A while ago I ran into the name of Konstantin Serebrov, some Russian spiritual leader. He writes about a “Master G.” who appeared to be a man named Vladimir Stefanov. I looked around a bit for this Stefanov and I found a text of Mark Sedgwick as one essay in the present title. This concerns an academic title about esoteric currents in Russia. Interesting.
The book is 450 pages and contains texts by a long list of authors, only one of whom I knew. The authors write about esotericism in Russia in different eras showing how little I actually know about Russia. The interest in things esoteric had its ups and downs. As Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes:
In Russia, occultism surged in the revolutionary and early Soviet periods (1890-1927) and subsided when Stalin became the new God. It (occultism) revived in the wake of de-Stalinization (the 1960s and ’70s), and surged in the late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia (1985-2000).
Different regimes were (more or less) open to esotericism, sometimes openly. In other times the esotericists had to go underground because they (or some of them!) were severely persecuted. Many fled the country. I also had to get used to terms such as “the Thaw” which I guess I am suppose to know. This has nothing to do with the end of the Cold War, but is another description of the “de-Stalinization” from the quote. I suppose I learned a thing or two about Russian society in general along with a thing or two about esotericists in general.
Most authors, and perhaps the Russians themselves, go pretty easily from “magicians” to UFOs to fantasy writers and back. A few essays are about science fiction and fantasy writers which were only mildly interesting to me, even when the authors used novels to present their ideas (and I wonder why filmmakers are not included, but that aside). The most interesting essays can be found in the beginning where groups such as the so-called “Iuzhinskii Circle” (named after the apartment where they met) are spoken of. There were several small groups meeting (in hiding) to discuss all kinds of different subjects, but it is from this particular circle that the named Stefanov came, but also Alexandr Dugin.
Stefanov is mentioned in some of the essays. He was quite the character in the more intellectual type of esoteric groups. Whether it was him that introduced Guénon in Russia or that it was the writer Yuri Mamleev perhaps does not really matter as they met in the same circle, but here we have the (possible) starting point for the now-famous Traditionalist Dugin about whom Sedgwick’s essays speaks. Plus, Stefanov apparently read probably Russian esotericist most famous in the West: George Gurdjieff and used some of his ideas (I also saw these in Serebrov) and so we have another familiar name.
A maybe somewhat less familiar name, but still, is that of Nikolai Roerich (actually Rerikh) a relatively famous painter who tried to make a bridge to the far East. This is not so strange when you realise that Russia reaches all the way to the far East. Roerich hoped to make acquaintances and come to terms with all religions. He was not along (or the first) in this, so you also learn about Russia’s relationship to that far East. In these circles we also see very early expeditions into the Himalayas searching for hidden masters. Perhaps there we also have a source for the Eastern preoccupation of the Orient of the Theosophists. Blavatsky (quite consistently named “Elena” by all authors by the way) is also frequently mentioned, but she appears to be regarded more Western than Russian.
In any case, the book presents a wide and interesting overview of esotericism in Russia which goes from shamanism to paganism to all kinds of New Age type approaches and (new kinds of) psychology. It makes a very interesting read.
2012 Peter Lang GmbH, isbn 3866881975