Ancestral Chart for the Brotherhood of Light 1915-1932

Three branches of Hermetic studies are reflected in the three books and three authors identified by the Brotherhood of Light lessons as precursors of the teachings found therein.  I have assigned pairs of keywords to those authors to give a sense of the “family tree” of late 19th century sources of ideas in these early 20th century lessons. Identification of major influences on their writings in turn is seen in the third generation of “ancestors.”

Thomas Henry Burgoyne, Hermetic astrologer, clairvoyant naturalist, main author of The Light of Egypt, is clearly the most astrological of the three authors and more an inspiration for the astrological lessons than the alchemical and magical lessons. The natural science elements in the BOL lessons are also more akin to Burgoyne’s interests than to those of Britten and Grimke.

Frontispiece, following title page, of the original 1921 edition of the first volume of Brotherhood of Light lessons

Emma Hardinge Britten, Spiritualist historian, Rosicrucian novelist, author of Art Magic and Ghost Land is the most magical in focus with all of her works dealing with practical manifestations of occult knowledge and psychic powers. Attitudes toward religious history and psychical research in the lessons are foreshadowed by those in Britten’s books.

Sarah Stanley Grimke, metaphysical teacher, author of Esoteric Lessons and co-author of The Light of Egypt, is the most alchemical in that “directed thinking” and its transformative potential inspire much of her teaching.  An abolitionist background and progressive political views were shared by many of Grimke’s associates and some of this can be seen reflected in the lessons’ comments on US politics.

What we now have as a single volume Laws of Occultism was in the first edition two volumes published five years apart. Lesson 1-A, entitled Occult Data, appeared in 1921 with Burgoyne’s natal chart as the frontispiece. Lesson 1-B, Astral Substance, appeared in 1926 with Grimke as the frontispiece.

Frontispiece, 1926 first edition of lesson 1-B, Astral Substance

All of these writers were Hermetic in the broad sense but none of them was associated with any Hermetic groups other than the HBofL.  Britten was steeped in Rosicrucian and Masonic lore but is not known to have actively participated in any organizations other than those related to Spiritualism and Free Thought.  Grimke was affiliated with a small New Thought group called Light, Love, Truth, prior to meeting Burgoyne but her later writings shared his astrological emphasis rather than continuing to address mind cure. Britten was a founder of the Theosophical Society, and many of the Brotherhood of Light lessons reflect the ideas of the early TS in New York, but what we now know as Theosophy is overwhelmingly defined by Helena Blavatsky after her arrival in India and her alienation from Britten who was openly denouncing the TS by 1884.  Hence The Church of Light is completely independent of “the Hermetic tradition” or “the Theosophical lineage” or “Spiritualist groups” or “Rosicrucian orders” just as it is of the New Thought and Free Thought movements, in organizational history terms.  However, ideas in the Brotherhood of Light teachings include elements from all these lineages, making the group “cousins” of many groups in terms of ideas but “siblings” of none in terms of organizational history. Elbert Benjamine was by no means limited to only these literary sources, but they are the ones most explicitly identified by him as relevant to students of his lessons.

The above chart is of course an oversimplification, but is intended to provide a quick introduction to the network of associates of the founders of the Brotherhood of Light and their literary sources. One way this diagram oversimplifies relationships is that is just an ancestral chart and not a family group chart which would allow siblings and in-laws and not just direct ancestors. That would allow us to introduce Paschal Beverly Randolph and Madame Blavatsky as literary “siblings” of Britten and fellow “children” of Bulwer-Lytton, since they were all enamored of Rosicrucian fiction. Thomas Moore Johnson and Alexander Wilder would both be “children” of Bronson Alcott along with Grimke’s mentor Cyrus Bartol if we were to use a family group chart.