Ayton, W(illiam) A(lexander) (1816–1909)
Modern alchemist and member of the famous Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn occult society. He was born April
28, 1816, in London, England, and was educated at Charterhouse
School (then in London) and Trinity Hall, Cambridge
(matriculating 1837; Latin Prize Essay, 1838–39; B.A., 1841).
He was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1841
and became a clergyman two years later. After serving in variEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Ayton, W(illiam) A(lexander)
135
ous country parishes, he was appointed vicar of Chacombe,
Northamptonshire, in 1873.
Ayton was a Freemason and Theosophist as well as a member
of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia before becoming
one of the early members of the Golden Dawn in July 1888 at
the age of 72, together with his wife. He took the magical motto
Virtute Orta Occident Rarius (Those that rise by virtue rarely
fall), his wife, Anne, took Soror Quam Potero Adjutabo (I will
help as much as I can).
Ayton was a good Latin scholar, a firm believer in the Mahatmas
of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, as well as gnomes and
elementals. With his wife, he had been a secret practitioner of
alchemy for many years and claimed to have rediscovered the
elixir of life. The poet W. B. Yeats, also a Golden Dawn member,
described Ayton as ‘‘the most panic-stricken person’’ he
had known. Presumably as an elderly clergyman, pursuing secret
researches in occultism and alchemy, Ayton was fearful of
being discovered by his Church superiors. He also had obsessive
fears about being under threat of occult attack from Jesuits,
whom he designated the ‘‘Black Brethren.’’ Yeats apparently
regarded Ayton with friendly but amused skepticism. In his
book The Trembling of the Veil (1922), Yeats wrote
‘‘This old man took me aside that he might say—‘I hope you
never invoke spirits—that is a very dangerous thing to do. I am
told that even the planetary spirits turn upon us in the end.’ I
said, ‘Have you ever seen an apparition’ ‘O, yes, once,’ he said.
‘I have my alchemical laboratory in a cellar under my house
where the Bishop cannot see it. One day I was walking up and
down there when I heard another footstep walking up and
down beside me. I turned and saw a (1707) from Latin into English.
He also transcribed a number of alchemi girl I had been
in love with when I was a young man, but she died long ago.
She wanted me to kiss her. O no, I would not do that.’ ‘Why
not’ I said. ‘O she might have got power over me.’ ‘Has your
alchemical research had any success’ I said. ‘Yes, I once made
the elixir of life. A French alchemist said it had the right smell
and the right colour’ (the alchemist may have been Éliphas
Lévi) ‘but the first effect of the elixir is that your nails fall out
and your hair falls off. I was afraid that I might have made a
mistake and that nothing else might happen, so I put it away
on a shelf. I meant to drink it when I was an old man, but when
I got it down the other day it had all dried up.’ ’’
Between 1886 and 1905 Ayton conducted an extensive correspondence
with fellow Golden Dawn member F. L. Gardner.
These letters, which contain valuable sidelights on occultism
and Golden Dawn personalities, were published by Ellic Howe
as The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn; The Letters of the Revd W. A.
Ayton to F. L. Gardner and Others, 1886–1905.
In 1890 Ayton officiated at the marriage of Moina Bergson
to S. L. MacGregor Mathers, both of whom played a key part
in the history of the Golden Dawn. When A. E. Waite reorganized
the GD in 1903, Ayton was a senior adept of the Second
Order and was coopted as a co-chief. In 1908 Ayton translated
Dr. Thomas Smith’s Life of John Dee (1707) from Latin into English.
He also transcribed a number of alchemical texts and
Golden Dawn papers.
In his later years, Ayton retired to East Grinstead, Sussex,
on a small pension, then to Saffron Walden, Hertfordshire,
where he died January 1, 1909, at the age of 92.
Sources
Howe, Ellic, ed. The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn The Letters
of the Revd W. A. Ayton to F. L. Gardner and Others, 1886–1905.
Wellingborough, U.K. Aquarian Press, 1985.

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