The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World
Gary Lachman | May 2020 | Inner Traditions | 448 pages | ISBN: 978-1620558102 | $32.00
Occult histories can be interesting, provided that we don’t take them over-seriously. It is a rare occurrence when occultism takes the wheel and steers history toward mystical ends, though it is less rare to find powers and potentates making use of occultism to drive their policy goals. For Gary Lachman, however, occultism is the secret stream of knowledge animating all of world history. His last book, Dark Star Rising, tried to envision Donald Trump as a literal chaos magician harnessing supernatural forces to enact an evil agenda. Continuing to mistake incompetence and arrogance for supernatural genius, Lachman’s new book, The Return of Holy Russia, casts the whole of Russian history as a centuries-long conversation with occultism about Russia’s supposedly unique place in the world as the embodiment of Christian virtue (hence, holy) and occult power.
The tone for the book is established early on, when Lachman opens with Theosophy and its spinoffs before declaring that Russian nationalistic belief in the country’s “special ‘mission’ in history” must be taken seriously. He lavishly praises nationalistic Russian philosophers, claiming that they have solved the riddle of the “evolution” of consciousness, and he speaks tirelessly—seriously, over and over again—about the “Russian soul,” which he treats not as a metaphor for Russian cultural beliefs and practices but as some quasi-mystical entity embodied in a group of people, many of whom, as best I can tell, have only been “Russian” occasionally as borders shifted around Eurasia over the past five centuries. Since “Russia” began in Kievan Rus’, centered on Kyiv, it’s not even clear that the mystics of Moscow would be direct lineal heirs to this holy heritage that began in what is now Ukraine. Politics, genetics, and culture make it hard to give mysticism an eternal national heritage when populations and borders move and mix so promiscuously.
This difficulty persists throughout the book, where Russian culture is taken not as something fungible and defined by circumstances but rather as an innate occult force incarnated in whatever people happen to be under the Russian government at the time. Lachman relies heavily on Western nationalistic writings that cast Russia as an alien other to support his views, and it’s not entirely clear that he has examined what he means by the “Russian man” and the “Russian soul” in detail, swapping between cultural Russians and those under the political domination of the Russian central government without clear distinction. The book’s production design reinforces the challenge, for it uses Soviet iconography—the hammer and sickle—as a repeated motif to stand for Russia. But the Soviets chose that iconography specifically not to be Russian. They imagined it as universal, and they applied it across the Soviet Union, for all its subject peoples, only some of whom were Russian. The same problem applies to the tsarist era, and more so, when an even broader array of peoples made up one empire. Even after centuries of Russification, not all the people in Russia are the same brand of “Russian.”
I did, however, find it hilarious that Lachman apologizes to readers who are offended by him describing the Russian “soul” as lazy and sedentary by justifying his conclusions as the result of reading “multiple sources.” I was offended for a different reason—there is no such thing as a “national soul,” nor inherent characteristics of a national man or national woman. This is lazy Victorian nationalist essentialism masquerading as occult insight. There is danger here, too: To argue that different ethnic groups have different essential traits is to implicitly argue that some are superior to others, more evolved, better adapted, etc. Seeing ethnicities or nations as genetically, morally, or cosmically separate is a path whose ends we have seen in fascist and communist death camps. And lest you think that I am exaggerating Lachman’s position or ignoring some symbolic level, he claims on p. 27 that this heritage is passed in the blood: “If Russian inertia can be attributed to its Asian past, can the sudden outbursts of anarchy and chaos traditionally recognized as part of the Russian character have their roots in the old Nordic blood, which carried memories of their berserker ancestors?” No, that is not how culture or genetics work. If it did, then all of us of European descent should possess the dignity and ruthlessness of Charlemagne, the collective (and just as recent) ancestor of most European males. According to Lachman, however, I am simply and inherently biased against his book because I am half Polish and therefore filled with ancestral “enmity” toward the Russians.
All of it, though, seems to be designed as an elaborate defense of Helena Blavatsky, the ethnically Russian psychic fraud who was born in what is today Ukraine but was then part of Tsarist Russia—a pet subject of Lachman’s. She keeps popping up in the book even though she left the Russian Empire for America and elsewhere.
