One of the GD blogs that I read, Mishkan Ha-Echad, today was talking about brief histories of Golden Dawn. So I thought that I would present here on my own blog, an attempt that I did a couple of years ago to compress the entirety of Golden Dawn history into just a couple of pages.
A Brief History of the Golden Dawn
The Order was founded in 1888 by Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a Master Mason and member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, with the help of two others, Samuel Liddell Mathers and Dr. William Robert Woodman. The inspiration for the Order came from a manuscript written in cipher that had came into Westcott’s possession. The Cipher Manuscript outlined a series of lodge rituals which Westcott fleshed out for his new Order.
Mystery surrounds the origin of the Cipher Manuscript. One of the most plausible theories is that it was written by Kenneth Mackenzie, the author of The Royal Masonic Encyclopedia. If Mackenzie was the source of the Cipher Manuscript, he probably meant it (the rituals) to be used by The Society of the Eight (another esoteric Order). Unfortunately, we will probably never know for sure if Mackenzie wrote the Cipher Manuscript. The mystery of the Cipher Manuscript would later play a role in the breakup of the Golden Dawn.
In late 1891, Woodman died, leaving just Westcott and Mathers. Due to the creation of an additional ritual (the Adept Minor [5=6]) by Mathers, and Westcott being forced to resign, the Order soon fall under the complete control of Mathers. This was not good for the Order. Mathers had moved to Paris, so he was ruling the Order from a distance. The membership started to became increasing dissatisfied with Mathers’ leadership, and the suggestion arose that perhaps it was time to disband the Order. Upon hearing this, Mathers alleged that part of the Cipher Manuscript (the pages that gave the Order its authority to operate) was a forgery by Westcott. This was the final straw for the members of the London lodge; they expelled Mathers, who in turn as Chief Adept said that they had no authority over him and expelled them.
From a historical viewpoint, this is the end of Golden Dawn. Twelve years and a little over three hundred members--yet Golden Dawn is the most influential esoteric group in modern history. In order to understand why one needs to remember that the Golden Dawn system didn’t come to an end when the remains of the Order abandoned the use of the “Golden Dawn” name. In reality, the Order split into several different Orders during the aftermath of “The Revolt of the Adepts.” The same thing would happen, after the death of Samuel Mathers in 1918, under the leadership of his wife Moina Mathers. The main divisions of importance were the Alpha et Omega, and the Stella Matutina. Golden Dawn material was also incorporated into the A.A. (Aliester Crowley’s organization--only members know what the name of his Order is), Builders of the Adytum (led by Paul Foster Case), and the Fraternity of the Hidden Light (formed by Dion Fortune). Ironically, it is not though the lineage of one of these Orders that the average student of occultism receive the teachings of Golden Dawn. Rather it though the work of Israel Regardie, an Adept Minor of the later Stella Matutina, that most people learn of the Golden Dawn and its practices.
Israel Regardie joined the Stella Matutina in 1933. Upon entering the Order, he was horrified to see the state of the Order; it was dying. The Chiefs seemed incompetent, and Order documents which were no longer understood were being removed from circulation. Believing that the system was about to be lost, Regardie decided to act. In 1937, he published the core documents of the tradition. There are many who villianify Regardie for revealing the tradition to the public, yet it was his actions that made Golden Dawn the most influential esoteric Order of modern times. Most applicants seeking out Golden Dawn do so after reading Regardie, or one of the writers that Regardie paved the way for; extremely rare is the member who makes contact without previous knowledge of the system.
Regardie’s publishing the material probably saved the tradition. By 1972, the tradition was dead in England; one offshoot lasted until 1978 in New Zealand before disbanding. Despite stories of unbroken lineage put forth by some groups, there is no evidence that supports such a claim; the facts are that all Golden Dawn descended groups either vastly changed the system, or went inactive before the 1980s.
The 1980s saw a revival of the system. In New Zealand, Jack Taylor (7=4) helped restart a branch of the tradition--some of his teachings making their way into print though the services of Pat Zalewski to benefit the greater tradition. Some of the papers of Frank Salt, another member of the same New Zealand branch, have made their way back into circulation among some of the newer lodges. And Israel Regardie helped initiate a new Golden Dawn lineage in the United States. Since then, the system has resurfaced in Europe, and found fertile ground in Canada and South America.
Today’s student needs to keep in mind that the tradition has recently been revived, and that no one holds Administrative Lineage tracing back to the original group. This fact tends to be unknown to (or ignored by) many of today’s seekers. A lot of Golden Dawn based groups today have no actual lineage at all; some only use the Golden Dawn name (their teachings having no basis on the original Golden Dawn material) to attract dues paying members. Fortunately for the student, the documents published by Regardie provide a baseline to judge what should be taught by a Golden Dawn based Outer Order, while Zalewski has published documents that serve the purpose for Inner Order.
What the future holds for the Golden Dawn tradition is uncertain. Can the Orders learn to get along, or will the mud-slinging continue? Can the new lineages survive or will they go extinct? What is certain is that the knowledge of Golden Dawn will continue to be important to students of the occult, thanks to the popularization of the Golden Dawn material by former and current students of the tradition.