When I wrote The Unlikely Occultist I was more than a little apprehensive. How would a biographical novel of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey be received, both by those in the esoteric community and others unfamiliar with the terrain? Would my book be rejected and me along with it? Would general readers pass over this book in favour of another?
Relief washed through me as first one, then another reader let me know how much they loved the story I wove out of Alice Bailey’s life.
Then two reviews arrived in my inbox on two consecutive days. The first, by Swedish scholar Hakan Blomqvist is especially prized.
“It is fascinating to follow how Isobel portrays the mindset and moral attitude of Alice Bailey. Not an easy undertaking as the scenes and anecdotes presented may create new myths around a woman already a favourite among conspiracy advocates. Reality and fiction becomes blurred…Although The Unlikely Occultist can be considered as a defense or apology for Alice Bailey and esotericism, Isobel Blackthorn is no naive devotee…I highly recommend The Unlikely Occultist. I found it intensely captivating and enchanting. This work can actually function as an introduction to studies in the Esoteric Tradition and may even inspire a minor renaissance for Alice Bailey. Esotericists will be delighted by this biographical novel and if you are a librarian or archivist you will just love it.” Hakan Blomqvist
The second review is from the Historical Novels Society and appears in the May 2019 issue of their magazine.
“Blackthorn’s book offers a fascinating portrait of a woman dismissed by mainstream thinkers and religions, a woman whose current obscurity is all the more poignant considering the grandeur of her ambitions and her hopes for a healed world.” –Misty Urban
And that is exactly what I set out to achieve. I wanted to usher Alice Bailey back into the mainstream and afford her some dignity.
Theosophist and Mother of the New Age movement, Alice Ann Bailey (1880-1949) was born into the aristocratic La Trobe-Bateman family. She was born on June 16th, 1880, in Manchester, to Frederick Foster La Trobe-Bateman and Alice Harriet Bateman (nee Holinshed).
When Alice was still a baby, her family moved to Montreal, where her father worked on an engineering project. F. Foster Bateman (1853-1889) wrote an engineer’s report for a bridge across the St Lawrence River from South Shore to St Helen’s Island to extend from and complement Victoria Bridge (mentioned in the Unfinished Autobiography). The report, dated January 18th, 1882, concerns the St Lawrence Bridge. The Jacques Cartier Bridge stands in its stead. Where the family resided while in Montreal is unknown. Alice’s sister, Lydia was born in Canada ab. 1882. The family returned to England in 1885 as Alice’s mother became ill with tuberculosis. They spent some time in Davos, Switzerland hoping her health might improve. It didn’t. Upon her mother’s death in 1886, her father became ill with the same disease. The little family lived with Alice’s grandparents at Moor Park, a mansion in Farnham, Surrey.
Alice’s paternal grandfather, John Frederick La Trobe-Bateman (1810-1889), purchased Moor Park in 1858 and established a hydrotherapy centre on the premises. Charles Darwin is known to have visited Moor Park for treatment in 1859 and became a frequent visitor. He worked on The Origin of the Species there. Moor Park comprises 60 acres of riverside gardens. The walled garden was created by Sir William Temple.
In 1888, Alice’s father’s condition deteriorated, and it was decided the English climate was hampering his health. In a desperate attempt to improve his symptoms, the family arranged for him and the girls to move to Pau in the French Pyrenees, a location heralded by well-known Dr Alexander Taylor as having a curative climate and waters. Shortly after their arrival, in a final bid for survival, the girls were returned to England while their father embarked on a voyage to New Zealand in the company of a nurse. He died en route near Hobart, Tasmania on 5th February 1889.
After Pau, Alice and her sister returned to Moor Park. Sadly, Alice’s grandfather passed away about six months later. Alice and Lydia were then cared for in part by their grandmother, Anne Bateman (nee Fairbairn, 1817-1894), and by their father’s sisters – Dorothy, Margaret and Agnes.
Aunt Dorothy, who married Sir Brian Barttelot, lived in Townstal Manor, in the small village of Townstal, near Dartmouth, Devon. The house appears to be that of Norton Dauney. Alas, no photos.
Agnes married civil engineer Richard Clere Parsons, who was brother of Lord Rosse. In 1881, the Parsons lived in the village of Chapel Allerton on the outskirts of Leeds, Yorkshire. There were many large houses in the village.