I could go on about the biases and flaws in his examination of Russian spiritual and occult history, but it would make for exceptionally boring reading. For the majority of the book, Lachman presents a superficial but straightforward popular “great man” history of Russia interspersed with occasional commentary on the religious and spiritual developments in the territories that eventually fell to the tsars. Some of it is conventional spirituality, some of it is occultism, and some is just philosophy. A lot of it has nothing to do with the stated topic of the book except through a vague connection to religiosity and spirituality in the broadest sense.
To be entirely honest, I’m not sure what the purpose of the long middle of the book is supposed to be. It is a history of Russia through the lens of Christianity and the occult, but its history is too focused on the lives and times of princes and kings to offer much insight into Russian life, its historiography is decidedly Victorian in tenor and scope, and its religious discussion is too colored by the author’s beliefs in magic and occult power to have any value as an explanatory theory of Russian history. The text also has a certain old-fashioned bias toward seeing the late Victorian period—Russia’s so-called “Silver Age”—as the yardstick against which past and future are measured, with the future a departure from it and the past an anticipation of it. There is also enormous repetition of ideas—trust me, you will hear that the Russians considered themselves the heirs of Rome and Byzantium, many times, and then a few more. The majority of the middle chapters flesh out claims already made in the introduction, adding only extraneous detail that contributes little to the overall argument. It is, frankly, dry reading, even by my tolerant standards for weighty histories. The book could be cut in half without losing anything of value. And don’t get me started on the heavy use of a very few, often older, popular sources in place of thorough scholarly research.
The book becomes a bit strange in its latter parts. The major chapter on the Soviet Union is framed around ESP, for example, and it is in this part of the book that Lachman’s interest seems to drift from Russian history to the paranormal and occult, and the story abruptly breaks from an endless litany of kings and clerics to a series of vignettes about occult and esoteric speculators, science fiction writers, and believers in all manner of paranormal claims. The rapid change from the political to the paranormal doesn’t entirely make sense, except insofar as it reinforces Lachman’s overarching—but wrong—theme that the dissenting forms of spirituality offer the most effective path for individual and collective freedom. This is why he sees the fraudulent Blavatsky as a hero, for example. But he never once makes the case that any occult ideas percolated below the thin crust of cosmopolitan elites to have any real impact on the supposed “Russian soul” in the cities and towns outside of the St. Petersburg-Moscow axis. Was Vladivostok also overtaken with desire for an occult utopia? Siberia? Lachman never tells us.
The only thing I found interesting in this section was Lachman’s discussion of the influence on Russian occultism of Morning of the Magicians—co-authored, though he doesn’t mention it, by a Russian émigré. Here there was a missed opportunity, since Lachman fails to mention that Morning is itself influenced by Soviet paranormal and ancient astronaut ideas (the authors literally quote Soviet sources), creating a feedback loop that reinforced these ideas in Europe and the Soviet Union. My cutting out this part of the story, Lachman tries to separate the Soviet occult opposition from the official promotion of UFOs and ancient astronauts as part of Soviet propaganda aimed at undermining Western religions and confidence in science. Instead, he only briefly and largely uncritically alludes to Soviet research into ESP and “psychic warfare.”
Lachman minimizes the Soviet Union’s propaganda use of paranormal claims—seeding them into Western media through the dubious imprimatur of Soviet “science”—because he wishes to create a greater contrast between the Soviet past, which he views as anti-spiritual, and Putin’s Russia, which he wishes to see as restoring the tsarist fusion of Christianity and the occult. I find Lachman somewhat naïve in assuming that Putin has broken dramatically from Soviet practice, or that his official promotion of Orthodoxy and pseudoscience can be divorced from his utilitarian pursuit of power at the expense of truth. In sum: Lachman seems to argue that Putin acts because he believes in occult nationalist myths about Russia, but the evidence might better support the idea that Putin uses occult nationalist myths about Russia to legitimize and institutionalize his own assumption of tsar-like powers. (In the epilogue, Lachman very briefly admits this could be a possibility.) In the end, Lachman concludes that Putinism is not the answer to life’s mysteries, but nineteenth-century Russian philosophy is. This latter point is, to say the least, a debatable proposition, and one he never quite manages to justify.
Ultimately, Lachman’s book builds to nothing because he is so consumed with listing nearly every pro-Putin or anti-Putin occult and paranormal speculator that the chapter has no overarching purpose or point. It is an info-dump masquerading as an argument. He concludes the book by suggesting that Putin is creating a “third way” that fulfills a Theosophy-inspired occult prophecy about the fusion of “feminine” East (!) and “masculine” West. His argument is superficial and ill-conceived, not least because he accepts the Romantic notion of the “nation” and its deep historical essence, even though the concept of a “nation” is modern in origin, not primeval.
