A Short Treatise on the History, Culture and Practices of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Compiled by Fra. A.o.C., Het-Nuit Lodge, OSOGD
Version 1.1, Summer Solstice 2002ev

Introductory Note:

The following account is drawn from a number of sources, mostly on the World Wide Web, and published accounts of members such as S.L. Mathers, W.B. Yeats, Florence Farr, Aleister Crowley, and Israel Regardie. As can be expected, versions of events sometimes vary. I’ve tried to take into account the motivations of the source, and tended toward those who corrobrated each other. When there’s dispute or unproven assertions, I’ve tried to point them out. Some currently incarnate Aspirants or Adepts may take issue with some of the facts as stated here, but it’s not my intention to start (or settle) arguments. The purpose of this treatise is to give an overall perspective to interested persons who have no previous knowledge of the Order. New information, demonstrable errors and contradictory evidence should be forwarded to the Author in care of the Lodge for future updates.—Fra. A.o.C.


Founders: Dr. W. Wynn Westcott, Dr. W.R. Woodman, S.L. MacGregor-Mathers

Founding Place and Date: London, England — March 20th, 1888

Organizational Structure: Based on a initiated lodge model similar to Freemasonry, however women are admitted on an equal basis with men. No generally recognized central authority after 1903. Several independently directed groups in existence from the early 20th century to the present, with various idiosyncratic differences in doctrine.

Unique Terms: Zelator, Theoricus, Philosophus, Practicus, Adeptus (Initiation Grades); Hierus, Hegemon, Kerux, Dadaucos, Stolistes (Temple Officers); Telesmatic, Enochian, Flashing Colors, Formula of Light, Vibratory Voice, Middle Pillar, Active Visualization (Magical techniques)

Other Names: Stella Matutina, Alpha et Omega, Independent and Rectified Rite, Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis


The “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” was actually two organizations, formed in 1888 and 1892 respectively. The original Order was founded by Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a London physician and municipal coroner. His partners were another physician, Dr. William R. Woodman, and Samuel Lidell MacGregor-Mathers. All three men were Freemasons, and Dr. Woodman was the head of a reputable Rosicrucian fellowship made up of well respected, high ranking Masons in London. The three founders were also members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.), an exclusive lodge founded by the noted Grand Lodge Freemason Kenneth MacKenzie, author of The Royal Masonic Encyclopedia. The S.R.I.A. was founded in 1866 with Lord Bulwer-Lytton as honorary patron. Important members included Frederick Hockley, who collected esoteric writing and engaged in practical experimentation; he is reliably known to have been taught by a pupil of Francis Barett, and was a teacher of Kenneth MacKenzie. The Christian spiritualist leader Rev. William Stainton Moses was also a member of the S.R.I.A.

Westcott seems to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn. Woodman, as Supreme Magus of the S.R.I.A., was undoubtedly recruited to lend credibility to the new organization. Mathers was an antiquarian, translator, researcher and had a great talent for composing ritual works and integrating occult symbolism.

According to its founders, the Golden Dawn was based on a charter from a supposedly ancient German Rosicrucian Lodge, which had written a coded record of their secret occult rituals. (Oddly, the words, when translated, are in English and French.) Westcott claimed to have acquired this mysterious manuscript in 1886, from Reverend A. F. A. Woodford, an elderly Masonic scholar. Copies of these records were subsequently discovered by Westcott among assorted papers of the Swedenborgian Rite that MacKenzie had left after his death in 1886, which Westcott obtained from Woodford’s widow. (Another account states that Westcott discovered Woodford’s papers in a London antique bookseller’s shop.)

Deciphered by Mathers and dubbed the “Cipher Manuscript”, the documents were in a simple substitution cipher code; they contained the structural outline of a series of initiation rituals corresponding to the classical Elements of Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Spirit. The manuscript also contained an address of an aged adept named “Fraulein Sprengel” in Germany, to whom Westcott wrote inquiring about the contents of the papers. Fraulein Sprengel responded, and after accepting the requests of Westcott and Mathers, issued them a charter to operate a Lodge of the Order in England. Westcott’s first Golden Dawn Temple was the Isis-Urania Lodge, styled “No.3”. Temple No.1 would have been Fraulein Sprengel’s lodge, and No. 2 was supposedly an abortive attempt at a lodge by MacKenzie with other S.R.I.A. members some years earlier.

A variety of theories exist as to the real source of the Cipher Manuscript. Some of the more common ones include:

  • The Cipher Manuscript was a forgery by Westcott himself, or it was written by Kenneth Mackinzie and/or other scholars of the S.R.I.A.. Fraulein Sprengel was invented to give “lineage” to the newly formed order. Westcott promoted the legend of the Cipher Manuscript’s origins, thinking that a more “esoteric” source would carry more weight with occultists of the era.
  • There really was a German Order, and it already had a branch in London, founded around 1810. This order would have been ultra-secret, and there still isn’t any solid proof that it existed, nor that the Golden Dawn was related to it. Fraulein Sprengel was a code word to acknowledge the GDs origin.
  • There was no German order, and the Golden Dawn is an offshoot of the S.R.I.A. to which all three men belonged as early as 1881. Fraulein Sprengel didn’t really exist, but the Manuscript itself has true antiquarian origins, written by Johann Falk and passed through the hands of Frances Barrett, Eliphas Levi, and eventually to Mackinzie, Dr. Woodford and the S.R.I.A.
  • The Cipher Manuscript was legitimate, and the Golden Dawn is a valid offspring of an older Jewish order in Bavaria called Die Goldene Dammerung, or Golden Twilight. This order was founded to allow German Jews to conduct Masonic-style lodges, since Jews were banned from participation in Freemasonry. Soon after the Isis- Urania temple was formed in London, Fraulein Sprengel simply vanished from the picture, as did her German chapterhouse — victims of the persecution of Jews in Germany.

