Issues of Theosophical History:
Description of Contents

By the Editor: Dr. James Santucci

 

Vol. XVI Issue 1 January 2012
Vol. XVI Issue 2 April 2012
Vol. XVI Issues 3 – 4 July – October 2012

Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX

 

Vol. XVI, Issue 1 (January 2012)

Not much is known of the private life of Edward Arthur Wilson, aka Brother XII, but with the publication of selected private letters written in 1905, 1906, 1912, and 1919 more light has been shed on his personality and character.  Wilson was only twenty-seven at the time he wrote the 1905 letters. Of the seven letters written in that year, three are quoted in this article, with the emphasis on Wilson’s life as a dairy farmer in Rednal, a few miles south of Birmingham, England, about as far removed from his later persona as Brother XII as one can imagine. It should come as no surprise that the main priority was to earn a living, which was difficult since his dairy was in poor condition and the price of milk not enough to cover the cost of production.  These difficulties led Wilson to write to his mother-in-law, in a letter of May 6, 1905, requesting her assistance, apparently without success.  Because of his business failure, he and his family returned to New Zealand, where he had married Margery a few years earlier, and eventually found work at a South Seas trading company, Vines, Utting & Perston.  What appears in the 1906 letters is mention of his chronic on-going ill health, his occupational difficulties, and the need to borrow money from his father.  In a letter of July 14, 1906, he describes himself as a failure in his effort to find an occupation or to hold onto a decent job that could support his family, blaming it in part on his “[e]leven years of ill-health.”  Most of the letters written in 1906 continue to detail the difficulties in supporting his family, the parsimony of his in-laws, and the continued generosity and support of his father.  The lessons learned from this period in his life led to a dramatic change in his later years, from an emotionally troubled and indecisive personality to one who was self-assured, what may be described as omega to alpha-like tendencies that became apparent in the mid- to late-1920s after assuming the role of Brother XII.

The beginnings of this transition occurred in 1912, when Wilson underwent an epiphany of sorts, termed by him as a “Ceremony of Dedication,”  followed by “twelve chaotic years of testing and wandering in all parts of the world,” according to his Foundation Letters and Teachings.  Part of the training he undertook was Theosophically-inspired, since he joined the Theosophical Society (Adyar) on January 6, 1913.  The 1912 letter included in the article mentions for the first time the teaching of the Second Coming of Christ, a teaching prominent in the Catholic Apostolic Church, of which he and his family were members.  The interest and passion that Wilson had towards Adventism takes on a prominence in his later years, most likely because of the Gnostic teaching—perhaps as early as Cerinthus (100 BCE), which was first adopted by Blavatsky and then modified by Besant and Leadbeater—that Jesus was but a human born of normal parents (Mary and Joseph) who became the temporary vehicle of the Christ or Christos at the time of his baptism. It was this infusion that endowed Jesus with miraculous powers.  This teaching later served as the basis of the Neo-Theosophical assertion that Jiddu Krishnamurti was the new vehicle who would be “overshadowed” by the Christ-Maitreya-Krishna. A few years later, Brother XII adopted this Neo-Theosophical teaching. The vehicle, the reincarnation of Horus, would be conceived by his mother Isis (Mrs. Myrtle Baumgartner, a woman whom Wilson supposedly met on a train from Seattle to Chicago in 1928), and fathered by Osiris (i.e. Wilson).
 
The events that took place after Wilson became Brother XII and those that led to his becoming such make for a fascinating tale.  With the letters, however, Wilson is revealed in more human terms and less the Mephistophelian figure depicted both in photography and in print.  Many years ago, I wrote the following:

It should not be surprising that very little is known of Edward Arthur Wilson prior to 1926, for the less the world knows of a leader’s private or early life the easier it is for the leader—religious or otherwise—and his followers to mythicize his life.  Regarded in this manner, Wilson was not much different from a Cagliostro or Blavatsky, a Pythagorus or Paracelsus.  He was, at least to his followers, a magus or modern-day shaman. 

