Cosmic Feminine in “Synthetic Esoteric Philosophy” of Vladimir Shmakov

Stanislav Panin


   Vladimir Shmakov (died in 1929) was an influential Russian esoteric author of the early twentieth century whose works are still popular nowadays in post-Soviet states. In his extensive volumes, he developed an esoteric doctrine based on commentaries for the Tarot deck and other esoteric sources, and a notion of the cosmic feminine played an important role in it, particularly, in a form of teaching about Sophia, adopted from Orthodox religious philosophy.

   In his book The Sacred Book of Thoth: Tarot Arcana, published in 1916, Shmakov develops his ideas about esoteric understanding of the feminine in commentaries for the second and the third Arcana. The second Arcanum represents, according to the author, a transcendent aspect of divine feminine, while the third Arcanum represents an immanent one. In Foundations of Pneumatology, published in 1922, he develops his ideas in discussions about Sophia and Daath and contrasts two feminine characters, Isis and Astarte. Isis, which is also an equivalent for the Holy Spirit according to Shmakov, expresses the idea of the divine spiritual love that is a key to mystical exaltation and communication with the divine. The image of Astarte, on the other hand, expresses a result of “avidya,” i.e. ignorance, a source of illusions based on the attachment to the mundane world.

   Shmakov demonstrates in his text the knowledge of both esoteric and philosophic literature and actively involves himself in philosophical discussions of that time. Deeper analysis of his ideas can contribute to our understanding of interrelation between philosophy and esotericism in the early twentieth century Russia, while the topic of divine feminine, which was important both in philosophic circles of that time and among esotericists is a good occasion for this discussion. 

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