17 Western Esoteric Family I: Ancient Wisdom
- THE ANCIENT WISDOM
- THE ROSICRUCIANS
- ROSICRUCIANISM IN AMERICA
- THEOSOPHY IN AMERICA
- LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH
- THE ALICE BAILEY MOVEMENT
- THE “I AM” RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT
- ANCIENT WISDOM IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
- Intrafaith Organizations
- Occult Orders
- Alice Bailey Groups
- Liberal Catholic Churches
- I AM Groups
- Gurdjieffian Fourth Way Groups
- Other Theosophical Groups
Since the fourth century C.E., the Western religious community has been dominated by Christianity in its various forms. Christianity shared space with the continuing Jewish tradition, and until recently, histories of Western civilization would generally treat these two communities as the only religious traditions operating throughout the centuries. A significant rewriting of the history of Western religion began in the late twentieth century, however, as scholars recognized that a third current of religious life was present, challenging Christian hegemony. This third current flourished in a variety of times and places, only to attract the attention of Christian powers and become the object of suppressive activity. As adherents faced repeated persecution, the continuity of what has become known as Western esotericism was broken. Still, as suppression occurred in one location, esotericism would arise in another.
Esotericism was reborn in the seventeenth century in the social spaces opened by the Protestant Reformation. It experienced notable bursts of growth in the late nineteenth century and spectacular growth in the 1970s and 1980s, the New Age movement providing it demographic significance for the first time in the modern world. In fact, it was the New Age movement, so derided in the popular press for its naive and questionable practices that nurtured the growth of the esoteric community to the point that it had to be taken seriously. The millennial fervor built around the hope of a new age of light and love swept millions into the esoteric world and introduced them to meditation, psychic readings, contact with deceased relatives, westernized yoga, channeling, ritual magic, astrological speculations, various divinatory techniques, and a host of philosophies aimed at personal spiritual enlightenment.
Looking at the major contemporary esoteric currents, a picture of the development of Western esotericism through the centuries becomes apparent. Modern Western esotericism began with the emergence of Rosicrucianism in the seventeenth century. Rosicrucianism provided a foundation for the rise of speculative Freemasonry, which became one of the most successful esoteric organizations internationally through the eighteenth century. Its very success, however, led to significant variations in different locations. In such countries as England and Italy, Freemasonry continues as an esoteric group, whereas in France, Freemasonry developed into a post-revolutionary atheist organization assuming the public persona of a fraternal group, though it was much more than that. In the early United States, public anger occasioned by the disappearance of William Morgan (b. 1774), an ex-Mason who had threatened to expose the group’s secrets, joined religious opposition to Masonry and led to the organization’s secularization and transformation into primarily a social club.
Freemasonry would, however, become a new foundation for the emergence of additional esoteric currents. Shortly after the French Revolution (1789–1799), for example, neo-Templarism arose as a reborn order of the temple. Through the nineteenth century, new bursts of interest in ritual magic arose, and by the end of the century give birth to several magical orders, most notably the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Theosophy would also develop from a Masonic intellectual base.
A popular form of esoteric practice, built around the manipulation of what were believed to the cosmic energies underpinning the universe, arose in eighteenth-century France around the teachings of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). Though denounced by the scientific community of his day, mesmerism became a popular movement, claiming healings and the production of unusual states of consciousness (today called the hypnotic state) through magnetic energy. As demonstrations of mesmerism became a popular form of entertainment, mesmerists discovered that some entranced subjects manifested unusual powers, including an apparent ability to communicate with spirits. A few mesmerists discovered the ability to enter a trance state without assistance (self-hypnosis).
Mesmerism became the foundation upon which a new movement focused on communication with the spirit world arose. Spiritualism began in upstate New York in 1848, but by the time of the American Civil War (1861–1865), it had become a national fad and was growing in England and France. Through the twentieth century, popular currents of Spiritualism, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and ritual magic would mix and match in a variety of ways to produces the hundreds of esoteric groups that exist today.
Tracing the current esoteric community backward to the seventeenth century reveals the variety of movements in prior centuries that bear a resemblance to contemporary movements. In the sixteenth century, Jewish mystical practices built around the understanding of creation in the Kabbalah found an audience in the Christian community and emerged as the Christian Cabala. Previously, hermetic thought and alchemy, despite its ties to fraudulent schemes aimed at naive
|Western Esoteric Family I: Ancient Wisdom Chronology|
|1614–16||Lutheran pastor Johann Andreae Valentin anonymously issues the three original Rosicrucian documents: The Fama, which introduced the world to Christian|
|Rosencreutz and told the story of his travels and the origin of the Rosicrucian order; The Confessio; and Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz.|
|1694||Rosicrucians arrive in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and form the Chapter of Perfection.|
|1730||Daniel Cox appointed Provincial Grand Master of the Masonic lodges in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.|
|1858||Pascal Beverley Randolph founds the Fraternita Rosae Crucis, the oldest Rosicrucian order in the United States.|
|1865||Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia formed in England.|
|1771||The Grand Lodge of England formed by the merger of four Masonic lodges.|
|1875||Helena P. Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge found the Theosophical Society in New York City.|
|1877||Blavatsky publishes Isis Unveiled.|
|1879||Theosophical Society headquarters moves to India where Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and later Annie Besant “greatly raised the self-confidence of the Hindus … removing any feelings of inferiority that had developed following the activities of Christian missionaries …” (Weightman 1998, p. 303).|
|1884||The Theosophical Society faces a major scandal when Helena Blavatsky is accused of faking her contact with the Mahatmas through whom she had caused a number of writings and other objects to appear.|
|1888||Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine is published.|
|Following her reading of The Secret Doctrine and meeting with Blavatsky, former atheist Annie Besant joins the Theosophical Society.|
|1893||Besant becomes one of the outstanding speakers at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.|
|1895||As a result of the controversy over Judge’s contacts with the Masters, the American Section of the Theosophical Society, under his leadership, secedes from the international movement.|
|1896||Judge dies and is succeeded by Katherine Tingley.|
|1898||Tingley renames the organization she leads as the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society and two years later moves its headquarters from New York to San Diego, California.|
|1907||Max Heindel founds the Rosicrucian Fellowship.|
|1909||The United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT) is formed by Robert Crosby, a disenchanted member of the Theosophical Society under Katherine Tingley’s leadership.|
|1911||Formation of the “Order of the Star in the East” in dedication to the “World Teacher” (i.e. J. Krishnamurti).|
|1912||Rudolf Steiner leaves the Theosophical Society and establishes the Anthroposophical Society (one of many schisms besetting the parent society).|
|1915||H. Spencer Lewis founds the Ancient Mystic Order of the Rosae Crucis.|
|1916||Old Catholic Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby consecrates James Ingall Wedgewood for the theosophically oriented Liberal Catholic Church.|
|1923||Alice and Foster Bailey found the Arcane School. American Astrological Society is founded.|
|1929||Jiddu Krishnamurti renounces any messianic role, breaks with Annie Besant and Thesophical Society, and dissolves the “Order of the Star of the East.”|
|1930||Guy and Edna Ballard found the I AM Religious Activity movement.|
|1942||Gottfried Purucker sells San Diego property and moves the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America to Covina, California.|
|1948||The Reappearance of the Christ by Alice A. Bailey is published.|
|1950–51||Theosophical Society in America relocates to Altadena, California.|
|1979||Based on channeled messages, Benjamin Crème, a student of the Alice Bailey teachings, begins to predict the imminent appearance of Christ/Maitreya.|
|1986||Bishop Meri Louise Spruit enthroned as Matriarch of the Church of Antioch.|
|1990||AMORC reorganizes after withdrawing the authority of its imperator Gary Stewart. Stewart goes on to found a new organization, the Ancient Rosae Crucis (later renamed the Confraternity of the Rose Cross).|
|1991||May 8th, White Lotus Day. Theosophists commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Helena P. Blavatsky.|
|2002||Scholars gathered at Michigan State University found the Association for the Study of Esotericism.|
|2007||Rosicrucian Park in San Jose, California, celebrates 70th anniversary.|
money-hungry monarchs, had filled a gap among intellectuals, a gap filled earlier by Neoplatonic and Pythagorean thought. On the popular level, groups such as the Albigensians, the Bogomils, and Manicheans have come and gone—victims of dominant religions seeking uniformity of public faith.
