Mar 24, 2010

"What Is...?" Wednesday

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn 

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more commonly called the Golden Dawn) was a magical order active in Great Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and established by the Freemasons in England. The group practiced practiced theurgy (the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or presence of one or more gods), especially with the goal of uniting with the divine and spiritual development.

It has been one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism. Concepts of magic and ritual at the center of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema were inspired by the Golden Dawn along with authors William B. Yeats and Algernon Blackwood. A more notorious character recognized instantly by name was Aleister Crowley,who joined in 1898 and founded the rival Argenteum Astrum (1905) after his expulsion in 1900.

The structured hierarchy of The Golden Dawn was based upon the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah... there were ten grades or degrees corresponding to the ten sephiroth, with a eleventh degree for neophytes. The degrees were divided into the Outer, Second, and Third orders.

During its glory, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn possessed one of the greatest repositories of Western magical knowledge. The studies of the Second Order focused on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Three magical systems were taught: the Key of Solomon, a grimoire, Abra-Melin magic and Enochian magic. Also, materials were incorporated from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Prophetic Books of William Blake and the Chaldean Oracles. Instruction was given in astral travel, scrying, geomancy, the Tarot and astrology.

There is much I have not elaborated on while researching and writing this article because all the information could fill every nook and cranny at the Smithsonian, so I picked out the easiest way to describe just what this group was (and still is today, although in a more modern form) all about. I hope you have enjoyed the article.


Marcus Katz said...


What an excellently succinct and accurate article! Thank you!

I'd suggest only that the A.A. was a later development of the initiatory system, rather than a "rival" as the Golden Dawn had almost entirely collapsed as a group by the time Crowley set his A.A. in motion, mainly derived from his O.T.O. experience but of course founded in his Golden Dawn background.

Other than that slight clarification, all present and correct! You've managed to cram the entire Smithsonian into one brilliant simple article without losing the core facts!



Rue said...

Great post! A good clarification of what the Golden Dawn was!

Peregrin said...

Hi, thanks for this.

Sorry, but to make some clarifications to the article and comments:

The Key of Solomon and the Abramelin systems were never part of official GD / RR et AC teachings. McGregor Mathers, Chief of the GD translated these and this is where the confusion often arises. Likewise, the 'Prophetic books of William Blake' were not part of the curriculum.

Crowley's AA was started in 1907 not 1905. After failing to advance in the RR et AC (Inner Order of the GD) beyond the level of minor adept, in 1900 Crowley as he openly said in his Confessions, lost much interest in magic.

The AA is only considered a development of the GD by those within it and those who accept Thelema. It is not considered a development by most traditional GD folk.

The Golden Dawn had not “almost entirely collapsed as a group by the time Crowley set his A.A. in motion”. Several different groups were carrying on the GD tradition at this time, including the original Isis-Urania temple. Other groups such as the Stella Matutina and Whare Ra carried on until the 1970s. And this is only the groups known about publically.

The foundations of the AA (1907) could not have “mainly derived from his [Crowley’s] O.T.O. experience” as Crowley was not initiated into the OTO until 1910. Looking at the AA material from this period we see its main influences as the Golden Dawn, Crowley’s limited understanding of yoga and his comprehensive understanding of western philosophy.

Thanks for the article. :)