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The Baal Shem of London

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on March 4, 2011 | Comments (2)

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a linchpin in Western occultism, was founded in the late 1880s. Within 15 years there had been schisms dividing the Order. With the internet today, events happen much faster. Various groups claim to be “the” Golden Dawn and fight for the use of the name. New groups claim to have the “real” teachings. People get kicked out of one group or they split off from groups to form their own “real” Golden Dawn.

These games don’t matter. It is the work that matters. All of these games are about ego. The Order is about the work.

When the Order was founded, they included a document that revealed the Order’s supposed history, going back before its modern founding (or re-creation). Over the years, aspects of this “History Lection” (Lection is an archaic word meaning a particular edition of a text. I always find it amusing how many occult writers think it’s necessary to use archaic or foreign words when there are perfectly acceptable modern words.) have fallen into question—appropriately so—leading not to an editing but to an abandonment. This would be like saying the novel War and Peace is no good if a period is in the wrong place. I contend it would be more appropriate to abandon anything proven wrong and keep what is accurate. Sure, that’s more work, and a lot of “authorities” don’t really like work, even if that work isn’t all that difficult.

If instead of simply abandoning the entire History Lection we research each claim for its validity, we’ll soon come to the forgotten man of the Golden Dawn, Johann F. Falk.

The Golden Dawn—80 Years Before its Founding

According to the Golden Dawn lectures, there was a G.D. lodge in London around 1810 which was headed by Johann F. Falk. In all of the books and research through Golden Dawn sources, it seems that nobody was interested in checking up on this. Either they simply believed or discounted the documents completely.

In fact, a Rabbi de Falk, also known as Cain Chenuel Falk, was a noted cabalist and magician living in London around this time, the late 1700s. His “son,” Johann Friedrich Falk was born in Hamburg and is mentioned in the classic Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia by Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie. One Masonic historian believes they were the same person.

Who was this Falk? Some time ago, while surfing the ’net, I came across an the home page  of a group claiming to be the Golden Dawn. [I later saw copies of their mail-order teachings and found a large percentage of it to be nothing more than a slight re-write of my own Modern Magick, complete with expressions I used and breaking down rituals into sections exactly as I did (although no one had done so before).]

Anyway, they, like others, claimed that Falk (Faulk) was “an obscure individual.” For a group claiming to be “the” Golden Dawn, they seemed very unwilling to research their own history.

In actuality, he was hardly “obscure.” In fact, he was one of the most influential occultists of the time and was called in a book that was written about him, The Baal-Shem of London.

Contemporary Painting of the
Baal Shem of London, “Dr. Falk”

Being called a “Baal-Shem” (speaker of the name) was no small honor. Rather, it was the sign of being a talented kabalist and magician. For the Rabbis known as Baal-Shems used their knowledge of the names of God, and the secret ways to write or say those names, in order to work great magick. Several magickal or even miraculous events are attributed to him. The story of the famous “Golem of Prague” is based on the idea that knowing the magical ways of working with words and names could actually bring life to lifeless matter. The Golem, a huge, hulking creature made of clay, was brought to life to defend the Jews of the Prague Ghetto against their oppressors. A word written on a piece of paper, eh-met (Hebrew for “truth”) brought the creature to life. Removing the first letter changed the word to met, Hebrew for “dead,” ending its existence. The Golem was the forerunner and model for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein “monster.”

In Jewish history there have been many such Baal-Shems, the most important one being called the Great (Tov) Speaker of the Name or Baal Shem Tov (Besht for short). Prayers written by the Besht are still used in synagogues all over the world. Very few have been called a Baal Shem, and Falk was one of the most amazing.

First, it is important to question if the story, as told in the History Lection, is accurate. Falk died in 1782, so he couldn’t have run a temple in London in the early 1800s. There is some belief that it might have been his son, however this is questionable. In Judaism, children are not supposed to be named after any living person. Thus, either the dates given in the History Lection are in error or, more likely, the son adopted the name of his more famous father.

There can be no doubt that Falk was a magician. He started out in Germany and accounts of his alchemical workings (in the late 1730s) have been published. He was eventually condemned for being a sorcerer. His punishment: to be burned alive. Luckily, he was able to escape to Holland before ending up in London.

Falk rapidly became known in England, both among Jews and even more so among Christians. According to some historians, even the infamous Cagliostro was involved with Falk and learned from London’s Baal Shem both the secrets and rituals that later formed his Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. These Rites, by the way, became one of the sources for the modern O.T.O.

Falk was involved with revolutionaries and Freemasons. He is noted in a German history of Freemasonry as being a “very extraordinary man from every point of view. Some people believe him to be the chief of all the Jews…He is referred to…as a Rose-Croix [Rosicrucian]…He has had adventures with the Marechal de Richelieu, a great seeker of the Philosopher’s Stone.” It is also noted that that he predicted the death of Louis XV.

One of Falk’s enemies in London complained that wealthy Christians liked him and gave him money which he spent on the men in his “Brotherhood.” This Brotherhood was probably a high-degree, Rose-Croix Masonic group. For those who are not familiar with the Golden Dawn, their so-called Inner Order claims to be the true Rosicrucian Order (and no, they’re not affiliated with the AMORC Rosicrucians).

While on one of his frequent trips to Paris, Falk consecrated a talismanic ring made of lapis lazuli for the Duke of Orleans to insure that the Duke, who supported Freemasons (and vice versa), would ascend to the throne of France. As a leader of the Freemasonic movement, he supported the French Revolution and became known as the hero, “Phillipe Egalité.” But the Freemasons lost control of the revolution, and the movement toward liberty became, instead, “The Terror.” He became an “enemy of the people,” yet firmly believed in the ring’s power. He was beheaded on the Guillotine in 1793, but gave the ring first to a Jewish friend who then passed it to the Duke’s son. In 1830 that son ascended to the throne as King Louis Phillipe of France.

