TOBIAS CHURTON was born deaf in Birmingham in August 1960, the third son of Patricia, an industrial laboratory assistant, and Victor, a toolmaker who had served in the REME during the Malayan Emergency.
The Churtons are an ancient family who appeared with lands in Cheshire after the Norman Conquest.
Having acquired the faculty of hearing aged three, young Tobias underwent a long programme of speech-therapy. Pronounced interest in films, music, singing, conversation, books and TV soon emerged. By the age of six, enthusiasm for History and the Bible were added to Tobias's escutcheon. Migrating to Australia with his family in 1966, Tobias spent two happy years in the light-hearted, optimistic atmosphere that characterised Melbourne in the mid to late 1960s.
Returning to an England on a downhill slope at Christmas ’68, Tobias sought solace in the spirit of The Prisoner and The Avengers before leaving home for Lichfield’s Cathedral School in Staffordshire in late ’69 after a memorable summer spent not at Woodstock or the Isle of Wight but with his brother Victor cycling the lanes of old Warwickshire.
In 1971, he joined the
state system for seven years at Fairfax School, Sutton Coldfield. There
he distinguished himself in inventive mischief, English, languages, history,
religious studies, drama, pottery and art. He began writing poetry at
14, exhibiting concerns for the woes of his country and spiritual aspirations
of a mature, precocious character. He found an original genius at odds
with the egalitarian intentions of the so-called ‘comprehensive’
system. Inspired by his mother’s encouragement and father Victor’s
discovery of a powerful Churton presence at Oxford in the 18th and 19th
centuries, Tobias turned down a rare apprenticeship at the British Museum's
Bindery and manuscript restoration department and aimed instead for a
place at Brasenose College where Archdeacon Ralph Churton (1754-1831;
great-grandfather of Dean Inge) had written the lives of its founders
nearly two centuries before.
By now, Tobias was aware of having a spiritual vocation. Brasenose awarded him the Colquitt Exhibition for prospective ordinands to the Church of England.
After a glorious summer mountaineering with his friend Mark Bennett in the Haute Savoie and Switzerland, Tobias went up to Brasenose, Oxford, to study Theology in October 1978, ushering in a period of intense personal development. It was at Brasenose that he became acquainted with the works and reputation of English mountaineer, magus and mystic poet Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), with whom Tobias found something in common.
On the French-Swiss Alpine border, summer 1978
Tobias wrote, directed and performed in numerous comedic reviews and plays, joined a rock band, taught himself piano, read widely, wrote poetry, explored atheism, and directed his magico-moral play IPSISSIMUS at the Balliol Lindsay Rooms in June 1980. His interests coalesced into a commitment to philosophies of transcendence. After experiencing critical spiritual growth-events in Carcassonne in 1979 and Strasbourg in 1981 (with intimations corresponding to Raja Yoga’s trance of Samadhi), he offered his life to spiritual service in the Church of England after completing his final examinations.
In the In the footsteps of TE Lawrence, Carcassonne, September 1979
Awakening, Strasbourg, April 1981
The Advisory Council for
the Church’s Ministry did not, however, recognise Tobias’s
spiritual vocation as one corresponding to current ideas of priesthood.
By the harsh summer of 1982, Tobias found himself enlightened, but stony
broke and unemployed in a bedsit in Tooting Bec.
Two factors raised him from the slough of despond. First, he had made an impression on Dr John Ranelagh, commissioning editor for religious programmes at the newly founded Channel 4. Ranelagh was interested in Tobias’s TV series project on the Gnostics. Second, he encountered an objective correlative of his world-saving dreams – in West Germany, where a group of stalwart friends from Hessen and Berlin, recognising that visionaries have a place in the modern world, took Tobias into their lives and hearts. Germany at the time was experiencing an unreported fresh Reformation with ‘Alternative’ and ‘Green’ philosophies shaking up the complacency of the post-Willi Brandt economic miracle.
Returning to England in the spring of 1983, Tobias Churton’s independent career as a writer, researcher, film-maker, poet and composer properly began with a commission from Channel 4 to work on Hugh Newsam’s remarkable film on doctrine in the Church of England, THE ELASTIC CHURCH. Allan Bennett narrated Tobias’s script and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston advised vicars to put TVs up in their chancels so that Anglicans might see it. We may hope they did.
