Nicholas Roerich: The Artist Who Would Be King

Nicholas Roerich: The Artist Who Would Be King

By John McCannon
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022. 616 pp., hardcover, $50.

To his admirers, Nicholas Roerich was, as John McCannon writes in his excellent biography, a “benign sage . . . imbued with the compassion and social conscience of an Albert Schweitzer or a Gandhi.” To his detractors, McCannon writes, Roerich was “a spy, a huckster, or a lunatic.”

In the United States, Roerich was accused of a Rasputin-like relationship with Henry A. Wallace, secretary of agriculture in the 1930s and vice president of the United States in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term, from 1941 to 1945. This would cause a scandal that played a role in thwarting Wallace’s renomination for vice president in 1944—a turn of events that led to Harry Truman, not Wallace, to assume the presidency on the death of Roosevelt the following year.

In his native Russia, Roerich is appreciated for his paintings recalling the nation’s past. Roerich was the most significant artist working with the themes of Russian Symbolism, a movement that looked to Russia’s imperial past and its rich spiritual heritage. He was an influential chronicler of the nation’s architecture, twice traveling the width of the Russian Empire to paint fortresses, monasteries, and monuments for publication, and worked closely with his occasional adversary Sergei Diaghilev on set designs for the groundbreaking Ballets Russes.

Arguably even more significant than Roerich’s artistic work was his dedication to protecting the art and culture of the larger world. Perhaps moved by those two voyages, Roerich would devote himself to the preservation of art and architecture during wartime. His campaign for a “Banner of Peace”—a red circle surrounding three spheres on a field of white, to be prominently displayed on sites of cultural significance to warn off aerial bombings, akin to the symbol of the International Red Cross—won the backing of approximately two dozen nations, including the United States.

Roerich was also an accomplished mystic. Guided by his equally impressive wife, Helena, he studied Hindu scriptures and was attracted to Theosophy. He wrote a series of poems called the Flowers of Morya cycle during the tumultuous years after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a cataclysm that drove the Roerichs out of Russia and onto a lengthy spiritual quest across India and Tibet.

Roerich came to believe that the Mahatmas were communicating with him through Helena and had directed him to unify the peoples of Asia in preparation for the coming of the Buddha Maitreya and the emergence of a sacred nation led by the hidden king of Shambhala.

Such a life could make for a series of fascinating biographies, but McCannon does an admirable job of introducing this compelling figure in this one volume. It is an extraordinary voyage into the life of a multifaceted individual, whose existence resonates across the realms of artistry, mysticism, and geopolitics. McCannon unveils a figure whose ambitions transcended the traditional boundaries of artistic expression, delving into the profound depths of mysticism while concurrently striving for global influence.

Roerich’s story, as told by McCannon, ventures far beyond the confines of conventional artistic endeavors. It traverses the intricate landscapes of geopolitics and mysticism, a terrain that McCannon navigates with ease. He delves into the intricacies and controversies surrounding Roerich’s geopolitical ambitions, prompting profound reflections on the parallels with our contemporary global landscape. This biography also skillfully contextualizes Roerich’s actions within broader historical and geopolitical frameworks, fostering a nuanced comprehension of Roerich’s impact.

The first seven of the book’s sixteen chapters deal with Roerich’s years in Russia. If anything, McCannon gives short shrift to Roerich’s artistic output, noting that “there is an excellent literature dealing with his art” that he does not want to repeat.

McCannon is more interested in the Roerichs’ travels after fleeing Russia and the emergence of their joint spiritual philosophy. He wonders if husband and wife developed a “shared psychotic disorder” through their nomadic years that culminated in the “messianic” quest of Nicholas Roerich—who at one point declared himself the reincarnation of the Fifth Dalai Lama—to rule a Himalayan state as a philosopher-king.

The author sets himself the task of showing “good judgment about Roerich without being judgmental.” In this, he largely succeeds, despite his skepticism about Roerich’s political ambitions. Ultimately, Nicholas Roerich: The Artist Who Would Be King stands as a testament to a multifaceted individual whose life journey continues to intrigue, inspire, and confound.

Peter Orvetti 

Peter Orvetti, a writer and former divinity student residing in Washington, D.C., is marketing communications coordinator for the TSA.


Proof of Life after Life: Seven Reasons to Believe There Is an Afterlife

Proof of Life after Life: Seven Reasons to Believe There Is an Afterlife

Raymond A. Moody and Paul Perry
Boulder, Colo.: Beyond Words/Atria. 2023. 240 pp., paperback, $17.

