Yearning for the New Age

Here is my 5-star Amazon review of a 2012 biography of Laura C. Holloway-Langford I recently enjoyed:

As a biography of a long-forgotten but prolific author, Yearning for the New Age succeeds at several levels. Scholars will find here the best informed, most nuanced discussion to date of the Mahatma letters of the early Theosophical Society, explaining how they embroiled their recipients in controversy and intrigue. Readers interested in Shaker history will find the later portion of the biography engaging in its sympathetic portrayal of the state of Shakerism in the early 20th century. Admirers of scholarly quest narratives will enjoy Sasson’s final chapter explaining the odd coincidences and discoveries that propelled her research from Nashville to New York and beyond. All readers will find the entire context of late Victorian spirituality illuminated through Sasson’s portrayal of Holloway-Langford’s many enthusiasms and reversals of fortune.

Especially relevant to my own research interests is the book’s focus on 1884 as a pivotal year in Holloway-Langford’s spiritual life as well as that of William Q. Judge. As some prominent Theosophists became deeply committed to transmission of alleged Mahatma letters and all the claims and counterclaims involved, others were disappointed or disgusted. Holloway-Langford is a vivid example of an individual who was drawn into the network of alleged chelas and Mahatmas but was treated dishonestly and abusively. Her literary collaborator Mohini Chatterji, similarly embittered after his youthful experience as a proclaimed chela of TS Mahatmas, comes to life in Sasson’s book more than any other work of Theosophical history.

1884 was the year of what Joscelyn Godwin has called “the Hermetic Reaction,” of which the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was just one example. Anna Kingsford and William Maitland created their short-lived Hermetic Society the same year in England, which was eclipsed four years later by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. For any reader with a primary interest in the TS, Yearning for the New Age is indispensable, uniquely informative about its milieu. But if one’s interest is more in the history of secret societies or neo-Hermeticism, the TS events of 1884 are likewise pivotal and through the life story of Holloway-Langford take on a larger significance than a single organization’s troubled history.