Walter Gornold

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Walter Gorn Old.

Walter Gornold (March 20, 1864 — December 23, 1929), known until 1895 as Walter Richard Old, was an English astrologer and Theosophist. He was very active in the early Theosophical Society from 1887-1895 and became a member of H. P. Blavatsky's Inner Group in London. During his long career as an astrologer, he used the pen name Sepharial, and was called "the prince of English astrologers."[1]

Personal life

Walter Richard Old was born March 20, 1864 in West Bromwich, Staffordshire (now West Midlands), England[2]. His father, George Old, was a haberdasher who died in 1868, leaving his wife Jane to rear Walter and six other children.[3] When only fifteen years old, he began studying astrology, and "by the age of twenty-three was writing a regular astrology column in the Society Times and had his first book published."[4] He officially changed his name to Walter Richard Gornold on April 19, 1895, incorporating the name Gorn (also spelled Gorm), a Danish king from whom he was descended.[5]

On June 23, 1896, he married Marie Katherine Susanna Moore, called "Minnie," who shared his interest in the occult.[6][7] The couple had seven children – daughters Cynthia, Iris, Ivy, Averil, and Barbara; a son James (who died in infancy); and the youngest son, Walter Royal "Roy" Gornold – whom his father supported as a "literary author," living mostly in London.[8] The family fortunes varied, and frequent moves were necessary. When Walter could not earn enough through his astrological work, he took jobs such as being a probate clerk.[9]

During the First World War, Gornold volunteered in the Home Guard, and he claimed credit for inventing the barrage balloons that deterred aerial attacks.

Late in his life, Gornold and several of his children joined the Elim Pentecostal Church at a tent meeting in Worthing.[10] Three months after his baptism in the church, on December 23, 1929, Walter Gornold died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Hove, England.

Involvement in Theosophical Society

Mr. Old was admitted as a Fellow [member] of the Theosophical Society on January 12, 1888, at a time he was living in Birmingham.[11] His brothers Sydney and Bernard also became members.[12][13]

In London

The next year, Walter became Vice President of the Blavatsky Lodge in London. Walter worked with Madame Blavatsky in London, and was thoroughly engaged in Theosophical Society activities while also working as an astrologer. He served as the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England from 1890 to 1891, and around that time introduced W. F. Allen – an astrologer best known as Alan Leo – to Theosophy.[14] In addition Old acted as associate editor of The Vahan in 1890-1891 and of The Theosophist in 1892.[15]

Rev. Bernard Old, brother of Walter, recalled an experience the latter had when living with Mme. Blavatsky:

He [Walter] had been thinking about some astrological problem and came into the sitting-room looking serious and harrassed. H.P.B. and I were having a chat; she evidently sensed something from my brother, so in a masterful way directed him to sit down on the sofa and rest himself. The she turned to me and softly said: "Don't be alarmed, I am going to show him what he wants to know." She only touched his thumb with the ring she had upon her finger, and he instantly fell asleep as in a trance, just as one sees a sensitive go into a trance during a performance of hypnotism. In a very short time, he was awakened and she said to him, "Do you understand what you saw?" He said, "Yes, and it is the answer to my astrological problem in Hebrew letters of fire." "Yes," she said, "that is right. But at present you must not go over by yourself." Then she again turned to me and said that she had been away from her body three times during my brother’s trance or sleep.[16]

According to an account by Ernest Pelletier:

On Thursday, May 19th, 1887, the Blavatsky Lodge was founded. Old served as its Vice-President for the year 1889 and was re-elected on Jan. 2nd, 1890 for another year. On Dec. 18th, 1889, at a meeting held at 17 Lansdowne Road, Old was elected as the first General Secretary of the newly formed British Section. He was a member of the Esoteric Section. Along with Miss Laura Cooper and Claude Falls Wright, Old was present when H.P.B. passed away. At the first Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society in Europe on July 9th -10th, 1891, Old was appointed Assistant Secretary to G. R. S. Mead, Secretary. He was also elected as Librarian of the Headquarters Library. Old gave lectures on astrology and contributed to the Questions and Answers section of The Vahan. He was a student of the Kabala and of medicine. He wrote the preface to H.P.B.'s Gems of the East — a Birthday Book of Precepts and Axioms.[17]

