The Golden Dawn
HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN DAWN
The following information summarises the founding of the Golden Dawn and the first few years of its existence.
Origins of the Golden Dawn
In 1888, as the turn of the century began to loom closer, spiritualism began to fall from favour with Victorian occultists. Initially attention had been drawn to the eastern mysticism of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society. For a few, the normally closed doors of Freemasonry were briefly opened to allow them entry. But throughout the year rumours were circulating in both Theosophical and Masonic circles that an ancient, secret Rosicrucian Society existed in England.
The Rosicrucian Legend
Legend has it that Christian Rosenkreuz was born in 1378 in Austria and that at the age of five was placed in a German monastery by his parents. Before he was sixteen he knew both Greek and Latin and he and another of his brethren were chosen to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. Unfortunately his companion died in Cyprus and the young monk continued to Damascus alone.
There he learned of the wise men of Damcar in Arabia. Now sixteen, Rosenkreuz set off to find them. He found a warm welcome awiting him at Damcar, as if he had been expected. From these wise men he learned Arabic and translated Arabic texts into Latin, and also excelled in mathematics and the natural sciences. His studies completed at Damcar, he moved on to Egypt, then Fez, and finally Spain – at each place accumalating more secret knowledge. Finally he returned home to Germany.
Along with his monastery brethren he set about recording all that he had been taught. The Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, as they were known, had to each choose a successor to whom the knowledge could be passed in the event of their death – in order to preserve both the knowledge and the Fraternity itself. When Rosenkreuz himself died in 1484 most of the writings of the Fraternity disappeared, along with the body of the founder.
A hundred and twenty years later, in 1604, alterations were being made to the building and a bronze tablet listing the members of the Fraternity was discovered. When the tablet was removed a vault was uncovered. The vault had seven sections, each divided into ten panels covered with arcane symbols and inscriptions. Set into each of the seven walls was an alcove containing a chest. Inside the chests were the original works of the founder. Illuminated from the centre, light shone down on a stone altar, beneath which lay the tomb of the undecayed body of Christian Rosenkreuz. His followers replaced the altar and resealed the vault.
In 1614, documents referred to as the ‘Rosicrucian Manifestos’ appeared, by unknown authors claiming to be acting on behalf of the Rosicrucian fraternity. It is these documents that first described the above story. Societies who identified themselves as Rosicrucian in origin are first recorded in the early-to-mid 1700s. In 1888 there was already a group of occult-oriented Master Masons calling themselves the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (the Rosicrucian Society of England), though despite their name they didn’t claim to be true Rosicrucians.
The Genesis of the Golden Dawn
In 1886, Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a member of the Rosicrucian Society of England, had been told of a manuscript written in cypher, containing Rosicrucian secrets. By August of the following year Westcott had obtained and translated the cypher. It contained the outlines for five Masonic-style grades and their accompanying rituals.
Within the leaves of the manuscript he also found the coded address in Germany of a Rosicrucian adept named Fraulein Sprengel. A flurry of correspondence then ensued, in which it was learned that Fraulein Sprengel was the head of a German Rosicrucian society.
Westcott received Sprengel’s permission to found an English branch of Die Goldene Dammerung (The Golden Dawn). In October 1887 he invited fellow Mason Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers to join him and help expand the rituals contained in the manuscript. The triumvirate was completed by Dr. W.R. Woodman, Supreme Magus of the British Rosicrucian Society. Woodman played little part in the founding of the Order, as he was known as a student of the more obscure elements of the Cabala and Masonic Symbolism. That the order exists at all was due to Westcott’s efforts alone. A coroner by profession, he is, by all accounts a scholar and a gentleman with a true fascination of all things occult.
Westcott received a letter of authority to act on behalf of Fraulein Sprengel in January 1888 and on the first of March a warrant was signed creating Isis-Urania, Temple No. 3 of the Golden Dawn. Temple No. 1 was Sprengel’s own Licht, Liebe, Leben in Germany. Temple No. 2, Hermanoubis, was an earlier unsuccessful attempt to establish the Order in England. Hermanoubis Temple No. 2 had apparently been responsible for losing the cypher manuscript, lent to them by the renowned occultist Eliphas Levi. This temple had ceased to function due to the deaths of its officers.
