The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 209, titled:
With Chris Brennan and Kim Farnell
Episode originally released on June 21, 2019
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at email@example.com.
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released June 17, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 starting at, I believe, 12:50 p.m. in London, England. And this is the 209th episode of the show. Joining me today is Kim Farnell and we’re going to be talking about her new book titled Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo. Hey Kim, thanks for joining me today.
KIM FARNELL: Hi, thanks for having me.
CB: Yeah, so we are actually today at the Astrological Lodge of London which was founded by Alan Leo in 1915, right?
KF: We’re in the Theosophical Society building where the Middlesex Lodge say it was originally first made in 1915 downstairs. This library that we’re sitting at the moment wouldn’t have been there in the same way then. So yes, Alan to come and set up here.
CB: Brilliant. And this is one of the research libraries here?
KF: Yes, it’s extends into the room behind us which we can’t actually see at the moment, but there’s also an archive at CSIS downstairs where they’re constantly finding records they didn’t know they got and re-cataloging them and say new things are coming to light all the time.
CB: Sure. All right. So, for those of my listeners that are newer astrologers that might not be familiar with your work yet, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what your background is in astrology and some of the books that you’ve written?
KF: I started in astrology in the mid-80s because I was unemployed, so I took an evening class and I went took a faculty diploma, started attending astrology groups, so quite a lot in London at that time. And then I started writing an article about Sepharial the Walter Old known as The Astrologer Sepharial. That was in the late ‘90s. And the article grew and grew. It got bigger and bigger and it became a book. And that’s when I realized that my main thing was going to be the history of astrology rather than just a practice of astrology.
CB: Right. And that was your first book. What year did that come out?
KF: That year was 1998, I believe it came out. There’s been quite a few books since then. [Kim laughs] Yeah. But then I was on the Astrological Association Council for a number of years, I was vice chair of the AAA, I worked at the Urania Trust when we used to have regular meetings there, I was involved in a group in South London and in South East England conferences… and a whole lot of different things until I did the masters in cultural astronomy and astrology at Bath Spa which I finished in 2005. And then where we are now, I ended up being president of the Lodge which now my 11th year.
CB: 11th year as president of the Lodge? Wow. And the 2005, the Bath Spa, that’s Nick Campion’s program which focuses on the history and cosmology of astrology, right?
KF: Yeah, it’s a very different degree course now to what it was then. It’s now moved to Lampeter and they’re focusing far more strongly on astroarchaeology and archeoastronomy that’s fading. And when I did this, I was in the first year of intake and it was a lot more about the history of astrology, particularly in the 19th century, and how it became modern astrology and how the practice of astrology works. It’s shifted a bit now.
CB: Sure. What drew you to studying the history of astrology or what interests you about that topic?
KF: Initially, when I started with Sepharial, it was really mundane. He had to be born quite close to where I was born which offered a personal link, so instantly became interesting. And when he’d written about certain places in the city and in Birmingham where he’s from, these places he went to and traveling to this place, I actually knew these streets. I knew what he was talking about. This automatic connection made him interesting. And it took on a life of its own. I didn’t think I was going to get into it. I didn’t think I was going to write a book. And it just made itself as a book. And then the next one came after that. And then before I knew it, I’d just written a whole pile of books.
CB: Right. And you’ve done a lot of not just writing up your own books, but also professional editing and contributed to a number of different volumes as well.
KF: Yeah, my day job is as an editor, an editor of ghostwritten a lot of titles mainly in the East outfields because that’s obviously what I know best, but I also do things like business books and novels. Usually historical novels, that’s my specialty when I’m editing fiction because I’m quite good at spotting anachronisms, which people pay quite well for it which is nice. Yeah, so that’s the day job. But it means I also now edit the Lodge’s magazine Astrological today and I’ve read it in the other astrological publications.
CB: Brilliant. So, your first book was about Sepharial, and he was an astrologer who lived about 100 years ago around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
KF: Yes, same generation as Allan Leo basically.
CB: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting that now you’ve written a book about Alan Leo because oftentimes other people might want to start with Alan Leo because he’s usually viewed as more influential in the history of astrology.
KF: That’s exactly why I didn’t write originally because I wrote a biographical book about Leo which is a collection of essays people knew him and the biographical details are given by Bessie Leo. Was a biography of Leo available? I didn’t know how accurate it was. It turns out not very accurate at all. But back in the day, Leo had a biography, Sepharial had nothing. So, I was more interested in what seemed to be an obvious gap. But it became more apparent as I looked into 19th century and early 20th century astrology that what was written about Leo was a little bit unreliable to put it mildly, there wasn’t actually that much material. And nobody had ever joined the dots between these two worlds. He lived and worked as an astrologer, but he was a theosophist. The theosophists had created their history of Alan Leo and the astrologers had created their history of Leo and nobody had pulled them together.
CB: Okay. That was part of your motivation eventually to decide to write this book about not just Alan Leo, but also Bessie Leo, his wife?
KF: It became impossible to separate them. I originally intended to just write about Alan Leo, and obviously I had to do some research into Bessie because she affected his life and how he approached things that relationship is of paramount importance throughout his life. But it became obvious they worked together so much; their lives are so entangled thus I couldn’t really write about one without writing about the other. So rather than pretend I’m doing that, I’ll actually call it a book about the two of them and research it properly like that.
CB: I really love and appreciate that because that’s a problem I ran into where it seems like sometimes there’s astrologers that are couples and one of them sometimes gets the credit but oftentimes when you really research them, you realize their lives were intertwined and sometimes the less prominent one doesn’t get as much credit, but often… I did an episode last year with Michel and Francoise Gauquelin, and it seemed like Francoise’s contribution to Michel’s work was significant enough to warrant treating them as a pair for most of their work careers. It’s interesting that you really put that front and center in terms of presenting them as a pair in this book.
KF: It’s partly a personal thing because I have a writing partner that I sometimes work with. And he rang me up at one point, looking at some stuff we’d written two-three years before, and asked me whose work it was because he couldn’t remember whether he’d written it, I’d written it or we’d written it together. And when I looked at it, I’ve got no idea either. And we’re not that close and yet we couldn’t separate the work out. So, for someone like Alan and Bessie, I have no idea where you could draw the line and separate them.
CB: Right. That’s funny. All right. Well, let’s get into some biographical information and just assume that our listener has no idea who Alan Leo is or Bessie Leo and the context in which they lived or their timeframes. So, Alan Leo lived from 1860 to 1917 and Bessie lived from 1858 to 1931. So, they lived in a time towards the late– they were born in the late 19th century in a time when astrology was just starting to come out of a low phase of a couple of centuries, right?
KF: Yeah, they were primarily Edwardian astrologers. That was their high points. And it was the generation of astrologers including Sepharial and others even George Wilde all born around 1816 into the mid-1860s. Quite close in age that a lot of those astrologers met up. At the time they became adult in those days into about their 20s, the transport system in England had improved drastically. And it sounds like a minor point, but it makes a huge difference. Communication is better. We had the best postal service during that era that we’d ever had. Seven deliveries a day in London.
CB: That was a point that you made that was really interesting. That was the first time in history you could get mail delivered seven times a day for relatively cheap.
KF: Yeah. And it meant that astrologers could really communicate to each other. The railway’s extending all over the country, you could get a train to visit people easily. And they did. They visited each other all the time. They were constantly dropping on each other’s doorsteps. That was also part of the Theosophical and general historic thing at the time that you went to visit people and you might stay three months. People just did. It’s probably the equivalent of how the internet affected us. They’re equivalent, they could suddenly communicate, they could certainly get around. So, you’ve got people who are interested in things like astrology who meet like-minded people, set up groups and societies, set up magazines which might be fanzines people set up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Exact equivalent of sets of esoteric material. So, things started buzzing, people getting excited, and it spread.
CB: Sure. Part of the context of that also was we’re coming off of or still in the middle of the 19th century spiritualist movement and also almost contemporaneous is the rise of Theosophy or the Theosophical Society?
KF: Yes, yes, it’s a little bit before. By the time the astrologers really get going, this particular group, theosophy firmly established. And there’s a lot of crossover between the groups. Actually, I will not say a lot of them. There was a line drawn. There were astrologers who were still theosophists like Alan and Bessie. There were astrologers like E. H. Bailey who was a little bit younger, but still part of that group who staunchly opposed Theosophy. And then there were people who couldn’t really care less one way or the other, just wanted their astrology books and clubs and that was it. But there were a lot of arguments about it. Theosophy was there in the background, even for those astrologers that didn’t want Theosophy in their astrology. It was all pervasive. It informed everything to do with this stuff at that time.
