At the secret heart of the occult revival lay the revitalized practice of ritual magic as taught to an initiated elect in the Magical Orders of the day, and for England that was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The short history of the Golden Dawn before its fracturing, replicates in intensified and dramatic detail some of the salient features of its more visible and outwardly successful rival, the Theosophical Society; and yet the Order had a pedigree, persona. It suffered damaging personality clashes and power struggles, intrigues within its powerful inner circle, and sexual scandals that threatened its credibility. It was riven with dissent, its own provenance and mysterious "Secret Chiefs" were called into question, and it ultimately splintered over the twin issues of direction and purpose.
The Order demanded and received a level of commitment that threatened temporal careers, and it served as a leveler of gender and financial distinctions at a time Perhaps most important, the Order was responsible for fashioning a uniquely modern magical tradition with its roots in a "lost" and arcane past and its aspirations directed towards ideals of progress and future regeneration.
Ritual magic has a long and august history, but it emerged most strongly in the nineteenth century, as a particular configuration of seventeenth-century occult learning.
Arthur Edward Waite, the Victorian occultist and one-time member of the Golden Dawn, noted that the terms "transcendental, Hermetic, Rosicrucian, mystical, and esoteric or occult" were used "indiscriminately" during the nineteenth century, and was careful to use Hermetic philosophy to mean "an actual, positive, and realizable knowledge concerning the worlds which we denominate invisible, because they transcend the imperfect and rudimentary faculties of a partially developed humanity." Similarly, he viewed Hermetic science as "a method of transcending the phenomenal world, and attaining to the reality which is behind phenomena."'
These definitions equally fitted the designation of "magic" as it was taught in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Its name referred to the seventeenth-century Rosicrucian promise of the coming of a new spiritually enlightened age, but it spoke, too, to the occult goal of "seeking the light" as sometimes represented by the evocative image of an alchemical sunrise. Although its founding documents as in the case with all occult-Masonic organizations, were fraudulent (spurious), and its major rituals undoubtedly the work of Victorian occultists, its teachings were based upon an ingenious modern interpretation of Rosicrucian formulations plus by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century "oriental" scholarship and recent work in Egyptology.
The early initiates of the Golden Dawn had no particular cause to question the provenance of its founding documents. New members of this self-styled Hermetic society received a copy of "The Historic Lecture for Neophytes," which laid claim to a venerable group of Adepts, including the French occultist Eliphas Levi and the Victorian occultists Kenneth Mackenzie and Frederick Hockley, and traced the roots of the Order's teaching to the legendary Rosicrucian illuminati of Germany and beyond to the wisdom of ancient Egypt.
The elaborate ritualized schema to which Neophytes were introduced in the Golden Dawn, the serious tone of the endeavor, and the promise of induction into "the principles of Occult Science and the Magic of Hermes" were sufficient to persuade many that they were participating in an Order with an impeccable occult tradition. Indeed, although the Lecture referred to an earlier nineteenth-century hiatus in the formal transmission of knowledge, all but a few were unaware of the very recent formation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
According to Golden Dawn tradition, however, the Order, although of late-Victorian origin, did indeed have an immaculate pedigree. The story runs that in August 188'7, Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a respectable London coroner, a Freemason, and an occultist, came into possession of an old manuscript written in cypher that contained the rudiments of five pseudo-Masonic rituals. The Golden Dawn manuscript with five pseudo-Masonic rituals had apparently been passed to William Wynn Westcott, a Freemason, and an occultist, by the Reverend A. E A. Woodford, an elderly Freemason with occult interests who suggested shortly before his death that the document contained the key to certain Rosicrucian secrets.
With its reference to "brothers and sisters," this was clearly no orthodox Masonic production. Traditional craft Freemasonry excluded women. Intrigued and impressed, Westcott invited a fellow occultist and Freemason, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, to develop the five rituals so that they could be performed.
Westcott, together with MacGregor Mathers and a fellow occultist Freemason, Dr. W R. Woodman, established in London in 1888 the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Isis-Urania Temple, or Lodge, was followed shortly by the Osiris Temple in Weston-super-Mare, the Horns Temple in Bradford, and the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh. Several years later, MacGregor Mathers founded the Ahathoor Temple in Paris.
From the outset the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was associated closely with occult Freemasonry. As Westcott noted, "The secrets of Occultism are like Freemasonry; in truth they are to some extent the secrets that Freemasonry has lost." The three "Chiefs" of the Order, Westcott, MacGregor Mathers, and Woodman, were Freemasons who were also members of a fraternity called the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (and more familiarly, the Soc. Ros. or the Rosicrucian Society of England). This society in turn was supposedly based in part on a late eighteenth-century German Masonic Order, the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross. The Rosicrucian Society had been established in 1866 by Robert Wentworth Little, a young Freemason who was acquainted with Kenneth Mackenzie, and was restricted in membership to Master Masons. It attracted a good many spiritualists during the early days, including the Reverend Stainton Moses, one of the most respected spiritualist mediums, and provided a forum for those interested in Masonic symbolism and the study of "Rosicrucian" subjects like the Cabala.
The society increased its modest scope and activities during the mid-1880s at a time when occult activity in general was being stepped up, and its influence was felt in the new Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as it developed under the direction of its Masonic Chiefs.
Westcott was steeped in the study of Western Hermeticism, especially the Cabala, and began to publish on occult subjects during the 1880s. By the early 1890s he was publishing papers and articles on the Cabala in the Theosophical journal Lucifer, and went on to publish a nine-volume Collectanea Hermetica series (1893-96) to which two members of the Golden Dawn contributed.
MacGregor Mathers was an altogether different proposition. He was a younger man from a more obscure background, and was passionately drawn to all things military and Celtic as well as occult. By the time he arrived in London in the 1880s MacGregor Mathers had already adopted the aristocratic title of the Comte de Glenstrae, claiming that an ancestor had been so created after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion by Louis XV; this foreshadowed the increasingly autocratic leanings that were later to cause so much trouble in the Golden Dawn. In fact, MacGregor Mathers was born Samuel Liddell Mathers (the MacGregor was also an addition) in Hackney, London, in 1854. He attended Bedford Grammar School and lived what was probably a threadbare existence with his widowed mother in Bournemouth until her death in 1885.