Raymond Moody is an American philosopher and psychiatrist whose 1975 book Life after Life (1975) was the first one to discuss near-death experiences (NDEs); in fact, Moody was the first one to use the term NDE. Another author of this book is journalist, author, and documentarist Paul Perry. He has written several books on NDEs; six have been cowritten with Moody. Since the author’s voice in Proof of Life after Life is clearly Moody’s, I will refer to Moody as the author below.

Many books have been published on NDE research, but what makes this one special is Moody’s willingness to state that now there is enough objective evidence to show the existence of the afterlife. As a philosopher, Moody felt for a long time that merely collecting people’s subjective, albeit impressive, experiences at the gate of death does not afford sufficient objective evidence for rational belief in life after death. Let’s see what changed Moody’s assessment.

Moody adopted the term shared death experience (SDE) in his earlier writings. SDEs are experiences in which one or more others share in a dying person’s transition. In extreme cases, this can mean that a living person can leave her body, follow the dying person to the other side, and come back to talk about it. This is a rare experience: more commonly, people around the deathbed perceive a visiting entity or apparition. They do not necessarily recognize the entity at first but may later identify it as a long-deceased relative. Some report having seen a misty formation leaving the body of the dying person, or they may observe light that is not coming from any natural source. Sometimes a dying loved one can appear from a long distance.

In addition to these experiences, Moody proposes the following lines of evidence:

Many near-death experiencers report having an out-of-body experience allowing them to observe their surroundings and activities in a way that can be verified after resuscitation. In my opinion, these are potentially the best sources of objective evidence.

The NDE experience has a transforming effect on the personality and values of the experiencer, who may, for example, change their careers to ones better aligned with their new values.

Terminal lucidity sometimes precedes death in deeply demented people and even in those considered to be brain-dead.

Some report spontaneous healing or new skills after the NDE.

Moody presents one more line of evidence from the practice of gazing into a mirror or some other reflective surface in a dimly lit room; the name for this is psychomanteum. Using this process, some have reported having seen deceased relatives in the mirror, even conversing with them. Others may not experience anything in a mirror-gazing session, although the deceased relatives may present themselves afterward.

Moody became fascinated by the psychomanteum to the extent that he built a room in his home for that purpose. He started receiving test subjects who wanted to have contact with their deceased loved ones. Moody had certain criteria for the test subjects: they had to be mature people interested in human consciousness, emotionally stable, and free from mental disorders. Moreover, he did not accept people with “occult ideologies,” since this could complicate the analysis of the results.

Moody conducted the pilot study in 1992 and reported that about half of the test subjects had seen a deceased individual in the mirror. This had a positive effect on the subjects: they ceased to fear death and achieved a kinder and more understanding outlook on life. Six subjects reported having an actual conversation with the deceased loved one.

Moody’s experiment has been replicated by parapsychologist William Roll. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, he found that 22 percent of the participants reported a strong sense of reunion with a departed loved one during mirror gazing. Moreover, these participants felt that the experience helped them in their grief process.

I found the shared-death and related experiences to be the most rewarding parts of the book. (There is other scientific research on the topic, for example the Shared Crossing Research Initiative.) I concur that SDEs strongly suggest objective evidence of the afterlife.

What could be said about this book from the point of view of Theosophy, which, after all, has detailed descriptions of the stages of the afterlife? Explaining NDEs and SDEs requires a novel understanding of what a human being is. Theosophical perspectives on matters such as etheric and astral bodies could be very valuable in this regard.

Antti Savinainen

What Time Is It Really?

Printed in the  Spring 2024 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Keene Douglas "What Time Is It Really?" Quest 112:2, pg 2

By Douglas Keene
National President

Douglas_KeeneWe use time and space to locate ourselves in the physical universe, and yet they present great mysteries. These two define the four dimensions which we use to orient ourselves, determine our relationship to objects on our planet, and even locate it within the greater vastness.

I recall when I was a teenager first coming to the realization of the infinity of time and space. I was perplexed by this paradox: logic would seem to dictate that each of these entities simultaneously could not be infinite and yet could not be less than infinite. No matter how they were defined, there would always have to be something before and beyond.

While this mental conundrum could be frightening to some (including my mother), I found it fascinating that these measures, which seemed so familiar, could be so indecipherable. To me it implied something mysterious and wonderful, something greater than ourselves.

The American novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Apparently he was suggesting that we carry our past with us, as it is an integral part of ourselves. He may have been more correct than he suspected in that when time is suspended, past, present, and future merge into the ever present now.

Albert Einstein once quipped, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” More seriously, he wrote in a letter to the grieving family of a dying friend: “People like us who believe in physics know the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” He recognized that in physics, time depends on motion and gravitation, shown in his Special Theory of Relativity. The rate at which time passes changes depending on your frame of reference.

