Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reading the Sprengel Letters

[Author’s note: I originally started to write this entry in August 2010. The sections that I completed in August have not been changed.]

One of arguments about Golden Dawn that occasionally erupts is whether the Sprengel Letters that Westcott supposedly received from Fraulein Sprengel are legitimate. Given what ax you have to grind will depend on what way you swing.

The ax grinding started very early in the history of the Order. (Samuel Liddell) MacGregor Mathers, in the buildup to the Revolt of the Adepts, wrote to Florence Farr (February 1900) that “[Westcott] has never been at any time either in personal or in written communication with the Secret Chiefs of the Order, he having either forged or procured to be forged the professed correspondence between him and them, and my tongue having been tied all these years by a previous Oath of Secrecy to him, demanded by him, from me, before showing me what he had either done or caused to be done or both.” Mathers definitely had an ax to grind; he wanted sole control of the Order and feared that the members might chose to follow Westcott instead. And despite many who lay the argument that the Sprengel Letters are a forgery on Howe, a historian who had an ax to grind (he so wanted to create distance between Golden Dawn and his beloved Freemasonry), the truth is that one of Golden Dawn’s original three Co-Chiefs, later sole Chief, was the one to get the ball rolling on the possibility that Golden Dawn’s authority was bogus.

Dr. William Wynn Westcott (who originally shared rulership of the Order with Mathers and Dr. W. R. Woodford), basically refused to defend himself. His dilemma is obvious when you consider the following statement that Westcott gave investigative committee. “If I accepted this new story---Mrs. Woodford would rightly charge me with slandering her dead husband’s reputation, for he was answerable for the original history; and if I say [Mathers’] new story is wrong I shall be open to violent attack by him and I shall have to suffer his persecution.” Does he slander the dead and possibly gets sued, or does he call his former friend a liar and possibly gets sued or worse. (I am not sure how to read “violent attack”---is it physical violence, legal troubles, power struggles and nasty rumors, or good old-fashioned curses that Westcott wants to avoid?)

The investigating committee decided that the Sprengel Letters were legitimate, or at least they found no clear evidence of fraud (in fact, Westcott’s translator and a clerk at the Sanitary Wood Wool seemed to verify Westcott’s story). One probably should not trust the opinion of the investigating committee…after all, they would soon expel Mathers, the very Head of their Order, from the system that he helped flesh out. The revolting Adepts had their own ax to grind. Later Mathers would apologize to Westcott for making the accusation when the chickens started to come home to roost in his own barn and Crowley was busy taking an ax to him.

None of internal Order drama actually answers the question of whether or not the Sprengel Letters are real or forgeries. Periodically, various Golden Dawn authorities have weighed in on the question. Depending upon your particular agenda, you either listen to them or ignore them. Howe, who has been clothed as the third murderer (along with Crowley and Regardie), was just the latest loud mouth. (Yes, a Shakespeare joke---and not a very good one either. Can you figure out how serious I think the whole matter is?)

So what are the Sprengel Letters? They are a series of letters supposedly written to W. W. Westcott from Fraulein Sprengel, an Adept living in Germany. Her address was claimed to have been found among the leaves of the Cipher Manuscript, the outline of the Outer Order rituals of the Golden Dawn. They were (allegedly) written in German and translated into English (for the record, I have never seen the German version of the letters, only the English translations). While the Cipher Manuscript is the DNA of the Outer Order rituals, the Sprengel Letters is the divine authority given for the quickening of the Order; quite simply, the authority for Isis-Urania #3 is contained in the Sprengel Letters.

More specifically, Sprengel was the Greatly Honored Soror Sapiens Dominabitur Astris 7=4…the person who become the mythical Chief and main signer (In Absentia) of the Warrant of the Isis-Urania #3.

(It should be noted that Mathers believed GH Honored SDA was an American. It would be interesting to know why he even thought that was possible considering that the Hermetic tradition is native to Europe, and is just a lowly import over the pond. We are always told to look towards Europe and the East; the Americans have always been considered upstarts. Yet Mathers thought that an American was either the original SDA and the Sprengel Letters a fraud, or that an American was capable of channeling the dead spirit of SDA and as such was capable of empowering him to run rough-shod over the members of his rebellious Order. Either way, there are a lot of unanswered questions here…most seem to call Mathers’ judgment into question.)

