One of the most influential magical secret societies of the nineteenth century, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (H.B. of L.) was founded in London in 1884 by Peter Davidson and Thomas Burgoyne under the guidance of Max Theon, one of the most mysterious figures in the European occult scene of the time. Theon’s original name may have been Louis Maximilian Bimstein, he was probably Jewish, and he might have been born in Poland; his death in Tlemçen, Algeria in 1927 is one of the very few firmly established facts in his biography. He apparently gave some form of occult initiation to Davidson in the early 1880s, but his precise role in launching the H.B. of L. is one of the many mysteries surrounding him.
The H.B. of L. made its first public appearance in an advertisement on the last page of a new edition of the Corpus Hermeticum issued in 1884 by Robert Fryar, a leading English occult publisher. The advertisement offered membership in an occult brotherhood to all “who may have been disappointed in their expectations of Sublime Wisdom being freely dispensed by HINDOO MAHATMAS”. This deliberate dig at the Theosophical Society was the opening volley of a two-year struggle between the two organizations, which ended with the H.B. of L.’s collapse. Coming at a time when Theosophical pretensions had alienated many people in the occult scene, however, the H.B. of L.’s open defiance of Theosophy brought it many members and quickly made it a significant presence in Europe and America. See Theosophical Society.
Those who responded to the advertisement and paid the fee for membership in the H.B. of L. received a detailed postal course of instruction in practical occultism. Much of the material in the course was drawn from the work of American occultist P.B. Randolph. Another part came from the theories of Sampson Mackey, a self-taught savant of the early nineteenth century who argued for a system of world-ages based on changes in the angle of the earth’s axis. Material also came from a variety of occult writers of past and present, ranging from Johannes Trithemius (1462–1516) to Eliphas Lévi (1810–75). See ages of the world; earth changes; Eulis; Randolph, Paschal Beverly.
During 1885 and 1886 the H.B. of L. reached its zenith. The order boasted a monthly periodical, The Occult Magazine, and attracted hundreds of members. There was, however, a skeleton in the Brotherhood’s closet: its secretary Thomas Burgoyne, whose real name was Thomas Dalton, had served a jail term in 1883 for postal fraud. This came to light in 1886 and Theosophists, galled by the H.B. of L.’s ascendancy, made sure the information got into circulation throughout the occult community. The reaction was severe enough that the H.B. of L. closed its doors and both its leading members moved to America. Davidson settled in Loudsville, Georgia, and published an occult magazine for many years thereafter. Burgoyne went to Carmel, California, and became involved with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, the H.B. of L.’s most important successor order. See Hermetic Brotherhood of Light.
Despite its short life, the H.B. of L. had a major influence on the history of western occultism. Through its students and the magical secret societies they founded, Randolph’s sexual teachings became the common property of dozens of occult orders, and through these connections, most contemporary sex magic in the western world derives in one way or another from the H.B. of L.
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