From the Theosophical perspective, H.P. Blavatsky wrote: “Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration, and it does not exist where no consciousness exists in which the illusion can be produced” (Secret Doctrine, 1:37).

Both Einstein and Blavatsky refer to the passage of time as an illusion. Merriam-Webster defines illusion as “a misleading image presented to the vision” or “perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature.” This differs from a delusion, where “a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary.” HPB’s reference to illusion suggests we are perceiving time incorrectly, although the basis of this misperception nevertheless exists.

Sloka 1 in The Secret Doctrine reads: “The Eternal Parent (Space), wrapped in her ever-invisible robes, had slumbered once again for seven eternities.”

This introduces the concept of eternity. Here we have not one eternity, but seven. Eternity is not merely an enormous period of time, but understood as infinite time by some (if the concept of time can be applied at all). The passage appears to be metaphorical, but what is its inner meaning?

Sloka 2 goes on to say: “Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration.”

Here time is not infinite, but absent. Could this be the same thing? This strains the rational mind, and even the imagination. How can entities and events occur in the absence of time?

The early Theosophist Gottfried de Purucker wrote:

Time exists most emphatically, it is an illusion, a maya, which merely means we find it very difficult to understand it and do not understand it exactly as it should be understood; but that is not time’s fault, that is our fault. Our understanding is too weak to grasp it as it is, as it exists. Therefore, we call it a maya to us. In English we say an illusion. Yes, but illusion does not mean something that does not exist. If it did not exist, obviously it would not be an illusion. It means something which deludes our understanding, an illusion or a delusion to us.

We now have the concepts of time, eternity, and duration. How do these three relate to each other, and more importantly, what was meant by these terms in our foundational literature, particularly The Secret Doctrine?

HPB did not see eternity as endless or infinite. It was merely a long passage of time, as we see in the following passage from the Collected Writings: “We Westerns are foolish enough to speculate about that which has neither beginning nor end, and we imagine that the ancients must have done the same. They did not, however: no philosopher in days of old ever took ‘Eternity’ to mean beginningless and endless duration.” She used the term duration to indicate timelessness, with the absence of past, present, and future. When questioned about this difference between time and duration, she offered the following response:

Q. What is the difference between Time and Duration?
A. Duration is; it has neither beginning nor end. How can you call that which has neither beginning nor end, Time? Duration is beginningless and endless; Time is finite.
Q. Is, then, Duration the infinite, and Time the finite conception?
A. Time can be divided; Duration—in our philosophy, at least—cannot. Time is divisible in Duration—or, as you put it, the one is something within Time and Space, whereas the other is outside of both. (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 10:308, 310)

We may get a small taste of this distinction in dreams. Although we often dream in sequences, time is fluid. We may feel an urgency to find someone or something, but then we find ourselves in another place, which is not clearly before or after. Scientists tell us that in the time it takes to roll out of bed until we hit the floor, we may experience a dream, seemingly lasting for hours, before we awaken.

We must ask ourselves, “How can this knowledge help?” As we struggle in our often fragile lives and in an uncertain world, how are we to understand timelessness?

Part of the answer is to be aware that timelessness can and does exist, however foreign it might be to us in our day-to-day (lower) mind. As we stretch ourselves in seeking the higher mind and beyond, to the buddhic consciousness, we also reach beyond the constraints of time, including mortality. The cycle of birth and death can only exist within time, and someday we will be able to step outside the prison of our own perspective, which constrains us to maya (illusion). There is a comfort in knowing that timelessness exists, where there is no need to race the clock.

There is a divine presence which can hold us and protect us. We can find it, for it is hidden deep within ourselves, containing our own truest Self, in the higher reaches of our being. In that space we can find the radiant light that holds the secrets there for us.  As Annie Besant has written: “There is a peace that passeth understanding; it abides in the hearts of those who live in the eternal; there is a power that maketh all things new; it lives and moves in those who know the self as one.”

Let us seek it together.


Rising Up into the Divine: World Mystics on the Ascent of Your Soul

Rising Up into the Divine: World Mystics on the Ascent of Your Soul

by Lucia Lena Hodges
Winchester, Ore.: Inner Sound Press, 2023; 420 pp. paper, $19.99.

H.P. Blavatsky declared that her work was a synthesis of philosophy, science, and religion. The same might be said for Lucia Lena Hodges’ newly self-published book, Rising Up into the Divine: World Mystics and the Ascent of Your Soul. Like HPB’s work, Hodges traces the various paths laid down by earlier mystics and spiritual teachers and how they influenced the teachings of subsequent followers.

