
  • Igor’ Dudinskii (1947-2022)
  • Venedikt Erofeev (1938-1990)
  • Tat’iana Goricheva (b. 1947)
  • Vladimir Bukovskii (1942-2019)
  • Aleksandr Kharitonov (1932-1993)
  • Vladimir Piatnitskii (1938-1978)
  • Larisa Piatnitskaia (“Lorik”) (1940-2014)
  • Vladimir Stepanov (“Master G”) (1941-2011)
  • Genrikh Sapgir (1928-1999)
  • Leonid Gubanov (1946-1983)
  • Igor’ Kholin (1920-1999)
  • Vladimir Kovenatskii (1938-1986)
  • Anatolii Zverev (1931-1986)
  • Oskar Rabin (1928-2018)
  • Aleksandr Prohkanov (b. 1938)
  • Vladimir Sorokin (1955-)
  • Viktor Erofeev (1947-)
  • Viktor Pevelin (1962-)
  • Boris Grebenshchikov (1953-)
  • Arkadi Rovner (1940-)
  • Valerii Konoplev
  • Aleksandr Dugin (1962-)

Nowadays the last name is probably the best known. Dugin is the main reason that the Circle receives scholarly attention.

As you can read in The New Age Of Russia, Russian esotericism covered a broad area, from UFOs to the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1877-1949) and Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). The group read and discussed whatever it could lay its hand on and went from the named subjects and authors to alchemy and occultism. Some outsiders even said that the group was Satanic.

Mamleev was the first inspirator of the group. When he was forced to move out of Russia in 1974, that role befell on Golovin, Dzhemal (Djemal) and Stefanov. After that the group became more initiatic and also the alcohol consumption sky-rocketed. According to Dzhemal, Golovin knew one book by René Guénon (1886-1951) (Crisis of the Modern World) and Dzhemal sought to it that other titles found their way to Russia. According to Askr Svart (7) the circle: “corrected some of René Guénon’s misconceptions, and proved capable of posing more radical metaphysical and existential questions.” Via Guénon, Golovin and Dzhemal encountered Julius Evola (1898-1974) (in the same library it seems). The group became more provocative.

Aleksander Dugin appeared in the circle in the 1980’ies when authors such as Evola were already known. Laruelle suggests that around this time the “Iuzhinskii Circle” fell apart in two groups. One political and provocative, led by Dhzemal and Dugin, the other more spiritual, led by Stefanov and later a certain Artur Medvedev. About the latter I have not found any information.

The circle(s) supposedly fell apart in the late 1980’ies, having been around for a few decades.


the Yuzhinsky Circle largely preoccupied itself with reading, discussing, and “experimenting” with sources that are inseparable from the corpus and legacy of Western Esotericism. (5)

Thus wrote Jafe Arnold.
Much information that you find about the circle, refers to the intellectual esoteric side of it. Sometimes you will run into an encounter of “excess” (for example in the use of alcohol), but if Serebrov’s novels are the least bit historical, there was something more going on. “Master G.” (Stefanov) is presented as a spiritual master who leads his students to Enlightenment. In Serebrov’s books you find a lot of talking about “the Path”, Enlightenment, people who can trigger episodes of mysticism in others, ‘correct’ them, etc., but there is no suggestion of formal initiations or even formal teachings. An open, and interesting, question is how Stepanov reached the level of initiation that Serebrov ascribesto him. Similar ‘high levels’ of spirituality are ascribed to other (former) Iuzhinskii members, so their talking and drinking has to have had some effect. Or their “experiments” were also of another nature (and ‘worked’).

If the suggestion of Laruelle is correct, Serebrov entered the non-political branch of the Iuzhinskii schism. As we will see, this schism was probably not that hard.

Serebrov’s books are narratives / novels. They are not presented as historical books. They are written in the form of a tale by an “I-person” giving his thoughts, conversations, etc. Sometimes the “I-person” is Gouri who is a lot like Serebrov himself it seems, but he is introduced as a good friend. (Gouri Gozalov is one of the editors of Serebrov’s books by the way.)

Several people in the book are referred to by their (supposedly) real name and by their ‘School-name(s)’. Serebrov is often introduced to other people as “Kasyan”. The “School” I referred to is what “Master G.” describes as:

I’m busy creating a mystical group that will continue building on the School in the worlds behind the curtains.

Just as the “Iuzhinskii Circle” does not seem to have been a fixed group of people meeting regularly at a certain location. This even less so goes for ‘Master G.’s school’ as we will see.

Serebrov seems to have met G. around 1980. By that time Mamleev was long gone and it may even have been the time that the group fell apart. (Yet perhaps it never really did.) Around that time Dugin and Dzhemal also met. In the course of Serebrov’s books, we meet a wide range of people. Some can be linked to the Iuzhinskii Circle. This makes the books interesting as it gives an insight into a late phase of the Circle. Serebrov uses a name “Lorik” which Engström lists as a pseudonym for Larisa Piatnitskaia. Also we meet the “Admiral” which was the name the second big man of Iuzhinskii, Evgeny Golovin, gave himself. Therefor there is a big suggestion that the names and descriptions that Serebrov gives are also known outside of his narratives.

