A major player in the twentieth-century American occult scene, the Church of Light traces its ancestry back to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (H.B. of L.), one of the most influential occult secret societies of the late nineteenth century. After the H.B. of L. collapsed in a scandal in 1886, members in America reorganized as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light in 1895. In 1900, the new organization recruited a young man named Benjamin Williams (1882–1951) who, under the name Elbert Benjamine, became a member of its governing triad in 1909 and its sole effective leader by 1914. See Hermetic Brotherhood of Light; Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (H.B. of L.).
In that year he began the process of transforming the Brotherhood into a correspondence school, following the model already pioneered by the original Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and 1915 saw Benjamine and the Brotherhood’s headquarters move to Los Angeles, at that time a hotbed of American occultism. For the next two decades Benjamine, under the pen name C.C. Zain, wrote an immense, 210-lesson study course in astrology and occult philosophy.
In 1932, the Brotherhood of Light (as it then called itself) reorganized itself as a religious body, the Church of Light. Its members, or Stellarians, follow what Benjamine termed “the Religion of the Stars,” a fusion between occult philosophy and astrological teachings. Stellarians work their way through the 21 volumes of Benjamine’s study course, and receive no fewer than 50 degrees of initiation; the first 21 are earned by mastering sections of the study course, the second 21 must be earned by achieving certain psychic states, while the final 8 can be earned only by reaching advanced spiritual states. Members who receive all 50 degrees are eligible to join an inner order, the Order of the Sphinx.
Like most of the great occult correspondence schools of the period, the Church of Light passed through difficult times in the second half of the twentieth century, as membership dropped and most people interested in the occult turned away from traditional Hermetic orders toward Wicca and other more recently founded systems. In the 1990s, however, the Church’s leaders came into contact with scholars researching the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and its offshoots, sparking a renewed interest among Church members in their own history and roots. The relocation of the Church headquarters from a decaying Los Angeles neighbourhood to a suburban location also helped buoy the organization. At present the Church of Light remains active, with a significant Internet presence, and its inner Order of the Sphinx has revived many of the old magical practices of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. See Wicca.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006