William Walker Atkinson was a very important and influential American figure in the early days of the New Thought Movement. He was an attorney, merchant, publisher, and author, as well as an occultist and an American pioneer of New Thought. He is also known to have been the author of the pseudonymous works attributed to Theron Q. Dumont and Yogi Ramacharaka. Atkinson’s 1906 book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World is associated with the thinking behind the recent phenomena surrounding the 2007 movie and book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
Due in part to Atkinson’s intense personal secrecy and extensive use of pseudonyms he is now largely forgotten, despite having obtained mention in past editions of Who’s Who in America, Religious Leaders of America, and several similar publications and for having written more than 100 books in the last 30 years of his life.
Atkinson pursued a business career from 1882 onwards. While he gained much material success in his profession as a lawyer, the stress and overstrain eventually took its toll and during this time he experienced a complete physical and mental breakdown, and financial disaster. He looked for healing and in the late 1880s he found it with New Thought. From mental and physical wreck and financial ruin, he attained perfect health, mental vigor and material prosperity, which he attributed to the application of the principles of New Thought.
By the early 1890s Chicago had become a major centre for New Thought, mainly through the work of Emma Curtis Hopkins, and Atkinson decided to move there. Once in the city, he became an active promoter of the movement as an editor and author. In 1900 Atkinson worked as an associate editor of Suggestion, a New Thought Journal, and wrote his probable first book, Thought Force in Business and Everyday Life, a series of lessons in personal magnetism, psychic influence, thought force, concentration, will-power, and practical mental science.
Throughout his subsequent career, Atkinson wrote and published under his own name and many pseudonyms. It is not known whether he ever acknowledged authorship of these pseudonymous works, but all of the supposedly independent authors whose writings are now credited to Atkinson were linked to one another by virtue of the fact that their works were released by a series of publishing houses with shared addresses and they also wrote for a series of magazines with a shared roster of authors. Atkinson was the editor of all of those magazines and his pseudonymous authors acted first as contributors to the periodicals, and were then spun off into their own book writing careers, with most of their books being released by Atkinson’s own publishing houses.
One key to unravelling this tangled web of pseudonyms is found in Advanced Thought magazine, billed as A Journal of The New Thought, Practical Psychology, Yogi Philosophy, Constructive Occultism, Metaphysical Healing, Etc. This magazine, edited by Atkinson, advertised articles by Atkinson, Yogi Ramacharaka, and Theron Q. Dumont, the latter two being pseudonyms of Atkinson, and it had the same address as The Yogi Publishing Society, which published the works attributed to Yogi Ramacharaka.
Advanced Thought magazine also carried articles by Swami Bhakta Vishita, but when it came time for Vishita’s writings to be collected in book form, they were not published by the Yogi Publishing Society. Instead they were published by The Advanced Thought Publishing Co., the same house that brought out the Theron Q. Dumont books and published Advanced Thought magazine.
In the 1890s, Atkinson had become interested in Hinduism and after 1900 he devoted a great deal of effort to the diffusion of yoga and Oriental occultism in the West. It is unclear at this late date whether he actually ever converted to any form of Hindu religion, or merely wished to write on the subject. If he did convert, he left no record of the event.
According to unverifiable sources, while Atkinson was in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, he met one Baba Bharata, a pupil of the late Indian mystic Yogi Ramacharaka. As the story goes, Bharata had become acquainted with Atkinson’s writings after arriving in America, the two men shared similar ideas, and so they decided to collaborate. While editing New Thought magazine, it is claimed, Atkinson co-wrote with Bharata a series of books which they attributed to Bharata’s teacher, Yogi Ramacharaka. This story cannot be verified and, like the biography that falsely claimed Atkinson was an English author, it may be a fabrication.
No record exists in India of a Yogi Ramacharaka, nor is there evidence in America of the immigration of a Baba Bharata. Furthermore, although Atkinson may have travelled to Chicago to visit the Columbian Exposition, where the authentic Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda attracted enthusiastic audiences, he is only known to have taken up residence in Chicago around 1900.
Atkinson’s claim to have an Indian coauthor was actually not unusual among the New Thought and New Age writers of his era. Atkinson was not alone in embracing a vaguely exotic orientalism as a running theme in his writing, nor in crediting Hindus, Buddhists, or Sikhs with the possession of special knowledge and secret techniques of clairvoyance, spiritual development, sexual energy, health, or longevity.
The way had been paved in the mid to late 19th century by Paschal Beverly Randolph, who wrote in his books Eulis and Seership that he had been taught the mysteries of mirror scrying by the deposed Indian Maharajah Dalip Singh. Randolph was known for embroidering the truth when it came to his own autobiography, but he was actually telling the truth, or something very close to it, according to his biographer John Patrick Deveney, when he said that he had met the Maharajah in Europe and had learned from him the proper way to use both polished gemstones and Indian bhattah mirrors in divination.
After Randolph’s death in 1875, the floodgates opened, and from the 1890s until well into the 1950s, the West was inundated by a tide of all seeing, all knowing, all telling swamis, yogis, fakirs, and mahatmas. Some of these representatives from the East, like Paramahansa Yogananda, were genuine teachers who represented known lineages of Indian and Asian spiritual and philosophical tradition. Others, such as the so called blind albino seeress from Ceylon, Millie Lammar, and Claude Alexander, The Crystal Seer, were vaudeville and stage mentalists who dressed in oriental garments.
In any case, with or without a coauthor, Atkinson started writing a series of books under the name Yogi Ramacharaka, ultimately releasing more than a dozen titles under this pseudonym. The Ramacharaka books were published by the Yogi Publication Society in Chicago and reached more people than Atkinson’s New Thought works did. In fact, all of his books on yoga are still in print today.
Atkinson apparently enjoyed the idea of writing as a Hindu so much that he created two more Indian personas, Swami Bhakta Vishita and Swami Panchadasi. Strangely, neither of these identities wrote on Hinduism. Their material was for the most part concerned with the arts of divination and mediumship, including oriental forms of clairvoyance and seership. Of the two, Swami Bhakta Vishita was by far the more popular, and with more than 30 titles to his credit, he eventually outsold even Yogi Ramacharaka.
The high point of his prodigious capacity for production was reached in the late 1910s. In addition to writing and publishing a steady stream of books and pamphlets, Atkinson started writing articles for Elizabeth Towne’s New Thought magazine Nautilus, while simultaneously editing his own journal Advanced Thought. During this same period he also found time to assume the role of the honorary president of the International New Thought Alliance.
Atkinson died November 22, 1932 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69, after 50 years of simultaneously successful careers in business, writing, occultism, and the law. Many mysteries still surround Atkinson’s life, including the fact that a certificate of copyright issued three years after his death is said to have been signed by the author himself.