THE UNKNOWN OCCULTIST
Théon (Louis-Maximilian Bimstein) was an enigmatic occultist whose evolutionary and occult teachings were indirectly taken up by Sri Aurobindo, and may have also had some influence on the metaphysics of H.P. Blavatsky.
A Polish Jew, he travelled to London, France, Egypt, and finally Algeria, founding several esoteric groups along the way. He was known under several names, but we can refer to him as “Max Théon”, the pseudonym he adopted while in Algeria.
Théon and his knowledge is truly extraordinary. At the very least he was, and is, equal in importance in understanding the development of modern Western esotericism, to figures such as Blavatsky, Steiner, Crowley, Gurdjieff, and Alice Bailey. Yet this figure, who was active in Paris around the turn of the century (he apparently commuted between Algeria and Paris), has been until only very recently virtually unknown outside the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s talks. Now however the situation is changing, and hermetic scholars like Chanel and Greenfield have written on this important figure.
Max Théon was born in 1848 in Warsaw, and studied the ancient tradition. Born in Poland, Théon travelled widely in his youth.
His father was a “Rabbi” and was called Leon Judas Bimstein (‘Lion of Juda’, traditional among Jews, also to be found under the names of Löwy, Lévy, Lévi, etc from German Löwe). Louis-Maximilian, with his father Rabbi Bimstein, soon to leave Warsaw for Cairo.
Max was exceptionally young when he mastered different occult lores and became proficient in occultism. He spoke several languages with ease, and was adept at many crafts. A diversity of subjects interested him — scientific or artistic or sociological. He could always hold his own against the experts in any line.
With his refinement, his aristocratic bearing, he became a much sought-after guest in London’s high society. Very quickly he gained a reputation almost matching that of the Count of Saint-Germain (in the Court of Louis XV) who claimed to be several centuries old. Théon never made any such claims. But rumours about him flew around at a great pace. Some spoke of his earthly immortality, others said he was the son of a Russian Prince, and so on and so forth. Théon’s enigmatic personality aroused everybody’s curiosity, but he took good care never to satisfy it.
Théon’s association with Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical society, is most interesting, for it indicates at least one way in which Théon’s teachings could have shaped subsequent Western esoteric understanding. Not directly, but through the medium of Theosophy. This of course is to say nothing regarding the nature or influence of the esoteric societies Théon himself founded — whatever they may have been. According to the Mother, it was Théon who taught Blavatsky Kabbalah. It is also interesting that the concepts of Seven Planes of existence, the central importance of evolution, and a reincarnating Soul or Higher Self which is distinct from the psycho-physical personality, were common to both Théon and Theosophy; and in fact still are central teachings in all Theosophical and Theosophically-derived systems of thought.
The Mother says that «Barlet met Théon in Egypt when Théon was with Blavatsky; they started a magazine with an ancient Egyptian name […], and then he told Théon […] to publish a Cosmic Review and the ‘Cosmic Books’» (Mother's Agenda, vol. 3, p.452).
Blavatsky was twice in Egypt (in Alexandria and Cairo) in the 1850’s and in 1871, and during the second visit founded a spiritualist society, the “Société Spirite”, which was to study the teachings of the well-known medium Allen Kardec, and which apparently collapsed after only a fortnight, nowhere is there any mention at all of Max Théon, or Barlet, or a magazine with an ancient Egyptian name. Logically, the period when Blavatsky and Théon met would have been during her second visit. But it appears that this was a part of her life which Blavatsky preferred to remain silent about. Indeed, whilst she did not mention Théon, she was very hostile and vocal towards the hermetic society he established.
A book by R. Paul Johnson, “The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge”, argues that the ‘mahatmas’ were dramatised historical adepts with invented names. According to Johnson, Tuitit Bey is actually Max Theon. In this book Johnson supports Mirra’s assertions that Blavatsky learned Kabbalah from Theon.
It is perhaps worth noting also that Pascal Themanlys, in his hagiographic essay on Theon, “Prophecy and Meditation in the Light of the Kabbalah” mentions both Madame Blavatsky and Mirra Alfassa as Theon’s pupils.
The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was a mystical society which Théon established (or took over, for the organisation seems to predate him) when visited London in 1870.
The origins of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor are unclear, but there is some evidence linking it with the Brotherhood of Luxor, which was involved in the founding of the Theosophical Society, the 18th century Austrian Masonic/Rosicrucian splinter group known as the Fratres Lucis, as well as the latter’s 19th century English spiritualist namesake, Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. According to violin-maker and Scottish philosopher Peter Davidson, Théon came to England in 1870, where he and Davidson established an ‘Outer Circle’ of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. In 1873, Théon, then just twenty-six, was made its Grand Master; Peter Davidson was the Order’s frontal Chief. Blavatsky, Olcott, Barlet and many other occultists of the time were among its members. But in 1877 Blavatsky and Olcott severed their relation with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. It is known that Blavatsky’s first Master was the magus Paulos Metamon, whom she had met in Asia Minor in 1848 and again in Cairo in 1870. Metamon was either a Copt or a Chaldean. Many people, including Barlet, believed that «Max Théon was the son of the old Copt.»