Selective Summary of Tobias Churton’s work 1984-2010
Tobias worked as researcher for a Channel 4 TV Documentary: APOCALYPSE about the Book of Revelation and its perils for our times, before going on to work as a researcher for the Thames TV series PEACE – interviews on Peace & Reconciliation for Christmas.
Featuring the talents
of Peter Cook, Roy Orbison, Roger Waters, Andy Fairweather-Low, Edwin
Starr, Paul Jones, Carl Wayne, Zoot Money, Derek Taylor, Linda Thompson,
Screaming Lord Sutch, and many others, the production was featured as
a Radio Times cover. Praised in many quarters, including Yoko Ono, the
inventive production divided critics.
In the autumn Tobias moved to Carlisle to work for Border TV as researcher for an interview series on celebrity's spiritual experiences, REVELATIONS, while Collins Books published WHY I AM STILL AN ANGLICAN, a book of essays by eminent Anglicans. Tobias was the Editor and wrote the introduction: his first foray into British publishing.
Credited for ‘Research/Dramatisations’,
the conception was Tobias’s. The series featured a powerful portrayal
of the Gnostic Christ by Nigel Harrison, giving ‘flesh’ to
the ‘Gnostic Gospels’ in New York and the Lake District, as
well as dramatic scenes filmed in Languedoc, Florence and elsewhere, written
by Tobias, featuring Brian Blessed, Marius Goring, Ian Brooker, James
Tillett and others. Tobias coached the actors, drawing forth powerful,
New York, Spring 1986, filming GNOSTICS
One of GNOSTICS concentrated on the Gnostic Gospels’ discovery
and featured interviews with Muhammad Ali al-Samman (who discovered the
‘Nag Hammadi Library’), Professors Hans Jonas, Gilles Quispel,
Elaine Pagels and James Robinson; it is authoritative.
With Brian Blessed as Guilhabert de Castres and Ian Brooker as Dominic Guzman
Part Two explored
the Cathar ‘heresy’ of 12th and 13th century Languedoc. It
featured interviews with R.I.Moore, Michel Roquebert, Anne Brenon of the
Centre d’Etudes Cathares, Villegly. Expert on Troubadour music,
GÉRARD ZUCHETTO, was interviewed and performed with his Grop Rosamonda.
Tobias would record two of his songs with Gérard in a Carcassonne
studio in 1986 and 1987, inspired by a shared love for the poetry of troubadour
RAIMON DE MIRAVAL.
Part Three concentrated on the Hermetic Philosophy’s revival during the Renaissance and featured James Tillett as Giovanni Pico della Miranola performing his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486) below the statue of Michelangelo’s David. The contemporary relevance of the Florentine gnostic Hermetists was explored in a fascinating section on Dutch millionaire and collector, Joost Ritman, featuring his company De Ster and his famous BIBLIOTHECA PHILOSOPHICA HERMETICA. The encounter with Rosicrucian JOOST RITMAN would have a powerful effect on Tobias’s life for some years.
At work on The Gnostics, Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, 1986
dealt with Carl Jung’s debt to Gnosticism and featured interviews
with Hans Jonas, Gilles Quispel, Aniela Jaffé and members of Jung’s
Eranos group. A section revealed a Gnostic Church operating at Palo Alto,
California, featuring an interview with Gnostic Tau Rosamonde Miller of
the Mary Magdalene Order.
It is a very great shame
that the series is not currently available in DVD form, for it was not
only pioneering but in many respects definitive. Nothing since has equalled
GNOSTICS in authority or production values. It was a remarkable appearance
amid the conspicuous materialism of the 1980s and gives the lie to blanket
characterisations of the period often repeated by journalists.
GNOSTICS won the gold award for best religious TV series at the New York TV Festival of 1988.
from Channel 4 was supposed to be his first film as director, writer and
composer. Tobias had been writing music for a film on the inner life of
WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827) since 1983. John Ranelagh at Channel 4 authorised
£20,000 development money for Tobias’s drama with music LOVE
IS ON FIRE! William Blake 1757-1827. Brian Blessed agreed to
play Blake and the whole production was to be filmed in London and the
West Country. Tobias sought advice from Michael Powell for the production;
Powell was enthused by the idea. Sadly, John Ranelagh left Channel 4 and
his successor considered the project too bold for innocent audiences unused
to the wine of spiritual vision: a failure of nerve with far-reaching
consequences, in Tobias’s opinion.
