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A Pseudonym of Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner

Rev. Adele Clemens
Divine Harmony Spiritual Church
Desire Lanti and
Guidance House

This research was conducted by catherine yronwode from 1996 - 2020 and has been published to the world wide web as part of an ongoing project documenting the development of urban forms of African-American hoodo as well as the role played by Jews in Hoodoo during the era between World War One and World War Two.. You may use the information to support your own research, but please do assign proper credit. Thank you.

Who Was Mikhail Strabo?

Mikhail Strabo was a pseudonym of Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner, the Jewish American proprietor of Guidance House, a New York publishing company of the 1940s through the 1960s. Guidance House books on hoodoo and Spiritualism were sold in small African American candle shops across the nation and were distributed by many mail order magical, occult, hoodoo and conjure supply houses of their era, and they remain in print to this day.

As "Mikhail Strabo," Steiner was the author of almost a dozen books on magic and spirituality -- and his importance to the development of 20th century urban-style hoodoo rests on his having been the first author to present material about the use of candle magic in African American hoodoo. His "A Candle To Light Your Way," published in 1941, was revised and expnaded in 1942 as "The Guiding Light to Power and Success," the same year that Henri Gamache (another pseudonymous Jewish hoodoo author) published "The Master Book of Candle Burning." Together, these three books, along with Steiner's 1943 pamphlet, "How to Conduct a Candle Light Service," had an immense effect on the way that candles were handled by root doctors and conjure practitioners.

Sydney Steiner did not invent hoodoo candle magic, by any means. Rather, he was a participant-observer and documentarian who respectfully included an introduction in one of his pamphlets that verified the source of his information in the African American Spiritual Church Movement in New York City. Steiner's books were distributed nation-wide in African American conjure shops and occult candle and curio stores, and the methods he had observed in New York soon became popular in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Dallas. During my own youth in the 1960s in Oakland, California, i participated in Spiritual Church services much like those that Steiner had described twenty to twenty-five years earlier.

The real name of Sydney Steiner, hidden beneath the pseudonym "Mikhail Strabo," was determined through original copyright filings and copyright renewal searches.

Under the copyright laws in effect during Sydney Steiner's lifetime, the copyright for a book had to be filed upon publication and then renewed by the author or an agent 28 years after original publication. The Mikhail Strabo books for which copyrights were claimed and renewed tell the story of who the author really was, for he always filed his pseudonym with the Library of Congress.


At in the copyright renewals for 1969, Steiner declared himself the author of the following books, under his pseudonym Mikhail Strabo:

      A Candle to Light Your Yay.
          15Dec41; [original publication date: December 15, 1941]
          Guidance House (PWH);
          3Oct69; [copyright renewal date: October 3, 1969]

      The Guiding Light to Power and Success.
          14Feb42; [original publication date: February 14, 1942]
          Guidance House (PWH);
          3Dec69; [copyright renewal date: December 3, 1969]

      The Magic Formula for Successful Prayer.
          10Feb42; [original publication date: February 18, 1942]
          Guidance House (PWH);
          3Dec69; [copyright renewal date: December 3, 1969]

Also in 1969, under new work, the pseudonym is revealed at in this listing for Mikhail Strabo:

      Now! You Can Build Your Fortune on Faith
          by Mikhail Strabo [pseud. of Sydney J. R. Steiner].
          Guidance House, New York: Guidance House, (c) 1969
          1969; 1969-12-15, 41 p. [original publication date: December 15, 1969]
          Steiner, Sydney J. R. , 1894-1971 [birth and death dates for Sydney Steiner]
          author Strabo, Mikhail, pseud. author
          Guidance House claimant
          You can build your fortune on faith
          Non-dramatic literary work
          782 aDCSU e7800036 00926nam 2200253zi


At the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1967: July-December Steiner declared himself the author of the following books, under his actual name, Sydney J. R. Steiner:

      The Golden Treasury of the Master's Power.
          by Mikhail Strabo, pseud.
          New York, Guidance House, 48 p.
          (c) Guidance House;
          30Jun66; [copyright date: June 30, 1966]

