Like in the film "Julie/Julia" this is the true story of two women who never met--yet somehow I found her, or she found me through a series of synchronistic happenings. Our lives intertwined across time and space profoundly changing my life. She was a master of the invisible interior worlds whereas I am a contemporary woman; an astrologer, mother, wife, and author. I write books on astrology, but this, I dare say, is one of the most unusual stories I've ever heard.
It was a crisp October day in the upscale bucolic village of Litchfield, Connecticut. I was visiting my seventy year old mother, when on an ‘afternoon outing’ we stumbled upon the kind of bookstore that barely exists anymore. Wooden beams framed the small cluttered interior of the room overflowing with books and a woodstove warmed the chilled air. I felt excited; maybe there would be something here for me.
I would have checked out the astrology section first, but instead bumped into a table, over which hovered a curious sign: “People Forgotten in History,” and there she was—a woman staring from the cover of a book directly into my eyes. It was a slim book with the simple title of Annie Besant followed by the subtitle: Passionate campaigner for social and political rights, seeker after spiritual truth, and a woman of extraordinary personal courage. I looked at her face—young, earnest, intense, with dark eyes set between high cheekbones and framed with short curly brown hair. But it was her direct stare that defied any attempt to return her to the slush pile of books on the table.
So “Annie” came home with me that day, and after dinner, I returned to my childhood bedroom and began to read. It wasn’t until dawn that I finally put the book down; finished and mesmerized. Her story captured me, not just her struggles and defeats, but something about who she was—was so like me—although her life was so large and mine so small. Could this be just co-incidence and serendipity? It felt as if there was a sweet synchronicity resonating between us.
That next morning my words were a torrent of jagged emotion as I tried to tell my mother about Annie: “When Annie was very young she was a minister’s wife in a poverty-stricken area of England—and she was so anguished over the poverty and suffering she saw—that she came to the idea that what women needed to know was about birth control: to not have a life of continuous child bearing! So she found and distributed a booklet on contraception—in 1875—which so enraged her husband that he brought her to trial where the courts declared her an unfit mother for corrupting the morals of the young. Can you believe it?”
My mother was busily spreading butter on her toast. “They took her children away from her!” My voice hovered between a scream and a plea for understanding. Mother got up to go to the kitchen to get more coffee. I took a deep breath and lowered my voice to a rational level. “And after that she led the match girls in a strike in London that changed everything for them—they were being poisoned by match chemicals, working 10 hours a day for a pittance!” No comment. I wrapped my hands, tightening my grip, around the chipped coffee mug I had long ago made for her. She poured me more coffee.
Mother sat down and raised her eyelids. “Life is cruel, but what can we do? Were you reading all night? That’s not good for you honey, and now you’ve got to go back and leave me here, again.” She sighed. I felt the usual twang of guilt, but this time it was layered with a hopeless anger that we would never connect. Mother always felt abandoned when I left her home in Connecticut for Rhode Island.
Returning home to Newport, I made straight away for the Redwood Library on Bellevue Avenue. Here in this private old library there must be some dusty volume on the life of Annie Besant. I inquired; there was indeed such a book; the librarian handed me a faded red tome called “The Passionate Pilgrim.”
Opening this hard-covered book I saw that it hadn’t been signed out of the library for over 15 years—but—there on the inside cover of the book was her full birth chart! I gasped. Annie was born on Oct. 1st 1847 at 5:39 pm, and I was born Oct 1st 1947, at 5:34 pm —the same day, exactly 100 years and 5 minutes apart. We were both Libras with Aries rising, and many aspects in our charts were similar. A shiver went through me.
As I read this second book I found out that Annie was ¾ Irish, same as me, but she was born in England whereas I was born in New England. Annie was born Annie Wood, and I was born Janet Fenn. In marriage she changed her name from Wood to Besant, and I changed from Fenn to Spring. When I was forty, I took my grandmother’s first name, Elizabeth. I never felt that I was a “Janet”, but I felt close to my grandmother and loved her name, so I changed it—but surely this wasn’t good daughterly etiquette.
I was a wife and mother like Annie—I was a woman with a strong Irish temperament that came out in passionate “Letters to the Editor” and in marches for Civil Rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. I was not too different from many people of my generation, but Annie was a much more outrageous public woman in her time—she was consistently on the front page of the London Times for her aggravating attacks on British society—how dare she challenge their sex lives with birth control information and their businesses with labor strikes for women? How dare she challenge the morality of the British hold on India, ultimately taking sides with the Indians till she became President of their National Congress? And most outrageous of all, how dare she adopt a sickly Indian boy, Krishnamurti, and raise him to become what the newspapers called him to be—a “Messiah.”