In any case, all efforts to prove the existence of Fraulein Sprengel or her Lodge have failed. (The other members of the German order supposedly objected to Fraulein Sprengler’s chartering of the Isis-Urania Lodge, and all further communications were cut off.) The copy of the original charter, if it existed, has been lost. The concepts contained in the manuscripts are not very different from the symbolism and philosophy of high-degree Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, and MacKenzie and the members of the S.R.I.A. were certainly capable enough esoteric scholars to have distilled their knowledge into the form followed by the Golden Dawn. However, nothing can be proven either way. Years later, debate over the authenticity of the Cipher Manuscripts and the authority of the Charter contributed to the first great schism of the Order.

The original Lodge founded in 1888 did not teach any magical practices per se (except for basic “banishing” rituals and meditation), but was rather a philosophical and metaphysical teaching Order. This was called “the Outer Order”, and for four years the Golden Dawn existed only in “the Outer”. The “Inner Order”, which became active in 1892, was the circle of Adepts who had completed the entire course of study and Initiations of the Outer Order contained in the Cipher Manuscripts. This group eventually became known as the Second Order (the Outer Order being the “First” Order), and the “Third” Order was considered to be the “Secret Chiefs” or “Ascended Masters”, the mysterious keepers of all Western esotericism. The Second Order was also known as the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis (“Ruby Rose and Golden Cross”, e.g. Rosicrucian.)

The original Golden Dawn continued rather successfully for about 10 years, attracting some of the preeminent scholars, artists, and thinkers of the era to its ranks. Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats, actress Florence Farr, authors A. E. Waite, J.W. Brodie-Innes, and Bram Stoker, Irish activist Maud Gonne, and philanthropist Annie Horniman were all among the early members of the Order. Its most notorious member, occult author and mystic Aleister Crowley, joined in 1898, near the end of the original organization.

It is notable that the Golden Dawn, though created by Freemasons and following a general Masonic-like structure, has since it’s inception admitted men and women on an equal basis. The Adept Initiation ritual includes an admonishment that women in the Order must be treated in all ways equal to men. This was an extraordinary attitude for the Victorian Era. There are indications that this was at the insistence of Mathers, who refused to continue the project unless the Order admitted women. The first person besides the founders to reach the rank of Adept was a woman — Mathers wife, Moina Bergsen. Florence Farr would eventually rise to the rank of Chief Adept in England. The women of the Golden Dawn clearly influenced the “spiritual side” of the Order’s teachings. Their work with “scrying in the spirit vision” (what would in our time be called “channeling”) and astral projection (“out-of-body” experiences) were unique among Rosicrucian-based esoteric groups, being more common among the “Eastern Mystery” schools such as the Theosophical Society of Helena Blavatsky. But their work was not limited to the intuitive; Farr published books on Egyptian and Enochian Magic, and Horniman authored a play based around four readings of Tarot cards.

The primary Lodges were the original Isis-Urania Temple in London, the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh, and the Ahathoor Temple in Paris. It is unknown how many members the Order had in its heyday, as some lodges’ records were lost or destroyed, but estimates range from three to five hundred. Only a small group, probably well under one hundred, ever became part of the Second Order. There were a few other “temples”, consisting of small groups scattered in Europe and America, generally meeting in private homes. Mathers left London in 1894 to live in Paris, and his temple there became the nominal center of the organization, though it was notable chiefly for his presence. Westcott remained in London as Chief Adept in Anglica (England.)

By the end of the 19th century, Dr. Woodman had passed away, and Dr. Westcott had curtailed his participation in official activities after several occult manuscripts of the Order, in a case bearing his address, had been left in a London taxicab and came to the attention of his superiors in the city government. Not wishing any hint of scandal over “secret occult societies” that had officials of the Crown in their ranks (especially a coroner, who could conceivably cover up a suspicious cause of death), Westcott’s employers insisted he disassociate himself with the Order. There are accounts of a similar incident in 1889 which caused him to stop lecturing for the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. Aleister Crowley later alleged in his autobiography that Mathers deliberately planted the documents to consolidate his control of the Order by forcing Westcott’s resignation, and this was rumored or suspected at the time. While there is no proof of Mather’s complicity, it appears that the relationship between he and Westcott all but ended after this point. After Westcott’s departure, Mathers appointed Florence Farr to be Chief Adept in Anglica. (Although Westcott publicly resigned, he must have continued in some capacity since there are Lodge documents bearing his signature dated years after his “resignation.”)

However, this left Mathers as the only active founding member and in charge of the Order. Due to personality clashes with other members, and being absent from the center of Lodge activity in Great Britain, challenges to Mathers’ authority as leader began to develop among the members of the Second Order.