Hodges, who describes herself as a “spiritual seeker” and “independent scholar,” presents us with a well-researched book that is a journey through many spiritual traditions and beliefs, philosophical systems, and science, from ancient Eastern and Middle Eastern understanding to modern quantum physics.

Hodges begins with her own experience at age twelve, when she felt the need to look up and had the realization that many of the adults in her life had “forgotten about the most important Person in the world.” When she looked a bit higher, she “realized in awe that some part of me actually was God.” In her exploration through libraries, Hodges encountered far more than her Catholic upbringing taught her, and she began to question.

Over the course of four years—much of it during the isolation of the pandemic—Hodges researched how each of these great teachers and traditions “reflected a bit of the beautiful light of the One in their own particular shade of vibrancy.” She came to “realize that ultimate Truth is not relative but rather a Divine constant, analogous to the speed of light which shines true in all frames of reference.” She intuitively weaves the threads of many of the worlds’ mystics, philosophers, and scientists from ancient to modern times to reveal the inner path.

Quoting extensively from the best-known writings and spiritual teachers, Hodges shows the similarity of their revelations through the ages as their traditions evolved, each building on themes that came before: heaven and the idea of ascent; the “universal framework” of the Trinity, including a personal Trinity; levitation and miracles; inner light and sound; spirit and soul; and many others. The word “up” especially seems to fascinate Hodges as she explores the etymology of that word in relation to God (One chapter is entitled “So Why Is God Up?”).

In the section titled “Steps into the Science of Spirituality,” Hodges begins with the eighteenth-century Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg, a true Renaissance man who not only mastered many of the arts and sciences of his time but became aware of both the inner and outer worlds as a mystic. Many spiritually guided people who came after Swedenborg were greatly influenced by his writings, including Emerson, whose essay on Swedenborg paid homage to his greatness.

Hodges covers Theosophy extensively throughout the book (one chapter is “Why Should We Believe Theosophists?”). HPB’s writings, including The Secret Doctrine and The Voice of the Silence, play a large role in Hodges’ book. Hodges also refers to the ideas of Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater in their book Occult Chemistry and in Leadbeater’s books The Monad, The Inner Side of Things, and The Inner Life, as well as others. On the topic of levitation and whether it is possible, Hodges quotes Leadbeater’s book The Astral Plane: “Occult science is acquainted with a means of neutralizing or even entirely reversing the attraction of gravity, and it is obvious that by the judicious use of this power all the phenomena of levitation may be easily produced.”

She includes several twentieth-century influencers of the modern spiritual path, including Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the Summit Lighthouse, under whom Hodges studied for many years, and Ernest Holmes, founder of the Science of Mind (aka Religious Science), and she traces the history of the New Thought tradition. Many of these groups were clearly affected by the Theosophical Society and adopted ascended Masters as part of their teachings, as Hodges notes.

Hodges includes quantum physicists in her collection of those contributing to the spiritual path. For example, John Hagelin, a Harvard particle physicist who is the leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the United States, “proposed that consciousness is the ultimate unified field theory.”

Theosophists will find Hodges’ book an interesting journey, filled along the way with familiar names and teachings. Like HPB in her day, she astutely connects the dots, offering a comprehensive view of the three prongs of science, philosophy, and religion. Her hope for this book is that it will help the reader “ascend into your own higher consciousness, should you choose this challenging but exciting adventure.”

Clare Goldsberry

Clare Goldsberry’s latest book, The Illusion of Life and Death, was reviewed in Quest, spring 2022.


The Metaphysics of Cocreation

Printed in the  Spring 2024 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Nesky, Andrew "The Metaphysics of Cocreation" Quest 112:2, pg 2

By Andrew Nesky

Andrew NeskyWestern consciousness has lived in generally prosperous circumstances for a very long time. In circumstances of general peace and plenty, greed and egoism have few barriers to their growth and ascension to authority. Saying no to egoism and pleasure-seeking is difficult under the direst circumstances but is much more difficult when times are good.

Egoism relies on the relative stability of the unearned resources it steals. Even though it can’t make more of the resource it plunders, it has no hesitancy about taking the last of it. When ego is in control of such resources, it isn’t long before they are undermined. We are in a time when personal, social, and even physical resources are in dire jeopardy of being pulled out from under our feet.

No one can embrace a paradigm that leads to personal and social destruction without being dangerously lost in an egotistic worldview—and yet, in our age, many would destroy what they cannot replace. This path requires ignorance of the deadly cost of the ego’s success.

