WILLIAM WESTCOTT: spiritualism and esotericism outside freemasonry
This is one of two files I’ve put together on Westcott’s busy life in the late 19th century occult world. I spent ages trying to decide how to divide up the information I had and eventually I went for one file on activity based on freemasonry; and one file on activity outside freemasonry. In terms of time, though, the two files run in parallel: in the spring of 1889, for example, Westcott went to SRIA’s main meeting of the year in April; and the GD’s main meeting at Whitsun; meetings of QC2076 craft lodge; and meetings of his TS lodge.
This is the ‘outside freemasonry’ file.
SHORT FORMS in case I haven’t made them plain in the text:
GD Order (later sometimes referred to as the ‘Hermetic’ order) of the Golden Dawn
HS Hermetic Society
QC2076 London-based craft lodge Quatuor Coronati 2076
SRIA Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia
TS Theosophical Society
UGLE United Grand Lodge of England
In the late 19th century some aspects of occultism - spiritualism, theosophy and western esotericism – were not particularly ‘occult’, that is ‘hidden from view’. They took place at least in part in the public domain. Spiritualist seances took place in public as well as in private. There were talks and lecture-tours on spiritualism and other forms of occultism before huge audiences. And there were magazines, national and local, which published articles and letters on a variety of esoteric subjects, accounts of events, interviews with mediums, and ‘what’s on’ columns. The most widely distributed magazines were Light, whose sub-title was “a Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research” and which had a close relationship with the British National Association of Spiritualists (BNAS) and then the London Spiritualist Alliance (LSA); and Lucifer, the official publication of the British section of the Theosophical Society (TS).
People who were interested in one aspect of occultism tended to be curious about the others. Accounts in contemporary magazines make it clear that you would meet the same set of acquaintances at the BNAS and the LSA; probably the short-lived Hermetic Society (HS); the TS; and the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In due course, some members of the societies I’ve just mentioned were initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn (GD) as well.
One place you would not meet most of those people was at the meeting of a freemasons’ lodge; I’ve only come across a few of Westcott’s freemason acquaintances at meetings of the organisations I’ve just listed. Why there is so little cross-over between freemasonry and those occult societies is something that has puzzled me. One reason might be the importance of women in them. The success of women as spiritualist mediums (amateur and professional, genuine and fake) has been written about a great deal already so there’s no need for me to say any more here. However, I would add that the HS and the TS were both founded by groups in which one woman was the prominent personality, and the one the audience wanted to hear. Women were also active members of groups like the BNAS and LSA, speaking in public and serving on their governing committees.
It’s likely, too, that the freemasons didn’t like the public side of it all; a discomfort Westcott shared, on the whole. The ritualistic side of what goes on at a freemasons’ lodge; and lists of who was at its meetings; are private to freemasonry, not to be published in magazines sold to the public at large.
SPIRITUALISM PART 1
As far as I can tell from the sources I’ve looked at, in the 1880s and 1890s Westcott never went to any public session with a medium or any public meetings of a spiritualist group. Accounts of such meetings, and the names of notable members of the audience, were staple fare in Light. I went though its issues between 1880 and 1900, on the lookout for GD members. I only saw Westcott’s name once, at a meeting of the HS.
R A Gilbert has found a reference to Westcott’s wife Eliza as a good medium, so the Westcott family were trying spiritualism at home. Though private visits to a medium for a personal consultation are almost impossible to research, there’s no other evidence that the Westcotts took that form of spiritualism any further than séances round the dining-room table.
That’s not to say that Westcott was amongst the many who were sceptical of spiritualism’s claims: on the contrary. He may have doubted the ability of spiritualist mediums to communicate with the dead (see the section on SPR below); but as a man interested in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, in magic, and in hypnotism, he believed in the use of trance to communicate with – well, ‘spirits’ is one word for it; or ‘beings on a higher plane’. He probably tried it out himself: the only reference I’ve found to an article by Westcott in a spiritualist magazine was one from 1887 in which he talked of Rosicrucianism and the use of trance.
You can call the use of trance to communicate with beings on other planes ‘clairvoyance’. It was one of the skills used by the GD though not all members had the necessary talents. In the mid-1890s and along with other members of the GD, Westcott was a subscriber to W T Stead’s spiritualist magazine Borderland. Stead was a recent recruit to spiritualism, but he was very enthusiastic and through Borderland seems to have been trying to set up a nationwide network of subscribers with similar interests – he called them ‘members’, as if he was organising a club. In the second volume of Borderland Stead listed the magazine’s members by the subjects they were interested in; with either their address, or a number for letters to be forwarded to them by Stead’s staff; so that members could arrange to meet other members who lived near them. Westcott gave clairvoyance as his interest as a member; but he didn’t give his home address – he didn’t go that far. The address he gave was 26 Thavies Inn Holborn Circus, which was at the time, the GD’s headquarters.
Like many 19th-century magazines, Borderland ceased publication after only a few years. It’s possible some later GD members might have been recruited that way, though.
SPR – SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH
Spiritualism was riddled with mediums or their promoters making extraordinary claims later exposed as fraud, and perhaps this nagged away at Westcott’s belief in the use of trance. In 1895 he became an associate member of the SPR, which had been set up by men of science to investigate spiritualist mediums: to assess their claims and – where they found it – to expose the means by which audiences could be defrauded. Westcott was never an active member of the society, but presumably read its Proceedings, with their accounts of work with those mediums who would consent to be investigated; and members’ descriptions of encounters with ghosts and other manifestations.
Spiritualism was the odd one out in occultism. One of its great attractions was that anyone could at least give it a try. No particular knowledge or study was required to get started. Certain qualities came to be seen as more likely to make someone successful as a medium, but they weren’t those of intellectual enquiry. They were an ability to be receptive, to be a passive channel through which messages from the beyond could pass into this world. In the stereotypical thinking of the times, they were seen as particularly feminine.
If you wanted to master any of the other occultisms, you would need to be willing to put a lot of time and effort into it: to attend talks or lessons given by those who claimed expertise; and to read books and manuscripts, contemporary and historic.
Occultism offered its students a variety of views on how the cosmos worked and what if any powers mankind had to influence it. Westcott was a student of it for most of his adult life and ranged very broadly in pursuit of it, taking in everything from Irish myth to the I Ching. He collected books and manuscripts and amassed an occult library of over 250 volumes. He also read and transcribed some of the occult manuscripts and books in the British Museum.
His reading had begun in the 1870s with the symbolism of freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and the works of Swedenborg. He studied them in the time he could spare from his work as a GP until 1879, when family circumstances conspired to allow him to spend the next two years immersed in Rosicrucianism, the Kabbalah, the hermeticism of classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, magic and alchemy; and to write his book on the symbolism of numbers. These subjects were the basis of his reputation amongst contemporary occultists.
Before I start on the various societies Westcott was a member of or whose meetings he attended, I want to say something about occultists in general. Those who wrote in Light, at least, had embarked on a search for beliefs with which to replace the old certainties. The old certainty that was the greatest loss to them, was Christianity; belief in queen and empire lasted much longer. Anna Bonus Kingsford’s searches were typical. Brought up in the Church of England, but clairvoyant from childhood, she converted to Roman Catholicism, perhaps attracted by its mystic tradition. She then began to look for ways to reconcile Christianity with the hermeticism of the Classical world. In 1883 her book The Perfect Way was published, an esoteric interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. She was a poet, writer and journal editor. She became a vegetarian and trained as a doctor in order to make herself a better debater against those who supported vivisection. There were other routes away from the old certainties: Annie Besant, moving like Kingsford away from the Church of England, passed through atheism and social and political radicalism; to end as a theosophist and prominent member of a freemasonry founded during her lifetime, which welcomed women.
