Great White Brotherhood
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The Great White Brotherhood is the cringe-inducing name given by various 19th and early 20th century occultists and Theosophists to a supernatural communion of enlightened spiritual teachers. The members of the Brotherhood are sometimes called the Ascended Masters. Various religious leaders have said they have received messages from these beings, including Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (Theosophy), and Guy Ballard ("I AM" activity).
The idea of a secret organization of enlightened mystics, guiding the spiritual development of the human race was pioneered in the late eighteenth century by Karl von Eckartshausen in his book The Cloud upon the Sanctuary; Eckartshausen called this body of mystics, who remained active after their physical deaths on earth, the "council of light". Eckartshausen's proposed communion of living and dead mystics, in turn, drew partially on Christian ideas such as the Communion of the Saints, and partially on previously circulating European ideas about secret societies of enlightened, mystical, or magic adepts typified by the Rosicrucians and the Illuminati.
The Mahatma Letters began publication in 1881 with information supposedly revealed by "Koot Hoomi" to Alfred Percy Sinnett, and were also influential on the early development of the tradition. Koot Hoomi, through Sinnett, revealed that high ranking members of mystic organizations in India and Tibet were able to maintain regular telepathic contact with one another, and thus were able to communicate to each other, and also to Sinnett, without the need for either written or oral communications, and in a manner similar to the way that spirit mediums claimed to communicate with the dead. The letters published by Sinnett, which proposed the controversial doctrine of reincarnation, were said to have been revealed through this means.
Eckartshausen's idea was expanded in the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky as developed by C.W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey, and Helena Roerich. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, attributed her teachings to just such a body of adepts; in Isis Unveiled, she called the revealers of her teachings the "Masters of the Hidden Brotherhood" or the "Mahatmas". Blavatsky claimed that she had made physical contact with these adepts' earthly representatives in Tibet, but also that she continued to receive teachings from them through psychic channels via her spirit mediumship abilities.
Ideas about this secret council of sages, under several names, were a widely shared feature of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century esotericism. Arthur Edward Waite, in his Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, hinted at the existence of a secret group of initiates who dispense truth and wisdom to the worthy. A young Aleister Crowley, reading this, wrote Waite and was directed to read von Eckartshausen's book. Crowley's search for this secret wisdom eventually led him to become a neophyte in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which represented itself to be the visible and earthly outer order of the Great White Brotherhood. Within the Golden Dawn itself, its teachings claimed to be derived from a similar body of initiates which in that tradition were called the Secret Chiefs.
The actual phrase "Great White Brotherhood" appears to have been popularized in Leadbeater's 1925 book The Masters and the Path. Since the introduction of the phrase, the term "Great White Brotherhood" is in some circles used generically to refer to any concept of an enlightened community of adepts, on earth or in the hereafter, with benevolent aims towards the spiritual development of the human race, and without strict regard to the names used within the tradition. Dion Fortune adopts the name to refer to the community of living and dead adepts.
The ritual magicians of the Western mystery tradition sometimes refer to the Great White Brotherhood as the "Great White Lodge", a name that appears to indicate that they imagine it constitutes an initiatory hierarchy similar to Freemasonry. Gareth Knight describes its members as the "Masters" or "Inner Plane Adepti", who have "gained all the experience, and all the wisdom resulting from experience, necessary for their spiritual evolution in the worlds of form." While some go on to "higher evolution in other spheres", others become teaching Masters who stay behind to help younger initiates in their "cyclic evolution on this planet". Only a few of this community are known to the human race; these initiates are the "teaching Masters." The AMORC Rosicrucian order maintains a difference between the "Great White Brotherhood" and the "Great White Lodge", saying that the Great White Brotherhood is the "school or fraternity" of the Great White Lodge, and that "every true student on the Path" aspires to membership in this Brotherhood. Some of Aleister Crowley's remarks appear to indicate that Crowley identified the Great White Brotherhood with the A∴A∴, his magical secret society.
The "I AM" Activity was a religious and spiritual movement popular in the USA in the 1930s, which popularised the term Ascended Masters to refer to people who have achieved a higher state of being and escaped the cycle of reincarnation. It was founded by husband and wife Guy Ballard (1878-1939) and Edna Anne Wheeler Ballard (1886–1971), influenced by theosophy and the semi-fascist religious organisation the Silver Shirts. After Guy's death, Edna was involved in a series of important court cases over whether their religion was a fraud and whether courts could judge the truth or falsity of a religion, notably United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944).
The term Great White Brotherhood was further developed and popularized in 1934 with the publication of "Unveiled Mysteries"  by Guy Ballard's "I Am" Activity. This brotherhood of "Immortal Saints and Sages"  who have gone through the "initiations of the Transfiguration, Resurrection, and the Ascension" was further popularized by Ascended Master teachings developed by The Bridge to Freedom, Elizabeth Clare Prophet's Summit Lighthouse, and The Temple of The Presence.  Participants in these groups often recite elaborate prayers called "Decrees", which are printed in specific color combinations believed to be significant (black text on a white background is spiritually evil, it seems) and whose recitation is believed to invoke specific "rays" of spiritually potent colored light that emanate from the Masters.
Guy Ballard was born in Newton, Kansas in 1878, and lived for a time in Chicago. He served in the US army in World War I and following that became a mining engineer. He also had a long-lasting interest in theosophy and other mystical topics. While hiking on Mount Shasta in California in 1930 he supposedly had a mystical encounter with a strange person who claimed to be a reincarnation of the Transylvanian adventurer the Count of St. Germain, a regular figure in theosophical writing. This proved the impetus for Ballard to set himself up as a spiritual leader. Edna Anne Wheeler Ballard was Guy Ballard's wife; they married in Chicago in 1916.
