Sarah A. Merrell (Sherifa)

Biography of Sarah A. Merrell (Sherifa) (1876-1958) by Doroethy Leonard1

About the time that Franklin was graduating with his Bachelor’s degree at Stanford (1911), Sarah Merrell Briggs (hereafter referred to as Sherifa)2 is participating in an organization called The Oriental Esoteric Society, located in Washington, D.C. This highly secretive group is oriented to esoteric Hinduism. Sherifa writes an article for their publication, and I think the following excerpt gives a sense of who she is at that time.


I lay on the sand watching the ocean; how the waves whirled and dashed; how the spray flew skyward to be touched into beautiful colors by its Elder Brother, the Sun; how the water changed from green to blue and from blue to grey and back to a softer blue again. Incessant motion, ever-changing color wrought through the action of the sunlight into sparkling beauty of form and foam beyond the power of words to tell. I-I-All I, everywhere move I. I gaze into the depths of space where all is still and calm, and the stillness and the calmness is I; I wander towards the softly-shaped mountains in the upraised peaks, their daring ruggedness, I find but the Essence-I.3

Sherifa in 1908

Sherifa in 1908*

It was about this time that Sherifa and George Briggs divorce, after a 17-year marriage. George is the CEO of the Chicago telephone company. Their son, James, is six years old.

Sherifa, after considerable correspondence, decides to join Frances LaDue (Blue Star) at the Temple of the People in Halcyon, California. Franklin visited in 1913, according to their visitor’s journal, and then became a member in 1914. Soon Franklin and Sherifa realize they are spiritually compatible and they marry in June 1919, and it is at this time that Franklin learns about being a stepfather.

Sherifa in 1932

Sherifa in 1932*

Franklin and Sherifa begin their own group in 1930. They begin building the Tuttle Creek Ashrama that same year. Twenty-two of their students who follow Franklin after his lecture tour join in this project. Franklin states that both group work and the Ashama are the inspiration of Sherifa. In fact, many students are attracted to Sherifa and her expression. Sherifa and Franklin write the papers for their groups that meet on Thursday evenings in their San Fernanado home and/or for a public meeting on Sunday evenings in Los Angeles. Both Franklin and Sherifa are intuitive, but Franklin is the introverted thinking type and Sherifa the extraverted feeling type. They complement each other harmoniously.

Some of Sherifa’s writing was channeled. Her interests were Spirituality, Tarot, and Astrology. In 1932 James Briggs marries Helen Mackett and Helen becomes Sherifa’s closest friend and confidant. In later years Franklin would comment how James was not only his “son,” but his best friend.

Franklin and Sherifa in San Fernando

Franklin and Sherifa in San Fernando*

Franklin wrote,

In many ways, down through the years, Sherifa has never allowed me to forget the call whispered through the suffering of others… So, if this book has values for other human souls, if, because of it some other wanderers are led to seek for the Great Pearl, then thanks are due most to her who never forgot them. It is true that I brought to the task a certain skill and the advantage of some training… But the Compassion instilled from her heart… Thus this book is sent forth as our common offering to those others who, soul-sick and weary in the meshes and mazes of Sangsara, yearn for the Light.4

Franklin adds that the poem in Pathways called “Compassion”5 was written for Sherifa.