Occult Profiles: Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson



Samuel Lidell McGregor Mathers was born in January of 1854. There is some confusion about whether it was on the 8th or the 11th. He is most well known for having been one of the original founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 


In his “real life”, he was a simple clerk with simple education. His school was the all-boys Bedford School, which was founded in 1552. In Samuel’s day to day, he was a speaker of several languages. He had mastered of course English but was also fluent in French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and even Gaelic. There are reports of him even being able to speak in the late-stage Egyptian language known as Coptic. He also had two more interesting traits not usually attributed to anyone in those days, he was an avid non-smoker and a vegetarian. 


He was made a Freemason in Hengist Lodge No.195 on the 4th of October, 1877 and was made a Master Mason on January 30th, 1878--  all under the provision of the United Grand Lodge of England. Many of the influencers of Occultism came from this mid to late 19th Century and it stretched into the 20th. We see the rise of Spiritualism as a religion, not merely an interest. Later this religion, which still exists today, branched out. I might suggest but also with an air of caution that this evolved into the New Age views. Again, with caution. 


Samuel, living in this evolving spiritual and metaphysical world naturally made use of his talents. Because he was a speaker of multiple languages, he was able to make translations of books not ever read before by English speakers. Books like The Book of Abramelin, The Key of Solomon, The Grimoire of Armadel, and the Lesser Key of Solomon. He also was involved in writings that compiled the work of John Dee and Edward Kelley, the two famous occultists responsible for Enochian Magic, and the Emerald Tablets of Thoth


The later work mentioned above is a wonderful amalgamation. The roots of the works are, however, dubious. In a small tangent, it is important to note that while the works of John Dee are as reputable as any in the field of the occult, those of Edward Kelly, are not. This becomes a problem later when we trace the lineage of what was taught in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the later Alpha et Omega and other bodies which branched off from here or hold a relation to; e.g. Ordo Templi Orientis, A:.A:.,  A:.O:. etc. I mean no disrespect in pointing this out, merely stating the obvious. I will be blunt and as factual as possible while writing these “profiles”.


While involved in Masonry, Samuel joins the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, or SRIA (Origin 1865). This ‘Masonic’ body is a sanctioned version of Rosicrucianism which does predicate membership on being a Master Mason. It was men only. While involved with this, evidence shows that Samuel was also involved in receiving degrees in many other bodies, which one might consider any number of classifications i.e Irregular, Clandestine, or just plain spurious. Again, it was the late 19th Century, and spiritualism was the hot ticket. Offering someone “light” or a new philosophy was very enticing, and let us not forget--lucrative. 


While being heavily involved with the Rosicrucian order, many members began to wonder about the practical application of these esoteric concepts contained within the system. The system relied heavily on the once again dubious texts, revered by the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross (Origin 1750). This order and others similar in nature have for their legends and texts those known as Cipher Manuscripts and the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz (1459) among others. These texts, also have questionable origins, which of course calls into question the validity of anything later which uses them. A firm foundation these texts are not.


For a while, members of the SRIA were satisfied with their memberships,but this question of ‘practicality’ loomed. Meanwhile, Samuel receives some prestigious rewards in the SRIA. The conversation began between three of the members of that SRIA chapter, Samuel, William Wynn Westcott (a physician and Worshipful Master of Quatuor Coronati research lodge 1893–1894), and Robert Woodman and this resulted in the formation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1887. Westcott was the prime mover in the creation of this order. Relationships bloomed between these three fellows. In fact, a bridge was formed in 1891, when Samuel was requested to give a lecture to the Theosophical Society, an organization whose founders (Blavatsky, Olcott, and Judge) we will cover individually in further installments of this series. A prominent member in Theosophy was William Wynn Westcott.


The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was starting to take off.  Woodman would become the leader of the Golden dawn but died before the organization was expanded to create an insiders group within called,  ‘the Second Order’. Mathers becomes the new leader. The Golden Dawn was one of the first esoteric societies which allowed for co-ed meetings and in many ways, venerated the status of women. As spiritualism wasn’t just a religion for men, women also had an avid interest and the new Hermetic Order was a place that allowed their ideas to flourish. The Golden dawn relies on an interesting system of grades which were very well put together by Brother Clint Lewy in his piece, read it HERE. Upon Westcott’s death, Samuel became the Golden Dawn’s new leader. 


