Monthly Post

Theosophy: The Golden Age

At the end of our last exploration of America’s magical history two months back, the fledgling Theosophical Society had apparently breathed its last.  Its original branch in New York City had stopped meeting, the handful of lodges elsewhere were struggling, and its two most important and knowledgeable members—Emma Hardinge Britten and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—had both left the United States for the far corners of the world. To all appearances, the hope of a public organization teaching occult philosophy right out there in the open in the Western world had vanished into the realm of might-have-beens.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Two factors militated against its disappearance, however. The first was Blavatsky’s own formidable talents as an author, organizer, and occult impresario.  Once she and Henry Steel Olcott had settled in Chennai, India, in 1879, she wasted no time.  Letters went out to New York City and the handful of other local groups the original Society had founded, announcing that the Society was still very much in business and beginning the work of reorganization. Shortly thereafter hints of an extraordinary new body of doctrine began to spread through the crawlspaces of the occult scene all through the Western world.

Koot Hoomi (as imagined by a Theosophical artist)

Matters reached the boiling point once two leading English members of the Society, A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume, began receiving letters from a mysterious figure, the Master Koot Hoomi, setting out the tenets of a secret Eastern wisdom supposedly handed down from the immemorial past. Books promptly appeared, first from Sinnett’s pen—The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism—and then from others, all of them passing on the same set of occult teachings and helping to feed the growth of the Theosophical Society, while Blavatsky herself worked on her second great book, The Secret Doctrine, a sprawling account of the entire body of teaching that claimed to be a commentary on the Stanzas of Dzyan, an eldritch text—the phrase, as we’ll see, is entirely appropriate—as old as the world.  Meanwhile visitors to Blavatsky’s home in Chennai returned with awed reports of the astonishing psychic phenomena they had witnessed there, and those reports found eager readers in the newspapers of the time.

Subsequent investigation by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) turned up plenty of evidence that Koot Hoomi, the letters, the teachings, and the psychic phenomena were all manufactured by Blavatsky, and the skeptics of the time had a field day with the results. None of that slowed the growth of the Theosophical Society in the slightest, and there was good reason for that.  Blavatsky knew exactly what she was doing; she understood far better than the skeptics that a great many people in the Victorian era were sick and tired of the Hobson’s choice between dogmatic Christianity and equally dogmatic scientific materialism that was presented to them by the approved authorities of their culture; they wanted a third option that held out the hope of direct personal experience of spiritual realities, and if that third option annoyed the defenders of the status quo, so much the better.  In times and places where that’s the case—and of course we live in another of those today—the rantings of self-proclaimed skeptics simply attract more people to whatever cause they happen to denounce.

That, in turn, was the second factor that kept the Theosophical Society from vanishing.  More than anything else, the longing for a third spiritual option not so tightly shackled to the status quo was the reason why Theosophy exploded into prominence in the 1880s, especially but not only in the United States. Here in America, lodges sprang up in every city of any size, and in some fairly modest towns; from these, public lectures and inexpensive books spread the new gospel far and wide, and concepts that Blavatsky borrowed from the spiritual traditions of India—reincarnation, karma, cosmic cycles in which worlds are born and die, and much more—became part of the common parlance of the cultural avant-garde in most Western countries.

Ignatius Donnelly

Blavatsky provided all of these things to her followers, and much more. She’s half the reason you’ve heard of a place called Atlantis. (The other half was a remarkable American eccentric named Ignatius Donnelly, one of the founders of modern alternative culture, whose 1882 book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World burst into popular culture right when Theosophy was hitting its stride.)  It’s due to Blavatsky, more to the point, that you’ve heard of Atlantis as a prehistoric civilization with advanced technologies that destroyed itself when its loremasters turned to evil. That’s not in Plato and it’s not in Donnelly; Blavatsky originated it, and fit it into a vast alternative history in which Atlantis was only one of a series of lost continents and our present age is the fifth of seven ages in the present cosmic cycle.

Gerald Gardner

One way to think about the remarkable spread of Theosophical ideas is to say that Theosophy was the previous century’s equivalent of Wicca. In some ways the parallels are quite exact.  Both movements had distinctly dubious origins—the Masters and their world-old teachings turned out to be just as difficult to document in the light of serious research as the medieval Pagan witch-cult on which Wicca based its historical claims.  Both movements took the form that they did because of the impact of a single colorful personality—Gerald Gardner in the case of Wicca, H.P. Blavatsky in the case of Theosophy—who drew together the work of many previous writers and thinkers into a workable unity, and decked it out with colorful pageantry well suited to the popular culture of their era. Both movements replaced the officially approved narrative of human history and prehistory with a radically different alternative vision of the past.  Both movements spoke to significant cultural needs that the established spiritual and secular options of their respective times failed to address, and both movements turned into vehicles that could be used, and were used, by forceful and talented women to elbow their way into the mostly male preserves of alternative spirituality in America.

The comparison between the two movements can only be taken so far, however. In particular, Gerald Gardner’s decision to use the figure of the witch as the centerpiece of his newly minted Old Religion turned out to have very mixed consequences.  The witch in European folklore and history is a marginal figure, poor, isolated, despised, and vulnerable. Wicca thus inevitably attracted a great many people who fancied an equally marginal status for themselves in contemporary Western societies, and by and large obtained it.  That’s a central reason why so few Wiccan organizations have been able to fund and maintain the meeting spaces and other properties that most American spiritual movements—including those founded and run by the very poor—have been able to provide for themselves as a matter of course.

Wicca has nothing like this.

Theosophy didn’t have so problematic an image to work with, didn’t suffer under the same self-inflicted burden, and so succeeded easily at tasks at which most Wiccan groups failed.  In particular, Blavatsky’s movement was not especially attractive to the self-marginalized.  Theosophists, in fact, found a great many recruits among the financially and socially successful, and so had no trouble creating and funding a network of local organizations with their own meeting halls, libraries, bookstores, retreat centers, and other amenities, many of which still exist today.  Success in those basic organizational tasks thus gave Theosophy an impact on the popular culture of its time far greater than Wicca has had or will ever have.

Because the Theosophical Society formally rejected the idea of requiring members to subscribe to any set of dogmas, furthermore, it drew members and supporters from an extremely wide range of people with alternative interests in late nineteenth century Western culture.  Over what we may as well call the Theosophical century, from 1880 to 1980, if you were interested in any form of occultism or alternative spirituality, the odds were very high that you shopped at a Theosophical bookstore, took in lectures or practiced yoga at a Theosophical lodge, studied books by Theosophical authors, or were otherwise influenced in one way or another by Blavatsky’s grand creation.

L. Frank Baum

All this helped drive the most remarkable phase of Theosophy’s career, which we can follow best through the example of a young many from upstate New York named Lyman Frank Baum. Born in 1856, Baum was theater-mad from an early age—not an uncommon thing in an era where live theater was far and away the most colorful entertainment option available—but his talents as an actor and playwright weren’t substantial enough to pay the bills, and he ended up in the retail industry and journalism instead. His first real success came from a magazine, The Show Window, which sold to the retail trade and offered ideas for store window displays and visual merchandising. His habit of telling lively stories to his children inspired his next two ventures, a pair of Mother Goose books for children.  Those sold well, and led him to envision something more ambitious, a children’s fantasy story set in an imaginary kingdom called Oz.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

More went into that fantasy story than the workings of a busy imagination, though.  Baum was a Theosophist; his wife was the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a leading feminist and political radical of the age, who had found her way to Theosophy. That was a well-trodden path just then, for the feminist movement launched with such a display of unity at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 had split into two quarreling factions by the end of the century.  The largest faction upheld Victorian moral ideas and insisted that feminism was inseparable from Protestant Christianity and the prohibition of alcohol, while a smaller faction rejected the Victorian moral consensus and championed something much closer to what feminism became after the 1960s.

By the last years of the nineteenth century it was clear that the conservative Christian wing of feminism was in the ascendant, and so a great many women in the other faction found themselves unwelcome in feminist circles.  A significant number of those ended up in the Theosophical Society, and Matilda Joslyn Gage was among those. She’s an important figure in our story for more reasons than one; she played a central role in redefining medieval witchcraft as a protofeminist goddess-worshiping cult stamped out by evil inquisitors, and her 1893 book Woman, Church, and State, a counterblast against the conservative Christian wing of the feminist movement, was the first English language source for the wildly inaccurate claim that nine million witches had been burnt during the witchcraft persecutions of the late Middle Ages.

A pantacle of the elements

That will be relevant to our tale later on.  More important to the present story is that her daughter and son-in-law followed her to Theosophy and found it congenial. Baum in particular seems to have made a very thorough study of occult philosophy. If you’re wondering, in other words, why the characters in The Wizard of Oz sort themselves out neatly according to the four magical elements—the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, to Air; the Tin Woodsman, who wants a heart, to Water; the Cowardly Lion, who wants courage, to Fire; Dorothy, who just wants to get back home to Kansas, to Earth; and Toto the dog, whose name literally means “from the whole” in Latin, and who reveals the little man behind the phantasm of Oz the Great and Powerful, to Spirit—well, now you know why.

The impact of all this on the American imagination was considerable.  The Wizard of Oz was the bestselling children’s book in America for two full years after its publication and went on to become one of the great children’s novels of American history.  Baum went on to write thirteen more books about Oz, quite a few of which were just as laden with occult symbolism as the first, and a flurry of other children’s novels, most of which are undeservedly forgotten now.

Raw material for the imagination

One of those may have gone on to have a huge if unrecognized indirect impact on American culture further down the road. That’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which Baum published in 1902 and which became another bestselling children’s book in its day, in Britain as well as America. Among its interesting features, it places relations between mortal humans and immortal beings at center stage—the infant Claus, a human, is found and fostered by the immortal wood nymph Necile, just for starters—and in it the three greatest immortals, the Master Woodsman of the World, the Master Husbandman of the World, and the Master Mariner of the World, have important roles.

It’s heady stuff, and if you happened to be a lonely, bookish boy with a lively fantasy life when it was a bestseller, it’s quite conceivable that it could have sparked a whole cascade of daydreams, and eventually stories, in which interaction between mortals and immortals was a constant theme and a Master Mariner of the World was a central character in the earliest versions of the resulting legendarium.  And of course if your name happens to be J.R.R. Tolkien, and you fill a famous trilogy with your mature reflections on these same themes, these ideas would end up splashed all over the American imagination once your trilogy became standard reading all over the cultural avant-garde of the Western world.

J.R.R. Tolkien

No, I don’t know for a fact that Tolkien was influenced by The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, but when I first read the book some years ago I was struck forcefully by just how many of the key themes of the earliest phases of Tolkien’s great legendarium can be found in its pages. Tolkien was certainly powerfully influenced in later years by the books he read in youth—for example, the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo is imprisoned by the barrow-wight is influenced, almost to the point of unconscious plagiarism, by a comparable scene in Walter de la Mare’s 1910 fantasy The Three Mulla-Mulgars—and we know, thanks to the labors of his son Christopher, that the themes I’ve described were major influences from the earliest sketches Tolkien wrote to his last writings on Middle-earth.

What makes this especially fascinating to me is that Tolkien, devout Roman Catholic that he was in later life, was profoundly influenced by the Theosophical alternative history. From a timeline divided into numbered ages—the Third Age of Middle-earth would fit quite comfortably into the historical cycles Blavatsky described—to an Atlantis-story that is Blavatskian through and through, dominated by the conflict between a majority that worshiped the power of evil and a minority that fled the doomed continent at the last moment, Middle-earth is a creation of the Theosophical century. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” Gandalf says at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm; that term is nowhere defined in Tolkien’s papers, but any well-read Theosophist knows what it means. It seems likely that during his younger years, before middle age brought its traditional conservatism, Tolkien fed his imagination with scraps of Theosophical literature.

Robert E. Howard

He was far from the only iconic fantasy writer of the era to do so. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian and a flurry of other brawny and adventuresome heroes, drew extensively on one of the standard Theosophical alternate-history volumes—William Scott-Elliot’s The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria—to create his own alternative past, with the usual collection of drowned continents, sinister enchanters, and evolutionary machinery. Howard’s friend and indefatigable correspondent H.P. Lovecraft was even more familiar with Theosophy than Howard, and mined it systematically for themes onto which he could place his own inimitable spin: “Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents,” he wrote in “The Call of Cthulhu.”  From Talbot Mundy and A. Merritt to a forgotten galaxy of less gifted authors, twentieth-century fantasy fiction was awash in Theosophical ideas; in a very real sense, that’s what sets apart the fantasy of that era from its less impressive epigones today.

That was only one aspect, though an important one, of the penetration of Theosophical ideas throughout American popular culture in the first three quarters or so of the twentieth century.  If you know your way around Theosophy, very little in US alternative culture in that era will come as any surprise to you.  Out of that process emerged some of the most impressive creations of the Golden Age of American occultism, some of the silliest, and some that managed to combine the brilliant and the absurd in equal measure. Over the months to come, we’ll discuss those—beginning with the occult movements that rose up to contend with the Theosophical Society in its early days, and ending with those that were around to pick up the pieces when the Theosophical Society crashed and burned in one of the great self-inflicted disasters of occult history.


  1. Thanks very much for this JMG. I have been intrigued with the outsized impact Theosophy has had on religious and spiritual life. Blavatsky provides yet another example of an “invented” history and source for material that still seemed to steam along through popular culture.