Not only was there a link between Falk and the Duke of Orleans, but Falk’s student, Cagliostro, is also in this revolutionary brew. In 1786 he predicted that a “great prince” would soon institute a liberal reign in France. Many believe that this was the Duke and the “liberal reign” was the French Revolution during its early days.

William Butler Yeats was one of the most famous poets of modern history. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. He was also a supporter of Freedom for the people of Ireland and supported their culture as a founder of the Abbey Theater and a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival. For a time after the schism against MacGregor Mathers’ leadership of the Golden Dawn, Yeats became the head of the Order. He claimed that the mystical poet/artist William Blake had studied Kabalah in the “Rosicrucian” school of Falk. Interestingly, it is well known that the Duke of Orleans, who had studied practical Kabalah with Falk, was one of Blake’s heroes. In his book, The French Revolution, Blake makes the Duke a hero, a “bulwark of revolutionary hopes” who urged the French nobles to “Fear not dreams, fear not visions.” One of Blake’s associates, an artist named Copley, painted a picture of Falk in which he was depicted in “Cabalistic regalia with the Masonic compass and quadrant in his hands.” It is shown above.

So Falk was not obscure. His relationship to the Masonry and the O.T.O. is undeniable. His link to modern Kabalistic, magical, and mystical traditions is at least as important as that of Eliphas Levi, even though he is not as well known today. Why is he not well known? Because the only writing he did, his diary, wasn’t published until 2002, and that was in Hebrew.

Falk’s link to the Golden Dawn may only be indirect. For a more direct link it would have to be shown that the dates in the History Lection are wrong (a strong possibility) or that Falk’s son used his father’s name and reputation (unlikely, but possible)

In Mackenzie’s Book (the Cyclopaedia), he says that Falk headed a “Cabalistic college” in London. He was, no doubt, referring to the “brotherhood” started by Falk. Could it be that this was the first British lodge of the Golden Dawn? Falk’s son died in 1824. But is there any way to show a direct relationship between this brotherhood/Cabalistic college of Falk and the German Jewish lodge referred to in the G.D. documents as the source of the Golden Dawn? Yes.

According to a book published in Germany in 1932, a Jewish Masonic Lodge called the Aurore Naisante was founded in London in 1817. It was founded under the authority of the Duke of Sussex who was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in England, but without the authorization of the Frankfurt lodge. As a result, it was closed by the Frankfurt Masonic authorities in 1822, but may have continued on its own.

A Jewish Masonic Lodge was also founded in 1807 in Frankfurt under the auspices of the Grand Orient, the more occult version of the Freemasons. In French it too was called the Aurore Naissante and in German it was Zur Aufgehenden Morgenrote. This is very similar to the name of the German temple that supposedly gave authorization to found the famed British Golden Dawn as recorded in the GD’s History Lection.

Among the founders of this German Jewish Masonic lodge were three Freemasons who were well-known at the time: Ludwig Borne, Gabriel Riesser and Berthold Auerbach. These men were also associated with the fringe Masonic rite known as the Strict Observance of Baron von Hund.

Was is all this important? The S.O. had secret leaders known as “The Secret Chiefs,” an important aspect of the Golden Dawn. The S.O. was also interested in magick and alchemy, two major interests of the G.D. (Yes, I know this is getting a bit conspiratorial.)

WHAT IT MEANS:

It seems to me that the information about the early history of the Golden Dawn as included in the History Lection of the Order is based on history, but is rather garbled. Therefore, there are three possible sources for how this information got into the History Lection which was written by W.W. Westcott:

  1. He got hand-written information that had been copied many times and errors had slipped in.
  2. He got it in person from someone who knew the history but whose memory was failing after 60 years.
  3. He read it but didn’t remember it accurately himself.

I don’t think we’ll ever have a completely accurate history of the Golden Dawn. Personally, I don’t think that matters. It’s the work we do today that counts, not the history.

Reader Comments

avatar
#1 
Written By ampulla
on March 4th, 2011 @ 8:17 am

It’s exciting to realize that our lineage can be traced back so far, , even in its fragmented state.

It was generous of you to call those mail-order teachings a “rewrite” of your book. They sound like outright plagiarism.

avatar
#2 
Written By Olen
on August 8th, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

I have gathered a bit of information on Rabbi Falk. He was a fascinating character. It is greatly significant that Rainsford of Rainsford-Sibley-Bacstrom found Hebrew Rosicrucian Mss in Algiers that were left there by the Rabbi, when he had previously provided Theurgic assistance in their efforts against Spain. It is quite significant because of Falk’s involvement with the Frankist Circles (He is also targeted as such by Rabbi Emden) that provided the Mysteries for the Asiatic Brethren. Later, Rainsford would express dismay over Rabbi Falk’s passing due to the efforts to start a Lodge. The Asiatic Brethren rewrote the GuRC materials, thus an easily determined RC influence by Rainsford. Also, note that Scholem indicates that “Chevrah Zerach Boqur Aur” is a translation of “Morgenrothe” from German to Hebrew… the name was not simply a Hebrew Name but was a translation of German “to” Hebrew. Falk also ran in circles that would have been very familiar to the Bereksohns (i.e. Bergson’s) who had saved Ashkenazi Kabbalah and Hasidus. He was obviously a Sabbatian and had the famous Ba’ali Shem David of Poyjadce as a guest. Descriptions of the Magickal work although few are quite amazing in description.

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