Table of Contents Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934
A Biographical Study
by Gregory John Tillett
Table of Contents
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Chapter 7: The Development of Occult Powers
Leadbeater had, albeit quietly, entered upon a Theosophical career that was to take him to the heights of stardom within the Society, and the depths of notoriety outside it. Altogether the life at Adyar was a lonely and uninteresting one as he struggled with the business responsibilities of Recording Secretary and manager of The Theosophist office.  Mr Cooper-Oakley, for whom he had already developed a distinct dislike, was the only other European on the estate, and they had little contact with one another.
"We lived an almost ascetic life, there being practically no servants, except two gardeners and Manikam the office boy.... every morning as I rose I put a large supply of crushed wheat into a double saucepan, so arranged that it would not burn. Then I swam in the Adyar River (it was cleaner in those days) for half an hour or so, and then returned to find my wheat nicely cooked. Then the aforesaid office-boy led a cow round to my verandah and milked her on the spot into my own vessel, bringing me also a bunch of bananas from the estate when there happened to be any. I then consumed half the wheat, leaving the other half
for a second meal about four o'clock in the afternoon or when the cow came round again, and then I warmed up the wheat and dined sumptuously thereon. The Adyar budget was probably simpler that period than it has ever been since." 
The monotony and boredom of this solitary existence were broken, so Leadbeater later claimed, by a visit from the Master KH, and this visit marked the beginning of the psychic powers and communication with the Masters for which Leadbeater was best known and which established him as a Theosophical authority.
"It should be understood that in those days I possessed no clairvoyant faculty, nor had I regarded myself as at all sensitive.... One day, however, when the Master Kuthumi honoured me with a visit, He asked me whether I had ever attempt a certain kind of meditation connected with the development of the mysterious power called kundalini. I had of course heard of that power but knew very little about it, and at any rate supposed it to be absolutely out of reach for Western people. However, He recommended me to make a few efforts along certain lines, which He pledged me not to divulge to anyone except with
His direct authorization, and told me that He would Himself watch over those efforts to see tha no danger should ensure. Naturally, I took the hint and worked away steadily, and I think I may say intensely, at that particular kind of meditation day after day. I must admit that it was very hard work and sometimes distinctly painful, but of course I persevered, and in due course began to achieve the results that I had been led to expect. Certain channels had to be opened and certain partitions broken down. I was told that forty days was a fair estimate of the average time required if the effort was really energetic and persevering." 
After continuing the effort for forty-two days, and feeling himself to be on the brink of victory, Leadbeater was again visited by KH who
" ...performed the final act of breaking through which completed the process and enabled me thereafter to use astral sight while still retaining full consciousness in the physical body - which is equivalent to saying that the astral consciousness and memory became continuous whether the physical body was awake or asleep." 
Far from representing the end of his occult training, this proved to be only the first step, leading to "the beginning of the year of the hardest work I have ever known". While he remained in the octagonal room, which he taken over from Olcott, spending most of his day alone, he was visited by several Masters who instructed and trained him in the use of his newly acquired clairvoyance. His principal teacher was the Master DK, with whom Leadbeater later recalled a close association in a past life when the Master had been incarnated as Pythagorus' chief pupil, and Leadbeater had been one of his students.  In this lifetime, DK continued his teaching role:
"I know not how to thank him for the enormous amount of care and trouble which He took in my psychic education; patiently and over and over again He would make a vivid thought-form and say to me: 'What do you see?' And when I described it to the best of my ability, would come again and again the comment: 'No, no, you are not seeing true; you are not seeing all; dig deeper into yourself, use your mental vision, as well as your astral vision; press just a little further, a little higher.'" 
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The testing and instructing continued for several months, and was assisted on the physical plane by visits from T Subba Row, who came to the TS estate in order to take part in Leadbeater's training. Leadbeater later declared:
"In my own case, Madame Blavatsky taught me very much on behalf of the Master, but I was separated from her for some five years and sent out to India when she was in Europe. Consequently, it was impossible for her, except by occasional letters and on the astral plane sometimes, to give me any help. Therefore I was put into the care of Swami T Subba Rao." 
