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The Roerich Expeditions: Magical Gifts

Copyright Victoria LePage 2007

When Nicholas and Helena Roerich, with their son George, set out in 1923 on an epic expedition across the rugged mountainous terrain of Central Asia, at that time an almost
unknown region to Westerners, they were by no means the first explorers from the West to do so. The Roerich venture, however, was unique in that it was entirely directed and choreographed by their spiritual Teacher, a Tibetan Buddhist adept known as the Master Morya. As one of Helena Blavatsky’s mysterious “Mahatmas” or Ascended Masters who were said to inhabit the fabled land of Shambhala, Mahatma Morya’s worldview was hieratic and magical. Hence, when he enjoined on the Roerich family two secret goals which were to dominate their travels an extraordinary aura of both transcendence and confusion was cast over the whole expedition, lifting it onto an altogether more rarified level than other such ventures of the time.

By the term 'magic' I am referring to the technology of the higher dimensions, the ritual manipulation of the powers and structures of the Intellectual world, the world of Higher Mind, according to exactly the same kind of rational activity by which our scientists and technocrats manipulate the powers and structures of the physical world. Rulers of men, such as high initiates, must be magicians. Their field of operations may be ideational but the effects, flowing invisibly into the physical world, are supremely efficacious, sometimes swaying the course of events for centuries to come. Seen in this light, Master Morya’s role in the many mysterious and imponderable aspects of the Roerich expedition, especially its transcendental concept of Shambhala, emerges as central.

Professor Roerich (1874 – 1947) was an archaeologist of note, and ostensibly the purpose of the Central Asian venture was to be his search for the origins of human culture, “the earliest fruits of man’s spiritual aspiration,” as well as historical monuments of interest; but the academic dimension, though genuine, masked his and Helena’s passionate devotion and one-pointed service to the quest for Shambhala. The family set off with this hidden agenda in view: to find the mystical paradise said to be hidden somewhere in a verdant valley in High Asia, with the intention of making it better known to the world. They had, however, been entrusted by the Teacher with an even more covert mission. On arriving in the Altai mountains, traditionally regarded as part of Greater Shambhala, Nicholas was empowered to take possession of a vast region taking in part of southern Siberia, Mongolia and the Gobi and there to establish a vast new Eurasian state, thereafter to be known as the “New Country” or the “New Russia”. It was to be an empire based on the teachings of the Buddhist Kala chakra Tantra and ruled by the Tibetan Panchen Lama, with Nicholas Roerich himself as administrator.[1] Clearly intended to be a Pan-Mongolian, Tibetan-style theocracy based on the principles of Asia’s most advanced metaphysical and magical teachings, it was to be in effect Shambhala renamed, brought up to date and given official international recognition.

The project, however, never came to fruition. For one thing, the Panchen Lama, whose whereabouts were at that time unknown, was one of the two competing rulers of the Tibetan theocracy who had already fled into exile in Beijing after a deadly political dispute with the then Dalai Lama in Lhasa, and there is no indication that Nicholas Roerich ever caught up with him. In any case, so politically sensitive and unlikely was the whole project in a region embroiled in armed international rivalry that it may well have been – perhaps unknown to Nicholas - a symbolic gesture only, one characteristic of the Master’s elliptical approach to things. Possibly it was only intended to point towards a time when an enlightened Greater Russia – the New Russia or New Shambhala - might join with China and India to lead the nations in a new spiritual World Order. But although the ambitious plan did not eventuate, in the event the Roerichs succeeded in putting Shambhala on the map to a degree unprecedented by any explorers before them. Indeed, as a beautifully crafted operation specifically designed to draw the attention of the outside world, the Roerich expedition was, I believe, outstanding among the great events of the twentieth century. But did the enterprise have an even deeper purpose, a still more occult or magical dimension than any of the above?

The Roerich family, prominent Buddhist luminaries in Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, were refugees from the Russian Communist revolution. Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich, émigré, savant, artist, archaeologist, explorer and mystic and a prominent member of the League of Nations formed after the First World War, was already famous for his artistic activities in the avant garde theatre and art world of London and Paris when he and his family travelled to America and from there launched their first Asian expedition. George (1902 –1960), their firstborn son of two, was already a graduate in numerous languages in Harvard and the Sorbonne and, like his father, a scholar of note. Helena Ivanovna Roerich (1879 – 1955), a beautiful and sensitive woman born of a wealthy, aristocratic Russian family, was extremely well-educated, a writer and spiritual teacher, as well as being possessed of the psychic skills that enabled her throughout the expedition to channel Master Morya’s guidance and instructions, as also his spiritual teachings on Agni Yoga, the Yoga of Fire. This yogic system was a part of the Kala chakra Tantra, at whose inmost heart were powerful kundalini practices regarded by the Master as highly relevant to the dawning new Age.

