The Life of Alice Bailey – part 1

She established the Arcane School in 1922/23 which is still in existence today. At the same time, she began writing these books, which amounted to 24 volumes. It’s a remarkable life story of service to humanity.

Robert: Hello and welcome to Inner Sight. Today’s show is about Alice Bailey, the founder of Lucis Trust, who wrote 24 volumes of literature. We’re going to speak today about the life of Alice Bailey and discuss her autobiography. I think it’s appropriate to begin with a quote from Alice Bailey. “A friend of mine felt that I would really render a service if I could show people how I became what I am, from what I was. It might be useful to know how a rabid Christian worker could become a well-known esoteric teacher. People might learn much by discovering how a theologically minded Bible student could come to the firm conviction that the teachings of the East and of the West must be fused and blended, before the true and universal religion, for which the world waits, could appear on earth.” So, actually Alice Bailey was encouraged to write her autobiography, and I think it’s remarkable. As I read the autobiography, I saw how she went through a personal transformation and ultimately became the person that she finally became who had such an effect on such large numbers of people. The books of Alice Bailey are some of the most profound spiritual and philosophical teachings ever presented to the Western mind, but from what she was in her early life, to what she became in later life seems like a sharp contrast. Did her early life experience prepare her at all for the depth of writing she did in her later life and what was her early life like? 

Sarah: Yes, I think her early experiences that are documented in her autobiography show that all of her life prepared her for what she became. She was able to take advantage of all that experience and plummet it for its teaching ability. This is what makes a person like Alice Bailey, I think, an example of a true disciple. “Disciple” is one of those words that has a lot of loaded meaning to people, but it literally means learning boy. A disciple is one who learns, who grows and evolves through experience, and through extracting the meaning out of any particular situation. When you read about the life of Alice Bailey, this is what she did. She was born in 1880, into an upper-class British family in Victorian England. She was subject to all the privileges and all the limitations of that narrow upper class British background. Her parents died when she was quite young and she was raised by relatives, spending part of the year in one relative’s home, in a fairly moderate church orientation, and the rest of the year with another part of the family who were more fundamentalist in their religion. That had an important conditioning on her. 

Dale: Yes, and actually her childhood was not a happy time for her. It was a very disturbing time, as she says, “a feeling of great dislike of it all,” meaning that whole young period of her life. They were years of great physical comfort and luxury, having freedom from all the material anxiety, but they were at the same time, years of miserable questioning and of disillusionment, of unhappy discovery and loneliness.  

Sarah: And in fact, she tried to commit suicide, she said, as a young girl. 

Dale: Right, and not just once, but three times. 

Robert: It’s ironic as she had all of the fringe benefits of living in a wealthy family, too. Things that many of us just fantasize and dream about, and yet that did not bring her happiness at all. 

Dale: No. Once she tried to fall down a flight of stairs and that didn’t work. Once she tried to bury herself in the sand and that was “distasteful,” and then she tried drowning herself, and that didn’t work. She failed each time because her instinct to self preservation was so strong. 

Sarah: Thank goodness! When she was quite young she took up a missionary’s path. When she was in her very early twenties, or perhaps even earlier, she joined a movement that sent her to India as a missionary to the British soldiers stationed in India. This would have been around the turn of the century. She had an incredibly expanding experience just being in such a different culture and environment, not only India, but also mixing with a lot of people who were not from her class or background. British soldiers of all classes brought her this first expanded view of the world. 

Dale: Yes, but at this same time, she was a very thoroughly Christian fundamentalist, and her main mission in life was to save souls. 

Sarah: Bring religion to the boys. 

Dale: That’s right. She saw many of them with their crude ways, as sinners, and her main goal was to bring them away from sin. She worked in these soldiers’ homes; places where soldiers would come for recreation, to play games or write letters. It was a canteen service and they had a coffee shop there and they served meals. It was quite a busy kind of work, where she had contact with the soldiers and had to “play thousands of games of checkers,” she said. She also did counseling and would give lectures on the Gospels and these were her first experiences with public speaking. 

Sarah: It’s interesting to read her autobiography where she talks about her mental orientation, her whole attitude toward life at that time. She’s quite amusing in the way she looks back on the narrowness of her viewpoint and how rigid and prim and proper she was. And yet, at the same time, you have a lot of respect for this young, privileged British woman who went through a great deal of hardship to promote her sincere religious faith to a lot of people who were sent over to India and didn’t probably want to be there, so it must have been a wonderfully expanding life experience. I think she was in India for about eight or nine years before she had to return home to Ireland due to ill health. 

Dale: She liked India though; she loved it! She said it was part of her training. It was a necessary stage in her life to go to India, to be there associating with the Indian people. 

Sarah: Spirituality is just in the air there and she absorbed it.  

