The collapse of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (H.B. of L.) in 1886 left scores of initiates in Europe and America, many of them members of other occult secret societies and some of them in possession of the full teachings of the original order. Revivals were inevitable once the embarrassment of H.B. of L. secretary Thomas Burgoyne’s exposure as a convicted felon had become old news. See Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (H.B. of L.).

The most important of these revivals was the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, founded in Boston in 1895 by a group of American H.B. of L. initiates in contact with Burgoyne, who had moved to America in 1886. Burgoyne may have played a role in launching the order, and certainly Norman Astley, a retired British Army officer who had helped Burgoyne write a detailed resumé of H.B. of L. teachings, The Light of Egypt (1889), was active in the new Brotherhood. Genevieve Stebbins, an innovative teacher of the Delsarte system of exercise, and Sylvester C. Gould, an enthusiastic occultist and Freemason who became the new organization’s secretary and treasurer, were among the early members. A triad of senior members ran the Exterior Circle or earthly organization of the Brotherhood; Gould was certainly one of these, though the identities of the other two remain uncertain.

Hostile publicity spread by the Theosophical Society about the original H.B. of L. and The Light of Egypt made the Brotherhood more than usually interested in secrecy, with the result that very little is known about the organization and its activities. It recruited candidates for membership through classified advertisements in occult periodicals and assigned each new initiate to a senior member for instruction; only after passing through a detailed course of study was the initiate allowed any contact with other members of the organization. See Theosophical Society.

In 1900, a young man named Benjamin Williams, later known as Elbert Benjamine, responded to one of the Brotherhood’s advertisements and was accepted into its membership. He progressed rapidly through the Brotherhood’s study course, and on Gould’s death in 1909 he was elected to the governing triad of the order. In 1914, as effective head of the order, he began the process of transforming the Brotherhood into a correspondence school of occultism, and moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1915, where in 1932 it took its present name, the Church of Light. See Church of Light.


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