“Brother of the Third Degree” – A Review

“Brother of the Third Degree” is the title of a work of esoteric fiction which at least a few students of Theosophy have found to be the best and most inspiring and compelling novel they have read.

Its author, William Lincoln Garver, or Will L. Garver as he is called on the cover of the book, was an American who lived from 1867 to 1953 and was thus only 27 years old when he published this book in 1894. In November 1895, William Q. Judge – co-founder of the modern Theosophical Movement and closest colleague of H. P. Blavatsky – wrote to fellow Theosophist Ernest Hargrove saying:

“Review Brother of the Third Degree: 175 words only. Better send to Griscoms [i.e. the Griscoms were helping to edit Mr. Judge’s “The Path” magazine at that time] to go in with the rest, but you have to sign it E.T.H. In forwarding to them, say I asked you.”

Unfortunately there is no record of such a review being published in “The Path” although a brief review by someone else had appeared in the August 1895 issue of “Lucifer” magazine, the Theosophical monthly published in England.

It is not known whether Mr. Judge knew Garver personally but he certainly would have known of him, for in 1891 – the year that HPB passed away – Garver had joined the Theosophical Society and its American Section, of the latter of which Mr. Judge was the President, and there is evidence that he had also joined its Esoteric Section or School. This is also hinted at in his entry in “Herringshaw’s American Blue Book of Biography,” a 1914 publication which listed details of the people who were then considered the 30,000 most prominent Americans. As “Brother of the Third Degree” was first published in Boston, Massachusetts, he may well have known Robert Crosbie, as Crosbie – who in 1909 would go on to establish the United Lodge of Theosophists – was then the leading light of the Theosophical Society in Boston, both exoterically and esoterically.

It would be unfair to give the whole story and plot away in this review – although please be aware part of the ending is disclosed – but suffice it to say that it is a story of initiation and, in the opinion of some, is a much more readable and engaging account of such than Bulwer-Lytton’s famed 1842 novel “Zanoni.” The “Third Degree” in the title refers to a degree or level of initiation. In this novel, the initial and lowest level of initiation is called the Seventh Degree and the highest is the First. With the Theosophical Mahatmas the numbering is the other way round, as seen in letters written by both HPB and Damodar K. Mavalankar, and also such passages as “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 206-207.

But this does not detract at all from the content and value of the tale, which on the whole is remarkably and profoundly Theosophical, with the sole exception perhaps of its emphasis on each Initiate, whether of low or high degree, having a counterpart who is always incarnated in the opposite sex to them, the aim being for them to work together as spiritual partners or “Brother-Sister” Initiates. This is quite probably the main literary origin of the “twin soul” or “twin flame” idea, first popularised in the 1930s by Guy and Edna Ballard’s “I AM Activity” (the first “Ascended Masters” movement) and now well known to most New Agers. Guy Ballard is known to have read Garver’s book, along with others from which he “borrowed” ideas and concepts.

The term “twin souls” is used in Theosophy but in a much broader context, by which every one of us has masses of “twin souls” and not just one: “The “triads” born under the same Parent-planet, or rather the radiations of one and the same Planetary Spirit (Dhyani Buddha) are, in all their after lives and rebirths, sister, or “twin-souls,” on this Earth. . . . such communion is only possible between persons whose souls derive their life and sustenance from the same divine RAY, . . . as seven distinct rays radiate from the ‘Central Spiritual Sun,’ all adepts and Dhyan Chohans are divisible into seven classes, each of which is guided, controlled, and overshadowed by one of the seven forms or manifestations of the divine Wisdom.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 574)

Of course, just because something is not mentioned in the Theosophical teachings thus far given to us does not mean it is automatically untrue, yet the concept does seem somewhat unlikely although it makes for a good book!

The story, written in the first person, opens with the words, “My name is Alphonso Colono. I am a Mexican of pure Spanish descent, but was born in the city of Paris.”

After that the story, set in the 1890s, becomes a sort of biography, and is pervaded with references – direct and indirect, open and veiled – to Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky, and the Theosophical Society.

The latter is first mentioned on p. 49 (of the 1930 reprint by Purdy Publishing Company) where Alphonso reads a news report about a remarkable occurrence he had witnessed in London, which says in part: “At the headquarters of the occult section of the Theosophical Society, very little satisfaction could be obtained, although it is known that Princess Louise is a frequent visitor there. Sankya Rao, the Hindu adept now there, hinted in vague terms about Akasic ethers, elemental vortices and kriyasakti powers, etc., but gave very little information.”

