By T Allen Greenfield, © 1997.
Rosicrucianism is a concept that defies sharp or clear definition. Its origins may be similar to that of Freemasonry and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, but like these venerable institutions, its true origins are lost in the thick mists of occult history. All that we can say for certain is that certain intriguing "Rosicrucian documents" begin appearing in the early 1600s, but claiming to describe earlier events. The Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis appeared in 1614. The Confession appeared in the following year. "The Chymical Wedding" - known also as "The Hermetick Romance" appeared in 1616, and is generally considered the work of a young pastor named Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654). Like other Rosicrucian works, controversy surrounds even this claim. By 1622, as recorded in THE MORNING OF THE MAGICIANS, and in numerous other places,
" ... the inhabitants of Paris woke to find the walls of their city covered with posters bearing the following message: 'We, deputies of the principal College of the Brethren of the Rose Cross (Rosicrucians) are amongst you in this town, visibly and invisibly, through the grace of the Most High to whom the hearts of all just men are turned, in order to save our fellow-men from the error of death'."
The substance of the Rosicrucian claim, or mythos is that there is a "Hidden Church" which is a repository of great secrets learned in the East, and transmitted by various luminaries, sages and adepts down to our own time.
By the 1700s, most Masonic bodies contained, at their higher levels, "Rosicrucian Degrees" — while various occult fraternities were associated with, or gave out that they were associated with, some form of Rosicrucianism. In 1866 Robert Wentworth Little and other ranking Freemasons in England formed the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. With Little as Supreme Magus, and such men as W.R. Woodman, F.G. Irwin and John Yarker among its founders, the S.R.I.A. seems to have carried on the work of Continental Rosicrucian groups, and was heavily influenced by Robert Henderson "Kenneth" Mackenzie (1833-1886), an English adept and colorful historian who worked closely with Little, according to his successor and Golden Dawn Co-founder W. Wynn Wescott. Indeed, as A.E. Waite later suggested, Kenneth Mackenzie "may have produced the G:.D:. Ciphers, in part from his recollection of German Grade experiences and in part from his inventive resources."
Mackenzie had been raised in Austria and stated "I possess the real degrees but I may not by my tenure give them to any one in the world without a long and severe probation."
The S.R.I.A. unquestionably gave rise to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and spawned an American counterpart, the Societas Rosicruciana in America, which continues (since 1964) through the good offices of the Qabalistic Alchemist Arcanum.
The "Golden Dawn" is another matter.
A Golden Dawn Knowledge Lecture
Francis King, MODERN RITUAL MAGIC, pp 94-96 "Splinters"
". . . members who desired to carry on the magical tradition and the original Order scheme formed the Amoun Temple, changing the name of the Outer Order from Golden Dawn to Stella Matutina."
Israel Regardie, MY ROSICRUCIAN ADVENTURE
" . . . Thus began the downfall of organised magical instruction through semi-esoteric channels of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Whatever else should be insisted upon in Magic, unity is the prime essential. A united body of manifestation at all costs should have been maintained . . ."
The LEGAL continuity of magical organizations is, of course, of interest mainly in terms of copyrights, the ownership of property, etc. The Ordo Templi Orientis fought long and hard and justly for such recognition years ago, in a case that touched as high as the United States Supreme Court. Such matters do not directly reflect on the question of authentic magical tradition, much less potency, but they certainly DO give a clue as to whether a given group or individual is in possession of the real thing, or is a `book masonic' body (common now with the Golden Dawn material so widely circulated) or outright fraud - or worse. Add to this the criterion that the hermetic wisdom was handed on at the highest level by the highest authority or those directly authorized by that authority, and you have eliminated the credibility of most modern magical fraternities.
There have been, since the illustrious if checkered days when the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn collapsed in 1903 e.v. ( significantly the year before the advent of the present aeon) many claimants to the Golden Dawn mantle. In the 1930s Regardie noted that "The separate Temples decided to fall independently of how or why or where the other groups fell. Each was smug, complacent and fully confident that it alone continued the magical tradition ... so are there now several decaying Temples claiming unbroken descent from the original Isis-Urania. Each insists fervently that it alone is the genuine Order."
