Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater and Neo• Theosophy
The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947
Christine Ferguson, Andrew Radford
Occulting the public sphere
4 ''Under a glamour''
Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater and Neo• Theosophy
The term "Neo-Theosophy" was originally used to denote the occult Theosophy of H.P. Blavatsky from the Christian theosophy associated with Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg. In 1894, Alfred Thomas writes that the hallmark of "Pseudo-Theosophy" or "Neo-theosophy" is the "delirious transcendental claptrap" of Blavatsky.1 From about 1912, the word came to signify the work of the second-generation Theosophists Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, whom their critics alleged had corrupted Blavatsky's teachings. In July 1912, Besant complains that the term "Neo• Theosophy" has become the rallying cry of her enemies in the Theosophical Society (TS), and associates it chiefly with her proclamation of the coming of the World Teacher.2
This suggests that "Neo-Theosophy" may have been used in this respect as early as 1911, when the Order of the Star in the East (OSE) was founded to promote the Theosophical messiah.
Although the differences between Blavatsky's Theosophy and that of Besant and Leadbeater are manifold, James Santucci has helpfully identified four features of Neo-Theosophy:
(1) The emphasis on occult powers, which Besant and Leadbeater allegedly used to research their numerous books. (2) The emphasis on the work of Besant and Leadbeater as superseding that of Blavatsky.
(3) The promotion of Jiddu Krishnamurti as the vehicle for the World Teacher, who was expected to establish a new religion. (4) The cross• pollination of Catholic doctrines into the TS through the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC). 3
In this chapter, I argue that the concept of "glamour" is central to an understanding of Neo-Theosophy. In Theosophical circles (I shall give specific examples below), the word "glamour" had a number of nuanced connotations, which derive from its original eighteenth-century usage, meaning "[m]agic, enchantment, spell; esp. in the phrase to cast the glamour over one" ( OED). It was employed by both the exponents of Neo-Theosophy and by their adversaries.
For instance, it was often alleged that Besant and Leadbeater were "under a glamour", in this case meaning that they were deluded about their occult powers, and that the books they wrote about their astral excursions to the lost continents of Atlantis and Lemuria were works of the imagination. In what follows, I unpack the four features of Neo• Theosophy outlined above and demonstrate how the concept of glamour is closely imbricated with each one.
In the TS, glamour came to have three disparate though interrelated meanings. The first one is associated with hypnotism. For example, H.S. Olcott, after beholding Master Morya in the apartment he shared with Blavatsky in New York, wondered: "What if this be but hallucination; what if H. P. B. has cast a hypnotic glamour over me?"4
Leadbeater defines glamour as the power "of making a clear, strong mental image, and then projecting that into the mind of another", and likens the victim of glamour to the "mesmerized subject" who "believes whatever the magnetizer wishes". 5
The second usage of "glamour" is the belief in "false doctrines", usually (but not always) resulting from the delusional possession of occult powers that are denied by critics. 6 For instance, after it emerged in 1906 that Leadbeater had taught two adolescent boys to masturbate, ostensibly in order to avoid the perils of sex, which was considered an obstacle to progress along the spiritual path, Besant alleged that the "Dark Powers" had cast a "glamour" (in sense one) over Leadbeater, who then falsely believed that his advice concerning masturbation was correct. 7 It seems, from a letter Leadbeater wrote to Besant in response, that she also implied that his astral congress with the Masters was a glamour (in sense two): "Your theory implies that I have never seen the Masters", which would mean that he and Besant had "lived a whole life of glamour for many years". 8 If this were true, then the considerable amount of occult research they had conducted together (for which see section 1 below) was also a glamour in this sense.
The third sense of glamour is the occult braggadocio deployed by Besant and Leadbeater to invest themselves with a quasi-divine aura and authority that, in the minds of their followers, helped to disguise their all-too-human foibles. They constantly referred to the "occult hierarchy", which consisted of ten levels or initiations (see Figure 4.1 ). After passing the fifth (Asekha) initiation, one became a Master;
Leadbeater and Besant maintained that they had taken the fourth (Arhat) initiation and represented themselves as intimates of the Masters, as well as the even more exalted personages higher up the hierarchy. When Mrs Dennis wrote to Besant in February 1906 informing her of Leadbeater's onanistic advice to her son, Besant replied that it was impossible for an arhat like Leadbeater, who communicated with the Masters on "the super-physical planes", to engage in "deliberate wrong doing". 9 In return for her support, Leadbeater was unstinting in his praise of Besant: "Remember that because of her position as an Initiate she knows far more than you do", he informed his fellow Theosophists, and affirmed that he had "stood before [Besant] in the presence of the Supreme Director of Evolution on this globe" .10
Figure 4. 1 Graph of Occult Hierarchy.
I now turn to the categories of Nee-Theosophy outlined above. The occult powers that Besant and Leadbeater claimed to possess, and which they allegedly used to conduct their research, are examined in the next section.