The Ballards founded the Saint Germain Press to distribute their ideas in a series of books, with Ballard often using the pseudonym Godfre Ray King. Beginning in 1934, they spoke at large events known as Conclaves which attracted audiences of thousands. They also received large amounts of money as "love gifts" from followers, although they claimed not to charge any fees or dues.
The organisation combined Christian and theosophical beliefs, by saying Jesus Christ was one of the Ascended Masters who had attained a higher state of being. It taught that its supposed founder the Count of St Germain had played an important role in the foundation of the US via a lodge of freemasons that included St Germain, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, and thus the US was an especially important country in the movement.
Guy Ballard ascended to a higher plane of being on December 29, 1939, as a result of fatal arteriosclerosis. Suspicions grew that the organisation was a cynical fraud rather than a genuine religion, and in 1941 its tax-free status was revoked. In 1942, Edna and her son Donald were put on trial for 19 counts of mail fraud, on the basis that they had sent books through the mail soliciting money by making claims that they did not themselves believe in.
Because of the judge's direction, the original trial hinged solely on the question of whether the Ballards' beliefs were sincerely held or lies spread to get money, not on the question of whether the beliefs were true or false; they were found guilty. There were a series of appeals on the basis of whether courts should be able to inquire into the nature, credibility, or sincerity of the Ballards' beliefs. The Ninth Circuit overturned the original conviction on the basis that the judge's direction was too narrow, and the court ordered a retrial, but the government appealed this decision. The Supreme Court ruled that because of the First Amendment a court should not inquire into an individual's religious beliefs or seek to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. The Supreme Court referred it back to the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the conviction without a retrial. The organisation was also banned from using the US mail. There was a second appeal in 1946, on the unrelated grounds that women had been improperly barred from sitting on the jury, and as a result their convictions were vacated.
The organisation continued under Edna Ballard's leadership; they received permission to use the mail in 1954 and their tax-exempt status was restored in 1957. The "I AM" Movement continues to function, with St Germain Press distributing the Ballards' books, a reading room at Mount Shasta, and conclaves held in several countries. Today the organisation is criticised as a dangerous cult by a group of ex-members who point to a series of critiques, starting with Gerald Bryan who was a member of I AM in the 1930s before denouncing them in a book Psychic Dictatorship in America.
Partial membership roll
- Lord Maitreya
- Eros, a/k/a Cupid
- John the Baptist
- Koot Hoomi, a/k/a Kuthumi
- The archangel Michael
- Paul of Tarsus, a/k/a Hilarion
- Saint Germain
- Sanat Kumara from Shamballah
- Barrett, David (1996). Sects, 'Cults', and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Sourcebook. London: Blandford. ISBN 0-7137-2567-2.
- von Eckartshausen, K., The Cloud upon the Sanctuary (Isabelle de Steiger, translator). (Weiser: 2003. ISBN 0-89254-084-2)
- http://www.adepti.com/docs/eck.pdf The Cloud on the Sanctuary (PDF etext; accessed Dec. 14, 2007)
- Godwin, J. The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), ch. 1.
- Godwin, J. The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), ch. 15.
- Hutton, R. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford, 2000; ISBN 0-19-820744-1), p. 19
- Arthur Edward Waite, http://www.sacred-texts.com/grim/bcm/bcm80.htm The Book of Ceremonial Magic (first edition title: The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts), conclusion. (London, 1913)
- Aleister Crowley (Symonds, John and Grant, Kenneth, eds.), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (Bantam, 1971), pp. xiv-xv (Symonds introduction)
- Crowley, supra, p. 347 et passim.
- Leadbeater, C. W., http://www.anandgholap.net/Masters_And_Path-CWL.htm The Masters and the Path (Theosophical Publishing House, 1925; expanded, 1927)
- Crowley, supra.
- See generally, Dion Fortune|Fortune, Dion, The Training and Work of an Initiate (1930; rev. ed. Weiser, 2000; ISBN 1-57863-183-1) and The Esoteric Orders and their Work (1928).
- Knight, G, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism (1965; repr. Weiser, 1978; ISBN 0-87728-397-4), v. 1 ch. X "Chesed", ss. 14-16.
- Lewis, H. S., Rosicrucian Manual (AMORC, 1938), pp. 139-140.
- Crowley, A. http://www.hermetic.com/crowley/aba/app2.html Liber ABA, book 4. part 3, appendix II; a/k/a Magick in Theory and Practice (Sangreal, 1969).
- See the Wikipedia article on "I AM" Activity.
- See the Wikipedia article on United States v. Ballard.
- King, Godfre Ray. Unveiled Mysteries. Chicago, Illinois: Saint Germain Press 1934
- Saint Germain Foundation. The History of the "I AM" Activity and Saint Germain Foundation. Schaumburg, Illinois: Saint Germain Press 2003
- Vyasa, Krishna-Dwaipayana. http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm Mahabharata. Chapter 23 - Arjuna's Quest: Indra addresses Arjuna saying: "This area is the abode of Immortal Saints and Sages. War and war-weapons are just unknown here."
- Besant, Annie. http://www.anandgholap.net/Initiation_Perfecting_Of_Man-AB.htm Initiation: Perfecting of Man. London: Theosophical Publishing House 1912
- http://www.templeofthepresence.org/activities.htm A History of Ascended Master Activities The Temple of The Presence 1999.
- See, e.g., Herbstreith, Anne, writing as "Lord Maitreya", The Overcoming of Fear through Decrees (Summit Lighthouse, 1969.)
- See the Wikipedia article on Guy Ballard.
- See the Wikipedia article on Edna Anne Wheeler Ballard.
- The I AM Activity Exposed, Christian Kinnard, Dr. Jenny Lincoln, 2002
- The ascended masters - who are they?