Diagrams from Dr Alesha Sivartha's Book of Life (1898)

Titled The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man, Dr Alesha Sivartha’s enigmatic 1898 work expounds his unique blend of blend of science, sociology, mysticism and religion, a spiritual teaching which apparently attracted the attention of Mark Twain among others. Sivartha was clearly a man bursting at the seams with an abundance of complex and esoteric ideas, and while in written form this might translate into somewhat dense and bamboozling prose, visually it gave birth to a series of superbly intricate and striking diagrams. Obsessed with the magical properties of the number 12, Sivartha, in each of his wonderful "brain maps”, breaks down the grey matter into twelve different sections, as well as turning his gaze to other parts of the body such as hands and the nervous system as a whole. The ideas these curious images express are difficult to sum up succinctly but broadly touch on the main tenants of theosophy. In the words of Sivartha himself:

The human race has been marching upward from the first ages of history. Under what law has that mighty procession of the ages taken place? Science and history both answer that man has advanced, step by step, from the ignorant and selfish rule of his lower brain organs uptoward the beneficent dominion of his higher faculties. The laws which have controlled that vast upward movement are still in force. They are fixed in the very constitution of man. And they are of supreme importance at the present time, for they determine what new institutions and what social changes are now required to meet that higher growth of man.

As for the author himself, not a lot is known for certain, other than Sivartha appears to be the pen-name for a Kansas doctor named Arthur E. Merton (1834?-1915?), who is listed as the author of an earlier 1876 version of The Book of Life. What little additional information out there seems to stem mainly from a website (which seems to share the same mesmerising sense of horror vacui as its subject!) run by his great-great grandson, which claims Sivartha/Merton to be the illegitimate son of the Indian scholar and activist Raja Ram Mohun Roy Bahadoor and an unknown English Unitarian woman who became romantically embroiled with the Raja during his tour of England.

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