Epiphanius de Salamis

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Traditionalism as a Russian Phenomenon

Russian Easter, by © Nicholas Roerich.

Russian Easter, by © Nicholas Roerich.

Traditionalism in Russia followed two lines of development, one unusual (in

international terms) under Dugin, and one more usual under Iurii Stefanov

(1939–2001) and then Artur (Arsenii) Medvedev (1968–2009). This second

line is a post-Soviet development, and so does not show the influence of Soviet

occult dissident culture. The differences between the first and second lines,

then, are instructive.


Stefanov discovered Guenon in the Library of Foreign Languages,[i] rather

as Stepanov discovered him in the Lenin Library, but was a well-regarded

translator of French literature, not a dissident, and not a member of a circle

such as the Iuzhinskii Circle. Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union

in 1991, Stefanov published a number of articles on Guenon in the journal

Questions of Philosophy  (Voprosy filosofii ), a serious philosophical journal

published by the Russian Academy of Sciences but with a somewhat wider

readership than such journals normally have. A number of Russian intellectuals

who read this journal became interested in Traditionalism, including Artur

Medvedev, then a young history graduate from the Russian State Humanities

University. After Stefanov’s death, Medvedev became Russia’s most prominent

non-political Traditionalist,[ii] as founder and editor of the journal Magic

Mountain  (Volshebnaia gora ), which has published one or two issues each year

since 1993,[iii] each containing around 300 pages.


Magic Mountain  acts as a focus for non-political Russian Traditionalism,

following a pattern well established in the West, where Guenon’s own journal

estudes traditionnelles formed the initial focus for the development of Traditionalism,

and where similar journals have been established in every country

where Traditionalism has become established.[iv] Like its Western equivalents,

Magic Mountain  contains translations of classic Traditionalist texts, translations

of classic non-Traditionalist spiritual writers such as Mullah Sadra, new

articles, and book reviews. Most of the new articles are by Russian or Russian speaking

Traditionalists, but Magic Mountain also translates articles by contemporary

Western Traditionalists, linking Russian Traditionalism with that

elsewhere.[v]  Medvedev estimated that over the years he has published some 200  different authors.[vi]  Medvedev did not in general accept purely political articles,

but did publish Golovin and some followers of Dugin and Dzhemal.[vii]


The non-political Traditionalist circle around Magic Mountain  also resembles

Western models with regard to the type of person who contributes to it,

though perhaps with a heavier than usual emphasis on poets and academics,

probably as a result of the lower bar to entry for ideas into Russian intellectual

life noted above. Like non-political Traditionalists in the West, many of Magic

Mountain ’s authors also publish books on various subjects which are not Traditionalist,

but in which Traditionalist perspectives are reflected.[viii]


Post-Soviet Russia, then, provides conditions in which Traditionalism can

flourish in much the same way that it has flourished in the West. Where the

Magic Mountain circle differs from Western models, however, is that it is not

associated with a Sufi order or any other distinct spiritual community. In the

West, such groups normally follow Guenon’s example in matching their intellectual

interests with spiritual activity, most frequently in the form of a Sufi

order, but sometimes also in the form of a Masonic lodge. This is not the case

for either line of Russian Traditionalism, that associated with Magic Mountain

or that associated with Dugin. Only very few Russian Traditionalists have converted

to Islam over the years, and they have in general have been drawn to

Shi’ism rather than Sufism, largely as a result of the influence of Dugin’s associate

from the Iuzhinskii Circle, Dzhemal, who is himself Shi’i.[ix]


Both Dugin and Medvedev explain this difference between Russian and

Western Traditionalism in terms of Russian Orthodoxy. According to Medvedev,

Stefanov was interested in Kabbalah and Gnosticism, but always saw himself

as an Orthodox Christian. Similarly, the spiritual consequences for Medvedev

himself of his encounter with Guenon and Stefanov were that he began

regular Orthodox Christian practice (at baptism he assumed the name Arsenii).[x]

