The Russian Heart of the East

Preliminary remarks (the beginning and end of positivist science) 

Sacred geography differs substantially from conventional, physical geography. We are accustomed to consider the earth as an orb, as a globe (in Latin, globus means “orb”). For us, the North is the top of the orb, and the South is the bottom. A globe can be rotated and, consequently, concepts of East and West slip away from our geographical attention. But when we present our earth as rotating in the solar system and in outer space, we generally digress from such concepts as cardinal directions. All of this seems to be so conventional! Understanding the world as standing on three pillars and the earth appearing to be a disk are relics of the “dark ages.” 

For a long time, scientific discoveries which have opened new horizons and succeeded each other at a furious pace have been accepted by people uncritically and with excessive enthusiasm. In turn, many have come to treat our ancestors’ map of the world with disdain and disgust and we have been inclined to consider our ancestors to be “dark,” “wild,” “primitive,” or having only recently ceased to be “apes.” 

Such a positivist attitude quickly finds itself confronted with a number of contradictions. The development of science has arrived at the problem of consciousness and the human factor in relation to natural phenomena. Here everything changes. It turns out that the mythological archetypes and systems of consciousness formed by culture, history, the environment, geography, and language have a strong influence on scientific methodology to the point that they “deform” these so-called “objective” material studies. 

This frustration has appeared at all levels in the omnipotent positivist sciences. Discoveries in the field of deep psychology and psychoanalysis have showed that the supposedly “rational” person is influenced by dark forces and impulses immured in the depths of the subconscious mind. In turn, linguists and psycholinguists have discovered a direct correlation between thinking and the specificities of language. Positivist philosophers were surprised to realize that such categories as the “atomic fact” simply do not exist and that no “fact” can be discussed beyond mere interpretation. Finally, in exploring the paradoxes of quantum mechanics, physicists have come to the conclusion that the presence or absence of the “observer” has a direct influence on the course of quantum processes. Thus, a subjective element has been introduced even into such a rigorous discipline as physics. 

In 1996, the famous American scientist John Horgan published a quite revealing book (a sort of manifesto), The End of Science [7] in which he was compelled to admit that all possible discoveries in the sphere of positivist science have already been concluded and that there is nothing more to discover. Long before him, however, the most astute minds of the West such as Rene Guenon, Mircea Eliade, Gustav Jung, Julius Evola, Martin Heidegger, etc. had already convincingly shown that modern scientific knowledge is in fact nothing more than a special variety of mythology, which in effect means that mankind remains the same as it was before. Mankind’s “development” and “progress” ultimately bear a cyclical, and not a progressive character.

No matter from what point of view we look, one thing is clear: the era of optimistic materialism and positivism has ended. This means that a new understanding of ancient mythological constructions is on the agenda along with a rehabilitation of those various disciplines and sciences which earlier were too hastily left under the category of those being primitive and overcome. Hence the constantly growing interest in mythology, the history of religions, alchemy, magic, and astrology displayed by the most sober representatives of modern science. Humanity, although changing, remains itself and therefore any skepticism in regards to the past and the civilizations of the past is no longer acceptable. 

We must now set aside the globe, forget about the pieces of material floating in lifeless space, and appeal to the enchanted world of sacred geography, the wonderful world in which our ancestors lived, prospered, loved, killed their enemies, and gradually and persistently shaped our culture, our psychology, and our spirit. It is time to return to the myth. This means returning to the magical, sacred, and amazing country of Holy Rus. 

Polar mountains in the middle of the continent 

First and foremost, certain patterns in the sacred geography of the ancient world should be noted. All the ancient cultures that come to mind when we speak of the ancient world were geographically located to the south of the mountain chain that crosses the entire Eurasian continent from the West to the East. This is a very important point. Of course, peoples and tribes lived and created cultures and civilizations to the north of this great ridge, but these “northern” territories from Celtica to Siberia and Mongolia were either preceded by the southern civilizations or were formed later as if on the edges of the southern world. We will not discuss this problem here seeing as how there exists a variety of opinions. 

