ALEISTER CROWLEY - Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn


The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn) was a magical order active in Great Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which practiced theurgy and spiritual development. It has been one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.
Concepts of magic and ritual at the center of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn.

Dr. William Wynn Westcott
William Robert Woodman
The three founders, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers were Freemasons and members of 'Societas Rosicruciana' in Anglia (S.R.I.A.).
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 like the 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".

Samuel Liddell  Mathers
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.
Kabbalah - Tree of Life
Kabbalah, also spelled Kabala or Qabbālâ (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה‎ literally "receiving"), is an esoteric method, discipline and school of thought.
Its definition varies according to the tradition and aims of those following it, from its religious origin as an integral part of Judaism, to its later Christian, New Age, or Occultist syncretic adaptions.

Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal and mysterious Ein Sof (no end) and the mortal and finite universe (his creation).

The Kabbalah Unveiled
Samuel Liddell  Mathers
While it is heavily used by some denominations, it is not a religious denomination in itself. Inside Judaism, it forms the foundations of mystical religious interpretation.
Outside Judaism, its scriptures are read outside the traditional canons of organised religion.
Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, and various other ontological questions.
It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realisation.

 קַבָּלָה‎ (Kabala) originally developed entirely within the realm of Jewish thought and kabbalists often use classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings are thus held by followers in Judaism to define the inner meaning of both the Hebrew Bible and traditional Rabbinic literature, their formerly concealed transmitted dimension, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances. Traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions, forming the primordial blueprint for Creation's philosophies, religions, sciences, arts and political systems.
Osmanli Armasi
Historically, Kabbalah emerged, after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Southern France and Spain, becoming reinterpreted in the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century in Palestine which was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was popularised in the form of Hasidic Judaism from the 18th century onwards. 20th-century interest in Kabbalah contributed to wider non-Jewish contemporary spirituality.

The Second or "Inner" Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (the Ruby Rose and Cross of Gold), taught proper 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 Cipher Manuscripts

The foundational documents of the original Order of the Golden Dawn are known as the 'Cipher Manuscripts'; they were written in English using Trithemius cipher.
The Cipher Manuscripts are a collection of 60 folios containing the structural outline of a series of magical initiation rituals corresponding to the spiritual elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
The "occult" materials in the Manuscripts are a compendium of the classical magical theory and symbolism known in the Western world up until the middle of the 19th century, combined to create an encompassing model of the Western Mystery Tradition, and arranged into a syllabus of a graded course of instruction in magical symbolism.
It was used as the structure for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Manuscripts give the specific outlines of the 'Grade Rituals' of the Order and prescribe a curriculum of graduated teachings that encompass the Hermetic Qabalah, astrology, occult tarot, geomancy, and alchemy.
William Wynn Westcott, a London Deputy Coroner, member of the S.R.I.A. and one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, claimed to have received the manuscripts through Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, who was a colleague of noted Masonic scholar Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie.

Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie
The papers were to have been secured by Westcott after Mackenzie’s death in 1886, among the belongings of Mackenzie’s mentor, the late Frederick Hockley, and by September 1887, they were decoded by Westcott.
Masonic Emblem
The Manuscripts also contained an address of an aged adept named Fräulein (Miss) Anna Sprengel in Germany, to whom Westcott wrote inquiring about the contents of the papers.
Miss Sprengel responded, and after accepting the requests of Westcott and his partner and fellow Mason Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, who had helped translate the texts, issued them a Charter to operate a Lodge of the Order in England.
Mathers in turn asked fellow Freemason William Robert Woodman to assist the two and he accepted.
Mathers and Westcott have been credited for developing the ritual outlines in the Cipher Manuscripts into a workable format.
Mathers, however, is generally credited with the design of the curriculum and rituals of the Second Order, which he called the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis ("Ruby Rose and Golden Cross" or the RR et AC).

The Manuscripts

The cipher used in the manuscripts, shown in a 1561 edition of Trithemius' Polygraphia. Another cipher known as "Theban" is given above it.
The folios are drawn in black ink on cotton paper watermarked 1809.
The text is plain English written from right to left in a simple substitution cryptogram.
Numerals are substituted by Hebrew letters – Aleph=1, Beth=2, etc. Crude drawings of diagrams, magical implements and tarot cards are interspersed in the text. One final page translates into French and Latin.

