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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Red Book of Dr. White's College of Science

When my investigations began into the life of Theodore H. White, as revealed in my last post on his eponymous College of Science, I had nearly forgotten an important discovery that was thankfully still waiting for me after quite a long wait. When I had first stumbled upon the newspaper account of TH White's trial, I had also discovered the whereabouts of a lone surviving copy of his College of Science's “Red Book” on the digital shelves of New England's Uncommon Books. The price was too high for a casual purchase and its significance and rarity not yet realized, so I added it to my shopping cart simply for future reference. Imagine my surprise when, upon realizing its importance, and that no archives or libraries held an extant copy, that there it still remained. So, I was able to come to a reasonable agreement with the very friendly Tom, owner of Uncommon Books, to acquire the volume, and it arrived yesterday.
Dr. White's College of Science "Red Book"

The Red Book is everything expected and predicted, and it is simply amazing. Physically, it is an imposing tome, softcover in cardboard wraps, but measuring some 11”x15” inches. The red cover which gave the book its nickname during White's trial is heavily illustrated, with an assortment of esoteric scenes—clouds of spirit figures, snakes, owls, frogs and other familiar creatures, dancing skeletons, and orbiting planets—all nestled among scenes of occult professionals at work performing acts of mesmerism and healing.

The back cover displays a strange, wild-eyed occultist visible from the smoky discharge of an oil lamps, thrusting his hand forth as if to hypnotize the viewer. At 208 pages, the book is hefty and thick, and literally stuffed-fit-to-bursting with all manner of esoteric subjects. I'm not ready to draw too many conclusions about the book's larger place in the world at the time, or what it reveals in the grander scheme of my compatriot's research, but rather want to give an overview for my excited collaborators in the absence of the ability to provide a pdf just yet (as the item is far too large for my scanner.) So, let's peel back its brittle covers and see what secrets await inside!

The frontpiece gives a thorough breakdown of the book's subjects in the absence of a table of contents, listing it as a correspondence course in “Spiritualism, Hypnotism, Personal Magnetism, Mental Healing, Magnetic Healing, Planetary Readings, and White and Black Art,” before redundantly repeating these exact same subjects as Professor White's stock-in-trade for “over twenty years if practical experience.” A two-page spread follows, showing Drs. Theodore and Cornelia White illustrated as occult masters: TH White as an Egyptian pharoah surrounded by spirit guides, seated on a throne with a massive book of knowledge spread before him, and Cornelia in a scene befitting the Oracle at Delphi, being fanned by a servant as she consults the smoke of incense issuing forth from a W-embossed stand. Such illustrations, by either Willard T. Barnes or Louis F. Kramer, would come back to haunt White in his trial, when the artist testified that the scenes were not realistic depictions. According to them, they'd apparently not actually Dr. White drawn from his real life as a spirit-summoning Egyptian pharaoh, and thus damning. Who would have thought?
Proceeding through the book's opening chapters and introductions, what struck me most was the overt Christianity present in the work. From the get-go, the course immediately states, among the promises of “higher learning” in the Black Arts, its roots in “God-like principles.” Its opening passages connect all the various disciplines in the book, then guides students toward the “Student's Prayer” which seems a typical, if lengthy, Protestant invocation of Jesus' name. The prayer shows up again and again within the book, used as it is as an invocation both before and after any exercises presented in the course. Given its length, there is even some unintentional humor invoked it later chapters, as the authors recognize that not all students will be able to memorize the entire text of the lengthy prayer, and, as much of the work in the first course on spirit summoning takes place in the dark, there are appeals by the writer for the student to seek the candlelight of a nearby room to complete the prayer by reading it aloud if they are unable to commit it to memory.The scene of an aspiring student stumbling over their prayers in anticipation of deliverance of the book's promises is cringe-worthy, to say the least.

The first and most lengthy course concerns Spiritualism—more specifically spirit-summoning, and perhaps more appropriately with a lower-case "s". Dr. White is great at tying together the miasma of disciplines within his course, informing his students how their spirit guide is determined by the astrology of their birth planet (Course F), and how exercises in self-healing can help calm the mind (Course C). Otherwise, this chapter continues with its invocations of Christ and lessons on “Entering Into the Silence” in order to summon spirit guides and other incorporeal entities.

White goes into a fairly exhaustive breakdown of different types of mediumship, and sets up a series of tests for students to unlock their hidden talents. One important aspect of these tests is rubber insulation for the séance sitters. In fact, a student's neglect of this important step was White's go-to excuse when refunds were demanded after a custom...errr...student, failed to summon spirits under his remote tutelage. Instructions for table tipping and the construction of personal cabinets follow, with detailed accounts of prayers and invocations one would be hard-pressed to perform in the low light the lessons demand. Again, the appeals to God and Christ are at once striking and expected, given greater Spiritualism's non-denominational tone, but White's reliance on Christian theology, and, in particular, First Corinthians, Chapter 12 is still surprising given the later lessons the book imparts.

