Monthly Post

Theosophy: The Dog and the Wolf

The dog and the wolf, from the Book of Lambspring

In last month’s discussion of America’s magical history, we explored the nineteenth-century transformations of alchemy into a system (or more precisely several systems) of spiritual transformation that had little or nothing to do with furnaces, retorts, and chemicals. It’s a nice bit of synchronicity that the story we’ll be discussing this month is best framed by an alchemical metaphor.  The metaphor in question is found in a number of old European alchemical texts, notably the Book of Lambspring, and it tells how a dog comes from the west and a wolf from the east to do battle in a field, and out of their combat the Philosopher’s Stone is born.  That, in symbolic form, is the story of the founding of the Theosophical Society.

The dog of the metaphor was an Englishwoman named Emma Hardinge Britten. She was born Emma Floyd in 1823 in Bethnal Green, near Stepney; her father was either a sea captain or a schoolmaster—she claimed the first, her baptismal record claimed the second. She showed considerable musical talent at an early age. When she was 11, her father died, and to help support her family, she began teaching music at a local school. This is less improbable than it seems today. English schools at the time recruited intelligent and talented older children as teaching assistants, and many of these went on to become teachers themselves—this became one of the most important means of social mobility in Victorian England.

The talented Miss Emma Floyd

A year later Emma began to supplement her sparse income as a teaching assistant by singing and playing the piano. In her late teens, an unnamed benefactor took her to Paris and arranged for her to get a first-rate musical education.  Given the social habits of the time, the benefactor in question was almost certainly getting something more than musical entertainment out of the deal. What Somerset Maugham described in one of his spy stories as “the higher prostitution”—the demimonde of mistresses and kept women, who provided sexual favors to well-to-do lovers in exchange for support and gifts of various kinds—was another important means of social mobility in Victorian England:  tens of thousands of young women with flexible morals used that means to monetize their charms and rise out of the impoverished classes.

Well before she took that route, the talented Miss Emma Floyd had discovered another talent. Sometime before her thirteenth year she was recruited by an English magical lodge, whose identity she concealed in her later memoirs under the name “The Orphic Circle.” (My guess, based on what I know of the individuals who composed it, is that the actual name was “The Hermetic Circle,” but that’s only a guess.) The Orphic Circle counted among its members Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the author of several occult-themed novels (and of the famous opening line “It was a dark and stormy night”), and like most nineteenth-century magical lodges, it was modeled closely on Freemasonry; its members took a vow of secrecy at their initiation, and their meetings were presided over by a Grand Master.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, no doubt painted on a dark and stormy night

The ritual workings of the Orphic Circle used an entranced medium to make contact with spiritual beings, and the mediums in question were usually older children—this habit goes back to the Middle Ages in Europe, though it was discarded in the late nineteenth century when less indirect ways of contacting the Unseen became standard.  Emma Floyd was one of those mediums. Since the older tradition specified children before the age of puberty, she doubtless finished her service to the Orphic Circle when she began to menstruate, and became someone’s mistress not long after that. By 1843 she was back in London, working as an actress—a common profession in the demimonde in those days—and in 1850 she became the live-in mistress of a Dr. Hardinge and began calling herself Mrs. Hardinge.

By then Spiritualism was all the rage in Britain, and Dr. Hardinge took it up with enthusiasm, with his mistress as his medium.  Emma’s previous training in the Orphic Circle stood her in good stead, and before long she was giving spirit consultations and entranced lectures, in much the same style as Andrew Jackson Davis. Then, in 1854, Dr. Hardinge took up with a new medium (and, quite possibly, a new mistress). Emma Hardinge cut short her career as a London Spiritualist and relocated to Paris, where she resumed work as an actress.  It’s an old story, and one that has been repeated many times in and out of occult circles.

During the years from 1850 to 1854, she had gotten back into contact with one of the members of the Orphic Circle, whose name she concealed under the pseudonym “Chevalier Louis de B.” and who taught her a great deal about magical traditions much older than Spiritualism. Her sudden flight to Paris disrupted that for a time.  From Paris Emma moved on to America, arriving in 1855 in New York, where she left acting the next year and became a full-time Spiritualist author, speaker, and medium.  She was an immediate success in that field, and toured widely, returning to England several times to give trance lectures to large crowds. In 1870 she married Dr. William Britten, and they shuttled back and forth between Boston and New York thereafter. There we can leave them for the moment, for by then the wolf was on the prowl.

The wolf from the east was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, arguably the nineteenth century’s most influential occultist.  She was born Helena von Hahn in 1831, to an aristocratic German family who had migrated to Russia and entered the service of the Tsar.  Helena’s great-grandfather Prince Pavel Dolgorukov had been an occultist and high-ranking Freemason, and in her teen years Helena had the run of the old man’s library; Helena’s mother had also translated the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton into Russian, and her father had extensive dealings with the Kalmyk people of Siberia, who are Tibetan Buddhists. With these influences surrounding her, it’s not surprising that she ended up involved in occultism.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Before then, however, she had some turmoil to get through.  At the age of 17, she suddenly married a respectable widower in his forties, Nikifor Blavatsky. Given the social standards of the time, this almost certainly meant that she had become embroiled in scandal and was forced into marriage.  Certainly the marriage was not her idea; she tried to back out before the wedding, and made several attempts to escape her husband’s home before he finally permitted her to visit her family in Odessa. En route she escaped her escorts, bribed a ship captain, and landed in Constantinople, to begin twenty years of wandering.

Blavatsky’s own accounts of the years that followed are colorful, self-contradictory, and almost certainly imaginary. She claimed in later years to have roamed the world, receiving guidance from mysterious figures—the Masters or Mahatmas of her later teachings—and to have spent years in Tibet studying the wisdom of the East. Less hagiographical accounts suggest that, like Emma Hardinge Britten, she made the best of a difficult situation by supporting herself as a professional mistress; one name associated with hers was Agardi Metrovich, a Hungarian opera singer, with whom she had a son who died in infancy. She seems to have led a peripatetic life around Europe and the Mediterranean, and in the process picked up an extraordinary amount of information about magic and the occult to add to what she already knew.

She surfaced definitively in Alexandria, Egypt in 1870, where she was briefly involved in a Spiritualist organization.  After further travels in the Middle East and Europe, she took ship for the United States, landing in New York City in 1873. There she supported herself as a seamstress and advertising designer until the death of her father brought her a considerable inheritance. Over the next two years she met many of the important figures of the New York occult scene, including Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge—and Emma Hardinge Britten.  The dog and the wolf had both entered the field.

One gift Helena Blavatsky had in abundance and Emma Hardinge Britten seems to have lacked was a talent for organization.  By the time she met Britten, Blavatsky and Olcott had already founded an organization called the Miracle Club, which sponsored talks on occult subjects.  At a meeting of the Miracle Club on September 7, 1875, the members present decided to found a more formal esoteric organization; at the suggestion of Charles Sotheran, one of the founding members, they voted to call it the Theosophical Society.  At two subsequent meetings—which were held at the Brittens’ residence—Olcott became chairman of the new Society, Judge the secretary, and Blavatsky the recording secretary, and a set of initial bylaws were adopted.

A great deal of confusion and no little misinformation surrounds this first incarnation of the Theosophical Society.  The crux of the difficulty is that it met for a little more than twelve months, and then fell into abeyance, only to be relaunched in India by Olcott and Blavatsky in 1879.  Blavatsky, who was the dominant figure in the reorganized Theosophical Society, always insisted thereafter that the two were identical, but research by John Patrick Deveny and Robert Mathiesen has shown that the original Society was something distinct.  It seems to have had its own course of occult training, and nine degrees of initiation, of which only three could be taken in Europe or America; the others had to be received in the mystic East.

Whatever else the original Theosophical Society may have had, it certainly had a conflict hardwired into its initial membership. The two members of the original society with the most experience and knowledge of occultism appear to have been Emma Hardinge Britten and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky; they were strong-willed women who had graduated with advanced degrees from the school of hard knocks, and their conceptions of occultism differed sharply: Britten was broadly in favor of Spiritualism and Blavatsky was opposed to it; Britten was in favor of magical practices as part of occult training and Blavatsky was opposed to these.

One of the great might-have-beens of American occult history, and indeed of the history of the Western occult tradition generally, is what could have happened if Britten and Blavatsky had been able to work together effectively, or for that matter if Britten rather than Blavatsky had taken the lead in guiding the Society after its first years.  Still, that wasn’t what happened.

Emma Hardinge Britten later in life

The conflict between Britten and Blavatsky certainly expressed itself in their competing books on occultism, which they both started writing in 1875.  In 1876, Britten published two books, Ghost Land and Art Magic, which were partly the work of her old friend from the Orphic Circle, Chevalier Louis de B., and published under his pseudonym, but were substantially rewritten by Britten. Ghost Land was made available to the general public, presenting a personal narrative of the Chevalier’s experiences with uncanny phenomena of many kinds.  Art Magic was released in a limited edition of 500 copies, mostly sold to occultists known to Britten, and presented an overview of occultism past and present.  They are capably written books, but the themes they covered were familiar to readers of the time who knew their way around occultism, and they made little impact on the occult scene or the wider society.

The next year, Blavatsky entered the fray with her book, Isis Unveiled.  For its time, it was a groundbreaking book, though very few people read it these days. In its pages, Blavatsky basically invented the modern literature of rejected knowledge. It was in two volumes, one of them reviewing science, the other religion, and both subjecting their respective targets to unsparing criticism, comparing them unfavorably to the occult wisdom Blavatsky promoted, and picking out the contradictions and flaws of which, of course, every field of human knowledge is full. It was wildly successful—the first print run of 1000 hardback copies sold out in a week—and made Blavatsky a household name throughout those broad sectors of late nineteenth century society that found the teachings of orthodox science and religion unsatisfactory.

It may have been the sharp difference in the success of their respective books that drove the final wedge between Britten and Blavatsky, or some other cause may have done so. The original New York City lodge of the Theosophical Society had already stopped holding regular meetings in late 1876, even though other lodges of the Society had been founded in several American cities and in London as well, and in 1877 the organization seems to have blown itself apart.  In that year Britten and her husband suddenly left New York City for California, then sailed across the Pacific to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia.  Meanwhile Blavatsky and Olcott left New York City by ship for London, and from there proceeded to India. The dog had returned to the west, and the wolf to the east.