      Psychic Power for Successful Living.
          by Mikhail Strabo, pseud.
          New York, Guidance House, 52 p.
          (c) Guidance House;
          12Jul65; [copyright date: July 12, 1965]

      You Can Perform Miracles Through Prayer.
          by Mikhail Strabo, pseud.
          New York, Guidance House, 50 p.
          (c) Guidance House;
          27Mar67; [copyright date: March 27, 1967]


In a 1970 copyright renewal, one year before his death, at his name is given as MICHAEL Strabo -- probably a clerk's misspelling, not his own, as in all editions of the actual printed book his first name is given as Mikhail, not Michael:

      How to Conduct a Candle Light Service
          Introd. by Adele Clemens [See below for more on Rev. Adele Clemens]
          24May43 [original publication date: May 24, 1943]
          Guidance House (PWH);
          22Oct70 [copyright renewal date: October 22, 1970]

The Life of Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner

The Social Security Death Index gives the following information:

Sydney Steiner
Apr 03, 1894 - Jul 10, 1971
last residence was Miami, Florida
card issued in New York

However, there is much more to the story ...

Anna Gross was born in Austria-Hungary in October 1861. Her maiden name and husband’s first name have eluded me. In 1887, as a widow, she and her daughters Irene (born in June 1872), and Ella (born in February 1882), emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.

On February 18th, 1865, Geza Steiner was born in Austria-Hungary to Mina Kraus Steiner and her husband. In 1892, when he was 28 years old, Geza, his 25-year-old wife Bertha (born in 1867), and their 11-month-old son Carl (born in 1891) left Vienna for America. Their second son, George, was born in the Bleecker Street district of Manhattan, on December 2nd, 1893, the same year that Anna’s daughter Irene Gross married Leo Rosenfeld, who had also been born in Austria-Hungary.

On April 3rd, 1894, Sidney J. Rosenfeld, the only son of Leo Rosenfeld and Irene Gross Rosenfeld, was born in New York City. Sadly, some time before 1900, Leo Rosenfeld died, and in the Federal Census of 1900 Sidney was listed as a grandchild in the household of Annie Gross, age 48. She resided at 326 East Eighth Street in New York City. With Annie were her daughter Ella Gross, age 18, her daughter Irene Gross Rosenfeld, age 27, and Irene’s son Sidney Rosenfeld, age 6. Irene’s marital status was “Widowed.” She was listed as the mother of one living child.

Around this time, Geza Steiner’s wife Bertha also died. Geza became a naturalized United States citizen on April 10th, 1901. He lived at 65 S. Market Place, New York City. His occupation was “Musician.” The witness to his naturalization was Theodore Robert Rosenkranz, also a musician.

In 1903, Geza, a 38-year-old widower with two sons, Carl (now Charles) and George, married Irene, a 31-year-old widow with one son, Sidney. Geza adopted Sidney, who was thereafter known as Sidney J. Rosenfeld Steiner.

In the United States Federal Census for 1910, Sidney Steiner was living with his parents and adoptive brothers in Manhattan Ward 12, New York City. His father was now Geza Steiner, age 44, born in Hungary, a “Musician [Band or Orchestra] Leader.” His mother, Irene Gross Rosenfeld Steiner, age 37, was not employed. His eldest brother, Charles B. Steiner, age 20, was employed at “Office Work, Crockery B.” (The words “Crockery B.” are clearly legible but difficult to interpret; he probably worked at Crocker Bank, which was founded in 1870). His brother George Steiner, age 17, was employed doing “General Office Work.’’ Sidney, age 16, was still in school, and not employed.

In the New York State Census of 1915, Sydney J. R. Steiner, age 21, was living with his mother Irene Steiner, age 43, born in Hungary, who had become the head of household, at 253 East 68th Street. His adoptive father, Geza Steiner, was not present; he had died on January 10, 1912 at the age of 46. Irene's mother, Anna Gross, age 67, born in Hungary, was in the household and was not employed. Also in the home were Sydney's adoptive brothers, all listed as (adoptive) children of Irene. The three sons were Charles Steiner, age 25, born in Austria, a bank cashier (perhaps at the Crocker Bank, which makes the "Crockery B." entry of the 1910 census more understandable); George Steiner, age 23, born in the United States, a "Salesman in Cotton Goods"; and Sydney J. R. Steiner, age 21, a "Salesman of Papers" -- perhaps dealing in printer's papers. working in a stationer's shop, selling newspapers on the street, or selling advertisements or working in the distribution department for a newspaper. Based on his later employment record, it seems likely that he had embarked on the bottom rungs of his later career as an ad copy writer, newspaper advertising manager, ad company director, author, and publisher.

