The Chintamani of the Roerichs: Tales of an extraterrestrial talisman: 15

15  The provenance of the Stone: a discussion

In the story of the Stone we are faced with a number of unresolved lines of enquiry: from whom and by whom it was originally obtained; who sent it to the Roerichs; whether in its travels, its intended destination was India – having returned on the completed Expedition – or another point en route such as Moscow or Mongolia; and what are the threads in the story which link the Roerichs to significant figures who may have played a part – Barchenko, Dorjiev, Zhamtsarano, the Panchen Lama and others. Then of course there are various other matters of fact: for what purpose the talisman was originally intended; whether it is identifiable as a fragment from a known meteorite; and where it is now. Many would consider it unacceptable that its location is presently unknown or concealed, and access to it is withheld.
     Roerich’s return visit to Moscow is perhaps at the crux of the sense of intrigue pervading the story of the Stone. In the context in which this took place, Roerich emerges as having met or had prior liaison with three groups of people in his homeland whose interests in his mission to Central Asia overlap, but do not coincide. The first group, whose most prominent members were Dorjiev and Zhamtsarano, were Buryat Buddhists, who, representing a culture which supposedly had access to knowledge of paranormal powers, and who were influential among their kindred populations in Central Asia, found themselves useful to the earlier aims of the Bolsheviks – although they soon recognised that in the uncertain times of the new regime, the ‘scientific’ contribution they could offer to the new society in this regard might not guarantee their survival. The second group, which would include Barchenko, behind whom was Bokiy, were now Bolshevik functionaries who in Czarist times had formerly been, with Roerich, members of the Martinist Order, and whose Christian-based esotericism had been overlaid – but not necessarily superceded – by a fascination with occult and paranormal practices. The third group, pre-eminently involving Chicherin and Lunacharsky, were members of the Soviet government who, as far as Roerich was concerned, were people he wanted to use as facilitators in the arrangements and permissions necessary for the Expedition, and the inception of his various enterprises in the Soviet Union. While all of these people were politically involved in the new society, the agenda of each group was by no means consonant with the others. Meanwhile Roerich had come to regard himself as a free agent with priveleged access to all those who he thought could advantage his aims – although in the period in question he had developed an unrealistic expectation of others to live up to his ideals. The vision of the future he made known to the Soviet leadership espoused an uneasy amalgam of Messianic, Buddhistic and Communistic ideas in which he described the Buddha as ‘the great Communist’, praised the achievements of Lenin – whom he made out to be a ‘Mahatma’ and a ‘fiery bodhisattva’ – and put forward the idea that it would be through the inculcation of Buddhist consciousness in the masses that Communism would be accepted. As Daniel Entin has thoughtfully observed, ‘Roerich, in political situations, could speak one way, act another, and think quite another’. Roerich’s own agenda appears to have indicated that he acted on the conviction that his own and – as a Russian patriot – his homeland’s interests in Central Asia would now be well served by siding with the Panchen Lama, and eliciting support for the plan to bring about the ‘New Country’.
    The question which has yielded a clear solution concerns the identity of the Roerichs’ Stone. It was put forward that, assuming the parent stone of the Roerich’s talisman entered the scientific record of meteorites, the prime candidate meeting the required characteristics is the Armanty stone; however, only an analysis of the composition of the Stone and a comparison of the results with known meteorites might settle the question of its origin. Two main points of corroboration for the identity emerged; these concerned Dr Zhamtsarano’s knowledge of the stone, and the similarity of this stone with Roerich’s image of the sacred stone in The Rite of Spring. A further point of possible corroboration is worth mentioning.
    There are a number of reasons to believe that Sina Fosdick, Roerich’s closest co-worker outside his family, knew more about the Stone than was ever published in the Roerichs’ books. She had one of the two photographs of it known to have been sent to co-workers, and stated in correspondence that she could say no more about it than had already been published. She may have played a part in translating the passage describing how the stone ‘lay visible upon the web of its native land’, and there is a possibility she codified her knowledge of the identity of the main stone – not the identity itself – in the Nicholas Roerich centenary booklet published by the Roerich Museum in 1974. This concerns her choice of Roerich’s works to illustrate the booklet with particular reference to his sketches of The Rite of Spring, and their disposition relative to the text. Out of a total of 22 images, no less than six are from The Rite of Spring, two of which, depicting Roerich’s scenic designs with the sacred stone for Act One, open and close her text. However, as with the suggested origin for the image of the stone itself in The Rite of Spring, the inference can only be made if the identity of the meteorite has already been arrived at.

