Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
TypeMagical organization
Chiefs of the Second Order

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Latin: Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae), more commonly the Golden Dawn (Aurora Aurea), was a secret society devoted to the study and practice of occult Hermeticism and metaphysics during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as a magical order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active in Great Britain and focused its practices on theurgy and spiritual development. Many present-day concepts of ritual and magic that are at the centre of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca[1] and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn, which became one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.[a][b]

The three founders, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell Mathers, were Freemasons and members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Westcott appears to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn.

The Golden Dawn system was based on hierarchy and initiation (similar to Masonic lodges) and the grade structure was based on the S.R.I.A,[2] however, women were admitted on an equal basis with men.

The "Golden Dawn" was the first of three Orders, although all three are often collectively referred to as the "Golden Dawn". The First Order taught esoteric philosophy based on the Hermetic Qabalah and personal development through study and awareness of the four classical elements, as well as the basics of astrology, tarot divination, and geomancy. The Second or Inner Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, taught magic, including scrying, astral travel, and alchemy. The Third Order was that of the Secret Chiefs, who were said to be highly skilled; they supposedly directed the activities of the lower two orders by spirit communication with the Chiefs of the Second Order.


Cipher Manuscripts

Main article: Cipher Manuscripts

Folio 13 of the Cipher Manuscripts

The foundational documents of the original Order of the Golden Dawn, known as the Cipher Manuscripts, are written in English using the Trithemius cipher. The manuscripts give the specific outlines of the Grade Rituals of the Order and prescribe a curriculum of graduated teachings that encompass the Hermetic Qabalah, astrology, occult tarot, geomancy, and alchemy.

According to the records of the Order, the manuscripts passed from Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie, a Masonic scholar, to the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, whom British occult writer Francis King describes as the fourth founder[3] (although Woodford died shortly after the Order was founded).[4] The documents did not excite Woodford, and in February 1886 he passed them on to Freemason William Wynn Westcott, who managed to decode them in 1887.[3] Westcott, pleased with his discovery, called on fellow Freemason Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers for a second opinion. Westcott asked for Mathers's help to turn the manuscripts into a coherent system for lodge work. Mathers, in turn, asked fellow Freemason William Robert Woodman to assist the two, and he accepted.[3] Mathers and Westcott have been credited with developing the ritual outlines in the Cipher Manuscripts into a workable format.[c] Mathers, however, is generally credited with the design of the curriculum and rituals of the Second Order, which he called the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis ("Ruby Rose and Golden Cross" or the RR et AC).[5]

Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers in Egyptian costume performing a ritual in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Founding of the First Temple

In October 1887, Westcott claimed to have written to a German countess and prominent Rosicrucian named Anna Sprengel, whose address was said to have been found in the decoded Cipher Manuscripts. According to Westcott, Sprengel claimed the ability to contact certain supernatural entities, known as the Secret Chiefs, that were considered the authorities over any magical order or esoteric organization. Westcott purportedly received a reply from Sprengel granting permission to establish a Golden Dawn temple and conferring honorary grades of Adeptus Exemptus on Westcott, Mathers, and Woodman. The temple was to consist of the five grades outlined in the manuscripts.[6][7]

In 1888, the Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London.[6] In contrast to the S.R.I.A. and Masonry,[7] women were allowed and welcome to participate in the Order in "perfect equality" with men. The Order was more of a philosophical and metaphysical teaching order in its early years. Other than certain rituals and meditations found in the Cipher manuscripts and developed further,[8] "magical practices" were generally not taught at the first temple.

For the first four years, the Golden Dawn was one cohesive group later known as the "First Order" or "Outer Order". A "Second Order" or "Inner Order" was established and became active in 1892. The Second Order consisted of members known as "adepts", who had completed the entire course of study for the First Order. The Second Order was formally established under the name Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (the Order of the Red Rose and the Golden Cross).[9]

Eventually, the Osiris temple in Weston-super-Mare, the Horus temple in Bradford (both in 1888), and the Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh (1893) were founded. In 1893 Mathers founded the Ahathoor temple in Paris.[6]

The Secret Chiefs

Main article: Secret Chiefs

In 1890, Westcott's alleged correspondence with Anna Sprengel suddenly ceased. He claimed to have received word from Germany that she was dead and that her companions did not approve of the founding of the Order and no further contact was to be made.[10] If the founders were to contact the Secret Chiefs, apparently, it had to be done on their own.[6] In 1892, Mathers professed that a link to the Secret Chiefs had been established. Subsequently, he supplied rituals for the Second Order.[6] The rituals were based on the tradition of the tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz, and a Vault of Adepts became the controlling force behind the Outer Order.[11] Later in 1916, Westcott claimed that Mathers also constructed these rituals from materials he received from Frater Lux ex Tenebris, a purported Continental Adept.[12]

Some followers of the Golden Dawn tradition believe that the Secret Chiefs were not human or supernatural beings, but rather symbolic representations of actual or legendary sources of spiritual esotericism. The term came to stand for a great leader or teacher of a spiritual path or practice that found its way into the teachings of the Order.[13]

Golden Age

By the mid-1890s, the Golden Dawn was well established in Great Britain, with over one hundred members from every class of Victorian society.[4] Many celebrities belonged to the Golden Dawn, such as the actress Florence Farr, the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the Welsh author Arthur Machen, and the English authors Evelyn Underhill and Aleister Crowley.

