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.
Chalmers (1780–1847) - James
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology by Leslie Shepard ed.
Plus others to many to mention.
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
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 Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
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)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
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 / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna 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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