The article in this issue, however, opens a window to Wilson’s earlier years, revealing a person with many of the same problems in raising a family in difficult economic times, but also revealing a man who was committed to acquiring a wisdom that would make him—at least to his followers and indeed to himself—an equal to the Masters of Wisdom.  “Cult leader,” “notorious fraud,” one who practiced “weird occultism,” and “man of mystery” were descriptions given to him by those who did not know Wilson or ascertained his convictions.  However, to those who did know him—at least the old “Brother” during his incipient years as Brother XII—the spell of an inspiring figure who revealed the ideals of brotherly love remained in their memories despite the drastic and inexplicable change in his personality from the late 1920s that belied such an ideal.

This unique insight into the private Brother XII arises from the alertness of the great granddaughter of Wilson’s sister, Ms Melody Wilson-Claridge, and the fortuitous circumstances surrounding the realization that her great uncle Edward was indeed Brother XII.  It is she who allowed the letters to be published herein, and who also provided the three new photos accompanying the article.  In addition, Ms Margery Rowe, the granddaughter of Edward Wilson, provided additional photos, including those of Wilson’s wife, Margery Ellen Clark, and of his children, Margery Ellen Wilson and Charles Rupert Baron Wilson.


John Oliphant, the author of “Brother XII’s Early Years: The Letters of Edward Arthur Wilson,” is the world’s foremost authority on Wilson and the Aquarian Foundation that Wilson established. Mr. Oliphant has written numerous articles (including “The Teachings of Brother XII” in Theosophical History, Vol. IV, Nos. 6-7 [April – July1993]) and appeared in many television programs discussing Brother XII. His book, Brother Twelve: The Incredible Story of Canada’s False Prophet, originallyappeared in 1991, with the second edition, Brother Twelve: The Strange Odyssey of a 20th-Century Prophet and His Quest for a New World, in 2006.  “Brother XII’s Early Years” is but the latest insight into the life of this fascinating figure.


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As John Patrick Deveney remarks in his Introduction to the New York Sun’s interview of H.P. Blavatsky on May 6, 1877, newspaper accounts such as this are important because it was one method of publicizing the Theosophical Society when the Society was especially moribund (i.e. after the cremation of Baron de Palm in December 1876 and the publication of Isis Unveiled shortly after this interview).  “Catechizing a Buddhist” is especially important because of Blavatsky’s views on Buddhism, both as a “religion” (which is debated in the article) and as a designation.  The discussion takes on significance because of the controversy surrounding the inclusion of the term in A.P. Sinnett’s influential and controversial book, Esoteric Buddhism, in 1883. Some readers of this book expected the usual Buddhist teachings to be considered: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the three characteristics, and the precepts.  What appeared in Esoteric Buddhism, however, was anything but.  In a response to criticism of Sinnett’s discussion of evolution (Lucifer ([May, 1888]), the editor Lucifer (presumably Blavatsky) states that “Buddhism” in the title should rather be rendered as “Budhism,” “Wisdom,” since the term referred to “Esoteric philosophy,” a subject which “preceded Buddhism by long ages and is pre-Vedic” (“A Puzzle in Esoteric Buddhism” in Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. 9, pp. 282-83) [See Note below]. In Isis Unveiled, she also asserts that there was a “prehistoric Buddhism,” which was “carried to perfection by the last of the Buddhas, Gautama” (Vol. II, p. 123).  In Vol. I of Isis, she remarks:

The laws of Manu are the doctrines of Plato, Philo, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, and of the Kabala.  The esoterism of every religion may be solved by the latter.  The kabalistic doctrine of the allegorical Father and Son, or πατηρ and Λογος is identical with the groundwork of Buddhism.

Furthermore, “Buddhism is but the primitive source of Brahmanism” (Vol. II, p. 169), Buddhism implying not “the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama-Buddha, nor the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which in its essence is certainly identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism” (Vol. II, p. 142).  This “secret philosophy of Sakyamuni” is nothing but the “doctrine” taught only to his “elect”  (Vol. II, p. 319).

