The Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn began in 1887, when William Wescott found a cipher manuscript in a bookshop. The manuscript, which contained magical theories based on the Qabala, alchemy, astrology, and the work of Eliphas Lévi, were deciphered, and the following year Wescott, along with S. L. MacGregor Mathers and William Woodman (all British Freemasons as well as members of the Rosicrucian Society of England) founded the English branch of Die Goldene Dammerung. The order's principles and doctrines were influenced by the beliefs of the Freemasons and Rosicrucians, as well as the contents of the cipher manuscript. The actual rituals for the order were written by MacGregor Mathers and William Butler Yeats, who was one of its most prominent members.
In its heyday, which lasted about fifteen years, the Golden Dawn was favored by sophisticated occultists interested in magic. A. E. Waite, Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, and numerous other noted occultists belonged to the original group.
In the late 1930s, Israel Regardie first published the rituals and teachings of the Golden Dawn. This extensive collection served to revive interest in the order and provided information about various other branches of magical practice. Ritual magic, as presented by the Golden Dawn, has been called a “structured experience” of magic that offers tools for developing spiritual awareness in order to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness. Its complex teachings drew upon the ideas and traditions of numerous ancient cultures and melded them into an intricate, multilayered, and meticulously ordered system.
Like the Freemasons, the magicians of the Golden Dawn employed an extensive array of symbols from various mystical traditions. Sigils (discussed in Chapter 3) and magic squares were applied in spell-working. Carefully choreographed physical movements and symbolic gestures were used to direct energy. Symbols derived from astrology, alchemy, tarot, ancient languages, and many other subjects also played roles in the Golden Dawn's magical practices.
“Mathers's vision for the Golden Dawn was that the magicians in his order could follow the mythic pathways on the Tree of Life and grow in spiritual awareness as they ascended through each life.” — Nevill Drury,
The most important symbol for the Golden Dawn is the Tree of Life from the Hebrew Qabalah. This geometric figure contains ten spheres, called sephiroth, which represent levels of spiritual development, joined by twenty-two lines or pathways. This key symbol indicates the stages of personal transformation that a magician must go through to achieve illumination.