Alice’s favourite home was Castramont, near Gatehouse of Fleet in Scotland’s southwest. Margaret was the widow of David Maxwell, whose father, Sir William Maxwell, lived at nearby Cardoness Castle.
From there, the newly adult Alice La Trobe-Bateman spent time with her sister in a rented house – I am sure it was not small – in St Albans, from which they attended the various social engagements of the London season. They each then went their separate ways, Lydia north to Edinburgh to study medicine and Alice to Ireland to work for Elise Sandes’ soldiers homes, and then on to India. Her aristocratic existence was over.
The Elise Sandes’ mission continues to this day.
While in India, Alice met and fell in love with Walter Evans. They married in 1908 and moved to the United States to Cincinnati, where her Walter attended the Lane Theological Seminary. The Evans’s lived first in a boarding house near the seminary and in 1910, after their daughter, Dorothy, was born, they lived in an apartment nearby.
Once Walter was qualified, they moved to the small town of Reedley, in California’s fruit growing region. Alice and Walter were in Reedley between 1911-13. They left around the time of an influx of European migrants, including a colony of German Mennonites, whose strong traditions and values went on to give shape to Reedley’s culture. In her Unfinished Autobiography, Alice Bailey makes it plain she did not like Reedley, and while there were a number of larger middle-class residences, a lot of the town would have looked like this – a screenshot of the Episcopal church and adjoining house, which is presumably where Alice and Walter lived and their second daughter, Mildred, was born. The house is exactly as I imagined it. Visit this site for more info
Alice and Walter then moved to Fowler, another small town in California about fourteen miles west of Reedley. Fowler is still a very small town, much smaller now than Reedley. Here is the church where Walter was presumably Reverend. The little house on the right is most likely where Alice and Walter lived and Ellison was born.
Are these the steps Alice is referring to when she says Walter ‘threw her down the stairs’? For I can find not one two-storey home in Fowler!
The family then moved to Pacific Grove, and after finally ridding herself of Walter, whose family violence was extreme, Alice worked for about 2 1/2 years packing sardines in one of Monterey’s canneries. We don’t know where she lived, but we do know where she worked.
Pacific Grove was not all sardines. There was a thriving arts/alternative scene, and in that milieu, people had all sorts of interests. It was here that Alice discovered Theosophy.
Towards the end of 1917, Alice moved to Krotona in Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood. The site was arranged around a central Inn and set in splendid gardens. Alice and her three daughters did not live on site. Alice rented a house in nearby North Beachwood Drive.
It was here that Alice met her second husband, Foster Bailey. In 1920, the Baileys moved to New York. At first they lived in Ridgefield Park, NJ, before being gifted a long spell at Graham Phelps Stokes house on Caritas Island. Thanks to a feature by Nora Naughton published in 2016 in the Stamford Advocate, I was able to sources these photos. Alice had the upstairs room in the wing featured in the top centre photo with the two small windows looking out over the glass conservatory.
From there, around 1930 the Baileys moved to Soundview Avenue, Stamford. It is unclear who owned the house and for how long the Baileys lived there. After discovering the address on a passenger list, I took these screenshots on Google maps.
In England during this time, they spent months at Ospringe, near Faversham, Kent, in the home of Henry and Hilda Percy-Griffiths. It was here that Ellison and Dorothy met their husbands and wed.
This is Salmon Tower on West 42nd Street, Manhattan, the building which housed the original offices of the Lucis Trust which were on the top floor. This floor, along with the one below, were much smaller than the other floors.
In England in the late 1930s, the Baileys took up residence in a house in Broadwater Down, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, a street lined with leafy lime trees. Unfortunately, their base of operations was soon commandeered by the British Army for the duration of the war. The street address is unknown (to me), but the 12th corps of the British Army, led by General Montgomery, acquired a number or residences on Broadwater Down during WWII. No. 2 – the original headquarters – and No. 32 – the signals HQ – were both acquired in 1940. General Montgomery took up residence at No. 10 for a period of 1941. The other houses were acquired at later dates. The area is known especially for the establishment of a top-secret series of tunnels leading to an underground war bunker that were created nearby, and only discovered in 1969.
No. 32 is my pick.
