Hands Full of Life

Norna Kollerstrom Morton “Hands Full of Life”


The most significant group Leadbeater’s career in Sydney in the early years of the Liberal Catholic Church was the Kollerstrom family. It was in the home, “Crendon” – see https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/crendon/  – of Gustav Kollerstrom that Leadbeater was ordained a bishop by James Wedgwood – see https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/instrumentum-consecrationis/ – and where the Liberal Catholic liturgy was developed and “tested”.


As Oscar Kollerstrom, Gustav’s son and a devoted pupil of both Leadbeater and Wedgwood, recalled of that time:

“I sat in the same room in which, day after tremendous day, those two men worked out and planned The Liberal Catholic Liturgy – planned, for the first time in two millennia, a Christian and sacramental worship that opened wide the way to communion with all other faiths, indeed with all individual interpretations. The bond with God incarnated in freedom, there before my amazed eyes. Our oak sideboard became the first altar of the new faith, and after the services were over, the dining room furniture would be reassembled for a great meal. My mother would sometimes leave the service immediately after communion to see about the cooking, for in those days there was always at least a dozen to feed. It was all so intimate, personal, and natural, and there was such tumultuous rush of doings – my mother making vestments, Pellegrini, of the Catholic shop, being charmingly voluble, the preparation of the hymn book, endless typing, and the running of errands, buying a church, and – vivid in memory – the great day when I took my first minor orders. What with the candles, and the incense, and the singing, I was intoxicated anew each day.”

Norna Kollerstrom Morton’s memoirs, Hands Full of Life, provide a fascinating and intimate, if all too brief, account of that period.

 Norna Kollerstrom photo

Edythe and Norna Kollerstrom (centre) with Leadbeater and a group at The Manor, Sydney, 1925

Norna Hill Kollerstrom (1905-1998) was the daughter of the eminent Sydney Theosophist, Gustaf Wilhelm (1864-1927), and his wife, Mary Gertrude Kollerstrom (1869-1950) (nee Hill) – see: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/gustaf-kollerstrom/ – and the sister of Oscar Gustav Kollerstrom (1903-1977), a leading boy pupil of both Leadbeater and Wedgwood – see https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/oscar-gustav-kollerstrom/ – and Edythe Kollerstrom (1906-1976). In 1928 she married Harold Morton (1904-1988), another of Leadbeater’s leading pupils, and later a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church and General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Australia – see: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/harold-morton/ .

In 1928 Norna Kollerstrom gave a lecture in defence of Leadbeater in which she presented an account of his life (presumably received from Leadbeater) – see https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/norna-kollerstrom-on-leadbeater/ It is probably unnecessary to note that the descent from Charlemagne and the “noble lineage”; the walk “across South America” at the age of thirteen; the excitement of the “rising among the Indians in South America”; the murder of the (non-existent) brother; the short time at Oxford; the loss of the family fortune in the bank “smash”; the time at St. Ethelberga’s and St. Alban’s, Holborn; and the travels “over the whole of Europe”, let alone the visit “to Transylvania to encounter vampires and werewolves”, were all elements of fiction fabricated by Leadbeater and, naively, repeated by Mrs Kollerstrom Morton. The original account was published in The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Queensland) 14 August 1928.

Norna Kollerstrom Morton Hands Full of Life: Reflections and Anecdotes Springwood, N.S.W.: Butterfly Books, 1993


A Visionary Space

Jenny McFarlane A Visionary Space. Theosophy and an Alternative Modernism in Australia 1890-1934 A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University 2006

The thesis is available on-line in digital form at: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/…/McFarlane%20J%20Thesis%202006.pdf

CWL Sydney

“CW Leadbeater, the influential proponent of radical visuality, was resident in Sydney from 1914 to 1929 and retained a significant presence there until his death in 1934. He is popularly remembered in Sydney for the sex scandals. No one to date has however examined the effect this charismatic and complex man had on the artists of the city he came to call home, although Roe’s work points to the many significant individuals who came into his orbit.