Like Westcott, he gave papers at the Hermetic Society and was probably responsible for introducing Anna Kingsford to the study of practical magic. When MacGregor Mathers published his translation of Knorr von Rosenroth's 1677 work Kabbala Denudata in 1887, the book that established his reputation as an occultist, he dedicated it to the authors of The Perfect Way (Kingsford and Maitland).
It is possible that MacGregor Mathers avoided the Theosophical Society because Anna Kingsford's connection with it had been unhappy, but it is also clear that like later Rudolf Steiner in Germany, he preferred the occultism of the Western Hermetic tradition.
His wide occult learning was manifest in the rituals he wrote for the Golden Dawn and the numerous teaching documents that he wrote and circulated within the Order. MacGregor Mathers published several books on occult subjects, and his Kabbala Denudata remains influential in occult circles.
The way in which the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was conceived, organized, and run reflected the Masonic background and Cabalistic interests of its cofounders. The Order was devised along Masonic lines and organized around the strictly hierarchical structure of ten numbered grades. These grades corresponded almost exactly with the Masonic grades of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. To the nine existing grades of the Soc. Ros. was added a tenth, that of Ipsissimus, bringing the total of numbered grades in the Order in line with the symbolism of the Cabala. The Golden Dawn grades numbering from i to to were associated with the ten Sephiroth (or Emanations of the Deity) of the Cabalistic Tree of Life. The beginning grade of Neophyte was also added, but this received the numerical value of o. The Golden Dawn also followed the Soc. Ros.'s example of dividing the grades into three Orders, so that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in fact consisted of three Orders: the First (or Outer) Order, the Second (or Inner) Order, and a Third Order. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was therefore constituted as follows:
Grade Numerical Symbol
Zelator 1'= 10°
Philosophus 4°=7° SECOND ORDER
Adeptus Minor 5°=6°
Adeptus Major 6°=5°
Adeptus Exemptus 7°=4° THIRD ORDER
Magister Templi 8°=3°
As in craft Freemasonry, a new member of the Golden Dawn was initiated first into the lowest (in this case the Neophyte) grade and worked up the ladder of seniority. From the outset, however, Westcott, MacGregor Mathers, and Woodman assumed their roles as the three visible "Chiefs" of the First Order, and in this capacity took the honorary senior grade of Adeptus Minor 5° = 6°. In common with Soc. Ros. practice and that of all subsequent Golden Dawn initiates, they also assumed the individual mottoes by which they were to be known within the First Order.
Less obviously, and using different mottoes, the three men also assumed the exalted 7° = 4° grade of the Second Order with the express purpose of issuing teachings and making executive decisions anonymously on behalf of the "Secret Chiefs."" The concept of hidden or "Secret Chiefs" was inherited directly from the kind of occult Freemasonry promulgated in the Soc. Ros. in England and Martinist Orders in France, and was in effect similar to the idea of the mysterious "Mahatmas" of the Theosophical Society.
Westcott and MacGregor Mathers were in touch with and spoke on behalf of the discarnate Secret Chiefs of the exalted Third Order. The Third Order was thus reserved for the elusive Secret Chiefs of occult tradition, and within the Golden Dawn it was accepted that it was rarely (if ever) accessible to a mere mortal. In practice, therefore, the grade of Adeptus Exemptus 7° = 4 in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was the highest to which a man or woman might reasonably aspire.
The kind of occultism to which initiates were introduced in the Golden Dawn was broad in scope but also quite specific in nature. It was Rosicrucian in orientation, but there was neither precedent for nor contemporary rival to the kind of teaching and training offered by the Order. The remarkable achievement of MacGregor Mathers and, to a lesser extent, Westcott was that they brought together a vast array of occult material and synthesized it into a coherent and teachable system.
Every member of the Order was given careful and systematic instruction in the "hidden" or "rejected" knowledge of the Western Hermetic tradition. Initiates studied the symbolism of astrology, alchemy, and the Cabala, were instructed in geomantic and tarot divination, and introduced to very basic magical concepts and signs. The Order drew heavily on the "Egyptian" writings of Hermes Trismegistus, and Cabalism (said to derive from Egypt through the teachings of Moses) was central to Golden Dawn symbolism and further elaborated in its version of Rosicrucianism.
The legendary Christian Rosencreutz was invented to have visited Egypt, and the original cypher manuscript used to establish the provenance of the Golden Dawn contained references to ancient Egyptian texts.
Neophytes were taught that Rosicrucianism is dependent in part on ancient Egyptian magic, and MacGregor Mathers partly (adding some imagination) drew upon mid-Victorian scholarship in Egyptology for the initial Neophyte ritual. Members of the Second Order thought they understood the methods of ancient Egyptian magic and were knowledgeable about the magical import of the Egyptian gods.
It was in the Second Order, too, that the alleged Rosicrucian theme was made more explicit. The Second Order had a different, specifically Rosicrucian name, Ordo Roseae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis [The red rose and the cross of gold],
and the finale of its impressive 5 = 6° ritual was based on the legend of Christian Rosencreutz.
The three Chiefs, Westcott, MacGregor Mathers, and Woodman, initially assumed the senior offices of Hierophant, Hiereus, and Hegemon (akin to the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, and Junior Warden of Masonic organization), and appointed further Officers of the Temple who performed leading ceremonial roles.
The Hiereus in the Golden Dawn was "the Expounder of the Mysteries," and the Hegemon oversaw the preparation of candidates as they approached their highly ritualized initiation into the Neophyte and then subsequent grades. The unifying theme of these entry rituals was the progression of a candidate from darkness into the light of true spirituality and wisdom, and the rituals themselves were undertaken in a spirit of solemn reverence by suitably robed candidates and Officers of the Temple. The entry ritual was the first encounter a candidate had with a grade, and appropriate instruction in the "knowledge" associated with that grade then followed.
