There are so few photos of Alice Bailey which is why I’m delighted to share this digitally enhanced image courtesy of Steven Chernikeeff, original photo courtesy of the Lucis Trust. The image appears in the original in my biography Alice A. Bailey: Life & Legacy.
This image of Alice Bailey – then Mrs Alice Evans – seated on a rustic bench in the grounds of Krotona, Hollywood, Los Angeles is delightful. She was almost forty years old and even with her hand obscuring part of her face it is easy to see how beautiful she was.
Here she is again in the same photo, this time with her future husband Foster Bailey. Both held key positions in the administration of the USA branch of the Theosophical Society, Alice as editor of The Messenger, the sectional magazine, and Foster as National Secretary.
And here seated with the couple is editor of The Theosophist Bahman Pestonji Wadia who had been sent by TS head Annie Besant to try to help sort out an ongoing organisational dispute that Alice and Foster were embroiled in. The dispute is detailed in depth in my biography, along with a possible explanation of why Alice looks so contended in the photo. She wasn’t to know what 1920 would bring.
I’m truly humbled by all the praise pouring in for my biography of Alice Bailey. Such kind words as these warm my heart.
“This is so much more than a very detailed biography of Alice Ann Bailey; it is also a very comprehensive review of the many interesting groups and people throughout the history of theosophical thought and the continuing impulse of the Ageless Wisdom teachings. At every turn we feel like we are on intimate terms with the lives and events of this span of time, and the overall view is awesome and inspiring.” – Gail Jolley, School for Esoteric Studies.
“Our thanks to Dr Blackthorn for her insights into the life of one of the most influential esoteric teachers of the twentieth century. As scribe for the Tibetan Master, Alice Ann Bailey provided a body of teachings unrivaled in their importance at the dawn of the Aquarian Age.” John F. Nash, PhD www.uriel.com
“A thorough documentation of Blackthorn’s years of dedicated research into Alice Bailey’s life and spiritual output. This book encapsulates the wide-ranging illumination which flowed through Bailey’s life, along with its trials and triumphs. Gaps are filled and misconceptions corrected, which have allowed many a conspiracy theory and error to proliferate. A treasure for the serious student of life in all its dimensions.” – Murray Stentiford, physicist and student of universal human spirituality
“A must-read for any Bailey student, anyone interested in the New Age movement, and for those who wonder, amidst our confused and divided world, where will it all end?“- Steven Chernikeeff, author of Esoteric Apprentice
“A really enjoyable read! A clear light shining on a very important spiritual scribe of our age, and that to come. The inclusion of historical context gives great flavor and understanding of AAB’s challenging life, and clears up many misunderstandings of her views. An erudite explanation of living theosophy for general consumption – no mean feat!” – Brenton Phillis, www.heartforchange.net
“As a long time student of the blue books and someone who deeply admires AAB I couldn’t have asked for a better biography. It is all I hope for and more, combining scholarship and heart. A pleasure to read. Many clues are drawn together to provide a fuller picture of AAB. New information is given. Key periods in her life are given new light – such as the Ascona period. Alice Bailey and her writings are made more accessible and put into historic and esoteric context. It is high time the myths and misconceptions about AAB and her writings be dispelled and she takes her place as one of the greatest esoteric thinkers of the 20th Century. Isobel Blackthorn has done a great service to Alice Bailey’s legacy and provided a gateway for a new generation of Alice Bailey students.” – Patrick Chouinard, theosophical scholar and teacher
“This remarkable, deeply researched book on Alice Bailey is a fascinating read for anyone who has an interest in the occult, Theosophy, the origins of the New Age movement, spirituality or the esoteric. Isobel Blackthorn has done an extraordinary job of writing an accessible biography of a unique woman whose ideas and writings have inspired generations, yet remains obscured and half-forgotten in history.” ~ Right Worshipful Master K. Crombie, 18° Freemason.
