Paschal Beverly Randolph (October 8, 1825 – July 29, 1875)
You may not know his name. You may not know what he did, but if you’re a black occultist? If you enjoy esoteric wisdom? You should. Paschal Beverly Randolph, was a spiritualist, occultist, sex magician and the founder of the first (accepted history) Rosicrucian order in North America.
Folks? That is a BIG DEAL. So let’s go over the history.
Randolph, born in New York City as a free man of color, did not have it easy despite his infamous ancestry. You see, two of his ancestors are William Randolph I (1650-1711), the colonist and politician that helped shape the now state of Virginia and Mary Isham (1659-1735), a wealthy widow at the time. Those two are know as the “Adam and Eve” of Virginia. Through their combined progeny, nine children who survived to adulthood, they helped shape the future of a young America. Know Thomas Jefferson? Robert E. Lee? Yeah, that’s the family.
But a young Paschal didn’t get any of the fame, fortune or privilege from his family. His mother, Flora Beverly, died young. On her deathbed, she claimed she was the “granddaughter of a Madagascar queen.” His father, William Beverly Randolph, wasn’t around (as expected). Raised by his half sister, Harriet, for a while, Paschal bounced around, getting religion, losing it, and generally learning that life wasn’t fair. After a while, he ran away to become a sailor and support himself.
Paschal, traveled everywhere he could, through Europe and all the way to Persia. Yet, that interest in religion stuck with him. Now interested in mysticism and the occult, Paschal studied folk magic with indigenous peoples and looked into other religions as much as he could. In these travels, especially in England and Paris, he met and befriended several occultists. After several years of living and learning from indigenous peoples in the Middle East and on the continent of Africa, Paschal returned to the States in 1855. This is when he found his voice and began to shake the occult world.
Paschal traveled the states, lectured on abolition of slavery, and wrote many books (some under the names “Griffin Lee” or “Count de Leon”) on spiritualism, health, the occult, magic and medicine and more. He also established an independent publishing company.
“Some men are daily dying, some die ere they have learned how to live; and some find their truest account in revealing the mysteries of both life and death….” ~ Dealings with the dead : the human soul, its migrations and its transmigrations by Randolph, Paschal Beverly
Paschal, now trained as a doctor of medicine, was an avid promoter of birth control. He also worked as a trance medium. He advertised his services as a spiritual practitioner in magazines and appeared on stages. All of this changed by 1858.
After having met several students of what we now call Rosicrucianism, (including Eliphas Levi) Paschal denounced spiritualism and mediumship (as it was at the time) and announced his conversion to Christianity. (Relax ya’ll. He just became a Christian mystic.) In this time, Paschal sought to put together his ideas of Will, Magic and Psychism into something cohesive. Often called a propagandist, Paschal continued to spread his beliefs and called it Rosicrucianism, though he stated that his ideas were his own. For those who are still with me, Psychism should be pretty familiar. It’s what we call psychic powers today! Seeing auras, telepathy, and the rest. Now, here’s where it gets interesting and fuzzy.
“… I am not in a position to affirm that Paschal Beverly
Randolph produced the first putative Order of the Rosy Cross in America, but I
have failed to trace anything anterior to his date, and he will answer as the
first witness in a line of occult adventurers who are typically characteristic
of their place and circumstance.”
– A.E. Waite (yes, the Tarot guy)
Paschal sought to spread his beliefs in America through initiation lodges. By 1861, Paschal had several deep visions in trances that would lead him to make several bold choices in his life. He formed a “Grand Lodge of Eulis” in California. He called them “Rosicrucian Rooms” and published pamphlets on magic, will, sex magic and his ideas on Pre-Adamism. This work (books, rooms, and lodges) went on to greatly influence the Theosophical Society and to an extent, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
Paschal went on to do great and sometimes not so great things. He founded schools in New Orleans for freed slaves, got himself “unfriended” by his influential contacts in the occult world at the time for his views on sacred sex and women’s rights (in the Victorian era, I mean really!). His use of hashish in magic was all but buried until the last 50 years or so. By 1871, all of the lodges he founded were dissolved by “reason of treason.” (That’s more fall out from the Civil War, by the way.) Yet by 1874, the Rosicrucian order would rise again, with Paschal on board.
While Paschal led the way for occultism with his beliefs and actions, history has tried very hard to forget him. If you look up Rosicrucianism, you *might* find Paschal’s photo. More often than not? You will find merely footnotes.
Magic, esotericism, psychism and the occult are blacker than you think in North America.