Mystery School: Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn

Do you want to join the Hermetic Order of the golden dawn?  Look if you have ever been a fan of mysticism, the occult, ancient rituals, or secret societies you must have become, at some point in your life, interested in joining a secret society. If you did your research right, you surely found out that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible choices. Some have ancient roots, others are more recent, some involve magic, others spiritual growing, some are interesting, others just plain bizarre. There’s one society filled with mystery, ancient texts, Egyptian gods, otherworldly entities, notorious members, occultism, secret codes, and a controversial ending. And as if that wasn’t enough, it is just one of the most popular, and serious, hermetic orders in the world. We’re talking about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of course, and if you ever wondered how is it possible, here is a guide on how to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

We did our research, and even got in contact with a member of one of the still existing factions, so you will have all your questions answered by the end of the article.

But first…


What is the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn?

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, or simply, the Golden Dawn, was a secret society devoted to the practice and study of metaphysics, the occult, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as a magical order, the Golden Dawn was active mostly in Great Britain and its practices focused on spiritual development and theurgy.  The Golden Dawn became one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism, and many modern concepts of magic and ritual at the center of contemporary traditions (such as Thelema, or Wicca) were inspired by the order.


Deviant Art

Holy Book of the Golden Dawn: the Cipher Manuscripts

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn owes its origins to a single text.  The mysterious Cipher Manuscript. It’s a vast codex with over 60 separate books.  It contains the entire instructions for magical initiations that correspond to the 4 elements: earth, air, water, and fire.  This magick book of “occult” mysteries contains magical theory and symbols in the western world (at least until the 19th century). Needless to say, it’s an essential piece of literature in the Western Mystical Tradition.

The mysterious Cipher Manuscripts

  • it is a 56-folio bundle of encoded writings in black ink on cotton paper.
  • These documents’ origins have been debated ever since they came to light in the mid-1880s.
  • Very very very mysterious
via Wikicommons

In a time where many books were hand-bound and still printed in small quantities, and esoteric texts were rare, it was very common for documents to be shared among like-minded people. Therefore books circulated primarily among members of the same societies and groups.  As for the actual author of the Cipher, Manuscripts, well it’s a mystery.  The codex itself came into the possession of William Wynn Westcott, a Freemason and member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (a Christian esoteric group that practiced mystical rituals) who worked as a coroner by day in Warwickshire, England.

Westcott, who would later become one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, claimed to have received the Manuscripts from the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, a fellow mason who, in turn, received them from the Masonic scholar Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie.

Westcott gets down to decoding the Manuscripts, and he found out that they were written in English, but coded from right to left using a simple cryptogram based on Johannes Trithemius’ Polygraphia.


The Founding

After decoding the Cipher Manuscripts in 1887, what Westcott found in the documents were skeletal descriptions of a set of occult teachings and magical rituals, assembled from a wide range of mystical sources, including tarot, Qabalah, and alchemy.

Westcott shared his findings with two other masons – Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers, a member of many Masonic groups who lectured in esoteric systems of thought, and William Robert Woodman, a police surgeon who, like Westcott, was a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.

Working together, Westcott, Mathers, and Woodman began to put together the rudiments of the Golden Dawn, from the decoded Manuscripts. They turned the mystical teachings and rituals uncovered by Westcott into a curriculum for the learning of ritual magic and spiritual improvement, as well as the study of magical philosophy. Fortune telling rituals such as astrology and tarot card divination were combined with magical rituals that claimed to allow for contact with the dead and supernatural beings, producing a modern magical system with the mixing of pre-existent magical traditions.

On February 12, 1888, Westcott, Mathers, and Woodman signed “pledges of fidelity” to their new order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, therefore becoming the founding members.


The Mysterious Case of Anna Sprengel

The newfound Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn recruited potential new members by word of mouth, via pre-existing occult connections and networks already established through Masonic lodges. The new secret society also advertised for new members in the Theosophical journal Lucifer.

Despite the origins of the Cipher Manuscripts were unverified – in fact, rumors claim that the work was created by one of the occultists from whom Westcott had claimed to receive it from, or it was a forgery by Westcott himself – there was one detail that supposedly lent legitimacy to the Manuscripts in the eyes of potential new members.

Westcott claimed to have found the address of a German woman from Stuttgart named Anna Sprengel among the pages of the Manuscripts. It also spoke of the woman’s magical credentials and her belonging to a well-established lineage of Rosicrucian mystics in Germany.

This note referred to Miss Sprengel as “Sapiens Dominabitur Astris”, or “the wise among the stars”, and “a chief among the members of the Goldene Dammerung”, or “Golden Dawn”.

