A Russian Mystic’s American Expedition to China


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Roerich Chilling with Nomads during the Manchurian Expedition



-by Ernie Diaz



You know why we’re commoners? We just don’t get it. We think money will bring us power. Elites know that power brings rivers of money. Commoners think spirituality has no effect on “reality”. Elites understand that “reality” is a dim reflection of the spiritual.


Of course, half the fun, and all the future in being an elite lies in keeping commoners in the dark about these truths. So although on public record, the more bizarre of our elite’s spiritual practices are quietly relegated to the memory hole, and explained away under flimsy pretexts.


Take Henry Wallace, for example. By day, he was the arrow-straight editor of his family-owned paper, Wallace’s Farmer, in 1920s aw-shucks Iowa. By candlelight, he was a devotee of the mystic Nicholas Roerich. Wallace would go on to become vice president of the United States under FDR.




Self-Portrait of Roerich Holding the Eastern Grail - the Chintamani Stone

On the way up, he sponsored Roerich’s ground-breaking Central Asia Expedition, and then his Manchurian Expedition, the latter with the president’s fervent approval. Was the Russian artist/mystic truly just gadding about Northern China and Mongolia, looking for drought-resistant grasses, or restoring the sacred Chintamani Stone in Shambhala, that he might divine the world-transforming power of Meru? Whatever his true purpose, Roerich’s journeys are the stuff of under-sung legend, and a wistful glimpse at what Far East adventuring was like before the camera killed the painter.




Command of Rigden Djapo

But first, a word on Wallace, to aver that the esoteric inspires great men as often as it does introverted underachievers. Seeing materialism as a Western disease, he turned to shamanism, and eventually Theosophy for answers. A peer of the 20th century queen of mystics, theosophist Madame Blavatsky, the PR-hungry Roerich drew Wallace into his inner circle with much blandishment. He christened Wallace “Galahad” for the Arthurian role Roerich prophesied he would play in the Orient – Roerich himself as Parsifal, who strove to restore the eastern grail and bring spiritual balance back to the world.




Dorje the Daring Faces Mahakala

Quite a load of hooey, perhaps, but by the time Wallace made Secretary of Agriculture, Roerich was well-known to and getting warmer with FDR, whose esoterically-inclined mother recommended the Russian mystic as a man with answers to the mighty issues her son struggled with. Little wonder, then, that when Wallace proposed to his boss that Roerich lead a ‘botanical expedition’ in the Far East, FDR needed little convincing, even as Wallace delicately hinted at the geo-political potential in China, Tibet, and Mongolia, as well as the ancient prophecies and legends Roerich was so well-steeped and interested in.




Confucius the Just, Traveller in Exile

The two actual botanists attached to the sixteen-month Manchurian expedition returned with more than two thousand plant samples, including 276 soil-conserving grasses, very useful to a nation sunk into great depression by erosion of dirt as much as the dollar. Roerich and his wife sent back twenty plants, but also garnered inspiration for many of Roerich’s paintings you see here.




Milarepa, the One Who Hearkened

So what were Roerich and his wife really up to? Spying, if one is to believe the Soviets, who had been monitoring émigré Roerich since his Central Asian expedition, and who cabled the State Department concerned that now he was rallying White Russians on the borders. The Japanese had similar qualms, and the American press cast significant doubt on the ostensibly botanical agenda of the undertaking.




FDR signs the Roerich Pact

Eminent esoteric authors such as Manly Hall, William Henry, and Andrei Znemenski have studied Roerich at length. After all, here was a grand purveyor of claptrap who was nominated for a Nobel Prize, who was the inspiration for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, who built Russia’s first Buddhist temple, and who brought us the Roerich Pact, a treaty legally recognizing the premise that protection of cultural treasures takes precedence over military spending.




Buddha Dies, Meru the World Pillar Shatters

These authors know of Roerich’s involvement in mysterious orders such as the White Brotherhood, devoted not to racial but spiritual superiority, in order to redeem mankind on earth, not in heaven. They conjecture that Roerich’s true purpose on the Central Asian expedition was to find the Chintamani stone, a meteorite long-known to both Tibetan and Hindu religious tradition as a jewel that grants wishes and, in the right hands, turns the wheel of mass spiritual evolution. They have studied modern quests to identify Meru, the sacred mountain that was both the heart of Atlantis and the gateway to Shambalah.





Particle Accelerator

The Himalayan and Altai ranges were long thought

Wand of Meru

to hold both the Chintamani stone, the eastern grail, and Mount Meru, the font which fills the sacred chalice. Some say Roerich was successful in acquiring the Chintamani during his Central Asian expedition, but not in finding Meru. Later, study of ancient arcana led him to believe the Gobi desert, once covered by ocean, was the site of both Atlantis and Meru. There he may or may not have secured the secrets of the wand of Meru, depicted on the right in a 2nd century CE Chinese diagram, as the device to realign spiritual dimensions shattered by the death of the Buddha. The wand is often juxtaposed with the modern cyclotron particle accelerator.





The Ancient Serpent

What is on record – reports that Roerich had at last re-emerged from Mongolia hailed as a deity, possibly the theosophical messiah Maitreyah. Also increasing pressure from the Soviet government and the western press led Wallace and FDR to view Roerich as a liability. His expedition was terminated by cable, swiftly followed by an IRS investigation of his New York school which threatened jail time on his return. Roerich chose instead to retire to India’s Kullu Valley, where he continued to paint, write books on his travels, help the Russian cause in World War II, and generally exert a massive yet gentle spiritual influence on the great souls of the mid-twentieth century.


As for Wallace, opponents quashed his 1948 presidential candidacy by churning up records and speculation of his involvement with Roerich. Spiritual advancement in the service of material power is an all-too-human perversion of the divine order of things. But until Meru’s symbolic significance is made physical, we can expect such perversion from our leaders, and be sure that they will keep such advancement a private matter, and a public joke.



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2 Responses to A Russian Mystic’s American Expedition to China

  1. Paul F Davis says:

    Thanks for sharing this journey and these insightful experiences.

    Paul F Davis – author of God vs. Religion

  2. I’ve read Nicholas Roerich’s books, they’ve been reprinted in Mongolia, where there is also a museum to him in Ulaan Baatar. He was a bit of a fruitcake, especially in his beliefs and the search for Shamballa, but entertaining nonetheless. His wife was an expert on Buddhism and also wrote some important introductory texts. Good call to feature him. More on him and the museum here: http://www.roerich.org

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