The London adepts disapproved of Mathers relocation to Paris. There were those who resented the appointment of Farr as Chief Adept; some disliked a woman being in charge of the Order, others simply believed her to be uninterested in supporting the Second Order examination system that had been Westcott’s primary duty. (Farr was also quite active in her theatrical career during this period, so the complaint may have been well founded.) As a result, “nominal” Adepts (those who had passed all the examinations) were left waiting months or even years to obtain promised higher grade initiations. When Aleister Crowley applied to be initiated into the Second Order certain adepts resisted, in particular William Yeats, A.E. Waite and Annie Horniman, who disliked Crowley’s conceptions of morality and his reputation as a sexual libertine. These members prevailed upon Farr, who was their close friend, to deny Crowley admission to the Second Order. Mathers ordered Isis-Urania lodge to initiate him, but was ignored. So Mathers invited young Crowley to Paris and initiated him personally. Horniman protested, but was chastised for it by both Samuel and Moina Mathers. It eventually led to the ending of their long friendship, and Horniman cutting off the stipend she had been providing to the Mathers’ which was their only source of income. Mathers responded by expelling Horniman from the Order, claiming he was acting on direct orders from the Secret Chiefs.

Israel Regardie comments that “Whether Mathers was impressed by the latent promise of Crowley’s personality with its energy and enthusiasm, or whether he decided upon his next step to show contempt for the ruling Chiefs of Isis-Uranus Temple, we do not know.” (Years later, Crowley and Mathers would also have a falling out, culminating in a protracted “magical war” between them.)

When Mathers later dispatched Crowley as his official emissary to the London lodge to recover certain papers and effects from Isis-Urania’s Second Order Temple, Crowley arrived in full Scottish regalia armed with a sword and a dagger to “take control” of the Temple’s Vault, though he was forced to leave when the police were summoned. This was the final insult to the rebellious adepts. January of 1900 saw the “Revolt of the Theorci” — the Second Order Adepts in London voted to sever all ties with Mathers and the Paris Temple, and the great schism occurred. Soon rival factions began “outing” each other in public, and the once “secret” Order became publicly known. To make matters worse, Mathers had entered into a disaterous relationship with a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Theo Horos. This couple had carved out a living for a number of years as “confidence frauds with an occult slant.” The Horos’ had apparently developed some kind of relationship with one of the American Temples and had either acquired or forged some Order papers and credentials. Based on these credentials and a mesmeric personality, the Horos’ were able to con Mathers out of Order documents, which they used to set up spurious “temples” and operate confidence schemes. Word of their illicit operations eventually reached Mathers, who subsequently denounced them as frauds.

At this time the Mathers’ were still living in Paris and when Samuel Mathers relayed to his followers that he had been conned, the Horos conveniently disappeared and moved to London. They resurfaced in December of 1901, when a case of statutory rape was brought to court in London against them. According to trial records, they had been recruiting young girls as “aspirants” and “sex magic” partners, and conning them out of money. One of the girls reported them to the police, although she maintained that her sexual activities with them had been consentual. Even so, the Horos’ were convicted and jailed. The newspapers soon filled their pages with articles on the scandal of the Horos and the “cult” of the Golden Dawn. (The Order was dragged into it because the Horos were masquerading as “Golden Dawn Adepts” and running an ersatz “temple” under the Order’s name.)

By 1903 the name “Golden Dawn” was dropped by both Mathers and by the various splinter groups to avoid the growing scandal. Mather’s group became the Alpha et Omega, and others were known as the Stella Matutina (led by Yeats) and the Independent and Rectified Rite (led by Waite). Although these and other splinter groups never had the cachet of the original, in the ensuing years they undoubtedly gathered larger memberships than their predecessor ever had.

In 1914, Aleister Crowley published the texts of the Initiation rituals of the Outer Order in his serial publication, “The Equinox”. Real circulation of the materials didn’t happen until after World War I, when they created quite a stir in the occult community. The secrets of the Golden Dawn became available to the general public, and were a major part of the occult “revival” of the 1920’s. Israel Regardie, who was once Crowley’s secretary, published the complete initiation rites, along with a selection of the workings and instructional documents that were in his possession, of the Stella Matutina (essentially identical to the original Golden Dawn rituals and teachings) in the late 1920s. While this action supposedly violated the Order’s oaths of secrecy, Regardie claims he believed at the time no functioning lodges remained, and feared the work of the Order would otherwise be lost forever.

In the 1920s and 30s more schisms occurred, and by the onset of World War II most of the original Lodges were gone, except for a few small groups (notably in America and New Zealand) that could claim direct descent from the original Lodges, finally dying out in the 1970s. But even as the original lodges died away, new adherents and Initiates of the old Adepts began to revive the Order, reclaiming the name of the Golden Dawn. Lodges currently exist in Europe, the Americas, South Africa and Australia. Numbers are hard to estimate, but there are likely hundreds if not thousands of people currently involved in organized Golden Dawn groups, and many solo practioners. Some can claim lineage of one kind or another to the original lodges by “apostolic succession” (i.e. Adepts having gone on to establish their own Lodges without any official charters), others simply follow the legacy of the original Order according to the wealth of published material available to the public, either in organized lodges or as solo practitioners. This being the case, there is no universally recognized central authority, though there are lodges and individuals that lay claim to it.

