An Old Woman Speaks on....
American Spiritual Mysticism 1911-1931:
The Age of the New Dispensation
© November, 2000 Stephanie M. Schwartz
I am about to relate a large amount of my personal, physical exposure to the history of American spiritual mysticism of the early 1900's (and Britain's as well). Many have found my experiences thought-provoking and surprising, and so I write this to help a broader understanding for us all. The information gives strength to much of what we do today and clears away many of the misconceptions we have as well. It is our history and that of our parents and grandparents.
Too often we hear of the dearth of spiritual and mystical awareness that existed prior to the so-called New Age. We hear that anyone who was a mystic had to hide in fear. We hear that awareness was so limited and so defined by the structure of American churches and society as to be totally blind. In short, we hear that little if anything was open, hopeful, or growing in the many paths of mysticism and spiritual mysticism. That only in the secret "Orders" was there life, knowledge, awareness, growth and understanding.
Well, not only does my life experience but also the life experiences of my family bring lie to these false assumptions. I have known for years that many of the mystic members of my family line lived and flourished without fear in America. They may not have broadcast their skills and beliefs but that was as much out of respect for the beliefs of others as for any other reason. It was an ethical choice as well as one made to avoid pointless conflict. But they certainly didn't hide their beliefs either. In no way did they ever feel alone or fearful or thwarted in their work to learn and grow as spiritual mystics. Recently, I was able to uncover direct proof of this and of the state of American spiritual mysticism from 1911-1931.
First, some family background information so that you will understand the context of all of this.
This past Fall, my sister and I were sorting some family storage boxes and uncovered just one box belonging to our maternal grandmother, Mdme. Grace E.L. Woodbury of Denver, Colorado. This woman had been the quintessential matriarch of our family as we were growing up. She was a German Duchess of German Gypsy, German, Irish, and French heritage. Her parents had come to Colorado in a covered wagon in the mid-1880's and owned a hardware store in a large beautiful hotel, The Windsor. In those days, hardware stores carried everything from pick-axes to cigars and tobacco, fine china to cookstoves, silverware to bolts of cloth and lace. Their clients were Plains Indians as well as the silver and gold tycoons, miners, tourists, and businessmen of the day.
This grandmother of ours (born in 1889) was a concert pianist, a composer, a music teacher, a poet, a writer. A published author of several books (three of poetry and short stories, three of channeled philosophical and spiritual writings, and one huge collection ready for publication but never submitted), and selected for Who's Who of American Women 1970-71. Above all, she was a spiritual mystic. Furthermore, she founded her own church, the Temple of Divine Brotherhood, a non-denominational highly spiritual Christ-consciousness mystic church of the Light open to all races and beliefs. Throughout her lifetime, she also taught, healed, and counseled people from all over the world with her channeling and mystic gifts and skills. Some of her early students later worked for her good friend Yogananda, the East Indian Yogi who founded the Yogoda Sat-Sanga movement and whose books are still very popular and whose philosophies are still being practiced today.
The large box of our grandmother's which we found turned out to be filled with an incredible collection of spiritual mysticism books, literature, pamphlets, and writings from the years of 1911-1931. Of particular interest was that the contents clearly indicated the state of mysticism and the incredible spiritual movement in our country during those years. It indicated this was a movement which accepted all beliefs and which encouraged all paths, all spiritualities, all peoples to live in harmony and mutual respect. A movement including but definitely not limited to Christianity. A movement which the mystics of the day called The Age of the New Dispensation.
We found numerous original course outlines and writings of Yogananda's, a mystic lecture/pamphlet of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes books), another mystic writing from Lord Balfour of Britain, and a signed photograph from (and of) Chief Evergreen Tree (tribe/nation unknown).
We found several editions of a gorgeous, large periodical publication called "Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult, and Mystical Research" from England (1924, 1929, and 1930). In fact, there were numerous pamphlets and high-profile newsletters from Britain and all over the United States. Additionally, there were many other writings from organizations such as.