Although T Subba Row was originally a favourite of HPB, he broke with the TS after criticisms by European members regarding contradictions between his teachings and those of HPB, and his failure to make Eastern esoteric knowledge available to TS members. It has also been suggested that he left the TS when he discovered evidence that letters purporting to come from the Masters had been forged.  After his resignation he still used to visit the TS headquarters, and held private meetings in the homes of various of his pupils, amongst whom were Mr and Mrs
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Cooper-Oakley; Mr Cooper-Oakley was a sort of chela to him. It was said that the only people to whom Subba Row would talk about occultism were the Cooper-Oakley and Leadbeater. Subba Row died in June, 1890, of a skin disease which Olcott tried unsuccessfully to cure by mesmerism. A number of his writings were published after his death, and two books had been published during his lifetime. 
It is difficult to assess the debt Leadbeater owes to Subba Row, whose written works consisted almost entirely of commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita.  However, Leadbeater described him as "our great pandit", and expressed his gratitude to the Master DK and Subba Row equally in his account of his occult training.  But it was only after the death of Subba Row, and after the death of Mr Cooper-Oakley, that Leadbeater made these claims, and one is left wondering whether or not there was any relationship between Leadbeater and Subba Row at all. Certainly, their occult teachings as recorded in their written works are not the same and are, in many places, contradictory.  And the whole question of Leadbeater's training under the Masters, which is said to have occupied so much of his time during the lonely months at Adyar, is brought into question by his correspondence at the time with Olcott and Sinnett. 
Sinnett received letters conveying how miserable, unhappy and lonely Leadbeater was at Adyar, and, although Sinnett had no doubts as to Leadbeater's clairvoyance, and indeed made use of it in later years, he did note that it was only when he returned to London at the end of 1899 that Leadbeater told him of his occult training.  Letters from Olcott to Leadbeater also imply that Leadbeater was expressing his unhappiness, and certainly wanted to return to England.  Yet one would wonder why a man who had given up everything to go to the Orient to find the Masters, and had found them, and was being trained by them, could be unhappy and miserable whilst receiving this training. Or, for that matter, remain completely silent about it until four years later, when he did return to England.
The year 1885 ended with the annual convention, and in the official photograph Leadbeater appears as one of very few Europeans. From 1886 to 1889 Leadbeater lived in Ceylon at the headquarters of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Jinarajadasa later suggested that it was "never Theosophical", but consisted of dedicated Buddhists who had very little interest in Theosophy. 
Olcott, having seen the opening of the Adyar Library at the beginning of 1886, departed on January 27 to undertake a lecture tour on behalf of the Buddhist National
Educational Fund in Colombo. Leadbeater accompanied him, an they stayed with the Buddhist TS on their arrival. The following day they both attended the cremation of a Buddhist monk and were impressed with the efficiency of that method of disposal of the dead. After some weeks in Colombo, they travelled around the island, their journey interrupted by an attack of malaria which forced Olcott to bed, and left Leadbeater to do the lecturing. Olcott recorded in his diary that he had lectured thirty-two times, and Leadbeater twenty-nine in the course of their stay in Ceylon.
Olcott's Buddhist Catechism appeared around this time in a new edition of 5,000 copies, and an elementary catechism, Sisya Bodya, written by Leadbeater, was published in 2,000 copies.  Fund raising for the National Education Fund had been highly successful, and the Buddhist TS and its publication, the Sandharesa, had both benefitted from the visit. A Buddhist Defence Committee had been established, and a Buddhist flag devised and adopted. The tour achieved what Olcott described as "a fair show of work". On April 26th Olcott departed for Madras, leaving Leadbeater in Colombo as his representative, to supervise what Olcott called "Buddhist (secular) affairs". 
The conditions under which Leadbeater lived were far from comfortable and the atmosphere uncongenial.
Jinarajadasa, whose association with Leadbeater began shortly after this time, recalled:
"Apart from the want of the congenial atmosphere of Adyar, the purely physical disagreeableness of the living conditions at the place, in Pettah 'native town', in one of the most crowded parts, for a European of refined habits, would have made most leave it quickly. Mr Leadbeater had, on the first floor at the end of the building abutting the street, one tiny room to serve as a writing, dining and living room; the tiny bedroom was partitioned off from the verandah by a canvas screen. He certainly had a bathroom to himself, to which he had to descend to the ground floor; but next to it was - not a water closet, for it had no water, nor even the Indian arrangement with a daily 'sweeper', but a horrible cesspool cleaned once a year." 