Old was a member of the household at 19 Avenue Road, the house of Annie Besant where H.P.B. lived in her final months. When Blavatsky formed her Inner Group in July, 1890, Old was one of the twelve men and women who studied with her. Along with Miss Laura Cooper, Claude Falls Wright, and Miss Black, the nurse, Old was at H.P.B.'s bedside when she died of influenza on May 8, 1891.[18]

At Adyar

In November 1892, he travelled to India to work at the Adyar headquarters of the international Theosophical Society, and contributed to the pages of The Theosophist.[19] He served as Recording Secretary and Treasurer of the Society in 1893, and lectured to Indian members with great success and organized some new branches.

During his time at Adyar, Mr. Old lectured in the Indian branches:

Madanapalle. - Mr. Old visited the Branch on July 12th and remained nearly a week. During this time he delivered two lectures, one on the "Ethical Basis of Theosophy"; the other, "Vindication of Yoga." The meetings were presided over respectively by the District Munsiff and Tahsildar[20]

Mr. Old also presided over a meeting of the boys of the Theosophical class attached to the Branch. This visit to the Branch will have a lasting effect for good.

R. Seshagiri Rau,

Adyar Library

While still using the name Walter R. Old, he was one of the earliest librarians in the Adyar Library. His name appears frequently in early issues of The Theosophist, in brief notices about the library, such as this:

The undersigned acknowledges with thanks the receipt of a copy of Manira S'âstra from the Hon. S. Subramania Iyer; also the gift of Rs. 30 to the Adyar Library Fund from Mr. R. Sorria Row Naidu, Masulipatam.

Walter R. Old,

Judge controversy

Walter Gorn Old.

In 1894-1895 the Theosophical Society was embroiled in a controversy that Mr. Old made public, thereby worsening the situation. In August 1893 both Old and Edge had been suspended from their membership in the E.S.T. for violating their pledge of secrecy because of their article "THEOSOPHIC FREETHOUGHT" which appeared in The Theosophist. Old, upset with Annie Besant's comments at the General Council meeting held July 7th, 1894 and how that meeting turned out, decided to send a statement to Edmund Garrett of the The Westminster Gazette with the intent of exposing Mr. Judge as a fraud.[23] Old had copied from Mrs. Besant's compiled evidence to write his statement of alleged facts. It was Garrett's interpretation of this material that was published in November 1894 as "Isis Very Much Unveiled, Being the Story of the Great Mahatma Hoax", re-starting the whole Judge Case controversy.

Old became very unpopular within the theosophical movement after the Westminster Gazette item. It was apparently reported in the November 12th, 1894, Westminster Gazette that he had also resigned, but this seems doubtful because of his letter which appeared in the December issue of Lucifer. In his undated letter to the Editor, he refers to a note of Nov. 15th which appeared in the previous issue in the "Watch-Tower". He goes on to state: "I am still working for the Society, and I retain the fullest confidence in its power to outlive all troubles that are honestly faced." His friend Sydney V. Edge, however, disavowed Old's public exposure of private T.S. matters in a letter to G. R. S. Mead.[24]

In a letter to Mrs. Fielding, January 31st, 1939, Sydney H. Old commented on his brother. "It is a matter of keen regret that in 1894/5 my brother (the astral tramp ["H.P.B. used to call him 'the astral tramp,' on account of his habit of 'roaming about in his astral body at night,' as she put it.']) should, after all his experience with H.P.B. have been partner to those articles in the Westminster Gazette and the publication of that booklet by Edmund Garrett entitled 'Isis Very Much Unveiled'. He seemed after that to slump in T.S. work, got married, and ended his career as a strong advocate of the Four Square Gospel of Aimee Semple Macpherson." On September 13th, 1929, three months before he died, he announced at a meeting "I have spent all my life and travelled half way round the world in search of the truth. Today I have found the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ which I learned at my mother's knee".[25]

