Montagu Lomax was the son of a vicar. He was a mason, had a strong interest in spiritual healing and he was also an ardent theosophist, contributing several articles for the society journal – The Theosophical Review [1-6]. Whilst organised religion and masonry are still relatively acceptable in today’s British culture, spiritual healing might be perceived as a slightly strange notion to the modern mind, and theosophy is almost unknown. However, these belief systems were important to Lomax, and this article is an attempt to explain how they informed his social conscience and sense of injustice.
By the mid 19th century, England had become a wealthy country with huge population growth. The Church of England also expanded rapidly with a program of church building and consequently an enormous increase in clergy numbers. Social life revolved around the church. Many employers insisted that employees attended church services. Religion was the keystone of Victorian society which is hard to grasp in our secular age. When Lomax was born, his father, Thomas Smith was already well established as a vicar in the church of England, and Lomax’s elder brother Percival followed his father into holy orders. Lomax’s early life would have been centred around the church. The church’s morality would have been drummed into him, and the acceptance of church rituals and teaching would have been his normality. As a vicar’s son, there would also have been certain expectations of him both from his parents, and his community.
Montagu Lomax was a proponent of spiritual healing. He wrote a number of articles for the national press claiming ‘miracle cures’ for lunatics following spiritual healing . He also gave a presentation at a conference on spiritual healing at Church House, Westminster on October 12th 1921. The conference speech was reported in the medical press and national newspapers, but mainly because Lomax claimed that the ills men suffered were a result of their own misdeeds from previous incarnations, and that that the subconscious mind of the madman was controlled by ‘an evil and obsessing discarnate entity’ . The press thought that these pronouncements were unacceptable for a member of the medical profession and that even the Bishop was embarrassed. The medical press was scathing about Lomax’s views on the causation of insanity and questioned his credibility. This did not deter Lomax from publishing copies of his 1921 speech in book form, entitled ‘Spiritual Healing in Relation To Mental Disease’.
Whilst Lomax’s beliefs may have appeared extreme, there is no doubt that the concept of spiritual healing itself was mainstream. Healing through prayer was not new, but had undergone a renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly through the non-orthodox movements such as the Christian Scientists. The Church of England wanted to bring spiritual healing back within its fold, so it set up the Guild of Health in 1904 ‘to revive the principles and practice of the Ministry of Healing in the Church of England’. The Guild of Health attracted a large following with several well-known names including G.K.Chesterton. It began to work with the medical profession. Five years later in 1909, the British Medical Association met to examine faith healing and eventually formed a mixed committee of clerics and medics. In 1920, the Lambeth Conference of bishops resolved to investigate spiritual healing, resulting in the Archbishop’s Report which was published in 1924 entitled ‘The Ministry of Healing’ . This celebrated the increasing dialogue between the clergy and doctors and argued that all healing should have a spiritual as well as a physical outcome because the whole man consisted of body, mind and soul. The report formed the basis for the revival of the healing ministry in the Church of England. Co-operation between the medical profession and the church was continued at the highest level over the first half of the 20th century with highly respected clerics and physicians contributing to publications and conferences on spiritual healing. The prominent psychiatrists, Dr Helen Boyle and Dr Robert Armstrong-Jones were both members of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special committee on spiritual healing . The movement became truly ecumenical in 1944, when the Churches Council of Healing was formed, again in conjunction with the British Medical Association. By 1959, The BMA was sending six medical representatives to the meetings of the Church Council of Healing .