Westcott also claimed that it was through contact with Miss Sprengel that he, Mathers, and Woodman were given the right to lead a British version of the order, with Sprengel herself allegedly chartering the first Golden Dawn Temple in England.

However, no evidence of the existence of Miss Sprengel has ever been found, and many critics have argued that the figure was a creation of Westcott himself.


Teachings and Structure

Members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were primarily interested in traditional ritual practice and magical philosophy for the advancement of the individual’s spirit. The curriculum created by Westcott and his fellow founders centered especially on leading new members through the study of rituals and symbols that would help them reach a higher level of spiritual being through natural magic.

The Order’s system was based on hierarchy and initiation like the Masonic lodges, but contrary to freemasonry, 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 geomancy, tarot divination, and astrology.

The Second Order, or “Inner Order”, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, taught magic, including astral travel, scrying, and alchemy.

The Third Order was that of the “Secret Chiefs”, who were said to be highly skilled beings. They supposedly directed the activities of the lower two orders by spirit communication with the Chiefs of the Inner Order.


The “Secret Chiefs”

The founders of the Golden Dawn not only referred to the authority of the mysterious, yet apparently human, figure of Anna Sprengel. They also claimed that the Order was guided by “Concealed Rulers of the Wisdom of the True Rosicrucian Magic of Light” – beings known to the members as the “Secret Chiefs”.

The “Secret Chiefs” were kept a mystery to the outer orders, and contact with them could only be made by the highest-ranking members within the lodge.

In 1891, founding-member Woodman passed away and, around the same time, Westcott’s supposedly long-running exchange of letters with Miss Sprengel came to an abrupt end, when he declared he had received word that she had also died.

Mathers, who had been instrumental in setting up new temples around the country and in Paris, also announced that he had been in contact with the “Secret Chiefs”.

Many at the time believed that the “Secret Chiefs” were alchemists with lineage tracing back to Ancient Egypt. In fact, many of the Order’s rituals involved the invocation of Egyptian gods such as Horus, while the first Temple in London was named “Isis-Urania”, Isis being the name of the Egyptian of nature and magic.

Mathers, however, claimed that the “Secret Chiefs” were otherworldly, disembodied beings, and positioned himself as the intermediary between them and the Order.


The Sudden Departure of Westcott

In 1896, Westcott decided to step away from the Order, a seemingly surprising decision. With Woodman already passed on, Mathers was left in supreme command as the only remaining founding member.

But why did a man who was a long-time student of magic and occultist decide to abandon the Order right at the point it was becoming popular?

A letter was found, sent to Frederick Leigh Gardner, an occultist and member of the Golden Dawn who had a long connection with the freemasons and Westcott’s earlier esoteric society, the Societas Rosecruciana in Anglia. In it, Westcott explains how his secret interest in the occult had become public, with repercussions to his job as a coroner.

“It had somehow become know to the State officers that I was a prominent official of a society in which I had been foolishly posturing as one possessed of magical powers – and that if this became more public it would not do for a Coroner of the Crown to be made shame of in such a mad way”

Westcott went on to say he believed there was a conspiracy to take him out. “I cannot think who it is who persecutes me – someone must talk.”


The Order’s Rising Popularity

Golden Dawn reached its peak in the mid-1890s when among its hundreds of members could be found several prominent figures in the Victorian society, all interested in the occult with the purpose of spiritual improvement and pseudo-scientific exploration of the nature of the world and the role of mankind in it.

Notable figures such as the poet W. B. Yeats, fantasy horror writer Arthur Machen, leading West End actress Florence Farr, Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, all joined in rituals and the mystical study. A. E. Waite, the co-creator of the classic Tarot deck still in use today, and Aleister Crowley, the writer and eventual creator of a new religion known as Thelema, were also prominent Golden Dawn members.

One big difference between the Golden Dawn and other esoteric societies of the time was the Order’s admission of women on its ranks. Only men were allowed to be freemasons (a rule that still stands to this day), and this policy was followed by most, if not all, of the secret groups at that time.

The Order’s comparatively progressive leanings, with most rules deriving in part from the Cipher Manuscripts, gave their meetings the feeling of a social event, while many of the rituals produced an atmosphere of playful titillation.

Around this time, Mathers (the last practicing founding-member) claimed to have received instructions from the “Secret Chiefs” regarding the syllabus of the third level of learning, involving alchemy and “spiritual sexuality”.


Aleister Crowley: The Beginning of the End

For many members of the Golden Dawn, the occult and mysticism were not simply eccentric hobbies, but a way of life. One of the best examples is Aleister Crowley, one of the most famous, or in his case, notorious, members of the Order. His controversial membership and behavior within the Order would have a huge influence on the survival of the Golden Dawn and the position of its leader, Mathers.

