Why the Golden Dawn?

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. J. Clint Lewey

In the midst of the Victorian Age, a group of English Freemasons founded an esoteric Masonic society called the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia or SRIA. The objective of the society was to bring Freemasons of a similar philosophical outlook together, so they may afford aid and encouragement to each other in pursuit of their own studies in the field of philosophy and scholarship in the widest sense. From SRIA bloomed the most influential Western Tradition of practical magic called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

As deeply esoteric as Freemasonry is, and even more so with the various Rosicrucian orders such as SRIA, why did a group of Masons feel the need to create or resurrect a practical Hermetic/Qabalistic society such as the Golden Dawn, and is it still relevant today?

During the mid-1800s, English Freemasonry was booming. It was also during this time that an increased interest in theoretical occult practices began to develop. Many Europeans were beginning to grow tired of the typical status quo of orthodox religions such as Christianity or Judaism, and were turning to Spiritualism and other alternative beliefs. While not dropping many of their Christian beliefs, countless Freemasons and Rosicrucians were beginning to show interest in the Hermetic, alchemical and Qabalistic sciences at this time. This enlightenment opened up for more thought, and more thought lead to more questions and theories.

Whilst the Golden Dawn’s roots are firmly sewn in Rosicrucianism, the order evolved out of a group of Spiritualists, Qabalists, Freemasons and Rosicrucians called the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society was actually founded in New York City by the legendary Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott. The society was popular among well-educated Americans and Brits, many of which were Freemasons, because it offered an interesting alternative to other major religious beliefs of the time. Theosophy is defined as ‘Divine Wisdom’ and combined scientific and religious beliefs that were both spiritually and intellectually satisfying.

About a decade later, the Theosophical Society had made its way to London, but its members had suffered a falling out, and eventually the society dissolved. It was quickly replaced with an order called the Hermetic Society. Amongst members of this order was a trio of Freemasons that would go on to create the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn.

In 1888, a few decades after SRIA was established, three Master Masons who were also members of SRIA, created a more practical, magic-based Rosicrucian order called the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, later renamed the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It was created by Dr. William Westcott, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, and William Woodman, and was based on the Cipher Manuscripts. 

The Cipher Manuscripts are shrouded in mystery. They were ‘discovered’ by Dr. William Westcott and obtained in Germany from a likely fictional lady called Fraulein Sprengel. According to Golden Dawn history, the likely origins of the Cipher Manuscripts were SRIA, and they are believed to be written specifically by Kenneth MacKenzie. When MacKenzie passed away in 1886, the papers were obtained from MacKenzie’s wife by Dr. Westcott. The original papers were written for a different esoteric group called the ‘Society of Eight’ which never fully materialized, and thus Westcott capitalized on this to form his own esoteric, Qabalistic society. 

The Manuscripts primarily contained the ritual outlines and teachings of the Order. The manuscripts outlined a system of magically based teachings that took most of the elements and teachings of SRIA and put them into practice, versus only studying the Ancient Sciences as mainly happened in the SRIA. The Golden Dawn included daily practices of rituals such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, Middle Pillar exercises, and meditation to name a few. Due to the times, the Order was very secretive, and their members to this day are obligated to maintain silence of their fellow fratres’ and sorores’ identities. The original and first warranted Temple was the Isis-Urania #3 of the Order of the Golden Dawn in London.

Despite good beginnings but questionable origins, the Order eventually broke apart in 1903 due to disagreements, primarily involving Mathers and the eccentric occultist Aleister Crowley. The Golden Dawn was survived by groups that share direct initiatory lineage, such as The Stella Matutina, A∴A∴ and the Alpha et Omega. These groups operated through the 1930s and sporadically until the early 1970s.

In 1934, Dr. Israel Regardie, was initiated into one of the direct off-shoots of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn called the Stella Matutina. As noted before, all Golden Dawn temples were closed by the 1970s. However, in 1977, one of the last remaining initiates into the Stella Matutina was Regardie. He came into contact with Charles “Chic” Cicero and resurrected the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Cicero is a Master Mason from Florida and a member of the American branch of SRIA, called Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis (SRICF), York Rite and other Masonic Rites and Orders. He is in the Grand Line for multiple Masonic organizations as well. His wife, Sandra Tabatha Cicero, is also heavily involved in the Golden Dawn. They have written and co-written several books as well as added new material to some of Regardie’s earlier works. Their invitational version of the Golden Dawn appears to have the most direct lineage to the original Order.