Following esoteric belief and practice still further into the ancient world leads to a variety of movements centered in the Mediterranean Basin known as Gnosticism (a contested designation in contemporary scholarship). Gnosticism was traditionally viewed as the first Christian heresy. However, the discovery of ancient texts at Qumran on the Dead Sea and at Nag Hammadi in Egypt have led to a reappraisal and new appreciation of the diversity of religious life during the first century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. A spectrum of esoteric movements, ranging from variations on what was becoming orthodox Trinitarian Christianity to movements with little or no Christian element, were prevalent in this period. While at one time the name Gnostic was given to this entire river of currents flowing from the ancient world, by the late twentieth century, Western esotericism had become the dominant designation
After the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi texts were published in popular editions, various new movements emerged to lay claim to ancient insights, though the great majority of esoteric groups, especially those operating in the Page 689 | Top of ArticleUnited States and Canada, represent the major modern currents—Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Spiritualism, and ceremonial magic. These would provide the foundation and content for several entirely new movements that would push esoteric thought in fresh directions. In the 1870s, for example, Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), who had moved among the postmesmerist healers, especially Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866), began a movement popularly known as Christian Science. The movement emphasized the post-Enlightenment love of science, and it attempted to move beyond the popular supernaturalism of previous centuries, which was based on an array of spiritual beings (angels, deities, spirits, demons, etc.). This trend was already evident in the new magic of the nineteenth century, but Eddy’s approach was more thorough. Eddy’s movement gave rise to a variety of groups, many coming together under the name New Thought.
In the twentieth century, moving in a direction opposite that of Christian Science, groups that attempted to create a new space for the ancient pagan deities were formed. Most began with the approach articulated by Gerald B. Gardner (1884–1964), a retired British civil servant who developed a system that he called witchcraft based on invocation of a range of ancient European deities. The term witchcraft has collected a variety of connotations, most indicating a rejection of the Christianity that supplanted and eradicated pagan religions. Gardner’s thought became the basis of a popular neo-pagan movement, which, unable to recover the thought of ancient paganism, drew eclectically from the spectrum of contemporary esoteric thought and practice.
The contemporary Esoteric community has grown large enough that it can be viewed in its various currents—treated here as several family and sub-family groupings. First, we will turn to the larger Ancient Wisdom groups that have flowed from the Rosicrucian and theolsphical currents. Next, in chapter 18 come the popular groups that have grown out of the work of two nineteenth century Esoteric giants, Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Anton Mesmer. The movements they birthed gave way to Spiritualism which in turn supplied content to a host of small new groups over the last hundred years. Third, in chapter 19, we turn to the world of ritual or ceremonial magic, a realm given new life by a modern-day practitioner extradinaire, Aleister Crowley. Crowley died largely unknown in 1947, but has in the decades since become an icon of modern pop culture and the prophet of a new generation of magicians. Crowley’s though would also supply much of the content for the magic taught and practiced by contemporary Neo-Pagans. Finally, in chapter 20, we will turn to the movement spawned by Eddy and built around her metaphysical speculations.
THE ANCIENT WISDOM
The idea of the existence of an ancient hidden (occult) wisdom, an alternative to the dominant Christian orthodoxy, perpetuated by a lineage of secret adepts until such time as the wisdom could again be given to humanity, has a long history in the West. It was clearly stated, however, in the early seventeenth century in the primary documents announcing the existence of the Rosicrucian Order and was a central part of the myth of the revived Freemasonry of the eighteenth century. Perpetuated through Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, the idea experienced a marked revival in the nineteenth century with the formation of several public Rosicrucian bodies, the Theosophical Society, and several new occult orders. By the end of the nineteenth century, these new occult organizations formed a distinct alternative to Spiritualism, the more popular form of esotericism through the century, and could be found in both the United States and England. Rather than attempt to contact spirits of the deceased and demonstrate the proof of life after death, these esotericists claimed to be the bearers of a hidden (i.e., occult) wisdom that had been passed to them from contemporary representatives of a lineage of teachers reaching into the remote past. These teachings, available for the first time in centuries, could now be given to those individuals prepared to receive them.
The accounts of the emergence of an ancient wisdom generally follow one of three basic formats. First, a person claims to have made direct contact with the present bearers of the lineage, usually in some remote (to the average Westerner) corner of the earth—Tibet, Egypt, Arabia. Having communicated with the present teachers of the lineage, the new student returns to the West to disclose its essential truths. Second, the wisdom may be revived through the rediscovery of texts—the Nag Hammadi scrolls being an ideal example— long hidden away, which contain its teachings. Most frequently, however, rediscovery of the ancient wisdom comes through a special person who is able to enter into the invisible spiritual realms not accessible to ordinary people, and be taught the secret wisdom directly by various highly evolved masters. The Great White Brotherhood is a common designation for those who have kept the ancient wisdom through the centuries. The term may be applied to a group of noncorporeal beings (some of whom may occasionally take human form) or to a group entirely or partially composed of individuals currently living on earth in some remote place.
Two main ancient-wisdom schools arose in the English-speaking West—the Rosicrucians and the Theosophists. The former claimed to have obtained the ancient wisdom from the legendary Christian Rosencreutz, who discovered it during travels in the Near East. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), the first Theosophist to engage in extensive discourse with the masters, claimed to have recovered an ancient document of which no copies had survived in the mundane world, the Stanzas of Dyzan, which summarized the heretofore hidden truth.
Besides the Theosophists and Rosicrucians and the groups that derived from them—for example, the Arcane School of Alice A. Bailey (1880–1949) and the “I AM” Religious Activity of Guy W. Ballard (1878–1939) and Edna W. Ballard (1886–1971)—there are a few that have found an alternative source for acquiring the ancient wisdom. In addition, several groups, drawing upon the Theosophical model, have developed variations on it within other religious traditions. Page 690 | Top of ArticleThus Paul Twitchell (d. 1971), founder of Eckankar, while drawing the content of his teaching primarily from the literature of the Punjabi Sant Mat tradition, claimed to have traveled to what he termed “soul realms” to translate and bring to humanity various ancient documents. Similarly, some flying saucer contactees, most of whom came out of a Spiritualist tradition, have identified the “extraterrestrial” entities with whom they claimed contact as the Great White Brotherhood.
Typically, ancient-wisdom groups are modeled upon the ancient mystery schools rather than contemporary churches. They offer “instruction” in esoteric truth through classes and correspondence courses. Upon manifesting their accomplishment of a body of teachings and mastery of certain occult techniques, students are awarded a degree and admitted to instruction in the next level. Groups vary in the number of levels of work offered, the nature of the oversight given to students, and the strictness in applying standards by which to judge the completion of a degree. Thus one group may have ten degrees, limit contact with students to correspondence, and be lax in advancing the student through the degrees. Another group may have only four degrees, do all course work in small groups, and advance students only after they demonstrate the proper competence level in both esoteric theory and practice (clairvoyance, psychokinesis).
In esoteric thought, God is largely discussed as an utterly transcendent and hence unknowable being. While God is acknowledged, more attention is given to lesser beings in what is often seen as a spiritual hierarchy between God and humanity. In like measure, more attention is given to the lower levels of the spiritual world that to the heavenly realm of God’s existence. Thus, within esoteric groups, the tendency is to pay more attention to learning about the spiritual realms and developing the means (spiritual disciplines and practices) to access them, than to what might be called worship of the transcendent God. Where worship services are held, lectures tend to replace sermons, and meditation dominates the prayer time.
The absence of a worshipful atmosphere in many esoteric groups continually calls their status as “religious” organizations into question, especially for people for whom a form of traditional Christianity is their primary reference for defining religion. In many countries where religious dissent still brings discrimination and even government persecution, many esotericists welcome being perceived as nonreligious. In the United States and Canada, many esotericists define themselves as spiritual, not religious, implying a rejection of much of the baggage associated with Christian church life and piety.
