Brother XII (Brother Twelve) was one of Canada’s most notorious cult leaders. A mystic figure who dreamed of transforming humanity, he left behind a failed utopia and deep mystery.
Brother XII (Edward Arthur Wilson).
Edward Arthur Wilson was born on 25 July 1878 in Birmingham, England. His parents — Thomas Wilson, a successful manufacturer, and Sarah Ellen Pearsall — were members of a Catholic Apostolic Church, a 19th-century splinter faction of Christianity where services featured ecstatic elements like speaking in tongues.
After apprenticing on a Royal Navy ship as a teenager, Wilson began working on ships around the world, eventually becoming a captain. He married Margery Clark in 1902 and moved to British Columbia in 1907, where they had two children. In 1912, he abandoned his family and returned to sailing around the world, eventually settling in the south of France in late 1924.
Visions and Theosophic Background
During his travels, Wilson became a devotee of theosophy, an occultist religious movement. Theosophists believe in karma and reincarnation, and that the world is being guided towards a spiritual awakening by a group of enlightened beings known as the Masters, sometimes referred to as a “brotherhood” or the Great White Lodge. While in France, Wilson began having visions and falling into trances where he would write long manifestos and spiritual texts.
He came to believe he was a conduit for the Twelfth Brother of the Great White Lodge, and so took the name Brother XII (sometimes written Brother Twelve) and began to share his writings with the world. His book The Tree Truths and his manifesto “A Message from the Masters of the Wisdom” laid out a philosophy of universal brotherhood and warned of the coming destruction of the current social and political order. Brother XII returned to England in 1926, where his writings attracted the attention of British theosophists. From there they were published in part or sold via advertisements in occult magazines across Europe and, later, in North America.
Move to Canada
In 1927, Brother XII moved to a settlement in British Columbia to prepare for the new world that would rise from the destruction of the current one. After convincing some wealthy British benefactors to travel with him, he set out on a tour of Canada in order to attract members to what he called The Aquarian Foundation, named after the common theosophical belief that humanity is entering a new era, the age of Aquarius.
Using funds from supporters, he eventually bought somewhere between 126 and 200 acres near Cedar, on Vancouver Island, and set about building his community. Though only a few dozen people joined him at the compound, within a year Brother XII had more than 8,000 supporters from across North America sending money for its upkeep.
Expansion and Troubles
From his base on Vancouver Island, Brother XII attempted to create a third party to run in the 1928 US Federal Election, which he predicted would end in violent civil war. Though his attempt failed, his popularity continued to grow. He convinced one follower, Myrtle Baumgartner, that she and he were the reincarnations of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis, and that they were destined to give birth to their generation’s Horus, who would save the world. (Baumgartner eventually suffered a nervous breakdown after multiple miscarriages.)
Another follower, a wealthy American socialite named Mary Connolly, moved to Cedar and contributed around $25,000 to the Aquarian Foundation. Brother XII used the money to purchase land on the de Courcy and Valdes Islands and expand his settlement.
Trouble began to emerge in his utopia when some of his followers found out Brother XII was keeping some of these donations for himself. A disillusioned member of the Aquarian Foundation charged Brother XII with embezzlement, a charge that was only dropped when Connolly made a surprise appearance in court to swear that she had given the money to Brother XII herself, as a gift.
Trust between Brother XII and his followers slowly eroded. In 1929, he met a woman named Mabel Skottowe who had re-named herself Madame Z (sometimes spelled Madame Zee). She became his consort, and together they grew increasingly paranoid and abusive towards other members of the foundation. Finally, in 1932, Connolly and others sued Brother XII for the return of their funds. The legal proceedings are said to have been plagued by strange occurrences, including attorneys fainting and the judge growling like a dog, and one of Brother XII’s followers claimed he had attempted to assassinate his enemies with black magic.
Brother XII (Edward Arthur Wilson). Cover illustration for The Wide World magazine. December, 1942.
Escape and Mystery
After the lawsuit began, Brother XII and Madame Z fled British Columbia, destroying much of the compound. They are believed to have fled with the money Brother XII kept from his followers’ donations, which he had converted to gold coins and sealed in glass jars. A death certificate with Brother XII’s original name, Edward Arthur Wilson, was dated 7 November 1934, but he is widely believed to have faked his death: the certificate was signed by a former follower of his, and he was reportedly sighted by a former acquaintance two years later.
No further details have been confirmed about Brother XII or Madame Z. The former Aquarian Foundation compound has become a popular site for treasure hunters, who believe Brother XII may have hidden additional jars of gold coins throughout the islands.