Student at Work Developing Mediumship. Note rubber "insulators."
The chapter follows with lessons in spirit rapping and alphabet calling, descriptions and theology of the “Spirit Land,” the meaning of visions one might receive while in spirit communion (the Eye, the Cross, the Sword, the Anchor, etc), and, finally, the admonishment we expected to see from trial accounts—an ALL CAPS appeal to not allow anyone else, under any circumstances, to touch your personal copy of the correspondence course, for it “HAS AN ABSOLUTE TENDENCY TO DESTROY PORTIONS OF THE MAGNETIC FORCES” personalized for the student by Dr. White when they ordered the course. They'll have to get their own, the doctor reasons.

The chapter closes with lessons in clairvoyant sleep, materlization (oddly from the perspective outside the cabinet, rather than instruting the student on what they should be accomplishing *inside* the cabinet), automatic writing, psychometry (including the diagnosis of illness of remote subjects through a lock of their hair), clairvoyance, and thought transference—still all under the banner of “Spiritualism.” In an interesting footnote at the chapter's conclusion, an offer is made to aspiring clairvoyants that if they can write Dr. White and accurately describe the contents and descriptions of the College of Science's offices, they will receive a free diploma. A one dollar value!

"Now, young Skywalker, you...will...die. *Force lightning!*"
“Series B” consists of the course's lessons on Hypnotism, or “Willism” (as opposed to Mesmerism, of "Selfism") This chapter presents several psychosomatic “tests” not uncommon in today's “magnetic balance bracelet” trade, an includes proper instructions of the all-important hand sign of arched thumb and forefinger to form a horseshoe magnet shape. This chapter is perhaps the most rife with photographs, all showing Theodore and Cornelia in various garb (alternating between esoteric robes and fashionable suits of the era) inducing hypnotic states on subjects both seated and standing, typically intended to show them influencing the more simple muscular movements of patients by causing them to lean or rise from their seats. 

Aversion to the bottle
The hat pin through the cheek.

The lesson quickly moves toward more serious treatments of alcoholism and cigarettes, inducing healing trances, creating hallucinations, and, in the penultimate lesson, shoving a hat pin through a subject's cheek. This, of course, was a serious discussion throughout the trial, and the doctored photograph revealed by photographer Louis F. Kramer to have been faked is present, with some obvious negative-doctoring marks.

Series C is Dr. White's course on Personal Magnetism, or, as the chapter's opening illustration shows, the heightened charisma of the self. In the common nomenclature of the period, the body is likened to a “personal storage battery,” and the lessons run the gamut of tricks from influencing rowdy children, attracting or repelling others, “directing men according to your willpower,” and self-development.

The first three chapters constitute White's introduction, and as Series C closes, White induces the student to “take up the deeper studies in Occult Science.” These “deeper studies” (as if hypnotizing others to do your bidding and summoning spirits to reveal the future wasn't deep enough) includes the next chapter: Series D: “Mental Healing.” This chapter is more like an extension of the previous two courses, overlaying their lessons of suggestions and mesmerism to invoke change in a subject's mental state—most predominantly as it pertains to their physical health. This includes the basic lessons of telepathy to establish these rapports, and moves on to thought transference, diagnosis of diseases, changing the flow of a subject's magnetism, and exercises to bolster this healing.

Series E, or Magnetic Healing, takes these concepts a step further, but are physically, rather than telepathically, induced. Unlike other chapters, this begins with a testimonial by one Mary Seidel of Towson, Maryland, who endorses White's methods with a tale of her death-bed healing by the White using them. This chapter delves into thicker esoterica than previous chapters, with bizarre accounts of nerve locations and theories of magnetic flow within the body, as well as how to influence these centers with application of personal magnetic power. The cures to general aches and pains—in the arms, legs, eyes, back, liver, etc—are all covered, as well as more general afflictions such as Rheumatism. The student is instructed to charge between a $2 and $5 fee for these treatments once they learn White's secrets. Most amusingly, the chapter ends with stout assurance to the students: “You cannot fail.”

With Series F, the book takes a turn toward classic astrology in its “Spiritual Planetary Reading” chapter, which is reflective of one of the Whites' earliest endeavors as “Planet Readers.” It begins with more admonishment for others to not handle the student's course book, and then moves into fairly standard astrological information, in typical cold read fashion, of the 12 classic astrological signs in 2-page spreads, which is exactly 21 pages more information than White's generic one-size-fits-all pregenerated responses provided to those paying for his planet-reading services. Interestingly enough, many of the readings promote the inner power of the subject, in a way that encourages them to pursue its development by no other means than Dr. White's very own correspondence courses. Theodore never misses a chance at self-promotion. The chapter closes with Sagittarius, and doesn't delve into how a student is meant to actually “read” a subject beyond the rote memorization of the astrological facts promoted in the lessons.