The Roerichs’ caravan set forth from India under horrifyingly harsh conditions on a journey through Central Asia that lasted for four years and completely circumambulated the ring of mountain ranges surrounding the Takla Makan desert. Living in tents, in a caravan of pack horses led by indigenous guides, sometimes faced with the starvation and death of their animals and guides, the family toiled across the deserts and through the eight frozen mountain passes of Asia to (a) found the vast new Eurasian kingdom, the New Russia, (b) find the Valley of the Immortals, and (c) bring back scientific knowledge of importance. Nicholas was forty-seven years old and not strong; his wife had never ridden a horse. Both had been delicate children given to illnesses, and had lived always in the greatest European comfort. One can only wonder at the motivation that impelled them to an undertaking requiring such courage and sheer physical fortitude.

Eastern occultism was just then opening up to the West, although still of little interest beyond the circles of the European intelligentsia. The Roerichs were convinced that a new World Age was dawning, and that only an outpouring of the high wisdom and creative energies of the Mahatmas could bring peace to the planetary conflict and ignorance that they saw all about them. Accordingly, the search for Shambhala was also the search for the Hierarchy of the Ascended Masters.

Apart from the reports of two seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries travelling through the region, the existence of Shambhala and the spiritual Hierarchy inhabiting it had been virtually unknown to the Western world until the end of the nineteenth century, when Helena Blavatsky mentioned sacred Shambhala in her best-known work, The Secret Doctrine. The heart of Mother Earth, she declared, “beats under the foot of the sacred Shambhalla.”[2] As a result of her researches, within the next few decades a number of noted explorers had set forth to search for the hidden Valley of the Immortals, but in vain. Called Aghartta or Agharti by some, it was believed to be the origin of the Greater Mysteries and to be populated by a hierarchy of spiritual seekers from the grade of Stream-Enterer to that of Arhat, under the direction of a high being known as the Lord of the World.[3] The general conclusion was that the place was so elusive that it must exist only on an etheric plane, or in catacombs beneath the earth, or even beyond the earth altogether. It was a view endorsed by a high lama with whom Roerich conversed in the course of his travels, and is still held by many occultists today. “Great Shambhala is far beyond the ocean,” the lama said. “It is the mighty heavenly domain. It has nothing to do with our earth.”[4]

But Roerich, more scientist than mystic, would have none of it. “We know about the reality of the earthly Shambhala,” he replied.

   "We ourselves have seen a white frontier post of one of the three outposts of Shambhala. So, do not speak to me about the heavenly Shambhala only, but also about the one on earth; because you know as well as I, that on earth Shambhala is connected to the heavenly one. And in this link, the two worlds are unified."[5]

 Confronted by this declaration, the lama conceded the truth of Roerich’s statement. Nicholas had studied the Tibetan mandala representing the mystic country, a diagram which shows Shambhala’s geography as being constituted of an Outer Region surrounding an Inner Citadel. Outer Shambhala is represented by a circle of eight separate mountainous kingdoms, each with twelve principalities, surrounding an inner and more hidden Shambhala, within which the spiritual King of the World reigns at the foot of Mt. Meru, the Axis of the World. Roerich regarded this diagram as representing a genuine earthly reality: the circle of eight kingdoms symbolized the eight great mountain ramparts of High Asia surrounding a central region, while their many hidden ashrams and monasteries, forbidden to the profane world, were physical gateways to the subtle planes and to the Inner heavenly Shambhala, which could be accessed only by a spiritual initiation. Indeed Master Morya had told him:

Shambhala is the indispensable site where the spiritual world unites with the material world. As in a magnet there exists the point of utmost attraction, so the gates of the spiritual world open into the Mountain Dwelling… Jacob’s Ladder is the symbol of Our Abode.[6]

 The whole mandalic scheme Roerich understood to be a metaphorical expression of our planet’s living structure, its formation about a generative centre or omphalos or sacred origin point which remains pure and inviolate amid the travails of the rest of Earth. Shambhala, the sacred centre through which the creative energies of the higher dimensions issue forth exists, then, on all planes.

