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Lewis Spence

Photo from Heart of Scotland by Charles Cammell

Written and compiled by George Knowles

Lewis Spence was a prominent Scottish anthropological scholar, politician, journalist and prolific author of more than 60 books on Mythology, the Occult and Folklore.  His Encyclopedia of Occultism first published in 1920, as well as numerous books on Atlantis and Druidism remain some of the most comprehensive works of their kind still being referenced today.

James Lewis Thomas Chalmbers Spence was born at Darlington Cottage, Seafield in Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire, on the 25th November 1874.  He was the eldest of four children born to James Edward Kendall Spence, a property developer and insurance agent, and his wife Barbara Charlotte Chalmers.  His grandfather James Spence (1812–1882) was a noted professor of surgery at the University of Edinburgh, while ancestors from his mothers side included:  Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), a leader of the Free Church of Scotland, and James Chalmers (1782–1853) the inventor of the adhesive postal stamp.

    

Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) -  James Chalmers (1782–1853)

Lewis Spence started he early education at the collegiate school in nearby Broughty Ferry, and was later sent to a private boarding school at High Ongar in Essex.  After completing his basic education, he returned to Scotland and enrolled at the University of Edinburgh studying Dentistry.  While there he became an active member of the Scottish Home Rule Association, a cause he was deeply committed too, and to which he would become a major player later in his life. 

After graduating from University with a MA degree, instead of entering the medical profession, he chose a career in journalism, and from 1899 to 1904 worked as a sub-editor on influential daily newspaper The Scotsman.  Co-founded in 1817 by Charles Maclaren (1782–1866) a Scottish customs official turned journalist and geologist (and editor of the 6th Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica), and William Ritchie (1781-1831) a Scottish lawyer and journalist, the Scotsman newspaper was intially located at 347 High Street.  Later it moved to Cockburn Street, where its offices were regarded as among the finest in Britain.  By the time Spence joined the paper, these had became cramped and they were in the throes for moving to the magnificent newly built building at North Bridge in Edinburgh.  At a cost of £500,000, this was a showpiece 190-foot-high building in the English baroque style.  Its marbled pillars and floors, mahogany and walnut-panelled walls and ornate ceilings came to symbolise the influence and commercial success enjoyed by the Scotsman.

Completed in 1905 and located at Edinburgh’s historic North Bridge, the old Scotsman newspaper building is now a 5 star luxury hotel with 56 rooms & 12 suites.

On the 25th November 1899 Spence married Helen Bruce, the daughter of George Bruce, a cabinet-maker from Edinburgh.  Together they had four children, one son and three daughters.  After leaving The Scotsman in 1904, Spence edited his own short-lived Edinburgh Magazine, and published his first book entitled:  Mysteries of Britain:  Secret Rites and Traditions of Ancient Britain Restored (1905), which started his life-long interest in anthropology mixed with esoteric subjects.

Moving to London in 1906, Spence worked as a sub-editor for the liberal non-conformist Sunday paper The British Weekly, while at the same time he began a seriously study of Mythology and Folklore.  The British Weekly was initially co-founded and edited by Sir William Robertson Nicoll (1851–1923), a Scottish Free Church minister turned journalist, in 1886.  As an influential newspaper, by the time Spence join it in 1906, it had become known for supporting and promoting the Kailyard School of Scottish authors, whose writings characterized the sentimental and nostalgic side of Scottish provincial life.

Sir William Robertson Nicoll (1851–1923)

While still in London, Spence published his second book, an academic study centred on the myths and folklore of Mexico and Central America, the first English translation of the sacred Mayan book on mythology called Popol Vuh (“Book of Advice”).  This he transcribed from the ancient Quiché Mayan dialect and entitled:  The Popol Vuh: The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Kiches of Central America (1908).

A modern reprint

Returning to Edinburgh in 1909, Spence determined to continue working on his own as a freelance writer and author, and over the following decade published:  A Dictionary of Mythology (1910), The Myths and Legends of Mexico and Peru (1913), The Myths of the North American Indians (1914), The Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1917), The Legends and Romances of Spain (1920) and The Encyclopedia of the Occult (1920).  He also contributed numerous articles and essays to the Hibber Journal (a quarterly review of Religion, Theology and Philosophy), The Glasgow Herald and The Times.

       

Some modern reprints

Ever since his early days at University, Spence had been a committed Scottish Nationalist, and in the early 1920’s re-entered the cause by joining the loosely formed Scots National League (SNL).  In efforts to bring together other dissident groups with similar political aims, in 1926 he became a founding member and President of the newly formed Scottish National Movement (SNM).  This in 1928 evolved into the National Party of Scotland (NPS), a forerunner of the current Scottish National Party (SNP), in which he served as Vice-chairman.  A year later he stood as a candidate in the North Midlothian and Peebles by-election, the first Scottish Nationalist to contest a parliamentary seat in Scotland.  However, after polling just 842 votes, he failed to get elected and lost his deposit.  By 1932 disenchanted with the splits and schisms of the party, he left politics altogether to devote himself exclusively to writing.