In 1883 by Thomas H. Burgoyne (aka Thomas Dalton, 1855-1895) joined the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. He later wrote a book summarizing the basic teachings of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, titled “The Light of Egypt”. The function of this ‘Outer Circle’ of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was to offer a correspondence course on practical occultism; which set it apart from the Theosophical Society.
The “Tales of Thelema” (which is unreliable in several areas) states that in 1873 Carl Kellner (who was later to found the modern O.T.O.) reached Cairo for the first time, being one of many westerners of his day to make the “journey to the East” (others included Madame Blavatsky, the rosicrucian and teacher of sex-magic Pascal Beverly Randolph, and Richard Burton, the English adventurer). In Cairo Kellner «met for the first time with another, quite mysterious young man, then going by the name of Aia Aziz. […] When Herr Kellner met Aziz he had just been named Grand Master of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, a hybrid body with elements of freemasonry, ancient Egyptian religion and Ansari Islamic Tantrism.» Aziz (Max Théon) introduced Kellner to Randolph, who is here referred to as his student. Irrespective of the factuality or otherwise of this information, there is no doubt that there was a lot of important occult activity going on at this time, several decades before the founding of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The first volume of “The Light of Egypt”, originating from the pupils of Max Théon at the time of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, had nine editions in one hundred years in the United States. The book is attributed to its secretary, Th. H. Burgoyne. One of the purposes of publishing the book was to clarify vulgarized conceptions about reincarnation and karma, and to modify the influence of simplified Buddhism.
It was at a party of London’s high society that Max Théon was introduced to a young Irish poetess: Alma. She had a calm look, full of light. Touching hands for the first time revealed to them the harmony of their deepest beings. By May 1884 Max and Alma knew each other well enough to go to theatre together. On 21 March 1885, Max and Alma were married. One of the two witnesses was Augusta Roife, who was also known as Miss Teresa. The three of them went to live in N° 11 Belgrave Road, St. John’s Wood, Marylebone, which was Alma’s residence.
A little later Théon began holding seances. Soon, however, the couple realized that England was not the best place to pursue occult knowledge, and the next year they went to the Continent. On March 9, 1886, that the three crossed over to France and reached Paris. They spent a few days there sightseeing, before seeking a house. In November Théon began holding seances in France. But after several moves around France they decided to make a larger change. Therefore in December 1887, the Théons left France for Algiers. Three weeks later Teresa joined them in Oran. After several months’ search they finally found a place in the suburbs of Tlemcen. They acquired, in Madame Théon’s name, a large villa on a hillside with extensive grounds, which took about a year to make the place livable. On May 1, 1889, they came to live in ‘Zarif’. It was to become their base.
Around the turn of the century the Théons decided to found the Cosmic Movement. Among the most important of Theon’s students at this time were Louis Themanlys, a spiritual philosopher and writer, and Charles Barlet a metaphysician. Louis was also a friend of Matteo Alfassa, Mirra’s brother, and so it was from Louis that Mirra first heard about Théon and the Cosmic Philosophy. Together they established the Cosmic Review, intended for the «study and re-establishment of the original Tradition.»
Théon declared that his wife Alma was the moving spirit behind this idea. Thus, it was thanks to Madame Théon that all the science of the occult that Théon had accumulated could be put into practice.
In Paris in 1905 Mirra first contacted Théon, and later she joined him and his wife in Tlemcan, Algeria, for the purpose of learning occultism. Théon himself, despite his great intellect, apparently had little clairvoyant ability, for rather than attempt to perceive the occult realms directly, he would employ the services of his wife Alma, and later of Mirra as well.
In 1908 the death of Alma, his wife and companion of twenty-three years (from March 1885 to September 1908) was a terrible blow to Théon. He fell a prey to a profound depression. The Themanlys took their broken-hearted Master to their Normandy home and for several months nursed him with loving care, until he was somewhat recovered and could travel. He then returned to Tlemcen. But before doing that he told the members of the Cosmic movement that as the Heart of the Movement had stopped beating, the publication of the Cosmic Review would stop too.
Théon’s visits to France then became extremely rare. Many people believed he had died in 1913 or thereabouts, but in fact he had been badly injured in a car accident, and was only able to walk after a year.
He was still in Tlemcen and recovering from his injuries when the 1914 war broke out. He held a war to be «the greatest crime, because life is sacred.» According to Théon, as with Plato, the ideal political system is a Government by the Wise.
During the four years of war they did not move from Tlemcen apparently. His devoted secretary Teresa remained his companion. their last visit to Paris was in 1919-1920. Finally, according to a small paragraph in a newspaper published at Tlemcen, Théon died on 4 March 1927, and the funeral was held on 6 March 1927.
It is fascinating to consider the influence on Blavatsky; especially how similar some of the ideas and style of Théon’s cosmic tradition was to Blavatsky. And it is even more astonishing to consider that the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo got an influence from Theon’s.
Mirra in contrast to Blavatsky seems to have been more faithful to Théon’s conceptual scheme, as it really is an excellent system. While at times not very impressed with Théon’s personality (although she thought very highly of his wife, Alma Théon), she obviously thought very highly regarding his metaphysics, for she retained his concepts, and even his curious terminology, which she passed on to Sri Aurobindo. Thus Théon’s metaphysic found its way, through Mirra’s mediation, into Sri Aurobindo’s comprehensive cosmology.