Though the occultists I’ve come across had political and social views that ranged widely, they did have a greater willingness to challenge accepted thinking and not to take on trust the pronouncements of those in authority. There was respect for outstanding occult knowledge; but also a willingness to debate with their supposed superiors and not be led by them; which tipped over all too easily into a tendency to argue amongst themselves. This might have been another reason why freemasons in general held themselves aloof from other occult groups.
Below is a section on three occult groups that Westcott was a member of; taken in the order in which he joined and in one case founded them.
THE HERMETIC SOCIETY
The HS owed its very existence to an ongoing dispute within the Theosophical Society over whether it should cover both eastern and western esotericism and philosophy. Factions had formed around two women at opposite ends of the argument: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Anna Bonus Kingsford. While writing Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky had thought the TS should cover both east and west. When she moved to India and started to say that it should study only the east, Dr Kingsford led the revolt on behalf of the philosophy of the west.
During 1882 Dr Kingsford began giving talks on the ideas contained in her book The Perfect Way to a group of friends. In 1883 she joined the London Lodge – the TS’s oldest and most independent-minded group – and her presence there inflamed the east/west debate. The Hermetic Society was was launched in May 1884 to give supporters of the western side of the debate somewhere they could meet in peace. Dr Kingsford was its main focus and main attraction as a speaker. However, her collaborator Edward Maitland, and a small number of other members also gave talks, as Kingsford had contracted TB and was increasingly too ill to speak even when scheduled to do so.
HS was a private club and didn’t have to publish its accounts or members’ lists; no list of the members reached the public domain. The only members who are known are those whose names were printed in Light - the speakers, a couple of the society’s officers, and a few audience-members who took part in the questions and comments session after the main speech. So I don’t know when Westcott joined HS; or even if he did – his name is only mentioned in connection with one talk, in May 1886 and he was not the speaker, he was in the audience. For all I know, that may have been the only talk he went to – in 1883 he had gone back to work, as a coroner, and his time was no longer his own.
Tentative plans were made for HS to resume its talks in 1887 but by that time Dr Kingsford was too ill to play any part in them, so HS never met after July 1886. Dr Kingsford died in February 1888. Her most recent work had been a translation of the Kore Kosmou text allegedly by Hermes Trismegistus; a dialogue between the Egyptian gods Isis and Horus about the origin of the gods of Greece. The religions and magic of ancient Egypt were an important feature of GD ritual. It’s also probably no coincidence that the GD began initiating its first recruits only a few months after her death.
When the HS ceased to meet, its members were left with not much choice but to move on to the GD (if invited) or to try the TS again; and – it’s definitely no coincidence – Westcott first appears as a member of TS in 1889.
ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN
I’m not going to say the usual things about it! They’ve been better said by others.
Some points not usually made:
A little like freemasonry, but not so much like the other occultisms Westcott was involved in, the GD was about doing, making use of what you had learned. It was founded as an offshoot of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA) but always ranged more widely over western esotericism for its learning and the basis for its rituals, and expected initiates to go further than just learning texts. GD members, like SRIA members, were expected to study occultism of various kinds; but then they were meant to use the knowledge they had gained in ways that each member could interpret as they thought appropriate: for example, as helping them to come closer to the divine; or as enabling them to make contact with forces (often called ‘spirits’) in the cosmos beyond the visible, to control them and use them to influence events in the world outside the Order. The aim of it all was put rather neatly by GD member (for a short time) Aleister Crowley in his Magick in Theory and Practice: “Magick is the Science and Art of Causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” He did use a caveat which I’ve put in the Sources section.
Like spiritualism, theosophy and the HS, but not like freemasonry and its offshoots, the GD allowed women to be be involved and – when suitably qualified and experienced – to teach others and hold high office. In her biography of Samuel Mathers Ithell Colquhoun suggested that Mathers had been the one to want women as members; a result of the respect he had for Anna Bonus Kingsford. I should think Mathers also wanted to make sure Mina Bergson would be eligible: she and her friend Theresa Jane O’Connell were the first women to be initiated, in March 1888, and Mathers and Bergson were married in 1890. I would question whether Westcott was equally keen. I think he found the presence of women in the Order challenging. The world he operated in, in his working and public life – coroner, freemasonry, local government, professional organisations – was a very male one and that’s what he was used to. It’s indicative that none of the women in his family have been named in connection with any occult group whose members are known – obviously they were given no encouragement to follow any curiosity about them that they might have had.
Westcott was in charge of the GD’s most important temple, Isis-Urania in London, from the Order’s foundation in 1888 to March 1897. This involved a wide range of activities covering both everyday administration (he was secretary and treasurer, for example) and the extra requirements of an occult order. Westcott was a methodical and meticulous record-keeper and GD historians have got a lot to thank him for. As the GD was an offshoot of SRIA in his eyes, he used SRIA’s administrative system. He had been familiar with that for years and had probably devised it. Consequently, meetings and rituals were organised and letters about them sent out in good time; and members’ addresses, mottos (by which they were always addressed) and records of their subscriptions were filed properly. On the occult side, the the suitability of potential members had to be investigated, including a careful analysis of their birth horoscope; rituals were developed (Mathers did much if not most of that); courses in occult subjects were devised, and teaching materials prepared, with Westcott doing much of the teaching himself especially in the earliest years when few other members had enough expertise; he lent students manuscripts and books from his own library, for them to copy. When sufficient numbers of students were qualified (1892), he helped Mathers set up an inner order to undertake practical magic – the GD’s 2nd Order – with its own separate rituals.
As an experienced administrator of members’ organisations, Westcott had dealt with some of their problems, the perennial one being what to do about members who had stopped paying their annual subscription. Had they left or changed address without saying so? Or had they just forgotten? Westcott used a ‘three years and you’re out’ plan; though the records show him being generous to members who contacted him to say they couldn’t afford to pay the full yearly subscription. Some problems he had not come across before the GD, however – often involving the women members. What should he do, for example, about Florence Maitinsky, who wanted to join the GD but whose husband had forbidden her to do so? Either at a meeting or person-to-person, he discussed the matter with some GD members. I wonder who they were, because like Westcott, they felt they couldn’t come between a husband’s authority and his wife’s independence. Mrs Maitinsky was initiated, however, so someone must have talked her husband round. The Maitinskys ran the grocer’s shop in Bedford Park, west London, in the mid-1890s. Several GD members lived nearby and were the Maitinskys’ customers – that must be how Florence Maitinsky found out about the GD in the first place.
Other problems of gender and magic were not so easily solved; and were not solved at all by Westcott. Several separate problems began and went on during Westcott’s tenure at Isis-Urania, though the records that have survived don’t indicate whether he knew about them. Two involved Edward Berridge; in one case, the sufferers went over Westcott’s head, and approached Mathers to take action; in the other case, a written complaint was made a few days after Westcott had stepped down, which may or may not be a coincidence. The first complaint, the one which was sent to Mathers, was of repeated incidents of sexual harrassment; Mathers was told about them early in 1896. The one made just after Westcott stepped down was about Berridge’s use of black magic against some GD members. Berridge didn’t name them, but a short poem he wrote and published in a pamphlet made it clear that one was Annie Horniman – the two had been major players for some time in a dispute within the GD about whether it should use the teachings of the American occultist and mystic, Thomas Lake Harris; a dispute which apparently Westcott had played no part in.