Dale: That’s also where she met her first husband, Walter Evans, who was a soldier. Now that was a big problem because, although he was British, he was of the lower working class, and she was of the upper class. In those days class distinctions were very important. 

Sarah: Her family put up quite a bit of resistance to her marrying someone out of her class. They finally agreed that he would attend Lane Seminary in Ohio, in the United States, and train to become an Episcopal minister, which is the Church of England. So, she followed him to the U.S. and they married. 

Dale: That was a way of making him more legitimate in their eyes. This whole thing about the class distinctions came in; it was all arranged by her family, really, that he should go study to become an Episcopal minister. 

Sarah: And then in the early 1900’s they were transferred to small towns throughout California: the San Joaquin Valley and the area around Monterey Bay. They lived in many different towns, and she again took that experience—which had a lot of hardship in it because she was very lonely, isolated, totally out of her milieu and struggling with a husband and a growing family–and found that it expanded her understanding of humanity. She met many people throughout these towns in California who were extremely kind to her, and extremely helpful, and she needed that kindness and caring because, as it developed, her husband was an abusive spouse. He beat her physically and quite severely. She gave birth to three daughters in fairly rapid succession. Her husband was struggling with his career as an Episcopal minister, and he had this hidden private life of being a wife beater due to his violent temper. The authorities in the church and the bishop knew about it; it was an extremely difficult situation. They wanted Alice to leave him, but she did not want to because it would ruin his career. She writes so touchingly of all the help that was given to her by people, in very quiet ways, to sustain her. The turning point came when he threw her down the stairs, which is interesting because when she was a girl, one of the ways she tried to commit suicide was to throw herself down the stairs. Sometimes I think that’s a sign that one has really offended one’s higher self, because later on she was married to someone who tried to do the same thing to her. It must have been some kind of compensation. 

Robert: Some type of karma maybe. 

Dale: But eventually, they had to separate because it had gotten so bad. She had to go and live by herself with her three daughters, so she was essentially a single mom. 

Sarah: And the one talent her upper-class background had prepared her for, as a way to make money, was to make lace. (Laughter) There was not a great deal of demand for that. 

Dale: A very useful talent, but not in Southern California at that time; early turn of the century. But it got worse. To make ends meet, she had to find money somehow. She raised chickens, but she also ended up in a sardine canning factory and she learned how to pack sardines. One of the best sardine packers around, they said, so she could rise to the top no matter where she was. 

Robert: Even though she attempted to commit suicide when she was younger, when she left that noble class, so to speak, she seemed to never return to that frame of mind again. She always met every obstacle; no matter what was demanded of her, she would do whatever was necessary. After that, she never gave up on life. What really struck me was that every obstacle and challenge that she went through in life, she always had the viewpoint of being here for a reason, that it had to do with her development in some way or perhaps it was some type of karma that God had allowed her to be in the situation for a particular reason which she didn’t understand at the moment, but perhaps it would unfold during her life. I really think a lot of her strength might have come from that and I was really amazed by her ability to be open minded, too. So many of us find a sense of security by always remaining the same and it seems to give us a sense of self definition. With her it wasn’t that way. One of the unique qualities I found in her book was that she was always open to change. 

Sarah: In fact, she writes about that. In the early part of her autobiography she wrote, “I have lived many incarnations in one. I’ve moved forward steadily, but with exceeding difficulty, psychological, and material, into an ever-widening field of usefulness. I want to show that in each cycle of experience I did sincerely try to follow a leading coming from within, and that when I did, it always meant a step forward in understanding and a greater ability therefore to help.” What I think is interesting about that passage is that she says that, yes, she progressed forward in understanding and in acceptance of life, but it came at a price, “with exceeding difficulty.” It wasn’t easy for her, but there was something within her that drove her forward, and through these severe personal hardships too, I suppose, expanded her heart and her understanding of humanity. She writes so inspiringly of how one barrier after another was broken down in her consciousness by her contact with the whole range of humanity, from the soldiers in India to the people in the sardine canning factory to the most ordinary townspeople, she realized the depth of goodness and of generosity in people, that she couldn’t have achieved if she had stayed in her own social class. 

Robert: She certainly did, and I feel the same way about that. I also like this thought which she wrote: “One of the things that I seek to bring out in this story is the fact of this inner direction of world affairs and to familiarize more people with the paralleling fact of the existence of Those Who are responsible behind the scenes for the spiritual guidance of humanity, and for the task of leading mankind out of darkness into Light, from the unreal to the Real and from death to Immortality.” And that really says a lot about the writings of her books. Around the age of 35, Alice Bailey experienced a considerable change in her consciousness, and that excerpt from the book relates to this. What happened, and how did this awakening affect the rest of her life? 

