In the befuddled world of the occult antiquarian and esoteric historian, there are rare moments that are like sun breaking through clouds. Today’s blog post by Marc Demarest reintroduces a figure who had always seemed an obscure footnote, now in the heroic lead role as a major node in the occult network that immediately preceded, and produced, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
The best place to start is Theosophical History editor James A. Santucci’s description of the research of Robert Gilbert on Thomas’s groups (detailed in a full article accessible to subscribers here.)
“The Disappointed Magus: John Thomas and His ‘Celestial Brotherhood’” by Robert A. Gilbert. The Celestial Brotherhood, or as it was known to the general public, “the British and Foreign Society of Occultists,” was a short-lived organization that in the words of Mr. Gilbert: “mimicked, consciously or otherwise, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Both worked a system of progressive grades; both professed to receive teachings from hidden Adepts on the inner planes; both practiced magical and quasi-magical rituals; and both had an autocratic and eccentric earthly Chief… The first mention of his British and Foreign Society of Occultists was in July 1884, which appeared in the inaugural issue of The Seer and Celestial Reformer, later renamed The Occultist (announced in the December 1884 issue of The Seer) beginning with the January 1885 issue “at the behest of ‘the Leaders or Masters of a certain “Noble Order.” . . .” This “Noble Order” was the H.B. of L. or the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, so the obvious references were to Peter Davidson and Thomas Henry Burgoyne. Whatever connection existed between the leaders of the H.B. of L. and Thomas ended abruptly with The Occultist remaining under the purview of Thomas and Davidson and Burgoyne introducing a new magazine, The Occult Magazine, in February 1885. Thomas gives his version in the July 1886 issue of The Occultist,which is reproduced on page 312 of The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor by Joscelyn Godwin, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1995).
Somehow this issue of the journal escaped my attention at the time, but Marc’s tying Emma Hardinge Britten’s social network to the HBofL via Thomas gives context that enables us to more fully appreciate work by Gilbert and Kim Farnell. Farnell has a charming brief portrait of the seer/astrologer on her website, based on research for her 1998 biography of Walter “Sepharial” Old. Her biography of Old was very helpful in disentangling his relationship with Blavatsky, as Farnell’s study of Mabel Collins did for its subject in 2005. A valuable history of the Astrological Lodge of London puts Charubel in context of late Victorian astrology. The most extensive excerpts from his collaboration with Old, Degrees of the Zodiac Symbolized, are found in this 2005 reprint.
The abundant new HBofL periodicals on IAPSOP announced today make this a redletter day for Church of Light history. Explaining the HBofL as a continuation of the Celestial Brotherhood and BFSO: British and Foreign Society of Occultists adds to its significance.