Now, over the years, some nonsense has attached itself to the Letters. One well-known bit is that Fraulein Sprengel’s first name was Anna. Her first name is not mentioned in the Letters. Anna is not actually Fraulein Sprengel’s first name. Rather Anna is the first name of someone who might have been her niece. Dr. Felkin (during his search for the Secret Order behind Golden Dawn) stumbled upon an Anna Sprengel, whom he thought was Fraulein Sprengel’s niece; maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. Either way, the name Anna became connected by rumor and mis-accounts to the good Fraulein. (Personally, I would like to start a rumor that her great-great grand-nephew is named Egon, can I do that?)

Another bit of nonsense is that a bogus set of Letters means that the Golden Dawn is a bogus Order. If the Letters are forgeries, it merely means that the Letters are forgeries and nothing more. The rituals and techniques of the Order work---and isn’t that all that really matters today?

Of course, the biggest piece of nonsense is that if the Letters are real, then that modern lodges should submit on bended knee to the Secret Order whose material found its way into the Cipher Manuscript, either directly or to its chosen representative. To this, I answer---there is not a chance that will happen. The students of Golden Dawn have been left to their own devices for far too long. Either Golden Dawn and Isis-Urania #3 never had any actual connection with the original Secret Order (if the Letters are fake) or (if the Letters are real) the original Secret Order wanted nothing to do with us until we became a resource that could be used by them. It does not matter. Both possibilities lead to the fact that the original Secret Order did not contribute to the birth of what we know as Golden Dawn beyond misplacing an outline of the rituals. At best, the Secret Order is like the donor at a sperm bank; at worst, they are the absentee dad that shows up looking to borrow your car and money despite never contributing to your upbringing.

Now, a word needs to be said about my approach to the Sprengel Letters. I am both a Literature and History major. I am also a journalist, creative writer, and a blogger. As such, sooner or later, you will be informed that I am not the type of expert that can give you an unbiased opinion about the Letters. In other words, do not believe a word that I say. Especially considering that I am going to treat the Letters the same way that I am going to treat any other text. I assume that everything said in the Letters was written for a purpose. And it does not matter whether the Letters are forgeries or not---everything that we need to know is contained within the Letters themselves. It does not matter whether William Wynn Westcott or Fraulein Sprengel wrote the Letters---what matters is that they are the creation of an author who had a purpose and reason for writing the Letters and that purpose can be discovered though an analysis of the Letters themselves.

[Author’s note: All of the preceding was actually completed by 10 August 2010. What follows this note was completed on November 13, 2010.]

[The text of the Sprengel Letters can be found in The Golden Dawn Sourcebook assembled by Darcy Kuntz.]

Letter One (November 1887)

In this first letter, we first hear from Fraulein Sprengel. She [the creator of the letter, whoever they really are] claims that the Cipher Manuscript was once in the possession of “poor Abbe Constant” [Eliphas Levi] who lost the Manuscript, then “came into the hands of two Englishmen who applied to use them.” Sprengel says that she knows nothing useful that came of that attempt [Hermanubis]. Then she proceeds to “raise” Westcott to the 7=4 Grade of the Second Order.

“Begin a new Temple No. 3 and choose two learned persons to form the first three Chiefs; when you have raised three more adepts to 5=6 you may be independent.”

Sprengel then goes on to lament the state of the Hermetic Science in her time, noting that even in Germany that their membership is low; despite this the German adepts possess much power.

“[W]e mistrust posts and letters, so cannot help or tell you very much.”

Then Sprengel tells Westcott that she can be reached though the Lodge of Light, Love, and Life [Licht, Liebe, und Leben], and that Frater ‘In Utroque Fidelis’ is her secretary.