There are a few organized Golden Dawn groups today that lay claim to the “undiluted” lineage of the original Temples. Generally, this takes the form of issuing claims (especially on the Internet) of being chartered by an offshoot Temple of Isis-Urania Lodge No.3.. Moina Mathers chartered a few Lodges in Europe and America after her husband died. Claims of lineage are usually by supposed connection to one of these. (See Appendix A). Unfortunately, they generally accompany these claims with declarations that their’s is the One True Golden Dawn, and all others are heresies.

[Author’s note: I have been unable to uncover any conclusive evidence of the validity of these claims, and indeed some evidence indicating cases of deliberate fabrication. But these sectarian disputes are not the subject of this writing. Be it enough to say that such disputes exist, and I leave it to any interested persons to wallow through the muck if the will. An Internet search will pull up all you can stomach.]

But the historical and cultural legacy of the Golden Dawn has been more influential on modern occultism than any other esoteric organization or body of knowledge. Although the original Golden Dawn teachings showed a strong influence of esoteric Christianity, almost every expression of Western occult spirituality and neo-paganism today owes a debt to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.


The Golden Dawn’s philosophical teachings are based in the principles of European Rosicrucianism and the Hermetic Qabala.

The Golden Dawn purports to be primary inheritor of the “Mysteries of the Rose and Cross”, the foundational doctrines of Western esoteric philosophy, tracing its roots to the mystery religions of ancient Egypt and Greece, Mithraism, and Gnosticism. The legendary Masters that perserved these “secrets” through the Dark Ages of Europe were known as the Rosicrucians.

The name Rosicrucian is derived from the Latin words “rosae” and “crux”, popularly translated to mean the “rose cross”. The terms also have many levels of inner, “hidden” meaning derived from lesser known sources. According to the doctrine, learning and understanding the hidden (occult) meanings of this and other symbols would bring about philosophical understanding and spiritual enlightenment.

Rosicrucianism promotes the social need to establish institutions to guide humanity towards spiritual truth and societal enlightenment, by the study of natural philosophy and the ancient mysteries. However, unlike many “evangelical” religious movements, such institutions are not religions in the sense of imposing a strict theological dogma, or having an impetus to attract large numbers of converts to their ranks. Rosicrucianism is not personal religion for the many, but rather promotes the banding together of the intellectual and spiritual “elite” to work behind the scenes toward positive spiritual advancement for the common good of humanity.

According to legend, the Rosicrucian Order was founded in Germany in the 15th century by an individual known as Christian Rosenkrutz, who was born in 1378. In order to perpetuate the ancient Hermetic traditions — the mysteries of the ancient Egyptians, the Pythagorean philosophers of ancient Greece and other occult wisdom — he had initiated a few brothers into the “Order of the Rose Cross.” The successors to these brothers brought to light the existence of the Order in 1614, with the publication of the first Rosicrucian manifestos.

The first appeared around 1610, as an anonymous document entitled “Fama Fraternitatis of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross”, which is the story of the founding of a secret order of esoteric learning in the Hermetic and Christian mysteries. It was privately distributed in Germany and published in printed form in 1614.

The second publication, “Confessio Fraternitatis” (1615), describes the Rosicrucian Order in more detail, describes the sources of their learning, and takes a definite stance of Protestantism against the Catholic Church.

A third document, “The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz,” is an alchemical allegory, probably written by Lutheran pastor Johann Valentine Andreae. Despite the title, it is not directly connected to the first two manifestos.

This secret fraternal order may actually have been founded by the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493?-1541). While Rosicrucian orders attracted many of the intelligentsia of the 17th and 18th centuries, they don’t seem to have developed as organizations of significant political influence to match the Freemasons. Their influence on the science and philosophy of the era was much more profound. John Dee, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and Benjamin Franklin are all reputed to have been Rosicrucians. However, many of the “side degrees” in Fremasonry are Rosicrucian bodies, such as the S.R.I.A., so these two fraternal Orders are very much intertwined with each other.

Historically, the foundation of Rosicrucianism, and hence of the Golden Dawn, was in the 17th Century Europe (when the order declared itself publically.) There is a considerable discussion among scholars on the traditional roots of Rosicrucianism before that, for Christian Rosencrutz was most likely an allegorical character rather than a real person, whose name means literally “Christian of the Rose and Cross”. The actual roots of Rosicrucianism are certainly in the Medieval Alchemists, and the Arab Mystics that preserved the ancient Greek and Egyptian traditions. This knowledge was rediscovered by the Crusaders to the Holy Land and spread through Europe by Christian Orders such as the Knights Templar.

