It was H P Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society (TS), who wrote of ‘the maddening effect of Protestantism [especially Calvinism].’ Theosophy, at least in its more 'modern' form, emerged in the late 1800s as an alternative spirituality---and as an antidote to the maddening effect of Protestantism.
Such a totally negative word---'Protestantism.' It doesn't even make it clear just what they were 'protesting' about or against, although history tells us that---and much of the story is not a happy one. Devoid of ritual and colour, devoid of intellectual depth, devoid of emotion (except emotion of the more hysterical and almost pathologically clinical kind), and inherently separatist, divisive, and backward-looking for the most part, and totally obsessed with sin and the fear and wrath of God, Protestantism---especially in its more evangelical forms---was found lacking and monumentally uninspiring to many intellectuals of the day. It remains the same today---at least for me as well as for many others.
The Sydney of today, in which I live, is a lot more multicultural than it was in the 1920s and 30s---which is a good thing---but the life of the city is nowhere near as bohemian, cosmopolitan and 'colourful' as it once was. We may have people here from every part of the globe but the ‘international’ flavor has in many ways gone---as well as much of the intellectual and spiritual life that once flourished. For the most part, Sydney is just like most large cities in North America---architecturally uninteresting (not so the Sydney Opera House and a few other prominent buildings), and entirely mercantile and even mean. That reminds me of the occasion when Charlie (later Sir Charles) Chaplin returned briefly to Los Angeles in 1972 after some 20 years in exile outside the United States. Chaplin was looking around for the places he used to know in the city. A dismayed Chaplin remarked, ‘It's all banks, banks, banks!’ I digress, but hopefully you get the point.
I found one particular chapter especially interesting---'Science versus Spirit,' which deals with colour-music theories pertaining to the scientific and spiritual dimensions of colour. It seems that Sydney was at the forefront of research, discovery and discussion in this field of knowledge and speculative inquiry during the first quarter of the 20th century. Here's another nice thing about the book---McFarlane refers to a number of eminent Australian writers, such as Kylie Tennant, who made reference---sometimes oblique, other times not so oblique---to Theosophy, the Liberal Catholic Church and persons such as Bishop Leadbeater in their novels and other writings. (I hope that someday someone will write a book on the influence of Theosophy and the TS on Australian writers. Maybe I will.)
Society on Australian artists 1890–1934, by Jenny McFarlane
Imprint: Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd ISBN: 9781921875151
Format: PB Release date: February 2012 RRP A$49.95