    I am curious about the current choice we have now: “the choice between dogmatic Christianity and equally dogmatic scientific materialism…[and the]…third option that held out the hope of direct personal experience of spiritual realities”. We are certainly in that position now, and I wonder around what figure or set of symbolism a new “Theosophical Society” might coalesce in the years to come.

  2. Another huge influence on both Robert E. Howard’s and H. P. Lovecraft’s writings in addition to Theosophy was Oswald Spengler. S. T. Joshi’s “H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West” explores Lovecraft’s fascination with Spengler and Spengler’s broad impact on the Weird Tales genre. And there seems to be a trace of overlap in some of the underlying concepts.

    One thought that occurs to me… one could say that in a lot of ways the entire history of the 20th century was a footnote to Theosophy… The influence of Ariosophy on the Nazi Party is of course well known, and Bernise Rosenthal’s excellent book on Occultism in Soviet Russia explores just how much of the revolution got cooked up in meetings of the Russian chapters of the Anthroposophical society. Do you know if there’s any evidence that Spengler himself was directly influenced by Theosophy? Or was it just a case of the astral landscape of the early to mid 20th century being so permeated with Blavatsky’s ideas that you couldn’t throw a rock without it landing somewhere in that sphere of influence?

  3. Man, you are on a roll lately.

    I am going to take the day off and ponder this and your post over on Dreamwidth.

    I think that we are looking at quite a bit of “less than fun” along with quite a bit of hard work on how to work out way through the process that (in my opinion) will get started in a serious manner with the Grand Mutation.

    Your Dreamwidth piece seems to lay out what the problems will be. This piece and the work you have been laying out for the past year or so gives us an overview of the pathless land ahead of us.

    Lots of hard work ahead.

  4. Wiccans branding themselves as marginal reminded me of similar claim. It was that seeing yourself as a survivor is futile because to keep proving it, you have to keep getting into trouble. That made me think how many other potentially self-defeating identities there are. If you see yourself as a hard worker – guess what you’ve got more of coming your way. You think you’re a mature adult – congratulations! Now instead of doing whatever it was you wanted to do, you get to do the responsible thing instead. I got really lucky that my outlook can be summed up as ‘aggressively lazy’. As in “I’m going to find a way to make make this job quicker and easier even if it takes all day”. With that attitude I can improve things without digging myself into a hole.

  5. Madame Blavatsky should have changed her name to something more astral-sounding. Like Ariel Starshine or something…

  6. For whatever it may be worth, Talbot Mundy was an actual member of the branch of the Theosophical Society that Katherine Tingley established at Point Loma, near San Diego in California. (It was a Point-Loma Theosophist who first introduced me to the fantasy novels of Mundy and Merritt back in the 1960s, and I still read them over from time to time.)

    The novels of Sax Rohmer (Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) fit in well with this particular school of fantasy novels. As far as is known, Rohmer never became a Theosophist, but he was extremely well read in occult and esoteric matters, and experimented with ceremonial magic. He was definitely a member of one English Rosicrucian society, most likely the S.R.I.A. (of which the early Golden Dawn was an offshoot).

    Another thing that Theosophists did to ensure their popularity and survival was to found Theosophical Libraries in many towns, usually in connection with the local Theosophical Lodge. A good number of them still survive.

  7. @David Ellis:

    No need for HPB to do that. She had violet eyes and a compelling gaze, and she already had learned well how to wrap any man around her little finger. Also, Russians had come to be regarded as sufficiently weird and exotic creatures for years before she burst like a skyrocket on the American occult scene.

  8. Thank You for this. I did not knew about Robert E. Howard ties to Teosophy but honestly it doesn’t surprise me, In my Ill spent youth, more than 30 years ago I BSed my way into two “occult” groups by shamelessly quoting things that I had read on the Conan stories.
    Sad thing was that what those groups had to offer was even more baloney than my quotes.


  9. Dear John Michael Greer,

    Thanks for this– How I wish I’d had your writings on these histories of metaphysical ideas to guide me through the labyrinth when I was writing my book on the leader of Mexico’s 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero (I managed, but it was a steep climb, and oftentimes I had no other but to rely on works by academics who did fully comprehend and/or disdained the very ideas they were writing about. Madero himself was not a Theosophist, by the way, but he was influenced by them, most especially by their enthusiasm for the Bhagavad Gita.)

    I also appreciate the point you make here, that the broader culture has been more influenced by some of these currents than most people would guess.

    I very much look forward to your next installment. I imagine the post on Krishnamurti will be a wild ride!

    C.M. Mayo

  10. I’m enjoying this history because you are showing the overlap of people and ideas. So often historians attach one name to something and upon study, I realize how many different people were involved.

    I took a moment to see what theosophical societies were around where I live and couldn’t find the archival papers in a catalog. Then I realized the Philadelphia Theosophical Society was still functioning and holds meetings twice a week (via Zoom now). Sharing the link because they look fairly active I think I’ve walked past this building on Rittenhouse Square years ago and put it on my list of places to visit. I hope to get the chance when covidsteria is over.

  11. Samurai, I’m also watching to see what happens in that direction. I think we have some political and cultural crises to get through first, but we’ll see.

    Esingletary, Spengler was an immense influence on 20th century culture in general — did you know that the original Beat poets used to sit around Jack Kerouac’s kitchen table reading aloud sections of The Decline of the West? I don’t happen to know of any evidence that he was influenced by Theosophy — the specific influences he cites, and they’re in evidence all through his writings, are Goethe and Nietzsche — but then I don’t know that anyone’s ever gone looking. It would be an intriguing research project, certainly.

    Degringolade, thank you. Yes, we’ve got a very hard row to hoe, but then that’s hardly unusual down here on the dense material plane…

    Yorkshire, I’d argue that any conceptual self-definition becomes a trap. The ego is simply the sum total of our self-definitions, and that’s why it can be such an obstacle to deal with.

    Antoinetta, he did indeed. Several of the classic weird-tales authors borrowed whole chunks of Theosophy and attached tentacles as needed — and the Book of Dzyan was quite routinely included in collections of eldritch tomes.

    David, nah, that’s purely a late 20th and early 21st century habit. In another fifty years people will laugh themselves into hiccups remembering the era of Ariel Starshine and her pretentious ilk.

    Robert, true on all counts! Mundy had more than the usual dose of Theosophy in his writing, too, and so did another figure in the Point Loma end of the Society who’s undeservedly forgotten, Kenneth Morris, whose Welsh-themed fantasy novels The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed and The Book of the Three Dragons were iirc originally published by the Point Loma press. What fascinates me about the whole phenomenon, though, is the extent to which early 20th century fantasy was suffused with Theosophy even when it was written by people who had no direct connection to the TS at all. Blavatsky created the entire working language of the golden age of fantasy.

    As for the libraries, I wish we had one here in Rhode Island. When I lived in Seattle I was a member of the Theosophical Society library there, and benefited hugely from access to old Theosophical books.

    Whispers, funny! Somebody ought to compile a collection of philosophical and metaphysical bits from Howard’s stories, claim that it’s the iron-bound Book of Skelos, and launch a magical order on that basis. It would at least be fun, and it would probably get better results than a lot of occult groups of the sort you encountered.

    C.M., the Krishnamurti affair will have an important place in this story, of course, and setting it in its historical context makes it all the more poignant. The book’s first-rate, btw — thank you again for it.

    Denis, I’ve been to the Philadelphia TS presence on Rittenhouse Square; it’s a lovely old space and the people I met were pleasant in the extreme. If I lived within range I’d be a regular attendee.

  12. Putting aside how much of the content and practices of the Theosophists were useful, how much of the description of older civilisations brought low by the evil of their leaders is true in your opinion? True in the sense that The Battle of Gettysburg is true I mean. There’s obviously room in the historical record, Homo sapiens has been vexing the planet in something like modern form for perhaps 250,000 years ago (I keep reading different estimates) and our oldest evidence of Egypt civilisation goes back around 5000 years. Even Gobekli Tepe is supposed to be a mere 12,000 years old.

    That’s a lot of deep time available for other things to have happened. Did it, do you think?


  13. There is still one Theosophical Library (at least!) in Massachusetts. It’s in Arlington, about an hour distant on a bus. It’s on a quiet street behind City Hall, just of Massachusetts Avenue. (I’ve never gotten around to visiting it myself, so I have no idea how large its collection is.)

  14. JMG + Yorkshire: Have you all heard of General Semantics founded by Alfred Korzybyski? In my bro-philosopher understanding, it’s a process oriented philosophy and self help method that eliminates the “isness of identity” or as previously described, identifying with some concept or another. It also teaches consciousness of abstractions, which seems useful in our increasingly abstract world.

    There’s an English derived language that’s a splinter off General Semantics called E-prime, which is simply English without use of “to be”. E-prime purists would say there are lots of ways to lazily speak E-prime such as using “to have” a lot.

    I tried speaking E-prime for about 4 months late 2019, early 2020, and had a heck of a time. I stopped when a sibling told me I sounded awkward doing it. I was also interested in Qabalah at that time, and still am.

    I often wondered how to reconcile a process oriented philosophy that rejects abstract essences (which seems like a cornerstone of occultism) with Qabalah, which at the time, seemed full of essences.

    The inspiration for a lucid dreaming experiment I did, Ed Kellog, was something of a Kabbalist, and happened to be one of the few fluent speakers of E-prime alive, so I knew that there must be some way to reconcile the two.

    Your comments on this post made a connection of the Cosmic Doctrine/Qabalah/General Semantics clear to me. Everything in the cosmos is in a constant process of involution/evolution and therefore does not have an unchanging essence. Does that sound valid?

    I’m also suspecting that making these kinds of connections is how the Glass Bead Game is played? (I’ve forgone TGBG for the Cosmic Doctrine, and so don’t understand it all that well).

  15. The influence of Theosophy (and serious occultism in general) on popular fiction is something that really interests me. This post makes me think that we need a JMG-curated anthology of classic occult fantasy fiction… 😉

  16. Thanks JMG. I am not well versed in Theosophy, so can you tell me about the reference to Gadalf’s “secret fire”, and the “flame of Anor”? If I had to guess it would be along the lines of the Telluric Current, but that is pure speculation on my part.

  17. A question from a lot further back in occult history. This interesting and unusual study examines how fat has been conceptualised through history: In Roman times particularly fertile land was considered ‘fat’. It was also thought excessively fat land could turn rancid, and the ideal soil was a halfway point between too fat and too lean. That sounds like an agricultural version of the humours, or elemental balance. Was this an occult thing, or just how they explained soil science at the time?

  18. @samurai_47 and @JMG,

    In comparison with the 19th century, today there is more consensus between dogmatic religions and scientific materialism. The structure of mainstream scientific establishment has been increasingly resembling the clergy of a religion, where the development of new theories is restricted to a small group of specialists who regard alternative theories as “heresy” and the language they use has been becoming less accessible to ordinary people. With these conditions, it is no surprise that the current scientific establishment fiercely defends the Big Bang cosmology which is a modern rehash of “creation ex nihilo” myth, and it resorts to modern versions of epicycles, like dark matter and dark energy. Both dogmatic religions and the scientific establishment are trying to exclude ordinary people from the personal endeavor of investigating material and non-material worlds, and this two-way pressure creates its opposite, such as the popularisation of personal spiritual practices like various meditation methods and the popularisation of hands-on “citizen science” approaches – as an effort to bypass the duopoly of religious and scientific clergies. We may not be able to foretell what exactly will come out of these conflicts but I think we can at least speculate that the new analogue of the TS today will likely incorporate these personalised and hands-on approaches from the fringes of science and religiosity.

  19. The early feminist focus on alcohol prohibition had a practical basis. So long as women had no easy recourse to divorce, few means of self support and little control over any money they did earn an alcoholic spouse was a disaster for the entire family. When the breadwinner spends his pay in the bar or becomes so incapacitated by his habit that he can no longer find employment, there is no money for food or medicine or clothing and no societal safety net except private charity. The amn’s wife and children suffer. Violence against women enters the picture as well; nag your husband about the missing rent money and get beaten for your pains. Americans were an incredibly hard-drinking culture, so it did make sense for women concerned with the security and safety of other women to oppose the liquor industry–which opposed woman’s suffrage in return. Naturally this also lead to alliances with those who opposed liquor on moral rather than practical grounds. Just as a similar campaign against pornography in the 1970s led to similar alliances.

    In addition to the practical reasons for wishing to control alcohol usage, the early feminists were using the assumptions about women against the system itself. Women had been cast as the angels in the house, guardians of morality. Suffragists used this as an argument for granting women the vote so that they could use their higher moral qualities to improve society. Opposing alcohol and gambling, fighting to impose the same sexual morality on men as on women, opposing open prostitution, lewd literature and so forth were part of that argument. Of course adopting and advocating for the tighter sexual morality led to conflicts with other portions of the movement who believed that knowledge about their bodies and particularly access to birth control would give women greater power.

    Ahh–witches as victims. When a certain large organization of Witches was being founded back in the late 1970s one of the members complained of the high dues. My partner at the time laughed. “If you have 6 people in your coven (dues were per coven, not individual) that works out to $X per person. (more mental math) That’s about $.50 a week per person. If you can’t conjure up $.50 a week, you have no business calling yourself a witch.” “Hurruuph, you don’t understand.” This sort of poor mouthing was frequent, especially from those who always seemed to have money for dope, or concert tickets, or Society of Creative Anachronism garb, the latest fantasy novel or comic book collections. But save toward buying a building or some other investment in the future?–very few stepped up.


