Brother XII: Occult Leader of a 1920s Bizarre BC Colony

A self-proclaimed mystic prophet, Brother XII’s tale is one of the occult, and it still garners fascination to this day. Egyptian apparitions, epiphanies, an isolated colony, wealthy patrons, adultery, and even Black Magic feature prominently in his life’s narrative.

Image C-05791 via Royal British Columbia Museum

Before Brother XII

Brother XII was born Edward Arthur Wilson, an Englishman who made a career as a sea captain. Little is known about Wilson’s early life, except that he was raised in the Catholic Apostolic Church, and that his seafaring travels inspired him to study a wide breadth of world religion. Wilson was known to have had a keen interest in Theosophy and eastern philosophies.

In 1902 he wed a New Zealand woman and together they had two children. The small family lived in British Columbia for a brief period of time which ended when Wilson left them. Nothing is known of where Wilson would spend the next 12 years of his life.

An Egyptian epiphany

While traveling in the south of France in 1924, a vision came to Wilson that would firmly change the direction of his life. He saw before him a Tau, the Egyptian cross, levitating in the air. Other epiphanies came to Wilson and he believed that he was being led by a master. The master was the twelfth brother of the Great White Lodge, a group of spiritual beings that directed the world. To honor his master, Wilson changing his own name to Brother XII.

Theosophy Society Seal. Credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Under the direction of his new master, Wilson penned two books – The Three Truths, which related to the three basic truths of Theosophy, and a manifesto titled A Message From The Master Of The Wisdom. In the manifesto, Wilson wrote about the special work that the masters were performing and pledged he would construct an ‘Ark of Refuge’ where persons could seek spiritual enlightenment and prepare for the ‘Age of Aquarius.’

Running in occult circles

In 1926 Wilson relocated to England and began to establish a reputation in Theosophical circles. He wrote extensively for a well-known occult magazine and began to recruit followers. He was resolute in his mission to build the Ark of Refuge and ultimately decided its location should be the distant shores of Canada’s west coast.

Wilson, by then known as Brother XII, traveled across Canada and found success preaching to chapters of Theosophy. He was a charismatic orator and he attracted a healthy following.  Encouraged, he established The Aquarian Foundation. Around this time Brother XII was introduced to Joseph Benner, a publisher of occult literature. An ardent supporter of Brother XII, Benner elevated the profile of the Aquarian Foundation and its leader throughout the United States.

Construction of the ark

With substantial contributions from his followers, Brother XII was able to purchase a stretch of land in Cedar (located just south of Nanaimo) for his colony. Patrons were welcome to build homes and cabins on the land.

With the colony established, Brother XII embarked on a speaking tour in the US and even set up chapters of his foundation in California. He attracted many new members and some were quite high profile – such as Will Levington Comfort, a well-known writer, and Coulson Turnbull, a leading astrologer. These two, along with Benner and several others, formed the first board for The Aquarian Foundation. At its height the Foundation had a membership of 2,000.

In just three short years, Brother XII had achieved extraordinary success – rising to prominence as the leader of a religious organization after leading a relatively wayfaring and unexamined life. But things would begin to spiral out of control and Brother XII could do little to halt the momentum. Some of his behavior was a cause for concern among his followers – Brother XII was caught having extramarital affairs; he was using the organization’s magazine to push a political agenda; and many felt he was misusing the Foundation’s money.

Trouble in paradise

As controversy and rumors pervaded the organization, some members turned away. Others wanted Brother XII to dissolve the Foundation. Unable to resolve the allegations, Brother XII was taken to court and charged with misappropriating funds. In retaliation, Brother XII charged the Foundation’s secretary with stealing $2,800.

A new and wealthy member of the Foundation, Mary Connolly, came to Brother XII’s defense. During the proceedings she claimed the funds she donated were for Brother XII’s personal use, rather than the Foundation’s. Ultimately the court decided to let Brother XII go, and dissolving the Foundation became an issue for the provincial government to handle (as only the provincial cabinet could dissolve an incorporated body.)

Black Magic?

The provincial cabinet began to investigate The Aquarian Foundation, and one court case in particular caught their interest -former employees were suing for back wages.  It was during this trial that some truly outlandish and inexplicable behavior took place. An otherwise healthy witness suddenly collapsed as he was about to testify; the judge lost his ability to speak and could only growl like a dog; the lawyer for the plaintiffs became debilitated and could not recall what he was going to say to the court. The judge was forced to dismiss the case, and many people felt Brother XII had used black magic.

After deliberating for a year, the provincial cabinet dissolved The Aquarian Foundation in November 1929. Although the former board members sought to obtain possession of the properties they had invested in, none of the assets were in the Foundation’s name. Further, there was no cash to recover as Brother XII had converted all of the Foundation’s cash into gold coins.

Madam Z’s rein

After disassociating from the women he had previously been romantically involved with, Brother XII took up with a new (and already married) mistress – Mabel Skottowe. Despite the dissolution of the Foundation, Brother XII’s wealthy benefactor Mary Connolly, purchased De Courcy and Ruxton Islands and gifted them to the colony. Brother XII set up a house for himself on De Courcy and Mabel took it upon herself to become the colony’s enforcer. She was renamed Madame Z and was known to have abruptly relocated residents to different properties as she saw fit. She forced many into hard labour and reportedly carried a long horse whip on her person. Much of her behavior was considered abusive, but many residents remained because of an unwavering faith in Brother XII’s cause.

As things continued to deteriorate within the colony, the police became increasingly suspicious. They attempted to visit the islands for one reason or another, only to find that Brother XII had set up armed encampments to keep them away. Colony members went so far as to fire warning shots at approaching boats and Brother XII made sure all resident members were trained to wield firearms.

Into thin air

Between Madam Z’s abuses and Brother XII’s shady reputation, colonists’ tolerance grew thin. They gathered together, drew up a declaration of independence and presented it to their leader. Brother XII was livid but intelligent enough to recognize that he was outnumbered. Sometime in June 1932, Brother XII and Madame Z discretely slipped beyond the colony’s perimeter, never to be seen again. Colonists attempted to recoup financial losses through the courts, but Brother XII never appeared when summoned. Besides, all of the money he had turned into gold had disappeared with him. In 1935, Brother XII reportedly died in Switzerland, but many people believed this to be an all too convenient story to cover his escape.

Is fact stranger than fiction? Had you ever heard the tale of Brother XII?
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Michaela Ludwig

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