In earlier ages, it was difficult for ego to gain the level of undue advantage it has now. Corrupt styles of egoism were not empowered and usually died on the vine. It was more challenging to harness the immediate, rapt attention of the masses and feed the throng ego-fortifying candy.

Never has there been a time when so many ego addicts can be cultivated. Unfortunately, our modern era has created a paradigm where we can instantly communicate with billions. We can cater to the most extreme and flawed perspectives by connecting and validating the minority that espouses them. At this moment, our collective disdain for egoism must be cultivated and advertised, or it will inevitably bring our destruction.

The ongoing work of adult consciousness is simple: it is ordained by the universe itself. It is the work that began at the creation of modern human consciousness as it was described in Genesis and must be continued for humanity to prosper.

The secret is that the universe runs not on simple creation, but on cocreation, a process by which the creation beyond our comprehension joins with our ability to create meaning in every moment. Rather than explain this mystery in technical concepts, it is better to express it allegorically.


The Cocreation

The Adena people, a native Indian tribe, were common to [the panhandle] of West Virginia . . . during the Woodland Period, an era lasting from about 1000 BC to 700 AD . . . A hunter-gatherer society, [the Adena] were referred to as the “mound builders.”

Stephen and Stacy Soltis, West Virginia, Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places


Long ago, in the unspoiled wilderness of North America, humans and God lived together. In this time, there were many quiet places where they talked to each other; God gave direction, and his children listened and performed his tasks. As they progressed in their understanding, their Father gave them more important work, until finally they grew beyond childhood. Shedding the cloak of their childish identity, they found they had new ears for new sounds. For the first time, they heard the voice their Father used to describe the most crucial labor: the creation of the universe.

In the time before the world, God began the divine project. His children were seeds sown in his last solitary act. Having planted creation, the Creator retired, for to impress form any further would yield only soulless statuary. It was now time to wait, watch, and tend the Garden—for growth must originate from within.

Born from the flesh of Mother Earth and given life from the heart of their Father, the children grew. It was his wish that they grow straight and tall, and that one day they would bear the good fruit of the Garden’s renewal.

Now in its time, as the seeds of wisdom began to develop inside the people, they saw they were created by their Father’s will and that their hearts beat from his own. They learned that all they needed could be found in the song sung from their Father’s heart and that by following the music, they would find themselves in the places that were made for them before time began. The children learned beyond all doubt that their only duty was to continue their Father’s Way.

With the barest of tools, Native American villagers quarried bushel after bushel of earth from the body of the Great Mother, as their Father had done when he first made the Garden. Entire tribes moved like unending lines of ants, carrying their sacred treasure to the place God provided for his purpose. As each new generation consecrated their season by bringing their offerings to the sacred project, earth was piled upon generations of earth until mounds as high as seven men and so vast that an entire village could fit onto their hilltops grew to meet new horizons.

On the evening of the day the last earth was carried to the mound, the workers mounted the new land and began to consecrate their universe to their Father. The tribe sang, danced, and prayed throughout the time of darkness until it was time for the darkness to pass.

Hearing the footsteps of Light’s messenger at the eastern edge of the universe, the villagers turned toward the sound and began to make day. As the footsteps grew closer, the tribe sang praises to Sun, the great messenger of Light. With great zeal, they called out, promising their help with his journey. When at last the edges of Sun’s cargo painted the new world’s first misty horizon, the people of God took Sun’s hand. While their Father pushed, they pulled: from their lips came words of encouragement and welcome. As their Father lifted Sun from beneath the world, dedicated human minds, hearts, and bodies encouraged and steadied Sun’s journey through time to the place at the top of the sky.

By lending their hand to the labor of nature, the people’s added strength and attention caused pale existence to flush with the hearty, rosy-cheeked glow of renewed richness, vitality, and goodness. From this first successful dawn, the children inherited their birthright. Taking their place at their Father’s side, they grasped his yoke and with him turned forward the Wheel of Life.

Andrew Nesky is president of the Pittsburgh Lodge of the TSA. This article is adapted from his book Roots of Discord: The Metaphysics of Human Suffering; A Warning.


About the Author:

Andrew Nesky has diverse credentials in many areas. He is a 32nd Degree Freemason and has twice been elected to the position of Worshipful Master of a Masonic Lodge. As a spiritual leader and educator Andrew has held a long Presidency for the Theosophical Society in Pittsburgh. He is an actor with hundreds of stage and screen performances. Mr. Nesky has achieved awards in competitive public speaking and debate and has coached many high-level competitors in those events. He is a nationally recognized security and fire system expert and was awarded instructor of the year by the American security industry in 2021. You can view his pioneering webcasted talk show investigating science, philosophy, and spirituality “Outer Streams” on YouTube.