  20. Dear JMG,

    Thanks very much for another fascinating article in this series! I really hope that all of this becomes a book.

    Ryan M.

  21. The Theosophical Society has a site on Rittenhouse Square? Is this different than the Ethical Society? I’ve recorded many a concert at the Ethical Society, a very comfortable space.

  22. What a fantastic series JMG…thanks so much for this history. How soon before the next installment? You’ve intimated that it will cover the next phase in the story of Theosophy when it divided into several branches,some of which are still alive and well. I’m very eager for your perspectives on Steiner/Anthroposophy and Alice Bailey/Lucis Trust. I devoured Alice Bailey’s books in the mid to late 1970s and some Steiner and then moved on, though I’ve recently begun reading some Steiner again, including his autobiography. Keep up the Great Work!

  23. Youngelephant, I hadn’t heard of General Semantics but there’s a story, if I remember rightly, about a British philosophical society. They decided to run their meetings without using logical fallacies, or some other linguistic bad habit. They had someone ring a bell whenever anyone did it. They quickly abandoned the experiment, realising it was impossible because of how language, or at least English, works. 🙂

  24. @JMG,

    Thank you for sharing this. Unlike most of the movements you’ve covered in this series so far, Theosophy was something whose historical presence I was at least somewhat aware of, having encountered it in a Wikipedia-binge that began with Waldorf Schools and Rudolph Steiner (I suppose that he will appear a few posts down the line).

    Anyway, I really do appreciate your candidness about how so many famous occultists were willing to engage in charlatanry/backdating-their-innovations-to-the-dawn-of-time. You’re right that it makes hay for the skeptics, though I suppose that is just bound to happen in a culture that expects infallibility of its spiritual traditions, and where their failure to live up to that standard (beginning with the Magian religions that put the bar so high in the first place) is so often taken as evidence that spiritual forces don’t exist.

    To me that makes about as much sense as saying that the tallness of the tales brought back by seamen in the age of sail is “evidence” that the wind can’t really propel a ship beyond sight of land. Ah, well – I really do hope that this binary way of thinking about spiritual forces – either they’re exactly what such-and-such religion says they are, or they’re nothing! – gets deep-sixed once the Aquarian Age or the rising Tamanous Culture or whatever-is-coming-next hits its stride.

  25. Frederick, I’ve seen several different political and economic interpretations of the book, and none of them really seemed convincing to me.

    Andy, there are scraps of evidence that suggest to me that the Theosophists were on to something. One of the projects I have lined up for next year is a complete revision of my Atlantis book, and one of the things I have in mind for that is a comprehensive review of the occult version of human prehistory in the light of what’s now known about the last half million years or so.

    Robert, what bus will get there in an hour? The public transit route I could find, train and then bus, would be more than 2 1/2 hours each way.

    Frederick, glad to see this. Thank you.

    Youngelephant, of course. I’ve read Korzybski’s Science and Sanity, and found it useful. As for the Glass Bead Game, a game with Korzybski’s basic ideas as a theme, played entirely in e-prime, would be entertaining, but it’s only one of countless possible Games.

    James, hmm. I’ll consider that, if enough of the classic material is out of copyright by this point.

    Samurai, the secret fire is Fohat, the primary energy that brings the cosmos and everything in it into being. By defining himself as a servant of the Secret Fire, Gandalf is proclaiming his alignment with the forces of cosmic creation, which an unbalanced and destructive force such as the Balrog cannot overcome.

    Yorkshire, the humors weren’t occult in Roman times — or for a millennium and a half afterward. They were the way everyone explained ordinary states of mental and physical health and illness. The same is true of the soil. It looks occult now because occult philosophy hung onto basic holistic descriptive patterns like those when the cultural mainstream jumped aboard the bandwagon of hardcore reductionist materialism.

    Paradoctor, of course there will be ghosts, and if you want to send them to their rest you’d better get to work on a good solid course of magical or spiritual training. That kind of thing is hard work and needs a range of good practical esoteric skills.

    Minervaphilos, good. In the late 19th century the same thing was largely true — establishment science and establishment religion united in defense of the political and social status quo, and that’s why Theosophy and other early 20th century modes of spiritual rebellion rejected both with equal heat. Hands-on approaches were central then, and they’ll certainly be at least as central this time around.

    Rita, of course. The fact remains that a large minority of feminists at the time rejected that whole set of strategies, and felt they had good reason to do so. As for the Wiccan cult of poverty, disability, and dysfunctionality — yeah, I’ve seen a lot of that in action. Oog.

    Ryan, you’re most welcome. Of course it’s going to become a book — I’m having too much fun with it not to do that.

    RPC, it’s at 1917 Walnut Street, in a lovely old brick building. Here’s the website.

    Jim, it may be January before we get to the next installment, as I’ve got a flurry of year-end things to get through. Still, we’ll see — and yes, we’ll be talking about the fission of Theosophy and the rise of successor groups such as the Anthroposophical Society and the Lucis Trust.

    Wesley, I hope so, too. It would be helpful if we could get back to the recognition that myths are myths and histories are histories, they’re both worthwhile, but they’re not the same thing!

  26. Were any occultists of this era involved in the whaling industry? Being against whaling is such an emblem of the modern environmentalist movement, it’d be interesting to know if any occultist whalers developed similar misgivings.

    Reading about whaling I discovered a try pot is a big cauldron and a tryworks is the brick structure that holds it, the stove, and the chimney. So when Paschal Beverly Randolph said “Try!”, maybe he was just really enthusiastic about rendering blubber. 🙂

  27. Thanks JMG, that is fascinating. The fact that Gandalf and the Balrog annihilate each other in their struggle, and Gandalf the Grey returns as Gandalf the White in the aftermath, sounds a lot like two opposing forces locking together in a process of sublimation. Is there a Theosophical equivalent to that concept that Tolkein might have picked up somewhere?

  28. It is possible that Gen X had a thing for witchcraft and satanism because many of us were latch key kids of parents who had sold out their revolutionary values. There was a great amount of disillusionment and it showed up in the dark-pop culture of the 90s, but then at some point many of us realized that the boomers were completely out of touch and it was up to us to figure out how to get by. We had to hang up the Doc Martins and focus on surviving in a declining economy, and that was probably the point when the esoteric shops started closing down. I wonder if (like in my own experience) there will be a renewed interest in alternative spirituality as our generation ages, decline accelerates, and material plane solutions continue to dry up.

  29. @Robert Mathiesen, Google has the Theosophical Library in Arlington listed as a “massage spa”. Apparently they have gotten creative with their library services! 😉

  30. @JMG:

    I don’t know that much about the present state of the greater Boston bus and subway routes. I can tell you that it would take me maybe an hour and a quarter to get there from our house by car driving the major highways at the speed limit, or more like an hour and three quarters if I were to leave from East Providence.

    However …

    After I posted, I looked at their website. It hardly mentions a library now at all, but says in one place that it is available “by appointment.” Nor does their current building–a converted house–look roomy enough for a large library, once you subtract all the meeting- and event-rooms they offer for rental buy the hour. So now I’m wondering whether they may have deaccessioned most of the library they once had when they moved out of Boston proper in 1994, or even when they began to rebrand themselves along new-age lines in 2012 as the “TS Center for Spiritual Studies.” Ugh!

    Their website is

    (Some, but not all, of the pages give a telephone number. Maybe a phone call would shed light on the current state of their library.)

  31. I have one specifically Theosophical book, C. W. Leadbeater’s The Hidden Side of Things. I may never read it, since I may lose too much eyesight before I read all my books.

  32. Great essay as usual. I love this series. I guess I’m not surprised Baum was an occultist. I always loved his works and agree more than the first Wizard of Oz book are well worth reading.

    Reading this post has me eager to 1) read more pulp stories from the past (again) and some new ones that I didn’t read before (Thank you @Robert Mathiesen for the Mundy tip!)
    and 2) to write more pulp stories of my own that would have not so much a Theosophic spin, as an Ecosophic. Either way, I find it hard to leave out my occult tendencies from the fiction, so might as well continue mixing it in. (I can’t even help from throwing in breadcrumbs and hints at occultism in my music non-fiction that has been occupying me.)

    For folks who might be interested I get a lot of good reading tips from the blog Wormwoodiana (also a journal published by the same name). Lots of underread stuff on there. I think some folks who like to read old things here would dig the resource. It’s described as “blog devoted to fantasy, supernatural and decadent literature. It was begun by Douglas A. Anderson and Mark Valentine, and joined by friends including James Doig and Jim Rockhill, to present relevant news and information.”

    There most recent post on a book called “Cups Wands and Swords” by Helen Simpson was most illuminative!

    Hope everyone here is having a good week.

  33. “Somebody ought to compile a collection of philosophical and metaphysical bits from Howard’s stories, claim that it’s the iron-bound Book of Skelos, and launch a magical order on that basis.” Added to my bucket list. Praise Crom!

    Whispers (Cimmerian sword hanging witch doctor)

  34. Minervaphilos: for schools of thought to form aristocracies during ascendance, secret teachings at the peak, and epicycles during decadence, is business as usual.

    Cosmology is particularly vulnerable to secret teachings and epicycles, because there is only one universe, and you can’t experiment on it, so it’s hard to test ideas. I regard the big-bang cosmology as a cultural neurosis projection of the atomic bomb. The same generation of physicists, and some of the same individuals, were involved in producing both.

    I speculate that a new cosmology will emerge within a generation or so, involving the most charismatic technologies of the time. Perhaps it will be a ‘green’ cosmology involving recycling and sustainability; and/or a ‘cybernetic’ cosmology.

  35. Hi John

    What puzzles me most about Atlantis is that there’s nothing there.

    The Richat Structure (located at 21° 7′ 26.4″ N, 11° 24′ 7.2″ W) rather accurately matches the Greek writer’s description of the harbour at Atlantis in all points except that its elevation is not at sea level. And this topographical feature could not be visually discerned from an altitude of less than half a mile – unless it were partially filled with water. Which means either the Greeks had aviation and/or time-travel technology, or this feature was at some time located at sea level, or it’s just a one-in-umpteen-kajillion coincidence that someone made it all up and there turned out to really be a place that looks like that.

    The least implausible possibility is that the harbour was real, and was destroyed in a geological cataclysm just like the ancient writer recorded. Working through the mecanics of this postulated event, we find that it would have caused the Red Sea to suddenly widen – thus causing the water level there to drop substatially for a brief period of time, completely exposing the tidal shoal across the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba for several hours while the resulting tsunami made its way up the length of the valley. This matches perfectly the biblical account of the Red Sea crossing in the days of Moses. Coincidence again? Maybe.

    Mass momentum of the fluid flow coupled with the topography of the sea floor would cause the strongest flow of water to cross the west side of the channel, washing out much of the solid mass of the shoal on that side. Today, the shoal exists only on the east side with a comparatively deep channel on the west. Another coincidence? Maybe.

    Add to that that this event would have happened while the empire was in decline, its heyday having been 3-4 generations earlier when it held sway over most of the Mediterranean – coinciding with the biblical account of Joseph, in whose day the Pharoahs were racially distinct from the common Egyptians – which also coincides with the reign of the Hyksos kings, who were foreigners. Another coincidence? Maybe, but the odds are getting pretty slim…

    But there’s nothing there. No bones, no pottery, no paintings, no foundation stones, no building rubble, no nothing. Anywhere else an ancient civilization has turned up, there’s been something physically there as evidence – but not at Atlantis. Any thoughts?

  36. @paradoctor,

    I share the same optimism about the possible emergence of a new cosmology in near future (or, at least the possible destruction of the existing one), but I have no idea about what that new one will look like. Cosmological models have always been highly influenced by the social and political conditions of their times, as Hannes Alfven and Eric J. Lerner had pointed out in their works. Today, these conditions have become more and more chaotic since the 2008 financial crisis and the concurrent decline of the old imperialist bloc. This factor makes world-scale predictions more difficult and more error-prone than before.

  37. Is your criticism of Wicca exclusive to the Gardner variety or to all iterations? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Tubal Cain group. There seems to be a lot to it. I’ve only dipped my toes into some of Shani Oates’ writing, and am only a wallflower to much of the occult goings on outside a few daily practices. The Tubal Cain group may not even be considered Wicca for all I know, but it does call itself witchcraft. Again, I d love to hear your thoughts. Regards~Jason

  38. Samurai, JMG, and of course Tolkien himself more than once defined that Secret Fire which Melkor sought in the Void (but could not attain, for it dwells with Ilúvatar, who sent it to burn at the heart of the created world) as the Holy Spirit, which seems–especially in the context of its descriptions Ainulindalë–like a very similar concept to Fohat. As for the “Flame of Anor” which Gandalf wields, that seems pretty clearly to be a reference to Narya, the Ring of Fire. There are three distinct fires at work which Gandalf names: The Secret Fire (of which he is a servant), the Flame of Anor (which he wields, and which may be interpreted as a subcreation sanctioned and empowered by the divine creative power–hinted at by the nod to Anor, the Sun), and the dark fire or Flame of Udûn/Utumno (which is the imbalanced, destructive Morgothian imitation of the divine flame, which is at this point all that the Balrog, formerly a spirit of fire of the same kind as the deity who steers the Sun, can muster in his fallen state).

  39. JMG,

    Which of the Theosophical books do you think are worth reading? Any that you think are worth owning?