By framing his argument around nineteenth-century fictions about the unity of ethnicity, nation, and state, Lachman ends up justifying the kind of historical fantasies that led to the instability that ended the Gilded Age and troubled the interwar years. It bothers me that after writing a book about Russian exceptionalism, Lachman admits that he never considered whether other countries and peoples experienced similar developments. Instead, he condemns the West for ignoring Hermetic and occult gnosis, unlike the great Russians, who apparently are driven by secret esoteric connections to “true” knowledge, which he defines as seamlessly uniting a rational understanding of the material world with a deep inner spirituality. Like most books I have reviewed in these pages, this one turns out to be another cri de coeur calling out for God to save us all from scientific materialism. It’s starting to get boring.
1/4/2020 10:04:27 am
"According to Lachman, however, I am simply and inherently biased against his book because I am half Polish and therefore filled with ancestral “enmity” toward the Russians."
1/4/2020 12:04:39 pm
^^^ Butt-hurt Joe strikes again ^^^
1/4/2020 05:15:59 pm
^Jim "Has to type it three times because issues" strikes again.^
3/23/2020 04:31:17 pm
Uh yeah, first time on your blog and I must say just by the tone you take in the article and your responses I am completely unimpressed.
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
1/4/2020 01:42:12 pm
A man who constantly brags about what a genius he is, babbles on about Mosul when asked a debate question about Syria, tells border agents to simply ignore the law, doodles on an NOAA weather map to try to justify his own incorrect statement about the path of a hurricane, and says critics and whistleblowers are committing treason by accusing him of crimes can't be arrogant or incompetent. No, if you reach that conclusion, you must just be biased.
Arrogance, incompetemce, cartel & lies
1/4/2020 07:27:37 pm
The history of New Testament scholarship. Full of sewage.
1/4/2020 10:26:14 pm
Why so serious man? Can't we have a laugh here?
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
1/5/2020 03:03:15 am
The blithering idiot is trying to start a war with Iran as we speak. Your contrarian-asshole schtick is about as funny as a dead man on the doorstep.
1/5/2020 05:29:23 am
The U.S. war against Iran began in 1953 or 1979 depending on whom you ask.
Never mind Iran
1/5/2020 06:35:04 am
Paying the price for not nuking North Korea when that should have happened. Should have listened to MacArthur about Russia as well so that the Kremlin could have been nullified as well.
1/5/2020 10:45:50 am
"The blithering idiot is trying to start a war with Iran as we speak. "
Arrogance, incompetemce, cartel & lies
1/5/2020 02:53:38 pm
Of course, by continuously repeating that crap about the Gospels dating from the first century, and that the Gospels were not contrived during the second century, the reason for the second century fakery is being overlooked and distracted
1/5/2020 03:56:25 pm
Dude, no one cares.
Dude, no one cares
1/6/2020 05:22:45 am
Hey, the crap dished out by the establishment is the Holy of Holies that no-one is allowed to question and it's as bad as anything pushed by Scott Wolter, Graham Hancock, Erich Von Daniken, Jacques Vallee and the like. And it's mainstream education.
No one cares
1/6/2020 05:31:05 am
This professor dude believes that the Gospel of Mark dates from between 65-75 AD without mentioning its topographical mistakes and the fact that no first century Christian mentioned the existence of the Gospels.
1/4/2020 02:09:17 pm
1/4/2020 05:02:30 pm
"Within the concentric circles of Trump's regime lies an unseen culture of occultists, power-seekers, and mind-magicians whose influence is on the rise."
1/4/2020 05:12:53 pm
"Continuing to mistake incompetence and arrogance for supernatural genius...'"
1/5/2020 10:43:20 am
Judging by this thread the Boobosie are alive and thriving. ItsI most likely pointless in this crowd to point to historical dualism as independent of religion and essentialism, to posit panentheism as a counter to pantheism or to note that the author of the book in question, Lachman, seems oblivious to the decentered subject of the shadow of American Imperialism (all those Cherokee Grandmothers in the heart of SEC territory no less) that he has projected onto the wall of Putin's rather than Plato's cave.... Never youy mind my dears. Jason has clearly heged his bets on his forth coming book as any self respecting writer would.
