Gary Lachman: The Esoteric Undercurrents of Putin's War on Ukraine

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In our modern world, we often think of history as being mostly driven by international politics and economics and technology and demographics and the movement of money. Much of the time, that’s true. But every so often, events transpire that remind us that there are deeper undercurrents that also drive history—forces like religious passion, spiritual yearning, deep nationalism, and the search for cultural identity. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a stark opportunity to learn that lesson again. As we struggle to understand what’s behind the horrors we’re seeing on our television screens, we may need to look for answers in unconventional places. Indeed, as esoteric scholar and prolific author Gary Lachman points out, Vladimir Putin is deeply influenced by a constellation of ideas and worldviews that stem from a little-understood but powerfully influential era in Russian history. In his recent book, The Return of Holy Russia—a book that has turned out to be prescient, having been published several years before the invasion—Lachman looks back to an era of Russian intellectual thought sometimes called the Silver Age. This period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a mini-Renaissance of new thinkers writing before the Russian revolution, a time in which new progressive spiritualism and occultism mingled with more ancient Orthodox mystical and religious currents and even new science. Many Russian thinkers of that era imagined a cultural and spiritual destiny for Russia as an alternative to the more overt materialism and increasing atheism of Europe and the West. As with many traditional theologies and even some progressive spiritual movements of the time, there was eschatological or apocalyptic aspect to a lot of this thinking. And more than a century later, these ideas have been revived in parts of Russian culture, including in the mind of Vladimir Putin. To help shed light on what’s driving Russia’s brutal attack on its neighbor, I was delighted to welcome Lachman, one of the most cogent and thoughtful scholars of the esoteric, to join me in this episode.

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