These quotes demonstrate that there is some consistency of teaching regarding Buddhism in “Catechizing A Buddhist” and in her later writings, examples being Buddhism considered as the “wisdom religion”; “Pure Buddhism is pure Christianity”; and the “immortality of the soul a Buddhist doctrine” (cf. Isis I, 189-90; II.320).  As depicted in Blavatsky’s writings, “Buddhism” may be used in a number of ways, including:

1) Buddhism as the “wisdom religion” (= “Budhism”): the equivalent to Esoteric
    Buddhism;
2) The Neo-Buddhism of Gautama; 
3) Popular Buddhism, wherein there are beliefs regarding heaven and hell, of superstitions
    and dogmas such as punishment for the wicked and reward for the good, and the
    transmigration of souls [Exoteric Buddhism];
4) Educated (cf. Elite) Buddhism (in opposition to Popular Buddhism).

Another topic taken up by the article is the issue of transmigration or reincarnation.  To the question whether “philosophical Buddhists” believe in the soul’s reincarnation, Blavatsky’s response is: “No educated Buddhist does.”  Whether she denied reincarnation or not in Isis Unveiled is a subject that will be taken up in a future issue.  Depending upon how one interprets “reincarnation” or “transmigration,” one may conclude that some understanding, and acceptance, of the concept existed in Isis Unveiled, but in what manner is best left to a full discussion of the subject.

Accompanying the interview is the New York Sun’s rather skeptical opinion of Blavatsky’s knowledge of Buddhism, ignoring completely her equation of Bu(d)dhism with the “wisdom religion” and choosing to accept an unnamed confidant’s opinion that Blavatsky bases her knowledge of the subject on the “French fraud” Louis Jacolliot, the latter the subject of a revealing article by Daniel Caracostea in Theosophical History Vol. IX, No. 1 (Jan. 2003).  The editorial’s misgivings of Blavatsky’s erudition in this and other topics are but an early exhibition of a mistrust and suspicion that continues to this day.

[NOTE] Earlier, Blavatsky writes (Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. 8, p. 75 [originally published in Le Lotus (Paris), Vol. I, No. 6 (Sept. 1887): pp. 321-38]:

None of the great religions, neither the Ethiopian nor any other, has preceded the religion of the first Vedists: ancient “Budhism.” Let us explain. When one speaks of esoteric Budhism (with one d) to the European public—so ignorant of oriental matters—it is mistaken for Buddhism, the religion of Gautama the Buddha. “Buddha” is a title of the sages and means the “illumined one”; Budhism comes from the word “Budha” (wisdom, intelligence) personified in the Purânas. He is the son of Soma (the moon in its masculine aspect or Lunus) and Târâ, the unfaithful wife of Brihaspati (the planet Jupiter), the personification of ceremonial cult, of sacrifice and other exoteric mummeries. Târâ is the soul which aspires to truth, turns away in horror from human dogma which claims to be divine, and rushes into the arms of Soma, god of mystery, of occult nature, whence is born Budha (the veiled but brilliant son), the personification of secret wisdom, of the Esotericism of the occult sciences. This Budha is by thousands of years older than the year 600 (or 300 according to certain Orientalists) before the Christian era, date assigned to the appearance of Gautama the Buddha, prince of Kapilavastu. Budhist esotericism has therefore nothing to do with the Buddhist religion, and the good and revered Sumangala has nothing to do with Theosophy in India.

