Monthly Post

The Legacy of Luxor

Late last year, before veering off on several necessary tangents, we brought the story of American occultism up to the point when the Theosophical Society was hitting its stride. Now that we can return to the story, let’s circle back to the same point in history.  Lodges of the T.S., as it was usually called for short, were springing up all over the United States, and in many other countries as well; people interested in occultism, in Asian spirituality, and in alternative culture of all kinds were taking in lectures by Theosophical speakers, poring over books from Theosophical presses, and joining the T.S. It was a heady time, as heady as the golden age of American Wicca a century later.  It turned out to be just as short-lived, but we’ll get to that.

Not everyone in the American esoteric scene was interested in rallying beneath the banner of Theosophy, however. Occultism is never a monolith, not least because occultists are by and large an individualistic lot, and the fact that most people are going in one direction is reason enough for them to go in another. As it turned out, the Theosophical moment didn’t last—what went up with the rocket came down with the stick—and the opposing movements were the ones that ended up defining American occultism in the twentieth century.  There were quite a number of these opposing movements, and they ended up moving in a wild diversity of directions, but a very large number of them had the same starting place: the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.

The H. B. of L.’s seal

The H.B. of L., as it was usually called, first surfaced in public in an 1884 advertisement in back of a new edition of the Divine Pymander—that is, the mystical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, which had been composed by an assortment of Greek-speaking Egyptian mystics in the first centuries of the Christian era and, rediscovered in the fifteenth century, had played a central role in launching the occultism of the Renaissance. The advertisement instructed students interested in an order teaching practical occultism to write to a certain address, giving answers to certain questions. Many did, including quite a few leading members of the T.S. in North America, Britain, and Europe.

Those who were accepted into membership were placed under the guidance of mentors, most of whom were well-known occultists in their own right—Rev. W.A. Ayton in England, Albert Faucheux in France—and received instructional papers passing on a detailed system of practical occultism. Very little of that system was original; quite a bit had been borrowed from the teachings of African-American occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph, whose career we discussed in detail last year, and more was borrowed from the writings of Sampson Mackey, a British eccentric who believed that the key to mythology was a vast cycle of apocalyptic scale caused by the slow rotation of the Earth’s axis. The lack of originality—a very common thing in occult circles, since most occultists know the advantages of borrowing and adapting existing systems—did not keep it from being an effective system of magical practice.

Peter Davidson

Behind Ayton, Faucheux, and their equivalents elsewhere was a Scottish violin maker named Peter Davidson, who was the effective head of the H.B. of L. in its early days.  Another Scot named Thomas Henry Burgoyne, of whom we’ll hear more shortly, was the secretary.  Both men, in turn, were pupils of a remarkable occultist who went by Max Theon. (His real name was Louis Bimstein. If your name was Louis Bimstein, and you wanted to make a splash as an occultist, you would change your name to something more colorful, wouldn’t you?  He certainly did.) He was born in a Jewish family in Russian-occupied Poland in 1848, studied Kabbalah with local rabbis, and left home as a young man to make his fortune as a freelance mage.  He apparently spent time in Egypt in the early 1870s. By 1884, certainly, he was in London, where he supported himself as a spiritual healer and provided initial guidance to the H.B. of L. It was apparently on his advice that the order took that very colorful name.

Max Theon

What made this choice potentially explosive at the time, and still makes it a loaded issue in some ends of the occult scene today, is that the moniker “Brotherhood of Luxor” was already known in Theosophical circles. (Luxor, of course, is a city in southern Egypt, one of the great cities of the pharaohs.)   Blavatsky herself had used it in print early on, for the secret order of which she claimed to be the emissary—this was before she redefined herself as the messenger of Tibetan Mahatmas. Furthermore, Blavatsky was certainly in Egypt between 1870 and 1873, and at least one later witness claims that Theon was also there.  The possibility that both of them may have been initiates of a Brotherhood of Luxor based in Alexandria during those years has been discussed by some scholars. Rumors then as now claimed a Coptic magician named Paulos Metamon as the founder of that organization; as far as I know, documentary evidence either way has yet to surface.

Blavatsky didn’t handle competition well.

Certainly, however, Blavatsky responded to the rise of the H.B. of L. with considerable alarm and acrimony. She immediately denounced the new organization and tried to pressure members of the T.S. who had joined the H.B. of L. into dropping out. She also responded by founding a new inner circle of the T.S., the Esoteric Section, with its own teachings on practical occultism to compete with those the H.B. of L. offered.  The leadership of the H.B. of L. responded crisply by revising its advertisements in occult periodicals to address “Theosophists who may have been disappointed in their expectations of sublime wisdom being freely granted by Hindu Mahatmas.” The T.S. responded in kind with accusations that the H.B. of L. was simply a moneymaking scheme.  The accusations flew fast and thick—and then a skeleton tumbled out of the closet of the H.B. of L.

T. H. Burgoyne

That skeleton had T.H. Burgoyne’s name on it.  Born in 1855 as Thomas Dalton, Burgoyne showed a remarkable facility for changing his name at different times in his life. As Dalton, he became a student of Max Theon sometime in the 1880s; as Thomas Burgoyne, he handled the correspondence of the H.B. of L.—but as Dalton, a few years previously, he had tried to make a little money on the side through a timid attempt at mail fraud, got caught, and spent the first seven months of 1883 in prison.  The Theosophists figured this out in 1886 and promptly splashed it all over the occult scene in the same kind of frenzy of denunciation we’ve seen so often recently in other contexts. They were, to be frank, neither accurate nor fair about it, and—again, in a manner all too familiar these days—did everything they could to portray Burgoyne as a total villain. The H.B. of L. was unable to handle the storm of negative publicity, and it promptly shut its doors in Britain and dropped out of public sight in Europe and North America.

The immediate aftermath saw the leading figures of the H.B. of L. either renounce their membership or flee the country.  Rev. W.A. Ayton took the former tack, joined in the hue and cry, and quietly became part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn not long after that was founded in 1887. Burgoyne took the latter tack, and emigrated to the United States. Davidson had shown commendable prescience by leaving England for rural Georgia a few months before the storm broke.  Max Theon and his English wife, equally foresighted, did the same thing at about the same time, settled in Algeria, and started a new organization, the Mouvement Cosmique, which produced its own series of teachings and attracted students.

Mirra Alfassa

One of them was a remarkable young woman named Mirra Alfassa. Born in Paris of Turkish and Egyptian parents, Alfassa became one of Theon’s closest students.  after Theon died she traveled east to Pondicherry in India, where she met the Hindu spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo and became his closest associate, under the title of “the Mother.”  There are intriguing parallels between the teachings of Theon’s Mouvement Cosmique and Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, and Aurobindo’s teachings are among the few Hindu spiritual writings that make instant sense to Western occultists, but Alfassa, who was in a position to know, always insisted that the two men came up with their insights independently. There are plenty of other examples of simultaneous revelation along these lines;  as Charles Fort liked to say, “it steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time.”

Sri Aurobindo. It’s a pity he and Max Theon never got to sit down and talk shop.

