Golden Dawn, Hermetic Order of the
Fountainhead of the modern revival of ceremonial magic.
As a secret order it attracted some of the most interesting and
talented personalities of its time, including poet William Butler
Yeats, Annie Horniman (who sponsored the Abbey Theatre,
Dublin), Florence Farr (mistress of G. B. Shaw), S. L. MacGregor
Mathers, Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, A. E.
Waite, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Violet Firth,
and many others.
The order dated from the discovery in 1887 of a cipher
manuscript, bought from a bookstall in Farringdon Road, London,
by William Wynn Westcott. He was a coroner and a member
of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (Rosicrucian Society
of Freemasons). Westcott deciphered the manuscript, which
contained a series of mystical rituals. With the aid of his occultist
friend MacGregor Mathers, these rituals were expanded and
systematized. Also among the pages of the manuscript was a
slip of paper with the address of Fräulein Anna Sprengel, a
Rosicrucian adept living in Germany.
Reportedly, Westcott corresponded with Sprengel, who authorized
him to found an English branch of the occult society
Die Goldene Dämmerung (The Golden Dawn). It has been suggested,
however, that Sprengel did not exist and that Westcott
Goldberg, Bruce Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
fabricated the correspondence to establish the new secret
The Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden
Dawn was established in London in 1888, with Westcott,
Mathers, and W. R. Woodman (another occultist Freemason) as
chiefs. Between 1888 and 1896 the Osiris Temple was formed
at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; the Horus Temple at Bradford,
Yorkshire; the Amen-Ra Temple at Edinburgh, Scotland;
and the Ahathoor Temple in Paris. A total of 315 initiations
took place during this period.
The Golden Dawn consisted of ten main grades, associated
with the symbolism of the Kabala zelator 10°=100°, theoricus
20°=90°, practicus 30°=80°, philosophus 40°=70°, adeptus
minor 50°=60°, adeptus major 60°=50°, adeptus exemptus
70°=40°, magister templi 80°=30°, magus 90°=20°, and ipsissimus
Selected candidates who passed the adeptus minor grade
might qualify for admission to a secret second order—the Ordo
Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (Order of the Red Rose and
Cross of Gold). Behind the second order loomed the so-called
secret chiefs, equivalent to the fabled mahatmas of the Theosophical
Society. These chiefs might be contacted on the astral
The complex rituals of the order were partially revealed in
the journal The Equinox by Aleister Crowley, who joined the
Golden Dawn in November 1898 and left early in 1900. A more
detailed record of the teaching, rites, and ceremonies was later
published by Israel Regardie in four volumes (1937–40).
Although the rituals of the Golden Dawn were little more
than a rather complicated Freemasonry embroidered with occult
symbolism, the special studies related to them developed
the individual’s insight into occultism and mysticism. The
poet W. B. Yeats placed a high value on his magic studies with
the order and once wrote, ‘‘If I had not made magic my constant
study I could not have written a single word of my Blake
book, nor would The Countess Kathleen have ever come to exist.’’
Yeats played a prominent part in a conflict with Aleister
Crowley, who tried to take over the London lodge in 1900.
Crowley was expelled from the Golden Dawn, and Yeats took
charge of the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis and also became
imperator of the Isis-Urania Temple Outer Order. Crowley
eventually founded his own order (the A?A?) in 1905, using
material he had first encountered in the Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn continued to fragment as leadership of
the various branches changed hands and new orders were
formed. Several Golden Dawn offshoots are still in existence;
possibly the most substantive is the Los Angeles–based Builders
of the Adytum. In addition several new groups have organized,
in part to offer an alternative to the magic practiced in those
groups that derive from Aleister Crowley.
Colquhoun, Ithell. The Sword of Wisdom MacGregor Mathers
and the Golden Dawn. New York G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975.
Gilbert, Robert A. The Golden Dawn Twilight of the Magicians.
Wellingborough, England Aquarian Press, 1983.
Harper, George Mills. Yeats’s Golden Dawn. New York Macmillan,
Howe, Ellic. The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. London,
King, Francis. Astral Projection, Ritual Magic & Alchemy Being
Hitherto Unpublished Gold Dawn Material. London Neville
Spearman, 1971.
———. Ritual Magic in England (1887 to the Present Day).
London, 1970.
Regardie, Israel. The Golden Dawn. 4 vols. Chicago Aries
Press, 1937–40. Reprint, St. Paul, Minn. Llewellyn Publications,
———. What You Should Know About the Golden Dawn. Phoenix
Falcon Press, 1983.
Roberts, Marie. British Poets and Secret Societies. Totowa, N.J.
Barnes & Noble, 1986.
S.M.R.D., Frater, et al. The Secret Workings of the Golden
Dawn Book ‘‘T’’ the Tarot. Cheltenham, England Helios Book
Service, 1967.
Torrens, Robert George. The Inner Teachings of the Golden
Dawn. London Neville Spearman, 1969.
———. Secret Rituals of the Golden Dawn. Wellingborough,
England Aquarian Press, 1973.
Wang, Robert. An Introduction of the Golden Dawn Tarot. New
York Samuel Weiser, 1978.
Wang, Robert, and Chris Zalewski. Z-Five Secret Teachings of
the Golden Dawn. St. Paul, Minn. Llewellyn Publications, 1991.
Zalewski, Patrick J. Golden Dawn Enochian Magic. St. Paul,
Minn. Llewellyn Publications, 1990.
———. Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn. Phoenix
Falcon Press, 1988.