The emphasis on occult powers
Although Olcott was president of the TS, Blavatsky had been the cynosure, and after her death in 1891, Besant became the effective leader, assuming the prestigious role of the Outer Head of the Esoteric Section (ES).11 She began to collaborate with Leadbeater in 1895. The latter alleged that the Master Koot Hoomi had taught him to cultivate his kundalini in the mid 1880s, while he was living in Adyar (the Theosophical HQ in India), and that after six weeks of unremitting effort he was able to employ "astral sight"; thereafter he received extensive training in clairvoyance from several different Masters.12 This arduous training contrasts sharply with Besant, who learnt to use her astral sight during a five-day holiday in Box Hill, Surrey, with Leadbeater in August 1895.13 Indeed, it seems from a letter Leadbeater wrote to Francesca Arundale shortly after the holiday that Besant's clairvoyance came on rapidly, since the two engaged in a considerable amount of astral research during the trip, including "investigations into different orders of atoms and molecules ... and the manners, customs, religion and history of some Lemurian and early Atlantean races"; they also "witnessed the first birth of Mahatma Morya on this earth", after his evolution on the "Lunar Chain".14 These researches would crystallise into several projects and doctrines that would later be labelled Neo-Theosophy, since they deviated significantly from Blavatsky's teachings in The Secret Doctrine (1888) and emphasised the occult powers of Besant and Leadbeater, which their critics maintained were a glamour.
One of the most conspicuous projects of Neo-Theosophy was the investigation of previous lives.
Leadbeater had embarked on this in 1894, tracing the different incarnations of John Varley (the husband of Yeats' aunt).15 As soon as Besant had acquired her astral sight, she joined Leadbeater in these researches, and together they were able to chart the previous lives of notable Theosophists, such as Olcott and Krishnamurti, by reading the "akashic records". The latter comprise the master plan of the Logos (the head of the occult hierarchy) and contain a record of everything that has happened in the universe as well as everything that will happen in the future.16 In Isis Unveiled ( 1877), Blavatsky conflates "akasa" with "astral light", which she likens to the "MEMORY OF GOD", and indicates that this is accessible to an adept, but she does not represent herself as reading it.17 Hence for Besant and Leadbeater to claim to have read the akashic records was an ostentatious display of occult powers.
In this manner, Besant and Leadbeater were also able to amass detailed histories of the rise and fall of Atlantis and Lemuria. Indeed, they allegedly furnished William Scott-Elliot with the akashic material for his book The Story of Atlantis (1896).18 In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes about Atlantis and Lemuria, but the information she recounts chiefly derives from the Book of Dzyan.19 She comes across as self-effacing in comparison with Leadbeater and Besant, who are always centre stage in their occult genealogies (the series was known as the Lives in the TS) as a result of belonging to the prestigious group of "Servers" who assist Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi. Thus, when they were researching the previous lives of Krishnamurti (or Alcyone as he is known in the Lives), 20 they did not have to rely on the akashic records alone as they were able to "throw themselves back into those forms of long ago, and actually live over again those stirring lives''.21 Consequently, Blavatsky's accounts of Atlantis and Lemuria seem like sober historiography when set alongside the dramatic vignettes of Leadbeater and Besant.
In a particularly fanciful passage from Man: Whence, How and Whither (1913), the authors describe their pre-human incarnations on the moon,22 where Besant, Krishnamurti and Leadbeater are monkey- like creatures who serve as domestic animals to the "Moon• man" Master Marya, his wife Koot Hoomi and his child the Maitreya Buddha. This moon family are attacked by "savages", who are accompanied by animals "resembling furry lizards and crocodiles". In the melee, Leadbeater saves the infant Maitreya, while Besant throws herself between her Master Morya and a "savage" and takes the blow meant for him, dying with her head cradled in his lap. As a reward for her "intense devotion", Besant is enabled to make the karmic and evolutionary leap to become a human being.23 For loyal Theosophists, these episodes in which Besant and Leadbeater devotedly served their Masters through the ages reinforced their position of centrality and authority in the TS; for their critics, on the other hand, such as A.L. Cleather, this "extraordinary mixture of clumsy fairy-tale" and "malicious mumbo-jumbo" was evidence of the self-serving nature of their "grotesque Neo-Theosophy".24
