Lives of Alcyone (book)

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Lives of Alcyone, or The Lives of Alcyone, was the title given to the books derived from a series of articles published in The Theosophist beginning in April, 1910. The series was entitled "Rents in the Veil of Time," and each article had a subtitle like "The Lives of Alcyone" or "The Lives of Orion."

Alcyone was the "star name" given to young Jiddu Krishnamurti by Charles Webster Leadbeater, author of these articles. Leadbeater used his clairvoyant abilities to examine the past lives of Krishnamurti and others, going back as far as 22,662 BCE. Most of the people purportedly surrounding Alcyone during these past lives had reincarnated to be present with him in his life as Jiddu Krishnamurti. Each past life was presented in the form of a narrative describing personalities, relationships, and deeds. The individual characters were assigned names from astronomy or mythology, which were carried across all the interlinking narratives. Geographic settings varied from Atlantis to India to South America and other sites of ancient civilizations, which were described graphically. Leadbeater was well aware of the dramatic qualities of his narratives, as he provided a list of "Dramatis Personae" with each story.

Publication of these articles and books brought excitement and energy to the Theosophical Society based in Adyar, but also much criticism. Members plunged into study of karma and reincarnation, but were distracted by the promises of clairvoyant vision. People in other branches of the Theosophical Movement were appalled at this side-trip away from the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and into the cult of personality.

The writing of the Lives

Mr. Leadbeater performed all the clairvoyant investigations except for a few by Annie Besant. He dictated them to Ernest Wood and other secretaries. Fritz Kunz assisted with the work late in 1913, when he was en route to the principalship of Ananda College.[1] Clara Codd, Don Fabrizio Ruspoli, Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Dorothy Jinarājadāsa, Bishop Mazel, and others compiled tables and charts, and prepared the articles for publication.

Jinarājadāsa account

Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa wrote of various occult investigations by Leadbeater and Besant, Investigation of past lives:

New ground was broken in May 1894, when Bishop Leadbeater began the first series of investigations into past incarnations...

Bishop Leadbeater, Mr. [John] Varley and I used often to go for walks, and one afternoon Mr. Varley mentioned that the night before he had had a very vivid dream which was intensely real. He narrated that he was on the top of some building of an unusual shape which had a flat roof, and that he was dressed in some robe or garment which was novel to him. But the part of the dream which was most real to him was that he held in his hand a rod, whose end seemed to produce light when it touched the ground, and that he marked on the ground the astrological symbol for Jupiter. Mr. Varley, who was a landscape painter, was the grandson of John Varley, the well-known painter, and also astrologer; he was himself something of an astrologer, and so this particular astrological element in the dream was vivid to him.

On asking Bishop Leadbeater what he thought the dream might signify, the reply was that he did not know, but that the first thing to do was to get into touch with the dream. This could be done by calling up the record of the night before, with Mr. Varley living in his astral body, and then seeing what it was that he saw. We were by this time seated on a garden seat in the smaller park section of Wormwood Scrubbs. Bishop Leadbeater looked up the dream and saw Mr. Varley in an incarnation long ago actually performing what was dreamed; he was evidently a priest and was invoking the star spirits. After questionings by Mr. Varley, he identified the place as probably Chaldea.

It was then that Mr. Varley asked if something could not be found out concerning the life that he then lived. Bishop Leadbeater' s reply was that he did not quite know that he was authorized to do that kind of work with such occult power as he had, but that he would ask his Master. He did so then and there, and the Master gave his permission.

