Occultists with Aliases Face Unintended Consequences

The three authors included in the History of the Adepts series were all published under their own names in the 1870s and 80s.  But unlike Alexander Wilder, Sarah Stanley Grimke and Hurrychund Chintamon were also involved in writing under aliases while associated with Thomas Henry Burgoyne. The debut of this blog was greeted in 2010 by denunciation from a trio of Blavatsky experts writing under the pseudonyms Hari Hamsa, Jaigurudeva, and Padma, aroused specifically by rancor at Chintamon. Their site vanished in December 2014 without anyone ever identifying them to me. There is also a longstanding Blavatsky oriented website in which one person writes under three names, two of which, Terry Hobbes and David Green, specifically targeted me (by Hobbes in 1993) and the late Gregory Tillett (as Green starting in 1998) while defrauding dozens of members of online discussion groups.

A common thread in the lives of these authors using literary pseudonyms is that it always has unintended consequences. Emma Hardinge Britten creates Chevalier Louis de B_ out of a half dozen or more acquaintances in Europe and America; Blavatsky then outdoes her both in terms of the number of acquaintances in India and the aliases she gives them.  Thomas Henry Dalton is recruited into the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, adopting a pseudonym under the influence of Hurrychund Chintamon and Peter Davidson who are also writing under aliases.  But his existence as Burgoyne lasts only five years, from 1886 to 1891 after which he becomes Norman Astley for the rest of his long life. Yet his publishers the Wagners appropriate his material, declare him dead, and publish what he had entrusted to them as channeled from a spirit. Hence his remaining unpublished manuscripts pile up for two decades at the end of which his wife edits and publishes excerpts under “A Pilgrim of the Way.” She did a very creditable job as editor but the book had little or no impact on readers at the dawn of the first world war, at the end of which the Astleys came to California. The unintended consequence of becoming Burgoyne in 1886 is that his literary light is under a bushel, permanently, and the same is true for Grimke when writing with him as Zanoni. But Blavatsky’s unintended consequence for alias games was far greater, the Society for Psychical Research investigation and her forced departure from India.  Britten tries to revive Chevalier Louis in 1892 in a new volume, but it is never published in book form. Hence indulging in aliases early on came back to “haunt” all three of them at the end of their writing careers.

Nothing in the transition from Benny Williams to Elbert Benjamine to C.C. Zain was comparable to this, in that his name was legally changed after he married Elizabeth. It was understood that Zain was a pen name for Benjamine, no secret.  The name change was a matter of public record and newspaper coverage at the time, explained by the Williamses opposition to his work with the Brotherhood of Light. [The fact that his mother Emma visited LA right before this and was sister in law of the governor of Iowa at the time suggests it was Elbert’s maternal relatives who were most opposed.] But when his children came back into his life by moving to California, one adopted Benjamine as a surname and the other three did not. Now his descendants (one grandson was named Elbert Benjamine) include both Williamses and Benjamines, a peculiar unintended consequence indeed.

The term occultism has problems in the 21st century and esotericism is the preferred label among academic scholars.  My observation of the difference is that there are opposite approaches to secrecy and transparency. Esotericists have always been generous and constructive to me, while occultists have often approached historical research with four dangerous proclivities: obscurantism (the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known), obstructionism (the practice of deliberately impeding or delaying the course of legal, legislative, or other procedures), obfuscation (the action of making something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible), and ostracism (exclusion from a society or group.)  Occultist types hoard, hide, misrepresent, and even destroy historical evidence seeking power through secrecy. Esotericists collect, explain, publish, and preserve literature from past secret traditions, not feeling bound by an ethos of secrecy or religious rivalry.

History of the Adepts was chosen first as the name of this blog and then as a series title for books for two reasons. 1) The focus is always primarily on historical evidence about sources or influences apparent in the Brotherhood of Light lessons. 2) My book The Masters Revealed had chapters about 18 Adepts and 14 Mahatmas, but the sectarian noise surrounding “the Masters” being equated with only two pseudonymous “Mahatmas” has drowned out all the historical signals in my research.   “Adepts” does not evoke the same level of smears and disinformation. Calling these people and associates adepts does not imply any judgment about their interior spiritual qualities or status; it describes their historical accomplishments in esoteric studies. One striking difference between Wilder, Grimke, Johnson, Stebbins, Astley, Chintamon, and their contemporaries in the worlds of Theosophy and Spiritualism is the prioritization of philosophical wisdom and scientific knowledge over religious belief in their writings. We see this reflected in the work of Benjamine throughout the BOL lessons, making for a more Aquarian Age flavor in this twentieth century organization than in its Piscean Age belief-based nineteenth century ancestors.