The following point is more important for us. The sacred-geographical models of world order which became more or less universal in the Ancient World were located in the area south of the Eurasian ridge without exception. It is precisely on the basis of these southern models of the world that later geographical representations were developed all the way up to the point when modern “globe geography” emerged which dramatically (and apparently too quickly) divorced its ancient heritage. 

The pole of Southern civilizations encompasses:

  • the Mediterranean area from the Maghreb (Tunisia and Morocco) to the Iberian Peninsula to Italy, Greece, and Anatolia in the North and Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, and Sumerian in the South
  • Mesopotamia and Persia (Elam)
  • India
  • China
  • Indochina

All of these cultural circles were bordered by the mountains to the North which constantly played a huge role in these civilizations’ conceptions of sacred geography. Each and every one of the southern civilizations shrouded the northern mountain range in myths and legends as a special, mysterious area. 

The Pyrenees mountains separated modern Spain and France in the far West of Eurasia north of the columns of Hercules. These mountains had a massive mythological significance and were associated with the labors of Hercules in his sacred-geographical journeys. The Pyrenees received their name from the Iberian princess Pyrene, Hercules’ lover whom he left and who, according to myth, grieves for him even now. 

The druids considered these places to be sacred and in the Christian world the most important European pilgrimage route to Compostela and the Tomb of St. James ran through them. 

These same Pyrenees mountains acquired important sacred meaning in the era of the Albigensian heresy. Ancient legends come to life in the traditions of the Cathars and their spiritual capital in the Pyrenees castle of Montsegur, where the last representatives of the “pure ones” under the leadership of the beautiful woman Esclarmonde de Foix were killed. At the last moment, according to the Languedoc traditions, she turned into a dove and flew away to the mysterious lands of the East. 

The sacred Alps are located in the north of Italy. 

In northern Greece there is Olympus (the abode of the Gods) and the most ancient and importance sanctuaries of the cult of Apollo were located in the Balkans and among the Carpathians.

The space above Mesopotamia, Anatolia (the ancient country of the Aryan Hittites), and Western Iran is occupied by the sacred mountains of the Caucasus with Elbrus, the polar mountain of Aryan mythology, and Ararat, the shrine of the ancient Armenian tradition. 

The Pamirs, Tien Shan, and the Himalayas stretch to the East. The north of India and China rest against the peaks of Tibet which were considered to be the “abode of the gods” in both Hinduism (especially the mountain of Kailas where “Shiva dwells with his Shakti, Parvati”), Buddhism, and the Chinese tradition. 

All of these observations clearly show that according to a certain and quite mysterious logic all known ancient civilizations operated with a fairly similar map of sacred geography similar at least to the extent that a mountain or chain of mountains existed in far North of the earth (identified as the extreme North of this given cultural region) which was considered to be the Axis of the Earth, the sacred pole, the magical source, and the highest shrine. The sacred mountain of the Hindus, Meru, possesses the same meaning. 

This relative North or sacred North was not only venerated and commemorated in complex cults and rituals. It was also surrounded by rather disturbing legends and myths. Even just approaching this shrine meant a strengthening of all supernatural energies at the same time. The “guardians of the threshold” which guarded the entrance to this center of the earth, the pole, naturally and logically strove to ward off those curious and block the unworthy from this path. 

Hence the disturbing and sinister themes associated with the North in sacred geography. In some cases, the subject of “Northern evil” became an independent force in itself and this orientation therefore acquired a particularly negative connotation. A legend existed in some Near-Eastern cultures in which mountains are the abodes of “demons” and the North is the focus of all evil. 

It is curious that the Northern direction has a negative character in the Jewish tradition in which the Northern country of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal is associated with the coming of the “Gogs and Magogs,” demonic tribes that are to appear on earth in the end times. 