There the story of the Theosophical Society might have ended.  Once settled in India, however, Olcott and Blavatsky reorganized the Society and relaunched it on the basis of a set of teachings Blavatsky claimed to have received from superhuman Masters who dwelt in Tibet.  Over the years that followed, the Society grew steadily, establishing lodges on every continent but Antarctica and gradually evolving the elaborate teachings that characterize Theosophy today.  Blavatsky assisted this process mightily by penning another, even larger book, The Secret Doctrine, which claimed to pass on the age-old wisdom of the mystic East, as well as a short mystical text, The Voice of the Silence, which is probably the most read of all her works.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky later in life

Claims and counterclaims surrounded her by then, and grew into a baroque jungle of conflicting notions once she died.  The London-based Society for Psychical Research, which investigated her in detail, noted in its 1885 final report:  “For our own part, we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history.” To this her followers responded with predictable fury.  Her own highly colored and thoroughly undocumented accounts of her past were further embroidered by Theosophist hagiographers and torn to shreds by rationalist critics, a struggle in which neither side showed much concern for fairness. Meanwhile the Theosophical Society was racked with frequent scandals and even more frequent bursts of bitter internal politics.

None of this mattered at first, or for many years to come. The dog from the west and the wolf from the east had indeed created the Philosopher’s Stone, in the form of the modern world’s first successful public organization for the promotion of occult teachings.  Lodges of the Theosophical Society sprang up all over Europe, the Americas, Australasia, and South Asia, providing anyone with an interest in esoteric spirituality with a convenient alternative to dogmatic religion and equally dogmatic science. As a result, anyone with an interest in occultism—whether or not they found Theosophy congenial—could count on making contact with kindred spirits at the nearest Theosophical lodge.

Since Blavatsky presented her system of teaching as the original ancient wisdom from which all later wisdom traditions descended, those lodges and the libraries and bookstores many of them founded promptly became centers from which a dizzying assortment of spiritual traditions could diffuse. To this day, if you go to a Theosophical library or bookstore, you can expect to find a good selection of resources on Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Greek philosophy, Cabalism, mystical Christianity, and occultism of many kinds. The result was a sharp increase in the availability of occult literature and an equally dramatic spread of knowledge about the various branches of occultism and alternative spirituality.

These two factors—a means of networking for people interested in occultism, and an easy means of access to occult and spiritual literature—drove remarkable changes in many corners of the world. In the United States, in particular, their effect was electric. While various branches of occultism, as we’ve seen, had set down roots in American soil long before Britten and Blavatsky met, the resulting traditions had settled into the background of American society.  The rise of Theosophy transformed that utterly, and kickstarted the golden age of American occultism.

As for the two women who played such crucial roles in the early days of the Society, they ended up spending their last years in the same island nation.  Britten and her husband settled in England in 1881, but her work was almost completely forgotten—you can download Ghost Land here and Art Magic here, but if you do so, and read them, you’ll be among the few. Blavatsky came to England for the last time in 1887.  As far as I have been able to tell, they were not in contact during those final years:  Britten devoted her time to Spiritualism, Blavatsky put hers into the Theosophical Society and her immense book The Secret Doctrine, which remains in print to this day and has had an incalculable impact on the occult traditions of the West. Blavatsky died in 1891, Britten in 1899; the dog and the wolf had finished their alchemical work, but the consequences of that work have not finished playing out yet.

114 Comments

  1. Indeed! I’m even now reading a book by the Great Teacher 😉 of Theosophy, J. Krishnamurti… and the spiritual organization I am a member of today had its beginning in folks inviting Richard Rose to give a talk at the Theosophical Society in Pittsburgh about 50 years ago.

    I have of course read much about Blavatsky, but I have never heard of Britten. I do always enjoy these tibits on the history of American Occultism. In one way, I hope you never publish the book so you can keep on making them!

  2. Is the preference for magic or mysticism purely a individual thing, or do societies go through stages where either occult lodges or monasteries will be more prominent?

  3. Isaac, we’ll be getting to Krishnamurti. The rise and fall of the Order of the Star in the East played an important role in bringing the golden age of American occultism to its end. As for the book, sooner or later I’ll run out of stories to tell, and that’s when I’ll bundle it all up and send it off to a publisher.

    Yorkshire, no, they ebb and flow together, though there’s an organizational change. In the early centuries of a high culture — the period I’ve called the age of faith — you have plenty of well-organized monasteries full of mystics, and a lot of individual mages. In the middle period — the age of reason — both are rare. In the later centuries — the age of memory — you have plenty of well-organized magical lodges, and a lot of individual mystics.

  4. This reminds me, there is a bookstore in my town (which has an extraordinary number of antique bookstores for its size) that I jokingly call my Needful Things for it’s occult section, and a collection of Blavatsky’s formerly unpublished letters showed up a month ago. I didn’t buy it, in the end since it was Collector priced (got the Mabinogi and Joseph Campbell’s “Masks of God” instead). But I thought I should have put it out to the Ecosophia community – if there is anyone who does collect Theosophical history around here, message me at my Dreamwidth(hearthspirit), and I can put you in touch with the store owner and maybe they can send it over.

    Synchronistically, I’ve also been meditating on wolves and dogs, as in the Ojibwe myth cycle I’m reading, Wolf was Original Man’s first companion given him by Gitchie Manito (the Creator), who was to become “like a brother” as they travelled throughout all of the creation Original Man had just finished naming. Once they’d visited all of creation again in their brotherhood, the Creator told them their next task was to part ways, and “What shall happen to one of you will also happen to the other. Each of you will be feared, respected and misunderstood by the people that will later join you on the Earth.” The author Benton-Benai, invites one to ponder on how that has come true for the Indian and the wolf, and what their current treatment and reemergence might mean.

    He also states that the teaching about wolf was important because wolves later became dogs, humanity’s companions. But since the Creator had separated them, they knew must never let dogs around sacred ceremonies, or around where ceremonial objects are stored, or it would violate the Creator’s wishes and endanger the lives of everyone participating in the ceremony. Dogs can be honoured only in separate ceremonies. So then I thought about what happens to someone who disrespects Hecate, and whether that is related to the same underlying principle.

  5. I remember hearing Theosophy’s attitude to Krishnamurti described as “we’re going to make him enlightened whether he likes it or not.” 🙂

  6. Some months ago I found copies of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine in a used bookshop, so I picked them up. They hold no intrinsic interest for me, but I had it in mind to read them at some point in order to see how much of what Rudolf Steiner teaches is plain up and up theosophy, since he never seems to have disavowed Blavatsky. This is unfortunate for me, as I’m not particularly interested in reading the works “one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history.” Britten’s Art Magic, which I just downloaded together with the other one (thanks for these citations) looks to be a lot more interesting. For example, this is some of what she has to say about divination:

    Is not man the creature of Nature as much as of God? Built up of her whole three lower kingdoms, drinking from her rivers and fountains, inhaling her breathing winds, constantly shedding impalpable emanations to feed her vegetable kingdom, and as constantly receiving in exchange the aromal essences of all that earth contains ; how deep, how intimate must be the sympathy between this microcosmic man and all things else in being ! Whatever this planet may be interiorly, all its separate parts must be organs of ” one stupendous whole.” The men of the wilds of Africa cannot be dissevered from the influences which convulse their western brothers. The air, the tides, the secret crypts of earth traversed by magnetic currents and electric fires, are links which bind the inhabitants of every land in one unbroken chain of harmony. Does the brow ache without the hand becoming heavy? Does fever scorch the veins without exhibiting its lurid light in the glittering eye? Can we injure one single fibre without a sympathetic thrill quivering through the entire system ? Then why sneer at the idea that the separate parts of nature—all organs, and essential ones, too, in her sublime structure—should so sympathetically act and react with each other, that those who can read one part may comprehend the whole …

  7. Dear JMG,
    Thanks for this! Your angle on it is refreshing.

    I have been searching for information on what was going on in British occult circles at this time, and your article provides connections I couldn’t have found myself—thanks!

    Most interesting, the cultural contributions by women of “flexible morals!”

  8. Thank you, the essay reads like a thriller with an excellent cliffhanger final line.

    It will come as no surprise since I am sure that was the point, but the dog and the wolf immediately made me think of the Tarot trump, the Moon, which means that I have a whole lot more meditating to do on that particular card!

    One other thing that piques my interest is that they’re all women driving Theosophy, not only that, their names all begin with a ‘B’ – Britten, Blavatsky and later Besant and Bailey – and there are always these major disagreements between these remarkable ladies. I barely dare ask for an explanation for fear of a recommendation to meditate on the subject 😉 still, nil desperandum, is there a reason why?

  9. Greetings all!
    The parallel between the alchemical tale and the confrontation between both woman is interesting. Is there some sort of archetype at play there?

  10. Dear John Michael Greer,

    This is a completely new and fresh rendering of the beginnings of Theosophy! I am immensely enjoying your posts on the history of American occultism, thank you for sharing them.

    A few notes:

    What of William Quan Judge? It seems there’s much more to that founding story than Madame Blavatsky & co wished to tell. I do hope you will post something on him.

    I recall a good source citing an army officer who encountered Madame Blavatsky on the Sikkim border. She was so outrageous in all respects, that I for one am inclined to believe that she really did make all those travels.

    Well, I suppose I am one of the few in this epoch who has read (a later edition) of ART MAGIC, as I found it in the personal library of the subject of my own work, Francisco I. Madero. (I hasten to mention that while some of Madero’s fellow Spiritists were Theosophists, his personal correspondence shows that, though always diplomatic, Madero himself was not a Theosophist. Their influence on him was mainly in their enthusiasm for the Bhagavad Gita.)

    The Krishnamurti story is stranger than strange. I very much look forward to your post on that.

    With good wishes to you.

  11. This brings up to me a question that I’ve tried to articulate before, and may not articulate fully right now, but seems like worth trying… when I’ve asked before about folks like Mouni Sadhu and Franklin Merrell-Wolff and how they relate to the Western Esoteric schema, you’ve said that they were more influenced by Eastern schools and thus on a different track. However, it seems to me that it’s not so cut and dried, and Thesophy is a glaring example of why. There’s been a back and forth since ancient times, Buddhists in Greece, etc… and since the 19th century, along with the rise of Theosophy, it seems to me like most occultists have been influenced by “the Eastern Schools.” When I read Dion Fortune, she seems to be saying something perennial, that also speaks through FMW, Ramana, Cha’an patriarchs, etc. Where is the cutoff? I imagine a whole essay wouldn’t be enough to circumscribe what defines “Western Esotericism”, but do you have any pithy sentences in that direction?