In covering esotericism, this encyclopedia includes many groups that publicly assert that they are not a religion, and the entries report that fact. The group’s right to self-definition is also acknowledged. Nevertheless, given the guidelines for inclusion in this encyclopedia, its functional view of “religion,” and the roles that “nonreligious” spiritual groups have played in the formation of similar spiritual groups that do claim religious status, these nonreligious groups are retained among the entries below.
The Rosicrucian Order, which grew out of a story published in the seventeenth century in Germany, is the oldest of the several ancient wisdom groups with a following in the United States. According to one history of the group, “the Rosicrucian Order had its traditional conception and birth in Egypt in the activities of the Great White Lodge” (Lewis, Rosicrucian Questions and Answers, 1969, p. 33). If there were, in fact, historical continuity between an Egyptian occult order (or any other ancient group) and modern Rosicrucians, documents attesting to this connection have never surfaced. Twenty-first-century American Rosicrucian groups are highly eclectic bodies drawing on Western magical traditions, Theosophy, Freemasonry, and modern parapsychology. The interaction with Theosophy has been extensive and there are many likenesses. But while Theosophy was founded in 1875, contemporary Rosicrucians attempt to document their organizational continuity with the mystery schools of the ancient Mediterranean Basin and the seventeenth-century emergence of Rosicrucianism into public light.
The first mention of a possible Rosicrucian group appeared in a pamphlet printed in Germany in the second decade of the seventeenth century, the Fama Fraternitatis, written by someone using the pseudonym of Christian Rosencreutz (C.R.). The Fama Fraternitatis, or Discovery of the Most Laudable Order of the Rosy Cross, detailed the travels of Christian Rosencreutz to the Mediterranean Basin in the early 1400s, where he acquired wisdom about the microcosm and macrocosm, attunement with the “All,” knowledge about the nature of health and disease, and other occult wisdom.
Returning to Germany, C.R. saw that the world was not ready for him, so he lived quietly, affiliating with three followers, and then four more. These eight were the original Rosicrucians in Germany. They agreed on the following points:
They would not profess anything but curing the sick without reward.
They would wear no special habit.
They would meet every year in the House Sancti Spiritus. The brothers would choose their successors.
The letters “R.C.” would be their only seal and character. The fraternity would remain secret for one hundred years.
C.R. reputedly died in 1484, at age 106. Knowledge of the location of his tomb was lost and its rediscovery by a brother created a great stir. The tomb’s inscription said that after 120 years he would return, meaning that the Rosicrucian Order would surface again in 1604 and take all initiates who were worthy.
There was a great response to the Fama Fraternitatis pamphlet from doctors, the altruistic, and those who wanted to live to be 106 years old. In 1615 a second pamphlet, promised by the first, was issued. It attacked the present worldly situation Page 691 | Top of Articleand boasted of the wisdom of C.R. (i.e., the magical world) and the importance of the secrecy of the order.
It is now generally agreed that a Lutheran pastor, Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654), was the author of the original Rosicrucian pamphlet. He admitted to being the author of the 1616 novel The Hermetic Romance or the Chemical Wedding, purportedly written in High Dutch by Christian Rosencreutz. Thereafter, works claiming to be products of a secret fraternity of Rosicrucians appeared sporadically.
There is evidence of other secret fraternities of an occult nature operating in Europe in the next several centuries. One such group was the Illuminati, founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt (1748–1830). Even earlier, in 1670 the Abbé de Villars (1635–1673) published The Count of Gabalis or Extravagant Mysteries of the Cabalists and Rosicrucians. It was outwardly an attack on the Rosicrucians (thus good evidence of their existence), but many have seen it as an attempt to spread esotericism by making public its ideas. It was rumored that de Villars was murdered a few years later by the Rosicrucians.
English Rosicrucianism was given its direction by Robert Fludd (1574–1635), alchemist and author of the Apologia Compendiaria Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce (1616). He is the probable source of the rumor that the philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a Rosicrucian. Among the founders of the English Rosicrucians was the astrologer William Lilly (1602–1681). British Rosicrucians were in favor of alchemy, as opposed to those on the continent at that time. Rosicrucian lodges proliferated in the eighteenth century. Many were fraudulent, but many were legitimate attempts at forming societies attuned to Rosicrucian ideals. It was also at this time that Rosicrucians and Freemasons began to interact, and Freemasons added a Rosicrucian degree to their initiations.
The dominant role of contemporary Freemasonry as a fraternal organization has often obscured its crucial role in the building of modern esoteric tradition, and many histories of the modern esoteric movement make only passing mention of the Freemasons. What is today known as Freemasonry emerged in the seventeenth century out of the older craft guilds of stoneworkers. The guilds guarded a secret wisdom, the knowledge of architecture used in the building of many churches and public structures. By the seventeenth century, many nonmasons had been “accepted” into membership in guilds as friendly associates. The number of such “accepted” members grew steadily, and by the middle of the century some lodges were dominated, if not entirely composed of, accepted Masons rather than members who claimed knowledge of masonry. The fellowships of accepted Masons served as covers for esoteric discussions, speculation, and activity.
In 1771 four lodges of accepted Masons came together to form the Grand Lodge of England. The third grand master, Theophilus Dasaguliers (1683–1744), used his social and professional status (he was chaplain to the prince of Wales) to spread the movement and the authority of the Grand Lodge not only across Great Britain but to France. The Scottish and Irish lodges organized separately in the 1850s as the Ancient Grand Lodge, and only merged with their English brethren in 1813 to become the United Grand Lodge.
The accepted Masons built a speculative esoteric cosmology with borrowed symbols from the stone workers as religious symbols. God became known as the Great Architect of the Universe. The Great Pyramid of Egypt, an exemplary achievement of the stoneworkers’ skill, was portrayed in Masonic symbolism as a building constructed of 72 stones, one each for the possible combinations of the tetragrammaton, the name of God in Hebrew that consisted of four letters. This symbolic pyramid was capped by the all-seeing eye of God. The Masonic pyramid can be seen on the American one-dollar bill, which pictures the Great Seal of the United States, an image strongly influenced by several Masons among the country’s founders.
The different lodges in the eighteenth century developed an elaborate degree system loosely tied to an understanding of a universe emanating in layers from the realm of the divine. The rituals associated with each rite (or set of degrees) were filled with esoteric content and seemingly in a constant state of flux and development. Eventually, the 33-degree system still used in British and American Masonry came to dominate the lodges of the United Grand Lodge.
Masonry came to the United States from England in 1730 when Daniel Coxe (1673–1739) was appointed provincial grand master of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Among the individuals soon welcomed into membership was a youthful Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) whose task it became to publish the first American edition of The Constitution of the Free-masons by James Anderson (c.1679–1739) in 1734. The lodges, especially in the middle colonies, became meeting grounds for revolutionaries, and welcomed among their members George Washington (1732–1799), James Monroe (1758–1831), Paul Revere (1734–1818), Benedict Arnold (1741–1801), and Patrick Henry (1736– 1799).
That so many revolutionaries were Masons gave early American masonry some connection with its continental counterparts. Masonic and Rosicrucian lodges also became the focus of efforts at democratic reform and became the object of both church and government hostility. As early as 1738, the Roman Catholic Church issued a pronouncement condemning Masonry. The church’s view was not mellowed as European Masons became high-profile figures in various movements to overthrow monarchial regimes. In Italy, one such Freemason, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882), led the forces that annexed the Papal States to modern Italy and left the pope with the few acres that make up the modern Vatican state. In England and the United States, Masonry developed in a more nonpolitical manner and became the birthing place for much of modern Rosicrucianism.
