Alan Leo (1860-1917) and Kim Farnell’s biography, Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan & Bessie Leo (2019)

Post by Sue Lewis

As Nicholas Campion wrote in his review of Kim Farnell’s Modern Astrologers for the Astrology Quarterly 84/3 (Autumn 2019): “Alan Leo was a monumental figure in the history of modern Western astrology, his influence still felt in all forms of esoteric and karmic astrology… his emphasis on self-knowledge and the soul is an ancestor of current psychological astrology. Farnell’s achievement is to present Alan and Bessie both as real people with real lives, and to assert their previously ignored role at crucial stages in the life of the Theosophical Society” (p. 55).

Farnell is an entertaining writer with a nose for humorous incidents when things don’t quite go according to plan, and some of her unmasking is extremely funny, as in the following anecdotal conversation about astrological pseudonyms between William Allan, later known as Alan Leo, Frederick Lacey (Aphorel) and Walter Old (Sepharial): “‘William Allan’ simply didn’t cut it. Plus, William’s birth chart showed he’d been born with Virgo rising. Lacey wasn’t impressed; the sign of the servant didn’t suit William. They tweaked and twiddled his horoscope, taking advice from Old, who was hot at this sort of stuff. If William had been born a few minutes earlier, his rising sign would have been Leo, the same as his Sun sign. He might have been; Caroline [Leo’s mum] wouldn’t have realised the importance when she told him his birth time. He was clearly a Leo, a sign much more suited to the king of astrologers—which is what he planned to become” (p. 14).

So the precision of my Huber version of Leo’s chart, using the time of 05:49 given in the frontispiece of his ground-breaking work, The Art of Synthesis (1912), is dubious. However, it shows Leo’s stellium of planets in the fixed fire sign of Leo ruled by the Sun and the exact trine between Sun in Leo and Moon in cardinal Aries exactly conjunct wife Bessie’s Sun in Aries—an ideal combination for marital longevity, according to C. G. Jung’s experiments with synchronicity. Bessie (1858-1931) was born on 5 April 1858 at 18:47 with Sun on the cusp of her Descendant. She and Alan had an immediate and lasting karmic/spiritual bond, much like Bruno and Louise Huber, although the Leos had a celibate marriage, whereas the Hubers had a son, Michael Alexander, who would contribute to their work.

Although this frivolity around the time of Leo’s birth and the image he wished to create is out of sync with the Huber quest for truth, far from creating an air of mystery around him and his art, Leo encouraged students to learn about their own charts, and we know Bruno Huber read his books.

Sun and Moon are at the heart of Leo’s lamp-like aspect structure, with its four-sided Arena and Small Talent Triangle. The powerful Arena configuration dominating his chart combines strength and shrewdness with an understanding of opposing forces—excellent for the first modern astrologer, who coined the term “character is destiny” and pioneered the twentieth-century shift of astrological focus from prediction to character delineation, psychological and spiritual progress. Uranus, “the awakener”, at the apex of his Small Talent Triangle, anticipates the Huber depiction of Uranus piercing the eggshell. His portrayal of Jupiter as “the great synthesiser” and “the seed planet of the physical plane” corresponds to Bruno Huber’s description of Jupiter as the planet that “controls our sensory apparatus” and “has the facility to observe one’s thought processes with a degree of detachment and to gain a comprehensive over-view of the problem under consideration” (Alan Leo, Esoteric Astrology, [1913] p. 23; Bruno Huber, Astrological Psychosynthesis [1996], pp. 43, 59).

Leo’s depiction of the soul as “’a Divine Fragment’ with a long past history behind it” anticipates the central core of the Huber chart that must be kept clear and free of criss-crossing aspects as the place of personal and transpersonal synthesis (Alan Leo, The Art of Synthesis [1912], p. 1). In Leo’s Astro-Theosophical Glossary, ‘Divine Fragment’ is defined as a person’s “Atma as it comes down from the Nirvanic plane” which slowly expands into its threefold aspect—Manas, Buddhi, Atma. “Atma pouring itself forth appears in Manas as the individualising principle, the ‘I’ making faculty that gives rise in time to individuality—time as the opposite to eternity. It brings individuality; it builds the Causal body” (p. 259). Our understanding is extended in Alan Leo’s lessons, section 5, series 1, lesson 1, ‘Special Instructions in Esoteric Astrology’, quoted by Farnell. In answer to such questions as: “Why were we born into this world? Why do we live to suffer and enjoy? Why do we die when we are just beginning to learn how to live? And why are there so many inequalities in the human race?” Advanced students were told:

“From an astrological standpoint there is only one hypothesis by means of which we may expect to answer these questions.

“Every human being is a ‘Divine Fragment’, a centre within the Universal Divine Consciousness, inseparably united with every other centre, and ultimately all blended in one by the Universal Life and Consciousness in which they are centred…

“The small blank circle is the ‘Self’ and all that exists apart from the ‘self’ or ‘That’ in the circle of the horoscope is the ‘Not Self’… the ‘Self’ is eternally pure, immortal and divine. In essence it is one with God, and until this essence has identified itself with a form in which first self-consciousness, and afterwards super-consciousness is reached it does not know itself as part and yet ‘one’ with its source” (p. 204).

Although Huber astrologers prefer the language of transpersonal psychology to Leo’s language of Theosophy, the corresponding imagery is clear.

Unfortunately, Farnell doesn’t share mine or Campion’s respect for Leo’s esoteric astrology and, having included this citation, she is then dismissive of his long-winded explanations. In Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West (2012), Campion wrote that Leo’s “influence can only be matched by… Alice Bailey and her student, Dane Rudhyar” (p. 60) and found it necessary to restate his position in his review of Farnell’s volume precisely because she made no mention of his role in the development of esoteric astrology, merely associating him with the rise of Sun-sign astrology and the founding of the Astrological Lodge in 1915, to which her earlier book Leo Rising (2015) refers. Regarding Esoteric Astrology, Farnell reiterated Charles Carter’s well-known but short-sighted comment that it is ‘a big volume containing virtually nothing’.

A great deal of research went into Modern Astrologers, which is peppered with anecdotes, minutes of meetings, and reports of court cases, making the volume, with its notes, family trees, list of pseudonyms, bibliography and index potentially valuable to researchers. But Farnell’s portrayal of the key characters in this soap opera is humorous to the extent of being unflattering, Alan Leo comes across as an anti-hero and, even if he lived in a world of his own and his judgements were sometimes inaccurate, the book is poorer for the absence of a positive appraisal of his work and its influence on later astrologers and astrological movements.