  12. This essay on American occultism history seems quite significant, in part perhaps because of the story you used to lead into the rest of the essay, but something intuitively tells me that there was more at work, perhaps spiritually, allowing the forces of the East and the West to meet, and offer this deeper opportunity for occult practices to develop and spread across the world. I don’t think it was by chance this meeting happened in America. And something suggests that further occult opportunities will manifest themselves in the North American continent.

  13. Someone, Steiner’s cosmology is straight out of Blavatsky. Like most of the occultists of the Theosophical era, he borrowed her terminology and symbolism, and used it as a framework for his own insights. That’s why one of his major books is titled Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man (that’s GA 9, if you’re interested). It’s a common trick that occultists play: take an established set of narratives and symbols, and use them for your own purposes. As for Britten’s book, though, agreed — it’s a fine piece of occult literature.

    KKA, have you read Joscelyn Godwin’s The Theosophical Enlightenment? It’s another very good source on the period.

    Hereward, in the late 19th century occultism was one of a handful of fields in which a woman could become really, stupendously famous, and so it attracted a lot of intelligent, ambitious, highly competitive women. As for why they all had names beginning with B, that’s a heck of a good question, not least because the men involved didn’t have that distinction — Judge, Olcott, Leadbeater, Hodson…

    Karim, quite possibly!

    Ethan, good, but the alchemical imagery seems to be older than the tarot.

    CM, Judge is going to get more attention a little later on. There will be three posts on Theosophy altogether, or maybe four.

    Isaac, most scholars who’ve studied Theosophy argue that it’s a Western occult philosophy in Eastern drag, not an Eastern system. The difference is fundamentally cultural in nature. Of course there’s a deeper stratum, having to do with aspects of human consciousness that remain invariant from culture to culture, but it takes different forms in different cultures. For that matter, south Asian cultures and east Asian cultures don’t speak the same spiritual language, even when traditions pass from one to the other!

    Prizm, that’s certainly what the Theosophists thought.

  14. Thanks for this essay — it is a concise yet vibrant biography of both Blavatsky and her Society. I live near the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in the Midwest. Planning a trip to the Olcott library this weekend!

  15. Fascinating telling of Theosophy’s beginnings, GMG – it could almost be entitled “Blavatsky Unveiled”. 😊 Glad to hear that there are a few more installments of Theosophy story coming. I’ll save a personal J. Krishnamurti story for the post on him when you get around to it (how’s that for a teaser?). I never really got into Theosophy, as during my youth I was into the “real Eastern stuff” (Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharishi and others who never left India) rather than Theosophy which I considered to be “bastardized Eastern stuff”. And my views on the matter have never altered much. Nevertheless, I consider Theosophy to be a watershed occult movement in the West and it well deserves to be unpacked – and I can’t think of anybody better to unpack it than you. Thanks. We’re all guaranteed an interesting ride over the next few months…

  16. Kimberly, I envy you that. When I lived in Seattle I had easy access to a good Theosophical bookstore and library, but I haven’t lived within range of one since — unfortunately Providence, despite its reputation for spiritual eccentricity, doesn’t have a Theosophical presence. Since I speak the jargon fairly fluently and have a great deal of respect for the tradition, I like hanging out with Theosophists. Oh, well…

    Your Kittenship, thanks for this.

    Ron, the thing to keep in mind about Theosophy is that it’s not actually Eastern at all — it’s a tradition of Western occultism that sensibly enough made use of the cultural charisma of the “mystic East” to get its point across, at a time when purely Western occult traditions had a very hard time getting anyone to pay attention. It’s not my path, but it’s got a lot to offer, and of course it had an immense impact on the Western world at a time when that was desperately needed. I’ll look forward to your Krishnamurti anecdote!

  17. Dear Mr. Greer – Three new books popped up in our library catalog, that you and your readers may find of interest.

    1.) “The Light Ages: the Surprising story of Medieval Science.” (Falk). Seems to be about a 14th century monk named John of Westwyk.

    2.) “Magic: A History: From Alchemy to witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present.” (Gosden).

    3.) “Crossroads of Conjure: The Roots and Practices of Granny Magic, Hoodoo, Brujeria and Curanderismo”(Rasbold).

    I haven’t seen any of them, yet, but they’re on my library “hold” list. Might take a couple of months to be received and wend their way through processing.

    It doesn’t help that our library was closed for another week. Air quality, this time. I haven’t seen the sun in days. My tomatoes are aching to change color, but if we don’t get some sun …

    Reporting from western Washington State, Lew

  18. You’re welcome, JMG! We appreciate your being pretty flexible about the exact meaning of “off topic.” 😊

    I’m learning from that site myself! I was one of the very last to get decent catechetical instruction but it was mostly theory, little practice, so to speak. I’m going to suggest to Sonkitten that we work through the site beginning with Advent, and go all year. Then I can post what we learn. It might make a good blog. “Archdruid Fans Observing The Liturgical Year.” 😄

    Now that I think about it, maybe we could all post our observances of our liturgical year. I think it would be quite interesting. I’ll start mine the 1st day of Advent & let everyone know where to find it.

  19. JMG,

    I admit I haven’t done any kind of proper research on the matter, but anecdotally it does seem to me that the 19th century was the great age of adventure. I was recently reading up on Jane Digby and also Richard Francis Burton both of who were contemporaries of Blavatsky and Floyd and had life stories to match. It seems our world has gotten quite boring since WW2. I wonder, were the early science fiction novels of the kind you’re reviving with the Vintage Worlds project the projection onto outer space of just the kind of adventures that had happened in the 19th century but which are almost no longer possible these days because, of course, space didn’t turn out to be much of an adventure after all.

    Cheers,
    Siimon

  20. Well, two strains of teaching influenced my post-Christian spiritual development: The first one was Wicca (I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, at the time, so that’s not a shocker) and the other was the orthodox New Age Movement led by such latter-day gurus as Marianne Williamson. You can see that these two are somewhat in conflict with one another if you are familiar with their particulars. This may be a gross oversimplification, but I would guess that Wicca with its strong favoring of magical practice (“Wicca” and “witch” supposedly have a similar etymological root) would be more a descendant of Britten’s teachings, whereas the orthodox NAM can certainly trace its early lineage to Blavatsky’s teachings. The New Age attitude towards classical sorcery is well summarized in the quote from A Course In Miracles “All magic is an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.” (ACIM is rather given to sweeping absolutisms, as I’m sure you may know.)

  21. Maybe a bit rambling but I thougth that maybe I could share my personal understanding into the alchemical motif of the wolf and the dog:

    As has been mentioned, the motif is used in the Tarot card 18, the Moon which corresponds among other things to Pisces. So one of the meanings is the same as that of the two fishes that swim in the water of the waterbearer, one upstream and one downstream.

    The higher, iniated Self, and the lower primitive self.

    The Dog from the West is of course the True Self with it’s reference to the Dog star Sirius, which forms the anchor of our timekeeping and thus symbolises death and re.birth cycle. The direction, west, is the direction of the Land of the Gods (Asgård, Eldorado, the Promised land etc ad infintum). The Dog guarding the gates of Hell and the Dog on the first card of the Major Arcana, the Fool both refer to the same concept. In ancient myth, the Dogs of War are those sworn to Odin, the One-harriers (self-rulers).

    The Wolf is the wild, natural man, what is today often refered to as the Ego. “Persona non Grata” by the neoplatonists, Loki in the norse myths. Here more explicitly his son the Wolf Fenris, the beast nature, the hunger Within. East is the direction of the land of the devourers (Jotunheim), of primitive man, of the material. The Wolf of Fenris broken free of his chain and storming the gates of heaven. The Ego trying to take heaven by force.

    Man holds both these natures within him and the field onto which they battle is Vigrid, the war of the riders. This last image is perfectly shown in the emblem of the Norman Knights templars, the two riders sharing the same horse. This battle is happening between these same two riders, before they manage to unite, which requires the subjugation of the lower to the Will of the Higher, which restores balance to the individual (The ressurection of the Logos, Balder or Christ).

    These motifs can be traced further back all the way to PIE mythology, giving us an age of at least 3500 BC. If one believes that the eternal constantly works upon the temporal then the age of this imagery becomes irrelevant.

  22. What? And I thought all social mores before 1960 were sexless, Victorian prudes. Oh wait: this WAS Victorian times. So this blizzard of mistresses, favors, and international self-determining womanhood was DURING what we claim is the most repressed times in (Anglo) history. Makes you wonder what they were getting up to in the UN-repressed times, like Charles II, doesn’t it? Answer: same as they are now. We’re no better, more enlightened, or more free. Probably less.

    Oh and the Church was so oppressive then that all good people not only paid for spiritual/magical lectures, but had highly public publishing and world-wide societies without any special problems too.

    History: what a crock. When are we going to learn the baseline for how we interpret things is garbage?

    I wish she/they hadn’t “re-Easterned” the Occult tradition, it caused/causes a heap of problems. One, our own actual historical tradition has been silted over and buried. Example of our discredited “Four Humors” model which is dumb in the West, but super-smart and accredited in the East of Chinese medicine. There is much, much more, but as stated, all buried, mostly lost. It then muddied what the West was actually trying to say, either on the Plato line, or the Magical/Druidic line. But worse and far more hidden, it destroyed what the East actually is and is trying to say. Following, say, Buddhism of the East, you can see many of the things written in New Age bookshops are true, yes, but they, their traditions, and the East, are pivotally different in critical ways from how they are (mis)represented due to a certain deceptive presupposition inherited from this time. That has dis-allowed us from being able to see the East clearly either. –Beyond that the “East” isn’t one thing, and India, Tibet, Siberia, Zen, Confucianism, and Thai Buddhism are no wise similar. So thanks to…essentially self-aggrandizing lies of Blavatsky and others who wouldn’t be credited for their actual work without a ridiculous fabricated backstory, they’ve wrecked West, East, Magic, and History, all in one go. Does that mean they’re preventing as much insight as they’re providing? Too late now. The thread that’s broken can’t be unbroken, so we’re stuck approaching it from the practical, present time.