CB: It had permeated the discourse on esoteric topics so much that it was affecting everybody in some ways, whether you’re into it or not?
KF: Yeah, it’s like today, if you try to have a conversation with someone about positive thinking and decide that you’re not going to mention anything about law of attraction or relating to it for the next hour because it’s not going to… It’s just so there now in that part of culture that people refer to it. Might be indirectly, they might not say the words, but it’s there. It’s a concept that’s so there. Theosophy and astrology like that. Theosophy is just so there even if you don’t acknowledge it, if you don’t formally recognize it, or say you’re anti it, it’s influencing everything.
CB: Sure. And when we’re talking about Theosophy, we’re especially talking about that as being the brainchild of Helena Blavatsky, right?
KF: Right. Except by the time we’re talking about, it stops being so much Blavatsky in the Theosophy and turns more to Annie Besant’s style of Theosophy which is a bit of a nitpicking point but just in case there’s a theosophist listening taking notes, we’re talking more about Besant’s Theosophy. [laughs]
CB: Okay. And was she the second or third president of the Theosophical Society?
KF: Oh, I’m oblivious. She received president after Olcott died. It was in 1906? I’ll probably check the date that she became president, but she was on the circuit for a long time. She was a theosophist for quite a while before that and the other prominent astrologers knew her. Well, they revered her enough so that he had a portrait on his office wall so he could look at it when he worked. You know, a poster of Annie Besant on the wall.
CB: Yeah, that’s dedication. So, about Alan Leo and in terms of his early life, how did you start out or he came from somewhat humble origins?
KF: Yeah, very. He was born in basically what was slums in Westminster, a very small part of London nowadays, but the whole area was raised to the ground and rebuilt so it’s pretty much unrecognizable. His family moved around the country eventually. He lived in Edinburgh for a while where he was schooled and then his family came back later in North of England, but his father was a soldier for a while and then became a hospital porter. His mother did some work as a seamstress. They didn’t have a lot of money, they were working poor. But they weren’t destitute or that level of poor. He left home relatively early and became a trucking salesman. He worked in a grocery shop for a while then started working on the sales side and eventually worked for a few different companies as a salesman, settling in London when he was working for ice cream manufacturer in Camberwell.
CB: Okay. He was a salesman, basically?
KF: Yeah, he was a commercial salesman. He used to get in a train, take samples around the country. Ebenezer Roberts, the company he worked for in Camberwell was hugely famous in big displays and they sold ice-cream-making machines and similar things commercially, not just the short term, but for factories and for organizations. Alan did things like factory inspections and oversaw installation of equipment and things like that. It wasn’t just carrying around a little attaché case and showing little sample. He did to that at some point, but his work was actually a bit more involved at times.
CB: And that’s what’s really funny to think about. In reading your book, he really was a working-class type guy who fell into and fell in love with astrology but for a long time it wasn’t clear if he was going to make it. There wasn’t this inevitability that he would always be the preeminent astrologer of the early 20th century. It was much more like-
KF: –17, coz that’s a possibility. Which is just something– You meet people you meet people like this nowadays. You go to any astrology group or organization, there are people who are ready to use that [unintelligible 00:16:19.08]. If you see them outside, they’ve got a day job doing whatever they do, it’s a wide variety of jobs. And presumably, amongst that number, there are some traveling salesmen still now that work around the country. And I think in the same way, he went to work like everyone else and then on his time off at weekends, he’d get into astrology and meet up with astrologers. It wasn’t a career move.
CB: Sure. So how did he find astrology or how did he get into it?
KF: He came from a slightly odd background. His mother was Plymouth Brethren and she taught in quite a strange version of Christianity. That’s the version that Aleister Crowley also came from and other famous people from the Brethren that got some quite odd ideas. We won’t go there at the moment. Also, his mother was interested in different philosophies. He mentioned in passing at one point, she had an Indian friend who came to visit and was talking about the concepts of reincarnation in Indian culture and things like that. He was introduced to ideas that would be out of deal with me quite early on, coz that would have been in his mid-teens, if I remember rightly, sometime around there. So he came across those ideas. And there were magazines circulating the weekends, they start reading them. People used to insert letters saying if you want to make friends, the equivalents of modern-day internet forums, basically, it’s like you did it through the posts. And he answered to all the letters which is how he met Frederick Lacey then he established a whole network based on that.
CB: So, it was like a letter in a magazine that was looking for contacts with other astrologers?
KF: Yeah, these are a few. Sometimes I just want people to write and exchange letters about this. Other times, it’s either in nicest case, I live in South London and does anyone fancy joining the group if I set one up? That was a fairly common thing for people to do to make contact in that way. Yeah, Alan answered Lacey’s letters and… Yeah.
CB: Well, and then he made his first friend in astrology and this was-
KF: It sounds like his first friend ever, actually. That’s probably a bit mean, [Kim laughs] but yeah.
CB: Yeah. So, he grows up in this somewhat extreme religious background. I don’t know if extreme is the right way to characterize it, but it’s a unique-
KF: I think it’s a different background. His father wasn’t a member of the Plymouth Brethren, he was a Methodist but still not the standard religious background you get in England at that time. It’s still a little bit different. It doesn’t sound like they rammed Christianity down his throat or anything like that. An interesting point was if you look at the biography I mentioned about Alan Leo’s life that Bessie wrote, she explains him as having quite nice family in time. He went to stay at his grandparents in the country and they had a nice tea, and all this sorts of thing. Except his grandparents lived in Clark somewhere just around the corner and they lived in a tented room, tight place. This never happened. He reinvented himself later.
CB: Sure. So, some of that was just there later, not spinned by the way they wanted to present his autobiography.
KF: To be fair, Bessie may have thought it was the truth. It’s never been clear because if it wasn’t true– For instance when he married Bessie, he gave his father’s name is William Leo Gentleman, which his first name was William Allan and he probably wasn’t a nasty person but he wasn’t a gentleman so in that sense either, he were a hospital porter. And he changed the facts like that. But Bessie may well have believed this to be true, she wouldn’t have known. So, when she explains his background in the biography, she isn’t necessarily lying. It may be what Alan told her and she’s accepted as fact.
CB: Yeah. And there’s some points related to that that we’ll come back to again in terms of some questions about his biography and what she was aware of in terms of his life prior even to their meeting. So, he starts reading astrology magazines, he answers a letter from Frederick Lacey who’s looking to connect with other astrologers. And Alan writes him back and they connect and meet up and then he starts basically becoming associated with astrologers and starts getting more into astrology from that point forward, right?
KF: Yeah. And it happened at a time that the war on astrology magazine which was thought of as being the good magazine in England was about to collapse. That was just as Lacey and Leo had got friendly and decided that they’re really into astrology. So, this gap rose where there’s no astrological publications for a while. Which is how The Astrology Magazine was born. It was just a matter of timing. If they’d have met the year before, they might not have bothered because there’s a magazine that came out circulating a year after. Someone else might fill the gap. But at that time, there was a needy to another publication.
CB: And what year is this that they first met each other and started talking?
KF: 1887, I believe. 1887 was when Leo came to London and he met Lacey at 1988. It’s probably when they got friendly. I mean I have written the dates in the book but I’ve not got such a good head for [Kim laughs] exact dates. Yeah, and they met other astrologers. Lacey had already been corresponding with a few other astrologers. For example, he’d been corresponding with Sepharial prior to meeting Alan so he introduced them. And he vaguely knew George Wilde, I believe, and so many other names at the period. So, when Leo and Lacey met, Lacey already had a bit of a network setup that they could tap into.
CB: Okay. And so eventually before too long after their connection, they decided to found an astrology magazine together?
KF: Yeah, they seemed to decide to do it despite the bad news because everyone told them it was a bad idea and they were sitting on the top of the deck, personally. The description of it when you read between the lines, they make it sound like they had a couple of drinks too many and that sort of back slit of it was, “Ah, let’s have a magazine.” But they ran with it anyway.
CB: And it was like a big financial investment, but they both sat down and made an agreement or formed a partnership where they both poured their funds into it to launch this venture.
KF: Theoretically, in real terms, Alan Leo didn’t have any funds to really pour [Kim laughs] into anything. So, it would have been Lacey funding it.
