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.
Laya Yoga Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
———. 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.