H.N. Stokes, the editor of the O.E. Library Critic and an outspoken opponent of Neo-Theosophy, ridiculed Besant and Leadbeater's minutely detailed clairvoyant histories and maintained that their "confidence in their visions, as well as the way in which their followers eagerly swallow everything they say, has grown to be a huge comedy". 25
Another new venture inaugurated by Besant and Leadbeater during that esoteric watershed in August 1895 was occult chemistry. In an article published later that year, Besant writes that the "delicate senses of the astral body" can perceive the "higher levels of the physical plane, and bring under direct ken objects which from their minuteness or subtlety escape ordinary vision". Using astral sight, Besant ascertained that matter, in addition to the established forms of solid, liquid and gas was composed of a further four "etheric substates". By repeatedly "breaking up" an "atom of a gas", Besant was able to isolate the "ultimate physical atom" (in other words, a subatomic particle she later termed the anu), which she describes as being "astral", rather than physical, matter. 26
In The Chakras (1927), Leadbeater gives a strikingly different account of the technique of occult chemistry. Invoking the yoga tradition, he maintains that his "etheric" microscope is activated by the ascension of kundalini through the chakras to the third-eyed centre (ajna chakra). It is through the latter, Leadbeater asserts, that the power of magnification of minute physical objects is exercised. A tiny flexible tube of etheric matter is projected from the centre of it, resembling a microscopic snake with something like an eye at the end of it. This is the special organ used in that form of clairvoyance.27
In order to arouse or "vivify" the chakras, Leadbeater writes, "a determined and a long continued effort of the will" is required.28 But while this was the case for Leadbeater, Besant vivified her chakras in a matter of days. Indeed, according to Arthur Nethercot, when Besant expressed her desire to try her hand at occult chemistry, Leadbeater did not suggest employing her etheric microscope or raising her kundalini: "Try!" he exhorted her, whereupon Besant dimly perceived something that she described to Leadbeater and that he defined as carbon.29
As was the case with Besant and Leadbeater's investigation of past lives and mythical continents, their clairvoyant analysis of chemical elements was greeted with wonder by their followers and incredulity by their critics. The latter pointed out the similarities between Besant and Leadbeater's depiction of the anu and a drawing by Edwin Babbitt in The Principles of Light and Colour (1878). 30 And while Leadbeater and Besant confidently claimed that their results would be confirmed by scientists in the future, Stokes complained in 1917 that they had failed to predict the "discovery of a single new chemical element or compound" and that "[n]ot one of the recent marvellous discoveries of chemistry", such as "radium", had "been foreseen by them".31 Furthermore, an anonymous reviewer of Occult Chemistry argued that if Besant and Leadbeater had wanted to prove their clairvoyant ability all they needed to do was examine and identify a sample of a chemical element unknown to them beforehand, which could then be confirmed by a scientist. Since this basic test was omitted, the reviewer concluded that "they were afraid to apply it and that they cared more for enhancing their reputation for clairvoyant powers among their adoring followers than for the value of their statements". 32
The emphasis on the work of Besant and Leadbeater as superseding that of Blavatsky
By conducting clairvoyant investigations into fields (past lives, chemical elements) that Blavatsky had not touched, Besant and Leadbeater seemed to imply that they were more psychically gifted than Blavatsky. Though they generally spoke about Blavatsky with reverence, they often pointed out errors that she had made. For instance, they note that in The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky states that the "fourth Lemurian sub-race" was "yellow", whereas the "established colour" was actually "black". 33 In the same book, they coyly impugn Blavatsky's clairvoyance: "Whether or not the work thus done [in The Secret Doctrine] is reliable is a question which must be left for decision to future generations, possessing the [clairvoyant] power which is now used for this purpose", i.e. occult research.34
Their intervention in the Mars-Mercury controversy provides a telling illustration of their willingness to contradict Blavatsky. In Theosophy, the monad (the divine spark from the Godhead) evolves on a planetary chain of seven globes. On each globe, the monad evolves through seven root races (and between each root race there are a further seven sub-root races to negotiate) before moving on to the next globe; a round is accomplished when the monad has evolved through the seven root races (and the 49 sub-root races) on all seven globes (A to G). The monad in its current human manifestation is in the fifth (Teutonic) sub-race of the fifth (Aryan) root race of the fourth round.
