Treasures from Lily Dale has announced the sixth release of the Standard Spiritualist and Occult Corpus (SSOC), the online archive of esoteric texts which has now grown to more than 6700 titles.  There are also more than fifty new or expanded periodicals holdings, thanks to the labors of Marc Demarest, John P. Deveney, and John B. Buescher at the Marion Skidmore Library in Lily Dale, New York, headquarters of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). Although I have yet to visit Lily Dale, reading the IAPSOP news was a trip down memory lane for me thanks to an excellent two part public radio documentary for which I was interviewed in late 1998. Part of Helen Borten’s series A Sense of Place, Madame Blavatsky and the Colonel (link to part one) made considerable use of my interview (link to part two) along with voice actor portrayals of Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott and associates in their own words. The environment in which the two met in 1874, a Spiritualist gathering in rural Vermont, inspired Borten to visit Lily Dale in western New York state, one of the few surviving enclaves for Spiritualists. Students of esoteric history have much to be grateful for with this upgrade, thanks to the generosity of Lily Dale in sharing its rare collections with the public, and the labors of the IAPSOP archival team. My appreciation for Ms. Borten’s documentary and my inclusion therein was renewed by this reminder of Lily Dale’s ongoing significance as home of the world’s largest Spiritualist library.

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Letters to the Sage, first Amazon review

It will probably be 2017 before any print reviews appear, but we now have our first Amazon review and it is very gratifying.  One correction: much as I would like to share credit for Patrick Bowen’s excellent introduction to Volume I, it is entirely his own work.  Hope that idealistreader will be pleased by Volume II which is almost entirely letters from Alexander Wilder and much more focused on Platonism than the first volume.

The “Sage” Thomas Moore Johnson truly was a giant in the field of Platonic thought and research in the midwest in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s. I learned about Johnson by reading Paul Anderson’s book Platonism in the Midwest and also Katherine Raine and George Mills Harper’s book on Thomas Taylor (the English Translator of Plato). I have also read several issues of Johnson’s journal The Platonist. So naturally, when I learned that a book with Thomas Moore Johnson’s correspondence was coming out I considered purchasing it. However, initially, I was reluctant because I noticed the first volume did not contain correspondence with such friends as William T. Harris, Alexander Wilder and Bronson Alcott. But despite my reservations, I made the purchase and I am very glad I did. Some of the correspondents are better known (G.R.S. Mead, Anna Kingsford) others obscure, but all the letters contain very interesting thoughts and observations of truth seekers.To think so much esoteric thought was going on over 100 years ago. Bowen and Johnson provide the reader with extremely well researched biographical sketches and in some cases pictures of Johnson’s correspondents. I am in awe at how they gathered all the biographical information. In addition, they give a very thorough biography of Thomas Moore Johnson in the introduction. I commend Patrick Bowen and K. Paul Johnson for the voluminous research they conducted to generate this book and I look forward to purchasing future volumes in this series.

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Norman Astley Handwriting

Five years ago, I gave a presentation to the biennial Church of Light convention in which I suggested that Norman Astley, who married Genevieve Stebbins in 1892 and with her was a major influence on Elbert Benjamine until her death in 1933, had been born as Thomas Henry D’Alton and then known as Thomas Henry Burgoyne from 1883 until becoming Astley and claiming that Burgoyne had died. We have found no photographs of Astley to compare with those of Burgoyne. But thanks to, a North Carolina researcher made contact with Marc Demarest, publisher of the Typhon Press and, after discovering some letters from Norman Astley written in his time as a landowner in the mountains of Burke and Watauga counties. Having no expertise in forensic handwriting analysis, I am now reading a couple of textbooks to get background on the subject prior to contacting any specialists. When looking at entire letters, the general appearance of the Astley and Burgoyne handwritings seems similar, in terms of slant, size, and writing style, but this can be deceiving in that nineteenth century handwritings are often identifiable as specific styles taught by different penmanship methods.  Comparing specific words is the first step I have taken, as the formation of the most common word “the” seems similar in the Astley and Burgoyne handwritings.

More complicated is the similarity of words that I found in Astley’s letters and the same or similar words in Burgoyne’s. The examples I searched for were second, accepted, received, and number.  As with the examples of “the” the sepia writing is Burgoyne and the black and white is Astley; sometimes I could only find a similar word in Burgoyne. The results are below.

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Alexander Wilder's Credo, 1882

The second volume of Letters to the Sage has reached a milestone this week with the completion of two arduous years of transcription and annotation. Almost all the letters in this volume are from Alexander Wilder (1823-1908) to Thomas Moore Johnson, and the majority of them deal with scholarly and publishing matters.Detailed discussions of the content, style, expense, etc. of The Platonist take up much of the period from 1881 through 1885, after which the letters become more sporadic. For the next task of writing a detailed chronological introduction to the letters, I will need to become thoroughly familiar with each issue of The Platonist, which was published in three and a half volumes over seven years. Explaining Wilder’s many asides referring to his medical career will require learning about the Eclectic school of medicine and the legal challenges it faced before becoming extinct in the 20th century. Wilder’s frequent references to the Concord School of Philosophy and the surviving Transcendentalists of the 1870s and 1880s bring in many names already encountered in my research on Sarah Stanley Grimke, but about whom much more will have to be learned to provide context for the letters. These two social networks– of Platonists/Transcendentalists, and Eclectic physicians– are all very long term involvements for Wilder, and understanding them more thoroughly is a necessary condition for writing an introduction of comparable quality to Patrick Bowen’s exemplary work for Volume I.