In the Golden Dawn a senior Adept was held responsible for overseeing the quality of instruction, but in general those in the higher ranks were responsible for teaching those in the lower. A student progressed through the grades of the Order by means of a series of examinations, but admission to the Second Order was selective-a privilege rather than a right. Members of the First Order (often referred to as the Golden Dawn in the Outer) had to be proficient in alchemical and astrological symbolism, know the Hebrew alphabet, understand the basic significance and attributions of the (Christian) Cabalistic Tree of Life, and be familiar with the symbolic import of divinatory systems like the tarot. They were also taught elementary magical signs, although tuition in magic was restricted to members of the Second (or Inner) Order.
By the time candidates had completed the five grades of the First Order they had a general understanding of what was meant by occult-Hermeticism, and why the Order to which they belonged was deemed to be a Hermetic Society.
Freemasonry and the Soc. Ros. often supplied male candidates for the Golden Dawn, and the Theosophical Society was an important proving ground for both sexes. The Irish poet and playwright W B. Yeats, for example, came to the Golden Dawn in his early twenties by way of experiments with spiritualism and involvement with the Dublin Hermetic Society (from 1886 the Dublin Theosophical Society) and the Theosophical Society in London.
The young Yeats had been introduced to A. E Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism by his aunt, Isabella Pollexfen Varley, was deeply impressed by Mohini Chatterji when the latter visited Dublin in 1886, became caught up in the local craze for all things Indian, and went on to join the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society shortly after moving to London in 1887. Indeed, Yeats was one of those within the Theosophical Society who were agitating for more precise occult instruction during this period. In 1888, within a few months of the Golden Dawn admitting its first members, Madame Blavatsky established her secret "inner" Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society with a view to preparing a select group for advanced knowledge. Yeats joined the Esoteric Section in December 1888 and, although he was skeptical about Blavatsky's Mahatmas, saw this inner circle as a place where the authenticity of occultism might be verified.
Blavatsky, on the other hand, while prepared to teach the principles of magic, was concerned that magical practice could easily slide into participation in the black arts.
The upshot was that Yeats sought and gained entrance to the Golden Dawn in March 1890, and in October of the same year regretfully agreed to resign from the Esoteric Section on account of his unacceptable partiality for practical magic.
In spite of Blavatsky's reservations about members of the Esoteric Section having other occult allegiances, membership overlapped significantly between the Theosophical Society's inner sanctum and the Golden Dawn. Several important members of the Golden Dawn were involved with the Esoteric Section, including William Wynn Westcott and the elderly Reverend W A. Ayton, one of the first initiates of the Order. Similarly, several of Yeats's friends in Bedford Park, the area of Chiswick in West London where he lived during this period, became involved with both advanced Theosophy and the Golden Dawn.
Bedford Park exuded a genteel if faintly shabby aestheticism that accorded well with the impoverished Yeats household, and proved hospitable to experimental theatre, the kinds of arts and crafts being promoted by William Morris in nearby Hammersmith, ethical socialism, and occultism. Some of the Bedford Park inhabitants (including Yeats) were instrumental in establishing the Chiswick Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1891, and a close-knit group of friends and associates was similarly involved with the Golden Dawn.
Dr. John Todhunter, a leading member of the Bedford Park set, was introduced to the Golden Dawn by the actress Florence Farr, who entered the Order in July 1890. Todhunter was a family friend of the Yeatses who gave up medicine to become a poet, dramatist, and man of letters; and he was involved artistically with Yeats, Farr, and another member of the group, the artist Henry Marriott Paget. Florence Farr's sister, Henrietta, was married to Henry Paget, and was herself initiated into the Golden Dawn in March 1892. This kind of intimate connection was typical of the networks that operated within occult organizations like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Initiates such as those from the Bedford Park group included men and women from the world of arts and letters who moved in generally progressive circles, but others from backgrounds of small business and finance were sometimes more conservative by temperament if not also political persuasion. Among the professions the church was represented, as were law and medicine. Healing was one of the traditional arts of Rosicrucian legend, and some of the physicians in the Order practiced "alternative" medicine, such as homeopathy.
There were fourteen doctors in the Golden Dawn prior to 1900, and of these Westcott and Woodman were its cofounders while Dr. Edward Berridge, Dr. Henry Pullen Burry, and Dr. Robert William Felkin assumed positions of importance.
Several initiates were professional writers. W B. Yeats was pursuing his early literary career when he first entered the Order, A. E. Waite was already known as a writer on occult topics when he joined in 1891, and Edith Bland (who wrote children's stories under the name of E. Nesbit) also was a member.
Two minor authors, Violet Tweedale and J. H. Fitzgerald Molloy, were
initiated during the early years, and Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, writers of altogether more substantial reputation, entered the Order more than a decade after it first opened its doors. Of these, A. E. Waite was to play a major role in the reconfiguration of the Golden Dawn during the early years of the new century. Although temperamentally different from the autocratic MacGregor Mathers, Waite shared a somewhat shadowy class background. He was born in the United States, brought up in England by a widowed mother, and received only erratic schooling.
He worked in journalism and publishing, translated Eliphas Levi's works into English, and wrote exhaustively (and, many still think, with great erudition) on occultism and Christian mysticism. Although Waite often irritated his fellow fratres and sorores in the Golden Dawn with his pedantry, many initiates chose to follow him when he emerged as a contender for the leadership of the Order after its splintering.
Like the Theosophical Society, and following the lead of the originary cypher manuscript, the Golden Dawn welcomed women "sorores" to its ranks. Rumors about the existence "of a very ancient universal Rosicrucian Society, composed of students of both sexes" first began to circulate during 1888, the year in which the Isis-Urania (London), Osiris (Weston-super-Mare), and Horus (Bradford) Temples of the Golden Dawn started to recruit members.
The London Temple always had the highest overall membership, but women were well represented throughout the Order. Isis-Urania initiated 32 individuals in its first year, of which 9 were women. Within the next two years a further 28 persons were admitted, 15 of whom were women. During 1891 and 1892 Isis-Urania initiated 45 new adherents, of which a little over half were women. By 1893, when the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh became operational, over 180 individuals had entered the Order and the total number of active initiates (allowing for resignations, deaths, and so on) was about 124. During its first eight years of existence the Golden Dawn initiated 315 men and women, with women constituting just over one-third of total membership.
