Carl Henrik Andreas Bjerregaard
All who seek the roots of life dig in solitude for them.
Carl Henrik Andreas (C.H.A.) Bjerregaard (1845-1922) was a longtime student of mysticism and oriental thought, having studied European scholarship on the topic prior to his immigrating, and Transcendentalism and New Thought afterward. He had become affiliated with the New York Theosophical branch by early 1886 and began giving the group several lectures on various esoteric topics. Bjerregaard also wrote for The Path, a series of articles on Sufism, which ran from May through October of 1886.
Carl Henrik Andreas (C.H.A.) Bjerregaard was born in Denmark in 1845. Graduating from the University of Copenhagen in 1863, he went on to become a professor of botany. In 1873 he came to America and in 1879 became Librarian at the Astor Library, which later merged with the Lenox Library to form the Reference Division of the New York Public Library, eventually becoming Chief of its Main Reading Room. His interest in the spiritual life can be seen in the books and articles he wrote. This may explain the extensive collection of theosophical material at the New York Public Library.
A one-time spy for the Danish military, Bjerregaard hastily left Denmark in 1873, a twenty-eight-year-old lieutenant absent without leave, and headed for New York. In the United States Bjerregaard started a new life, first as a factory worker in New Jersey, and then through employment at the Astor Library (soon to form the core of the New York Public Library). In Denmark he had briefly helped curate a natural history museum, so his joining the library staff in 1879 to classify books and recatalog them was not wholly out of character. Soon his military service faded into the past; he spent the rest of his career with the New York Public, eventually heading up the main reading room. That was only his day job, though. In his spare time, with all the library’s resources at his fingertips, Bjerregaard fashioned himself into a philosopher, artist, and mystic.
By the 1890s, he was lecturing widely on mysticism, nature worship, and kindred topics. “I address you as Pilgrims of the Infinite,” Bjerregaard told an audience in Chicago in 1896, “for you are pilgrims; I can see that on your faces. You are not pilgrims either from or to the Infinite, but you are of the Infinite. From and to indicate space and time relations, but in the Infinite we recognize neither time nor space; there is no to-day and to-morrow; no here and no there. Eternity is no farther off from the Mystic, than the moment in which he speaks. You are Pilgrims OF the Infinite.” Bjerregaard’s summons to explore the “Mystic Life” was heady stuff. It was, among other things, an affirmation of the supreme freedom of spiritual aspirants to seek the truth for themselves and within themselves. The call seemed to resound everywhere: Bible passages, Taoist sayings, pine trees and cones, Jewish Kabbalah, Zoroastrian fire imagery, yoga, Sufi poetry, American Transcendentalism, and the Christian mythology of the Holy Grail.
Bjerregaard’s spirituality, like the faith of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), was especially in synchrony with the American lecture circuit. Bjerregaard’s favorite place to speak was Greenacre, the summer community that the visionary Sarah Farmer (1847–1916) founded in Eliot, Maine, in 1894. He saw Farmer’s experiment as a realization of his ideas about a universal mysticism and was lavish in his praise of its design. When he gave personal examples of his own exalted experiences, they almost always circled back to Greenacre, whether to a sunrise worship service led by the Zoroastrian Jehanghier Cola or to barefoot walks on the dew-drenched grass. “Greenacre is a revelation,” Bjerregaard remarked. “When you rise from the cool waves of the Piscataqua [River], you rise out of the quiet place of your own soul.” As a lecturer, Bjerregaard believed in presentations that were personal and experiential; like Emerson, he did not want to offer secondhand news or disinterested scholarship. Make lecturers, he said, “give their own experiences and not something they have read in books and only poorly digested.... In soul life no abstract teachings are worth much.”
Before [Sufi teacher Inayat] Khan left the country in the spring [of 1912, his first visit], he had made other significant ties with Americans. One was with C.H.A. Bjerregaard, the old correspondent of Gould and Johnson and member of the Order of Sufis, whom Khan described as “the only student of Sufism known in New York.” Khan made Bjerregaard an honorary member of his Sufic Order and in 1915 had his group publish a revised version of Bjerregaard's 1902 critique of FitzGerald's translation of the Rubaiyat, which now contained a strong influence from Khan. Soon after, however, Bjerregaard and [Murshida] Rabia [Martin, Khan's appointed successor with the Order of Sufis] – who had apparently been in contact through Khan's group – had a falling out and it appears Bjerregaard gave up his connection to the movement. In the November 1915 issue of The Sufi, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan wrote of him: “He has explained how the conventional phraseology of Sufi poets has been so often misinterpreted by writers who have only been linguists – no mystics.”