In 1865 a Masonic-based Rosicrucian body was founded in London by Robert Wentworth Little (1840–1878). The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia was modeled on the German Fratres of the Golden and Rosy Cross of the previous century, Page 692 | Top of Articleand membership was confined to master masons. This group became the breeding ground of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Like the teachings of Theosophy and Freemasonry, Rosicrucian teachings are a form of esotericism and mysticism. Transmutation, psychic development, and meditative/yogic disciplines are stressed. Teachings are differentiated into outer or public teachings (which include most of the philosophic material) and inner, for-members-only teachings (which include most of the instruction on ritual and development exercises). It is difficult for nonmembers to obtain access to the secret materials, especially from the smaller bodies.
As in Masonic rituals, a system of initiation through a number of degrees is used, each initiation admitting members into deeper and more secret knowledge. Most Rosicrucian groups have published books covering their general orientation, which they sell to the public and place in libraries. Some of these have become widely used, quite apart from any involvement in the group that published it.
ROSICRUCIANISM IN AMERICA
The history of Rosicrucians in the United States dates to 1694 with the arrival of the Chapter of Perfection in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The chapter, composed of Rosicrucians who derived their teachings from mystic Jacob Boehme (1575– 1624), the Kabbalah, and several German psychic visionaries, built an observatory and temple and thrived for a generation, but slowly died away after the death of its leader, Johannes Kelpius (1673–1708). The chapter left no group to carry on its work, but the first powwow magicians, the Pennsylvania Dutch practitioners of folk magic, were associated with the Chapter of Perfection. No further reference to Rosicrucians in America occurs until the nineteenth century, when Pascal Beverly Randolph (1825–1875), the founder of the first of the present Rosicrucian bodies, appeared.
While largely forgotten in North America, Randolph was the premier esoteric theorist of the nineteenth century. Growing up as Spiritualism was making its impact on the West, he would author more than 20 books that would offer Americans the first major alternative system of esoteric thought. Four years before Robert Wentworth Little founded the first viable British Rosicrucian group, Randolph launched the Rosicrucian Fraternity in America. He advocated the idea of reincarnation and was the first to write extensively on themes of esoteric sexuality. Randolph continually had to fight racial prejudice (his mother was African American) and misunderstandings of his sexual ideas, but his works survived him to provide the foundation upon which the likes of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky were to later build.
The reputation of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) has largely outlived the scandal that surrounded her for the last 25 years of her life, and she is now recognized as one of the most influential writers in the esoteric world. Through her two major books, Isis Unveiled (1877) and especially The Secret Doctrine (1888), she taught several generations about esoteric lore, and the Theosophical Society she founded has become a major force in the esoteric community.
Blavatsky was born in Russia of an aristocratic family. She became a student of Spiritualism and showed mediumistic tendencies. In 1851 she began a life of wandering that took her to India. There, she claimed contact with the “mahatmas,” persons who had evolved to a point from which they have become conscious coworkers with the divine plan of the ages and are thus beings of great authority, attainment, and responsibility. Their wisdom guides all movements for growth, particularly the Theosophical Society. During her life, Blavatsky claimed constant contact with them.
Blavatsky went to England and then the United States, where she became deeply involved in Spiritualism (though she was later to become one of its major critics). In 1873 she met Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), and together they founded the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Isis Unveiled became the society’s initial central document. As the first president, Olcott became the chief administrator of the movement and Blavatsky’s right arm.
The Theosophical Society set three objectives for itself: (1) to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color; (2) to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science; and (3) to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
The original society was an outgrowth of Spiritualism, and, in her early writings, Blavatsky still rejected reincarnation. She claimed that Spiritualist phenomena were genuine but were the work of lower astral entities rather than disincarnates.
In 1879 Olcott and Blavatsky sailed for India and established permanent headquarters in Adyar. Blavatsky discovered Hinduism and Buddhism and became fascinated with them as continuations of the ancient wisdom of Egypt and the Mediterranean. Also, at this time, the concept of the mahatmas or masters came to the fore. From a special altar in her home at Adyar and a few other places, letters from the masters in the spirit world began to arrive.
Blavatsky’s cosmology is the basis of Theosophical thought. To the novice, the cosmology is a highly complicated Pleroma of Gods and lesser entities organized in a divine hierarchy and controlling the overall evolution of the earth. Aiding the hierarchy are the mahatmas or masters, men who have evolved to an almost semidivine status and who directly represent the hierarchy to the human race. The masters are the key to the Theosophical system. As in most esoteric systems, numerical symmetry is a feature; the numbers three, seven, and ten continually arise.
At the top of the Theosophical hierarchy is God, usually referred to as the Cosmic Logos. He expresses himself as a trinity, usually thought of in Hindu categories as creator, preserver, and destroyer (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the Hindu deities.) There are also seven Planetary Logoi; every star in the universe is assigned to one of these logoi. The sun and solar system are assigned to the Solar Logos, the Lord of Page 693 | Top of Articlethis system and God for mankind. The Solar Logos emanates a trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and seven logoi. Along with these logoi, there are a number of lesser angelic entities called Devas.
Humankind is the product of a lengthy evolutionary process. The earth (and universe) is in the midst of a seven-stage cycle. The first three stages are steps toward materialization; the fourth is crystallization; and the last three will be characterized by spiritualization and a return to spirit. We live in the fourth stage now. Humankind appeared at the beginning of the fourth stage and has furthered human physical evolvement from lower life forms through the merger of the spirit with the body, welded together with the mind. Thus, physical evolvement of more complicated animal forms met spirit being thrust into matter, and, because spirit and matter could not be joined in themselves, mind became the intermediate principle.
Human evolvement takes human beings through seven root races, each of which has seven subraces. The first three root races perfected the union of matter and spirit; the fourth expresses the union; the last three will represent the struggle of the spirit to be free of matter. We now live in the Fifth Root Race. The third race was the Lemurian, so named for the mythical submerged continent in the Pacific Ocean, and the fourth was the Atlantean, so named for Atlantis, the supposed paradisiacal origin of man. The Fifth Root Race, the Aryan, finds its culmination in the Anglo-Saxon subrace. From this point, humankind will evolve into spiritual adepts.
A human is a complicated being composed of seven bodies ranking from the pure-spirit true self to the gross material body. These planes of existence are outlined thus:
In this list, the terms on the right are the proper terms, several of them being the Eastern words for the planes of existence. The terms on the left are explanatory of the proper terms. Level six, the astral, is a low-grade immaterial plane that is not highly regarded; it is occupied by such lesser figures as ghosts. Level two, the monadic, is the level of union with all that exists.
A human being is a spark of divinity that manifests itself as a trinity of spirit, intuition, and mentality. An individual assume a body appropriate to each level of functioning. As a person moves downward, each body he or she assumes is composed of denser substance. The astral and the physical are the densest, and these are discarded at death. It is the Theosophist belief that most Spiritualist phenomena are centered on contact with the astral plane and “discarded astral shells.” Theosophists often complain that Spiritualists are engaged in lower psychism.
In the present evolutionary struggle to become free from matter, humanity is hindered because its consciousness is stuck in the gutter of the physical plane. The goal of this life is to raise the consciousness to higher levels. Humankind is hindered in this goal by each body’s inability to apprehend the higher vibration rate of the less-dense substance above it, but humanity is helped by various occult practices, reincarnation, and the masters from the spirit world.
Theosophy offers a number of occult practices, such as meditation and yoga, as techniques to help the self to reach life on higher planes. These techniques, common to most religious traditions, overcome the tendency to place attention purely on the physical plane.
Reincarnation is the educative process by which the self is given repeated opportunities to rediscover its true life. Humans take on successive bodies until they overcome attachments to the lower planes. Each life is a representation of the state of evolvement of the soul in previous lives.