  40. What is your take on George MacDonald’s perhaps underestimated interaction with theosophy? His fantasy novels had a huge impact on CS Lewis. He was a great Christian theologian but disagreed with some Christian doctrines, like the rejection of penal substitution. Between MacDonald’s divergence towards Christian Universalism, and GK Chesterton’s Catholic orthodoxy one could argue that Lewis himself was torn between theosophy and Christianity. He seemed to be attempting to try and tie everything together; religious, spiritual, magical or otherwise into a universal picture.

  41. JMG and Andy,
    Regarding the idea that the story of human civilizations might be longer than we currently accept; I read someplace that when the last ice age ended, many glaciers melted relatively suddenly, causing quick flooding in many formally above water areas. I’ve often wondered if there was an age of relatively high civilization during some point during the last ice age, and if the cities of those civilizations could have been flooded out and abandoned. Could that be plausible? Not a continent sinking under the waves, but a continental shelf?

    As for the Book of Skelos, I might just have to take a crack at compiling my own version as well!


  42. Archdruid,

    Wiccanism actually made it to India too, but there it’s primarily practices by well-to-do women, with deep ties to the West. It really hasn’t become popular or well connected with native traditions the way Theosophy is connected. Especially since it’s practitioner is from Kolkata, West Bengal, which is also the centre for Kali-Durga worship. Going around proclaiming the truth of the divine feminine in that region will get you a response of “well, duh.”

    Understanding the Archetype, makes what happened to a friend of mine much more tragic. Is there anything we can do for people stuck in those traps?



  43. Patricia M, not exactly, but there are some significant similarities.

    Yorkshire, that’s a fascinating question to which I don’t know the answer.

    Samurai, he probably got the idea from medieval Christian theology, in which Christ defeats Satan at the time of the Crucifixion by much the same method.

    Aloysius, that makes a great deal of sense. I certainly hope your generation does that!

    Robert, well, that’s distressing! I may drop them an email at some point.

    Lunchbox, you may be able to get it in audiobook format — the Theosophists tend to be good about that.

    Justin, I’d love to see more pulp occult fiction! There’s been a shortage of that for quite some time now — so few authors know the first thing about occult traditions, and so they stumble from one howler to another.

    Whispers, I’ll look forward to it!

    Steve, Plato’s description specifies that Atlantis is beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, close to the continent on the far side of the Atlantic — yes, Plato knew there was a continent here — and (as of 600 BC) under water. The Richat Structure is none of those things. Furthermore, Atlantis went under in approximately 9600 BCE — Plato is quite precise about the date — and Rabbinical tradition dates the lifespan of Moses to 1391-1271 BCE, so it would be quite a delayed reaction! One of the great sources of confusion in research into Atlantis is people lighting on an “Atlantis” that fits only one of the many data points — in this case, the shape of the capital city as described by Plato — and ignores all the others. If you do that you can literally find Atlantis anywhere on Earth, and somebody or other has probably found it there already.

    As for the Richat Structure, though, where did you get the claim that it was free of artifacts? According to this source, it’s bristling with Paleolithic stone tools from the Acheulean era of the middle Pleistocene. People who weren’t quite human yet — Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and early Neanderthals — mined it systematically as a source for high-quality quartzite for tools. It was apparently abandoned when the Sahara dried out and the whole region became too lifeless to support hominid cultures.

    Jason, one of my teachers corresponded with Roy Bowers aka Robert Cochrane in his youth; that’s pretty much my only contact with the Clan of Tubal-Cain. Thus I don’t have much of a basis to comment on it. My comments on Wicca generally were directed primarily at American pop-culture Wicca, which is what I’ve seen the most of.

    Moi Drui, that’s certainly my read of it. Blavatsky’s description of Fohat identifies it as a person as well as an impersonal force, so it would correspond very closely to the Holy Spirit, which is of course experienced in both these forms as well. In Theosophy the power wielded by the Solar Logos is derived from Fohat, so the flame of Anor as solar fire would indeed be a secondary force — thus Gandalf serves Fohat but can wield the solar flame.

    Anthony, it depends very much on what interests you. I recommend starting with The Divine Plan by Geoffrey Barborka, which is a good summary of Theosophical doctrine, and seeing if that makes sense to you. Beyond that, there’s an immense body of Theosophical literature on a giddy array of different subjects.

    Dave, can you recommend any sources showing connections between Macdonald and Theosophy? It’s clear enough that he borrowed from some aspects of Christian esotericism and he knew at least a little about the teachings of the Druid Revival — one classic bit of Druid Revival lore, for example, is central to the plot of The Princess and Curdie — but I’ve never before encountered the claim that he had Theosophical contacts. As for Lewis, keep in mind that Lewis’ great and good friend Owen Barfield was a student of Anthroposophy — Rudolf Steiner’s offshoot of Theosophy — and the two of them tussled over theology and philosophy all through their adult lives; it’s not surprising that Lewis ended up contending with Theosophical ideas. (I’m pretty sure the straightforward borrowings from Dion Fortune’s occultism in That Hideous Strength came by way of Charles Williams, though.)

    John, that’s a crucial point. 18,000 years ago sea level was 300 feet lower than it is today, and you could walk on dry land from what’s now Denmark straight west to Ireland, turn right, and keep walking to Spain. Huge land areas now drowned were then above water, and since the continental uplands were mostly tundra swept by ferocious winds, the coastal regions were where any civilization would have been. That’s the place to look for anything corresponding to the Atlantean world.

    Varun, the thought of Wicca in India makes me shake my head in dismay. Hinduism has one of the oldest, richest, and most extensively developed traditions of goddess worship on the planet — why on earth would anyone want to drag Gerald Gardner’s invention there? It would be like having the chance to listen to music played by a symphony orchestra and deciding you’d rather hear the same tune on a kazoo.

  44. JMG, have you ever read any of Dennis Wheatley’s occult novels? If so, what did you think?

  45. That was interesting. I read about Baum’s Santa Claus book on Wikipedia (not easy to find the book itself here), and the aspects you mentioned today didn’t jump out from the summary. Thank you for making the connection clearer!
    One thing I would put differently is that Tolkien seems have been a very devoted Catholic all his life at least since the death of his mother, very much including his adolescence and I think also his college and war years. Reading Theosophical-derived literature might not have seemed incompatible with Catholicism to him.

  46. Nothing wrong with creating a religion for the dispossesed and weak,though, as you point out, it will have…. issues.

    I have created a few fantasy worlds, and I am amused to see that at least one is massively influenced by Theosophy (+standard classical Golden/Silver/Bronze age regression). But I created that in my 20s when I don’t remember even hearing the word Theosophy: but of course, I had read most of the Conan stories.

    Looking forward to future installments.

  47. @Varun

    I hadn’t heard of this before, but I’m not surprised. I don’t think we can expect sensible behaviour from Indian liberals, especially if you look at the way they (and their shills in the media) keep promoting SJWism and keep accusing India of being a ‘fascist Brahminical state’.
    I also remember this one time when liberals in South Mumbai took out a ‘March For Your Lives’ protest against gun ownership in the US, of all places. OTOH, I’ve never seen these people ever take out a solidarity march to show support for Kashmiri Hindus, much less provide them actual material help.


    Regarding: your reply to Varun

    There are many Indians among the tiny English-speaking class who aspire to become more Western (esp. American) than Westerners themselves. I’ve myself been laughed at by some of these people because I’m an avid listener of Hindustani Classical Music, whereas they follow the latest trend in Western pop music (i.e. EDM, etc.). Their attitude towards the vast majority of the country’s population, which supports the BJP (Modi’s party) is not very different from the attitudes shown by the privileged classes in America towards the ‘deplorables’ who support Trump.

  48. JMG,
    who I definitely missed in your article was Rudolf Steiner.
    He was influenced by Theosophy, but quickly started his own thing with Anthroposophy.
    But maybe Steiner is more a phenomenon of the German-speaking world.

  49. Dear John Michael Greer,

    About the wildly multicultural history of Theosophy– something that I think you and many of your readers might find of interest is the recent contribution by Brad Rockwell with his biography of Dr Alberto G. Garcia, a Maderista in the Mexican Revolution who, among many other things, brought yoga to Texas. On his blog Rockwell has been posting some rich tidbits of related history, most recently on Anita Brenner. To give you an idea of Brenner’s importance: Anyone who studies the Mexican Revolution and Mexican literary history will quickly come upon her name.


    C.M. Mayo

  50. @paradoctor: As far as I know, continuous expansion of the cosmos was proposed in the 1920s, and this implies either that we cannot know anything about its beginning, or that the cosmos was infinitely small at the beginning. Further equations for describing the expansion were then developed in the 1920s and early 1930s by theoretical physicists. Therefore, the foundation for the so-called Big Bang was laid well before Lise Meitner even thought of splitting atoms. You might be right (I don’t know enough about this) that the catchy name and the idea itself became popular after the atomic bomb.

    None of this is to deny that the model rests on a somewhat hybristic assumption that we can actually know enough about the beginnings of the universe to write equations about it, and that such assumptions might change in the future.

  51. You know, I used to think that the idea of an unbroken tradition of occult wisdom that you find in 19th and 20th century occult writers was at best a helpful creation myth, at worst a fantasy, and certainly not a historical reality. These days, I increasingly think that it is simply true, even if many authors get the details wrong.

    Last year I was meditating my way through the Picatrix, and I got the strong sense that I needed to put that book down and learn my way around Neoplatonic philosophy. Without that background, I felt certain that many of the books secrets would remain closed to me. So I’ve spent my time since then reading Proclus, Iamblichus, Plato and Plotinus, and I think I have a fairly good grounding in Platonic thought. I came to the conclusion that what we call “Occultism,” in the Dion Fortune sense of the term, simply IS Platonism, and that Platonism is the underground tradition in Western thought.

    Even that isn’t true, though. Because Plato himself didn’t come out of nowhere; he was building on a tradition with many predecessors, including Pythagoras and Parmenides, Thales, Anaximander, and others. Moreover, many of those previous philosophers were said to have been initiated into the mysteries in Egypt, and Plato himself describes the Egyptians as having preserved the wisdom traditions of earlier times. So the tradition isn’t really Platonism, but rather Plato is one of the many important thinkers in a tradition that extends backwards into remote antiquity. Furthermore, I have found Platonic ideas all over the place. The Tree of Life, as you know, was borrowed by the Kabbalists from the Gnostics, is itself a variation on the Tetractys, and you’ve pointed out its very close resemblance to the Taiji Tu from medieval Taoist sources. I’ve also found ideas in Taoist sources that very closely resemble ideas that I’d otherwise encountered in Proclus and in Plotinus.

    So I think that the mystery tradition is exactly what it seems to be. Rather than a secret brotherhood of initiates, though, I think that it passes itself down in more subtle ways. For example: Thomas Aquinas drew upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius in the Summa Theologia, apparently citing him more than any other philosopher, including Aristotle. Later in life, he and was strongly influenced by, a book called Liber de Causis, “Book of Causes.” Liber de Causis was a Latin translation of an Arabic work entitled “The Book of Aristotle’s Explanation of the Pure Good.” Pseudo-Dionysius, as we now know, was a Platonist who relied heavily on Proclus for his ideas, while Liber de Causis was not, in fact, written by Aristotle, but was an Arabic redaction of Proclus’s Elements of Theology! It’s as if the tradition has its own methods of perpetuating itself, regardless of whether any material means of transmission is available.

    On the other hand, I’m currently overly caffeinated, and I’m not entirely sure that this is relevant to the discussion at hand.

    Regarding Atlantis, I suspect that this was exactly what Plato claims it was– an island empire that once conquered much of the known world and then fell, much like a more recent island empire did. The only reason I can think of for denying it is the Victorian Era’s mania for believing every age before their own to have been stupid.

  52. @Ian
    > Nothing wrong with creating a religion for the dispossesed and weak,though, as you point out, it will have…. issues.

    I think the point is not about the religion to be targeted at the lower tiers of society, but for said religion to manifest ideals of Marginalization itself (in line with the subject of last week’s post). If you think about it, Christianity started pretty much as a slave’s religion but had no trouble climbing up to be a religion of State, and held to such position of influence for ~1500 years.

    On the other hand, hammering down on the fact that “we are all sinners” may have had a detrimental effect on the collective moral behavior of Christendom. Not that us as individuals were any worse that your average human being when dealing with the social, political and economic spheres of existence; but it is embarrassing how quickly, happily and consistently we have sold out our collective ideals for material gains, or just for the sake of having someone to look down at.

  53. Your Kittenship, nope, and I should probably try one one of these days.

    Matthias, here’s a copyof the original edition, with illustrations, free for the downloading from; it’s long out of copyright. As for Tolkien, yes, I know that that’s the canonical account of his life. The Catholic Church had Theosophical literature on its Index Expurgatorius during Tolkien’s lifetime and strictly forbade good Catholics from reading it, so I suspect there’s at least one episode from his life that he and his biographers sedulously edited out…

    Ian, there are plenty of religions that are aimed at the dispossessed and weak, but they don’t generally go out of their way to encourage their followers to marginalize themselves. Remember that Wicca mostly appeals to the comfortable classes!

    Rose, I don’t know of any books on Fohat as such, but books on general Theosophical theory cover it — Barborka’s The Divine Plan and Powell’s The Etheric Double might be worth a look. Every energy is a mode of Fohat, so one mode of it rises from the root chakra, but the main supply of it in your body, according to Theosophical theory, comes through the spleen center from the Sun.