A little later, he is handed by Monsieur Durant (a fellow member of the Brotherhood of Masters, into which he is seeking progressive initiation) a letter written to him (Alphonso) by the latter’s father Ferdinand, which says, amongst other things: “I have at last, after years of waiting, been given an opportunity to pass on. Eight years ago your mother passed; but I, for certain weaknesses, failed. Now it is my privilege to join her in the higher ranks. We shall never meet in this world again, unless it be in the Brotherhood, which, in the degree where I go, is not of this world.”

Alphonso is not surprisingly moved with emotion by this and other things written to him by his father – who now addresses him as “My Son and Brother” – but Monsieur Durant declines to sympathise, outwardly at least:

“I had never seen M. Durant so cold before; he seemed cruelly unsympathetic and severe.

“Control yourself,” he said, “the wise restrain their feelings.” (p. 68, 69)

On p. 73, at the start of Chapter VI titled “THE WOMAN IN BLACK,” we read:

“The manner of M. Durant had served to somewhat allay my agitation, and when I reached my room I drew the sealed letter from my pocket without delay.

“The envelope was made of linen, and could not be torn, while the sealed portion on the back was covered with a wax stamp bearing mystic characters – the interlaced triangles with an Egyptian tau in the center, and surrounded by a serpent with a Chaldean swastika at the meeting of mouth and tail.

“Breaking the seal, I drew forth the following note, written in a small feminine hand:


“Your application has been favorably reported. My carriage will call for you this afternoon. If you wish to proceed, accompany without question, and bring this note with you.


The symbols described are exactly that of the Theosophical logo or seal, minus the OM and the motto “There is no Religion higher than Truth.” It was however used in the form described by Alphonso (or “Cleo,” as the reader may come to think of him) prior to HPB and Col. Olcott’s relocation to India and also on some occasions afterwards.

The character named Madame Petrovna is, as one might suspect, intended to represent HPB, whose first two names were Helena Petrovna and who was often referred to as Madame Blavatsky, although she herself is on record as saying she preferred “HPB” rather than being spoken of as a “Madame.”

On the next page is a passage which will have meaning for those who have heard or read about or even seen for themselves at the British Library the curious occult ways by which the Mahatma Letters were produced:

“I re-opened the letter from my father, and now for the first time the triangle which followed his signature attracted my attention.

“It was not like the other writing in color, – it was not writing! I stepped to the window and rubbed my finger over it, looking at it closely. It looked like a kind of carbon substance built up or embossed upon the paper, yet it would not rub off. As I stood gazing and wondering if it could be a precipitated sign, to my utter astonishment it commenced to fade away, until it had entirely disappeared.”

A regular triangle made of three lines is “the sign of the high chelas,” explains HPB in an explanatory note on p. 79 (original 1889 edition) of “The Voice of the Silence,” whereas a triangle made of three dots “is that of high Initiates.” It was the latter which HPB often wrote next to her initials and signature, whilst the former is that used in “Light on the Path” by that book’s inspirer, who was identified as the Adept known as Hilarion or Illarion.

Later in the same chapter, p. 83-84, our protagonist meets Madame Petrovna:

“I found myself in a room finished throughout in a light-blue color. At a table draped around with blue silk, covered with mystic symbols, sat a heavily-built woman of about sixty [Note: HPB passed away three years prior to the publication of this book and a few months short of her sixtieth birthday]. Her face was broad, and its wrinkles made it appear rather coarse at first glance; but, I soon learned, it was capable of almost instantaneous changes of expression. The eyes were the chief characteristic of the woman, and seemed to read the very soul. As I entered she motioned me to a seat, and without saying a word, set her steel-blue eyes upon me and kept them there for fully a minute.”

In the ensuing conversation:

“I believe man is a temple of the Divinity, and that within him are divine powers and possibilities,” I answered.

“Man is not only a temple of the Divinity – man is the Divinity – Perfect man is God,” she replied, with a vehemence that forbade contradiction.”

Later (p. 108-109) Alphonso receives the following in a face to face instruction from a male member of the Masters’ School:

“Now,” continued my teacher, “We will consider the signs, veiled words, and allegories of the mystics, in particular those of Hermes Trismegistus, Paracelsus, Jacob Bohme, Elephas Levy, and the much misrepresented and little understood Madame Blavatsky. You are supposed to be somewhat familiar with the published works of these teachers, but only the few find the hidden teachings in their books.” Now followed two hours of instruction upon the doctrines of these teachers, and for the first time the veil commenced to be pulled aside. The works of these great mystics had been in my father’s library, and we had often studied them together; but while father had often hinted at the esoteric meaning of many parts of these books, he had never divulged it, saying I must learn it in the regular way. Now it appeared the opportunity had come. . . .

