OCCULTISM SELLS, NOW MORE THAN EVER. Not that it’s ever been out of print, per say. After all, occultism is a provable cockroach, and can thrive not only in the chilling darkness—once it is rightfully swatted away from the daylight—but could and most certainly would survive a nuclear holocaust, except the LORD Himself finally put an end to it. Perhaps no other empire in the history of western civilization has achieved such financial success at marketing the esoteric, branding it as entertainment, and then repackaging it as childhood nostalgia, than the current country where this author resides. Like the globe itself, and the “American” mythology of space which accompanies it, occultism is best served to children. Indeed, the mystic author who convinces his reader that he is simply wetting their appetites beyond what God has permitted, or rather divulging in the imagination that God rightfully gave to them, flourishes here. Being a member of the Theosophists Society, author L. Frank Baum was no exception.
First published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has yet to fall out of print. In the following nineteen years before his death, Baum would add a total of fourteen titles to his Oz series. It is a stunning legacy, a marathon of endurance matched only by the MGM color-spectacular staring Judy Garland. Writing for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer in 1890, an editorial position which he held for fourteen months—-and an entire decade before premiering Oz, Baum described this literary fascination.
“There is a strong tendency in modern novelists towards introducing some vein of mysticism or occultism into their writings. Books of this character are eagerly bought and read by the people, both in Europe and America. It shows the innate longing in our natures to unravel the mysterious: to seek some explanation, however fictitious, of the unexplainable in nature and in our daily existence. For, as we advance in education, our desire for knowledge increases, and we are less satisfied to remain in ignorance of that mysterious fountain-head from which emanates all that is sublime and grand and incomprehensible in nature.”
“The appetite of our age for occultism demands to be satisfied, and while with the mediocrity of people will result in mere sensationalism, it will lead in many to higher and nobler and bolder thought; and who can tell what mysteries these braver and abler intellects may unravel in future ages?”
February 22, 1890
Baum was never one who accredited himself with originality. Quite contrarily, he saw himself as a “receiver.” Much like the radio, which the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi would first send and receive in 1895, Baum claimed that his most popular stories were unequivocally transmitted to him, perhaps from Oz itself. As of 1890, it was the longstanding influence of his mother-in-law who had formulated his religious ideals. Matilda Joslyn Gage was a noted supporter of woman suffrage, and though she became a member of the Theosophical Society in 1885, Gage had already been sharing its magazine, the Path, among family and friends. By Matilda’s own account in 1887, her daughter (and Baum’s wife) Maud was busy reading H.P. Blavatsky’s “Isis Unveiled” (1877) and other texts on Esoteric Buddhism. The Baum family, Matilda claimed, was eagerly anticipating Blavatsky’s forthcoming book, “The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy” (1888), which would prove to be Blavatsky’s, as well as the entire movements, magnum opus. In 1896 or 1897, Gage, who was living then with the Baum’s in Chicago, recorded that Frank had acquired the book, “The Astral Plane,” by C. W. Leadbeater.
Blavatsky perhaps best lays out the Theosophists doctrine in “The Secret Doctrine,” when she writes:
“But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.”
In the Pioneer, Baum eagerly directed his readers’ attention to the occult fiction of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, H. Rider Haggard, and Mabel Collins. Other spiritualist needs filled his column, but his devotion to the Theosophist Society—he would finally become a member of Chicago’s branch of the Theosophical Society on September 4, 1892—only proved to alienate his Aberdeen weekly readers. On January 25, 1890, Baum wrote:
“Amongst the various sects so numerous in America today who find their fundamental basis in occultism, the Theosophist stands pre-eminent both in intelligence and point of numbers.
The recent erection of their new temple in New York City has called forth the curiosity of the many, the uneasiness of the few. Theosophy is not a religion. Its followers are simply “searchers after Truth.” Not for the ignorant are the tenets they hold, neither for the worldly in any sense. Enrolled within their ranks are some of the grandest intellects of the Eastern and Western worlds.
Purity in all things, even to asceticism is absolutely required to fit them to enter the avenues of knowledge, and the only inducement they offer to neophytes is the privilege of “searching for the Truth” in their company.
As interpreted by themselves they accept the teachings of Christ, Budda [sic], and Mohammed, acknowledging them Masters or Mahatmas, true prophets each in his generation, and well versed in the secrets of nature. But the truth so earnestly sought is not yet found in its entirety, or if it be, is known only to the privileged few.
The Theosophists, in fact, are the dissatisfied of the world, the dissenters from all creeds. They owe their origin to the wise men of India, and are numerous, not only in the far famed mystic east, but in England, France, Germany and Russia. They admit the existence of a God–not necessarily a personal God. To them God is Nature and Nature God.
We have mentioned their high morality: they are also quiet and unobtrusive, seeking no notoriety, yet daily growing so numerous that even in America they may be counted by thousands. But, despite this, if Christianity is Truth, as our education has taught us to believe, there can be no menace to it in Theosophy.”
The Aberdeen columnists claim that “there can be no menace to it [Christianity] in Theosophy” garnishes my irritable gaze. For the person who believes the Word of God is true, Spirit-breathed and inspired—and for good reason, Baum makes a terrible salesman. Either Baum himself is eternally gullible, or he is a bold-faced liar. Either way, it is the darling prophet of his Society, H.P. Blavatsky, who shamelessly wrote: “And now it stands proven that Satan, or the Red Fiery Dragon, the ‘Lord of Phosphorus,’ and Lucifer, or ‘Light-Bearer,’ is in us: it is our Mind.” As part of “The Secret Doctrine,” she would also write, “Holy Satan! Lucifer represents Life Thought Progress Civilization Liberty Independence Lucifer is the Logos the Serpent, the Saviour,” and, “It is Satan who is the God of our planet and the only God.”
Or perhaps his nonchalant claim, which goes something like this: that “the Theosophists open-armed embrace of Lucifer isn’t quite as menacing as we ignorant minds might otherwise perceive,” is a better pitch than I give him credit for. The author of Oz has enthralled many with his otherworldly transmissions, which I shall turn to in a moment. As successive generations of television viewers have shown, the Christian will entertain himself with the notion that he might freely visit a world where there are good witches right alongside the bad; that he might furthermore participate in the tenants of their magic and think nothing of it. The adherer to the Word of God however should recognize that Satan comes disguised as an angel of light and want nothing of him. And besides, we Christians need not worry of being whisked away over the rainbow and to a magical plane against our will. The only tornado of such enlightening capabilities is an esoteric one.
More to come.