Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Latin: Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae; or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn (Aurora Aurea)) is a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Known as a magical order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active in Great Britain and focused its practices on theurgy and spiritual development. Many present-day concepts of ritual and magic that are at the centre of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn, which became one of the largest single influences on 20th century Western occultism.
The three founders, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers, were Freemasons. Westcott appears to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn system was based on hierarchy and initiation, similar to Masonic lodges; however, women were admitted on an equal basis with men. The "Golden Dawn" was the first of three Orders, although all three are often collectively referred to as the "Golden Dawn". The First Order taught esoteric philosophy based on the Hermetic Qabalah and personal development through study and awareness of the four classical elements, as well as the basics of astrology, Tarot divination, and geomancy. The Second or Inner Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, taught magic, including scrying, astral travel, and alchemy. The Third Order was that of the Secret Chiefs, who were said to be highly skilled; they supposedly directed the activities of the lower two orders by spirit communication with the Chiefs of the Second Order.
The foundational documents of the original Order of the Golden Dawn, known as the Cipher Manuscripts, are written in English using the Trithemius cipher. The manuscripts give the specific outlines of the Grade Rituals of the Order and prescribe a curriculum of graduated teachings that encompass the Hermetic Kabbalah, astrology, Tarot, geomancy, and alchemy.
According to the records of the Order, the manuscripts passed from Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie, a Masonic scholar, to the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, whom British occult writer Francis King describes as the fourth founder (although Woodford died shortly after the Order was founded). The documents did not excite Woodford, and in February 1886 he passed them on to Freemason William Wynn Westcott, who managed to decode them in 1887. Westcott, pleased with his discovery, called on fellow Freemason Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers for a second opinion. Westcott asked for Mathers' help to turn the manuscripts into a coherent system for lodge work. Mathers, in turn, asked fellow Freemason William Robert Woodman to assist the two, and he accepted. Mathers and Westcott have been credited with developing the ritual outlines in the Cipher Manuscripts into a workable format.
The first temple
In October 1887, Westcott claimed to have written to a German countess and prominent Rosicrucian named Anna Sprengel, whose address was said to have been found in the decoded Cipher Manuscripts. According to Westcott, Sprengel claimed the ability to contact certain supernatural entities, known as the Secret Chiefs, that were considered the authorities over any magical order or esoteric organization. Westcott purportedly received a reply from Sprengel granting permission to establish a Golden Dawn temple and conferring honorary grades of Adeptus Exemptus on Westcott, Mathers, and Woodman. The temple was to consist of the five grades outlined in the manuscripts.
In 1888, the Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London. In contrast to Freemasonry, women were allowed and welcome to participate in the Order in "perfect equality" with men. The Order was more of a philosophical and metaphysical teaching order in its early years. Other than certain rituals and meditations found in the Cipher manuscripts and developed further, "magical practices" were generally not taught at the first temple.
For the first four years, the Golden Dawn was one cohesive group later known as the "First Order" or "Outer Order". A "Second Order" or "Inner Order" was established and became active in 1892. The Second Order consisted of members known as "adepts", who had completed the entire course of study for the First Order. The Second Order was formally established under the name Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (the Order of the Red Rose and the Golden Cross).
Eventually, the Osiris temple in Weston-super-Mare, the Horus temple in Bradford (both in 1888), and the Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh (1893) were founded. In 1893 Mathers founded the Ahathoor temple in Paris.
The Secret Chiefs
In 1890, Westcott's alleged correspondence with Anna Sprengel suddenly ceased. He claimed to have received word from Germany that she was dead and that her companions did not approve of the founding of the Order and no further contact was to be made. If the founders were to contact the Secret Chiefs, apparently, it had to be done on their own. In 1892, Mathers professed that a link to the Secret Chiefs had been established. Subsequently, he supplied rituals for the Second Order. The rituals were based on the tradition of the tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz, and a Vault of Adepts became the controlling force behind the Outer Order. Later in 1916, Westcott claimed that Mathers also constructed these rituals from materials he received from Frater Lux ex Tenebris, a purported Continental Adept.
Some followers of the Golden Dawn tradition believe that the Secret Chiefs were not human or supernatural beings, but rather symbolic representations of actual or legendary sources of spiritual esotericism. The term came to stand for a great leader or teacher of a spiritual path or practice that found its way into the teachings of the Order.