In Esoteric Buddhism (1883), A.P. Sinnett held that our planetary chain was composed of three visible planets (Mars, Earth and Mercury) and four in a more ethereal state that rendered them invisible to astronomers.35 In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky calls this a "great mistake", and attempts to show that Sinnett, who derived his Theosophical doctrines from his correspondence with the Masters, had phrased his question to Koot Hoomi concerning our planetary chain incorrectly, and therefore received the wrong answer. In fact, Blavatsky reveals, our planetary chain comprises seven Earths, but only the most material (globe D, our present Earth) is visible. 36 Blavatsky emphasises the septenary nature of both the macrocosm (the universe) and the microcosm (man). The seven Earths on which the monad develops are analogous to the seven principals of man (see Figure 4.1 ), and just as only the present Earth (globe D) is visible, so only one of the principals in man, sthula sarira (the physical body) is visible, whereas Sinnett's scheme in Esoteric Buddhism upsets the old Hermetic adage: as above, so below. 37
Sinnett was aggrieved by Blavatsky's public reproof and appealed to Besant to adjudicate. Besant wrote two contradictory articles on the subject in Lucifer. in her first, which appeared in 1893 prior to her collaboration with Leadbeater, she supported Blavatsky; in the second, dated December 1895 after her clairvoyant breakthrough at Box Hill, she endorsed Sinnett, asserting that, having read Koot Hoomi's original letter, Blavatsky was wrong. 38 Sinnett later alleged that Besant had used her newfound clairvoyance and had thus definitively established that "Mars and Mercury did belong to our chain". 39 Sinnett had fallen out of favour with Blavatsky partly because he had attempted to contact the Masters without her help, at first via spirit mediums and then with the help of Leadbeater, whom Sinnett made secretary of his London Lodge.40 Likewise, while Leadbeater would later portray himself as an intimate of Blavatsky, she ostracised him from her circle in London, barred his entry into her Blavatsky Lodge and the ES, and referred to him as 'W.C.' Leadbeater (derisively reversing his initials).41
It was through Sinnett that Besant met Leadbeater in 1890; and Sinnett endorsed their clairvoyant research, for instance, writing a preface and an introductory chapter to the second edition of Occult Chemistry. In return, Besant and Leadbeater continued to promote Sinnett's cosmology in their work.42
Besant had committed a more wholesale revision of Blavatsky's "errors" in the third edition of The Secret Doctrine (1893), which she edited with G.R.S. Mead. An anonymous correspondent of the O.E. Library Critic maintains that Mead was '"glamored' by the greatness of Annie" and implies that he submitted meekly to her changes.43
Stokes reports that in the first 400 pages of the new edition there were more than 8,000 changes from Blavatsky's original published text, which corresponds to twenty changes per page. While most of the changes are "trivial", some "can only be construed as ... intentional suppressions and corruptions of the original text". He then quotes Koot Hoomi as affirming: "Every mistake or erroneous notion corrected and explained by [Blavatsky] from the works of other Theosophists was corrected by me or under my instruction".44
The implication is that Koot Hoomi "corrected and approved" the whole manuscript of The Secret Doctrine, whereas what the Master wrote was more specific, and applied to Blavatsky's corrections of Sinnett.45 Stokes is on firmer ground when he quotes Blavatsky's preface to The Secret Doctrine, in which she asserted that the book was "a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students", i.e. the Masters, in conjunction with her own occult studies, and was thus not the product, as Besant and Leadbeater alleged above, of her doubtful clairvoyance.46 In fact, Blavatsky privately claimed to use clairvoyance to research The Secret Doctrine, as can be seen from the following letter to Sinnett (May 1886): "Master finds that it is too difficult for me to be looking consciously into the astral light for my S.D. and so ... I am made to see all I have to as though in my dream".47 The crucial difference is that, unlike Besant and Leadbeater, she didn't advertise her clairvoyance in the text.
The third volume of The Secret Doctrine, compiled by Besant and published posthumously in 1897, was also alleged by her critics to be adulterated. For instance, Cleather claims to have seen some pages of the original manuscript that was "mutilated almost beyond recognition" by the "corrections" of Besant, Mead and "others";48 and Stokes writes that Besant '"edited' it to suit herself', but concedes that without access to the original manuscript it is impossible to gauge the extent of Besant's emendations.49 The original "WUrzburg manuscript" of The Secret Doctrine, which contains the history of notable occultists that was cut from volume one of the 1888 text and subsequently appeared in volume three, has now been published.50
Nicholas Weeks, who helped to prepare Blavatsky's Collected Writings, notes that the WUrzburg manuscript contains two "typically sharp criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church that did not appear in 'SD 111'", which makes him wonder "how many other 'corrections' and 'innovations' were made that HPB would not have permitted". 51
In addition to correcting or editing Blavatsky's work, Stokes asserts that Besant and Leadbeater promoted their work over and above that of Blavatsky, whose work was increasingly regarded by Adyar Theosophists as heterodox. Stokes reprints a letter from an anonymous Theosophist from Omaha who was "arraigned and formally tried for teaching black magic" after setting up a study group to read The Secret Doctrine.52 In another column, Stokes complains that in A Primer of Theosophy (1909) Leadbeater recommends thirteen books by himself, 24 by Besant and only one by Blavatsky, and refers to The Secret Doctrine as a mere "book of reference" that should be consulted only after being thoroughly indoctrinated in "Leadbeaterian psychic hum buggery and Besantine jesuitry". 53
Furthermore, in the 191 Os, Stokes recalls, both "Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine were out of print, except the editions issued by the much maligned Katherine Tingley, of Point Loma", who was the head of the Theosophical Society in America (established by W.Q. Judge after his split with the Adyar Theosophists in 1895), and they were thus regarded as apocryphal. 54
One of the most seminal changes to Blavatsky's Theosophy perpetrated by Besant and Leadbeater was their proclamation that a new World Teacher was imminent, which will be examined in the next section.