The teachings of the H.B. of L. were not without their more direct effects, however.  Across Europe and North America, occultists who had found the H.B. of L. congenial and were cut adrift by its sudden collapse promptly started their own organizations to teach practical occultism to students, and a good many of the occult organizations we’ll be discussing in the months ahead can trace their origins to that process. For the moment, though, we’ll focus on the most direct of the lines of succession that descended from the original order.

This was set in motion by Burgoyne, who was welcomed in America by students of the H.B. of L. and had very little difficulty founding a new organization along the lines of the old. He titled it the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, and it attracted a significant number of former H.B. of L. members.  Burgoyne also revised and edited the most important theoretical papers formerly circulated among H.B. of L. students, first as a series of lessons, and then as a book entitled The Light of Egypt, which was published in 1889 under Burgoyne’s magical title “Zanoni.” It quickly won a following among American occultists and remains in print today.

The Light of Egypt. Compare the image on the cover to the center of the HB of L seal.

At this point Burgoyne’s story gets complex.  According to the official account, Burgoyne was urged to carry out this work of revision by an English emigré in the United States, a professional surveyor and retired Captain in the British Army named Norman Astley. That account goes on to claim that as a devoted student of the H.B. of L. system, Astley made sure Burgoyne’s expenses were covered and helped take care of Burgoyne during the latter’s final illness in 1895.  It’s a fine, colorful story, but it doesn’t happen to be true.

As occult scholar K. Paul Johnson has pointed out, there are three modest problems with this tale. The first is that exhaustive searches by scholars and members of the H.B. of L.’s successor order, the Church of Light, have failed to come up with any evidence for the existence of Norman Astley before the 1890s.  The second is that exhaustive searches by these same diligent people have failed to turn up a death certificate for Burgoyne.  The third is that while Astley was impressively camera-shy—as far as I know, no photo of him has yet surfaced—his handwriting has survived, and it is identical to T.H. Burgoyne’s. There seems to be no doubt that what actually happened is that Burgoyne changed his name to Astley—an easy thing to do back in the days before identity cards and computer databases—and spread a rumor that his former alias had died. It was an effective way to shed the stigma Theosophists had attached to Burgoyne’s name, and it seems to have worked very well.

Genevieve Stebbins

Astley, as we may as well call him from this point on, had kept himself busy on another front during the period when he was penning The Light of Egypt and getting the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light on its feet in America. One of the H.B. of L.’s students in the United States was an actress and teacher named Genevieve Stebbins, who was one of the first people to make a name for herself as a teacher of physical fitness exercises to American women. Born in San Francisco, Stebbins startted out as a child actor and dancer, and then took two years off the stage to master the Delsarte system of exercises under the famous drama teacher Steele MacKaye. She returned to the stage in 1879 as the leading lady of the Madison Square Theater, toured in the US and in France to great acclaim, and finally left the stage for good in 1885 to become a full-time teacher and writer.

Stebbins was married when Astley came on the scene, but that didn’t slow the two of them down for long. Stebbins got a divorce in 1892 and married Astley almost immediately thereafter. The next year they opened the New York School of Expression with offices in Carnegie Hall, with Stebbins as head teacher and Astley as business manager.  The school remained a significant force in the New York City creative scene, catering to many of the city’s richest families, until 1907. That was when Mr. and Mrs. Astley retired; they relocated to England for a time, and then, in 1917, settled in Monterey, California for the rest of their lives.

All this while the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light remained quietly active, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, where it circulated the original H.B. of L. teachings and did its best to stay out of sight of the Theosophists.  A publishing arm, the Astro-Philosophical Press, kept The Light of Egypt in print and also published books by other American occultists such as Sarah Stanley Grimke. The organization’s days were numbered, though it did not know that yet.

In 1910 the Brotherhood received a message from Max Theon, who was still busy with his Mouvement Cosmique in Algeria, instructing them to close down. Since Theon was still in some sense the head of the H.B. of L., the current leaders of the organization did not feel they could disregard the order, and so they started the process of closing their doors. Fortunately they had already found someone who could carry on the legacy in a new form.

Benjamin Williams aka Elbert Benjamine

This was Benjamin Williams, an earnest Iowa farm boy who had become fascinated by astrology. Born in 1882, he contacted the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light in 1900, enrolled in its study program, and pursued it with the sort of passionate enthusiasm that only a geeky eighteen-year-old can manage. In 1910, he was asked to take on the task of transforming the teachings of the Brotherhood into a set of lessons that could be studied by mail.

There’s an interesting detail of history to that request.  In the first years of the twentieth century, correspondence courses had become the new frontier for occult schools. Changes in the postal laws and rapid advances in printing and duplicating technology made it easier and more affordable for occult schools to teach by mail, and at a time when a classified ad in the back of a national magazine could bring letters from every corner of the United States, occultists were quick to take note. Williams didn’t take that route at first, but when he did, he pursued it with the same enthusiasm he put into his occult studies.

In 1915, as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light closed down once and for all, Williams changed his name to Elbert Benjamine, moved to Los Angeles, and started an organization of his own, the Brotherhood of Light. At first he ran it the old way, as a secret society, but in 1918 he opened its doors to the public and began offering lessons by mail.  The Brotherhood of Light quickly found a niche in the American occult scene, because the lessons it offered were not the usual eight- to tweive-page pamphlets sent out once every week or two.  Students of the Brotherhood of Light got hefty paperbound volumes crammed with occult lore, which they could study at length before taking an examination. (For some reason Benjamine wrote these under the pen name C.C. Zain; multiple aliases seem to have been a thing in that tradition.)

An advertisement for the Brotherhood of Light course.

Another advantage the new organization had was that Benjamine was a talented and creative astrologer, and among the things he put into the Brotherhood of Light course was a great deal of astrological instruction—something that few other occult schools offered at that time.  He gradually expanded the course to a robust 21-volume library of occult lore, finishing the last volume a year before his death in 1951.

He was not left entirely to his own devices in assembling the materials for the course. The Light of Egypt was an important source, and so were the writings of Sarah Stanley Grimke, which he’d studied while a member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. So were the two books by our old friend Emma Hardinge Britten, Ghost Land and Art Magic—the other side of the teachings of the  original Theosophical Society found a home in Benjamine’s work and, as we’ll see, elsewhere as well. But he also had another crucial source of teachings:  Genevieve and Norman Astley, who lived right up the coast in Monterey. They provided him with a great deal of help in gathering and assembling the raw materials for the Brotherhood’s course until their deaths in 1934 and 1943 respectively.

It is pleasant to imagine Astley in 1930 or so looking back on the events of 1886 with an eye toward the workings of karma. In the two decades leading up to 1929, as we’ll be discussing in a later post, the Theosophical Society all but destroyed itself in a crescendo of self-inflicted disasters, and had most of its members leave in a hurry, in the same way that so many members had bailed on the H.B. of L.  Meanwhile the tradition to which Dalton/Burgoyne/Astley had devoted so much of his life was thriving again under Benjamine’s energetic leadership, and Astley himself was watching the whole Theosophical fracas from the comfort of a Monterey patio, in the company of his lovely and talented wife and fellow initiate. Revenge, he might have suggested, is a dish best served alfresco, with a bottle of Chardonnay.