By far the greatest help to human evolvement are the masters. These are spiritual giants, men and women who have progressed far beyond the human race, who no longer need to incarnate, but who do so in order to aid the struggling race. They form an intermediate hierarchy between man and the solar rulers. The hierarchy of masters is given a name by position. Each position is currently filled by entities who were once incarnated on this physical plane and who are known,
|Chart of the Seven Rays|
|Rays||Color||Crystal or gemstone||Ascended Master||Archangel||Purpose|
|1st Tuesday||Blue Ray of divine will||Sapphire||El Morya||Michael||Strength, courage, protection and can help one understand why things happen.|
|2nd Sunday||Yellow ray of wisdom||Topaz||Lord Lanto||Jophiel||Inspiration, knowledge, illumination. Can help one with learning and study.|
|3rd Monday||Pink ray of love||Rose quartz||Paul the Venetian||Chamuel||Love in all its forms (i.e. recognizing the Divine within all).|
|4th Friday||White ray of purity||Diamond||Serapis Bey||Gabriel||Truth, purity. Can help with organization.|
|5th Wednesday||Green ray of healing||Emerald||Hilarion||Raphael||Nourishment, healing, calm. Can help with all forms of healing.|
|6th Thursday||Purple and gold ray of devotion||Ruby||Lady Nada||Uriel||Service, selflessness, can help one cooperate with others.|
|7th Saturday||Violet ray of transmutation and freedom||Amethyst||Saint Germain||Zadkiel||Transmutes all energy into light. Can help heal all aspects of mind, body & soul.|
in many cases, as great spiritual giants. The masters are organized in a complicated system, much as the solar hierarchy is organized.
At the top is the Lord of the World, the agent of the Solar Logos. Under him is the Trinity of Buddhas. These four are often referred to as Sanat Kumara and the Three Kumaras. The three department heads in the hierarchy are Will, Love/Wisdom, and Intelligence. Each of these has a representative: Manu Vaivasvata, Bodhisattva Maitreya, and the Maha Chohan. The hierarchical assistants, who manifest Will, Love/Wisdom, and Intelligence to humans, are the Seven Rays. The first three of these Rays (Master Morya, Master Koot Hoomi, and the Venetian Master) are called the Three Aspects or Major Rays. The other four are called the Four Attributes or Minor Rays (Master Serapis, Master Hilarion, Master Jesus, and Master Prince Rakoczi). Morya manifests Will to humans; Koot Hoomi manifests Love/Wisdom; and the other five masters manifest Intelligence. (Various Theosophical groups spell Koot Hoomi’s name differently— sometimes Kuthumi, sometimes Kut Hoomi.) Master Jupiter is an assistant to Morya with a special relationship to India. Master Djual Khool is an assistant to Koot Hoomi with a special relationship to the Theosophical Society. The following chart shows the hierarchical arrangement. Those numbered are the Seven Rays.
|Manu Vaivasvata||Bodhisattva Maitreya||The Maha Chohan|
|1 Master Morya||2 Master Koot Hoomi||3 Venetian Master|
|Master Jupiter||Master Djual Khool||4 Master Serapis|
|5 Master Hilarion|
|6 Master Jesus|
|7 Master Prince|
These masters are confusing at first, until one realizes that their names designate their positions, not their identity in this earthly life. The entities who presently hold those positions have reappeared in physical form throughout history, but not always as the individual one might expect from a casual perusal of the chart. For example, the position in the hierarchy called Master Jesus is now filled by the person who was known on earth as the Greek figure Apollonius. The masters, their characteristics, and their most famous incarnations are charted below:
|1. Morya||Power and Strength||A Tibetan|
|2. Koot Hoomi||Wisdom||Pythagoras|
|3. The Venetian||Adaptability||Plotinus|
|4. Serapis||Harmony and Beauty|
|6. Jesus||Purity and Devotion||Apollonius|
|7. Prince Rakoczi||Ordered Service (Ceremonial Magic)||Rosencreutz and Roger Bacon|
The one known on earth as Jesus in this life was, according to Theosophists, a reincarnation of Shri Krishna and is now filling the position of Bodhisattva Maitreya. Master Jupiter is the special guardian of India, and Djual Khool is especially attached to the leaders of the Theosophical Society. The masters work through the leadership of the Theosophical Society and thus become the teachers of the human race. They possess the wisdom that humankind needs to escape the repetition of incarnations and rise to the spiritual home. The Seven Rays use the seven colors of the rainbow in aiding people.
While the masters speak in cognitive language, the wisdom of which they speak is occult (hidden) and, in the long run, available only by the apprehension of the higher self. Like the knowledge that comes out of the relationship of loving another person, it cannot be reduced to statements or adequately conveyed by words.
Theosophy, as a movement, developed centers of work in the United States, England, and India, but the major issues were decided in Adyar, where Blavatsky had set up headquarters. From there, her continued contact with the Page 695 | Top of Articlemasters grew at an increasing rate. Quite apart from the Theosophical system, the question of the existence of the masters became the issue for the last years of Blavatsky’s leadership.
In 1884, while both Olcott and Blavatsky were in England, Emma Coulomb and her husband, who were in charge in Blavatsky’s home, passed some materials to Christian missionaries, who published them and attacked what they considered fraud in the production of the messages from the masters. The messages, which appeared in a specially designed cabinet with secret openings to Blavatsky’s bedroom and to another room in her house, were credited to Blavatsky herself.
The newly founded Society of Psychical Research sent Richard Hodson, a young British scholar, to investigate the matter. He found the opening from Blavatsky’s bedroom into the place where the master’s letters were delivered. In a lengthy report, he concluded that Blavatsky’s messages were fraudulent, and he described at great length how various seemingly miraculous incidents had occurred. The society’s report was a major blow and signaled a period of decline for the Theosophical Society.
In 1888 Blavatsky formally constituted and for the rest of her life headed what was known as the Esoteric Section. The Esoteric Section constituted an inner group of trusted students to whom she taught an advanced course of occultism. While not an official part of the society, it included the most dedicated Theosophists who, in effect, became an elite controlling group.
Blavatsky settled in London in 1887, where she was visited by Annie Besant (1847–1933), a young radical activist and orator who had made a name for herself as a colleague of atheist Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891). Besant, having read The Secret Doctrine, was ready to leave her liberal background and become a Theosophist. Blavatsky recognized her talent and encouraged her. As a result of their effort, during the last five years of Blavatsky’s life, the society recovered and expanded in Europe. Some outstanding workers, such as George R. S. Mead (1863–1933) and Mabel Collins (1851– 1927), were attracted to the society. Olcott continued to offer his administrative ability.
Upon Blavatsky’s death in 1891, Annie Besant’s popularity began to rise, and she succeeded Blavatsky as head of the Esoteric Section. During the next decade, with Olcott’s help, the society became a worldwide organization. Shortly before his death in 1907, Olcott received a message from the masters “appointing” Besant the new president. With her strong leadership, a new era began, and the society started a process of slow and steady growth that has resulted in its spread to all parts of the globe. Its literature is now distributed to the entire occult/psychic community. Only three things marred Besant’s career—the Leadbeater affair, the Krishnamurti affair, and the loss of strong leaders in America and Germany who disagreed with her on points of administration and doctrine.
Charles W. Leadbeater (1854–1934), a priest in the Church of England, joined the Theosophical Society in 1883. Soon afterward, he went to India to aid in its defense, and became a popular lecturer and writer. In 1895 he became assistant secretary of the European Section and a close friend of Besant, with whom he coauthored several books. The primary content of these books was the clairvoyant exploration of the cosmology of Blavatsky. Gradually, these books became the dominant literature of the movement.
The crisis with Leadbeater arose in 1906, when he was charged with giving immoral sexual advice to several youths who had been left in his charge. He had taught the boys the practice of masturbation as a means of dealing with their physical problems (sexual urges). Besant tried to defend her friend, who was being verbally attacked. The scandal was eventually overcome, and Leadbeater remained active in the Theosophical Society, but the blot on Besant continued to be used by her adversaries.
During the early years of the century, Besant, with input from Leadbeater, began to talk of the coming of an avatar, a world teacher, to lead the world into a new stage of evolution. In a series of lectures in 1909 on “The Changing World,” she declared that a new race was coming and a new Christ was to appear. Then, in the winter of 1908 to 1909, a Theosophical Society member in Adyar named Narayaniah asked the society to care for his motherless boys, among them, Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986).
