Friday, 30 October 2015

The Founders of the Golden Dawn

The Order of the Golden Dawn was formally established in 1888, though much preparatory work, including the deciphering of the Cypher Manuscript (which is open to some scholarly debate) and the writing of the rituals was conducted the year before.

There were three founders of the Order: Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, William Wynn Westcott and William Robert Woodman. Together they created an Order that attracted some of the Victorian era's cultural elite.

Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers


Mathers was the primary creative force behind the Order, writing the initiation ceremonies (from the skeletonic framework in the Cypher Manuscript, or completely from scratch, as in the case of the Adeptus Minor ritual), and much of its teaching material, later becoming "the source of all official instruction."

Mathers was of poor means, and struggled financially for much of his life, despite the support of others in the Order. He devoted much of his time to his studies and magical pursuits, and was often found in the British Museum, where, indeed, he met some of the Order's initial members, including his future wife Mina (later Moina) Bergson.

Mathers started his esoteric pursuits with Freemasonry, and then joined the Societas Rosicrucian in Anglia (SRIA), as well as the Hermetic Society run by Anna Kingsford (in which he and Westcott were prominent members), and the Theosophical Society run by Madame Blavatsky.

In addition to the substantial volume of material he created for the Order, some of which remains unpublished, Mathers wrote several books and translated several important occult texts, including The Key of Solomon the King and The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, which remain influential to this very day. He also contributed numerous articles to occult journals, including a lengthy series on Iamblichus for Anubis.

Arguably an eccentric figure, Mathers faced rebellion by some of the Order's members towards the end of the 19th Century, and continued the work of the Order under a new name. He died in 1918, allegedly of Spanish influenza, and appointed John William Brodie-Innes (motto: Sub Spe) as his successor.

Mathers took several mottos in the Order, including 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream ("Royal is my tribe"), borrowed from the MacGregor clan, to which he claimed links, and Deo Duce Comite Ferro ("With God as my leader and the sword as my companion").

William Wynn Westcott


Westcott was the organisational force behind the Order, helping both in its foundation and the subsequent day-to-day running of it. He ensured examination protocols were followed, but he also contributed significantly to the teachings of the Order.

He claimed to have stumbled upon the Cypher Manuscript, and received letters from one Fraulein Sprengel, granting permission to him and Mathers to found a temple in London. Much of these claims have later been disputed by historians, and remain the subject of considerable debate.

Westcott was a member of numerous esoteric organisations, with a particular interest in the fringe rites of Freemasonry, and, indeed, held prominent positions in many of these, leading A.E. Waite to say that he was the British custodian of many obscure rites (see here), such as, for example, the Swedenborgian Rite. He was also a member of the Quatuor Coronati research lodge, and took over as Supreme Magus of the SRIA when Woodman died.

Westcott translated several influential texts, including the Sepher Yetzirah and the Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster, both of which became part of the Golden Dawn's teachings.

Westcott was a Crown Coroner, and it was this occupation that ultimately forced him to resign from the Order in 1897, when he accidentally left some papers in public view. He continued his work privately with members, and held office in other esoteric organisations until his death in 1925.

Westcott took several mottos in the Order, including Sapere Aude ("Dare to be wise"), and Non Omnis Moriar ("I shall not wholly die")

William Robert Woodman


Woodman was Supreme Magus of the SRIA at the time of the Golden Dawn's founding, and this was an important organisation to which Mathers and Westcott also belonged, contributing its grade structure, among other things, to the Order.

According to Westcott's claims for the foundation of the Order, Mathers proposed that Woodman be selected as a third chief because of the requirement for three chiefs in the Cypher Manuscript, and he was appointed the role of Imperator, ruling the Order. This appears to have been largely a ceremonial appointment, and was likely designed to give greater credibility to the Golden Dawn, given Woodman's prominent position elsewhere.