This body of knowledge came to be known as Heremticism, a name derived from Hermes, the Greek god of wisdom. The mythical founder of the philosophy was Hermes Trismegistus, an alchemist and philosopher of legendary antiquity. In practice, Hermeticism is a spiritual path which evolved from a diverse blending of influences during three key periods. The first period was during the Renaissance, when Christians of a mystical inclination combined rediscovered Greek, Hebrew and Arabic mysticism with native Alchemy and esoteric Christianity, and adapted the spiritual practice of the Jewish Qabalah to Christian philosophy. The second period was the Enlightenment and the rise of Freemasonry, whose various permutations and “side degrees” incorporated much of Hermetic thought, and the re-discovery of Egyptian philosophies after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The third period was during the Victorian era, when colonization of the Orient brought back a variety of meditational techniques (including Yoga and Tantra) which were combined with the previously mentioned influences, and both Spiritualism and Theosophy.

Christian or Hermetic Qabala is based on the Hebrew spiritual practice of QBLH, which teaches of higher levels of existence in the spiritual realm based on a diagram of ten spheres, called Sephera, linked together by 22 paths into a structural diagram called the Tree of Life. All of physical existence is in the Sphere of Malkuth (“Kingdom”), the lowest Sphere on the Tree. Descending from Kether (“Crown”), the fountainhead of all existence, are the ten emanations of God. The creative power of God emanates from Kether down the Tree until it manifests in Malkuth. The goal of the Aspirant to Adepthood is to ascend the Tree through spiritual development and become reunited with Kether. The symbolism of the Tree of Life is said to be universal, and all of human knowledge and experience can be analyzed by relating it to the Spheres of the Tree and the Paths that interconnect them.

In England the pinnacle of 19th century Rosicrucianism was Kenneth MacKenzie’s Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. The S.R.I.A. took the names of its system of grades from a Masonic “side degree”, the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross, and would pass that system of grades along to the Golden Dawn. In many ways, the S.R.I.A. was the direct ancestor to the Golden Dawn—the Isis-Urania temple even met at Mark’s Masons Hall, the meeting place of the S.R.I.A.

The primary basis of the Golden Dawn philosophy is an integrated Western Hermeticism, organized into a more or less coherent structure. The Golden Dawn’s Hermetic roots came together from the philosophies of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, with Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism merging in the second and third century; with influence from the Moslem Sufis brought to Europe by Crusader orders; the Qabala—itself influenced by Neo-Platonism — and alchemy, merging in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By the mid-1800s, the final additions to what we recognize as Western Magic Tradition are complete—the Tarot, Astrology, and Talismanic Magic. To this mix the Golden Dawn added Enochian Magic, a system developed in the late 16th century by Dr. John Dee, astrologer and cartographer to Queen Elizabeth I, and the Hindu meditation system of Tattvas, along with the Tantric principles of the Chakras.

Before the Golden Dawn, attempts to draw the mass of Western tradition together into a coherent system had been flawed, or incomplete. Barrett and Constant (Levi) had both attempted a system that unified Western tradition. But it would be the Golden Dawn which produced a balanced and harmonious system which included all the disparate elements of Western Esotericism.

At its core, the philosophy of the Golden Dawn is one of perfectible humanism; that by use of the esoteric tools and techniques passed down from antiquity, a human being can advance in spiritual knowledge and magical power, and with hard work and discipline, come to control his or her own destiny.

Two secondary themes of Golden Dawn philosophy deserve special comment: The Secret Chiefs, and the Black Brotherhood.

The Order is meant to be the repository of great spiritual knowledge passed down from ancient sources. Though some sources such as Imhotep, Solomon, Hermes Trismegistus and Christian Rosenkrutz are part of the legendary history of the Order, the original founders (in particular Mathers) expounded a doctrine of “The Secret Chiefs”, who collectively represented the “Third” or highest Order of the Western esoteric tradition. Mathers declared these Chiefs of the Order were living human beings, or perhaps “evolved” human beings, that possessed the secrets of immortality, omniscience, and superhuman magical powers. He claimed to be in personal contact with certain of these Chiefs, and based his authority as the indisputable leader of the Order on instructions supposedly handed down from them.

Other Golden Dawn Lodges and Adepts also claimed to be “in contact” with Secret Chiefs, and the original schisms of the Golden Dawn can almost be seen as various “Chiefs” issuing conflicting orders to their contacts. Mathers claimed that he actually met Chiefs in person and that they had physical bodies. Florence Farr believed herself to have psychically contacted a Chief, in a manner similar to what is now called “channeling”, and was even authorized by Mathers in 1897 to form a working group, “The Sphere Group”, to make further contact with this Chief. Aleister Crowley claimed that a spiritual entity named “Aiwass”, who was a Secret Chief, dictated to him in 1904 the “Book of the Law” which was to be the basis of a new Hermetic philosophy. Another faction led by F.W. Felkin, moved their Temple to New Zealand to await the physical arrival of their Chief, who unfortunately never showed up. Generally, each faction refused to acknowledge the authority of another faction’s contact with a “Secret Chief.”

The prevailing attitude of Golden Dawn practitioners today seems to be that the Secret Chiefs are not necessarily living humans or supernatural beings, but are the symbolic “current” of all the actual and legendary sources of spiritual esotericism. Any great leader or teacher of a spiritual path or practice that found its way into the teachings of the Order — and that definition covers a wide range, from paganism to Buddhism to Judeo-Christianity — can be considered as a Secret Chief of the Golden Dawn. They are “secret” not by virtue of being unknown to the outside world, but rather that their knowledge has found its way into the “secrets” of the Order. Their teachings are “secret” because they can only be fully understood by someone who embarks on the path of spiritual advancement and attains Adepthood.

