William Walker Atkinson (1862 – 1932) was an attorney, merchant, publisher and author, as well as a pioneer in American New Thought. He is also the author of numerous pseudonymous works, including Theron Q. Dumont and Yogi Ramacharaka.
Due to Atkinson's intense personal secrecy and extensive use of pseudonyms, he is now largely forgotten, despite writing over 100 books and being mentioned in past editions of Who's Who in America and Religious Leaders of America. His writing has remained in print continuously since 1900.
Atkinson was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 5, 1862. He went to work as a grocer at 15 years old, probably helping his father. In October 1889, he married Margaret Foster Black of Beverly, New Jersey and they had two children.
Atkinson was admitted to the Bar of Pennsylvania as an attorney in 1884. He gained much material success as a lawyer, but the stress eventually took its toll. He had a complete physical and mental breakdown and experienced a total financial disaster in the early 1890s.
He looked for healing he found it with New Thought, later attributing the restoration of his health, mental vigor and material prosperity to the application of the principles.
Mental Science and New Thought
After his recovery, Atkinson began to write articles on the truths he had discovered, which was then known as Mental Science. He moved to Chicago, which had become a major center for New Thought, and became an active promoter of the movement as an editor and author.
In 1900, Atkinson worked as an associate editor of Suggestion, a New Thought Journal, and wrote his first book, Thought-Force in Business and Everyday Life. This was a series of lessons in personal magnetism, psychic influence, thought-force, concentration, will-power, and practical mental science.
In 1901, he met Sydney Flower, a well-known New Thought publisher and businessman and became editor of Flower's popular New Thought magazine. He held this position until 1905. During these years, he built a large fan base of avid readers. Article after article flowed from his pen. He also founded his own Psychic Club and the Atkinson School of Mental Science, both located in the same building as Flower's Psychic Research and New Thought Publishing Company.
Publishing Career and Use of Pseudonyms
Throughout his career, Atkinson wrote and published under both his own name and various pseudonyms. Although he never acknowledged authorship of the pseudonymous works, they have all been linked to him by the publishing houses that released the works.
Atkinson was the editor of the magazines that introduced the pseudonymous authors as contributors. Each of the supposedly independent writers were then spun off into their own book writing careers and most of the books were released by Atkinson's publishing houses.
Advanced Thought magazine provides clues to unravelling this tangled web of pseudonyms. The magazine was edited by Atkinson and it advertised articles by Atkinson, Yogi Ramacharaka, and Theron Q. Dumont. The latter two being Atkinson pseudonyms. It had the same address as The Yogi Publishing Society, which published the works attributed to Yogi Ramacharaka.
Advanced Thought magazine also carried articles by Swami Bhakta Vishita, but when it came time for Vishita's writings to be collected in book form, they were not published by the Yogi Publishing Society, but by The Advanced Thought Publishing Co., the same house that brought out the Theron Q. Dumont books and also published Advanced Thought magazine.
Hinduism and Yoga
In the 1890s, Atkinson became interested in Hinduism and devoted a lot of time and effort to the diffusion of yoga and Oriental occultism in the West. It is unclear whether he actually converted to any form of Hinduism or if he merely wrote on the subject.
According to the "official" biography, Atkinson attended the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 and met Baba Bharata, a pupil of the late Indian mystic Yogi Ramacharaka (1799 - 1893). As the story goes, Bharata had become acquainted with Atkinson's writings after arriving in America.
The two men shared similar ideas, so they decided to collaborate. While editing New Thought magazine, Atkinson co-wrote a series of books with Bharata which they attributed to Bharata's teacher, Yogi Ramacharaka.
No record exists in India of a Yogi Ramacharaka, nor is there evidence in America of the immigration of a Baba Bharata. In addition, although Atkinson may have travelled to Chicago to visit the 1892 - 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where the authentic Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda attracted enthusiastic audiences, he didn’t move to Chicago until somewhere around 1900.
Atkinson's claim to have an Indian co-author was actually not unusual among the New Thought writers of this era. As Carl T. Jackson made clear in his 1975 article The New Thought Movement and the Nineteenth Century Discovery of Oriental Philosophy, Atkinson was not alone in embracing a vaguely exotic "orientalism" as a running theme in his writing, nor in crediting Hindus, Buddhists, or Sikhs with the possession of special knowledge and secret techniques of clairvoyance, spiritual development, sexual energy, health, or longevity.
In any case, with or without a co-author, Atkinson started writing a series of books under the name Yogi Ramacharaka in 1903, ultimately releasing more than a dozen titles under this pseudonym. The Ramacharaka books were published by the Yogi Publication Society in Chicago and reached more people than Atkinson's own works did. In fact, all of his books on yoga are still in print today.
Atkinson created two more Indian personas, Swami Bhakta Vishita and Swami Panchadasi. Strangely, neither of these identities wrote on Hinduism. Their material was concerned with the arts of divination and mediumship, including "oriental" forms of clairvoyance and seership. Of the two, Swami Bhakta Vishita was the more popular. With more than 30 titles to his credit, he eventually outsold Yogi Ramacharaka.