Dale: Well, it was an interesting awakening. It was about age 35, as you said, and that’s a pivotal year for a lot of people. It was for me—I’ll tell you that! It’s because it’s the end of a certain period of cycles of seven years each, and so around age 35, she came across what is called Theosophy. She met a couple of elderly ladies who had worked in Theosophy for many, many years, and she started going to lectures and meetings about the Theosophical subjects. Something clicked in her consciousness and she really began to awaken to the possibility that the spiritual life was much deeper than she had believed up until this time. 

Sarah: Well, she mentioned that the faith she had as a girl and young woman–which was a very narrow kind of Christian faith—had not been sufficient for her to cope with what really was the tragedy of her life. A young mother with three very young daughters; a husband who was so abusive that she had been forced to separate from him; no money at all; alone in a foreign country without her family. Can you imagine the psychological state she must have been in? I mean, she was on her knees! 

Robert: A stream of primordial fear, I would imagine. 

Sarah: Yes, and for good reason. She found that her childhood faith was not enough, and I think it was that emptiness within her that made her respond to Theosophy. 

Dale: Yes, I would agree with that, but it was that foundation which she had that kept her going. Then as you say, it wasn’t enough and she began to look into the whole range of ideas that the philosophy of Theosophy was providing to the world at that time. It was based on the works of H.P. Blavatsky and she encountered these women that had trained with Blavatsky. So that’s how she really got started and moved into the Theosophical work. That was the beginning of her new life, so to speak. 

Sarah: Maybe we should define very quickly what Theosophy is. It’s a movement that is part of the Ageless Wisdom, which is an ancient strain of spiritual teaching that really runs through all the major world religions. Theosophy is the study of this kind of golden thread that permeates world religions. It has three essential principles to it: that there is a plan for the world, a plan held in the mind of God which humanity must grasp and implement; that there are masters or great beings who have progressed through the human stage and gone beyond the ordinary stage of humanity to a higher stage of spiritual consciousness, and stay with the world and oversee its evolution; and the doctrine of karma and rebirth—that every human life is subject to law and to repeated cycles of opportunity for evolution. This is the essence of Theosophy. And when Alice encountered this, it really blasted open her consciousness, wouldn’t you say? 

Dale: Oh yes, tremendously so. She became involved in the Theosophical work and became an officer in the Theosophical Society in Southern California. 

Sarah: And later she moved, oddly enough, to Hollywood. Hollywood in the early part of the century was a centre of Theosophy in the region called Crotona. 

Dale: And it’s while she was working in Theosophy that she met her second husband, Foster Bailey. They were very closely related spiritually and they were both officers in the Theosophical Society in Southern California. That was the real focus of her work until she was contacted telepathically by a voice, as she described it. She said it was in November 1919 that she made first contact with this person. She was out on the hillside behind her home and just resting, thinking and reflecting, when suddenly she heard what she thought was a clear note of music, which sounded from the sky and through the hills and in her. Then she heard a voice that said, “There are some books that I would wish you to write. Would you do that for me, please?” At first, she said no, she wouldn’t do that, but then he prevailed on her and later they began to write these books, and they were dictated to her telepathically. 

Sarah: That became one of her two projects, at which she spent the next 30 years. The other project being the establishing of a school for the development of spiritual consciousness leading to a life of service. She established the Arcane School in 1922/23 which is still in existence today. At the same time, she began writing these books, which amounted to 24 volumes. It’s a remarkable life story of service to humanity. She and Foster Bailey moved from California to New York the next year and established their movement, I guess you could call it—organization isn’t the proper word; they established the Lucis Trust and gradually attracted cooperators to them, who could work with them and the work grew to be worldwide by the end of her life in 1949. 

Dale: Yes, and I’d like to say here just briefly, that this contact that she had was not a discarnate being. He was a physical person. He was a Tibetan with physical plane duties in Tibet and he was an abbot in a lamasery. These books that he dictated to her were all done telepathically; they never met physically. She was here in New York and he was there in the East, and this was carried on from a mind-to-mind contact between two people in physical bodies. That’s a very important thing to get across, because he wasn’t a dead person; he wasn’t some discarnate entity or spirit. 

Robert: I might add at the close here, if there are any doubts about these writings, what really dazzled me was all the statements that she made in her literature and the predictions that she made in the early nineteen hundreds about scientific discoveries and events of the future; so many of them have materialized. It’s absolutely amazing! In closing, we invite you to ponder on this thought: Goodwill is the touchstone that will transform the world. It is the energy that draws us together in right relationship. There is a world of prayer called the Great Invocation. Let’s listen for a moment to these powerful words. 

Sarah: Closes the program with the adapted version of the Great Invocation

(This is an edited transcript of a recorded radio program called “Inner Sight”. This conversation was recorded between the host, Robert Anderson, and the then President and Vice-President of Lucis Trust, Sarah and Dale McKechnie.)

(Transcribed and edited by Carla McLeod)




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