Whether members didn’t feel they could raise these issues with Westcott; or whether they raised them only to find him unwilling to take them on; it doesn’t reflect well on Westcott as the senior official at Isis-Urania. R A Gilbert has said that Westcott disliked confrontation and avoided it. In the male, hierarchical world he mostly operated in, perhaps there was not so much of it; though Gilbert’s own research has shown that there was plenty of feuding in the SRIA around 1917, leading Westcott, in the end, to expel one member. He could take action when things got desperate.
One issue where Westcott was approached to intervene shows both him and Mathers in an unflattering light. Though it did involve a woman GD member, it was not about gender, it was about money. Mathers’ position as number 1 on the GD Members’ Roll and the letter I’ll mention just below, both indicate that Westcott understood Mathers to be senior to him in the GD. The death of Dr Woodman in December 1891 reinforced Mathers’ position in the GD; while Westcott was elected the most senior official in Woodman’s other bailiwick, the SRIA. Christopher McIntosh, historian of Rosicrucianism, has described Mathers as having a genius for creating new, meaningful rituals out of disparate magical material; so in that respect he was the right man for the top job. In other respects, he most definitely was not.
The relationship between magus and those who learned from him had always been that of master/servant, or guru/acolyte. Surely, though, the servants or acolytes should be able to respect the magus for his or her abilities, occult and otherwise; and Mathers lacked any leadership qualities. For one thing, from 1892 he was usually absent from the temples in the UK, living in Paris and returning only occasionally. From Paris he would send long, ranting letters giving his instructions; full of self-pity for the way he was treated by the order’s members, and demanding unquestioning obedience by them to all his dictats, magical or otherwise. These were interspersed with (sometimes accompanied by) demands for more money – he and his wife Mina were living at the GD members’ expense. The most generous financial support in the early 1890s was coming from Annie Horniman; but in June 1896 she decided that the GD wasn’t getting value for money from it – Mathers had just informed her that he was too busy with some political projects to spend time on the Order’s affairs. Annie wrote to tell him that she would not be funding him and Mina any more; and six months later, she was out, expelled from the GD by Mathers for insubordination. Mathers had accused other GD members too, of not doing his bidding, but most of the accusations of 1896 were aimed at Annie; and she was the only one expelled. As Mathers hadn’t bothered to tell Westcott what he’d been going on, Westcott found out about it from Percy William Bullock. He then received a letter from Annie explaining her side of it and, I presume, wanting him to intervene (her letter is lost though the reply survives). Though Westcott was definitely GD’s elder statesman, he wouldn’t help Annie; in fact, he had already submitted without argument to Mathers’ most recent demand for obedience. He wrote to say how sorry he was, and to wish Annie well, but told her that he had no power to prevent Mathers doing as he liked.
Perhaps Annie Horniman’s decision to stop paying the Mathers money to live on, and her subsequent expulsion, need not have been a pivotal moment in the history of the GD in the 1890s. However, Mathers’ actions and Westcott’s refusal to intervene made it one. Instead of accepting Mathers’ decision, some GD members signed a petition sent round by Frederick Leigh Gardner asking Mathers to reconsider. Westcott didn’t sign it and Mathers made it the basis for yet more querulous demands for obedience from those who did sign it. The signatories did knuckle under, but their resentment lingered. Mathers’ behaviour and his continued absence from the GD’s daily routine, speeded up the process – already under way – by which a group of members of Isis-Urania temple were coming together as a close-knit network of friends and relations. Annie was not entirely excluded from this – though she was outside the GD now, many members continued to do occult work with her on a one-to-one basis, and she maintained all the frienships she had made except one, the first, with Mina Bergson Mathers.
Westcott’s craven attitude in 1896 didn’t spare him: within four months of Annie’s expulsion, he too was partly out. Though direct evidence is lacking, most writers have assumed that it was Mathers who sent the anonymous letter that led to Westcott’s resigning his posts at Isis-Urania temple in March 1897. Though he did remain a GD member, Westcott faded into the background; maybe he even felt some relief at letting other people worry about the problems that arose. His retreat left the way open for the group of Isis-Urania temple members to gain occult experience and confidence over the next few years, branching out into sub-groups like Florence Farr’s Sphere Group; and W B Yeats’s series of séances on Celtic myths and gods, which involved GD members and other friends who were not in the GD. In 1900 the Isis-Urania group ousted Mathers from the GD in their turn, setting up a committee to run their temple; hints of democracy in an occult setting. One of the committee’s first actions was to reinstate Annie Horniman. Having Annie back led to a load of trouble but the injustice of her expulsion had been righted.
No one in the GD was accusing Westcott of any improper behaviour towards its women members, but he seems to have backed off from women in esotericism almost completely during. 1897. He wouldn’t meet Florence Farr face-to-face to hand over his admin papers as she settled in as his successor in the work, preferring to communicate with her through letters to Frederick Leigh Gardner and items sent through the post. In May 1897 he did begin some occult studies with a small group of GD members including Florence Kennedy and Reena Fulham Hughes. He also made some kind of occult arrangement with Annie Horniman. But then, in September 1897 he announced – to Frederick Leigh Gardner, rather than any of the women involved, presumably they were informed later – that he was going to exclude women from his occult groups. He had been – he said – recommended to give women occultists a rest for a while by the GD’s secret chiefs.
How convenient these secret chiefs were! - these mysterious entities that nobody else could hear - like those who ordered Samuel Mathers to go and live in Paris, the centre of the cultural and occult world at that time.
Westcott’s rest from occult work with women turned out to be permanent.; as I’m sure he always intended it to be. As he would no longer be doing any teaching, he handed over his own library for use by members of both GD and SRIA – a very generous gesture of farewell. He then invested less and less in the GD, especially after the events of early 1900, when Mathers told Florence Farr about the GD’s founding documents being forged. Instead, he attempted to revive some of the societies on freemasonry’s fringes that he had tried to be a member of during the 1870s.
If Westcott continued to be in touch with GD members who weren’t active freemasons, evidence is lacking before the 1920s, probably because he met them in person rather than exchanging letters. In the 1920s, however, living in retirement in South Africa, and not very happy there, he did exchange letters with Frederick Leigh Gardner and mentioned contacts with some other members. He met up with Annie Horniman in 1921 during a trip back to England from Durban. In 1923 he had a letter from Mina Mathers and wrote back to her. In 1923 a letter from Henry Pullen Burry found its way to him; Pullen Burry was now living in Oregon and teaching his own form of occultism. Gardner was the longest-lasting friendship, based not only on their shared occult interests but also on a common love of books: Gardner bought books on Westcott’s behalf and sent them to South Africa, where Westcott missed his library very much and people he could talk to about esotericism even more. Westcott and Gardner were friends from the 1890s to his death, and the friendship extended to Westcott’s wife Eliza, and to Gardner’s sister Alice who kept house for him.
UNCERTAIN DATE – probably at the same time as GD
I’m not quite sure where to put this information, but I’ve decided to assume that Westcott’s membership is somehow connected to the GD. When doing research at the Yarker Library, R A Gilbert found a reference to Westcott being a member of L’Ordre Martiniste in 1895. Obviously, it was a French order, founded in Paris by Dr Gérard Encausse in 1884. Encausse was initiated into the GD’s Ahathoor Temple in Paris in 1895, with the motto Papus which he used in other contexts. Perhaps Westcott’s membership of L’Ordre Martiniste was a reciprocal arrangement.