  23. JMG,

    Nothing you have written suggests to me that you see yourself as a fraudster or that what you put forward is fraudulent. Nonetheless, yet much of what you write about was introduced into western occult philosophy by people who were arguably fraudsters.

    How do you address (what I see as) the persistent theme of fraud in the history of western (and perhaps eastern too) occult philosophy? In my view Madame Blavatsky more or less epitomizes this theme.

    Dave Coulter

  24. Hi John Michael,

    Is there a lamb in this story? Just curious – and I’m being serious with the question.

    Interestingly there is actually a Theosophical bookshop in the big smoke and I’d always wondered about the place. It caught my attention as I used to work not too far from it, and bizarrely the shop may also have been next to an army disposals shop which also caught my attention as back in the day the shop actually did sell ex-army stuff and not the sort of camping gear you’d find these days. There were dummies in the windows with gas masks and that isn’t something you’d normally expect to see in the city. Strange things were clearly afoot in that part of the big smoke.

    It is interesting that both ladies went on the ‘grand tour’ which was probably an amazing thing to do during such times and that alone would have held great cache.

    Hmm, I see that Emma Hardinge Britten has penned a book ‘Spiritualism in Australia’. Interesting indeed.

    Cheers

    Chris

  25. I first encountered this with books on the continent of Mu. Then with the Root Races. Both made little sense to me. I read through the materials and thought it was all made up.

    Anyway, I kept encountering how Theosophy went underground and formed the basis of various modern new religions. The New Age, core shamanism, Neo -Paganism. So I went back and studied it. On the surface, it seems scattershot, sort of kitchen sink. Below that, it seemed to encourage the cafeteria approach to belief. Under that, the occult comes through.

    It seems that the taproot of new religions is Theosophy.

  26. I assume the myth of the Wolf, the Dog and the Philosopher’s Stone is a rendering of the internal struggle we all face to some degree, the battle between the wild/primal self and the civilized? I know it has been a battle within me all of my adult life. Most recently, my civilized self had become manic, not dealing well with the competing crises of the the time, collapsing hard on ill-worn psychic paths not serving. Late August/early September I spent nine days canoeing in the Boundary Waters Wilderness in northern Minnesota, and have been feeling refreshed, meditative and more grounded and focused than I have in awhile.

    I have a real hunger to leave the city, for a more rural immersion in the rhythms of Nature. My civilized self is shop worn.

  27. A couple of questions.

    Is Edgar Casey and ARE an offshoot? He seemed to come up with similar ideas.

    The Root Races always seemed racist to me. Are there any basis for them or was that a product of the time?
    –+++
    The cancel culture is now called the right culture. I wonder about how people will deal with Lemuria and the Root Races. Come to think of it Atlantis seemed racist too. As for me, I find both to be fascinating.

  28. @ Lady Cutekitten on the Wheel of the Year – it could be synchronicity. Or it could be a case of “everyone who makes wheels, makes them round.” Where do you draw the line? Even synchronicity itself may be an advanced case of the latter, only not quite as obvious to us. But most of Europe has a climate the traditional Wheel reflects, though some of it feels very West-Coast-ish to me, and the emphasis shifts in the far North.

    Mediterrranean climates, or tropical ones, are less of a good fit; and special cases like pre-Aswan-Dam Egypt, have a totally different cycle based on the flooding of the Nile.

  29. @ Hereward and JMG– Regarding the Bs, the divine sense of humor does seem to come out in these sorts of things– my other favorite example is that mystical tradition whose great teachers include Pythagoras, Parmenides, Plato, Plutarch, Plotinus, Porphyry and Proclus!

    @ Lady Cutekitten– If you’ve never seen it before, the Traditionalist Catholic website “Fisheaters” has a number of interesting articles on the Catholic Wheel of the Year, under the “Sacred Time” section here: https://www.fisheaters.com/beingcatholic.html .

  30. Sorry if this is off topic, JMG, but I was surprised today to see such a strong “broadside” to the myths of perpetual progress and “utopia, here we come” published by the New York Times. I doubt that you’d quibble with too many of the details; I sure don’t. It’s one thing to talk about climate change in the abstract; quite another to describe the consequences in terms of mass migration, loss in agricultural yield and massive investments in infrastructure that would be required to keep some US cities “above water” and at least marginally liveable. Perhaps it may serve as a catalyst for some Americans to finally realize how un-utopic their children’s future will be; then again, it may be used by other Americans as a thrust-block to double-down on their faith in progress and slip further into madness…

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab

    I have a relative in Californ-I-A who seems to see the writing on the wall (i.e., this year’s forest fires) and eagerly wants to “get the hell out”. So, at least there’s one who is trying to beat the crowd to the exits. Smart move, I’d say.

  31. @ JMG – I find the name of Blavatsky’s great-grandfather amusing. ‘Dolgo’ means long, but generally with a connotation of time or duration, and ‘ruka’ can mean hand or arm, or even sleeve depending on how it is used. So, she was the great-granddaughter of Prince Paul Long(time)hands. Since many last names derive from occupations, both in Russian and English, one wonders how a person earns such a name. According to Wikipedia, the Dolgorukov family name means ‘far-reaching’, but I’d like to think the original, 15th century meaning, was more colorful.
    Also, as someone not well versed in the occult, at times I find the direction of these posts hard to follow. Not the individual stories, mind you, but the general arc of occult history in America. I’d like to suggest at some point, you write a post on the current state of occultism in America. I think it would give a lay-reader like myself a sense of context for the individual stories, and where they fit in the flow of occult history. A glossary of terms might be nice too, since I’m largely clueless on the subtle differences between, say, Theosophy, and Spiritualism.

  32. Not much to add here this week, but just to say another fine entry in the ongoing work on American Occultism.

    Well, maybe I have one story. I knew someone whose father was a Theosophist. He had what looked like a complete set of books by Besant. The weird thing was, I was told, he liked to meditate in front of the TV with it tuned to the white noise static on channel 3. I’m not sure if that was a specific teaching where he picked that up, or just a personal quirk. Perhaps the outer noise helped cancel out inner noise.

    As far as Theosophists go, I really liked C.W. Leadbeater’s book, “The Hidden Side of Things”. & I’m your typical reader you mentioned: I read “The Voice of the Silence” and made a few attempts at Isis Unveiled but always flagged and failed to find the strength to read the whole thing, having gotten pulled into Crowley’s Thelemic undertow at the time.

    How I made it reading through Kenneth Grant’s eccentric tomes and not Blavatsky’s I’ll have to put down as one of the mysteries of the ages. (Kenneth does have his value, and I know Blavatsky has/had hers… I just couldn’t get into it.)

    Hope all here are well here!

  33. My first introduction to any thought published by the Theosophical Society was a series of books: Life in the World Unseen, More About Life in the World Unseen, and Here and Hereafter. They were written by Anthony Borgia in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and purported to be messages from the afterlife transmitted to Borgia by a Roman Catholic priest to reveal how mistaken his church had been about the nature of the afterlife. I discovered them in the religion and philosophy room of the downtown Los Angeles Library in 1960 or 61, when I was twelve years old. I was completely taken by the idea that the afterlife might contain libraries–that was a Heaven that I could really look forward too. But it also contained lakes to swim in and be instantly dry after leaving the water, outdoor concert venues in which patterns of colored light formed ad reformed in the air above the musicians, workshops in which one could pursue craft work, individual homes and cottages, and nature that was rather obviously an English countryside. This was the afterlife for the ordinary soul, neither saintly nor horrible sinner. The priest was allowed by the powers that were permitting him to transmit this information to visit other realms as well. The higher realm was the usual sort of indescribable love and light and the lower realm was darkness, dankness and miserable recognition of one’s failings (if I recall correctly. No mention that I remember of reincarnation’ it seemed as if souls, once dead, could move up the levels as they somehow became ready. This was my first real detailed experience of ideas about the afterlife more complex than the ‘saved people go to heaven and sinners go to hell” I had learned in Methodist Sunday School.

    As a 12 year old I didn’t keep records of my reading and had no idea how to find the books again later (although my visual memory would have taken me to the correct shelf if they had remained unmoved). Years later, in the 90s, I heard a radio guest talking about them and hastily scribbled down the author and title and looked them up again. That was when I discovered that they had been published by the Theosophical Press. I would have had no idea what that meant when I first read them, but it connected a few dots at that point. By that time I had learned about theories of reincarnation and had been a Pagan for a couple of decades. Reread the books with pleasure and nostalgia but did not pursue any other works by Borgia or look up anything about his place in Theosophy.

    Rita

  34. Hi JMG and all – I read Karl Denninger at the Market Ticker, and it appears he has gone off the deep end, finally. His last two posted articles are titled “Satanic Alternatives – America Does Not Deserve to Survive”, and “The Age of Witchcraft”. His argument is that we Americans are living “in an age of witchcraft, driven by technology”, and that we are entering a new dark age. The articles are basically rants, but maybe he is just coming to terms with the fact that there is little that can be done about our current state of affairs. Quite the meltdown, none the less.

  35. Lew, fascinating. I haven’t encountered any of these yet, so thanks for the heads up.

    Your Kittenship, I think that would be a fine idea.

    Simon, ding! We have a winner. If you know your pulp genres you can tell exactly where the various imaginary worlds of science fiction come from. The Mars of classic science fiction is the desert country from North Africa across the Middle East to what’s now northern India — the same landscape of deserts, ancient ruined cities, tribespeople brandishing swords, and the rest. The Venus of classic science fiction is a mashup of southern India, equatorial Africa, and the Amazon basin, and so on. By the beginning of the 20th century there were very few corners of this planet that hadn’t been visited by explorers, so the two-fisted tale of exploration in strange lands was hoisted up bodily and hauled to other planets, where (as you noted) it didn’t fit very well. Fortunately we’ve got a better option; get outside of the myth of progress, recognize that industrial civilization will decline and fall like its predecessors, and you’ve got the entire future as an option for red-blooded tales of heroic adventure — whether you put those in the bleak deserts and savage tribes of far-future Europe, say, or the impenetrable jungles of postindustrial Arkansas, or what have you.

    Mr. Nobody, good. Yes, that’s another expression of the same conflict.