However, these networks do not provide a sufficient background for understanding Wilder. More continuity with the letters in Volume I is found in the frequent references to Spiritualism and Theosophy, about which he was far more ambivalent than he was about Platonism or Eclectic medicine. A striking change from Volume I is that the Wilder letters do not refer to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor at all, and begin to decline in frequency just as Johnson was devoting vast energy to HBofL correspondence in 1885-6.

Wilder’s references to Theosophy are so voluminous that they will be covered in a subsequent blog post.  Here are excerpts giving his attitudes toward Spiritualism and mainstream Christianity:

So, therefore phenomena = seeking Spiritualism fails us. I have always fought shy of it. I was once duped & swindled, & held aloof.

The common Spiritualist notion is that old things are inferior & to be discarded.  Some believe in re-incarnation but are unwillling to read The Republic. Some weeks ago Dr. Buchanan denounced Plato. (2/4/1882)

I am lecturing hotly on psychical evolution. I insist on the emanation & divinity, & deny that man emerged from the creatures below.

Next Monday I speak in A.J. Davis’ Harmonial Association on the office of the Imagination.

I am inclined to train in that alliance. He is clean from the moonshine of mediumship &c &c. – only likes R.P. Journal qualifiedly & the Banner not at all.

I spoke yesterday on the Evolution of Morality – that it was service to God & love to the neighbor; but that immortality is the absolute condition.  If no immortality there is no standard of morality; we are beasts & love no neighbors more than wild beasts. (3/2/82)

I am rather chary in speaking much of the Christian question. I doubt whether such a man as Jesus ever existed. The Old-Testament Canon was established by the Pharisees [ Greek], under the Asmanean priest=kings, B. C. 180. The Sadducees or Sadokim — the sacerdotal party were like the men who put Sokrates to death.

The Essenes did not accept the Canon but had prophets & Scriptures of their own. The gospels of Matthew & Mark were from their Evangelion. Doubtless they used the name Jesus with “Je” being a prefix to denote a man’s name & [Greek – ESO] or [Greek-ASA] meaning Essene. A personification, not a person. The Essenes were Mithraists of the stricter order.

The Eleusinian (Greek, from, beggars, Jacquenè) were a sect of them. Twelve Apostles mean 12 signs of the Zodiac, Jesus being Mithras the Sun crucified every equinox. Procure & read the Keys of the Greeks (Putnam’s Sons.) Paul set out in his own bark. He studied this Gnôsîs, not with James, Kephas or John — but in Arabia with the Essenes. He preached Jesus not as a man but as the Dunamis and Sophia of God. That is Gnostic — not Christian. He also taught the anástasis – nirvana.

Now I have more than ever called myself pagan. I am as I understand it a Platonist, but I “call no man Master.”(4/4/82)

I believe in a “Personal God” as I understand it. Permanent Individual Identity a Will rather than a Law to uphold the Universe– charity as the Highest Good, & knowledge to be supreme as it is the kenosis with the highest.

I care little for their names & forms: then I should, seeking to enclose the Eternal Ideas in me & to approximate the Highest. (7/10/82)

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Collected Works of Thomas Moore Johnson

Wonderful news from the UK in the form of a publication of the works of TMJ by The Prometheus Trust with a scholarly introduction by Jay Bregman of the University of Maine.  This will be very helpful in editing the correspondence of Johnson with Alexander Wilder, as the discussions are largely about Platonism and related subjects.

The publisher’s website contains this summary of the book and table of contents.

The Collected Works of Thomas Moore Johnson

The Great American Platonist

With a Preface by Jay Bregman

Thomas Moore Johnson (1851-1919) can rightly be said to be a great American Platonist: he was one of a number of men and women of that period who sought to promulgate the philosophy of the Platonic tradition as a spiritual and intellectual discipline. Had not the tide of rationalist and sceptical thinking run so strongly in the last one hundred years, Johnson – along with his fellow philosophers such as Hiram K Jones, William Torrey Harris and Bronson Alcott – would today be recognised as a great contributor to the cause of true philosophy in the modern west.

Johnson edited two journals, The Platonist and Bibliotheca Platonica, between 1880 and 1890, as well as publishing three books in the following years. This book presents much of Johnson’s work during this time – translations of Iamblichus’ Exhortation to Philosophy, Proclus’ Elements of Metaphysics, many of his translations of the treatises of Plotinus (including three which had never before been translated into English), as well as several smaller translations of important Platonic fragments and many of his original writings.


Iamblichus’ Exhortation to Philosophy (or Protrepticus), 9781898910824fc2
Proclus’ Elements of Theology (or Metaphysics)
Fragments from the Epistles of Iamblichus
Fragments of Ammonias Saccas
Proclus on the Chaldean Oracles
Two Hymns of Synesius
Six treatises from Plotinus’ Enneads:-
On the Nature of Living Itself & on the Nature of Man I, i
On the Essence of the Soul (1) IV, i
On the Essence of the Soul (2) IV, ii
On the Descent into Body  IV, viii
Intelligibles not external to Mind, and on the Good V, v
Diverse Cogitations  III, ix
Original Writings:-
Plato’s Basic Concepts
Plato and his Writings
The Platonic Theory of Education
Plato and his Philosophy
Three Fundamental Ideas of the Human Mind

432pp Hardback £18  ISBN: 978-1898910-824

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Private Lessons and Teachings Archive expansion

The latest major expansion of the holdings of IAPSOP, the International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals, was announced by founder Marc Demarest this month.  He wrote:

Private lessons and teachings boomed after the mail order revolution of the 1880s and 1890s, but were related to far older practices like phrenological, astrological and psychometric readings-by-mail. Private lessons and teachings allowed a mage to develop an apparently more intimate relationship with his or her students, to reach sparse markets of students scattered, literally, all over the globe, and to monetize his or her teachings more effectively, by selling the same material, over and over again, in dozens, hundreds or thousands of transactions. Private lessons and teachings also had other beneficial effects, for the mage and the movement, promoting regular interchange between a student and the movement’s leader or headquarters, and reducing the cost of the production of materials (little more than paper, a typewriter and a method of duplication was required to produce lessons). Occult lessons-by-mail also opened up new suppression mechanisms for the State, making occult teachers subject to postal fraud regulations, and served as further evidence, in the hands of mail-order detractors, that the mail-order business model was a serious social ill that needed to be legislated out of existence.