As meetings of the order took place in Paris, he can’t have been an active member.
AFTER THE GD
August Order of Light
In 1902, GD members Bogdan Edwards, Thomas Henry Pattinson and Edward Mackay founded the August Order of Light (AOL). All three were members of the Horus Temple in Bradford. They were also theosophists, so that their new Order’s first temple was called the Garuda Temple. Though Westcott was not an active member of AOL he did have a long-standing connection of some kind with it and gave at least one talk at one of its meetings in 1906; on The Serpent Myth. He was still in touch with the AOL in 1923, as a subscriber to a small book commemorating Dr Edwards, who had been the AOL’s Arch-President.
The Order of the Golden Dawn was a secret society and membership was by invitation only.
The TS, however, wanted to be widely known. It organised talks about theosophy to non-theosophist audiences all over the UK and in Europe, hiring big halls and making sure there was a lot of advanced publicity. It actively sought new members, though until the mid-1890s, candidates did have to be sponsored by two people who were members already. In the years 1887 to 1893 membership of the TS expanded enormously with at least one lodge being founded in most towns and cities. Blavatsky’s presence living in London from 1887, and the publication of The Secret Doctrine in 1888 set the seal on the TS’s success.
That being so, and bearing in mind the east/west debate within the TS, Westcott thought it wise to tell Blavatsky about the existence of the GD, and to come to an understanding with her about it so that the two organisations could co-exist. A “Compact of Mutual Toleration” – a kind-of non-aggression pact – was agreed. Westcott was able to join the TS without comprising his membership of GD, and he did so, probably during 1889. It was the only organisation Westcott was definitely a member of in which power was heavily vested in one woman: Blavatsky to 1891; and then Annie Besant.
Though the GD has been perceived as having a large number of members who were freemasons, far more people joined the GD from the TS. In the early 1890s, particularly in Bradford and Edinburgh, virtually everybody who was a member of one was also in the other. I don’t think Westcott had much to do with that process, though he may have been the GD member who recruited a few senior members of its TS lodges in London. He became a member of Blavatsky Lodge, which met at the TS’s headquarters and had in it most of Blavatsky’s oldest friends. Someone – most probably Westcott – persuaded some of them to give the GD a try.
HELENA PETROVNA BLAVATSKY
In the dispute about eastern versus western esotericism in the TS, Blavatsky was for a few years hampered by having to conduct her end of it from India. However, after she settled in London she was able to ensure the domination of the TS by eastern philosophy; a task made easier by Dr Kingsford’s death. Her presence in London concentrated power within the TS worldwide in England: in 1890, changes were made to its constitution to allow her to take charge personally of both the TS British Section, and its European counterpart; with Annie Besant doing a great deal of the daily work, as her second-in-command. A house at 19 Avenue Road Swiss Cottage was redeveloped as the TS’s main meeting place and as a home for Blavatsky, courtesy of Constance Wachtmeister; they moved in, in June 1890.
At the time Westcott joined the TS, Blavatsky and Annie Besant were joint editors of its magazine Lucifer. Lucifer was available to non-members, the TS having a separate members’ only magazine, The Vahan. Between August 1889 and February 1890, Westcott’s book Numbers: their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues was serialised in Lucifer, bringing his name to the attention of its wide readership. Over the next few years, several short articles by Westcott were also published.
In 1889 and presumably as part of the pact, Blavatsky had allowed Westcott to give talks at Blavatsky Lodge. Some of these must have been advertised outside the TS because they reached the ears of Westcott’s employers at the London County Council, who ordered him to desist; he did stop lecturing for a while until reasonably sure the LCC had other things to think about; then he started up again, while taking greater care that his talks were not given so much publicity.
In August 1890, Westcott joined an inner circle at the TS, called the Eastern School of Philosophy. He had to agree to abide by rules through which Blavatsky controlled what was discussed, and who knew about it: it was only allowed to meet at the new headquarters building, under Blavatsky’s “immediate supervision”; and the meetings were to take place in the “strictest secrecy”. Westcott must have been happy with – or resigned to - those conditions. He was allowed in as a Probationer – some indication, I think, of his uncertain status within the TS as a member who had not known Blavatsky very long, and who preferred and promoted western esotericism rather than eastern.
Blavatsky died of flu in May 1891. The shock of her death was very great and the consequences for theosophy worldwide didn’t begin to emerge immediately. Much went on as it had while Blavatsky had been alive, at least for the next two years. Westcott continued to give talks at Blavatsky Lodge, and at a new lodge, Adelphi Lodge, which met at the TS’s publishing office at 7 Duke Street Adelphi.
There was nervousness, possibly unacknowledged, amongst the TS’s most active members, in the new and unwelcome post-Blavatsky world. In the autumn of 1892 Isabel Cooper Oakley was giving a talk in Bradford – probably to the TS’s Bradford Lodge – and she said something that offended those members of the TS lodge who were in the GD as well; that is, almost all of them. She probably didn’t mean to cause any harm but members of the GD’s Horus temple in Bradford already had a reputation in the GD as a touchy and confrontational lot and they made their complaints felt. Worried that the non-aggression pact he had negotiated with Blavatsky was being dispensed with by her successors, Westcott requested a meeting with Annie Besant. He came away reassured: Annie told him that she was “well satisfied” with the current relationship between the two organisations, and promised to have words with Mrs Cooper Oakley. Westcott would probably have left the matter there, but the GD member with the motto Adeptus Exemplus (this is probably a 2nd Order motto as I haven’t been able to identify whose it was) urged him to talk about the pact at the next meeting of all GD’s members, so that they would be reminded of its existence, and not do anything to endanger it with ill-considered comments from their side.
In other respects, the post-Blavatsky TS was an easier place for Westcott to be: he was allowed to give talks on some aspects of western esotericism - Rosicrucianism, and alchemy, for example, and late in 1893 a small group of TS members were given permission to set up the Ananda Lodge of the TS’s Eastern School, and to hold its meetings not at 19 Avenue Road but at 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Westcott must have led the group that persuaded those at TS headquarters to allow it. He was the lodge’s first president, with fellow TS and GD member Percy William Bullock was its secretary. The lodge only had eight members to start with – one more, Frederick Leigh Gardner, joined after a few months - but a list of rules was drawn up for them that give the impression they were hoping for many more. The rules sound like Westcott’s ideas; including what seems to me to be a bizarre one that – even with so few people likely to be at the meetings - they all had to communicate through the chairman, not by talking to each other. Rule 10 enshrined the same ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule that prevailed at the GD.
If the Ananda Lodge was Westcott’s attempt, finally, to get western esotericism discussed within the TS, it failed, for reasons beyond his control. Attendance at the meetings dropped after mid-1894 and it was wound up in November 1895. Perhaps there was just not enough interest in western occultism amongst the TS members; maybe Westcott made the lodge too exclusive – there were never any women in it, for example, and perhaps that was his intention. However, in 1894-1895 it was overtaken by events: the TS worldwide finally began to grapple with the question of what to do now that Blavatsky was dead; but it did it badly, with catastrophic consequences.
There was a dispute, that turned vitriolic and public. On the one side was William Quan Judge, who had helped to found the TS in New York in 1879, and had run its American Section most of the time since. On the other, were most of the prominent theosophists in the TS’s British and European sections both now based in London. It was not that straightforward, of course. Judge was alleging that Annie Besant and Colonel Olcott, running those two London-based groups, were beginning to take the TS in a direction that Blavatsky would not have sanctioned; many people in the UK and Europe agreed with him.