Leadbeater, now living in Adyar, immediately became attached to Krishnamurti, whom he called Alcyone, meaning the calmer of storms. Convinced that Krishnamurti was destined to be a great spiritual leader, Leadbeater became his teacher. During the next two years, Leadbeater worked with him psychically, and the product was a now-famous book, At the Feet of the Master (1911). Besant soon became convinced that Krishnamurti was the body to be used by the bodhisattva (avatar) for his new appearance. In January 1912, a new periodical, Herald of the Star, was launched to announce his appearance. Already formed as a preparatory organization was the Order of the Star of the East. The material advocating his cause began to roll off the Adyar presses.
But obstacles asserted themselves before the new Christ could begin his mission. Krishnamurti’s father demanded the return of his son; the sexual charges against Leadbeater were revived; and a series of court cases was initiated. The court finally ruled in favor of the Theosophical Society. The Order of the Star of the East progressed until Krishnamurti himself began to reject his assigned role in 1929. The Order of the Star of the East then died for lack of a messiah.
Over the period of the various scandals, schisms rent the Theosophical Society. As various leaders and groups jockeyed for power, they found themselves disgusted with Leadbeater and opposed to many of Besant’s new ideas. Alternative messages from the masters began to appear through different channels, challenging Besant’s authority. The story of these schisms is the story of the development of the Theosophical subfamily of religious groups.
THEOSOPHY IN AMERICA
The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875, at which time cofounder William Q. Judge (1851–1896), a lawyer, became the group’s counsel. After Olcott and Blavatsky moved to India, the activity level of the American organization fell measurably. Judge gradually revived it, and the American organization was reconstituted in 1886. Judge also became head of the American branch of the Esoteric Section, authored a number of books, including the classic Ocean of Theosophy (1893), and edited the society’s two periodicals, The Path and The Theosophical Forum.
From the beginning, American Theosophists resented being controlled from India. Judge hoped to become the international president of the Theosophical Society, and hence did not favor the rise of Annie Besant. Her triumphant American tour, which included speaking to overflow crowds at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, did not help.
Besant was able, however, to work out a temporary arrangement to share power in the Esoteric Section, with Judge in America and she in Europe and India. This arrangement came about partly because Judge proposed the plan, and because of the subsequent appearance of a message from Master Morya with the words, “Judge’s plan is right.” As other messages appeared, remarks that they were emanating from Judge rather than the masters became formal charges. The society had no mechanism for handling such charges, and after newspapers got a hold of the allegedly false messages, they attacked Judge viciously. Judge retorted by declaring that Besant was no longer head of the Theosophical Society and was under the control of dark forces.
In 1895 at the American Theosophists’ Convention in Boston, the Americans declared themselves independent of the British and Indian headquarters and formed the Theosophical Society in America. Seventy-five American branches went with Judge. Fourteen remained loyal to Adyar and were rechartered as the American Theosophical Society (now called the Theosophical Society of America), with Alexander Fullerton as president. During the twentieth century, these two rival Theosophical societies spawned a number of new groups, most importantly those growing out of the work of Alice Bailey and Guy W. Ballard.
LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH
During the second decade of the twentieth century, Theosophical ideas became established among the priests of the independent Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain, which had been established by Bishop Arnold Harris Matthew (1852–1918) in 1908. In 1914, little realizing the implications of his act, Matthew consecrated Frederick Samuel Willoughby (b. 1862), an active Theosophist, as a bishop in his church. Over the next year, however, Matthew realized that Theosophy was threatening to overwhelm his jurisdiction. In August 1915 he condemned Theosophy and ordered all of his clergy to sever their ties with the society. Still unaware of the extent of Theosophical penetration of the church’s priesthood, he saw the majority of his priests resign.
The disruption took most of the strength from the Old Roman Catholic Church, which never recovered from the loss and today remains a small inconsequential organization. The resigned priests reorganized and elected James Ingall Wedgewood as their bishop. Willoughby consecrated him in 1916, and Wedgewood soon afterward left on a world tour. In Australia he met with Charles Leadbeater, who was living there in self-imposed exile, and consecrated him regionary bishop for the subcontinent. Leadbeater would later write the major theological books reworking the Christian tradition in a Theosophical/esoteric mode.
At a synod in 1918, the new organization adopted the name Liberal Catholic Church. The following year, Wedgewood went to the United States and there consecrated Irving Steiger Cooper (1882–1935) as the regionary bishop for the United States. Cooper, who had earlier worked with Leadbeater, assumed major duties in developing a liturgy for the new church. In 1934 he published a book of worship, Ceremonies of the Liberal Catholic Rite. The Liberal Catholic Church spread into most countries where the Theosophical Society was established and has continued as a small body for people who are attracted to the society but wish to participate in a liturgical worship program. Other branches of the Theosophical movement generally saw the church in negative terms.
THE ALICE BAILEY MOVEMENT
Alice La Trobe Bateman (1880–1949), a teenage church-school teacher in the Church of England, was stunned one Sunday morning to see the door to her home open and a tall stranger with a turban walk in and speak to her. He told her of important work already mapped out for her future. This event was but one of a number of psychical/mystical happenings that, coupled with world travel for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and an unsuccessful marriage, brought her to the Theosophical Society in Pacific Grove, California.
Theosophical teachings of a divine plan for humanity, a hierarchy of masters, and reincarnation and karma appealed to her. While at the Theosophical Society she saw a picture of the man in the turban; he was identified as the Master Koot Hoomi, who figures in the Theosophical cosmology. She became active in the society and there met Foster Bailey (1888–1975), whom she married. He became national secretary of the society, and Alice became editor of the Messenger, the sectional magazine.
In 1919 Alice reported that she was approached by a Master Djwhal Khul (Djual Khool), who requested that he become her control in the transmission by clairvoyant telepathy of a series of books. After first objecting, Alice began to receive (channel) Initiation, Human and Solar, her first book. Nineteen books in all were dictated to Alice between 1919 and 1960, along with other books written by Alice and Foster themselves.
At first, the chapters of Initiation, Human and Solar were received with enthusiasm and were serialized in The Theosophist, but then publication abruptly stopped. Concurrently, trouble developed within the Esoteric Section Page 697 | Top of Articleof the Theosophical Society over the dictations. Alice complained that Annie Besant, the head of the society, acted autocratically, demanded that members cut outside ties and swear loyalty to her, and allowed contact with the masters from the spirit world only with her consent. The trouble came to a head at the 1920 convention, when Besant’s supporters were placed in all the key offices, and both Foster and Alice were dismissed from their positions. They thus became free to pursue their own work of transmitting the material from Djual Khool.
Alice Bailey’s teachings resemble Theosophy closely, with the description of the divine hierarchy, the seven rays, and the evolution of humans to higher levels. According to Bailey, humans had evolved by 1920 to the point where they could look toward the new age, when groups could form advanced training schools to prepare for the real esoteric schools. In the 1930s this observation took on an eschatological emphasis when it was revealed that, because of the spiritual yearnings of humanity, the new age was coming closer. According to Bailey’s followers, this reappearance of the Christ will be accomplished by the power of the divine hierarchy descending into this world and by service based on the love of humanity. A two-pronged program was implemented to carry through the double emphasis.
To encourage the advent of the Christ, meditation groups were set up to help channel the energy from the hierarchy. Each group or person is seen as a point of light radiating the power of the world. A particularly effective way of channeling makes use of what Bailey promulgated as the Great Invocation. The invocation is repeated slowly and with solemnity while one visualizes the funneling down of power from the hierarchy. Various Bailey groups reprint and distribute this prayer, and it is often used by people with little comprehension of Bailey’s understanding of its intent:
From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the Point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
May Christ return to Earth.
From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide the little wills of men—
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the centre which we call the race of men
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out.
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.
Particular times of the month and year have been designated as periods when special spiritual energies are available from the hierarchy. The period of the full moon is such a time; meditation groups always gather on the evening of the full moon to celebrate and meditate. On three of these full-moon dates occur the great spiritual festivals. Eventually, all people will celebrate these three festivals as focal points of the hierarchical year. The festival of Easter occurs with the full moon in April and is the time of active forces of the restoration of the Christ. The festival of Wesak occurs in May, the time of Buddha’s forces of enlightenment. The festival of Goodwill is in June, when the forces of reconstruction are active. The festivals also illustrate Bailey’s belief in the synthesis of East and West into a new unity of humankind.