Why had I never heard of this woman who challenged history in England and India? Was her story simply too outrageous for people to follow past her early social reforming years in London? Annie’s life as a radical reformer was understandable, in fact, the British Broadcasting Corporation created a television program that stopped right after Annie’s passionate—yet understandable—social reforms. They stopped telling the story of her life when she became forty years old. Was the second half of her life neglected or erased because it was too hard for most people to understand? I think so.
My life would change radically when I was around the age of forty, the same age as Annie was when she wrote her autobiography; something many people do towards the end of their life, not the middle. But there was a radical break in her life at that point, and in her autobiography she began with a reflection on her horoscope, and a small digression on the value of astrology.
Being an astrologer myself I knew two things: one, that even mentioning astrology was unusual for a woman who was born in 1847 and died in 1933—unusual because astrology wasn’t at all popular or accepted then, and two, that around the age of forty is the astrological time of what is called the “Uranus Opposition,” a time when most people make radical life changes. So it was not unusual for a change to occur in both of us then, but more interesting that we both became increasingly fascinated by astrology and spirituality at that same point.
I poured over Annie’s chart and my own. I’m a professional astrologer who accepts the influences of reincarnation on the chart and the theories of Carl Jung, particularly on synchronicity or “meaningful co-incidences.” As I looked at the charts I noticed there were differences, but many similarities, aside from the fact that we were both Libras. My astrological “niche” is about the North and South Nodes in the birth chart—these are the places where the re-incarnational life story and life lessons interact and this is where I caught my breath again—Annie’s North Node pierced through my Sun like an arrow.
Let me explain a little to those who may be interested in astrology: I recently wrote a book called: “North Node Astrology; Rediscovering Your Life Direction and Soul Purpose. The North Node, like a North Star, guides us to where the Soul wants to go in this life, and the experiences it wants to have or move towards, while the South Node represents what we want to move away from: our old karmic patterns best left behind.
What was most compelling about comparing our charts was that we appeared to have a soul connection regardless of the time we each lived in and regardless of the outer facts of our lives. Annie’s North Node, the direction where the Soul wants to move towards, conjoined or pierced my Libra Sun sign, meaning that something about who I am might echo a soul-wish of hers. It could be as simple as having a simpler more peaceful life, because I have my North Node in the Sign that longs for serenity: Taurus. Her South Node, reflective of the past and past lives, lodged itself right on my Aries Rising Sign, pointing to problems we both may have faced, including indignation at social injustices. With Aries Rising there’s a tendency to be a “spiritual warrior.”
And if we want to think bizarre, my Moon, representing something of my maternal and emotional experience, aligns perfectly with Annie’s Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld. Pluto is the planet representing death, rebirth, and “life on the other side.” Maybe it’s not that strange then that I’m trying to reach a woman who’s “on the other side?”
So it was the Nodal aspects of the charts that pointed to something unusual: if I were talking to a client about the comparison of these two charts with these particular aspects, I would tell them that there was a very good chance these two people had some kind of connection via reincarnation. But what that connection was, wasn’t exactly clear. Were these similar life lessons, or was there a previous life connection, or had one Soul actually been born again in the other?
Also in comparing the two charts, I saw that Annie and I had some of the usual heart-aching problems with mothers—the Moon representing the Mother in a chart. Annie had her Moon in the maternal sign of Cancer in a tense square to unpredictable Uranus, and I had my Moon in Aries in a tense square to aggressive Mars. Annie’s life with her mother was unpredictable and disruptive, while my maternal relationship was abusive at times. We both had a T-square in our birth charts from the 4th house of home, involving the Moon, Mercury, Uranus and Mars. A T-square is like having an irritant in the psyche that demands that one never stops trying to heal —or as I’ve often said, “It’s like the grain of sand in the oyster around which the oyster must continually secrete its juices to create a pearl.” All of this was interesting to contemplate at the time, but what was I to do with it? This isn’t an astrology book, but in the very last chapter I’ll share more thoughts with the reader about the charts.
I finished the last page of the old red book and sat staring out the bay window. Harry walked in the back door from the pottery studio. “What’s happening, Sweetie?”