This provides context for the authorial partnership that I was investigating when I learned of the Thomas Moore Johnson correspondence, the still-mysterious collaboration of Thomas H. Burgoyne and Sarah Stanley Grimke.  The Johnson letters reveal that within a few months of publishing her First Lessons in Reality and joining the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in 1886, Grimke was being promoted by Burgoyne as required reading material for HBofL initiates.   Although details of their subsequent collaboration are unknown, it was plausibly reported by Elbert Benjamine that they were co-authors of The Light of Egypt, first published pseudonymously as the work of “Zanoni” in 1889.  Few of the 48 teachers included in the Private Lessons archive are remembered today, even to the small extent that Burgoyne and Grimke have been.  But the expanded holdings of IAPSOP may eventually change that, as increased accessibility of occult and Spiritiualist books and periodicals has already been useful to many scholars around the world.

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Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie

In The British Birth of the Occult Revival, 1869-1875, an article which he has posted on, Patrick D. Bowen analyzes the implications of an 1869 series of articles by Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie, one of the correspondents of Thomas M. Johnson appearing in the new collection Letters to the Sage.

As a participant in the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA) Mackenzie wrote  a series of “Papers on Masonry” for the newly-created Freemason magazine. About the series of articles, Bowen writes:

He explains, firstly, that myths and symbols are important, as they help convey deep truths that scientific language cannot. Next, he says that Masonry has worn out its usefulness in the world, and that the only way the Masonic ideals of world peace, justice, and equality (for all religions and races, by the way) can be achieved in the world is by introducing a new set of myths and symbols, one that embraces the teachings of both the East and West and scientific and ‘occult’ thought. Furthermore, he continues, a new prophet—a man who understands the truths of all the world’s sciences and knows how to communicate them via myths and symbols—must offer this new set of myths and symbols to the world. While he is explaining this, Mackenzie starts dropping clues that he is aware of a number of other Masonic-like orders in the world… ‘Papers’ is, basically, a rational justification for the invention of new occult doctrines. It seems that, after studying myths, religions, and cultures in the 1860s, Mackenzie had come to the conclusion that he might actually create the open and free world he had been envisioning since the 1850s by using Masonry as his organizational blueprint and Masons as the initial proselytes…

This is relevant to the origins of both the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, both of which used terminology from Mackenzie’s masterpiece:

At least partially driven by this view, between 1875 and 1877 Mackenzie published a multi-part work, the Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, which presented as fact all the occult claims made by the SRIA members. This book quickly became seen by other influential Western occultists as an important sourcebook for modern occult ideas, thereby giving these individuals intellectual legitimization to start their own groups, some of which became extremely popular themselves.

Patrick’s blog includes this useful summary of highlights of Letters to the Sage:

Some highlights of the book’s contents:
  • Details about the organizational development of the TS and HB of L in the U.S.
  • The 1887 ‘ordinance’ Johnson sent out to establish the ‘Sufic Circle’ as a branch of the Hermetic Brotherhood.
  • Evidence for the earliest known organized practice of Yoga in the United States.
  • Information about previously unknown Rosicrucian groups and teachers in 19th c. America.
  • A full list of the HB of L’s teaching materials and details of the process of the distribution of the materials.
  • Letters from H.S. Olcott and Thomas Burgoyne.
  • 1880s discussions of the Tarot and Eliphas Levi.
  • Previously unknown HB of L practical occult teachings.
  • The names of dozens of HB of L members and their ‘pledge’ dates.
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Letters to the Sage published this week

Although my copy has not arrived yet, the book is available now in paperback on Amazon and will be out on Kindle by the end of the month.  I created a Facebook page for the book which includes several pages of previews and ordering information and does not require a Facebook account to read.

Patrick Bowen has posted longer excerpts on, which does require an account to access but which is free of charge.  Another article posted there by Patrick features one of Thomas M. Johnson’s British correspondents and sheds new light on the Masonic roots of the the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Theosophical Society, and related groups.  It will be the focus on next month’s blog post.

Meanwhile, for the astrologically inclined here is the natal chart for the book:

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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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Burton the Adept

Part II of Ghost Land, provocatively titled “The Adept,” opens twenty years after the close of Part I with “autobiographical sketches of the Chevalier de B___ continued”:

To traverse many lands, sound the heart-throbs, listen to the inner revealings, and learn the life mysteries of many a strange people…I have something that has followed me, or rather infilled my soul, through every changing scene, in every wild mutation of fortune—on the battle-field, in the dungeon, in the cabinet of princes, in the hut of the charcoal-burner, in the deep crypts of Central India, and amidst the awful rites of Oriental mysticism, in the paradises of love, and the shipwreck of every hope—something which has never forsaken or left me alone; something which stands by me now, as I write in my sea-girst island dwelling, on the shores of the blue Mediterranean (pp.; 233-234)

This passage describes neither Emma Hardinge Britten, Prince Salm-Salm, the Baron de Palm, the Duc de Pomar, the Countess of Caithness, Ernest de Bunsen, nor Emil Wittgenstein. But it perfectly describes an early member of the Theosophical Society with apparent links to both Britten and Mme. Blavatsky.