Among the first women to join were Mina Bergson, sister of the philosopher Henri Bergson and later to become Mrs. MacGregor Mathers; Alexandrina Mackenzie, Kenneth Mackenzie's widow; and Anne Ayton, wife of the Reverend W A. Ayton. All three had close associations through husbands and friends with the Soc. Ros. and other occult groups. Other early initiates such as Isabelle de Steiger were already active in their own right in occult circles, and were acquainted with the likes of Anna Kingsford and Madame Blavatsky. Similarly, Constance Mary Wilde, the young wife of Oscar Wilde, had already been involved with spiritualism and (like Oscar's brother, Willie) the Theosophical Society when she entered the Golden Dawn in 1888. She had climbed to the top of the First Order by the end of the following year, but subsequently allowed her membership to lapse.
Both she and her husband were known to W B. Yeats, who recorded that he first met his famous fellow countryman in 1888 and professed himself delighted by Wilde's "pretty wife and children."
Yeats was responsible for introducing two of its best-known women into the Golden Dawn. These were the actress Florence Farr and Maud Gonne, the fervent Irish patriot with whom Yeats was unrequitedly in love. Maud Gonne's involvement with the Order (but not with magic) was short lived. She had a visionary gift that both inspired and frightened her, but she was unimpressed by the prosaic appearance of the Golden Dawn's robed initiates and suspicious of the Order's connections with Freemasonry, which she associated with a repressive British establishment. Florence Farr, on the other hand, had a great aptitude for magic and was deeply committed to both occultism and the Golden Dawn. W B. Yeats, Florence Farr, and a third woman, Annie Horniman, were each admitted to the Order in 1890, all three were to be connected professionally through their involvement with the theatre, and each became prominent within the Golden Dawn. Annie Horniman was introduced to MacGregor Mathers and thus the Golden Dawn through her close friend, Mina Bergson. The two women had met when they were students at the Slade School of Fine Art in London during the 1880s. Annie Horniman persuaded her father, Frederick, to employ MacGregor Mathers as curator of his small private museum at Forest Hill, London, and thus make it possible for MacGregor Mathers to marry Mina Bergson in 1890. The job lasted only about a year, but Annie Horniman was to remain heavily financially responsible for the MacGregor Matherses for another decade.
Influenced by MacGregor Mathers, Mina changed her name to the more suitably Celtic "Moina," and under his tutelage she discovered a powerful gift for visionary experiences and magic. After her marriage Moina MacGregor Mathers became something akin to muse and high priestess of the Golden Dawn, and was closely involved with her husband in the development of the Order's rituals and teachings. During the 1890s Moina Mathers, Annie Horniman, and Florence Farr were the three most important and powerful women in the Golden Dawn.
Annie Horniman and Florence Farr were both in their thirtieth year when they entered the Order. They were women of independent (if limited, in the case of Florence Farr) means, with the time, inclination, and resources with which to pursue their interests. Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman (186o-1937) was a member of a family whose money had been made in a well-known tea importing business. Her father was an avid collector of what drapery, and Egyptian gods and goddesses painted by herself in the British Museum."
She spent a great deal of her time in the British Museum and its Reading Room immersed in esoteric studies, taught and lectured in both Orders of the Golden Dawn, visited its premises frequently, officiated in various capacities in rituals and ceremonies, was occupied with practical magic, and was busy writing. In the summer of 1893 Farr was writing a novel, The Dancing Faun, but she was also working on the first of her occult publications. This, A Short Enquiry Concerning the Hermetic Art by a Lover of Philalethes, was a reprint of an eighteenth-century alchemical tract for which she provided the notes and an introduction. It appeared in 1894 as volume 3 of William Wynn Westcott's Collectanea Hermetica series, and conveys something of both her personal philosophy and magical training.
Farr's questing temperament was common to other senior members of the Golden Dawn. Isabelle de Steiger, an outwardly conventional woman whose occultism was central to her life, noted: "I have not merely, as might be surmised, gone from one subject to another, from frivolity of soul, but because I have truly and seriously given the best of my powers to learn to know for what purpose I came into this world, and in what condition I shall leave it." It was this kind of questioning that drew women and men alike into occultism, and occultism alone that seemed to them to offer the synthesized answers that religion, science, and philosophy in isolation could not provide.
It was precisely this longing for spiritualized answers to life's deepest questions combined with the millennialism of the fin de siecle that brought people into the Theosophical Society and the Golden Dawn. Once there, those like Florence Farr and W B. Yeats became totally absorbed in occult study and the intense concentration on the inner life that advanced occultism required. Prior to gaining admittance to the Golden Dawn in 1890, Yeats had, of course, already had considerable exposure to occultism. He was well versed in occult ideas through his Theosophical associations, had read MacGregor Mathers's translation of the Kabbala Denudata, and at the end of the 1880s was buried in his study of William Blake. Blake was widely admired within the Bedford Park set, but Yeats was beginning to weave the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg, Jacob Boehme, and Blake together in a conceptual framework that underscored the power of the poet's mystical ideas and their relationship to the symbolic world of occultism and magic.
Yeats was also deeply immersed in the Irish folklore that was so central to his literary output during this period, and that, too, was to be incorporated into his developing sense of the power of the imagination as central to the magical enterprise. As his knowledge of magic deepened it became bound up with every area of Yeats's working life.
Waite claimed that MacGregor Mathers's "mystery-language" and attempts at glamorous association failed to impress him, but he nevertheless sought entry to the Golden Dawn. Although Yeats was later to say that "Mathers had much learning, but little scholarship," a sentiment echoed by Waite, this "figure of romance" clearly had a great deal of personal charisma and was to exert enormous influence over the initiates of the newly formed Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
There was also Irish (or, more accurately, Irish Protestant Ascendancy) representation within the Order, most notably in the person of W B. Yeats but equally evident in other figures such as Yeats's friend Dorothea Hunter. Hunter was a member of the Butler family and came from the same gentrified Irish Protestant background as Yeats. A Theosophist and Bedford Park neighbor, Yeats recruited her into the Golden Dawn and both she and her husband, Edmund, became important members of a group interested in developing a specifically Celtic spirituality.