French Master of Magnetism
During the 1910s, Atkinson created another pseudonym, Theron Q. Dumont. This person was French, but his works were written in English and published in Chicago. Dumont combined an interest in New Thought with ideas about the training of the will, memory enhancement, and personal magnetism.
Dual Career and Later Years
In 1903, the same year that he began his writing career as Yogi Ramacharaka, Atkinson was admitted to the Bar of Illinois. Although he left no written account documenting his motivation for creating the pseudonyms, it may have been to protect his ongoing career as a lawyer.
How much time Atkinson devoted to his law practice is unknown, but it is unlikely that it was a full-time career, given his amazing output during the next 15 years as a writer, editor and publisher in the fields of New Thought, yoga, occultism, mediumship, divination, and personal success.
Among the last of Atkinson’s collaborators was the mentalist C. Alexander, "The Crystal Seer," whose booklet of affirmative prayer, Personal Lessons, Codes, and Instructions for Members of the Crystal Silence League was published in Los Angeles during the 1920s. It contained an advertisement for an extensive list of books by Atkinson, Dumont, Ramacharaka and Vishita.
Atkinson died November 22, 1932 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69. Many mysteries still surround his life, including the fact that a copyright certificate was issued three years after his died and is said to have been signed by the author himself.
Atkinson was a prolific writer and many of his books achieved wide circulation. He published under several pen names, including Magus Incognito, Theodore Sheldon, Theron Q. Dumont, Swami Panchadasi, Yogi Ramacharaka, Swami Bhakta Vishita, and probably other not yet identified. He is thought to be one (if not all) of the Three Initiates who anonymously authored The Kybalion.
A major collection of Atkinson's works is held by the Brazilian organization, Circulo de Estudos Ramacháraca. According to this group, Atkinson has been identified as the author or co-author of 105 separate titles. These can be broken down roughly into the following groups:
Titles Written Under the Name William Walker Atkinson
These works cover themes related to the mental world, occultism, divination, psychic reality, and nature of mankind. They constitute a basis for what Atkinson called "New Psychology" or "New Thought". Titles include
- Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World
- Practical Psychomancy and Crystal Gazing: A Course of Lessons on the Psychic Phenomena of Distant Sensing, Clairvoyance, Psychometry, Crystal Gazing, etc.
Most of the Atkinson titles were published by Atkinson's own Advanced Thought Publishing Company in Chicago, with English distribution by L. N. Fowler of London, England, but at least a few of his books in the "New Psychology" series were published by Elizabeth Towne in Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts, and offered for sale in her New Thought magazine The Nautilus.
One such title, for which Atkinson is credited as the author, with the copyright internally assigned to Towne, is The Psychology of Salesmanship, published in 1912. The probable reason that Atkinson made an assignment of copyright to Towne is that his "New Psychology" books had initially been serialized in Towne's magazine, where he was a freelance writer from 1912 to at least 1914.
Titles Written Under Pseudonyms
These include Atkinson's teachings on Yoga and Oriental philosophy, as well as New Thought and occult titles. Most were written in the form of a course of practical instruction.
Yogi Ramacharaka Titles
As Ramacharaka, Atkinson helped popularize Eastern concepts in America, with Yoga and Hinduism being particular areas of focus. The works of Yogi Ramacharaka were published over the course of nearly ten years beginning in 1903. Some were originally issued as a series of monthly lectures and additional material was issued in the form of supplementary text books.
Ramacharaka's Advanced Course in Yoga Philosophy and Oriental Occultism is still today considered an excellent primer for the Western layman, despite the fact that it is over 100 years old and is understandably dated in some respects.
According to Atkinson's publisher, the Yogi Publication Society, some of these titles were inspired by a student of the "real" Yogi Ramacharaka, Baba Bharata, although there is no historical record that either of these individuals ever existed.
In reply to inquiries about Yogi Ramacharaka, this official information was provided by the Yogi Publication Society:
"Ramacharaka was born in India in about the year 1799. He set forth at an early age to educate himself and to seek a better philosophy for living.
Traveling throughout the East almost always on foot, he visited every depository of books available. The primary places were libraries that were open to him in lamaseries and monasteries. With the passing of time, some private libraries of royalty and wealthy families were also thrown open to him.
In about the year 1865, after many years of searching and many visits to the lonely high places where he could fast and meditate, Ramacharaka found a basis for his philosophy. At about this same time, he took as a pupil, Baba Bharata, who was the eight year old son of a Brahmin family. Teacher and pupil together retraced the steps of the teacher's earlier travels, while Ramacharaka indoctrinated the boy with his philosophy.
In 1893, feeling that his life was drawing to a close, Ramacharaka sent his pupil forth to carry their beliefs to the new world. Arriving in Chicago where the World Columbian Exposition was in progress, Baba Bharata was an instant success. He lectured before enthusiastic audiences from all parts of the world who were visiting the Fair, attracting a considerable following in the process. Many wished him to start a new religion, but he felt only the drive to write on the subject which he lectured on so effectively.