    We can now consider the question of who was likely to have been involved in sending the Stone to the Roerichs. Trying to put a meaningful construction on the pieces of information relating Roerich’s associates to the story of the Stone requires evaluating the various lines of evidence and their consequences, and considering the motives of those involved. The information from Constantin Ivanenko, having regard to his proximity to sources in Russia and his sympathy towards Roerich’s activities, needs to be accommodated where possible. Surprisingly both Daniel, and the respected Russian researcher Vladimir Rosov, claim not to have known about Constantin’s version, but whereas the effect of Daniel’s information is often to lead the enquirer to an inconclusive position or a further unanswered question, Constantin’s account is at least a coherent explanation, albeit one which has serious inconsistencies with other material in a reasoned overview derived from primary sources.
    The main evidential thread begins with the presumption that a piece of the stone called Chintamani was placed in the St Petersburg Temple on the initiative of Dorjiev, who, immediately prior to the Temple installation, had been in Mongolia. The name Chintamani could plausibly have been given by him to invoke the realisation of Buddhistic aspirations, which as far as this discussion is concerned, focus on ideas about a Central Asian pan-Buddhist theocracy. The Panchen Lama undoubtedly knew about Dorjiev’s idea for the confederacy early on, although it was not until 1923 that a version of such a plan emerged with him as a way of re-establishing his status against the Dalai in the Buddhist world. Roerich understood the Panchen’s moves as a signal that the time for the ‘New Country’ had come, and responded by implicating the Buddhist leader in his own plans. Barchenko, who would have been kept informed about the progress of the Shambhala idea, and was himself approached about the question of Central Asian unification, became involved in Roerich’s plans by at least 1923.
     A crucial piece of evidence is that whoever sent the Stone would also have sent the cloth in which it was wrapped in the casket, which is seen in the photograph. The cloth is referred to in the well-known quotation, a phrase of which reads ‘…the enemy shall not steal the Shield covered with gold’, where the ‘Shield’ is synonymous the Stone, and the ‘gold’ refers to the embroidered cloth, which bears the image of a radiant sun. In the centre of the cloth is the monogram of Christ, and other floral motifs suggest it may be of Rosicrucian origin. Whoever sent the Stone would also have known of Roerich’s underlying aims for the Expedition, and regarded the Stone as a protective and auspicatory talisman which would help the Roerichs achieve these aims.
     It may be possible to exclude from a role as sender a close co-worker of Roerich’s, Vladimir Shibayev, a Theosophist from Riga who became Roerich’s secretary, and who prior to leaving the Soviet Union operated on behalf of Roerich a company for the export of artefacts. If he had been involved, it might be thought his role would have been to arrange the secure passage of the Stone between Roerich’s co-workers in Russia and its French destination. However, according to Shustova, the Stone was actually sent there by post, and significantly in relation to Shibayev himself, it is said he was the recipient of one of the two copies of the photograph which are known to have been made and which were sent to co-workers, a fact which raises the question why he needed this, if he was already familiar with the appearance of the talisman. Whether he had a Rosicrucian connection is an open question, but this is not known to be mentioned in the materials referred to.
     There are two early colleagues of Roerich who, according to Osterreider, shared with the artist a Rosicrucian connection – Alexander Barchenko and Gleb Bokiy. The cloth is one evidential item amongst several, as summarised in the following, which focus attention particularly on Barchenko as the sender of the Stone.

     1. In 1923 – the same year the Roerichs were sent the Stone – Barchenko had received a Kalachakra initiation from Dorjiev at the Buddhist Temple in St Petersburg. The high lama had been, a decade earlier during the construction of the Temple, Roerich’s mentor on the subject of Shambhala, and had himself some years before that, put forward his own conception of a great confederacy of Buddhist-Mongol lands. It seems very unlikely that Dorjiev would not have known of Roerich’s aims by 1923, or that these would not have been discussed with Barchenko.
     2. Barchenko was deeply interested in esoteric knowledge and the secret occult powers said to be employed in Shambhala. He had also visited Mongolia and his advice had been sought in matters concerning Central Asian unity.
     3. He knew about something called ‘the stone from Orion’ – a name not otherwise known to have been used by anyone except the Roerichs – and is said to have sought it during his researches in the Crimea in 1923.
     4. Roerich is said to have arranged to meet him in Moscow on his clandestine visit there in 1926. The ‘Moscow version’ of the Stone’s return to Russia – an episode where Roerich is said to have passed on the Stone for concealment in Barchenko’s psi-research laboratory, receiving in return a ‘conventional’ piece of meteorite – is however likely to have been misconstrued, since Roerich maintained custody of the talisman he received in Paris throughout the Expedition. However the story may be explicable as a consequence of errors in transmission – a likely explanation being that rather than Barchenko having received the Stone from Roerich, it was in fact Barchenko who had earlier sent the Stone to Roerich. This is not the only interpretation, however, as examined later.
     5. Barchenko, as a scientist specialising in psi-research funded by the Bolsheviks through Bokiy, was carrying out experiments based on magnetism and the supposed property of magnets to enhance powers of the mind to exert ‘distant influence’. This was not only something which Bokiy wanted to employ to spread revolutionary fervour and politicise the masses, but was closely related to the Roerichs’ belief that this property in meteorites could be used to facilitate mediumistic channelling from their sources of spiritual guidance – in their case in the service of Shambhala. The question also arises, how and from whom the idea of such a property in meteorites mainly originated. Each of the figures involved – Roerich, Barchenko and Dorjiev – could have played a part in cultivating the idea, which undoubtedly also had shamanistic roots.
     6. Roerich is rumoured to have sought help for the Expedition from certain Bolsheviks – amongst other people in Russia- whilst the Bolsheviks, through Bokiy, are said to have wanted to use the Expedition for their purposes. However this was overruled by Chicherin on behalf of the government.
     7. Roerich is reported to have attended a conference or meeting of parapsychologists while in Russia, where techniques of ‘distant influence’, of exactly the kind Bokiy and Barchenko are known to have been engaged in, were discussed.

