William Walker Atkinson is a fascinating persona in the history of American esoteric ephemera and parapsychology. Ass0ciated with the Yogi Publishing Co., and Advanced Thought Publishing, in the early 20th Century, he wrote a surprising array of work under various pseudonyms on the more occult aspects of the New Thought movement. Along with Atkinson’s numerous identities, Yogi Publishing also put out works by A.E. Waite, Jacob Boehme, Frater Achad, Paschal Beverly Randolph and Charles Gottfried Leland (the author of Aradia – The Gospel of Witches).
Atkinson had a penchant for the more occult oriented aspects of the positive thinking movement, specializing in telepathy, clairvoyance and similarly outer phenomenon, but he also wrote a number of popular self help and success titles aimed at a wider audience. He was an active popularizer of the “power of positive thinking” technique recently reveiled via Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret.
Atkinson’s approach has always held a sense of sincerity that his progeny find sorely lacking. Where their work often comes off with the faint scent of confidence trickery, a genuine spark usually shines through the heavy handed marketing that accompanies his work. His business savvy is a charming accessory to his exploration of the deeper aspects of consciousness, rather than an uncomfortable accoutrement.
Such an inspired touch comes from a wider range of reference. Forget about a book on successful business craft being dull when the author has a head full of clairvoyance, spiritualism, psychometry and American Rosicrucianism. He also had the good sense to actually come into contact with those active in the hidden side of his interests, such as members of the Golden Dawn, as well as more orthodox proponents of heterodox ideologies such as Tantra and Christian mysticism.
Yogi Publishing, Co. ran it’s mail order operations from a number of different locations in Chicago. One of Atkinson’s most effective publishing techniques was to use different company names to approach different audiences and topics. For a number of years his publishing ventures shared the address of fellow New Thought publisher Sydney Flowers’ Psychic Research Company. The collage above uses a picture of what 3855 Vincennes Ave., Chicago, where the PR, Co. was located, looks like now. It’s a fairly depressed area, but it’s crumbling facade holds a history that is much more potent than mere appearance would suggest. In this is mirrors Atkinson’s own work.
An interesting aspect of the complex web of authorship he created is his interplay with the Society for Psychical Research. The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research is one of Atkinson’s favorite sources to scientifically explain his theories. This tendency runs an uncomfortable counter point to reviews in the same journals on a number of books put out under dubious authorship.
Considering Atkinson’s use of pseudonyms, and created characters, it’s a perfect example of George Hansen’s theory of the ‘trickster and the paranormal.” On one side Atkinson is using the veracity of the SPR’s journal to back his claims, along with what can honestly be said to be a fully engaged understanding of his subject matter. At the same time, Atkinson dissolves that veracity through his pseudonymous publishing efforts that slip past the critical analysis of the SPR, and the romantic associations he uses to promote his work.
Weiser just put out a reprint of Atkinson’s Clairvoyance & Occult Powers, with a great introduction to Atkinson by Clint Walsh of Wonderella Press. Reading the review copy inspired this brief animated ode to Atkinson and the grandeur of mail order esotericism:
“Written by a Master of Occult Science you are given a full and complete explanation, in plain, simple, easily understood language for the development and manifestation of Occult Powers…
Premonition & Impressions
Psychic Influence – Personal & Distant
Thought Transference and other
The Eyeless Owl presents -
How to Achieve Clairvoyance & Occult Powers,
for William Walker Atkinson,
Pseudonymous Pioneer of Advanced Thought.
Note: Special thanks to Red Wheel/Weiser for providing a review copy of Clint Marsh’s reprint of Atkinson’s Clairvoyance & Occult Powers.