“The British Birth of the Occult Revival, 1869-1875” by Patrick D. Bowen

A groundbreaking article appeared in Theosophical History Vol. XIX Issue 1, January 2017, pp. 5-37. Co-editor of Letters to the Sage Patrick D. Bowen has analyzed the careers of Kenneth Mackenzie and associates and discovered evidence suggesting intertwined roots of many post-1875 occult groups in the work of a group of British Freemasons. He writes:

By 1875, this group of British Masons [i.e. Robert Wentworth Little, John Yarker, Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie, Richard Morrison (Zadkiel), and Francis George Irwin] and their ideas had instigated a chain reaction that ultimately resulted in a wide variety of occult groups springing up in England, the U.S., and many other Western countries over the next thirty years, some of which, such as the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, went on to become incredibly influential in Western religious culture…Most of the individuals connected to this were Masons who were members of the Masonic research group known as the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA).(p5)…The present paper offers an explanation for not only why these particular men started producing new “occult” doctrines and orders, but also why these had the impact that they did on the ensuing florescence of the occult revival. (p6)

Patrick focuses on one book as especially influential. This is particularly important to the history of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor because its name seems to be derived from two orders described in the Royal Masonic Cyclopedia.

Mackenzie in particular looms especially large in the story of the early stage of the occult revival. Although he did not have the reigns of a truly influential “fringe” Masonic organization like Yarker, he provided two significant intellectual resources for the revival: 1) a publicly available practical justification for creating new occult orders, which was accompanied by a model of an ideal occult order that many of the subsequent occult orders would share several similarities with; and 2) his Royal Masonic Cyclopedia (1875-77), a book that compiled the period’s occult ideas and information about the new orders in a single, easy-to-read work.(p.7)

Although Freemasonry was the shared affiliation of Mackenzie and his closest associates, a Rosicrucian theme is also prominent in the particular Masonic group that was most influential in what Patrick calls the “British birth of the occult revival”:

From 1869 through 1875, the English Masonic community was suddenly exposed to a relatively high concentration of new occult doctrines. Virtually all of the individuals responsible for this were members of a recently formed Masonic group SRIA, created to study Masonic history and esotericism… While we cannot say for certain how much these men believed in the historicity of their occult claims, we know that one of them, Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie, publicly acknowledged that inventing occult groups and doctrines was necessary if the world was to achieve true peace, unity, and justice.(p32)

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