In 1896 or 1897, Westcott broke all ties to the Golden Dawn, leaving Mathers in control. It has been speculated that his departure was due to his having lost a number of occult-related papers in a hansom cab. Apparently, when the papers were found, Westcott's connection to the Golden Dawn was discovered and brought to the attention of his employers. He may have been told to either resign from the Order or to give up his occupation as coroner.[14] After Westcott's departure, Mathers appointed Florence Farr to be Chief Adept in Anglia. Dr. Henry B. Pullen Burry succeeded Westcott as Cancellarius—one of the three Chiefs of the Order.

Mathers was the only active founding member after Westcott's departure. Due to personality clashes with other members and frequent absences from the center of Lodge activity in Great Britain, however, challenges to Mathers's authority as leader developed among the members of the Second Order.[15]


Towards the end of 1899, the Adepts of the Isis-Urania and Amen-Ra temples had become dissatisfied with Mathers's leadership, as well as his growing friendship with Aleister Crowley. They had also become anxious to make contact with the Secret Chiefs themselves, instead of relying on Mathers as an intermediary.[16] Within the Isis-Urania temple, disputes were arising between Farr's The Sphere, a secret society within the Isis-Urania, and the rest of the Adepti Minores.[16]

Crowley was refused initiation into the Adeptus Minor grade by the London officials. Mathers overrode their decision and quickly initiated him at the Ahathoor temple in Paris on 16 January 1900.[17] Upon his return to the London temple, Crowley requested from Miss Cracknell, the acting secretary, the papers acknowledging his grade, to which he was now entitled. To the London Adepts, this was the final straw. Farr, already of the opinion that the London temple should be closed, wrote to Mathers expressing her wish to resign as his representative, although she was willing to carry on until a successor was found.[17] Mathers believed Westcott was behind this turn of events and replied on 16 February. On 3 March a committee of seven Adepts was elected in London and requested a full investigation of the matter. Mathers sent an immediate reply, declining to provide proof, refusing to acknowledge the London temple, and dismissing Farr as his representative on 23 March.[18] In response, a general meeting was called on 29 March in London to remove Mathers as chief and expel him from the Order.[19]


In 1901, W. B. Yeats privately published a pamphlet titled Is the Order of R. R. & A. C. to Remain a Magical Order?[20] After the Isis-Urania temple claimed its independence, there were even more disputes, leading to Yeats resigning.[21] A committee of three was to temporarily govern, which included P. W. Bullock, M. W. Blackden and J. W. Brodie-Innes. After a short time, Bullock resigned, and Dr. Robert Felkin took his place.[22]

In 1903, A. E. Waite and Blackden joined forces to retain the name Isis-Urania, while Felkin and other London members formed the Stella Matutina. Yeats remained in the Stella Matutina until 1921, while Brodie-Innes continued his Amen-Ra membership in Edinburgh.[23]


Once Mathers realised that reconciliation was impossible, he made efforts to reestablish himself in London. The Bradford and Weston-super-Mare temples remained loyal to him, but their numbers were few.[24] He then appointed Edward Berridge as his representative.[25] According to Francis King, historical evidence shows that there were "twenty three members of a flourishing Second Order under Berridge-Mathers in 1913."[25]

J.W. Brodie-Innes continued leading the Amen-Ra temple, deciding that the revolt was unjustified. By 1908, Mathers and Brodie-Innes were in complete accord.[26] According to sources that differ regarding the actual date, sometime between 1901 and 1913 Mathers renamed the branch of the Golden Dawn remaining loyal to his leadership to Alpha et Omega.[27][28][29][d] Brodie-Innes assumed command of the English and Scottish temples, while Mathers concentrated on building up his Ahathoor temple and extending his American connections.[28] According to occultist Israel Regardie, the Golden Dawn had spread to the United States of America before 1900 and a Thoth-Hermes temple had been founded in Chicago.[26][28] By the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Mathers had established two to three American temples.

Most temples of the Alpha et Omega and Stella Matutina closed or went into abeyance by the end of the 1930s, with the exceptions of two Stella Matutina temples: Hermes Temple in Bristol, which operated sporadically until 1970, and the Smaragdum Thallasses Temple (commonly referred to as Whare Ra) in Havelock North, New Zealand, which operated regularly until its closure in 1978.[30][29]

Structure and grades

Much of the hierarchical structure for the Golden Dawn came from the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, which was itself derived from the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross.[31]

First Order
Second Order
Third Order

The paired numbers attached to the Grades relate to positions on the Tree of Life. The Neophyte Grade of "0=0" indicates no position on the Tree. In the other pairs, the first numeral is the number of steps up from the bottom (Malkuth), and the second numeral is the number of steps down from the top (Kether).