The demonization of Northern European peoples (barbarians, especially the Celts and Picts) in Greco-Roman civilization is relatable to this category. The inhabitants of ancient Iran placed themselves in opposition to northern Turan on the same grounds. The Chinese saw the Northern nomads such as the Mongols, Jurchen, Manchurians, and later the Turks as the descendants of demons. In sacred geography, North is therefore both holy and demonic. 

Alas, this expression is not quite correct. The moralistic division of spheres into white and black appeared quite later. Until a certain point, as is the case in some archaic cults even today, sacred geography did not know such a division between “light” and “dark.” The otherworldly was perceived as something unified and equally opposite to the ordinary, profane world. In all cases, the transition from the profane to the sacred involves a collision with the periphery of the sacred, with its “dark” or “negative” side. Along the spiritual path to the center, the otherworldly pole, the darkness of the “guarded threshold” dissipates and the radiant world of the polar garden of paradise is revealed. 

In sacred geography, the Northern mountain, the axis of the world, was considered to be the point at which the mystery of the transition from the worldly to the otherworldly appears. Therefore, this point simultaneously inspired both awe and terror. 

The traditional civilizations of antiquity developed a quite similar map reducible in general terms in which the Northern lands adjacent to the Polar Mountain are endowed with a purely dualistic value. These were simultaneously the regions of hell and heaven insofar as contact with the otherworldly, localized in the North, meant entering an entirely new sphere in comparison with the ordinary world, one which was frightening and dangerous but simultaneously salvational and spiritual. 

On this note, we will note a curious detail. The Iranian tradition, which is generally characterized by a sharp dualism, stressed the contradiction between Iran and Turan (as the Ferdowsi expressed) which is very strict, almost in moralistic terms. Here the demonization of the North is comparable to the Jewish tradition (there are quite many similarities between them). In India, on the contrary, the accent is put on “non-dualism”, as is underlined in Advaitism. The sinister side of the North is emphasized least of all if one considers the link between the North and the Northern mountain of Kailas of Shiva the Destroyer who is not a negative or demonic character in Hinduism, but rather the transcendental form of the absolute that destroys the worldly and opens the otherworldly. This fits perfectly into the model of sacred geography which we have laid out. 

Lost and found Hyperborea 

Now we will turn to Russia and its place in sacred geography in the original map of the world.

The Russian lands lie to the north of the Eurasian mountain range that signified the center of the world in ancient civilizations. This means that, along with Central and Northern Europe, Russia is a purely Hyperborean territory. Rene Guenon pointed out the oddity of the Greek term “Hyperborea” which means not only “northern country,” but also “country lying on the other side of the north.” Guenon expressed bewilderment over the controversy and suggested to use the term “Borea,” “northern country,” which he contrasted with the Indian name for the magical northern continent of Varahi. However, this itself implies the conclusion that the name “Hyperborea” was totally justified in the case of the Greek map of sacred geography since “Borea” meant the Balkans and Carpathians, the mountains framing the northern ridge of the Apennine peninsula from the top, for the Greek world. It was not the “Borean” lands that lie behind these mountains, but precisely the “Hyperborean” lands. In such a case, everything falls into place. 

Therefore, Northern Eurasia, the main part of which is occupied by Russia, is Hyperborea in the truest sense. Precisely this name suits Russia more than any other in the context of sacred geography. 

If this is so, then the peoples of the East, never having contact with the ancient levels of culture and tradition (as the arrogant and narrow-minded men of the West have claimed), must have had a special relationship with Russia arising from precisely its Hyperborean location, its polar symbolism. 