On the ground floor there was also the printing press and the meeting hall in which lectures were given from 9.00 p.m. until midnight once a week. Leadbeater received a small allowance from the Buddhist Society, and it provided him with a servant, but
" ...how small the 'subsistence' allowance was can be guaged from the fact that he lived mostly on porridge, bread and bananas, and a little something that passed for milk. Tea and coffee were expensive luxuries. Mrs Sinnett used periodically to send him socks and handkerchiefs." 
Leadbeater travelled regularly into the villages, usually going by night on a bullock cart, and spending days organizing schools and obtaining subscriptions and donations. It was hard and uninspiring work, but it had its occult rewards.
Leadbeater desired to send a letter to his Master (one might wonder why this was necessary, since he claimed to be in regular communication with KH) and to this end he wrote to HPB in London, enclosing his letter to the Master. In her reply, dated June 23rd, 1886, and written from Eberfield in Germany, HPB refused to undertake Leadbeater's commission, and returned his letter saying:
"As to the enclosure I really do not take it upon myself to send it. I cannot do it, my dear friend; I swore not to deliver any more letters and the Master has given me the right and privilege to refuse it.
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So I have put it aside and send it to you back as I received it. If Mahatma K.H. had accepted or wanted to read the letter he would have taken it from my box, and it remaining in its place shows to me that he refuses it." 
Her letter could only have added to the despair and depression that the isolated Leadbeater was experiencing had not there been an additional message of six lines written in blue pencil across the last page of HPB's letter:
"Take courage. I am pleased with you. Keep your own counsel and believe in your better intuitions. The little man has failed and will reap his reward. SILENCE meanwhile. K.H." 
According to Jinarajadasa, this message was precipitated while the letter was passing through the post. The letter from Leadbeater to KH, which HPB said she had enclosed, was missing. The message - whether precipitated miraculously in the course of the mails or added in some more mundane way - undoubtedly brought hope and renewed enthusiasm to Leadbeater. That he was trying to send letters to KH via HPB
suggests that the visitations and visions of the previous year, if indeed they had been a reality, had ceased. Perhaps, thrown from the solitary and occult environment of
Adyar into the squalid and crowded conditions of Colombo, his psychic powers were temporarily stifled. The letter restored his certainty that the Master was still involved in his life, and, more importantly, satisfied with his work. Jinarajadasa later commented:
"Five simple words, but what life they must have brought to Mr Leadbeater! ...Next after Mr Olcott it was Mr Leadbeater who helped to build up the Buddhist Educational Movement in Ceylon, though the Buddhists seem hardly aware of that even
today. Still, if the Master said 'I am pleased with you', what mattered what the others did not say?" 
Isolated from the rest of the TS, Leadbeater's only contact with the movement into which he had so enthusiastically thrown himself came through letters from the Sinnetts, and occasional correspondence with HPB, which maintained his link with London. Mr Sinnett's letters were usually full of gloom and despair at what HPB had done, at what "those people at Adyar" were doing. His pessimism was countered by the more cheerful correspondence from Mrs Sinnett, and the rare letters from HPB. 
In addition to the lecturing and organizing,
Leadbeater was also responsible for the editing of The Buddhist, The English Organ of the Southern Church of Buddhism, which began publication in 1888 as a weekly paper costing three rupees for a year's subscription.  The Buddhist contained articles on Buddhism, items of news, and a number of hymns which Leadbeater adapted from Hymns Ancient and Modern, the standard Anglican hymnal of his day. These were, no doubt, intended to compete with the unrevised versions as sung by Buddhist converts to Anglicanism. Leadbeater's versions included:
Glory to Lord Buddha,
Raise the song again,
Glory to Lord Buddha,
King of Gods and men.
Buddha conquered sorrow;
Vanquished is our foe;
On our way rejoicing
Thankful, let us go.
In His path is safety -
In His Law our joy -
Who if we be faithful
Can our hope Destroy.
Come, ye Buddha's people,
Up and let us sing
Hymns of praise and glory
To our Lord and King.
Oft as men exalting
Waft His praise on high,
Make their glad reply. 