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) had been deeply involved in occult circles during his time at Oxford in the early 1840s– the same circles in which Emma Floyd was moving at the time, in which the central figure was Edward Bulwer-Lytton. By 1860 he had become the most celebrated British explorer of the mid-19th century. Burton first met Helena Blavatsky in Cairo in 1853 as he was preparing for his great trip to Mecca; this at least is the claim made by Albert Rawson in a colorful memoir written on the occasion of Burton’s death. In his youth, Burton was a soldier renowned for his mastery of languages, 29 according to one count. In the 1850s his expeditions to Mecca and the source of the Nile produced popular books about his adventures, and he continued to produce vivid travel narratives for the rest of his life, while a British diplomat serving in Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. More relevantly to Chevalier Louis, Burton was a lifelong enthusiast of astrology and occult lore. Burton, like Emil Wittgenstein, was an honorary founding member of the British Spiritualist Association in 1873, and joined the Theosophical Society later in the decade. Both had provided testimony to the 1869 London Dialectical Society, which also recorded Lady Caithness and Bulwer-Lytton as witnesses. While there is no evidence of collaboration between Britten and Burton, Blavatsky’s connection with the explorer was documented by one of her closest associates. Albert Rawson, who introduced Burton to Blavatsky, claimed to have made four extensive journeys to the Middle East.

Ghost Land appears to consist of three authorial voices each with a different relationship to Emma Hardinge Britten. Louis in Part One is a continental male version of Emma and the narrative rests on her own extensive experience in the occult milieu. Here Britten loses control of her narrative by sometimes forgetting whether she is herself or Louis. Louis in Part Two has matured into a much more masculine character, whose adventures and traits reflect those of Richard Francis Burton. In this section, Emma reveals herself to have only secondhand and vague ideas about India, and writes with the same combination of enthusiasm and misinformation that characterizes Blavatsky on India before 1878. It is therefore unlikely that either was directly assisted by anyone as well-informed as Burton; yet they were both acquainted with him and no other mutual acquaintance emerges as an inspiration for the Indian Louis. Blavatsky, however, is clearly implicated in the character Madame Helene Laval, a dangerous sorceress who attempts to seduce Louis and later becomes involved with a new sect in India.

next month: thoughts on adepts and pseudonyms

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Prince Emil Wittgenstein and Ghost Land

Among the settings of Ghost Land, India and Russia stand out as places of which Britten had no personal, and little general, knowledge. Mme. Blavatsky must figure among the influences on the depiction of both countries, since she was in very regular contact with Britten during the simultaneous writing of Ghost Land and her Isis Unveiled. Blavatsky appears in Part Two of Volume One of Ghost Land disguised however not as Louis but as Madame Helene Laval, an evil sorceress and seductress. A Russian subplot involving Professor von Marx and John Cavendish Dudley suggests another influence that led Britten to include this digression. While Blavatsky was the only Russian in personal contact with Britten during the writing of Ghost Land, an eminent German/Russian Spiritualist was in regular correspondence with both during this period. The jovial family man and ardent Spiritualist John Cavendish Dudley, who accounts for the Russian content of Ghost Land, might reflect Britten’s correspondence with Prince Emil Wittgenstein.

The prince is described by Britten as “Prince Emil Sayn Wittgenstein (late aide de camp, and trusted friend to the Emperor Alexander II)” who in “a private letter to Mrs. Hardinge Britten, dated 1876,” wrote: “The Emperor and most of his household…. are not only Spiritualists in belief, but they would be partisans of the faith, did circumstances permit…although Spiritualism is known and believed in, alike by peer and peasant, it must be believed in against authority, — and be assured, my friend, it has a warm place in the hearts of thousands who dare not openly avow their convictions.” She continues, “from similar friendly communications from Prince Emil Wittgenstein, the author learned that the late Emperor of Russia possessed the most complete library of Spiritual works that the literature of many nations could supply. This noble gentleman was one of the earliest subscribers to a work translated and edited by the author, entitled `Art Magic,’ and in an autograph letter addressed to the writer of that work, he declared, “that he esteemed it as his most sacred authority, and carried it everywhere with him.”

Born in Darmstadt, Wittenstein had served Prince Alexander of Hesse in the Caucasus from 1845 through 1847 and then fought in Denmark, but returned to the Caucasus in service to Russia as aide-de-camp to Prince Vorontzov, Viceroy. There he remained until 1862 when he became Attache to Grand Duke Konstantin in Warsaw. Wittgenstein was part of the Emperor’s suite during the 1877-78 war with Turkey. Another passage from Nineteenth Century Miracles gives a fuller account of her communications with Wittgenstein, and claims to have predicted his demise and that of the Emperor:

This noble gentleman not only held high rank in the Russian army and served as aide-de-camp to the Emperor during the unhappy war with Turkey, but few of those who approached His Imperial Majesty’s person, enjoyed the royal confidence in the same degree. In a correspondence maintained during some years with the author of this volume, Prince Emil asked for and obtained a number of volumes of the best American literature for the Emperor’s library. Previous to the fatal war with Turkey the Emperor and Prince Wittgenstein both received assurances through Mrs. Britten’s Mediumship that their lives would be spared during the conflict, but be sacrificed—the one to the insurrectionary spirit at home, the other to the feverish effects of the deadly campaign, into which he was about the plunge. Both these gentlemen placed implicit faith in these prophecies…

This direct testimony of personal involvement with a source exceeds Britten’s remarks about any other possible models for Louis or Dudley. A correspondence lasting several years with a Spiritualist member of the nobility could be as important an influence on the Russian content of Ghost Land as the author’s acquaintance with Blavatsky. Britten’s emphatic name dropping in Nineteenth Century Miracles continues with the last passage about the prince the most striking of all:“Prince Emil Wittgenstein, who was one of the Russian Emperor’s lieutenant generals in the late unhappy Turkish war, wrote to Mrs. Britten that he regarded that book [Art Magic– ed.] as his `bible,’ carried it with him wherever he went, and had “often derived consolation and harmony of spirit from its noble teachings in moments embittered by the fever of war, and the cares of State.”

