Monday, September 3, 2018

Notes From The Riley Crabb File

Much of my daily activity this last year has been reviewing and organizing the voluminous Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (BSRF) archive, donated to AFU in two large shipments in 2016 and 2018. The major part of the archive has now been organized in alphabetical folders: name, organization, subject. I also try to scan as much as possible of various documents, letters and photographs. As I corresponded with Riley Crabb 1979-1985 the archive relating to his work has been first priority. He was director of BSRF from 1959 until 1985 and his correspondence file is very extensive.

Your blog writer in front of the BSRF archive at AFU, September 19, 2017

In an earlier blog post this year I made a brief study of the letters my AFU colleague Anders Liljegren and I had found in the boxes. But this proved to be only part of the collection. Recently Anders discovered serveral old folders with letters from the 1950s and 60s. I have now scanned the complete Riley Crabb correspondence file comprising of no less than 943 letters written between 1952-1993. This collection gives a unique insight into the personal life of esotericist and ufologist Riley Crabb but also the inside story of the pioneering work of Borderland Sciences Research Foundation. It is obvious though that the correspondence that has been preserved is only a fraction of the original collection. This becomes evident when comparing the amount of letters from different years. There are 214 letters in the 1958 folder but only 21 in the 1964 folder. Reference is often given to letters missing and my own correspondence is not to be found. Perhaps some of the missing letters was kept in the personal Riley Crabb archive which his third wife Phyllis Hall consigned to the municipal dump after his death in 1994?

To give some glimpses of the life, ideas and work of Riley Crabb I have chosen to comment on a few excerpts from various letters. This first study comprise quotes from letters written 1953-1958. One of Riley´s lifelong interests was the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy, the question of who actually wrote the Shakespeare plays? In 1953, during his Hawaii years, he wrote a very critical letter to the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser: ”In vain have I searched two recent columns on your editorial pages on the Shakepeare-Bacon heresy for any solid rebuttal to my forthright statement that Francis Bacon wrote the plays which carry the by-line William Shakespeare… A lawyer wrote the plays. Bacon was a lawyer. A poet wrote the plays. Bacon was a poet. A philosopher wrote the plays. Bacon was a philosopher. An educated man with a working vocabulary of over 15,000 words wrote the plays. Bacon, by the standars of his day, was one of the best educated men in England. But the actor, William Shakespeare, had none of the above qualifications; and if your editorialist, along with all other academic troglodytes, insists the the illiterate money-lender did write the plays, he is placing himself in an indefensible position.” (Letter to the Honolulu Advertiser, March 9, 1953).

Riley Crabb during a TV show in Honolulu in the 1950s

The Shakespeare-Bacon controversy was one of the first problems in esotericism that occupied the young Riley. Later he would become a member of the The Francis Bacon Society in London and wrote the booklet Young Francis Bacon. He also lectured on this subject and continued research all his life as indicated by a letter to the Minneapolis Public Library 1958: ”A former fellow-worker of yours, Mrs. Irene Buckley, librarian at the Marine Corps Supply Center here has suggested that I take one of my reference problems to you, seeing that it was reading material from the shelves of the Main Library which got me interested in one of my favourite studies, the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy. It is possible that he book or books whose title and author I hope you can find for me are long gone from the shelves, as my studies of Elizabeth and her times occurred in 1937 and 1938.” (Letter to Miss Martina Brown, Minneapolis Public Library, May 3, 1958).

In August 1957 Riley Crabb and his wife Judy left Hawaii and settled in California. This meant new job opportunities, new aquaintances and another direction in Riley´s research and study of UFOs and esotericism: ”So here Mrs. Crabb and I are on the mainland, me with questions in my mind to which I hope to find answers here in the peace and quite of the desert. One of these questions is whether I should try to give active leadership in theosophy again. Fortunately that doesn´t have to be answered here and now. By the time I´ve evaluated the work of the past three years in the Islands, and built a new base of the ashes of the remains, I´ll probably know.” (Letter to Harold and Dorothe Ross, November 18, 1957).

