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Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers

This article was written by John Michael Greer on April 01, 2005
posted under Mathers, MacGregor

English occultist, 1854-1918. Born in London and educated at Bedford Grammar School, he came from a background of poverty and never attended university. He spent his early adult years living with his mother in Bournemouth, working as a clerk and beginning his lodge involvements with his initiation into Freemasonry in 1877. In 1882 he became a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, a Masonic Rosicrucian group whose leading light at that time was William Wynn Westcott, a rising star in English occult circles.

In 1885 he moved to London and became a member of the Hermetic Society founded by Anna Kingsford. The same year saw the publication of his most significant book, The Kabbalah Unveiled, a translation of parts of the Zohar with accompanying commentary. By this time he was working with Westcott on the development of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which would go on to become the most influential occult order of its time.

Well before the time the Golden Dawn was formally founded in 1888, Mathers had begun to insist that he was descended from the MacGregors, the outlaw "nameless clan" of Scottish Highlands legend, and adopted the title Comte de Glenstrae, which he claimed was conferred on an ancestor by Louis XV of France. His claims to Scottish ancestry have found little support from actual research: the list of known aliases of MacGregors does not include the name Mathers, and no trace of his title has surfaced in French records.

In 1890 he married Mina Bergson, the sister of French philosopher Henri Bergson, and was made curator of the Horniman Museum—which was, not coincidentally, owned by the father of fellow Golden Dawn initiate Annie Horniman. Mathers’ unstable behavior lost him that position by 1892, however, and he and Mina (who changed her name to the more Celtic-sounding Moina) moved to Paris. Once there, Mathers became increasingly dictatorial and erratic [in his control of the Golden Dawn], and Westcott’s resignation from the order in 1897 left Mathers free of any outside control.

The result was a series of spiraling crises that ended in the open revolt of most of the order in 1900. Caught off guard, Mathers was able to preserve a fraction of the original order under the name Alpha et Omega. The defection of Aleister Crowley, an initiate of the order who had backed Mathers during the revolt and then turned on him in 1904, came as another blow.

In his last years, Mathers continued to run the Alpha et Omega, and also wrote and performed a series of public rituals, the Rites of Isis, which attracted favorable attention from the Paris occult scene as well as the cultural avant-garde. He died in the great influenza epidemic of 1918.

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