Pryse, James Morgan, Jr. (1859-1942)

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Pryse, James Morgan, Jr. (1859-1942)

James Morgan Pryse, Jr., founder of the Gnostic Society, was born on November 14, 1859, in New London, Ohio, the son of a Welsh Presbyterian minister. His father, who belonged to the Welsh Order of Druid Bards, filled Pryse with the legends of the Druids along with the Presbyterian faith. As a young man Pryse pursued a law career but gave it up for journalism. He moved around frequently during his early adulthood, joined in the effort to create a colony at Topolobampo, Mexico, and from his New Jersey residence edited the Topolobampo periodical.

After moving to Los Angeles, Pryse joined the Theosophical Society in 1886. Within a few years he was one of its most active members and moved to New York to work for the society's Aryan Press. Late in 1889 he moved on to London at the request of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, cofounder of the society, to work with her in the founding of HPB Press.

In 1894, following Blavatsky's death, Pryse moved to Ireland to work with the Irish Theosophist. While there he wrote the book The Sermon on the Mount (1896), the first of a series of theosophical treatments of the Bible and Christian theology. In 1895 Pryse returned to the United States to work with William Quan Judge, then the head of the American Theosophical Society, which had broken with the international theosophical movement. Following Judge's death in 1896, Pryse remained in New York and affiliated with the independent Theosophical Society of New York, which had broken with Judge's successor, Katherine Tingley. Pryse's next books were published by the society's Theosophical Publishing Co.

After 15 years in New York, Pryse returned to Los Angeles, where he wrote his most important text, The Restored New Testament, a theosophical translation of the New Testament. It was completed and published in 1914. While continuing to flirt with the larger Theosophical Society and writing articles for its periodicals, he remained aloof and led independent gatherings in Los Angeles. In 1925 he founded the Gnostic Society with six people who met in his home to discuss his metaphysical interpretation of Christianity. The small group is important as possibly the first modern group to describe itself as Gnostic. The society disbanded soon after Pryse's death on April 22, 1942, but has been revived by Stephan A. Hoeller.


Pryse, James Morgan. The Apocalypse Unsealed. Los Angeles: The Author, 1931.

. Reincarnation in the New Testament. New York: Theosophical Publishing Co. of New York, 1900.

. The Restored New Testament. Los Angeles: The Author, 1914.

. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: Theosophical Society, 1904.