Thanks for the laugh
1/6/2020 12:14:55 pm
That came across as something a college freshman would write after learning new words in class and then straining to find a way to force them all into one incoherent paragraph.
1/6/2020 03:43:11 pm
Try again. Perhaps someone will find you have something of value to say about Anti-Intellectualism. However, it remains BENEATH MY DIGNITY to dally with gutter trash.
1/6/2020 03:53:30 pm
The all caps really helped you make an effective point about your DIGNITY.
I'm not here
1/6/2020 04:36:20 pm
Fat man looking in a blade of steel
1/6/2020 05:47:01 pm
Ivan The Not-So-Terrible
1/4/2020 10:47:27 am
Coming soon on History Channel ... "Putin Meets Rasputin"
1/4/2020 01:21:17 pm
Vladimir ♥ Donald
Dr Trendy Legbroken
1/4/2020 12:24:40 pm
We always look forward to your negative reviews of everything.
1/4/2020 06:39:04 pm
QAnon and Pizzagate BELIEVER teams up with conspiracy theorists to plan kidnapping.
1/4/2020 07:55:09 pm
No worse than Gunn Sinclair, Patrick Shekleton, Anthony Warren, Philyaw, Jim, Scott Wolter, Hillary "Vast right-wing conspiracy" Clinton, Reverend What's His Name, ...
Kent is Anthony Warren
1/6/2020 05:19:39 am
No worse than Kent and his anti-Semitism
1/6/2020 04:46:26 pm
You make it sound like hating Jews is a bad thing. It's meat and milk to me! Hey that's another thing, meat and milk isn't kosher. Another reason to hate Jews. They hate cheeseburgers! Stupid Jews, I don't understand how anyone can not hate them.
1/6/2020 05:44:36 pm
Then you should hate the New Testament for having been created by the Old Testament.
1/6/2020 06:01:19 pm
I do! Hate 'em both! Also anything Jew related or Jew adjacent. That includes Hollywood. But if I have a legal issue I always go Jew lawyer.
a gay cabbie
1/6/2020 07:29:22 pm
It’s preferred that “cannot” be written as one word — you used “can not” in one of the above comments.
1/6/2020 09:45:19 pm
When you call yourself "gay" you mean "Jew" right?
1/6/2020 09:51:45 pm
Be careful, the phrase “is able to not" implies that you plan to split an infinitive. That would greatly upset me!
1/6/2020 11:26:24 pm
You clearly don't know what a split infinitive is.
I am able to not discuss this subject further
1/6/2020 11:55:23 pm
I apologize, you certainly may have planned to place a noun or adjective after the phrase “is able to not” instead of a verb. I won’t bother busting my brains trying to figure how you could have avoided a split infinitive (which itself is no longer considered ungrammatical when used in casual settings) and just be thankful that we won’t have to fight that battle. Thank you sir for the spirited discussion!
I found that the book is not published, yet. It is even not listed on the auhtor's page! So I cannot look into its Table of Contents or other preview.
Mystic In Russian Soul
1/6/2020 12:31:37 pm
Thank goodness for Marx and Lenin and the dictum Religion is the Opium of the People. All those ignorant peasants slobbering over statues of Jesus Christ - that ain't the son of god but a plaster cast. Foolish idiots.,
No one cares
1/6/2020 01:37:03 pm
1/6/2020 02:20:48 pm
If Lachman, Wolter, Hancock and Vallee are going to be targeted, let's do the whole job
1/6/2020 06:04:20 pm
A German talking about a "national soul". That always ends well.
1/6/2020 06:11:38 pm
If you "found" that the book is not yet published, that's because you didn't "found" the May 2020 publication date that Jason kindly typed for you. It's at the top of the page.
The russian sole of my boot
1/6/2020 07:36:55 pm
“Basically, the chosen topic is of high interest.”
1/6/2020 12:40:25 pm
"There is danger here, too: To argue that different ethnic groups have different essential traits is to implicitly argue that some are superior to others, more evolved, better adapted, etc."
some are superior to others
1/6/2020 01:13:17 pm
God's chosen people - as given in the Bible
1/6/2020 06:17:27 pm
Jews are unsurpassed in mistreating Palestinians and Afghans and Saudis are unsurpassed in buggering boys. African-Americans are unsurpassed at giving their kids stupid names.
1/6/2020 07:00:09 pm
Palestine NEVER EXISTED when the Jews occupied Judea in Old Testament times.
