Thursday, October 1, 2009

Was Brooke Foss Westcott an Occultist?

Riplinger’s doughty defender has written that Riplinger’s method with the writings of Westcott is quote correct, because

“Riplinger is reading him between the lines as his fellow occultist [sic] did”

Of course, this defence fails first of all on the ground that we are supplied with no evidence that Westcott intended his writings to be thus interpreted. We have instead the ipse dixit that occultists hide their true beliefs in their writings, a method I have facetiously compared to a scene in Without a Clue an otherwise very bad spoof Sherlock Holmes film I saw many years ago, where Holmes, who is in the film a bungling American (don’t ask), declares that Moriarty has hidden clues in his name, and comes up with the remarkable deduction that Moriarty is really called Arty Morty. How do we know Westcott’s writings have to be read in this manner? Because Riplinger’s defender says so!

Secondly, he fails on the count that Westcott was not an occultist at all. The sum of the evidence for Westcott’s occultism presented by Riplinger is as follows:

1). While an undergraduate at Cambridge he was a founder member of a club called ‘Hermes.’

2). While a graduate student at the same University, he was a founder member of an institution called ‘The Ghostlie Guild.’

3). A man called W.W. Westcott, who founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, might be an alternative identity of B.F. Westcott.

None of these proofs, however, can support the weight Riplinger wishes to hang on them, that Westcott was an ‘occultist.’

1). The Hermes Club.

Arthur Westcott writes in his biography of his father B.F. Westcott:

“These four, together with W.C. Bromhead, J.E.B. Mayor, and J.C. Wright, were the original members of an essay-reading club, which was started in May 1845, under the name of ‘The Philological Society.’ At a later date the society took the name of ‘Hermes.’ The society met on Saturday evenings in one or other of the members’ rooms, when a paper was read, and a discussion, not infrequently somewhat discursive, ensued. The following were the subjects of papers read by my father:- The Lydian Origin of the Etruscans; the Nominative Absolute; The Roman Games of (or at) Ball; The so-called Aoristic Use of the Perfect in Latin; The Funeral Ceremonies of the Romans; The Eleatic School of Philosophy; The Mythology of the Homeric Poems; The Theology of Aristotle; Theramenes.”[1]

This is all the evidence that we have of the activities of the ‘Hermes Club’. It tells us firstly that it was an “essay-reading club”, and originally christened the “Philological”, a name that sounds dull rather than sinister. Take the subjects, and behold, the true nature of the club becomes apparent – a group of earnest young classicists meeting together to discuss classical subjects! The only danger I can conceive in the meetings of this club might be that of extreme boredom in some of the meetings! Seriously, only Riplinger, who regards the poetry of Homer as satanic, would find anything sinister in this list of classical subjects. I can think of far worse activities for students to engage in on Saturday nights. And most of them happen in the city centre here!

As for the identity of ‘Hermes’, Riplinger on P. 400 of NABV refers to “Hermes Trismegister”. She is confusing the Egyptian Hermes, usually identified with the ancient Egyptian god of Wisdom, Thoth, with the Greek. Of course those classicists who met to discuss the mythology of Homer referred to the Grecian Hermes. They were not Egyptologists or occultists. This is the same Greek Hermes whose name appears in the Greek New Testament in Acts 14.12. The AV translators, Latinists as many of them were, render the name “Mercurius”, but the Greek is ‘Hermes’. J.A. Alexander writes that Hermes was “the interpreter or spokesman of the gods.”[2] In other words, Riplinger has confused the Hermes’! This I call the ‘Another Man of the Same Name’ fallacy. I hope to be able to show you a picture of the true Egyptian Hermes as soon as I am able to get out to Biddulph on my bicycle! You will agree he looks most unlike the Grecian Hermes.[3] Also that Paul is unlikely to have been confused with him.

It seems that this harmless “essay-reading club” existed only as long as Westcott was an undergraduate.

2). The ‘Ghostlie Guild’
According to Westcott’s biographer, the chief source we have for this club, its aim was to investigate reports of supernatural activity. It was not engaged in séances or attempts to provoke or cause supernatural events.[4] Arthur Westcott writes:

“What happened to this Guild in the end I have not discovered. My father ceased to interest himself in these matters, not altogether, I believe, from want of faith in what, for lack of a better name, one must call Spiritualism, but that he was seriously convinced that such investigations led to no good.”[5]

Please note that the only source Riplinger quotes to prove Westcott’s involvement in the occult limits that involvement to a few years during his years as a graduate student! A man who dabbled in the investigation of alleged ghost sightings as a graduate student is not properly called an ‘occultist’, yet that is all the evidence we have of Westcott’s involvement with the occult. Yes, I labour the point. It needs labouring! Note also that Westcott’s mature judgement was that: “such investigations led to no good,” and that he "ceased to interest himself in such matters" for that reason.