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The Baron de Palm, Ernest de Bunsen, the Duc de Pomar

The candidates for Louis suggested within Emma’s lifetime were augmented by only one addition in the twentieth century. In the 1970 edition of Modern American Spiritualism, editor E.J. Dingwall proposed the Baron de Palm as the prototype for Louis. Joseph Henry Louis de Palm (1809-1876) is mentioned in Nineteenth Century Miracles as a “distinguished supporter of the movement in Germany.” Chicago journalist Melville Stone included de Palm in his memoirs:

I made the acquaintance of a remarkable character, one Baron de Palm. At first sight one would recognize him as a decayed voluptuary,
of the sort that frequent the Continental watering places of Europe in the season. Habited faultlessly, with hair and beard carefully dressed, washed-out face and eyes, shaky on his legs…He was a Bavarian. He was Baron Johan Heinrich Ludwig de Palm; had descended from a line of German barons running back ten centuries. He was Grand Cross Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. His father was a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and his mother a notable Countess of Thunefeldt. Born at Augsburg in 1809, he was educated for a diplomatic career, and served his king with distinction at almost every capital.

(See this earlier blog post for the story of his alleged involvement with Lola Montez.)
After recounting a 1861 human levitation in a Vienna church in Nineteenth Century Miracles, Britten adds “This remarkable occurrence was also testified of by the late Baron de Palm, who was present on the occasion, and himself related it to the author.”

Dingwall comments that some had suggested William Britten as the author of the works attributed to Louis, but concludes “that both Art Magic and Ghost Land may have been the work of Baron Joseph Henry Louis de Palm, a very odd character with pronounced Theosophical and occult interests, whose funeral Mrs. Britten attended in 1876, and over whose body she pronounced an oration calling him `friend and companion..’” Although “Colonel Olcott thought that Baron de Palm was not capable of writing anything serious, and he may well have been right,” Dingwall suggests that “the Baron concealed his gifts with a view of preventing others from knowing what he was compiling under Mrs. Britten’s editorship.”

No one is on record proposing William Britten as the author of Art Magic and Ghost Land, or the basis for Louis as written by Emma, but we note Dingwall’s mention of unnamed adherents of this theory. Unnoticed by Dingwall but important to consider is that Louis is one of the names de Palm used in America (changed from the original Ludwig), making him the only suggested prototype with whom the name can be linked.

In a 2001 monograph, Robert Matthiessen nominated the German-British philologist Ernest de Bunsen as a prototype, which was analyzed by Marc Demarest in his 2011 edition of Art Magic. At the 2011 biennial convention of the Church of Light, Marc gave a presentation about Britten which went into detail about his reasons for nominating the Duke of Pomar, son of the Countess of Caithness, as a more plausible Louis prototype than any of those heretofore suggested. His blog provides this summary of the evidence.

Without criticizing any of the identifications to date, in November and December I will point out two aspects of the plot of Ghost Land that indicate yet more Louis prototypes. Emma had never traveled to India or Russia, but extensive subplots deal with each of those countries. Her acquaintance with two early TS members who did have great familiarity with each of those countries will be the topic of the last two blog posts of 2015.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of this blog, and December will be my tenth anniversary as a Church of Light member. In light of current developments, History of the Adepts will take an entirely new focus beginning in January 2016. Publication of the first volume of Letters to the Sage: Thomas Moore Johnson Selected Correspondence will provide detailed membership information on the early Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in the U.S. Henceforth, for the foreseeable future, the 48 individuals who corresponded with Thomas M. Johnson, and several dozen additional HBofL members named in the correspondence, will provide abundant material for all further investigations and reports.

Immersed for more than two years in hundreds of pages of this 19th century correspondence, I have felt blessed to experience the world of the HBofL members in a much more direct way than through their few published writings or official documents. In my books on Theosophy, letters and documents were important, but subordinate to a primary reliance on publications as historical evidence. With Edgar Cayce and Pell Mellers, publications receded to a more subordinate status, with documents and correspondence assuming a larger role in historical interpretation. But now, with the correspondence of HBofL members, publications are literally mere footnotes to the more immediate and vital encounter with the past found in handwritten letters.

For an online course in historiography, Steven Stowe, Ph.D. writes:

Few historical texts seem as familiar – or as compelling to read – as personal letters and diaries. They are plain-spoken, lively, and full of details. Both letters and diaries seem to emerge directly from the writer, fresh and intimate, bringing us close to who that person was. Both satisfy us by showing how people in the past shared many of our hopes, worries, and common sense. At the same time, both fascinate us by revealing differences between times past and our own time. They make us curious to explore differences in language and expressive styles, in what people felt needed saying and what did not. These differences in turn point to historical changes and continuities in self, social relations, work, and values, which personal letters and diaries capture with special sharpness.