Nevertheless, Tobias was commissioned to write and direct a kind of sequel to THE ELASTIC CHURCH. Tobias came up with a characteristically daring and colourful film, NO MAN HATH SEEN GOD (1987) which had dramatic elements of vision, a love of poetry evinced in readings by Brian Blessed and a magical appearance by Blake expert, poet KATHLEEN RAINE (pictured with Tobias below).
The film was concerned with an attempt by the Church of England to define its beliefs about God in a book produced by its Doctrine Commission. The film analysed in 26 minutes the shortcomings of the Commission’s approach, a treatment of establishment efforts that did not go down well with everyone, especially those with vested interests. Tobias presented the film and also wrote the music. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in summer 1988 and received its warmest notice from The Guardian.
With Tony Anholt as Ralph Churton (1754-1831); Tobias's father Victor looks on
THE GNOSTICS, Tobias’s book of the TV series was published in late 1987 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Channel 4 Books. It was a No 2 non-fiction national bestseller. Tobias had just turned 26 when he wrote it – in four weeks. Published in the USA in 1998 by Barnes & Noble it has sold over 68,000 copies there, the more remarkable since very few in the States have seen the original TV series. The Church Times called Tobias's work a triumph of communication; the Daily Telegraph hailed the series.
Christopher McIntosh and
Carlos Gilly appeared as experts on Rosicrucianism and JOOST RITMAN, a
member of the Lectorium, explained his vision of the importance of GNOSIS
to the modern world. Anthony Phillips wrote the score. The film was broadcast
as Part Four of the Dutch version of GNOSTICS in January 1990.
In November 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell (predicted by Tobias to Steve Garvey of Reuters 6 months before) Tobias left England for a residency in Amsterdam, courtesy of Mr Ritman, who wanted a special film to accompany an exhibition of Rosicrucian books and manuscripts that was to light up the ‘New Europe’. Living centrally in Gasthuismolensteeg, Tobias enjoyed drinking deeply of the Rosicrucian stream – and the old pubs of Amsterdam. The residency included two remarkable trips to Basle to meet the world’s authority on the Rosicrucians, Dr Carlos Gilly, who also worked for Ritman. The film, provisionally entitled THE VICTORY OF THE LIGHT was never completed, apparently due to complexities in Mr Ritman’s business. The work would, however, bear full fruit later – 18 years later! Gnosis transcends Time.
In March 1990, a provincial by-election brought Labour Leader Neil Kinnock to rapturous reception in Lichfield. Tobias followed the bizarrely mesmerized throng, uttering the classical words ‘All glory is fleeting!’ behind Kinnock’s ear, and conceived of a film that would show the folly of the political-media circus simply by showing it, while setting the madness in context with readings from Hermetic philosophy, the Bible, and Rosicrucian mystics.
THE ELECTION, directed
by Tobias and shot by Dave Scott and Belinda Parsons, was the result.
The 60 minute film, featuring Screaming Lord Sutch, English ‘Madam’
Cynthia Payne (pictured above), and other notables of government and popular
television was described as ‘beguiling’ by TV executive Andrew
Barr of TVS; it has never been broadcast. Tobias is not entirely surprised.
In autumn 1990, Tobias decided to embark on A SOLO TOUR of the new Europe from Spain to the Polish border on his Trike a la Easy Rider. He painted John Dee’s alchemical Monas Hieroglyphica on the back of his camouflaged jacket and set off on the Beast for a 3000 mile trek: in some senses, a prophetic act. The story makes hilarious and fascinating hearing and this is not the place for it. Just to note that it was unseasonably cold, rained all the way, and Tobias was miraculously saved by an angel in Hamburg, which is to say, her name was Angelika and she is warmly remembered for proving those with faith in Providence do not believe in vain.
Tobias returned to find
an invitation to address the Theological Faculty of the University of
Uppsala. The head of the faculty, JAN ARVID HELLSTRÖM wished to translate
THE GNOSTICS into Swedish and invited theologians from Sweden and Norway
to see Tobias’s film work and hear him speak. Tobias had found a
real friend. Jan Arvid said that he could not understand why Tobias had
not been ordained and that if he, Jan Arvid, was made a bishop, he would
ordain him. Another lead came from the visit to Sweden. In Stockholm,
Tobias met Swedish journalist and broadcaster, GÖREL BYSTRÖM
JANARV. They would try to make a TV series about the role of sexual love
in holy lives.