The Golden Dawn’s structure is very similar to that of the Masonic Rosicrucians. It is made up of three orders, three degrees and 12 grades. It utilizes the position, or sephiroth, on the Tree of Life to indicate a member’s grade in the Order. A couple of differences are that there is a probationary period at the beginning, when you are initiated. The initiate’s title is Neophyte or 0=0, which indicates no steps have been taken on the Tree of Life. The Neophyte is required to learn a set curriculum in order to test and progress into the Outer Order, or Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It is here the member has the Zelator Grade bestowed upon them, and is then considered a full member of the Golden Dawn. The Outer Order consists of the 0=0 through 4=7 Grades. There is also another probationary period between the Outer Order and the Inner Order called the Portal Grade. The Portal Grade is a part of the Second Degree of the Order. It is the only grade in this degree and is neither in the Outer(or first) Order or the Inner(or second) Order. Similar to the First, Second and Third Orders, there are three degrees as well shown below. Obtaining the Portal Grade does not ensure entry into the Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis (Inner Order).

The first number after the grade title indicates the number of steps taken on the Tree of Life and the second number indicates the number represented on the Tree. An example is the Zelator grade is 1=10 meaning the first step onto the Tree of Life and the tenth sephiroth on the Tree, Malkuth, as the sephiroths’ are numbered seemingly backwards from top to bottom.

First Order / First Degree / Outer Order - Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
  • Neophyte 0=0
  • Zelator 1=10
  • Theoricus 2=9
  • Practicus 3=8
  • Philosophus 4=7
Second Degree
  • Portal Grade
Second Order / Third Degree / Inner Order - Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis
  • Adeptus Minor 5=6
  • Adeptus Major 6=5
  • Adeptus Exemptus 7=4
Third Order
  • Magister Templi 8=3
  • Magus 9=2
  • Ipsissimus 10=1

Freemasonry was founded by builders, whose symbols are applied in architecture and is usually described as a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols. Being more philosophical and theoretical, Freemasonry does lack the practical side that the Golden Dawn offers.

Many of the themes, symbols and verbiages of the Golden Dawn were clearly taken from Freemasonry. The similarities in how they operate are quite clear to most Freemasons. From two pillars and checkered floors, to officer locations, middle path/pillar, Gnosis or knowledge and light, references of celestical bodies, numbers, and even alchemy, the Golden Dawn and Freemasonry share many commonalities.

While there is no documented reason as to why this group of Masons started a magical order such as the Golden Dawn, it is likely due to their progress in Blue Lodge Masonry, and then later the teachings of SRIA. This mastery likely sparked a need to seek more knowledge of the Ancient Sciences, and to have a more active application of the teachings. With zodiacal references, alchemical transformation and self-mastery in the SRIA, these gentlemen utilized the Cipher Manuscripts and knowledge gained from Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism to create a system of magic that was available to men and women who seek it. They felt these magical exercises and other practices, gave them growth in their lives, and more earthly and spiritual abundance. According to Golden Dawn Senior Adept, Bro. Chic Cicero, magic is explained as “the science and art of causing change (in consciousness) to occur in conformity with will, using means not currently understood by traditional Western science.” 


By studying these teachings, the Golden Dawn adds some perspective to Freemasonry through the many similarities. For example, the Enochian Tablet seen above is placed in the North of the temple during the Zelator grade ritual, or First Grade, of the Golden Dawn. The North in Masonry is represented by darkness, and we are entered into a Masonic lodge as a candidate for the EA degree, or first degree, from the North as a statement of perpetual blindness or blackness. You can see the similarities within the tablet.

With perspective comes understanding. Many Freemasons join the fraternity as a social or civic outlet, and that is completely fine. However, many others join for that esoteric knowledge that is right within reach, yet out of sight, and often never comes out truly in Freemasonry. The Golden Dawn allows for further understanding of much of the symbolism within our fraternity, and a more hands on approach to working with it. Many symbols that are right before us in the Blue Lodge are often misunderstood or worse yet, completely ignored and glossed over. A part of our Masonic journey is the explanation of the three principle supports of Masonry. These supports or pillars represented are Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. In the Golden Dawn there are three pillars as well. If approaching from the West, the pillar to the left (north) is represented by Severity, or Strength, the pillar to the right (south) is represented by Mercy, or Wisdom and the middle pillar is represented by Mildness, or Beauty. Both cases a clear link to Kabbalah, but whereas Freemasonry talks about it, the Golden Dawn takes the step further of working with it.