The promotion of Jiddu Krishnamurti as the vehicle for the World Teacher
The belief in the coming of a Theosophical messiah, the Lord Maitreya, proved to be one of the most popular and notable tenets of Neo-Theosophy. In conventional Buddhism, the Maitreya is the next Buddha, whose coming is predicted when the dharma of the previous Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is forgotten. The idea of an imminent incarnation of the Lord Maitreya contradicts Blavatsky's teaching, as she maintained that the Maitreya Buddha would not manifest in the Kali Yuga, which at the end of the nineteenth century had another 427,000 years to run.55 Moreover, Blavatsky also affirmed that any sort of spiritual advancement after 31 December 1899 would be impossible: "No Master of Wisdom from the East", she writes, "will himself appear or send any one to Europe or America after that period, and the sluggards will have to renounce every chance of advancement in their present incarnation-until the year 1975". 56 In his autobiography, Yeats speculates that Blavatsky's embargo on spiritual progress arose from a fear of "heresy";57 in other words, Blavatsky was attempting to forestall other Theosophists after her death from perverting her work by claiming inspiration from the Masters, which was precisely what Leadbeater did.
According to Besant and Leadbeater, the Theosophical Maitreya had previously incarnated in the body of the mortal Jesus at the time of his baptism, and was henceforth known as "the Christ"; prior to that, he had incarnated as the Hindu god Krishna; and he was now due to manifest in the vehicle of an Indian boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom Leadbeater had discovered playing on the beach at Adyar in the spring of 1909. 58 The identification and promotion of Krishnamurti as the messiah relied on the "Leadbeaterian psychic humbuggery" that Stokes et al. derided. For example, Leadbeater perceived that Krishnamurti was destined for spiritual greatness based on the size and quality of his aura.59 Next, he investigated Krishnamurti's past lives and discovered that he was one of the elite "Servers" of Marya and Koot Hoomi.60 As a result, Leadbeater placed Krishnamurti on "probation" with Koot Hoomi, this being a trial period prior to acceptance as a pupil or chela. Each night after Krishnamurti fell asleep, Leadbeater would accompany him in his astral body to the home of Koot Hoomi, where Krishnamurti would receive his lessons, and each morning, the barely literate, Telugu-speaking Krishnamurti, would make notes of the Master's teaching in English.
Leadbeater polished these notes and astrally precipitated them to Koot Hoomi and the Maitreya for approval prior to publishing them in a booklet, At the Feet of the Master (1911 ). 61
As noted in the introduction, the term Nee-Theosophy began to be used around the time of the formation of the OSE, which, Besant maintained, was the "embryo of a new religion" that would be formulated by the Maitreya for the new sixth sub-race of the fifth root race that had begun to appear in America and Australia.62 Bhagavan Das, a teacher at the Central Hindu College established by Besant in 1898, conflates the "J.K. cult" and "Alcyone worship" with "neo-theosophy", which began in "the winter of 1909-1 O". 63 The college founded its own Order of the Rising Star to facilitate the coming of the World Teacher and an endless stream of lectures and meetings were conducted in the college devoted to the "doctrines of neo- theosophy". 64
In "The Growth of the T.S.", Besant notes that Nee-Theosophy is also associated with the investigation of past lives, but protests that this has been going on for many years. 65 However, while Leadbeater had been researching past lives since the 1890s, very little of it had been published, and the Lives only began to appear in the Theosophist from April 1910 under the title "Rents in the Veil of Time", and prominently featured Alcyone (Krishnamurti). It seems significant that these two seminal features of Nee-Theosophy emerged after the election of Besant as president of the TS in 1907 and the reinstatement of Leadbeater in December 1908, after a well• orchestrated campaign by Besant to rehabilitate Leadbeater's reputation after his resignation in 1906. Tillett observes that Leadbeater's oeuvre falls into two distinct periods, before his resignation and after his reinstatement, with the former works being more conventional, while the latter are more fantastic and self• aggrandising, stressing Leadbeater's role as Grand Panjandrum of the occult hierarchy. 66
At first, the OSE flourished; a special journal was published to keep track of the coming; and Krishnamurti inspired much adoration and reverence when he began to appear on the Theosophical circuit. Nonetheless, there were a few notable naysayers, such as Rudolph Steiner, who resigned from the TS in 1913, taking most of the German Lodges with him, and formed the Anthroposophical Society.67 During the World Teacher period, membership in the TS more than doubled, reaching a peak of 45,000 in 1928. 68 This date is telling since the following year Krishnamurti dissolved the Order of the Star (formerly, the OSE).69 In his valedictory speech, he asserts that it is up to the individual to seek out "enlightenment" for himself, it cannot be conferred by a "religion" or "sect". 70 Since 1922, Krishnamurti had been experiencing episodes of mystical union, and these had enabled him to formulate his own philosophy that was incompatible with the occult hierarchy of Theosophy, with its Masters and initiations. In his speech, Krishnamurti pointedly dismisses the occult "path" as "childish" and proclaims, on the contrary, that "truth is a pathless land". 71
Since the Maitreya had previously incarnated as "the Christ", Neo• Theosophists often spoke of the coming of the Christ, which introduced into the TS an adventist element that was anathema to Stokes and his Back-to-Blavatsky allies. This syncretism of Christianity with Theosophy will be explored in the final section.
