The Roerichs’ Stone: A summary of research findings

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The Roerichs’ Stone:  A summary of research findings
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Following from clues in their books and other primary sources, the Roerichs’ talisman, sometimes known as ‘Chintamani’ but generally called ‘the Stone’, was a palm-sized mineral object which can be identified as a piece deriving from the giant iron meteorite named Armanty in the scientific record, or in its original locality Mongon-temee, ‘Silver Camel’, and Mongon-tosh, ‘Silver Saddle’. The giant meteorite weighed about twenty-eight tons and formerly lay at the site of its fall in Mongolian territory in the foothills of the Altai mountains, the co-ordinates of whose impact pit are suggested as 46 52′ 37″ N, 90 58′ 35″ E. The location would therefore have represented the place described by Helena Roerich as the ‘foundation of Shambhala’ – the symbolic earthly focus of the sacred realm of Shambhala as the Roerichs would have understood it. The meteorite itself is no longer at this site, having been removed to Urumqi by the Chinese in 1965, but that is another story which is completely unconnected with the Roerichs’ activities. It is an open question whether Nicholas and George Roerich visited the site while they were in Mongolia in 1926-27; a cryptic account in Nicholas Roerich’s book Himavat, although evidence of the connection of the Stone to Mongolia, refers to an episode during their venture in Inner Mongolia in 1935. A question also remains about the present whereabouts of the Roerichs’ Stone, but the presumption must be that it is now in Russia. At present the best evidence of its actual appearance and characteristics is a photograph of it taken in 1923 held in the archives of the Roerich Museum in New York.
    The Mongolian meteorite seems to have been depicted as the image of the ‘sacred stone’ in Roerich’s set designs for Act One of Diaghilev’s ballet The Rite of Spring, and similarly also in the freize painting above the artist’s study at Kulu. The triad symbol depicted on this latter image and extensively used as a graphic device elsewhere by the Roerichs may be, in addition to other meanings, a symbol for Orion, and ‘Orion’ seems likely to have been a code word used by the Roerichs for Mongolia – suggesting the source of another name by which they knew the Stone, the ‘Gift of Orion’.
    The Roerichs received the Stone at the Lord Byron Hotel in Paris on the 6th October 1923. It was sent as a talisman whose main purpose was to invoke the success of their mission inspired by the idea of Shambhala. The impetus for this endeavour was a Buddhist prophecy about a future messianic age, which had acquired a contemporary significance amongst northern Buddhists and the Mongol populations in Buryatia, Mongolia and China, as an aspiration for a theocratic confederacy of Buddhist Mongol lands in Central Asia. In reality, this new sentiment owed much to the rise of Mongol national consciousness and the political weakness of China. The expectation was that the movement would develop first in Mongolia, and adherents looked to the Panchen Lama, the Buddhist leader with extensive religious jurisdiction in Mongolia and China, for religious leadership. Nicholas Roerich envisaged a secular leadership role for himself in due course in what is now often called the ‘Shambhala project’. Others who shared the aspiration for the theocratic idea, and who were well known to Roerich, included two prominent Buriat Mongols: one was a significant historical figure, the high Buddhist lama Agvan Dorjiev, whom Roerich acknowledges as his mentor on the subject of Shambhala; Dorjiev had envisaged using the Shambhala idea to promote Russian political influence in Central Asia, and his own conception of a great theocratic confederacy had earlier been formally presented to the Czarist authorities. The other prominent figure was the Mongolian scholar Dr Tsyben Zhamtsarano. Both men also knew of the Mongolian meteorite and its talismanic appeal for the Mongolian people – Zhamtsarano having had a field knowledge of it. For Helena Roerich, the particular purpose of the Stone was to enhance her clairvoyant powers. It was believed to facilitate communicating with and receiving instructions from her spirit guide, whom she called Master Morya – a name adopted from Theosophy – regarding the mission of the Roerichs to Asia. The Stone acted as an ‘instrument’ for her psychic work throughout the Central Asian Expedition of 1923-28 and afterwards, when the family settled in Kulu in northern India. Although many of these communications were transcribed and subsequently published, their nature and source are an open question, as they are understood to have been a wholly subjective experience.