The First Order Grades were related to the four elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, respectively. The Aspirant to a Grade received instruction on the metaphysical meaning of each of these Elements and had to pass a written examination and demonstrate certain skills to receive admission to that Grade.


Selected known members

Alleged members

Contemporary Golden Dawn orders

While no temples in the original chartered lineage of the Golden Dawn survived past the 1970s,[30][29] several organizations have since revived its teachings and rituals. Among these, the following are notable:

The Golden Dawn book

The Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie; was published in 1937. The book is divided into several basic sections. First are the knowledge lectures, which describe the basic teaching of the Kabalah, symbolism, meditation, geomancy, etc. This is followed by the rituals of the Outer Order, consisting of five initiation rituals into the degrees of the Golden Dawn. The next section covers the rituals of the Inner Order including two initiation rituals and equinox ceremonies.

See also


  1. ^ Jenkins 2000, p. 74: "Also in the 1880s, the tradition of ritual magic was revived in London by a group of Masonic adepts, who formed the Order of the Golden Dawn, which would prove an incalculable influence on the whole subsequent history of occultism."
  2. ^ Smoley 1999, pp. 102–103: "Founded in 1888, the Golden Dawn lasted a mere twelve years before it was shattered by personal conflicts. At its height, it probably had no more than a hundred members. Yet its influence on magic and esoteric thought in the English-speaking world would be hard to overestimate."
  3. ^ Golden Dawn researcher R. A. Gilbert has found evidence which suggests that Westcott was instrumental in developing the Order's rituals from the Cipher Manuscripts. See Gilbert's article, "From Cipher to Enigma: The Role of William Wynn Westcott in the Creation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn" in Runyon 1997.
  4. ^ Anon 2001: "The Golden Dawn ceased to exist by that name after October 1901, replaced by Mathers's Alpha et Omega and the London group’s Order of the Morgan Rothe. No longer associated with the SRIA after 1902, Mathers continued to oversee a few temples until his death, when his wife, Moina, assumed supervision."



  1. ^ Colquhoun 1975, p. [page needed]
  2. ^ The masonic career of A. E. Waite by Bro. R. A. Gilbert
  3. ^ a b c King 1989, pp. 42–43
  4. ^ a b King 1989, p. 47
  5. ^ Regardie 1993, p. 92
  6. ^ a b c d e f g King 1989, p. 43
  7. ^ a b Regardie 1993, p. 11
  8. ^ King 1997, p. 35
  9. ^ Decker & Dummett 2019, pp. 93–96
  10. ^ Decker & Dummett 2019, p. 90
  11. ^ King 1989, p. 44
  12. ^ King 1989, p. 46
  13. ^ Penczak 2002, p. 27
  14. ^ King 1989, p. 48
  15. ^ Raine 1976, p. 6
  16. ^ a b King 1989, p. 66
  17. ^ a b King 1989, p. 67
  18. ^ King 1989, pp. 68–69
  19. ^ King 1989, p. 69
  20. ^ Melton 2001, p. 1327
  21. ^ King 1989, p. 78
  22. ^ King 1989, p. 94
  23. ^ King 1989, pp. 95–96
  24. ^ King 1989, p. 109
  25. ^ a b King 1989, p. 110
  26. ^ a b Regardie 1993, p. 33
  27. ^ King 1971, pp. 110–111
  28. ^ a b c King 1989, p. 111
  29. ^ a b c Cicero & Cicero 2002
  30. ^ a b Gilbert 1986, p. [page needed]
  31. ^ Gilbert 1986b
  32. ^ Harris 1998, p. 13
  33. ^ Regardie 1982, p. 16
  34. ^ Colquhoun 1975, pp. 148–149
  35. ^ a b c d Regardie 1982, p. ix
  36. ^ Cockin 2017
  37. ^ Moyle 2011, p. 118
  38. ^ Booth 2000, pp. 85, 93–94; Sutin 2000, pp. 54–55; Kaczynski 2010, pp. 60–61; Churton 2011, p. 35.
  39. ^ Lycett 2007, p. [page needed]
  40. ^ Ellwood 1993, p. [page needed]
  41. ^ Anon 1987
  42. ^ Blackmore 1985
  43. ^ Anon 2001
  44. ^ Yeats, William Butler (1927). Autobiographies: reveries over childhood and youth and the trembling of the veil. p. 228.
  45. ^ Davis (2022), p. 16.
  46. ^ Gilbert (1986), p. 145.
  47. ^ Blackmore 1985
  48. ^ Denisoff 2013
  49. ^ Davis (2022), p. 17.
  50. ^ Foster 1997, p. 103
  51. ^ Cullingford 1983
  52. ^ LeBlanc, Benjamin H. (1997). "The death of Dracula: a Darwinian approach to the vampire's evolution". In Davison, Carol Margaret; Simpson-Housley, Paul (eds.). Bram Stoker's Dracula: Sucking Through the Century, 1897-1997. Dundurn. p. 362. ISBN 978-1-55002-279-7.
  53. ^ Fitzsimons 2019 as quoted in Hine 2021

Works cited

Further reading