G. R. S. Mead
George Robert Stow Mead (22 March 1863 in Peckham, Surrey – 28 September 1933 in London) was an English historian, writer, editor, translator, and an influential member of the Theosophical Society, as well as the founder of the Quest Society. His scholarly works dealt mainly with the Hermetic and Gnostic religions of Late Antiquity, and were exhaustive for the time period.
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Birth and family
Education at Cambridge University
Mead began studying mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge. Eventually shifting his education towards the study of Classics, he gained much knowledge of Greek and Latin. In 1884 he completed a BA degree; in the same year he became a public school master. He received an MA degree in 1926.
Activity with the Theosophical Society
While still at Cambridge University Mead read Esoteric Buddhism (1883) by Alfred Percy Sinnett. This comprehensive theosophical account of the Eastern religion prompted Mead to contact two theosophists in London named Bertam Keightly and Mohini Chatterji, which eventually led him to join Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's Theosophical Society in 1884.
When in 1887 Madame Blavatsky settled in London, the young Mead joined the company of her close associates. In her circle he learned of the profound mysteries of the Gnostics and of the votaries of Hermes, soon becoming a prolific translator of Gnostic and Hermetic writings. In fact, many of his translations were from other modern languages as he was not trained in Coptic.
In 1889 he abandoned his teaching profession to become Blavatsky's private secretary, and also became a joint-secretary of the Esoteric Section (E.S.) of the Theosophical Society, reserved for those deemed more advanced.
Mead received Blavatsky's Six Esoteric Instructions and other teachings at 22 meetings headed by Blavatsky which were only attended by the Inner Group of the Theosophical Society. He married Laura Cooper in 1899.
Contributing intellectually to the Theosophical Society, at first most interested in Eastern religions, he quickly became more and more attracted to Western esotericism in religion and philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism, although his scholarship and publications continued to engage with Eastern religion. He contributed many articles to the Theosophical Society's Lucifer (renamed The Theosophical Review in 1897) as joint editor. Mead became the sole editor of The Theosophical Review in 1907.
As of February 1909 Mead and some 700 members of the Theosophical Society's British Section resigned in protest at Annie Besant's reinstatement of Charles Webster Leadbeater to membership in the society. Leadbeater had been a prominent member of the Theosophical Society until he was accused in 1906 of teaching masturbation to, and sexually touching, the sons of some American Theosophists under the guise of occult training. While this prompted Mead's resignation, his frustration at the dogmatism of the Theosophical Society may also have been a major contributor to his break after 25 years.
The Quest Society
In March 1909 Mead founded the Quest Society, composed of 150 defectors of the Theosophical Society and 100 other new members. This new society was planned as an undogmatic approach to the comparative study and investigation of religion, philosophy, and science. The Quest Society presented lectures at the old Kensington Town Hall in central London but its most focused effort was in its publishing of The Quest: A Quarterly Review which ran from 1909 to 1931 with many contributors.
Notable persons influenced by Mead include Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Hermann Hesse, Kenneth Rexroth, and Robert Duncan. The seminal influence of G.R.S. Mead on Carl Gustav Jung, confirmed by the scholar of Gnosticism Gilles Quispel, a friend of Jung's, has been documented by several scholars. The popularity of a 20th-century Theosophical or esoteric interpretation of "gnosis" and the "Gnostics" led to an influential conception among scholars of an essential doctrinal and practising commonality among the various groups deemed "Gnostic," which has been criticised by scholars such as Michael Allen Williams in his book Rethinking Gnosticism and by Karen L. King in recent decades.
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- Address read at H.P. Blavatsky's cremation (1891)
- Simon Magus (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1892)
- The Word-Mystery: Four Essays (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1895), revised as The Word-Mystery: Four Comparative Studies in General Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1907)
- Select Works of Plotinus (Lonson: George Bell, 1896)
- Orpheus (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1896)
- Pistis Sophia: The Book of the Saviour (London: J.M. Watkins, 1896; revised 2nd ed. 1921)
- Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y 1900)
- Apollonius of Tyana (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1901)
- Did Jesus Live 100 BC? (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1903)
- "Concerning H.P.B.: Stray Thoughts on Theosophy", The Theosophical Review (April 15, 1904), pp. 131-44
- Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis (London: Theosophical Publ. Soc'y, 1906)
- Echoes from the Gnosis (11-part series published at London by The Theosophical Publ. Soc'y):
- Volume I: The Gnosis of the Mind (1906)
- Volume II: The Hymns of Hermes (1906)
- Volume III: The Vision Of Aridæus (1907)
- Volume IV: The Hymn of Jesus (1907)
- Volume V: The Mysteries Of Mithra (1907)
- Volume VI: A Mithraic Ritual (1907)
- Volume VII: The Gnostic Crucifixion (1907)
- Volume VIII: The Chaldæan Oracles Vol. 1 (1907)
- Volume IX: The Chaldæan Oracles Vol. 2 (1907)
- Volume X: The Hymn of the Robe of Glory (1907)
- Volume XI: The Wedding Song of Wisdom (1907)
- Some Mystical Adventures (London: John M. Watkins, 1910)
- Quests Old and New (London: Watkins, 1913)
- Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition (London: J.M. Watkins, 1919)
- Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandæan John-Book (London: Watkins, 1924)
- G.R.S. Mead: Essays and Commentaries ed. S.N. Parsons (Adeptis Press, 2016)
- Gospel of Marcion
- Pistis Sophia
- Thomas Taylor
- Acts of John
- Mohini Mohun Chatterji
- Hymn of the Pearl
- GRO index of births 1863 Q2 vol 1d page 525 Camberwell
- Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Clare Goodrick-Clarke (eds), G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest, North Atlantic Books, 2005, p. 32.
- "Mead, George Robert Stow (MT881GR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- GRS Read
- See the Bibliographical Note in the Dover edition of his Pistis Sophia, which states "Mead's English Translation does not derive from the original Coptic, but from the 1851 Latin translation by M. G. Scwartze, the 1895 French translation by E. Amelineau, and the 1905 German translation by Carl Schmidt."
- Tilton, Hereward (2017). "Gnosis of the Eternal Æon: Jung, G. R. S. Mead and the Serpentine Path of the Soul" (PDF). Quaderni di Studi Indo-Mediterranei. 10: 243–261.
- Goodrick-Clarke, Clare and Nicholas (2005). G.R.S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic books. pp. 27–31, 176. ISBN 1-55643-572-X.
- Williams, Michael Allen (1996). Rethinking "Gnosticism:" An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- King, Karen L. (2003). What is Gnosticism?. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Works by G. R. S. Mead at Project Gutenberg
- Extensive on-line collection of the writings of GRS Mead (at the Gnosis Archive)