Reactions to Besant and Leadbeater

Even though he had long ceased to be a member of the Theosophical Society, Gornold continued to follow its activities in the press. Always eager to keep his name in the public eye, even at the expense of others, he wrote letters to magazines like Old Moore's Monthly Messenger criticizing Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater. Mrs. Besant had become President of the Theosophical Society in Adyar after the death of Colonel Olcott, and Mr. Leadbeater was her coworker. The two of them had claimed that young Jiddu Krishnamurti was the vehicle of the World Teacher. One example of Gornold's letters was based on his interpretation of Alan Leo's horoscope of Krishnamurti (Alcyone):

I have charged Mrs. Besant with obscurantism on the grounds that when Mr Leo published the horoscope of 'Alcyone' no objection to the data was offered by Mrs Besant, but when I gave my interpretation of the horoscope, which I know from the directional indications of the course of events to be the correct one, Mrs Besant at once repudiated it, but failed to supply the correct data. . . Her failure. . . is therefore ground for a just charge of obscurantism. . .[26]

Career as an astrologer and occultist

Gornold was prominent in England as practitioner of astrology under the name Sepharial. London newspapers touted him as the "prince of English astrologers" and "the foremost living astrologer."[27] His writings were also well known in the United States, where newspapers often featured articles about his predictions and his methods, and American editions of his books were published. Altogether he published over 60 books and pamphlets, many of which are still in print. He is credited with bringing astrology to the general public through his sun-sign horoscopes. He was active in the British Astrological Society, the Society for Astrological Research, the Astrological Society of New York, and other groups.

After reading Old's column in Society Times, other astrologers began corresponding with him. Frederick Lacey became a close friend. Lacey was also a friend of Alan Leo. Lacey and Leo were unhappy that the magazine Astrology devoted too many pages to horse racing and the interests of casual working-class readers, so they decided to create another magazine that would appeal more to serious astrologers. In November 1889, they launched the Astrologer's Magazine, renamed as the still-published journal Modern Astrology. Walter Old issued his own periodical, Fate and Fortune, but after that venture quickly failed, he contributed to Modern Astrology instead.[28]

He also contributed to periodicals for astrologers such as The Sphinx, The Horoscope, and the British Journal of Astrology. The Evening News of London routinely published his annual predictions for the coming year, and Forecast printed his weather predictions. In The Theosophist he published the horoscopes of Mme. Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and Annie Besant.

In addition to his public prognostications, Gornold produced a large body of writings that were sold by private subscription. These were methods of aiding speculators in commodities, the stock market, and horse races.

Astrological theories

In astrological circles he was noteworthy for his belief in a second moon of Earth, a dark object that he called Lilith. He was following a theory of Dr. Georg Waltemath of Hamburg positing a system of miniature moons. Other scientists concluded that the purported celestial discoveries were probably sunspots. However, Gornold made use of Lilith in his astrological calculations.

In 1898, Walter named this moon Lilith. He considered it to be black enough to be invisible most of the time, being visible only close to an opposition or when in transit across the solar disk. Walter constructed an ephemeris of Lilith, based on several of Waltemath's claimed observations and he considered Lilith to have the same mass as the Moon...

It is clear that Walter used Lilith in his work. He invented a glyph comprising a circle crossed by a horizontal line (Salt symbol.png).[29] to represent the satellite and believed it "produced rapid changes and upsets and ... Lilith's influence is somewhat like the Moon's, but not fortunate, and more violent in its actions." To calculate conjunctions it is to be remembered that in thirteen years Lilith forms an exact conjunction with the Sun thirty one days later.[30]

Another theory that Gornold espoused was that of the pre-natal epoch, a method of rectification. "Walter's interest in his theory dated from at least 1888. His faith in the system centred around his belief in reincarnation and had nothing to do with charts of conception, with which the method is often confused."[31] He wrote:

The rules for rectification were the result of over 100 test cases made by me during 1887... the basic idea I got as stated, from the Trutine of Hermes; the rules I discovered and formulated from my researchers... I believe that all the factors are included in the laws governing the process of re-incarnation, and that this period at which this astral vortex, represented by the figure of the epoch, is instituted, depends entirely upon the conditions set up in the individual sphere of consciousness by the past life of each individual. The aggregate of all past experiences is represented in the psychic, mental, moral and spiritual state of an individual at the moment of death.[32]

Gornold used terminology and philosophy adapted from Hindu astrology in his pre-natal charts.

