The Kingdom of Agarttha: A Journey into the Hollow Earth

The Kingdom of Agarttha: A Journey into the Hollow Earth

Marquis Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre
translated by Jon E. Graham. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2008. 172 pages, paper, $14.95.

The Archeometer: Key to All the Religions and Sciences of Antiquity; Synthetic Reformation of All Contemporary Arts by the Marquis Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, translated by Ariel Godwin. Idyllwild, Calif.: Sacred Sciences Institute, 2008. xxxvi + 422 pages, hardcover, $300.

The Marquis (Joseph) Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre (1842–1909) was not the most peculiar figure to emerge out of the French occult revival of the late nineteenth century, but he was among the most influential, largely because he remains one of the first sources for the tantalizing myth of a mystical kingdom hidden away in Central Asia.

The early part of Saint-Yves' life was unremarkable. The son of a doctor, in the course of his education he saw a future role for himself as the Pythagoras of Christendom. If he didn't entirely live up to this grandiose ambition, he went some way toward it, as we shall see. As an adult, he was befriended by a number of prominent occultists, including a friend of Antoine Fabre d'Olivet, author of the occult classic The Hebraic Tongue Restored (from which Saint-Yves was later accused of plagiarizing), and the son of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the novelist and mystical adept. After a marriage to a wealthy noblewoman, Saint-Yves lived in high style in Paris and Versailles, although his desire to be accepted by the gruelingly snobbish French nobility was never fulfilled: his title, purchased from the papacy, did not in their eyes make him a genuine marquis.

In the 1880s, Saint-Yves published a number of works addressed both to occultists and to the world at large, propounding an esoteric view of what was wrong with the world and what was needed to set it right. The most ambitious of these, La mission des juifs ("The Mission of the Jews"), a 900-page secret history of the world published in 1884, has never been translated into English.

The next year, Saint-Yves took up the study of Sanskrit with one Hardji Scharipf, an individual of unknown (probably Afghan) origins who also styled himself "the Teacher and Professor H. S. Bagwandass of the Great Agartthian School." Saint-Yves pressed his teacher for more information about this school and was given to understand that Agarttha (the name is supposedly Sanskrit for "inaccessible to violence") was a secret, subterranean kingdom that was still flourishing somewhere in Central Asia.

In 1886, Saint-Yves published a book, Mission de l'Inde ("Mission of India"), which revealed his findings about this hidden kingdom: "In Asia alone there are a half a billion people who are more or less aware of its existence and its greatness—not to mention America, whose subterranean regions belonged to Agarttha in very remote antiquity." Saint-Yves foresaw that "certain powers, in their competition with each other across the whole of Asia" (i.e., Britain and Russia) would stumble upon this kingdom, but if they attempted to invade it, "every conquering army, even if it consisted of a million men, would see a repetition of the thundering response of the Temple of Delphi to the countless hordes sent by the Persian satraps."

As even these short quotes suggest, Saint-Yves' language is thunderous and bombastic and is likely to ring hollow to the reader of today. In any case, Saint-Yves had a mission to proclaim. The message of Agarttha was embodied in its system of government and, indeed, in the philosophy upon which the whole nation was supposedly based: a doctrine that Saint-Yves called "Synarchy" and which he claimed was Europe's only hope in order to avoid annihilation. By Synarchy he meant a unified government, both sacred and secular, that would include a "Sovereign Pontiff" who would "respect all that exists, give it his blessing, unite it in the same spirit of tolerance, and gather together all the teaching bodies at last reunited, in one bundle of Light, Wisdom, and Authority." The idea of Synarchy would later influence Rudolf Steiner, who would call for a "threefold social order" encompassing economy, politics, and culture, as well as some quasi-fascistic movements in twentieth-century Europe that were far from Saint-Yves' original vision.

After publishing Mission de l'Inde, Saint-Yves thought better of the matter and immediately withdrew the book from publication. As Joscelyn Godwin points out in his extremely valuable introduction, this was largely due to humiliation at being unfavorably depicted in a roman à clef written by his former lover, an opera singer, that appeared at the same time. As a result, Mission de l'Inde reached the public only after Saint-Yves' death in 1909. The Kingdom of Agarttha is the first version to appear in English.