In 1917 Sydney J. R. Steiner, age 23, received a World War I Draft Registration Card, and on this was noted that he had been born in New York, New York, currently resided in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife and child, and was employed in "Advertising" at "The Globe" [newspaper] in Harrisburg. He was of "medium" height and "medium" weight. His eyes were "brown" and his hair was "brown." Also in 1917, Sydney and his wife Charlotte were listed in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania City Directory. Their home address was 1715 Pennsylvania and Sydney's office at The Globe was at 324 Market Street. His occupation was "Advertising Manager."

Sydney Steiner was listed on the census rolls of 1920 as again living in New York, namely Manhattan Assembly District 14. He was the 25 year old son of the head of household, Irene Steiner, age 45, who had been born in Hungary. Irene's mother, Anna Gross, age 74, also born in Hungary, was in the home, as was Sydney's wife, Charlotte Steiner, age 24, and their son Leonard Steiner, age 3. Sydney was the only one in the family working at that time, and his occupation was "Advertising, Department Store" -- presumably writing ad copy and circulars. Sydney's adoptive brother Charles was no longer in the home, and neither was his brother George, who had served as a US Army private in World War I and settled in Mayfield, New York, where he would die in 1966 at the age of 77.

On February 23rd, 1920, the trade paper “Printer’s Ink” announced that Sydney J. R. Steiner, formerly in charge of the advertising department at Gimble Brothers’ New York Downstairs Department Stores, had been appointed the advertising manager for H. Batterman and Co. in Brooklyn, New York. This was confirmed by a January 22nd, 1921 note in “The Fourth Estate: A Weekly Newspaper for Publishers, Advertisers, Advertising Agents and Allied Interests.” Batterman and Co. was Williamsburg’s largest department store, founded in 1867 by Henry Batterman. Mr. Batterman had retired in 1909, and by the time Steiner joined the firm, Batterman and Co. was a subsidiary of H. B. Claflin & Company, a large Manhattan wholesaler that also owned Lord & Taylor.

In 1927, and again in 1931, the University of the State of New York “Bulletin” listed Sydney at 1749 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, New York, a large apartment building.

For reasons unknown, the Steiner family did not appear in the 1930 census, but on May 26th, 1932, when he was 38 years old, he filed the copyright for “Exactly Like Louise: A Play in 3 Acts.” There is no record that the play was ever produced or performed.

In 1935, the Steiner family lived at 37-39 63rd Street, Woodside, Queens, New York, a multi-family row hose. At the 1940 census, Sydney’s grandmother Anna Gross was deceased, and the family consisted of Sydney, age 46, head of household; Charlotte, age 43, wife; Leonard, age 23, son; and Irene, age 70, mother. Sydney’s occupation was “Advertiser [Ad Copy Writer], Ad Agency,” and Charlotte’s was “Designer, Women’s Wear.” Irene and Leonard were not employed.

In 1942 Sydney J. R. Steiner registered for the World War Two military draft. He was 48 years old and resided at 37-39 63rd Street, Woodside, Long Island, New York. His telephone number was Newtown 9-9254 and his wife was Charlotte Steiner, at the same home address. His employment was at S. Steiner Advertising, 45 West 57th Street, New York City, New York. A year earlier he had already published his first metaphysical book under the pseudonym "Mikhail Strabo," but he did not list that on his draft card.

Sydney J. R. Steiner was 47 years old when he began publishing Guidance House books under the name Mikhail Strabo in New York City in 1941. He was 77 years old when he died in Miami, Florida, in 1971, and he renewed his copyrights until the end. May his memory be a blessing.