Russia, therefore, is the country of polar archetypes, that place from which the founding ancestors of the ancient Eurasian civilizations of the South came. In principle, something similar could be said of Western Europe which occupies an analogous place on the general Eurasian mainland according to sacred-geographical symbolism. Indeed, we see that ever since the first centuries of Christianity, when the focus of civilizational attention was gradually transferred to north of the large ridge of eurasian mountains, it is precisely the space of Europe that began to be recognized as the land of “new sacrality,” as a newfound Hyperborea designed to become the center and stronghold of the “Christian ecumune,” the heart of the new Empire. Together with this, it is precisely the Germanic inhabitants of the northern European countries that became the ethnic axis of all Christian dynasties, possibly as a result of the polar significance which Hyperborea possesses in sacred geography. The Axis of the World, the polar mount, is thus the highest form of sacred monarchical power. The king in human society, the state, and the empire is the analogue of the “northern mountain.” 

But by the time of the schism of the Church, the value of the traits that divide Eurasia into East and West made itself felt with new force. Together with the Mediterranean area, the West gradually separated itself into a divided sacred-geographical system with its Hyperborea (Germanic lands), South (North Africa), East (the Levant), and “Far West” (Ireland, Britain, and later America). Eurocentrism is rooted in precisely this picture of the world and is meaningful exclusively in the borders in which it is justified from the point of view of sacred geography’s symbolism. 

The second part, whose original center was Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) and then Rus, already acquired an entirely different structure. Here Hyperborea is Northern Eurasia, Muscovy, the East-Pacific area and China and Indochina. The South is all of those lands lying south of the Eurasian mountains (from the Caucasus to Altai and Manchuria). The West is taken to be the entire space of the Catholic world, the Mediterranean, and the Maghreb. 

Thus, the Hyperborean function of Rus in the complex of sacred geography emerges all the more in its relation to the peoples and countries of Asia. Insofar as these cultures are influenced by the interaction of the general civilizational process, they were inevitably compelled to expand their understandings of world geography and discover the mysterious world of Northern Eurasia, the “otherwordly” country so disturbing and inspiring at the same time. 

This is the way in which the many peoples of Siberia and the Eurasian steppes, and later the Mongols and Tibetans, perceived the mission of the Russian Empire which to a large extent facilitated the development of Siberia by the Russians, something which was not a conquest or colonization in the full sense, but instead a process based on ancient, sacred-geographical archetypes that were alive and clear in the collective mythological memory of the Siberian peoples. The White Tsar of Rus was identified as the symbolic figure of the pole, the Polar Mountain. In fact, the sacred charisma of Genghis Khan was founded on the same symbolic stricture, as he was named the “White King” (such is according to the logic in which he is the descendent of the sons of Alan-Goa from the “white spirit” , who entered her yurt through the smoke chimney – this story is similar to the themes of “coming from the North” and “descent from the polar mountains,” etc.). 

Following the same logic, the Buryat Lamaists considered the dynasty of Russian Tsars to be a series of “Tulku” incarnations of the Lamaists’ pantheon of deities. 

Already in the twentieth century, the epoch of the parallel development of the Bolsheviks’ Eurasianst project, that of the Eurasianist emigres, and that of the German geopolitical school of Haushofer, the polar function of Russia in regards to the integration of Asian powers in a single strategic bloc was once again raised and actively studied in special research centers. On the basis of recent and unique research by the young Russian historian Oleg Shishkin, one can almost certainly argue that there existed a special structure in the depths of Soviet intelligence services, headed by Gleb Boki and Barchenko and patronized by Central Committee member Moskvin, which seriously worked on utilizing the sacred-geographical traditions of the Asiatic peoples for the creation of a strategic Asian bloc under Moscow’s control. 

It is interesting that Saint Yves d’Alveydre, who in fact married the Russian occultist Countess Kelley, played a major role in popularizing the subject of Aghartha, the mystical underground of the country also identified as Shambhala or the center of the world. The symbolism of Aghartha, as Rene Guenon showed in his book The King of the World, has the same polar symbolism as the axial mountain. Consequently, Aghartha is directly related to Hyperborea and the respective sacred legitimization of the geopolitical mission of Russia in integrating Eurasia. 