The importance of this first letter is that it establishes the lineage of Isis-Urania #3, and gives Westcott and his partners the authority to run it. Interestingly enough, there is no mention in the Cipher Manuscript that understanding the Manuscript is enough to gain the authority to start a lodge of the system. Nor is there any mention that Sprengel, who is 7=4 (or Chief Adept), has the authority to charter a new lodge. It is especially important to note that Westcott is “raised” to the Grade of 7=4---he has not been though the ceremonies of the system. Whoever wrote the Sprengel letters is already busy establishing the fact that no aid is going to be given to Temple #3, and that it is going to be independent of the German Order.

Letter Two (January 1888)

Sprengel authorizes Westcott to sign her motto “to any papers which are necessary to carry out my wishes as to forming Temples and carrying on the work of the Order of the G. D.”

The importance of this short letter is that it grants Westcott the right to sign “Sapiens Dominabitur Astris” to any papers that he considers necessary to spread the Order. Interestingly enough, there was no indication in the earlier letter that Sprengel was authorizing, or even desiring, more than a single lodge to form.

Letter Three (February 1888)

Sprengel tells Westcott that she is pleased with his progress, and instructs him that “all reports and questions come from you only.” In addition, she mentions sending some pages possessed by A.N.V.T. [Eliphas Levi], and that another Frater ‘Igne’ had died in Naples.

The importance of this letter is that Westcott is officially made the gatekeeper and sole messenger that the members of Isis-Urania may funnel their concerns though. It is interesting that a Frater of the Order is mentioned to have died; either the Order does not possess a functioning Philosopher’s Stone and Elixir or Frater Igne was not of sufficient Grade to partake of it.

Letter Four (September 1888)

Sprengel sends her regrets about not being able to attend the upcoming Equinox ritual. She mentions that she might send some Adept papers to Westcott soon.

This letter can be used to argue that Sprengel was a fake and an excuse had to be made for her non-attendance, or it can be used to argue that Westcott (and not Mathers) was her chosen Adept who was to open up the Second Order for her; it all depends upon whether or not you believe that Sprengel actually existed. [By the way, the Equinox ritual is not contained in the Cipher Manuscript---it is a creation of the new Order.]

Letter Five (August 1889)

The only letter (or rather draft copy) that has survived from Westcott to Sprengel mentions that “the two fraters whom I chose to be Chiefs by your order, have continued to work hard at the Order and the teaching of others.” Westcott asks that the title of 7=4 be granted to them, along with permission to grant Grades up to the 5=6.

This letter asks for Mathers and Woodman to become 7=4 (again, no rituals have been undergone for these Grades) with the authority to pass on the Grades up to 5=6. There is a problem with this letter; on the Warrant for the Isis-Urania (dated March 1888), Mathers and Woodman are already listed (under their mottos) as being 7=4s.

Letter Six (October 1889)

Sprengel is pleased at the pace of instruction and that four of the members “have attained the necessary knowledge to enable them to be elevated to the next Order.” She also is pleased that the three Chiefs are “nominated Adepti 5=6.”

“Consequently I award you according to agreement an Independent Authority.”

She wishes them luck, and mentions sending “some old manuscript secrets and some very old heavenly symbols and drawings used in the different Orders.”

This letter is important because with it, Isis-Urania Temple #3 no longer is answerable to the European Mother Order; they are independent.

Letter Seven (December 1889, received in March 1890)

The Grades of Adeptus Exemptus 7=4 are “in due form conferred” upon Westcott, Woodman and Mathers. (Again, there is no indication that any ritual has been performed to complete this advancement.)

The three Fraters are also given the “full power to control” all the Grades of the Outer Order and the 5=6 and 6=5 of the Second Order.

The importance of this letter is once again to emphasize the fact that the Isis-Urania is independent and not answerable to the European parent body.

Letter seven (August 1890)

Frater Ex Uno Disce Omnes writes to Westcott to inform him that Sprengel is dead, and that her secretary has to stop his studies and turn to business.

Here comes the cherry on top as far as I am concerned:

“I ought to tell you that permission to perform ceremonies in large Lodges, as you are doing, was given by S.D.A. against the wishes of other Chiefs, and they will not correspond with you, or help you any more at present, until they find out how this change affects the Order. A few more 5 and 6 papers may be sent to you. I enclose my card for your own use only.”