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The third offering is by a frequent contributor to these pages, Michael Gomes, who introduces a document culled from Blavatsky’s Scrapbook, Vol. XIX, Part 1, p. 217, located in the T.S. Adyar Archives.  The document in question, a prospectus, proposes the formation of the Hermetic Lodge of the Theosophical Society, whose purpose is to emphasize the study of Christian-Hermetic sources, principally interpreted by Anna Kingsford.  The proposed Lodge was to serve as a complement to the newly popular Indo-Tibetan teachings appearing in A.P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism.  Its existence was short-lived, however, lasting less than a month (April 1884) due to Col. Olcott’s disallowance of dual membership in both Kingsford’s Hermetic Lodge and Sinnett’s London Lodge, the latter name selected by Mrs. Kingsford to the original Theosophical Society in London.  More to the point, members of the Hermetic Lodge of the Theosophical Society could not remain members of the London Lodge.  The result of Olcott’s ruling was the return of the charter he issued a few days before establishing the Hermetic Lodge with the suggestion of forming an independent society, which was to be known as the Hermetic Society.
This event is given context with a letter written by Blavatsky to Kingsford on November 25, 1883, a few months preceding the events above.  Her advice, and her subsequent comments and opinions are revealing.  With the death of Mrs. Kingsford, the Hermetic Society ceased to exist, ending what may be considered the first schism or secession of the Theosophical Society.


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Vol. XVI, Issue 2 (April 2012)

The sole article in this issue, “Theosophy and Anthroposophy in Italy during the First Half of the Twentieth Century,” is indeed a significant one.  As noted by Dr. Pasi at the inception of the article, it is a revised and expanded version of an original article appearing in Storia d’Italia, edited by Gian Mario Cazzaniga.  The article confirms what many suspect to be the case regarding the Theosophical and Anthropological movements, namely, that despite the relatively meager number of adherents their influence “went far deeper than their membership numbers would suggest, and both movements had a marked influence on various intellectual, literary, artistic, and political milieus.”  Their inclusion in nearly every collection of essays on new religious movements as well as the growing number of individual studies bears this out. Among the interesting observations made in this article is mention of Antonio Rosmini Serbati’s (1797–1855) unfinished five-volume work entitled Teosofia.  It is a name that was mentioned once previously in Antoine Faivre’s “The Theosophical Current: A Periodization” in the January 1999 (Vol. VII, No. 5) issue of this journal.  In note 67, Faivre remarks that “teosofia” appears “in a very general but precise and not at all esoteric sense … and distinguishes … two areas in metaphysics, namely, psychology and theosophy.  The author [Rosmini Serbati] declares that he is inspired by Saint Augustine who reduced philosophy to two fundamental areas: the knowledge of the soul and the knowledge of God” (p. 202).  Dr. Faivre’s article deserves a rereading since there is a vast literature around this time that requires more attention if a complete understanding of theosophy is to be achieved.  Dr. Pasi’s discussion helps define the place of Rosmini Serbati and the Italian understanding of “theosophy” when it first appeared in Italy.  He is quite correct in stating that Blavatsky was aware of Rosmini’s name, at least indirectly through Abbé Roca’s reply to her observations on Christian Esotericism.   But what is most interesting is the awareness of both interpretations of theosophy—the Rosminian and Blavatskyan—in Italy around the turn of the 20th century with elements of both appearing in a later work of the same name, Teosofia, by the Old Catholic, later Waldensian Evangelical pastor and freemason, Ugo Janni, in 1932.

The introduction of Theosophy and the founding of The Theosophical Society in Italy introduce us to a number of interesting characters, including Alfredo Pioda, a philosopher-politician who contributed to the eventual founding of the Monte Verità community and the first to introduce a systematized approach to Theosophical ideas in Italian, Isabel Cooper-Oakley, a pupil of Blavatsky who promoted Theosophical ideas in Italy, and Decio Calvari, the former General-Secretary of the T.S. who contributed to the establishment of the Independent Theosophical League, which was affiliated with the group in India of the same name under the leadership of Upendranath Basu.

Dr. Pasi also brings up the somewhat neglected issue of  “exploring esoteric traditions in a national spirit,” an approach that alters focus from the “oriental” Theosophical and the Western or “Nordic” Western Theosophical traditions, including the movement of Rudolf Steiner.  This nationalistic approach led to an Italian esoteric tradition that emphasized the contributions of philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, by investigators such as Giorgio Levi Della Vida, Balbino Giuliano, Giovanni Amendola, and Arturo Reghini.

The relationship of the T.S. with progressive ideas is also illustrated with its relationship with feminism.  Perhaps the outstanding representative was Maria Montessori, who was associated with the Society from around 1899 to her death in 1952. 