Records of the shamanistic Bon-po, the first inhabitants of Tibet, claimed that long ago there had been a kingdom of Shambhala, which the Bon-po knew as Olmolungring, stretching across the Takla Makan Basin and taking in the ring of lofty mountain peaks that enclosed the great Tsaidam desert: these mountains were the Altai Tagh and the Nan Shan ranges to the north, the Humbolt Chain, the Kunlun, Pamirs and Trans-Himalayan ranges further south, and the Karakorum and Tien Shan ranges to the west. By the time the Mongol tribes from the East took over Tibet and appropriated the Bon-po records, the kingdom had long since faded into myth, yet its story continued to live on and was woven into the fabric of Tibetan Buddhism and the lives of the people. Regardless of their nationality or religion, all the peoples of the region believed that, forbidden to ordinary mortals, the sacred Valley of the Immortals, the most hidden, inner Shambhala, was a place of peace and plenty where sorrow, disease and old age were unknown. It was the original Eden, the spiritual heart of the Earth. There great adepts lived, and there the Ruler of the World reigned over all the different world faiths, uniting them under one great primordial Teaching, that of the Kala chakra Tantra, the doctrine of the Wheel of Time as taught by the highest and noblest minds in Shambhala.

The Roerichs found that throughout High Asia, Shambhala’s ashrams and monastic schools, hidden in secret valleys, were the stuff of fireside tales of miracles, of saintly lamaist initiates, of the promised coming of the fifth Buddha Maitreya and of the dawning Age of Fire. Around the camp-fires, the Roerichs’ guides and bearers talked of little else than the coming era of new energies promised by Rigden-jyepo, the World Ruler, and how he would soon send his armies forth from Shambhala to vanquish his enemies. The lama already quoted told Roerich:

A great epoch approaches. The Ruler of the World is ready to fight. Many things are being manifested. The cosmic fire is again approaching the earth. The planets are manifesting the new era. But many cataclysms will occur before the new era of prosperity. Again humanity will be tested, to see if the spirit has progressed sufficiently. The subterranean fire now seeks to find contact with the fiery element of the Akasa; if all good forces do not combine their power, the greatest cataclysms are inevitable.[7]

Roerich’s writings reflect this same mood of high prophecy. In his diaries, copious essays and letters abroad, he too stresses the coming Age of Fire, of Kala chakra Tantra – the Age of Shakti Kundalini – to such a degree that it emerges as possibly the underlying motif dominating the entire Roerich mission, not excluding the establishment of the New Russia. Of all the noted explorers of Central Asia, Nicholas Roerich was the one who most clearly understood the reality of Shambhala and foresaw the crucial role it would play in the transformation of consciousness our race as a whole would soon undergo.

Indeed, a great occult event already taking place at that time renders Nicholas a kind of herald or ambassador of the future. For simultaneously with the Roerich expedition, Shambhala took on a radically new planetary function. For the first time in known occult history, its exclusive closed-door policy is believed to have ended and its spiritual training schools, representing many different world religions – Shamanism, Hindu-Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Christianity, Judaism and so on - opened their doors to non-initiates. It was an opportunity being offered in potentia to the whole human race. Every man and woman, if he or she so wished and was prepared to do the work, could henceforth hope to enter, via Shambhala, the hidden path of illumination that lies beyond the exoteric religious systems. This programme is said to have begun in 1922.

Even as the Roerichs were traversing the eight high mountain passes that ringed the central Tsaidam desert, Shambhala began to go public. Launching a new evolutionary programme that is continuing to the present day, its infusion of new energies into the world is almost certainly the underlying root of our present tumultuous transformation of consciousness. With good reason, I regard Nicholas Roerich and his family a chosen channel of transmission whereby this stupendous experiment was initially launched.

By 1940 hundreds of thousands of young untrained souls were taking out-of-the-body flights across the world during sleep to a place many called Night School. Whenever this occurred, each soul was accompanied by a great stream of other souls converging from all directions on the same goal. In Night School they were initially taught such things as sacred dances and given spiritual instruction. Later they learned about the metaphysics of the Universe. As recounted in my book Shambhala, a spiritual guide informed one such soul, known to me as LCW,[8] that her Night School was called Shambhala and showed her that it was located north of Kashmir, in the vicinity of the Karakorum mountains. LCW came to understand that she was part of a worldwide event, although its scale, its awesome magnitude, was to dawn on her only several decades later.

To this day many so-called Indigo Children or New Age children say that they go to Night School while asleep.[9] Dr. P.M.H. Atwater, a recent researcher into the New Age children, says that “By night school I mean, once they are asleep in their beds, they visit other realms, other matrixes and grids, where they are given instruction, play games and receive assignments.”[10] According to astral travellers like LCW, these “other realms” are situated in Shambhala and its secret esoteric schools.