Then began a work which was continued on several afternoons and evenings, when Bishop Leadbeater investigated clairvoyantly the lives lived by Mr. Varley, following all of them life after life up to the present incarnation. As Bishop Leadbeater described what he saw, Mr. Varley took down rough notes, and immediately afterwards wrote out as much as he could recollect of what was described.¹ (1. The Theosophist, April 1912. The lives of Erato, as published in The Theosophist are not in the words of Mr. Varley himself. His transcription was not considered sufficiently literary, and so Mr. E. A. Wodehouse re-wrote them. I prefer Mr. Varley' s simpler manner, as more suggestive.) This is the first of the series of lives investigated. Later the name Erato was given to Mr. Varley.[2]

Ernest Wood account

Ernest Wood wrote of his work as secretary to Mr. Leadbeater at the Adyar headquarters of the Theosophical Society, and of assisting him with the clairvoyant investigations:

The way in which he worked differed according to the work he was doing. There were some things apparently that he could do quite easily. Some were more difficult. One of great interest was the investigation into what is called in the U.S. "Lives," or "Rents in the Veil of Time." It came about as the result of a question which I put to him about past lives or intervals between lives, especially of Hindoo people - because there are some things you don't find in other races.

He said he would look into the lives of some people. [Note: He had already investigated the lives of Erato in 1895, of Vega and a group at Alexandria at the time of Hypatia about 1898, of Ursa in 1901, of Orion in 1907-8.] There were some boys living near who used to play about and quite a little party of them who used to come down to the sea after school hours and watch us bathe. Two of them were sons of an old T.S. member, and Mr. Leadbeater asked his permission to look into the past lives of these boys, and that is how it came about that the Lives of Alcyone were published, because one of these boys was Krishnamurti. One evening when meditation was over and I went down with Mr. Leadbeater to see if anything was to be done, he said, "Well, those lives must be done. When shall we begin?" And I said, of course, "Now." There was no other thing to say, and he started that night after meditation and dictated one of these "Lives."... Those "Lives" were done in his own room, his little octagon room down near the river at Adyar. He did 28 of them and Mrs. Besant did two. I sat at the desk and he used to walk round the room, partly to keep himself awake while he was centering on other planes when the physical body was tired; and he went on speaking about what he could see, what he was watching and seeing, and simply wrote that down. He did one of these "Lives" every night.

Mr. Leadbeater would finish the writing of a "Life" and then would say, "Have you any questions to ask, anything that you want to know about it?" I remember that in the first "Life" Mr. Leadbeater dictated - the one in which the Lord Buddha appears, the 28th in the series, and I said, "Well, since you have the Lord Buddha in view, won't you give us one of his sermons?" And he gave the one about the fire. He worked at the rate of about one every night and got the work through very quickly.[3]

Clara Codd account

When she was at Adyar as a young woman in 1910-1911, Clara Codd assisted with the preparation of materials for this book. In her autobiography, So Rich a Life, she gave this account of the work:

[Don Fabrizio Ruspoli] was for quite a time helping Mr. Leadbeater with the preparation of a long series of lives, The Lives of Alcyone, which was the ‘star’ name of Jeddu Krishnamurti. I would help Don Ruspoli draw up enormous tables of the past relationships of more than 250 people who seemed to have been more or less in some sort of relationship to each other all through about thirty-three past lives, going back to about 20,000 B.C., in the days of ancient Atlantis. To distinguish a person from life to life, when of course the name of the personality altered, Mr. Leadbeater, who had been a great student of astronomy at one time, gave most of them the names of stars. There was generally some private clue to his method of bestowing these names. For instance, he found me and called me ‘Pisces’ because my surname is Codd. The connection is obvious. Then an extremely stout Indian received the name of ‘Colossus’.

Don Ruspoli and I drew out these charts, putting a male incarnation in red ink and a female incarnation in black…

‘The Lives’ stimulated much interest. One of Don Fabrizio’s favourite jokes was to tell people: “Hush! don’t say a word, but I have three wives on the compound [the Adyar campus].” Wives of past lives, of course, he meant.

Once at a meeting in Bradford, England, a big, burly farmer asked me if I had ever met anyone I had been married to in past lives.

“Yes,” I replied, “many of them, but I don’t feel like getting married to any of them this time!”

There were some people at Adyar whom, for the moment, C.W.L. had not found in that particular past. So these members made up a series of lives for themselves, and gave themselves names such as Cyclops. They also composed a poem which they set to music, the chorus of which went like this:

‘In the Lives! In the Lives!
We’ve had all sorts of husbands and wives.
In spite of all irk
We were devils for work.
In the Lives! In the Lives!’