And the Brotherhood of Light?  It’s still around. In 1932 it renamed itself the Church of Light; that year Los Angeles passed an ordinance banning the teaching and practice of astrology, and Benjamine reorganized as a church in order to shelter his astrological teaching under the mantle of religious liberty.  These days the Church of Light has a headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a capacious website at light.org; all Elbert Benjamine’s voluminous lessons are still in print, and are available to nonmembers as well as members. Despite the long, tangled, and roundabout path it followed through the golden age of American occultism, the legacy of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor is one occult tradition that seems to have gotten through intact.

76 Comments

  1. “In 1932…that year Los Angeles passed an ordinance banning the teaching and practice of astrology” — How long did that last? Not past the 1970s, when the Los Angeles newspapers had astrology columns, which they labeled “for entertainment only.” I even wrote a parody of one for the November 1980 UCLA Band newsletter in which I jokingly forecast that people born under my sun sign would find romantic companionship, writing “If you’re a saxophone or clarinet player, you will find someone to wet your reed. If you’re a trombone player, you’ll find someone to grease your slide.” That night, I went out with a trombonist, a date I did not have before I wrote the parody. Coincidence or wishful thinking come true? It certainly wasn’t astrology, as I didn’t cast a chart.

  2. Vince, I suspect it was overturned fairly quickly. Astrology and other forms of divination faced quite a bit of this kind of harassment in the early 20th century, but none of it seems to have stuck.

    Gwydion (offlist), please reread the paragraph above the post window, especially the first sentence.

  3. Hi JMG,

    Do you know to where in Georgia Peter Davidson moved and what he did after he arrived. Living here, I’m curious what happened to him. Thanks!

  4. Hi JMG & all,

    A great post here & wonderful history.

    I couldn’t help but think of some of the alchemist characters in Weird of Hali: Providence. I don’t know if Astley practiced any of the various alchemies or not… but it does make me wonder, could he still be alive under another name 😉

    Since I finished Providence about a month ago, I had been thinking also about the Comte de St. Germain a bit too. I guess creating new identities isn’t just for mercurial hackers, but also for mercurial magi. Especially if they plan on living longer than a century… (again not saying Astley did, but it comes to mind!)

    I new a guy in the Church of Light around here and he was a competent occultist. Since the last occult bookshop here closed, I haven’t seen him in a long while.

    In Light & Liberty

  5. ‘This was set in motion by Burgoyne, who was welcomed in America by students of the H.B. of L. and had very little difficulty founding a new organization along the lines of the old. He titled it the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, and it attracted a significant number of former H.B. of L. members.’

    The same initials for a new organization. Very smart, Burgoyne! (I write it without a trace of irony!)

  6. Chronojourner, he moved to Loudsville, GA, which is in the far northern part of the state in White County near Cleveland, GA. (There apparently isn’t a town there any more.) He published a newspaper, The Morning Star, which eventually turned into the Cleveland Courier, and continued to teach and practice the occult teachings he’d learned from Max Theon until his death in 1915.

    Justin, I borrowed freely from the legends surrounding the great alchemists to fill in the details of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward — Lovecraft had only a modest knowledge of alchemical lore, though he did a good job with them. As for the Church of Light, it’s earned a good reputation; I considered doing its training very seriously at a couple of points, and only went in other directions because the usual absurd synchronicities dropped other things in my lap.

    Chuaquin, ringing only very small changes on a name like that was standard — that’s how we got the Ancient Order of Druids, the Ancient Druid Order, the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids, the Ancient Order of Druids in America, the United Ancient Order of Druids, etc.!

  7. I shall attempt to comment in a manner relevant to the topic at hand. I appreciate your feedback, Mr. Greer. I was so taken with my “proem” that I neglected to take on board that necessary point, earlier! Indeed, this very morning I had a quite vivid dream wherein I had to apologize to my brother for interfering in his reconstruction of a 1953 Chevy pickup. So, my sincere apologies.

    This is a fascinating history, none of which was known to me, and is entirely relevant to the very strange fact that effective training does not rely upon the offeror having conventional credentials, rather a passion for the topic and access to kinds of intelligence necessary to develop effective tools based on what was available to them.

    Throughout my life I have encountered the materials put out by the Brotherhood and had not known enough to make use of them (the more fool, me). It is refreshing to know that they are still active, still relevant to our kind (however you may define “our kind”) and indeed have put out a full computer program for the astrology portion of their teachings that I intend to add to my toolkit. Better late to the party than never! To the extent that “vibes” have any meaning in this department, the Brotherhood has always had good ones for me…and I never could figure out why.

  8. I’ve been excited for you to cover this chapter! I find Stebbins and Astleys influence on Hatha yoga via harmonial gymnastics also to be really intriguing, and it’s nice to understand this context better.

  9. I was in Los Angeles in the 1970s during the lively occult scene and the opening of the Bodhi Tree bookstore with all its wonders. At that time, the practice of palmistry, psychic arts AND hypnotism was illegal, in that there were laws on the books dating back to the 1920s and 30s that prohibited the practices…but I never saw any enforcement going on.

    Around that time, a group of physicians tried to get hypnotism outlawed in the state on the basis that it was “practicing medicine without a license” — but hearings at the State Capitol were pretty much chuckled out of existence. Hypnotists stopped referring to their customers as ‘patients’, or talking about ‘curing smoking’ or whatever. That turned the heat down.

    I doubt that the anti-occult laws were ever expunged, any more than laws against spitting on the sidewalk or tying your horse to a lamp post were removed. They’re just sitting there quietly, awaiting the day when a new crop of soul-crushers ferrets them out.

  10. The idea of there being a Brotherhood of Luxor active in Alexandria is interesting. I’d been wondering how people actually benefited from spiritual travels to Egypt. If there was any living tradition or it was more like if you stood in the right spot in front of the Sphinx, you got visions. How did pilgrims and seekers describe their experiences there?

  11. Clarke, thank you for resubmitting. Next to nobody in the US occult scene today knows about this — we have a bad case of collective senility in this context as in so many others. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this series of posts.

    Oliver, interesting! That’s not a subject I’ve researched yet — can you point me to books or websites on the influence of harmonial gymnastics on yoga? It’s highly relevant to our story, as you’ll see when we get to Oom the Omnipotent on the one hand, and Hamid Bey on the other…

    Elkriver, interesting. I just checked the LA municipal code and yes, the prohibition against fortune telling is still on the books. It only applies, however, if you’re conducting it as a business and taking money in exchange for fortune telling services.

    Yorkshire, I have no idea. You might consider researching that.

  12. Dear John Michael Greer,

    The history of these metaphysical ideas, organizations, and personalities is indeed important. In my own rummaging around in the literature I had seen mentions of the HB of L here and there… all so mysteriously mysterious… (And the charisma of Madame Blavatsky still leaves me scratching my head… ) Thank you for explaining this perplexing chunk of history. This series of posts is just delicious. Good wishes to you!

  13. Last week’s topic, or maybe not. Is the ambiguity regarding Thebes in Egypt versus Thebes in Greece intentional on Levi’s part? I’ve never thought of a sphinx in Greece, nor have I imagined Oedipus to be in Egypt. Is it a Thebes in some other dimension entirely?

  14. “The Ancient Order of Druids, the Ancient Druid Order, the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids, the Ancient Order of Druids in America, the United Ancient Order of Druids.”