“The time has come for unmasking and the after converse,” said my teacher. “We meet every week, but in order to avoid undesired attention, alternately at the home of another member. In the meantime prosecute your studies. Obtain the works of these writers at M. Callio’s, being careful to get only those which have a peculiar mark on the –– page, and then dwell long and earnestly upon the italics.”

To “dwell long and earnestly upon the italics” in HPB’s writings would indeed be a valuable thing to do, for she did not italicise certain words and phrases carelessly or just for the sake of it. Similar advice to the above is provided by B. P. Wadia on p. 15-16 of “Studies in The Secret Doctrine” where he says:

“To enable her readers to understand her ideas she brings them a gift — she presents the key to unlock the door of the higher mind. In this she proves herself a real educator: She draws forth from the hidden recesses of our being the instrument of intellection and in proportion that that is allowed to be done, comes the understanding of the profound teachings. With this purpose in view Mme. Blavatsky resorts to and makes peculiar use of typographical display. Footnotes come in as a handy device, and words, expressions, sentences and paragraphs are printed in italics or capitals to indicate their relative value and importance, and put the student on the track of how certain things unfold his faculties and enable him to grasp the rest of the writings. We evolve as we learn, not only knowing what is taught but gaining the faculty to know more, that which is not written or expressed — that which lies “between the lines and within the words.””

What Alphonso/Garver hints at in the above is what is asserted in “Light on the Path”: “There is another way of reading, . . . It is reading, not between the lines but within the words. In fact, it is deciphering a profound cipher. All alchemical works are written in the cipher of which I speak; it has been used by the great philosophers and poets of all time. It is used systematically by the adepts in life and knowledge, who, seemingly giving out their deepest wisdom, hide in the very words which frame it its actual mystery. They cannot do more. There is a law of nature which insists that a man shall read these mysteries for himself.” (p. 29-30)

One would be either naïve or misguided to think that such a cipher is not contained in HPB’s writings, “The Secret Doctrine” included. Thorough acquaintance and familiarity with her works allows one to begin to be able to detect, recognise, and sometimes even comprehend, parts of it.

There is nothing passionate or erotic in the love that blossoms or re-blossoms between Alphonso and his female counterpart Iole as the narrative progresses. On p. 141, in the chapter titled “LOVE,” Iole says to him: “Love, so long as tinctured by a thought of self, cannot be absolutely pure; pure love is universal and includes all things, forgetting self. What dost thou love? my soul or body?”

In the chapter on “THE BLACK BROTHERHOOD,” Alphonso is warned the following by one of his more advanced co-disciples:

“In Paris,” he answered in a low voice, “there is a branch of the Red Dugpas of Nepaul, a band of black sorcerers, and they, having learned that you seek initiation into the White Brotherhood, have laid a plot to lead you from the true path into their red association. . . . They love evil and mark all aspirants for the Great Brotherhood; they are the enemies of all that is good and pure, and they would have you identified with them in their evil work. . . . once they have you in their power they will cause your entire nature to become perverted; and the divine knowledge you have already received will only make you a more powerful instrument for evil. Many aspirants for the White Brotherhood have thus been lost, and are now identified with this Red Band, where they use their divine powers for hellish purposes.” (p. 174-175)

If this sounds too fantastical or exaggerated, it may help to be aware that even in the 20th century there were numerous instances of malevolent and powerful (in the occult sense) individuals turning up in big cities of the Western world and, claiming to be Masters of the White Lodge, attracting to themselves sincere but uninformed or gullible people with esoteric interests and aspirations, who they then used or misused for their own ends, before eventually disappearing, sometimes taking some of their newfound disciples with them. We are thinking in particular of a fake “Koot Hoomi” who turned up in Paris and also “Jacques Saint Germain” who turned up in New Orleans in 1902 claiming to be the famous Count de Saint Germain himself but who transpired to be something very different and sinister.

After successfully undergoing a major initiatory test, Alphonso gets to meet a great Adept who the characters tend to call “The King” and who is also known by them as “Eral.” Despite this moniker he is not portrayed as being the Supreme Head of the whole Great Brotherhood. He later meets and begins to work for Saint Germain, who he calls “The King of Occult Adepts,” but as the chapters go on it becomes apparent that he too is not the Supreme Head. As for Madame Petrovna, this fragment of conversation between Alphonso and Iole is from p. 272:

“As we proceeded along the hall toward the parlor, I asked:

“And who is she to whom you first took me, known as Mme. Petrovna?”