The Bailey program of service has found expression in the New Group of World Servers. Within this nebulous body are those who, desiring to be disciples of the masters from the spirit world, work as intermediaries between the hierarchy and the mass of humanity. A second group is composed of people of goodwill who, knowing nothing of the hierarchy, nevertheless strive for goodwill under the guidance of the masters’ disciples. From this ideal of service has come a number of practical programs in education and political realignment.
In 1923 the Baileys founded the Arcane School. After Alice’s death in 1949, the movement splintered, and a number of full-moon meditation groups emerged. All of the Alice Bailey groups agree on the content of the teachings, though few individuals can master the voluminous writings. All gather for the full moon and celebrate the festivals. In southern California, most of the groups cooperate in publicizing and holding the celebrations. The main differences among the groups concern nonacceptance of the Bailey family leadership and local autonomy in spreading the teachings. Among members of the psychic community, the Bailey disciples have a reputation for evangelical fervor and proselytizing activity. This proselytizing zeal is often based on the Theosophical notion of the astral versus the higher spiritual planes. Nonbelievers are often seen as enmeshed in lower psychism.
THE “I AM” RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT
Among the most colorful of the several divergences within the larger Theosophical movement is the “I AM” Religious Activity founded by Guy W. Ballard (1878–1939) and his wife, Edna W. Ballard (1886–1971). Guy Ballard, a mining engineer, had decided in 1929, upon completion of a job in the West, to visit Mt. Shasta in California. As early as the 1880s, the mountain had been seen as the home of a lost race of mystic adepts from Atlantis who lived inside the massive volcanic structure. Throughout the next half-century, the occult legends had grown, and Ballard, a student of occult metaphysics, was intrigued.
While hiking up the side of the mountain, Ballard knelt to dip water from a mountain stream. A young man appeared and offered him “a much more refreshing drink than spring water.” The cup was filled with a vivifying white liquid that the stranger identified as “omnipotent life.” The young man continued to talk of abundant supply, reincarnation, and the laws of cause and effect. As he did, he changed into the mystical figure of Saint Germain, the seventeenth-century occultist, now an Ascended Master.
According to Ballard, Saint Germain described his task as that of initiating the seventh golden age, the permanent “I AM” age of eternal perfection on earth. During the previous six centuries, he had searched Europe for someone in human Page 698 | Top of Articleembodiment strong enough and pure enough that the instruction of the great law of life could be released through him. Having failed to find such a person, he turned to America and eventually located Ballard. Saint Germain designated Ballard, his wife Edna, and their son Donald as the only accredited messengers of the Ascended Masters.
During the ensuing months, Ballard reported numerous experiences with Saint Germain and other Ascended Masters, about which he regularly informed his wife through letters. Upon his return to Chicago, where the family dwelt, Edna’s position as a messenger was confirmed and she began regular contact. Using the pen name Godfré Ray King, Guy Ballard recorded his initial experiences with Saint Germain, which were published as two volumes in 1934, Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence. These were followed by additional volumes, including The “I AM” Discourses (1936), a series of lectures by Saint Germain that summarize the basic teachings; “I AM” Adorations and Affirmations (1935), which give the text for the decrees (the peculiar “I AM” form of prayer); and a hymn book, “I AM” Songs (1938). A periodical, The Voice of the I AM, was launched in 1936.
In 1932 the Ballards began to release the message of the Ascended Masters to the public. They formed the Saint Germain Foundation to administer the work and the Saint Germain Press to publish their materials. In 1934 they held the first public 10-day class in Chicago at the Civic Opera House. During the next few years, similar classes were held in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles. More than 7,000 attended the Los Angeles classes. By the time of Guy Ballard’s death in 1939, the movement claimed more than one million students (though the actual number was probably smaller).
According to the “I AM” teaching, in 1929 the Ascended Masters instituted a new thrust of activity. There had been previous thrusts, such as that initiated through Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society. This new thrust was begun by Saint Germain, the Lord of the Seventh Ray, who in previous incarnations claimed to be the Old Testament prophet Samuel, the British Saint Alban, and Sir Francis Bacon. As Bacon, he claimed to have authored the Shakespearean plays. In 1684 he “illumined and raised His body” and spent a period of time in the Himalayas, only to return to Europe at the time of the French Revolution. Thereafter he worked in America, the seat of the new civilization, which represents the permanent condition on the planet in the future.
Saint Germain taught the nature and importance of the “I AM” Presence, the mighty presence of light, God in action. The “I AM” Presence emanates from the mighty creative fire, the great central sun, the impersonal source of reality in the world. Out of its abundance, the great central sun pours forth the primal light. That primal light is the basis for all manifested form in both the visible and invisible world. Through the individualization of the light, everything comes into existence.
The term I AM refers to that primal light, the opulence and energy of God. Individualized, it is the essence of each person, and is to be constantly invoked and activated. The individual’s “I AM” Presence is the real point of contact with divine reality, and hence properly referred to as the presence of God within each person. It is visualized in a chart used by “I AM” students that shows an individual surrounded in a column of purple flame. Above the individual, connected by a shaft of white light, is the “I AM” Presence, pictured as a person clothed in golden light surrounded by a circular rainbow of light, a color radiance indicative of the accumulated good of previous lives.
The “I AM” Presence is invoked by the use of decrees, affirmative commands for the “I AM” Presence to initiate action. In calling upon the “I AM” Presence, the violet flame pictured around each person is activated as a purifying fire to burn undesirable personal conditions away. A wide variety of decrees for handling both personal and social situations is used by “I AM” students. Most controversial are the several negative decrees that target specific conditions for annihilation, to be blasted from existence. These come with instructions that such decrees can be used only for the dissipation of discord and imperfection. They can have no effect upon that which is good, and are certainly not to be directed against any individual, though they may be directed toward a negative condition surrounding a person.
Assisting and guiding humanity, both individuals in their personal conditions as well as the human race in its process of evolving, are the Ascended Masters. A master is an individual who has passed through several human incarnations but, by his own effort, has generated the conditions necessary to rise above human limitations (ascend) and escape the necessity of continued reembodiment. Such Ascended Masters radiate love and power, which can be called upon to correct the various destructive currents that retard humanity. Each master, a visible tangible being, has a particular quality or talent that is invoked for particular situations.
The steady progress of the “I AM” movement was interrupted by a series of events that began shortly after the sudden death of Guy Ballard in 1939. Several former students became vocal critics of the activity. One, Gerald B. Bryan, wrote a series of books against the foundation. In 1941 Edna and Donald Ballard and several members of the staff of the foundation were indicted for mail fraud, in reference to their promotion of the “I AM” movement through the mail. In a trial, which began in December 1941, the Ballards were convicted of making a variety of fraudulent misrepresentations and false promises to several ex-members who testified that the Ballards were not only advocating a false religion but that they knew it to be false. Subsequently, the postal department denied both the foundation and the press their privilege to use the mail.
The conviction was appealed, and in 1944 a landmark decision in religious liberty was granted in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed the judgment (United States v. Ballard). Justice William O. Douglas, in stating the opinion of the Court, asserted, “Men may believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious Page 699 | Top of Articledoctrines or beliefs.” The case, sent down for review, was finally dismissed in 1946.
During the period of the initial trial and the subsequent appeals, the “I AM” Religious Activity became the victim of a hostile press, and many students left the movement. The ending of criminal litigation set the stage for the rebuilding of the movement, even though additional legal action over the next decade was required to handle the problems created by the original conviction. For example, eight years of further action were needed to reverse the effects of the 1943 decision and return full use of the mail system to the foundation. (During the intervening years, the foundation and press distributed materials through American Express.) The period of rebuilding also set the stage for the formation of new organizations by individuals who agreed with the essentials of the Ascended Masters’ teachings, but who also claimed subsequent direct contact with additional teachings.