Golden Dawn Tarot
The Ciphers contain the outlines of a series of graded rituals and the syllabus for a course of instruction in Qabalah and Hermetic magic, including Astrology, Tarot, Geomancy and Alchemy.
It also contains several diagrams and crude drawings of various ritual implements.
The Cipher Manuscripts are the original source upon which the rituals and the knowledge lectures of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were based.
The actual material itself described in the Manuscript is of known origins.
Hermeticism, Alchemy, Qabalah, Astrology and Tarot were certainly not unknown to 19th century scholars of the Magical arts; the Cipher is a compendium of previously known Magical traditions.
The basic structure of the rituals and the names of the Grades are similar to those of the Rosicrucian orders Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the German 'Orden der Gold- und Rosenkreuzer'.

Founding of First Temple

In October 1887, Westcott purported to have written to Anna Sprengel, whose name and address he received through the decoding of the Cipher Manuscripts.
Westcott claimed to receive a wise reply which conferred honorary grades of Adeptus Exemptus on Westcott, Mathers, and Woodman and chartered a Golden Dawn temple consisting of the five grades outlined in the manuscripts.

In 1888, the Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London, where the rituals decoded from the cipher manuscripts were developed and practiced.
In addition, there was an insistence on women being allowed to participate in the Order in "perfect equality" with men, in contrast to the S.R.I.A. and Masonry.
This first lodge did not teach any magical practices per se (except for basic "banishing" rituals and meditation), but was rather a philosophical and metaphysical teaching order.
It was called "the Outer Order" or "First Order" and for four years the Golden Dawn existed only in this order.
The "Inner Order", which became active in 1892, was the circle of adepts who had completed the entire course of study for the Outer Order.
This group eventually became known as the Second Order.
In a short time, the Osiris temple in Weston-super-Mare, the Horus temple in Bradford, and the Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh were founded. A few years after this, Mathers founded the Ahathoor temple in Paris.

The Secret Chiefs

Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn
In 1891, Westcott's correspondence with Anna Sprengel suddenly ceased, and he received word from Germany either that she was dead or 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, therefore, it had to be done on their own.

Tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz
In 1892, Mathers claimed a link to the Secret Chiefs had been formed and supplied rituals for the Second Order, called the Red Rose and Cross of Gold.

Christian Rosenkreuz
These 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' are not necessarily living humans or supernatural beings, but are rather symbolic of actual and legendary sources of spiritual esotericism, a great leader, or teacher of a spiritual path or practice that found its way into the teachings of the Order.


The Secret Chiefs are said to be transcendent cosmic authorities, a Spiritual Hierarchy responsible for the operation and moral calibre of the cosmos, or for overseeing the operations of an esoteric organization that manifests outwardly in the form of a magical order or lodge system.

H.P. Blavatsky
Their names and descriptions have varied through time, dependent upon those who reflect their experience of contact with them. They are variously held to exist on higher planes of being or to be incarnate; if incarnate, they may be described as being gathered at some special location, such as Shambhala, or scattered through the world working anonymously.
One early and influential source on these entities is Karl von Eckartshausen, whose 'The Cloud Upon The Sanctuary', published in 1795, explained in some detail their character and motivations. Several 19th and 20th century occultists claimed to belong to or to have contacted these Secret Chiefs and made these communications known to others, including H.P. Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater,  Aleister Crowley, and Dion Fortune.

Continuing Developments

William Butler Yeats
Maud Gonne
By the mid 1890s, the Golden Dawn was well established in Great Britain, with membership rising to over a hundred and including every class of Victorian society.
In its heyday, many celebrities belonged to the Golden Dawn, such as actress Florence Farr, Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, Irish writer William Butler Yeats, Welsh author Arthur Machen, English author Evelyn Underhill, and English author Aleister Crowley.
In 1896 or 1897, Westcott broke all ties to the Golden Dawn, leaving Mathers in control.
It is speculated that this was due to some occult papers having been found in a hansom cab, in which Westcott's connection to the Golden Dawn came to the attention of his superiors.

