Paschal Beverly Randolph: The Rosicrucian

Years ago I went on a purge, ruthlessly removing scores, probably hundreds of obsolete and/or underperforming posts from Travalanche. My piece on the interesting figure Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825-1875) was one of the casualties. I can’t remember the rationale, all I know is that I wish I hadn’t, because now I can’t find the original text and I have to start from scratch because it really does belong here.

One rationale for removal might have been “not in show business”, but that’s not quite true and by now I’ve more than explored the grey areas anyway. Randolph worked as a medium on stage, and he also toured the lecture circuits of his day, both of which elevate him to “close enough to theatre”. He was too much of a true believer to include him among intentional charlatans and hoaxers, but it must be admitted that his beliefs bring him into close proximity to stage magic and the medicine show. There are cynical skeptics who would lump them all together, along with priests and clergy of all religions, but, friends, that’s just not how I roll. The universe is a mysterious place. All the answers ain’t in a test tube, though plenty are.

I first learned about Randolph because like myself he was one of the millions of descendants of the Virginia patriarch William Randolph (1650-1711), ancestor of many Founding Fathers including Edmund Randolph, first Attorney General of the United States; Thomas Jefferson; and John Marshal.

Born in New York City, Randolph’s mother was of mixed race with black, white and Native American heritage. He identified as, and was regarded as, a free black man. Orphaned as a child, he went to sea, traveling as far away as Persia, birthplace of Zoroastrianism, which is naturally where he was first drawn to esoteric religion. He settled and married in New York’s famous “Burned Over District” by the 1850s, where the Spiritualism craze was in full swing. Spiritualism, abolitionism, and feminism were among the enthusiasms of the day in the region, and Randolph wrote and lectured on these topics, worked as a “healer” dispensing Native American remedies (one of which was cannabis!), and provided services as a trance medium. He was an Occultist, one of America’s earliest Rosicrucians (he used the word to describe himself), and one of the earlier practitioners and advocates of sex magic, or erotic alchemy. He promoted birth control (then nearly unheard of), pre-Adamism (the also then-radical notion that humans have existed on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years and not just the 4,000 or so the Bible inaccurately claims), and argued that African Americans should consider moving to India. (A bit of a lateral move, you might think, under the British Raj, and Hindus also have a caste system that’s not exactly progressive, but on the whole anything had to have been better than the American abomination of slavery.)

After the Civil War, Randolph taught literacy to freed blacks in New Orleans, and married his second wife, Irish-American Kate Corson, who became his professional partner, and bore him one son, Osiris Buddha Randolph. They were living in Toledo at the time of his highly suspicious death in 1875, a gunshot wound to the head that was recorded as a suicide, but probably wasn’t one, in light of Randolph’s publicly expressed opposition to self-harm on spiritual grounds, and the fact that a friend later confessed on his deathbed.

Randolph published over two dozen books starting in 1854, with some coming out posthumously. He is today regarded as an influence on the Theosophical Society, American Rosicrucianism, and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, which in turn influenced Aleister Crowley. Excellent stuff for Halloween, eh?