Throughout his political activities during the 1920’s and on into the 1930’s, Spence continued to write books mainly on Mythology and the Occult, but also produced a number of books centred on the mysteries and legends of Atlantis, most notably:  The Problem of Atlantis (1924), Atlantis in America (1925) and The History of Atlantis (1926).  In 1932 he founded and edited the Atlantis Quarterly Journal, but like his earlier Edinburgh Magazine, this too was short lived and ceased publication in 1933 after just five issues.

   

Some modern reprints

Spence next turned his attention closer to home and published The History and Origins of Druidism (1938), delving more deeply into the theme he had started in his first book The Mysteries of Britain (1905).  This was followed with The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain (1945).   It is not known for certain if Spence was ever a practising Druid during this time, but he was elected to an honorary position as “Presider” of the Ancient Druid Order (ADO), then the main Druidic Order practising in the UK.  It was the custom of the ADO (and still is today) to elect a known literary figure whose contributions to Druidry represented the Order’s links to the literary and artistic world at large.

 

Among his other accolades, Spence was elected a Fellow of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vice-President of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society.  He also received a D. Litt. Honour degree from the University of Edinburgh, and in 1951 was awarded a Royal pension for his services to literature.  In his later years he turned to writing short stories and plays, and also found time to write romantic poetry, indeed his last published work was the Collected Poems of Lewis Spence (1953).  Spence died at his home 34 Howard Place, Edinburgh on 3rd March 1955 at the age of 80.

Legacy

It has to be said that while researching this brief bio on the life of Lewis Spence, I have come across many unfair and distracting criticisms about his works, mainly by patronizing people who seem to be judging such works from today’s technological standards of academia.  What needs to be remembered is that many of the subjects Spence touched upon was scorned by his peers as unworthy of any academic interest.  How wrong they have been proved to be.  Many of his books have never been out of print, and many are now being reprinted.  During the early revival years of modern neo-pagan and witchcraft, when few books on esoteric subjects were available, they were used extensively for base reference, and no doubt were the inspiration that has led many generations into further academic studies.  Blessed he be and let him rest in peace.

A partial Bibliography:

The Mysteries of Britain:  Secret Rites and Traditions of Ancient Britain Restored (1905)

Popul Vuh: The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Kiches of Central America (1908)

Myths and Legends of Mexico and Peru (1913)

The Myths of the North American Indians (1914)

Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends (1915 - reprinted 1990)

Hero tales & legends of the Rhine (1915)

Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1917 - reprinted 1997)

Legends and Romances of Brittany (1917)

The Legends and Romances of Spain (1920)

An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (1920)

An Introduction to Mythology (1921)

The Gods of Mexico (1923)

The Problem of Atlantis (1924; reissued as Atlantis Discovered in 1974)

Atlantis in America (1925)

The History of Atlantis (1926 reissued in 1968)

The Mysteries of Egypt, or, The Secret Rites and Traditions of the Nile (1929)

The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico (1932)

The Problem of Lemuria:  The Sunken Continent of the Pacific (1932)

The Atlantis of Plato (????)

The History and Origins of Druidism (1938)

The Occult Causes of the Present War (1940)

Will Europe Follow Atlantis? (1942)

The Occult Sciences in Atlantis (1943 - reprinted 1976)

The Outlines of Mythology (1944)

The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain (1945 reprinted 1999)

British Fairy Origins: The Genesis and Development of Fairy Legends in British Tradition (1946)

The Minor Traditions of British Mythology (1948 - reprinted 1972)

Fairy Tradition in Britain (1948, Reprint 1997)

Second Sight: Its History and Origins (1951)

Scottish Ghosts and Goblins (1952)

Collected Poems of Lewis Spence (1953)

Sources:

Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology by Leslie Shepard ed.

http://atlantipedia.ie/samples/spence-james-lewis-thomas-chalmers/

http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/s/spence_lewis.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403804238.html

http://www.druidry.org/about-us/past-presiders-order

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40370

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Spence

Plus others to many to mention.

 

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

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Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColoursMagickal DaysStones and GemsElements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /

 

Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /

 

Other things of interest:

 

Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology)Esbats & Full MoonsLinks to Personal Friends & ResourcesWicca/Witchcraft ResourcesWhat's a spell?Circle Casting and Sacred Space /  Pentagram - PentacleMarks of a WitchThe Witches PowerThe Witches HatAn esoteric guide to visiting LondonSatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  /  Part 2 Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /  The History of ThanksgivingI have a Dream, the 1963 speach by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King /  Auras by Graham Furnell - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

Sabbats and Rituals:

 

Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron MagickMirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrowFoxFrog and ToadsGoat / HoneybeeKangarooLionOwlPhoenixRabbits and HaresRavenRobin RedbreastSheep SpiderSquirrelSwansWild Boar /  Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow /  Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest

 

 

Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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