Someone sang this at one of Mr. [Albert] Schwarz’s musical afternoons, and Mr. Leadbeater had a good laugh.

It may interest some people to know how this investigation of past lives may be done. Let me try to put it simply. Different orders or degrees of matter exist one within the other, permeating and pervading all space. With each degree of matter, time and space valuations are different. Every deed, every word, every thought, every impulse and desire, sent out from that dynamic centre of consciousness which is the individual, express themselves as vibratory rhythms at different levels of matter. These set up synchronous rhythms in the subtler planes. Finally they reach the primeval form of matter called by Hindu philosophers the ’’Akasha’’. There they register themselves permanently and are called the Akashic Records, held to be under the care of the ’’Lipika’’, the recorders,
Tables of Lives, from Theosophical Society in America Archives
deities of unfathomable height and power. We have the same idea in Christianity in the so-called Book of Life, and the Recording Angel who keeps it. In that living, self-written record, the highly trained seer can trace the pathway of the immortal ego through many lives or incarnations in physical bodies. But such clairvoyance is extremely rare. It should not be confused with the pictures so often seen in the astral light, which may, or may not, refer to the person near whom they appear.[4]

Tables of Lives

After Mr. Leadbeater dictated the narratives, his associates like Don Fabrizio Ruspoli and Clara Codd compiled the relationships into huge tables. These tables went through several drafts as the number of people in the Lives multiplied.

A hand-written copy of the Tables of Lives is in the Theosophical Society in America Archives. In total, 235 tables are included. It is a very large, heavy book – 15.5 inches wide by 16.25 high by 2.375 thick [39.4cm x 41.3 x 6.0], well bound in red cloth and leather. Stamps from Genova and Taormina indicate that the volume was bound in Italy. This is probably one of the later versions of the Tables, as it does not designate male incarnations in red ink (as mentioned by Clara Codd) but instead has a column for gender. By the time this version of the tables was written, pages had been custom-printed with headings for the columns. On the left-hand page were columns for Chart No., Date, Place, Sex, Father, Mother, Brothers, Sisters, and Husband or Wife; on the right side were Sons, Daughters, Grandparents, and Remarks.

Alcyone left page.jpg Alcyone right page.jpg

In another stage of production, charts were drawn to reflect the relationships. Some of these were published. An artist painted representations of some of the leading characters in the Lives, and these were printed in the final book. They were also available as glass "magic lantern" slides.

Star names of some prominent Theosophists

Altogether 281 lives were examined and identified by "star names." These are some names that were revealed as associated with the people of Leadbeater's era.

Reactions to the "Lives"

Leadbeater's work has evoked a wide range of reactions from delight and inspiration to envy and outrage.

Reception by Adyar Theosophists

"Rents in the Veil of Time" was received with excitement by English-speaking Theosophists in the Adyar Theosophical Society. Articles were reprinted in The Theosophic Messenger and adapted for children by "Betelgeuse" in the 1913-1914 series of The American Theosophist. The significance of the "Lives of Alcyone" increased dramatically when the World Teacher movement arose early in 1911. When Annie Besant arrived in London with Krishnamurti on May 5, 1911, an English newspaper covered the event, eagerly anticipating "Alcyone."[5]

The "lives" were also treated as instructional: "The Lives of Erato (No. 11) in Rents in the Veil of Time show how, in an incarnation, diligence and honesty may neutralize misfortunes."[6] The Karma and Reincarnation League latched onto this material as a resource for "advanced study."[7] Patterns were teased out by close reading: "In looking over the lives of various egos as disclosed by clairvoyant investigation and appearing in Rents in the Veil of Time, it seems that the incarnations run in alternate series of several lives in one sex and then several in another."[8]

Adyar Theosophists speculated about the current-life personalities of the "star names." A magazine review hinted that "Ulysses" in the November, 1917 issue of The Theosophist was Henry Steel Olcott.[9] Each time a name was revealed, people reread the previous "lives" to add context to the stories; so-and-so was married to so-and-so! College student Fritz Kunz commented on the star names in his letters to his sisters. He wrote in a 1910 letter to Alma:

I said Vega for Mrs. Holbrook although the description you mention of Vesta certainly fits her... There is no doubt that Sirius is Mr. Leadbeater in my mind, and I don't care what Warrington said![10]

That implies that even A. P. Warrington was caught up in the speculation. In 1911, Fritz wrote:

My only evidence that Orion is Basil [Hodgson-Smith] is that he shows the characteristics of that character, and this life carries out the idea to a certain extent. I have a very powerful bit of inductive evidence. The only dates calculated are those of Mr. Leadbeater, Orion, Alcyone and a certain J.V. The close relation of Orion and Sirius as these dates show carry out what I know to have been their close relation in the past.[11]

Some "named" members were very open about their past-life identity. Marie Russak Hotchener signed articles and letters with her moniker "Helios." Having a "star name" became a badge of honor - a symbol of in-group status, even though that was never Leadbeater's intention. Envy and jealousy arose. Members whose lives had not been occultly investigated would ask Leadbeater to "read" their Akashic records, and to tell where they fit into the tables and charts. Finally he declined to pursue any more past-life researches.

Comments by Hugh Shearman

Hugh Shearman wrote of the Lives:

When Bishop Leadbeater gave accounts of the past lives of any of his colleagues and acquaintances, what he decribed often seemed in some way to fit the individual whom one knew in this life.

Some will hold that this as evidence of objective truth in what Bishop Leadbeater described,others that what he wrote embodied at least a sound intuition.

The case of Clara Codd is a good example. Amusingly, Bishop Leadbeater allotted to her, as a reincarnating ego, the name of the constellation Pisces, the Fishes, making play of the fact that a cod is a kind of fish. Anybody who cares to trace the lives of Pisces, in the extensive tables given in The Lives of Alcyone, who find that the character with that name always had a different marriage partner in every life. Others might return to former partners, but Pisces always turned each time adventurously to somebody new.

This view of her past way of choice which the lives offer serves admirably to express and symbolize something that was very deep in Clara Codd's nature. She was nobody's "twin soul".[12]

Critique by William Loftus Hare

In the January, 1923 issue of ’’The Occult Review’’, William Loftus Hare drew great attention with his critique “A Cameo from Clairvoyant History.” The analysis focused on "Lives of Ulysses," published in the October, 1917 issue of ’’The Theosophist’’.

Hare identified three consequences of not speaking out about perceived issues with the ‘’Lives.’’ The first consequence:

If mistakes are allowed to go uncorrected by those who have the power to correct them, the ignorant and innocent— the larger part of mankind— may fall into error. [13]

Second consequence:

When the “reading of the akashic records” affords to the readers thereof a false and exaggerated prestige, when, by the mere accumulation of uncontradicted and untested marvels, certain persons gain the reputation of being on the threshold of divinity, the secondary consequences of this general credulity are terribly serious. It is a positive mischief when a few persons, mortals like the rest of us, relying on our politesse, silently gather the reputation of being infallible and uncontradictable in matters of history. Such a reputation easily extends itself into the domain of the future and exercises an unwarrantable control over our morals.[14]

Third consequence:

The study of comparative religion must be based on history. If history has been thoroughly dislocated in advance by pseudo-clairvoyant readings so that its mappa mundi is hardly recognizable by students of time and space, such study of comparative religion becomes impossible. [15]

Hare claimed to know the purpose of Leadbeater

I believe the aim of these lives is to flatter and intrigue the leaders and leaderettes of the Theosophical movement. Once included in the patchwork veil of time woven by Mr. Leadbeater’s clumsy fingers, they are in his power; they have to accept the honours he showers upon them and the positions of dignity to which he appoints them in the hoary past and the distant roseate future. [16]

He went on to described the writing style as “insipid” and “dull romances. ” He regarded the ‘’Lives’’ as a “vast mass of pseudo-clairvoyant history.” The work was derivative, documenting parallels between it and several historical sources – notably the ‘’Shahnameh’’ of the Persian poet Firdausi.