LCW learned that hers was a Sufi school, but that there were many other such schools hidden in hospitable valleys scattered across a vast region of desert and mountain range and representing all the different world faiths. The notion often held today that Shambhala is a purely Buddhist centre does not adequately represent the truth. In reality, groups of Nestorian Christians, Jews, Russian Orthodox mystics, Sufis, Taoists, Hindus, Jains, Manichaeans, Buddhists and many others, some fleeing from persecution, have moved century after century into the remote valleys and hidden places of High Asia, and there established their ashrams and seminaries. And there they can be found to the present day, teaching those who are called to the inner path the esoteric principles common to every known religion, yoga or shamanic science. There is no conflict. All these spiritual communities, whatever their faith, are reputed to live in perfect harmony, united at an inner level under the aegis of one primordial Teaching and one divine Authority overarching all.

The Roerichs seem to have been chosen to align in a special way with the prophetic spirit of High Asia and with the inner meaning of the new Age of Fire. This meaning a lama described to Nicholas as being concerned with the manifestation of “the great eternal energy, this fine imponderable matter which is scattered everywhere and which is within our use at any moment.”[11] The Roerichs helped to open up the psychic floodgates to this new Fire energy which was even then beginning to transform Western consciousness. Even as the intrepid little family circumambulated the mountainous heart of Asia which tradition laid down as the boundary of Greater Shambhala, momentous changes were taking place in the body of humanity – changes that would culminate in the great collective initiation that occurred in the sixties, but which still continue in the new millennium.

The Roerich mission was in fact a deeply symbolic one, a priestly, magical operation of circumambulation designed to reconsecrate Shambhala to the new cosmic programme for our planet. In other words, in essence the task assigned to the Roerichs by their Master was to ritually inaugurate a new World Age. Mircea Eliade, a renowned modern exponent of comparative religion, has pointed out that in traditional societies the circumambulation of the sacred omphalos at the centre of the land was an essential priestly task, periodically undertaken in order to transform chaos into cosmos. It represented the ritual repetition of the cosmogonic act of creation, so abolishing past time and creating a new world and a new cycle of time.[12] Furthermore, such a ritual act as the Roerichs’ circumambulation may have been relevant to the proposed establishment and consecration of the New Russia. In The Mystic Spiral, Jill Purce says:

 In classical times, the labyrinth, together with the ritual circumambulation, was essential to the creation of a city. This ritual imitated or re-enacted the original cosmic creation; for when a space is set aside or delineated it is ordered, carved out from the surrounding chaos, and so sanctified.[13]

 These cosmic rites are no longer understood in our civilization, but they remain pivotal to the sacred world order as understood by the Masters operating in Shambhala. Even the triune composition of the Roerich family seems to have been utilized in the Mahatmas’ magical agenda. Perusing the literature and its accompanying photographs that the Roerich father and son have left us, it becomes evident that Master Morya chose to cast the family as a personification of the Holy Trinity. They symbolized the divine Father, Mother and Son, treading a cosmic stage as in the sacred theatre practices of the temples of antiquity. Father and son were frequently photographed seated together in identical fashion, wearing the same Tibetan sacerdotal robes of high Lamaism and maintaining almost ritualistically the relationship of divine father – filial and obedient son.

It is known moreover that Master Morya selected Helena to symbolize the Mother of the World, “the feminine principle in the new era”.[14] Painting her head veiled to the cheekbones in the pure white mantle of the soul energies, Nicholas portrayed his wife frequently in her role of Sophia, She who brought the universe into being and maintained it in the light of her divine Wisdom. And to aid Helena in her role, she relates in letters to friends that the Master gave her a fragment of the precious Chintamani Stone to wear on her person at all times throughout the expedition. Ruth Drayer, author of the latest study of Nicholas and Helena Roerich, says: “She was to calibrate the stone’s vibrations for the coming age.”[15]

 The Chintamani Stone

This meteorite is commonly believed to have long ago come to earth from a system in the Orion constellation, probably Sirius, “through which the energies of the earth are tuned to the rhythm of the Heart of the Universe”.[16] The Stone is said to radiate its light from the King’s Tower in Shambhala and to have an inner radiation mightier than radium. As an invocatory harbinger of the coming Age, Helena’s fragment was peculiarly well suited for the task, for the Stone is believed to have supernatural properties, both magical and prophetic. Its clairvoyant powers are capable of giving telepathic inner guidance and of effecting a transformation of consciousness in anyone in contact with it. In a letter of Helena’s to her friends in America, conserved in the archives of the Roerich Society, she describes the Chintamani fragment as no larger than her little finger, shaped like a flat fruit or a heart and of a greyish brilliance, with four hieroglyphs appearing on its face.[17] These were the Namig or Heavenly Letters known to Tibetan lamas, which spelled out prophecies for those cognoscenti who knew how to read them.