Westcott sided with the London-based theosophists; naturally, I suppose. There were two major meetings in London at which Judge and some of his supporters were present to debate the claims he was making. After the first, in July 1894, Westcott was one of the signatories to the declaration Occultism and Truth, which denounced Judge’s “false view of occultism” and accused him of departing from the Path of Truth - rather as he was accusing them. The problem Judge posed didn’t go away, however, and it was raised again at the convention of the TS’s European Section, held in London in July 1895. This was an especially rowdy occasion, with a large and well-organised group of Judge’s supporters, led by ex-GD member Sidney Coryn, trying – and failing – to argue that the meeting being held to discuss Judge was out of order (because dominated by his opponents). In normal business at the convention Westcott was re-elected to the TS European Section’s executive committee; he can be assumed to have supported the convention’s organisers in their decision not to allow any further consideration of Judge’s arguments.
The American TS lodges left the TS worldwide and set up their own organisation. The TS’s British and European sections attempted to carry on as before, with Annie Besant endorsed by Colonel Olcott as Blavatsky’s successor. However, during the dispute, hundreds of members of the TS in Britain and Europe had stopped paying their subscriptions and left the organisation. Entire lodges shut down for lack of support, and never reopened after the Judge dispute was supposedly settled. All those in the UK who had supported Judge’s arguments left. Judge died in 1896 but within a short time the charismatic Katharine Tingley had emerged as the leader of theosophy in the United States, presenting the TS’s leadership in London with the challenge of new energy and her clarion call of ‘universal brotherhood’. Many of Judge’s ex-supporters helped organise and publicise a lecture tour of the UK and Europe that she made in 1896; and some went to live in the USA and Canada.
I imagine Westcott was horrified that the question of TS’s direction after Blavatsky should turn into such a nasty name-calling, and be so disastrous for the organisation in Britain and Europe. However, it was natural to him to support the powers-that-be in any dispute; after all, in some occult organisations he was the powers-that-be. In addition, he was not like most TS members, who had seen theosophy’s eastern philosophy-based path to spiritual growth and enlightenment as the answer to their search for new meaning in their lives. His interest in that path was tepid at best. He continued as a TS member until 1901; then he stopped paying his annual subscription, for reasons that aren’t clear but don’t seem to have anything to do with the TS as such.
He may just not have had time to spare for the TS any more – around 1900 he was becoming more involved in organisations connected with his work. Between 1900 and the end of World War 1, there was very little that was new, in Westcott’s occult life. He seemed increasingly to be looking back rather than forward. In 1919, he made another attempt to revive some of the organisations he’d known in the 1870s and 1880s on the fringes of freemasonry; and he got involved in a very public way with post-war spiritualism and the power of the press. He hadn’t suddenly developed mediumistic powers after all those years; he had been called in as an expert witness to assess the woman who called herself the Masked Medium.
SPIRITUALISM PART 2 – MAGUS AND MAGICIAN
It happened in the spring of 1919 and was all the result of the recently-founded Sunday Express’s search for new readers, which it was hoping to find by fastening on the mood of the moment. One of the moods of the moment was the renewed public interest in spiritualism. It had been in the doldrums for a couple of decades but found a new audience amongst those who were struggling to mourn family members who had died or gone missing in the war. The Sunday Express of 9 March 1919 announced “World Goes Crazy over Spiritualism” and offered £500 (serious money at the time) to a medium who could give a convincing practical demonstration. The following week it its page 2 announced “Masked Woman Declares She Can Raise Ghosts” accompanied by a picture of the woman in question with the lower part of her face shrouded in a veil. It continued to tempt readers on 23 March 1919 by reporting “Astonishing Phenomenon Materialised at a London Flat” and said that a séance would be held in the presence of a committee convened by the Sunday Express to test the Masked Medium; with some members of the public allowed to be present. The Sunday Express described the committee as a group of scientists; but not all the members were practising scientists – and this was where Westcott came in.
Though none of them were a result of the war, Westcott and his family had had their share of tragic deaths in recent years. However, I haven’t found any evidence of them becoming active in spiritualism. I’m not sure why the Sunday Express chose Westcott for their committee. Perhaps he put himself forward. I would suppose that a delegation from the SPR would have been more appropriate – but on the other hand that was probably the last thing the Sunday Express wanted: people who knew what fraudulent activity to look for. There were scientists on the Sunday Express’s committee – I think Westcott was intended to be seen as one of those - but there were just as many members who were pre-disposed to favour spiritualism and its manifestations, including two new recruits to it, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Lady Glenconner. Pamela Glenconner, née Wyndham, had not been a believer until after her son Edward Wyndham Tennant was killed at the battle of the Somme. So she was typical of those who were coming to spiritualism for the first time. She had written a book, The Earthen Vessel, about communications she received from her son after his death. Others on the committee were David Gow and Ralph Shirley, editors of Light and Occult Review respectively.
The Sunday Express’s semi-public test of the Masked Medium was fairly typical of 19th century tests. Members of the audience would put small items into a bag they had been given; and the medium would say what was in the bags, while being tied to a chair and unable to touch them. The test took place at the Victoria Hall of the Criterion Restaurant in the West End. Westcott put into the bag he was offered an item that was certainly unique, impossible to guess; he had been given it by the SRIA. I am surprised he chose it: I would suppose such an occult item was not to be banded about in public let alone described minutely in the newspapers as “a small medallion...bearing triangles and his initials...and the initials O.S.N. of a motto of an occult society”. According to the accounts in the newspapers, the Masked Medium identified it, and other items, correctly. However, the committee weren’t quite so impressed with the Masked Medium’s attempts to conjure up a ghost: they all agreed that they had seen something appear; but they also all agreed that they would need more convincing, before the Sunday Express could hand over the £500.
It was all a publicity stunt, of course. And the Masked Medium’s accurate identification of the items in the bags was fraudulently done: once collected from the audience they were put into a box which was placed on the Masked Medium’s lap. But in a quick sleight of hand, the bags had been taken out of the box and opened up backstage, with someone behind the curtains whispering to the medium what was in them. I daresay the Sunday Express got what it wanted – a big surge in readers - but for the other people involved, it all ended in court.
The impresario who was promoting the Masked Medium was like the Sunday Express - hoping to gain a bigger audience. He was Percy Thomas Tibbles. After working with the great Nevil Maskelyne, he’d been a successful stage magician on his own account for 20 years, using the stage-name Selbit, a reversal of his real surname. A member of the Society of Professional Magicians, he is thought to have been the first magician to do the ‘sawing the lady in half’ trick; and I’m delighted to say that he is a very distant cousin of my partner Roger Wright, whose grandmother was a Tibbles (it’s a very rare surname). Tibbles later successfully sued the theatrical impresarios Grossmith and Laurillard for backing out of a contract to give the Masked Medium a season at one of their theatres; they had got cold feet when the Sunday Express’s committee wasn’t whole-hearted in its belief.
The Masked Medium was Molly Winter, an actress who was sure she had psychic powers and had “dabbled” in spiritualism over the years. Selbit was paying her £10 a week. It was Molly’s suggestion that she add to the general theatricality and air of mystery of her performance by being “heavily veiled” in the role – and she was dead right, the mask cornered all the headlines.
Westcott’s involvement with the Masked Medium ended with the demonstration at the Criterion Restaurant. It was a curious last hurrah to his life in London’s occult world.
On the importance of women in spiritualism:
The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism by Alex Owen. London: Virago 1989.