3). W.W. Westcott

It has been satisfactorily proven that William Wynn Westcott was an individual separate from Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham. Riplinger’s speculation is to be found on Pp. 676-7 of NABV, where she speculates that Bishop Westcott of Durham was also W.W. Westcott, founder of the ‘Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” Riplinger writes, “The similar identity of these two is not a matter of historical record.” Now, I will admit to not being a logician, but two men are either “identical” or “similar”, I suppose she means ‘the identity of these men’ (i.e. their in fact being the same man). They are in fact two different people. She sheepishly admits, “The connection between B.F. Westcott and the activities attributed to the possible allonym W.W. Westcott are speculation on my part.” The fact remains that that they were as much different persons as were Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole! And yes, the Hermes of ‘Golden Dawn’ was the Egyptian, not the Grecian. Yet Riplinger refers to Bishop Westcott as "B.F Westcott, a London Spiritualist" on P. 25, a description that only fits if Brooke Poss Westcott was also W.W. Westcott. If the two were not the same man, then Bishop Westcott is not the man whom "Secular historians and numerous occult books see... as 'the father' of the modern channeling phenomenon, a major source of the 'doctrines of demons' driving the New Age movement" (NABV P. 25).

Of course it is possible, given the information Riplinger supplies, to think that the identity of W.W. Westcott is a mystery, that he is nothing but a name. He is not; he is a real person whose life is documented extensively, there are even pictures of him - as seen above! Nor does he suddenly appear on the scene out of no-where and disappear again about the time of Bishop Westcott's death. For this reason it is impossible to suppose that he is a mere “allonym” of Bishop Westcott. And in fact "allonym" is the wrong word, as a dictionary definition of 'allonym' is 'the name of a historical figure taken as a pen-name.' The correct word for a literary alias that is not the name of a historical figure would be a "pseudonym". Thus, were I to write under the name 'Spartacus', that would be an allonym. 'The Highland Host' is only a nom de plume or pseudonym. But to return from nit-picking... (I apologise, but Riplinger twits others for their use of English, so hers is fair game in my book)

Brooke Foss Westcott was born in Birmingham on 12th January 1825. His father was Frederick Brooke Westcott. He was baptized according to the rite of the Church of England in St. Philip’s Church on 7th February.[6] He went to school in Birmingham and took his degree at Cambridge. On leaving Cambridge in 1852 he taught at Harrow School.[7]

William Wynn Westcott was born in Leamington, Warwickshire, on 17th December 1848. He was adopted by his uncle after the death of his parents when he was ten, and educated at Kingston-upon-Thames. He studied medicine at University College London, and on taking his medical degree he became a rural doctor.[8]

In 1869 Brooke Foss Westcott became a canon of Peterborough Cathedral,[9] in 1870 he became Regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge.[10] In 1890 he became Bishop of Durham.[11] Brooke Foss Westcott died on 27th July 1901.[12] He wrote a number of books, including commentaries on John's Gospel and Epistles, on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and on the Epistle to the Ephesians.

In 1881 W.W. Westcott became Coroner for central London,[13] an official post of great responsibility, meaning that he had to carry out inquests into deaths within central London. It is estimated that he carried out more than ten thousand inquests – a level of activity incompatible with also being the Bishop of Durham and having another family up north. He held this post until 1910 – nine years after the death of the Bishop of Durham. In 1918 he emigrated to South Africa, where he died in Durban on 30 June 1925.[14] Willim Wynn Westcott seems to have become involved with the occult after moving to London. There he joined (and eventually led) the Societas Roscruciana in Anglia, and co-founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as being a member of the Theosophical Society. He authored more than a dozen books on the occult, including An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah, Sepher Yetzira, The Number 666: Its Symbolism, The Occult Power of Numbers, and The Magical Mason. He was active in the occult from the 1880s onwards, although in the latter part of the 1890s he was forced to curtail his occult activities by the authorities, who did not want the bad press attendant on a senior coroner being a leading spiritualist.