These hymns were put to good use in the Buddhist Boys' School which Leadbeater managed. His work in Ceylon was regarded as a great success by Colonel Olcott, who wrote to HPB in March 1886:
"Leadbeater is making a good impression on the people... and he will not dream of trying to break off the Buddhists from the T.S. and set up a little kingdom of his own. There was a great crowd here on Saturday evening to hear his experiences. He goes the whole figure for Buddhism and against Christianity. 
The Buddhist contained many instances of Leadbeater's newly acquired dislike of Christianity. In one
issue, expressing his delight that the Buddhist festival of Wesak was being properly celebrated in Ceylon, he noted that it was unlike religious festivals in England. These were characterized by
"bestial orgies, savage combats and brutal horseplay, and defiling the balmy air with volleys of oaths and indecent language." 
And speaking of the increasing number of converts to Christianity, he described it as "the progress of perversion". Since the teachings of this "perversion" were neatly summarized in the Catechism of the Church of England, Leadbeater expressed his contempt for them by burning a Catechism at a meeting of the Galle Branch of the TS. The incident acquired an amount of notoriety, and it was later rumoured that he had in fact burned a Bible, declaring it to be a 'pack of lies'". 
In 1886, Olcott founded, and Leadbeater became first Principal of the Buddhist High School, at 54 Maliban Street in the Pettah district of Colombo. It began with 37 pupils, but through the three years of Leadbeater's leadership both the quality and the quantity of the pupils improved, and they moved to better premises in Prince Street. Opposition from a nearby Roman Catholic School, and
an old regulation obliging schools to be separated by a statutory distance, led to its return to Haliban Street.  The High School subsequently developed into Ananda College. 
Leadbeater's stay in Ceylon was broken each year by a visit to Adyar for the annual convention of the TS, the 11th Convention being held from December 27th to 30th, 1886, and the 12th Convention from December 27th to 29th, 1887. On August 3rd, 1888, he returned to Adyar to take over the management of The Theosophist, but returned to Ceylon the following year to visit a young boy whom he subsequently claimed was the reincarnation of his brother, Gerald, of the "Saved by a Ghost" story.  In later years, Leadbeater claimed that he had been told, prior to going to Ceylon in 1886, that his younger brother, atrociously murdered in South America, had been reincarnated as a Singhalese boy.  Leadbeater determined therefore to find Gerald in his new body, and psychically examined a number of boys until he found the right one.
This was a thirteen-year-old Buddhist boy named Curruppumallage Jinarajadasa, who had been born in 1875 in the "Sinhalese division of the Hindu race, of Buddhist parents". Leadbeater discussed Theosophical matters with the boy, and told him of the two Masters who were especially
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interested in the TS and its work. Jinarajadasa decided to follow Master KH, and Leadbeater said this was on the basis of relationships in past lives. Leadbeater employed some of the traditional techniques of spiritualism with his newly discovered protege - for example, he claimed to have obtained phrases in classical Greek via Jinarajadasa's use of a planchette. 
Eventually, in 1889, Leadbeater told Jinarajadasa that his karma necessitated travelling to England to be educated there as a worker in the Masters' service, and for occult training, but he did not tell the boy that he was supposed to be Gerald reborn until some time after they had arrived in England. Following their arrival in England, Leadbeater told Sinnett that the Master's instructions were that the boy was to be educated in England, but that Jinarajadasa was to return to Ceylon after his education; Sinnett commented that he thought Leadbeater had become too attached to the boy to allow him to return to his own country.
Jinarajadasa's parents had strong objections to their son leaving the country, and decided that he should be educated in Ceylon. In later years, Jinarajadasa recalled his own feelings at the time:
"What, then, was to be done? There was, of course, only one answer, and that was for me to run away from home." 
Leadbeater arranged with the master of a schooner in Colombo Harbour for Jinarajadasa to swim out to his vessel, be picked up and hidden on board until the ship set sail for England via the Cape. Leadbeater was to meet his new pupil in the English Channel. Jinarajadasa planned to do everything so secretly that he could not be traced and so, packing a bag with a few of his possessions, he set out for the boat. He left his bag with a sailor who had been persuaded to take it on board, and swam out to the boat that was to take him to the schooner. On board, he was hidden in the Captain's cabin, and remained there for over thirty-six hours.
