By the late 1890s The Golden Dawn was the premiere occult society in England. Their membership included all classes of Victorian society and they had no qualms admitting women, which was a very big deal in those days. It offered a complete course in the study and practice of the western occult tradition and ceremonial magic.
However, it was doomed.
Once two out of the 3 founding members were gone (one died and the other resigned once his superiors discovered his strange little hobby oh dressing up in robes and sashes, performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and say the Opening of the Watchtower and from there any number of rituals designed to effect the upper spiritual levels with mirror-like symbolic actions and words performed on the lower material level. As he had a government job, you could see how his superiors may be slightly put off by… well the presence of anything un-mediocre really, much less this level of bizarity).
And thus after 1897 Mathers was solely in control. Which was bad as Mathers, despite brilliant skills regarding the creation of curriculum and rituals, was a very lousy leader, with horrendous organizational skills and a nasty temper. There were numerous personality clashes and Mathers was often away fussing about with other lodges outside London and England.
Another point of contention involved The Secret Chiefs. Yes, that body of transcendental spiritual authorities offereing wisdom and direction to the few spiritually advanced mortals capably of contacting them. It was Blavatsky who put this idea on the map and Mathers claimed most of the more advanced rituals and knowledge for the Inner Orders of the Golden Dawn came directly from The Secret Chiefs.
By the time many of the Golden Dawn members had been around for years and had advanced up the grade ladder significantly, it was only natural that they too wanted to meet said secret chiefs. You will of course be shocked to hear that Mathers would have none of that. Only he was to be in contact until such point as he decided otherwise. And thus the cauldron bubbled.
And now comes Aleister Crowley. However, before we get into that drama i would point out one little bit of interest. Crowley, a few years after the events we’re discussing here, claims to have made contact with The Secret Chiefs. He gained a mentor, an inter-dimensional Secret Chief who guided him in various ways. Crowley made a sketch of him. The sketch of this interdimensional being looks exactly like one of the Greys, that is the Grey Aliens who would DECADES later become a phenomenon.
So, late 1890s a young energetic Aleister Crowley comes knocking on the door of The Golden Dawn, wanting to get involved. And involved he got. He was a rising star and his enthusiasm for ritual magic was enormous. Mathers loved him and Crowley, always the oppurtunist, cozied up to him. Everyone else unfortunately thought he was a dick.
Thus Crowley was denied entrance into one of the higher grades. Mathers overrode this decision (by sending Crowley to a Paris branch to be initiated then sending him back with the proper grade so he had to be accepted) and finally the shit hit the fan.
By 1903 The Golden Dawn split into 3 groups. Alpha et Omega, the one led by Mathers (with Crowley beside him) was the smallest. Arther Edward Waites (A.E. Waites, creator of the single most recognized tarot deck in existance) led The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn which embraced Christian mysticism quite strongly and the Stella Matutina which Israel Regardie was a member of decades later.
Waites Christian oriented group didn’t have the same appeal and closed down in 1914.
The Stella Matutina had troubles first when it’s founder Robert Felkin moved to New Zealand (starting a temple there) and then the new head of the London branch converted to Fundamentlist Christianity. However it still managed to stick around until just before WWII and two of the branches survived, Bristol until 1960 and finally the New Zealand branch until 1978.
As for Mathers and Crowley… two unchecked egos cannot occupy the same space. Crowley began boasting that he was superior magician to Mathers. Mathers, pissed off, sent an astral vampire to attack Crowley. Crowley responded by sending “an army of demons led by Beelzebub”. They battled for a bit, pissed off everyone in the Golden Dawn, and then exhausted went their seperate ways.
So Mathers ended up with his Holy Order, but died in 1918. The Order hung on a bit after his death, but when Mather’s wife died 10 years later, that was that. The Order dissolved.
Crowley of course went on to publish all the Golden Dawn material he could, including most of the rituals. Much of Mather’s work he published as his own. Crowley eventually channeled the god Horus who dictated to him The Book of the Law, the book which outlines the new religion of Thelema.
Crowley, assigned to be Thelema’s prophet never did get anywhere with it and for all his talk about his great abilities and the power of his mighty Will, he alienated almost everyone he came into contact with and died a broke heroin addict.
In his later life one of his few students and devotees included Gerald Gardner who later went on to found Wicca and Wiccan sexual rituals are almost identical to Crowley’s sex magic techniques.
And there you have it. The rise and fall of The Golden Dawn. Much can be made over the fact that for a system designed ultimately to help one spiritually progress to more enlightened and holy levels there was noteably little of that to be found, although one can argue the same of just about any religion. The Golden Dawn is however NOT a religion and while it is at odds with many branches of Chritstianity (Christianity being opposed to magic) many members have been Christian and indeed it and especially later occultists such as Dion Fortune are indeed quite embracing of aspects of Christian theology, in a way, however, a bit askew from what many branches of the religion would find tolerable.
Other aspects we’ll touch on tomorrow in our last post in this series when we discuss just what the hell TGD DID and what’s up with all this anyway.