    The Judean People’s Front, and the Judean Popular People’s Front….
    P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters…

  15. JMG – thank you for this series exploring fascinating facets of history never even hinted at in mainstream institutions of indoctrination. The men and women you write about come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, as well.

    Good heavens! Now that was a surprise – the Church of Light relocated to Albuquerque, of all places! On first thought I was surprised that they had not relocated to Santa Fe, which is better known for teaching and activities related to the occult; on second thought realized a more down to earth* (and less pricey) location was a better fit, as Santa Fe – aka ‘Santa Fake’ has had an over the top New-Age reputation – because it’s ‘special’.

    *Although I hear there is a lot of occult/mystical related activities going on here in ABQ if one looks hard enough, maybe not even that hard. Not to mention a regional multi-cultural history going back centuries. Weird place in more than one sense.

    PatriciaT in Albuquerque (for now)

  16. Z Budapest challenged the LA fortunetelling statutes in 1975 when she was arrested by an undercover policewoman for a tarot reading at her metaphysical shop in Venice, CA. Her defense was that tarot and other fortune telling methods were part of women’s spirituality. She lost her case, but appealed and the state Supreme Court overturned the statute five years later. The case got a great deal of coverage in the neoPagan press at the time. Z. was leader of the Susan B. Anthony Coven #1 in the LA area. Later she moved to the SF Bay area and produced a feminist spirituality community cable TV show.

    Rita

  17. Man, what is *up* with these religious and spiritual movements emerging from Los Angeles?
    (And, yes, that city name kinda makes funny that I’m asking)

  18. C.M., you’re most welcome. There’s plenty more to come, too.

    Phutatorius, the Thebes in Egypt was named after the Thebes in Greece, after the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. Its original ancient Egyptian name was W3st (pronounced something like “Waset”), the City of the Scepter. As for sphinxes in Greece, “sphinx” is a Greek word, and sphinxes are even more common in Greek art than in Egyptian art; here’s a Greek statue of one.

    Mike, trust me, Druids tend to chuckle over that scene…

    PatriciaT, I don’t happen to know why the Church of Light moved to Albuquerque; they may simply have had a senior member from there who offered to do the necessary legwork of renting some office space. (That’s how these things often happen.) I’ve never been there but it sounds like an interesting place.

    Rita, thanks for this. The law is still on the books, curiously enough — I looked it up online — but then LA apparently has a lot of bizarre defunct laws. As for Z, we met a couple of times at Neopagan events: an interesting old lady with an attitude and lots of good stories.

    Lain, LA was a magnet for occultists in the early and middle 20th century the way Chicago was in the late 19th century and Boston in the early 19th century. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent place in the US right now, but with any luck one will spring up. Low rents are usually what does it.

  19. JMG, I really recommend Mark Singleton’s book ‘Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice’ it’s really the best book I’ve found on the subject, and it provides important context for the arrival of Oom on the scene!

    Here’s a quote:
    “ Stebbins was also a member of the group Church of Light, “an order of practical occult­ism” with close links to the influential esoteric group the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (Godwin et al. 1995 : ix). She brought these esoteric influences— along with those of Mackaye, Ling gymnastics, 3 and yoga —to bear on her
    interpretation of Delsartism. Stebbins’s presentation of Delsarte to American
    audiences initiated a veritable Delsarte craze, with a flood of imitation Delsarte publications, Delsarte clothes and home designs, a “Delsarte Club” in “nearly every town in the country” (Williams 2004 ). The parallels with the
    yoga craze of the present day are not hard to spot.”

  20. @JMG: Thank you for that clarification. I don’t know whether to go “Duh” or “Blerwm blerwm.”

  21. re Los Angles–gets called the city of angels, but it is really the City of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels, in other words, Mary. My ex was co-owner of an occult supply shop down there in the late 60s. After the 1969 Manson killings he and his partner and virtually every other public occultist were questioned by the police because of the weird signs the Manson family painted with their victim’s blood.

    Legislative bodies frequently refrain from taking a law off the books even when they know that courts have overturned it. For example, there have been people charged with sodomy in Texas despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional. From legislators point of view it is just a hassle that is unlikely to please constituents. If you announce that you are repealing the law against fortune telling, for instance, all kinds of people may show up to protest–fortunetelling is against god’s will, fortunetellers target the elderly and the naïve, fortunetelling can be a front for various con jobs, etc. Explain that the courts overturned a particular law and you will be labeled as having buckled under to the Libs/Radical Right depending on the particular law and which court issued the ruling. Easier to just leave laws on the books and hope the DA has the sense not to take any cases to court.

    Rita

  22. What do you think of Auroville?Started by “The Mother”, inspired by Aurobindo. How are they able to have so many people and last that long? Most intentional communities that are not monastic don’t do as well.

  23. Oliver, thanks for this. The library system here in Rhode Island doesn’t have a copy but I’ll see if I can scare one up somewhere else.

    Phutatorius, lots of people don’t know that — I just happen to be one of the few who does. 😉

    Rita, granted. I wonder who would turn up to protest if the LA city council abolished their laws prohibiting wearing zoot suits, bathing more than one baby in the same bathwater, or permitting dogs to mate within 500 yards of a church.

    Iuval, I haven’t looked into it. Religious communes routinely work quite well, however, because everyone who goes there expects to lead an austere life, and there’s no question who gets to make the decisions.

  24. Hi Rita! Did your ex agree with the state’s Helter Skelter theory of the Manson murders, or with one of the other theories that have been kicking around over the years? And what do you yourself think?

    I myself am inclined to agree with the state about Helter Skelter, simply because it’s so bizarre. If I were the prosecutor and I could take something else—anything else—before the jury, I would, but if you have this overwhelming amount of Helter Skelter evidence, well…

  25. Phutatorius @13, for reasons known only unto themselves, Western classicists are still using Greek names to refer to Egyptian places. There is one town which the ancient Greeks, and now historians charmingly call ‘Crocodileopolis; that must have been where Egyptians fed annoying tourists to the sacred lizards.

  26. “Norman Astley” seems to be an odd choice names, as opposed to Max Theon, for resurrecting ones mystic career. But I do see that an anagram of Norman Astley is ‘Real Antonyms’, which could be interpreted as meaning fictional, imaginary, unreal, nonexistent, untrue, false, etc. Or is it that I am reading too much into my scrabble tiles?

    –Thomas Black Tuna and Hand (36pts.)

  27. What remains of that 1932 L.A. law is California code 332 PC a regulation to prevent “gaming” fraud fraud. I haven’t checked lately but at least as late as 2015 you need a business license , a permit and some paper work like posted rate in some cities.

    Mainly its to prevent cursed money and similar scams although like nearly everything in this state there some class bigotry involved.

    Broadly though most card readers and I suspect astrologers have a fixed rate its usually about $50 a reading for cards , a license and a sign that says “For entertainment purposes only” which keeps them out of trouble.

  28. I apologize, but an uncomfortable question: if their magic is powerful and working, why do they seem to have so much trouble?

    Put it this way: wouldn’t you expect the life-feeling of the mages to be that of a Buddhist abbot, a high-level yogi, or the Dali Lama?