Yeats conceived of this Celtic Mystical Order as a means of transcending Irish nationalist politics and divisions, although it was certainly designed to appeal to Maud Gonne, and worked with initiates including Florence Farr and MacGregor Mathers to establish the necessary rites. The proposed Celtic Mystical Order was part of Yeats's much broader engagement with Irish literature and culture at the turn of the century, and represented the idea urged by his old friend George W Russell (the writer "AE") for a new Celtic spirituality worthy of the approaching century. Plans for a Celtic Order took place, however, against the backdrop of a significant range of possible political positions, from fervent republican sentiments to a more measured Home Rule stance. Many of those active in the occult world had Irish nationalist sympathies, including Annie Besant-also, like Yeats, from a shabbily genteel Anglo-Irish background-whose attitude towards Indian independence was increasingly affected by the Irish situation. This Celtic strain therefore ran deep in the British occultism of the fin de siecle, and had ramifications beyond the posturing of MacGregor Mathers. Nevertheless, MacGregor Mathers's Celtic allegiances were another factor in his hold on the imagination of initiates of the Golden Dawn.
Opposition to spiritualism was inherited directly from Blavatsky, but the Golden Dawn also followed A. E Sinnett's cue when he argued that "[o]ccult phenomena must not be confused with the phenomena of spiritualism. The latter, whatever they may be, are manifestations which mediums can neither control nor understand. The former are achievements of a conscious, living operator comprehending the laws with which he works." Advanced Golden Dawn initiates were later to be taught that the magical will "is king, not only of the House of Life, but of the universe outside the gates of sense," and that the Adept is capable of conjuring a particular phenomenon with absolute precision through the operation of this all-important will." Nevertheless, candidates for admission to the Order often came from spiritualist backgrounds, and in some cases continued their spiritualist experiments both during and after active membership. W B. Yeats, for example, was drawn to spiritualist experimentation prior to his entry and subsequently became heavily involved with it in spite of the strictures of Blake, Swedenborg, Blavatsky, and the occultists in the Golden Dawn.
In a different vein, William Crookes, the scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society who carried out a famous series of experiments in the 1870s with the young spiritualist medium Florence Cook, was an active psychical researcher who was admitted to the Golden Dawn in 1890.
All candidates were required to sign a Pledge Form, which committed them to complete silence about everything relating to the Order. They were also asked to select the motto (usually in Latin) by which they would be known. These mottoes became the sole means of address in anything relating to the Order, and were often affectionately shortened for everyday use. Annie Horniman, for instance, was known among the membership as "Fortiter," while Yeats was often dubbed (lovingly or otherwise) "Demon." Initials were also common, particularly when referring to a long motto/ name in writing. Hence Florence Farr usually became "S. S. D. D." in letters, and used these initials in her own occult missives and publications.
For the ceremony, as for all Golden Dawn initiations and rituals, the candidate was appropriately robed-in this case, in the black gown and red shoes of the Neophyte grade. Here, too, the initiate was taught the secret signs and "grip" of the grade, the means by which the initiated Neophyte might identify himself or herself to others. Secrecy and silence on matters relating to the Order were emphasized, and the symbolism of dress and ritual accoutrements explained. Thus, during the initiation ceremony, the presiding Hierophant told the candidate: "The Three-Fold Cord bound around your waist, was an image of the three-fold bondage of Mortality, which amongst the Initiated is called earthly or material inclination, that has bound into a narrow place the once far-wandering soul." Similarly, "the Hood-wink was an image of the Darkness, of Ignorance, of Mortality that has blinded men to the Happiness and Beauty their eyes once looked upon."
Thereafter, as they rose through the grades, initiates wore the appropriate distinguishing marks of rank and office, and participated in the rituals to which their grade entitled them. Finally, any member of the Golden Dawn who became a nominal 5 = 6°, the pinnacle of advancement during the earlier years, was qualified to preside over First Order gatherings and wear the distinctive white sash of the Adeptus Minor.
All this, and indeed the history of the Golden Dawn, was to change in 1892, when MacGregor Mathers single-handedly instituted the Ordo Roseae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (R. R. et A. C.) as a selective and active Second Order dedicated to the training of magicians. This Order, created after MacGregor Mathers apparently returned from a trip to Paris bearing an authorized 5 = 6° ritual supplied by "a Frater L. E. T, a Continental Adept," constituted a secret elite within a secret elite.
The ritual itself drew heavily on the Christian Rosencreutz legend and culminated with the candidate coming face to face with a symbolic representation of "Father R. C." as he lay in his coffin (or Pastos) in a secret tomb. This tomb, referred to as a Vault and described in detail in the seventeenth-century Rosicrucian pamphlet known as the Fama, was the centerpiece for the Second Order's Adeptus Minor ritual. A replica tomb, known in the Order as the Vault of the Adepts, was constructed according to MacGregor Mathers's specifications and decorated by his artistic wife, Moina MacGregor Mathers, and himself. The Vault was a seven-sided chamber eight feet high, and its interior was adorned with a complex array of Cabalistic, astrological, and alchemical symbols, each painted in accordance with the symbolic importance accorded specific colors. The structure was large enough to accommodate the Pastos, the candidate, and at least three officiating Adepts, and was kept closed and sealed at the Second Order's premises.
Teaching was often done by lecture to the assembled Adepts, and many of these lectures became enshrined in what were known as Flying Rolls-manuscript documents that formed the basis for instruction. The first Flying Roll was issued in November 1892, and thirty-four of them appeared within the next two years. Moina MacGregor Mathers, Florence Farr, Dr. Berridge, and Percy Bullock, a solicitor and an important member of the Golden Dawn, also contributed to the Flying Rolls. Moina Mathers was particularly invaluable to her husband because she could often realize visually through meditation and visions what he had in mind for the Order's teachings and rituals." Twelve members of the Golden Dawn, including Moina Mathers, the Reverend and Mrs. Ayton, Dr. Berridge, and Florence Farr, were already honorary 5 = 6°'s when Annie Horniman was due for promotion, and it was probably Horniman who was the first to experience the new Adeptus Minor ritual in the Vault of the Adepts. Her advancement from the First Order did not take place until the end of 1891, by which time MacGregor Mathers had completed his plans for the Second Order.
