In several movements derived from the Theosophical tradition (particularly the "I Am" Activity of the Saint Germain Foundation, very active and controversial in the 1930s and continuing today, and the Church Universal and Triumphant), Ascended Masters are the principal mediators of spiritual wisdom and power. They are essentially human beings, from this or other worlds, who have so perfected themselves as to become quasi-divine, free of the limitations of space, time, and the physical body, though they can appear to privileged humans or speak mediumistically through them.
Since the founding of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and others, Theosophists have believed that certain individuals have been in touch with Masters of the Wisdom guiding the spiritual development of individuals and the world. By the 1920s Theosophical writers such as C. W. Leadbeater had proposed that a hierarchy of Masters, including the Master Jesus (believed to be ascended in conventional Christian theology), and the Master Saint Germain, identified with the mysterious occultist of that name of eighteenth-century France, were essentially transcendent and constituted an invisible government of the world.
In 1934 Guy Ballard, under the pen name Godfré Ray King, published Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence, foundational books for the "I Am" movement, which he and his wife, Edna Ballard, established. In these works Ballard reported a series of meetings with those he called Ascended Masters, beginning with a meeting with Saint Germain on the slopes of Mount Shasta in northern California, apparently in about 1931. Soon the Ascended Masters were speaking through the founders in sessions that, in the 1930s, drew thousands of attenders filling some of the largest auditoriums in the nation. Themes included: a sense of wonder induced by evocations of these beings operating in a universe of billions of suns and planets; "New Thought" ideas regarding the power of thought and affirmation, an emphasis on the spiritual importance of color; and patriotic motifs. The Ascended Master Hosts of "I Am" expanded well beyond those originally named by Theosophical writers to include many other figures, including Guy and Edna Ballard after their deaths in 1938 and 1971, respectively.
The Masters of "I Am" figured in a significant court case in the 1940s, when the movement's leaders were convicted of fraud for advocating and collecting money on behalf of teachings, including those regarding the Masters, that was false and that they knew to be false. In an important religious liberty case, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually reversed the conviction in 1946, on the grounds that it was beyond the power of the Court to determine the truth or falsity of a religious belief.
Many of the same Masters presented by "I Am" have also taught through the Church Universal and Triumphant, originally founded as the Summit Lighthouse by Mark L. Prophet in 1958, and continued after his death in 1973 by his wife, Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Always more communal than "I Am," this movement has centered around a series of campuses, most recently near Livingston, Montana.
Braden, C. These Also Believe. 1949.
Ellwood, R. S., and H. Partin. ReligiousandSpiritualGroups in Modern America. 1988.
Gracia Fay EllwoodRobert Ellwood