In 1991, Tobias moved for a season to London to work running an office for a film company making a series of films for the BBC about India. In the summer, he interviewed Hollywood heart-throb PATRICK SWAYZE at the Ritz. The director of the programme died and the film was never shown. That was the kind of luck that permeated the early 1990s. At the end of the year, Tobias got together with an old school friend Sean Davison to try to make a TV documentary about Aleister Crowley. He went for the first – but not the last – time to the Warburg Institute to study Crowley’s unpublished papers. It was a remarkable experience. But the film did not happen.
In the meantime, JAN ARVID
had been made Bishop of Växjö Diocese in Sweden. He asked Tobias
if he wanted to be ordained as a priest in the Church of Sweden. Tobias
started learning Swedish and listening to Abba records, as well as those
of Jan Arvid, who was, until his tragic death in a car accident in January
1994, a successful song composer.
In summer 1992, the time came to go to Birmingham Airport for a flight to Göteborg whence he would be collected and taken to Öland, then Uppsala, to begin his studies (in Swedish) for ordination, with an aim to be Jan Arvid’s Examining Chaplain.
Tobias did not catch the plane. Returning to Lichfield, he felt immediately drawn to the local archive. He began researching the life and work of 17th century Hermetist, astrologer and ‘mighty good man’ ELIAS ASHMOLE, born in Lichfield in 1617.
This work grew into something
called the ELIAS ASHMOLE SOCIETY, whose aim was to turn Erasmus Darwin’s
old house in Lichfield into an international Museum of Freemasonry (Darwin
was a Freemason, initiated in Edinburgh). The plan did not succeed in
its first phase, but the effort would bear fruit in different ways for
the next 14 years.
Returning from a job interview with the South Bank Show in 1993, Tobias, walking up the Strand, felt curiously close to familiar spiritual territory. Stopping, he looked into a gap in the railings. He was in Blake’s last home, Fountain Court. He saw it as it was when Blake lived there until his death in 1827. Tobias had an idea. He walked up through Covent Garden to the ATLANTIS BOOKSHOP and spoke to its manager, Caroline Wise. Would she be interested in publishing a follow-up to THE GNOSTICS. Yes, she would. The book was to be called HIT BY THE STONE and would ‘go places’ the first book only touched on. By Christmas 1993, the first version was complete. Tobias demonstrated he was a master in his field, as Tobias’s then agent Mike Shaw of Curtis Brown observed, but its form was uncommercial. The labour would not bear fruit for another nine years.
With the backing of Michael Powell's widow, Thelma Schoonmaker-Powell, and the European Script Fund, Columba and Tobias embarked on a fascinating film comedy called THE GATECRASHERS, a quest for spiritual surrealist René Daumal’s Mountain that Cannot Not Exist in the context of a millennial Languedoc, flush with rumours of weird goings-on, the Priory of Sion, the Lost Film of the Resurrection, Simon Magus, time travel, eternal love, Templar castles and many cultish elements that would go into Dan Brown’s considerably less ironic novels some years later. Tobias and Columba enjoyed researching the script in fascinating locations in the heart of southern Languedoc.
THE GATECRASHERS was
well ahead of its time, or after it, depending on what you think of the
film industry. Columba reckoned Michael Powell would have adored it, and
that is enough for Tobias.
Refining his knowledge of the sources of western spirituality, it was during this period that Tobias opened a fruitful association with the living world of British Freemasonry.
Meanwhile, the Lichfield Press published a Selection of Tobias’s poems, THE FEAR OF VISION. It is an impressive collection. Convinced the contemporary world is deaf to real poetry, Tobias has seldom sought recognition of his poetic genius. Shame.
Columba would play ELIAS ASHMOLE and the film would explore Ashmole’s commitment to Hermetism, Royalism and Freemasonry, as well as his founding of the first purpose built public museum in the world, the Ashmolean in Oxford. Tobias was delighted to find ELIAS, born in Lichfield, had been a member of Brasenose College. The alchemists’ circle is a closed circle.
Tobias was introduced to businessman PETER MAXWELL JONES who generously put up the budget for INITIATION.
Tobias ran the magazine with great success. By August 2000 it could boast over 30,000 subscribers. FREEMASONRY TODAYnow goes out free to every Mason in England (well over a quarter of a million readers). Tobias was keen to revive spirituality and esoteric philosophy of a high order within the Craft, as well as showing that this so-called ‘secret society’ was open-minded, open to enquirers and in many ways a good thing. His work has proven highly influential. Tobias learned a great deal; and so, if I may say, did Freemasonry.