Splintering of the Order
Toward the end of 1899, the Adepts of the Isis-Urania and Amen-Ra temples had become dissatisfied with Mathers' leadership, as well as his growing friendship with Aleister Crowley. They had also become anxious to make contact with the Secret Chiefs themselves, instead of relying on Mathers as an intermediary. Within the Isis-Urania temple, disputes were arising between Farr's "The Sphere," a secret society within the Isis-Urania, and the rest of the Adepti Minores.
Crowley was refused initiation into the Adeptus Minor grade by the London officials. Mathers overrode their decision and quickly initiated him at the Ahathoor temple in Paris on January 16, 1900. Upon his return to the London temple, Crowley requested from Miss Cracknell, the acting secretary, the papers acknowledging his grade, to which he was now entitled. To the London Adepts, this was the final straw. Farr, already of the opinion that the London temple should be closed, wrote to Mathers expressing her wish to resign as his representative, although she was willing to carry on until a successor was found.
Mathers believed Westcott was behind this turn of events and replied on February 16. On March 3, a committee of seven Adepts was elected in London and requested a full investigation of the matter. Mathers sent an immediate reply, declining to provide proof, refusing to acknowledge the London temple, and dismissing Farr as his representative on March 23. In response, a general meeting was called on March 29 in London to remove Mathers as chief and expel him from the Order.
In 1901, W.B. Yeats privately published a pamphlet titled Is the Order of R. R. & A. C. to Remain a Magical Order? After the Isis-Urania temple claimed its independence, there were even more disputes, leading to Yeats resigning. A committee of three was to temporarily govern, which included P.W. Bullock, M.W. Blackden and J. W. Brodie-Innes. After a short time, Bullock resigned, and Dr. Robert Felkin took his place.
In 1903, A.E. Waite and Blackden joined forces to retain the name Isis-Urania, while Felkin and other London members formed the Stella Matutina. Yeats remained in the Stella Matutina until 1921, while Brodie-Innes continued his Amen-Ra membership in Edinburgh.
Once Mathers realised that reconciliation was impossible, he made efforts to reestablish himself in London. The Bradford and Weston-super-Mare temples remained loyal to him, but their numbers were few. He then appointed Edward Berridge as his representative. According to Francis King, historical evidence shows that there were "twenty three members of a flourishing Second Order under Berridge-Mathers in 1913."
J.W. Brodie-Innes continued leading the Amen-Ra temple, deciding that the revolt was unjustified. By 1908, Mathers and Brodie-Innes were in complete accord. According to sources that differ regarding the actual date, sometime between 1901 and 1913 Mathers renamed the branch of the Golden Dawn remaining loyal to his leadership to Alpha et Omega. Brodie-Innes assumed command of the English and Scottish temples, while Mathers concentrated on building up his Ahathoor temple and extending his American connections.
According to occultist Israel Regardie, the Golden Dawn had spread to the United States of America before 1900 and a Thoth-Hermes temple had been founded in Chicago. By the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Mathers had established two to three American temples.
Decline and closure
Most temples of the Alpha et Omega and Stella Matutina closed or went into abeyance by the end of the 1930s, with the exceptions of two Stella Matutina temples: Hermes Temple in Bristol, which operated sporadically until 1970, and the Smaragdum Thallasses Temple (commonly referred to as Whare Ra) in Havelock North, New Zealand, which operated regularly until its closure in 1978.
While no temples in the original chartered lineage of the Golden Dawn survived past the 1970s, several organizations have since revived its teachings and rituals. Among these, perhaps the most notable calls itself "The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Inc."
According to founder Chic Cicero, in 1977 he rented a house in Columbus, Georgia for sole use as a Golden Dawn temple, he and his wife established an autonomous Golden Dawn temple there, built a Neophyte Hall and Vault of the Adepti, and called the resulting temple Isis-Urania, "after the original London temple of Mathers, Westcott and Woodman."
In June 1982, Israel Regardie traveled to the Isis-Urania temple to take on the offices of Initiating Hierophant and Chief Adept in the temple's Vault of the Adepti. During the visit, Regardie initiated two people into the Adeptus Minor grade and a third into the Neophyte grade. During this time, Regardie also consecrated the Ciceros' Vault of the Adepti and established the Second Order.
In 1988, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Inc. was incorporated in the State of Florida, with Chic Cicero listed as its registered agent and President. The corporation has been granted 501(c) tax exempt status by the United States Internal Revenue Service, and was granted a trademark over the Golden Dawn name in 1997. It owns and maintains a website as well as a free online magazine dedicated to the Western Esoteric Tradition. According to the corporation's official website, the corporation promotes the published teachings of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for the purpose of "the continued preservation of that body of knowledge known as Hermeticism or the Western Esoteric Tradition."