Mishkan ha-Echad

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Mathers - Hero Or Villain?

Photo copyright by R.A. Gilbert

Sincerus Renatus at his blog Gyllene Gryningen (which I believe is Swedish for Golden Dawn) posted a very interesting defence of Mathers yesterday, including a response to one of my recent posts on the speculation that Mathers was behind the events leading to Westcott's resignation (see here). He raises some important points, and, while I do not agree with them all, I believe it is important to share the link, since it is a topical debate. Below you can find my response to his findings:

Firstly, there is the matter of Westcott denying being the author of the R.R. et A.C. material, but fervently defending his assertion that the origin of the Outer Order material is his, and that Mathers was little more than a paid scribe for those materials (all of which had their origins in the Cipher Manuscripts anyhow, which neither Westcott or Mathers wrote). These words from Westcott are so important that I feel the need to share them here, to ensure that all readers, whether scholar or student (or both), can have access to them:

"Mathers is the only person alive who has any knowledge of the starting of Isis Urania Temple & he has made & no doubt will make false claims of proprietorship of the G.D. Hermetic Society because of his vanity, and because I resigned all offices of the Society in 1897;- I think it was.

I have cipher Rituals, early Rituals in English, diagrams - a volume of historical data from 1887 and a volume of moneys expended from 1887 - and many letters from Mathers, especially 2 asking leave to help me in the G.D. Rituals translation and literature. Those latter he will give his soul to get hold of _ and shall not get.

There are also letters from the first 30 G.D's who asked for the 5=6, each expressing approval of the G.D. system & several German letters re G.D. I want all these kept for my protection. I want you if alive & well after my death to use those to protect my claims _ if any false claims are made about them.

About 1886 AFA Woodford gave me Hermetic teaching & old MSS information of G.D. 0=0 to 4=7. Mathers helped me to write those up _ & Woodman as S.M. agreed to be 1st Principal of the Isis Temple. We 3 were co-equal by my wish _ & this lasted until he died Dec. 1891. Then Mathers brought from Paris the 5=6 and said it was the culmination of my G.D. 0=0 to 4=7 and I carried 5=6 on in England until M. became so eccentric that I resigned in 1897.

I make no claim to the 5=6 Ritual authorship but I do claim right & precedence in the origin of G.D. 0=0 to 4=7 derived from Woodford I started the Isis Temple. I paid Mathers to translate & write out the rituals from my original cypher drafts. I paid for the Isis Warrant, & paid M. for writing it & I won't have him say he got the G.D. from his ancestor in Pondicherry, as he now pretends."

- W. W. Westcott

Westcott isn't very clear whether his references to Mathers as being paid to "write out the rituals" means he transformed the skeletal structure in the Cipher MSS into the workable rituals we know today or whether he was merely a "scribe" of sorts, copying the material out. However, in 1909 Westcott was more explicit, when he stated in a letter to Brodie-Innes: "I am the only person who could prove [Mathers] wrote the Rituals and so could claim the copyright" (this was in reference to Mathers' suing of Crowley after the latter's publication of the G.'.D.'. rituals in The Equinox). But the letter shared above, which is somewhat more ambiguous, is dated 1912, and Westcott seems to claim a bit more involvement in the writing of the Outer Order rituals: "Mathers helped me to write those up". It could be argued that perhaps Westcott's intimation in 1909 that Mathers wrote these rituals was because Westcott wanted no involvement in the legal proceedings. This is mere speculation, however, and the consensus of opinion, both lay and scholarly, seems to suggest that Mathers was the ritual genius (clearly evident in his 5=6 ritual), and thus turned the Cipher rituals into the beautiful and powerful rituals they are today.

The important thing to garner from the above is that Westcott (through his ownership of the Cipher MSS which he obtained from Woodford) was the prime source of Outer Order (or Golden Dawn) material, while Mathers was the prime source of Inner Order (or R.R. et A.C.) material. Of course, there's always a problem with terminology, since "Golden Dawn" is used as a blanket term for the entire three-order system, and can thus cause confusion when certain people are referring only to the Outer Order as opposed to the entire system. as a whole. Therefore I believe it is imperative that clarification on this issue is always supplied.

