Over the period 4–6 February 1962, a rare series of astrological conjunctions took place in the sign of Aquarius. Some saw this as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and others saw it as a time of great danger – the cold war reaching its climax with the Cuban missile crisis later that year.
Meanwhile, in London, different conjunctions and crises were taking place between the Soho Cabbalists, the School of Economic Science (SES), the Study Society, and the Maharishi. This article focuses on the period from the beginning of 1960 to the end of 1962, during which each organisation underwent radical change.
SES and the Study Society
The School of Economic Science (SES) and the Study Society had been closely allied since the mid-fifties, teaching Ouspensky’s version of Gurdjieff’s fourth way tradition. The early sixties was a crucial period for both organisations, as they encountered the influence of meditation, brought to the West by the Maharishi.
The Study Society, originally “The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology” was founded in 1951 by Dr. Francis C. Roles, a pupil of Ouspensky. A few years later Leon MacLaren of the School of Economic Science (SES), up until then a school for adults seeking to learn about economics and progressive ideas, came across the Study Society and adapted their teachings as part of the SES training courses. From the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties the two organisations worked together quite closely, and some of the Soho Cabbalists belonged to each organisation at various times.
Francis Roles (left) founded the Study Society after Ouspensky’s death, in order to carry on his work in London. He later worked with Leon MacLaren (right) to bring Ouspensky’s teachings into the School of Economic Science (SES).
The Cabbalists working with SES
Keith Barnes recalls that the initial contact with SES for members of the group was Glyn Davies, who had been a member of SES for a ‘long time’. Around 1960, the Soho group as a whole was invited to undertake SES training.
According to Alan Bain, “Whether or not to take up the offer made to us had the effect of splitting the [group] of that time into two factions. There was no animosity involved (though some crept in later on) and it was harmoniously agreed that some, about half, would continue under Tony [Potter] following the familiar tried and tested path, whilst the others under me, went along with the [SES] - in which we eventually created not a little havoc in our own small way.” 
Keith Barnes explains that Dr Roles gave Alan Bain material from the SES courses for members of the group to study. Because of what they’d already learnt about Kabbalah they easily digested 6 months’ worth of material in 6 weeks. Eventually, Keith said, this blew the group apart – ‘too much knowledge, not enough being’.
Richard Henwood was sent to be an official observer from SES. Keith refers to him jokingly as a ‘spy’, but continues, “Each SES class had its ‘sitters-in’, often people in training to be tutors. Richard was very good, very effective in the SES. He worked in children’s publishing, for Scholastic Publications, and was involved in the first Dr Who series. Overall, he was a lovely person. But although he was sent to the Group purely as an observer from SES, what he learned there ‘blew his socks off’”.
The Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation
It was also at this time that SES and the Study Society began to change significantly, after Dr Roles and Leon MacLaren encountered the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on his first English tour in December 1959. The Maharishi had been teaching Transcendental Meditation (TM), an Indian mantric meditation system, since 1955, and wanted to promote it around the world.
Dr Roles apparently felt that TM bore all the signs of springing from the same sources as the Fourth Way, and he introduced his followers to Maharishi at a big meeting at Colet House. “But after being kept on a very tight rein, they were profoundly shaken by this departure from the norm, and they divided at once into two camps: those who fell for Maharishi's strong personality and those who wanted to 'keep the system pure' and would have nothing to do with flowers and incense and Sanskrit invocations.” 
The Cabbalists were also introduced to TM, as Lionel Bowen recalls: “We were each initiated into TM and often meditated as a group. Most of us were spending an hour a day meditating. But most of us parted ways with TM as they wanted money and most of us did not have enough for such frivolities.“ Norman Martin mentioned how he would sometimes meditate in a Catholic church in London.
Dr. Roles took charge of the Maharishi’s organisation in London, and the Maharishi continued his world tour. When he returned again, the SES and Study Society began organising the first World Congress, which took place on 13th March 1961 at the Royal Albert Hall (Glyn Davies was a steward at this event). At the Albert Hall the Maharishi spoke to a capacity crowd of 5,000, but it wasn’t entirely a success: there was heckling and hostile press coverage.
Meeting the Shankaracharya
Later that year, the Maharishi invited Roles and a number of his students to the opening of his new ashram in Rishikesh in India. During this visit, Dr Roles met the Shankaracharya, the head of the Maharishi’s tradition. “Exactly what led Roles to leave the ashram is not clear, but soon he was visiting the nearby ashram of Shantanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the North, one of the four lineage holders of Advaita Vedanta, a nondualistic Hindu spiritual tradition founded by Adi Shankara (788—820 c.e.).” 
The Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati
In June 1961, Dr Roles returned to England, and talked triumphantly about his visit:
“I had this strong urge that I must go because I felt that it was something to do with ‘finding the source’. I didn’t know what that meant really; I only knew that when the moment came I had to go at once. And as it happens I went at exactly the right moment. Now this expression – ‘find the source’ – can be taken in two ways, either, ‘find the source within yourself ’, attain realization of your possibilities or, on the bigger scale as Mr. Ouspensky so often told us we had to do, find the source of the System. Most unexpectedly we found both, and I would like the main theme to be this afternoon – I should give you sufficient evidence for you to accept that – that we have found the source of the System, and we have returned to the source.” 
According to Joyce Collin-Smith Dr Roles also said that he had forged a link with a much greater master than the Maharishi, and that the Study Society and the Maharishi’s organisation would now go their own ways. This split caused considerable friction, and according to Joyce Collin-Smith this came to a head with the Maharishi confronting Dr Roles and trying to turn him back to his way. In October that year Dr Roles and Leon MacLaren set up the London School of Meditation, teaching their own version of TM , .
Crisis within the Cabbalists
The relationship between the Cabbalists one the one side, and SES, the Study Society and the Maharishi on the other was not always an easy one, and in 1962 the relationship plunged the group into crisis. Alan Bain said afterwards (in 1979) that he had thought that the “Hindu mantric method” was a hindrance to the group’s work, but when he tried to tell members that they had “gone too far down the wrong road, there arose much contention, strife, and dispute, and I did then what I would not hesitate to do again if it ever proved necessary - I dissolved the group altogether, and ‘retired’ after a short time to the wilds of Somerset, to be nearer my beloved Glastonbury.” .
There were other views of these events. For example Glyn Davies thought that Alan suffered some form of breakdown. Norman Martin recalls Alan having a big argument with the leader of SES (McLaren or Dr Roles perhaps), quoting to him from the Bible about evil. Somewhere tied up with this was the discovery that the Cabbalists had all been given the same mantra for their meditation, which led to them researching their own mantras.
It is interesting to note that Alan’s apparent objection to the “Hindu mantric method” did not appear in his book Keys to Kabbalah , where he has a much more positive opinion of it.
After Alan’s ‘dropping out’ and the dissolution of the group in 1962, some individuals maintained their links with SES and the Study Society for many years.
According to Warren Kenton, who first encountered Kabbalah via Glyn Davies in an SES context, the school seemed to become increasingly rigid. Eventually, perhaps around 1968, he decided to leave SES. “Several hundred people also left the school around this time. Many were so disillusioned that they turned away from the ‘Work’.” Warren, along with Glyn Davies and others, joined the Study Society .
Later, in the 1980s, SES became the subject of controversy, especially in connection with historical child abuse and the mistreatment of women . Today it continues as the School of Philosophy and Economic Science.
Keith Barnes recalls being expelled from SES and the Study Society several times – one of the main reasons being that he liked to talk about Kabbalah! And they were told that they could not follow two systems at once. But there could also be a class issue in that the Study Society drew from the upper classes, and the SES from the working population.  Eddie Prevost, a jazz musician and member of the 1970s Kabbalah group led by Glyn Davies, was also expelled from the Study Society, and felt that it was for class reasons. On the other hand, some members of the group had long involvements with the Study Society – for example Robin Amis continued for many years with them.
For at least twenty years afterwards, links remained between various subsequent groups such as the Saros organisation, and SES and the Study Society. For example group members were often encouraged to take SES economics courses for a year or two, as a useful education, but recommended to stay on the sidelines. Contact between members of the different organisations was encouraged, and although it was clear that each were following their own path, there still remained and remains common ground.
As well as the specific references given in the notes, several books are of interest in following the history of the SES and Study society:
 Dorine Tolley, The Power Within: Leon MacLaren, A Memoir of His Life and Work, (Booksurge Publishing, 2009) p. 165.
 Alan Bain, Order of the Temple Newsletter, Spring 1979.
 Joyce Collin-Smith, Call No Man Master, (Gateway Books, 1988), p.142.
 The development of the relationship of the Maharishi to SES and the Study Society is well summarised in
 A useful chronology covering the 1960s with links to Roles’ meetings and correspondence with Sankyacharya is available at
Some interesting entries in Role’s meetings are as follows:
1960/49 (Nov 1960) talks about meeting Maharishi in Jan 1960.
1961/11 About ‘Operation Albert Hall’
 1961/18 (Jun 1961) on return from first meeting with the Shankaracharya.
 1961/42 (16 Oct 1961) talks about setting up the school of meditation ‘next week’.
1962/67 (17 December 1962) Address by Dr Roles at S.E.S. MEETING, FRIENDS’ HOUSE to 900 Members of the School who are meditating.
 Joyce Collin-Smith, Call No Man Master, (Gateway Books, 1988), p.146.
 Ernest Woods, Yoga (Pelican 1959). The section on mantras associated with the Chakras is on page 152.
 Alan Bain, The Keys to Kabbalah p.27
 Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, The Path of a Kabbalist, (Tree of Life Publishing, 2009) pp. 110-113.
 Wikipedia article about SES:
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