The cross-pollination of Catholic doctrines into the TS through the LCC
Both Besant and Leadbeater had ties to the Christian Church. The latter had been an Anglican curate prior to becoming a Theosophist, while the former, despite her close association with the National Secular Society in the 1870s and 1880s, had had a passion for Christian ritual as a teenager and had almost converted to Catholicism. After Blavatsky's death both she and Leadbeater began to publish works that offered occult readings of Christian doctrines. The best known is their contention that the mortal Jesus was born in Palestine in 105 BCE, and, after living in an "Essene monastery" with an extensive occult library, he made his way to Egypt, where he was initiated into the "sublime Lodge from which every great religion has its Founder".72 At the age of 29, Jesus surrendered his body for the use of "the Christ". Leadbeater stresses that both Jesus and "the Christ" were human beings, despite their occult pre-eminence, hence neither can be regarded as an incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. 73 But he bridges the gap with Christianity by asserting that the "Logos in His Second Aspect" was present in the "monadic essence" of the Christ. 74
There is no mention, at this stage, of the identity of the Maitreya Buddha with the Christ, but here the seeds were sown for the occult hierarchy crowned by a tripartite Logos of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with the Maitreya Buddha occupying the office of the Bodhisattva. While Besant had previously mentioned vague hierarchies of adepts, the capitalised "Occult Hierarchy" makes its first appearance in The Changing World (1909), and though she does not use the word "Maitreya" she speaks of the future Buddha as the "Supreme Teacher", who incarnated as the Christ and is due to incarnate in another vehicle. 75 This was the year Leadbeater discovered Krishnamurti and began researching his past lives, and his clairvoyant investigations showed that Besant, Krishnamurti and himself had worked closely with Maitreya and the Masters to develop the fifth root race.
The introduction of an adventist tenet in the TS paved the way for an even closer marriage of Christianity with Theosophy in the form of the LCC, which, though ostensibly a separate organisation, drew most of its members from the TS and relied on its resources. In 1913, the Theosophist J. I. Wedgwood had been received into the Old Catholic Church in Britain (OCC), which had originally been allied with the Union of Utrecht, and claimed the apostolic succession.76
According to the head of the OCC, Archbishop A.H. Mathew,Wedgwood had "glossed over" the differences between Catholicism and Theosophy, but in 1915, Mathew looked into the matter and concluded that Theosophy was heretical, and asked the Theosophists in the OCC to "withdraw", which he claims they did. 77
Nonetheless, the following year, Wedgwood found an OCC bishop (F. Willoughby) willing to consecrate him and became presiding bishop of a renegade ace that became known in 1918 as the LCC.78 Wedgwood then secured Leadbeater's involvement, offering the LCC as a vehicle for the World Teacher, and made Leadbeater a bishop. Leadbeater was delighted to receive the apostolic succession, which, in his eyes, lent a Christian imprimatur to the Theosophical coming.79
However, Mathew points out that Willoughby was expelled from the OCC for "gross immorality" prior to his consecration of Wedgwood, thereby invalidating the apostolic succession. 80
The critics of Nee-Theosophy regarded the LCC with derision. For instance, Margaret Thomas notes that Blavatsky held that the apostolic succession was a "gross and palpable fraud" and quotes a letter from Koot Hoomi in which he avers that the "chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that pursue humanity" is "religion", and singles out the Catholic Church as being especially culpable.81 W.L. Hare maintained that Leadbeater had appropriated the doctrine of Jesus being overshadowed by the Christ from the "so-called Gnostic" Cerinthus, not noticing that Blavatsky had written about this in Isis Unveiled. 82 Stokes repeatedly pointed out the doctrinal contradictions between reincarnation and Christianity, karma and the remission of sin; and protested at the LCC propaganda printed in Theosophical journals. 83 He was also contemptuous of the occult aspects of the LCC mass: for Leadbeater and Wedgwood, who had revised the ritual of the mass in consultation with Maitreya and the Masters, the emphasis was on building up a selfless "eucharistic edifice" on the astral plane that would facilitate a "downpouring" of "spiritual force" that would spread through the "whole district". 84 "You can be in your home", writes Stokes, "or in your club, sipping highballs", either way you can avail yourself of the "Diving blessing" as surely as if you had partaken of the Eucharist in church. 85