If there is any doubts that the members of Isis-Urania #3 are on their own, they are told outright that the parent Order wants nothing to do with them until they prove to be useful to the parent Order. Nevertheless, Westcott is still given a pipeline to another 7=4 with the possibility of more information forthcoming, but only though him (not Mathers).

Overall, the seven letters establish the fact that the English branch of the Golden Dawn has lineage, authority, and is independent. Furthermore, Westcott is to be the membership’s sole contact with the Mother Lodge (which is the only lodge other than them to exist). Whether you believe that the Sprengel Letters are fake or real, the end result is the same: An independent Order with Westcott (and not Mathers) at its head and no hope of further information except what Westcott provides. Therefore, it does not matter who the actual creator of the Sprengel Letters is, nor does it matter if they are real or not---the end result was purposely moved towards no matter who wrote the letters. If it was Westcott, he justified his ultimate authority over the Order; if it was members of a Germanic Order, then they placed Westcott solely in the position of ultimate trust.


dirkt said...

there is a copy of the "german" original of the second sprengel letter in gilbert's "revelations of the golden dawn". sadly, the handwriting is so illegible, that i can't decipher a single complete sentence. however, from what i can decipher… it's baaaad german.

"…zur Formierung von Associationen zur Ausführung für Ihre Arbeit Ihres Ordens G.D."

no german speaking person will construct such a sentence. grammatically horrible and uses all the wrong words. like someone picking them from a dictionary. "Asssociationen" is spelled wrong. should be with a "z "not "c".

if i put that right, it would probaby read like this:

"…weitere Assosziationen zu formen und die Arbeit Ihres Ordens G.D fortzsetzen."

still a bit awkward, but ok. it was 1888 ;)

wescott translated it, as ".. to forming temples and carrying on the work of the order."

if i translate that back into proper modern german, i get ".. weitere Tempel zu bilden und die Arbeit des Ordens fortzusetzen."

the dating of the letter is also wrong. in german you would write it in d/m/y format, not m/d/y.

dirkt said...

so…. managed to decipher the handwriting completely, with a little help of a friend:


Zu dem Frater „Non Omnis Moriar“

Ich gebe Ihnen die Bevollmächtigung mein Motto "Sapiens Dom. Ast" an irgend ein Papier zu zeichnen zur Nothwendigkeit um meine Wünsche nachzukommen zur Formierung von Associationen & zur Ausführung für die Arbeit des Ordens G.D.

Ihr ganz ergebener Sap. Dom. Ast."

there is absolutly no doubt that this letter was composed by someone with only rudimentary knowledge of german, as any german speaking person will testify to. syntax is all wrong. word endings are wrong in several cases. words are used, that are uncommon in german. letter salutation is wrong. dating format is wrong.

in propper german, the letter should have looked like this:

"25. Jan. 1888

Sehr geehrter Frater „Non Omnis Moriar“,

hiermit bevollmächtige ich Sie, alle etwaig nötigen Dokumente mit meinem Motto "Sapiens Dom. Ast" gegenzuzeichnen, um meinen Wünschen bezüglich der Neugründung weiterer Tempel nachzukommen und die Arbeit des Ordens G.D. fortzusetzen.

Ihre ganz ergebene Sap. Dom. Ast"

can't really understand why even in 1888 there should have been any doubt left, that the letters are forgeries. and not very good ones as that. couldn't have been too difficult, just to ask someone who speaks german fluently.

but.. totally agree with you, that this fact doesn't devaluate the GD system as such. wescott & co. just considered it necessary to invent a kind of legitimation for their new order at this time, as many of their contemporaries would have deemd the whole order and it's techings a fraud, if it couldn't kind of "proof" an unbroken connection to the past.

Solitary Dawn said...

