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BOOK REVIEW: "Red Shambhala" by Andrei Znamenski

Quest Books
"Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophy and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia"
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Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia
 by Andrei Znamenski  (Quest Books) 2011

After getting my cup of coffee and paper at
Starbucks today, I sat in my vehicle and the 1973 song “Shambala,” a hit that
year for Three Dog Night, came blasting out of the speakers. What a great song!
Basically the song, written by Daniel Moore, is about a peaceful and joyful
kingdom, hidden in the Himalayas, where “everyone is happy, everyone is so
kind.” What hippie wouldn’t embrace such a notion of peace and brotherhood?

Listening to the lyrics, I then thought about a fascinating
book I had just finished titled Red
Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia
by Andrei
Znamenski. You realize that “Shambala” (Shambhala) – real or not – holds a certain
fascination with idealists of all stripes.

Believe it or not, nearly 100 years ago, following
Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the rise of the Soviet Union and
Communism, there were spiritual seekers who also looked towards the East for
answers and a surprising number of these idealists looked at ancient Tibetan
Buddhist teachings and prophecies addressing the mythical kingdom of Shambhala
(sometimes called “Shangri-La”). It is there, some of these Communists thought,
where great things could be learned and put to use in bettering the Soviet

Interest in Eastern teachings, spiritualism,
Buddhism, Theosophy and “secret knowledge” was quite common in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries. And, as we know, the Nazis were keen on
what they could learn from the occult and the hidden knowledge high in the
Himalayas. Geopolitically speaking, the Soviets were no different, at least
early on.

Znamenski’s research introduces us to a large cast
of characters, including Alexander Barchenko, an intellectual and esoteric
scientist and writer who was fascinated with the writings of a 19th
century French writer named Alexandre d’Alveydre who wrote about the mysterious
subterranean country of Agartha. Could the wisdom found in Agartha (Shambhala)
be utilized to “enlighten the Russian elite about the correct political and
spiritual path”?  Barchenko (a.k.a. “Red
Merlin”) wanted to find out if indeed this knowledge, known by the ancients and
“wiped out by barbarian hordes” could be found once again and benefit all
Russians, without the ignorance and bloodshed he saw all around him.

But chaos reigned following the revolution, as
Znamenski writes: “Barchenko was petrified by the anarchy reigning in the
country. He was especially stunned by the hatred the populace demonstrated
toward anyone who appeared to be a well-rounded person.”

Taking interest in Barchenko’s obsession was Soviet
intelligence officer and cryptographer named Gleb Bokii. He was a chief
engineer of the “Red Terror” and sought to liquidate as many “class enemies” as
he could.

Despite his role in the bloody purges, encountering
the curious Barchenko intrigued Bokii. His talk of “ancient science” and the
secret knowledge of spiritual practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism and Sufism
intrigued Bokii only in that gaining this knowledge would benefit the Communist

Another key figure in the Red Shambhala story is Nicholas Roerich, a Theosophist and painter
who was driven by occult forces, along with his wife Helena Roerich, who used
people to achieve their seemingly self-serving goals for a totalitarian
theocracy of sorts.

Writes Znamenski: “Early in 1923, armed with ideas of spiritual
advancement, brotherhood, and collectivism, the Roeriches concluded the time
was right for them to go and build their new-age kingdom of peace, love, beauty
and spirituality in the heart of Asia.”

The Roeriches seemingly have otherworldly forces
helping them, including a mysterious stone they are given in advance of their
Asian expedition, a trip that would have Nicholas Roerich, a decidedly
talented, driven and ultimately strange character, dressing as a Dalai Lama and
seeking to start a “Shambhala war” in Tibet so as to usher in the “new age” he
felt was prophesied.

There is much more here, with turmoil amongst the
Buddhist peoples in Tibet and Mongolia and plenty of political intrigue and
mysticism as the 1920's roll into the 1930's and things, politically speaking, become increasingly less certain and under a firmer grip as Communism take hold from eastern Europe to the Far East.

Znamenski’s research, much of it previously unknown in
the West, is put together in a scholarly, yet entirely readable way, with
photos and even an informative epilogue over the 300 or so pages. Not everyone
meets a pleasant fate, particularly those who fall afoul of the brutal

For those fascinated with ancient mysteries, secret
knowledge and history, Red Shambhala
is certainly a book that will keep you turning the pages.

2012 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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