Not unexpectedly, there was an alarm on the part of Jinarajadasa's parents when he did not return home. They searched for the boy, and his father, suspecting that Leadbeater was in some way involved in his son's disappearance, threatened him with a revolver, demanding to know Jinarajadasa's whereabouts. After thirty-six hours, however, the family had decided that, if the boy was returned to them, they would allow him to go to England with Leadbeater "with their formal blessing". Leadbeater took the
boy back to his parents, and after he received their blessing, departed with him for England on November 28th, 1889.  Olcott and Sinnett had helped to finance the return from Ceylon, after receiving letters from Leadbeater appealing for their assistance. Olcott had replied in March 1889, saying that both he and Sinnett would give Leadbeater twenty pounds on his return, and expressing his regret that Leadbeater could not "get on with those particular races of Asia." 
Sinnett had offered Leadbeater a position as tutor to his son, an invitation which had been received coincidentally, or karmically, with the Masters' instruction to take Jinarajadasa to England. Leadbeater and his companion arrived in England at the end of December, and Leadbeater promptly called on HPB to pay his respects, and introduce his pupil. However, apart from this and one other brief formal visit, he had no further contact with her fro the time of his return to London until her death.  She did send him a copy of The Voice of the Silence, a small devotional work of hers published in 1889, and inscribed it:
"To my sincerely appreciated and beloved brother, W.C. [sic] Leadbeater." 
Much speculation has been aroused by her mistake in his initials.
In addition to tutoring Denny Sinnett and Jinarajadasa, Leadbeater was also tutor to George Sydney Arundale, the nephew of the leading Theosophist, Miss Francesca Arundale.  George was to play an important part in Leadbeater's Theosophical future. Born on December 1st, 1878, in Surrey, he was the son of the Reverend John Kay, a Congregationalist minister. His mother died in giving birth to him, and he was placed in the care of his maternal aunt, Francesca Arundale, and assumed her name. He met HPB very early in his life, and his occult future was indicated by the metal tube which he wore round his neck throughout his childhood: it contained locks of the hair of the Master KH and had been given to him by Olcott at the Master's direction. 
For two years Leadbeater and Jinarajadasa lived in the Sinnett's house at 7, Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill, London, whilst he tutored Denny, George and Jinarajadasa. Relations between Leadbeater and Sinnett became progressively strained as the older man, formerly the star of the Theosophical galaxy (next, of course, to HPB herself) found himself being dislodged by the younger Leadbeater. Jinarajadasa also maintained that Sinnett had a "strange
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defect of character" which manifested itself in an "ingrained prejudice as to the superiority of Western races and the inferiority of Eastern races", although it would seem that Leadbeater shared that prejudice. 
Jinarajadasa also recalled that Sinnett developed a strong antagonism towards HPB and Olcott, and was unwilling to accept the rigid rules laid down by the Masters (via HPB). This, it was said, together with his disloyalty to the founders, HPB and Olcott, had alienated him from the Masters, and they therefore ceased their long correspondence with him.  Sinnett, however, refused to admit this:
"There was in Mr Sinnett a strong belief, which it was the business of none of us to challenge, that if ever the Master determined to communicate, He would do so with him first, and only through him to others. It would have come distinctly as a shock to him that Mr Leadbeater, so junior to him in all Theosophical matters, had received letters, and not he, Mr Sinnett." 
For this reason, Jinarajadasa suggested, Leadbeater did not make public the letters he had received until after Sinnett's death.
It may have been that Sinnett finally dismissed Leadbeater as tutor to his son because he saw Leadbeater as an occult rival; it would not be the first nor the last time that a Theosophical Leader tried to eliminate competition.
However, this theory is contradicted by the fact that Sinnett seemed to regard Leadbeater as a close friend and ally against HPB, and spoke highly of Leadbeater's "wonderful clairvoyant faculties".  Other reasons were suggested for Leadbeater leaving the Sinnett's residence and employment. One story claimed that Miss Arundale heard of Leadbeater's "reputation" for immorality with boys, and removed George from his care, encouraging Sinnett to do the same with Denny.  This seems unlikely, since Sinnett continued to have Leadbeater as Secretary of his London Lodge of the TS.  In fact, Sinnett himself stated that Leadbeater left because he, Sinnett, was financially ruined. Leadbeater found employment on the staff of the Pioneer newspaper through Sinnett's influence. 