According to Helena’s book On Eastern Crossroads, which she wrote under the pseudonym of Josephine Saint-Hilaire[18], fragments of the cosmic stone have been sent from Shambhala into the possession of various kings and leaders of nations throughout history. A fragment was last sent to Europe to help in the establishment of the League of Nations, and she hints in rather obscure terms that an underlying purpose of the Roerich expedition was to return the piece, presently in Helena’s possession, to its home in the King’s Tower. There are however many loose ends to this story.

Whether the return of the Stone actually happened is not clear from the Roerich chronicles left to posterity, although another enthusiast for Shambhala, the best-selling author Andrew Tomas, believes that it did. A Russian who had spent most of his life in the Far East, Tomas met and conversed with Nicholas Roerich in Shanghai in 1935, and has declared in his book Shambhala: Oasis of Light that Roerich divulged to him that he did indeed return the Stone to Shambhala during his sojourn for a full month in the Holy Place “north of Kailasa”.[19]

The black stone cemented into a wall of the Ka’aba in Mecca, as also the one in the ancient shrine of Cybele, the Goddess-Mother of the Near East, are believed by many occultists to be pieces of the magical meteorite; and Roerich states that there are numerous other such magical stones to be found all over the earth. “Lapis Exilis, thus is named the stone, which is mentioned by the old Meistersingers.”[20] He is referring to the Philosopher’s Stone of the ancient alchemists.

Furthermore, Andrew Tomas points out that in 1184 the Knight Templar Wolfram von Eschanbach described the Holy Grail as a stone in his famous romance Titurel. The mythical kingdom of Titurel lay in the Gobi desert and possessed a Fountain of Eternal Youth from which all the inhabitants could drink; there crime, poverty and injustice were unknown, as were old age and death. A huge tower rose in the middle of the land and within the tower a wonderful magical stone was guarded day and night. Was Eschanbach, asks Tomas, speaking of Shambhala and the Chintamani Stone?[21]

The Chintamani Stone indeed ranks with UFOs and crop circles as among the foremost occult mysteries of our time and, like them, deserves a far greater examination than it has been given. The Stone’s most interesting feature is that it may be a magical artefact rather than a gift of Nature – the product of an immeasurably advanced technology. The basis for such a radical speculation lies in part with a modern Eastern sect whose leader produces similar artefacts for the use of the members, each artefact manifesting the same strange telepathic and clairvoyant features that are found in the Chintamani Stone, but emanating from characters impressed on a substance like vellum rather than stone. Like the Stone, it must not be wet or make contact with the ground. Like the Stone, the sectarian artefact is a living entity, capable of vocalizations transmitted to the inner ear of the wearer, of prophesying, giving moral instructions and conveying clairvoyant visions. Modern shamans, it should be noted, claim that hallucinogenic plants have the same extraordinary capabilities,[22] and the medieval witch’s familiar, usually a black cat, was regarded as the channel of similar occult phenomena.

Noted magicians such as Nostradamus, the fifteenth-century Jewish-French prophet, and Dr. John Dee’s Elizabethan scryer, the English intuitive Edward Kelly, could likewise gaze into a consecrated bowl of clear water or a crystal ball and discern therein scenes of future events, gain visions of spiritual importance and on occasion converse with summoned up angelic or demonic presences.[23] How did they achieve these illuminations? Occultists are aware that under certain conditions subtle areas of the psyche normally closed off to consciousness can become porous to the outside world. A magical fluidity and interchange of energies between the person’s inner and outer dimensions then becomes possible. This alteration of the psychic structure allows for clairvoyant experiences that appear to the individual to be objective in origin, but which are actually of a subjective nature, being intuitions from his or her own deep unconscious mind projected onto a reflective medium in the outside world.

Could this be the magnetic secret of the Chintamani Stone? Could it be that a technology exists so advanced that it is capable of impressing on various substances – stone, vellum, or even plants and animals - a reflective property that is able to mirror, as does a crystal ball, the observer’s own higher mind projected onto his environment - his own buried wisdom, otherwise inaccessible to him, being reflected back to his gaze? Could the Chintamani Stone in fact be mirroring back the observer’s own higher powers?