Back in New York, there may be a gap in the trail between the Soundview Avenue house in Stamford and Alice’s last residence in New York, where Alice and Foster lived until Alice’s death in 1949. Alice’s daughter, Mildred, lived there too, along with a nurse. The 11th floor of the Castle village apartment complex, 140 Cabrini Boulevard, Hudson Heights. The living room overlooked the Hudson River.
This post is a work in progress and I will keep digging…If you have anything to contribute, please DM me on Twitter. @IBlackthorn
When I contacted New Dawn magazine requesting they review The Unlikely Occultist, my biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey, I was anticipating the usual rejection or no-reply. Instead, I received a pleasing email from the editors inviting me to compose a feature piece on Alice Bailey. I embraced the opportunity.
Thanks to the talented team at New Dawn, the result is a beautifully laid out and presented feature piece on a woman who rarely gets an airing beyond her own followers. It is a joy to see my brief overview of Alice Bailey treated in this fashion, but I have received no special treatment. The whole magazine is just lovely!
For too long Alice Bailey has been either maligned or ignored and I think it is time the world knew just how important her body of work and her life’s mission are, influencing healing modalities, psychology, education, the ongoing campaign for world peace and the spiritual ethos at the United Nations. Through New Dawn, more will hear about her, or perhaps reconsider who she was and what she was about. For anyone wanting to know more about The Unlikely Occultist, check some reviews https://isobelblackthorn.com/the-unlikely-occultist-reviews/or click this link viewbook.at/Occultist
I am delighted to share my piece on Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations, featured in the March issue of Live Encounters Magazine.
Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations
“Esotericism is concerned with explanations and manipulations of the inner planes of existence. Alice Bailey’s writings belong to the variant of Western Esotericism known as Theosophy. While the term can be traced back to Neoplatonist Porphyry to describe a combination of the capacities of the philosopher, the artist and the priest, it was Russian aristocrat and Spiritualist Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who harnessed theosophy when she founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. British aristocrat and former devout Christian, Alice A. Bailey (born in 1880 Alice La Trobe-Bateman) was a second-generation Theosophist in communication with the same Master of the Wisdom as Blavatsky: The Tibetan or Djwhal Khul.
Drawing on Eastern mysticism and Western occult formulations, Bailey wrote twenty-four volumes, most as The Tibetan’s amanuensis, dedicated to informing future generations of seekers of the coming new age of spiritual enlightenment. Written between 1919 and 1949, Bailey’s opus includes works on meditation, esoteric healing, astrology, initiation, the chakras, yoga, education and psychology, along with an abstruse treatise on cosmology, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire. She also provides detailed explanations of the Plan of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Masters for the forthcoming era and instructions to her disciples to make that plan a reality. Much of the writing is impenetrable and alien to non-esotericists. The tone is instructional and dry. There is nothing exotic and enticing in the style and yet many will mention a strange almost magnetic pull once the mind starts to grapple with the meaning held within.
Of all the spiritual and occult teachers of her day, Alice Bailey was one of the most prolific and determined. Her legacy, whilst hidden, runs deep. She is regarded in scholarly circles to be the main theorist of the New Age movement, her teachings informing an early vanguard of writers and practitioners who went on to influence future generations of seekers. Many leading New Age proponents champion or acknowledge her influence. She is also a pet hate among conspiracy theorists, mostly due to her belief in the need for a ‘new world order’ based on ‘a plan’ devised by spiritual masters.
Alice Bailey’s main goal was to purify esotericism and make esoteric practice serve good not evil purposes. She imbued Theosophy with the basic Christian principle of goodwill and believed in the Second Coming of Christ. She exercised her formidable missionary zeal to establish all the foundations necessary to fulfil her vision for a better world…” To continue reading the article:
Students of the Ageless Wisdom brought together for dynamic group work in Twelve Formation.
This is their story…
A story of hope, frustration, and achievement.
This is the story of the Twelves Group and I was the Esoteric Apprentice.
The Esoteric Apprentice is a special book that makes an important contribution to the understanding of esoteric practice when it is aimed at human and planetary betterment. The work in question, Twelves, concerns, in layperson’s terms, a form of ritualised group meditation. Chernikeeff provides insights into the motivations, purpose or intention, the methods and the reasoning behind pure, spiritually focused group work, which serves to put into practice that which was delineated at considerable length in the texts of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey.