Dugin too follows Orthodox Christian practice, though as an Old Believer,

of the Edinoverie.[xi]


He argues in Metaphysics of the Gospel  that  the  Christianity that Guenon rejected was

Western Catholicism. Guenon was right in rejecting Catholicism, Dugin argues, but wrong

in rejecting Eastern Orthodoxy, of which he knew little. Orthodoxy, unlike Catholicism,

had never lost its initiatic validity and so remains a valid tradition to which a Traditionalist may turn.[xii]


This emphasis on Russian Orthodoxy is the one way in which both lines of

Russian Traditionalism differ from Western norms, and the explanation seems

to be Russian (rather than Soviet). This is suggested partly by the fact that it is

common to Dugin’s Soviet-era Traditionalism and to Magic Mountain ’s post-

Soviet Traditionalism, and partly by parallels outside Russia. Traditionalist

Sufism is also unknown in Turkey, where its absence is explained by the abundance

of pre-existing non-Traditionalist Sufi orders,[xiii] and in Iran, where Sufism

has a different history, and where the absence of Traditionalist Sufism[xiv]  is

explained by the abundance of pre-existing alternative expressions of Islamic

esotericism. In the West, pre-existing Catholic alternatives have attracted

only a tiny handful of Traditionalists, and pre-existing Protestant alternatives

have attracted none. There have been a number of Traditionalists in the West

who have turned to Christianity rather than Sufism, but in its Russian or Greek

Orthodox forms. One of these, the French writer Jean Bi.s (b. 1933), has made

much the same arguments as Dugin, and was evidently a source for the first

version of Dugin’s The Metaphysics of the Gospel.[xv] 65  The implication seems to

be, then, that Western Traditionalists create Traditionalist Sufi orders because

they cannot find a pre-existing religious practice that satisfies them, but that

when a satisfactory esoteric religious practice does already exist—in Turkey,

Iran, and evidently also in Russia—this need does not arise. The substitution of

Russian Orthodoxy for Sufism, then, reflects Russian conditions.


From the book “The New Age of Russia. Occult and Esoteric Dimensions.”


[i] Artur Medvedev, interview, Moscow, January 2006.

[ii] This article uses “non-political Traditionalist” in the sense in which I use “spiritual Traditionalist”

[iii] Medvedev, interview. Where no other source is given, information on Medvedev and hisgroup comes from Medvedev. This journal, named after Thomas Mann’s novel, was initiallyintended to be a literary and philosophical publication, a summit where intellectuals of variouspersuasions might meet, but from its second issue it became increasingly Traditionalist.

[iv] In 2010 there are similar journals in several languages, of which the most important are Connaissance

[v] Comments based on a review is issues 9 to 11 of Volshebnaia gora. The Western authors donot always know they are being translated (I myself did not at the time).

[vi] Medvedev, interview.

[vii] Dzhemal, for example, first published what is generally considered his most important spiritualwork– Orientatsiia Sever (now available at kitezh.onego.ru/nord) – in Volshebnaia gora.

[viii] These comments are based on a review of the tables of contents of several issues, and discussionswith Medvedev about the various authors.

[ix] Ali Turgiev, interview, Moscow, January 2006.

[x] Medvedev, interview.

[xi] Vladimir Karpiets, interview, Moscow, January 2006. Edinoverie, unlike most varieties of Old Belief, recognizes the authority of the Patriarch, and is in return recognized by the mainstrea Orthodox church. Dugin’s political action may be inspired by Traditionalism, but it takesplace within Russia, and is facilitated by good relations with the Church.

[xii] Dugin, Metafizika blagoi vesti (2000) chapter 22, arctogaia.org.ru/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=270.

[xiii] Turkish informant, Istanbul, April 1999.

[xiv] Shahram Pazuki, interview, Tehran, January 2001.

[xv] The original URL of Dugin’s “La M.taphysique de la bonne nouvelle” wasweb.redline.ru/~arctogai/bies.htm (accessed May 31, 1997).

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