Blog Genevieve Stebbins Norman Astley

Carolina Connections, Esoteric Historians

Blowing Rock, 1896 postcard

The State of Things is heard on North Carolina Public Radio on weekdays, and one of the most interesting interviews I’ve heard lately featured Sally Rhine Feather. The Brotherhood of Light lessons focus on validation of ESP via psychical research, aka parapsychology.  Neither Spiritualism nor occult tradition are cited with nearly the same confidence. Yet, sixty years after Zain’s death, parapsychology as a discipline seems still to be struggling for legitimacy. Sally Rhine Feather, the daughter of pioneers in the field, gives an intimate view of its development during her childhood and youth. Research for Ghost Land took me last week to Durham, visiting the Perkins Library at Duke University, a place I’d visited faithfully while working on The Masters Revealed.  The campus and the subject of my research gave me a sense of deja vu, returning to many of the same characters about whom I was writing twenty years ago.  Raleigh has been my research Mecca for the last ten years, the North Carolina State Archives providing most of the material on which my last book Pell Mellers was based.  Before that, Virginia Beach was the destination of dozens of research trips while working on Edgar Cayce in Context in the mid-1990s.  “Theosophical history,” in terms of the international subject matter and travels pursuing Blavatsky, is starting to be a distant memory. 

“North Carolina historian” is far more descriptive of what I’ve been doing for the last decade than “esoteric historian.”  The State of Things interviewed me about Melungeons in late July, and it reflects my recent research focus on ethnic, religious, and political minorities of 19th century North Carolina.  I have a chapter on Quaker ancestors in the 2010 collection Carolina Genesis, but the focus has been primarily on local places and families rather than the Friends in a broader sense so I can’t claim the mantle of “Quaker historian.”

Most unexpectedly, a North Carolina history emphasis has emerged with my research on Genevieve Stebbins and Norman Astley, who for twelve years (1894-1906) were landowners in the mountains of Burke and Watauga Counties.  They seem to have been highly successful with the New York School of Expression from their 1893 marriage through their 1907 retirement.  Yet somehow they found the time to manage farms in Burke County and invest in property in a very scenic location in Blowing Rock. 

Authors like Gary Lachman and Joscelyn Godwin have devoted years of sustained reseach to the field that is coming to be known as esoteric history.  By contrast, I return from a long absence feeling like Rip Van Winkle.  But much inspiring work has been done in the last few years, and I share news of ongoing developments in this blog with great appreciation for the creative evolution of scholarship.