     A straightforward hypothesis to account for the provenance of the Roerichs’ Stone follows from the motives and connections of Barchenko. If, for example, it is supposed Dorjiev brought to St Petersburg more than one of the talismans – for we are indeed informed there were a number of them – it would make sense if, a decade later, he decided to send one to Roerich to attract favour to his Shambhala project, something towards which Dorjiev would have been very sympathetic. Barchenko would have offered a confidential and secure channel through his Martinist connections so that the Stone could safely reach Roerich in Paris – although oddly, we are told that it was sent there by post. Thus it seems possible, in this scenario, to trace the provenance of the Roerichs’ Stone, via Barchenko, back to Dorjiev. More hypothetically, Barchenko could have obtained it from a contact he might have made – perhaps Zhamtsarano – during his visit to Mongolia in 1923. However, I know of no clear evidential trail beyond Barchenko by which to trace the origination of the Stone, so whatever might be said about it will be highly conjectural. Nevertheless, if the Stone was sent from Russia, then in my opinion, Barchenko emerges as the main candidate for actually consigning it to Paris.
     It has been a working assumption of this research that several people were involved in obtaining and sending the Stone. The question of from whom the talisman originated earlier on, or from source, would have to include Zhamtsarano, Dorjiev and even the Panchen Lama in this role, but it is worth bearing in mind that probably only Zhamtsarano had the field knowledge about the location of the meteorite identified as the parent of the Stone. One other rather shadowy figure emerges for consideration as an intermediary, either directly, or between the likely role of Barchenko and that of the ‘provider’, or the source, of the talisman. If we were to consider the factors we would be looking for to identify such a person, I suggest a very good match would be found in Khagan Khirva. In seeming to have similar geo-strategic and esoteric interests, he was also likely to have had the motive to assist Roerich; he was in the right place at the right time – meeting Barchenko in Moscow in 1923; he was rumoured to be a member of Roerich’s Martinist circle in Czarist days; he knew Zhamtsarano, and was in Mongolia during the artist’s sojourn there in 1926-27; and with Naga Navan, he was a member of the ‘Great Brotherhood of Asia’, as cited by Osterreider, a fraternity said to have been interested in the unification of Asia, and about which it would be useful to know more.

The ‘Moscow story’