    Quift, a fine meditation!

    Jasper, the great motto of Victorian England was “Not in front of the middle class!” The nobility was as decadent as nobilities generally are; the working class had no time for middle-class squeamishness; but the Victorian era was the first period in modern times when the middle class was culturally dominant, and they differentiated themselves from those above and below them on the social ladder by a great show of distaste for sex. As for Blavatsky, I think you’re being too harsh on her. She was trying to make a public place for esoteric spirituality in a society that was profoundly hostile to it, and she used every trick she could to accomplish that. The fact that some of those tricks had downsides further on is just one of those things — and it’s because of the Theosophical Society, more than any other factor, that authentic Eastern and Western esoteric traditions were able to get a foothold in the western world once again after the industrial revolution. Rather than dumping on Blavatsky, the thing to do is pick up where she left off and make as many corrections and improvements as we can.

    David C, Hermes is the god of magic; he’s also the god of con artists and thieves. That’s a duality that’s been hardwired into occultism since the first shaman used a bit of sleight of hand to convince a patient that he really could get well. I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve been able to avoid the trickster end of occultism — and yet one of my two main teachers was an old-fashioned snake oil salesman of the classic type, a genuine occult mountebank who was also a genuine occultist. It’s one of the things anyone with an eye on occult history has to get used to.

    David T, thanks for this. It’s about the right time for such things; as usual, our Age of Reason is winding down as it becomes painfully clear that human reasoning is a lot less invincible than its promoters claimed, and so the necessary preliminaries of the usual synthesis of religion, reason, and magic are beginning to put in an appearance.

    Chris, the lamb is in another emblem from the book, and so is the spring. I didn’t know about Hardinge’s Australian book, but no surprises there — I think she spent some time in your country, and she liked to write.

  36. Emma Hardinge Britten’s “Spiritualism in Australia” is just a part of her NIneteenth Century Miracles, done up as a separate book by a reprint publisher (Kessinger, IIRC), much like they reprinted other sections of the same large book as separate “books.” With the rarest of exceptions, all of her titles can be downloaded from archive.org (or in some cases from hathitrust.org).

    JMG, thank you so much for finding that wonderful very early photograph of Emma! I had never seen it before, and am utterly delighted to have it now.

    As for Art Magic and Ghost Land, the later reprints from the 1890s and 1900s (Chicago: Progressive Thinker) are sloppily done. The original 1876 editions are the ones to read if you want to have reliable, clear texts. JMG already linked to the 1876 edition of Art Magic in his post; you can fin d the 1876 ediiton of Ghost Land, here: archive.org/details/ghostlandorresea00britrich

    Best wishes for a very good time at the Ecosophia Potluck this Saturday (IIRC)! Alas, I am immuno-compromised, and I do not feel right about attending it this year. I look forward to seeing everyone at the next potluck in 2021.

  37. First day of Advent is the big day! If anyone else wants to do the year as it is in your religion, we can all link to each other.

    I finally remembered to buy lottery tickets on Thursday (we’re not a lottery family so I kept forgetting), but it wasn’t the right hour. $5 worth of tickets, won $4. I’ll try again on the right day AND hour.

  38. Quuft: Thanks for that exposition of Dog and Wolf. U especially liked the tie-in with Norse beliefs. And it reminds me of the story of the old wise man who said “There are two wolves fighting within me….(your Dog vs Wolf.) And the youngster asked “Which one wins, Grandfather?” “The one I feed.”

  39. Neptunesdolphins, I’ll post something down the road a bit explaining the “root race” business. It’s less stupid than it looks!

    William, have you ever by any chance read Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf? If not, you might find it worth your while, as it deals with exactly that conflict.

    Neptunesdolphins, Cayce was influenced by Theosophy — everyone in the occult scene of his time was influenced by Theosophy — but he was off on his own track; he really was the 20th century’s equivalent of Andrew Jackson Davis.

    Steve, true enough. I imagine a Sesame Street episode sponsored by the letter P, with a bunch of Neoplatonists as puppet characters, and of course Count von Count going, “Seven! Seven Greek philosophers! Ah ah ah!”

    Ron, this is good to see. I wonder if I should mail the guy a spare copy of my book Dark Age America, which discussed all this. Your relative needs to get out; California’s going to be a massive basket case for the next century or so.

    Ben, I’ll certainly consider that.

    Justin, Kenneth Grant was a fine weird-tales author — if you like Lovecraft, you’ll like Grant. Blavatsky was writing for the kind of crowd that loves Russian literature, which is a different taste entirely. 😉

    Rita, fascinating. I haven’t encountered those, or Mr. Borgia. Thanks for this!

    Danaone, oof. I think he needs a nice three day stay at the funny farm, or something.

    Robert, you’re most welcome. Do you think it might be time for a new edition of both books, with a foreword or two? I know a publisher who’s interested in getting into that field.

  40. P.S. First day of Advent in the U.S. this year is 29 November (don’t know about the other side of the International Date Line). So I have about 2 months to remember to order the candles. They are impossible to find here in Baptist Central. Nice folks, the Baptists, but somewhat candle-challenged.

    29 November! Be there or be square! Follow the Cutekitten of Christmas Present through the year! 🌲. The prestigious Archdruid Endorsement has already been bestowed, so we know it’ll be fun. And join in with your own religion! 🥂

  41. Hi Danaone,

    I used to read Karl fairly often, but got out of the habit a couple of years ago when it seemed he’d gone off his meds for good. Pity.

  42. P.P.S. JMG, I never was able to imagine finishing the book, darn it.

    I blame the Reverend Fastleft. 😁

  43. Hey jmg

    I remember seeing a old theosophical Society building in Brisbane when I was a kid, but I think it was converted into something else.

  44. @JMG the Ojibwe again – they also hardwired into their teachings the concept that the powers of creation, and humour/foolishness and trickery were inextricably linked. The trickster whirlwind tells Waynaboozhoo “I am brother to the tornado. I am brother to the waterspouts of the oceans and seas. Their power is my power and my power is theirs. My brothers choose to destroy and thus demonstrate the awesome powers of Creation. I choose to tease instead… My purpose is to tease those who take themselves to seriously.” including the spirits themselves.

    Waynaboozhoo realises this is an important teaching about the nature of life and death, and that is because “If we try too hard to make the right decisions in life we might miss important signs that could lead us to the proper fork in life’s path.”

    Dogma (heh) appears to be anathema to the Path on all its continents…

  45. Rita, regarding libraries in the afterlife, there’s a PS2 game called Shadow of Memories. Your character is murdered and a djinn gives you a chance to go back in time and save yourself. In the afterlife area there are several books scattered around but you can’t do anything with them. The game was confusing and I didn’t get very far, and spent the entire time annoyed I hadn’t been able to read books that maybe no human eyes had ever seen before. 🙂

    In an interesting little synchronicity, I was reminded of this yesterday. A friend mentioned retrofuturism and atompunk, and browsing images I came across this – https://steampunkopera.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/a6.jpg?w=637. I wondered what if that served the same function, as a room outside of time. What would it be like to not only read books from other realms, but listen to their music and watch their films too?

  46. I do like Grant well enough. He gets into some very interesting territory. His books tend to have a lot of gematria in them, and I understand why, but that is the only place where my attention would fade when reading his books. He had an obvious love for the Great Old Ones, and the Horus Maat Lodge I was involved with had several members who had been in the TOTO.

    But since you put it that way, that Blavatsky was writing for those who’d loved Russian lit, which makes sense, and Grant from a pulp angle…; perhaps that’s why I never gravitated towards Blavatsky.

    Russian literature is an area I haven’t explored though many tell me how great it is, and that I should at least read Gogol. I do have a copy of Peter Kropotkin’s Ethics that I’ve been meaning to read, though it ain’t fiction.

  47. I am wondering about what Blavatsky claimed as divine ideas from the Ascended Masters. How much is hooey and how much is real? How does this apply to unverified personal gnosis of modern Neo-Pagans and Polytheists. Does UPG play a role in Theosophy? And is that lurking behind the occult scene in the U.S. – revelations and the like from the Gods or Holy Powers?

  48. I thought that was an excellently chosen pseudonym for an occultist, but it turns out Henry Olcott was indeed so named.

  49. My liturgical year – the Wiccan year and also in many of the Neopagan traditions – begins at sunset, October 31, 2020. That’s Samhain, pronounced “Sah-wen” where I come from. Students of Gaelic may disagree. The New Year begins on November 1st, which in the
    Celtic tradition begins the previous sunset, just as the year begins with the onset of winter.

    Above all, it’s a day to remember your ancestors and the Mighty Dead, whoever those may be to you. We carve the pumpkin and insert candles to guide the spirits home, as the ancient Irish were said to do with turnips; and insome traditions, we set out a “dumb supper” for the ancestors. It’s also the last harvest of Fall, the Meat Harvest.

    The Southwest has a parallel holiday in roughly the same time frame, for the same purposes, El Dia De Los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead.”) And it’s the time of the year the traditional farmers would hold a Matanza – a hog and beef-butchering party and barbecue.

  50. @Rita & Darkest Yorkshire: “I was completely taken by the idea that the afterlife might contain libraries”

    There are definitely libraries in the inner worlds. This comes through in the writings of many different magical & mystical teachers. It sounds like Borgia was hip to it as well. I first came across it in the writings of Robert Moss who gave techniques for accessing the inner library via the imaginal realm (think of it as pathworking / use of Active Imagination). Then I got more detailed information on this in the writings of Josephine McCarthy and seen it too in R. J. Stewart’s work among other places. The teaching is not unique to them, although they may each teach about it in unique ways.

    You start to notice it in literature too… The Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon is one place…because writers (and other artists who are actually using their imagination) are accessing the imaginal realms, conscioulsy or unconsciously, and these common places that have a long history tend to pop up in different forms here and there. Once you know the pattern its easy to spot, as are some other magical patterns.

    What if the afterlife in some way IS a library … at least some of the books in the library are a kind of afterlife, in as much as they are part of the Akashic Records. This library is a great place to go and “read” and in doing so you interact with initiates and adepts of the past and their knowledge can pass to you.

    @David C. & JMG: If Hermes is the god of thieves, magicians, communicators… and thinking of thieves here… it makes sense that magicians are magpies, take everything that works from no matter where, and put it to use in their own systems. Floorboards, nails, and all. Magicians are the original bricoleurs, and magic the ultimate bricolage.