During the Hawaii years Riley had been President of the Honolulu Lodge of the Theosophical Society 1954-1957 and founder of the UFO research society Akualele Research Group in 1956. But he was not happy with Theosophical lodge work and questioned the activity in a letter to his friend Harold Ross: ”I had a chance to get my hands on a copy of the Mahatma Letters while in San Diego and what a revelation on lodge work. About the London Lodge, Koot Hoomi said then it would eventually fall into `quietism´. A fate that threatens every religious and philosophical group once its revolutionary leader is gone. When I consider the collection of conservative fuddy duddys and metaphysical dabblers I had to work with in Honolulu, after three years of being a lodge president, I wonder if it is worthwhile to become active again.” (Letter to Harold Ross, October 18, 1957).

Riley Crabb was looking for a new and more up to date way to present the esoteric tradition. He was too much of the critical researcher and practical idealist to stay in the old type of theosophical lodge work. In California a new door opened in connection with a new cultural phenomenon - the UFO contact movement. Riley described the California situation to Gray Barker: ”Outside brief visits with Dan Fry, George Adamski and George Van Tassel – whose Giant Rock home is only 60 miles from me – I´ve done very little about Saucers up until now. However, several of the Saucer groups in the Bay area have asked for some talks next weekend. So, it´s a TV appearance and lecture in Sacramento Friday night, San Francisco Saturday afternoon, Oakland Saturday night, and San Jose Sunday afternoon. Sounds like a rat race but I believe Judy and I will enjoy the trip. These California enthusiasts seem hungry for the metaphysical side of the saucer phenomenon and that´s what they´ll get.” (Letter to Gray Barker, Mrch 8, 1958).

As an accomplished and well-informed esotericist Riley Crabb also noted the problems with the new UFO contact movement. Discernment and critical analysis wasn´t exactly the hall mark of the members of this underground movement. Riley had become a member of Borderland Sciences Research Foundation already in 1951 and he described the problem to Meade Layne: ” ”If I attend Van Tassel´s Space Convention May 31st and he invites me to get up and say a few words, I think I´ll repeat pretty much what´s in the Committee letter. At least it´ll be a down-to-earth contrast to the flumduddery and the psychic racketeers that flock there. Even Van Tassel is getting fed up with them; only he calls them `fanatics´. Says he´s going to try to control them this year, but he hasn´t said how.” (Letter to Meade Layne, April 26, 1958).

In spite of the psychic racketeers and naive mystics among the UFO contactees Riley realized that behind this new movement was also a real attempt by ”superior beings” who tried to inspire a worldwide movement of goodwill and peace. Daniel Fry´s organization Understanding is a good example. As to who were behind this project Riley may have noted the information coming from the Inner Circle through deep trance medium Mark Probert: ”There is a certain secret work going on at present between the Etherians and certain high earth authorities (You understand, I suppose, that I do not use the word ”high” in the usual sense. I am referring to those belonging to some of the secret Lodges on Earth).” (Seance Memoranda From the Inner Circle, Novembner 28, 1951, p. 30).

Mark Probert

Riley Crabb expressed this idea in a letter to Fred Church: ”… the number of Flying Saucer research groups burgeoning forth here in Southern California is amazing. The demand for lecturers is constant… It is actually building up into a world-wide fellowship, loosely organized if at all, but with a common interest in outer space and the arrival of superior beings from elsewhere, interested in our welfare. These widely scattered groups may eventually blend with the New Group of World Servers. This latter movement seems to have been stimulated by Alice Bailey and the Master who is her Teacher. The effort now is for a world-wide fellowship, at the mental level, of men and women of good will everywhere. If there is any hope for our civilization and the planet I believe this is it.” (Letter to Fred Church, November 24, 1958).

1959 would prove to be a decisive year for Riley Crabb. Meade Layne´s health was declining and he asked Riley to become the new director of Borderland Sciences Researh Foundation including editor of Round Robin. The Journal of Borderland Research. How this new life was reflected in the correspondence I will present in a later blog post.