“The Elder Brother” is a controversial and revealing look at Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934), who together with Annie Besant led the Theosophical Society Adyar after the death of Theosophy's founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. I always considered the Theosophists to be a relatively sympathetic neo-spiritual group, despite their frequently vexing speculations about “root races”, “planetary rounds” and “ascended masters”. After reading Gregory Tillett's exposure of Leadbeater, I'm not so sure anymore.
There is considerable circumstantial evidence to suggest that Leadbeater was a pedophile or pederast who preyed on the children of unsuspecting Theosophists. During his investigations, Tillett came across documents showing that Leadbeater practiced and taught a form of sex magic during which the energy produced by male orgasm was used to trigger ecstatic “spiritual” experiences. He instructed pubescent boys in this form of “magic” and even organized sessions of collective masturbation! Of course, all these activities were strictly off the record. In Australia, “Bishop” Leadbeater (as he was often called) had contacts with an important member of the OTO, a group notorious for its sex magic. Tillett seem to believe that Leadbeater's contacts with boys was limited to teaching them masturbation, but that seems frankly unbelievable.
Leadbeater comes across as unsympathetic in other ways, too. He was something of a pathological liar, even lying about the date of his birth. He claimed to be seven years older than he actually was, and most details in his early biography are fictions. His supposed clairvoyance was based on something the author calls “forced imagination”, a technique which is almost guaranteed to create subjective illusions emerging from the seer's subconscious mind. Even some of his closest collaborators suspected that Leadbeater's clairvoyant research into the previous lives of various Theosophists were sheer fantasy. I also wonder about the extent of Leadbeater's knowledge. Judging by the book, Jiddu Krishnamurti (who was being groomed by the Theosophists to become the Vehicle for the World Teacher, i.e. a kind of Messiah), went through a protracted kundalini experience, something the bewildered Leadbeater didn't seem to understand. This from a person who claimed to be on a first name basis with the ascended masters! It's also interesting to note that Leadbeater wasn't a pupil of Madame Blavatsky and in fact met her only sporadically. Of course, the “bishop” claimed otherwise…
The non-controversial material in “The Elder Brother” is also interesting. Thus, it turns out that Leadbeater was politically conservative and privately disapproved of Annie Besant's political campaigns for Home Rule in India. In contrast to Besant, who had a background in socialism and feminism, Leadbeater was a fervent believer in the supremacy of the British Empire and its hierarchic social order. Ironically, he was of lowly birth himself, which to some extent explains his constant lying about his background – he was trying to create a more high-brow pedigree for himself. Leadbeater despised women, with the exception of Besant, and viewed World War I as part of a divine plan for a thoroughgoing cleansing before the expected arrival of the World Teacher. Germans were simply barbarians and British soldiers were actually giving them a favor by killing them, so they wouldn't accumulate more negative karma. A new “Aryan” civilization would arise in Australia, New Zealand and the American West Coast (sic).
Apart from the sex magic, Leadbeater's most important spiritual activities were strikingly similar to Spiritualism and High Church Anglicanism or Puseyism. These were Leadbeater's formative experiences before he became a Theosophist. Leadbeater had been a clergyman in the Church of England and a member of an Anglo-Catholic group. He had also been privately interested in the paranormal, and had studied Spiritualism and related phenomena during his considerable spare time. Tillett believes that Leadbeater's clairvoyant visions as a Theosophist are similar in kind to Spiritualist ditto. Leadbeater's fascination with liturgy and ritual found an outlet in the so-called Liberal Catholic Church, really a Theosophical front group (the “bishop” title comes from Leadbeater's position within this faux Catholic “church”).
Tillett encountered many obstacles while writing “The Elder Brother”. Many Adyar Theosophists still regard Leadbeater as a highly accomplished occultist, perhaps even a Master in his own right. Many other people, including dissident Theosophists, regard him as an impostor or worse. Krishnamurti simply called him “evil”, while another Theosophist encountered by the author referred to Leadbeater as an agent of the “Dugpas”, which in this context presumably refers to black magicians. The author's conclusions concerning secret sex magic probably cannot be independently verified, since permission to look at the relevant documents was withdrawn almost as quickly as it was given, so we really only have Tillett's own testimony to go on (unless some Dugpa on Twitter has spilled the beans lately). That being said, the author should be commended for boldly go where no physical plane creature has gone before, and his disturbing exposure of C W Leadbeater deserves four stars.