Leadbeater, Charles Webster

Leadbeater, Charles Webster (1847–1934)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Charles Webster Leadbeater was born on February 17, 1847, in Hampshire, England. Early in his life he was a curate in the Church of England. At the age of thirty-seven, he went to Adyar, Madras, India, to visit the headquarters of the Theosophical Society and to meet its cofounders, Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. He quickly became enamored of the Society and devoted himself to the cause of Theosophy. This cause was dedicated to the foundation of a universal brotherhood without distinction of race or creed, the study of comparative religion, and the investigation of metaphysics—the unexplained faculties in humans.

Leadbeater spent some time traveling through India and Ceylon with Olcott, and publicly professed himself a Buddhist. He developed various psychic abilities and began to gain a reputation as a seer and as an expert at crystal gazing. Leadbeater became a leading member of the Theosophical Society. He returned to England in 1890, where he became a private tutor. The following year, on the death of Madame Blavatsky, Leadbeater started working closely with Annie Besant, who grew to fill Blavatsky’s place as leader of the Society. She eventually became its President in 1907.

In 1906, while Leadbeater was in the United States, a number of mothers brought charges against him for sexual misconduct with their sons. Leadbeater was a homosexual and had unusual views on the tutoring of young men. Annie Besant couldn’t accept these charges, and the charges were brought to Olcott. A judicial committee of the Society summoned Leadbeater to appear before them. In the face of clear evidence, he was asked to resign.

On Olcott’s death in 1907, Dr. Weller van Hook, General Secretary of the Society, sent an open letter championing Leadbeater’s theories on the sexual upbringing of young boys, even claiming that the defense was dictated to him by one of the Mahatmas. The following year the British Convention of the Society requested of the General Council that Leadbeater and his practices be repudiated. The Council members disagreed among themselves, but Leadbeater was restored to membership. As a result of the controversy, 700 members resigned. Leadbeater went on to exert a powerful influence with his clairvoyant teachings and theories on reincarnation. He was especially influential in India.

In 1908, Leadbeater and Annie Besant jointly sponsored a young Brahmin boy named Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom they believed to be a Messiah. They founded the Order of the Star of the East to propagate his mission, but in 1929 the young man renounced his role and dissolved the Order. He did, however, go on to become a notable spiritual teacher.

Late in life Leadbeater moved to Australia and became a bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church there. He died in 1934. During his lifetime he had written a number of books which have since become minor classics in their field. They include Man: Visible and Invisible (1902), The Astral Plane (1905), A Textbook of Theosophy (1912), The Hidden Side of Things (1913), Clairvoyance (1918), and Man: Whence, How and Whither (1913). This last was in two volumes and written with Annie Besant. In Man: Visible and Invisible Leadbeater included illustrations of auras, which he claimed to see clearly. He said that auras and halos were emanations of astral bodies.


Blavatsky, Helena: Collected Writings, Vol. xii. Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991
Shepard, Leslie A: Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. New York: Avon Books, 1978
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