Theosophy is a fascinating topic and underpins much of current thought and belief. It is still in existence with various theosophical societies worldwide, but it is far less popular than at the beginning of the 20th century. Theosophy came out of a small group of people who met in New York in the mid 19th century to discuss ‘intriguing’ topics such as spiritualism, and the beliefs of ancient civilisations. In 1875 they formed themselves into the Theosophical Society. The early theosophists spent time in Indian ashrams, and set up international headquarters in Madras. They were instrumental in bringing back Eastern ideas such as buddhism to Western society. Founder member, Annie Besant travelled to Belgium in 1899 to explain the principles of her belief that theosophy would ‘build a society of mankind in which ideas are great, pure and sublime’. The intriguing ideas of theosophy spread rapidly throughout Europe and the USA, but especially in Belgium where theosophy became a social phenomenon. Theosophists embraced social causes – Annie Besant fought for social justice in England – and they attracted like-minded disciples who took on feminism, vegetarianism, animal rights and women’s suffrage. Some of the most influential people of the early part of the 20th century were ardent supporters of theosophy, helping to spread its ideas into the Western culture including the playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Christopher Isherwood was particularly successful at explaining Hindu thought to the West. Aldous Huxley’s book ‘Doors of Perception’ promoted drug-fuelled, mystical experience, and influenced Timothy Leary’s ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ experiments with LSD in the 1960s. Yoga, meditation, and veganism, which are all perfectly acceptable today, are all drawn from the early theosophist enthusiasm for Eastern cultures. It has been suggested that theosophical principles informed modern socialism, and certainly there is a link from theosophy to Fabianism through one of the great thinkers of the day – George Bernard Shaw.
I do not know whether Lomax met Annie Besant, but he was certainly an admirer of fellow theosophist and female novelist, Ouida. Ouida is referenced several times in a six page typescript on ‘women’s modesty’ bound into the back of Lomax’s book “Woman in relation to physiology, sex, emotions and intellect’, held at the Alexander Turnbull Library In New Zealand. The book itself is a collection of lectures that Lomax gave whilst in New Zealand, and the typescript is probably one of the lectures, that he didn’t include in the printed book. It suggests that the book may have been Lomax’s personal copy which he donated to Alexander Turnbull when he left New Zealand in 1896. Ouida published ‘The Scientific Torture of Lunatics. A Protest’ in 1897 . It would be interesting to know whether Lomax was aware of her article, and if this sowed a seed of disquiet for him, crystalising nearly a quarter of a century later when he published his book, The Experiences of an Asylum Doctor.
So in summary, Montagu Lomax came from a religious background, almost certainly engendering in him a sense of justice and charity. He was a mason, a closed society drawing members from the upper echelons of the professions and elite businessmen. Lomax believed in spiritual healing, and whilst he may have held extreme views on spiritual healing he was not entirely outside of mainstream culture. The elite of the Church and the medical profession were involved in the spiritual healing movement which would, like the masons, have provided him with powerful contacts. Lomax was also a theosophist, which would have complimented his belief in spiritual healing, and exposed him to the social injustices of the day.
1. Lomax, M., The Meaning of Maya. The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, 1907. 40.
2. Lomax, M., The Eternal New Year. The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, London, 1905. 36.
3. Lomax, M., Agnostic Theosophy (1). The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, London, 1907. 39.
4. Lomax, M., Agnostic Theosophy (2). The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, London, 1907. 39.
5. Lomax, M., Professor Hyslop’s preconceptions (Borderland of Psychical Research). The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, London, 1907. 40.
6. Lomax, M., Correspondence – The Distinction Between Art and Faculty. The Theosophical Review 1897-1909, London, 1907. 40: p. 74.
7. authors, m., Pathology of Insanity. The British Medical Journal, 1921. 2: p. 616.
8. Faith Healing at Mental Hospitals, in The Evening Star. 1923: Dunedin.
9. Lomax, M., Spiritual Healing in Relation to Mental Diseases – an address by M. Lomax. Spiritual Healing Fellowship. 1921, London.
10. Editorial, Spiritual Healing in The English Church. The British Medical Journal, 1924. 1: p. 119-121.
11. Spiritual Healing. Nature, 1924. 113: p. 73-74.
12. Editorial, The Churches’ Council of Healing. J.Coll.Gen. Pract., 1961. 4(1): p. 1-3.
13. Lomax-Smith, M., WOMAN in relation to physiology, sex ,emotion and intellect. 1895, Christchurch, New Zealand: Russell and Willis. 91.
14. Ouida, The Scientific Torture of Lunatics. A Protest. Humanity, 1897. 2: p. 82-4.