I attempted a smile. He walked over and ruffled my dis-shelved hair which I tried to keep up in a proper bun on top of my head. My dark blond hair was getting too long and yet I loved that old fashioned look, it seemed to fit me. I must have looked very serious. “Come have a glass of wine, honey, you’ve got to put those books away.”
He pulled up a chair and poured two glasses while I stared out the window. “So? Out with it, my dear—what’s wrong?” After fourteen years of marriage he knew when I was in a mood. The blood rushed to my cheeks. I gave his hand a squeeze then picked up the little book I’d bought that first day I found Annie and handed it to him.
He took it out of my hands and with a mocking grand gesture read a section of the back cover: “Annie Besant grew into becoming what George Bernard Shaw called ‘the greatest orator of the century’ as well as his financial supporter and mentor. When she traveled across America in 1922 she often spoke to packed theatre houses and auditoriums six nights a week and was frequently paid a thousand dollars a night.”
“Wow, she was quite a superstar back then.” Harry’s eyebrows lifted.
“Keep reading” I whispered.
“In 1889, at the age of 41, she shocked the world when she became a devoted supporter of the Russian psychic, Madame Helena Blavatsky—and on Blavatsky’s death two years later Annie became president of the world’s largest occult religion, Theosophy. Although Annie was always committed to social betterment, it was the search for life’s meaning and spiritual Truth which was the most consistent thread running through her life. At the age of sixty her political activism resurfaced, and after years of inciting the Indians for home rule for India, Annie became, at the age of seventy, the President of India’s National Congress, just before Gandhi.”
“Can you believe this? One woman….?” he said, looking up at me surprised. My eyes must have looked like shiny dark pools. I had lost so much sleep. “But still, why are you in this…state? Was your mother--?”
I shook my head and grabbed the book again: “Listen to this: her most outrageous act was when she presented to the world, her adopted son, J. Krishnamurti, as a Spiritual Teacher—a young Indian boy the newspapers called The Young Messiah.” I threw the book down. “These wealthy British Theosophists groomed him to be the second coming of Christ!” I picked up the book again and opened it to newspaper photos of Annie with Krishnamurti on her arm: Young Messiah to come to America. “Look here—this was in 1927. She must have really seen something—extraordinary—in him!”
I took a sip of wine and went on: “So Annie, and thousands of people, actually believed that this very quiet boy, whom they had raised like an English Brahmin to be a Star—to be a Guru— would be the Avatar for the New Age, the one Madame Blavatsky predicted would come….and you know what he did?”
Harry leaned toward me, looking on the edge of confusion. “No—this is unbelievable. This is true?”
“All true.” I gulped down some wine and continued: “Well—first this boy just about had a nervous breakdown—no, he did have a nervous breakdown around the age of thirty-three, and then he stood up one day in Holland, on the grounds of a castle one of his wealthy supporters had given him, and gave the most astounding speech to thousands of people who were expecting him to announce his Coming as a….messiah. He said No, I’m not who you are expecting. I can only teach you one thing; and that is how to be totally and unconditionally free.”
“Unbelievable.” Harry gasped.
“Yes! So this young Indian boy started speaking about trying to live in the moment--fresh—without the baggage of our past conditioning, and that we didn’t need to have organized religions to find God. He was so charismatic and his message so new that Annie simply said: He has come. “And yet he wouldn’t be a Theosophist—he was the most anti-guru Guru they’d ever heard speak—and full of passion and conviction.”
Harry nodded. I sensed right then that this was going to change something, but I didn’t know what. Harry stared at me with his tired blue eyes. He was finishing a full day in the pottery shop and his pants were covered with clay dust. He probably was ready for us to make dinner.
I stroked the cover of the red book. I couldn’t stay quiet: “…but you know what is really sad, is that she never knew that her adopted son, Krishnamurti, really did grow into being just what she had proclaimed him to be—one of the world’s great spiritual leaders. The prediction became true.”
“Oh I remember him now. He was very popular in the 1960’s and ‘70’s when everyone got on board with the idea that God was within us and we could follow our own path to God. We could create our own lives and reality. Right?”
“Exactly.” Harry got it. I smiled back, glad that he remembered. “Honey, there’s one other thing. I don’t know why I have to do this, but I must…and then we’ll make dinner.” I paused.
“What?” He looked a little unnerved now.
