Susan E. Morrison and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor

When Astro-Philosophical Publications published Sarah Stanley Grimke’s Esoteric Lessons in 1900, another author received most of the attention in the catalog at the end of the book. Belle M. Wagner’s novel Within the Temple of Isis occupies the first two pages of the catalog and part of the third, with endorsements by a total of five individuals: Zanoni, S.E. Morrison, D.C. Grunow, Minnie Higgin, and Thomas M. Johnson. The only one of these to have any prominence in the literary world is Johnson, who is succinct about the virtues of Wagner’s novel. He wrote, “I have read “Within the Temple of Isis” with much interest and pleasure. It is the best representation of the process of “The Transmutation of Souls” which I know of.” Zanoni now sounds less like T.H. Burgoyne than an all-purpose shill for the Wagners, writing “This is an Occult Novel of rare value, as it contains a vast deal of Occult lore on many subjects. Soul-Transfer and Soul-Marriage are especially dealt with in a scientific manner. Everybody should read it.” In light of other references to Zanoni of 1900 as the defunct Burgoyne now accessible through mediumship by Belle Wagner, the independent existence of that “reviewer” is somewhat tenuous. Much more intense is a personal testimony from a woman, Susan E. Morrison, who knew the Wagners personally in Colorado and later was acquainted with Elbert Benjamine in California. She enthused “It is the most intensely soul-stirring work that it has ever been my privilege to read. It certainly touched the keynote that connects my soul with Deity Himself.” But who is Susan Morrison?

Ancestry.com has yielded the basic information of her birth in Vermont in 1874, and her death in California seventy years later, but sheds no light on why this woman of modest means, who was a house servant for most of her working life, was involved in an organization like the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. Between 1910 and 1918, the transformation of the secret society into an open membership brotherhood/church was an expression of the needs of a changing spiritual marketplace. Susan Morrison was a figure who like Elbert Benjamine witnessed the transformation.