Occult interests

Walter Gornold explored a wide range of occult teachings and practices, including tarot, numerology, graphology, dreams, symbols, crystal scrying, psychometry, phrenology, séances, and clairvoyance. He wrote about many of these subjects. He read Paul Christian (Jean-Baptiste Pitois) and Éliphas Lévi (Alphonse Louis Constant ). Kabbalah was a major influence.

Pyramidology and British Israelism were especially attractive to Gornold. The measurements of the Egyptian pyramids corresponded to the English system of measurement, which was therefore considered to be divinely inspired.[33]


Gornold was a prolific writer of books and articles. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 19 articles by or about Walter R Old, 21 articles under Gornold, and another 43 articles under the pseudonym Sepharial. Most of the latter deal with astrology. He issued many astrological papers such as commodities predictions by private subscription. Those are mostly lost. A book called the Golden Key and another devoted to pyramidology were never published.

He also wrote books and pamphlets. These are listed under the author name on the title page of the first edition, if known; later editions often used Sepharial.

Walter R. Old as author

  • The Book of the Path of Virtue, or a Version of the Tao-Teh-King of Lao-tze, the Chinese Mystic and Philosopher: with an Introduction & Essay on the Tao as Presented in the Writings of Chuang-tze, the Apostle of Tao-tze.. Madras, India: Indian Section of the Theosophical Society, 1894. 46 pages. 1894 edition is available at Google Books and Hathitrust.
  • What is Theosophy? A Handbook for Inquirers. London: Hay Nisbet, 1891. Translated into Danish and Norwegian.

Walter Gornold as author

  • The Shu king; or, The Chinese historical classic, being an authentic record of the religion, philosophy, customs and government of the Chinese from the earliest times. London And Benares, Theosophical Pub. Society; New York, John Lane, 1904. 306 pages. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive, among other sources.
  • The Simple Way, Laotze (the ‘Old Boy’): A New Translation of the Tao-Teh-King with Introduction and Commentary. London: Philip Wellby, 1904. Available at Internet Archive and Scribd. Third edition by London: Rider & Son, 1913.