The London Spiritualist Alliance
The Rochester Brotherhood
The Colorado Research Club
The Progressive Thinker Publishing House of Chicago
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Brotherhood of the White Temple
The Coptic Fellowship of America
The Church School of Spiritual Psychology
The Church School of Self Help
The Order of Christian Mystics
The Society for Psychical Research
American Psychical Research Institute
Yogi Publication Society of Chicago
American Asiatic Association
New Thought Centers
Psychology Institute of America
The Esoteric Fraternity of California and England
The Universal Life Institute
The Progressive Thinker
New Jersey School of Psychology and Physical Culture
....Not to mention a host of smaller psychical and metaphysical research and study groups.
Then, there were the magazines we found....
Our Younger Brothers (The Animals)
Reality: Devoted to Harmonizing Religion and Science
Current Psychology: Successful Living
Power: The Higher-Thought Magazine
Nautilus Magazine: Experiences In Managing A Mind
Communication: The Magazine of Spiritual Education
The Master Mind (dedicated to the Supreme Universal Intelligence and the Christ Consciousness)
Furthermore, there were several catalogs of nothing but mysticism, occult, spiritual, and metaphysical books available to purchase. The catalog from Aries Press in Chicago, alone, listed 27 pages of such books.
Clearly, without any doubt, spiritual mysticism and this Age of the New Dispensation was a huge open movement in those days. Of particular interest is that it was obviously both men and women, from all walks of life and socio-economic levels, working equally together. And the people involved in it preferred to call themselves mystics, metaphysicians, and metapsychologists.
From what I could see in these materials, many of these people were community leaders of one sort or another.... artists, intelligentsia, educators, authors, doctors, bankers, professionals, business owners, inventors, housewives, even clergy. It is difficult to remember today but these people did not have television and, for the most part, did not even have radio since the first radio station in the United States didn't appear until 1920. But the result of this was that they would spend their free time studying, reading, learning, experimenting. both as individuals as well as in small and large groups.
It was everywhere, very mainstream and accessible and open.... lectures, classes, literature, neighborhood study groups, research groups, seances. Inexpensive, often free, and always open to everyone of every path, belief system, and race. No cults or cult behavior here. Simply people filled with the desire to learn, to understand, to work, and to do good things for humanity.
And then World War II, followed by the Korean War and the Viet Nam War, hit this country and the movement seemed to just disappear into the hidden orders again. I'm not sure of the why on this. Maybe because of the horrible string of wars. Maybe because of the technological developments.
Or maybe this open spiritual movement disappeared because of the post-war, post-depression drive for material success and the resulting self-centered use of the spiritual gifts to create that success. Working for self rather than for the good of humanity, for the good of All. While nearly every single publication and writing we found was truly highly spiritual and of good heart, we did find a large number of ads in the magazines promoting the use of mysticism for self-achievement, monetary success, power, etc.
Furthermore, the horrendous accusations and negative publicity of some mystic folk like Aleister Crowley most likely hurt the movement a great deal too. And very possibly some or all of these events encouraged just a natural cohesion into formalized groups like the Golden Dawn, Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), Wicca, the modern-day Rosicrucians, and the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment. This, in turn, then left the independents to go into quiet solitary work.
In my opinion, it seems most likely that it was a combination of everything. But I just don't know for certain, albeit I find these issues to be necessary to ponder.
I will say my grandmother was never harassed a day in her life. The fact of the matter is that she was highly respected for her work by many people including Christians and Jews, clergy included. Furthermore, it is clear that she and these people did not know the kind of harassment we spiritual mystics receive today from the far right religious and political groups because, for the most part, the far right hate groups only existed in small enclaves or in rural areas at that time. Certainly the extremists did not exist with the financial and political power base they have today.
