Charles Webster Leadbeater

Charles Webster Leadbeater

[1854-1934]
 

Gregory Tillett, his most noted biographer tells us in The Elder Brother  "The world's greatest occultist and psychic, and a living saint? Or the worst sort of charlatan, con-man and sex-pervert? These widely ranging views of Charles Leadbeater were current in his lifetime and even now...." Also, "My files have accumulated many letters from otherwise intelligent and balanced people who have been reduced to hysterical rage and indignation at the suggestion of a biography." To be blunt C.W. Leadbeater was controversial. Many Theosophists considered him an embarrassment. In his final years he left the Theosopical Society and retreated to Australia to help found the Liberal Catholic Church.

 
Official records place his birth at February 16, 1854, while official Theosophy publications approved by him place his birth at February 17, 1847. He was the son of bookkeeper and was made an Anglican curate in 1878. He experimented with spiritualism, but concluded that the effects were more likely from some "mysterious force" than from spirit visitants. He joined the Theosophical Society in 1883 and shortly thereafter broke from the church and traveled with Madame Helena Blavatsky to India in 1884. He returned to England two years before Madame Blavatsky's death there in 1891. Blavatsky herself was the subject of an extensive debunking by Richard Hodgson of the British Society for Psychical Research in 1885 who concluded (Vernon Harrison has a rebuttal):
"For our own part, we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history."
 

Based on the many biographies written supporting and criticising her abilities it would be fair to conclude that Blavatsky was either a very accomplished physical medium or an extremely clever magician, possibly both. In any case her collected works span about a dozen volumes and the bulk of the material is written in such abstract language as to be unfriendly to the lay reader. Though some fraction might be called derivative from Swedenborianism, Spiritualism, Kabalism and Eastern religions there is a substantial body of unique material. Gordon Melton tells us:

 
The system was constructed in a manner akin to genius, and evolved on highly intricate lines. It was, to a great extent, pieced together after the death of the original founder of the society, on which event a series of schisms occurred in the Brotherhood through various claims to leadership.
A brief outline of the tenets of Theosophy may be stated as follows. It posits a rational belief in its views rather than blind faith, and allows for individual differences of opinion. It professes to be a religious philosophy that holds the germs of all others. It has also its aspect as a science&emdash;a Science of life and of, tile Soul.
The basic teaching is that there are three absolute truths that cannot be lost, but yet may remain silent for lack of speech. (1) The soul of humanity is immortal and its future is tile future of the thing, whose growth and splendor has no limit. (2) The principle that gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard, or seen, or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception. (3) Each individual is his or her own absolute law-giver, tile dispenser of glory or gloom to oneself, decreer of one's life, one's reward, one's punishment.
Although Theosophy posits the existence of an absolute, it does not pretend to knowledge of its attributes. Each solar system is the expression of a being called the Logos or the Solar Deity, who permeates it and exists above and outside it.
Below this Solar Deity are his seven ministers, called Planetary Spirits, whose relation to him is like that of the nerve centers to the brain, so that all his voluntary acts come through him to them. Under them are vast hosts or orders of Spiritual beings called devas, or angels, who assist in many ways.
 
This intricacy may have never reached the masses if the Theosophical Society had not attracted a body of able writers such as Annie Besant, A.P. Sinnett, and our featured author Charles Leadbeater. During his years abroad he edited a number of Theosophical journals and he began to write books, when back in England, based on his talks and articles in 1895.

Leadbeater's value to the Theosophical movement lay in his ability to write and speak in a direct, convincing, simple popular style. He was able to take the obscure and inaccessible writings of Madame Blavatsky, embellish them and place them into dozens of pamphlets and short works which reached a very broad audience. The result was that many occult words and concepts came into the public consciousness. The aura, akashic records, reincarnation, vegetarianism, long hair, bare feet, the spiritual life as practised in India, the bioenergetic field surrounding the human body, what lies beyond death are examples. The list of titles shown at the end of this page illustrate the subjects he wrote about. Words such as chakra, chela, atma, karma, kundalini, Mahatmas, and Matreya and initiation as well as a bevy of other sanskrit words used by Blavatsky. He tells us that during his period abroad that he was visited and trained by the same spirit masters that helped HPB communicate her own writings. He had a writing "formula" which includes these basic features/purposes:

 
The society sponsored lodges worldwide. The membership peaked in 1928 with 1587 lodges.
Virtually every book would engage in hair-splitting to discredit Spiritualist authors or doctrine