Aleister Crowley
Arthur Machen
He may have been told to either resign from the Order or to give up his occupation as coroner.
After Westcott's departure, Mathers appointed Florence Farr to be Chief Adept in Anglia, and Dr. Henry B. Pullen Burry succeeded Westcott as Cancellarius - one of the three Chiefs of the Order.
Mathers was the only active founding member after Westcott's "departure", however, due to personality clashes with other members and absences from the center of Lodge activity in Great Britain, challenges to Mathers' authority as leader developed among the members of the Second Order.

Crowley and the Golden Dawn

Hermetic Order
of the Golden Dawn
In 1898, Crowley was staying in Zermatt, Switzerland, where he met the chemist Julian L. Baker, and the two began talking about their common interest in alchemy.
Upon their return to England, Baker introduced Crowley to George Cecil Jones, a member of the occult society known as the 'Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn', which had been founded in 1888.
Crowley was subsequently initiated into the 'Outer Order of the Golden Dawn' on 18 November 1898 by the group's leader, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (1854–1918).
Samuel Liddell
MacGregor Mathers
The ceremony itself took place at Mark Masons Hall in London, where Crowley accepted his motto and magical name of "Frater Perdurabo", a Latin term meaning "I shall endure to the end".
Towards 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 were also anxious to make contact with the Secret Chiefs themselves, instead of relying on Mathers.

Florence Farr
Among the personal disagreements within the Isis-Urania temple, disputes were arising from Florence Farr's 'The Sphere', a secret society within the Isis-Urania, and the rest of the Adepts Minor.
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 the grade papers to which he was now entitled from Miss Cracknell, the acting secretary.
To the London Adepts, this was the last straw.

Now loyal to Mathers, Crowley (with the help of his then mistress and fellow initiate Elaine Simpson) attempted to help crush the rebellion and unsuccessfully tried to seize a London temple space known as the 'Vault of Rosenkreutz' from the rebels.
Crowley had also developed personal feuds with some of the Golden Dawn's members; he disliked the poet W.B. Yeats, who had been one of the rebels, because Yeats had not been particularly favourable towards one of his own poems, 'Jephthat'.
Farr, already of the opinion that the London temple should be closed, wrote to Mathers expressing her wish to resign as his representative, though she was willing to carry on until a successor was found.
Mathers replied on February 16, believing Westcott was behind this turn of events.
Once the other Adepts in London were notified, they elected a committee of seven on March 3 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 remaining in it until 1921, and Brodie-Innes continued his Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh.

Structure and Grades

Much of the hierarchical structure for the Golden dawn came from the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, which was itself derived from the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross.

First Order

Introduction—Neophyte 0=0
Zelator 1=10
Theoricus 2=9
Practicus 3=8
Philosophus 4=7
Intermediate—Portal Grade

Second Order

Adeptus Minor 5=6
Adeptus Major 6=5
Adeptus Exemptus 7=4
Third Order
Magister Templi 8=3
Magus 9=2
Ipsissimus 10=1

The paired numbers attached to the Grades relate to positions on the Tree of Life.
The Neophyte Grade of "0=0" indicates no position on the Tree.
In the other pairs, the first numeral is the number of steps up from the bottom (Malkuth), and the second numeral is the number of steps down from the top (Kether).
The First Order Grades were related to the four elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, respectively.
The Aspirant to a Grade received instruction on the metaphysical meaning of each of these Elements and had to pass a written examination and demonstrate certain skills to receive admission to that Grade.
The Portal Grade was an "Invisible" or in-between grade separating the First Order from the Second Order.
The Circle of existing Adepts from the Second Order had to consent to allow an Aspirant to be initiated as an Adept and join the Second Order.
The Second Order was not, properly, part of the "Golden Dawn", but a separate Order in its own right, known as the R.R. et A.C.
The Second Order directed the teachings of the First Order and was the governing force behind the First Order.
After passing the Portal, the Aspirant was instructed in the techniques of practical magic.
When another examination was passed, and the other Adepts consented, the Aspirant attained the Grade of Adeptus Minor (5=6).
There were also four sub-Grades of instruction for the Adeptus Minor, again relating to the four Outer Order grades.
A member of the Second Order had the power and authority to initiate aspirants to the First Order, though usually not without the permission of the Chiefs of his or her Lodge.

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