During Samuel’s time in the Golden Dawn he took on many students, one famed student was Aleister Crowley. Later the two would find themselves to be at odds. Part of the Golden Dawn system involved a concept and legend of the “Secret Chiefs”, not unlike the idea of Unknown Superiors (not to be confused with the title of Unknown Superiors in the OM Martinism) or even the Hidden Masters e.g. “Master R” or “St. Germain”.


Samuel at a point in 1900, was expelled from the Golden Dawn. There was some controversy over what we could call a scam by a couple of mediums and also a power move by Samuel to demand loyalty from everyone else. At this same time, he and Aleister Crowley attacked each other “psychically” and it led to a rift. Crowley was expelled at the same time as Mathers.  Samuel had essentially said that he was equal to the ‘Secret Masters’. Samuel and his wife Moina (Mina) moved to Paris, where they performed interpreted Egyptian rituals for theaters and the like to make money. While in Paris, Mathers starts an offshoot organization called Alpha et Omega, a Rosicrucian / Golden Dawn type organization with himself at the head. This organization eventually made it to the United States, in fact, another couple of people we will cover in this series (Paul Foster Case is one) was a member of Alpha et Omega. Paul Foster Case was subsequently expelled by Moina Mathers for informing the members that the ritual and lectures were verbatim copies from two books available in the New York Library. Those works will be disclosed in another piece in the series. 


The life of a clerk didn’t always pay the bills. As a married man, Samuel had responsibilities. Some say hardships and others say a disinterest in the Craft, lead Samuel to become delinquent in his payments to the organizations from which he had borrowed. This led to his expulsion in 1903 from most of recognized Freemasonry. 


Samuel, as I have referred to him in this piece, was an interesting man. The name he is usually cited as is McGregor Mathers, and yet this is a name he added for himself to emphasize his Scottish heritage, of which there is also little support for. Likely he took this additional name, to bolster claims that his contemporaries and followers believed--that he was the reincarnated King James VI, the “WIZARD king” of Scotland. In his early 20s, Samuel joined a volunteer military service, and although he never went further than the rank of Private, he did have portraits made of himself in uniform to display, which added to his influence and ego. 


He died somewhere between November 5th and 20th in 1920. The mode of death? Questionable. There are some wild assertions here. One is that he blew himself up, of which there is zero evidence. One from his own wife, Moina who believed Samuel died, the result of a psychic vampire attack from Aleister Crowley and finally, the most likely scenario, that he died of the Spanish flu. 


In conclusion, Samuel Lidell Mathers was an influential and esteemed occultist who was a regular member of our Craft, an inspirational leader (although egotistical) and really, a genius. Whether or not the systems he promoted, the teachings he gave, or the rituals he performed were based on fact, or hokey spiritualism, there is something of value in giving people a means to aspire to greatness, to altruism, a return to the oneness with God. 


Samuel Mathers, like so many of his day, made a living as a sort of spiritual tramp. Who through his conviviality and charming nature was able to become somebody. A man who offered solace and hope to a Victorian world rife with mind-blowing sexual revolutions, emerging ideas of equality for women and death at every turn from consumption. He made a lasting mark on the occult world and we should all agree that Samuel Mathers did, in fact, die, a somebody.

~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatrewhich focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.


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Sources:

Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of the Esoteric, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2004, p. 208.

S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Practical Instruction in Infantry Campaigning Exercise, Translated from the French ( London: City of London Publishing Co., 1884); cited in Christopher McIntosh, The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology and Rituals of an Occult Order, page 111 (second revised edition, Crucible, 1987). ISBN 978-1852740252

William Butler Yeats, The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume III: Autobiographies, pages 452–453 (edited by William O'Donnell and Douglas N. Archibald, New York: Scribner, 1999 edition). ISBN 0-684-80728-9
History of the SRIA, T M Greenshill, MBE, published 2003

"Samuel Liddel MacGregor-Mathers", accessed 17 February 2007.

John Michael Greer, The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Hidden History, page 28 (HarperElement, 2006). ISBN 978-0-00-722068-7

Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. p. 194.



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