    Lew, that’s a classic example of the sort of thing I mentioned to Steve. There are lots of societies around the world that declined fairly suddenly after a natural disaster in which floods played a role; if you’re going to point to one and say “This is Atlantis,” you’ve got to explain why Plato didn’t know what he was talking about when he said that Atlantis was most of the way across the Atlantic Ocean, more or less “in front of” the Straits of Gibraltar, and sank sometime around 9600 BCE — and why your alternative is more plausible than the hundred and one other let’s-say-it’s-Atlantises scattered around the world. The Thera eruption was probably responsible for the flood recorded in the Greek myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha, but as the Egyptian priest said to Solon in the Timaeus, “You remember only one deluge, though there have been many others.”

    Viduraawakened, gotcha. So Toynbee’s comments about intelligentsias still applies to the Indian privileged classes.

    B3rnhard, we haven’t gotten to Steiner yet. He does play a significant role in our story, but his impact on the US occult scene happened after the Theosophical Society shredded itself in internal quarrels and then crashed and burned over the Krishnamurti fiasco. We’ll be talking about him, and about the American Anthroposophical scene, in due time.

    C.M., many thanks for this! Clearly a good general occult history of Mexico would be worth reading.

    Steve, excellent. Neoplatonism is the core of the post-Iamblichean Western occult tradition; it’s the core around which Iamblichus and his fellow theurgists reconstructed the whole occult legacy of the ancient world and passed it on to the future. Go back from there and yes, you find yourself in Egypt, where the founders of Greek occultism got most of their ideas, so it’s no exaggeration to say that as modern occultists we are the heirs of a tradition that can be traced along an unbroken track to the temples of ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago. Some of those connections were subtle, but some involved groups of initiates — not a single such brotherhood, of course, but the same sort of gallimaufry of groups you see nowadays. There’s good reason for that; if you want to get a secret teaching intact through an age of ignorance and persecution, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and you also give your initiates plenty of room to use their own judgment and try out their own approaches, rather than locking things into a rigid hierarchy that will eventually make the wrong decision once too often.

    Admin, good heavens. The Grauniad admitted that? The left is indeed starting to turn on itself…

  54. One of those forgotten floods mentioned to Solon would have been Dogger I suppose. An otherwise unmarked area of the North Sea. Most Brits these days know it only as one of the places intoned by a BBC Radio announcer at the end the the day when the shipping forecast is chanted with ritual intensity by whoever drew the short straw. A sure sign that you are up too late or too early.

    It was certainly occupied, trawlers have been dredging up exquisitely carved artefacts for years. When the floods did come they must have been sudden. A great deal was left behind. What does seem to have passed unnoticed is that a few hundred miles south the land is locally known on one side of the Channel as Kent, and on the other as Ghent. My guess is that this is a holdover from the era when it simply was one single place and you could walk from one side to the other provided you keep the a careful eye out for lions.

  55. Thank you for this wonderful journey into times gone by.

    Unfortunately, here in Illinois where the Wheaton Theosophical Society world headquarters is located, the people running it have succumbed to paranoid woke-ist lockdowns. The TS library here has been shuttered since March. I think Madame Blatavatsky would be extremely disappointed with the politically correct crop of fearmongers running the HQ. I am letting my subscription lapse for this year as I build my own much smaller subscription library. I’m confident the Theosophical Society will weather this storm. For now, however, I don’t have the disposable income to support a locked-down library. I pray that saner minds prevail at the TS in the not far-off future.

  56. JMG,

    Thanks for the idea. I read about half of Science and Sanity during my e-prime phase but fizzled out. I’d like to finish eventually. The pieces I could remember served as good fodder for walking meditation today.

  57. Re: Wicca, marginalization, and why we don’t put out money for buildings.

    I took the “weak & dispossessed” issue into meditation and the difference with Christianity came to mind. Christianity has its children say “We are weak, but He is strong; and as I understand it, Christians are told to “take up your cross and follow me” to the limit of what they can do with their strength and the grace of God. The Wiccan message is that the Goddess was suppressed throughout the ages – with some Hebrew Testament evidence to back it up.

    Also – Wiccan circles are never meant to be permanent. You cast them at the time of ritual, then take them down, and eat. And the ideal is to meet in the wilderness whenever possible – meaning, of course, Beltane, Midsummer, Lammas, and the Fall Equinox. This means a public campground or private land, and our own group, CASHEW, raised a ton of money to buy land with. And did. It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, 2 hours each way, so I aged out of trips to the land a couple of years ago. We are now down to five old ladies, Jay, and two medically disabled men, which doesn’t help; the younger generation formed their own groups behind us – one of whom owns an organic farm in the South Valley and holds rituals there. Those who own land in the mountains have their own groups meeting there. All this for what it’s worth.

    There is another group operating out of the Albuquerque Unitarian Church. There’s a feeble imitation of one operating out of the Gainesville UU Church – they’d never do anything so un-inclusive as invoke the God and Goddess.

    OK – all this for what it’s worth.

  58. P.S. JMG – about the Wizard of Oz and the 4 elements . Having been through a phase of fascination with the whole Type & Temperament thing, in my unending search for patterns that make sense of things in the people – world (have found several that do), I did recognize their connection to those right away. That the Wizard offered them the outward and visible – and readily faked – signs thereof – a candy heart, a diploma, a medal – of course confirmed it. Recognition that they’d already proven to have those characteristics.

    As for pattern-making – it was a brief trip through Ken Wilbur’ stages of development (of civilizations, the individual soul, etc) that made the Qabbalah so easy to understand. The upper levels map so very nicely onto the planes of existence! And/or the levels of human brains – i.e. the reptile brain which is solely interested in survival – and onto the chakras.

  59. Is it me, or does Koot Hoomi look a bit like Christ Pantokrator (who in turn purportedly looks a bit like lost representations of Zeus)?

    Good read.

  60. Hi John Michael,

    Steiner delivered a series of lectures on Atlantis and Lemuria in the 1920s which were later compiled in a book titled Cosmic Memory. They comprise his reading of the Akasha (a Sanskrit word introduced by HPB) on human prehistory. It’s quite fascinating, albeit completely unfamiliar and strange. It’s been a while since I’ve read it but I believe he proposes the notion that organized contingents of Atlanteans escaped before the catastrophe and seeded various cultures around the world. Curious if you’ve read this?

  61. Dear readers:
    Speaking of Koot Hoomi, I am told that Paul Johnson’s book In Search of the Masters, argues that KH and other of Blavatsky’s “masters” were each demonstrably a real live person. Johnson’s book is not easily available, so I wonder if anyone has considered his evidence and whether it’s Theosophic hagiography, or actually convincing.

  62. Archdruid,

    Yeah, the colonized intelligencia. They’re collapsing faster in India than they are in the US, the Indic intellectual movement is much better organized and well read than their opposition.


    Ain’t that the truth. I’m more American than I am Indian, just because I’ve spent the overwhelming majority of my life in the US, but I’ve met a surprising number of Indians that looked down their noses at me when they realized I actually wanted to immerse myself in the Indic narrative.

    Oh well, their loss.



  63. Andy, yes, that’s a great example. The drowning of the land that’s now the Dogger Bank would have been an appalling catastrophe, not least because it was so sudden — a gargantuan tsunami set in motion by a huge undersea landslide off the coast of Norway came crashing through, swept over what some people now call Doggerland, continued south, and burst through the isthmus that then connected Britain with France, carving the cliffs of Dover in the process. Everything and everyone in its path was destroyed in a matter of hours. It’s far from the only such example — those of my readers who have been through eastern Washington and seen the coulees there have crossed the track of another catastrophic flood, the draining of glacial Lake Missoula, which was the size of one of the Great Lakes and which burst through its ice dam, swept over well over ten thousand square miles of territory, and poured through what’s now the lower Columbia valley into the sea, obliterating everything along the way. There have indeed been many destructions by water…

    Kimberly, that’s sad. One of the things I hope to do is inspire others to do what the Theosophists did and build their own meeting spaces and libraries; thanks for taking me up on that!

    Youngelephant, it’s best read a little at a time! Put it in your bathroom and read a few paragraphs whenever you’re sitting on the pot.

    Patricia M, thanks for this. Your group actually got its own real estate, which not many Wiccan groups ever managed. I’m not surprised that you caught the Wizardly elements, btw!

    Fra’ Lupo, it’s not just you. Western images of the sacred tend to cluster around a few easily recognizable archetypes!

    Jim, I haven’t read that Steiner book, but the idea wasn’t unique to him. Blavatsky introduced it, along with so much else, and it’s in Dion Fortune’s Atlantis material — she had survivors from Atlantis making landfall on the coast of Somerset near Glastonbury, and founding a priesthood that ended up becoming the distant ancestors of the Druids.

    KKA, I read Johnson’s book when it first came out and it seemed plausible, but I had no way of doublechecking his assertions.

    Varun, I’m glad to hear that! No doubt India can learn some tricks from the West, but philosophy and religion ain’t among them. Of course we have quite a bit to learn from India as well, and have been doing so with enthusiasm since the time of Ralph Waldo Emerson; I’ll be talking about that when I get to America’s great Journey to the East a little later in this sequence.

  64. JMG said, “The Catholic Church had Theosophical literature on its Index Expurgatorius during Tolkien’s lifetime and strictly forbade good Catholics from reading it, so I suspect there’s at least one episode from his life that he and his biographers sedulously edited out…”

    Hmmm. That’s possible, to a certain extent. I’ve just found a quote from Humphrey Carpenter, in Douglas A. Anderson’s obituary of the same, that suggests that at least the Tolkien family insisted he play down certain aspects of JRRT’s personality: “In a sense it’s marvelous: you have a free run of the papers, and everyone feels they ought to help you. On the other hand, you incur obligations […]. You really have to toe the party line. Not that there’s anything in the Tolkien book which was censored by the family, but I think I could have been more detached, and perhaps more objective, if I hadn’t felt under some obligation to his family.” He goes on to later elaborate that he “found it difficult to reconcile his initial view of Tolkien as a “rather comic Oxford academic” with the facts of his life, most notably his ‘strange childhood’ and upbringing by a Roman Catholic priest. Because of Carpenter’s inability to reconcile his initial impulse toward slapstick with the discovery of what Carpenter deemed Tolkien’s ‘uptight Pauline moral values,’ Carpenter describes the first draft of the biography as ‘a long and sprawling thing’ that was ‘deemed unacceptable by the Tolkien family’: ‘I went away and rewrote it, and it was then deemed acceptable. What I’d actually done was castrated the book, cut out everything which was likely to be contentious. I’ve therefore always been displeased with it ever since'” (duPlessis, Nicole M., Mytholore, “On the Shoulders of Humphrey Carpenter: Reconsidering Biographical Representation and Scholarly Perception of Edith Tolkien”). So it’s certainly possible that especially back in the day, Christopher Tolkien was going defending his father’s legacy fiercely, especially since JRRT hadn’t been deceased all that long. Any incriminating correspondence might also have been censored out of the collected Letters, another H. Carpenter/C. Tolkien collaboration.

    Where I get curious though, is in more recent biographies such as John Garth’s outstanding Tolkien and the Great War, which isn’t nearly so reliant on the family’s sanction as the Authorized Biography ™, but is much more thoroughgoing as well as much more intensely focused on Tolkien’s insufficiently misspent youth–and while there are certainly aspects of JRRT’s personality that come through in a much more wild and vivid way than the tweedy professor many are used to, there’s not the least hint of esotericism (admittedly not the focus of the book). I’ve not gotten any hints though that Garth might have particular reasons to suppress it, especially since he contradicts the Official Account at certain other points (albeit not to so controversial an extent!). At one point I seem to recall him saying something about writing a book about the development of Numenor, and if that is ever forthcoming, I wonder if it shouldn’t answer a lot of questions. I know mainstream scholars with no great love of (indeed, religious antipathy towards) occultism, who are nonetheless more and more delving into that side of Williams, Barfield, and Lewis, so I wonder if Tolkien’s ventures in Theosophy might be next. Certainly more and more of his papers keep being turned up; yet another posthumous book of his collected essays was just announced today as being published next year.

    All the same…When it comes to censorship, I don’t really buy that his family or the Church or his biographers or the Illuminati covered up his illicit teenage readings that would almost certainly (I’m guessing) have been the subject of a T.C.B.S. conspiracy. It’s far more likely that he and his schoolfriends (most of whom died before they’d have been able to confirm or deny) started reading some Theosophical texts as an act of mild rebellion (“You won’t let me court Edith, Father Francis? Fine! I’m a good Catholic, and I listen to my priest. But I’m gonna *read books from the restricted section instead!!!*”), which probably made a huge impression on his worldview, set the image of the insuperable, island-drowning Wave firmly in his dreaming mind, and then got promptly forgotten about except subconsciously the minute he discovered the Kalevala–except when the ideas formed by it burbled up again in his philosophy. He seems like he was sufficiently private though, and conservative (even in youth) so as never to admit any of that openly though…and so if there was any Theosophical ready to black out, the censor’s name was John Ronald.

  65. @JMG & KKA

    Johnson ended up writing three books on this: In Search of the Masters (1990), The Masters Revealed (1994) and Initiates of Theosophical Masters (1995). I’ve read them all, checked as much as I could of Johnson’s conclusions, and found them all quite solid and convincing. To the best of my memory, he doesn’t talk about Edward Bulwer-Lytton in them, but–as KKA knows–Sten Bodvar Liljegren makes an excellent case that he was the earliest of HPB’s masters in his booklet, Bulwer-Lytton’s Novels and Isis Unveiled (1957).