Westcott’s Golden Dawn is less of a temple and more a university of occult. It opened a degree system not disimilar to Freemasonry. Unlike Freemasonry, however, the Golden Dawn admits women as well as men. All initiates are to undertake a rigorous curriculum of occult theory and a series of exams in order to progress through the initial grades:
Portal (interim grade with no number)
These are the Outer Order grades taken from the cypher manuscript. These are folowed by the Inner Order grades, whose rituals and teachings have been created by Mathers.
5=6 Adeptus Minor
6=5 Adeptus Major
7=4 Adeptus Exemptus
Finally there are the grades of the Secret Chiefs, the mysterious true leaders of the Order who appear only on the Astral Plane.
8=3 Magister Templi
The numbers with each grade follow a pattern, which should be clear if you look closely. From the Outer Order to the Inner Order, the first number runs from 0-10; the second number runs in the opposite direction. These numbers represent different branches of the Tree of Life (a concept found in Jewish Cabalism) and placed as they are in pairs, represent various attributes associated with the Tree of Life that apply to the various levels. The 1=10 level (Zelator), for instance, is tied to the element of earth (1) and to the divine centre of human consciousness (10). This means that the Zelator is a being of the mortal realm, but also acknowledges that said realm is still part of the greater divine whole. At the 10=1 level (Ipissimus), the reveral is complete: the Ipissimus is a dweller of a realm whose entire substance is that of the ethereal and the transcendent.
Each degree has its own unique ritual and each member has their own motto (usually in Latin) which is used instead of their name when conducting Order business. Members who reach the Inner Order take a new motto, and learned of the Secret Chiefs above them. As the visible Chiefs of the Order, Westcott (motto: Sapere Aude), Mathers (motto: ‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream) and Woodman (motto: Magna Est Veritas Et Praevavebit) all hold 5=6 grade.
Fraulein Sprengel (Sapiens Dominabitur Astris) holds 7=4 as do Non Omnis Moriar, Deo Duce Comite Ferro and Vincit Omina Veritas – who are the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn in England.
In 1888 a Neophyte could expect to be charged 10s for the privilege and charged an annual fee of 2s 6d. His ceremonial sash would also cost 2s 6d, and a copy of thye 0=0 ritual cost 5s. He could also purchase a copy of the Order’s history for 2s. The ritual itself has Egyptian overtones and culminates in a pledge of secrecy and obediance at the risk of being struck down by a ‘Current of Will’ from the Secret Chiefs. This effect is described as leaving its target ‘as if blasted by a lightning flash’.
Studies in elemental occult symbolism (alchemical and astrological), the Hebrew alphabet, the Cabalistic Tree of Life, the Tarot and geomancy run through all of the Outer Order grades. The only practical magic taught is how to create a protective pentagram, which comes as part of the Neophyte grade.
Those that are already students of the occult oftedn find that the early grades teach them nothing they do not already know, but they soon progress through the grades to those which bring fresh enlightenment.
The goal of the Golden Dawn is not to produce powerful sorcerors; rather, its goal is to foster a form of personal, spiritual development among the members. These development follows paths of hermetic magick and occult knowledge rather than, say the paths of Christianity or the Golden Rule. Golden Dawn members are expected to be studious, sincere, and to possess the desire to improve their mind and their spirit through study and devotion.
At the end of March 1888 the Order numbered nine, meeting regularly at Mark Masons Hall. By the end of the year another dozen had joined from the Rosicrucian Society. In October of that year, in an attempt to stem the steady flow of her membership to the Golden Dawn, Madame Blavatsky formed the Esoterical Section of the Theosophical Society.
1888 also saw the founding of two more Golden Dawn Temples, the short-lived Osiris Temple no. 4 in Weston-Super-Mare and Horus Temple No. 5 in Bradford. The Order continued to grow throughout 1889, and 1890 saw a number of significant events for the Order.
In 1889 Blavatsky banned any of her Theosophist members from holding membership in any other secret society. A minor rebellion ensued and she relented, forming a ‘Compact of Mutual Toleration’ with the Golden Dawn, accepting Westcott as a member of her own Esoterical Section.
In March of 1890 the Inner Circle was given a name: ‘the Order of the Rose of Ruby and the Cross of Gold,’ thereby underlining its Rosicrucian heritage.
August of 1890 brought grave news from Germany. Westcott received a letter notifying him of Fraulein Sprengel’s death. To make matters worse it appeared that she had been acting alone in supporting Westcott and the English branch of the Golden Dawn, against the wishes of her peers. The Secret Chiefs of Temple No. 1 withdrew their support and the Golden Dawn was cut off from the established Order.
And thus the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn stands alone as the greatest magical society in England.