G. R. S. Mead
George Robert Stowe Mead (22 March 1863 in Peckham, Surrey (Nuneaton, Warwickshire?) – 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.
Birth and family
Mead, a highly intuitive and insightful scholar, whose literary activities fall into the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century must be regarded as a pioneer of the first order in the field of Gnostic and Hermetic studies. As the late poet and esoteric student Kenneth Rexroth accurately stated In his introduction to the late 1950s University Books edition of Mead’s Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, the only reason for Mead’s continued neglect on the part of many academicians is the fact that he was a Theosophist. When in 1887 the redoubtable 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 an indefatigable worker in his capacity of translator of Gnostic and Hermetic writings.  Admittedly, many of his translations were from other modern languages as he was not trained in Coptic.
Education at Cambridge University
Having shown academic potential, 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.
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.
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. It was because of the intimacy Mead felt with the Inner Group that 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. Making many contributions to the Theosophical Society's Lucifer as joint editor, he eventually became the sole editor of The Theosophical Review in 1907 (as Lucifer was renamed in 1897).
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 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. Very intentionally this new society was planned to be an undogmatic approach to the comparative study and investigation of religion, philosophy, and science. The Quest Society had lectures at Kensington Town Hall in central London but its most focused effort was in its publishing of The Quest: A Quarterly Review which ran from 1909-1931 with many contributors.
Notable persons influenced by Mead include Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Hermann Hesse, Kenneth Rexroth, and Robert Duncan. The enormous 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, but most ably by Claire Goodrick-Clarke and Nicholas Goodrick-Clark in their biographical introduction to selections from the work of Mead. The popularity of a 20th-century Theosophical or esoteric interpretation of "gnosis" and the "Gnostics" led to an influential misconception among scholars of an essential doctrinal and practicing commonality among the various groups deemed "Gnostic," which has been addressed by scholars such as Michael Allen Williams in his book Rethinking Gnosticism and by Karen L. King in recent decades.
|Part of a series on|
- Gospel of Marcion
- Pistis Sophia
- Thomas Taylor
- Acts of John
- GRO index of births 1863 Q2 vol 1d page 525 Camberwell
- G.R.S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and Clare Goodrick-Clarke
- Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Clare Goodrick-Clarke (eds), G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest, North Atlantic Books, 2005, p. 32.
- 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."
- "Mead, George Robert Stow (MT881GR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- 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.