Written as memoir in accessible and engaging prose, the narrative is peppered with explanations and quotations, providing the lay reader with a sort of primer, and the esoterically minded with an example of what is achievable through dedication and a commitment to act. Chernikeeff documents twenty years of dedication and commitment in a very human manner. Honesty, integrity and above all humility infuse this short book. The structure and presentation are excellent.
Alice Bailey’s texts were meant not only to inform and help foster inner transformation, they were given as guidance for esoteric practice in all its forms, for the use by those on the right-hand path of love, wisdom and goodwill. Chernikeeff and the Twelves participants are to be commended for their efforts at applying the teachings, captured by the author in The Esoteric Apprentice.
In all, The Esoteric Apprentice is a valuable resource and a must read for all esoteric practitioners who aspire to foster global change for the better.
It was 2001 and the twin towers had fallen the month before. 9/11 marked an event in my own personal story as my mother chose that day to migrate back to Australia, leaving me alone with my twin daughters in the UK. I was a high school teacher at the time, and that year I was teaching a small group of students A level Religious Studies. For the coursework component, they all chose to write an essay on the New Age, or alternative spirituality, as it is now known. They had no idea the woman teaching them was an esoteric thinker with a profound interest in Theosophy and the occult, and one figure in particular: Alice Bailey.
A Turning Point
I was dedicated as ever to being the best teacher I could be, but while I worked hard at my job something nagged at me, some part of me that remained unfulfilled. I wanted to strive for higher things, maybe teach at tertiary level. I thought I would undertake a PhD. I could study part time and somehow fit it in to my already overloaded life.
I searched for universities with a progressive religious studies department offering distance education and ended up emailing my old university, The Open University, where I gained a First-class Honours degree many years before. I received no reply. Then I was told there was a fault in the system and would I re-send. I did. Still nothing. I sent another email. Silence. I waited. Months passed. I had just about given up on the idea. Then, one day in February 2002, I took my students to Warwick University to research their coursework essays. We visited the library and then browsed the bookstore.
On a bottom shelf, looking a bit battered, was a book on alternative spiritualities, co-edited by a Dr Marion Bowman, based at the University of Bath. Realising its value to my students, I bought the book (scoring a discount because of its poor condition) and we all went home.
I still have the receipt!
That afternoon, in my inbox was an email from the same Dr Marion Bowman. To my astonishment she now worked at the OU! She said she had received my email but she couldn’t open it and would I re-send it. I did, going into a ramble about how I wanted to research something on the nature of god, throwing in Alice Bailey as an afterthought. She emailed me back within the half hour. Then came the phone call. Alice Bailey, she said, you must do a PhD on Alice Bailey. She urged me to study full time. Apply for a scholarship. I could scarcely believe it. I gazed at the row of Blue Books on my shelf. It felt like fate.
But the workings of fate are mysterious and not always straightforward. I did apply for that scholarship, but before I could tell my school what was happening, the OU contacted them for a reference. Ouch. By now it was March. The headmaster was understanding but my head of department was not. It was Mother’s Day when she phoned me and gave me a piece of her mind. She was so angry I had to hold the phone away from my ear. As she ranted, something in me snapped. I had been putting up with her shenanigans for years.
I went on stress leave. I contacted my union. I was about to put in a grievance. I wanted to quit and study but the scholarship was a pittance and I would never have survived. I was in a real quandary. Then life started intervening and everything went wrong. My whole back fence fell down in a storm. I had problems with tax. My daughters missed their grandmother and one was especially unhappy. Everything was pointing to me returning to Australia.
A life-changing decision
I arrived in Australia in May 2002. An old friend put me onto the School of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney who offered distance education. I contacted them, found a marvellous supervisor in Dr Lesley Kuhn, applied, and secured a handsome scholarship, far in excess of what I had been offered in the UK. It almost made up for the sadness I felt at leaving my home, my career, my friends, my life – all of it, especially my A level students. I still have the farewell card they gave me (the school kept the true story quiet and word went around that I was ill).
