The period existing during the mid 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century saw the rebirth in the romanticism with the occult lodge. This was termed the occult reformation and no other group embodied this evolution in esoteric practice more than the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is often considered the most fundamental magical school to come out of the Occult Reformation in the 1880s. This Group had extremely close ties to Masonry, not only being founded by Masons, but being founded by Elite Masons of the Societia Rosicruciana in Anglia. This Group of Masons sought to reform Rosicrucianism and create a magical order that was separate from Masonry so women could have equal membership in the mysteries. But this Hermetic Order has its origins steeped in legend and is riddled with mystery surrounding one of the most prominent Masons of his day poet and historian Kenneth Mackenzie.
Mackenzie became a Mason in 1870 and a brilliant occult researcher, and authored the “Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia” in 1877 after mastering the Masonic mythos. On his quest for greater light in occult knowledge it was claimed that Mackenzie traveled across Europe seeking the true lineage of the Rosicrucians. During his time in France he was initiated through the nine grades of the “Gold und Rosenkreuz Order” and was given special permission to take notes on their initiations forming what would be known as the “Cypher Manuscripts”. Upon returning to England Bro. Mackenzie was instrumental in developing the initiatory grades of the S.R.I.A with Bro. Robert Wentworth Little who founded the order in 1867. The S.R.I.A became the premiere Masonic organization in London and because of its esoteric and occult nature it drew into its ranks influential membership including Dr. William Wynn Wescott, Samuel Liddell “Macgregor” Mathers, Dr. Robert William Felkinand Arthur Edward Waite. Wescott and Mathers would be deeply influenced by the S.R.I.A and with the obtaining Cipher Manuscripts after Mackenzie’s death they would go on to found the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Cypher Manuscripts are a sixty page outline of magical initiations, corresponding to the elemental energies of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, as well as kabalistic and alchemical notes related to each Grade. Wescott and Mathers included these manuscripts into the Order incorporating Egyptian symbolism and various Grimoire influences creating a sustainable current of energy that has been used as the foundation for countless occult orders. The First grade of Neophyte 0=0, is on a general level dedicated to the concept of darkness. In this Grade the Initiate is meant to realize he is bound by his own perception of subjective reality and that he must purify and cleanse his own being in order to shed the influence of his lower self upon his soul. The Initiate walks the path dictated in certain chapters of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and divided his sprit from the elemental energies freeing himself from material influence. The Grade of Zelator 1=10 correlates to the element of Earth. In this Grade the Initiate regains the element of Earth but with a new spiritual perspective and thus begins the journey of regaining his elemental energies to reform his spiritual self. The Grade Theoricus 2=9 correlates to Water, Practicus 3=8 to water, and Philosophus 4=7 to fire.
Hierius at Vernal
The Golden Dawn created such a stir in the esoteric communities that it attracted a variety of influential people from the artistic community such as actress Florence Farr, poet W. B. Yeats, writer Bram Stoker, poet William Sharp, and bad boy Aleister Crowley. The legacy of the Dawn was short lived, as schisms among members led to the dissolving of the Order. Overall, the Golden Dawn tradition is alive but heavily divided over who should be considered the “official” Golden Dawn. With egotistic leaders claiming direct contact with the secret chiefs to eminent Freemason Chic Cicero with his lineage from Reguardi, to a variety of independent temples, the Golden Dawn community is in contest with each other.
Overall, for the esoteric student the works of the Golden Dawn are fundamental to the understanding of the Western systems of Magic. It was founded by masons in an attempt to revive and reform Rosicrucianism. They sought to overcome the mundane influences of humanity, only to be destroyed by the lower parts of the human character. Research of the Dawn is important to all Brothers who wish to further understand the Occult revival, as most esoteric groups to come after are forever indebted to the efforts of Wescott, Mathers, and Mackenzie.