The vault itself was not quite finished, but Annie Horniman was about to leave the country and presumably anxious to experience a full-blown 5 = 6° ceremonial induction into the R. R. et A. C.. The Second Order got under way in earnest the following year.
From the outset, the Second Order met in separate premises from the rest of the initiates of the Golden Dawn. They first occupied premises at Thavies Inn, off Holborn Circus, in accommodations that might well have been rented from the Sanitary Wood Wool Company-a firm that supplied surgical dressings and one with which Westcott was involved. By the summer of 1892, however, a move to Clipstone Street, off Great Portland Street, had been negotiated. The new quarters were in a bustling, unprepossessing road occupied by small tradespeople and artisans, and were the scene of considerable activity during the early autumn. Second Order initiates worked to clean and prepare the rooms, the Vault was moved from Thavies Inn and resurrected, and a library of occult reading materials was established. By September the Vault had been consecrated, and ceremonial admissions to the Second Order in the new premises were under way.
In some respects the R. R. et A. C. did combine a social with a more esoteric function, and as in the First Order, there was a reassuring clublike feel to the informal proceedings. The ease and pleasure with which initiates might meet and greet each other at Clipstone Street, however, was not fundamentally what the Second Order was all about.
MacGregor Mathers's R. R. et A. C. was conceived as a uniquely ambitious Magical Order and one in which initiates would pursue an advanced curriculum of esoteric knowledge in a spirit of total dedication. Here, as in the First Order, MacGregor Mathers and others brought together a tremendous amount of disparate material and gave it coherence, direction, and purpose. The teachings built on the knowledge gained in the First Order and were predicated on the occult doctrine of correspondences, often summed up by the Hermetic insight "As above, so below" Anna Kingsford, Edward Maitland, and Madame Blavatsky had deemed the Hermetic doctrine of correspondences vitally important, but as elucidated within the Golden Dawn it was based on the Cabalistic idea that all things in the universe are interconnected and find expression in the symbolism of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is part of the Chrstian Cabalist esoteric tradition and represents a map of the universe as it was understood before the encroachments of modern Western science. Its symbolism was central to the Christian cabalistic emphasis of the First Order, and in general the Golden Dawn drew heavily on Christian D. Ginsburg's relatively recent interpretive treatise on the subject." First Order initiates, then, had already mastered the idea of a universe suffused with a deity that manifests itself in ten spheres or Sephiroth, each representing a different world, quality, or entity, and connected by twenty-two paths. They had begun to learn the correspondences attributed to each Sephiroth-the god or mythical figure, gem, color, numerical value, and so on-as well as the associations given to the twenty-two connecting paths. Initiates knew, for example, that the paths were identified with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the twenty-two cards of the tarot's pictorial Greater Arcana, as well as with particular planets, signs of the zodiac, and elements like fire or water. This was the kind of complex and detailed learning that earned an initiate admission to the nominal 5 = 6° after ascending the grades of the First Order, and it was this knowledge that formed the basis for further study in the selective Second Order. The difference between the First and Second Orders, however, was that in the R. R. et A. C. the knowledge was extended and put to practical use. The cabalistic teachings of the First Order were now revealed to have practical facility as a system of operative magic. Initiates became magicians in the real sense of the word.
Magic as it was understood in the Second Order was based on the belief that an Adept can use a series of revered and ancient techniques in conjunction with a knowledge of correspondences in order to converse with those worlds beyond our own and gain control over the invisible forces of the universe. As it was taught in the Second Order, practical magic relied on the idea that the Cabalistic Tree of Life is emblematic of the structure of both the universe and each individual human being, and that the system of correspondences forges connections not merely between the different Sephiroth of the universe but also similarly between the different Sephiroth or inner worlds of the magician. Furthermore, the magical manipulation of correspondences allows for simultaneous effects in and between the macrocosmic Great World of the universe and the microcosmic Little World of the operator. This, members of the Second Order were taught, allows the magician to achieve incredible things. Indeed, Golden Dawn initiates already knew from personal experience that ceremonial ritual, the harmonious combination of sacred words or phrases with secret gestures and commands, could produce an extraordinary inner (psychological, emotional, or spiritual) change in the participant. They were now taught that when the appropriate magical formulae are intoned according to strict rules and with absolute dedication of purpose, the result can be powerful enough to effect particular sought-after changes in themselves and, correspondingly, other individuals and the worlds that make up the great cosmos. Given this, it is not surprising that the R. R. et A. C. screened its candidates with such care and emphasized that practical magic constitutes a sacred trust. It must never be used for personal gain or to do harm, as in so-called black magic. In the Second Order it was understood that magic requires a mastery of occult knowledge, perfect self-discipline, absolute precision of execution, and "Purity of aspiration and of life." These qualities were what was implied by the term Adept.
Indispensable implements were the Lotus Wand, one of four wands representing the magician's will and one that was preferably made of almond wood, decorated with bands of color symbolizing the signs of the zodiac, and topped by a lotus bloom that symbolized both natural and spiritual development; the Magic Sword, representing the magician's reason and indispensable for basic magical rituals or protection during more sophisticated undertakings; and the four Elemental Weapons, which include the Wand, Cup, Dagger, and Pentacle. Each of these represents one of the four natural elements and, as always, carried particular symbolic resonances. The robe traditionally worn by the magician represents the cloak of secrecy beneath which the operator works, and in the Second Order the color of the robe and details of an initiate's regalia reflected the degree to which the student had progressed in the attainments of the Adept.
Both Orders of the Golden Dawn drew on the Hermetic notion of the Great Man, the spiritually perfected individual who exemplifies the pinnacle of human development and mirrors the glories of divinity.