Many Freemasons are members of both orders. From mine and others’ experiences, the two orders complement one another well, and provide further insight into each orders’ purpose. The Golden Dawn certainly provides more and further light cast upon our great fraternity. Some Masons that know of the Golden Dawn, may believe it to be more of a hogwash than anything, but as a study it is similar to Rosicrucian Colleges such as the SRICF or SRIA, and it goes further and adds daily ritual and practice.

Many new Masons are joining the fraternity as an outlet from the daily grind. Many new Masons are seeking a place of solace, where they can feel a spiritual and philosophical growth. They yearn to find knowledge and mentorship, they can’t get from non-Masons. A lot of new Masons have a glamorized image of gentlemen sitting in suits, talking philosophy, sipping a fine scotch inside of a beautiful, mahogany chamber and then going through very elaborate well executed rituals that nobody else understands but themselves. Unfortunately, many new Masons are let down, and turn to other orders such as the SRICF/SRIA, or even further with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to explore this vague knowledge they gained.

Regular, speculative Masonry’s official inaugural year is 1717, but it is well known that our version of the Craft goes back potentially hundreds, even thousands of years before that. It is even believed that it goes back as far as ancient Greek, Babylonian, or perhaps even Egyptian times. This is when the two Orders unofficially crossed paths. While it wasn’t until 1888 the Golden Dawn was created by three Master Masons, the essence of the Great Work sprouted many millennia before this. With elements of Egyptian symbolism and beliefs, it shares much more with Freemasonry than most would realize. It is an outlet and a practical application of the lessons we learn in Freemasonry, and an opportunity to delve even further into the esoteric and spiritual sciences, and for many acts as path for connecting them to Further Light. And in this it is as relevant today, 130 years after its inception, as when it was initially created.

Most people familiar with our Labor are aware of Aleister Crowley and the stories that have been passed down about him. One question about him that is answered most ambivalently is whether or not Aleister Crowley was a Freemason. As a matter of fact he was, indeed, a Freemason. He was so, at least by the standards of the then ‘irregular’ Grande Loge de France in which his Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343 belonged to. The Grande Loge de France became unrecognized by the United Grand Lodge of England on the 29th of June, 1904. Crowley was entered into his lodge on the 8th of October, 1904.

While Crowley was never regularly initiated into a Masonic Lodge; in 1898 he was initiated into the Outer Order of the original Golden Dawn. There is debate as to whether or not he was ever entered into the Inner Order, or Ruby Rose and Golden Cross (RR et AC). This dispute was primarily due to the ever present controversy that always seemed to follow Mr. Crowley. His further contributions to the Golden Dawn are his creation of the highly secretive off-shoot, A∴A∴.

SRIA Home. (n.d.) 1st para. Retrieved from https://www.sria.info/about-the-society/sria-aims/, 2013
Chic and S. Tabatha Cicero “The History of the Golden Dawn” 8th para Retrieved from http://www.meta-religion.com/Esoterism/The_golden_dawn/the_golden_dawn.htm (1997)
Chic and S. Tabatha Cicero “The History of the Golden Dawn” 13th para Retrieved from http://www.meta-religion.com/Esoterism/The_golden_dawn/the_golden_dawn.htm (1997)
Soror SJ. “Dr. William Wynn Westcott”. Retrieved from http://hogd.co.uk/westcott.htm (2000)
Unknown Author. “About H.O.G.D.” Retrieved from http://www.hermeticgoldendawn.org/hogdframeset.html
Chic Cicero and Sandra Cicero “The Essential Golden Dawn” pg. 70, 2nd para (2003)
Martin P. Starr. “Aleister Crowley: freemason!” Retrieved from http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/aqc/crowley.html  18 Oct 2017:

Brother J. Clint Lewey lives in the greater Rochester, NY area and is a fourth generation Freemason. On the 17th of March, 2015 he was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason at Edmond Lodge #37 in Edmond, OK. Brother Clint is currently a member of Fairport-Flower City Lodge #476, Hiram Royal Arch Chapter #62 and SRICF New York College-Buffalo. He is allowed to divide his working hours serving Veterans in crisis at the Canandaigua, NY VAMC as well as serving his country in the military as a reservist. Bro. Lewey is happily married with two younger children.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.