    Not trolling, but if they can see modestly into the future, the energy blocs and patterns, how are they often surprised, undercut, and sidelined? Unrelated, I was feeling the same way about example, Llewellyn and Covid. Huge banners about what they were doing, how concerned they were. Do they think their magic doesn’t work at all and is only for personal amusement, let’s pretend? If they don’t believe it effects the world, why are they doing it?

    Don’t worry: I ask the same question of Christian magic and their fear of dying and going to heaven.

    There’s an awful lot of intellectualizing out there, right past any emotion, animal, feeling, or raw essence. And western culture is so hyper-mental they don’t notice. Do we have to get back to pistols at down for anyone to take things seriously?

  29. @ Yorkshire – Vladimir Soloviev had one of his Sophia visions in Egypt. But he also had one in the British Museum, prior to that, directing him to go to Egypt. So, I would imagine you would turn something up under that rock.

  30. I want to step in sideways to this weeks topic:

    Here is a well written article that speculates whether “Hatha Yoga” or the stretching and breathing
    exercises we know today are really more of a 19th century invention as well..:

    https://jfdeters.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/the-myth-of-yoga/

    Additionally here is a short historic article on the question of how do humans move naturally.
    The website has very good general advice on health and building robustness, I find:

    https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-history-of-physical-fitness/

    How does it relate to occultism and its recent or older traditions?

    I think the physical aspects are either a modern and recent phenomenon for our lifestyles in the West
    where habit weakens the body and aspects of our robustness.

    Though physical exercise combined with spiritualism has certainly been a domain of warriors for
    a long time.

    Of course it helps having a good constitution for enganging in mental and energetic practices.
    It is optional though.

    One question I have is:

    Johann Kelpius healed, was it the same principles as in Qi Gong, where life force is used and directed
    to positively influence someones body or energy body?

    If yes, is this something occult lodges of the 19th century did as well?
    Or was it mainly guided vision travels in meditation and visualizations we know from the Golden Dawn.

    Maybe this was mentioned on previous posts and it escaped me.

  31. Many laws against astrology, palm reading, tarot, etc. were aimed specifically at the Romani (Gypsies) or at other itinerant peoples such as “carnie” (workers in traveling carnivals). Major cities had specialized police units (Gypo squads) directed to detect and prosecute those who cheated people out of money by convincing them that their money was cursed, or similar schemes. Sorting truth from prejudice is difficult–settled peoples tend to be suspicious of wanderers, while nomads tend to resent the farmers and city folk who claim to own what the nomads regard as nature’s bounty. The intersection with the occult is that strangers and members of “out” groups may claim or be credited with strange powers and arcane knowledge.

    Weird laws still on the books were routinely used as humorous filler items by newspaper editors who had an empty inch at the bottom of a column.

  32. Lain Iwakura #17:

    Los Angeles wasn’t just a breeding ground for the occult, Pentecostalism got a boost there too with the several-years-long Azusa Street revival which began in 1906. Interestingly, the early Pentecostal movement in the US was racially quite integrated and a lot of women emerged in leadership roles, most notably Aimee Semple McPherson

  33. Black Tuna, interesting. The marvelous Internet Anagram Server gives some additional anagrams for “Norman Astley”: “masterly anon,” “a manly stoner,” “not my arsenal,” and “my neon altars,” among 14,194 others…

    Simon, not so. Chapter IV, article 3, section 43.30 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code still prohibits fortune telling. (Check it out here.)

    Jasper, that’s a valid question, but it has three answers, all of which apply to the present case. First of all, would you insist that medicine doesn’t work because people die, or that automotive engineering is a fraud because cars crash? Magic isn’t omnipotent; it can help you deal with the curve balls life throws at you but it won’t invariably prevent them. (Neither will Buddhism, by the way — check out how many Tibetan Buddhist lamas had to scramble out of Tibet in a hurry in 1959.) Second, the magical traditions of the present day are fragments of what occultists had in the Renaissance, and Renaissance occultism is the fragmentary remains of the magical systems that existed before the fall of Rome; we don’t have anything like a complete system yet, though plenty of us are working on fixing that. Third, until the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn went public in the late 1930s, the idea that divination should be an important part of magical training was on nobody’s radar screen — that was one of the GD’s great innovations, and a very successful one. The H.B. of L. system that Davidson, Burgoyne, et al. were using was part of the first generation of serious attempts to reconstruct a full system of occult training, and it didn’t include divination until Elbert Benjamine put serious training astrology and tarot into it.

    Despite all this, please note, the H.B. of L. initiates did quite well. Theon and Davidson got out of Britain ahead of the crisis, landed on their feet, and continued their work. Burgoyne, who was a less advanced pupil, was apparently taken by surprise, but he also landed on his feet, and managed quite effectively to preserve and pass on the tradition. As for Llewellyn, er, let’s not go there, shall we? The serious occultists I know responded to the virus panic in a quieter and more effective way, and all of them are, as it happens, still quite alive.

    Curt, the relation between exercise and magic is a topic for a later post — and in fact we’ll be talking about the physical culture movement and its interface with occultism as we proceed. As for healing, there are many different ways to do it; the same Chinese healers who use qigong for healing also typically use herbs, massage, physical exercises, acupuncture, dietary change, and moxibustion — just for starters! — as parts of their healing toolkit. Kelpius and his students used herbs, alchemical tinctures, prayer, and the laying on of hands — this latter is a Western form of subtle energy work, different in its functioning from qigong but equally effective.

    Rita, true. Nomadic and settled peoples have a long history of mutual animosity, enlivened by violence and fraud.

  34. @ PatriciaT, JMG

    Re Albuquerque and the Church of Light

    I noticed that the Phylaxis Society (the research society related to Prince Hall Masonry) is also headquartered in Albuquerque. (I’ve been reading up on the masonic research societies b/c I intend to submit an application to both the Phylaxis Society and the Philalethes Society as soon as I’m raised a Master Mason and thereby become eligible for membership.) Struck me as an interesting coincidence.

    Given that coincidences are suspect in this field of work (though not impossible), I’m wondering what an underlying connection might be?

  35. Hi John, long time no comment!

    Your post joggled the faintest memory of a satirical novel I read many, many moons ago. I only recalled that it was about the founders of mystical society who squabbled over its direction, that in the end amounts to little. After some Googling, I dredged up the title and author: “Masters of Atlantis” by Charles Portis, best known as the author of “True Grit”.

    After refreshing my memory of the plot from the novel’s Wikipedia entry, I realized it ties in quite well with the theme of this post. I thought to reread it, alas I no longer have my hard-bound copy of the book, which I was astonished to find now sells for upwards of $400 on AbeBooks, presumably since the author passed onto the higher plane last year, and the remake of True Grit did quite well at the box office and awards shows.

    I’d love to hear your take on the book (available in audio book on Hoopla from my local library)!

    All the Best, Philip

  36. Hi John, just a follow-up about a website technicality – Have you had reports of comment failures when using Google logon credentials? I tried (twice!) to post my comment using my Google account, but after pressing the Google icon and logging in, WordPress reported “Error: Google failed to return an expected code.” when I press the “Submit” button. In the end I just logged in with my email and Gravatar icon. Not sure if there’s much you can do about it, but maybe add a warning in your instructions if it’s really broken. I had to rewrite my post after the first attempt – in a Notepad file, fool me once…

    Anyway, still reading you faithfully all these years, even if it’s just lurking!