If you can get to jstor there is an article published a few years earlier by Carol Lois Hayward: The Authority and Empowerment of Women Among Spiritualist Groups. Published Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion volume 22 number 2; June 1983: pp157-66.
Westcott’s article on Rosicrucianism and Trance. Published in The Medium 30 September 1887.
Finding copies of the magazine has been a challenge: I haven’t succeeded so far (March 2022). However, Westcott gave his article as a talk at a meeting of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia’s
Metropolitan College on 12 January 1888. It was then published again, in SRIA Metropolitan College Transactions 1887-88: 9, 13 for the talk; 15-16 for the text.
HE READS BORDERLAND (1893-97)
Borderland: A Quarterly Review and Index volume 2 number 7 January 1895: pp88-92. Editor W T Stead. Publishing office 125 Fleet Street.
SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research volume XI 1895 list of associate members p624. I had been checking membpership since 1882-ish, though not every year, and he hadn’t appeared as a member bef this volume. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research volume XV 1900-01 p508 Westcott is now a full member.
To see if he was still a member after World War 1 I had a look through the Journal of SPR 1919-20. Unfortunately there was no list of current members in it.
Annie Besant’s phase as an atheist was during the late 1870s. During that time she lectured on atheism and published a book: My Path to Atheism. Published London: Freethought Publishing Co of 63 Fleet Street. 1877.
The years and what Westcott studied:
Ars Quatuor Coronati volume VI 1893 p205: R F Gould in his speech profiling Westcott; given after the installation of Westcott as WM of QC2076 in November 1893. It’s likely that Gould got his information from Westcott himself.
The writing of Numbers…: Preface to first published edition of Numbers 1890 says that most of it was written seven years before its publication; and does seem to imply that Westcott was doing no paid work at the time.
The Lancet 1925 volume 2 of that year issue of Wed 15 August 1925 p355: obituary of William Wynn Westcott which mentions him as studying “Egyptian and Hebrew antiquities”; and known as “an authority” on books on magic and alchemy. It’s likely that the source for the obituary was Westcott’s entries in Who’s Who; so that the information comes from Westcott himself and is about how he wanted to be seen by his contemporaries.
No accounts or lists of HS’s members are known to have survived. Edward Maitland is understood to have thrown away a great many of Dr Kingsford’s papers, after completing his memorial of her.
You can follow the history of the HS through Light: a Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volumes 2 (1882) to 7 (1887). There are verbatim accounts of some of the talks. Meetings, the speaker and the subject they would talk on were published in advance. However, the talks were not public; admittance was by visiting card, checked at the door. In an indication of the kind of person who was a member, HS meetings took place only during London’s social season, April to July; and usually started in the late afternoon, excluding most people who had to work.
Mathers on the Kabbalah: Light volume 6 issue of 1 May 1886 p207.
The only time that Westcott was mentioned in an account of an HS meeting was in Light volume 6 issue of 29 May 1886 p253. The speaker at the meeting he attended was Major Arthur Lillie; his subject, The Indian Rama. Westcott and Samuel Mathers were both mentioned as taking part in discussion afterwards, making “some noteworthy remarks”.
Westcott never gave a talk at the HS. Mathers gave two, both in 1886: The Kabbalah, on 3 June 1886; and Physical Alchemy on 8 July 1886. See Light volume 6 1886.
Books by Anna Bonus Kingsford both with Edward Maitland as co-author.
The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ. London: Field and Tuer 1882.
The Virgin of the World, as commentator on and translator of a text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. London: George Redway 1885. The text is an explanation of the origins of the Greek gods, couched as a dialogue between the Egyptian goddess Isis and her son Horus – perfect GD material.
Astrology Theologized by Valentin Weigel; originally published in 1649. Reprinted with a “Prefatory essay on the true method of interpreting Holy Scripture” by Anna Bonus Kingsford. London: George Redway 1886.
If Westcott bought any of Dr Kingsford’s books, they didn’t make their way into his hermetic library.
Biographies of Kingsford:
Clothed With the Sun edited by Edward Maitland and probably leaving out as much as it puts in. New York: F F Lovell and Co 1889. Birmingham: Ruskin Press 1906.
The Story of the New Gospel of Interpretation a joint memoir of Kingsford and Maitland. Edited by Samuel Hopgood Hart. 3rd edition Birmingham: Ruskin Press 1905.
Red Cactus: The Life of Anna Kingsford by Alan Pert. Watsons Bay NSW: Books and Writers Series 2006/07.
‘Pure Feeders, Serious Seekers and Earnest Workers’: Anna Bonus Kingsford (1846-88) and her Circle. An article rather than a book. James Gregory 2007.
And my own web pages on Kingsford’s close friend, future GD member Isabel de Steiger.
ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN
Some general recommendations:
Some not-so-obvious works on various aspects of the GD: a bit different from the lines of descent through Crowley and Regardie.
A couple of PhD’s from Bristol University are relevant for the academically minded: the website is Explore Bristol Research website: //research-information.bristol.ac.uk. However, only the Hallett one is there; the Butler one has been published though I note the British Library doesn’t have a copy of the book, only of the original PhD.
Alison Louise Butler 2004: The Intellectual Origins of Victorian Ritual Magic. Publishers are Palgrave Macmillan 2011.
Jennifer Rachel Hallett 2006: Paganism in England 1885-1914 especially Chapter 4 in which several GD members are mentioned; and Chapter 5 which is on the GD’s magic. Her supervisor was Prof Ronald Hutton. You can download it.
For possible Celtic input to GD rituals, follow Yeats, who was trying to resurrect the ancient myths of Ireland in the late 1890s. Some GD members worked with him on this, as clairvoyants. See:
Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume II 1896-1900. Editors Warwick Gould, John Kelly and Deirdre Toomey. Oxford University Press.
My file on GD member Mary Briggs Swan.
And Yeats and Women – based on interviews with the GD’s Dorothea Butler Hunter. Originally published as part of Yeats’s Annual number 9 1992. 2nd edition freestanding published 1997. GB by Macmillan Press; US by St Martin’s Press Inc. Editor Deirdre Toomey.
Yeats’s Golden Dawn by George Mills Harper. London: Macmillan 1974 and subsequent editions. Some important contemporary documents are reproduced in it.
For more focus on the GD’s own documents, see publications by Darcy Kuntz of the GD Research Trust, see
GD Studies Number 1: Complete GD Cipher Manuscript published August 1996. To buy a copy will cost you: I saw one on Amazon for £250-odd!
GD Studies Number 2: The GD Sourcebook. Holmes Publishing Group 1995.
GD Studies Number 12 as joint author with Ellic Howe: Fringe Masonry in England 1870-85.
Sent from the 2nd Order: The Collected Letters of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn specifically letters by Mathers and Westcott. Kuntz as editor and annotator. Austin: GD Trust 2005.
Relevant works by Christopher McIntosh, for example these two:
- Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival revised edition published Albany New York state: SUNY Press 2011.
- The Rosicrucians: History, Myth and Rituals of an Esoteric Order which has a chapter on the Rosicrucian elements within GD rituals. I used the 3rd edition published Newburyport Mass: Red Wheel/Weiser 1998 but there has been at least one edition since then.
Crowley on what magic is, in his view and experience: www.sacred-texts.com has put online his Magick in Theory and Practice, which was published in a subscribers only edition in 1929. The online version has no page numbers but the quote is in the initial section, following (I) Definition. Just below it is the caveat, in (II) Postulate: ...”it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature…” by which he means that if it is not in the nature of that object, magic will not cause change to occur. Just noting here that the caveat is about objects, not people.