The Two Families of Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner

Because he was adopted by his stepfather, and his mother in turn adopted his step-brothers, the two families of Sydney Steiner can appear to be blurred and blended. However, we can separate them based on their presumed DNA connection to him:


1. Anna / Annie (Unknown) Gross (b. Oct. 1861, Austria-Hungary - d. before 1940, NYC, NY, USA)
   + Mr. N. N. Gross (b. c. 1860, Austria-Hungary - d. before 1900)
2. ... Irene Gross Rosenfeld Steiner (b. June 1872, Austria-Hungary - d. after 1940, USA)
   ... + Leonard (Leo) Rosenfeld (b. c. 1870, Austria-Hungary - d. before 1900, USA)
3. ......Sidney / Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner [Mikhail Strabo] (b. Apr. 3, 1894, NYC, NY, USA - d. Jul. 10, 1971 Miami, FL, USA)
   ...... + Charlotte Jacoby Steiner (b. 1896 - d.) [daughter of Abraham Jacoby and Sarah Kraus; one of 10 children;
            note that she is NOT the contemporaneous children's book author Charlotte Klein Steiner (1898–1981).]  
4. ......... Leonard (Leo) Steiner (b. Oct. 4, 1919, NYC, NY, USA - d. Sep. 22, 1991, NY, USA.) [graduated college, served in WW II, enlisted Feb. 20, 1941]
   ... + Geza Steiner (b Feb. 18, 1865, Austria-Hungary - d. 1912, NYC, NY, USA)
3. ......(No offspring from this marriage, but Geza Steiner adopted Sidney / Sydney Rosenfeld Steiner as his son 
          and Irene Gross Rosenfeld Steiner adopted Charles B. Steiner and George Steiner as her sons.)
2. ... Ella Gross (b. Feb. 1882, Austria-Hungary - d. USA)

1. Joseph Steiner (b. Austria-Hungary - d.)
   + Mina Kraus Steiner (b. Austria-Hungary - d.)
2. ... Geza Steiner (b Feb 18, 1865, Austria-Hungary - d. 1912, NYC, NY, USA) (Musician)
       + Bertha (Unknown) Steiner (b. c. 1865 Austria-Hungary - d. after 1893, NYC, NY, USA)
3. ...... Carl / Charles B. Steiner (b. 1890, Austria-Hungary - d. USA)    
3. ...... George Steiner (b. 1893, NYC, NY, USA - d. 1966, Mayfield, NY, USA) (served in WW I)
          + Estelle (Ettie) Harris Steiner (b. Jul. 15, 1892, NYC, NY, USA - d. Apr. 1975, USA)
          (Daughter of Louis Harris and Tessie (Taffelkleider) Tableporter;
          sister of Laura Harris and Kate Harris Baer)
4. ......... Lucille Irene Steiner Roth (b. Jun. 11, 1919, Brooklyn, NY, USA - d. Jul. 11, 1997, Torrington, CT. USA)
             + Jerome Karl Roth (b. c.1919 - d.) (Child of Bernard Roth and N. N. Zwoden; Sibling of Marjorie Ann Roth)
5. ............ Jerome Karl Roth II (b. c.1942)
5. ............ Glenn Lewis Roth (b. c.1945)
       + Irene Gross Rosenfeld Steiner (b. June 1872, Austria-Hungary - d. USA)
3. ......(No offspring from this marriage, but Geza Steiner adopted Sidney / Sydney Rosenfeld Steiner as his son 
          and Irene Gross Rosenfeld Steiner adopted Charles B. Steiner and George Steiner as her sons.)

Desire Lanti

In "Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1948" by Library of Congress. Copyright Office

the following notice appears, linking the pseudonym Mikhail Strabo with the name of a co-author Desire Lanti:


      The Golden Keys to the Sacred Psalms
          A Guide to the Use of the Psalms
          for People of All Faiths

          by Desire Lanti [and] Mikhail Strabo
          (c) Guidance House;
          25Dec47; AA851194 [original publication date: December 25, 1947]

"The Golden Keys to the Sacred Psalms," like the better-known "Secrets of the Psalms" by Gottfried Seelig (Godfrey Selig) is an adaptation of the medieval Jewish folk-magical and kabbalistic text "Sepher Shimmush Tehillim" ("The Book on the Use of the Psalms"). It may also be noted that Lanti's and Steiner's subtitle reference to its suitability "for People of All Faiths" is fairly typical Jewish code meaning "Christians can use this too."

