The Magic Of Golden Dawn

Allan Bennett
Paul Foster Case Aliester Crowley Florence Farr Dion Fortune S. L. Mathers Moina Mathers Israel Regardie William Wescott Robert Woodman W. B. Yeats








Fountainhead of the modern revival of ceremonial magic. As a secret order it attracted some of the most interesting and talented personalities of its time, including poet William Butler Yeats, Annie Horniman (who sponsored the Abbey Theatre, Dublin), Florence Farr (mistress of G. B. Shaw), S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, A. E. Waite, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Violet Firth, and many others.

The order dated from the discovery in 1887 of a cipher manuscript, bought from a bookstall in Farringdon Road, London, by William Wynn Westcott. He was a coroner and a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (Rosicrucian Society of Freemasons). Westcott deciphered the manuscript, which contained a series of mystical rituals. With the aid of his occult-ist friend MacGregor Mathers, these rituals were expanded and systematized. Also among the pages of the manuscript was a slip of paper with the address of Fräulein Anna Sprengel, a Rosicrucian adept living in Germany.

Reportedly, Westcott corresponded with Sprengel, who authorized him to found an English branch of the occult society Die Goldene Dämmerung (The Golden Dawn). It has been suggested, however, that Sprengel did not exist and that Westcott fabricated the correspondence to establish the new secret order.

The Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was established in London in 1888, with Westcott, Mathers, and W. R. Woodman (another occultist Freemason) as chiefs. Between 1888 and 1896 the Osiris Temple was formed at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; the Horus Temple at Bradford, Yorkshire; the Amen-Ra Temple at Edinburgh, Scotland; and the Ahathoor Temple in Paris. A total of 315 initiations took place during this period.

The Golden Dawn consisted of ten main grades, associated with the symbolism of the Kabala: zelator 10°=100°, theoricus 20°=90°, practicus 30°=80°, philosophus 40°=70°, adeptus minor 50°=60°, adeptus major 60°=50°, adeptus exemptus 70°=40°, magister templi 80°=30°, magus 90°=20°, and ipsissimus 100°=10°.

Selected candidates who passed the adeptus minor grade might qualify for admission to a secret second order—the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (Order of the Red Rose and Cross of Gold). Behind the second order loomed the so-called secret chiefs, equivalent to the fabled mahatmas of the Theosophical Society. These chiefs might be contacted on the astral plane.

The complex rituals of the order were partially revealed in the journal The Equinox by Aleister Crowley, who joined the Golden Dawn in November 1898 and left early in 1900. A more detailed record of the teaching, rites, and ceremonies was later published by Israel Regardie in four volumes (1937-40).

Although the rituals of the Golden Dawn were little more than a rather complicated Freemasonry embroidered with occult symbolism, the special studies related to them developed the individual's insight into occultism and mysticism. The poet W. B. Yeats placed a high value on his magic studies with the order and once wrote, "If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Kathleen have ever come to exist."

Yeats played a prominent part in a conflict with Aleister Crowley, who tried to take over the London lodge in 1900. Crowley was expelled from the Golden Dawn, and Yeats took charge of the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis and also became imperator of the Isis-Urania Temple Outer Order. Crowley eventually founded his own order (the A∴A∴) in 1905, using material he had first encountered in the Golden Dawn.

The Golden Dawn continued to fragment as leadership of the various branches changed hands and new orders were formed. This is one of the problems with natural fraternities. Egos become inflated and people become impossible to live with. The primary reason why this is so has to do with the great structure itself which tends to inflate a person's ego based upon the ranking that you have, but more so it is due to the fact that the Western systems do not recognize ego as the enemy as the eastern systems do. As a result of this in the Western systems no attempt is made to sublimate the effects of ego. Virtues such as humility are practically nonexistent in a magical fraternity and for the most part viewed as a weakness. Several Golden Dawn offshoots are still in existence; possibly the most substantive is the Los Angeles-based Builders of the Adytum. In addition several new groups have organized, in part to offer an alternative to the magic practiced in those groups that derive from Aleister Crowley.


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