  51. Rita and Darkest Yorkshire about libraries in the afterlife:

    Thanks to H.P.B.’s concept of “indestructible tablets of the astral light” and her introduction of the Sanskrit word akasha to the language of Theosophy, we have the concept of the Akashic Record, a “compendium of all human events, thoughts, words, emotions, and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future, … believed to be encoded on the mental plane.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akashic_records

    Sounds a bit like a library one might visit in the afterlife.

    Also speaking of computer games, I played them for many years, starting with text-based “Might and Magic” back in the late 1980s, up to a few years ago playing “The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind” and “Skyrim” for many hours.

    My adventures in those games sometimes come back to me with a vividness approaching “real” life, as if the game memories are stored in my mind in a form nearly indistinguishable from actual experiences on the material plane. There is a “there” there, and there are books that can be opened and read.

  52. Your Kittenship, well, sometimes dream books get called back by the (very) metaphysical library that lends them!

    J.L.Mc12, the Brisbane Lodge of the Theosophical Society is at 355 Wickham Terrace in Brisbane — I don’t know how that relates to the building you remember.

    Ian, I haven’t really studied his work enough to have an informed opinion. When I was looking for a spiritual path, I wanted something with practices — meditations, rituals, you name it — and the rather more formless approach Krishnamurti offered didn’t do much for me. Of course your mileage may vary.

    Pixelated, one of the great problems of all the prophetic religions is that they take themselves too seriously, and inevitably turn the trickster-figure into the Cosmic Bad Guy. Maybe that will change as we move deeper into a new astrological age.

    Justin, for anybody who doesn’t speak a Slavic language fluently, Russian literature is mostly an acquired taste. When I was studying the Russian language in high school, I got to the point of being able to read student’s editions of some stories — Pushkin’s “The Station Master” and selections from Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time are the ones I remember off hand — and in Russian, they work; in English, not so much. (I’ve been told, along similar lines, that Hungarian poetry is completely untranslatable into English; what’s pyrotechnically beautiful in Hungarian comes across flat and trite in English.) With that in mind, I should probably get around to reading more Grant; now that I’ve spent much of a decade wallowing in Lovecraft, he may seem a little less goofy than he did when I first read his work.

    Neptunesdolphins, there’s an excellent word, though unfortunately a long one, for Blavatsky’s work: it’s a legominism. That’s Gurdjieff’s term for a narrative that communicates something other than its obvious content. Normally, in occultism, what it communicates is a way of thinking. (Dion Fortune blew the gaff on all such works with her offhand comment that the Cos.Doc. is meant to train the mind, not to inform it.) Thus Blavatsky’s work isn’t just her own cerebral flatulence, as “UPG” so often is — it’s an extremely carefully crafted structure of ideas and imagery, meant to teach people how to think in unfamiliar ways.

    Crowandsheep, yep. Sometimes people just have the right name.

    Justin, we have to be. All forms of human knowledge were originally parts of magic — start from medicine, poetry, agriculture, you name it, it started off as magic, but the old magic was dismembered like Osiris and its fragments are scattered far and wide. I bet Isis had quite the reputation as a bricoleuse back in the day.

  53. Thank you JMG. I was curious about your take on Krishnamurthi precisely because he did reject Theosophy so thoroughly and dramatically. My own feeling is he went too far the other way, and his record is that his teaching did not lead to many enlightened people (indeed, perhaps only one.)

    Still, his rejection of Theosophy may have had merit, just been taken too far. (Not sure, I’m no expert on Theosophy.)

  54. And now, our host will address the most important holiday of the year—18 September, International Cheeseburger 🍔 Day!

  55. @JMG: Yes, Isis was a bricoleuse for sure, and Osiris was sure glad she was able to put him back together again. The fact that magic, the primordial body of knowledge & wisdom, was scattered like the body of Osiris and needs to be re-membered sounds like a great theme for my next meditation. Thank you!

  56. Thank you for these histories, they are so fascinating. If they were fiction they couldn’t be more entertaining.
    As I read through these biographies, for the most part, the singular question that comes to my mind is… how DID these people afford to spend their time doing all this travelling and making connections?
    I know how virtually impossible it is to make ends meet when one’s job is “you want fries with that?” sort of work, and one may spend decades stumbling around, not hitting just the right piece of information to go in a worthwhile direction on any subject. For example what did Dr. Britten do to allow him and his wife to travel across the pacific?
    The tale is fascinating, but what I’d love to know is where the money was coming from to support their wide-ranging travels at a time when most people couldn’t afford to do more than a day at a seaside beach once a year. Such pedestrian considerations always get forgotten, even in the best biographies, but I suspect that’s for the same reason why accounts of battles go on at length about the tactics, but almost never mention how the troops got their breakfast (critical in some instances).

  57. JMG – I came of age in the late 60’s, and dove headfirst into the counterculture, esp the spiritual renaissance. A few years on and I was increasingly shocked by the the dark side of of some of the leaders of that renaissance – Rajneesh, Muktananda, Bubba Free John, and oh so many others. I’d be interested in your take on the dangers of psychic inflation that seems to take down so many of these people. Cheers, Bill

  58. …speaking of Atlantis…

    This piece by Bebe and Louis Barron came up just now while working on /researching an essay. Bells of Atlantis from 1952. Very fun soundtrack, and it prefigures the work they would do on the Forbidden Planet. Voice by Anais Nin for a film by her then husband Ian Hugo. It convey’s ‘hieroglyphs of a language in which our unconscious is trying to convey important, urgent messages.’

  59. In light of your comment that all forms of human knowledge were originally parts of magic, are there any current aspects of magic that you’d expect to see become forms of knowledge for a future high culture?

  60. Thank you for this entry on Blavatsky and Britten, the latter of whom I was totally unfamiliar with. Also thanks for the links to Ghost Land and Art Magic. Of Blavatsky’s work, The Voice of the Silence, which you say is probably the most read of all her works, is actually the one I haven’t heard of. Both Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine I’ve read about, though never from. Would it be useful to read all of Blavatsky’s books also, or is “Voice” the most read because it is the most valuable information wise? (Ponders growing stack of reading material and how to tackle it…)

    JMG says: …we’ll be getting to Krishnamurti.
    I’ve always had a lot of respect for Krishnamurti. Raised to be the messiah of Theosophy, he was wise enough to refuse the role. I look forward to your upcoming post on him.

    Patricia Mathews says: The New Year begins on November 1st…
    So my birthday is really on New Year’s Day! I have a feeling I’d confuse my family if I told them that, so I’ll stick to my old joke that “of course, I was born on All Saints Day, so I must be a saint, ha ha ha” (Cue eye rolls among my nieces and nephews).

    Joy Marie

  61. @Goldenhawk, you’re welcome!

    And today on Wild Kratts I learned the Coyote is also called Desert Wolf.

    @JMG it bothered me for awhile that I wanted to put Uranus in Chokmah, and then I’d look it up and rediscover it wasn’t on the Tree at all, and Chokmah was the Zodiac itself. But the Greek god family relationships, the position of Aquarius on the Paths, it seemed to fit! But I wonder, if the archetypes can change, dissolve and recrystallize over time, if the planetary energies can do so, and if that might actually fit. Then where would Neptune go while we can see it? Daath, maybe. I enjoyed imagining how that might change the energies of the transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius, anyway. And how that changes the what my natal chart “inclines” me to do 😅

  62. My father’s aunt was the first occultist I was exposed to as a child, and I adored her. She was a theosophist and a piano teacher. I was struck by her loving presence and open mind, very different than all the secular ROP devotees, and religious Jews I came in contact with growing up in Israel. Interesting to hear a bit about the history of the TS. I hope you talk about the rift between Steiner and Blavatsky at some point, would be curious to understand.

    On another matter from your older post about synchronicity, in case you didn’t know, Wolfgang Pauli, who spent some part of his life trying to understand why the so-called fine structure constant is roughly 1/137, and was friends with C. Jung, died in room 137 in a hospital, something seemingly synchronicitous.

  63. Archdruid,

    So, when I was a kid I spent a lot of my time looking for books about real magic in the Madras (now Chennai) Historical Society Stacks. I never found any books, but still have fond memories of wandering through loads of all books. Over the last two years, as I’ve read your’s and Sadhguru’s works, I was made aware of the fact that the center of Theosopichal Society was in Chennai! Not only was it in Chennai, but it contains the single largest repository of occult books in SOUTH ASIA!!! Even worse, the Society’s grounds were across the Adyar River from my school, I literally could see their grounds from where I played during my lunch break every bloody day!

    I even had a chance to visit their grounds when the largest tree in the city was knocked down during a major storm. The founder of our school took my family to see the tree, and the grounds. *sigh*

    Regards,

    Varun

  64. Dear commentariat,

    I wish to enter a counter-opinion to the notion that Russian literature is impossible for English readers.

    I cut my teeth on Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoyevsky before I was 15, and consider them beloved mentors.

    Pushkin, I’m told, cannot really be translated, so I didn’t bother.

    And to date, I’ve been satisfied to get my dose of Blavatsky second-hand.

    Don’t be scared of the Russians!

  65. JMG, does the prospect of President Trump appointing a Supreme Court judge change your civil-war forecast either way?

  66. Your Kittenship, no doubt. As for the article, what the authors mean by magic is stage magic, not the stuff I do.

    Ian, that seems like a reasonable take on things. Again, though, I haven’t studied his writings or his career in enough detail to say for sure.

    Your Kittenship, and in commemoration of same:

    Justin, good. It’s a theme that can be developed at quite some length and depth.

    Renaissance, Emma Hardinge Britten had several strings to her financial bow. At that time, remember, you could make a decent living going from town to town giving interesting lectures on subjects people wanted to hear about, with or without magic lantern slides. You could also make a decent living as a journalist, keeping newspapers and magazines supplied with articles; and of course there was also book publishing. Britten did all three of these, and she was a famous Spiritualist, so she could also get the Spiritualists in Australia (say) to front her two second class tickets from San Francisco to Brisbane, since she could do six weeks of seances and lectures there, and they’d split the profits with her and make out like bandits. Generally, writing and speaking were both much better paid in those days than they are now!

