The Sage of Osceola: Thomas M. Johnson

The most respected, distinguished founder of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in America was unquestionably Thomas Moore Johnson, the “Missouri Platonist.” He was the first Council President in 1886 and was actively involved through the closing of the order in 1909. Johnson’s descendants have preserved his legacy in the Johnson Library and Museum in Osceola, Missouri, the town where he lived almost all his life. Son of a Virginia-born Missouri U.S. Senator who became a Confederate Senator, Johnson’s teen years were disrupted by the Civil War, at the outset of which Kansans burned Osceola to the ground. After the war he studied at Notre Dame and traveled to New England to pursue the acquaintance of Transcendalists including Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Since Sarah Stanley Grimke moved in the same circles at the same time, it seems likely that her initial contact with the HBofL was through Johnson.

There are several worthwhile sources available online in addition to the information provided by JLM. Most of his journal The Platonist is accessible via Google Books (see previous blog post). In 1947 his son Franklin donated thousands of volumes of Johnson’s philosophy collection to the University of Missouri, where it is preserved as the Thomas Moore Johnson Collection of Philosophy. Six weeks ago, Newtopia Magazine published a colorful and informative portrait of Johnson by Ronnie Pontiac, entitled Thomas Johnson: Platonism Meets Sex Magic on the Prairie. Rest assured that the obscure pre-history of the Church of Light will be increasingly illuminated as scholars discover and explore the legacy of this remarkable American.

There is one correction I need to make to the abovementioned article. The identification of Genevieve Stebbins’s husband Norman Astley as T.H. Burgoyne dropping one pseudonym for another is not an established fact– just an inescapable conclusion. Yet what seems inescapable now might prove impossible down the road. Even though I can find no evidence of “Captain Norman Astley” existing prior to Stebbins marrying him, or “T.H. Burgoyne” dying, there is always the possibility of Astley’s birth certificate or Burgoyne’s death certificate emerging to pull the rug out from under this hypothesis. Marc Demarest and I both hope for more solid confirmation by the time the Esoteric Lessons of Sarah S. Grimke are published.

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