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Chevalier Louis de B_: How Many Prototypes?

Ghost Land is foundational to the Theosophical literature, chronologically and thematically, introducing adept brotherhoods further elaborated in later writings. Presented as a translation by Emma Hardinge Britten of an original text by the pseudonymous Chevalier Louis de B_, the book has inspired multiple guesses about the Chevalier’s identity. A companion volume to Art Magic, Ghost Land was published the same year, 1876, in the form of a memoir. The book’s authorship spans the early period of the Theosophical Society, with its first sketches appearing in 1872 before Blavatsky’s arrival in New York and its final section published in 1892 after her death. Chevalier Louis has never inspired a personality cult, and no one has ever claimed to speak on behalf of his Berlin, Orphic, or Ellora brotherhoods. Nevertheless Ghost Land is clearly a historical prerequisite for the full blown Theosophical (and post-Theosophical) elaboration of the Masters. Despite the fact that Britten later was a critic and opponent of the TS, Art Magic and Ghost Land both relied upon a network of support that included many early Theosophists as well as Spiritualists. Several Theosophical Spiritualists in Europe contributed to the character of Chevalier Louis de B_, in my considered opinion.

Eight years after Ghost Land, in Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884) Britten expressed second thoughts about aristocratic Spiritualists asking her to write about them using pseudonyms.

Since then Spiritualism in Europe takes the deepest hold of those whose rank and station induces them to shrink from subjecting their personal experiences to public criticism, the author too frequently becomes the recipient of valuable testimony which cannot be made available, because the communicants insist on withholding their true names and addresses. “Miss E.” and “Mrs. D.;” “Captain A.” and “My Lord X.Y.Z.” are impersonals, whom no one places any confidence in. There is no satisfaction in offering such shadowy testimony to those who are asked to believe in occurrences of an unprecedented and often startling character. Resolving as we have done, not to demand credence for phenomenal incidents upon any testimony open to the charge of unreliability, we feel obliged to relegate an immense mass of interesting matter of this kind to the obscurity which unauthorized statements justly incur.

Her former enthusiasm for pseudonymous collaborators seems completely absent in this 1884 book, but in 1892 Britten is once again writing on behalf of Chevalier Louis in Book II of Ghost Land.

Shortly after Art Magic was published, Emma was accused of being its sole author. Incredulity at her descriptions of Louis was expressed publicly, although anonymously, by a fellow Founder of the Theosophical Society. Charles Sotheran, in a review for Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, [July 6, 1876] called it “simply a rehash of books readily available…wretched compilation which is full of bad grammar and worse assumptions.” The judgment by a personal acquaintance, published so soon after publication, condemned Louis as a fictional mouthpiece for Emma herself.

Emma as sole author of Ghost Land was also the conclusion reached by Arthur Edward Waite, who discussed Louis in his memoir Shadows of Life and Thought:

Mrs. Britten has told us, in her preface to Ghostland (1) that its autobiographical sketches were “written originally in German”, but as she did now know that language, the Chevalier put them for her benefit into “rough English”; and (2) that they were written, like Art Magic, partly in French, and partly in English, for the same reason. In the dilemma of this lapsus memoriae I am content to leave the question whether the Chevalier lived only in the second-rate and typically feminine imagination of Emma Harding because, in the universe of evidential things, there was no room for him anywhere else.

Despite all the subsequent proposals, the conclusion that Ghost Land was predominantly written by Emma herself is inescapable in light of bibliographic evidence, and her authorship of its companion volume Art Magic. (Marc Demarest’s 2011 edition of Art Magic presents detailed analysis of the text leading to this conclusion.) The conflicting personal details about Louis noted by Waite confound any attempt to identify him solely with any one prototype. Nevertheless, rather than concluding that there were no real prototypes for Louis, I conclude that there were several, which accounts for the conflicting information provided by Britten. She first alleges that the manuscript was in German, which she had translated by an Americanized German, and a few pages later writes that Ghost Land and Art Magic were both written in French and English. In the 1876 manuscript Louis is the son of a Hungarian nobleman and his Italian wife, but in the 1872 sketches his father is English and his mother Austrian. Such inconsistencies suggest that Louis is an invention of his alleged editor, but if Louis is primarily Emma Hardinge Britten, the sole author of Art Magic and Ghost Land, the question remains of Chevalier Louis as a character related to figures in her past and then-present social networks.

Other than Emma, only one person was publicly suggested during her lifetime. The first suggestion of a Louis other than Britten came in the December 7, 1876 Spiritual Scientist, in which editor Gerry Brown’s review of Ghost Land included opening remarks suggesting “It is a singular coincidence that the circumstances therein narrated should correspond so closely to the historical facts concerning the Prince Salm-Salm, a person who has visited this country, is well known in England, and a profound occultist. If he is numbered among Mrs. Britten’s friends we name him as the author of `Ghost Land’ and `Art Magic.’” The Springfield Republican for December 19, 1876 repeated the Salm-Salm identification of Louis: “We suppose the editor, Ms. Emma Hardinge Britten, would object to having the book classed among works of fiction, but it certainly will not be received as a record of fact by the reading world…. Mrs. Britten describes the autobiographer as now living, and her personal friend, yet we have seen the late Prince Salm-Salm named as the original; he was a noted occultist.”