Sepharial as author

  • The Arcana Or Stock And Share Key. Kessinger edition available.
  • The Art of Card Fortune Telling: a lucid treatise dealing with all the popular and more abstruse methods. London, W. Foulsham, 1958.
  • The Astrological Ready Reckoner and Students' Assistant. London : W. Foulsham & Co., 19xx. 68 pages.
  • An Astrological Survey of the Great War. London, W. Foulsham, 1914.
  • Astrology Explained.
  • Astrology: How To Make Your Own Horoscope. New York: R. F. Fenno & Company, n.d. 126 pages with illustrations. Revised, enlarged edition by Santa Fe, N.M.: Sun Pub. Co., 1981.
  • Astrology and Marriage: . 1928. New York: S. Weiser, 1970.
  • The Basis of Scripture Prophesies. Philadelphia: D. McKay Co., 1927.
  • Birthday Book of Destiny. London: W. Foulsham, 19xx.
  • The Book of Charms and Talismans, with numerous diagrams of talismans, sigils, and seals. 1923. Philadelphia, David McKay Co., 1924. New editions by London, W. Foulsham, 1957, 1989.
  • Cosmic Symbolism. London: William Rider & Son, 1912. Santa Fe, N.M.: Sun Pub. Co., 1981.
  • The Daily Guide.
  • Degrees of the Zodiac Symbolised. 1907. Written with Charubel [John Thomas]. Chicago: Aries Press, 1943.
  • Directional Astrology: to which is added a discussion of problematic points and a complete set of tables necessary for the calculation of arcs of direction. Philadelphia: D. McKay, 1915. 119 pages. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
  • Eclipses in Theory and Practice. 1915.
  • Elementary Astrology. Philadelphia, David McKay company [1943].
  • The Great Devastation - a Prophecy of the Times That are Coming upon Europe. London: Foulsham, 1914. Available at [Hathitrust.
  • Hebrew Astrology: the Key to the Study of Prophecy. London: Foulsham, 1929. 140 pages. Available at Hathitrust.
  • How to Read the Crystal, or Crystal and Seer. London: Foulsham & Co., 1922. [Waiheke Island]: Floating Press, 2009 (digital edition).
  • The Kabala of Numbers. London: Rider & Son, 1911. 1911 edition available at Hathitrust. Revised edition by London, William Rider and Son, 1920. 913. 2nd edition by Philadelphia: D. McKay Co., 1928. New expanded edition by New York, S. Weiser, 1970 with 387 pages. New expanded edition by Hollywood, Calif., Newcastle Pub. Co., 1974.
  • The Law of Values: An Exposition of the Primary Causes of Stock and Share Fluctuations. London: W. Foulsham, 19xx. Cosimo Classics. 56 pages. On financial astrology.
  • The Manual of Astrology: in four books: treating of the language of the heavens, the reading of a horoscope, the measure of time, and Hindu astrology ; includes the influence of the planet Pluto. Revised edition by London; New York: W. Foulsham, 1962.* The Manual of Occultism. London: Rider, 1910, 1972.
  • A Manual of Occultism. London: William Ryder & Son, 1918. Available at Hathitrust.
  • New Dictionary of Astrology, in which all technical and abstruse terms used in the textbooks of the science are intimately explained and illustrated. 1921. Reissued by Arco, New York in 1964. Reissued by New York: Galahad Books, 1963. Available at Hathitrust.
  • The New Manual of Astrology. Four volumes. Limited access at Hathitrust.
  • The Numbers Book; the Science of Numerology. London, New York, W. Foulsham, 1957, 1987. 128 pages.
  • Phrenoscopy, Being a Synthetic System of Astro-phrenology - the Key to Human Character. London: W. Foulsham, 1914, 156 pages.
  • Primary Directions Made Easy. London: W. Foulsham, 19xx. Available at Internet Archive.
  • Prognostic Astronomy; the scientific basis of the predictive art commonly called astrology. London, L.N. Fowler, 1901. 100 pages.
  • Science of Foreknowledge. London: W. Foulsham, 1918. Limited access at Hathitrust.
  • Second Sight: a Study of Natural and Induced Clairvoyance. London: William Rider & Sons, 1912. Kessinger edition, 1996. 1912 edition is available at Project Gutenberg.
  • Sepharial's Book of Card Fortune Telling. London: W. Foulsham, 1956. Available at Internet Archive.
  • The Silver Key: A Guide to Speculators. 1913. Available at
  • The Solar Epoch; a New Astrological Thesis. New York: S. Weiser, 1970. Available at Internet Archive.
  • The Theory of Geodetic Equivalents in relation to mundane astrology, including many remarkable proofs and striking prophecies. Philadephia: David McKay, 19xx. London, W. Foulsham, 19xx. 61 pages.
  • Theory and Practice of Eclipses. London: W. Foulsham, 19xx.
  • Transits and Planetary Periods; a Book of Practical Hints to Students of Astrology. New York: S. Weiser, 1920, 1970. 93 pages.
  • The Wheel of Fortune; a study of astrology, graphology, numerology, dreams, omens, palmistry. 1932.
  • The World Horoscope, Hebrew Astrology; Key to the Study of Prophecy. London, W. Foulsham, 19xx, 1965. 71 pages.
  • The Yoga of Yama: What Death Said: a version of the Katopanishad, with commentary: being a system of Yoga, or means of attainment. London: W. Rider & Son, 1915. Commentaries edited by Old.
  • Your Fortune in Your Name; or, Kabalistic astrology, being the Hebraic method of divination by the power of sound, number, and planetary influence. London, W. Foulsham, 1909. Available at Hathitrust.