There is simply no way that Brooke Foss Westcott and William Wynn Westcott could be the same person. Both were highly educated men whose lives left a long paper trail. Neither man’s origin nor end is shrouded in mystery, and their activities do not overlap in location. The Bishop died nearly a quarter of a century before the occultist coroner, who was born more than twenty years after his namesake. Their lives overlap, but that is all. Riplinger refers to Bishop Westcott as "B.F Westcott, a London Spiritualist" on P. 25, a description that is most inapt for the Bishop of Durham, but fits perfectly with William Wynn Westcott. While Brooke Foss Westcott spent very little time in London, and is most linked with Durham and Cambridge, William Wynn Westcott was based in London for more than thirty years, and held his most prominent post in London. He was also deeply involved in the London occultic scene. It is William Westcott whom "Secular historians and numerous occult books see... as 'the father' of the modern channeling phenomenon, a major source of the 'doctrines of demons' driving the New Age movement" (NABV P. 25). Thus Riplinger, on the basis of wild and errant speculation, has libelled Bishop Westcott. About the only connection between the two men is that they both had the same surname! It is as if someone should suppose Dr. James White and Dr. John White to be the same person.

The alternative is that Brooke Foss Westcott took the identity of William Wynn Westcott, who either died naturally or was bumped off by the Bishop at some point. Did he do this when W.W. Westcott was a doctor in the West Country? Certainly not during W.W. Westcott's time in London, as it would be impossible to replace such a prominent public official without someone noticing!

We would then have to belive that this clergyman, in order to keep up the pretence that W.W. Westcott and B.F. Westcott were two different people, instead of opening a private clinic in London, applied for the post of coroner for central London and was employed in that post. He then accepted a post as a university professor at Cambridge, and then the Bishopric of Durham, hundreds of miles from London. In an age when the fastest mode of transport was the steam train, Brooke Foss Westcott was able to live a double life in London and Durham, often being in both places at the same time, or at least managing to appear to be. He faked his own death in his bed in 1901, and then lived for another twenty-four years in the identity of William Wynn Westcott without anyone suspecting until Gail Riplinger. Moreover, the period of W.W. Westcott's emergence as an occult leader coincides with the period at which B.F. Westcott was at his busiest, first as a Cambridge Professor, and then as Bishop of Durham. You will pardon my inability to believe such errant nonsense.

The fact that there is no dark veil of mystery over the identity of W.W. Westcott means that Riplinger’s speculation is utterly pointless. So why does she do it? The same reason she engages in all this misquotation – the hope that if she slings enough mud, some of it will stick!

So let me recap.
1). The Hermes Club was a harmless essay-reading club of young classicists.
2). The 'Ghostlie Guild' was a club to investigate reported sightings of Ghosts, and after leaving Cambridge Westcott abandoned all such activity.
3). Brooke Foss Westcott and William Wynn Westcott were two completely different individuals. There is no eveidence the two men ever even met each other.

The evidence that B.F. Westcott was an occultist is therefore non-existent. The most that could be said is that he dabbled in the paranormal for a few years while a graduate student, before giving up such invesigations as dangerous. And don’t bother coming up with the quotations using supposed occultic vocabulary. Remember, what must be proved is that Westcott intends the words in an occult way, and to do that, you must first prove that he was an occultist. B.F. Westcott, not William Wynn.

If I receive an answer along the lines of “but of course he hid the fact…”, I think I will laugh very loudly and advise the writer to read some elementary texts on research. Or boil his head, whichever he likes.

Here come the footnotes!
[1] Life, vol. 1 P. 47
[2] Joseph Addison Alexander, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Reprinted London, Banner of Truth, 1963) Vol. 2 P. 54
[3] He is to be found beneath a pyramid of topiary, in a secret underground grotto. Those who know Biddulph Grange gardens will know of what I speak.
[4] Life vol. 1, Pp. 117-8
[5] Ibid. P. 119
[6] Life Vol. 1 P. 1
[7] Ibid. P. 173
[8] It amuses me to give this citation, as Riplinger uses the same site to link Charles Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) with the Ripper murders. Perhaps she can link B.F. Westcott too! W.W. Westcott is also a highly unlikely suspect, suggested ony by recent conspiracy theorists. See also
[9] Life i. 301
[10] Ibid. P. 366
[11] Life ii. P. 91
[12] Ibid. P. 401
[14] Ibid.

A Note:

Our 'Puritan' Commenter has written of Westcott that:

"he was a dark-minded, dishonest, consciously dishonest individual who knew very well he was dishonestly putting a false bible over on the Christian world ..."

It is a common piece of rhetoric to argue that those you disagree with are dishonest. However, unless one is able to prove it (as I believe I have done with Riplinger), it really amounts to little more than saying "I don't agree with your interpretation of the evidence." Fine. It's a free internet, after all. But Christians ought to be cautious of throwing such accusations around. After all, lying is a sin. So unless you can prove the charge, don't make it. The same goes for the accusation Westcott was an occultist, and incidentally the charge he was a pederast.


Waitaminute! said...