  66. @JimW – never read the book, but if Atlantis was an empire, and an island-based one at that, it stands to reason they’d have expat communities all over the place; and that refugees from the rising waters would head to one of those communities. so, yes, by a different route, “seeding different cultures all over the world” is as likely – and probably inevitable – as the British Empire seeding Engilsh-influenced communities from the Middle East to India to Australia. Or the Romans, all over Europe and the Mediterranean.

  67. Steve, that’s an interesting structure, and outside the Pillars of Gibraltar, however, near Morocco, quarter-world away from the Red Sea and outside the Mediterranean basin. And 10,000 years late. There is another Atlantis, outside the Pillars of Gibraltar, which even has Atlantean culture and artifacts perhaps. It’s called “Mexico City.” We think of Mexico as dry, but they have the same man-made garden islands in the swamps and lakes as described, they have nearby mountains providing water, as described, they have a giant city with that sort with very, very high, kingly, ancient, colorful culture as described. We don’t think of it, because when the Spanish arrived, they commanded the Native slaves to fill in all the water/canals so you can’t see the city-rings. And their Mission churches built on top are still famously sinking into the swamps below. It doesn’t have all the things but it’s a thought. Their older, original cities in the south are all water-created.

    For amusement, Disney seems to think so since the culture of the art in their adventure movie “Atlantis” clearly references Aztec art, which is 3rd, maybe 5th generation children: Aztecs are a pretty fallen version of Toltecs, just as Rome is a pretty fallen version of high Greece, or Plato is a fallen version of Alexandria, and so on back through time. But what is an Aztec? Wiki: “the people from Aztlan”. Yes, as in “Aztlantean”, so you have a linguistic clue there. These people also moved up through the Ohio Mound and likely the Iroquois.

    As great and high as Rome? Well, here’s your ruins: enormous columns of palaces as far as you can see. See? Not all sitting in a loincloth in the mud rubbing deerskin with a sharp rock. Kingdoms that could conquer Belgium in a fortnight.
    We know from (mid temperate) daisies in the mouths of frozen Mammoths that the world was frozen in an hour. …But also unfrozen, i.e. flooded. Pole wobble as Hudson Bay drains down the Grand Canyon, etc? We can only guess.

  68. About Atlantis – there seems to be an orthodoxy about it, along with Mu. The one that is current today. I wonder if that is because it fits the narrative of the modern age and the atom.

    As people suggested, it could be a memory of a catastrophe by water at anytime. Doggerland or anywhere else.

    Why does Atlantis follow the trope of European style civilization? Mu seems to also follow the same trope. Couldn’t it be Asian style or any other civilization? Why the lack of imagination about Atlantis?

  69. About wicca and marginalization. The people I used know were into being different from their neighbors. They dislike being a part of a normal community, and expected the community to conform to their individual tastes. Yes, they were privileged people who bemoaned their lives of bad men and bad private schools. They divided the world into good and evil, where the evil people wouldn’t let them hang bones from their trees. My feeling was that these people deliberately wanted to marginalize themselves and expected the world to continue to cater to them. Very strange.

    Meanwhile, the Magical Resistance all seemed about protecting marginal peoples except for poor White people. It seems to be more ego-centric than community centric.

    Growing up poor, I valued community and participating in it. I didn’t like certain individuals but we all needed the community to survive and flourish.

  70. Moi Drui, that’s a perfectly plausible explanation. All I can say for sure is that Tolkien knew a great deal more about Theosophy than the official version claims. As for Tolkien censoring his own past, that seems likely enough; C.S. Lewis did so much of the same thing that his friends referred to his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy as “Suppressed by Jack.”

    Robert, I wasn’t familiar with Liljegren — I’ll have to read that, not least because that puts Bulwer-Lytton as a principal early influence for both Blavatsky and Hardinge. Thus my guess as to the real name of the “Orphic Circle” is likely wrong; given the way things played out, and certain details we’ll get to in a post or two, I suspect its actual name was the Brotherhood of Luxor.

    Jasper (if I may), Tenochtitlan was the most populous city in the world when Cortez arrived to destroy it. If there hadn’t been the bacteriological factor, the history of Mexico from 1500 to now would resemble the history of China and India during the same period — a big, thriving, populous non-Western nation rocked back on its heels by a temporary mismatch in technologies, but by now resurgent as a world power.

    Neptunesdolphins, that’s an excellent point. Did you know that Theosophists taught that the Atlanteans were ethnically Native American? (That was spelled “the red race” back in those days, but the point’s the same.) Thus a sort of ur-Mayan civilization would be far more likely than something European-ish. As for the lack of imagination, that’s pretty pervasive these days, and not just in Atlantology!

  71. Dear seekers after the Atlantian diaspora:

    There is fascinating scholarship that links almost all the great civilizations known to mainstream scholarship—including Pre-Columbian civilizations–to the Old World.

    For some reason, there is a strong taboo in Pre-Columbian scholarship for even considering any culture contacts between the New and the Old Worlds, even though studies of parasites make it absolutely clear that Native American populations were long infested with organisms that could not have survived a trek over the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. There HAD to be contact between Asia and the New World.

    The connection can be traced via metal technology, too. There is a large Maya sculpture depicting the cosmos—Itzapa Stele 5, The Tree of Life Monument–that, along with associated mythemes, puts metallurgists at the foundations of the culture. The metal smelter is depicted at the root of the tree, to the left; and curiously, he is bearded.

    Nissim Amzallag has published a paper titled “From Metallurgy to Bronze Age Civilizations: The Synthetic Theory”, which firmly locates the origins of industrial-scale smelting technology to Timna in the southern Levant around 5000 BC, and makes a pretty strong case that the technology that diffused around the globe thereafter was so similar that it could only have been copied from Timna. The paper is available free of charge over the internet.

    I’ve looked into these connections as far as I can trace them with my limited resources, and I see interesting suggestions that the curious uniformity of Bronze Age cultures might have something to do with something like an Atlantean diaspora.

    And, JMG & Robert Mathiesen–thankyou both for your answers about Koot Hoomi and Madame Blavatsky’s Masters. The connection to the Brotherhood of Luxor is fascinating, and I hope to look into it!

  72. Dear John Michael,

    Having mentioned L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wizard of Oz”, I wonder if you or any of the members here could tell me what the fascination contemporary Australians have with that book and/or that story? Because I have many times read online comments or references by Australians in which Australia is colloquially referred to as “Oz”, or “The Land of Oz”, which I find extremely inexplicable and odd.

    Sorry for the little digression.

  73. On the Mesoamerican hypothesis for Atlantis. The nahuatl word for water, or more generically for any body of water, is of course Atl. Specific bodies of water received derived names: Ilhuica atl for ocean, hueiatl for river, etc. There are also a number of terms that start with the particle “Atlan”, which all seem to be related with ships.

  74. @ Alan – I think the “Oz” used by “Ozzies” (or Aussies) is simply an aural shortening of the word “Australian”. That is to say “Oz” sounds exactly like “Aus” and so the one comes naturally from the other – as it comes verbally from mouth to ear.

  75. I have never understood the scholarly taboo mentioned by KKA, namely, the taboo against “even considering any culture contacts between the New and the Old Worlds.”

    Every Medievalist and every student of the Ancient World around the Mediterranean knows that bodies of water were the superhighways of those bygone ages. The real barriers were mountain ranges, not rivers, lakes, seas … or even oceans. The technology needed to make a boat able to cross an ocean are very simple, and were discovered a very long time ago. Thor Heyerdahl proved that quite a long time ago, following the examples of various contemporary indigenous boat-builders.. The hardest problem is navigation, but surviving Polynesian traditions of trans-oceanic navigation show that that problem, too, had been solved a very long time ago. Some Polynesians are now engaged in reviving and expanding that ancient knowledge of theirs.

    Of course, many–not all!–such voyages would have ended in disaster, just as modern European voyages often did well into the 1800s and beyond. That is no argument against early trans-oceanic voyages.

  76. Archdruid,

    I don’t know about that, there were several conceptual developments in western philsophy like secularism, social mobility, free speech, individual rights, and the nation state that are being wrestled with from a Dharmic perspective. There was a book recently released called the “A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State,” that’s making waves in the new native intelligencia, which goes into detail about the explorations currently underway. Seekers gonna seek.

    One of the things I’m really glad about is that India is a democracy, and our intellectual tradition is being allowed to wrestle with, and ingest nearly 2000 years of foreign rule. I plan to launch a podcast and blog next year to wrestle with some of the forgotten, shall we say occult, concepts that are discussed on this blog. I also want to introduce the audience of this blog to some of the developments in India, since I’ve been asked multiple times.



  77. Alan, if I may: Australia is referred to by others as ‘Oz’ as a shortening from ‘Aussie’, from ‘Australian’. We don’t have any greater interest in Frank Baum’s books than any other Western culture. The fact that Australia is a strange little country literally on the other side of the world is a coincidence.

    JMG: One measure of the Theosophical Society’s incredible success is that it has two centres still active in Australia. One is in Melbourne, Australia’s cultural melting pot, and the other is in Brisbane, which is quite a parochial city. Melbourne’s Theosopical bookshop in particular is very well-stocked. The fact that the TS could found and then sustain groups in these two places is impressive, and as far as I know unmatched by any other occult society.

  78. KKA, of course. The ancient Greeks were perfectly well aware that there was a continent on the other side of the Atlantic — Plato’s only one of many writers who treats that fact as a matter of course — and they had to get that information from somewhere. The great question is why transatlantic contacts stopped sometime around the end of the Bronze Age and didn’t start up again until the Middle Ages.

    CR, interesting. Do you happen to know the exact meaning of the place name Aztlan?

    Janitor, also interesting. Thanks for this!

    Varun, I’d consider those concepts in political and social thought rather than philosophy as such. If they’re being wrestled with, and not simply adopted uncritically, that’s good to hear. I’ll look forward to your blog!

    Kfish, the Theosophical Society is far and away the most successful occult organization in the world, so this doesn’t surprise me.

  79. Neptunesdolphins and JMG,

    Being Seneca Indian by birth, I can confirm our stories of the migration pattern our people followed. It is of note that the Huron Nation referred to our people as the Iroke which the French transcribed into Iroquois …. it means Snake People or People of the Snake.

    Our origin stories speak of traveling south then west by boat, landing in what is now the Yucatan and Central America. Then traveling north as climate changed, across Mexico, following up the Mississippi, across the Ohio Valley, until finally settling in what is now NY. Essentially following a circular route back to near we had originally come.

    It is also of note that going WAY back in time – the very center of the super-continent Pangaea was the eastern part of what is North America, from the Appalachians eastward. Effectively the center of the world, or at least the center of the planetary landmass.

  80. @Varun

    Regarding: your reply to JMG

    First of all, thanks for mentioning the book. I didn’t know about it as I’m not very active on social media, which is where much of the Indic side discusses and debates things. I would definitely look forward to both your podcast as well as your blog, especially since very few people on the Indic side discuss concepts pertaining to ecology, and certainly no one parallels the depth of JMG’s writings on ecology, technology, peak oil, etc. Having an Indic voice discuss these topics as well would surely be something to look forward to.

    That said, yes, we do need to discuss topics like secularism, social mobility, freedom of speech, etc. and not accept them uncritically. While I have my doubts on a few of these (like secularism, for instance. I don’t think it can be reconciled with Dharmic views), I would certainly support the idea that we should give these concepts an Indic twist and then absorb them instead of importing them in their current form. French-origin Indian scholar Michel Danino has discussed these at depth for quite some time, and I would definitely say that he is more Indian than most Indians are. He is a follower of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and his discussions are along those lines.

  81. Dear JMG,

    On the question of why transatlantic navigation stopped at the end of the Bronze Age–

    My guess is that while the production of Bronze required global trade, the production of iron did not.

    Production of iron required hugely more combustible fuel–as in burning up forests of trees–which goes far to explain why the center of gravity of Old World civilization moved into Europe.

  82. New visitor. Enjoying very much what i’ve read so far. Thank you.

    “The great question is why transatlantic contacts stopped sometime around the end of the Bronze Age and didn’t start up again until the Middle Ages.”

    The work of Fomenko answers this question. “The Bronze Age” directly precedes the “Middle Ages” or may actually have been the “Middle Ages”. Much of “Ancient” history is a fabrication.

  83. MichaelR, thanks for this. This doesn’t surprise me — there’s plenty of evidence for very lengthy migrations in ancient America. Does the traditional lore explain why your people left their original home?

    KKA, that’s at least possible. It strikes me as a question worth serious research, however.

    Truth, I’ve read Fomenko and I don’t find his arguments plausible. I could use the same sort of logic to prove that France never existed before 1945, or that Peter the Great was succeeded by Stalin.

  84. Dear Scotlyn and Kfish,

    Thank you for your responses to my inquiry regarding Australians and “Oz”. Although, I must say that I simply do not see or understand your explanations, as the first syllable of the word “Australia” — “Aus” (awss), sounds little if anything like the syllable “oz” (ahz). Unless Australians pronounce it radically differently from Americans — do you REALLY actually say “Oztralia”?

    I’ve spoken to (with variously degrees of difficult, given their accents) and even spent some time with Australians in the past, but this little matter of “Oz” never came up, so I never got the chance to ever ask any of them about it directly. Now, in recent years and going forward, any form of extensive or foreign travel is essentially impossible for me due to health reasons, so the chance will probably now never arise.

  85. For a couple of years after the Covenant of the Goddess was founded on October 31, 1975, I was the person who read and answered the incoming mail. I remember receiving letters from Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans in many of Great Britain’s former colonies.

