Mishkan ha-Echad

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Brief Histories of the Golden Dawn

The history of the Order of the Golden Dawn (in all its guises, both old and modern, orthodox and heterodox) is an intriguing affair for both the magician and the scholar. Like the history of many occult groups it is filled with scandal, secrecy, and sometimes a bit of sex to boot. It is also filled with magic, mystery, and the transmutation of gross matter into spiritual splendour, but that looks less appealing on the headlines and is often ignored in sensationalist accounts.

It has come to my attention that my blog lacks resources for those new to the Order in finding some of the basic elements of that history, a history which should be studied (regardless of depth) by every student of the system, given it provides some of the foundations upon which we work. Therefore, without further adieu, here are a few links that detail some of the Order's history. For more detailed information the books of R.A. Gilbert, Francis King, Ellic Howe, Ithell Colquhoun, Israel Regardie, and Mary K. Greer (and the pamphlets edited by Darcy Küntz) are worth acquiring (noting that many of the above are out of print, and therefore fetch a hefty price on the second-hand book market).

Firstly there is the History Lecture that was written by Westcott. It offers an interesting look at the Order, although it can hardly be classed as factual. Nevertheless, this is what many of the original members were presented with (and most likely believed):

http://www.hogd.co.uk/gdhistorylecture.htm

Below is an essay that the Ciceros wrote on the history of the Order, much of it included in their book, The Essential Golden Dawn (which I personally recommend to those who know little or nothing of the Order, its history, practices, and so forth). While some information is now outdated, I have yet to find a freely available essay on the history of the Order that is as clear and comprehensive:

http://www.hogd.co.uk/gd_history_ciceros.htm

Finally, another website I came across that has a detailed breakdown of the timeline:

http://www.vialarp.org/GD/background_5_detailed_gd_history.html

I would welcome that my readers suggest other websites and essays that deal with the history of the Order, and I may update this post to include them. In time it is hoped this will become a good resource for those interested in learning more, and therefore I ask that critical pieces (arguing for or against certain elements of the "accepted" history) be included, in the interest of truth and integrity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The indespensible work on the history of the Golden Dawn is Magicians of the Golden Dawn: a Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923 by Ellic Howe (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972; New York: Samuel Weiser, 1978).

Less historically accurate, but still worth reading, is Francis King's Ritual Magic in England (London: Neville Spearman, Ltd., 1970; reprinted as Modern Ritual Magic (Bridport, Dorset, UK: Prism Press, 1989; distributed in the USA by Prism Books).

The original Golden Dawn broke up in 1903. According to the historical evidence, the splinter groups formed by senior G.D. members (Dr. Felkin's and Yeats's Stella Matutina, Waite's Independent and Reformed Rite of the Golden Dawn) petered out by the 1920s.

None of the many G.D. revivial groups in existence today has any valid claim to being the original G.D., any more than the folks walking around calling themselves Druids have any continutity with the real Druids interviewed by Caesar. The applies in particular to the various groups founded or espoused by A. Crowley, who wasn't even admitted to the Second Order in London prior to the breakup, and was expelled from the main London temple after having been ejected from the premises by the leadership (with the help of a conastable) on 19 April 1900, but not before he had stolen "certain items of value".

Much of Crowley's mental furnature does not come from the Golden Dawn at all, but from the Hellfire Club's motto Fay ce que vouldras ("do what thou wilt") and from Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel (the fictional abbey at Thélème). No primary account of the breakup of the Golden Dawn agrees with Crowley's claim to have continued the order. And whatever Crowley's accomplishments, they did not include a Nobel Prize in Literature or a seat in the Irish Senate. The credibility of witness has to be taken into account. Finally, Crowley was the first G.D. oathbreaker, publishing its rituals in his Equinox newsletter, long before Israel Regardie decided to break his oath.

Regardie only belonged to Stella Matutina briefly during its final ebb. His writings add another layer of inaccuracy because of his tendency to psychologize (e.g., turning magic into meditation), to mix his own editorializings with original G.D. writings, and to inject other anachonistic materials. Yet is it is Regardies unscholarly and unauthoratative The Golden Dawn that forms the "Bible" of most contemporary G.D. groups.

Contemporary groups calling themselves "Golden Dawn" are re-craetors/re-enactors. So the question of authenticity boils down to how accurately they recreate the Golden Dawn rituals, organization, and zeitgeist. It's a tall order, because society has changed a great deal since 1903. If they take Regardie as a guide (born in 1907 -- four years after the G.D. broke up) they are certain to fail.

One also has to ask if the G.D. is worth recreating, since it was founded on a fraud and proved so inept at self-governance -- fatal flaws that led to the acrimonious schism in 1903.

It would make more sense to take what seems workable and leave the rest (the "Secret Chiefs", the habit of forging documents, etc.).

--M.