Bjerregaard's obituary appeared in The New York Times, January 28, 1922:
C.H.A. BJERREGAARD, LIBRARIAN, DIES AT 76
Authority and Writer on Mysticism Taught Himself Painting at Age of 70.
Carl Henry Andrew Bjerregaard, chief of the reading room of the New York Public Library and an authority on mysticism, died yesterday morning at his residence, 541 West 124th Street, in his 77th year. He had been conected [sic] with the public libraries of this city since he first found employment with the old Astor library in 1879.
Born in the town of Frederica, Denmark, the feudal seat of his Viking ancestors, Bjerregaard graduated from the University of Copenhagen in 1863 and from the Military Academy of Denmark in 1866, serving five years in the Danish Army. After a brief period with the Danish Legation at St. Petersburg he came to this country for political reasons in 1873. A time of hardship followed until his scholarly attainments gained him a permanent position.
In addition to lecturing on mysticism and various Oriental beliefs, the [sic] wrote many books on such subjects as “Mysticism and Nature Worship,” “Sufi Interpretation of Omar Khayyam and Fitzgerald” and “The Great Mother,” the last treating the connection between the mystic passion and nature worship. In accordance with his view that youth is preserved by the adoption of a new productive activity, he taught himself painting at the age of 70 and produced several hundred sketches and pictures in oil and water color, drawing entirely from memory, some of the scenes beheld only in his dreams. 
Relationship to Theosophy
May that spirit of ours, which is a ray of perfect wisdom, pure intellect, and permanent existence, an inextinguishable light set in mortal bodies, recognize its glory and consciously become united with the Self, supremely blest! Thus shall we become “living souls.”
In his unpublished Autobiography. Dictated at Deer Isle, Maine, June 1912. Bjerregaard states:
My relationship to Theosophy and Orientalism is something like the following. I am not a theosophist and never shall be, if by that word is understood a follower of Blavatsky or any of the various forms which she originated. I will admit that she was a clever, intellectual woman and I will give her full credit for her smart attempt to restore Oriental doctrines of various kinds, particularly her endeavor to re-construct the cosmic seven-fold plan of existence. I admit that I do not understand it but I can see enough in it to marvel at the truths it probably contains. I do not care whether she wrote the “Isis Unveiled” or how much help she had in writing her book on “The Secret Doctrine.” I stand in no personal relationship to her, for or against, or to any of her doctrinal followers. To say the least, I must admit that she was a clever woman, and judging from the facts, I must admit that Theosophy has been the cause of the introduction of a great deal that is sound teaching, into the modern current notions. At the same time, I will also say that much harm has come by it, not inherent in the doctrine, but from the immature student's relationship to it. I think that Theosophy has contributed two fundamental thoughts to modern thinking which are of essential value, namely: the doctrine of Karma and Reincarnation.... Among theosophists I have found many honest and sincere people, men and women, who have been earnest students and who have been helped in their spiritual growth by Theosophy. While I am no follower of Blavatsky, I am perhaps a theosophist after all. I sympathize much with the teachings found in the Upanishads, in Plotinus and in Jacob Bohme, three forms of philosophical thought which must correctly be called theosophic, but I am not a follower of either of the three forms in any sense or manner whatsoever. In my own theosophy as in the rest of my mystic studies, I have been compelled to follow my own road. May be to my harm, may be to my good; here, as elsewhere, I have had to follow the truth of my existence.
Bjerregaard also makes numerous references to theosophic and related concepts in his lectures/writings, as illustrated by the following examples:
Sufism in its best known forms must thus be considered to be the philosophy of Mohammedanism and to represent the protest of the human soul against the formalism and barrenness of the letter of the Quran. Still there is much in favor of Schmokler's [sic, Franz August Schmölders] assertion (Essai sur les écoles philos. chez les Arabes ) that Sufism is neither a philosophical system nor the creed of a religious sect, but simply a way of living. Perhaps the simplest statement is this: Sufism is Theosophy from the standpoint of Mohammedanism.
The Sufi “way to God” is similar to the well-known ideads on that subject among Western mystics. With the help of a guide, “the traveler” ascends step by step to union with God or through awakening to regeneration and sactification to union. The “Way” is ascetic and full of occult practices, such as dances, silences, etc., and leads to the mystic trance of perfect union with God, when man loses all sense of independent individuality. All men may reach union.