The ancient belief that the Stone fell to earth from a distant star, or alternatively was carried to earth on the back of a magical flying horse, most people now regard as an absurd superstition. Yet it has been claimed by modern psychic healers that miraculous stones can and do still manifest suddenly in the physical world, as though dropped from the heavens for the healers’ professional use by some higher agency that has conquered the laws of time and space. Dr. Dee, the famous English philosopher and scientist of the Elizabethan court, chronicled such a sudden miraculous manifestation in his study, in the form of a crystal ball;[24] and I have myself held in my hands two small black stones, surprisingly light and warm, said to have materialized in the same fashion and demonstrating the same apparently supernatural powers. And there is the case of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, who claimed to have found, buried in a hill, two “seers” or magical stones which he called Urim and Thummin, along with sacred golden tablets that only he could decipher with the help of the seers.[25]

Perhaps the power of sudden materialization is no more or less improbable than the sighting by both Nicholas and George Roerich of a UFO, a shining golden oval soaring high over their camp at least ten years before UFOs became household words. “Ah – you are guarded by Shambhala,” a lama observed of the miraculous sighting, “The protecting force from Shambhala follows you in this Radiant form of Matter.”[26] The Roerichs found that the sudden appearance of these aerial phenomena and others of a like kind was no novelty to the inhabitants of High Asia. Among these people there was a general belief that, through the study of the Kala chakra Tantra, the Enlightened Ones were able to develop an advanced science and technology in their habitat in a higher dimension; and instances of these sciences, put to the service of spiritual ends, they sometimes deployed in our lower physical dimension. Andrew Tomas is emphatic that, according to Nicholas Roerich, Shambhala is indeed possessed of a technology far in advance of anything known to our scientists, and that on occasion instances of this technology are permitted to intrude into our space/time continuum to remind us of our high destiny.

This belief has been confirmed again and again by travellers in Inner Asia, who have chronicled innumerable tales of technological marvels told to them by the indigenous population. One and all attribute these marvels to a hidden race of spiritual adepts who emerge occasionally from the sacred land. As a lama conveyed to Roerich: “Verily, the people of Shambhala at times emerge into the world… For the sake of humanity they send out precious gifts, remarkable relics. I can tell you many stories of how wonderful gifts were received…”[27]

Yet so high is our psychological barrier against accepting the reality of such things – even to acknowledging their existence in a hallucinatory form - that we remain blind to the obvious inference. The most likely source of seemingly miraculous phenomena like UFOs, crop circles and telepathic stones is in the human kingdom above our own, in the magical technology of the fifth kingdom…the kingdom into which we are presently evolving. May not the Enlightened Ones, the inhabitants of the higher dimensions, be subtly drawing attention to themselves as the next goal of evolution, wishing to encourage the psychic awakening of our race, to be of service to the racial Soul? There is little question that the Roerichs were aware of this probability. They themselves believed that Helena, in carrying the fragment of the Chintamani Stone on her person throughout the expedition, was carrying the evolutionary key to the coming Age.

Envoys of the Age of Fire

Nicholas’s splendid paintings of the Inner Asian terrain and written records of his expedition executed en route were to arouse enormous interest in various quarters back home, among them Freemasons in the U.S. government anxious for information about the political situation in Central Asia – and equally, for possible news of the Second Coming. Henry A. Wallace, a dedicated Freemason who became the Secretary of Agriculture after Theodore Roosevelt was elected president, was particularly supportive of the Roerich initiative, declaring that, like Professor Roerich, he was searching for ways to bring the “Inner Light” into manifestation among the nations.[28] It is widely believed that Wallace read into the prophecies of Shambhala the imminent coming of the Messiah, the Christ.

A deeply spiritual man, Nicholas foresaw that the race was soon to undergo a great evolutionary shift. After a violent struggle, the materialist delusion would die and there would dawn in a majority of people worldwide a new shamanic consciousness, an awareness of the magical life and power of the soul. Thus would arise a world society constellated about a common spiritual vision of peace and human greatness. In all his voluminous writings and the thousands of visionary paintings for which he is famous, Nicholas Roerich strove to express his dream of world unity, which he believed could only come about through the dawning of a universal religious accord. He believed that all the world religions had their roots in a common primordial Teaching that had been given once and for all for this planet, and that there would be no peace on Earth until this universal Wisdom was reflected in the belief-system of every nation.

It is interesting that Sufism, which has had strong bonds with Central Asian Buddhism since the fourteenth century, is unique in holding this essentially syncretic belief in the underlying unity of all the world religions - perhaps accounting for the well-known ease with which Sufis bond with other belief-systems. Roerich may have learned this tenet from the brotherhood: he may indeed have been a Sufi himself or have been closely associated with Sufism before embracing Tibetan Buddhism. For in a conversation with a high lama during one of his expeditions, Roerich refers to “one of our near ones”, a term which only Sufis apply to members of their brotherhood.[29] But whether or not he had hidden Sufic connections, Roerich saw the primary way to world peace as being through the universal Teaching of Shambhala, the Kala chakra Tantra.

