Recently one of my blog readers, a former member of Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), recommended an interesting biography of the founder Paul Foster Case (1884-1954). Builders of the Adytum is a modern "mystery school" in the Western Esoteric Tradition, the teaching based on the symbolism of the "Holy Qabalah" and the "Sacred Tarot". The biography, Paul Foster Case. His Life and Works is written by Dr. Paul A. Clark, founder of The Fraternity of the Hidden Light.
What especially interested me was the information that Paul Foster Case was a friend of Alice Bailey and also claimed having physically met and been instructed by one of the Elder Brothers or adepts referred to as The Master (R), Racoczy or The Count de Saint Germain. An excellent, scholarly biography of this fascinating and intriguing adept is The Comte de Saint Germain. Last Scion of the House of Rakokczy by British author Jean Overton Fuller. It has the advantage of being written from both a mainstream historical perspective and ending with a chapter on the Theosophical or esoteric view of the Master R. Jean Overton Fuller is also the author of Blavatsky and Her Teachers. An Investigative Biography.
When Builders of the Adytum and esoteric orders with similar origin and teachings refer to The Western Mystery Tradition the curriculum is usually a mixture of Hermeticism, Qabalah, Tarot symbolism and Alchemy combined with ritual initiation ceremonies and ceremonial magic. Many of these orders trace their historical roots and connection to The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in London 1887. From this origin many offshoot societies and orders developed. including several of the modern neo-pagan groups and wicca covens.
I made a rather extensive study of the Western Mystery Tradition in the late 1970s, Reading included classics like Ritual Magic in England by Francis X. King and Sword of Wisdom. MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn by Ithell Colquhoun but also books by Gareth Knight and W.E. Butler. My favourite in this tradition became Dion Fortune, author of many books on the Western Mystery Tradition and founder of the Fraternity of the Inner Light, later re-named Society of the Inner Light. I corresponded with several members belonging to this tradition and was once, without my wish, even elected Swedish representative of The Fellowship of Isis, headquartered in Ireland. After some years in the rather sterile and ascetic milieu of the Anthroposophical Society (die versteinerten Theosophen - Franz Hartmann) I found this form of pagan nature mysticism refreshing and wrote an article with the title Pan lever, renässans för naturmystiken - Pan is alive, the renaissance of nature mysticism.
During this period I also made a short séjour in the theosophically oriented Liberal Catholic Church. Although I was fascinated by ceremonial magic and understood the modus operandi, especially after reading The Science of the Sacraments by Charles Leadbeater, I eventually realized that The Western Mystery Tradition as presented by these societies and orders were not my cup of tea. I looked for a more academic and intellectual approach to the Esoteric Tradition and finally discovered the writings of the scholarly and erudite Swedish esotericist Henry T. Laurency, a disciple of the adept (H.) Hilarion, head of the branch or department of the Planetary Guardians organization especially concerned with the development of science and with a special interest in the psychical research groups around the world. I assume this would today also include the UFO movement.
Early in life Paul Foster Case developed a profound interest in the history of playing cards which eventually led him to a study of the Tarot cards and their symbolism. But he also, as very young, had several mystical experiences that can be described as expansions of consciousness. He also began to hear an inner voice. Being well aware of modern psychological theories and psycho-pathology he believed the voice to be a manifestation of his subconscious mind. But the voice was sometimes very specific. For instance when searching for information in a library the voice told Paul: "If you will reach for the third book from the left on the top shelf, and turn to page... you will find the reference you re looking for".
Paul Foster Case spiritual studies and quest led him in 1918 to contact with a representative of the Thoth-Hermes Lodge in Chicago, an American successor organization of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, where he was initiated in 1920. Open criticism of some aspects of the teachings resulted in his expulsion from the order and in 1923 Paul founded the School of Ancient Wisdom, later Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.).
Knowledge and inspiration to found his new school came in a rather unexpectant manner to Paul. In the Summer of 1921 the phone rang at his apartment. A man at the other end stated briefly: "I presume you recognize my voice?" To his astonishment Paul realized it was the voice he had heard in his head for many years. The man suggest a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Nervous and unsure of the outcome of this adventure Paul enter the hotel and is met by an olive complexioned and dark haired man of slight build and neatly trimmed beard. He introduce himself as the Count de Saint Germain. Paul is reassured that "I am a man, just as you" and the adept R. explain his reason for the rendezvous. If he accept the proposition of a period of training and instruction, Paul will be able to restate the Ancient Wisdom in terms of modern psychology and a training system eliminating some of the outworn old elements that has dogged the current presentations in the Western Mystery schools. Paul accepted this dharma which resulted in many meetings with R.
Paul later in rather familiar terms referred to his adept friend R. as "the Boss". This reminds me of Theosophist Henry Steel Olcott who had met several adepts personally and often called them "the boys". Accomplished esotericists and bibliophiles will probably notice that the physical description of R. corresponds to the presentation given in Initiation, Human and Solar by Alice Bailey: "He is rather a small, spare man, with pointed black beard, and smooth black hair." (p. 58 clothbound ed.) R. was obviously very candid regarding the choice of Paul for the intended project: "That while he was not particularly impressed by Paul`s personality, he was absolutely the best they (i.e. the Masters) could find for the job they had in mind. They had to work with what they had at hand." This is an interesting comment explaining why disciples with their personality faults and idiosyncracies seem so inadequate for a chosen project. It also takes away the glamour that disciples should be regarded as infallible teachers of esotericism because of their contacts with the Planetary Guardians. Listen to what K.H. had to say about Blavatsky: "But, imperfect as may be our visible agent - and often most unsatisfactory and imperfect she is - yet she is the best aviable at present, and her phenomena have for about half a century astounded and baffled some of the cleverest minds of the age." (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, letter 2, pp. 9-10).
As is often the case with esoteric teachers Paul Foster Case received his share of unfounded rumours and criticism from conceited and self-righteous moralists. Dr. Paul A. Clark relates a very human episode during a crisis period in Paul´s life when he was alone at a hotel room in Reno, very sick and no money left. The week before he had become acquainted with a card shark at a gambling establishment and a woman who proved to be a prostitute. This couple found him unconscious at his hotel room, called a doctor and paid all expenses. They nursed him back to life, until he started to recover and could continue his journey to California. Later Paul use to tell his classes: "... don´t forget to send love and gratitude to a prostitute and a very dishonest card dealer, who had so much love in their hearts, that they went to a man they did not know at all. They spent their own money to feed him... Please remember this when you start evaluating what is and is not highly evolved. It can be misleading."
Paul Foster Case devoted his whole life teaching esoteric philosophy and directing Builders of the Adytum. But he was also ordained a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church and a Freemason affiliated with lodges in New York and Los Angeles. His method of presenting the Esoteric Tradition with the help of the Tarot and Qabalah is one of many paths leading to the same goal. Personally I find the use of too much old symbolism,like qabalah frustrating and adher to the views on this issue by Henry T. Laurency as more in line with present day scientific thinking. Interested students are referred to the chapter Symbols in Knowledge of Life Three. This is not to belittle the teachings and effort of Paul Foster Case who according to my understanding was a genuine disciple of the Planetary Guardians and exponent of the Esoteric Tradition.