During the Victorian era, the intelligentsia, rich and fashionable of London were fascinated by mysticism and spirituality. In this era of excitement, one of the leading lights of the day, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, encouraged her friend, John Watkins to open the first ever specialist esoteric bookshop. It bears the ‘Watkins’ name to this day.
Watkins is situated in the dignified elegance of Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road. The shop’s logo depicts Thoth, Egyptian God of Wisdom in the act of writing with pen and paper. The store stocks the UK’s widest selection of esoteric information in 60,000 book titles, cards, CD’s, DVDs, talismans, artefacts and other interesting items. In its early years, customers included W B Yeats, Aleister Crowley, G R S Mead, Carl Jung, Aldous Huxley, Dion Fortune and the Society of the Inner Light, MacGregor Mathers and members of The Golden Dawn.
John’s son Geoffrey had been educated in Germany and was commissioned by British Intelligence to spy during WWI. Early in WWII, Adolf Hitler had immense military success (perhaps due to the employment of Karl Ernst Krafft who was Hitler’s personal astrologer). Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s commander, was known to hold round table rituals in an ancient castle at solstices during the war years. It is said that our war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, sought the astrological expertise of Geoffrey Watkins to assist with military decisions and an auspicious astrological configuration was forged and presented to Rudolf Hess (Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi party, who, like Himmler was known to believe in astrology) to manipulate a flight to Scotland on a peace mission. Hess took the bait and was captured and interrogated. Hitler’s belief in astrology might account for the choice of the date of his suicide, along with his new wife, Eva Braun, on Walpurgis Night, a spring Sabbath when witches and sorcerers meet to celebrate.
Today, Watkins Bookshop is regularly frequented by leading lights of metaphysical organisations of all kinds, by spiritual seekers looking for advice, by celebrities taking time to browse or choose a gift, and by those who collect rare esoteric books. The shop has close ties with the director of the imprint ‘Wessex Astrologer’, Margaret Cahill, whose partner, Stephen Gawtry publishes ‘the Watkins Review’. On the wall are Gurdjieff’s, Crowley’s and Anand’s natal charts (World Chess Champion) to demonstrate to customers how astrology works.
Assistant Manager, Karseten Sorensen provides a recommended list of gifts: Alan Oken's Complete Astrology by Alan Oken: The author is a New Age astrology pioneer and this book is a compilation of 3 books that lead the way to greater personal fulfilment and spiritual attunement. Aspects in Astrology by Sue Tompkins: This is a comprehensive guide to interpretation and a best seller since its launch in 1989. The Houses - Temples of the Sky by Deborah Houlding: Newly expanded and updated, this is an excellent book about ancient, traditional and modern meanings of the Houses. Astrological Insights into Personality by Betty Lundsted: A down to earth guide to Houses, Aspects, Signs and Planets. The Art of Chart Interpretation by Tracy Marks: Written by a psychotherapist and astrologer, this is a popular classic for beginner and advanced readers. The Chinese Astrology Kit: £21.59 (23 January, 2012 begins Year of the Water Dragon) Astro Dice (£7.99): Provides zodiac profile and reading software.
Recently, Watkins Bookshop was rescued from permanent closure by a young American entrepreneur, Etan Ilfeld, whose art gallery, Tenderpixel, is also situated in Cecil Court. I visited Etan to ask him about his interest in astrology. “My mother and her partner are both astrologers, so I grew up appreciating its importance, though my stepfather is more deterministic in his approach and he uses a technique to find the exact time of birth for those who don’t have this information. I have done several things in my life that have been quite unexpected, though my chart does show many parallels with events in my life. These days, if I need any astrological information, I ask our in-house expert, Hugh Thomas, and he provides whatever information I, or my customers, require”.
Hugh is Watkins Cosmologist, their in-house astrologer and he has been with Watkins Books for 10 years. I asked him to read Etan’s birth chart and within two minutes, a natal chart arrived to reveal Mercury exalted in its own sign and house implying a quiet, studious, analytical and attentive mind. Venus 15 Virgo denotes a love of detail and talent for maths, a love of systems, patterns, codes, numbers and equations, language and thought; Sun in 6th house is alongside Pluto both in Libra suggesting a radical evolution and an interest in innovative art projects; a business oriented Capricorn midheaven complimenting a ‘go getting’ and inspirational Aries Rising. The position of Uranus in Scorpio, Pisces Moon and Jupiter in Cancer provide a love magical secrets, mystical intuition and community spirit and are what Hugh calls the ‘Watkins Bookshop Friendly Grand Trine’ many planets are in a dance which endorse Etan’s intellectual, artistic and organisational ability. Etan also delights in technology and showed me his ‘Starwalk’ interactive iPhone app of the cosmos where, even during the day, you can find the position of any planet or constellation.
Hugh drew my attention to mysteries of Mithra, a religion that had strong similarities to, and could be the origin of, Christianity. Mithraism developed from Zoroasterian beginnings in Persia where astrology was used by kings and wise men. It is from here that the Magi could have set out to follow a star in the east which led them to a cave where the king of the Jews was born on 25th December, the same date as the birth of their solar deity. The adherents practised a strict moral code with seven planetary initiations. Experts think some of the cult’s beliefs could still be extant within Freemasonry. Their icon depicts the deity (Mithra) slaying a bull, an image which is surrounded by a dog, snake, raven and scorpion; the moon, planets, sun and constellations are also represented. Their temples could have been an astronomical star chart.
Hugh explains to me about what is selling at the moment. Mayan astrology is still creating interest as are other astrology systems for comparison (such as Chinese, Indian and Celtic). Astrology is used ever more frequently in business, to choose staff and partners. Healing and therapy are of interest as astrology can be united with the chakra system, kabbalah, runes, numerology, feng shui and other popular disciplines. One of the most common questions Hugh is asked is how to find a compatible love match.
I asked Etan about what he expects to happen in 2012 and he likes James Redfield suggestion that we will develop a stronger intuition that will enable us to recognise corruption. “This will create a more open minded society with greater integrity. We need to manage the energy of 2012 as there are strong indications it will be precede a time of great confusion when everyone will need to increase their search for deeper meaning and greater understanding.” Hugh follows this up by saying “For those who are waiting for a ‘happening’ on the winter solstice next year, the 2012 creative energy is likely to be a personal apocalypse and an inner rapture rather than a global epiphany”.
Etan qualified in Maths and Physics and explains that Quantum Mechanics demonstrates that when something is seen, it acts differently to when it remains unnoticed. By witnessing, we can change circumstances. When difficulties occur, either on a personal or societal level, we can make use of the vast knowledge base of great wisdom that the spiritual masters of the past - and present - have provided for us to help us to gain necessary enlightenment.
The Watkins Review features the top 100 internationally influential people in the spiritual field and a new iPhone application is available featuring spiritual books suitable for all needs, tastes and pockets.
The remains of a temple to Mithra have survived in London and can be found on Watkins website’s Spiritual Map along with all kinds of paranormal and spiritual activity.
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Interview by Wendy Stokes
Interview by Wendy Stokes