It was in the Second Order, however, that the idea of the magical Adept as the fullest possible expression of human perfection came to the fore, and much of its teaching and thaumaturgic activity were aimed at raising the initiate into a state of exalted perfection. To be sure, the R. R. et A. C. considered the magician's traditional ability to control the great forces that flow through the universe as fundamental to Adeptship. Equally, it instructed initiates in the procedures for invoking nonhuman spirits and deities, and taught, following ancient Egyptian magic, how the initiate might inflame herself with the power of a deity and thereby take on the characteristics of an invoked force. And students were shown how to open up channels of communication with nontemporal worlds and acquire the knowledge and special powers of the spirits and gods that inhabit them. But all this was seen as part of the process of attaining the great gift of occult wisdom, which presages the kind of enlightenment for which the true Adept strives. In the final analysis, the acquisition of magical powers was all about an aspiration to the perfections of what Anna Kingsford in her teachings had conceived of as the Christ-spirit. As reinterpreted by the Golden Dawn, with its own distinctive Rosicrucian overtones of spiritual attainment, the magician was the prophetic representative of a new and sublime form of humanity.
But what did it mean "to be more than human," and how was this to be achieved? Great thaumaturgic powers that represented the highest manifestation of human capability were seen to be part of the process, but magic as it was conceived in the Second Order was also centrally involved with bringing the magician into direct communion with God and thus (although possibly only momentarily) to a state of almost superhuman semidivinity. This experience of oneness with God, or the closest most can come to knowing God, was achieved through a series of complex and intense meditation exercises in which the magician visualized herself traveling up the Tree of Life in order to meet and become suffused with Divine Light as it streamed down from the uppermost First Sephiroth known as the Crown (Kether).
The routes up through the Tree of Life were varied, but the path most commonly taken in the Second Order was called the Middle Pillar. The technique of the Middle Pillar involves a direct ascent from the tenth or last Sephiroth, the Kingdom (Malkuth), which constitutes our own material world, up the central path or trunk to a resting place at the heart of the Tree of Life. Here, in the Sephiroth known as Beauty (Tiphareth), the magician undergoes an experience so powerful that it effects a kind of personal transformation, a transmutation that was the ultimate purpose of much Second Order magical work. It was this transmutation that Anna Kingsford had called the Great Work." In the Second Order the Great Work was synonymous with magic, but magic designed to promote a very specific end. As Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum (Moina MacGregor Mathers) put it, "It must be our object then, to become that Perfect Man. "
Those senior Adepts who took this admonition at face value accepted that as magicians they were committed to the lifelong pursuit of the Rosicrucian ideal, but as the Second Order began to mature during the 1890s divisions started to emerge around questions of leadership and the related issues of magical pursuits and the future direction of the R. R. et A. C. In 1892 the MacGregor Matherses left London for Paris, where, supported by Annie Horniman's money, Moina Mathers was expected to resume her painting studies. Much to Annie Horniman's consternation MacGregor Mathers and his various occult ventures monopolized Moina's time, but in MacGregor Mathers's absence Fortiter (Horniman) herself assumed the role of trusted lieutenant in the Golden Dawn. In 1894 Horniman was invited to consecrate MacGregor Mathers's Ahathoor Temple No. 7 in Paris, which listed the occultist Dr. Gerard Encausse (or Papus) among its early members, while she continued to send money to Paris and MacGregor Mathers maintained his instructions to the "Fratres et Sorores" in Britain. By 1895 Horniman was becoming increasingly uneasy about MacGregor Mathers's financial demands, his militarism, and his obsession with Scotland and the House of Stuart. During the same period Horniman became involved in a dispute involving Resurgam (Dr. Edward Berridge) and other high-ranking members of the R. R. et A. C.
Although anxiety and dissent pervaded the inner Second Order, both Orders of the Golden Dawn continued to operate fully and attract new members. One of these was Aleister Crowley, then a young man in his early twenties, who entered the First Order in November 1898 as Perdurabo [I will last through].
MacGregor Mathers was now financially involved with another member of the Second Order, De Profundis Ad Lucem (Frederick Leigh Gardner), a friend of Annie Horniman's, who ran afoul of Florence Farr in her official capacity as acting Chief Adept owing to his lack of dignity and tact. Once again there was a flurry of correspondence as MacGregor Mathers refused to intervene on Gardner's behalf and the latter was temporarily exiled to another of the Golden Dawn's Temples where Farr did not have to listen to his woefully inadequate and unmusical ritual intonation.
All this interpersonal animosity, however, paled into insignificance when, in February 1900, Florence Farr received a devastating letter from MacGregor Mathers, seemingly written in response to her stated desire to resign her position in the Second Order so that she could work more closely with William Wynn Westcott. In this letter MacGregor Mathers denounced Westcott, one of the original three Chiefs of the Golden Dawn, claiming that he had "NEVER been at any time either in personal or in written communication with the Secret Chiefs of the Order, he having either himself forged or procured to beforged the professed correspondence between him and them."
While MacGregor Mathers could not afford to similarly disparage either the Secret Chiefs or the Order's founding cypher document, thereby undercutting his own position as Chief Adept, he had essentially thrown into doubt the entire provenance of occult authority within the Golden Dawn.
Farr called a private meeting of trusted members of the Second Order, letters were dispatched to MacGregor Mathers asking him to come to London and verify his allegations, Westcott was apprised of the situation by Yeats, and finally towards the end of March the matter was set before the Second Order. A seven-person committee that included Farr, Yeats, Dorothea and Edmund Hunter, and Percy Bullock (all friends with Bedford Park connections) was now officially recognized and charged with investigating the matter. Westcott was helpful and maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing, but the vital evidence-the Fraulein Sprengel letters-had by now disappeared from the Order's archive. MacGregor Mathers, on the other hand, ignored all requests to come to London and fulminated against the committee, which he took to be contravening his authority. He threatened its members with a magical "Punitive Current," reserved for those who disobeyed their Chief, and ordered it to disband. The committee ignored MacGregor Mathers and by April had turned its attention to the authenticity of the cypher manuscript supposedly passed to Westcott in 188'7 by the Reverend Woodford. At this juncture, however, events took a very different turn.
Aleister Crowley, having risen quickly through the grades of the First Order, had duly sought and been denied entrance to the R. R. et A. C. by a London leadership that clearly thought him unsuited to further occult study.