    Take care,
    Philip

  37. Dear JMG,

    Many thanks for this! It’s amazing to read of Mirra Alfassa and her connection to Western Occultism and with Sri Aurobindo. From what I’ve read of his work is, frankly, utterly amazing and provides a very helpful ternary perspective on the great conflicts of Western thinking. His writing on Materialist Monism and how it informs Spiritual monism rocked my world, and it’s gratifying to read someone rooted in Hinduism harmonize Western philosophy with Hindu cosmology with a clear deep respect for both. His general emphasis on synthesis I also find remarkable and very inspiring. To learn that he has a degree of connection to the Western Occult world is while not particularly surprising, is certainly heartening.

  38. My grandmother, who lived in LA before and during WWII, used to tell me about Aimee Semple McPherson. She said that one of McPherson’s sayings was: “When you come to church don’t forget the three books–your Good Book (Bible), your Hymn Book and, most important, your Pocket Book (purse or wallet).” Has anyone else ever heard this? My grandmother didn’t have a lot of use for preachers, partly because of this emphasis on the collection plate. We tend to think of Pentecostalism as Southern and white and male dominated, but McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel Church was multiracial and open to female leadership from the start. My grandmother’s opinion of Sister Aimee appears to have been unfair—although the church collected and used millions of dollars McPherson’s estate at her death was only $10,000. The Foursquare Gospel Church has a website–kind of interesting. McPherson was one of the first church leaders to use the radio and theatrical church services to reach the masses.

    Rita

  39. @ David, by the lake – re: Phylaxis Society headquarters in Albuquerque.
    I have no idea why their headquarters or that of the Church of Light would be located here.

    Maybe it’s just as simple as the possibility that JMG mentioned: one of practical convenience. Albuquerque sits at a crossroads* (north-south, east-west; modern /wild west / Spanish colonial /pre-Colombian) – long predating modern times and the interstate highways, it has an airport, rail service (for now), relatively modest cost of living. It is a city of contrasts (atomic research, curanderas, rift valley, open spaces, high crime and other modern urban problems, weirdly fascinating history, etc., etc.). So many stories.

  40. David BTL, interesting. I have no idea.

    Psteiner, I know it well — a hilarious novel, and tolerably accurate as a portrayal of the scene. I read it for the first time while staying in the basement of the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, which added a certain verisimilitude to Portis’ account of the ungainly rise and much-prolonged fall of the Order of Gnomons.

    Your Kittenship, yes, you can.

    Philip, I’ll let my tech person know about this. Thank you.

    Violet, you’re most welcome. I have a copy of Aurobindo’s The Life Divine en route from a bookstore right now — I’ve read some portions online and it seemed like a good time to consider his work in more detail.

  41. Probably off-topic, but I remember Amiee’s funeral procession. Went right by my school which was next to the cemetary. A whole bunch of cars following the hearse. The papers showed the pallbearers struggling up a steep slope to the grave, carrying her bronze coffin which probably weighed over a ton. There was a road above the tomb not ten feet away!
    Theatrics after her demise! What a character!

  42. AH, thanks J.M.G. I hadn’t checked L.A. city codes,

    Fortune tellers around here in this part of California can even have storefronts all nice and legal and a government agency I know redacted used with great success a dowser.

    The funny thing is though if someone in L.A, wants a reading and is willing to pay for it they can just go to the Internet. or make a phone call or drive a few miles.

    Its of course the problem with law making and its absurdity as always.

  43. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh is an interesting guy. I first encountered his work in a philosophy course taught by Stephen Phillips at UT Austin. Dr Phillips spent several years at an Aurobindo ashram in India before doing his grad work if I remember his timeline correctly. Over the years, I encountered Aurobindo’s work occasionally in “respectable” places like philosophy departments. Last time I was in India I went to the Aurobindo pavilion at the Kolkata book fair. The people running the book pavilion definitely had more of a guru/religious vibe than the “respectable” academic vibe I get stateside. My in-laws in India (all Hindu) find his group a bit “culty” but sent my sister-in-law to an Aurobindo school for primary education. Regardless, I picked up both his commentary on the Gita and a fun book entitled “The Humor of Sri Aurobindo” from the pavilion. I recommend the Gita commentary. His humor not so much.

    JMG, I hope you enjoy “The Life Divine,” however please do not adopt his writing style. Untangling his nested dependent clauses gets tiring after awhile.

    Note for clarification: in my not-so-humble opinion, the respectability of a philosophy department is inversely proportional to its value.

  44. JMG, apparently auroville does not have a leader and decisions are decentralized. Nor do the people there think it’s religious. But yes, somewhat austere.

  45. Lady Cute Kitten–I don’t recall Bob (my ex) speculating about the Manson murders. It was just that anything that seemed spooky meant that the police would be questioning people and generally making people nervous. Remember that the LA police and LA sheriffs had well earned reputations for being a**holes and the murder of Hollywood stars meant that the case was high profile with a lot of pressure to solve it. When I was managing apartments in San Francisco in 2000 I had a tenant weirding out on meth, playing music too loud, setting fires, etc. One time he left the gas on, candles burning and a live wire under a wet towel in a flooded kitchen. Like maybe he was trying to shock anyone who came in? When I investigated I found a mirror with a pentagram dripped on in candle wax. I thought, oh crap, why?? am I going to get all kinds of questions about this from the officers who respond? Fortunately not, but I guess any minority identity makes you sensitive to anyone, member or not, who may make your minority look bad.

    As for the phylates (sp?) causing a drop in human fertility–I knew plastic wasn’t all bad. Listening to statistics about California losing population on the car radio I was doing fist pumps and saying “and don’t come back!”.

    Rita

  46. psteiner: I see “Masters of Atlantis” new on alibis for $12-16.

  47. Sri Aurobindo was also one of the major spiritual influences on Karlheinz Stockhausen. His cycle of 15 text compositions for intuitive music (i.e. improvised yet with instructions for various modes of playing), Aus den Siben Tagen (From the Seven Days), was inspired by his reading of Aurobindo. These text pieces themselves are more like instructions for discursive meditation and prayer through the medium of music than anything else.

    One of my favorite pieces from the cycle is “Goldstaub” or Gold Dust. The requirements for the performers are here quite austere, hence it doesn’t get performed very often, yet it does get performed. It comes from Stockhausen’s own experiences on an isolated retreat of prayer & fasting during which he read Aurobindo.

    The requirements for Goldstaub are that the performers are in total isolation fasting for four days before coming together to play the piece. During this time they are not to play music, but to be in prayer & meditation. An experience of rebirth is expected by those who do this. Stocki experienced this on the fourth day of his own isolation, when he opened the lid of a piano and had an ecstatic experience as he opened the lid of his piano, played a key and heard new worlds in the long tone decay.