In the closing years of the 1800s, Baba Bharata became acquainted with William Atkinson, an English author who had written along similar lines and whose books had been published by ourselves and by our London connection, L. N. Fowler & Company Ltd.
The two men collaborated. With Bharata providing the material and Atkinson the writing talent, they wrote the books which they attributed to Yogi Ramacharaka as a measure of their respect. The very fact that after all these years their books are well known around the world and sell better with every passing year is a credit to the two men who wrote the books."
Swami Bhakta Vishita Titles
Atkinson's second Hindu-sounding pseudonym, Swami Bhaka Vishita, billed as "The Hindoo Master" was not authentically Hindu, nor did he write on the topic of Hinduism. His best-known titles, which have remained in print for many years after entering the public domain, were:
- The Development of Seership: The Science of Knowing the Future; Hindoo and Oriental Methods (1915)
- Genuine Mediumship, or Invisible Powers
- Can We Talk to Spirit Friends?
Atkinson produced more than two dozen Swami Bhakta Vishita books, plus a half-dozen saddle-stitched paper pamphlets under the Vishita name. All of them dealt with clairvoyance, mediumship, and the afterlife. Like Ramacharaka, Vishita was listed as a regular contributor to Atkinson's Advanced Thought magazine, but his books were published by the Advanced Thought Publishing Company, not the Yogi Publication Society, which handled the Ramacharaka titles.
Swami Panchadasi Titles
Despite the popularity of his Yogi Ramacharaka and Swami Bhakta Vishita series, the work of his third Hindu-sounding pseudonym, Swami Panchadasi, failed to capture a wide audience. The subject matter, clairvoyance and occult powers, was not authentically Hindu, either.
Theron Q. Dumont Titles
Theron Q. Dumont was an "Instructor on the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, Paris, France."
The titles released under the Dumont name were primarily concerned with self-improvement and the development of mental will power and self-confidence. Among them were:
- Practical Memory Training
- The Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
- The Power of Concentration
- The Advanced Course in Personal Magnetism: The Secrets of Mental Fascination
- The Human Machine
Theodore Sheldon Titles
One book by this otherwise unknown author has been attributed to Atkinson, the health and healing book Vim Culture. It should be noted that, despite the similarity of names, Theodore Sheldon is not the same person as T. J. Shelton, who, like Atkinson, wrote on health and healing for The Nautilus magazine and also, like Atkinson, was one of several honorary presidents of the International New Thought Alliance.
Magus Incognito Titles
The Secret Doctrines of the Rosicrucians by Magus Incognito consisted of a nearly verbatim portions of The Arcane Teachings, an anonymous work attributed to Atkinson (see below).
The Three Initiates
The Kybalion was published by the Yogi Publication Society and was written by "Three Initiates." Whether or not any of the above has a basis in fact, The Kybalion bears notable structural resemblances to The Arcane Teachings, an anonymous set of six books attributed to Atkinson.
Titles Co-Authored with Edward Beals
Atkinson wrote the so-called "Personal Power Books," a group of 12 titles on humanity's internal powers and how to use them. Titles include Faith Power: Your Inspirational Forces and Regenerative Power.
The Arcane Teaching Books
The doctrine behind The Arcane Teaching is remarkably similar to the philosophy in The Kybalion. Significant portions of the material from The Arcane Teaching was later re-worked, appearing nearly verbatim in The Secret Doctrines of the Rosicrucians by Magus Incognito.
Nothing is known of the first edition of The Arcane Teaching, which apparently consisted of a single volume of the same name.
The second edition was expanded to include three supplementary teachings in pamphlet form. The four titles in this edition were:
- The Arcane Teaching (hardback)
- The Arcane Formulas, or Mental Alchemy (pamphlet)
- The Mystery of Sex, or Sex Polarity (pamphlet)
- Vril, or Vital Magnetism (pamphlet).
This edition was published by A. C. McClurg (the same publisher who brought out the Tarzan the Ape-Man series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)
The third edition split the main title, The Arcane Teaching, into three smaller volumes, bringing the total number of books in the series to six. This edition consisted of the following titles (the three titles marked with an asterix (*) are the volumes that had appeared together as The Arcane Teaching in the second edition):
- The One and the Many*
- Cosmic Law*
- The Psychic Planes*
- The Arcane Formulas, or Mental Alchemy
- The Mystery of Sex, or Sex Polarity
- Vril, or Vital Magnetism
The third edition of The Arcane Teaching was published by A. C. McClurg under its own name in 1911. The books in this series bear the original 1909 copyright, plus a 1911 copyright listing "Library Shelf" as the new copyright holder.
Other Likely Pseudonyms
Because Atkinson ran his own publishing companies, Advanced Thought Publishing and the Yogi Publication Society, and is known to have used an unusually large number of pseudonyms, other authors published by those companies may also have been his pseudonyms:
- A. Gould and Dr. Franklin L. Dubois (co-wrote The Science of Sex Regeneration circa 1912)
- Frederick Vollrath (who contributed articles on the subject of Mental Physical-Culture to Atkinson's Advanced Thought magazine)