American occultist, spiritualist, physician, politician, author, and founder of secret societies, 1825–75. A leading figure in nineteenth-century American occultism, Randolph was the illegitimate son of Flora Clark, an African-American woman, and William Beverly Randolph, a white man, whom Randolph later claimed belonged to the wealthy Randolph family of Tidewater Virginia. Born and raised in the Five Points area, New York’s most notorious slum district, Randolph lost his mother by the age of seven and had to fend for his own living thereafter. He worked as a bootblack, begged from door to door, and finally, in his teen years, found a position as a cabin boy on a merchant ship.
By 1845 he was working as a barber in upstate New York. When Spiritualism burst onto the public stage in 1848, Randolph was quickly caught up in it, first as a convert and then as one of the first African-American Spiritualist mediums. By the early 1850s he also claimed to be a “clairvoyant physician,” specializing in sexual problems, and 1854 saw the publication of his first book, a novel titled Waa-gu-Mah. In 1855 he toured England, France, and Germany, holding Spiritualist séances and meeting with European occultists, and his reception was favorable enough that 1857 saw a second European tour.
In 1858, however, Randolph publicly renounced Spiritualism and spent the next few years on the anti-Spiritualist lecture circuit, assailing mediums as the passive victims of evil spirits. He soon quarreled with the Christian church that supported much of this activity, though, and left the country again. According to his later accounts, he spent 1861 and 1862 traveling in the Near East, making contact with the “Ansaireh” or al-Nusairi, a heretical Islamic sect in Syria, and receiving from them the principles of his later occult teachings. Whether this actually happened is anyone’s guess, as Randolph’s statements about his own biography changed frequently and were full of contradictions.
By the mid-1860s Randolph was back in America, helping to recruit African-American volunteers for the Union army in the Civil War, and after the war ended he made a brief and unsuccessful foray into politics. By the end of the decade he had returned to writing and occultism, and began setting forth the teachings he called Eulis or the Ansairetic Arcanum, the distinctive system of occult philosophy and sexual magic that would be his lasting legacy. Eulian magic started with the basic practices of “volantia” (calm focused concentration), “decretism” (unity of will), and “posism” (mental receptivity). These allowed the initiate to make use of the magic mirror, the primary magical instrument of Randolph’s system, for clairvoyance and contact with spiritual entities, leading up through the practices of zorvoyance and aethavoyance (astral and spiritual vision) to the art of blending, Randolph’s term for a conscious trance in which the initiate’s consciousness fused with that of a higher spiritual being. See Eulis; Scrying.
The core teachings of Eulis, however, focused on the mysteries of sex. Randolph was far ahead of his time in his views about sex; in an era when most physicians denied the existence of the female orgasm, Randolph insisted that orgasmic release was essential to mental and physical health in women as well as men. When two lovers focused minds and wills on a common intention at the moment of mutual orgasm, Randolph believed, the result was an energy release with unlimited magical powers.
The origins of this system are a matter of much dispute. Some researchers give credence to Randolph’s claims that he received them from the Rosicrucians or the al-Nusairi; others point out close similarities between Randolph’s ideas and those of several important American occultists of the generation before him, notably Andrew Jackson Davis. Still others point out that Randolph himself admitted, in several places in his writings, that his teachings were entirely his own creation. It seems entirely possible that all these claims have some truth to them, and that Randolph combined scraps of older traditions with the occult teachings of his own time and his own unique insights to create his system.
Randolph’s brilliance, unfortunately, coexisted with an arrogant personality that lost him friends and supporters wherever he went. He made repeated attempts to launch a magical secret society to carry on his teachings, only to quarrel with their members and dissolve them, usually within months of their founding. His personal life was no more stable, filled with broken marriages and failed businesses. In his last years his mood swings became increasingly violent, and he finally committed suicide in 1875.
The last two of his secret societies, the Brotherhood of Eulis and the Triplicate Order of Rosicrucia, Pythianae, and Eulis, both reformed after his death and played a significant role in launching other occult secret societies later on, notably R. Swinburne Clymer’s Fraternitas Rosae Crucis (FRC). Moreover, two students of his work in England, Peter Davidson and Thomas Burgoyne, went on to found one of the most influential magical secret societies of the late nineteenth century, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. See Fraternitas Rosae Crucis; Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (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