Dr. Pasi concludes this section of the article with observations on the Society’s relationship with Freemasonry and the general impact of Theosophical ideas on Italian culture.

The concluding portion of the article focuses on the Anthroposophical movement and Rudolf Steiner. The foundation of the Italian Anthroposophical Society came relatively late, in 1931, but it had the distinction of attracting a number of talented adherents, among whom included the founder of the Democratic Social Party, Colonna di Cesarò, and the poet Arturo Onofri. 
Finally, the issue of Fascism and the relationship of both Societies with the Fascist government reveals varying degrees of success, with Anthroposophy enjoying some measure of success under the fascist regime as opposed to the Theosophical Society, in part due to the latter’s Anglo-American origins and Anglo-Indian doctrines.    The one Theosophical organization that exhibited sympathy toward the Fascist government was the Independent Theosophical League, an autonomous section of the T.S. founded in 1909 and surviving until the early 1930s. 

This article confirms what has previously been stated concerning the influence of Theosophy and Anthroposophy on other societies, namely, that despite the small number of adherents and members both organizations achieved considerable impact on Italian culture, primarily because of the attractiveness of their ideas on exceptionally gifted individuals

The author, Marco Pasi, is a historian of religions specializing in the history of modern Western esotericism and the history of magic.  He is currently Associate Professor in the Western Esotericism program at the University of Amsterdam and Editor-in-Chief of the Aries Book Series (Brill) and Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the Western Esotericism Group.

 

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Vol. XVI, Issues 3 – 4 (July – October 2012)

Was H.P. Blavatsky a proponent of reincarnation at the time of her writing Isis Unveiled?  This issue was discussed as early as 1882 and continues as an object of debate to the present day.  The U.L.T. Publisher’s Preface to Isis Unveiled reviewed the subject and listed Blavatsky’s numerous attempts to clarify the issue.(1)   She did undeniably accept reincarnation but not in the usual and commonly understood sense.  Perhaps the clearest definition of the latter appears in the Bhagavad Gita 2.22:  “As a man casts off his worn-out clothes and takes on other new ones, so does the embodied cast off its worn-out bodies and enters other new ones.”    Blavatsky’s early understanding of the doctrine was not presented in so forthright a manner.  It would appear that the terms “reincarnation,” “transmigration” (or its verbal form “to transmigrate”), and "metempsychosis” are to be considered less as synonyms and more as hyponyms of the hyperonym  “re-embodiment” or perhaps “rebirth.” Re-embodiment emphasizes the entity undergoing the experience, either non-material or composed of subtle material, by taking upon itself a new gross material body; “rebirth” refers more to the process that the entity experiences. Underlying re-embodiment is the popular and general assumption that the same soul, consciousness, or subtle body that inhabited the previous physical body will inhabit a subsequent body.   Such is my understanding of the popular and reflexive understanding of “reincarnation” or “transmigration.”   Blavatsky, however, viewed these terms differently in Isis Unveiled.  One distinction is that “reincarnation” (viewed separately from “transmigration”) is not a normally occurring phenomenon but rather one arising from exceptional circumstances that violate “the laws of harmony of nature,” examples being “congenital and incurable idiocy” and abortion.(2)   Another is the distinction made between “metempsychosis” and “reincarnation”: the former (“metempsychosis”) defined in the introduction to Isis (“Before the Veil”) as the “progress of the soul from one stage of existence to another”(3) and “reincarnation” as “the appearance of the same individual, or rather of his astral monad, twice on the same planet.”(4)   The third term, “transmigration,” is placed in a special relationship with metempsychosis and refers to a purifying process of the mortal or astral soul by means of  passages through the spheres or planes of existence until conjoined with the Divine Spirit.(5)

Julie Chajes discusses these subjects in her article,  “Metempsychosis and Reincarnation in Isis Unveiled,” revealing metempsychosis as Blavatsky’s fundamental teaching in Isis and explaining it as the post-mortem progress of the personality by means of transmigrations through higher spheres.  Although reincarnation is not denied, it is for all practical purposes an afterthought in Isis.