    A Gardnerian friend of mine has had correspondence over the last several years with a Gardnerian High Priest who has been practicing for decades in a major country in sub-Saharan Africa. Gardnerian covens are sometimes pretty long lived. There might be venerable Gardnerian or Alexandrian covens in various parts of India, or at least venerable retired Wiccan leaders. The old school ethos is to avoid public notice.

  86. Scotlyn: “Ahz” and “Aws” are how I hear those two syllables. How do they sound to Australians?

  87. Robert Mathiesen: I was lucky enough to have been given a link to a North-Pole-centered map in one of UNM’s annual Viking Mythology courses, taught by visiting scholars with various perspectives. One glance at that map showed me that Vinland was a very obvious next stop after Greenland, and in fact, one could island-hop across the North Atlantic almost inevitably. How many of those who argue against such contacts have ever seen such a map?

    Now, it’s quite likely that a lot of those voyagers never returned for one reason or another, but stayed in the New World, some ending up with one or another of the local tribes.

  88. @jmg – Why such contacts stopped after the end of the Bronze Age? IIRC, there was a major civilization crash resulting in the Greek Dark Ages. Did knowledge of how to get there also vanish? If Atlantis had already vanished, there may have been no reason to get there. And then, enter the Romans, who were *not* the great seafarers the Greeks were, but were land-based by reference. If a ship got them across the Med, that was good enough. And the Med was the center of the Classical world, even as the Atlantic was of the modern world, and the Pacific is today

    And assuredly, Greece could not have financed any such voyages for no reward. They did get to what they called Hyperborea – one explorer was considered a liar because he talked about a place where the sun never set.

  89. P.S. My authority for many of my comments, outside of known facts, is Herodotus, who has been proven to know what he was talking about in many ways once rejected by the authorities. “Amazons” in Scythia, for example.

  90. On Aztlan

    I did not know the meaning, JMG, but I gave it a try anyways. Please notice I am not a nahuatl speaker or a linguist, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt.

    Aztlan does not appear in Rodriguez-Villegas’ Spanish Nahuatl Online Dictionary. According to Wikipedia and other online sources, its ethimology is unknown, though one popular interpretation is “place of herons” (Aztatl – Heron (ardea herodias), Tlan – Place). There are different suffixes that mean “place” though. Tlan particle derives itself from Tlantli (Tooth), an refers to a place where people have settled and grown deep roots. Compare with Ko, which I was not able to trace but that always refer to places by a body of water (i.e. Acapulco means “the place of the big canes”; compare it to Acatlán, “the place by the (sugar)cane plantation”).

    Wild speculation -> It has come to my mind that “Tlantis” sounds a lot like a pormanteau of “Tlan” and “Polis”, much as if an American who had heard of our capital but not speak a word of Spanish may have called it “Ciudad de México City”. Grind the thing for for a few thousand years and you may end up with “Sidum Shysiddi”, for the eternal frustration of future historians.

    As for the Heron part of the clue, this is when things turn, shall we say, curvy… The article from claims that Nahuatl language “include three levels of meaning for its words or expressions: literal, syncretic and connotative”. And further concludes that the correct translation is not “place of herons”, but “Place of Whiteness”. This is an habit of speech and thought that I personally can assess to be true even in modern Mexican Spanish. By example, the way to make sense of the popular (and grammatically nonsensical) expression “ahí nos vidrios” (there we glasses) is to realize that noun “vidrios” is phonetically similar to verb “vemos”; and from them we translate as “there we see [each other]”, or with a bit of freedom “see you around”.

    With that in mind, it is a frustrating experience to try to pinpoint the color white with one of the cardinal points, which as my original intention when I began to write this. Different sources contradict each other: it is either related to West, element Earth, and the Feminine principle; or it is related to East, the Sun and war god Huitzilopochtil. Or with Mixcoatl, God of the Hunt. Jacob Olesen even notices, speaking of the Codex Borgia, that “it is puzzling to find different colors being used for the same direction. Colors given to directions have even varied from page to page”.

    Wild speculation #2 -> If you want to go with the literal interpretation that Aztatl means Heron… I will have to point out that herons in general are not white, or not fully white at least. The species Rodriguez-Villegas highlights in his dictionary is Ardea herodias, the Great blue heron, which further conflicts with the rest of the symbolism here depicted. However, there’s apparently an all-white subspecies, Ardea herodias occidentalis, which can be found in south Florida and the Florida Keys.


  91. OT: JMG – I tried to access your Capricorn Ingress chart, and was shown a locked page and to confirm my $5 pay level. Did you mean to lock out the $10 subscribers as well? OR, how does one access this post?

  92. Jason, a well attested connection between Gerald Gardner and Roy Bowers/Robert Cochrane/The Clan of Tubal Cain is Doreen Valiente. Valiente was the High Priestess of a coven led by Gardner during a period in the 1950s when the Gardnerian tradition was in the process of formation. I’m sorry for vagueness about the dates, but I don’t have access to a precise timeline.

    Valiente wrote poetry and prose about witchcraft, some of which made its way into the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Valiente was less fond of ceremonial magic than Gardner was, and her contributions to the tradition were influenced by the Celtic Revival (e.g. Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gaedelica and British folklore.

    If you have ever read a piece of prose called The Charge of the Goddess, which begins, “Listen to the words of the Great Mother . . .”, that is Doreen Valiente’s work, although it contains quotations from and references to earlier writers.

    My impression is that Cochrane was one of the people who early on was inspired by Gardner’s revived witchcraft to try their own hand at the same project. Valiente left Gardner’s coven and joined Cochrane’s group. After he died, she kept ties with some of his students or colleagues. Valiente wrote many books on subjects related to witchcraft, and nearly all but the earliest ones show some influence from working with Cochrane.

    IMO the Clan of Tubal Cain and its offshoots are definitely witchcraft. It’s a kind of witchcraft that attracts me, but I’ve never lived close enough to one of those covens to get a chance to practice it. Whether you call it Wiccan depends on how broadly you define that term. From what I’ve been able to gather by reading a few books and articles, one of the major differences from classic Wicca is that outdoor rituals are the norm.

  93. Sorry, for the double post. There’s an entry for Aztlan in the University of Oregon Dictionary.

    I think that most interesting to you will be this example from Codex Chimalpahin: “auh ca hueyatl yn quiyahualotoc huey altepetl aztlan = and it was a large body of water that lay surrounding the settlement of Aztlan”. If that were the case, Aztlan would have been an island, not a place within the continent of North-America, as most people would believe these days.

    Of course there are other codexes that locate Aztlan in “New Mexico” (as of 1608, which should be somewhere around today’s Zacatecas). This may be where the Chicano movement got the idea that our homeland is the American Southwest.

  94. Some questions: if, as several of you are proposing, there were sustained, repeated contacts between the Americas and the Old World in the bronze age:

    1. Why didn’t the Americas aquire any domesticated animals from the Old World? These would not have been too difficult to carry across the ocean, and would have been hugely advantageous to any New World civilization.

    2. On a related note, why didn’t something like the Colombian Exchange (the trade of crops between the Old and New Worlds after Colombus) happen?

    3. Why were the natives not exposed to Old World animal-derived diseases (as they evidently weren’t, considering the impact such diseases had)?

    The effects of contact between the Old and New Worlds were extreme-around 90% of the New World population was wiped out by disease, and the New World’s natural resources were consequently taken over by Europe and funnelled back across the ocean-beginning the process that world convert Europe from a barren, not-to-interesting peninsula sticking off of Asia into the imperial master of the planet. Meanwhile, the Colombian exchange had tremendous effects on agriculture that reverberated all over the globe-South American chili peppers in Thailand, American maize in West Africa, Andean potatos in the the Ukraine, European wheat in Kansas, Old World horses on the Great Plains. There’s really no evidence of anything equivalent happening at any point before the last ice age. I’m not saying that there was never a transatlantic voyage before 1300, but it’s extremely unlikely that there was any of the sort of extensive trade and repeated contact that happened after that date.

  95. Patricia M, that’s certainly a factor that would have to be taken into account, as the collapse of civilization at the end of the Bronze Age was pretty frightful. Egypt squeaked through intact, though it was never again a great power, but most of the other nations of the Mediterranean littoral crashed and burned quite literally.

    CR, many thanks for this. Those all-white herons are pretty remarkable, in that my previous researches trying to locate the site of Atlantis pretty definitely narrowed it down to the Bahama Banks, which formed a huge island (nearly the size of Cuba) above water during the last ice age, and which is of course just east of southern Florida. Here’s an image; all the light-colored area was above water before 9600 BC.

    Patricia M, something went haywire when I loaded the ingress chart earlier. I’ve fixed it; you should be able to access it now.

    CR, fascinating. Okay, I’m going to have to learn more about the Codex Chimalpahin. My working theory is that the original Atlantis/Aztlan was the Bahama Banks, but that survivors from the flooding settled on the mainland and built new communities there. The settlement in today’s Zacatecas might have been one of the refugee communities.

    Tolkienguy, I’ll take that in reverse order. First, those diseases weren’t in the human population yet — it’s been known for quite some time that (for example) smallpox and measles first showed up in Roman times, and caused massive dieoffs when they did so. Second, some aspects of the pre-Columbian exchange did take place — look up the global distribution of cotton and sweet potatoes sometime — and others only took place because there was massive colonization and exploitation of the New World, which obviously didn’t happen in 1500 BC. Third, pay attention to the differences in seagoing vessels in the two periods. It’s not hard to transport livestock if you’ve got a ship of the kind they had in 1500 AD, but it’s quite another matter with the far smaller vessels that sailed the Bronze Age seas. For what it’s worth, nobody is suggesting transatlantic contact on the same scale as after 1500 AD; it was on a much smaller scale.

  96. Dear Alan, Scotlyn and Patricia: On this side of the world, the syllables “Oz” and “Aus” are pronounced very differently from what Alan and Scotlyn have written. Both are pronounced with a short flat “oh” sound, followed by a short Z or S. Like “oss” or “ozz”.

    By the International Phonetic Alphabet:
    Oz = ɒz
    Aus = ɒˈs

  97. @Tolkienguy:

    In addition to the points our host made, I would add the possibility of deliberate rejection of this or that potentially useful innovation brought to the New World across either the Atlantic.

    Somewhere in Prescott’s “Conquest of Peru” there is a note that a subject of the Incan Empire invented a form of writing and brought it to the Inca himself, expecting a reward. The Inca was not impressed, however; he had the inventor executed and the invention suppressed.

    What drove the trans-Atlantic economy after 1492 was simply the European desire to become as wealthy as possible. This is hardly a universal human desire–rather the contrary, I should say.

  98. How would the Sea People who seemed to have contributed to the collapse of the Bronze Age figure in?

    Wikipedia – Sea People

    Dates on them seem to be in the 1200BC range to start, which would have put them after the Atlantean collapse. Given the amount of damage they were have said to have caused Mediterranean civilizations and that they were said to have come from beyond the Gibraltar Strait, that would have been a huge discouragement for anyone to travel West. Modern archeology has a bias to assume they were European or Mediterranean origin, perhaps instead they were survivors from an Atlantean collapse?

  99. @Deborah Bender – outdoor rituals were certainly the norm in Albuquerque’s pagan community. A lot of which had been taught by an elder called Oz; she’s now in very poor health and totally retired, but our 1st degree initiations took place on her property, but in her semi-underground kiva for privacy’s sake. The CASHEW elders were all her direct pupils. I came in at the tail end of those days; the current leadership is second or 3rd generation at its youngest.

  100. I wondered if it was possible for the people of Europe to deduce the presence of land across the Atlantic without actually voyaging there.

    My first thought was birds. If you see land birds migrating over the Atlantic and returning some months later, you could conclude there had to be land over there somewhere. But then I looked at a map of migration routes, and it turns out birds only migrate North-South, e.g. North to South America, or Europe to Africa.. They don’t go East-West. Scratch that idea.

    Then I remembered that artifacts from Japan swept out to sea in the 2011 tsunami occasionally end up on California beaches. Perhaps a flood washed wooden statues or other clearly human-made artifacts into the Gulf Stream and they washed up on European shores. That would be proof of a foreign culture, and the workmanship could give an idea of the level of technology.

  101. CR Patiño & JMG: I regularly see great white herons in the summers here on the Providence River. They have only begun repopulating the river in the past 10 years, since we stopped dumping our sewage overflow into it. Maybe they will inspire a resurgence of civilization here in the land of the Narragansetts/Wampanoag peoples.

  102. UserFriendlyyy, fascinating. Did you know that it was a Druid who first got cremation made legal in Great Britain?

    David, hmm. Where did you get the information that the Sea Peoples came from outside the Straits of Gibraltar? Everything I’ve read suggested that they came from the Greek/Balkan peninsula and the Black Sea littoral. The timing’s also a little off. If Atlantis collapsed sometime after 9600 BC, as Plato says, and the Sea Peoples showed up around 1200 BC, there’s a little matter of 8400 years to account for!

    Patricia M, glad to hear it.

    Martin, there’s a fair amount of evidence that ships from Japan apparently followed that same route, you know!

    Peter, interesting. All the herons I’ve seen along the Seekonk River so far have been blue, so it may be a very localized population.

  103. Hey Peter,
    Rhode Island is all the way up North! Do you happen to know if this species was known there before the river got polluted? Like, say, one hundred years ago?