CB: Okay. He funded it. And then one of the things that was funny that you talk about briefly in the book is that Sepharial who was a friend or associate of theirs at the time, they tell him that they’re going to start a magazine and then he basically says, “Well, I’m going to start a magazine.” And then he starts his and releases it a month before they do theirs.
KF: Yeah. It was insulting as Sepharial did quite a lot it. He actually was quite an irritating person in some respect. He never explained why he did that. He maintained it just happened that way. It was just the way the schedule works. That was his approach. But the magazine he tried to for a month or a month earlier, it didn’t last many issues. It failed.
CB: Right. It was four issues or something like that.
KF: Yeah, basically he rushed it out. So yes, it was deliberate. It wasn’t an accident because…. Of course, then Sepharial did come up with another magazine shortly after that. Sepharial issued quite a few failed magazines during his life. It’s a thing he was quite good at.
CB: Okay. Yeah. And that’s one of the things that’s funny that you said that just because one of the things I loved about your book in reading it over the past few months is that it’s really funny because there’s a lot of these little exchanges and things that happened between the astrologers that are sometimes petty, or sometimes they’re squabbling with each other and doing weird things. But it’s also very funny and very relatable because even though we’re talking about people from a century ago, they’re very human. And many of the same dynamics that you see in communities or in the astrological community today, they were playing out in different ways.
KF: Yes, and we tend to read some of it in other writings about characters of that period. [unintelligible 24:48:39] they had these important things of major astrologer. If you take for another example, George Wilde, who we used to call George Wilde from Halifax. Just in case you ever forgot, he came from Halifax. He used to append it to everything. But that was actually quite an important point because to be an important astrologer, you really needed to come from the South. That showed you’re in the right class, and he didn’t. But also, he worked on the railways. And if you read, he accounts of it. He wrote for this magazine, he published this, he had these clients. The reality was he got up in the morning and he went to work on the railways. And then in his evenings or on Sundays, he would do some astrology. That was his life most of the time. The real life is quite different to what is often written down or trying to look at the reality of what people did.
CB: Right, and trying the difference between how they presented themselves and trying to present themselves as respectable in some way versus the reality of having to live their lives or get by while still pursuing something that they’re passionate about but that’s not necessarily hugely financially lucrative with in terms of astrology.
KF: I’d say a lot of them didn’t really think of astrology having anything to do with money making activities at all as minority of people try to… For example, Frederick Lacey worked as an accountant in the clock. He played the organ which he was also paid for sometimes so I don’t just mean he played because he liked it. He used to play at Freemasons Hall and he played at Royal Albert Hall. He was quite a renowned musician. Early onset, he made more money from his sheet music than he did his astrology. So yeah, astrology wasn’t a career move.
CB: Yeah, it was just something they found and became interested in and became passionate about?
KF: Yeah, it was an interest. It’s another thing. It’s just something they did in their spare time for most of them. Some people spent more of their spare time on it than others first, but for a lot of people, it was just a hobby.
CB: Right, that makes sense. So, Alan and Frederick Lacey found this magazine and it’s called-
KF: The Astrologer’s Magazine which you actually still call… Yeah, I’ve got several copies. I had some of these when Astrologer Maurice McCann died a few years ago, I inherited a lot of his magazines and books and things which is one reason why I’ve got such a big Alan Leo collection now if you want to see.
CB: Wow, so this is dated July, 1894. And what was the year of the first issue? Let me see if they wrote it down.
KF: I think it’s 1890.
CB: Yeah, that sounds about right, 1890-1891. So, this is The Astrologer’s Magazine and this is number four, volume four, number two, just for the camera. So, they start publishing this magazine and one of the things they do-
KF: Just a point about this actually, as we were talking about many moments ago, but this is the back of that magazine. And it’s actually advertising space taken out by the company that employed Alan Leo. Yeah, so this is how the magazine was funded at that stage by signing that space.
CB: Wow, that’s so funny. And this is from October of 1893. And some of the titles of contents are modern ideas of an astrologer, Hindu astrology, infantile mortality, the life of the weather, the student’s corner, mundane astrology, the degrees of the zodiac symbolized, and letters to the editor. So, they start a magazine and they must have thought that there was a market for it to some extent that there were other astrologers around or other people that might be interested in it.
KF: There was a small market because the magazine called astrology which immediately precedes it hadn’t sold huge amounts but it sold some issues. There were other small publications that turns up here and there. The one that John Thomas was involved in which name which escapes me at the moment now which was done in around Chester, that bit of the Welsh English borders, the magazine is published from there. They gained some custom. So, they knew there were people willing to buy some magazine so knew there were some people willing to buy publications, so it did exist that audience, but it wasn’t a huge audience.
CB: Okay. But one of the things that they did that set them apart in order to promote the magazine is they started selling horoscopes to subscribers, right?
KF: Yes. Because they had to do with what they thought was a serious competition from Sepharial which actually wasn’t as it turns out in the end. But obviously, they didn’t realize that at the time. They thought this was serious opposition. You had coupons where you could send your coupon and get a free delineation, two or three paragraphs long normally, very brief. And Alan did all the math and calculated the charts. Frederick Lacey wrote the delineations. They started off by doing it on Friday evening and Saturday afternoons. They ended up by work. As soon as I came home from work, I just sat down, did charts, got up in the morning, work through the whole weekend since I was working through Saturday night to keep up with her. And I just think like about 1500 days and a few years they are doing that.
CB: Right, 1500 handwritten horoscopes even if it’s just a few paragraphs two to three paragraphs long, that’s still a lot.
KF: It’s still a lot of work because each one obviously had to be calculated by hand and seemed to got quite speed yet if you did that many horoscopes, you too to get quite fast and it is straightforward math. But even so, it’s a bit time consuming. You’re hard pushed to do a ton under about 20 minutes.
CB: Right. But it worked, and actually it did seem to attract attention.
KF: Yeah. And it meant that they could sell lengthier horoscopes than they wanted to which wasn’t really what Lacey did because he wasn’t so interested in going in that direction. But Alan certainly used it as a jumping off point to sell more detailed horoscopes later. So, later on, he set up whole systems of different prices for different amounts of work. He had the cheap tested ones. He carried on with that idea throughout.
CB: Okay. So, they started selling, it says on the top of this one, free horoscopes to annual subscribers and that was relatively successful and they were able to eventually start breaking even with the sales of the magazine. Okay, just barely maybe.
KF: And I think Lacey got back the money he put into it in the end. They didn’t really make a profit or at least no substantial profit, but it looked good enough to make Alan Leo think that it was worth continuing even when Lacey wanted to drop out. He’s had enough, it was a hobby and it was turning into something bigger than he wanted to in his spare time. But underneath that there was enough mileage in it that he could actually increase the sales and turn it into a proper magazine.
CB: So, Lacey drops out after a few years and Alan takes it over as the sole proprietor?
KF: And that’s when it becomes Modern Astrology.
CB: Got it. So, it goes from being The Astrologer’s Magazine to Modern Astrology. And Alan, by this point, was really heavy into Theosophy, right? Yeah. And one of the things that he talks about in his later books that really attracted him to that philosophy is the ideas of karma and reincarnation.
KF: He does say that, but you also have to remember that if you’re on this esoteric scene in London, you’d go to the Theosophical meeting at some point anyway. It’ll be a bit difficult not to because these are the people to hang out with. So, although his political is genuine the way he expressed it, I think he does want it a bit more in the direction of I wanted to learn about these ideas because he’ll get more philosophical than his actual truth. There was a bit of it that was these are the people to hang out with because they’re the people who matter on the scene.
CB: Okay. Sure. And that was the prevailing philosophy of the day in that scene?
KF: Yeah. And Sepharial was obviously insane. Sorry, I’m saying obviously, it’s probably not obvious to most the rest of the world. Sepharial was very involved and also, he was first and foremost a theosophist even though we’ve named him as an astrologer. Again, some might say the theosophists had their history of him and we have our history of him and he was integral in causing huge arguments and schisms within the Theosophical Society which actually led to the American Theosophical Society seceding from the British one, so quite a big effect. But he also lived in this building. He lived in the Theosophical Society building. He lived with Helena Blavatsky. He was part of the in-crowd and he introduced Alan Leo and Frederick Lacey to the inner core of Theosophy.
CB: Right. And Sepharial was the one who was there at her bedside when she passed away, right?