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The second article discusses another issue in early Theosophical history.  Dr. Karl Baier’s “Mesmeric Yoga and the Development of Meditation within the Theosophical Society” seeks to illustrate, to quote Dr. Baier, “how and why mesmerism and yogic meditation methods were connected with each other in the early days of Theosophy, namely in Isis Unveiled.”  A great deal of discussion has been expended over the question of Blavatsky’s Theosophy being more Oriental rather than Western in content.  There is little doubt that Blavatsky’s early Theosophy, leaned more toward Western-based teachings, but South Asian “magic” was recognized as a worthy subject of investigation and even practice from the time of the Theosophical Society’s inception.  Once she and Col. Olcott arrived in India in 1879, the religions deriving from India (Hinduism, Buddhism) were given more attention and prominence.  Soon thereafter, Indian pundits were attracted to the headquarters of the Theosophical Society as revealed.  Furthermore, the Oriental Library was established in order to preserve Indian manuscripts, which eventually led to the construction of the Adyar Library, dedicated in December 1886, thus verifying the founders’ conviction for the need to preserve Hindu wisdom and practice.  The perception of the Theosophical Society as a school of practical occultism and the inclusion of yoga practice and meditation persisted in varying degrees throughout the 1880s and beyond, in part due to the instructions given by William Quan Judge, whose interest in these matters has been traced to his lecture presented on October 18, 1876, revealing his engagement in out-of-body experiences, his experiments in influencing others through the power of thought control, and his ability in clairaudience.(6)    Dr. Baier’s article adds to the body of evidence that suggests that the early Theosophical Society was very much involved in “practical occult or magical work.”(7)  

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The third article introduces the reader to “one of the greatest con artists of his generation,” a man known to Col. Olcott in his Old Diary Leaves as “Rev.” A. B. Worthington, but also known as General A.B. Ward, Arlington Buckingham Wadsworth, Major Horace Oakley Wood, Eugene Bouvier Walton, Major Eugene Bonvier, Eugene Bonner, etc. etc., All these names were pseudonyms, his true name being Samuel Oakley Crawford (1847–1917).  The title “Olcott’s Gilded Theosopher” is based on Olcott’s description in Vol. VI of Old Diary Leaves:“He taught a gilded Theosophy with surpassing eloquence, and when his crises came and he was sent to prison for terms of years (as he was, and is now) his followers had no natural rallying centre save in the Theosophical Society.”(8)   This article details his infamy, with the further observation that Crawford’s capacity to deceive and defraud on “three continents, more than a dozen cities, and hundreds of thousands of dollars” could only have taken place after 1850, due to the pronounced increase in the rapidity of travel and to the phenomenal increase of the swiftness of communication.  These innovations provided a means for Crawford to commit fraud at an unprecedented pace, but they also afforded the means to inhibit  such criminal actions over an extended period of time. In a sense, Crawford might be considered the first modern criminal, making full use of the newly established rapid transportation system via the railroad and improved shipping lanes but at the same time being undone through the even more rapid spread of information through the telegraph and with it the newspapers that reported his activities.  There is more to it than this explanation, of course, which is well explained by the author,  Marc Demarest.


(1) H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled.  Two volumes in one (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company), 1888 [copy of the original Isis Unveiled.  Five printings, the last being 1982].  The Publisher’s Preface is dated August 1945. Pp. II-IV.

(2) Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, 351.

(3) Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, p. xxxvi.

(4) Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, 351.

(5) Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, 12, 348-49 and II. 280-81.

(6) John Patrick Deveney, “An 1876 Lecture by W.Q. Judge on His Magical Progress in The Theosophical Society,” Theosophical History, Vol. IX, No. 3 (July 2003): 12-20.

(7) John Patrick Deveney, Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society (Fullerton: Theosophical History, 1997), 1.

(8) Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves.  Sixth Series (Adyar: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1975: first edition 1935), p. 233.


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