Tobias with friends of Nancy Cunard at her cottage, Lamothe Fenelon
The musical YOU, ME AND YESTERDAY concerned Nancy’s scandalous relationship with black jazz pianist HENRY CROWDER in the late 1920s and 1930s and came together in a splendid recording made at a Lichfield studio featuring John, Tobias and singer TRACY JEWELL.
At Nancy Cunard's table, Le Divan Cafe, Gourdon
The musical is a pure collaboration of the two talents, John and Tobias. YOU, ME AND YESTERDAY was performed by pupils of Lichfield Cathedral School at sell-out performances at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre in March 2011. The directors were Sue Hannam and Beverley Dunne. Tobias made a film of the show.
He has also lectured frequently at the annual conferences of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, supported by the vision of the Marquess of Northampton, until lately ProGrand Master, United Grand Lodge of England. Tobias’s lectures have been published in the Conference’s Transactions. He has also been invited twice to address George Washington’s Alexandria Lodge No 22, Washington DC, for their renowned annual St John the Baptist festival at Gadsby’s Tavern, old Alexandria.
Tobias has also worked on a number of films and film scripts. In JACK BROWN AND THE CURSE OF THE CROWN in 2001, directed by Andrew Gillman at Twickenham Studios, Tobias was uniquely credited with providing ‘Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dialogue’. He coached the actors in ancient Egyptian, something he picked up for the film!
The decade’s most notable publications from Tobias’s pen are as follows:
THE GOLDEN BUILDERS – Alchemists, Rosicrucians and the first Free Masons, published by Weiser in 2004 - one of Tobias’s personal favourites.
GNOSTIC PHILOSOPHY – From Ancient Persia to Modern Times, published by Inner Traditions of Vermont in 2005, has sold over 10,000 copies in the States and is widely and deeply appreciated by its readers.
THE MAGUS OF FREEMASONRY,
THE MYSTERIOUS LIFE OF ELIAS ASHMOLE (Inner Traditions, 2006)
finally brought together a decade of Tobias’s researches into Ashmole’s
life. With a strong inner core of care and meaning, this copiously illustrated
biography has touched the hearts and minds of many.
In 2006, Tobias was commissioned
by Milan’s Cairo Press to write a book on the recently published
Gospel of Judas. Tobias’s KISS OF DEATH – THE TRUE
HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS was published for the first time
in English by Watkins in 2008. It reveals Churton’s knowledge, wit
and close familiarity with the mindset of early Gnostics, as well as his
sure grasp of pop culture.
FREEMASONRY – THE REALITY appeared in 2007, published
by Lewis Masonic. It was intended to be the most complete, academically
sound and enjoyably readable book on its subject. It goes from strength
to strength. Nobody has written as well as Tobias on a subject of which
many consider him a master.
At the end of 2007 he
was commissioned by MARK BOOTH at RANDOM HOUSE publishers to write a biography
of ALEISTER CROWLEY. At last, Tobias had the opportunity
to assemble a lifetime of research and bring it into parley with a fresh
research programme on the subject, bringing together the most authoritative
and accurate sources for the first time. ALEISTER CROWLEY - THE
BIOGRAPHY was published by Watkins Publishing in September 2011.
Not content with all that, Tobias has also written a masterwork on the history of the Rosicrucian movement, THE INVISIBLE HISTORY OF THE ROSICRUCIANS – THE WORLD’S MOST MYSTERIOUS SECRET SOCIETY (US version: Inner Traditions, 2009), published in the UK by Lewis Masonic as INVISIBLES – THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE ROSICRUCIANS, considered by authorities as the authoritative work on the subject.
October 2010 sees the appearance of Tobias’s considered exploration into THE MISSING FAMILY OF JESUS – An Inconvenient Truth: How the Church erased Jesus’s brothers and sisters from History. Tobias has gone into every extant account of Jesus’s family and with an uncanny insight into gospel sources has come up with the holy grail of New Testament scholarship: a truly plausible and startling account of the ‘historical Jesus’. The book will take time to sink in, but when it does, it will only be ignored at a price.
Tobias's 'sequel' to The Missing Family of Jesus will be published by Inner Traditions (US) in October 2012: THE MYSTERIES OF JOHN THE BAPTIST should help to revolutionize our historical knowledge of Christian origins.
Churton is now entering a life of spiritual and material discovery.
to Homepage, click on Spiritual Man