“None but the ‘Third Degree’ members know; she is a mysterious woman and is here, there and everywhere. She left a few days ago for England, but where she now is no one knows; she is always on hand when wanted.”

Pages 258-262 see “The King” informing Alphonso of the following:

“Now two paths lie before you, and this is the hall of choice; do not choose hastily; if desired we give you time for due consideration.

“The first route is known as ‘virgin husband.’ By this route you take our beloved sister in the holy bonds of marriage. . . . Your souls attuned to one harmonious chord give nature’s sanction to such a union and will sanctify it with parental joys. Pure parents, with minds informed, have children like themselves, and a boy and girl will bless your home, teach you the beauties of parental love, spiritualize your souls and take your places in the world when you pass on. . . . The second route is that called ‘Virgin Lover.’ . . . On this route there is no marriage except that pure and most exalted union of soul with soul without a single thought of body – a marriage the meaning of which the impure world knows not. . . . A pure and beautiful home is the most sacred thing on earth, the highest ideal upon which the noblest of the world can set their hearts, . . . And we, as an organized body, are working with all our power and might to make this world a world of homes and fill it with love, happiness and peace. But there must be a few great souls to labor in a higher sphere; and these, the Great Elect, must renounce even the purest happiness of earth, until through the influence they exert on men they have brought the universal consummation, perfection on earth. . . . Humanity becomes their family, all men their children, and no earthly joys will they accept until all men can share them. But let not our speech determine your choice; both sides you now know. While more effective and mighty work can be accomplished in the path of renunciation, much and great work can be done in the path of parental love. . . . If you choose the path of ‘virgin husband’ you take your sister Iole as your loving wife; if you choose the path of virgin lover you must love each other through the Universal, and an hour may see you severed in the world of forms. In the first path you are both bound together in this world, in the second, apparently separated, but united in the Universal Soul.”

On p. 321 is some advice from Iole to Alphonso, given in their daily telepathic contact, which all spiritual aspirants can benefit from: “I observe from your mental state that you have been under another test for the last two days. Let me again warn you, never be disturbed or harbor doubt or fear; whatever happens you should take it calmly, and never become restless or give way to emotion.”

In the latter part of the book, European politics becomes a major theme, with it emerging that the Masters are closely involved with major political developments and upheavals and working through Napoleon Marleon (a fictitious character based on the historical Napoleons) as their eventually willing agent to bring about a democratic “United Republic of Europe” and a “Parliament of Europe,” with its capital at Paris.

HPB, in her article “Adepts and Politics,” sheds some light on the real facts of the situation:

“Neither the Tibetan nor the modern Hindu Mahatmas for the matter of that, ever meddle with politics, though they may bring their influence to bear upon more than one momentous question in the history of a nation – their mother country especially. If any Adepts have influenced Washington or brought about the great American Revolution, it was not the “Tibetan Mahatmas” at any rate; for these have never shown much sympathy with the Pelings of whatever Western race, except as forming a part of Humanity in general. Yet it is as certain . . . that several Brothers of the Rosie Cross – or “Rosicrucians,” so called – did take a prominent part in the American struggle for independence, as much as in the French Revolution during the whole of the past century. We have documents to that effect, and the proofs of it are in our possession. But these Rosicrucians were Europeans and American settlers, who acted quite independently of the Indian or Tibetan Initiates.”

Of the historical Napoleon, William Q. Judge shares these words when talking about the Nirmanakayas (Bodhisattvic Adepts, some of whom live and work from other planes than the physical) on p. 34-35 of his pamphlet “Echoes from the Orient”:

“Strange, too, as it may seem, often such men as Napoleon Buonaparte are from time to time helped by them. Such a being as Napoleon could not come upon the scene fortuitously. His birth and strange powers must be in the order of nature. The far-reaching consequences going with a nature like his, unmeasurable by us, must in the eastern Theosophical philosophy be watched and provided for. If he was a wicked man, so much the worse for him; but that could never deter a Nirmanakaya from turning him to his uses. That might be by swerving him, perchance, from a path that would have plunged the world into depths of woe and been made to bring about results in after years which Napoleon never dreamed of. The fear of what the world might think of encouraging a monster at a certain point never can deter a sage who sees the end that is best. And in the life of Napoleon there are many things going to show at times an influence more powerful than he could grapple. His foolhardy march to Moscow was perhaps engineered by these silent campaigners, and also his sudden and disastrous retreat. What he could have done had he remained in France, no present historian is competent to say. The oft-doubted story of the red letter from the Red Man just when Napoleon was in a hesitating mood, may have been an encouragement at a particular juncture. “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Nor will the defeat at Waterloo be ever understood until the Nirmanakayas give their records up.”