KF: Yeah. He held her hand when she died. But then he was always hanging around somebody and he was basically a librarian who interfered in things.
CB: Okay. Basically, that’s a good subtitle [Kim laughs] to put on a business card or something. Yeah. So, Alan’s really in turn when he takes over the magazine, he shifts it a little bit even more towards Theosophy, right?
KF: Yeah. Because Lacey attended theosophical meetings and he wasn’t a theosophist, but he was never as enthused about it as Alan was and he saw the astrology as a slightly separate thing. He had his theosophical life, he went to meetings, he joined lodges. He and Alan actually did probably establish a theosophical lodge in Brixton, but his astrology was a separate matter. So, when they were working together on the magazine, there wasn’t too much Theosophy creeping in. There were charts of eminent theosophists, there were mentions of Theosophy, but it wasn’t the overwriting Theosophy. As soon as Lacey had gone, Alan was free to put loads of Theosophy, which he did immediately. It changed to a completely theosophical magazine.
CB: Okay. So that’s important and that’s an important turning point. And at some point, around here or not too far after that, eventually Bessie enters the scene, right?
KF: Yeah, she wrote off for a free horoscope which is how she met Alan through correspondence. She was a theosophist by then and she attended Lodge in Bournemouth and basically other people who knew Alan Leo’s magazine, not him personally at that time suggested she got her chart done. It wasn’t the first time Bessie got her chart done. We know that she must have had it done at least twice before because she knew a woman astrologer in the north of England that would have looked at her chart and the man, she married John Jessie Spark also practices as an astrologer.
CB: Okay. And sure, her primary thing wasn’t astrology initially though, right?
KF: Phrenology was her main thing to start off with, but that was part an accident or circumstance as well. She was interested in esoteric subjects generally and she came across Theosophy relatively early. But through an old school friend, she met some phrenologists and they happened to be based in the north of England where there were several families who were all intermarrying and all phrenologists they traveled around England and Wales doing displays and setting up offices and she became associated with that. So, she knew a lot of phrenologists. So, she’s mainly worked with them, but she also sold herself as a professor of handwriting.
CB: Okay. So, graphology?
KF: Yeah, except she called it something different, a pathology, I think they called it then. But yeah, she did handwriting and she did other things like that as well. She had a very vague basic knowledge of astrology at that time.
CB: But she sees this advertisement, she writes off to Alan for her horoscope and he writes one back, he gives a delineation. Or you said actually somebody else?
KF: Yeah, that’s the version that she said that she only sent her horoscope and she was so amazed and it was brilliant and that was it. So, she wrote it. What actually happened is she wrote it off and Frederick Lacey sent the horoscope and signed on Alan Leo’s name to it.
CB: Okay, so it might not have actually been Alan who wrote the horoscope?
KF: It certainly wasn’t Alan who wrote the horoscope.
CB: That’s a nice little piece of investigation that you did in uncovering and the book is full of little nice little tidbits like that which I think is one of the reasons why it’s really important that you wrote it to clarify some of those things or just interesting little terms in terms of the history of how things actually did or little inconsistencies that you came across occasionally. But anyway, so she was sufficiently impressed by it and then they began a correspondence at that point, right?
KF: She wrote to him initially to ask if he would teach astrology because he did do lessons by correspondence sometimes, and then suggested that she’d she ever be passing. She’s in Southampton at the time and Alan’s in London, but she’d she ever be passing, he could call on her and Alan tended to call on anyone who vaguely suggested it, so he did. After a few months-
CB: Yeah. So, he was going around giving astrology lectures in different places and he was pretty excited about presenting the subject wherever he could?
KF: Sort of. He was traveling as a salesman and because he had to stay overnight in various towns, he used to advertise ahead and write to people and asked if they’d let him do a free lecture.
CB: Okay. So was this his way of-
KF: Yes, he did that, but the emphasis [Kim laughs] is the other way around.
CB: Right. As his day job still, but still trying to do the astrology thing on the side whenever he could?
KF: Yeah, he spent a lot of time especially in the early to mid-90s traveling around England and sometimes Wales. And he had to stay overnight various cities maybe a couple of days in certain places and he was often in major cities like Manchester or Leeds or where there would be a group of astrologists he could get in or at least some people who would be interested in hearing about astrology. And sometimes, you’d see adverts in the Modern Astrology or The Astrologer’s Magazine and then Alan Leo was planning to be in the city on these dates. Contact us if anybody would like him to give a talk.
CB: Sure. Okay. So, they start corresponding, they eventually meet up. And she has an interesting background besides just graphology, but one of the issues is that she reluctantly got married not long before she met Alan Leo, right?
KF: No, she was engaged to be married when she met Alan. It’s a bit of an entanglement. Spark asked to marry her a few times. They worked together. They wrote books together and collaborated on work, her and John Jessie Spark, yes. But she wasn’t married to him when she met Alan. She told him that she was engaged to be married. And she carried on corresponding with Alan although she got married, and then she went on honeymoon to the States with her husband. She had family in the States through her father. We don’t know much details what she did, but it wasn’t her first visit to the USA. So, it just seemed quite likely there was a family connection because her father had taken her there a couple years before. Yeah. Anyway, when they came back, she sets up a business with Spark. They worked together and Alan came to visit them. Shortly after they’re married, she invited Alan to have Christmas.
CB: Okay. And that business that they started was connected to phrenology because they were both-
KF: Spark and Bessie, yeah. It was primarily phrenology, but after Spark met Alan, which he did quite early on in marriage, Alan actually suggested to Spark, “You might want to do some astrology.” So, Spark thought that was a good idea so he did astrological consultations as part of his business as well. He was quite an established phrenologist by then. He had offices in Cardiff for quite some time before he moved out to Bournemouth. So, he was doing astrology as well. And then Bessie was corresponding with Alan all the time, he turns up Boxing Day and spot promptly left. So, there’s something else going on [Kim laughs] and nobody detailed in the account. It just goes like, “Alan comes to visit, my husband went away.” But there’s no… You have to read between the lines.
CB: Yeah. At some point, their relationship, initial correspondence eventually turned into a romantic relationship of some sort which was-
KF: There was certainly an intimate relationship. I don’t know whether it’s romantic or not representing that.
CB: Sure. Because that was something like Bessie had some very unique background and ideas and spiritual and religious ideas that she brought to the table in terms of her relationships which I guess is part of cause potentially some issues in the first marriage but then when she met Alan, was much more soon.
KF: [Kim laughs] She refused to have sex with her first husband. She told him that she’d only marry him if they were never intimate. They never had a sexual relationship.
CB: Right. And he agreed to this-
KF: He agreed. At the time, he agreed. Only she said that he agreed to it. I can’t find anything that Spark wrote about it, so this is Bessie’s version. He apparently agreed. And after their marriage, he basically changed his mind. This is Bessie’s version. So that’s why when she did finally marry Alan, she only did agree it to be a celibate relationship. But prior to this, she points out that this wasn’t a new idea. She’d said since her teens that she could never imagine herself having a relation of that nature with a man.
CB: Yeah, it’s like I think she says at some point that she had like a Venus Saturn square or something like that Natalie and for some reason, the idea of celibacy was really important to her and it was also part of her philosophical or religious background.
KF: She called it celibacy later, but earlier on, she just said she couldn’t imagine that relationship with a man.
CB: Okay. So is that-
KF: So, there may be more. It may not be quite as clear as it seems, but she specifically said that. [Kim laughs] And she certainly had close lesbian friends later in life.
CB: Okay. Interesting.
KF: So, it might not be quite as clear as it seems.
CB: Yeah. Because she outlived Alan Leo by almost 15 years or something like that. And he died, I want to say relatively young, I’m not sure if it’s young for the time period, but he was 57 or something like that.
KF: Yeah, he was still reasonably young. It wasn’t as uncommon to die at 57 as it is now, but you could quite happily expect him to live another 20 years.
CB: Okay, sure. But Alan, while her first husband maybe was not okay with that, Alan actually it seemed like because of his background in Theosophy and his spiritual and religious beliefs, he was both so into Bessie but also the theosophist had some ideas about things like celibacy and vegetarianism and other things being good for the spiritual life that that actually suited him in some way.
KF: That’s pretty much the official version, but he also had a wife before Bessie according to the records.
CB: Right. Well, that’s a [Kim laughs] little side note you discovered. And is this something about his biography that was a little weird like inconsistency?