Sources for my two-pennyworth in the GD section above:
The first meeting of Mathers and Westcott:
Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn, by Ithell Colquhoun. Published London: Neville Spearman 1975: p72. On pp71-72 Colquhoun says that Mathers didn’t go to live in London until after his mother died, in January 1885. Once there, he lived in lodgings near King’s Cross where his rent was paid by Westcott and Dr William Robert Woodman, Supreme Magus of SRIA (see my other ‘Westcott in the occult’ file for that) while he worked on his translation of part of Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata.
Mathers wanting the GD to have women members:
That Mathers knew Anna Bonus Kingsford personally is confirmed by Mina Mathers in her Preface to the 1926 edition of Samuel Mathers’ Kabbala Denudata, the Kabbala Unveiled. London: Kegan Paul and Co 1926 quoted at length in Howe pp38-39. Mina also says Kingsford introduced him to Blavatsky. I think I should say here that Mina was writing of events 40 years previously which may have happened before she and Samuel Mathers met; she is relating what Mathers told her and her account needs to be treated with caution.
Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn, by Ithell Colquhoun. Published London: Neville Spearman 1975. : pp76-77. Mathers dedicated his Kabbala Denudata to Anna Bonus Kingsford and her partner in occultism, Edward Maitland. First edition published London: George Redway 1889.
For Mina and O’Connell as the first women members of the GD: R A Gilbert’s GD Companion
p139. Actually, Anna Sprengel, the non-existent head of the fake German Rosicrucian order is listed before them, with an initiation date of 1840, several years before Westcott was born.
The problem of Florence Maitinksy:
Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters to Frederick Leigh Gardner. Two letters about Mrs Maitinsky rather than by her:
1 = 11 April 1895 on the headed notepaper of 62 Oakley Square where the GD rented rooms for its meetings: Westcott to Gardner.
2 = 19 April 1895 Westcott to Gardner saying “Maitinski [sic] pledge to hand” – that is, that her initiation would go ahead.
R A Gilbert’s GD Companion p154 Florence Maitinsky was initiated on 28 May 1895; 2nd Order initiation 1896.
Allegations against Berridge:
At the Freemasons’ Library, GD collection: GBR 1991 GD 2/4/1/2, text of the draft of a letter about incidents of sexual harrassment by Berridge. Anonymous though attributed to Helen Rand in the FML catalogue. Letter was to Mathers and was a follow up to a previous communication that hasn’t surivived. The letter is dated January 1896. Had the writer approached Westcott before? Only to find he didn’t want to know?
Use of black magic/defamation:
Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters to Frederick Leigh Gardner: copy of a pamphlet The Brotherhood of the New Life V 2nd revised and enlarged edition. Price 1 shilling printed by E W Allen of 4 Ave Maria Lane EC; 1897. Author: Respiro but someone has written in pencil “(Dr Berridge)” next to that motto; and a note “see p11 for the skit on Fortiter et Recte Annie Horniman”. With a formal letter of complaint against Berridge by GD member Herbert Crossley Morris dated 6 May 1897.
Expulsion of Annie Horniman:
Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Chapter 9 on the relationship between Annie Horniman and the Mathers; and its deterioration. Chapter 10 on the petition to reinstate her including the names of those who signed it. There are plenty of long quotes from letters written by Mathers. On p137 are quotes from Westcott’s reply to Annie Horniman’s letter telling him what had happened; she enclosed copies of all her correspondence with Mathers. Westcott’s reply is undated but must be from December 1896.
On the problems of having Annie back in the GD after 1900:
Yeats’s Golden Dawn by George Mills Harper. London: Macmillan 1974 and subsequent editions. Long and detailed account of Annie’s complaints about what had been going on in her absence; in which Yeats took her side against the Isis-Urania group which included Annie’s close friend Helen Rand.
Westcott’s resignation from his offices in Isis-Urania temple: Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters to Frederick Leigh Gardner. Letter from Westcott to Gardner 17 March 1897, written in some distress, wondering who in the GD could have informed against him to his employers.
Refusing to help Florence Farr in person: Howe p169. On Westcott forming a group which included Reena Fulham Hughes and Florence Kennedy: Howe p170. The not working with GD’s women members: Howe p182 quoting a letter from Westcott to Frederick Leigh Gardner 2 September 1897.
AFTER THE GD
Friends: Warburg Institute Yorke Collection NS73 letters mostly to but occasionally by Frederick Leigh Gardner. Most of the years between the early 1890s and 1919, Westcott and Gardner will have been able to meet, as both lived in London. However, there’s a series of letters from Westcott in South Africa – 1920-25.
On meeting up with Annie Horniman: Westcott to Gardner 12 November 1921. Annie told Westcott that Rose Pullen Burry was also living in South Africa, with her daughter. However, Westcott and Rose never met in South Africa – Rose was in Johannesburg.
On letters to and from Mina Mathers: Westcott to Gardner 20 November 1923.
On receiving a letter from Henry Pullen Burry: Westcott to Gardner 17 April 1924.
For occultism in France:
Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival by Christopher McIntosh. Revised edition published Albany New York state: SUNY Press 2011.
Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque by Tobias Churton who has also written several books on Aleister Crowley. Rochester Vermont and Toronto Canada: Inner Traditions. 2016. Churton has a chapter on L’Ordre Martiniste and describes Encausse as trying to develop a kind of fusion of Christianity, freemasonry and theosophy – right up Westcott’s street.
Evidence for Westcott in the Order:
See Ars Quatuor Coronatorum volume 100, 1987 published November 1988by R A Gilbert’s William Wynn Westcott and the Esoteric School of Masonic Research: p12.
[AUGUST] ORDER OF LIGHT
I have not found any evidence that Westcott was actually a member.
In Memoriam Worshipful Brother Dr Edwards MBE. Privately printed Bradford: Clarence Press 1923: p83 for date of founding and founders’ names. On pp85-86 list of subscribers including Westcott with his Durban address so he must have kept in touch with the AOL.
National Union Catalog pre-1956 Imprints volume 657 1979 p466 lists printed version of lecture The Serpent Myth, delivered by Westcott to the [Garuda Temple] Bradford lodge of the Order of Light in 1906.
Beyond the Craft by Keith B Jackson. London: Lewis Masonic 1980: pp79-81.
Theosophical Society Membership Register January 1889-September 1891 p143 William Wynn Westcott though with no date of application. Subscription paid 1892-1901; note declaring his membership to have “Lapsed Dec 9th 1903". On p158 as sponsor April 1890 to the application of future GD member Rose M H Swain. On p245 as sponsor July 1891 for E W Cross junior of Portland Dorset; who was not in the GD.
Theosophical Society Membership Register September 1891-January 1893 p68 as sponsor February 1892 for SRIA and GD member Francis W Wright of Maidstone.
Serialisation of his book Numbers: Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume IV March 1889 to August 1889 with Blavatsky and Annie Besant as joint editors. Theosophical Publishing Company of 7 Duke Street Adelphi: issue 15 August 1889 pp469-73. On p473 there’s no author’s name gvn but p22 of Volume V confirms that it’s Westcott.
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume V September 1889 to February 1890; editors and publishers as volume IV. Volume V issue 15 September 1889 pp17-22; issue 15 October 1889 p117-124; issue 15 November 1889 p218-226; issue 15 December 1889 pp319-24; issue 15 January 1890 pp408-11; issue 15 February 1890 pp454-59.