Secondly, there is the issue of the Alpha et Omega material, under Mathers, after the initial split in 1900. S.R., in his blog post, shares a few quotes from Pat Zalewski and Nick Farrell from the Golden Dawn Yahoo group, where the latter posits that the A.O. material was of inferior quality to the original G.'.D.'. material and the later Stella Matutina material. Zalewski cites a number of A.O. documents which he has seen and comments on their effectiveness. Admittedly, Zalewski is biased towards S.M. material, what with his Whare Ra teachers being members of the last remaining S.M. temple, and thus he may believe Felkin's input to be of a higher standard than that of Mathers, but none of this bias automatically renders his opinion untrue. There is also the matter of the supposed "optionality" of the Z-documents in the A.O., which, if true, raises a large question mark over Mathers' head, since they are so vital to the system, and easily some of his most important written documents. Since I have not seen any of these A.O. documents yet, I cannot make a full appraisal of this matter. I do look forward to Nick Farrell's book on the A.O., however, which should elucidate some of these things. Until this book (co-authored by Melissa Seims, I believe) is available, I must point out that S.R.'s comment on the revelation of the A.O. material being "no doubt from an S.M. perspective" is entirely speculation, and seems to be extremely biased, since S.R. appears to dislike Farrell.

Thirdly, there is the issue of Mathers' character as a whole. The problem with this is that he is just as eccentric a figure as Aleister Crowley, and we all know how heated the debate on him has been in the last hundred years. Like Crowley, people seem to love or hate Mathers, and I agree with S.R. on the initial point that he made in his blog post, in that it seems to be "in vogue" to bash and discredit Mathers. However, that does not mean that we should not criticise Mathers (for there are many areas where he deserves criticism), just because we don't want to be seen as going with the flow of the "popular vote".

The more letters I read from Mathers recently the more I found myself disliking him as a person, though I must qualify this comment by stating that I do like some of his qualities, such as his belief that one's personal life should be left outside the temple (see here). But he definitely did many things wrong, and I think it would be naive of us to ignore that, which even S.R. realises in his acknowledgement that the appointment of Crowley as Mathers' confidant was a huge mistake (although it seemed they both found comfort in each other's egocentric personality, which was, in a sense, a mirror of their own). Given the initial spur for the 1900 revolt was Crowley's admission to 5=6 by Mathers after he was rejected for Inner Order membership by the Council of Adepts, it seems not just a huge bad judgement to send him as his representative, but almost a defiant insult to the other Adepts, which shows he had no respect for the judgements of those other Adepts, which he believed his opinion should automatically overrule.

Speaking of bad judgements, the whole Horos scandal is a prime example, and the evidence shows that Mathers was completely duped by this couple, regretting it to large extent soon after. It does make one wonder just how "solid" and reliable his claim to contact with the Secret Chiefs really was, given that they might have warned him against these people (who the other Adepts saw through easily). To be brutally honest, I find his claim to contact with the "Secret Chiefs" to be dubious at best (although just as justifiable as Westcott's claims of authenticity of the Sprengel correspondence). There is probably no denying that he had "inner plane contacts", that, indeed, some of his material was "inspired", for want of a better word, by a greater spiritual essence. However, this occurs naturally as part of the Current or egregore of an Order (as I have experienced both within and outside the Golden Dawn), and the "Secret Chiefs" are, in my eyes, merely a personification of this process, one that, however, tends to lead to elitism and autocracy (clearly evidenced in Mathers' case). There is no doubt a presence of "guardians" (again, a personification) within a magical group's Current, but all true students of the system can have access to them, depending on their nature, and it does not confer any special right to leadership (which is a quality dependant very much on the individual person).

But the fact remains that, even with all this "bad press", Mathers deserves credit for his work for the Golden Dawn. While he was not, as some (including himself) claim, the sole source of everything in the Order, he did bring the Order very far, and was the only one of the original three founders to stick with it all the way through (although Woodman died early on and Westcott had issues with Mathers' personality and the State's insistence that he withdraw from his occult involvement). Mathers' dedication needs to be appreciated, even if he was distracted by other matters, such as the Isis Mysteries, at varying times. He had huge character flaws, and these also need to be realised, but he was no demon. And before people think I'm actually writing an apologetic here (which I most certainly am not), he was no angel or saint either for that matter, but then neither was Westcott. Despite Mathers' genius he was paranoid, lacking in good judgement, and extremely egotistical and power-hungry. He was simultaneously the source of much excellence in the Order and much turmoil, and without him I cannot see the Order having survived as long as it had.

At the end of the day, Mathers was human, not a hero and not a villain, and no amount of contact with "Secret Chiefs" is going to change that. So, while I find myself disliking him sometimes as a person, and at times am forced to question his mental state, I like and value much of his work, and appreciate his great input to the Golden Dawn, which he rightly deserves credit for. But Westcott also deserves credit, and I think it has gone too long with everyone blowing Mathers' trumpet and not recognising that which Westcott contributed to the Golden Dawn. Just as it is popular now to see Westcott as the "true genius" of the Golden Dawn, it was for a long time (and still remains in many quarters) a popular view to see Mathers as the sole genius of this magical system. Like all things in the Golden Dawn, balance is key, and thus we must recognise the input of both men and attempt to avoid falling prey to extreme lauding or extreme loathing.
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