Crowley, who would one day be described as the “wickedest man in the world”, joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898, and would soon boast of his rapid progress through the outer levels of its curriculum.

Crowley’s interest in the occult was unconventional; a way for him to subvert the fundamentalist Christianism that had dominated his childhood. He struck up a close friendship with Mathers, who attempted to initiate the young occultist into the Inner Order later that same year but was prevented from doing this by the other London members who were suspicious of Crowley.

Mathers decided then to force the situation in 1900, by inducting Crowley into the Inner Order at the Ahathoor Temple in France. This decision would signal the end of Mathers’ leadership of the Golden Dawn, as the order descended into bitter revolt.

Years later, Crowley would critically undermine the Golden Dawn by publishing their secrets in his magazine.


The End

Mathers’ close relationship with Aleister Crowley had long been a cause for concern among Golden Dawn’s member, especially those in London and Edinburgh, who were also frustrated by Mathers’ position as the intermediary between them and the supposed “Secret Chiefs”, with whom he claimed to be in contact.

To make things worse, Crowley enraged the London Temple upon his return by noisily announcing his induction into the Inner Order and demanding the esoteric documents to which he was now entitled.

Florence Farr, who had already stated she thought the temple should be shut down, immediately resigned, and as infighting grew, Mathers started to suspect the involvement of Westcott, who he believed was attempting to regain control of the Order.

Mathers reacted by writing a letter, claiming the Westcott’s correspondence with Miss Sprengel was a forgery, and that he had never had any contact with the “Secret Chiefs”.

This was a shot in the foot. Mathers saw his credibility dissipate. He was removed from his position within three months of his induction of Crowley to the Inner Order by the remaining London members, and the order splintered into clusters of smaller groups.

A.E. Waite took over the Isis-Urania Temple, Yeats joined a group entitled Stella Matutina that practiced the earlier rituals of the Golden Dawn, and Mathers himself formed a new group, Alpha and Omega.



Legend says that when the Golden Dawn members were rebelling against their leader Mathers, he performed a ritual in which he gave the names of the rebels to a handful of dried peas and, shaking them in a sieve, cursed them to burn out with continual disagreements and quarrels so that they would never be able to unite again. Real or not, Mathers’ curse could be considered to be a success; never again did any of the members of the Golden Dawn organized into such an impressive and unique group, and never would they achieve the same level of influence again.

That isn’t to say that the Order hasn’t had a profound influence on magic practices and esoteric thought throughout the 20th century and beyond. Aleister Crowley used the occult practices he learned within the Golden Dawn to found Thelema, the basis for many modern religious movements such as Wicca, and various strands of paganism. The Cipher Manuscripts continue to attract those interested in the practice of magic.

A version of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has since reformed and there are several groups today.


How Do You Join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn?

To answer this question, we contacted a member of one of the several existing groups that descend from the Golden Dawn.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: Does the Golden Dawn still exists today? And if so, how?

The short answer is no. The genuine Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn no longer exists, it ended with the disbanding of the order in 1903. The good news is that their teachings, processes, and rituals did not disappear. They are pretty much available today; you just need to know where to find them (occult bookstores are a great place to start).

Several Golden Dawn groups publicize themselves on the internet, and they are nothing more than “commemorative order”. None of them have lineage back to the original 19th-century order, even though they follow the same teachings and methods of the genuine Golden Dawn. The most credible one of these Golden Dawn groups is one run by Chic and Tabatha Cicero (you can access their website here). They do an incredible job and are very welcoming to new members.

You also have to be very careful to not fall into a trap. Some groups and institutions claim to be a Golden Dawn Order but are nothing more than scams to keep your money and have no actual desire on your spiritual development and occultism learning. Please be careful.

The few surviving groups that have some kind of legitimacy (and most of them are not advertised on the internet) are not that much, so Temples are very few and far between. Unfortunately, the genuine Golden Dawn requires an initiate to physically attend meetings in order to progress – there is no such thing as inductions by post or email, or of remote astral initiations. To be a member, unless by lucky chance you happen to live in a city where a Temple exists, you may have to face the possibility of having to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to attend.

If that is not possible, you may have to content yourself with working your way through Self Initiation Into The Golden Dawn, a wonderfully put-together book that guides you in the processes and teachings of the Order.

A final thought – to join one of these “legitimized” groups that have no advertisement anywhere (there are at least 2 in Europe) you have to be invited to do so, so our best advice is for you to study the subject, start your process of self-initiation, research, get involved with one of the online groups, go to occultism shops, meet the right people, build connections, sooner or later good things will happen to you!


Do you have any experience with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? If not, are you interested in joining it? What are your plans? Let us know in the comments down below.


All Hail The Machine

R. Spanish

R. Spanish

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