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Theosophical Publishing Co of 7 Duke St Adelphi. Volume VI March-August 1890 editors Blavatsky and Besant. Several items by Westcott appear in this volume; see my Westcott Occult Publications list for details. On talks being given at meetings of Blavatsky Lodge: p68 news section. Alterations to the new TS headquarters building to accommodate the meetings of the Esoteric Section: issue of 15 June 1890 p342 including the quote “immediate supervision”. Changes to TS British Section and TS European Section: issue of 15 July 1890 p429; Westcott is listed as having been at this meeting which allowed an unprecedented concentration of power in Blavatsky’s hands. Opening ceremony of the new hq, at 19 Avenue Road Swiss Cottage, 3 July 1890: p431 though there is no list of who was present.
Westcott’s employers banning him from speaking at TS meetings: Howe op cit p165 quoting a letter from Westcott to Frederick Leigh Gardner 17 March 1897. Westcott as vice-president of Blavatsky Lodge at the time: p166.
EASTERN SCHOOL OF THEOSOPHY
At the Freemasons’ Library call number GBR 1991 GD 7/4/.. has several items on it including exam papers. Westcott allowed in as a probationer: GD 7/4/1: letter to Westcott 19 August 1890 signed by Annie Besant and G R S Mead. GD 7/4/4: leaflet “On Meditation” – perhaps that was what the group was doing.
That Westcott continued to give talks continue despite his employers:
At Blavatsky Lodge:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume VII September 1890 to February 1891 the last one with Blavatsky and Besant as joint editors. London: Theosophical Publishing Soc, 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Volume VII issue of 15 January 1891 p430.
At Adelphi Lodge:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume X March-August 1892 editor Annie Besant. Issue of 15 August 1892 p519 news section: forthcoming talks at Adelphi Lodge includes Westcott as Sapere Aude on Anomalies of the Hebrew View of the Constitution of Man, on 28 November .
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XI covering September 1892 to February 1893 editor Annie Besant. London: Theosophical Publishing Soc, 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Issue of 15 January 1893 news item p431 Westcott as Sapere Aude would be lecturing on Death, on 6 February .
Astonishing public reference to the GD:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XII covers March-August 1893, editor Annie Besant. London: Theosophical Publishing Soc of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Issue of 15 April 1893 p147 article “By W W Westcott, Praemonstrator of the K to the Hermetic Order of the G.D. (A Lecture)”: A Further Glance at the Kabalah Part 1. (I’m not sure there was a part 2).
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XIII covering September 1893 to February 1894 editor Annie Besant. Issue of 15 October 1893 P164 forthcoming lectures at Blavatsky Lodge including Westcott on The Rosicrucians, due 16 November . On p165 forthcoming lectures at Adelphi Lodge including Westcott on Alchemy, due 2 October .
ISABEL COOPER OAKLEY puts her foot in it; before October 1892, probably September 1892.
Freemasons’ Library GBR 1991 GD 2/5/3/12 two-page handwritten account by Westcott as NOM, for meeting of GD’s College of Adepts due 3 October 1892; of his meeting with Annie Besant. Referring to a “Compact of Mutual Toleration”, agreed by Westcott for the GD, and Blavatsky for the TS. The date of the Compact is not mentioned and I think no copy of it survives. Includes the suggestion by the person with the GD motto “Adeptus Exemplus”
The Ananda Lodge:
The GD and the Esoteric Section by R A Gilbert. Theosophical History Centre 1987.
Freemasons’ Library GBR 1991 GD 7/4/5 is a copy of a typed original “Ananda Lodge of the E.S.” “President’s Copy Nov 1893": set of rules for the lodge. Percy William Bullock is the lodge’s secretary at this time.
Freemasons’ Library GBR 1991 GD 7/4/6, a small notebook containing Minutes of the Ananda Lodge of the Eastern School of Philosophy; dated1893 but actually covering the lodge’s entire existence. Its last meeting was 3 November 1895; with only 3 members present, none of them GD members.
The Judge dispute; with Lucifer not exactly an independent witness:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XII covers March-August 1893, editor Annie Besant. London: Theosophical Publishing Society of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Issue of 15 August 1894: p1; pp442-43 Occultism and Truth. The other signatories are all non-GD members. More details of the dispute pp449-55 covering a meeting held 10 July 1894. All the signatories had been present; in addition to Judge and two “special delegates”, one of whom was ex-GD member Oliver Firth of Bradford.
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XVI covers March-August 1895, editor Annie Besant. London: Theosophical Publishing Society of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Issue of 15 July 1895 p358 report on the 5th annual convention of TS’s European Section on 4 July  at the Portman Rooms Baker Street.
Katharine Tingley’s Universal Brotherhood tour of UK June 1896:
At scribd, Theosophy volume XI number 2 May-December 1896 pp130-31. After several days in London, she and her group went to Liverpool and were met by ex-members of the TS British Section’s Liverpool Lodge (defunct by then), including the following GD members: Robert Sandham; Herbert Crooke; J K Gardner; and John Hill.
Theosophy in South Africa
Warburg Institute Yorke Collection NS73 letters mostly to but occasionally by Frederick Leigh Gardner. Set of letters Westcott to Gardner 1920-25. The letters talk more about theosophy than any other esotericism, perhaps because Westcott was still active in the TS in Durban.
Letters Westcott to Gardner 29 June 1922; and Westcott to Gardner 6 August 1922.
The letters show Westcott to be very hostile towards Annie Besant; and even more so towards Leadbeater.
Items in the Sunday Express:
- 9 March 1919 p2. There were two columns on the page, one arguing for spiritualism, and one against. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the ‘for’ column.
- 16 March 1919 p2
- 23 March 1919 p2
- 30 March 1919 p2 a full list of the Express’s committee members. I was looking at a poor-quality microfiche copy a the British Library and couldn’t read all the names. Fortunately they were all listed in the Halifax Evening Courier Mon 31 March 1919 p3. The committee members were:
- Lady Glenconner
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Sir Henry Lunn
- Dr Wynn Westcott
- Dr Edwin Smith lecturer in forensic medicine St Thomas’s Hospital
- Supt Thomas of Scotland Yard, CID
- David Gow editor of Light
- Ralph Shirley editor of Occult Review
- and several of the Sunday Express’s reporters, not named by either newspaper.
The Courier’s account included the description of the SRIA item Westcott put into the bag he was given.
I also couldn’t read the details of the venue on the microfiche, but these were readable in the Dundee Evening Telegraph Wed 21 May 1919 p3: Stormy Scenes at Séance. This was also the most detailed account of what actually happened. Hilarious stuff including someone in the front row jumping up with a flashlight at the point where the Masked Medium said that she was going to speak in a male voice. He shone the flashlight into a large container that was on stage, and shouted, “there’s a man in there!”
On Lady Glenconner: wikipedia page on Sir Edward Tennant, later Baron Glenconner; brother of Margot Asquith and husband of Pamela Wyndam. Wikipedia on Pamela herself: 1871-1928.
Selbit v Grossmith and Laurillard:
Daily Mirror Thurs 17 April 1919 p11.
Wikipedia pages on Selbit - Percy Thomas Tibbles; Grossmith; and Laurillard.
Times Fri 12 March 1920 p4 King’s Bench division. Selbit v Grossmith and Laurillard. First day of the case with lots of detail on the rise and fall of the Masked Medium.
Times Sat 13 Mar 1920 p4. Second day of the case.
Times Tue 16 March 1920 p5 in a series of short reports on the outcomes of recent cases. Selbit won his case and was awarded £200 in damages.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
19 April 2022
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