James Henry Wiggin

As I delve into the history of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, one theme that becomes more and more apparent is that each of the major players in its early years brings his or her own special emphasis and knowledge. Yes, in the broadest sense “the tradition” is Hermeticism and all agree on that foundation. Yet Max Theon brings a specialized background in Kabbalah, Thomas Burgoyne is a practicing astrologer, Peter Davidson a Freemason, Genevieve Stebbins a student of yoga. All these streams flow into the HBofL tradition, but the one of greatest interest to me at present is New Thought, also known as mind cure or mental science, because Sarah Stanley Grimke came from this school of thought to the HBofL. New Thought was engaged in the 1880s in a struggle with Christian Science for primacy in the field of mental healing. Mary Baker Eddy demanded credit for more originality than New Thought writers were willing to grant her, and while her movement gained more adherents at the time, various New Thought groups now have greater influence and membership than her shrinking church.

A little-known figure who deserves more attention from historians, James Henry Wiggin was one of the original founders of the Theosophical Society, listed eighth in the Adyar membership roster.  Evidently he approached the topic with a sense of humor from the start, as this 1875 article Rosicrucianism in New York attests.  After its first year, Wiggin seems to have had little interest in the TS but he gained permanent recognition as the man who rewrote Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and edited her other writings for several years before a parting of the ways.  This article from The Coming Age opens with a biography of Wiggin which I excerpt below for passages of special relevance to contemporary readers.

The Rev. James Henry Wiggin was born on the 14th of May, 1836, in the historic North End district of Boston. In early life he was exceedingly delicate, his parents sometimes despairing of their eldest child’s life. He possessed, however, a good constitution—a priceless legacy bestowed by his sturdy New England ancestors, who since the settlement of New England had preserved the simple and austerely democratic habits of life so conducive to health and longevity. His childhood was cast at a time of great theological activity and controversy in New England. A religious revolution was then in progress whose far-reaching influence we are yet unable adequately to measure; and it is an interesting fact that in the life of Mr. Wiggin we have a concrete illustration of the mental and religious state of Boston when he was born. Indeed, we may say that in him we see, in a very real way, the legitimate product of the old New England mind, tempered by the larger life of our century… In 1850 he graduated at the Boston Dwight Grammar School, after which he entered a military academy in Vermont. On returning to Boston he had an opportunity to visit the Provinces on a sailing vessel, and with the love of the ocean which seems born in the New England lads, he eagerly embraced the opportunity. Nor did this experience satisfy him, for on his return, when the position of captain’s clerk was tendered him on a bark bound for the East Indies, he gladly accepted the offer. This journey was rendered exciting by many stirring incidents, not the least of which was a fire on board the vessel. The flames, however, were controlled, and the voyage duly finished. The boy had ever possessed a vivid imagination. All that was dramatic and picturesque had from his earliest memory appealed to him in an irresistible manner. Hitherto nature had spoken to him chiefly under her sterner guises. He had loved the rough and rugged coast of New England, and her wonderfully picturesque valleys and pine-clad mountains had filled his heart with strange and indefinable emotions, which he had never even sought to analyze; but now before him in East Indian waters was a new heaven and a new earth—the marvelous blue of the sky studded and jeweled with stars of matchless brilliancy, the soft, heavy, and soothing breeze that bore the bark to the Javan shores, and later the wonderful lands of the orient! Ah, who shall describe the witchery of the first days and nights in the lands of the Hindoo, Chinaman, and Malay: Here he saw for the first time nature in the wild abundance of tropical luxuriance. Such vegetation as he had never even been able to picture in his mind was now before him with its profusion of gorgeous blooms and its wealth of fragrant and delicious fruits. Here were trees of rare beauty, whose every bough was laden with perfume; here were birds of rare plumage, and strange and curious animals. He remembered that he was now in the land of mystery and wealth, about which long, long before Marco Polo had written, and of which Columbus dreamed when he sailed toward the setting sun, in the finding of which Magellan lost his life, and whose riches Vasco da Gama discovered to Portugal and western Europe, after he had doubled the cape and crossed the Indian sea. To the vivid imagination of the New England boy this land of the rising sun presented a revelation which enriched the mind and added much to that broad culture that constitutes so much of life’s purest enjoyment. To him India was indeed a dream of spring actualized…The vessel had been absent thirteen months when it came again in sight of the green-tufted islands that, guard the harbor of Boston, and right glad was the boy to reach his home once more. The voyage had been rich in experience. He had learned much, perhaps more than during any two years of life, and his imaginative faculties and emotional nature had been stirred and moved as never before….During the fifties the question of a profession confronted him. He had always been deeply religious, and the ceremonialism of the church appealed to his emotional nature almost as irresistibly as the liberalism of the rational wing of Unitarianism appealed to his reason. At last he decided to enter the ministry. Accordingly, after preparatory study, he attended Tufts College, but at the age of twenty-two he left this institution and entered the theological college at Meadville, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1801.

Mr. Wiggin was ordained in 1862, the ceremony taking place in the Unitarian church of Springfield, Massachusetts. After two years spent as pastor of the Unitarian church in Montague, in the Connecticut Valley, Mr. Wiggin, in company with his mother, went abroad for a year of foreign travel, visiting Asia Minor, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Malta, Sicily, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, and France. On November 81, 1864, soon after his return from Europe, he married Laura Emma Newman, of Brattleboro, Vermont. This union, which occurred thirty-five years ago, has proved very congenial. Three children came into the home, a girl and two boys, all of whom have grown to maturity, and are successfully established in life.

In 1864 Mr. Wiggin entered upon his ministerial duties for the second time, and for the next twenty years he was at no time without a charge, officiating successively as pastor of the Unitarian churches in Lawrence, Marblehead, Medfield, and Marlboro. He early joined the Masons, and became an interested member of that great society. He was also a zealous worker in the order of Good Templars, then believing in that organization he would be able practically to further the cause of temperance… During all the years of his ministry, in fact, ever since and before his voyage to the far East, Mr. Wiggin had been an omnivorous reader, and on many subjects a deep thinker.

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