    Bill, oof. I remember all three of those gentlemen, as their organizations had a substantial presence in Seattle when I lived there in the 1970s and 1980s. One of my teachers explained it to me this way. People in India, say, know how to handle gurus; they’ve learned how to revere them without being stupid and gullible about it. Americans don’t know how to do that. America is a deathtrap for gurus; a guru gets here, finds enormous enthusiasm, and then all of a sudden he has gorgeous women flinging their bodies at him, insanely wealthy devotees who want to shower him with lavish presents, and a vast horde of people who spend night and day puffing up his ego. Very few spiritual teachers have the strength to withstand that; it’s Buddha under the Bo tree assailed by Mara all over again, except Mara never lets up. The only way to avoid the trap is to constantly undercut your own potential status as a guru, and in most Asian traditions, reverence for gurus is so important an element of spiritual practice that that’s unthinkable. So down they go.

    Justin, thanks for this.

    Kyle, that’s a topic for a post — or possibly an entire book — not a passing comment.

    Joy Marie, “Voice” is probably the place to start. Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine are gargantuan and rambling, and even among Theosophists you don’t find a lot of people who read them from cover to cover.

    Pixelated, I put Uranus on Chokmah and Neptune, the planet of unity and oceanic experiences, on Kether. Since in my view Pluto isn’t a planet, the solar system and the Tree of Life fit together very neatly if you do that.

    Iuval, there are a lot of really nice Theosophists. Whatever else you can or can’t say about the TS, it seems to encourage people to develop pleasant characters. Yes, I’ll be talking a little about Steiner — but he didn’t break from Blavatsky; he didn’t leave the TS until after she was gone, and Annie Besant was running things into the ground.

    Varun, well, how often do you go back to Chennai? I’m sure they’d be delighted to talk to you.

    KKA, so noted! One’s mileage may vary…

    Your Kittenship, nope.

  67. @JMG, I’d thought about putting Neptune on Kether, but then I thought that was making Neptune too big for its britches, something it frequently has a problem with, haha. I guess Pluto is the sphere that is not then, dogged to the last.

  68. John, nice to see some of Blavatsky’s story – she’s certainly an interesting character.

    I tried to read many of her major works back in the day, but didn’t feel that inspired.

    My closest brush with her footsteps was back in 2009, while attending the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Philadelphia. On the advice of a local I tried the White Dog Cafe for dinner one night. The location (of the original branch of the restaurant – in University City) is in the house HPB lived in during early 1875.

    (link is mostly about the current Theosophist lodge, but talks about HPB’s stay, ill-fated marriage, illness and departure to New York City)
    https://hiddencityphila.org/2012/03/blavatskys-castle-of-the-occult-on-rittenhouse-square/

    The name of the restaurant is “White Dog Cafe”, after HPB’s (healing) dog of that time.
    https://www.whitedog.com/

    It seems the wolf needed the dog to save her leg.

  69. The only time I’ve read stuff from another place is in dreams, and that’s notoriously hard. It seems like in dreams everybody is dyslexic. I experimented with lucid dreaming for a long time and figured out some tricks to it.

    Regular printed words are the hardest. You’re unlikely to get through a book title, nevermind a sentance, before the words go haywire. If the words are split up by images, it becomes easier. In dreams I sometimes go to a steampunk version of my home town. In that world the main bridge over the river is wider, and has booths and kiosks down the sides. Some sell books, and I got a local history nostalgia book about a motor company founded in the town (to my knowledge we’ve never actually had a car company). It was mostly photographs, like the owner and workers proudly posing with the first car they ever built. Because the text was largely photo captions, or a couple of paragraphs between photos, it was easier to read.

    Graphic novels can be read perfectly. I remember reading about four pages of a comic about a mercenary who became a king. They have the combination of a lot of imagery, and the text is that type of hand-drawn block capitals. In dreams you can also read your own handwriting with no problems.

    And last night I had a dream with a character named Kingwig Two-Time. So now it seems I’m channeling Terry Pratchett. 🙂

  70. I don’t have much commentary to offer since so many of the historical aspects are new to me. But, I’ve been enthusiastically following the series and enjoyed today’s piece. I was curious, are there specific ideas you hope to impress upon the readers of this series?

  71. That is a rather good explanation of the corrupt guru phenomenon: I’d certainly find it hard to resist those temptations myself! Well, I would, but I’d have to think twice….

    Two antidotes or prophylactics to this kind of circus might be 1/ An emphasis on a sense of humour, which is always associated with modesty and the deflation of pretensions; and 2/ the necessity for any teacher to have to earn their own living – as for instance in the real Sufi tradition – which necessarily precludes the development of that kind of corrupted and infantile guru circus.

    If you are working a full day and getting tired out by it, there is very little time indeed for presiding over orgies and riding around in limos.

    But in the end, we can safely say that those who follow corrupt gurus get just what they deserve: they choose and bake their cake, and eat it, so can’t complain.

  72. Neptunesdolphins, there’s an excellent word, though unfortunately a long one, for Blavatsky’s work: it’s a legominism. That’s Gurdjieff’s term for a narrative that communicates something other than its obvious content. Normally, in occultism, what it communicates is a way of thinking. (Dion Fortune blew the gaff on all such works with her offhand comment that the Cos.Doc. is meant to train the mind, not to inform it.) Thus Blavatsky’s work isn’t just her own cerebral flatulence, as “UPG” so often is — it’s an extremely carefully crafted structure of ideas and imagery, meant to teach people how to think in unfamiliar ways.
    —–
    I looked up the term and found this: from the publisher of the outhouse moon:
    In occult traditions, a method by which wisdom traditions are transmitted in a form that appears to be intended for an entirely different purpose; the Atlantean legend in the 19th and 20th century occultism is a classic legominism. SOURCE: Atlantis, by John Michael Greer
    —-

    So, Lemuria and the Root Races could be information that on the surface looks like science fiction or a fairy tale, but underneath is conveying a sense of something before the present. It got people to ponder other civilizations beyond this one.

    Would Lovecraft fall into that category?

    As for UPG, I have encountered modern writings which did fit into the legominism category of presenting a thinking that goes beyond current understanding. For me, Raven Kaldera whose writings are very controversial seem to spark that. His writings are soundly rejected by the Norse communities, who say they are made up.

    And I have encountered UPG that follows conventional thinking – the bloggers at Patheos Pagan, who have published books, seem to be pontificating off of the current wave of “correct thought.”

    In reading fiction, I have encountered something similar, where the story on the surface is a pleasant one but there is a current running underneath that peeps through. Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels come to mind. They change how you think or approach life.

    Is legominism common?

  73. @Varun

    Sorry for saying this, but I really felt like commenting on your post about Sadhguru. I’ve heard some rather unsavoury things about him, and that too from non-leftist, non-mainstream media sources. I could be wrong, of course, but even then, I couldn’t help noticing that he has a bit of a New Age tilt, and that’s what makes me a bit suspicious towards him. If you find his books helpful, then I’d definitely say that you would appreciate the books of Dr. David Frawley, especially on Yoga.

    @JMG

    Speaking of Dr. Frawley, I think you might find some of his books interesting, especially considering that you’re a practitioner of occultism, and a pagan, too.

  74. “Annie Besant was running things into the ground.”

    It seems that she fell in to politics as religion trap. Also, how do organizations move from the founder to the next generation? A lot of them flounder or just become something else altogether. Transmission of the original intent seems to get garbled.

    Will you be writing about Besant as well?

  75. Archdruid,

    I’m thinking I’ll have to stop there the next time I’m in Chennai, and take a box of your books to add to the collection.

    I was reading about Jiddu Krishnamurti the other day, and I noticed the name Mary Lutyens in his bio. She was the daughter of Edwin Lutyens, the guy who designed New Delhi, including India gate and The presidential Palace.

    I visted both sites once, many years ago. I got the feeling of a strange energetic current flowing through them, to the point where they seemed to bend reality. I remember standing at the gates of the Presidential Palace and looking down toward India Gate, it’s a straight vantage, and thinking “huh, I can see the whole country from here.” Turns out that Sir Edwin himself was a Freemason, and all of his buildings were based on the principals of Freemasonry. It was a very odd feeling.

    I’m going to have to dig into Sir Edwin’s history.

    Regards,

    Varun

  76. Thanks – that’s an aspect of the guru phenomenon I hadn’t considered. What I remember is the sense of – well, betrayal isn’t quite the right word, dislocation maybe – as I watched as these supposed perfect enlightened beings fell off their perches. An important part of my education.

  77. Hello JMG,

    I’ve seen some short Theosophical commentary texts on either Tao Te Ching or Taoism in general, but these texts don’t have a central role in Theosophy, unlike the works written about Dharmic religions*. I guess HPB and the other founders of TS wanted to take advantage of the popularity of “Aryan race” theories and the rising tide of Indian national reformation movements at their time, in order to popularise their teachings.
    I don’t know much about the esoteric aspects of Taoism, but its publicly available popular texts have a potentially fertile ground for interpretations by Western occultists. However, these texts still don’t get enough attention even in this century where their translations are widely popular in the West. I wonder why they are still overlooked or underrated in Theosophy.

    * Of course, Blavatskian Theosophy has little to do with the actual Eastern occult traditions but still the terms that are borrowed (and re-worked) from Dharmic religions are heavily used in Theosophical literature.

  78. A side note on Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death:

    I’ll have to admit my prediction (that RBG would survive one of the other female justices) as ABSOLUTELY wrong.

    Not that I expected to be right, to be honest, but I had something telling me to double down on my prediction (even as the time limitation had run out per your request) a few weeks ago. So with that implication of the seriousness of my prediction in mind, I declare myself having been wrong with said prediction.

  79. Patricia Mathews (September 18 at 12:57 pm) – I wonder if this year’s Samhain will be special? There is a full moon this October 31, the 2nd full moon of October, making it a BLUE moon.

  80. Hi Yorkshire,

    My dream book was regular English the first time; the 2nd time the (minimal) text and full-size pictures of coffee-table book The Sacred Heart were substituted.

  81. @Rennnaisance Man: Gurdjieff said that it helped to get a government job as an “asset” or spy and hinted that he’d been some such during his travels to Tibet and other “inaccessible places.” I don’t know about Gurdjieff, but apparently it worked for Peter Matthiesson.