In January of 1900, however, MacGregor Mathers had overruled all objections and admitted Crowley to the Second Order in a ceremony held in Paris. Crowley, having received a letter from Deo Date (Dorothea Hunter) telling him that London refused to accept his recent Parisian initiation, now emerged as MacGregor Mathers's emissary in the business at hand. On the 17 April 1900 Crowley broke into and took possession of the Second Order's rooms (now located at 36 Blythe Road, Hammersmith) on behalf of MacGregor Mathers and with his written permission. There were several skirmishes over the next few days, with Crowley at one point appearing for MacGregor Mathers wearing full highland dress and sporting a ritual mask. Finally, Edmund Hunter, known for his boxing skill, and W B. Yeats, whose loathing of Crowley was amply reciprocated, won the day. Their persistence, together with the intervention of a constable and the support of the landlord, ensured that the premises were secured on behalf of the London leadership of the Second Order.
Annie Horniman had not immediately made her presence felt as a senior member of the Second Order. Horniman, always a stickler for detail, discovered that many of the Order's records had been allowed to lapse, examinations were no longer rigorously administered, and some of the ceremonies had been altered during her time of absence. She held Florence Farr, as a Chief Adept in charge who cared little for administrative detail, personally responsible and relations between the two women became generally strained. Worse was to follow. Horniman became aware that a series of informal "Secret Groups" had developed within the Second Order that encouraged what she took to be an undisciplined and heterodox approach to magical practice. The most prestigious of these was "The Sphere," an elite group of Adepts led by Florence Farr which took the clairvoyant techniques taught in the Second Order to new heights. In Horniman's absence the activities of these "Secret Groups" had become a private passion for privileged Adepts, so there were now initiated elites within elites in the Second Order. Furthermore, under Farr's influence the Second Order (and especially her own "Sphere" group) had become more attuned to ancient Egyptian magic, moving away from a more explicitly Cabalistic and Rosicrucian emphasis
W B. Yeats, caught between his friendship with and admiration for Florence Farr and temperamental inclination for precedent and structure, threw in his lot with Annie Horniman. Yeats and Horniman made their case against the "Secret Groups" and other irregularities in several contentious Council meetings during February 1902, urging a return to the disciplined days of MacGregor Mathers albeit under democratic Council rule. Accusations and counteraccusations flew back and forth as Yeats argued that the separate groups fractured the harmonious working of the Order, his opponents questioned his magical expertise, and Horniman was accused of obsessive and malicious behavior. On 26 February the pair were outvoted on the Council, and the following day they, together with J. W Brodie-Innes, a lawyer and Imperator of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh, resigned their offices. A month later Yeats wrote a short essay for distribution to the Second Order entitled "Is the Order of R. R. et A. C. to Remain a Magical Order?" in which he implicitly addressed his critics while addressing in broad terms the place and purpose of magic. For Yeats the events of early 1902 must have been particularly painful, as his principled stand separated him for the time being from close friends of long standing. He remained in the Order but moved quietly into the background while Annie Horniman continued her attacks on suspected group activity and Florence Farr did her best to ignore them.
The times, however, were changing. Towards the end of l901 the Golden Dawn was rocked by the salacious trial of a couple calling themselves Mr. and Madame Horos, who had managed to pass themselves off as high Adepts and were convicted of raping a young girl in a bogus Golden Dawn ceremony.
The adverse publicity was such that many members left the First Order, and the Golden Dawn felt compelled to change its name.
By March 1902 the Executive leadership had changed yet again, Florence Farr and other luminaries left the Order about this time. Farr joined the Theosophical Society in june 1902, and by then many of the Second Order's most familiar and advanced Adepts-among them Florence Farr's sister, Henrietta Paget, Edmund and Dorothea Hunter, Dr. John Todhunter, and Madame de Steiger had also left its ranks. Fears that an evil force had penetrated the Order pervaded the attempts to fashion a new contitution. Horniman was blamed for much of the dissension, and blamed others in turn.
With Annie Horniman's resignation the Golden Dawn lost one of its most senior remaining members who had known MacGregor Mathers and remembered the great days of his tutelage.
In May 1903 one last attempt at reorganization led to a final schism. Again, this reflected not simply the power plays of the various parties but a genuine parting of the ways over issues of purpose and procedure. Arthur Edward Waite gained control of London's Isis-Urania Temple and retained its name, but under his influence the Golden Dawn teachings and ceremonies were adapted to his own brand of Christian mysticism. In November 1903 his newly constituted Independent and Rectified Order R. R. et A. C., Waite's own Second Order, attracted a number of significant Golden Dawn initiates, among them Madame de Steiger, the writer Arthur Machen, and the Reverend W A. Ayton.
The latter was one of the earliest initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the man in whose home Moina Bergson had stayed prior to her marriage to MacGregor Mathers in 1890. Waite's R. R. et A. C. initiated Evelyn Underhill in 1904, and his subsequent Fellowship of the Rosy Cross attracted Charles Williams, the poet and writer.
The tradition of Second Order magical practice as it had developed during the years of Florence Farr's ascendancy was carried on by Dr. Felkin in a newly formed Amoun Temple, and Felkin changed the name of what remained of the old Golden Dawn to Stella Matutina. MacGregor Mathers appointed Dr. Berridge, Annie Horniman's old adversary, as his representative, and Berridge carried on in the MacGregor Mathers tradition in a new Temple and according to his Chief's directives.
In 1916 Dr. Felkin and his wife emigrated to New Zealand, and the magic of the Golden Dawn as it was practiced towards the end of the old century reached the Antipodes. By the time MacGregor Mathers died in 1918 the many faceted traces of his original labors were to be found around the globe.
Farr herself considered that she and her cohort were doing "world" work of the utmost importance. Indeed, inspired by the Eastern teachings of the future Tamil parliamentarian Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Farr was to leave England in 1912 to take up the position of principal at his College for Girls in Ceylon.
Madame Blavatsky had taught that the world would enter a new phase with the coming century, passing from a "Dark Age" of materialism into a cycle of great spiritual development; the illuminati of the Golden Dawn were similarly caught up in visions of a new order predicated on spiritual enlightenment.