But those issues aside, even more fascinating is the actual spiritual work information and teachings. It shows that so much of what we today consider New Age isn't new at all. Additionally, it shows that much of what has been assumed today to be the invention of the hidden mystic orders, or an original teaching of the secret orders or a particular mystic, actually originated with this movement and with its people. I'm not speaking about ancient teachings for certainly those go back long before anyone or any of the orders and organizations of today. But there are numerous teachings and ways which have grown to be identified with specific groups, societies, and disciplines which these materials now show to have been a result of this movement instead.
Reading our grandmother's personal writings and teachings was a gift and truly fascinating, not to mention the thirty or more books we found. Writings which fully spoke on topics like....
rays and color energy
automatic writing and drawings
astral projection and astral travel
meditation and trance work
symbology, sigils, seals
exoteric and esoteric
the I AM movement
vegetarianism and diets
the 4th dimension
subconscious vs superconscious work
the Jewish Kabbalah, the Tree of Life, Kabbalistic numerology
Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism
protection and shielding
reading tea leaves, palmistry, card reading/tarot
love and honoring of the Earth and of all creation
many forms of energy and/or spiritual healing including some very similar to the Reiki of today
You name it and it was there. And clearly it was out in the open for everyone, not hidden in the least. Our grandmother taught all of this regularly here in Denver, Colorado (a relatively small place then compared to New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles or London) and she was most certainly not alone. Even further, these books were published all over the United States and Britain, not only by the big city mainstream publishers but also in small places like Mt. Pelier, Vermont and Creighton, Nebraska and Rochester, New York.
Some of the books we found even predate the 1911-1931 time-frame of the bulk of the other writings. One of the best and most intriguing is an 1870 book entitled, "The Present Age and Inner Life: Ancient and Modern Spirit Mysteries" by Andrew Jackson Davis. This book speaks on spiritualism, mediums, clairvoyance, spirit work, channeling, and what we today would call the Kabbalistic Tree of Life related to the chakras of the body.
Another very fascinating book, published in 1929, is called "The Projection of the Astral Body" by Sylvan J. Muldoon and Hereward Carrington. This is most fascinating since it deals with not only involuntary astral travel but also conscious, controlled astral projection, telekinesis, and akashic records.
And then there's a 1925 book by Abraham Kuyper, the former Prime Minister of The Netherlands. Yikes, I could go on and on.
In addition to all these books, there were another 25 published books (three of which are hers) of purely channeled high level philosophy and spirituality. The sheer volume of it all is astounding, yet I know these books and materials represent only a small portion of what was once her extensive library of spiritual mystic resources and information.
Furthermore, this wide-spectrum sampling absolutely demolishes the tales everywhere today about all of this having been hidden and kept from people because of persecution. It was out there, it was hugely popular, and it was accessible to many, if not most, people. It is only a shame that they allowed it to wither away to the few. Maybe we can learn from this. Obviously this provides much food for thought.
Certainly, given our advancements in understanding the physical mechanics of mysticism and our larger knowledge of the many traditions and gifts, some of the information of these authors and people would be considered dated to their day and age and culture. I would not ever argue the fact it was influenced by the day and age in which it was written. As a child, I ignored many of these writings lying around the house precisely because of that factor. Yet, now that I am older, I realize that basically most of it is as applicable today as it was then, and could easily be found on a website tomorrow. Truth is Truth, and by far, most of what I have seen in these materials is still valid and alive.
I hope you have found this information interesting. I only wish I could show all of this material to you. Clearly, there is no question that it indicates a strong and vibrant spiritual mystic tradition in our country's history. A history which shows those years filled with many of our peoples trying to set aside cultural, economic, religious, sexist, and racial differences in their efforts to learn and understand the Universe. Even more, it shows a huge movement of people trying to do wide-spread, high level mystic spiritual work as One for the good of All. Maybe they didn't get it quite right, maybe they weren't perfect, maybe they later dropped the ball, but there is no question they were making serious efforts at the time.
It has long been my opinion that, in finding and understanding the commonalties of the many paths and spiritualities which exist today, we can overcome the differences and create harmony for our world. It is heartening to see that this was their goal as well. This is our heritage from them. I only hope we live up to it.
In Peace, -steph