It remains to be determined why HPB herself seems to have had no time for Leadbeater after his return from Ceylon. She did not admit him to her own Esoteric Section of the TS, and it is said that she would refer to him, when in a less charitable mood, as "W.C. Leadbeater".  Certainly, Leadbeater was completely absent from HPB's circle between his return to England in 1889 and her death in 1891. From
being a rising star, sacrificing all to follow HPB to India at the Master's instruction, a chela of whom she had such high hopes, he was now relegated to the supporting role of a small fish in a large esoteric pond, his work in Ceylon ignored, the psychic powers which he said he had gained at Adyar were unacknowledged, and his contacts with the Masters unrecognized.
Except, of course, by Sinnett, who employed Leadbeater as a medium for contact with the Masters, physical letters having ceased to appear.  The messages received from KH via Leadbeater conflicted strangely with the teachings of the same Master through HPB.  Leadbeater was a member of Sinnett's group of closest disciples, but not of HPB's Inner Group (formed in the Summer of 1890) and he was not one of her pupils. It would seem, indeed, that she had nothing to do with him, although he later claimed to have been both her friend and her pupil. 
During this period of Theosophical obscurity, Leadbeater provided for Jinarajadasa's education, while they shared crowded accommodation. Leadbeater worked as a journalist on the staff of the London office of the Pioneer newspaper of India for a time, taught, gave English lessons for foreigners, and did other temporary work. Jinarajadasa
completed preparation for matriculation to Cambridge University via the University Correspondence College. It was a time of hardship and near poverty.
"There was a period when his income was so low that he and I lived in a tiny room, for which seven shillings was the rent. It was just enough room for two beds and a table and a couple of chairs, and a box or two and a wash-stand. His considerable collection of books was tied up in bundles and placed under the two beds. I had my classes to attend to and he had his lessons to give or his office to go to. My share was to look after the very modest housekeeping. I recall the day when the only money in hand was one half-penny, although a few shillings were expected in the evening. Fortunately he still had some good clothes left, for it was de rigeur then at the meetings of Mr Sinnett's Lodge, of which Mr Leadbeater was secretary, all should be in full evening dress. There were occasions when his full dress suit and gold watch were pledged with the pawnbroker. 
Amongst the interests which Leadbeater seems to have been cultivating at this time was that of "individualizing cats";
this began as the result of his clairvoyant observations of Jinarajadasa's cat, Ji, which his protege had found when they were living in London. Jinarajadasa used to take the cat to Cambridge with him during term, and Leadbeater claimed to have observed, psychically, the process whereby the cat became "a soul, a tiny baby soul, it is true, but an immortal soul nevertheless" and also to have witnessed the "descent of the Monad, the building of the Individuality in the causal body".  In addition to travelling physically with Jinarajadasa to Cambridge, and later, on tours all over the world, Ji also travelled in her astral body, it was said, to visit an eminent Theosophist in Sweden, and to attend Leadbeater's lectures in California. After producing two litters a year, she died in Italy after an operation - "No longer a cat, but a baby soul" - and waited in Devachan - the heaven world - to take birth in human form. 
Leadbeater's obscurity and isolation would end, as would the hardship, as the result of a new friendship. At a reception at the London Lodge of the TS in the Sinnett's drawing room in 1890 Leadbeater met Mrs Annie Besant, who had joined the Society on May 21st, 1889, and rapidly became HPB's closest pupil. Neither of them recalled their first meeting with any clarity in later years, and the friendship didn't fully develop until four years later. Whether Mrs Besant was impressed by Leadbeater's resemblance to George
Bernard Shaw - "they wore their beards in the same cut, their noses and ears had a sharp Mephistophelian conformation, and in their eyes was the same quizzical expression"  - or whether the attraction was more subtle and psychic, and based on past lives, is uncertain. But, as Mrs Besant's principal biographer has concluded:
"Charles W. Leadbeater, the renegade Anglican clergyman, had come into her life, as the central figure this time, and not as a supernumerary. He was to remain a leading character - perhaps the leading character - until the final earthly curtain."