Letters to the Sage, a preview

As publication date approaches, I will share some general information about the forthcoming book from Typhon Press, the first of two volumes of the selected correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson, the “Sage of the Osage.” The correspondence begins in the 1870s and continues into the twentieth century, but most of the letters were written during the short life of Johnson’s journal The Platonist in the 1880s. Over half the book consists of letters associated with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor during Johnson’s brief period as its leader in the US. Three of the 48 authors shed more light on the HBofL than any of the rest: 1) Thomas H. Burgoyne, whose esoteric lessons are illuminated by his correspondence with Johnson, 2) Henry Wagner, who succeeded Johnson as leader and who became Burgoyne’s publisher, and 3) Silas H. Randall, a Cincinnati inventor who was Johnson’s chief assistant in management of HBofL affairs and wrote far more letters than any other correspondent. Randall is not only the most prolific of the letter writers, but in my judgment the most interesting and engaging. He was extremely well-read and an avid student of both philosophy and religion, sharing personal views and experiences with Johnson and commenting insightfully on the Brotherhood as well as the Theosophical Society.

The most prolific correspondent associated with the TS was Elliott B. Page of St. Louis, almost as closely involved with Johnson as Randall but writing largely about Theosophy rather than Hermeticism. More familiar names to Theosophists are those of Abner Doubleday, G.R.S. Mead, Henry S. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and Dr. J.D. Buck, each of whom wrote several detailed letters to Johnson. The world of Freemasonry is represented by letters from Kenneth Mackenzie and John Yarker, while Rosicrucianism was the preoccupation of Freeman B. Dowd and Richard Goodwin. Neo-Hermeticists unaffiliated with the HBofL are represented by letters from Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland.

In conversations with Church of Light members, I have referred to the Nag Hammadi Library and Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries as akin to the finding of the Johnson letters by his descendants three years ago– completely unanticipated primary source material that drastically revises what we know of our origins. Working with these letters has pushed other projects into the background, and another volume of transcriptions and annotations lies ahead. Although I have two chapters in forthcoming multi-author collections, and two introductory essays for future reprints of 19th-century authors, the focus of this blog will be on the Johnson letters over the next two years. With 88 US members of the HBofL named in Johnson’s records, and 48 correspondents whose letters survive, there will be abundant opportunities to feature various of the little-known as well as the more famous of Johnson’s associates.

As a postscript to my series of posts about Chevalier Louis de B, I need to mention yet another candidate noticed by Marc Demarest who has written a blog post about the French Comte de Bullet. As for my promised comment on pseudonymity in the occult literature, suffice it to say that Britten is like a “stone rejected by the builders,” whose fictionalization of various acquaintances was an example followed by many after her, none of whom gave her any credit or respect as far as I can determine.

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