Felix Constantin Alexander Nepomuk, Prince de Salm-Salm (1828-1870) was a Prussian military officer who studied at a military school in Berlin before serving successively in the Prussian, Austrian, and United States armies. While in the United States he married a Vermonter, Agnes Joy, who accompanied him on the Civil War battlefields. After the war they returned to his estate in Germany. He was killed in battle in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war. Nepomuk’s career in the Prussian military and later association with Austria fits some elements of Louis’s persona, but there is no evidence that he was an occultist. He could not have collaborated in the writing of Ghost Land because he died in 1870. His American wife Agnes had a connection to Cuba, and a recorded interest in Spiritualism, both of which are relevant to Louis. Salm-Salm left us a book, My Diary in Mexico in1867, Including the Last Days of the Emperor Maximilian; with Leaves from the Diary of the Princess Salm-Salm, etc., Agnes also left a memoir of her own, Ten Years of My Life, in which she describes the couple’s dabbling in Spiritualism in 1863:

Though I, as I said before, resisted this epidemic on the ground of religion and common sense, I could not help becoming interested in this strange aberration, and feeling tempted to witness some manifestations of spiritualism. The Prince, however, tried to dissuade me from such an attempt, as he was afraid that the excitement would act too strongly on my imagination. I therefore abstained from visiting some of those public exhibitions of professional spiritualists, but did not resist the entreaties of Mrs. Speirs to have some spiritual entertainment at home, against which good Salm had no objection…

10/16/2015– adding this segment about Edward Bulwer-Lytton as it fits better chronologically here than with the next several prototypes:

The second suggested male prototype for Louis came from G.R.S. Mead, prominent Theosophist and secretary to Blavatsky in her London years, who was quoted by A.E. Waite that Louis was the “inner life” of Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873). The prolific novelist had attained great success by the early 1830s, and his Godolphin (1833) was translated into Russian by Helena Pavlovna Hahn, mother of Madame Blavatsky. Lytton wrote poetry and plays as well as dozens of novels, and was prominent in political and diplomatic life, serving as Secretary for the Colonies in the late 1850s. His obsession with occultism and Rosicrucian lore is most apparent in Zanoni (1842) and A Strange Story (1870), and Britten named him first among the participants in what she called the Orphic Circle. His interest in practical occult experimentation was unrivaled in Victorian England, which lends credibility to Britten’s late-in-life revelation of his name.

Waite gives no citation, but had aligned himself with Sotheran’s position that Britten herself was Louis.  In Old Diary Leaves, begun in 1895 while Emma was still alive, Col. Olcott hinted at agreement with both the Britten and Bulwer-Lytton theories., writing that Sotheran in Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly “Uses very severe language in regard to the reputed Author, whom he indentifies [sic], whether justly or unjustly, I cannot say, with Mrs. Britten…This is exaggerated censure, for the book does contain passages worthy of Bulwer-Lytton; in fact, one would say they were written by him”…[i Stylistically, Ghost Land echoes Bulwer-Lytton more than any other novelist. Bulwer-Lytton, among Emma’s claimed acquaintances, was well connected in continental occult milieu, and might have inspired her treatment of this aspect of her story. His influence on Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled is relevant to Ghost Land.

In a 1957 study, Sten Liljegren analyzed the influence of Bulwer-Lytton’s novels on Isis Unveiled, and more broadly on Blavatsky’s development of Theosophy. Without mentioning Britten, he notes a characteristic of Zanoni that also is found in Ghost Land, which is that after publication, the author “kept up the fiction that he was not the author of Zanoni but only the editor of papers which were left to him by a Rosicrucian, which formed the novel in question.” Disclaiming authorship of parts of one’s body of work became a theme for both of Bulwer-Lytton’s Theosophical disciples. In the 1870s, Britten took the strategy to greater extremes than Blavatsky, since Isis is portrayed as the latter’s work regardless of tales of adept collaborators, while Art Magic and Ghost Land are attributed entirely to Louis. Ghost Land and Isis Unveiled are equally indebted to Bulwer-Lytton’s portrayals of adeptship and initiation. In an 1877 letter to Stainton Moses Blavatsky wrote of Bulwer-Lytton that “He was an adept and kept it secret – first for fear [of] ridicule—for it seems that [is] the most dreaded weapon in your 19th century—and then because his vows would not allow him to express himself plainer than he did…”

(the above is a modified excerpt from an essay for a future new edition of Ghost Land)

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The First American Sufis

This week marks the publication of the first volume of Patrick D. Bowen’s three volume series A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States. The publisher’s website provides this description of the book’s contents:

A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 1: White American Muslims before 1975 is the first in-depth study of the thousands of white Americans who embraced Islam between 1800 and 1975. Drawing from little-known archives, interviews, and rare books and periodicals, Patrick D. Bowen unravels the complex social and religious factors that led to the emergence of a wide variety of American Muslim and Sufi conversion movements.

While some of the more prominent Muslim and Sufi converts—including Alexander Webb, Maryam Jameelah, and Samuel Lewis—have received attention in previous studies, White American Muslims before 1975 is the first book to highlight previously unknown but important figures, including Thomas M. Johnson, Louis Glick, Nadirah Osman, and T.B. Irving.

The publication date is September 14, but Google Books has had excerpts available online for several weeks. Fortunately for readers of this blog, large portions of the chapters discussing Thomas M. Johnson are available in previews. Here is a link to Johnson as a search term in the text. The second and third chapters provide more new information about the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the early Theosophical Society in US history than has been published in two decades. There is such a wealth of information that the book provides fodder for many possible blog posts.  Here I will highlight only the discovery that was most unexpected and was made by Patrick after we had already completed a first draft of Letters to the Sage: Thomas M. Johnson Selected Correspondence, The Esotericists. Although almost all the letters come from the Johnson family archives in Osceola, Missouri, the ones revealing the existence of a secret Sufic Circle  were written to and by Jonathan S. McDonald of Lockport, Illinois and were located by Patrick in the collections of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution. This group operated as a secret society within the secret society of the HBofL, and is the first known Sufi-identified group in the US.  As described in the book’s third chapter, on March 16, 1887:

Johnson, acting in his capacity as president of the H.B. of L.’s American Central Council, sent out an “ordinance” to six leading American members of the occult order, asking them to vote on the establishment of this organization…the objects of the circle were “the systematic study of Sufism, the practical application and realization of its teachings, and the dissemination of its precepts and doctrines.”

