Leadbeater, C(harles) W(ebster) (1854-1934)
Leadbeater, C(harles) W(ebster) (1854-1934)
British clergyman, occultist, and author who played a prominent part in the Theosophical Society. Leadbeater was born February 16, 1854. While a curate in the Church of England in Hampshire, he became interested in Theosophy and eventually left the Church. In 1884 he moved to Adyar, the headquarters of the Theosophical Society near Madras, India. He devoted himself to the cause of Theosophy and the related Liberal Catholic Church for the rest of his life.
He traveled in Ceylon with Henry S. Olcott, one of the founders of Theosophy, and publicly professed himself to be a Buddhist. He returned to England in 1890 and became a tutor. After the death of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1891, Leadbeater wielded considerable influence over Annie Besant, Blavatsky's successor, in part due to his reputed clairvoyant abilities.
Leadbeater's homosexuality became a matter of ongoing embarrassment to Besant and the society. In 1906 several mothers in the United States brought charges against Leadbeater for immoral practices with their sons. Besant found it impossible to accept these charges, so the mothers appealed to Olcott, then in London, and a judicial committee of the society summoned Leadbeater to appear before them. In the face of clear evidence, Leadbeater was obliged to resign from the society. However, after Olcott's death, the Leadbeater scandal took a bizarre turn. In an Open Letter, Weller van Hook, General Secretary of the American Section, vigorously defended Leadbeater's sex theories on the upbringing of young boys and even claimed that this defense was dictated to him by a Theosophical Master, or Mahatma. Leadbeater had initially designated van Hook's son as the new World Savior and believed that he was due to appear in the immediate future.
In July 1908 the British Convention of the society carried a resolution to the president and general council requesting that Leadbeater and his practices be repudiated. The council did not agree and "saw no reason why Mr. Leadbeater should not be restored to membership." This action prompted some 700 members (including the scholar G. R. S. Mead ) to resign. Leadbeater then rejoined the society, settled in Madras, and for several years exerted powerful influence over the Indian section, emphasizing clairvoyant teachings and an exalted lineage of reincarnation. During World War I he entered the newly formed Liberal Catholic Church and wrote many of the church's basic texts.
In 1908 Leadbeater switched allegiance and designated a young Brahmin boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, as the future World Teacher, or Messiah. Besant saw to Krishnamurti's education and later founded the Order of the Star in the East to propagate his mission. After a decade of work, during which the society saw its greatest expansion and membership growth, Krishnamurti publicly renounced his messianic role in 1929, dissolved the order, and dropped his connections with Theosophy. He became an independent Indian spiritual teacher and taught all over the world.
The reemergence of the charges of active homosexuality with minor boys forced Leadbeater out of India. He moved to Australia, where he was living when Bishop James I. Wedgewood made his initial world tour establishing the Liberal Catholic Church. Wedgewood consecrated Leadbeater as bishop of Australia of the Liberal Catholic Church. Leadbeater remained in Australia, though at a distance from the local Theosophists, for the rest of his life. He died February 29, 1934. Long after his death, Leadbeater remains a controversial figure. A comprehensive biography, The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater, was published in 1982 by Gregory Tillett.
Leadbeater wrote numerous books, many of which became popular theosophical texts that are frequently reprinted.
Leadbeater, C. W. The Hidden Side of Christian Festivals. Los Angeles: St. Alban Press, 1920.
——. The Hidden Side of Things. 1913. Reprint, London: 1968. Abridged reprint, Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974.
——. Man Visible and Invisible. Reprint, London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1920.
——. The Masters and the Path. Chicago: Theosophical Press, 1925.
——. Outline of Theosophy. Chicago: Theosophical Book Concern, 1903.
——. The Science of the Sacraments. Los Angeles: St. Alban Press, 1920.
——, and Besant, Annie. Light on the Path. N.p., 1926.
——. The Lives of Alcyone: A Clairvoyant Investigation. 2 vols. N.p., 1924.
——. Man, Whence, How, and Whither. 1913. Reprint, Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Press, n.d.
——. Occult Chemistry, Clairvoyant Observations. N.p., 1919.
——. Talks on the Path of Occultism. Vol. 1: At the Feet of the Master. 1926. Vol. 2: The Voice of the Silence. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1947.
——. Thought-Forms: A Record of Clairvoyant Investigation. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1948.
Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.
Tillett, Gregory. The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.