  82. Hi John Michael,

    Interesting and I had not heard this tale before and originally believed you were writing about Aesop’s fable of the same name, although the narrative you wrote about differed markedly in some respects.

    I’m candidly curious as to why you chose one lady as the wolf and the other as the dog? Don’t you reckon you need both the dog and the wolf in order to achieve equilibrium, even in this area? The inherent tensions they direct might be of greater benefit as a whole than if either (or any of the other players in that realm) had gained the upper hand. Dunno.

    Cheers

    Chris

  83. Your Kittenship, I scrolled back up but couldn’t see where you first mentioned your dream book, just saying to JMG you couldn’t finish it. I think that post has gone missing. Can you repeat the setup to the story because now I’m really curious. 🙂

  84. @Chris in Fernglade I had the same thoughts, after reading the Ojibwe stories, and thinking of your chicken coop.

    I never had chickens myself, but growing up, my best friends did. Horses, pigs, goats. Pig farmers slaughtered their own, too, and labeled the meat packs with the pigs own name. So they would know which ones were tastiest, and breed their piglets. They were not well thought of in the neighbourhood, but it made sense to me.

    When it came to killing the chickens, my friends with the “chicken heaven” coop had their own dogs that were supposed to guard them eventually get in the coop and run amuk. Day in and day out watching those dumb birds, eventually got the better of their self control and they succumbed to their hunting instincts after a kid left the gate ajar getting eggs. No instincts, no good guard dog; good instincts, ambiguously dangerous guard dog.

    But the wolves – in our area, just coyotes – never bothered my other friend’s (the pig farmers) free range birds. Bigger prey. Like neighbours’ pet lap dogs and cats 😅. That, and the free range birds knew to fly up and sleep up in the trees out of reach. Too many people don’t know chickens can fly! It was a real hunt finding their eggs though for us kids. Those clever birds put their nests everywhere. Raccoons, foxes, black bears, children – they had to hide them from us all.

  85. Some folks have referenced the recent passing of RBG, although it seems a bit off-topic. John, I seem to remember somewhere in the Aries Ingress post last Spring where you mentioned that someone high up in the government could die within the next six months. Well, you can’t get much more accurate than nearly six months to the day if it’s only a few days before the Libra Ingress. Hmm….strange things are afoot indeed.

  86. Another unworldly library is found in the Sandman series of graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. In this series the realm of Dream (aka the Sandman, Oneiros, etc.) has a library containing all the imagined but unwritten books and stories of humanity. The librarian, Lucius, is a crusty fellow who takes his responsibilities very seriously. Gaiman tucks quite a bit of occult lore into his fiction, both graphic novels and conventional stories.

    I had a coven member who went to Oregon to join the Rajnesh community years ago, before it fell apart. Haven’t heard from her since. A high school friend who I am still in touch with was a member of the Yogaville commune under the leadership of Swami Satchidananda back in the 80s. He has written about the experience in his blog Pilgrimsall.blogspot.com.

    Rita

  87. @Varun

    Oh – another (ex) Chennai boy reads Ecosophia?

    I had exactly the same reaction about the Theosophical Society – growing up, I went past it to my school daily (walking distance) and it is just the place where my parents and their friends went for long walks inside the city and fought to get a walkers permit for that. It had (still has) a slightly mysterious aura and is a very cool place – being a large green space in the heart of the city (and of course I remember the storm knocking down the tree). Never went to the Historical Society but certainly covered every major bookshop and lending library and club library in the city in the 80s and early 90s.

    My grandmother even met Annie Besant as a little girl, and her parents knew Besant quite well.

    All of which to say – despite, all of that, I had no idea about its occult significance or what its real purpose actually was and is.

    To this day, I’m not sure how I would go about becoming a member or getting access to the books (I mean sure, I could look at the website – I’m sure they have some procedures, just marveling that such a cool place existed right there through my childhood and I never went there (I have vague memories of one or two walks through the grounds as a child).

  88. viduraawakened,

    Yeah, there a lot of rumors swirling around him. The biggest one being about the murder of his wife, which he has addressed directly multiple times. None of that is out of the ordinary in India. A lot of guru’s are shady characters. My suggestion when dealing with Indian gurus, or really any gurus, is to learn their knowledge, and adopt the parts that are suitable to you. He’s a guru not a Bhagawan.

    Regards,

    Varun

  89. Hi Yorkshire,

    I’m writing an epic-fantasy trilogy. Occasionally, when something amusing happens, in that world or this one, I mention it, giving the characters nicknames so readers here who are uninterested in the genre don’t have to wade through a bunch of foreign-sounding names— like “John Carter.” 😄. One night I dreamed that our hero, the Reverend Fastleft, was reading the history of a country he was going to visit, and that I was reading the same book. My copy was in English, a language not spoken where he lives. The book was interesting and well-written, so, since I woke up in the middle of chapter 3, JMG suggested trying to dream up a copy. It didn’t work, darn it,

  90. Hi Pixielated,

    Seems to me it’s asking an awful lot of a dog to guard chickens. Like asking me to guard the Xmas fudge. I wonder if geese could guard chickens? They’ve been trained to guard sheep here and there and then.

  91. Hello Lady Cutekitten,
    For the annual potluck, we had a small turnout, and the temperature was at least 10 degrees below normal, but we enjoyed one another’s company from 2 to 10, with a wide ranging discussion not too dissimilar to an open post here.
    Early notice: the next Annual Ecosophia mid summer potluck will be June 19, 2021 from 2 PM on at the house behind the Ward Mansion in Providence.

  92. Greetings, all—
    I wouldn’t have expected that so many people dream images of text! Thanks for showing me that I’m not quite as weird as I feared.
    Lately I seem to read through the night more often than not.

    Usually during the dream I assume it’s a book I’m reading in waking life—and it’s not. Sometimes I dream that I have written something, and think,” oh, good, I’ve recorded that, it’s really brilliant, and I can polish it up later.” And it’s so exasperating when I awaken and realize I don’t remember it, and don’t have it on hard-drive.

    I’ve also been shown a face-full of text in some kind of orthography I cannot read. I’ve even had dreams where I was speaking a litany of some sort in a language I don’t understand, and couldn’t even guess when I woke up what sort of language it might have been.

    Once I dreamed I was going through something that looked like census forms, full of data on individuals of a remote historical period that I was investigating in waking life. Pages and pages of dates and the kind of information you’d find in employment resumes. Then, the last entry was full of information that matched my own curriculum vita in waking life. Gave me a turn!.

    The dream-world is an inexhaustible adventure!

  93. Pixelated, Neptune is so problematic in a chart precisely because it’s the planet of unity, ruling all those things where the individual flows out into the whole — appropriately or inappropriately. Kether’s influence is very hard to cope with gracefully in the planes of form — thus you get the dissolution of consciousness into alcoholism or mental illness, for example. As ruler of Pisces, it embodies the Piscean theme of self-sacrifice but also all the downsides of the Piscean energy.

    Sunnnv, I’ve been to the Philadelphia lodge, and took in a very pleasant lecture and meditation there — I was killing time I would otherwise have had to spend at a conference that was an utter waste of time. As for the wolf and the dog, no surprises there — they’re inextricably linked in various ways.

    Nomad, if there were, would I be so clumsy as to list them?

    Xabier, it takes hard work to avoid the guru trap. I’m not exactly charismatic, and even so I’ve had to engage in evasive measures fairly often to dodge people who wanted to do the groveling-student thing.

    Neptunesdolphins, legominism used to be quite common in occult literature. It’s less so now, but you can still find it here and there. Yes, novels are a standard framing device for legominisms — Dion Fortune’s occult novels are classic examples of the type.

    Viduraawakened, duly noted! I’ll put him on the check-this-out list.

    Neptunesdolphins, oh, yes, Annie Besant will get her post in due time.

    Patricia M, of course!

    Varun, by all means. I’d love to go there someday myself. Please keep me posted about what you find about Sir Edwin Lutyens — that’s fascinating, that a Mason that late in the day would still understand the basics of geosophy, which has been lost by most of the Craft.

    Bill, it’s a worthwhile experience. I spent a while in the 1990s reading every biography of a failed guru I could find, and making my own equivalent of the famous To-Do List for Evil Overlords; it was worth doing.

    Minervaphilos, south Asia and east Asia might as well be on different planets, in terms of their religious and mystical thought — it’s not accidental, for example, that the modes of Buddhism that thrived in one are all but unheard of in the other, and Taoism is as radically disjunct from Indian thought as is, say, twentieth-century Existentialism. There have been some attempts to make sense of Taoism from a western occult point of view, but it’s a real challenge.

    Godozo, thanks for this. I was wrong, too — I thought, based on the indications in the Cancer ingress in June, that since there was no sign of a donnybrook in the 9th house, she was going to survive until the spring at least.

    Chris, it came to mind purely because one came from the west (England) and the other from the east (Russia).

    Christopher, you’re most welcome.

    Ethan, strange things indeed!

    Goldenhawk, most alchemical texts are legominisms. Central to alchemical instruction is the process of learning to think like an alchemist, because the interaction between the consciousness of the alchemist and the material in the flask is central to the alchemical process.

    Your Kittenship, thanks for this. The party was pleasant — we had about ten people in attendance, food, drink, and plenty of conversation.

  94. From what people have said about reading in dreams, can some of you actually read full pages of solid text? My own experience and everything I’ve read about lucid dreaming suggested that was impossible. Although I have had dreams where I felt like I understood Cyrillic, which I certainly don’t in waking life. 🙂

  95. What is best in life?—Food, drink, and plenty of conversation! Glad everyone had a good time!

  96. Thank you for this most fascinating read JMG!

    I actually completed reading Mdm Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” about the time you posted this.

    So, very lovely now to read “behind the scenes” mini account of her journey.

    I found the Secret Doctrine very similar to Dion Fortune’s “Cosmic Doctrine”… there were similar points touched upon in both, albeit using different terminology.

    I must say, I found Mdm Blavatsky’s work more digestible, but it’s more than likely because of my Eastern resonance and learnings from the various offerings from that perspective of Life / the Unknown / Great Mystery.

    Definitely looking forward to now tying that all together with the Tree of Life as per Dion Fortune’s representation / teaching. More than likely I’ll also re-read the Cosmic Doctrine again.

    Thank you as always ~ •

    ~ Tanya

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