Woodman died in 1891, before the formation of the Second Order, and left behind surprisingly little to tell us of just what he did in those early years of the Order. In Westcott's brief lament for Woodman's death in the Historic Lecture, he talks more about his role in the SRIA than the GD.

It appears that Woodman never wrote any lectures for the Order, though his papers for the SRIA do show he was well-versed in the Qabalah.

Woodman took several mottos in the Order, including Magna Est Veritas Et Praevalebit ("Great is the truth and it shall prevail") and Vincit Omnia Veritas ("Truth rules all").

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Temple Safety Tips

It is easy to focus on the ceremony and magic in the Golden Dawn, and forget the more practical considerations of running a Temple, not least of all safety.

Below we provide some tips we learned from first-hand experience, by seeing mistakes made by others, by advice shared by our colleagues and friends, or by just plain common sense. We hope to update this over time so that it can be a useful resource for new Temples.

Temple Safety Tips


  • Always be aware of the danger of fire. Cover naked flames where possible (glass candle containers, for example), and be mindful when approaching flames while wearing robes with dangling sleeves (use one hand to tuck the sleeve away while tending to the fire). Sometimes electric candles can be used, such as atop the pillars (given the risk of them being bumped into/knocked over). A fire extinguisher is also handy.
  • It can be useful to employ a safety gas lighter (for a gas hob) for lighting incense or candles, as a normal lighter may result in many burned fingers (and is often more frustrating to use in ritual).
  • Swords should never have live (sharp) blades, or there is risk of serious injury or death. Blunt swords provide all the necessary ritual flair, with less risk. However, don't assume there is no risk with a blunt sword, as a Masonic sword, for example, can be quite thin and pointy, and could still inflict severe injury. Anyone carrying a sword must take extra care. We have seen some people suggest resting the blade on the shoulder for giving the Signs, but the problem with this is that the sword point is facing behind the person, and they cannot see who is behind them. Generally a sword should always be held upright. When not in use, a scabbard can be employed.
  • Hoodwinks should not be made in such a way as to cut off the airflow to a Candidate. With the Obligation and other lengthy parts of the ceremony, the Candidate needs to be able to breathe freely. Use breathable material, and be mindful that when the Candidate bows his/her head, the material may gather around the neck, further restricting airflow. The Candidate's safety should be the first and primary concern of the initiation team.
  • When removing the hoodwink, be careful about being too forceful, as it can catch at the chin, or could take off someone's glasses. Gently guide it up until you are sure it can be removed without causing injury, and then the rest can be more suddenly unveiled.
  • Make sure to tie the rope properly around the Candidate's waist, and tuck away any trailing piece of rope, which may trip him/her up during the ceremony.
  • Be careful with spilled incense, water, wine, salt, or candle wax, which may make the floor slippery. Don't overdo the purification and consecration, and keep a cloth at hand for spills.
  • Be mindful of those with asthma when it comes to incense, especially in smaller environments. The Temple doesn't need to be thick with smoke. Proper ventilation should be considered.
  • Be extra careful during parts of ceremonies where the lights may be off. Ensure there is nothing blocking the route the Candidate and his/her guide will be taking.
  • If a Candidate has decided of their own volition to fast (which may not be a requirement), it is good to ascertain this before the ceremony begins, in order to be aware that they may be faint. The Hegemon should employ a strong supporting grip, both to better guide and support the Candidate throughout the ceremony.
  • When directing the Candidate to kneel before the Altar, it is often a good idea to guide one of their hands to the top of the Altar to better assist them, and to make them aware that there is something in front of them (to avoid bumping their chin, for example). The Hegemon should help them kneel, and it is also good to have a cushion to kneel upon, given the length of the Obligation.

On a final note, if you are constructing tools for temple or personal use, you should adopt further safety protocols, especially when working with power tools. You can find some safety tips for this on the Golden Dawn Tools blog, hosted by a very talented crafter for the Dublin Temple, Ireland.

Last updated: 01/10/15