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The Golden Dawn

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The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn possibly came into existence in 1881 due to some combination of mysterious events involving three Freemasons named S.L. Mathers, William Wynn Wescott, and William Woodman, and a mysterious Bavarian woman, Anna Sprengel. Either Westcott found some ciphered papers in Freemason's Hall, London, which put him in touch with Fraulein Sprengel, or he found the papers in a bookstall, or he and Woodman and Mathers made up the whole story, or Westcott made it all up alone and deceived Woodman and Mathers.

Those were the most accepted theories until new evidence suggested that the Golden Dawn could have evolved out of the Loge zur augehenden Morgenrothe, a Masonic lodge in Frankfurt, which established a branch in France called Aurore naissante (both titles mean "Rising Dawn") and a branch in London and/or the Chabrath Zerek Auor Bokher, or Society of the Shining Light of Dawn, a Cabalistic college in London, founded by one Johannes Falk from Hamburg, Germany.

However created, the Golden Dawn became the most influential occult society of the turn of the century, numbering among its members such influential persons as Irish poet and Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats, fantasy writers Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen (who both influenced H.P. Lovecraft), famous actress Florence Farr, Arthur Waite, creator of the best-known modern Tarot cards, Israel Regardie, and the enigmatic jester Aleister Crowley.

Like ordinary Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn had a system of grades, each one marked by an initiatory ritual intended to make lasting impression on the consciousness of the candidate — to bring him or her closer and closer to Illumination in the mystical use. This was combined with profound study of Christian Kabala, a derivative of the original Jewish Cabala, a science or art that provides a religious language and numerology to discuss and verify various altered states of consciousness. The influence of the Golden Dawn extended far beyond conventional occultism. Much of modern literary culture owes its symbolism and themes to this group; not only Yeats' poetry, but even the works of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot, show Golden Dawn elements, which were common currency in the London of 1900-1914, where all these writers met. Modern horror fiction is replete with themes H. P. Lovecraft acquired at secondhand from Blackwood and Machen. The Tarot deck, virtually forgotten by all but gypsy fortune-tellers, is now widely studied for both mystic and psychological meanings, due to the Waite and Crowley Tarot decks, both based on the Golden Dawn deck.

See Also: Freemasonry, Ordo Templi Orientis, Rosicrucianism,

References: Eye in the Triangle, by Israel Regardie, Falcon Books, Las Vegas, 1988