Series G is the book's 7th and final chapter, and is a purer reduction of true occult studies in the classic amulet, charms, and spells fashion, opening appropriately enough with a full-page spread of a witches' coven stirring a cauldron, the spirits of the dead being called down from the clouds above to do their bidding. This chapter is less focused than others, and covers a wide arrange of materials in a smorgasbord of occult training, including conjuring evil spirits from the Astral plane, casting out devils (perhaps students shouldn't have been taught to summon them in the first place?), and making the blind see again with clay and spittle. Each lesson is labeled as either “White Art” or “Black Art,” seemingly without discrimination, with some Black Art providing cures and some White Art summoning demons. As in the first chapter, many biblical references abound, as well as warnings of the pursuit of Black Art.

Amulets and charms make up a large part of the chapter, which mostly involve various prayers to be written on parchment to compel spirits to appear, remove “unnatural” diseases, prevent evil, and bring luck. It should come as no surprise that these charms are, of course, ineffective if not written on proper parchment, which was only available through White, and claimed to be of the same type ancient Rabbis used to write divorces on. Much was made of this in White's trial when it was revealed his ancient Hebrew Rabbi Parchment was, in fact, Hercules brand tracing paper. What is noteworthy is the length of the written prayers, some taking up a half page or more. No doubt the lengthy prayers took up more parchment, and the more parchment they took up, and the short frequency of their general effectiveness once written, led to more orders to keep up one's luck and the evil spirits at bay. Superstition can be a funny, and profitable, thing.

The charms continue for nearly 50 pages. There are charms to hang around a newborn's neck, a puzzling amulet to “cause a woman to be successful in confinement,” charms for college students, for love and friendship, to prevent witchcraft (hey, wait a second!), and a charm to make your master become your servant. There are charms to placed around farms to induce the growth of crops, spells to prevent wasting disease, charms to prevent accidents and protect miners, and amulets to preserve love between a man and wife. Some invoke holy names. Some promote the sale of Adam & Eve root (available from White, naturally), and others to sell White's cauls—another fraudulent artifact that came to light in the trials.

Bizarrely, the final pages cover Swedish massage, with full instruction on kneading the flesh of subjects to relieve pain. The book's final page, of course, offers the course's diploma, and “exquisite piece of art” that is claimed to be “considered one of the finest ever issued from a College of Science.” We're thankful that a picture is provided, and it does seem to have been in impressive specimen, and was described as such in court. 

The Red Book's back cover.
In conclusion, the Red Book is exactly what I expected. It is a fun perusal, and a real window into the mish-mashed esotericism of the day, at least according to White and the sources he claimed to find in the Peabody library. It exhibits the same confidence and chutzpah I've come to expect from White after reading the transcripts of his time on the stand at trial. I hope to return to it at a later date with a more thorough analysis of its place inthe grander scheme of history. One would think it wouldn't take much comparison to locate his primary inspirations if one knew where to look, and it is humorous to see the text so sprinkled with warnings to potential copyright violators when it seems so obvious that White was assembling his lessons with the table scraps of other occultists while scouring through the Peabody. From the research standpoint of a collector looking for clues to confirm White's earlier or later talking board endeavors, the text comes up short. Perhaps there is a buried reference to the Algomire Magic Cabinet that a first pass didn't reveal, but I'm disappointed to not see an ad for the item, though I suspect since by this book's 1905 publication date, White had moved on from that earlier endeavor and committed fully to his new, as the Algomire tagline was dropped from his advertisements in 1903. I had held out hope that the book would contain a picture or mentionof the item, or even illustrations that may have shown up recycled on the later I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH, but it came up short.

I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH, photo courtesy
Comparison of the approximately 20 spirit-vision symbols listed in the first lesson with the 43 non-astrological symbols present on the I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH in the's collection brings a few promising results, but nothing conclusive given the universal nature of the symbols. The owl symbolizes business matters in both. The white dove denotes prosperity on the board and good news from afar in the book. The bald eagle denotes losses in both, just as the anchor symbolizes success and the snake deception. The ear of corn is compelling and means abundance in the book and feasting on the board, and the swords are present on both but with divergent meanings, just as the red rose is “truthiness” on the board and “happy love” in the lessons. We have a match on the evil eye but a mis-match on the lily. But there are twice as many symbols on the board as described in the book, and even then the lists don't match with what the lessons provide. All in all, there are a few markers that give us hope to further bolster our conclusion that the Baltimore and Los Angeles Whites are the same man, but likewise ultimately inconclusive given the dissimilarities. But I'm not sure we could have expected much more given the 14-year gap and ultimate intention and divergent purposes between the two. 

So, there you have it. The Red Book of Dr. Theodore H. White! When the day comes that I have a scanner large enough to capture it all, you'll get a chance to learn its inner secrets for yourself. I even promise to magnetize each and every download to attune to your personal magnetism, for faster learning of superior knowledge!

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