It’s a story as old as time: 3 strapping chaps find an old manuscript (in cipher) hidden in the shelves of an old bookstore which outlines rituals for a secret magical Rosicrucian society originating in Germany, and gives a contact address. They contact this aged adept, Fraulein Sprengel and she gives them permission to open a lodge in England. (Thus far complete bullshit)
They open said lodge, begin magical training and become an overnight sensation in the quite prominent and virile secret lodge scene of late 19th century London (true). After 12 years, inflated egos led to a series of bitchy, catty in fighting that would make a teen drama seem positively refined and eventually the group splintered and crumbled leaving nonetheless a well designed system of esoteric study and ritual that would influence the next century tremendously.
See? Simple. Now for the dirty details.
The Cipher Manuscripts are real and are a series of 60 folios outlining a series of magic rituals and a syllabus of graded courses which cover most aspects of the Western Magic tradition, including tarot, qabalah, astrology, geomancy, divination, etc. The 3 strapping chaps, Mathers, Woodman and Westcott were all Masons and the manuscript was almost certainly penned by an extraordinarily brilliant English magician and esotericist named Kenneth Mackenzie.
Mackenzie drafted the manuscripts in an attempt to begin his own society years before, but alas, despite his immense intelligence and life long dedication to the esoteric, he had a serious drinking problem, was intensely difficult to get along with, and couldn’t manage a group well enough to make a sandwich.
Upon Mackenzie’s death, his manuscript passed on to Westcott. It were indeed written in a cipher, which Westcott uncoded easily enough. He brought in Mathers and Woodman and the three took the rituals and materials and refined them into an operational system of teaching and practice.
The bullshit about the German adept and ancient Rosicrucian line was actually par for course. Every Freemason lodge on the block was inventing new “degrees” and rituals for its members to undergo (after all, once you’ve had the fun of doing all original 3 degrees, what are you supposed to do then?) and all these new degrees were always (ALWAYS) packaged with some creative story about ancient legacy, hidden teachings carried secretly down throughout the years, yaddah yaddah yaddah. The story is part of the theater which makes the ritual fun and interesting.
In fact, if i have one bone to pick, i can never forgive Freemasonry with subjecting me to an endless dribble of bullshit regarding the fucking Knights Templar. Seriously. I cannot bear one more idiotic piece of wackery which incorporates the bloody Knights Templar into it’s stupid trough of horseshit. The Knights Templar were indeed a footnote in history until the mid 1700s, when some bored Freemasons, needing some new rituals for their lodge (and wishing to find a French link for Jacobite propaganda, but this gets needlessly convoluted for now) dug up the Knights Templar and created some new, cool rituals around the story that they had been guarding some big secret and their fall was part of some vast conspiracy (instead of the simple fact that King Philip IV of France was a greedy douchebag. Seriously people, when given a choice between far fetched conspiracy and greedy douchbags, it’s usually the greedy douchebags).
This type of thing, that is, finding some hidden ancient document which happened to contained some awesome new masonry rituals and a deep, meaningful, nail biting backstory, was how you did it back in the heady days when secret societies were a major form of recreation. So Westcott, Mathers and Woodman creating some backstory is actually nothing particularly shocking.
It was Mathers who was the real genius at creating a coherent system of instruction and degrees, and first a 10 step graded system of instruction and ceremonial practices was developed. Then, by careful instruction by “the Secret Chiefs’ (you know, the group of enlightened illuminated former spiritual people who exist on a plane beyond our own and offer advice to those capable of contacting them ) made up 2 more Orders of various steps and grades for more advanced knowledge and rituals. Because, once again, without a good back story, “Hey look, i came up with some more awesome shit to do on Thursday nights!” just doesn’t cut it.
By the mid 1890s the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a rousing success with temples in London, Paris and even several American cities.
But Woodman died, and Westcott, a coroner, was forced to resign after his superiors at the Home Office found out he was involved in such shocking shenanigans, and Mathers… well… Mathers, like Mackenzie before him, was a bit of a shmuck. And thus came the even more fascinating days of catty infighting.
Tune in tomorrow, when we feature said bitchy little squabbles AND, at no extra cost, Aleister Crowley, the irritating little pompous junkie who for some unexplainable reason causes either douchebags who love black lighting to fap themselves deliriously over him or hard core Christians to feed his overhyped notoriety by shoveling hysteria and superstitiously melodramatic wankery at his fading image.