The Mahatmas in the Soviet Union: Concordia Antarova’s Two Lives

Author: Marina Alexandrova

The 1923 ban on occult societies in the Soviet Union drove them underground and led to the appearance of an underground network of spiritual seekers who continued to share the ideas of spiritualism, Anthroposophy, Theosophy, and other occult teachings (Carlson 176). After a new campaign against the “bourgeois intelligentsia” had been launched in 1929, when membership in such groups became punishable by exile or execution, Russian Theosophists continued to gather secretly in private apartments, copied important esoteric works and maintained their activities through clandestine correspondence. Many of the “Soviet occultists” kept their spiritual quest so well-hidden that it was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that their legacy emerged from private collections of unpublished works. One such example is found in the life and works of the distinguished Bolshoi Theater soloist and Honored Artist of the RSFSR (1933) Concordia Antarova (1886–1959). She was famous as a singer and keeper of the director Konstantin Stanislavsky’s legacy (1863–1938) but virtually unknown as an esoteric writer whose lengthy novel Two Lives became a sensation when it was first officially published in 1993.

Antarova in “Prince Igor”, 1910s © Wikipedia

Seen in the context of Theosophy and its reliance on the messages from ‘Ascended’ Teachers to provide guidance to its members, Antarova’s work emerges as a peculiar amalgam of the ideas of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy, Roerichs’ Agni Yoga (Living Ethics), and certain features of Gurdjieff’s/Ouspensky’s system, adapted for the unique circumstances of life in the Soviet Union during WWII. A truly epic novel with its almost 2,000 pages, Two Lives follows the adventures of the young and impressionable Levushka, a figure loosely based on Leo Tolstoy, navigating through various life experiences under the guidance of teachers who instruct him how to become a better version of himself. Set in a variety of locales, including Constantinople, London, and the Himalayas, the novel features a sprawling cast of characters, from a group of Teachers, based on Blavatsky’s Mahatmas, to their disciples, or chelas, in various stages of spiritual evolution, to villains who engage in black magic and conspire to destroy the protagonists. The spiritual teachings in the novel come not only from Ascended Teachers but also from historical characters like Helena Blavatsky herself (Natalia Andreeva in the novel), portrayed in an idyllic setting of the distant “Commune” where select disciples undergo the next stage of their apprenticeship.

Not much is known about the history of the novel’s creation, apart from the decade – the 1940s – and the claim that it was the result of clairaudience, i.e., the ability to hear messages from beyond the audible range or observable reality. The co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), was the pioneer of this genre and claimed that all her works were written under the influence of her Ascended Teachers, the Mahatmas, or appeared before her as visions (see Blavatsky’s letters to her sister, Vera Zhelikhovskaya). While the authenticity of the so-called “Mahatma letters” received by several prominent Theosophists is still a much-debated topic, some allege that Blavatsky wrote them herself. In any case, they played an essential role in the early days of Theosophical community making and provided a blueprint for knowledge circulation for Theosophists long after Blavatsky’s death. Some of the prominent Theosophists who claimed to have been in contact with Blavatsky’s Teachers were Charles W. Leadbeater and the influential thinker Elena Roerich. Her system ‘Agni Yoga’, or ‘Living Ethics,’ was enthusiastically embraced by Russian spiritual seekers and seems to have deeply influenced Antarova’s worldview. In addition to the novel Two Lives, intended for Samizdat circulation among a select group of friends, Antarova penned other works, such as “Conversations with the Teacher. How to Live One’s Gray Day” and a series of teacher’s messages to spiritual seekers, including the revered spiritual elder and one-time Leo Tolstoy’s friend Zinaida Gagina. As a self-proclaimed conduit for esoteric knowledge, Antarova belonged to a network of female spiritual seekers, including Olga Obnorskaya, Anna Chekhova-Derviz, and Nadezhda Kostomarova. Her work, which was first published after the fall of the Soviet Union, became a crucial part of the Russian New Age.

Young Antarova, 1905 ©Wikipedia

The genre of “messages from the Teachers,” which claimed the same knowledge source as Helena Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), became an indispensable tool of community making for clandestine Theosophist circles in the Soviet Union when other activities were severely restricted or banned. In the form of collections of aphorisms, novels, and personal letters, these transcripts upheld the continuity of tradition and strengthened the members’ commitment to their cause. The genre also proved to be a productive one in the 1990s, when it engendered a large number of similar works and became a fixture in the post-Soviet spiritual landscape.

References:

{Antarova} Антарова, Конкордия Е. Две жизни. Москва: Сиринъ према, 1999.

Carlson, Maria. No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 18751922. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Menzel, Birgit. “The Occult Underground of Late Soviet Russia”. Aries 13, no. 2 (2013): 269–288.

{Sidorov} Сидоров, Валентин. Знаки Христа. Книга, 1992.

{Toots} Тоотс, Н. А. “Они жили в России“ Дельфис, no. 72, 2012.

Cite this article as: Marina Alexandrova “The Mahatmas in the Soviet Union: Concordia Antarova’s Two Lives”, in New Age in Russia, 17/03/2021, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/5614


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