“This utilization of the primary energy,” he wrote, “has been called the Teaching of Fire. The Hindu people know the great Agni – ancient teaching though it be, shall be the new teaching for the New Era.”[30] As a Freemason, Henry Wallace was evidently strongly drawn to such ideas; but events were yet to disclose to both these leaders of men, Wallace as well as Roerich, that fire is the testing element that destroys as well as purges, an agent of destruction as well as domestication. The unstable sixties had not yet dawned, but their social volatility was already being foreshadowed in the uncertain fortunes of the Roerich family and their fragile accord with the American government, soon to be permanently ruptured.

In Kundalini, the primary energy, we have a two-forked power that can equally bless or betray, make or break, unless firmly yoked to a wise discrimination. This was little understood in the decades prior to the Sixties revolution. Despite its reputation as a dangerous sexual force, the true home of this generative energy is the buddhic level, in the creative intelligence of the higher mind, from whence it is reflected downward into the physical root of the body as sexuality. Hence the ancient Hindu understanding of the kundalini force as mirroring a greater cosmic Wisdom energy known as the mighty deity Mahakundali, Mother of Space and Time, Creator and Destroyer.[31] The ways of the Great Mother were to prove hard and salutary indeed to all those involved in the Roerich expeditions.

To the end of their lives, Nicholas and Helena, faithful to the teachings of Fire, served the ideal of world unity and peace. As a pan-religious mystic, Nicholas in particular was well equipped to mesh sympathetically with representatives of every type of religion, Eastern or Western, whom he met in the remote monasteries and ashrams of Asia. He was at home with Buddhists, but also with officials of all the various religions, as also with the many political forms encountered on his travels. By means of visits and cultural contributions, the Roerich family were able to demonstrate that most radical of all things, an impartial goodwill towards all peoples, regardless of their political or religious colour. For a time their ideas caught on in every country, and the Roerich Banner of Peace and Banner of Culture flew over most government buildings throughout the developed world; in Moscow as in Washington, in Tokyo as in Paris. But ironically, the Roerich yoga of peace, based on an impartial friendship towards all, was soon to have the opposite effect, arousing the suspicions of all parties. No doubt such a radical outlook was threatening; its departure from ancient ways of partisan confrontation, which had kept society in stable misery for thousands of years, was doubtless deeply disturbing. For it hinted, rightly, that hidden at its heart was a secret agenda - not peace at all but a moral revolution.

After the initial expedition was over, the Roerich family settled in the Kulu valley in the Punjab, close to the border of Tibet, and from there Nicholas and George in 1934 mounted a new horticultural expedition through Mongolia and the Altai, funded by America. “Now they would finally be able to assemble an army,” notes Drayer, “find the Panchen Lama, who was now in Peking, ride triumphantly into the Altai and establish the New Country.”[32] But the times were inauspicious, the Far East mired in chaos and turmoil. The Great Depression was just behind, World War II just ahead. The international scene was extremely tense. The expedition foundered.

The plan to establish a New Russia in the Altai had apparently leaked out, and the Chinese suspected the Roerichs of spying for Japan, while the Japanese, who had imperial ambitions in Inner Mongolia, suspected the Roerichs of spying for Red Russia. Communist Russia equally suspected Nicholas and George of espionage for the White Russians, with whom the little family had close ties. The White Russians, traditionally Christian, were equally antagonized by the Roerichs’ support for Buddhism and Indian religion in general. Meanwhile Britain, still ruling India, became outraged at the Roerichs’ open support for Indian independence and suspected they were spying for the Indian nationalists, Jawaharlal Nehru and his young daughter Indira Ghandi. At last America, hugely embarrassed by its protégées’ growing reputation as international spies, severed all ties with them. “All connections of the Roerichs with the Department [of Agriculture] have been terminated,” Wallace announced, “and the Department has no intention of reemploying them.”[33] By letter he forbad Nicholas and Helena ever to communicate with himself or the President again. Wherever the family turned, doors shut against them. They were never again to be permitted entrance to America.

In New York, influential old supporters deserted them. The Roerich Museum in New York was stripped of all Nicholas’s thousands of paintings commemorating his search for Shambhala, and Helena’s huge archive of manuscripts stored in the Museum disappeared as well, the work of decades transcribing her Master’s Agni Yoga teachings. “And so we drink the chalice of poison…” Helena wrote to those friends in America still loyal to them. “But in spite of this, strength and courage live in our hearts. For what is achievement without betrayal?”