KF: Yeah, there was. Basically, the reason this came to light was because of the way census records were taken at the time. They used to send out a letter is sent out to census a few days beforehand. They weren’t just collected on that day [unintelligible 45:35:45]. And because the way it was done and deforms going out on different dates in different areas, if you traveled for work, then you could quite easily end up in more than one location of the census enumerator. Also, the official advice, and I’m getting to the point in a few, [Kim laughs] the official advice would say that if you had someone in your household that would normally live there but they were away because they were traveling for work, you should write them down anyway. Point being that Alan Leo came up twice on census returns the same days and he was living in the address where we knew he was living, but he was also living in the address with his wife Sarah.
CB: Okay. So, Alan had another wife named Sarah who he was at least officially still married to by the time that he met-
KF: They weren’t legally married. They were declared as married. But this was in South London in Beckenham. There were a lot of couples living together at that point who were married.
CB: Okay, so not officially on the books, but in reality?
KF: Yeah, I know a mate to be fair. There were also people that got married in a chapel or something like that. So, they would have some service, it means they just said it and it may be there, but it wasn’t done legally.
CB: Okay. So, he had this other relationship, but then he falls in love with Bessie and that seems to become his primary relationship and then we lose or don’t know what happened to his first wife?
KF: He was still connected to her after he married Bessie for a while. Yeah.
CB: Okay. For like a few years? Okay. And then at some point, we don’t really know what happened with that?
KF: It’s not clear. It’s hard to translate. I’m hoping she was the woman that she sees and then got into a fight in a pub a couple years later, but I couldn’t quite be certain it was her. It looked tempting. But she seems to have stayed in the area. I did check again some years later, it’s a different address but within about a half a mile in the same area, the age matches and everything. So, she seems to have just stayed in the area. Whether he carried on seeing her after the last record of that, I’ve got no idea. Because she’s never mentioned in any of his writings. She’s not there. One place I did search for is in his early issues of The Astrologer’s Magazine, Alan writes about some of the other charts he’s done of people he knew, so he describes friends and contacts and people he’s met at work and talking about for example, at one point, his employer’s horoscope. So obviously, I combed [Kim laughs] through those really thoroughly because if she was going to turn up anywhere in his writings, it would have been in those, but there’s nothing.
CB: Okay. So, whatever that relationship was or whatever happened to it, he increasingly him and Bessie become a couple and become a team. And then they agreed to get married and he agreed on her terms in terms of them continuing to maintain celibacy and that seemed to suit him for whatever reason.
KF: Yeah. Obviously, it worked and they were married all Alan’s life after that.
CB: Yeah, for 21 years after that.
KF: Yeah. So, it obviously worked in some way. You never know the complete details of people’s arrangements like that. Even now, you wouldn’t write exactly why you’d agree to enter that relationship under that circumstance or what have you. You just don’t. So, we’re not going to know about it, but something about it works.
CB: Yeah. And they became a good couple and a team and then his work really starts taking off around or about this point.
KF: Except people didn’t like Bessie.
CB: Oh, really? Okay. Why not?
KF: I know when they were in India, somebody wrote… I can’t remember. It led me to read a letter saying that she wasn’t the person they should have around and there’s quite a few snide comments that pop up in the writing there. Charles Carter later saying she was a person that would always get messages from the astral plane just before dinner at 8:00. There’s quite a few snarky comments about that you can pick up here and there. She was not popular.
CB: Yeah. You have a quote from Charles Carter at one point in the book saying that he said in passing or something once that Alan Leo started the Lodge in order to give Bessie something to do?
KF: Yeah, that actually seems a little bit unfair because she was already running a couple of lodges at that time anyway. So just being practical about it, she didn’t even need any to do. She’s got theosophical lodges that she was running anyway. She was involved in vegetarian groups that Alan was involved in. There were the Women’s Vegetarian Union, which oddly allowed male members and they did at homes and events for vegetarian organizations. There was stuff. Bessie had plenty of things going on which wasn’t just Alan’s stuff. She had her own things happening.
CB: Yeah, she seemed like a very independent and enterprising person that had a lot of closely aligning philosophical and religious beliefs with Alan’s that dovetailed in very nice ways.
KF: Yeah. So, she didn’t need another lodge for satisfaction. She might have wanted one and might have appreciated and liked it or whatever else. All that might possibly have been true. But there was no need for Alan to establish a lodge for Bessie to have something to do. And also, I don’t think the Theosophical Society have ever established lodges because someone’s bored and fancies on. Yeah, that just doesn’t make sense.
CB: Yeah. So, because we’re up to let’s say early 20th century at this point, The Astrological Magazine, how long did it continue for or The Astrologer’s Magazine which became Modern Astrology?
KF: It’s not clear. Philip Graves can’t quite work out exactly when the end is. Bessie went on running into the 1930s way after Bessie’s death.
CB: Yeah. Okay. And at some point, Alan starts publishing books and then becomes a prolific author, right?
KF: Sort of. What he actually does is repackage his correspondence courses a book first. He’s got this material already written, but people used to subscribe in the same way as a lot of Sepharial’s early material was available on subscription rather than in books. And you’d sign up for a course a lesson, you’d pay a fee, it sends a lesson and when you finish, you send it back. And so, he had a certain amount of duplicates. But after enough people have done the course and he wasn’t selling that course any longer, he edited it slightly and became the basis of his first books. But he also used the green manuals in the small books which tend to be the ones most associated with him. As a money raising venture, people had to pay him to be published. So, he advertised that if you paid, I can’t remember exact amount now, but if you paid X amount and you were willing to fund it, he put your astrology book in the series. In other words, he acted as a vanity publisher a moment from there.
CB: Okay. And you have some of the books here, right?
KF: Yeah, we’ve got some to be honest. These are usually known as green manuals because majority of them are actually green, but just to prove that they’re not always, [Kim laughs] I’ve got red and blue ones. They came with just covers and they were fun sizes. The numbering of them is finally about 30. The numbering of them changes depending on what date you’re looking at, so it’s quite difficult to work out how many volumes are. Some of the titles change over the years as well.
CB: Right. This one’s titled Alan Leo’s Astrological Manuals Number Three: Planetary Influences a Simple and Explanatory Manual. And then this is Alan Leo’s Astrological Manuals Number Seven: Horary Astrology.
KF: That’s quite impressed in point of fact that later on, he claims to be completely anti-horary astrology and not having anything to do with that, but early on he probably talked about it.
CB: And I was curious about that. Is that because of his shift towards character analysis? Yeah, okay. And then, I’m trying to think. So, one thing that’s funny is these are small because all I’ve seen is much later reprints from the ‘70s and ‘80s where they’ve blown it up into a big book, but the originals were actually pretty, they could fit in your hand basically.
KF: Yeah, they are meant as pocket guides. They were sold as pocket guides, marketers in that way. And this was a fairly standard print size for manuals. And so, who’s choosing what printers could do easily and cheap place. That’s part of the reason of that particular size. You can still order books from printers. It’s 4’x6”. It’s a standard paper cut so you can probably not in America because your paper sizes have always been different. But in Europe, this is a standard paper size, so it’s a cheap way of producing the books.
CB: Okay. And one of the reasons that he becomes, he publishes a bunch of books. And I think you’ve said in your book that including the books he published and the ones that he had some hand in publishing, he ended up publishing more than 30 astrology books.
KF: Yeah, it’s a bit difficult to work out exactly how many because sometimes you read formatted materials and you get the same material turns up in different books in different editions. You get one that comes in two volumes, and then he pulls them together for one volume, and they overlap. So, it’s quite hard to actually count exactly how many books because the books themselves changed over the years. Also, he sometimes took credit for other people’s writing which that happens with these sorts of packages anyway, other people wrote under his name. It goes both ways.
CB: Okay. And he was helped in terms of publishing by his connections with the Theosophical Society because they ended up having publishing houses that distributed books, right?
KF: To an extent, but most of his stuff he published himself. He did it through printers and mainstream publishers, so not through the TS. Some of his work came through the TS sure, but that wasn’t his main thing at all which is a bit unexpected, actually.
CB: Did the Theosophical Society have any role in terms of helping the distribution of his books be wider than it would be otherwise?
KF: They advertised. You’ve got many advertising theosophical journals in the UK, in America, and over Europe. We had a bit of a following in French and German magazines. His books were translated into French and German quite early on, so they became available there. It was not that he used the theosophical network to promote himself rather the Theosophical Society directly promoted him. For example, go into the conferences in Europe in the early years of the 20th century like huge events and he met a lot of European astrologers, non-English European astrologers. So, he was going to these conferences and that’s how he arranged to have his books translated and marketed and sold under publishing houses in various different countries.