ANCIENT WISDOM IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
As the new century begins, the Rosicrucian, Theosophical, Alice Bailey, “I AM,” and Liberal Catholic organizations continue to be active, though relatively few new ancient-wisdom organizations are being formed. Several new Rosicrucian groups arose from a controversy that hit the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis; however, this is not symbolic of the life and ferment that saw a dramatic increase in the number of those who adhere to the ancient-wisdom tradition.
The New Age movement, a millennial revitalizing movement that swept through the esoteric community in the 1980s, was characterized in part by renewed interest in mediumship, now termed channeling. A close examination of channeling groups and the materials they produce indicates that the affirmations of the ancient-wisdom groups, including their basic theological perspective and their search for authority by appeal to an ancient perennial wisdom, permeate the teachings offered by various channeled entities (such as Ramtha, channeled by JZ Knight, and Michael, channeled by various individuals). The New Age movement alone brought several million people into the esoteric community, capturing the allegiance of many individuals who might otherwise be expected to adhere to the various older ancient-wisdom organizations. Most of these people stayed attached to the esoteric world even as the New Age movement died out in the 1990s.
Research on esoteric history is given focus by the Association for the Study of Esotericism and its journal Esoterica; the offices of both may be reached at 235 Bessey Hall, ATL Dept., Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824. Theosophy is the primary topic covered by the Theosophical History Foundation, which may be contacted at the Department of Religious Studies, California State University–Fullerton, 1800 North State College Blvd., Fullerton, CA 92634-9480. It publishes the quarterly journal Theosophical History. Significant collections of Theosophical literature are available at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Pasadena, California; at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, Illinois; and at the Krotona Institute (affiliated with the Theosophical Society in America) in Ojai, California. The largest academic collection on Theosophy is found in the J. Gordon Melton American Religions Collection at Davidson Library at the University of California–Santa Barbara.
Bogdan, Henrik. Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. 235 pp.
Ellwood, Robert S., Jr. Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988. 328 pp.
Faivre, Antoine. Access to Western Esotericism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994. 369 pp.
———. Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism. Trans. Christine Rhone. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. 269 pp.
Faivre, Antoine, and Jacob Needleman, eds. Modern Esoteric Spirituality. New York: Crossroad, 1992. 413 pp.
Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. 448 pp.
———. The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions. Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2007. 172 pp.
Godwin, Joscelyn, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney, eds. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1995. 452 pp.
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 356 pp.
Hall, Manly Palmer. Great Books on Religion and Eastern Philosophy. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1966. 85 pp.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J., ed., with Antoine Faive, Roelof van den Broek, and Jean-Pierre Brach. Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2005.
Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967. 317 pp.
Kies, Cossete N. The Occult in the Western World: An Annotated Bibliography. Hamden, CT: Library Professional, 1986. 233 pp.
King, Karen L. What Is Gnosticism? Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003. 343 pp.
Smoley, Richard. Forbidden Faith: The Gnostic Legacy from the Gospels to the Da Vinci Code. New York: HarperOne, 2007. 256 pp.
Smoley, Richard, and Jay Kinney. Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions. Rev. ed. Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2006. 430 pp.
Versluis, Arthur. Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esotericism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. 208 pp.
Versluis, Arthur, Lee Irwin, John Richards, and Melinda Weinstein, eds. Esotericism, Art, and Imagination. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008. 327 ppp.
von Stuckard, Kocku. Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge. London: Equinox, 2005. 148 pp.
Allen, Paul M., ed. A Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology. Blauvelt, NY: Steiner, 1968. 702 pp.
Clymer, R. Swinburne. The Rosicrucian Fraternity in America. 2 vols. Quakertown, PA: Rosicrucian Foundation, 1935.
Deveney, John Patrick. Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex Magician. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. 607 pp.
Lewis, H. Spencer. Rosicrucian Questions and Answers. 9th ed. San Jose, CA: Supreme Grand Lodge of AMORC, 1969.
Matthews, John, Bembridge, Paul, Joscelyn Godwin, et al. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne 1999. 267 pp.
McIntosh, Christopher. The Rosy Cross Unveiled. Wellingborough, U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1980. 160 pp.
Voorhis, Harold V. B. Masonic Rosicrucian Societies. New York: Press of Henry Emmerson, 1958. 146 pp.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. London: Rider, 1924. 249 pp.
———. The Real History of the Rosicrucians. London: Redway, 1887. 446 pp.
Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972. 269 pp.
Campbell, Bruce F. A History of the Theosophical Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. 249 pp.
Cranston, S. C. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: Putnam, 1993. 648 pp.
Ellwood, Robert. Theosophy. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1986. 226 pp.
Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madam Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Brotherhood. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. 288 pp.
———. Initiates of the Theosophical Masters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. 255 pp.
Meade, Marion. Madame Blavatsky: The Woman behind the Myth. New York: Putnam, 1980. 528 pp.
Mills, Joy. 100 Years of Theosophy. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987. 215 pp.
Murphet, Howard. Hammer on the Mountain: Life of Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907). Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972. 339 pp.
Nethercot, Arthur H. The First Five Lives of Annie Besant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. 419 pp.
———. The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. 483 pp.
Rogers, L. W. Elementary Theosophy. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1956. 269 pp.
Ryan, Charles J. H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1975. 358 pp.
Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schrocken, 1995. 470 pp.
Winner, Anna Kennedy. The Basic Ideas of Occult Wisdom. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1970. 113 pp.
Bailey, Alice A. The Unfinished Autobiography. New York: Lucas, 1951. 305 pp.
Sapat, Peter. The Return of the Christ and Prophecy. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1978. 293 pp.
Sinclair, John R. The Alice Bailey Inheritance. Wellingborough, U.K.: Turnstone Press, 1984. 208 pp.
Thirty Years Work. New York: Lucis, n.d. 32 pp.
Liberal Catholic Church
Cooper, Irving S. Ceremonies of the Liberal Catholic Rite. Ojai, CA: St. Alban Press, 1964. 380 pp.
Hodson, Geoffrey. The Inner Side of Church Worship. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1948. 82 pp.
———. The Priestly Ideal. London: St. Alban Press, 1971. 76 pp.
Leadbeater, Charles Webster. The Hidden Side of Christian Festivals. Los Angeles: St. Alban Press, 1920. 508 pp.
———. The Science of the Sacraments. Los Angeles: St. Alban Press, 1920. 560 pp.
The Liturgy According to the Use of the Liberal Catholic Church. London: St. Alban Press, 1983. 469 pp.
Norton, Robert. The Willow in the Tempest: A Brief History of the Liberal Catholic Church in the United States of America from 1917 to 1942. London: St. Alban Press, 1990. 318 pp.
Tillett, Gregory. The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. 337 pp.
“I AM” Religious Activity
King, Godfre Ray (Guy W. Ballard). The Magic Presence. Chicago: Saint Germain Press, 1935. 393 pp.
———. The Unveiled Mysteries. Chicago: Saint Germain Press, 1935. 260 pp.
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare. The Great White Brotherhood. Malibu, CA: Summit University Press, 1983. 356 pp.
Other Esoteric Orders
Childs, Gilbert. Rudolf Steiner: His Life and Work. Herndon, VA: Anthroposophic Press, 1996. 111 pp.
Hall, Manly Palmer. What the Ancient Wisdom Expects of Its Disciples. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1945. 79 pp.
———. Self-Unfoldment by Disciplines of Realization. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1946. 221 pp.
———. Man: The Grand Symbol of the Mysteries. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1947. 420 pp.
Jones, Marc Edmund. Occult Philosophy: An Introduction, the Major Concepts, and a Glossary (1948). Stanwood, WA: Sabian Publishing Society, 1948. 436 pp.
Perkins, Lynn F. The Masters as New Age Mentors. Lakemont, GA: CSA Press, 1976. 228 pp.
Schuré, Edouard. From Sphinx to Christ: An Occult History (1928). Blauvelt, NY: Steiner, 1970. 284 pp.
Shepherd, A. P. A Scientist of the Invisible: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1954. 222 pp.
William, Sir. The Occults in Council or the Great Learning. Denver, CO: Smith-Brooks, 1901. 408 pp.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3274100107