Garden State Mystic: The Life of Henry Barrett Edwards

Biography: Henry Barrett Edwards (January 3rd, 1862-May 15th, 1938)

Henry Barrett Edwards was born in New Jersey in 1862 to an upper-middle-class family. He had an unremarkable childhood, save for an interest in reading philosophy. Edwards would gain an interest in psychology, and became one of the first in North America to formally study it. Despite having a largely scientific view of the world, he would soon move on to stranger things. Legends and sightings of the Jersey Devil would drive him to fruitlessly search for it before moving away from New Jersey.

It was a friend from school who would introduce Edwards into the Theosophical Society in New York. Eagerly following the doctrines of the school, Edwards would eventually left the Theosophists due to a disagreement with several others regarding his attempts to combine psychology with spiritualism. For several years, Barrett Edwards returned to his family's home in New Jersey to further develop his ideas.

Edwards would follow several thinkers closely over the next few decades. One of them was a notable figure in psychology, Carl Jung. In particular, Edwards extensively read about Jung's ideas involving archetypes and the idea of a collective unconsciousness. Around roughly the same time, he became interested in the work of Arthur Edward Waite, the British occultist. (There is some evidence of a personal correspondence between the two, but these are likely more academic communications.)

In addition to these two, Edwards began to follow the works of Alexandra David-Neel. Specifically, Edwards had a large interest in the ideas of psychic constructs, tulpas, and 'thought forms.' He began to correlate this to Jung's concept of archetypes, and developed the idea that would become the centerpiece of his later writings. Specifically, Edwards stated that all fictional characters, mythological entities, and religious figures were reflections of a finite number of 'universal archetypes.'

While the specific number Edwards gave tended to vary between works, he did state that this was because many overlapped, and the 'real number,' thus, may not be easily quantifiable, nor even exist. For the sake of convenience, he would use the major Arcana of the Tarot deck that Arthur Edward Waite had developed. While his attempted to classify every mythological figure in the world was incomplete at the time of his death, a largely abridged version was submitted for publishing by a friend.

A lesser known idea of Edwards was that of 'introspective theurgy,' or that an individual had the capacity to create thought-forms representative of their own subconsciousness. While an 'external' thought-form, such as a tulpa, could be created and loosely controlled, Edwards stated that an 'internalized' thought-form could also be created. The internalized thought-form could take the form of a 'familiar' mythic archetype, but would still be representative of the true desires of the person manifesting it. While these theories would never see mass publication or fame, they are known in certain obscure circles of New Agers. Compared to contemporary mystics Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite, he would never achieve the level of fame they did. Several university and college libraries in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania possess first edition copies of Edwards' manuscripts, so the public is still able to access the works of Henry Barrett Edwards.

Primary Influences: Alexandra David-Neel, Carl Jung, Arthur Edward Waite

Notable Works: A Taxonomy of Thought-Forms, Universal Archetypes in History, A Treatise on Introspective Theurgy