Thursday 7 May 2015

In Search of the Miraculous #6: The Lives of Leadbeater

CW Leadbeater and James Wedgwood, dressed in the regalia of the Liberal Catholic Church; fulfilling all the very worst stereotypes about priests.
Every so often, you find a reminder as to why educational institutions still frown on Wikipedia. Mine was when I was checking out the Wikipedia entry on early Theosophical leader Charles Webster Leadbeater. The Talk page has a lengthy discussion as to why accusations of pederasty against Leadbeater are not entertained beyond the most basic level. It turns into a back and forth quarrel which boils down to whether you can put in an accusation like that without being able to cite any books on the subject. I actually registered an account with Wikipedia in order to fix that (who knows how long those references will stay, though?)

Why though, are the unfortunate sexual appetites of one of the most influential occultists of the Edwardian era the thing I choose to highlight, above everything else? Surely they're not the thing that defines him, right?


Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant inherited the leadership of the Theosophical Society after its founders, Col. Olcott and Mmme Blavatsky died. They saw the organisation through a succession of splits and scandals, and over and over again, the driving force behind these scandals? Leadbeater's desires.

Before I go any further, you should know that my main source is Peter Washington's book Madame Blavatsky's Baboon (Secker and Warburg, London 1993) which, although critical, backs up every accusation with secondary and primary sources. A lot of it is rumours and supposition, granted, but it adds up to a pretty solid case.

In Ceylon in 1886, Leadbeater tried to elope with a boy called Curupumullage Jinarajadasa; although caught by young Jinarajadasa's dad and threated at gunpoint with the law, Leadbeater, who was nothing if not charming, paid him off and Jinarajadasa became Leadbeater's amanuensis, and, later, the writer of several books outlining the aims and beliefs of the Theosophical Society. Leadbeater also took in a boy named George Arundale, but that arrangement fell apart. Again, (Washington, pp116-118) dire rumours circulated.

And in 1906, a Mrs Helen Dennis of Chicago wrote to Annie Besant at Theosophical World HQ saying that he had been trying to encourage her young son Robin to masturbate (apparently it had spiritual benefits), that this was only a lead-up to him abusing the boy more fully, and that Robin wasn't the only one.

A note was found in Leadbeater's effects, addressed to another boy, and written in code. Decoded, it read:
"My own darling boy... Twice a week is permissible, but you will soon discover what brings the best effect... Spontaneous manifestations are undesirable and should be discouraged. if it comes without help he needs rubbing more often, but not too often, or he will not come well. Glad sensation is so pleasant. Thousand kisses, darling..." (Quoted Washington, p.123)
Nowadays, we call that grooming.

For a while Leadbeater was in disgrace (he blamed the scandal on the machinations of black magicians in the thrall of the Lords of the Dark Face) but he was soon back. Annie Besant needed his support. And they were close friends. With the notable exception of Mrs Besant and very few others, Leadbeater couldn't bear to be in the room with a woman, let alone touch her.

But the accusations would plague him all through his life. His association with James Wedgwood, for example, would be tainted by Wedgwood being caught visiting 18 public loos in Sydney in two hours in 1923. Leadbeater himself would be caught in bed with another Theosophical leader's kid at about the same time (Washington, p.223), although it never went to court. 

Let's back up a bit. So. In the early 1900s, Leadbeater had decided that a boy named Hubert Van Hook was going to be the Theosophical World Messiah, the Maitreya. He asked Hubert's parents to send him to Adyar (Theosophical World HQ, near what is now Chennai), and they did, only for poor Hubert to find himself ousted before he'd even arrived by another beautiful teenaged boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Hubert was, among other things, reduced to being Krishnamurti's inferior in every way, even being banned from touching the other boy's stuff, in order that it not be infected by bad vibrations. Resentment festered. Hubert too would one day allege that Leadbeater had been sexually abusive of his charges.

About Krishnamurti, well. You might know about him: he's far more famous than any of these other people. Here's where Leadbeater's desires move into the occult realm.Krishnamurti's father would eventually try to sue Leadbeater and Besant to get Krishnamurti back, again citing immorality, but to no avail.