CB: Sure. So as a result of that, as a result of him having the book translated into different languages, he’s often credited with being one of the primary or central figures in helping to spark the revival of astrology that’s popularization in the early 20th century in the West, right?
KF: Yes. The story of astrology in Europe is slightly different than in each country you go into. The French were written an awful lot that time, but there was some interest, so it was published in French. The Germans went a totally different direction as you obviously know and probably a lot of people listening to this know. But there was enough interest in his work. And before the big split in the Theosophical Society, before Steiner went off and did his own thing, it was quite a big important organization. So, there was interest amongst the theosophists in Germany for the astrological texts and other esoteric texts.
CB: Sure. So how much can we attribute it to Alan Leo the revival of astrology in the early 20th century as far as modern Western, especially, let’s say, astrology and English-speaking countries goes? Is he given an appropriate amount of credit or is he given too much credit?
KF: It depends what you mean by revived. Astrology has been revived as an interest in any event irrespectively. He joins in with what the revival also happened when he became part of it. But if we’re talking about the promotion of astrology and spread it to a more general audience, then there’s integral in that.
CB: Okay, right. Because one of the things that you pointed out is that in addition to the horoscopes where they were doing written ones, he also pioneered efforts to that realizing that a lot of the delineations were similar at one point.
KF: Oh yeah, a lot of boxes on the wall. Basically, you just had a row of boxes and you go send it to Aquarius Ascendant, Pisces Ascendant, Taurus Ascendant, so you just gravitate. Yeah.
CB: So instead of writing out the same delineation each time, they used relatively recent technology to start doing copies of the same delineations for certain planets and sign or whatever combinations and then sending those up?
KF: The technology in the office have gotten really good from their point of view because you’ve got duplicated machines and typewriters and things like that which obviously hadn’t before. The idea of actually doing that was an American idea. These American astrologers who reported having produced our stats in that way before Alan Leo. A few people had done it, but it never had been done in England and it hadn’t been done on such a large scale.
CB: Okay. So, Alan Leo was the first and that I’m sure that expanded the scope of delineations that they were able to do, right?
KF: And also, I think the important thing about that is the way that the delineations were written and the divisions in them are precisely how computer-generated horoscopes are done now where we are using the same categories and the same writings the same way putting information together. And when you see computer-generated horoscope, it is obvious that you’re going to have page that one will give you the ascendant, then we’ll go to the Sun sign, then we’ll look at the Moon sign, which tends to be the order you go in. But that’s because Alan decided that was the order because it wasn’t necessarily before. You wouldn’t necessarily put the Sun sign that far up the hierarchy. We’re still getting Alan type horoscopes.
CB: So, one of his contributions was he really thought the Sun sign was important and that was something that he emphasized much more than other astrologers did up to that point to some extent and that was partially due to his background in Theosophy and his beliefs?
KF: Yeah. The role of the Sun is something that Blavatsky spent a lot of time discussing. But also, there was a book that came out in 1887, I believe Solar Biology by Hiram Butler, which is all about despite the woolly language and these esoteric texts and stuff, there’s some really complex sense of was basically how to interpret your Sun sign. That’s what it boiled down to. And we know that not only did Alan refer to it, he copied chunks out of it because bits of texts were found copied verbatim into his horoscope interpretations. He couldn’t quite decide where he was going. He made the Sun more prominent in all of his astrology and had been the case before, there’s no doubt about that. But he published on the little green manuals in which he gave interpretations of Sun signs. And it went through several editions like most of the manuals did, but he couldn’t quite decide how prominent to make that interpretation. So, although it was in the first edition, they took it out of the second edition, they put it back in the third edition, and it kept changing. But first sign he had complaints that he was using that material, they took it out, then people were complaining because they wanted to buy the book for astrology materials so he put it in. So, this was in about 1909-1910. And that was when he was starting to preach what we think of more as Sun sign astrology. We’ve got some of the magazines here where he puts Sun sign astrology on the cover of Modern Astrology. So, it’s quite clear that he is thinking about popular astrology at that point.
CB: Right. And that’s really interesting to me because that’s a lot, that’s decades before sometimes in modern textbooks in the history of astrology, they talk about horoscope columns and newspapers and Sun sign astrology being something that doesn’t come about until like the ‘40s and ‘50s.
KF: Well, Raphael said in 1831 that it was an ancient and outmoded form of astrology. So, [Kim laughs] it’s been around a long-time since Sun sign astrology has. I know of astrologists that would use it to do basic projections in Alan’s era but it wasn’t the main thing and it was nowhere near as common as now. And if you read descriptions of Sun sign type interpretations, they wouldn’t always be called by the signs because people wouldn’t know them as readily as we did. So, it would sensor the same Sagittarius as you go if you have a December birthday, but it was Sun sign content. It’s just described differently.
CB: And that was the subject of one of your previous books, Flirting with the Zodiac, right? Yeah. Okay. So that’s something you cover more extensively in terms of the history and origins of Sun sign astrology in that book? Okay. So, Alan gets really into that. He also starts pushing things more towards character analysis and that seems to be one of his things. How much was that consistent and already happening early in his book, versus how much was that a later development towards the end of his life that was motivated by some of the legal issues that he ran into?
KF: Yeah, it was happening to an extent anyway because that asked you to charge your astrology informed by their theosophical beliefs. So, he was going in that direction anyway. But he was still doing predictions like in forecast doing definite predictions and so, he ran into legal trouble. But the legal thing, although he didn’t end up in legal trouble till 1914 quite late on his career, he knew other people all along that got into trouble with the law right from the start. So, he knew there was a risk of it happening at any point.
CB: So, at this point in the late 19th and early 20th century, there were old laws on the books that were anti-fortune telling laws?
KF: Until 1989.
CB: Okay. Well, that’s just not that [Kim laughs] No. But this was a real threat potentially for him. And eventually, he did get in trouble with the law and was dragged into court at one point in 1914 and then again in 1917?
KF: Yeah, the 1914 case didn’t go ahead in the end because the documents they based it on were proven to have been written while he was out of the country. He couldn’t possibly have written those precise documents so that case was dismissed. Yes, it couldn’t go forward.
CB: Or a technicality basically? Okay.
KF: The one in 1917 was different. He didn’t have a leg to stand on, I basically have been breaking the law as it was written. It was out there because it was positive the agency acts and they’ve been long arguments about using that part of the law against astrologers. That’s a discussion unto itself that I won’t really go into it now. But it usually happened if you want a nuisance and you just kept working quite happily and you didn’t cause any fuss or bother, the place usually couldn’t be bothered by you. Occasionally, there were outcries, but we have to get rid of all the nasty astrologists and if it’d be a few police raids, they’d set someone up to go and get rid of them. But they won’t use your blog about astrologers because astrologers tend to be more middle class and have more money. They were much more likely to target phrenologists or card readers or any other fortune-telling people on to the same. Bessie’s husband also was taken to court over his fortune-telling and also a couple of scientists. Anybody who worked in that area, they were at risk of this at any point.
CB: And how serious was it? He got off on a technicality on the first case, but the second case, he was actually fined and there was the threat potentially of jail time, right?
KF: Yeah, he got off quite light. The other astrologers got hard labor. But on the other hand, there was some astrologers who regarded it as just something that happened and they budgeted for it. There were quite a few of them that were in the difficult three, four or five times. It just happened. You just had to live for it.
CB: This was a topic that came up on an episode I did not too long ago with Christopher Renstrom where we talked about Evangeline Adams and her parallel court cases in New York that were happening in the same time period and the question of, to what extent was this an existential threat to her business as an astrologer versus how much was this just a new sense that you normally would pay a fine and get out of it?
KF: For most people, it is a nuisance. The law has been there for a long time. It was never really intended to go against astrologers and people but obviously, they fell into that. Although the acts in that form have been about 1714, the law is older but that, for instance, about the early 18th century. It wasn’t used that often. There was always a risk. And every so often placed on magistrates will seek to make an example of someone and take them to court. But if you look at the numbers of people practicing astrology or phrenology or whichever or palmistry, actually they didn’t like palmists at all. Palmists ended up in court with monotonous regularity. But there were a lot of people practicing this thing. There weren’t that many that ended up in court, only a portion to it. And since the occult defensively set up and Joseph Thompson took the country to defend the even fewer that got convicted.
