The Unlikely Occultist Book Tour Wrap Up

When I booked a review tour for my biographical novel of Alice Bailey, it was with considerable unease. I knew few if any reviewers would have heard of the mysterious esoteric figure, which perhaps renders my novel of special interest only. That was my thinking. I was wrong. The Unlikely Occultist was very well received by all bar one reviewer, who signed up not realising what my book was about. She was very kind in saying so without hating on my offering.

As for the others, well, my hat is off to them all, not only for their considered words of praise, but for making a solid effort to read a rather dense story steeped in historical detail. I also commend Rachel’s Random Resources for yet again putting together an excellent tour.

Here are the highlights of The Unlikely Occultist book tour.

” I think if you like history and finding out more about iconic figures, then this is definitely one you should try.” https://bytheletterbookreviews.com/2019/08/20/the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-rararesources-iblackthorn/

“She is truly an inspiring lady who fought back against adversity time and again to remain true to her beliefs” https://maitaylor567291325.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn/

“An interesting and enjoyable read about a very charismatic woman who wrote more than twenty-four books on theosophical subjects.” https://eclecticreview.com/2019/08/21/the-unlikely-occultist-a-biographical-novel-of-alice-a-bailey-by-isobel-blackthorn-iblackthorn-rararesources-nonfiction-biography-isobelblackthorn/

“The combination of fact and fiction brings her name and influence to the table and perhaps even a 21st century view on the woman and her legacy.” https://cherylmmbookblog.blogspot.com/2019/08/blogtour-unlikely-occultist.html?spref=tw

“Isobel Blackthorn’s use of fiction cleverly achieves this; Alice Bailey’s name and work is brought into the mainstream rather than hidden in the shadows.” https://fromundertheduvet.co.uk/2019/08/22/book-review-the-unlikely-occultist-a-biographical-novel-of-alice-a-bailey/

“Even if you’re someone who might be tempted to dismiss spiritualism in all its various guises as ‘bunkum’, do at least give this book a chance. It’s so intelligently written that I’m sure you’ll at least see if not understand why so many people give it credence. In summary, this is a persuasively written novel that cleverly combines fact with a little fiction in order to thoroughly entertain as well as enlighten.” http://www.booksarecool.com/2019/blackthorn-fascinating-persuasive/

“I enjoy Isobel Blackthorn’s writing, so while this might not have been a book I’d normally read, the writing is beautiful and I’m glad I took a leap.” https://jessicabelmont.wordpress.com/2019/08/22/blogtour-the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn-iblackthorn-rararesources-gilbster1000-amreading-bookblogger-bookreview/

“I found myself flying through the pages and intrigued by the whole plot, so much so that I went on to learn about Alice Bailey and her real life. She was a fascinating woman and you should look her up.” Stacey https://whisperingstories.com/the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn-book-review/

“Bailey’s life was fascinating no matter what you do or don’t believe. A writer and teacher, she was one of the first people to coin terms like ‘New Age’ and ‘The Age of Aquarius’, Bailey also claimed to have had her books dictated to her by a Tibetan Master of Wisdom – a human-like divinity steeped in Eastern esoteric religion.”  http://www.jameshartleybooks.com/a-life-of-alice-bailey/

” The author supplements the facts of Ms. Bailey’s life with well-written fictional accounts of Alice’s day-to-day life, which brings this enigmatic person to life.” https://www.jenabooks.com/sharing-a-new-book-15/

“Blackthorn has a story to tell, and she’s going to take her time with it. It’s as relaxed as it can be, and sort of moseys through the plot, allowing the reader to soak in all the information at hand. That should also be mentioned. This is a lore and information heavy novel, in its own way. If you have no idea who Bailey is, you’ll learn something, and that’s exactly the type of novel I’ve been loving of late. If that’s something you’re attracted to as well, check this out.” http://www.vainradical.co.uk/blogs/the-unlikely-occultist-book-tour-review/

“drew me in from the beginning and I instantly became connected to Alice’s world. It was such a wonderful read that I just couldn’t out it down.”https://babydollsandrazorblades.wordpress.com/2019/08/24/book-review-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“this book was definite learning experience for me!” https://ktrobson.home.blog/2019/08/25/the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-review/

“I really did enjoy this and am looking forward to doing some investigating into Alice” https://curledupwithagoodbook.co.uk/blog-tour-review-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

” I had not heard of Alice Bailey but boy was she an interesting character! I loved finding out about her and I even found myself on online after I’d finished the book to find out more – that for me is the sign of excellent characterisation – she certainly piqued my interest!” https://donnasbookblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/blogtour-bookreview-for-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-rararesources/

“As the story proceeds, Alice’s contribution to the theosophical society is explained in detail. Her life was nothing short of a ship in a storm. It was heart-wrenching to read the hardships she went through” https://thebookdecoder.com/2019/08/26/the-unlikely-occulist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Unlikely Occultist is a book for someone who loves history or when you want to be fascinated by a wonderful and stubborn lady who just wants to make the world a better place.” https://indeboekenkast.com/english-books/romans/the-unlikely-occultist/

“I really enjoyed this book, I had never heard of Alice Bailey but Isobel Blackthorn really brings her to life here.” https://thedivinewrite.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/the-unlikely-occultist/

Visit The Unlikely Occultist here

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019, for her biographical short story, ‘Nothing to Declare’. The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is the winner of the Raven Awards 2019. Isobel holds a PhD from the University of Western Sydney, for her research on the works of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey, the ‘Mother of the New Age.’