I have never been sure if I made the right choice leaving England, but that first university residential school in Sydney I was walking on air. Everything about it was surreal. The people I met, the friendships formed, the chance encounters on the long journey there and back – the entire experience had a definite charge to it. I felt endorsed, sanctioned and somewhat revered as those who knew of Alice Bailey also knew what an enormous undertaking I was embracing. (My thesis, The Texts of Alice A. Bailey: An Inquiry into the Role of Esotericism in Transforming Consciousness, is available online)
In 2007, a year after I received my doctorate, I secured a job working for a high-profile literary agent. It was Mary Cunnane who urged me to write a biography of Alice Bailey. Instead, years later and after much hesitation I wrote The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey. The novel is a labour of love and service, in honour of a truly remarkable woman who deserves to be far better known and appreciated.
I have been told many a time that when a seeker draws near to Alice Bailey, strange things happen and life seems to have a charge to it that it didn’t have before. Here is my story…
In 1990 I moved to Perth, Western Australia, and within a few weeks of my arrival I stumbled on astrology. I was staying in a cockroach-infested flat and one morning I decided to rid the place of the infestation by setting off an insecticide bomb. Only it meant I had to leave the flat for eight hours. It was summer, I had no money, so where would I go? I walked to the nearest library, and as I entered the air-conditioned cool, my eyes were drawn to some shelves containing the reference section – dictionaries and the like. In amongst the other ordinary books was an astrological ephemeris, a book detailing the daily positions of the planets in our solar system in relation to the zodiac for a period of a hundred years. I took the book and sat down to peruse the pages.
I found I had no trouble understanding the information. I knew all the glyphs and what each meant. It didn’t even occur to me that this in itself was a bit weird. How did I know all this? In the front of that particular edition were instructions on how to cast your own horoscope. I went to the front desk and acquired some scrap paper. A couple of hours later I had my chart, bar the rising sign. It turned out I needed another book to calculate that, so I headed to the state library in the city centre, found said book, and did the calculation. Then, I went home. I thought nothing of it.
Three days later, I was invited by a friend – who had the lease on the cockroach-infested flat – for coffee in town. He introduced me to another friend, a lecturer at a nearby university. This lecturer offered to drive me home and on the way he asked me about my interests. I told him, tentatively, that I had just discovered astrology and told him the story. He swung by his office and directed me to a bottom shelf behind the door. There, hidden away was a row of astrology books! He told me to take what I wanted. I selected twelve books. That night, I didn’t sleep. I was up, with the cockroaches. I didn’t know it then, but those cockroaches were the catalyst for a protracted phase of self-discovery and New Age exploring.
An Alice Bailey Book
Three years passed and I was studying for a diploma in transpersonal counselling. On the course I made a friend, enigmatic Claudio. Our friendship was intense and laced with romance although we both knew it wouldn’t last. He invited me back to his house one evening and while I stood in the hall he disappeared, returning a few moments later with a book proffered on upturned palms. It was dark blue and carried the title “Esoteric Astrology”. I gazed in wonder. ‘A gift,’ he said. He went on to explain how he had packed up his possessions in Adelaide some months before, as he prepared to drive across the desert to Perth, and he could only take with him what he could fit in his car. He saw the book, which he had bought in a second-hand book store, and hesitated. What on earth did he want to keep that book for? It weighed a fair bit, he had no interest in astrology and had never heard of Alice Bailey. But it seemed important and he felt compelled to keep it. When he met me, he realised why. ‘This book is meant for you,’ he said.
I had not heard of Alice Bailey either, but I took the book home and devoured it. There was something so intriguing and compelling about the writing, even as I scarcely understood a word of what was written. I wanted to know. And that desire, that need to know propelled me forwards.
Alice Bailey marked the end of that part of my journey. My life became very, very hard after that. I endured a decade of struggle and testing. A period of darkness in which I was forced to prove my worth as a human being. At the end of the decade, Alice Bailey unexpectedly re-entered my life. That story is even stranger than this.
Over the years I have bought the whole collection of Alice Bailey’s writings. I have read most. Something changed when I first encountered the Blue Books. I changed. The way I understood reality shifted. I will try to explain that shift another time.
I have always held the Alice Bailey teachings lightly and have never considered myself an adherent, but there is no need to be. All esoteric knowledge is charged with a certain energy. Only, the knowledge exists behind a veil and to pass through that veil and enter into the realm, you need to have an esoteric disposition. What is that? Well, unbeknownst to me until I met the cockroaches, I had no idea I had one.