Came The Dawn
It was predictable upon publication of the massive revised COMPLETE GOLDEN DAWN SYSTEM OF MAGIC by Regardie, that after a few years, new claims to the G.D. mantle - or franchise - would emerge. Regardie, Falcon Press and the original Golden Dawn Society can hardly be blamed for this; to the contrary, their intent, as I understand it, was to preserve and expand upon the G.D. system, saving it from extinction, not to capitalize upon it and make idle claims. Regardie, after all, was never more than a lower middle echelon G.D. initiate, privy only in a scholarly sense to the higher teachings. He certainly never had a charter to initiate, and was, in fact, initiated himself only into a late splinter group. He never claimed otherwise.
The traditional unofficial Thelemic 'rebuttal' to Golden Dawn pretenders has been built around the concept of the New Aeon. The original Golden Dawn, this theory goes, was the last flowering of old aeon magick, and its potency will wane as the New Aeon progresses. The A.A., as developed by Crowley, is the authentic successor body to the G.D. For Thelemites Crowley is definitive in Liber LXI vel Causae:
In 1900 one P. [Crowley], a brother, instituted a rigorous test of S.R.M.D. [Mathers] on the one side and the Order on the other.
He discovered that S.R.M.D., though a scholar of some ability and a magician of remarkable powers, had never attained complete initiation: and further had fallen from his original place, he having imprudently attracted to himself forces of evil too great and terrible to withstand.
The claim of the Order that the true adepts were in charge was definitely disproven.
In the Order, with two certain exceptions and two doubtful ones, he found no persons prepared for initiation of any sort.
He thereupon by his subtle wisdom destroyed both the Order and its chief ...
For Thelemites, this should pretty much settle the matter. Crowley was an eyewitness and - at the least - the key magician of his time. Sent by Mathers to correct the disarray in London, Crowley found himself involved in what amounted to a street brawl with G.D. brethren who should have known better; the core of the group had included W.B. Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and other great literary - as well as magical - figures of the late Victorian Era. But, in this, the "united body of manifestation" fell into a mob of street fighters with no honor, and whatever merit or fraternity had existed before evaporated. Mathers eventually fell into inebriated uselessness. The Golden Dawn was dead.
This argument will not wash, of course, with those who are not New Aeon oriented. What bothers me most about the newest crop of groups pretending to the charters of the original Golden Dawn isn't so much this archaic quality (my own experiments indicate that, for the present, some potency still remains available to G.D. type magic), but a cultic quality that has appeared among SOME of the newer groups. True cultic characteristics include: (1) Unsupportable claims by the leadership - usually a single charismatic individual - of lineal succession and special powers; (2) A secretive recruitment campaign, and (C) the discouraging of members from any meaningful exchange of ideas with outside groups and individuals. This is the so called "Moonie Syndrome" and has been used by groups as diverse as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the People's Temple of the late Jim Jones.
I would urge anyone who has become involved with any such group to test it against these standards. If one is being discouraged from asking questions that are specific, if major credentials are being claimed without meaningful proof, if the leader or leaders discourages contact with others with other perspectives, treat this with extreme caution. However nice this may seem, you are in trouble. Get help fast. And get out NOW!
There are a few bodies existing today that can legitimately be considered "directly descended" from the original Golden Dawn. But, to the best of my knowledge, ALL of these are splinters or splinters of splinters of the original. Each splinter group had a special axe to grind and is, to that extent, not representative of the thrust of the original. Even most splinters of the original have undergone disruptions and distortions. Dr. Regardie had much respect for the New Zealand group founded by one of the original splinterers, Dr. Felkin, in 1912 e.v., but this, too, closed in 1978 e.v. and has "survived" only by reconstitution or reconstruction.
Each such discontinuity endangers the integrity of the original teaching. Some current groups seem to claim a lot more. Such claims should be questioned.