The group appears to have been short-lived and there is evidence that it immediately created dissension in the HBofL. But the timing of its creation is especially significant in relation to two other events that occurred in 1887. Thomas H. Burgoyne, Secretary of the HBofL, corresponded with Johnson about spiritual practices and initiatory rites of the Brotherhood, and mentioned that he had an inner-plane encounter with a man to whom he referred as “the Arabian,” suggesting that Johnson also might have such an experience during his initiation. 1887 was also the year that Max and Alma Theon moved from England to France and then to Algeria. Burgoyne refers to Theon and “the Arabian” as separate individuals and gives no details about the latter’s existence on the physical plane. But even though layers of mystery surround Burgoyne, the Theons, and Johnson, this new book sheds more light on the beginnings of the HBofL in America than has been available since the groundbreaking 1995 publication of many of its teachings as The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism.

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All Roads Lead to Concord

One strange synchronicity is enough to make me say “hmm, wow” to myself; another involving the same subject is enough to make me write about it. Although my past pattern has been to devote years of concentrated effort to a single subject, and move on to another only after publication, lately I’ve been juggling multiple projects involving three publishers as a chapter author or co-editor rather than as sole author. The advantage of this situation is that I never get bored; the disadvantage is that I stay perpetually disoriented and confused. But sometimes a connection among multiple projects appears which tends to reduce the confusion and help me see them all as part of a larger whole.

Two weeks ago I finished revision of a chapter on the Bengal Renaissance for a forthcoming collection. At nine in the morning I thought to myself, “At last I have the free time to read something for pleasure; surely there must be a new biography of some Transcendentalist to enjoy.” So I went to Amazon and looked around a bit, but didn’t see anything that jumped out at me. At eleven, I heard a thunk and went to the front door where I found a box from a Church of Light friend in California with a letter enclosed along with several books she “thought I might enjoy.” Including, to my pleased consternation, The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson, whose previous joint biography of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott had given me great pleasure a few years ago. (No more or less than Eve LaPlante’s subsequent joint bio of Louisa and her mother Abigail May Alcott, which was also subject of a previous blog post.) Like many readers and as noted in Matteson’s introduction, most of what I knew about Fuller involved her tragic death. Now halfway through the biography, I find it as absorbing as his previous book, and even more enlightening about possible role models for Sarah Stanley Grimke who was born the year that Fuller died, 1850.

Synchronicity number two occurred this morning as I got in my car after hiking at the lovely Lauren Mountain Preserve in Bassett, Virginia. Just as I was leaving, on the radio Scott Simon of Weekend Edition welcomed author A.J. Jacobs, who electrified me with the opening line “My favorite teacher is Bronson Alcott.” Jacobs went on to joke that Alcott was really his children’s favorite teacher, and then discussed other pedagogical subjects. One reason I was intrigued by this line was that Fuller’s first real job was as a teacher in Alcott’s short-lived, ill-fated, but fascinating Temple School in Boston. But in addition to tying into my current reading, Alcott also figures in three different writing projects in which I’m involved. He was an acquaintance of both Sarah Stanley Grimke and Mary Baker Eddy, and hence figured in my research last year in Boston for a future reprint of Grimke’s Esoteric Lessons. But more immediately, he was a major influence on both Thomas Moore Johnson and Alexander Wilder. The first volume of Johnson’s incoming correspondence is now in the hands of the publisher and represents 48 authors who wrote to Johnson in the 1880s; the second volume is almost entirely letters to Johnson from Wilder and the editorial team has at least a year ahead of us working on annotations, introductions, appendices, etc. But we just finished the first arduous round of transcriptions, a relief because Wilder’s handwriting was more inscrutable than any of the 48 correspondents of volume I.

Johnson was inspired to create his journal The Platonist by acquaintance with Alcott during one of his “Western tours” and traveled to Concord to pursue the relationship and meet other Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Wilder was one of the lecturers at Alcott’s Concord School of Philosophy, to which he regularly refers in his letters. The Bengal Renaissance chapter I just finished also ended up with a focus on Boston during the twilight of Transcendentalism, due to the connection between the Brahmo Samaj and Unitarians.

When I read about  Spiritualism, Theosophy, Christian Science, or New Thought my enthusiasm is purely that of a historical researcher. Duty rather than pleasure calls me to pursue those branches of literature. But the Transcendentalists, to my reading tastes, transcend the bounds of time and space and speak with voices as fresh today as in the mid-19th century. Not just their words, but biographies about them, inspire me with a sentiment akin to what Alfred North Whitehead said about Plato. If the history of Western philosophy is a “succession of footnotes to Plato”—which Wilder and Johnson would surely applaud—then the history of late-19th century American spiritual movements is a succession of footnotes to Transcendentalism.

The legacy of the Transcendentalists is apparent in New Thought, Theosophy, Christian Science, and of course Unitarian Universalism. But the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and its modern heir The Church of Light are arguably even more profoundly indebted to this movement—which I hope to explain further in future blog posts. (post edited, 9/11/15.)

Photo of Hillside Chapel, Concord, Massachusetts, from Wikipedia

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