Up to this point we have been discussing the provenance of the talisman which the Roerichs believed they were being sent, following from what they said about it. We must now return to what I earlier called the ‘Moscow story’ and consider it again, this time in the light of the doubt implicit in the italicised statement.
    It was reasoned earlier that Constantin Ivanenko’s story implying that Roerich was in effect returning the talisman to Russia to give it to Barchenko looks unsound. Constantin informs us that Barchenko is said to have handled two pieces of meteorite – the Roerichs’ Stone, and a conventional substitute stone, given to Roerich ‘in exchange’, as it were, for receiving the Stone for his laboratory, and to enable him to pass customs examination on exiting the Soviet Union. Apart from the inconsistencies in the story pointed out earlier – and bearing in mind the literary and pictorial evidence resulting in the general understanding that the Stone returned to India with the Roerichs – we have the evidence from the photograph that the Stone cannot be said to be a ‘conventional’ type of meteorite, in the sense that, even if it was an item collected in the field, it had the kind of form – in this case a notable axial symmetry – which would have given it a special status. All this suggests that Constantin’s version, in transmission as hearsay, has been misconstrued, although the story that Barchenko himself received at some point a piece of the Chintamani stone has to be taken seriously. If he did not receive it from Roerich, he could only have obtained it from a source – an individual – who was certain of its origin and authenticity. If we consider the sources who could qualify in this respect, we would again of course have to include Dorjiev, Zhamtsarano and the other figures discussed earlier.
    With the exception of what may lie concealed in Constantin’s story, there is no strong reason for supposing that anyone involved in sending the Stone misled the Roerichs about what they believed they were being sent in Paris, or that what they in fact received was not an exceptional kind of talisman – the one in the photograph – which they believed was a piece of the Chintamani stone. If Constantin’s information that on an earlier occasion another piece of the Chintamani stone had been installed in the Buddhist Temple is reliable, this would seem to strengthen the case for saying that Roerich’s Stone originated with Dorjiev, and was a talisman that represented to Roerich the Shambhala idea for which Dorjiev had been a prime mover.
    Nevertheless the ‘Moscow story’ probably has some basis in the facts, and certainly invites explanation. Apart from contributing to the idea discussed earlier that Barchenko was the sender of the Stone, one seemingly unlikely interpretation raises the uncomfortable possibility that the stone intended for the Roerichs, having perhaps originated with Dorjiev, and passed to Barchenko to send on to Paris, was in fact retained by Barchenko. This would account for the details in the ‘Moscow story’ that Barchenko received Roerich’s Stone and that it was installed at his laboratory, and that therefore the scientist needed to substitute for it another, conventional piece of meteorite which Roerich then took out of Russia. The differing details found in the ‘Moscow story’ are so unexpected that they cannot be ignored out of hand. In this scenario, the substitution would of course have taken place prior to sending the mineral to Paris in 1923, and would mean that it was the substitute stone which Roerich journeyed with from Paris to Moscow and beyond. It would also mean that the Roerichs would always have been unaware that the stone in their custody was not what they originally believed it to be. It needs to be emphasised, however, that not only are the statements in the ‘Moscow story’ inconsistent with what has hitherto been accepted, but they presently seem difficult to verify further, and so due account has to be taken of this when considering the relevance of this interpretation.

Who has custodianship of the Roerichs’ Stone now, and where is it located?

It is difficult to believe this information is presently unknown. The Stone and the casket are undoubtedly still located together. The recent digital photographs of the casket copied in Section 2, having been sent from Russia, presumably originated there. It would make sense to suppose that the Stone would have been taken to Russia from India after Svetoslav Roerich ended his days in 1993, probably with the knowledge of the custodians of the ICR. The Stone is rumoured to be with its Director, Ludmila Shaposhnikova; however according to an informant of Daniel Entin, it is not there at all.

    Our investigation of the Stone has demonstrated that to some extent it offers a way of penetrating Roerich’s secret activities. Obviously Barchenko emerges as a key intermediary and participant in certain of the circumstances relating to the Stone. Given that we can imagine that Roerich’s liasons with his various contacts in the Soviet Union took place not only separately, depending on how each could advantage him, but discreetly, it is his relations with the Bolshevik interests, through Barchenko and Bokiy, which emerge as the most obscure and intriguing. Dorjiev and Zhamtsarano shared and sympathised with Roerich’s idea of the Shambhala prophecy, but their identities and roles were touched upon subsequently by the Roerichs in their published books; Chicherin and Lunacharsky were seen as enablers, whose relations with Roerich became a matter of public record some time ago; but it was Roerich’s relations with Barchenko and perhaps Bokiy which appear to have been not only more profound but, as we can now judge, the most covert. The aims of Bokiy, and of Barchenko as a Bolshevik collaborator, were not only political but esoteric, even occult. What might Roerich have wanted to conceal in this relationship? Could the Barchenko connection have discredited the artist in some way? In what ways did each party want to use or take advantage of the other? Did Roerich actively seek their support and cooperation? Knowledge of the dealings Roerich may have had with his Bolshevik contacts might well cast light on these and a cluster of other questions: the lack of information about the provenance of the Stone; the reported rivalry between the Soviet government and the OGPU for the control of the Expedition; the perceived need to maintain secrecy, even today, over Roerich’s OGPU file; and of course the revelations about the esoteric powers and purposes of the Stone which are echoed in Barchenko’s extraordinary ideas and experiments concerned with techniques of ‘distant influence’. Therefore, does present discretion about Roerich’s file and the origins of the Stone aim to conceal the extent of the Bolshevik connection? If so, in the opinion of this researcher, the fact that his former Martinist associates now espoused Bolshevism misses the point – which is not about the political complexion of Roerich’s liaisons, but is primarily concerned with his many-sided pre-occupation with the legend and prophecy of Shambhala which fuelled his extraordinary and ambitious vision of Asiatic power.


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