Most of my research involved finding books and reading them. I took notes and spent time thinking. I wrote letters to people I'd met during book searches. I joined a few organizations just to get their newsletters and magazines. One almost got me killed.
Many well-written books came from the Theosophical Publishing Company. After one book order arrived, a form letter came to invite my joining their association. Theosophy, they explained, is a doctrine of religious philosophy and mysticism. There were three goals: Advance a universal brotherhood, study comparative religion, philosophy, and science and investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man. That sounded reasonable.
Even better, there was an annual meeting in the small city of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, the same city where the Wycliffe Bible Translators got started in the 40s. How could I go wrong?
Best of all, the Ozarks is motorcycle heaven. The worst thing that could happen would be a few days of motorcycle camping in beautiful landscape with miles of convoluted, twisty blacktop through and over small mountains. I might just skip the meeting.
Have you noticed how many really weird organizations there are? They all promise so much and deliver so little. Each has some charismatic leadership, access to age-old knowledge, secret powers to the initiate. Sadly, critical judgment always came to the same conclusion. Just another case of organized smoke and mirrors, with a few of the leaders starting out to do good, and then doing quite well.
The trip was worthwhile, but different. I found a small group of earnest people, most quite elderly, willing to listen to hours of lecture so far over my head I slept through most of them.
I remember that in their doctrine is a belief in the lost continent of Atlantis, from which most of us come. We belong to the Ayran branch which somehow makes us superior.
I shrugged off an idea that had emerged before, in a particularly virulent form just before WW II, when the idea of a master race got mixed with nationalism and a swastika. I went back to sleep.
The fun came later, when I met the manager of Theosophical properties in Sulphur Springs. He showed me where the meetings used to take place, in an old house overlooking the city. That is, before it caught fire and nearly burned to the ground. His current job was to clear the debris for new construction. I offered to return later in the summer and help. He accepted.
His wife was a wonderful cook. Good thing, too. It made up for three days of back-breaking deconstruction, crowbars, chain saws, and very little progress. Then he made a suggestion.
Since what remained unburned of the house was a couple of walls and part of the roof , why not relight it and haul off the ashes when they cooled? So we did. Bad call. Big mistake.
What seemed like a couple of minutes after we chopped a hole in the roof and built a small fire, I was standing fifty feet away, shielding my face from the heat while I took pictures. The fire department arrived, put out what was still burning, yelled at us and went away. I stayed up all night putting out small blazes in the surrounding woods, caused by flying sparks.
I went home with vivid memories very different from what the Theosophicals had in mind. For me what I took home was better. This time I got smoke without mirrors. But I didn't renew my membership.