Well, I am a native German speaker and what I can say is that it reads like older German as it was used in teh time the letters were supposed to be written. Also the spelling is a valid spelling back in that time. As a lawyer I am used to read texts from way back, so I am used to the way üpeople wrote in the olden times. So talking about the wording, this is not a valid reason to say the letters were not written by a native German speaker. - I should point out thought that this does not mean that they were written by a German though.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

That is one of the reasons that I prefer to look at what the letters are saying from a literary viewpoint. While I do not know who wrote the letters, I do know that they were trying to accomplish something with them---my job as a literary scholar is to try to figure out what that goal really was.

dirkt said...

@solitary dawn

gimme a break…. "…zur nohtwendigkeit um meine wünsche nachzukommen.." or "zu dem frater" (especially this one indicates an english writer -to the frater-)
concerning the spelling, you are right. my mistake. "notwendigkeit" was indeed spelled with an "h", as i see it, but that would be no issue, assuming they were taken from a dictionary. but the syntax is all mixed up and cases are wrong. i also have several german books and private correspondences, that a dating back to the 1890/1900s and not one of them did such a slaughter to the language. it's not the way at all, literate people wrote in the "olden times" in good old germany. indeed, it was not much different from modern german wording at all.

another interesting point is, that mr. griffin stated "The letters instead appear written in completely correct Sutterline German entirely consistent with the period.", pointing to his his own experience as a trained germanist, when the letter i cited is actually written in a mix of german kurrent script that was common at the time mixed with latin script and not in sutterlin at all, which was developed only in 1911 and did not become common before 1920.

dirkt said...

if the letters were written in the 18th century or earlier, i would certainly agree with you that not only orthography, but syntax would be much different. but not in the late 19th century.

to give you an example concernig syntax, here is a german letter from 1886:


"Breslau, 21. August 1886

Hochgeehrter Herr,

Die Ehre, die mir durch die Erwählung zum correspondirenden Mitglied der physikalisch-mathematischen Klasse der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Theil wurde, hat mich hoch beglückt. Diese Auszeichnung von Seiten der hervorragendsten Forscher giebt mir die wohlthuende Gewähr, daß meine Bemühungen, der Wissenschaft zu nützen, doch nicht ganz vergebliche gewesen sind. Wollen Sie die Güte haben, den Mitgliedern der mathematisch-physikalischen Klasse meinen innigsten Dank übermitteln zu wollen. 
Mit größter Hochachtung zeichne ich 
Ihr ergebenster 
M. Traube"
so… assuming that the german language did not undergo a radical change to the worse within merely 2 years and assuming, that mrs. sprengel was no imbecile, there is not much difference to modern german syntax at all. bit more formal and archaic, but far from the gibberish of the sprengel letter. only the spelling differs for some words.

here a more informal letter to a friend from the same website:

"Breslau 10.5.75.
Lieber Freund!
Endlich ein Lebenszeichen von Ihnen! Ich freue mich, daß Sie wieder wohlauf sind u. hoffe, daß Sie mir keine Vorwürfe machen werden, nicht mit bei der Parthie gewesen zu sein.
Wie gern hätte ich die Reise mitgemacht! Aber es ging wieder einmal nicht. Die Reise nach Ungarn konnte nicht verschoben werden, und dann waren nebenbei Vorbereitungen für die Hochzeit meiner Anna nöthig, Herstellung der Wohnung in moderne ... usw., - Beschäftigungen, die mich auch jetzt noch vielfach in Anspruch nehmen.
Kommen Sie doch jedenfalls zu Pfingsten her. Sie würden uns Alle sehr erfreuen. Beste Grüße von
Ihrem M. Traube"
as another example, here the 1880 edition of Duden's Vollständiges Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache.ändiges_Orthographisches_Wörterbuch_der_deutschen_Sprache?uselang=de

Andrew Sweeney said...

Late comment but better than never...

Mathers did exactly what a narcissist does: he portrayed himself as the victim (of Westcott, in this case).

Westcott did exactly what a coroner does: he deliberated.

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a narcissist's vengeance will understand what Westcott meant by "violent attack."

Mathers used Crowley as his rescuer to try to pay back the Golden Dawn for their disobedience. Later, when Crowley also became independent of him, he ended up vilifying Crowley too. Again, this is typical narcissistic behaviour.