1/6/2020 09:54:51 pm
According to the Jew scriptures they (the Jews) invaded and slaughtered tens of thousands of people, so no. Have you read the Bible?
The golan mites
1/6/2020 10:12:51 pm
Yes, I did read all of those parts (1) but the invasion and slaughtering (and also raping) was sanctioned by God with Whom the Chosen People had a Holy Covenant and (2) because the Chosen People slaughtered the previous occupants of the country (as you mentioned), there’s no one to whom the country can be returned. The current usurpers must understand these unalterable truths. And thank you for capitalizing the word “Bible” — I noticed that subtle admission on your part.
1/6/2020 11:39:17 pm
I also capitalize Winnie the Pooh. Doesn't mean anything.
We are born to suffer
1/7/2020 12:07:42 am
I also capitalize the word “POO” — in fact I use all caps to provide further emphasis — and it does mean something. It means that I really have to take a number two! You see Kent, I ate a sandwich known as the “Corned Beef Explosion” earlier at the local Jewish deli and boy am I finding out how it got its name! Oy vey!
NO ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
1/6/2020 10:47:41 pm
Where is the archaeological evidence that the Israelites slaughtered the Canaanites.
How many more times?
1/6/2020 10:52:01 pm
How many more times must it be repeated on this Blog that there is no archaeological evidence for Exodus, thus also nullifying the slaughter of the Canaanites in the process - for which also there is no archaeological evidence. All those politicians need to be put into the sea on a boat and sunk.
1/6/2020 11:35:15 pm
What matters is not the truth of the story, but that the Israelis claim that they slaughtered and invaded, and therefore are by their own account murderous squatters.
1/6/2020 11:38:32 pm
Yeah - that's what the Israelites claimed - a parable of the conflict of good over evil - the Jews were the chosen people and all other nations were doomed. I explained that on this Blog centuries ago. Canaan symbolically represented those countries that worshipped pagan idols.
Why is there no historical evidence for Exodus
1/6/2020 11:42:21 pm
Joab the Enforcer
1/8/2020 02:40:41 pm
You are not murderous squatters if your invasion is successful and you write the history books. Rather you are some of god's chosen carrying out his will or are carrying out manifest destiny or are on a civilizing crusade, or (insert additional justifications here)...that makes it easier to look in the mirror.
1/8/2020 05:44:01 pm
You misunderstand. I'm not saying the Jews were murderous squatters, just that they claim to be. Don't confuse the Bible with a history book.
Joab the Enforcer
1/8/2020 10:42:05 pm
If you think that I misunderstood then you misunderstood everything that I said about the winners writing their own history. No shortage of histories written by winners that rival the bible as fiction or semi-fiction. Maybe less time here jabbering and more time reading up on what you presume to jabber about.
1/8/2020 10:56:36 pm
As has been pointed out, there's no archaeological evidence of ANY winners corresponding to the story where the Jews claim victorious slaughter. I put this story in the same category as Exodus.
1/6/2020 11:14:31 pm
Bob Dylan lyrics? Well at least someone has some posting taste, but still, what was the topic? Oh yeah, Holy Russia. I guess they just ran out of ideas for that premise. Maybe the author sent his critics to Siberia.
1/6/2020 11:36:05 pm
What can you expect from some pop musician whose been on cocaine for most of his life
1/6/2020 11:41:57 pm
Ignoring the fact that every Bob Dylan song consists of disorganized collections of psychedelic non-sequiturs that have no literary value outside of demonstrating that someone with no talent can produce nonsensical wailings that rubes will stupidly consider genius, I think Dylan is relevant because his ancestors emigrated to the US from the Ukraine and Lithuania in what were then parts of the Russian Empire (and what are now independent nations with separate cultural identities) and so he symbolically represents the kind of incompetent analysis (highlighted by Jason in his review of the buffoon’s book) which conflated the Russian soul with various ethnic groups that were subjects in the polyglot Russian (and later Soviet) state.
1/7/2020 10:32:46 am
But did you give his country album a listen?
1/8/2020 12:59:02 am
This just proves we're the same persimmon, but I go along with the crowd and consider Nashville Skyline "the country album."
1/8/2020 10:40:25 am
Freshman year, my roommate arrived on campus with thirty-three Bob Dylan albums. Thirty-three. I'm a bit fuzzy on all the names of them.
1/14/2020 01:21:46 am
Thank you for every other excellent article. Where else may anybody get
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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