    The instructions for these pieces are genius. To give a taste, if I may, here are the instructions for the piece, Kommunion:

    “Play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the limbs of one of your fellow players
    play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the limbs of another of your fellow players
    play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the cells of one of your fellow players
    … of another …
    play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the molecules of one of your fellow players
    … of another …
    play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the atoms of one of your fellow players
    … of another …
    play or sing a vibration in the rhythm of the smallest particles that you can reach
    of one of your fellow players
    … of another …

    try again and again
    don’t give up”

    Or for the piece “Set Sail for the Sun”

    “play a tone for so long
    until you hear its individual vibrations

    Hold the tone
    and listen to the tones of the others

    – to all of them together, not to individual ones –

    and slowly move your tone
    until you arrive at complete harmony
    and the whole sound turns to gold
    to pure, gently shimmering fire”

    Writer Ed Chang who maintains the wonderful Stockhausenspace blog goes into greater detail and gives the texts for all the pieces:

    http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/2015/03/aus-den-sieben-tagen.html

    (Chang also has a great Michael Moorcock site: https://ariochspad.blogspot.com/ )

    Anyway, I don’t know too much about Aurobindo, only having come across him through being a Stocki freak. I’d like to read him sometime.

    Here is a recording a first section of Goldstaub
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k08i__KZVeM

    Anyway, Stocki went on in his later years to become a big fan of the Urantia book and wrote a series of works based on it. He had a great love for many different spiritual paths, from his Catholic upbringing, to his explorations in world religions, which are woven throughout his Licht opera cycle.

    JMG, will you be covering the Urantia book at all? Some of my friends who were/are New Agers were big into that among other channeled texts. Just curious, as I’d be interested in your take on that phenomena and the whole “channeling” scene was big here in the states. (Of course as someone who is more into the Western Mystery Tradition… the idea of channeling was never really recommended.)

    One thing that remains so interesting though with all of this stuff is the spread of the ideas from various magical and mystical teachers and where they turn up later.

    All the best to all!

  48. Re: Manson

    I listened to an interview with Tom O’Neill on the Joe Rogan show last year (i’m not a follower of Rogan, but he has interesting guests sometimes). O’Neill had written a book called “Chaos :Charles Manson, the CIA, and the secret history of the sixties”. It was a wild take on the subject. I didn’t read the book, but found it fascinating to learn about the CIA’s Operation Chaos, going on in at those times. As something to listen to while working it was fine, but I don’t have any vested interest in whether or not the Helter Skelter argument was right or wrong.

  49. Jimofolym, too funny!

    Simon, I’m sure the LA ordinance is no longer enforced, but it’s still on the books. Of course you’re right that even when it was enforced, all that meant was that providers had to locate just outside the city limits. The point of that kind of ordinance, like the more recent anti-global warming and anti-racism ordinances, isn’t to change anything — it’s to signal to all and sundry that you’re on the side of the notional Good People and opposed to the Bad People.

    Chris, Sri Aurobindo had a Western academic education — he attended King’s College, Cambridge — and he had a thorough grounding in Western philosophy; thus I’m not surprised his work finds a place in philosophy departments. As for his literary style, that was very common among systematic philosophers at that time; he’s much more readable than, say, Whitehead, and unlike Hegel, he’s actually got something to say and isn’t just shoveling smoke so that people will mistake obscurantism for profundity. I’m not a systematic philosopher, so I use a style that’s more transparent though somewhat less exact.

    Iuval, so noted. Every organization I know of that claims to have decentralized decision making actually has a covert hierarchy with effectively unchecked power in the hands of a handful of members.

    Justin, anyone who’s a Michael Moorcock fan is worth my while, though I’d be more interested in Stockhausen if he’d been inspired by, oh, the Swords trilogy rather than the Urantia Book! As for the Urantia Book, Oahspe, and other channeled works from putative aliens, I’ll probably have to discuss them as part of the long and very checkered history of spiritualism, as they interfaced with the occult scene here and there. I’ve read the Urantia Book, of course, and found it impressively dull. You’d think that alien intelligences far beyond the human level could be a little less dreary! That said, it’s a pervasive problem with channeled literature; for every one work on the level of the Changing Light at Sandover you get thousands that just drone on like the Boring Prophet in Life of Brian.

    I’ve read O’Neill’s book, by the way, and if you follow up on the other CIA programs at the time, it’s unpleasantly plausible. His broader thesis was that the youth movement of the Sixties was deliberately stomped by flooding the scene with a particular sequence of drugs — LSD first, then methamphetamine a couple of years later — which had been tested by the CIA and found to cause horrifying outbreaks of violence and antisocial behavior in experimental subjects. Map that onto the way the Sixties scene imploded and it looks very much as though Operation Chaos was a brutally effective experiment in social psychopharmacology. (And another very, very good reason to keep you brain clear of whatever the latest fashionable, heavily marketed drug happens to be…)

  50. @JMG: Thanks for your brief take on the Urantia book and O’Neill’s book. I have to say as much as I like Stockhausen, I won’t be reading the Urantia book anytime soon. I tried to read the last part on the life of Christ at the imploration of a friend I was close to a for awhile, but just couldn’t make it through. Of course that friend had lived through the sixties and his brain might have been/was addled by the psychopharmacological aspects of Operation Chaos.

    I may make the time to read O’Neill’s book as I was fascinated with the interview he did with Rogan, and his thesis did seem quite plausible. All the connections, etc. I just wasn’t sure how much time I wanted to devote to reading about Manson, but the broader aspect is very much of interest to me. I’ll have to see if it is on audiobook and I can listen to it while at work. (It is, I just put it on hold. 🙂

    One of my favorite Cincinnati bands I used to hear on the radio was called COINTELPRO. Manson also lived in Cincinnati when he was young. Maybe there is a connection! 😉

  51. I read O’Neil’s book. I think he stayed on the Manson beat too long and lost perspective. He had darn near everything tied into the CIA/Manson plot.

  52. @ JMG – You mentioned the book ‘God is Red’ by Vine Deloria Jr. during the podcast interview at Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio (BTW – great interview! Solidified my plans to buy your book ‘The King in Orange’). This made me wonder about the places that people in the ‘American esoteric scene’ were connected to, where they were from, where they traveled to, where they settled. I did a brief survey of the places mentioned in this week’s essay – my goodness! Quite a few. Made me think of all the people you have written about in this series – it would make quite a map or series of maps. Also, now I’m wondering about the influence of these places on these people and, perhaps, vice versa.

  53. Justin, I knew a guy years ago who was deep into the Urantia Book, and I don’t think his head was screwed on quite straight either.

    PatriciaT, since I don’t have a car and don’t do a lot of traveling generally, I haven’t followed up on the geography of American occultism, but it’s a fascinating subject and could use some close attention.

  54. Hi John Michael,

    Elbert was a clever bloke to have side stepped the disasters of other groups, whilst providing them with no leverage to anchor their unhappy antics upon. It is very reminiscent of a well timed martial arts move. Confrontation is often not the wisest approach to other peoples problems.

    Actually the unfolding story of occult groups reminds me a lot of schools of thought in relation to gardening. You may scoff, but there are all manner of groups proclaiming that they are the one true way, and yet my experiences over the years has left me with the feeling that: it depends! That is a surefire answer to many intriguing questions, and it is one that is sure to ruffle the largest of egos, but at the same time it is kind of applicable to the real world.

    Hey, I don’t travel far these days either. About an hours distance from home is my upper limit. This is considered a quirky trait, but it doesn’t bother me and there is plenty to do within such a vast area. There have been one or two times over the past year or so, when I’ve had to head to the extreme other end of town (and Melbourne is a vast sprawling city) and it is not an enjoyable experience. Oh well.