CB: Okay. And when Alan lost the case in 1917 though, he would have to pay what you said was the equivalent of 1000 pounds in today’s money values. So that’s like a sizable-
KF: But because he had good character references, I heard he had people come to court to say what a nice chap he was and how middle class he was and he pays his rates, which is really important that you pay your rates, you’re obviously a second person you own property all this whole lot of stuff. He was a respectful person so the risk of him getting hard labor, which was a serious risk for other astrologers wasn’t really there.
CB: Okay. So that’s good to know. But it still affected him and it was something that made him want to alter his writings after that point in order to remove any statements that were definite predictions?
KF: Yet she started altering the writings quite early on. H.S. Green started rewriting some of it because Alan alone wasn’t going to do it fast enough got it so he’s got him involved in rewriting it. And that was why after the court case, he went down to Cornwall with Bessie, the idea it’s a bit of a holiday, but also it was quiet. He could sit there and just rewrite all his texts, get rid of anything that look like a prediction or prediction technique or a definite forecast.
CB: Okay. To me, that seems like he took this seriously enough to go back and edit his writings that he didn’t want to get in trouble again for something that he had written and published.
KF: Yeah, it was also not because it was slightly definitely his death tendency or there was a tendency towards death quote which is what the whole case hinged on because throughout, he discussed tendencies, not specific advance events. He wasn’t a fortune teller. And they kept same tendency, which is when the prosecution raises a thing about you predict his death or tendency or their tendency towards death, but no one was listening to that. He thought he’s got around it at that point. He thought he already got to the tendencies and maybes, but he’s obviously not gone far enough.
CB: Okay, so most of his texts, he was okay because he just talked about tendencies or possibilities with the astrological placements. But then there was this one sentence that was a little bit too far when he talked about the person potentially experiencing a death in their life at some point in a specific time frame in the future?
KF: Yeah, it’s far too specific so hinged on that one sentence. So yeah, I had to go through all his published work. That was the idea. And as I said, he was dealing with H.S. green who’d actually written some of it anyways. He wrote a couple of manuals, he wrote a lot of articles and strategies and things like that. He worked quite closely with Alan. So, he knew the material really well is the point. So, they could work together on rewriting chunks of it.
CB: Right. So, they’re working on that and Alan goes off to that vacation, but then he’s furiously working on rewriting his stuff, but then he overworks himself and then has a medical incident and dies?
KF: Yeah, he had a stroke or blood on the brain type thing. Absolutely, you would not be able to predict. And people around him insisted that it was the stress that brought it on so therefore, is the court’s fault. It’s how he’d been treated. He died because the pressure causes such accident. Maybe or maybe, it was something waiting to happen, unfortunate timing. There’s no way of knowing that.
CB: But his contemporaries, the other astrologers in his circle thought that the stress of the court case had brought it on? Yeah. Okay. So, at that point, so Alan passes away. A few years before that, they had founded the Lodge and started holding meetings here in 1915. So much of the important stuff I’m always shocked at how late it happened in Alan’s life it seems certainly in the second half, but even so many of his books were written in that decade or two.
KF: Well, they were, but it sounds like they established the Lodge in 1950. I remember it was the fourth or fifth lodge they’d established, it’s just the one that happened to survive and had been another astrological, the Hampstead Lodge which is a theosophical lodge with almost completely astrology in contents as well. So yes, it was late, but they’d already been doing this so that established Lodge is going way back. Yeah, the same with the books. A lot of books were published late, but the contents of those books were written quite early on.
CB: From the courses?
KF: Yeah, a lot of the Astrology for All book, the big fat one that used come in two and had to interpret into its core but also, it’s coming in two volumes. They were really based on the correspondence courses in these lectures that it did originate. So, though the books came out quite late, the material for the books goes quite way back. Yeah.
CB: That makes a lot more sense. Okay, so we touched on most of these legal troubles, his shift towards a more spiritual astrology with karma and reincarnation. That’s not something that we read it like William Lily or Firmicus Maternus necessarily. Those were new things that-
KF: But he did assignment former. He mentions in India things like he said, “We’re going way back astrologers in England that we’re looking occasionally at what Indian Thai quite is.” And it is rumored that Alan and Bessie went to India twice. I think that’s actually quite important in informing his later views of astrology,
CB: Okay. In terms of some of the influence on maybe Hinduism, or Hindu Indian thought on some of his astrology?
KF: Well, he knew more about it than you think. He was writing, he had some articles on Hindu techniques and astrology textbooks in The Astrologer’s Magazine from the 1890s. He knew Hindu astrologers from at least that far back and was far more familiar with that material than people usually think he is. And he organized at one point a conference in India to prove Western astrology was best than Indian astrology, which of course didn’t prove anything or widen to meet the desires. The Indians thought they’d proved their point, and he thought he’d proved his. So, they were all quite happy at the end.
CB: He was trying to prove what?
KF: That Western astrology was superior as well as protective to be exact, but interestingly, when he did that, he didn’t accept the Indian astrology was better, but he sent details of the predictions the Indian astrologers had made to Charles Carter to ask for his views on them because he basically thought these were really good predictions so he was a bit worried. So, he obviously took it a lot more seriously.
CB: Right. That’s actually really interesting. And he would have been able to have some of those connections in India because of the Theosophical Society and their headquarters at one point being moved there?
KF: Yeah, yeah, they have got a lot of stuff there [unintelligible 01:15:27]
CB: Okay. So, him and Bessie had two major periods or trips there to India? Okay. So, we’ve talked about the shift towards character analysis. That was definitely something that he emphasized a lot in his astrology that became characteristic or created a foundation for what we now know of as Modern Astrology in the late 20th and early 21st century. Okay. Died relatively young, he had funny disputes with other astrologers like Sepharial which we’ve talked about. I guess, we’ve talked about whether his reputation was deserved and you think, yes and no, just depending on how-
KF: It depends. If we’re going to some sum him up in a couple sentences, he’s probably the best salesman that astrology has had. He was trained as a commercial salesman. He applied those skills to selling astrology. He never made as much money as people think he did, but he made a decent income. There’s records in the press with quite detailed accounts of his life and his business. In 1909, when he and Bessie went to court to challenge the wealth of her father, well sorry, Bessie’s cousins and other relatives challenged the wealth because she was left most of the money, so Alan and Bessie had to go in defense to getting the money. Anyway, because of this, there was a lot of discussion about how Alan and Bessie worked, who they were, what they do, and how much money they made. When he left his salesman job and became an astrologer, he left an income of equivalent of about 50,000 pounds a year and he thought it was going to increase on that. So, he was one of the high earners. He did quite well, I suppose. We don’t know exactly how much, but if you joined the dots in these little bits about this money for this, it becomes apparent that he made good money out of his work.
CB: Sure. One of the things I guess we could say about him is if nothing else, he made astrology more accessible for people in general. Yeah. Was that one of his main accomplishments, let’s say in terms of him promoting and popularizing astrology he’s making it more accessible?
KF: He’s done great on the internet. He was quite an approachable person and people liked watching him lecture, not just the content, it’s quite apparent they enjoyed him just standing up and saying things. And if you look at the contents of the lectures, it’s something like he just went on for an hour about that, [Kim laughs] because he’s not all that.
CB: He’s very like that flowery speech or writing, it seems so.
KF: If you read the lecture content now and then read the account, he obviously had to have good presentation skills. Because if someone else read that content, and I did have one somewhere, but it just wasn’t a bit that exciting.
CB: Sure. But it was at least compelling, especially maybe on a beginner intermediate level. And while some of his contemporaries that were more advanced astrologers may have been a bit annoyed about him, he still probably appealed to the public and helped to popularize astrology in a significant way in the early 20th century when-
KF: Yeah, it’s quite important. It seems obvious to me and I’m just regularizing what you’re saying, it’s not obvious here that he lectured to women. There were some women astrologers earlier because there always has been. Basically, there is no need to pretend otherwise, but there were a tiny, tiny minority. And when Alan started out, all the people he was corresponding with were men. When he was lecturing later on particularly after he was active in Theosophical Society, the bulk of his audience will be female. So, this is quite an important point. This is one reason why he could go bigger because he’s included women in his audience so that any theosophical group, you get to an extent nowadays where there’ll be a tendency for people who hold important positions to be male, but the audience for the events, conference, lecture, whatever to be primarily female.
