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GEORGE ROBERT STOW MEAD (1863-1933) was born at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. He came from a military family—his father was a Colonel in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps—but he chose to follow an academic career instead. From King’s School, Rochester, he went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge, to study mathematics but changed to Classics, in which he graduated with a B.A. degree in 1884. In that same year, he joined the Theosophical Society and determined to devote his life to the cause of Theosophy.
During his vacations, Mead worked as a volunteer at the London headquarters of the Theosophical Society, and on one of his visits, in May 1887, he first met H. P. Blavatsky. He was at once captivated, and two years later H.P.B. repaid his devotion by giving him her absolute trust and appointing him her private secretary. In addition to handling H.P.B.’s correspondence, Mead also edited most of her later published works and acted, without acknowledgment, as assistant editor of her magazine, Lucifer, for which he had written anonymously since the first volume.
While working closely with the Theosophical Society, Mead also published many of his own works: The World Mystery (1895), Plotinus (1895), Orpheus (1896), and Pistis Sophia(1896). After over a century, his edition of Pistis Sophia remains one of the best translations and commentary available on this important Gnostic text. Not long after, Mead published two more major works, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (1900) and Thrice Greatest Hermes (1906). Both exemplify all that is best in his dedicated, scholarly, but eminently readable studies of the spiritual roots of Christian Gnosticism and, more generally, of personal religion in the Greco-Roman world. But his work encompassed much more than this, Mead was equally at home with Sanskrit texts, Patristic literature, Buddhist thought, and the problems of contemporary philosophy and psychical research. He devoted his intellectual energy to the complex interplay of Gnosticism, Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity.
In 1906 Mead also began publication of a series of monographs under the title Echoes from the Gnosis (recently republished in a centennial edition) summarizing his insights into the formation of the Gnostic world-view. By this time Mead had published eight works on various aspects of the early Christian world and on “The Theosophy of the Greeks.” Together with his outstanding translations of the Hermetic books, these works established his reputation as one of the foremost English scholars in his broadly chosen fields. Mead was the first modern scholar of Gnostic tradition. A century later, the corpus of his work remains unequaled in breadth and insight.