  104. Hi John Michael,

    I’m quite partial to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and Mr Robert E. Howard. Fine work both, and it is interesting to learn of some of their intellectual origins. Having learned more about these two authors over the years I am very impressed with their work ethic. Also Mr Howard’s work just got better as the years went on. I read the Conan Chronicles in the order they were written, and the character grew in statuture and depth as the stories stacked up – there are a lot of them. There is a lesson in there for us mere mortals.

    As to the Wiccan’s, well, perhaps they took the notion to: ‘not let the truth get in the way of a good story’, a little bit too far. 😉 Thanks too for the clear explanation as to witches as I had long wondered about taking onboard an elevating that particular symbol along with all the baggage that comes with that.



  105. CR Patiño & JMG:

    I don’t know if the great white herons were here a century ago, since I am the first of my family to live in Providence. They are usually described in birding guides as living in Florida, so I think their migration this far north is fairly recent.
    This summer, I saw a pair on the river just once, and a single one a few days later. In the summer of ’19, one spent the entire summer hanging around. In the beginning, s/he would be spooked by our boat passing, but after a few weeks, s/he grew accustomed to the boat passing by, and would carry on with her fishing.
    I did see one on the Seekonk in the summer of ’18 on the west bank, north of the Crook Point Bascule Bridge. I’m not on the Seekonk river that much, so I can’t speak more generally.

  106. I cant remember exactly where for the life of me, but I distinctly remember hearing that one of Blavatsky’s students was instrumental to developing the iconography of the 3rd Reich, and that another taught Churchill the V for victory sign to counteract the solar energies of the swastika. Or something to that effect. Also, wasn’t Blavatsky somehow involved or attributed with forging the protocols of Zion?

    Occultism and WW2 History have always been hobby interests of mine, so the Madame has been on my list of figures to research, but I keep letting other subjects jump the que.

    Best wishes.

  107. A comment I posted yesterday seems to have gone missing… Otherwise just delete this one!

    Thank you for the link to the archived Life and adventures of Santa Claus! I have taken the time to read the first part. It seems to me pure polytheism smuggled in under a Christian saint’s guise and name 🙂 I had thought there might be a connection to Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters, but up to this point at least the connection doesn’t seem to be through this route.

    The attitudes of the immortals toward humans indeed have quite a strong resemblance to those of the Valar (especially Orome and Manwe, in what I have read so far), then Felagund and the Eldar in general, then Luthien, Idril, Elrond and Arwen. Traditional fairy tales don’t seem to take the perspective of the immortal fairies!

    I hadn’t thought about the Index. Would a children’s book like this one, or the Conan stories, or The Wind in the Willows have entered the Index? I can’t tell if an expression like “servant of the flame” could have come from a work of fiction or only from full-blown Theosophical doctrine. I do think that Tolkien, as a middle-aged, churchgoing father of four, saw no contradiction between certain occult concepts and Catholicism, since his Notion Club Papers are based on the idea of reincarnation.

  108. Since Atlantis has come up, I wanted to bring up a theory I came across a while back in the comments here – the evidence presented at the time was in video-diary form so there wasn’t much discussion. But to summarise, apparently a strange earth/rock formation called the ‘eye of the Sahara’ [1] has very close similarities to Plato’s description of the city – the archaeologist exploring the area speculated it had river access to the Atlantic and was buried in a tsunami hitting at the wrong angle. Would anyone who’s familiar with Plato’s description care to comment whether this looks like it could be a similar structure?

    Regarding Tolkien, I’ve a pet theory – informed in part by our gracious host’s description of casting an invisibility spell – that in addition to the rest, the One Ring might have represented a ritual JRRT used to be unseen by the enemy during his time in the trenches. Between survivor’s guilt and his religion’s attitude towards such activities, I could see him going to some lengths to distance himself from that aspect of his past, even if others wouldn’t have cared. Based on similarities between his description of Minas Tirith and Graham Hancock’s research into gnostic architecture, I would guess Tolkien’s education on such matters was fairly extensive…

    @Darkest Yorkshire, that is an interesting data point! In cooking, the balance for a lot of fat is acidity – I wonder whether we today would describe the concept of ‘fat’ or ‘lean’ land in terms of needing the right PH for one’s soil. Has anyone looked into Roman farming technique enough to comment whether that’s a likely interpretation?

    [1] Google maps link:,-11.4456452,17260m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0xe811f1ae3e4a219:0xd35b5cae33d32f73!8m2!3d21.1269301!4d-11.4016494 – it’s quite visible via ‘sattelite view’, anyone who knows Atlantis’s measurements according to Plato could compare by right-clicking on the image and selecting ‘measure distance’.

  109. @JMG
    I find it a little difficult to believe that ocean-going vessels plied the Atlantic in ancient times. The first we know about for sure are the Vikings, and Plato was 1,500 years before them, and writing about events far in his past.

    For starters, would they have had the technology to build the vessels, or the resources and organization to build them on a big enough scale?

    Then there’s the question of motivation. Why sail the Atlantic? Voyages were generally made for profit — spices from the Indies, whales from Northern waters, looting coastal areas etc; or for military purposes — to control territory or ward off an enemy. What provided the first impulse to cross the Atlantic — mere curiosity? Or evidence that there was something there?

  110. C.R. Patino, JMG et. al. – are you sure the ‘great white herons’ you’re seeing aren’t egrets? They are very easy to mistake for each other in size and shape. And yes, they’re Florida birds, but anything can happen.

  111. Chris, I don’t blame the Wiccans for their make-believe origin story. That was pretty much de rigueur in alternative spirituality circles when Gerald Gardner launched his brand new Old Religion — you had to have a colorful myth about where your tradition came from to get anyone to listen. When I became head of AODA in 2003, the old members were horrified that I wanted to be honest about the origins of modern Druidry — they were sure nobody would join unless we pretended to be direct lineal descendants of the ancient Druids. Fortunately, times had changed.

    Peter, fascinating.

    Luke, um, no on all three counts. The iconography of the Nazi Party was mostly invented by Hitler himself — he was an artist, remember, and a student of occultism, having spent a lot of his time in Vienna reading occult literature. The “V for Victory” business was launched by Belgian politician Victor de Laveleye, who was in charge of the BBC’s broadcasts to occupied Belgium, and it was enthusiastically taken up by the Allies generally; as far as I know de Laveleye had no contact with Theosophy at all. As for the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, those were manufactured by the Russian secret police in 1902. Some modern conspiratologists have claimed that Blavatsky had a hand in it but she’d been dead for more than a decade before it was written, so unless the writing process involved séances, she probably wasn’t involved! There’s a lot of spectacular misinformation surrounding the occult dimensions of the Second World War — there was certainly a lot of occultism involved, as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke documented very well in The Occult Roots of Nazism, but there’s also a fantastic amount of nonsense on that subject.

  112. @Martin Back
    I have one word for you: Pyramids.
    Those are complex engineering structures with technical and economic prerequisites that are complex on their own. Any society that can build those has the brains and the muscle to build sea faring ships. It is just a matter of values: would they find the seas luring enough to try?

    On that account, the Columbus idea, – the way it is presented in grade and high school at least, – of going West to seek the spices that are in the East is utterly stupid. “Work is hard, so I guess I will just live in the gutter and eat garbage” is remarkably sound and wise in comparison. The reason he thought of that idea was because he had access to Greek documents that described the Earth as round, and he would have died of mutiny if not for the forgotten continent that he ran into mid travel.

    It is impossible for us to figure out what those peoples may have thought at the time because a sea of centuries and cultures stands between us. I don’t want to say that Atlantis is Aztlan, -or if any of those existed if you want to press the issue, -because we really cannot know. But there are no reasons to claim it is impossible either.

    I really don’t know. What I brought to you started as a footnote in a dictionary. If ancient mexicah claimed to come from the so called “Place of the Herons”, and the imagery says such herons should be white, that’s what I went looking for on the web. I am sure there are many other plausible explanations.

  113. Matthias, that I know of, children’s books didn’t go on the Index, though I’ll accept correction if this isn’t true! It’s the adult literature from which Tolkien would have learned the Theosophical version of Atlantis, the nature of the Secret Fire, and all the other bits of Theosophical lore that ended up in his fiction — yes, including the reincarnation at the center of The Notion Club Papers. (I wish he’d finished that novel — it would have been an amazing read.)

    Cleric, that’s the same place Steve T referred to earlier. I tend to be quite picky about Atlantises, though; if something claims to be the place Plato talked about — he’s the original source, remember — it has to correspond to his description, which includes such details as being underwater, so that its remains exist as muddy shoals in the Atlantic. (Last I checked, the Sahara isn’t and doesn’t.) The habit of pulling one detail out of context from Plato’s narrative, equating it with some site somewhere, and saying “therefore this must be Atlantis!” is the single most important barrier to solving the Atlantis riddle. As for Tolkien, that’s an interesting hypothesis, and not an implausible one.

    Martin, to begin with, the Phoenicians were up to circumnavigating Africa before Plato’s time, so they clearly had adequate ships at that point; the Sea Peoples at the end of the Bronze Age had seaworthy vessels; and the ancestors of the Aborigines colonized Australia by sea 40,000 years ago, at a time when that involved a substantial ocean crossing, so very clearly seafaring goes back a very long ways. As for why to make the voyage, well, why did the Norse and Spaniards do the same thing? Those same motivations would have applied just as well in the Bronze Age.

    Your Kittenship, yes, and so did Rudolf Hess. There was quite a clique of practicing occultists among the Nazi leadership.

  114. Yes! I forgot to mention Hess.

    History books don’t go into what spells the Nazis used—do you know anything about that? I wonder if any of them backfired immediately. That’s one explanation for the miracle of Dunkirk, probably in conjunction (ha!) with Dion Fortune and friends conjuring away on the other side.

    You’re taking January off? Is this to dig a bunker for when the [unDruidly word ] from that godawful chart hits the fan? 🤗

  115. @Martin Back:

    Within my own lifetime, Thor Heyerdahl had a small boat built out of papyrus reeds and cordage, following the pattern of Ancient Egyptian reed boats as depicted in carvings and paintings. He named it the “Ra II.”

    He then sailed that simple boat all the way across the Atlantic with a crew of six other men; only two of the seven had had any experience as sailors. His project proved beyond any doubt that such long ocean voyages have always been possible. Any and all arguments from impossibility were thereby refuted.

    As an elderly academic acquaintance of mine used to say in all seriousness, “When an ugly fact refutes an elegant theory, it is not murder, but a praiseworthy assassination.”

  116. Further speculation: god in Greek is theos, god in Nahuatl is teotl.

    I don’t know if this is linguistically relevant of not, but that fact really confused me as a child. When I learned that “theocracy” means rule of the gods/religion, I could not tell why would the Europeans borrow nahuatl words for that.

  117. @ Patricia Matthews: the egrets have a dark beak and legs, the great white herons have an orange beak and legs. These were great white herons. They are close relatives.

  118. Your Kittenship, the main center of Nazi occult activities at Wewelsburg Castle was burned and dynamited by the SS just before the end of the war, and its records were completely destroyed at that point. The Nazis were clueless when it came to magical ethics — that’s why they failed so catastrophically — but they understood the necessity for silence. Mind you, they may also have had other reasons to try to cover up in a hurry — Wewelsburg had its own private concentration camp just offsite at Niederhagen. I admit I’m glad I don’t know why.

    As for January, that’s my vacation from blogging each year. It’s been a long miserable year and I’m ready for a break!

    CR, fascinating. One word here and there doesn’t tell you much; are there other apparently Greek words in Nahuatl (or Nahuatl words in Greek)?

  119. 2020’s been horrible. When I stumbled upon the smurf-torture drawings, my first thought was, of course, “Yuck !” My second thought was “I might have known I’d see this in 2020.” It’s a good thing there’s only 5 weeks left!

  120. @Peter. Thanks for the correction. I’ll remember that when I try to pick out which of the younger birds is which.

    @JMG et al – or was this on Magic Monday? The reasons most of the Wiccans you knew couldn’t magic our way out of a paper bag is first, there are far more who practice the religion and were never trained in a coven of the serious initiatory traditions. To get into such a coven in the first place, you have to be compatible with them, as well as serious and ready to do the work. I never did – because I am opinionated; and not a square peg in a round hole, but an irregular peg jagged on every side.

    Then there are some who were so trained, but their High Priestess may have fallen prey to the “magic is simply visualization etc” modern softness, as many of the mainstream faiths have done. For a picture of how that can work out, I offer Rosemary Edghill’s Bast-the-Witch murder mysteries and her growing discontent with an HPs grown more and more New Agey and media-wise. Or another who gave my training group as much of a good dose of Golden Dawn training as we could soak up in the second half of our training, but really wasn’t into the basics of Wicca for the first half, except the surface stuff seen at the open festivals which everybody practiced.

    Strong branches, weak trunk and roots. and the group I finally did get into was led by, essentially, a mystic, who worked intuitively and was very strong in magic himself, and worked wonders as a priest with our gang of misfits (I nicknamed four of us The Martian Sisterhood) but whose rituals were essentially therapy or else light-hearted.

    So yes, self-styled Wiccans who were properly trained are as thin on the ground as any other faith’s priests with any sort of mojo in these days.

  121. P.S. have a good vacation and rest from your labors, John. Yes, it’s been our very own annus horribilus. I leave you all with a tweet from Marco Rubio, a politician with whom I usually have no points of agreement, courtesy of the Gainesville Sun: “Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

    Of course, as Biden’s contemporary, I’ll settle for “polite and orderly” as opposed to riots in the streets.

  122. Pingback: URL

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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