An interesting point in regard the former is a person in Serebrov’s books called “Ali”. Ali is described as: “an eastern looking person […] with a bright skull-cap on his shaven head”. Scroll back up to the photo. Is that not a fitting description for Geidar Dzhemal? If that is true, Laruelle’s break was not really a break, as Dhzemal and Dugin supposedly went in another direction than Stepanov / G while the two still meet in the books of Serebrov.

In Serebrov’s books he (and Gouri) travel around Russia and everywhere meet people ‘following the Path’. Serebrov is from Kishinev in Moldavia, but he travels to Moskou, St. Petersburg and Gomel (Bellarus). There are thousands of kilometers between some of these cities. In every town G. has disciples or people he knows. Also, he constantly seems to be looking for new recruits. Serebrov meets G. at the apartment of a friend with similar interests. When Serebrov introduces G. to Gouri, they organise an evening with Gouri’s friends to see if there are people there who would fit in the School. This also happens in every other city. G. knows people, tries to meet new people, etc. This is quite staggering when you see how much time “Master G.” invests in Serebrov and Gouri. He takes them into his house. Takes them with him on his job as a technician of a jazz band (“Cadarsis”, about which I can find no information) which’ touring takes them all over the country, etc.

G. creates “situations” for his pupils (often awkward) to teach and develop them. For some periods, he puts his pupils under the care of other people. This raises the suggestion that G. knows people as ‘spiritually developed’ as himself who can teach something to his students that he cannot. One of these people is called “Lorik” and as we saw, a “Lorik” was part of the “Iuzshinskii Circle”. Another such person who temporarily takes care of a student of G.’s is Margarita who (like Gouri) does not seem to have another name.

As we saw, we also meet other people, some of whom were (once) part of the Circle. “Admiral” (Golovin), “Ali” (probably Dzhemal). Other people are Alexander (a “young genius” who knows “Admiral” very well and does “Red Work” with him). “Little Dragon” (G.’s “youngest discipel”, but G. says about her: “I have introduced you to the element of Air through Young Dragon”. There is a “Hyacintha” who organises a party for G. inviting “Admiral”, “Ali” and “Loris”, hence: Iuzshinskii ‘members’ (along a large number of other people). Leena is G.’s (spiritual) partner. Interestingly, “Lorik” claims to have taught the “Admiral” while Golovin was one of the very first Iuzshinskii members. Lorik is also critical to towards G., G. to “Admiral”, etc. In short, they may not (always) have been best friends, they knew how they complemented each other and how they could use each other for the best benefit of their students.

In the books we encounter two people who get problems with the authorities for their esoteric interests. “Feodar” enounters the scene when he had just been discharged from a psychiatric facility. Later on, a Michael, is caught with a Tantra book in his bag and the police comes to raid his house and confiscate his books.

In his dissertation Arnold writes:

Another crucial delineating characteristic of the “schizoid” milieu à la Yuzhinsky was the widespread practice of so-called “shock tactics” to induce altered perceptions of consciousness as a gateway to accessing metaphysical and esoteric doctrines.

Serebrov is constantly scoffed, criticized and put in difficult situations to ‘raise the temperature’. It reminds a bit of Gurdjieff’s ‘shock tactics’ while Stefanov (G.) and later Serebrov certainly are not uncritical followers of Gurdjieff. G. and other teachers often use alchemical metaphors. The ‘raised temperatures’ are both to get rid off vices and the smelting out the inner gold. Especially in the second part of the “Lessons From Master G.” trilogy (Live Three Incarnations in One), G. is quoted at length. Expect no lessons or exercises though, nor a coherent system. This trilogy does not seems to have been written to teach but rather to give the background and history of his other books.

This history gives a peek into the esoteric underground of Russia. Perhaps that underground many decades after the start of for example the “Iuzhinskii Circle”, but we do encounter a -perhaps late- direct descendent of the group around Mamleev. Both in the 1960’ies and in the 1980’ies (and probably before and after) there was a loose network of people with esoteric and spiritual interests that are in ways similar to such groups in the West (yet much more informal), but also very different.

(1) (accessed 13/9/2023)
(3) The Iuzhinskii Circle: Far-Right Metaphysics in the Soviet Underground and Its Legacy Today in The Russian Review 74 (October 2015)
(4) Occult Dissident Culture: the Case of Aleksandr Dugin in The New Age Of Russia (2012) reviewed here
(5) Mysteries of Eurasia: The Esoteric Sources of Alexander Dugin and the Yuzhinsky Circle by Jafe Arnold (2019)
(6) Soviet Rock, 25 years in the underground + 5 years of freedom, Igor Zaitsev (Progress Publishers 1990)
(7) Polemos: The Dawn of Pagan Traditionalism by Askr Svarte (2020) reviewed here

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