My respect for Israel Regardie as historian is great. This was the Regardie I knew personally, and read avidly. Another "Israel Regardie" has grown up since his death; even some of his obituaries characterized him as "the last great Magus" and similar rubish. Regardie himself explicitly discounted such ideas to the last. "I am not in that area. Nonetheless, I consider myself more in the nature of somebody who has taken seriously the work of H.P.B., Crowley and a few others . . ." as he described himself at the very end of his life.
As Laura Jennings-Yorke has noted, "We must remember that when Regardie published the GD in 1940, he had left the Hermes Temple at the level of Zelator Adeptus Minor (Z.A.M.)."
The only higher grades issued him were under authority of an initiate of a reconstruction of Dr. Felkin's splinter of the original Order. This person, to his credit, openly admits that he has had to reconstruct original Golden Dawn materials, sometimes from notes taken many years after the fact.
Let us remember Dr. Regardie as the great historian of magick that he was. As a middle echelon initiate of a defunct splinter group, he could hardly be the source of deep, initiated knowledge.
This Is the End
The true story of the end of the original Golden Dawn has been told enough times from various standpoints that, if nothing else, one obvious truth should clearly emerge: None of the senior players still living in 1900 e.v. come off very well. Mathers, as Crowley put it in his autobiography, was at this point the only possible legitimate claimant to being its chief. As George Cecil Jones put it, in Crowley's characterization, ". . . if Mathers were not the head of the Order and the trusted representative of the Secret Chiefs, there was no Order at all." All of the fragmentary descendent bodies that have arisen subsequently are either the idiosyncratic creation of the pretentious usurpers of the time, or are recreations out of the published works of Crowley and Regardie, or something of both.
This tends, at times, to get ugly. I knew Israel Regardie slightly, and had boundless respect for him as a major source of magical history. I believe that, just as happened to his mentor Crowley, in his last years Regardie drew a sinister coterie of psychic vultures or vampires, who have, since his death, used the Golden Dawn literature and their Regardie "connection" for exploitative material gain and unsavory cultic schemes. I have no quarrel with those who might want to work the Golden Dawn rituals, but those who have traded fast and loose with the name and purported endorsements of a kindly and perhaps too trusting old man after his death, let alone with the reputation of an illustrious but long dead magical body of manifestation, deserve the contempt of all who would understand the great secrets. In a more gallant age, such trash would be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail, preferably by the very people they have duped into a following.
"They issued various hysterical manifestos, distinguished by confusion of thought, inaccuracy of statement, personal malice, empty bombast and ignorance of English." Crowley said of the usurpers.
The rest of Mathers' story is equally sad. Regardie called it "the downfall of organized magical instruction through the semi-esoteric channels of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn."
Having worked with some of the G.D. material for a very long time, It falls for me in the same revered category as any other venerable historical source. But the Golden Dawn? The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? Surely, its charters and warrants passed legitimately from Mathers to Crowley and the A.A. The original "Hidden Church" out of which it emerged is still the repository of the inner secrets. When Mathers was cast off by the Secret Chiefs, any chance for a new manifestation under the name "Golden Dawn" became, ipso facto, remote; therefore any claims should be viewed as highly suspect. Modern magicians should learn from the Complete Golden Dawn System and Crowley's earlier renditions, just as one might profit much from a reading of Duncan's Ritual of FreeMasonry. Beware, though of any who might claim to be a nineteenth century York Rite Mason, because he has memorized Duncan. Even Duncan would have told you that such a person could not even pass into a York Rite Lodge.
There is one more refuge taken by some; that Israel Regardie changed his mind about the Golden Dawn at the end of his life. Within a few months before his death he told Christopher Hyatt, "The Order went down to oblivion. The Order was torn asunder by strife, warfare, by internecine conflicts, by rebellions. A great deal of that might, and I use the word advisedly, might have been obviated by most of the members taking psychotherapy ..."
Anyone who tells you that they want to revive the Golden Dawn work certainly deserves to be heard out as to what they are all about. Anyone who claims to BE the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is probably fooling you, or themselves, or both.