Although the Buddhist scholar Marco Pallis quite convincingly proved that the word Aghartha is not Sanskrit, that this false etymology was uncritically accepted by Guenon, and that the very subject of Aghartha is totally alien to Hindu mythology, everything is not quite so simple.

Since this question is directly related to the “Hyperborean function of Russia,” let us discuss it in detail. 

Aghartha and Eurasia 

Marco Pallis’ speech at the gathering of the “Cahier de l’Erne” publishing house [8] dedicated to Rene Guenon concerning his book The King of the World [9] has considerably undermined the prestige of this work by the great French esotericist insofar as it revealed some obvious inaccuracies in the work of someone who claimed to be an unquestionable sacred authority and acted as the plenipotentiary representative of the “King of the World” in Europe (as can be seen in the allusions in this book). Interestingly enough, we have found a discrepancy, just as Guenon, speaking of the reliability of the information in Ferdinand Ossendowski’s works concerning Aghartha and The King of the World which refers to the absence of a Russian translation of Saint Yves d’Alveydre’s book. In fact, such a transition did exist [10]. Furthermore, one would have to be ignorant of the Russian nobility to believe that the absence of a translation from the original French would be a barrier to exploring the book’s author who is linked by family ties to the Russian aristocracy, every second member of which was either a spiritualist or occultist and often spoke French better than their native language. 

But these are details. We are interested in a different matter. Jean-Pierre Laurent, a contemporary French scholar and researcher of Guenon, discovered a mention of Aghartha in one old manuscript published in Leiden in the 17th century in which a specific city (or sanctuary) was discussed that is located in Egypt in the Nile Delta. The exact name is Agartus Oppidum. The author of this text was Ampalius Lucius, a Latin writer of the 3rd century, who reports that in a secret city there is a “statue with hands of ivory, on the brow of which there is a bright emerald. This status inspires panic and fear among animals.” Even if the word Aghartha does not have a Latin translation, then the word oppidum does and it means “hill” which once again refers us to the symbolism of mountains (the polar mountain). 

On the other hand, there are authors who trace the word Aghartha back to the ancient Germanic Asgard, the city of the Aesir, the gods. As a rule, they refer to the book of Count Gobineau, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, book 6, chapter 1, in which it is written:

Asgard, the city of the Aesir or Aryans, was the capital of the Sarmatians and Roxalana” [11]. It is possible that this was a large city full of the palaces and dwellings of the first conquerers of India and Bactria. Its name, however, has been uttered more than once in the world. Among other cases, for a long time there existed a city of the Medes called Asgard which was not far from the southern shore of the Caspian sea. Ptolemy called the inhabitants of this country “Sargartians.” A Persian inscription quoted by Niebuhr also mentions them. Herodotus recalled thousands of Sargartians in the army of Darius. 

There is also the opinion that “Sargartians” refer to “Sarmatians,” that is, we are dealing with the Aryan nomadic tribes that populated the Eurasian steppes. In fact, all of these names clearly refer to the same symbolic complex associated with the polar, Northern land or city (or people). The Nile Delta is the far North for Egypt, the habitat of the “Sargartians”, i.e., the far North for the Indo-Iranian and Tibetan peoples, while Asgard is the far North for the Germanic peoples. Now if the symbolic identification of Aghartha with Hyperborea is accepted, then it is easy to see that Russia fulfills the symbolic function of Aghartha in the sacred geography of the Eurasian landmass as a whole (or at least its most massive part stretching from the Caucasus and Mesopotamia to the Pacific Ocean). 

