No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922

No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922

Maria Carlson
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 308
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    No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922
    Book Description:

    Among the various kinds of occultism popular during the Russian Silver Age (1890-1914), modern Theosophy was by far the most intellectually significant. This contemporary gnostic gospel was invented and disseminated by Helena Blavatsky, an expatriate Russian with an enthusiasm for Buddhist thought and a genius for self-promotion. What distinguished Theosophy from the other kinds of "mysticism"-the spiritualism, table turning, fortune-telling, and magic-that fascinated the Russian intelligentsia of the period? In answering this question, Maria Carlson offers the first scholarly study of a controversial but important movement in its Russian context.

    Carlson's is the only work on this topic written by an intellectual historian not ideologically committed to Theosophy. Placing Mme Blavatsky and her "secret doctrine" in a Russian setting, the book also discusses independent Russian Theosophical circles and the impact of the Theosophical-Anthroposophical schism in Russia. It surveys the vigorous polemics of the Theosophists and their critics, demonstrates Theosophy's role in the philosophical dialogues of the Russian creative intelligentsia, and chronicles the demise of the movement after 1917. By exploring this long neglected aspect of the Silver Age, Carlson greatly enriches our knowledge offin-de-sicleRussian culture.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7279-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: The Esoteric Tradition and the Russian Silver Age
    (pp. 3-14)

    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...

  6. One A Historical Survey of Russian Occult Interests
    (pp. 15-37)

    The Russian Silver Age shared in the unprecedented renascence of interest in occultism and speculative mysticism that swept Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. That Russians were part of this renascence was in no way exceptional, for mystical interests have often found fertile soil among the Slavs. This late-nineteenth-century fascination of Russian educated society with the occult did not need to be imported from the West; as with other ideas and philosophies, Russian culture simply borrowed from Europe the external structures that gave form and expression to powerful indigenous inclinations. Nineteenth-century occultism in Russia was, in fact,...

  7. Two The Early Days of Theosophy in Russia (1875–1901)
    (pp. 38-53)

    The world came to know the founder of Theosophy variously as Helen a Blavatsky, Mme Blavatsky, or H. P. B. At the beginning she was Elena Petrovna Gan, the daughter of Captain Peter Alekseevich Gan (1798–1873; of the Hahn von Rottenstein-Hahn family, princes of Meck-lenburg) and Elena Andreevna Gan (née Fadeeva, 1814–1842). Elena Petrovna was born in Ekaterinoslav on July 31 (O.S.), 1831. From childhood she created for herself a private world of imaginative fantasy; her younger sister, Vera Zhelikhovskaia (1835–1896), would later claim that Elena Petrovna had revealed a tendency toward somnambulism and mediumism at an...

  8. Three The Theosophical Society in Russia (1901–1917)
    (pp. 54-80)

    Before 1901, individual Theosophists and a few small, private circles did exist in the Russian provinces and in Moscow and St. Petersburg; how ever, the Russian public at large still had only a general notion of the Theosophical Movement and its aims. By 1901 this had changed, thanks to the proselytizing efforts of Vera Zhelikhovskaia, the press coverage provided byRebusand a handful of other journals and newspapers, and the increasing number of individuals, Russian and European, who brought Theosophy with them to Russia from the continent and England. And so Theosophy spread across Russia, thanks to individuals such...

  9. Four Other Russian Theosophical Movements
    (pp. 81-113)

    Not all Russian Theosophists were affiliated with the Russian Theosophical Society, nor could that organization even claim the right of primogeniture. The very first attempt to establish a Theosophical Society in Russia took place not in the capital of St. Petersburg, but in the provincial city of Smolensk, more than a full year before the RTO was officially chartered.

    Inaugurated on July 30, 1907, the Smolensk Theosophical Society had a strong patriotic and Russian Orthodox coloring from its inception.¹ The Smolensk Theosophists considered themselves under the protection of the icon of St. Michael of Chernigov; Archimandrite Ignatii, a senior Russian...

  10. Five Theosophical Doctrine: An Outline
    (pp. 114-136)

    The underlying premise of Theosophy is that there exists a single, universal occult tradition (the Secret Doctrine), ancient but ageless, on which all religions, past and present, are in part based. This ancient “wisdom-tradition,” claim Theosophists, unites religion, science, and philosophy into one grand synthesis that explains everything: God, the Universe, Man, Being, and Creation. This comprehensive worldview, “a mine of entirely trustworthy knowledge from which all religions and philosophies have derived whatever they possess of truth,” has always been known to the great religious figures and spiritual adepts of the world, from the ancient Egyptian Magi to Mme Blavatsky...

  11. Six The Russian Reception of Theosophical Thought
    (pp. 137-170)

    The Theosophists were correct in their often repeated lament that their critics did not understand Theosophy or they would not spread such silly reports about it. Like their European brethren, the Russian Theosophists expended oceans of ink trying to set their critics straight. Rarely have so many repeated themselves so often to so little avail. To them it seemed that non-Theosophists willfully conspired to misunderstand the fundamental premises of Theosophy and to confuse it with vulgar occultism of the basest sort.

    And it was true: the vast majority (but by no means all) of Theosophy’s critics were abysmally ignorant of...

  12. Seven The Russian Theosophical Movement after 1917
    (pp. 171-187)

    In May 1916 Anna Kamcnskaia received an invitation from Mrs. Besant to visit the Theosophical Headquarters in Adyar that coming gautumn. She left Russia at the end of September, traveling through Siberia to China and from there overland to India. Excited about her first visit to India and to the heart of the Theosophical empire, Kamenskaia reached the Society’s Headquarters in Adyar, Madras, a month and a half later, on November 19, 1916. Because of this visit to distant Adyar, she would not witness the beginning of the incredible events that took place in her native land.

    While Kamenskaia visited...

  13. Afterword: Theosophy’s Impact on Fin de Siècle Russian Culture
    (pp. 188-208)

    For historians of thought and culture to dismiss as superficial and peripheral the role that Theosophy and other occult movements played in the crisis of culture and consciousness experienced by fin de siècle Europe and Russia would be a profound error. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, speaking of the proliferation of such religious and quasi-religious movements at the turn of the century, pointed out that “the world has seen nothing like it since the end of the seventeenth century. We can compare it only to the flowering of Gnostic thought in the first and second centuries after Christ.” Jung was...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 209-248)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 249-252)
  16. Bibliography: Theosophical and Related Works Published in Russia between 1881 and 1918
    (pp. 253-274)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 275-282)
  18. Index
    (pp. 283-298)