I remember one of my discussions with Brother Michael as if it were only last week. Though it took place in the summer of 1989, a mere 34 years ago! A gifted linguist, he was a private French tutor, Michael taught himself Arabic so he could read the Quran and the works of Muslim mystics. As often happened when we met, our conversation passed seamlessly from the history of Sufism in Australia – Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Australian disciple Baron von Frankenberg and Meher Baba’s 1959 visit – to the spread of New Thought in the country at the start of the last century.
Brother Michael fondly recalled his mother and her parents as dedicated ‘spiritual seekers’, some of his first memories were of being taken to New Thought meetings in 1920s Melbourne. His maternal grandparents were introduced to the ‘Higher Thought’ after attending public lectures by the American ‘Mental Healer’ Dr Frederic Bell, who toured Australia in 1900 before establishing himself in Melbourne for a period around 1906. Dr Bell – billed in the press as the “Prince of Orators, Song Lecturer and Teacher of Practical Occultism and the New Thought” – captivated Australian audiences with his talks on subjects like “Dreams, Visions, Prophecies and Revelations Explained” and “The Prodigal Son from an Occult Perspective.”
New Thought inspired a diverse range of organisations and activities in early 20th century Australia. Michael told how his mother’s family frequented the New Thought Club in Collins Street and avidly read the latest books on ‘practical occultism’ available at the New Thought & Occult Book Store as well as Cole’s Book Arcade, then the world’s largest bookstore. Michael accompanied his mother to Sunday services of the Melbourne New Thought Centre, participating in New Thought-inspired children’s programs. He remembered seeing the influential American New Thought lecturer and writer Dr Julia Seton on her final Australian lecture tour. The founder of the Church and School of the New Civilization in the United States, Dr Seton was a major figure in the development of the New Thought movement from the esoteric and metaphysical point of view.
Michael’s grey eyes, which matched his well-worn three-piece suit, lit up as he recalled a childhood journey to Sydney in 1928 with his grandfather to meet the ‘seer’ and ‘Mental Healer’ Mr Victor E. Cromer. Originally from South Australia, Cromer founded the Spiritual Healing Institute in Burdekin House, Macquarie Street, then Australia’s most prestigious address. Michael’s grandfather credited Cromer’s ‘distant healing’ with curing him of a chronic health condition.
“Grandfather and Mr Cromer were firm friends, old correspondents. They knew each other from when Mr Cromer lived in Melbourne, both having started out in the workers’ movement. Mr Cromer founded the Worker’s Educational Association of South Australia and went to Germany as the Australian delegate to the Socialist International where he met Lenin, Trotsky, and Ramsay McDonald, the future British PM. With the outbreak of the Great War, disillusioned with politics as the best vehicle for social revolution, he gave himself 100% to the higher cause of spiritual revolution, the healing of mind and body through divine power and Higher Thought.”
Michael said his grandfather also subscribed to the publications of another prominent Sydney spiritual healer, Sister Veni Cooper-Mathieson, who lectured weekly at The Truth Centre. A tireless organiser for New Thought, Sister Veni founded several organisations over the years, including ‘The Universal Truth Centre & Metaphysical College’, ‘The Esoteric College’, ‘The Universal Truth Publishing Company’, and ‘The New Thought Book Depot & Library’. The latter was promoted as “the Premier Australasian Centre for the dissemination of Higher Thought, Metaphysical, Occult, Esoteric, Mental Culture, Physical Culture, Health Culture, Dietetic, Humanitarian, and other progressive literature. Our stock of New Thought books is the largest in Australasia.”
In his book A History of the New Thought Movement, Horatio Dresser notes that “the pioneer work of Sister Veni Cooper-Mathieson in Australia began in 1903, under the title ‘The Women’s White Cross Moral Reform Crusade’.” Adding that Sister’s first magazine, The Truth Seeker, was established in January 1905.
“In April 1909, the Church Universal in Perth, Western Australia, was organized. In December 1914, this church was moved to Sydney, and a Truth Centre was established. The first magazine [The Truth Seeker] was united with The Healer and called The Revealer in 1915.”
Michael had no clear memory of seeing Sister Veni but was adamant that his mother and grandfather would have frequented her Truth Centre during visits to Sydney in the twenties.