Rene Guenon associates the the structure of Aghartha with the figure of “Prester John” who is considered a symbolic image of the “King of the World” and Melchizedek. It is curious that Count Gobineau, whom we mentioned earlier, said a lot about an “embassy of Prester John” where he served on a diplomatic mission in the East, although it is unclear which country is being discussed. Finally, the same subject of the “kingdom of Prester John” interested the Russian Eurasianist and great historian Lev Gumilev who undertook an entire investigation of the myth [12] and arrived at the conclusion that the matter at hand is the Eurasian Nestorians, the Tukhars, and the Uighurs who inhabited Xinjiang and Western Tibet (the country of the Shan) in antiquity. 

Be that as it may, the constant theme of Aghartha – Polar Mountain – Prester John – King of the World – White Tsar is consistently linked with Eurasian lands lying to the north of the mountain chain of our continent. These lands were gradually absorbed into the historical boundaries of Russia which united, consolidated, and organized them into a single political, state, and imperial ensemble. 

This is clearly not an accident. Such coincidences do not just happen in history. Only once we digress from outdated positivist cliches which explain nothing does the whole picture of the global role and sacred meaning of Russia, its lands, and its historical mission reveal itself in all of its intensity. 

The middle mission of Russia

What preliminary conclusions can be drawn from our analysis of Russia’s sacred geography and its place in the general complex of Eurasian mythological models?

Firstly, the “polar” complex of Russian lands can explain some of the psychological characteristics of our nation which have shaped our identity to a certain extent. One often hears the justified remark that “demonic” and “angelic” elements coexist in a Russian person without any intermediate element. The “guardians of the threshold” defending access to the sacred pole, the Axis of the World, appear in the same way in Tradition as simultaneously ominous and inspiring. 

Secondly, Russia traditionally fulfills the geopolitical mission of Hyperborea in the unifying sense. Just like the Eurocentrism of the West, it follows that Russian should consistently and steadily insist on the geopolitical “Moscow-centrism” of Eurasia, i.e., it should constantly work towards implementing “pan-Asian” or “Euro-Asian” projects and the strategic integration of the eastern part of the mainland as corresponds precisely with the logic of Russia’s territorial development and its mission in the framework of sacred geography. 

This means Russia will finally receive that for which it has been striving for so many centuries: strategic access to the “warm seas.”

Thirdly, the specifics of Russia’ symbolic position leave us to rethink the meaning of Russian Orthodoxy as a unique “polar” Tradition which has preserved the original foundations of Christianity in their purity and integrity, which at the first stage were fully “polar,” but which partially lost their quality (it is no accident that the Church spread almost directly from South to North, as if being attracted by the invisible magnet of the Arctic). 

Fourthly, Russia can (and should) choose its own path of geopolitical and cultural development, simultaneously discarding both the orientation towards the West which contradicts its “polar” function as well as dead end isolationism. Russia should at last assert its central, middle position in the continent’s structure. This implies an active spiritual dialogue and strategic union with the East and South and with Asia and its ancient religions and mind-boggling mysteries. This means Eurasian openness and readiness for flexible and active association with that world in which the most ancient sacred archetypes have been preserved, i.e., India, Japan, Iran, Tibet, Mongolia, and China. But in addition to this, Russia should adhere to and affirm its own unique Orthodox Tradition enriched and enlightened with passionate, hot love for Russia’s lands, Russian history, the Russian spirit, and the fact that Russia has been chosen. 

[7] John Horgan, The End of Science, New York, 1996. 

[8] “Cahier de l’Herne – Rene Guenon”, Paris, 1985.

[9] Rene Guenon, The King of the World

[10] Saint Yves d’Alveydre, The Mission of India in Europe, Saint Petersburg, 1914. 

[11] Let us note that in L. Gumilev’s opinion the very words russky and Rus come from the name Roxalana. See Lev Gumilev’s Ancient Rus and the Great Steppes, Moscow, 1992. 

[12] Lev Gumilev. “In Search of the Imaginary Kingdom,” Moscow, 1992. 


Translator: Jafe Arnold 

Chapter 3 of Mysteries of Eurasia (1996 edition) from the collection Absolute Homeland (Moscow, Arktogeya: 1999)