CB: Okay. And so, Bessie maybe plays some role in that to the extent that Alan dies in 1917, but then she lives all the way until 1931 and continued some of that work in terms of astrology.
KF: She oversaw it and she got [unintelligible 01:20:00] and Vivian Robson people like that to help her to keep Modern Astrology going.
CB: Right. So, Vivian Robson was a librarian, but he was also an astrologer?
KF: Yeah, and he was a younger generation, he was the next generation of upcoming astrologers. And he edited Modern Astrology works on the under Bessie’s instructions. She was normally in charge. She wrote editorials of Modern Astrology, but she faded after Alan died, she wasn’t that active in anything. And by time Modern Astrology got to lighten Bessie’s life towards the end of her life, a lot of its content was reprints of Alan’s early articles. There’s hardly any original content going. It kept going because the new generation hadn’t seen the original versions of the article, they say. The magazine could sell because you could get away with reprinting this stuff, but there was nothing new happening and the British Journal of Astrology was getting the non-theosophical audience and selling more, but it’s quite important to remember as well, we’re actually selling many copies on balance. If you think of these magazines, and it’s one of the most important astrological magazines, but not to a lot of people it’s self-respect from astrological magazine. But even now, an astrological magazine doesn’t generally sell that much, not a serious one.
CB: Sure. And I compare it to an actual larger magazine or something like that. But Vivian Robson helps finish and publish Alan Leo’s Dictionary of Astrology and then Bessie ends up writing a biography of Alan?
KF: Well, that was actually done shortly after his death. There was a couple of issues of Modern Astrology which celebrating his life and she extracted some of that material and wrote around it and added other bits and that became the book. It’s made of that and there’s some celebration pieces in the magazine. And it’s the biography that everybody knows about. It’s the one that is always recommended because it was the only biographical account for a long time.
CB: Right. Yeah. And it’s interesting having a biographical account of an astrologer, whereas you don’t always have that if you go further back in history with some major figures.
KF: Now, this is the era which is [unintelligible 01:22:32] when you’re researching it, the theosophist who wrote down everything and was obsessed with writing things down, these people. And whereas few years before, you find it hard to research until you find out what people were doing. With this group of people you say, I really don’t want to know more about that for lunch. They were the people who would have been on Facebook, and they would have put pictures up of their lunch, they read every detail, and they wrote letters to each other every five seconds and record it. Theosophists are obsessive about writing things down.
CB: Yeah. Well, maybe it goes back to your point about just the explosion and the ability to communicate with the post being delivered seven times a day and probably-
KF: That was unusual. That was the height of that. [Kim laughs] That was in London for a period. But if you went to Bramley, you’d do it for five times a day. Yeah. But even so, obviously, their communication was good. And we’ve got the telegraph by then as well so you could telegraph people quite quickly.
CB: Okay. So yeah, that brings us to the end of this in terms of his life and his working career. And by the end of his life, certainly astrology isn’t in a full-blown revival and certainly by the end of Bessie’s life in the early 1930s, that’s really taken off, right?
KF: There’s a point between when Alan goes and when we get into 1930s, where it’s just ticking along quite nicely for a while. And at that point, you’ve got one of the main characters Cheiro William Warner who pretend to be Cheiro who deserves a good biography is more for one’s about it and he is the main person and a sighted person. And then you get that moment when he turned down that job for the Sunday Express and Richard Croker called to say it’s okay and Sun sign astrology explodes. But Alan sets back up. He knew Cheiro, he communicated with him, they discussed Sun sign astrology. So, he set the ground for that to happen.
CB: Right, and then it later takes off and that’s in the 1940s or something? ‘30s, okay. And one interesting also thing is I didn’t realize that Charles Carter was that young that he was a younger contemporary.
KF: Oh, and he was in right pain when he was young when you read through it. He could have done with a slap when he was young, I think.
CB: But he became really like the leading figure in British astrology in subsequent decades but by the 1950s, he was still writing books, right? But I was surprised that he was around that early on while Alan was still alive.
KF: He must have been in his mid-teens when he started astrology. He started very young certainly. And I think he said he’d come across Alan Leo’s work through one of the Schilling manuals from the green manuals. And there’s quite a few people that you look at how they started astrology and they are like, “Oh, I picked up on the Schilling manuals.” Yeah, that was my first introduction.
CB: Yeah, Alan must have influenced just countless astrologers as a result of that through some of the-
KF: He paid attention to stuff that people didn’t before like making the books affordable. It’s such an obvious basic thing, [Kim laughs] but they weren’t affordable textbooks.
CB: And not just affordable, but also, he said that when he learned astrology that he found it really difficult to learn and so, he tried to simplify it a little bit. Is that correct?
KF: It’s probably to an extent, but he plays down his education ability quite a bit later on because when they were working with Lacey and they’re working with Catherine Thompson on this Sphinx thing which is published in the States Catherine Thompson, who was involved with Evangeline Adams, that Catherine Thompson.
CB: One of her teachers or something?
KF: Debatable. But she published one thing called the Sphinx which looks identical to Modern Astrology, it’s the same design and everything and it’s the same writer as well. It’s just done in American. Anyway, point being that there’s articles in there Alan Leo writes about hieroglyphs in esoteric texts and things like that as in icons and images, not Egyptian hieroglyphs. But he makes it quite clear that he’s read the 16th and 17th century astrology texts. There’s no way I’m going to discuss this stuff like Nostradamus in a quite intelligent way so he must have read these texts. A little later, he starts talking about how much education he claims never to have read a book and everything but early on, you’re quoting these books? You’ve obviously read some of them. The books probably weren’t his, they were probably Lacey’s. Lacey had a good library, but he did ask the material. But he did later on try to, he marks himself as being the everyman astrologer and a man of the people type idea. I’m not well educated. I’m just like you and he sold it like that and it worked very well.
CB: And do you think it’s true that he’s simplified astrology to some extent to make it accessible with emphasizing things like Aries equals the first house equals Mars or other things like that, that were useful?
KF: I think, yeah, to an extent. But also, I think sometimes he wrote down what people were actually doing rather than what the textbook said they should do. For example, the whole thing about Sun sign astrologists which became a big thing. Since the ‘80s when Blavatsky had been writing about the role of the Sun in theosophical cosmology, everyone knew that the Sun is suddenly becoming pulled, so the Sun sign if you’re doing astrology is obviously going to be more important. So, people will be doing charts with that for no interpretation, but the astrology textbooks wouldn’t unnecessary say that. So, it’s similar for Alan was writing some it may well have been simplifying it for a mass audience, that’s fair. But also, I think some of it might be writing down what people were doing in practice rather than what they’re supposed to be doing in theory.
CB: Got it. Okay. Yeah, well, and that’s his life. And Bessie, like I said, lives for a little bit longer another-
KF: She has a bit of a miserable life at the end, unfortunately. She has a lot of health problems. Reading between the lines, it looks like she suffered cancer at least once or possibly twice later on. She lost the ability to walk. She had to wheel drive in a wheelchair. And she was not a happy person after Alan had gone.
CB: Okay. But at least while they were alive, it seems like they ended up for whatever reason, becoming that good match that mutually reinforced each other in some way? Yeah. All right. Cool. Well, thanks a lot for doing this with me today. I’d really recommend people check out your book which is titled Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo. So, people can find it on Amazon or wherever else. And you’ve written… If people like this book, they’re also going to like your book on Sepharial. What is the title of that again?
KF: The Astral Stramp. And Flirting with the Zodiac is the other one that’s in this where I wrote the history of Sun sign astrology.
CB: Yeah, that’s another one I really would like to talk to you more about at some point. So, people should definitely check out those three books. What’s your next project going to be? Do you have one lined up in terms of astrology?
KF: No, I’m working on snippets that’s very non-astrological. [Kim laughs]
CB: Okay. Well, that might be a nice break from hardcore-
KF: Yeah, I’m taking a different direction for a little while because I’ve been in the 19th century hanging around astrologists for a bit too long. I think I need a holiday.
CB: You need a break. Yeah. Well, it was a well-deserved break. Thanks a lot for writing this book and documenting all of this history, and ferreting out some of those details that we wouldn’t know otherwise in terms of little things that maybe aren’t in the official biographies. Yeah, and thanks a lot for joining me today.
KF: Thank you.
CB: All right. Thanks everybody for watching or listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast and we will see you next time.