A few words about different standpoints and the “two voices”: that of the Orient and that of the Occident. For the sake of the deepest understanding of problems which are of the uttermost importance to all thinking people, it is desirable that all theosophic and mystic subjects should be studied from a Western standpoint as well as from an Oriental. Most of you here present are accustomed, I think, to hear these subjects presented in Oriental phrases and in set terminology, all derived from Eastern sources. It has seemed to me desirable that you should hear the same truths set forth in Western terminology. I am sure you can only be the gainers. I propose to set them forth that way. But let me say something to guide you to see the similarities and to prevent confusion.
Citation in The Secret Doctrine
In The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I. — Cosmogenesis, H.P. Blavatsky quotes Bjerregaard [an “American Theosophist”] from his lecutures/articles entitled “The Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the Relationship Between Them and Human Beings:”
Yet all the ancient, mediæval, and modern poets and philosophers have been anticipated even in the exoteric Hindu books. Descartes’ plenum of matter differentiated into particles; Leibnitz’s Ethereal Fluid and Kant’s “primitive fluid” dissolved into its elements; Kepler’s Solar Vortex and Systemic Vortices; in short, from the Elemental Vortices inaugurated by the universal mind — through Anaxagoras, down to Galileo, Torricelli, and Swedenborg, and after them to the latest speculations by European mystics — all this is found in the Hindu hymns and Mantras to the “Gods, Monads, and Atoms,” in their fulness, for they are inseparable. In esoteric teachings, the most transcendental conceptions of the universe and its mysteries, as the most (seemingly) materialistic speculations are found reconciled, because those sciences embrace the whole scope of evolution from Spirit to matter. As declared by an American Theosophist, “The Monads (of Leibnitz) may from one point of view be called force, from another matter. To occult Science, force and matter are only two sides of the same SUBSTANCE.” (“Path,” No. 10, p. 297.)
As to the relation his Monads bear to our Dhyan-Chohans, Cosmic Spirits, Devas and Elementals, we may reproduce briefly the opinion of a learned and thoughtful theosophist, Mr. H. A. [sic] Bjerregaard, on the subject. In an excellent paper “On the Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the relationship between them and Human Beings,” read by him before the “Aryan Theosophical Society of New York” (see PATH, Nos. 10 and 11, of Jan. and Feb. 1887), Mr. Bjerregaard formulates distinctly his opinion. . . . . “To Spinoza, substance is dead and inactive, but to Leibnitz’s penetrating mind everything is living activity and active energy. In holding this view, he comes infinitely nearer the Orient than any other thinker of his day, or after him. His discovery that an active energy forms the essence of Substance is a principle that places him in direct relationship to the Seers of the East.”
And the lecturer proceeds to show that to Leibnitz atoms and elements are centres of force, or rather “spiritual beings whose very nature is to act,” for the elementary particles are not acting mechanically, but from an internal principle. They are incorporeal spiritual units (“substantial,” however, but not immaterial in our sense) inaccessible to all changes from without, and indestructible by any external force. Leibnitz’s monads, adds the lecturer, “differ from atoms in the following particulars, which are very important for us to remember, otherwise we shall not be able to see the difference between elementals and mere matter.” . . . . “Atoms are not distinguished from each other, they are qualitatively alike; but one monad differs from every other monad qualitatively; and every one is a peculiar world to itself. Not so with atoms; they are absolutely alike quantitatively and qualitatively, and possess no individuality of their own. Again, the atoms (molecules, rather) of materialistic philosophy can be considered as extended and divisible, while the monads are mere mathematical points and indivisible. Finally, and this is a point where these monads of Leibnitz closely resemble the elementals of mystic philosophy — these monads are representative Beings. Every monad reflects every other. Every monad is a living mirror of the Universe within its own sphere. And mark this, for upon it depends the power possessed by these monads, and upon this depends the work they can do for us; in mirroring the world, the monads are not mere passive reflective agents, but spontaneously self-active; they produce the images spontaneously, as the soul does a dream. In every monad, therefore, the adept may read everything, even the future. Every monad or Elemental is a looking-glass that can speak. . .” 
