Order of the Golden Dawn


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Occultist Arthur Edward Waite was one of the early members of the Order of the Golden Dawn. He is also well known for creating the Rider Waite Tarot Deck.

Order of the Golden Dawn

With such prominent members as Aleister Crowley, the “Beast 666,” the Order of the Golden Dawn has a dark reputation as a secret society of sinister magicians.

During its glory days, from 1888 to around 1903, the Order of the Golden Dawn harbored one of the greatest repositories of magic knowledge in the Western world. Founded by William Wynn Wescott, a Rosicrucian, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, an occultist, the Golden Dawn soon numbered among its members such luminaries as W. B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, A. E. Waite, Algernon Blackwood, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr, Dion Fortune, and Arthur Machen. Wescott claimed to have come into possession of an ancient manuscript of Hermetic knowledge that contained the mystical rituals of a secret society of magi. Mathers expanded the rituals to create the format of the Golden Dawn.

When the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was formally established in 1888, its hierarchy was based on the Tree of Life as structured in the Kabbalah. Wescott, Mathers, and Dr. W. R. Woodman, supreme magus of the Rosicrucian Society of Anglia, were the three “Chiefs Second Order,” who received direction from entities on the astral plane known as the “Secret Chiefs of the Third Order.” The Golden Dawn taught three magical systems—the Key of Solomon, Abra-Melin, and Enochian. Students received instruction in astral projection, alchemy, astrology, tarot, automatic writing, and clairvoyance. Arcane information was also derived from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Chaldean Oracles, and the Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Annie Horniman, sponsor of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, was also a benefactor of the Golden Dawn. She withdrew her support in 1896 when Mathers claimed that the Secret Chiefs on the astral plane had initiated him into their ranks. Although Mathers had spent considerable time in translating the manuscript of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, he would eventually be expelled from the society that he had cofounded. In 1897 doubts also arose over certain of Wescott’s questionable activities in founding the order, and Florence Farr, the mistress of the playwright George Bernard Shaw, became Chief of the Second Order.

In 1898 the notorious Aleister Crowley was initiated into the order and rose rapidly through the degrees. Crowley (Edward Alexander Crowley, 1875–1947) is one of the most controversial figures in the annals of modern occultism. He believed that most of humankind’s ills are caused by inhibition of the sexual impulses; therefore, much of his Magick (Crowley added the terminal “k” to differentiate the true science of the Magi from stage magic) drew its impetus from the release of psychic energy through sexual activity. Crowley became known as a drug fiend, an author of vile books, and the spreader of obscene practices. Crowley’s own mother, a fundamentalist Christian, dubbed him the “Great Beast 666,” a diabolical image drawn from the book of Revelation. Before Crowley’s death in 1947, he had a reputation as the “wickedest man in the world.”

The stresses between Crowley and Mathers soon increased to the point where they allegedly engaged in magickal warfare, sending demons and vampires to attack each other. Such disruptions on the astral plane led to the expulsion of both men from the society.

W. B. Yeats attempted to restore discipline among the ranks of the Golden Dawn and assumed control of the Second Order. His efforts were to no avail. In 1903 A. E. Waite founded a society that retained the Golden Dawn name but emphasized the study of mysticism rather than the practice of magic. In 1905 the Stella Matutina, the Order of the Companions of the Rising Light in the Morning, splintered off from the Isis-Urania Temple. This group survived until the 1940s as the Merlin Temple of the Stella Matutina. Few organized groups of the Golden Dawn exist today. Perhaps one reason for its decline is the publication of its secret rituals by Israel Regardie.

At the time of his death on March 10, 1985, Dr. Francis Israel Regardie was regarded by many occultists as the last living adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In such works as A Garden of Pomegranates and The Tree of Life (both 1932), Regardie had demystified a great deal of the esoteric aura surrounding the occult and presented understandable and readable texts on practical magic.

Born in 1907, Regardie had absorbed the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky, Hindu philosophy, and the Kabbalah by the time he was thirteen. By nineteen he had become a Rosicrucian and had begun to correspond with Aleister Crowley, who at that time was living in Paris. In 1928 the twenty-one-year-old occultist accepted the position of Crowley’s personal secretary, hoping that the famous magician would tutor him in the mystic arts. When Crowley’s sensational exploits got him in trouble with the French authorities, he was forced to leave the country and return to England. About that same time, Crowley’s publisher declared bankruptcy, and he could no longer afford Regardie’s services as a secretary.

Although the Golden Dawn had ceased to exist as a functioning magical society as early as 1903, it continued to exist in various descendant orders, such as the Stella Matutina and the Alpha et Omega. In 1932 Regardie’s distillation of the teachings of the Golden Dawn was published in The Tree of Life, and at once he was embroiled in controversy. While some demanded he never again dare to mention the name of the society, others, such as Dion Fortune, defended him and invited him to join the Order of Stella Matutina. In 1934, after having attained a high rank in the order, Regardie left it, and in 1937 he published the essence of the Golden Dawn’s teachings and rituals in four volumes entitled simply The Golden Dawn. Regardie believed that the heritage of magic was the spiritual birthright of every man and woman and that the principles of such magical systems as the Golden Dawn should be made available to all who wished to pursue the ancient wisdom teachings.

Regardie’s The Philosopher’s Stone (1937) was written from the perspective of Jungian symbolism. In 1937 Regardie began seriously to study psychology and psychotherapy, encompassing the theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Wilhelm Reich. In The Middle Pillar (1938), he compared the techniques and exercises of ceremonial magic to the methods of psychoanalysis. In 1941 he took up practice as a lay analyst, and in 1947 he relocated to California, where for many years he taught psychiatry at the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic and continued to write, producing numerous books. Regardie retired from practice in 1981 and moved to Sedona, Arizona, where he continued to write until his death of a heart attack on March 10, 1985.

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