Undaunted, the Roerichs pressed on, rededicating themselves to the great work that had consumed their lives. Nicholas responded to adversity by painting hundreds of canvases to replace those that had been confiscated, working tirelessly until the day he died. Helena outlived him by eight years and devoted herself to writing and consolidating the Roerich legacy for future safekeeping. Neither were to see the fruit of their labours. George survived his mother by only five years, dying a year before the onset of the sixties. In the sixties the world was suddenly flooded with a new energy, a new climate of intellectual freedom and creativity. Worldwide – but especially in China, Russia and America – there appeared a generation of rebel young psychics and visionaries, the product surely of Shambhala’s training ashrams and the forerunners of the gifted indigo children of today, whom many regard as the pioneers of a new race.

In the Soviet Union, where the Agni Yoga teachings had been outlawed, Gorbachov’s perestroika saw the eventual return of Russia’s cultural treasures and the establishment in Moscow of a Roerich Fund for the creation of an International Roerich Centre that included a cultural centre and a museum. The Roerich legacy was thus returned to its source. Meanwhile, the Agni Yoga books have been translated into many languages and Agni Yoga societies meet around the world. In New York a new Nicholas Roerich Museum has been established. [34]

Nicholas and Helena Roerich themselves have been almost forgotten. Yet they have left behind a legacy of incomparable value in their acts of consecration. They remind us that the key to the occult new Age now rushing upon us lies in the rebirth of the sacred and the magical. It lies in the recognition that beyond the physical coordinates and mundane geography of the earth there is an archetypal planetary structure, once evident to traditional peoples, which centers on an omphalos or origin point about which all parts constellate. This generative centre magnetizes, nourishes and unifies the whole, and herein lies the secret of how to transform global chaos into cosmos. Today there are many formulas for world peace, and all are failing. Rather, the Roerichs remind us that it is the archetypal idea of Shambhala as an omphalos or sacred seeding-ground shared by all peoples, all nations and all religions equally, without favour to any, that will enable us to create a better world in the centuries to come.

Copyright Victoria LePage 2007

 Footnotes:   


[1]  Ruth A. Drayer, Nicholas and Helena Roerich, Quest Books, Illinois, 2005, 65.

[2] Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Theosophical Publishing House, , Wheaton, Ill., 1993.

[3]  Andrew Tomas, Shambhala: Oasis of Light, Sphere Books, London, 1976, 45.

[4] Nicholas Roerich, Shambhala: In Search of the New Era, Inner Traditions, Vermont, 1990, 2.

[5]  Ibid., 3.

[6]  Drayer, op. cit., 84.

[7]   Roerich, op. cit., 11.

[8]   In the course of writing my first book, I was privileged to gain access to the voluminous records of the late Raynor C. Johnson, well-known author of The Imprisoned Splendour. During the Sixties he solicited accounts of the spiritual experiences of hundreds of people from all over the world in order to furnish copy for his work on the global occult revolution then beginning, especially in the West. Dr. Johnson thus amassed a priceless treasury of personal witness to the new spirit of the times. Among all these accounts was one which, for me, stood out. It had been written by a woman who signed herself simply LCW, a psychic whose clairvoyant experiences seemed to me to epitomize the dramatic quality of the period.

   I was able to weave a few of the most pertinent of LCW’s experiences into my book on Shambhala, but there were a wealth of others. Only gradually over the years did the meaning and importance of many of her strange experiences dawn on me, looming as they did like key signposts in the unfolding landscape of a new zeitgeist.

[9]   Atwater. P.M.H. Beyond the Indigo Children: The New Children and the Coming of the Fifth World, Bear & Co., Rochester, USA, 2005.

[10]  Ibid., quoted from an excerpt in the New Dawn Magazine, March-April, 2006, 14.

[11]  Roerch, op. cit., 28.

[12] Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1954, 57.

[13]  Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral, Avon Books, New York, 1974, 29.

[14]  Drayer, op. cit., 86.

[15]  Ibid., 86.

[16]  Ibid., 86.

[17]   Ibid., 86 – 87.

[18]   Josephine. Saint-Hilaire, On Eastern Crossroads, New York, 1930.

[19]   Tomas, op. cit.,

[20]   Roerich, op. cit., 22.

[21]  Victoria LePage, Shambhala, Quest Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1996, 216.

[22]   Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent, Phoenix Books, London, 1999, 112.

[23]  Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjuror, Harpercollins, London, 2001, 188.

[24]  Ibid., 189.

[25] Robert Guffey. The Solomon Keyhole from the New Dawn Magazine, March-  April 2006, 23.

[26]  Roerich, op. cit., 7.

[27]  Ibid., 11.

[28]  Drayer, op. cit., 280.

[29]  Roerich, op. cit., 15.

[30]  Ibid., 28.

[31]  Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Power, Dover Publications, New York, 1974, 15.

[32]  Drayer, op. cit., 285.

[33]  Ibid., 311.

[34]  Ibid., 339 – 342.

Copyright Victoria LePage 2007