But the idea of Agarttha did not die with Saint-Yves. It resurfaced in the 1920s, when Ferdinand Ossendowski, a Pole who had served in the White army during the Russian Civil War, published a highly successful memoir entitled Beasts, Men, and Gods that recounted his escape through Central Asia after the Whites' defeat. Ossendowski said that during his travels he heard legends of a figure called "the Lord of the World," the secret head of humanity, who was headquartered in a mystical kingdom called Agartthi. Scoffers claimed that Ossendowski had stolen the idea from Saint-Yves, but others, including the celebrated esotericist René Guénon, took Ossendowski at his word. Guénon wrote a monograph called The Lord of the World which upheld the claims of both Saint-Yves and Ossendowski.

Of course Agarttha is not the only hidden kingdom said to exist in Central Asia. There are Russian tales of a mystical country called Byelovodye ("Land of the White Waters") in the Altai Mountains. But the most famous legend of this kind is the Tibetan Shambhala, which the Dalai Lama has described as "a pure land which, except for those whose karma and merit have ripened, cannot be immediately seen or visited." It's hard to avoid seeing some connection between the Agarttha of Saint-Yves and the Tibetan Shambhala. As Godwin notes, some, probably most, esotericists have identified the two.

There's more to this rich and haunting saga than I can describe in a review, but Godwin's deft introduction to The Kingdom of Agarttha gives a clear picture. Nevertheless, if you haven't read much about the subject, this book is not the best place to start. A better introduction is Godwin's own Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, which is the most fascinating and far-reaching work to cover this topic, dealing not only with Saint-Yves and Agarttha but with various hollow earth theories and the weird Welteislehre ("world ice doctrine"), favored by the Nazis, which taught that originally the earth had been encased in ice.

Another teaching that Hardji Scharipf passed on to Saint-Yves was that of Vattan or Vattanian (sometimes spelled "Watan"; Saint-Yves also calls it "Adamic"), an otherwise unknown primordial tongue that shows some affinities with Senzar, a similarly mysterious language mentioned by H.P. Blavatsky. Saint-Yves recorded the Vattanian alphabet and claimed that it was the ancestor of both the Hebrew and the Sanskrit devanagari alphabets.

Saint-Yves deals with Vattan and similar subjects in another posthumous work, The Archeometer, which has also recently been translated into English for the first time. "Archeometer" sounds like the name for a device, and that is what it is. Dubbed by Saint-Yves as a "synthetic protractor of the higher studies," it is a colored wheel inscribed with a twelve-pointed star, inside of which are several other circles centering around a nine-pointed star. Supposedly integrating the symbols of the colors, planets, musical notes, and the letters of various alphabets (including Vattan), the Archeometer is "all at once the key to musician's sonometric scale, the painter's range of colors, and the architect's forms," according to Saint-Yves.

As a book, The Archeometer is vast, sprawling, and often incomprehensible, left unfinished by Saint-Yves at his death and imperfectly edited by a number of his pupils, including the French occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse). It not only describes the Archeometer as a tool but claims to trace the history of religion back to its roots. Unfortunately, as a synthesis of sacred science or indeed of anything, the Archeometer is disappointingly opaque. Godwin, whose son Ariel translated this text, sums up the situation thus: "I doubt that there is anyone today—even that there ever was anyone‑who shares the opinion of Saint-Yves: that the Archeometer is the result of the true, primordial wisdom of mankind...familiar to Moses and Jesus, but since preserved solely in the universities of the Brahmins, their very existence unsuspected to this day."

Despite these flaws, it's interesting at last to see The Archeometer, which, like many corners of the rich world of French occultism, has been hidden from the English-speaking world for so long. Nonetheless, this work is likely to be of interest chiefly to specialists and aficionados of the arcane (and, at $300 per copy, rich ones at that).

Finally, what of Saint-Yves' relations with Blavatsky? Despite the obvious resemblances, the two don't seem to have any real connection. In The Secret Doctrine (I, 471), Blavatsky labels Saint-Yves as a "French pseudo-Occultist," deriding his idea, expressed in La mission des juifs, that the Kali Yuga was a Golden Age and not, as most would have it, an age of darkness. Moreoever, in an early issue of the Theosophical journal Lucifer, an anonymous review (attributed to HPB) of a work by Papus contends that Saint-Yves is wrong in the degree of importance he attributes to the Jews in esoteric history (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, IX, 46). There is also the occasional contemptuous reference to Theosophy in The Archeometer. The upshot would seem to be that neither Blavatsky nor Saint-Yves owed much to the other and that neither one held the other in particularly high regard. But then the history of esotericism is rarely one of concord.

Richard Smoley