[The Occult Sciences] say that what is called collectively Monads by Leibnitz — roughly viewed, and leaving every subdivision out of calculation, for the present† — may be separated into three distinct Hosts, which, counted from the highest planes, are, firstly, “gods,” or conscious, spiritual Egos; the intelligent architects, who work after the plan in the Divine Mind. Then come the Elementals, or Monads, who form collectively and unconsciously the grand Universal Mirrors of everything connected with their respective realms. Lastly, the atoms, or material molecules, which are informed in their turn by their apperceptive monads, just as every cell in a human body is so informed. (See the closing pages of Book I.) There are shoals of such informed atoms which, in their turn, inform the molecules; an infinitude of monads, or Elementals proper, and countless spiritual Forces — Monadless, for they are pure incorporealities,‡ except under certain laws, when they assume a form — not necessarily human.
† These three “rough divisions” correspond to spirit, mind (or soul), and body, in the human constitution.
‡ Brother C. H. A. Bjerregaard, in his lecture (already mentioned), warns his audience not to regard the Sephiroth too much as individualities, but to avoid at the same time seeing in them abstractions. “We shall never arrive at the truth,” he says, “much less the power of associating with those celestials, until we return to the simplicity and fearlessness of the primitive ages, when men mixed freely with the gods, and the gods descended among men and guided them in truth and holiness” (No. 10, Path). . . . “There are several designations for ‘angels’ in the Bible which clearly show that beings like the Elementals of the Kabala and the monads of Leibnitz, must be understood by that term rather than that which is commonly understood. They are called ‘morning stars,’ ‘flaming fires,’ ‘the mighty ones,’ and St. Paul sees them in his cosmogonic vision as ‘Principalities and Powers.’ Such names as these preclude the idea of personality, and we find ourselves compelled to think of them as impersonal Existences . . . as an influence, a spiritual substance, or conscious Force.” (Path, No. 11, p. 322.)
C.H.A. Bjerregaard’s articles in The Path began with a six part series on “Sufism,” starting in the May 1886 issue, and followed by “The Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the Relationship between them and human beings,” a paper read before the Aryan T.S. of New York, Dec. 14, 1886, and published in The Path, Jan. and Feb. 1887.
Having already written extensively for The Metaphysical Magazine, in the January 1900 issue, Vol. XI, No. 1 (with the title changed to The New Cycle for Vol. XI and The Ideal Review in Vol. XII) Bjerregaard began editing a section entitled “Department Of Philosophy. Devoted to Art, Literature and Metaphysics.” An introductory statement, “Literary Development in Metaphysical Thought,” includes the following:
...we have established this department, to give space to a portion of the new thought which we know is being evolved by the most advanced minds in art, literature and music, no less than in philosophy and metaphysics. Professor Bjerregaard, of the Astor Library, New York City, who will have charge of the department, is well equipped for this valuable work, and we feel sure will make it of exceeding interest.
His published books include:
- Lectures on Mysticism and Talks on Kindred Subjects. Chicago: Corbitt & Burnham, 1896.
- Lectures on Mysticism and Nature Worship. Chicago: M.R. Kent, 1897.
- Sufi Interpretations of The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam and Fitzgerald. New York: J.F. Taylor & Co., 1902. Also Hafiz Edition, expanded edition, published in 169 copies.
- Inner Life: A Lecture Before the Theosophical Society. New York: Theosophical Publishing Co., 1909.
- Jesus: A Poet, Prophet, Mystic, and Man of Freedom. Easton: The Chemical Publishing Company, no date [c. 1912].
- The Inner Life and the Tao-Teh-King. New York: The Theosophical Publishing Co. of New York, 1912.
- The Great Mother: A Gospel of the Eternally-Feminine. New York: The Inner-Life Publishing Co., 1913.
- Sufism: Omar Khayyam and E. Fitzgerald. London: Sufi Publishing Society, 1915.
An extensive Bibliography of C.H.A. Bjerregaaard is included in the biography by Lars Rasmussen, C.H.A. Bjerregaard og Det Indre Liv: en Dansk Mystiker i New York [C.H.A. Bjerregaard and the Inner Life: a Danish Mystic in New York]. This is the first book ever devoted to the life and work of the philosopher C.H.A. Bjerregaard (1845-1922). The first part of the book tells of his growing up in Jutland, Denmark, recounts his paranormal experiences as a young man, his participation in the Danish-German war of 1864, and his career in the Danish army up to his emigration to New York in 1873. It tells the amazing story of how he worked his way up from humble beginnings as a factory worker in New Jersey to a respected position as a librarian at the New York Public Library. The second part of the book is a critical presentation of his lectures and articles on theosophical subjects plus books on Daoism, Sufism and mythology. The book is written in Danish, but contains extensive quotations in English from Mr. Bjerregaard's writings, including his unpublished autobigraphy.