    Nicholas Roerich generally maintained a discretion about his aims in Central Asia and the details of his contacts with those who were intimately involved in assisting his plans for the Shambhala project. Roerich saw his mission for Shambhala not only as a spiritual enterprise for mankind in general, but being a Russian patriot, as a way of strengthening both the interests of Russia and his own links with his homeland, and as such he was prepared to accept assistance from all quarters to realise his aims. Amongst those in Russia with whom he liaised, the most covert and intriguing – as revealed in researching the story of the Stone – was his relationship to Dr Alexander Barchenko, a parapsychologist who became a Bolshevik collaborator. Both Roerich and Barchenko had been members of the Martinist Order – a secret Rosicrucian society – in St Petersburg before the Revolution, and their esoteric interests continued to have much in common subsequently. Barchenko was interested in Buddhism, the legend of Shambhala and the esoteric powers he believed were to be found there. He also shared the Roerichs’ belief in the special properties attributed to the magnetism of meteoritic stones, which could supposedly be used to demonstrate the phenomenon of ‘distant influence’. At his unique psi-research laboratory in Moscow he conducted highly innovative experiments in such techniques on behalf of the Bolsheviks, with the aim of inculcating Revolutionary political ideas in the Soviet masses. Such beliefs about stones may well be traceable to a knowledge of shamanism; certainly Roerich had a well-developed belief in the talismanic power of sacred stones by at least 1909. The relevance of Barchenko lies in the extent of his involvement in the story of the Roerichs’ Stone and of the Central Asian Expedition.
    Roerich’s visit to Moscow in 1926, secret at the time, included in its various aims deciding on future arrangements for the Expedition. At some point a proposal had been put forward by Barchenko’s patron Gleb Bokiy, a Bolshevik Revolutionary who had formerly been, with Roerich and Barchenko, a member of the same Martinist lodge, to sponsor the Roerich Expedition. Bokiy now headed the ‘Special Department’ of OGPU – the secret police – which funded Barchenko’s psi-research laboratory – but in addition to esoteric and theocratic interests his proposal may also have had a political motive because the creation of a Buddhist-Communist synarchic state in Central Asia might have served Bolshevik aims in helping to turn the East against Western imperialism. Roerich’s code-word for Moscow was ‘Martin’, revealing his desire to liaise with his former colleagues on reaching the city. However, whether or not there had been a plan in which Roerich participated to obtain Bolshevik funding – resulting therefore in a possible measure of control in the conduct the Expedition – Bokiy’s proposal was overruled by Georgy Chicherin, Commissar for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Soviet government. At present, it seems that some of the Roerichs’ followers in Russia wish that certain information about his relations with the OGPU should be withheld, since, in an intervention apparently involving the then Russian Prime Minster Yevgeny Primakov, his OGPU file was removed from the former KGB archives prior to these becoming accessible for research in the 1990’s, in order to keep it closed.
    The sending of the Stone to the Roerichs in 1923 coincided with, or followed soon after, the formulation of their plans for the Shambhala mission, which were shared or perhaps co-ordinated with whoever sent it. The sender would certainly have been someone who was both very sympathetic to Roerich’s aims and had access to the talisman. Barchenko emerges as an obvious candidate – he had visited Mongolia and had also received a Buddhist Kalachakra initiation from Dorjiev – and the evidence for him is reinforced by suggestions that a fraternal Masonic or Rosicrucian – most likely Martinist – secret society in France had acted as an intermediary in delivering the Stone for the Roerichs. Dorjiev himself would be another possible candidate or facilitator, as would Zhamtsarano, and another Mongol, Khagan Khirva. In terms of planning the Expedition’s travels – and in answer to the apparent paradox of the Stone returning to Soviet territory, from where it seems likely to have been sent on to the Roerichs in Paris – it had always been Roerich’s goal from early on to journey to Mongolia, in anticipation of the signs of the prophesied ‘spiritual war’ of Shambhala, whether or not he was given permission to enter the Soviet Union: in fact this was something he had been uncertain of until reaching the Soviet frontier itself. Subsequently, in eventually reaching Mongolia, where they spent six months in 1926-27, the Roerichs seem to have been fulfilling their plan for the Stone to revisit its origin in the location which for them represented Shambhala – and a similar observation applies to their second venture to Central Asia in 1934-5, although whether on this enterprise the Stone accompanied them is an open question. On both occasions they seem to have had in mind a kind of symbolic reunification with the great meteorite, perhaps in the belief this would help to invoke the new messianic era. However, neither the Buddhist manifestation, which according to prophecy had been promised for 1936, nor the dream of Mongol unification, was ever to materialise – the anticipated Mongol uprising, which took place in Inner Mongolia in 1937 under the weak leadership of Prince Teh Wang, was soon extinguished by the Japanese.
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