The Black Brotherhood is not a “group” in the common sense, but could be defined as to include all the “outcast” Adepts, either within or without the Order. However, there have been (and are) people who believe that the Black Brotherhood has some sort of organization, and they work collectively to impede the spiritual progress of humanity — a sort of “anti-Rosicrucian” movement. No proof of any such organization has ever been found; these claims are somewhat akin to the “Satanic Conspiracy” myths of the late 20th century.

The Black Brothers are, in simple terms, those Adepts who have turned from the path of spiritual ascension and instead use Magic only for their own selfish personal gain. A Black Brother attains the level of Adept, but then refuses to “cross the Abyss” and relinquish the illusion of Ego, and so no longer seeks union with the Absolute, but rather pursues their own personal empowerment. They can no longer attain a level higher than Adept, and instead “turn back” to persue power on earth. But they still possess the knowledge and training that comes with Adepthood, and therefore have the ability to work great Evil in the world.

The Order’s traditions include dire warnings of the consequences to one’s soul of working Evil Magic. It is said that a Black Brother is bound to an earthly existence ending utterly with death, and never to attain the gnostic knowledge of the Divine, in this or any other incarnation. The Initiate’s oaths carry the threat of excommunication from the Order, and even “karmic” retaliation with extreme prejudice against an Adept who breaks his or her oaths against the use of Evil Magic. “Evil is but weakness and the power of Evil Magic exists only in the contest of unbalanced forces, which in the end will destroy and ruin him who hath subjugated himself thereto.” To use a more popular fictional analogy, the Black Brotherhood are those Adepts who have been “seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.”


The Golden Dawn follows a “fraternal lodge” model similar to Freemasonry, with titles, degrees and initiations. The Order purports to be a meritocracy, with advancement based on tests of knowledge and demonstration of skills.

In the Outer Order, both the layout of the Temple and the functions of Officers seem to closely mirror those of the Blue Lodge of Masonry. The names of the Grades, or degrees of initiation, as well as the titles bestowed upon initiates, were taken from old sources such as the German Masonic “Gold und Rosen-kreutzers”, and Pianco’s 1781 book, Der_Rosenkreutzer in seiner Blosse. In the Inner Order, the Rosicrucian drama enacted in the initiation rituals is reminiscent of that in the “Rose Croix” degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and is certainly related to the ceremonies of the S.R.I.A. The Grades in the Golden Dawn are based on the symbolism of the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

The Grades of the Golden Dawn

First Order:
Introduction—Neophyte 0=0

  1. Zelator 1=10
  2. Theoricus 2=9
  3. Pracitcus 3=8
  4. Philosophus 4=7

Second Order:
Intermediate—Portal Grade

  1. Adeptus Minorus 5=6
  2. Adeptus Majorus 6=5
  3. Adeptus Exemptus 7=4

Third Order:

  1. Magister Templi 8=3
  2. Magus 9=2
  3. 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. For the others, 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 are related to the four Classical Elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, respectively. The Aspirant to a Grade receives instruction on the metaphysical meaning of each of these Elements, and must pass a written examination and demonstrate certain skills to receive Initiation to that Grade.

The Portal Grade is the Initiation for admittance to the Second Order. In most Lodges, the Circle of existing Adepts must consent to allow an Aspirant to join the Second Order. In the Portal, the Aspirant swears an oath to attain what is called “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” (or “HGA”). The HGA, also called the Body of Light or the Divine Genius, is considered to be every person’s “higher self”. Some adherents consider the HGA to be a separate spiritual entity, others the psychic symbol of the True inner being of the Aspirant.

—After passing the Portal, the Aspirant begins to be instructed in the techniques of practical Magic. When another examination is passed, and the other Adepts consent, the Aspirant attains the Grade of Adeptus Minor 5=6. (In the original Order, there were four sub-Grades of instruction for the Adeptus Minor, again relating to the four Outer Order grades.) When these basic techniques of practical Magic are mastered, the Grade of Adeptus Major 6=5 is attained. At this point, since the lexicon of Hermetic Magic is so wide and varied, the Adept chooses one or more specialties such as Tarot, Astrology or Enochian Magic for in-depth study, and attains to the rank of Adeptus Exemptus 7=4. This is the highest Grade of the Second Order.—

A member of the Second Order has 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.

The next stage, the “Third Order”, is again the subject of much debate among Golden Dawn adherents. But the most common interpretation is that to attain to the Third Order, one must “cross the Abyss” that separates mundane life from union with the Divine. To some, crossing the Abyss means physical death, and therefore no living person may claim to be a member of the Third Order. To others, it is a spiritual epiphany in which the carnal Ego (symbolized by a “demon” known as Choronzon) is lost forever and true Understanding of Divine Purpose is attained. Thus, the Aspirant attains the Grade of Magister Templi 8=3 (Master of the Temple), and acquires the spiritual authority to grant Charters and establish Lodges. A common practice appears to be for Lodge Masters to take the “honorary” degree of 8=3. (The legendary Fraulein Sprengel would have been 8=3.) The Grade of Magus 9=1 denotes the acquisition of great Magical Power, and the ability to declare a Word (Logos), and, in a manner of speaking, create a new religion according to that Word. The final Grade, Ipsissmus, is to attain virtual Godhood. Such an Adept would be a Buddha or Messiah in their own right.

