Nicholas Roerich was a poet, artist and eminent man of learning who had emigrated from White Russia and settled in Paris. He was regarded as one of the most distinguished of the Theosophical elite of the period. Apart from searching for the home of the Mahatmas, the purpose of his scientific expedition across Tibet and Xinjiang to Altai (1923-26) was never made entirely clear in his diary, but appears to have been related to the return of a certain sacred stone to its rightful home in the King’s Tower in the center of Shambhala.
The stone was said to be part of a much larger meterorite possessed of occult properties called the Chintamani Stone, which was capable of giving telepathic inner guidance and effecting a transformation of consciousness to those in contact with it. The black stone of the Ka’aba at Mecca and that of the ancient shrine of Cybele, the Goddess-Mother of the Near East, are both believed by some occultists to be pieces of this magicalmeterorite, which is alleged to have come from a solar system in the constellation of Orion, probably Sirius [part of Canis Major]. The Orion constellation, we may note, is a recurring motif in the Shambhalic story. According to lamaist lore, a fragment of the Chintamani Stone from what is probably the star Sirius [there seem to be actually three of them] is sent wherever a spiritual mission vital to humanity is set up, and is returned when that mission is completed. Such a stone was said to be in the possession of the failed League of Nations, its return being entrusted to Roerich.”
– _Shambhala_ – by Victoria LePage
An early UFO report in 1929 (18 years before Kenneth Arnold filed his famous report which lead newspapers to coin the term “flying saucers”) may be instructive. In a valley in between Mongolia and Tibet, a team of Norwegians and sherpas had just completed building a shrine dedicated to Shambhala. (To Tibetan lamas, Shambhala [which means “quietude”] is a secret place of enlightenment in the northern mountains.)
“On August fifth – something remarkable! We were in our camp in theKukunor district not far from the Humboldt Chain. In the morning about half-past nine some of our caravaneers noticed a remarkably big black eagle flying over us. Seven of us began to watch this unusual bird. At this same moment another of our caravaneers remarked, ‘There is something far above the bird’. And he shouted in his astonishment. We all saw, in a direction from north to south, something big and shiny reflecting the sun, like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp the thing changed in its direction from south to southwest. And we saw how it disappeared in the intense blue sky. We even had time to take our field glasses and saw quite distinctly an oval form with shiny surface, one side of which was brilliant from the sun.”
– Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya
Henry A. Wallace, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s two-term secretary of agriculture, sampled a great many religious creeds, studying Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, and Christian Science, among others. He also investigated secret societies and Eastern cults, developing a fondness for the arcane symbols and practices favored by such groups. By the time he entered politics, Wallace had incorporated bits and pieces of these many forms of worship and magic into a highly idiosyncratic religious view. He would later describe his personal faith as a form of pantheism in which science, nature, and religion were all one and the same – this in an era when Middle America was not so tolerant of exotic spiritual ideas as it would later become.
Not long after Wallace assumed his post at the Department of Agriculture, he became acquainted with a strangely charismtic Russian emigre named Nikolay Konstantinovich Roerich. A painter by profession, Roerich looked more like a Chinese alchemist or perhaps a Buddhist monk. He was a small man with a bald head, a long white goatee, and a soothingly quiet voice.
The Russian had achieved his most lasting notoriety in 1913, when he designed sets and costumes for the premier in Paris of Igor Stravinsky’s controversial ballet _The Rite Of Spring_, which had featured dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. By 1933 however, Roerich’s artistic contributions were largely behind him, and he had given himself over to consuming interests in Russian politics and mystical experience. In pursuit of the latter, he had traveled extensively across Asia, making lengthy visits to China, Mongolia, Tibet, Sikkim, Kashmir, and Turkistan.
Somewhere along the line, Roerich became involved with the Theosophical Society, a mystical orgnaization established in the nineteenth century by another, more illustrious Russian emigre, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The Theosophists had made it their business to inculcate the West with the teachings of Eastern religions and various mystical philosophies. And in keeping with a pattern of established leaders of this group, Roerich set himself up as a guru to a small circle of admirers. Among his supporters in Europe were the Nobel Prize-winning Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore and composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. But Roerich found a particularly warm embrace in the United States, where he attracted a circle of wealthy devotees.
By the time he crossed paths with Henry Wallace, he was ensconced in a twenty-nine-story apartment house built for his purposes on Riverside Drive in New York City. The lower floors of this nearly three-million-dollar building were given over to a vast collection of Roerich’s paintings, and the donors had come to think of their teacher as nothing less than a living deity.
The business matter that brought Roerich and Wallace in contact was a pet project of the guru called the Roerich Paca and Banner of Peace. This was an ambitious scheme to make all thenations of earth signatories to a convention protecting religious sites and cultural treasures in the event of war. In concept, the pact was little different from international agreements forswearing the destruction of hospitals in battle. Wallace was so taken with Roerich’s plan – and promoted it so energetically – that in 1935, delegates from twenty-one nations turned out to put their names to the agreement at a White House ceremony. Franklin Roosevelt himself presided over the gathering. Not much is known with certainty about the relationship that developed between Wallace and Roerich in the aftermath of this success venture. They met face to face only once, but it appears that the cabinet officer took it upon himself to master the Russian’s teachings. In the process, he would certanly have pondered of of the guru’s central obsessions – the quest for Shambhala. As depicted in Roerich’s writings, Shambhala was a hidden place where holy men studied an enlightened way of life and waited for the time when they would inherit the earth.
Wallace pursuaded his fellow cabinet officer, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., to make a change in the U.S. currency. An exotic-looking symbol of a pyramid with an all-seeing eye at its apex had long been part of the Great Seal of the United States. At Roerich’surging, Wallace convinced his colleague to make the symbol a fixture on the back of every one-dollar bill. Morgenthau later claimed that it was not until after the change had been made that he learned of the pyramid’s “cabalisticsignificance for members of a small religious sect.”
“Better than the surrealists, though, is good old Nick Roerich, whose joint at Riverside Drive and 103rd Street is one of my shrines in the pest zone. There is something in his handling of perspective and atmosphere which to me suggests other dimensions and alien orders of being–or at least, the gateways leading to such. Those fantastic carven stones in lonely upland deserts–those ominous, almost sentient, lines of jagged pinnacles–and above all, those curious cubical edifices clinging to precipitous slopes and edging upward to forbidden needle-like peaks!” (to James F. Morton, March 1937)
track _Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)_ MP3 (34:45) by Igor Stravinsky (1913) by Igor Stravinsky (1913)
- In the book, _Nicholas Roerich: Messenger of Beauty_ (published by Inner Trad 1994), Jacqueline Decter recounts a story of how Roerich offered Stravinsky two possible scenarios for a new ballet: “A Game of Chess” or “The Great Sacrifice”. Stravinsky chose “The Great Sacrifice” for what was to become _Le Sacre du Printemps_.