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Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
An organization exerting one of three
most significant influences on Western occultism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The second and third influences were the Theosophical Socirty and G. I.
As a secret society the organization's membership included some of the most
distinguished and talented personalities of the times such as W. B. Yeats,
Annie Horniman (who sponsored the Abbey Threatre, Dublin), Florence Farr
(mistress of G. B. Shaw), S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Aleister
Crowley, Israel Regardie, A. E. Waite, Algernon
Blackwood, Arthue Machen, and many others.
Some claim the society's basis is dubious. Its key founder was Dr. William
Wynn Westcott, a London coroner and a Rosicrucian, who in 1887 obtained
part of a manuscript that was written in brown-ink cipher from a Reverend
A. F. A. Woodford, a Mason. The manuscript appeared to be old although probably
it was not. However, with his Hermetic knowledge Westcott deciphered the
manuscript and discovered it contained fragments of mystical rituals of
the "Golden Dawn" an unknown organization which admitted both
men and women.
Westcott approached his occultist friend Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers
who he asked to transform the ritual fragments into expanded and systematized
rituals. Among the papers contained within the manuscript was a slip of
paper bearing the name of Fraulein Anna Sprengel, a Rosicrucian adept living
Through correspondence with this woman Westcott obtained her permission
to organized the English branch of the occult society Die Goldene Dammerung
(The Golden Dawn). However, the authenticity of this establishment of the
English order has been suspect. It has been suggested the character on Fraulein
Sprengel might have been mythologized by Westcott in order to fabricate
the correspondence which established the new secret society.
The structured hierarchy of The Golden Dawn was based upon the Tree of Life
of the Kabbalah:
there were ten grades or degrees corresponding to the ten sephiroth, with
a eleventh degree for neophytes. The degrees were divided into the Outer,
Second, and Third orders. Such was the arrangement of the hierarchy of the
Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn established
in 1888. At first, Westcott, Mathers, and Dr. W. R. Woodman, Supreme Magus
of the Rosicrucian Society of Anglia, were the three Chiefs Second Order,
and to be under the direction of the Secret Chiefs of the Third Order who
were entities of the astral plane. This secret society attracted many members
and between 1888 to 1896 315 initiations were performed.
Subsequently selected candidates that passed the Adeptus Minor grade might
qualiy for admission to the Second Order. This, also, was known as the Ordo
Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (Order of the Red Rose and Cross of Gold).
The Secret Chiefs of the Third Order were equivalent to the fanciful Mahamas
of the Theosophical Society who could also be contacted in the astral plane.
Prevalent in-fighting is recorded among the prominent members of the Golden
Dawn. Woodman died in 1891 and was never replaced in the organization. Mathers
produced the initiation ritual for the Adeptus Minor degree. Most of the
rituals which Mathers produced were based on Freemasonry. Many thought Mathers a little eccentric if not a lunatic.
He never consummated his marriage to his wife, Mina, who, he claimed, received
teachings from the Secret Chiefs through clairaudience and supernormal hearing.
Due to unstable finances he and his wife were penniless in 1891.
However a rich member of the Golden Dawn, Annie Horniman, became their benefactor.
This allowed the couple to move to Paris where Mathers establish another
lodge. He continued writing curricula material which he sent to London.
However, he was obssessed with an autocratic jealousy toward Westcott. Mathers
devoted considerable time to translation of the manuscript The Book of
the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage which he claimed was bewitched
and inhabited by a nonphysical intelligence. This translation was published
Horiman stopped her financial support of Mathers in l896. In that year,
Mathers claimed the Secret Chiefs had initiated him into the Third Order,
which Horniman disputed and was expelled from the society. In 1897 members
discovered Westcott's questionable activities in founding the society. This
led to the resignation of his position to be succeeded by Florence Farr.
By this time, irreparable schisms had formed within the Golden Dawn.
In 1898 Aleister Crowley was initiated into the society and progressed rapidly
through the degrees. The next year, 1899, he went to Paris and compelled
Mathers to initiate him into the Second Order to which Mathers complied.
The London lodge, under Farr, rejected this initiation. Crowley returned
to England as Mathers' "Envoy Extraordinary," in 1900, attempting
to control the quarters of the Second Order. Crowley wore a black mask,
Highland dress, and gilt dagger. The staged attempt was in vain, for it
Eventually both Crowley and Mathers were thrown out of the society as a
result of the uneasy alliance between them which deteriorated. Crowley considered
himself a superior magician compared to Mathers. Allegedly this led to magical
warfare between the two men. Mathers sent an astral vampire to attack Crowley.
Crowley then counterattacked with an army of demons led by Beelzebub. After
this latter attack was launched against the quarters of the Second Order
the London lodge expelled both men. Mathers received no compensation for
his efforts; but, Crowley retaliated by publishing some of the Golden Dawn
in his magazine, The Equinox.
Then W. B. Yeats assume control of the Second Order. He did attempt to restore
order to the society, but it was so splintered that Yeats' efforts were
nearly fruitless. Yeats played a prominent part in the conflict between
Crowley and Mathers. After the expulsion of both men Yeats took charge of
the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis and also became the Imperator
of the Isis-Urania Temple Outer Order.
With all the splintering within the Golden Dawn it was not long until various
groups were forming. Followers of Mathers formed the Alpha et Omega Temple.
In 1903 A. E. Waite left with others to form a society retaining the Golden
Dawn name but with more emphasis on mysticism than magic. In 1905 another splinter group formed known as the
Stella Matutina, or "Order of the Companions of the Rising Light in
the Morning." This was the end of the Isis-Urania Temple.
It was resurrected in 1917 as the Merlin Temple of the Stella Matutina which
lasted until the 1940s when it went into decline following the publication
of its secret rituals by a former member Israel Regardie, who had been Crowley's
one-time secretary. There are some distant offshoots of the Golden Dawn
During its glory, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn possessed one of
the greatest repositories of Western magical knowledge. The studies of the
Second Order focused on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Three magical systems
were taught: the Key of Solomon, a grimoire; Abra-Melin magic; and Enochian
magic. Also, materials were incorporated from the Egyptian Book of the Dead,
the Prophetic Books of William
Blake; and the Chaldean Oracles. Instruction was given in astral travel, scrying, alchemy, geomancy,
The main purpose of the order was "to prosecute the Great Work: which
is to obtain control of the nature and power of [one's] own being."
Some Christian fundamentals were included in various texts of the society
such as establishing a closer relationship with Jesus, the "Master
of Masters." Members circulated various Catholic and Anglican writings
and sermons. Regardie did not include these in the materials which he published.
The rise and fall of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is thought, by
some, to portray the history of many occult groups. They attract members
of high intellectual and mystical caliber, but eventually suffer internal
dissensions because their system of instruction and development does not
fundamentally change the character of the members. Basically the talented
and psychologically adjusted individuals strive to enhance their talents
and achievements, but there is no elimination of the defects and weaknesses
of others which will inevitably weaken the organizational structure. Here
a comparison of Eastern and Western initiations may be made. The Eastern
initiations incorporate various yoga systems which purify and perfect the
individual; whereas, Western initiations do not include this essential preliminary