Light in Extension

The original Golden Dawn left behind a legacy that continues to inspire students of the esoteric arts to this day. Modern neo-pagan practices such as “circle casting”, use of the pentagram, hexagram and other geometric forms as sacred symbols, “out-of-body” experiences, the Tarot cards, talismans, astrology and many others, can find their roots in the Golden Dawn. While the Order may not have originated all these forms, they synthesized them into a coherent body of work that continues to appeal to occultists and esoteric scholars more than 100 years later. The Light of the Golden Dawn continues to be extended to this day.

“Let us work, therefore, my brethren, and effect righteousness, because the Night cometh when no man shall labour… May the Light which is behind the Veil shine through you from your Throne in the East on the Fratres and Sorores of the Order and lead them to the perfect day, when the glory of this world passes and a great Light shines over the splendid sea.” — S.L. MacGregor Mathers

Appendix A: Temples

There were eleven original Golden Dawn temples founded before the Order broke into factions around 1900, though the first two may be fictional:

  1. Licht, Liebe, Leben, c1870 …… (Nuremburg: Fraulein Sprengel)
  2. Hermanubis, 1889 ……………….. (Liege: Dr. Thyssen?)
  3. Isis-Urania, Mar. 20, 1888…….. (London: Westcott, Woodman, Mathers)
  4. Osiris, Oct. 8, 1888 ……………….. (Weston-super-Mare: B. Cox)v
  5. Horus, Oct. 10, 1888 …………….. (Bradford: T.H. Pattinson)
  6. Amen-Ra, Apr. 14, 1893 ……….. (Edinburgh: J.W. Brodie-Innes)
  7. Ahathoor, Dec. 3, 1893 …………. (Paris: S.L.M. Mathers)
  8. Ihme, c1895 ………………………….. (Boston?)
  9. Themis, c1895 ……………………… (Philadelphia?)
  10. Thoth-Hermes, c1895 ………….. (Chicago: Mrs. Lockwood)
  11. Isis /Alpha et Omega, 1900…… (W. London: E.W. Berridge)

Offshoots, variants and affiliated groups of some of the members of the original Golden Dawn temples:

  • The Sphere, c1897 ……………………………… (London: Florence Farr)
  • Herm. Soc. of the Morgenrothe, 1902 …. (London:Felkin, Brodie-Innes, Bullock)
  • Order of Light, 1902 …………………………….. (Bradford: T.H. Pattinson)
  • Stella Matutina (S.M.) [Amoun], 1903 ….. (London: R.W. Felkin, W.B.Yates)
  • Holy Order of the G.D., 1903 ……………….. (London: A.E. Waite, Blackden, Ayton)
  • A.’.A.’. (Astra Argentium), c1907 …………… (London: A. Crowley, G.C. Jones)
  • Zos Kia Cultus, c1910 …………………………. (London: A.O. Spare)
  • Whare Ra (Stella Matutina), 1912 ……….. (New Zealand: R.W. Felkin)
  • Ordo Templi Orientis [orig. 1895], 1912 ..(London: A. Crowley)
  • Alpha et Omega 2 (Northern), 1913 ……..(Edinburgh& London: J.W.Brodie-Innes)
  • Cromlech [Solar Order], 1913 ……………… (Edinburgh&London: J.W.Brodie-Innes)
  • Hermes (Stella Matutina), 1916 …………… (Bristol: R.W. Felkin)
  • Merlin (Stella Matutina), 1916 ………………. (London: R.W. Felkin)
  • Secret College in London , 1916 …………. (London: R.W. Felkin)
  • Guild of St. Raphael, 1916 …………………… (London: Felkin & Roseveare)
  • Fellowship of the True Rosy Cross, 1916.(London: A.E. Waite)
  • Shrine of Wisdom, c1916 ……………………. (Hermon Hill, N. London: A.E. Waite?)
  • Nuada (Druid Order), c1916 ………………… (Clapham, London: G.W.M. Reid)
  • Alpha et Omega 3 (Southern), 1919 ……. (London: M.M. Mathers)
  • School of Ageless Wisdom, c1920 ……… (Chicago: Paul F. Case)
  • Fraternity of the Inner Light, 1922 …………. (London: Dion Fortune)
  • Guild of the Master Jesus, c1925 …………. (London: Dion Fortune)
  • Hermanoubis 2, c1930 ………………………… (Bristol: ?)
  • Universal Order, c1935 ………………………… (London & Brook, Surrey: ?)
  • Builders of the Adytum, c1937 ……………… (Los Angeles: Paul F. Case)

Appendix B:

Some notes on the Cipher Manuscripts and the Isis-Urania Charter:

The code used in the cipher manuscript is from Trithemius’ Polygraphiae (1561). Kenneth MacKenzie, as well as any other competent occultist, would have had access to it.

There are several different stories of exactly how the Cipher Manuscripts came to be in the possession of Westcott, however the following is a summary that covers most of the more common particulars—note that this is merely the “story” and that the cipher manuscripts were later disputed as forgeries by Mathers:

* The Cipher Manuscripts were written by Johann Falk, around 1810-1815

* The papers were once held by Eliphas Levi, but he lost them, possibly on his visit to London in 1854.

