Greetings from the Doctor! I made a promise last time I posted that I would not let our correspondence lapse, so here I am once again.
Of the sundry whatsits I’ve pondered of late, one concern has greatly occupied my mind. Were you aware that the push for women’s rights has its roots in 17th, 18th and early 19th century esoteric lodges as well as the Spiritualist movement? Well, I certainly was, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about the curiousness of it all.
I met the legendary Madame Blavatsky once in India, and, while I was generally supportive of her push for Indian Home Rule, I must confess to finding the “religion” she helped found fairly risible. Of course, it’s important to remember that Theosophy had captured the imaginations of the day’s intelligentsia (that day being roundabouts 1889). In fact, it very well could have eclipsed Christianity, had it not been for the Great War(s) and the nefarious co-opting of certain Theosophistic ideas by the Nazis. Still, the quest for Utopian Illumination — inspired to a large degree by Theosophy — continued off and on for the next 75 years, reaching its ludicrous peak in the American West Coast of the 1960s.
While I didn’t particularly care for Blavatsky (to me, she had the grace of a drunken bridge troll), I did find her immediate successor, Annie Besant, to be rather charming. Annie was quite the trailblazer, actually — in her short lifetime, she was a Marxist, co-Freemason (the lodge does not accept women, so she invented her own branch), a Socialist, an education reformer, a proto-feminist, a crusader for Indian and Irish independence, a secularist and, yes, a Theosophist. She was also a hell of a cricket player, although you’ll not likely find that information on her Wikipedia page.
Then there was America’s first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull, a.k.a. “Mrs. Satan,” who I never had the privilege of meeting. Back in the 1870s, the Equal Rights Party nominated Woodhull for president — some time before women even had the right to vote. Woodhull’s Vice Presidential pick was none other than African-American politician, abolitionist and women’s suffragist Frederick Douglass. Take that, Sarah Palin and/or Barack Obama!
Victoria Woodhull courted scandal wherever she went. An outspoken advocate for “free love,” she once told the press that sexual liberation was indeed the cure for immorality. Rebelling against social convention came naturally to her, as did a reputed talent for clairvoyance. In her youth, Victoria plied her psychic trade at carnivals across the country. She and her sister were also the first female stockbrokers, thanks in part to the generosity of a smitten Cornelius Vanderbilt, who offered financial backing for their firm. The sisters hyped their business using their reputations as psychics, claiming the stock picks came from channeling spirits during trance. (Keep in mind that Franz Mesmer‘s “animal magnetism” was all the rage at the time.) Nevertheless, the press began calling the sisters some nasty names, so they decided to publish their own newspaper that trafficked in all manner of envelope-pushing ideas!
The trail of progressive female esotericists can be traced as least as far back as the French Revolution (although some English women, such as the great Mary Wollstonecraft, too had fine spiritual-feminist game).
The reason I bring all of this up is because our fearless Editor recently lent me his dog-eared copy of Politics and the Occult by Gary Lachman (who I believe commented here recently). Though the prose is somewhat clunky and the narrative overstuffed, there is enough fascinating and high-quality information in this book for the Doctor to recommend it.
Perhaps tonight I shall attempt to channel my dear old friend Annie. A knock or two on the old mahogany banister should suffice as proof of visitation. I shall let you know if we indeed make contact. . .