The penultimate chapter is named “Lhassa” for it is partly set in the capital city of Tibet. Before going there, however, Alphonso and Iole encounter for the first time, in Paris, a Master whose description makes undoubtedly clear that Garver had in mind the Mahatma M., or Morya, the Guru of HPB and also of WQJ, whose description and portrait had become known to some Theosophists during HPB’s time:

“There was to be a meeting of the council prior to the departure of St. Germain for the East. The war being over and the crisis which will ever mark the end of the cycle having passed, this mysterious personage had once more concluded to die, as it were, and return to his true station. Gathered around the council-table were the seven whom we had met at the opening of the conflict; but an eighth personage was also present. He was a dark-faced, oriental looking man with black, piercing eyes and long black hair and beard. He wore a turban and sat close beside St. Germain, his eyes fixed upon the floor as though to avoid those around.” (p. 337-338)

In the final chapter, which bears the same title as the book itself, Alphonso undergoes a “Dweller of the Threshold” experience (see William Judge’s article “The Dweller of the Threshold”) and after eventually successfully passing through it is told by Iole:

“Thou hast just now slain the last shadow of thy demon nature formed in lives gone by; and now thou art absolutely pure. All men must meet and slay their demon before they can pass on, for this demon shadow ever awaits them at the threshold, and unless they conquer they cannot pass through. When you called for me [i.e. he had called out for Iole to help him overcome the almost overpowering “dweller”] you called upon your God, for I am but a symbol of the God within your soul.”

St. Germain adds, “With this, thy last experience, thou canst realize the condition of those men who are completely imbued in matter,” and goes on to say, “The great hierophant sends me to call thee to the East, and as I leave with thy sister, in peace retire to sleep; when the morning comes start on thy journey. Thy sister will meet thee at Calcutta and journey with thee through the forbidden passes to Teshee Lumbo.” (p. 368)

“Teshee Lumbo” is a phonetic spelling of what is nowadays written as Tashilhunpo or Tashilhumpo, the Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Shigatse, Tibet, which was for centuries the monastic seat of the Panchen Lama. Tashilhumpo and the Panchen Lama are extremely significant and important in relation the Masters’ Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, which is that centre of the Great Brotherhood most closely and directly involved and connected with HPB and the modern Theosophical Movement. It would take far too long to go into that here, so those who are interested are invited to read the article Gelugpas, Tantra, & Theosophy: Resolving a Complex Puzzle.

The Panchen Lama is not directly named as such in “Brother of the Third Degree.” Instead the names “The great Hierophant,” “Him Who Knows,” and “The great Master,” are used. One might wonder whether he is intended to be a composite character of the Panchen Lama and the Maha Chohan. In a novel it does not really matter too much.

“At last,” says Alphonso on p. 369-370, “we passed the guarded valley and reached the isolated monastery of “Him Who Knows.” Far up the mountainside, reached only by a narrow path, this massive structure, built in cyclopean style, was beyond the reach of the despoiler’s hand. All around were deep gorges and ranges of snow; but no sooner had I entered into the inner court than I knew that I had seen the place before. But where or when?” And “the dark Oriental we had seen in Paris” was also there.

After four years living and labouring there, the “Third Degree” initiation is undergone and Alphonso closes this lengthy yet ever-compelling account of his initiatory journey:

“The great hierophant with his council, St. Germain and the dark Oriental among them, sat around.

“Cross thy hands,” said the great Master.

“We obeyed, and with reclining forms crossed our hands upon our breasts.

“Now breathe together deeply,” came the order [i.e. to himself and Iole].

“We obeyed, and at once became identified with each other and all in the chamber.

“Now turn thy mind within and place it upon the seat of Brahman.”

“And as the mind sank into the spirit’s centre, a sacred mantra filled the room, and then the sacred word; then our soul, both now merged into one, became filled with celestial music made by the universe of spheres, and we entered the eternal.

“Now did we realize that “there is no death;” with bodies cast aside we live immortal in the pearly essence capable of a higher form. We now overshadow all who seek the light, and in time will come again to assist you with our love.

Om, mani padme, hum!

Today “Brother of the Third Degree” is published by several different publishers but not having compared any of these modern editions we are not able to say whether any alteration or editing has occurred. Second-hand copies of much earlier editions can usually be found for sale online at fairly reasonable prices. It can also be read online free of charge by clicking here.

Those students of Theosophy with special aspirations towards chelaship and the Masters may find it the most appealing.

~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~


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