Reactions to the Hare critique

Hare’s “cameo” article fired up other writers who already were inclined to believe the best or worst of Leadbeater.

The Australian periodical Dawn made this brief comment:

That the article, "A Cameo from Clairvoyant History," in The Occult Review for February, is the greatest blow to the Leadbeater occult claims that has yet been delivered. Even if no more similar exposures follow, "The Lives of Alcyone" must be dropped into the waste-paper basket for all time. Good-bye, too, to the Leadbeater coming Christ.[17]

H. F. Mauran expressed a different viewpoint, "in the interests of fair-play":

With all due respect to his unquestioned learning, it seems to me that Mr. Hare is just one more example of a man with great intellectual attainments who appears unable to grasp the fundamental truths of life, and whose mental athletics enfeeble the understanding of the heart. The greatest of fundamental facts from the True Theosophist’s view-point is Spiritual Brotherhood...

Personally I do not know Mr. Leadbeater, but I have seen so many superior men hounded relentlessly by their brothers, I am beginning to believe that Mr. Leadbeater is one of that number of victims of "man’s inhumanity to man.”...

That certainly no one tries to dominate others less than either Mrs. Besant or Mr. Leadbeater is the unanimous opinion of their friends. Only detractors state otherwise.[18]

Editors of The Canadian Theosophist and OE Library Critic were particularly ascerbic, treating the Adyar members' reactions as a cautionary tale: "The ambition to be included in the Lives of Alcyone, for example, is purely personal and obstructive of the development of the higher manas towards Buddhi, or the Christ consciousness."[19]

Mary K. Neff leapt to Leadbeater's defense in a letter to The Canadian Theosophist, and that in turn evoked a comment in OE LIbrary Critic, that it "proves nothing whatever about the veracity of the Lives, or Leadbeater's clairvoyant power, but it does prove a heap about how one may fall under a glamour."[20]

Online version

Online resources

Articles

Notes

  1. Fritz Kunz letter to sisters. January 1, 1914. Kunz Family Collection. Records Series 25.01. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  2. C. Jinarajadasa, Occult Investigations: a Description of the Work of Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Pub. House, 1938), ???.
  3. Ernest Wood, Clairvoyant Investigations by C.W. Leadbeater and 'The Lives of Alcyone' (Adyar, privately published by C. Jinarajadasa in 1947). Available at KatinkaHesselink.net website.
  4. Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria: Institute for Theosophical Publicity, 1951), 152-155.
  5. Elizabeth Severs, "London Letters" The Theosophic Messenger 11.12 (August, 1911), 668.
  6. "From the Magazines" The Theosophic Messenger 13.10 (July, 1912), 620.
  7. C. Shuddemagen, "Karma and Reincarnation League" The Theosophic Messenger 13.3 (December, 1911), 175.
  8. A.P.W. [A. P. Warrington] "Questions" The American Theosophist 15.2 (November 1913), 152.
  9. A.H.T., "Theosophical" 5.9 (February, 1918), 700-701.The Messenger
  10. Fritz Kunz letter to Alma Kunz. Undated 1910. Kunz Family Collection. Records Series 25.01. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  11. Fritz Kunz letter to sisters. Undated Tuesday in 1911. Kunz Family Collection. Records Series 25.01. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  12. Hugh Shearman, "Clara Codd: Some Impressions" The Theosophist 98.10 (October, 1976), 12.
  13. William Loftus Hare, “A Cameo from Clairvoyant History” The Occult Review 37.1 (January, 1923), 30-31. Available at IAPSOP website.
  14. Hare, 31.
  15. Hare, 31.
  16. Hare, 36.
  17. ”What One Hears” Dawn 2.9 (March, 1923), 18. Available at KatinkaHesselink website.
  18. H. F. Mauran, "Mr. Leadbeater and the "Akashic Records" The Occult Review 37.3 (March, 1923) 182-183. Available at IAPSOP website.
  19. The Canadian Theosophist
  20. "The Story of Leadbeater’s Faked 'Lives of Alcyone'"OE Library Critic 25.1 (July, 1937), 40. Available at IAPSOP website.