According to the book itself, Desire Lanti was anolder man of philosophical bent who had died and left his papers to Mikhail Strabo for publication. .

If we ignore the pretty obvious concept that this was another of Sydney Steinner's pseudonyms, we are faced with the difficulty of tracing people who do not appear in the Federal Census through recods lest with the Social Security Death Index. due to their habit of changing surnames upon marriage. An SSDI search turns up no Social Security records for
D Lanti
Desire Lanti
Desiree Lanti.

The surnames Lanti, Dei Lanti, and De Lanti are Italian. There was a Doloris Lanti, born in 1917, and a few De Lanti family members lived in Queens, New York, near where Sydney Steiner was raised, but, given Steiner's proclivity for concealment, and the fact that the origial of this book was Jewish, not Italian-Catholic, it is my belief that Desire Lanti will not be found.

Rev. Adele Clemens

"How to Conduct a Candle Light Service" by Mikhail Strabo (Sydney Steiner) features an introduction by Rev. Adele Clemens, pastor of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church. Steiner was living in New York City at that time, and it would seem that Rev. Clemens was the pastor of a Spiritualist church in Harlem with a predominantly African-American congregation.

Reasearch by Jon Saint Germain has uncovered the information that Adele Clemens, who claimed to be a relative of the author Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), was a white Spiritualist who worked with the charismatic black minister Reverend Major J. Divine of Harlem Divine Revelation Spiritualist Church.

Divine Harmony Spiritual Church

I have not been able to locate either print or online mention of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church in New York City during the 1940s. This is not unexpected, as material on the African American Spiritual Church Movement is spotty at best. It may also be the case that Sydney Steiner sought to lightly disguise the name of where Adele Clemens actually worked, Harlem Divine Revelation Spiritualist Church.

A Divine Harmony Spiritual Church formerly existed in Miami, Florida, the city to which Sydney Steiner retired, and where he died in 1971. It is currently located in Knoxville, Tennessee, under the direction of Jon Saint Germain, and is affiliated with the Association of Independent Spiritual Churches.

Documentation of the Spiritual Church Movement in 20th century New York City awaits a dedicated historian. In the meantime, a tantalizing glimpse of some churches in this loose confederation, as they appeared during the era of Sydney Steiner and Rev. Adele Clemens can be found in the 1937 "March of Time" newsreel feature "Harlem's Black Magic." This short news film, although racist and wildly inaccurate in many ways, does include clear images of signage for a number of Spiritual Churches in Harlem.

As a side-note, i would like to mention that the history -- indeed the very existence -- of the Spiritual Church Movement and its inter-denominational umbrella organizations, such as the Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches -- remains largely unknown outside the African American community, and has not been celebrated by the wider religious world. Indeed, when Harry Middleton Hyatt interviewed 1,600 African American rootwork practitioners during the late 1930s, he actually dismissed their mentions of Spiritual Churches in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, in one instance claiming that his informant's statements were untrue because he himself knew of no such churches in Pennsylvania! The only exception to this general ignorance of the 20th century Spiritual Church Movement centers on the history of the Spiritual Church Movement in New Orleans, where three books ("The Spirit of Blackhawk" by Jason Berry; "Spirit World" by Michael Smith, and "The Spiritual Churches Of New Orleans" by Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow) provide a nice cross-section of images and information.

Famous Quotes by Michail Strabo

As Mikhail Strabo, Sydney Steiner is cited in compilations of famous quotations -- e.g, at

Only you can hold yourself back, only you can stand in your own way. Only you can help yourself. -- Mikhail Strabo

The poets were not alone in sanctioning myths, for long before the poets the states and the lawmakers had sanctioned them as a useful expedient. They needed to control the people by superstitious fears, and these cannot be aroused without myths and marvels. -- Mikhail Strabo

Further Reading

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