    In a shameless plug, a mate of mine will soon be holding a film night for the readers in Melbourne for the film: Bright Green Lies. The film questions the ‘new green deal’ and the future of ‘100% renewables’ which a lot of people spend a lot of energy talking about. I’ve been living day to day with this renewable energy technology for well over a decade, and the technology is good, it just isn’t good enough to replace fossil fuels. I wish it were so, and turns out that other people are perhaps beginning to notice. Anyway the details of the film night can be found here:

    Cheers

    Chris

  55. Mr. Greer, you mentioned the fragmentary nature of the magical systems under discussion in comparison to those of the Renaissance, which were fragmentary in comparison to those of the ancient world. In your view, what constitutes a “complete” magical system? What qualities would one have that fragmentary systems do not?

  56. Thanks for another fascinating post in this series…glad to hear it’s likely to go on for quite a while. I clearly remember the Brotherhood of Light books and Benjamine/CC Zain from my early forays in occultism in the mid 70s, and am pretty sure I owned several of the astrology volumes back in the day.

    I wonder if you’ve considered including Nicholas Roerich/Agni Yoga as you move on further into the 20th century? He was an amazing and very prolific painter who, together with his wife Helena, channeled many books inspired by some of the same Mahatmas introduced by HPB (all available here: https://agniyoga.org/index.php). He was Russian and tuned in to the emergence a future great culture in Russia. The Roerich Museum in NYC has an impressive collection of his paintings and is highly worth a visit.

  57. Chris, oh, I know! Back during the peak oil days, when I talked about my good experiences with intensive organic gardening, I could count on getting trolled every single time by people who insisted that whatever garden practice they used instead was the One True Path. It was very reminiscent of the quarrels in the occult scene. As for Bright Green Lies, delighted to hear it.

    Nick, if you want to see a complete system of esoteric spirituality check out the great systems of Asia, which have remained largely intact. What they have are (a) a very wide range of systems for spiritual development suited to people with different personality structures and levels of commitment; (b) fully tested and functional systems of using spiritual forces to do things in the world, such as magic and alchemy; and (c) a full complement of auxiliary arts — practices such as healing arts, martial arts, fine and performing arts, architecture, etc., etc. — which allow practitioners to function in the world and, where necessary, make a decent living by providing useful services to their communities. When Lévi launched the magical revival we had very, very little of any of these things. Now? There’s more, but even the most complex and elaborate systems of Western occult spirituality have a handful of things in each category. We’ve still got a lot of rebuilding to do.

    Jim, hmm. I’ll consider Roerich, as he was of some importance in the post-Theosophical era.

  58. Since Chris is promoting events in Melbourne, maybe you’ll let me sneak in a plug for my friend Louisa Joy Wise, and her album launch party tomorrow….
    More on topic, back when I was young lad, friends from Arcosanti made a pilgrimage to both Auroville and Findhorn. My brother studied at the Goetheanum. My father, who spent the first years of his life at the Borobudur in Java, taught meditation in the 70s. Somehow, I’ve been on the edges of a lot of the occult ever since childhood, without ever taking the final dive in. It’s time, which is really a comment for last weeks post.

  59. Hi John Michael,

    Yeah, that has been my experience too. Some plants I grow using intensive methods (e.g. rocket and green and red mustards), and other plants don’t respond so well to those techniques. I’m learning to apply the different methods based on trial and error, combined with observation, over many years. I’d imagine you’ve been on a similar journey in the occult scene? 🙂

    Far out, it takes a bit of effort when interacting with others to determine the difference between sheer enthusiasm displayed from another person’s insight, or their dogma! It can be a fine line indeed.

    Just for your interest in relation to renewable energy, I had to replace the house battery pack last year. The sealed lead acid batteries had performed sterling service, and I’d babied them for almost 11 continuous years. A few years ago there was an incident which caused four of the battery cases to become cracked, and these batteries dragged down the pack. Anyway, I replaced them with Lithium batteries, and they’re good, but underneath it all they’re still batteries with all of the limitations (just to a lesser extent) of the technology which has been kicking around for over a century and a half.

    As a species we’re quite good at refining old ideas, but new ideas, not so much. I assume that occult learnings are also subject to diminishing returns, with the occasional new insight?

    Cheers

    Chris

  60. @Peter Van Erp,

    Arcosanti! I wonder what they’re up to these days. I visited Arcosanti in ’74, and if I hadn’t already had a plan, might have stopped there for a year or three. A very interesting project, and philosophy behind it…

  61. Dear John Michael Greer,
    I second Roerich, would be very interested to read your take on his history. I’ve also been to the museum in NYC, which is relatively small but indeed well worth visiting. Thanks for considering.

  62. Chris, why, yes, all of that applies to occultism just as precisely! There probably haven’t been any genuinely new occult practices introduced at any point in recorded history; some of them have gotten lost and had (or still have) to be rediscovered, but mostly it’s a matter of repackaging, either to meet the needs of changing cultures or, ahem, as a sales pitch.

    C.M., I’ll certainly take it under consideration.

  63. Hi John Michael,

    Sales pitch! 🙂 Yes, of course. And the same is true with the vast quantity of information I’m having to sift through and make sense of as well. It is a worthwhile task.

    As a not as unrelated as you might think side story, we seem to be going back into crazy territory again down here.

    One of the most alarming outcomes of authority figures constantly pushing the big old fear button using a really sad form of magic is that people end up being fearful. So here is the delicious irony: Now the same authority figures are saying: ‘trust us this time’, and people are responding by acting out: “but we’re fearful”. It’s a fine joke, if it all wasn’t so totally unnecessary.

    It’s a bit like the book Fight Club (which I only just read recently and quite enjoyed) in that when Fight Club does need to be spoken about, nobody involved is able to speak about it. 🙂

    And speaking of Fight Club, I do wonder really deep down whether some corners of the community are using the opportunity presented by this health subject which dare not be named as revenge for certain inequalities. And here is the finest part of the joke: The authorities pushing the fear button seem to be genuinely fearful themselves. Blow back is always a problem, how could they not have known that?

    Oh well, I just try to navigate my way through the craziness as best as I may.

    Hope spring has sprung for you and Sara in your part of the world.

    Cheers

    Chris

  64. I know this is crass and unholy, but can anyone pray for me, that I might start to get more customers at work, and for the company I work for become more prosperous? On the mundane level, we’re doing everything we can, we have good marketing, and a good location, but our business went to hell when the government introduced more severe restrictions in April, which have just been lifted. I work in a massage/foot reflexology place. Everyone who works here has been against all the restrictions and the hoopla, and the atmosphere of fear created by the tag team of media and the government. Preventative health like we offer should be respected, rather than just untested innoculation. I imagine once people around here become less fearful of the “varus,” business will gradually pick up, but right now it is so bad that I am on partial Employment Insurance and some days I get zero customers.

    I don’t care which deity or deities you pray to, I would appreciate your prayers. I’ve been reading JMG’s blogs for years and am still on the edge of my seat with every comment. Even though I don’t post often, I love the voices of the commentariat and enjoy JMG’s thought. To pay it forward, I’ll donate some money to JMG through the tip jar on the other blog.

    Thanks!

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