Several priests and bishops in the LCC were exposed as paedophiles. Stokes reprinted a letter from an Australian Theosophist T.H. Martyn to Besant, in which he made a series of damning accusations concerning Wedgwood and the LCC. On a trip to London in 1919, Martyn had been informed that the police were "taking action" against four LCC priests for paedophilia, including Wedgwood, who was in Australia. Besant told Martyn that Wedgwood was not an initiate and asked him to convey a message from her demanding Wedgwood's resignation. Back in Australia, though, Leadbeater affirmed that he and Besant had been present at Wedgwood's initiation with the Masters, a contradiction which, if exposed, would lead to the "collapse of Leadbeater as an Arhat; of the divine authority of the L.C. Church; and of all reliance on the genuineness of initiations"; consequently, Besant rescinded her request.86
The following year, another LCC priest Reginald Farrer admitted that the accusations of paedophilia in Martyn's letter were true. His confession was duly reprinted in the O.E. Library Critic, and led to Wedgwood's resignation from the TS and LCC. In the same year, Leadbeater was the subject of a police investigation which concluded that "there are good grounds for believing that ... Leadbeater is a sex pervert", but there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. 87 Stokes notes that Besant refused to investigate the allegations made against Leadbeater, Wedgwood and the LCC, but instead "palliated, excused and even defended them, throwing over them a veil of esoteric glamor". 88
Wedgwood was allowed to return to both the TS and the LCC in 1924. The following year, he and George Arundale, a fellow Theosophist and bishop in the LCC, effectively advanced themselves along the occult path, rapidly rising to the fifth initiation (the level of a Master or adept), generously adding that Leadbeater, Besant and Krishnamurti had also been included in the astral ceremony.89
Krishnamurti was dismissive of these miraculous advances along the path, and was informed by Arundale (at the supposed behest of the Mahachohan) that unless he acknowledged them his brother Nitya would die. 90 Nitya had been suffering with tuberculosis for several years but Krishnamurti had been assured by both Besant and Leadbeater that the Masters would keep him alive. When just days after Arundale's threat Nitya died, Krishnamurti's always fragile faith in the Masters was shattered, and this eventually led him to abrogate his role as World Teacher in 1929. With the cancellation of the coming and the death of Leadbeater in 1934, the LCC's ties with the TS waned, and when Arundale succeeded Besant as president he abandoned his LCC activities. 91
As noted in the introduction, even Blavatsky was accused of introducing an occult Nee-Theosophy. In 1888, a correspondent of Lucifer writes: 'How is it that we hear nothing now of the signs and wonders with which Nee-theosophy was ushered in? Is the "age of miracles" past in the Society?'92 When asked about these 'miracles' by Moncure Conway in 1884, Blavatsky admitted: 'it is all glamour; people think they see what they do not see'. 93 This suggests that Blavatsky used the power of glamour (in sense one) to convince her followers of the reality of the Masters and the occult impedimenta of Theosophy, whereas for Besant and Leadbeater, having been successfully glamoured (in senses one and three) by Blavatsky, glamour was largely an unconscious process by which they convinced themselves of their occult powers, and this facilitated a belief in the doctrines acquired through their clairvoyance and astral communication with the Masters.
At first, these new doctrines were confined to small TS journals, but after Besant had been elected as president of the TS and Leadbeater had been accepted back into the fold, their clairvoyant investigations of chemical elements and the previous lives of fellow Theosophists were given much more prominence and were published in book form. The most conspicuous of their innovations was the promotion of Krishnamurti as the vehicle for the coming Christ, which at once introduced a new adventist element (and led naturally to the regrettable association of the TS with the LCC) and made of the TS a millennialist movement, dependent on the intervention of a messiah rather than, as in Blavatsky's scheme, the working out of karma over aeons of time culminating in reunion with the Godhead. The Krishnamurti cult led the critics of Besant and Leadbeater to label their work as Neo• Theosophy and to maintain that their heterodox doctrines were the result of a glamour they had cast over themselves.
1 Alfred Thomas, Magic and Mystery: A Popular History (London: W. Stewart & Co., 1894 ), 4 7, 50. I am indebted to John Patrick Deveney for alerting me to this earlier usage.
2 See Annie Besant, "The Growth of the T.S.," Theosophist 33, no. 10 (July 1912): 506-507.
3 See James A. Santucci, "The Aquarian Foundation," Communal Societies 9 (1989): 43-44.
4 Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, vol. 1 (London: G.P. Putnam, 1895), 379.
5 Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Hidden Side of Things (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007), 97-98.
6 See Gregory Tillett, "Charles Webster Leadbeater: A Biographical Study" (PhD diss., University of Sydney, 1986), 898, nt 39.
7 Esoteric Section circular issued by Besant on July 27, 1906, an excerpt of which can be found online at "C.W.L. World," accessed June 25, 2016, www.cwlworld.info/html/bio.html.
8 Letter from Leadbeater to Besant (August 29, 1906), reprinted in The Editor of Justice, Madras, The Evolution of Mrs. Besant (Madras: Justice Printing Works, 1918), 163.
