Byzant MysticalTarotSymbolsKabbalahBiographyAstrologyScriptorium

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The Sun Rises

The Rose Cross The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is the best known and most influential modern magical order, and though it lasted less than a dozen years, its legacy has played a major role in the magical revival of the twentieth century. The Order was founded in 1888 by Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a London coroner, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. It survived in its original form until 1903. Both Westcott and Mathers had a background in secret and magical orders, being Freemasons and members of the Rosicrucian order Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), among others.

The story goes that Westcott was sent parts of a strange, encrypted document by a Reverend Woodford, a Mason and Hermeticist, who claimed to have found it in a London bookstall. Once Westcott had deciphered the manuscript, it turned out to be an outline for the rituals and teachings of a magical order, with instructions to contact Sapiens Dominabitur Astris, in care of Anna Sprengel in Hanover. Westcott did this and was told that he could found "an elementary branch of the Rosicrucian Order in England." Mathers helped to craft workable rituals from outlines in the document, and the Golden Dawn was born.

On 1st March, 1888, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was established with the opening of the Isis-Urania Temple at 17 Fitzroy Street, London. Its three chiefs were Westcott, Mathers and Dr. William Robert Woodman, the Supreme Magus of the SRIA. Over the next eight years over 300 initiates joined the Order.

The program of lodge work and individual magical training created for the Golden Dawn made the important step forward of linking the secret, group work of the Order to the ritual work performed by initiates as part of their own training and practice. The teachings of the Golden Dawn were diverse, and included Ceremonial Magic, Kabbalah, inner alchemy, Tarot, Enochian Magic, astrology, divination and Egyptian Magic - all with the aim of performing the Great Work of self-realization. The Order was arranged in a hierarchy of eleven degrees through which initiates could progress: the neophyte degree followed by ten further degrees corresponding to the sefirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

Aleister Crowley Prominent members of the Golden Dawn included Dr. Arthur Edward Waite, Aleister Crowley and the poet William Butler Yeats. The clash of egos inherent in this talented potpourri pulled the Golden Dawn apart from the inside. Mathers wanted to be the sole chief of the Order, and claimed that he was in contact with Secret Chiefs who had proclaimed him the "Visible Head of the Order." In 1891 he set up his own lodge in Paris, and when Woodman died this same year, his position in the Order was not reallocated. The Woodford document and subsequent letters from Anna Sprengel, used by Westcott to give the Golden Dawn some legitimizing lineage, were almost certainly forgeries, and accusations along these lines saw Westcott resign in 1897. In his resignation letter, Westcott cited the stigma still attached to the magical arts: "having received an intimation that it had somehow become known to state officers that I was a prominent official of a society in which I was foolishly posturing as one possessed of magical powers and that if this became more public it would not do for a Coroner of the Crown to be made shame of in such a mad way." Florence Farr took his place, but the demise of the Order was accelerated with the initiation of Aleister Crowley in 1898. After his expulsion in 1900, Crowley published some of the Order's secret documents in his magazine, The Equinox.

The Sun Sets

The disintegration of the Golden Dawn now began in earnest, resulting in a raft of new magical orders as former members founded orders of their own to bolster their egos or keep the tradition alive. By 1903, the year that Waite formed his own mystically-inclined version of the Order, the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is considered to have faded away. New orders that grew, directly or indirectly, from the extinguishing of the Golden Dawn include:

Alpha et Omega Mather's version of the Golden Dawn.
Stella Matutina
("Morning Star")
Yeats and Dr. Robert Felkin's rival Order, more prosaically known as the "Order of the Companions of the Rising Light in the Morning."
Holy Order of the Golden Dawn Waite's group: more mystically than magically inclined. The order declined after Waite's departure in 1915.
Astrum Argenteum
("Silver Star")
Crowley's order.
Ordo Templi Orientis
("Order of the Templars of the Orient")
The Order Crowley eventually joined, reorganized and led until his death.
Fraternity of the Inner Light
(now Society of the Inner Light)
Founded by Dion Fortune.

Dion Fortune joined the Stella Matutina in 1919, and Israel Regardie joined in 1934. Regardie became disillusioned with the pettiness and incompetence of the surviving "adepts" and decided to publish his collection of secret papers and rituals in the hope of allowing the knowledge to survive. The Golden Dawn was published in four volumes between 1937 and 1940, and this was eventually the catalyst for the flowering of new orders and solitary magicians working within and expanding upon the rich Golden Dawn tradition.