“I have to find out what this means for me. There’s something strange happening here—look! Our astrology charts are so similar—look—we were born 100 years and 5 minutes apart! I opened my notebook to our charts. I don’t get this! And I don’t understand about these ‘invisible worlds’ she talks about so much….” I paused, and Harry’s face twitched. “And look at this—I pointed to a quote on a page I had ripped out of a journal I had kept years ago. It read: “No soul that aspires can ever fail to rise; no heart that loves can ever be abandoned. Difficulties exist that in overcoming them we may grow strong, and only those who have suffered are able to save.”
“You know who wrote that?” I asked. “Annie Besant. I just found it. I don’t remember where or when I found it.” I paused and looked out the window again, wondering how my ever-patient Harry would take to my next piece of news.
“Anyway, that’s not important, what is important is that I’ve decided that I’m going to see this woman tomorrow. She’s a psychic—a really respected one. She’s supposed to be great.” I paused. “And I’m going to pray for Annie to come through her to me, to see why I’m so drawn to her life. Then I’ll know.”
“Know what?” His lips tightened.
“I don’t know.” My head dropped as I touched my chest and inhaled. “I guess I want to know why she’s come into my life like this, at this time, with these astrological synchronicities, and why I feel such a heart connection to her.”
It was quiet for a moment. When I looked up I could have sworn that the light outside the window had darkened into a luminous yellow. It looked as if a storm was approaching and the wind was whipping up the undersides of the leaves on the trees by our house. A branch snapped a harsh whack against the house. “You know, Harry, this could change my life; our lives.”
“Elizabeth, you’re going to make some kind of life decision based on a psychic?!”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just find out if synchronicities like these really matter. They could, couldn’t they? I mean astrology is based on the synchronicity of your birth time and place—Carl Jung said our birth time was the most important synchronistic moment of our life.”
Harry looked like he was going to launch into a crusade of reasonableness when I interrupted him.
“It’s all ‘flapdoodle’ right?” I grinned and narrowed my eyes at him, knowing that that one word had more meaning than he’d ever guess. It was the favorite expression of Annie’s Russian mentor, Madame Blavatsky, whenever she got annoyed.
“Elizabeth, I can accept the psychological astrology you practice...but psychics and all this Krishnamurti stuff; it’s so….dense…so occult. It almost gives me the creeps, like this weather now.”
I saw our dog dash inside for cover as the sky opened up and dropped its rain. My voice became a whisper: “Why hasn’t anyone told her story from her point of view, Harry? Even this book has got an attitude. Why has she been overlooked in history—erased? Because people thought she was crazy? People criticize what they don’t understand—but nobody knows this story; her story; the true story! Not the dribble the newspapers of her time wrote about—they just mocked her and the historians simply wrote her out of history. Now she’s collecting dust on the shelves.
“So maybe you’re the one to tell her story.” Harry stated.
The next morning I went to see the psychic. And I prayed. I drove over to a wood-shingled colonial house in downtown Newport, parked my car and walked over to the address on my paper. I checked the number again: she was on the third floor. On every step of the way up I repeated Annie’s name like a mantra as if to give me courage. I tried not to think of the fact that I didn’t really like psychic mediums, that I was afraid of knowing too much, and that I’d never wanted to know more of the future than what an astrology chart could show me. Astrology honored free will, and the ability to change one’s fate. I didn’t know if most psychics have that point of view; but it was too late to think of that now. I knocked.
Candace was a little older than I expected, and she wore a long skirt, peasant blouse, with even longer earrings and graying ringlets framing a delicate face. She had a sincere smile that beamed at me, as she led me to a small round table on which was a lit candle, tarot cards, and assorted books. There was a faint herbal smell coming from the kitchen. “Would you like some tea?” she asked. I took her raspberry blended tea and sipped it with my skepticism growing at the same rate as my hope. I found it hard to drink the tea.
Candace looked down at my hands. “Do you wear that bracelet a lot?” she asked me. I nodded yes. “Could I hold it?” I handed it to her, and she closed her eyes. I waited for what seemed to be almost too long.
The first words out of her mouth were: “I hear the name Ann…Annie. She’s saying something about the two of you collaborating on a project…?” She looked up at me. I stopped breathing and just nodded my head, yes. Another even longer pause. “Ah…does she live in New York City or somewhere close?” I shook my head no, but smiled. I had heard what I needed to hear in her first sentence. The rest was a blur. As I retraced my way downstairs I knew, with every ounce of my being, that I needed to write the story of Annie’s life—and I needed to begin it now. (c) Elizabeth Spring
Excerpted from upcoming book: Sweet Synchronicity: Finding Annie Besant, Discovering Krishnamurti. To be released January 2015.