Leadbeater, in order to prove Krishnamurti's validity as World Teacher, began to serialise a sensationalist account of Krishnamurti's past lives as a psychic avatar named Alcyone in the Theosophical magazine. He later published it as The Lives of Alcyone, and this is still in print (and also, because it's out of copyright, freely available online as Man: Whence, How and Whither)

It's a fruity collection of romantic novel cliches, slightly off colour fantasies, and settled scores. Over and over again, the heroes and villains of Krishnamurti's previous lives are the frequently gender-swapped personalities of the Theosophical Society. Leadbeater's friends are the goodies, his enemies the baddies. Leadbeater, Blavatsky, Besant, Arundale, Jinarajadasa and, um, Julius Caesar enter the cast over and over. Not Hubert Van Hook though.

From chapter IX:
"For another influence was playing upon him, and his blood ran hotly in his veins. Ill-pleased at his indifference to their worship-- nay, at his shrinking from it, even in its outward rites of animal sacrifice and poured out oblations of strong drink-- his father and Oduarpa had conceived the plan of drawing him into the secret mysteries by the allurements of a maiden, Cygnus, dark and beauteous as the midnight sky star-studded, who loved him deeply, but had so far failed to win his young heart with her charms. Between her dusky brilliant eyes and his half-fascinated gaze would float the splendid face of his vision, and he would hear again the thrilling whisper: “Thou art mine.”

At length, however, she had so far won him-- persuaded to the task by her mother, a veritable witch-hag, who had told her that thus alone might she gain his love-- as to obtain from him a promise that he would accompany her to the underground caves in which the magical rites were performed, which drew the denizens of the Nether World from their retreats, and gained from them the forbidden knowledge which changed the human into the animal form, thus giving opportunity for free play to the passions of the brute hidden in man, passions of lust and slaughter. Cygnus had played upon his heart with skill taught by her own passion, and had fanned his indifference into fire, not enduring, indeed, but warm while it lasted."

(He gets the girl. It doesn't end well.)

(It's all like that.)

Almost as soon as Krishnamurti was old enough to manage his own affairs, he was out. Done with Leadbeater and Besant, done with Theosophy. Like Ouspensky, he was too honest to coast on the adulation of people who thought he was the Messiah. He went his own way and became the first example of what in the west think of as a celebrity guru.

Back to  Leadbeater. He was, it turns out, also the primary unnamed source in Scott-Elliot's Story of Atlantis and The Lost Lemuria; entire sections of the two monographs are in quotes, and these are verbatim reports of things that Leadbeater channelled. The rest is very much under Leadbeater's influence.

Why am I even writing about Atlantis at all?

So far all I've managed to prove is that it's an invention of several racists and one prolific paedophile. I've destroyed my childhood dreams, the more I've read.

I suppose that's why I want to make an Atlantis that acknowledges all that's wrong with this. I mean, look. Role-playing games are, especially now more than ever, largely in the thrall of two twentieth century writers, HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, both of whom riff off of Leadbeater, Blavatsky and Scott-Elliot over and over and over again. Both men were basically Nazis.

This is a problem. I mean, I have tons of stuff by both of them on my shelves, and I've done my dues in the scene, but there has to be a way of approaching their influence.

Without just parroting the vileness of the source material (like in one recent role-playing book that manages to be really popular and which yet describes the population of an Eastern Kingdom as "teeming yellow masses") or trying to ignore it or create unrealistic liberal utopias, there has to be a way to make this less than awful.

I don't want to bin Atlantis. I want to redeem it as a fantasy trope. I want to make it honest. I want to take it back.

An interesting quote about Leadbeater from the Great Beast Aleister Crowley himself:
"I am no prude.  But I am a stickler for the value of words, and I deem that the French slang, 'Petit Jesus' is being taken too seriously when a senile sex maniac like Leadbeater proclaims his catamites as Coming Christs."
You know you're onto a loser when you've even got Aleister Crowley coming over all disapproving of you.