Claude Fayette Bragdon (1866-1946) was an architect, artist, writer, philosopher, and stage designer born on August 1, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio right after the end of the Civil War.

Marc Jones states he was born at 4:29 am, and does not give his sources. The ascendant is 05 Leo, appropriate for an architect who worked in solid forms overhanging a vast canyon of Rochester’s main street while the twelfth, that of hidden worlds and secrets, has Uranus, and trine Saturn in the fourth, suggesting his now skeletal wives with whom Bragdon kept in telepathic contact via a psychic who was able to bridge the two planes.  ²

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The rising symbol symbol suggests the permanence underlying all natural phenomena, and the independence of time and situation of the primary elements in their manifest creation. Positively it’s a degree of dominance with the keyword of Endurance. Indeed, many of his architectural work still graces the city of Rochester, New York.

The nonsubstantiality of fire

While his  Leo 08 Sun 51 gives us a picture of someone proud and unselfish, it also shows his inclination towards something more ethereal than those granite structure. Here the Sabian symbol tells of glass blowers producing one of their marvels, which is definitely symbolic of his second act on Broadway.


The Broadway lights

After a successful career as an architect in Rochester, NY, Bragdon entered the world of stage design in 1919. He was 53, and his second wife  Eugenie Julier Macaulay, who was said to have psychic and mystical powers, died . He married Eugenie in 1912 shortly after his first first wife Charlotte died  giving birth to the couple’s second son.  Bragdon threw himself into his work, buffeting his sorrow with his theosophy and the task at hand of raising two motherless boys.

Bragdon Drawing for a Theatrical Design

This made him leave the comfortable world of Rochester, and go south to Manhattan which was then experimenting “the New stagecraft, ”  based on the theories of Viennesse designer Joseph Urban. The idea was to break away from the pre-War Broadway box sets that had been literal representations, and instead be symbolic of the set with colours, symbols and curtains. Part of this ethic came out of the poverty after the war, the old sets in Europe ahd been demolished, and rebuilding them prohibitively expensive. This was an innovative way to solve the problem of set design.

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Mr. Bragdon, date unknown

Bragdon knew theosophy was filled with colour and sound imagery and saw that this was something adapt his talents to, particularly as talented Broadway people were in demand after the War. Also, being classically trained, Bragdon also knew that the idea was not as new as being touted — it was based on the tableau from Ancient Athens, and he understood those underpinnings well enough to adapt them to the new times. This was a great success for Bragdon and the New Stagecraft, and he found himself with lots of work and money to riase his children.

Today, the ideas of the New Stagecraft, can still be found particularly in the American opera.

Bragdon with his theosophical beliefs and his embrace of hard work, took this concept a step further by designing productions he hoped would not only move his audience, but enlighten them.  His  writings on theatre and theosophy can be found  at Manybooks.net.  He died in 1946, after the second World War, in New York City.

You can read more of his biographical data and correspondence at the University of Rochester’s online library and perhaps one day, take a trip to see his work there in person. I sure was glad I did.


Footnotes:

One of theosophy’s main tenets is of the Astral Body which is also called the Etheric Double. Blavatsky called it the doppelganger that perishes with the body so that the true soul can on ahead to be united with the Source.

Like man’s five senses, the Astral Body,  is composed of matter, but is of a finer ethereal material,  and penetrates and extends into and beyond the physical body, separating it from the denser physical body in sleep, or under the influence of (psychedelic and psychotropic) drugs. During accidents, it takes away  the capacity for feeling pain, anxiety or displeasure so when the event is over, and the emotional plane is not overwhelmed.

  The Astral World itself is attainable to clairvoyants of even moderate powers, who can call the appropriate body of person desired.

Thought is not an abstraction in Theosophy,  but instead has a definite form  that depends upon its quality that appear as colours and shapes:  a nebulous appearance tells of an imperfect development while an ovoid (the preferred shape)  appearance suggests a more perfect development. 

Colours represent thought so inferior ones beget loud colours:  anger is obviously red while religious thought is of a higher octave and blue.  

During physical life all these various things intermingle in the astral body but after physical death the elementary life of the astral body seeks self-preservation, and causes the matter to rearrange itself in a series of seven concentric sheaths, the densest being outside and the finest inside.

This state is not eternal, and under the evolutionary process, the gross sheath of astral matter wears away, and then the person is clothed with the six sheaths and then five and so on, making these sheaths akin to purgatory until the last sheath fades and the person enters the Greater Astral Body called the Mental where all beings meld and communicate as One.              

  -“Astral World.” Encyclopaedia of the Occult, by Lewis Spence, Dodd, Mead and Co. , 1920, pp. 40–43.  

These ideas permeate all the modern occult groups to some degree or another. Marc Jones wrote his version “Occult Philosophy” or you can read more online at Theosophy World here.

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