Preface to Gems from the East

Old also composed the "Preface" to H.P. Blavatsky's Gems from the East:

Few words will be needed by way of preface to these "Gems from the East."

At a time when Western minds are occupied in the study of Oriental Literature, attracted possibly by its richness of expression and marvelous imagery, but no less by the broad yet deep philosophy of life, and the sweet altruistic doctrines contained therein, it is thought seasonable to present the public with a useful and attractive little volume such as this.

The Precepts and Aphorisms, compiled by "H.P.B.," are culled chiefly from Oriental writings considered to embody, in part, teachings which are now attracting so much attention in the West, and for the diffusion of which the Theosophical Society is mainly responsible.

As far as possible we have endeavoured to make the volume attractive, handy, and useful to all.

It contains a Precept or an Axiom for every day in the year; lines of a Theosophical nature, selected from sources not invariably Oriental, preface each month; and the whole is embellished with drawings from the pen of F. W., a lady Theosophist.

It is hoped that our efforts will meet with approval from all lovers of the good and beautiful, and that they may not be without effect in the cause of TRUTH.


Online resources


Additional resources


  1. This phrase was quoted from the London newspaper The Referee in many book reviews.
  2. 1901 England Census.
  3. Kim Farnell, The Astral Tramp: A Biography of Sepharial (London: Ascella Publications, 1998), 6, 132.
  4. Nicholas Campion, "Foreword" in Kim Farnell's The Astral Tramp: A Biography of Sepharial. (London: Ascella Publications, 1998), viii.
  5. Kim Farnell, 65.
  6. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915.
  7. Ernest E. Pelletier, The Judge Case: A Conspiracy Which Ruined the Theosophical Cause. (Edmonton Theosophical Society, 2004), 260-2.
  8. England Census 1901 and 1911.
  9. Kim Farnell, 68.
  10. Kim Farnell, 116-120.
  11. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entry 4315 (website file: 1B/37).
  12. See book 1, entry 4714 (website file: 1B/47).
  13. Kim Farnell, 25-26. She dates Sydney's membership to February 1887, and Bernards' to March 1890.
  14. Leslie Price, "Theosophy's Influence in the British Isles" The American Theosophist 75.10, (Nov 1987): 369.
  15. "Old, Walter R.," The Theosophical Year Book, 1938. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 204.
  16. B. Old. "Memories of H.P.B.—Over 50 Years Ago." The Theosophist 63:2 (November, 1941), 108.
  17. Ernest E. Pelletier, 260-2.
  18. Daniel H. Caldwell, The Esoteric World of Madame Blavatsky: Insights into the Life of a Modern Sphinx (Wheaton: Quest Books, 2001), 396-397.
  19. Ernest E. Pelletier, 260-2.
  20. A District Munsiff is the judge and presiding officer over the lowest level of Indian courts dealing with civil matters. A Tahsildar (or Tehsildar) is an administrative officer dealing with collection of taxes.
  21. "Indian Section Gazette," Supplement to The Theosophist 14:12 (September, 1893), lxxxvi. Available online at
  22. "Adyar Library," Supplement to The Theosophist 14:12 (September, 1893), lxxxvi. Available online at
  23. Interview with Jerry Hejka-Ekins, "Discussions on the The Esoteric School". Undated, after 1999.
  24. Sydney V. Edge letter to G. R. S. Mead, November 1, 1894, published in "The Clash of Opinion" Lucifer 15 no. 88 (December 1894), 337.
  25. Ernest E. Pelletier, 260-2.
  26. "Correspondence" Old Moore's Monthly Messenger. June 14, 1914. Quoted in Farnell, 144.
  27. These phrases from London papers The Referee and "The Evening News were frequently quoted in book reviews and advertisements.
  28. Kim Farnell, 16-17.
  29. This symbol is much like the Logos#Second_LogosSecond Logos in Theosophy and the alchemical symbol for salt.
  30. Kim Farnell, 107-108.
  31. Kim Farnell, 109.
  32. Kim Farnell, 109, quoting from Astrologer's Magazine, October, 1991.
  33. Kim Farnell, 112-115.