Four Important New Books

Although I have not yet acquired them, these new books from academia represent a big step forward this year in what academic scholars call Western Esoteric Traditions and what this blog calls Ancestors of the Brotherhood of Light lessons. All are multi-author collections with predominantly European and Asian authors writing about European and Asian subjects. The biggest news event of the year for students of the lessons will be The Cosmic Movement, edited by Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss. The ever-mysterious Max and Alma Theon become less mysterious but no less intriguing, judging from the table of contents. From SUNY Press comes Theosophy Without Boundaries, the first new study of Theosophical history in decades in its Western Esoteric Traditions series which includes three of my own books. From Brill Publications in the Netherlands we have a new study Kabbalah in America that includes a chapter from Vadim Putzu about Thomas Moore Johnson. A fourth new book of interest is now available: this multi-author international collection released in 2021 includes a chapter from Vadim Putzu about Thomas Moore Johnson along with many other relevant contributions. This page from the Palgrave Macmillan website describes all the chapters of Esoteric Transfers and Constructions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Ancestors can be direct or collateral, and when we examine the Cosmic Movement and the Theosophical Society after various partings of ways in the 1880s, they are not direct but collateral ancestors of the work of Elbert Benjamine and he refers to them with admiration but not particular warmth. The line of direct ancestry he emphasizes is the work of Emma Hardinge Britten, Thomas H. Burgoyne, Sarah S. Grimke, and Genevieve Stebbins, none of whom is likely to be illuminated much by the new books. But a great many “spiritual cousins” will come into much clearer focus thanks to these new studies.

My own interest in the Theosophical Society has been largely on its first ten years and American followers, and for more than 25 years my research has been almost entirely about US history. But the overwhelming majority of new esoteric scholarship comes from outside the US and focuses on non-US subjects, which can only be seen as a great sign for the international relevance and vitality of the subdiscipline Western Esoteric Studies. I ran into problems trying to order the book from its Israeli publisher online but meanwhile appreciate that the co-editors have generously made their own portions available for free access on academia, seen here on the page of Boaz Huss.

The bigger picture for this blog would best be provided by a US collection along the lines of Transcendentalist abolitionists and all their esoteric/occult/mind cure enthusiasms. The Alcotts, Peebles, Cables, the Grimkes, Posts, Douglasses, Wilder, Thoreau, LM Child, JH Wiggin, so many chapter possibilities come to mind. I especially look forward to Christine Ferguson’s chapter in the new Cosmic Philosophy collection because it touches on the theme of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s female successors.