- “Sufism: I.” The Path, 1:2 (May 1886).
- “Sufism: II.” The Path, 1:3 (June 1886).
- “Sufism: II.” The Path, 1:4 (July 1886).
- “Sufism: IV.” The Path, 1:5 (August 1886).
- “Sufism: V.” The Path, 1:6 (September 1886).
- “Sufism: VI.” The Path, 1:7 (October 1886).
- “The Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the Relationship Between Them and Human Beings: I.” The Path, 1:10 (January 1887).
- “The Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the Relationship Between Them and Human Beings: II.” The Path, 1:11 (February 1887).
- “Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken (Editorial),” The Metaphysical Magazine/The Ideal Review, 13:1 (July 1900), 46-8.
- The Online Books Page presents serial archive listings for The Metaphysical Magazine (includes many articles by Bjerregaad).
- “The Hypnotic.” Weltmer's Magazine, 1:3 (March 1901).
- Lectures on Mysticism and Talks on Kindred Subjects.
- Lectures on Mysticism and Nature Worship.
- Sufi Interpretations of The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam and Fitzgerald. Hafiz Edition.
- The Inner Life and the Tao-Teh-King.
- The Great Mother: A Gospel of the Eternally-Feminine. Occult and Scientific Studies and Experiences in the Sacred and Secret Life. With Chapters by Eugenie R. Eliscu, William F. Fraetas, Grace Gallatin Seton.
- Sufism: Omar Khayyam and E. Fitzgerald.
- Bjerregard Lecture, New York Theosophical Society, 1910. “Philosophy Not Baggage of Learning But Wisdom of Life.”
- Bjerregaard Lecture Series, New York Theosophical Society, 1910-1911. “The Inner Life and Jesus, the Christ.”
- Lars Rasmussen, Bibliography of C.H.A. Bjerregaaard.
- Obituary, The New York Times, January 28, 1922.
- Bjerregaard's commentaries on the Tao Te Ching from the Theosophy Wiki article.
- C.H.A. Bjerregaard, The Inner Life and the Tao-Teh-King. (New York: The Theosophical Publishing Co. of New York, 1912), 14.
- Patrick D. Bowen, A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 1: White American Muslims before 1975. (Leiden | Boston: Brill, 2015), 100.
- “C.H.A. Bjerregaard.” Blavatsky News: An informative site for those with an interest in Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. (http://blavatskynews.blogspot.com/2010/05/c-h-bjerregaard.html), Thursday, May 13, 2010.
- Leigh Eric Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 25-27.
- Bowen, A History of Conversion to Islam, op. cit., 218.
- Blavatsky News, op.cit.
- The New York Times, January 28, 1922.
- C. H. A. Bjerregaard, “Uplift of Heart.” Lectures on Mysticism and Nature Worship. (Chicago: M.R. Kent, 1897), 7.
- C. H. A. Bjerregaard, Autobiography. Dictated at Deer Isle, Maine, June 1912. (Unpublished manuscript. Newberry Library, Chicago, Vault Case MS 5A 20), 52f. [Cited in Rasmussen, C.H.A. Bjerregaard og Det Indre Liv, 56-7. Bjerregaard had presumably had the publication of this text in mind. It appears (p. 71) that he imagined the title The Frame of My Life.]
- C. H. A. Bjerregaard, “Sufism: I.” The Path, 1:2 (January 1886).
- C.H.A. Bjerregaard, “Sufiism,” The New International Encyclopædia, Second Edition, Volume XXI. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1917), 638.
- C. H. A. Bjerregaard, The Inner Life, op. cit., 1-2.
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, Vol. I. — Cosmogenesis. (London: The Theosophical Publishing Company, 1888.), 623.
- Ibid., 630-631.
- Ibid., 632.
- “From the Archives. The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to W.Q. Judge: Part III: Letter Dated 19 March 1887. With Notes by Michael Gomes.” Theosophical History: A Quarterly Journal of Research, 5:4 (October 1994), 127.
- Leander Edmund Whipple, “Literary Development in Metaphysical Thought,” The Metaphysical Magazine/The New Cycle, 11:1 (January 1900), 52.
- Lars Rasmussen, C.H.A. Bjerregaard og Det Indre Liv: en Dansk Mystiker i New York. (København | Copenhagen: The Booktrader, 2016), 163.
- Ibid., 163-178. English translation courtesy of the author.
- Ibid., summary provided by the author.