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Celebrating Odyssey Books Ten Year Milestone with a Special Discount of A Perfect Square

Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of Odyssey Books with a Special Discount of A Perfect Square

Odyssey Books have been going since 2009. They are a terrific little press, punching above their weight, with an impressive list of authors and high calibre titles. I joined the small press in 2015 when Odyssey Books released my first two novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree. In 2016, they published my third novel, A Perfect Square. This weekend, Odyssey Books are having a special sale of A Perfect Square to celebrate their anniversary! (check out the other titles they have on offer in July)

ABOUT A PERFECT SQUARE

Across two continents, two sets of mothers and daughters are bound by a dark mystery.

On a winter’s day in the Dandenongs, Victoria, pianist Ginny returns home to stay with her eccentric mother and artist, Harriet. Consumed by disturbing dreams, speculations and remembering, she tries to prise from her mother the truth concerning her father’s disappearance and why, when she was seven, Harriet abducted her. In an effort to distract her daughter’s interrogations, Harriet proposes they collaborate on an exhibition of paintings and songs.

Meanwhile, on the edge of Dartmoor, Judith paints landscapes of the Australian Outback to soothe her troubled mind. Her wayward daughter, Madeleine, has returned home and she’s filled the house with darkness. Her father doesn’t want to know her. Judith wishes he did. When at last she forces the two to meet she breathes a sigh of relief.

Back in Australia, Ginny is poised to fly to England in search of the truth when she receives some earth-shattering news.

A novel brimming with mystery, intrigue, creativity, art and the occult.

 

ONLY $0.99 on Kindle viewbook.at/PerfectSquare

 

A Very Special Review of A Perfect Square

About forty five minutes by car to the east of Melbourne brings you to the Dandenongs. A small mountain range strewn with a magical semi-tropical rainforest, full of tall mountain ash, giant tree ferns and crystal trickling creeks.  Mast Gully was so named by an old sailing captain, in the days of the first settlers, who said the tall straight trees reminded him of nothing so much as a forest of ships masts. The area has attracted artists and musicians since its very earliest days, the painter Tom Roberts used to live and paint here, and William Ricketts of the famous sanctuary in Olinda, used to be a jazz clarinettist. A bustling, vibrant, ever-changing colony of artistic types has inhabited the hills, gullies and quaint little towns ever since.

It is in this idyllic setting that Isobel Blackthorn has placed ‘A Perfect Square’. At the heart of this delightful tale is an artistic collaboration between Harriet, a somewhat neurotic painter with a hidden past, and her daughter Ginny, a musician with deep questions about her absent father. At the same time far across the sea on the moors of Dorset, England, another mother daughter relationship is being played out by Judith and her daughter Madeleine. Judith too, is a painter, also wrestling with her work and her past and her relationships. The two stories play as counterpoint to each other, as the story ducks and weaves around Astrology, Art history, music, occultism and the power of a past, not fully come to terms with, to invade and choke the present.  As the two girls become unhappier, winter approaches, the gallery presentation comes nearer, and the story itself begins to become darker before finally resolving in very surprising ways.

There is more than a touch of ‘AbFab’ about the relationships between some of the characters, and as someone with more than a passing acquaintanceship with the Dandenongs, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed spending time with them all. I have known these people, gone to their homes and eaten their food and drunk their wine, far into the evening. Musicians and practitioners of the static Arts will find much to interest them in this story as both subjects are not merely touched upon but form an integral part of the structure of this tale.

In a case of ‘life imitating Art’ or ‘Art imitating life’, the authors own daughter has contributed musical works that echo the collaboration in the story, and these are also available to the reader through web links at the back of the book?

I was somewhat hesitant approaching ‘A Perfect Square’ as something seemed to be saying that it might have been a little too serious for my mood. I could not have been more wrong.  I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes fascinating and believable characters, well drawn settings and just enough mystery to keep the whole thing bubbling along nicely. The sort of book you almost want to start reading again, the moment you have finished it, and I have to confess, I enjoyed it immensely…

– Film and Book Critic, Philip A. Wallis.

Accompanying music by jazz pianist and composer Elizabeth Blackthorn:

https://elizabethblackthorn.bandcamp.com/album/a-perfect-square

https://open.spotify.com/album/6BWFjoq8tuvyrg7w9FYjUC

https://music.apple.com/us/album/a-perfect-square-ep/1149154120

Two superb reviews of The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey

The Unlikely Occultist

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.

You can find out more about The Unlikely Occultist here

A photographic biography – the homes of Alice A. Bailey

Alice BaileyTheosophist 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.

Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, UK. Viewed from Venniehill.

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.

Alice Bailey’s view looking out over George Washington Bridge and 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

Isobel Blackthorn is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey 

References

St. Lawrence Bridge and manufacturing scheme engineer’ s report, … Bateman, F. Foster. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=aeu.ark:/13960/t03x8n71j;view=1up;seq=8

On Frederick Foster La Trobe-Bateman:  https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Frederic_Foster_La_Trobe-Bateman

On Broadwater Down and General Montgomery: https://www.blighty-at-war.net/tunbridge-wells-bunker.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/50/a2077850.shtml

Alice Bailey featured in New Dawn magazine

Alice Bailey

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.

The Unlikely Occultist

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!

New Dawn magazine

https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/product/new-dawn-special-issue-vol-13-no-2

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

Alice Bailey, World Goodwill and the United Nations

Alice Bailey

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:

Live Encounters Magazine March 2019 – https://liveencounters.net/2019/02/28/live-encounters-magazine-march-2019/

To download PDF click on this link – https://liveencounters.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Live-Encounters-Magazine-February-2019.pdf

To read the digital mag on your phone click on this link – https://issuu.com/liveencounters/docs/live_encounters_magazine_february_2_4eeba753253cf2?e=0

Alice A. Bailey

To read more about Alice Bailey in my biographical novel, click this link.

How I came to write a doctoral thesis on Alice A. Bailey

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.

New Age

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.

Marion Bowman

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.

A Crisis

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.

Alice A. Bailey