9 Besant letter to Mrs Dennis (February 26, 1906), reprinted in ibid., 120.
10 Quoted in A.L. Cleather, H.P. Blavatsky: A Great Betrayal (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1922), 53-54.
11 See Arthur H. Nethercot, The First Five Lives of Annie Besant (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1961 ), 372.
12 See Charles W. Leadbeater, How Theosophy Came to Me: Autobiographical Reminiscences (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 131-33.
13 See Gregory Tillett, Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 63.
14 Leadbeater's letter (August 25, 1895) was published as "Dr Besant's First Use of Clairvoyance" in the Theosophist 54 (October 1932): 11.
15 See Arthur H. Nethercot, The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963), 48.
16 See C.W. Leadbeater, Clairvoyance (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1903), 100, 109.
17 Helena Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, vol. 1 (New York: J.W. Bouton, 1877), 178.
18 See Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, Man: Whence, How and Whither (Wheaton: The Theosophical Press, 194 7), 126 nt1.
19 The Book of Dzyan, written in the fabulous language of Senzar, was kept by the Masters and only illustrious Theosophists, such as Blavatsky, were permitted to read it.
20 Leadbeater and Besant gave pseudonyms to the Masters and Theosophists, which enabled them to remain recognisable throughout their incarnations and lent to the Lives the intrigue of a roman-a-clef.
21 Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, The Lives of Alcyone, vol. 1 (Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1924 ), 7.
22 The Neo-Theosophical cosmology of Leadbeater and Besant will be discussed in detail in the next section.
23 Besant and Leadbeater, Man, 32-33.
24 Cleather, H.P. Blavatsky, 18.
25 O.E. Library Critic 7, 6 (October 31, 1917).
26 See Annie Besant, "Occult Chemistry," Lucifer 17 (November 1895): 211-12.
27 C.W. Leadbeater, The Chakras (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 2013), 69.
28 Ibid., 68.
29 See Nethercot, Last Four Lives, 50. The phrase "Try!" is repeatedly used by the Masters in The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (1923). It is also associated with Paschal Beverly Randolph.
30 See Tillett, Elder Brother, 68.
31 Stokes, O.E. Library Critic 7, 6 (October 31, 1917).
32 O.E. Library Critic 9, 21 (May 26, 1920).
33 Besant and Leadbeater, Man, 96.
34 Ibid., 1.
35 See A.P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (London: TrObner, 1883), 113-14.
36 See Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, 186-87.
37 Besant and Leadbeater revised Blavatsky's seven principles of man, referring to the second principle (prana) as the 'etheric double', which was a term occasionally used by Blavatsky to refer to the third principle (linga sarira). In The Ancient Wisdom, Besant notes that the first three principles of her new scheme 'function on the physical plane' (105), thereby justifying Sinnett's cosmology.
38 See Lucifer, 13 (November 1893): 203 and 17 (December 1895): 271 respectively. See also A.T. Barker's appendix "Mars and Mercury" in The Mahatma Letters (London: Rider and Company, 1948), 489-93.
39 A.P. Sinnett, The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe (London: Theosophical Publishing House Ltd., 1922), 94.
40 Sinnett, Early Days, 93, 97, 110-11.
41 See Tillett, Elder Brother, 54.
42 See for instance Besant and Leadbeater, Man, 5-6.
43 O.E. Library Critic 10, 12 (January 19, 1921 ).
44 O.E. Library Critic 11, 5 (October 12, 1921 ).
45 Ibid. See also Daniel H. Caldwell, "The Writing of The Secret Doctrine," in The Secret Doctrine Wilrzburg Manuscript (Colorado: Eastern School Press, 2014), by H.P. Blavatsky, 333.
46 0. E. Library Critic 11, 1 (August 17, 1921 ).
47 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1925), 194.
48 Cleather, H.P. Blavatsky, 75.
49 O.E. Library Critic 10, 7 (November 10, 1920).
50 See David Reigle, introduction to Wurzburg Manuscript, vii.
51 Quoted in Daniel H. Caldwell, "The Myth of the 'Missing' Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine", in Wilrzburg Manuscript, 375.
52 O.E. Library Critic 10, 16 (March 16, 1921 ).
53 O.E. Library Critic 11, 5 (October 12, 1921 ).
54 Quoted in James A. Santucci, "H.N. Stokes and the OE Library Critic," Theosophical History 1, no. 6 (April 1986): 132.
55 See Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, vol.1 (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1921), 412, 510.
56 Helena Blavatsky, "Esoteric Instructions: The Esoteric Section," Blavatsky Collected Writings Online, vol. 12, 492, accessed June 29, 2016, www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v12/y1890_052.htm. Blavatsky is not speaking here of the Maitreya, she is referring to the Masters. On the other hand, Blavatsky does mention a "new torch-bearer of Truth" in The Key to Theosophy (1889) who will appear in the last quarter of the twentieth century, but Besant maintains that this is a "smaller teacher" instead of a World Teacher. See her "Growth of the T.S. ," 507.