“This is a remarkable biography for its sheer scope and level of detail, placing Alice Bailey clearly amid her spiritual contemporaries. One of the many strengths of Alice A. Bailey: Life and Legacy is the way it enables the reader to follow the maturation of Bailey’s teachings, and to witness how through Bailey’s unique spiritual guidance, she arrived at such a large vision for humankind.” – Maggie Hamilton, author of The Secret World of Fairies
“I don’t think you will find a more thorough and documented treatment of Bailey’s life. Extremely well researched.” Dr Lisa Love
“One of the most fascinating visionaries of the 20th century is Alice A. Bailey, often called the Mother of the New Age Movement. Although her cultural influence has been immense she is still very much vilified and even neglected by academic scholars of Western Esotericism. Hopefully this situation will change with the biography Alice A. Bailey: Life & Legacy by Isobel Blackthorn. She is eminently qualified for this difficult task, holding a PhD from the University of Western Sydney for her research on the texts of Alice Bailey. Blackthorn´s study is a treasure trove of new data on the life and work of Alice Bailey, The Arcane School and the many organizations and activities based on her writings. This biography is an important and ground-breaking contribution to our understanding of, not just Alice Bailey, but also the Esoteric Tradition, the third intellectual force or pillar in cultural history alongside science and religion. Isobel Blackthorn is to be commended for an excellent work of interest to all serious students of esotericism.” Håkan Blomqvist, Sweden Librarian and co-founder of Archives for the Unexplained (AFU)
“This biography details the turbulent life of Alice Bailey, the Mother of the New Age. An orphan by the age of eight, living a rigidly disciplined childhood with grandparents, a violent husband, lone parenthood, the struggle for survival, and constant ill health. Hardly a promising start for the woman who brought so much esoteric knowledge to the world through her writing and teaching. Isobel Blackthorn’s thorough research and compelling style present the polarity of experiences of Alice Bailey: admiration and antagonism, leadership and service, devotion and betrayal, and the accumulation of wisdom that underpins, without acknowledgement, much of our modern belief systems. Lovers of enlightenment and esoteric philosophy will treasure this book.” – Veronica Schwarz, author and editor.
“Isobel Blackthorn, does an excellent job of weaving the many threads of Bailey’s life and works into a cohesive, well-written and very readable biography with just the right balance of biographical details and critical discussion around the intellectual, spiritual and theosophical thoughts and tenets that emerged at different points along Bailey’s life journey. The contention around Bailey’s legacy is also addressed and will be of particular interest to specialist readers as will the author’s inclusion of a good range of photos, lists and extensive chapter notes. The book’s subject matter is not for everyone but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in esoteric thought and/or the subjective nature of spiritual experience in general and in the contribution of Alice Bailey to New Age ideas in particular.” – Carmel Bendon, Scholar in Medieval Literature and Culture
I am thrilled to announce my full biography of Alice A. Bailey has just been acquired by Shooting Star Press!
This comes after many weeks of turbulence as the original edition released on 7 May 2020 was withdrawn from sale. The matter that caused the withdrawal has been resolved. I had thought of self-publishing but then endured a tiresome few weeks waiting for the manuscript to be properly formatted. Sometimes, such difficulties and delays have a fated feel and when Cath Brinkley of Shooting Star Press took a keen interest in my book, I felt a corner had been turned.
From tragic beginnings as an aristocratic orphan to becoming the mother of the New Age spiritual movement, Alice A. Bailey is one of the modern era’s most misunderstood occult figures.
Bailey’s journey is a story of faith, from orthodox Christian beginnings, through a protracted spiritual crisis, to a newfound belief in Theosophy. A mystic and a seeker, a founder of global spiritual organizations, and a surmounter of adversity, Bailey’s past is rife with injustices, myths, and misconceptions – including that she was an anti-Semite and a racist with a dark agenda.
With scandals and controversies laid bare, Bailey’s extraordinary life is revealed as a powerful, remarkable legacy.
Some background on the creation of this book
I say this is my life’s work and it really is. I was first urged to compose a biography back in 2007, a year after I was awarded my doctoral thesis at the University of Western Sydney for my comprehensive study of the Bailey books, when I scored a job with a high-powered literary agent representing Nobel prize winners and prime ministers and the like. Back in 2016, the now retired agent wrote me a rather exasperated email in response to mine saying “Isobel, I just don’t know why you won’t write a biography of Alice Bailey.” Sometimes you just have to do what you’re told. I ‘obeyed’, but the manuscript I produced lacked the sort of detail that makes for a good biography. So I transformed what I had into The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A Bailey.
As a result of that book, which serves now as a companion book to the biography, a door opened. The vital element that was missing until we met was trust. Suddenly, what seemed an impossible if essential task was made possible because of that trust.
There are so many I owe my gratitude to in the creation of this work, those who have given vital resource material willingly and bravely so that certain key moments in the story of the Bailey community post-1949 could be told. Photos have been provided, the Lucis Trust, the Agni Yoga Society and the School for Esoteric Studies provided their assistance, and a number of key individuals with certain specialisms read over chapters to make sure I had things sitting right and had not omitted anything vital. Thank you! I have mentioned you all in my acknowledgements.
I am sure more detail will arise, oversights come to light and revisions will be made – I have a very flexible publisher who will facilitate this – but for now, the moment has come and this book will be in the world sitting alongside biographies of HPB and the Roerichs and Steiner and Jung…
In the end I am left with one essential thought about Alice Bailey. She was her whole life a spiritual activist and it is that activism that so inspires me and so many others. My life has been touched and shaped by Alice and DK for many decades. What an honour now this moment is! LLP
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.
“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/
“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/
“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/
“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/
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.’
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 Saddleworth, UK, 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:
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.