Leadbeater’s time in Sydney was a unique period of collaboration with local artists.

In particular his collaborations with Judith Fletcher, Alfred Edward Warner and Gustaf Kollerstrom (photographer, printmaker and jeweller respectively) emerge as aberrant and extravagant moments within the oeuvre of each artist, what Deleuze and Guattari might describe as ‘slippages’ or ‘misfires.’ Yet these very misfires are productive. Leadbeater’s intense relationship with these artists had in each case surprising ramifications. These artists have been previously figured as conservative and parochial exponents in their chosen fields. Yet in collaboration with Lead beater their work blossoms into expressions of radical modernism in ways which offer unique insights into broader contemporary practice. These three artists shared a conviction that the visible and invisible worlds were interlinked, that the transcendental was immanent and active in the visible world. In their work the separation of the disciplines of science, religion and art promoted by the Enlightenment was explicitly and programmatically ignored.

Much of the unusual in these artist’s productions can be understood as the result of their intimate relationship with Lead beater. All were bound to him by an utter conviction of his superior psychic vision and by close physical proximity. Only in Sydney was Leadbeater’s theory backed by the full weight of his dominant personality and experienced relatively unmediated by others in the Theosophical leadership. At close quarters Leadbeater’s impact was mesmeric. While artists at a distance were able to explore the implications of his ideas with greater licence (and I will explore this in the next chapter) those close to him were tied to his expectations by their very acknowledgment of his superior visual authority. The artists most closely associated with Lead beater felt highly privileged to be permitted to document this supreme artist’s visions. The compromise they made with their personal style was part of their general subsumption to his goals.

In Sydney Lead beater embarked on the major project which was to occupy the second part of his life – the formation of the Liberal Catholic Church. This church was shaped within a Theosophical environment, the details of which will be addressed in more detail shortly. In the execution of this project he sought out artists to realise his dream of a theatrical experience, a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork encompassing a range of media with many constitutive works of art. Combined, the different media were designed to open the operations of the psychic realm.”

From: Jenny McFarlane A Visionary Space. Theosophy and an Alternative Modernism in Australia 1890-1934 A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the

Australian National University, 2006: 152-153 Footnotes have been omitted.

For the work of Jenny McFarlane, see also:




Jenny MacFarlane “The Agency of the Object: Bishop Leadbeater and the Pectoral Cross” in Carole Cusack and Alex Norman (eds) Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production [Brill, Leiden, 2012] pp. 133-152.

Jenny MacFarlane Concerning the Spiritual: The influence of the Theosophical Society on Australian Artists 1890–1934 Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2012


Irving Steiger Cooper: More biographical information

An earlier post provided some biographical information on Irving Steiger Cooper (1882-1935), an American who served as Leadbeater’s secretary for many years, and was consecrated as a Bishop on July 13, 1919 in Sydney by Bishops Wedgwood, Leadbeater, and Mazel, and appointed Regionary Bishop for the USA – see: https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/irving-steiger-cooper/ and https://cwleadbeater.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/consecration-of-irving-cooper/

Cooper 3

Dick Balfour Clarke, Irving Cooper, Fabrizio Ruspoli and Leadbeater (and cat) working on The Lives of Alcyone, Adyar, 1911.

Dr Ian Ellis Jones has now posted a much more detailed account of Cooper and his Theosophical and Liberal Catholic career on-line: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/190943135/irving-steiger-cooper

Cooper 1

Cooper’s publications included:

Methods of Psychic Development (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1912 [with foreword by C W Leadbeater]);

Theosophy Simplified (Hollywood CA: Theosophical Book Concern, 1915; Wheaton IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1928);

Reincarnation: The Hope of the World (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1920; 2nd edition, 1927; 1st Quest edition, 1979, published under the title of Reincarnation: A Hope of the World);

Ways to Perfect Health (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923);

The Secret of Happiness (Chicago: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925);

Ceremonies of the Liberal Catholic Rite (Los Angeles: St Alban Press, 1934; 2nd edition, London, 1964).