Mr. Highland Host,
Gail Riplinger is deadly accurate with her research. Her new book Hazardous Materials is the DEATH-BLOW to Nicolaitan Greekspeak.
One does not need to read between the lines to discern that Brooke Foss Westcott was a mystic and a necromancer. He founded the Ghostly Guild at Cambridge in 1851 to explore necromancy, paranormal activity and other supernatural phenomenom expressly forbidden in the Scriptures. His group was THE training ground for many occult groups.
The foremost scholars such as Kirsopp Lake, Salter, James Webb and Hastings, to name a few, all identify Westcott's Satanic leanings and groups he organized as the foundation of the modern New Age Movement.
He is IDed as an Alexandrian Mystic by the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.
Westcott was saturated with Greek pagan ideals, ideals propagandized by modern New Agers and apostate churchmen.

Highland Host said...

Ipse dixit again. And really, is the 1911 edition of Britannica the latest in scholarship? Please note that Westcott's involvement with the "Ghostlie Guild' was limited to a few years when he was a graduate student, and its brief was to investigate ghost sightings, not to engage in necromancy.

I expect you're just repeating Riplinger's sources, and her arguments. I read HazMat (as I like to call it), and was less than convinced, to put it mildly. To put it less mildly, any book that advocates the abandonment of all Greek study is to my mind not so much a triumph as a surrender of the field. A field that defenders of the TR and the Masoretic Text do not need to give up.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Greetings, HH.

Just chiming in with a short note: there is a clear reference in a letter written by Hort that he and some acquaintances "tried to turn the tables" at a meeting he had attended. This refers to a seance. The material is easy to track down via Google.

Hort's blazingly racist statements are also easy to find and read.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Chris said...

I have to say, that as the husband of a descendant of Brooke Foss Westcott and also being a Freemason myself, I can assure you that the two Westcotts mentioned in your blog post are most emphatically not one and the same person. To suggest that Brooke was an occultist simply because he involved himself in some 'Table Turning' whilst a student, is completely outrageous. That sort of thinking would surely brand every modern student as a sex obsessed alchoholic. I think that we, his family and family historians, know a little more about the true life of Brooke Westcott than your replier 'Waitaminute' and the obviously deluded romancer Gail Riplinger. Maybe we could drag up some fanciful facts about her relations & embroider them with half truths. Now there's an idea!

Peter said...

Chris, you're a Freemason. Enough said!

But I will go on... The appropriate Biblical position of a born-again disciple of Jesus Christ is to rebuke and reprove the works of darkness (ie. Spiritism) and to preach repentance. It appears Westcott did not meet this call but instead, at the very least, he entertained the works of darkness to satisfy his own curiosity. No ipse dixit here, just the plain Truth as evidenced in the documentation which is accepted by those on both sides of the argument.

John-luke Muresan said...

Hey Highland Host,
Small correction, under number 3, you call Brooke Foss: Brooke Poss*. Perhaps instead of reading Gail, people should read Brooke. His sermon series "The Victory of the Cross" is very insightful into the man's view of God, faith and religion. I'll have you know He preaches the blood of Jesus Christ as the only means for salvation, the tragedy of it all!


John-Luke Muresan

"And it is a priceless privilege to stand for a time, as we are invited to stand, before the Divine Presence in the attitude of reverent and resolute expectancy. Christ Himself is the teacher [reference to Didache 4:1], and He will give His blessing to those who wrestle courageously till the day dawns. For we must each win that which He places within our reach, win it by painful and sustained conflict. Not by any perfunctory acceptance of forms of speech, not by any arbitrary silencing of rational doubt, not by an restless occupation in the narrow circle of small duties, can we gain the rest of the soul open-eyed to all the facts of the world, where in we learn that our Faith is not as one of the Faiths of the nations but the answer[!] unchanged and inexhaustible[!!!], to all the cries raised by a divided humanity to heaven, conscious of its birthright and conscious of its fall. The lesson of the absoluteness of the Christianity, of the final Victory of the Cross, is which in part we wish now to make our own…” B. F. Westcott, sermon from the series, The Victory of the Cross: The Natural Fellowship of Men.

“And if our hearts misgive us, conscious of shrinking weakness and burdened with the memories of multiplied neglect, it is enough for us to look beyond Nature, which knows no forgiveness, to God Who has given us His own Son to do what we could not do, to God Who is greater than our hearts in His manifold discipline and purifying love. It is enough for us to remember that Christ fulfilled the words which He spoke to His disciples in the accomplishment of His own work, and that He has brought the power of sacrifice as a revelation of a larger life, of a victorious influence, of an eternal blessing, within the reach of the humblest believer who claims the virtue of His Blood. Whosoever shall seek to gain His life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his love shall bring it to a new birth.” B. F. Westcott, sermon from the series, The Victory of the Cross: The Power of Sacrifice.