I grew up in coastal Virginia, with relatives who had known Edgar Cayce as a friend and neighbor. One cousin wrote a book about him in the late 1960s, and Virginia Beach was becoming a New Age Mecca by 1977 when I discovered the large collection of Theosophical books at the A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) Library and Conference Center. This inspired a decades-long interest in Blavatsky and Olcott as well as many later Theosophical and metaphysical writings. In the 1980s and 90s I was intermittently active in local Theosophical and Search for God (A.R.E. sponsored) groups as well as Integral Yoga satsangs, Fourth Way and Sufi study groups. All these inspired historical curiosity about the links among these traditions. HPB’s links to Gurdjieff and Sufism were the initial inquiries that led eventually to my books about the Masters.
Q. Are you an active member of the Theosophical Society?
A. No, my only active membership in a spiritual group is with The Church of Light.
Q. Do you think the foundation of the Theosophical Society was part of a ‘hidden political’ agenda?
A. Some of the founding members were notoriously political in their other motivations and involvements, with Charles Sotheran the most extreme case, but others appear to have more moderate and less politically motivated, e.g. the Brittens. Overall I do not see Russian or American political hidden agendas of much importance in the founding of the TS. But its various Masonic and British diplomatic links, and the associated agendas are highly significant factors from the start of the TS. There are also multiple indications that Italian and Greek nationalism were highly significant in the very beginning years of the TS and intertwined with spiritual and occult pursuits. But the most significant political associations of the TS did not develop until its move to India.
Q. What do you think about the work of the Theosophical Society today?
A. Having had little contact in recent years, all I can say is that I am full sympathy with the Objects of the Society, and am very grateful for the support and assistance of many Theosophists in my research.
Q. In your book The Masters Revealed you present a series of hypotheses regarding the identity of the Theosophical Mahatmas, what led you into this kind of academic research?
A. When Leslie Price inaugurated the Theosophical History Centre in 1985, I was among the initial subscribers to the Theosophical History journal which he edited, and presented papers at Theosophical history conferences in London in 1986, 1988, and 1989. After the Gurdjieff/Sufi inquiry, the second historical puzzle I wrote about was the relationship between HPB and Albert Leighton Rawson. Freemasonry, and particularly Italian and Egyptian political associations in the mid-19th century, was also related to HPB in a paper I presented on “Metrovitch and the Carbonari Connection.” But the project of identifying Theosophical adepts, Masters, or Mahatmas with historical prototypes did not begin to take shape until the end of the 1980s. In early 1990 I traveled to India and France to spend several weeks in historical research about Blavatsky’s sources.
Q. Which member of the Ionian Branch of the T.S. intrigues you most and why?
A. Otho Alexander is an intriguing figure for several reasons. Since I am a member of the Church of Light which descends from the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, I’m especially interested in Alexander’s distribution of letters from HPB which allegedly supported the HBL position about her exchanging one set of Masters for another. But Alexander also reverted to loyalty to the TS in his later years, which raises questions about his disaffiliation with the HBL. There are two aspects of Alexander’s career that are particularly relevant to the question of mysterious adepts behind the scenes of the early TS. He was a vice-consul in Corfu for the United Kingdom, at a time when British diplomats in the Eastern Mediterranean figured in Blavatsky’s network of sponsors, for example Richard F. Burton and Raphael Borg. The Ionian TS was the very first branch outside New York City, which again suggests important early links between Alexander and HPB, heretofore unexplored. She described visiting Greek friends with Metrovitch en route to Egypt in 1871, and of course the identity of “Hilarion Smerdis” remains unknown. This leads me to think that eventually Corfu will provide some useful clues to understanding the network of adepts that were behind the scenes of the early TS. (to be continued)