* Some years later they came into the possession of Kenneth Mackenzie.  Along with Frederick Hockley he wrote to Fraulein Sprengel—Soror Sapiens Dominatabur Astris (S.D.A)—and received permission to open an English Lodge “Hermanubis Temple No. 2”  The papers gave a contact address for Fraulein Sprengel — c/o Herr J. Enger, Hotel Marquardt, Stuttgart.

* Later MacKenzie and Hockley recruited Rev. A.F.A. Woodford to join them. (Woodford should not be confused either with Dr. W. R. Woodman—the third co-founder of the Golden Dawn.) Hockley died in 1885.  MacKenzie died in 1886.  A.F.A. Woodford died in 1887, and William Wynn Westcott got his papers.

* Westcott wrote to Fraulein Sprengel (S.D.A.), and got a letter back, though her address had long since changed. (Note that she was not called “Anna” Sprengel yet.  After the turn of the century, Felkin was in contact with an “Anna Sprengel” who he thought might be a cousin of the deceased S.D.A.  He mentioned this to several people, and the name “Anna” got attached to S.D.A.)

* The first letter, 26 Nov 1887, mentions Hermanubis Temple which was chartered to two Englishmen.  Without much fanfare, Westcott is chartered to open Temple No. 3, which is to have three chiefs

* Four letters are subsequently written from “Frater In Utroque Fidelis”, Secretary for Fraulein Sprengel (S.D.A.). The only other reference to continental adepts is a statement that on 7 Feb 1888, Frater Igne died at Naples.

* The final letter is dated 23 August 1890 from “Frater ex Uno Disces Omnes”, who said that Fraulein Sprengel (S.D.A.) had gone against the will of the other continental adepts to charter Isis-Urania Temple No. 3, and that henceforth there would be no contact.

Appendix C: Possible Masonic Roots of the Golden Dawn

(from the “Golden Dawn FAQ” by Stephen R. Cranmer)

Some scholars have suggested that there is a more direct connection between the Golden Dawn and Masonry: a historical one, via a possible source of the mysterious “Cipher Manuscripts” which Westcott and Mathers used to construct the Outer Order rituals. Several sources have alluded to the existence of little-known Masonic groups in the early 19th century which have an eerie similarity to the Golden Dawn. Specifically, there have been two (possibly related, possibly identical) possibilities:

(1) The “Loge zur aufgehenden Morgenrothe,” a Masonic Lodge in Frankfort with a primarily Jewish membership. Referred to in French as the “Aurore naissante,” (both titles meaning “Rising Dawn”), this group was founded by three Masons connected with the Rite of Strict Observance of von Hund. In 1817, a subsidiary Lodge was formed in London by the Duke of Sussex, the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. In 1822, it was closed by an Anton Wolf, who might have been a representative from the Mother Lodge in Frankfort.

(2) A “Qabalistic College” in London, also known as the “Chabrath Zerek Aour Bokher” (“Society of theh Shining Light of the Dawn”), formed around 1810 by a Johannes Friedrich Falk, from Hamburg, Germany. Mentioned mainly by Kenneth Mackenzie’s Royal Masonic Cyclopaeida, this organization might have been a long-propagating fraud.

Both of these supposed London-based Lodges have been argued to be the infamous second “Hermanoubis” Temple of the Golden Dawn. The Cipher Manuscripts, which were probably written circa 1860-1870, are similarly argued to have come indirectly from one of these groups, via such varied persons as Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Bulwer-Lytton, or Frederick Hockley. Further research is definitely required to prove any of these hypotheses. For more information, see:

Gilbert, R. A., 1990, “Provenance Unknown: A Tentative Solution to the Riddle of the Cipher Manuscript of the Golden Dawn,” in Wege und Abwege: Beitraege zur europaeischen Geistesgeschichte der Neuzeit, ed. A. Goetz von Olenhusen (Freiburg: Hochschul Verlag), p. 79.

Heisler, R. 1989, “Precursors of the Golden Dawn,” in Cauda Pavonis: Studies in Hermeticism, v. 8, no. 1, 1-4.

Prinke, R. T. 1987, “The Deeper Roots of the Golden Dawn,” in The Hermetic Journal, 36, 16.


The Golden Dawn : A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic, by Israel Regardie, Cris Monnastre, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke

Golden Dawn Companion, by R.A. Gilbert

The Golden Dawn : Twilight of the Magicians, by R. A. Gilbert

Golden Dawn Scrapbook, by R. A. Gilbert, Limited edition

Magicians of the Golden Dawn, by Ellic Howe

An Interview With Israel Regardie: His Final Thoughts and Views, by Christopher S. Hyatt (Editor)

Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript, by Darcy Kuntz (Editor)

The Golden Dawn Source Works : A Bibliography, by Darcy Kuntz

Golden Dawn Sourcebook, by Darcy Kuntz (Editor)

Women Of The Golden Dawn, by Mary K. Greer

What You Should Know About the Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie

The Autohaiography of Aleister Crowley, by Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, by Colin Wilson

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