Capturing "the living light of other worlds" : Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater's Thought forms in Victorian context

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Casson, Bonnie Colleen

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The tumultuous Victorian period in Britain produced a society seeking answers to the unknown and unseen in the universe. Victorians were forced to display a faith in science, and sought a spirituality that would allow for a belief in these discoveries as well as retain their idea of a higher power. Melding the scientific with the spiritual, Theosophy was a major force in late nineteenth century society. Promoted by the likes of Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, Theosophy and Theosophical beliefs symbolized the dramatic shift in religious thinking amongst bourgeois British culture. Under the Theosophical umbrella, science and spirituality became intertwined and interdependent. Besant and Leadbeater sought to educate British society on the unfettered powers of the mind. In their research for Thought Forms, they pursued visualizations (both figurative and abstract) and emanations achieved through thought transference. Besant and Leadbeater intercepted the thoughts of a third party and verbally communicated their interpreted images to a specific artist. One of these artists, John Varley, painted the images described by Besant and Leadbeater. These explorations into the unknown endeavored to do more than make the invisible universe visible. In a society where the individual seemed to be lost in industrialization, Besant and Leadbeater sought to educate the public on Theosophical ideas and their version of morality. Through Besant and Leadbeater’s Thought Forms, my thesis seeks to explore the position of this highly influential yet generally ignored book as a bridge between the past and present. In other words, the authors clearly tie themselves to their scientific, visual and spiritual pasts but the book’s influence on the modernist movement, especially in the writing and paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, makes Thought Forms a permanent fixture in modern history. As a synthesis of art, science and religion, Thought Forms presents a world of cooperation and possibility, illustrating that with any kind of faith the unbelievable can become reality.



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