By the 1930s New Thought peaked in Australia and started to steadily decline. Popular enthusiasm for spiritual healing soon passed over in favour of the modern wonders of medical science. The impact of secularisation brought a loss of belief in Australia’s divinely ordained destiny. A notion widespread in the years immediately after Federation. No longer seen as the land of which Sister Veni once prophesied:
It is the vision of the Future that reveals to the waiting nations that thou, O! Queen of the South! Thou last of the lands to arise from the sea, shall yet be first in splendour, greatest in wisdom and highest in power and glory. Out of thee shall sons and daughters arise that shall be mighty before the Lord of Life; and from them shall come the seed of the new and regenerate humanity.1
Richard, Duc de Palatine
Exposed from birth to New Thought, spiritual healing, occultism, and a bewildering array of ‘progressive’ and ‘alternative’ beliefs and practices, no surprise then that when in college, Michael attended lectures of the Psychological Society of Victoria, where he met his future ‘Master Teacher’ Ronald Powell (later known as Rev. Richard, Duc de Palatine). While listening to Powell lecture on Atlantis in November 1940, Michael felt himself transported back to the days of the legendary city!2
Ronald Powell, born in North Fitzroy on 4 July 1916, had himself undergone a profound spiritual experience while in the library of the Melbourne Theosophical Society where he was mysteriously drawn by the “Invisible Presence” to study “the extant writings concerning the Gnostics, Essenes and Secret Mysteries.” By 1944, Powell became convinced “that one day he would cause to be formed a Brotherhood which would partially restore the Sacred Lore and encourage people to prepare themselves for the Illumination and Interior Communion with the God within as practised in the Secret Brotherhoods of all the ages.”3
In 1948, the Invisible Presence directed Ronald Powell, whom Michael had come to know quite well in the post-war years, to sail for England to begin his mission. Powell confided to Michael and his Melbourne friends that his work was not in Australia. Settling in London’s Kensington, Ronald Powell, who legally changed his name to Richard, Duc de Palatine, established the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Church and shortly after the Brotherhood & Order of the Pleroma. Following his Master Teacher’s footsteps, Michael left Australia for England in the 1950s, moving on to France to study with the French Gnostic Church. On his return to Australia, Michael took charge of the Australian branch of the Brotherhood & Order of the Pleroma headed by his old teacher Richard, Duc de Palatine in London.
What’s In A Name?
Fast forward to January 1991, the first Gulf War got underway when the US unleashed Operation Desert Storm with unprecedented airstrikes on Iraq. It was clear that the whole story of the war and the events leading to it were not being presented in the dominant mainstream media. A small group met in the library of the Arab Cultural Centre in Brunswick, Melbourne, to discuss the need for a publication to present the other side of the story. A magazine examining the hidden dimensions of world affairs and a forum for alternative views and ideas neglected in the mainstream media. But what should such a publication be called?
Michael came by unexpectedly, carrying with him a book by Nicholas Roerich. When told we were in search of a name for a new magazine, he quickly turned to a passage in the Roerich book which read, “The East has said that when the Banner of Shambhala encircles the world, verily the New Dawn will follow.”
“That’s your name – the New Dawn,” Michael said with assurance. At the very moment he spoke those words we heard Nina Simone singing Feeling Good on the radio playing in the background, with the refrain, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good.” So New Dawn magazine was born.
Before he passed on in 2003, Michael assured us New Dawn magazine would endure for many years, the rightful heir and “flowering in current times” of work commenced by the spiritual pioneers who went before. He left a bequest to New Dawn which included magazines published by Sister Veni Cooper-Mathieson and the writings of Richard, Duc de Palatine, among others.
Is there behind all men that live
One all-containing Soul,
Where symbols, apt for each one, give
A transcript of the Whole?
We are not all the Self we seem;
We are twined around with men
Who once performed this mortal dream,
And dream in us again.
– ‘The Silent Land’ by Bernard O’Dowd, Australian socialist & New Thought advocate
1. “Australia! … Land of the Dawning” by Veni Cooper-Mathieson
2. Meeting With A Magus, The Untold Story of Richard, Duc de Palatine & The Brotherhood & Order of the Pleroma, New Dawn Special Issue Vol. 13 No. 2
© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.
For our reproduction notice, click here.