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What is the Golden Dawn

This article was written by Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero on May 29, 2002
posted under Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is an initiatory magical group that was founded in London in 1888. It is a society that is dedicated to philosophical, spiritual, and psychic evolution. The history lecture of the Order states that, "The Order of the Golden Dawn is an Hermetic Society whose members are taught the principles of Occult Science and the Magic of Hermes." Although the original Golden Dawn (and its immediate offshoots) ceased to be a viable magical Order in the early part of this century, it’s legendary status has continued to influence and inspire individual magicians and magical groups to this day. In fact, the Golden Dawn in various forms is currently enjoying a modern renaissance.

The Golden Dawn is not a religion, although religious imagery and spiritual concepts play an important role in the work of the Order. The G.D. is a school and a repository of knowledge, where students learn the various elements of Western philosophy and magic. Tolerance for all religious beliefs is stressed, and symbolism used within the Order comes from a variety of religious sources. As is stated in one important initiation ceremony, "Remember to hold all true religions in reverence, for there is none but contains a ray from the Ineffable Light that you are seeking." Today, people from many diverse religious paths consider themselves Golden Dawn magicians—including Wiccans, Neopagans, Gnostics, Jews, and Christians.

A skeptic once asked us, "considering all the achievements of humanity from the beginning of history, what was so special about the Golden Dawn? If the magicians of the Golden Dawn were so important, how come most people on the face of the Earth have never heard of them? What did they accomplish? Why should anyone in the modern world care?"

The achievements of the Golden Dawn can’t be measured like a sack of grain. Spiritual philosophy and belief refuse to be pinned down and dissected under the skeptic’s microscope. The art and science of magic baffles all attempts by material science to place it in a nice, tidy, well-defined box.

If these magicians were so important, why is it that most people have never heard of the likes of MacGregor Mathers and Dr. W.W. Westcott? We suppose that it is a simple matter of media exposure. Why is it that people all over the world have heard of O.J. Simpson and Madonna? Just how important are their achievements to humanity?

Why should anyone in today’s world care about what the Golden Dawn did? What did its members achieve? Well, if you have any regard for literature, you might be interested to know that one important member of the Golden Dawn, William Butler Yeats, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yeats, who was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, stated that next to his poetry, the Golden Dawn was the most important pursuit of his life. If you love the theater, it might surprise you to learn that another member of the Golden Dawn, Annie Horniman, built and funded Ireland’s famous Abbey Theater, and was considered a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival. If you love art, it might interest you to learn that a leading member of the Order, Moina Mathers, was one of the first to employ the art form of collage, and William Horton was a prominent graphic artist in the Art Nouveau movement. In fact, many members of the Golden Dawn wrote a number of books on a variety of subjects, from many aspects of occultism to poetry, fiction, bibliography, medicine, and entomology. Among these authors in the Golden Dawn Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood are perhaps best known.

But the real contribution made by the magicians of the Golden Dawn was in the area of magic and spiritual growth. Anyone with an interest in the occult, metaphysics, mysticism, and spiritual evolution, should be aware of the fact that almost all modern practical occultism came directly or indirectly from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the last century, the influence of the Golden Dawn has been strongly felt in all areas of magic. Today, many magical organizations have borrowed heavily from the methods used by the Golden Dawn, but often without giving credit to the Order. The Golden Dawn was the archetype of all magical groups. No group that existed prior to its establishment could compare to it—and no group that has come after it has ever matched its achievements.

"...the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—an organization which has exerted a greater influence of the development of Occultism since its revival in the last quarter of the 19th century than most people can realize. There can be little or no doubt that the Golden Dawn is, or rather was until very recently, the sole depository of magical knowledge, [...] A great many other occult organizations owe what little magical knowledge is theirs to leakages issuing from that Order and from its renegade members."

Who were the magicians that comprised this magical fraternity? The members of the original Golden Dawn were almost all respectable middle-class people, men and women, who were interested in the occult. Some were from the upper class, and there were quite a few doctors and writers. Many members of the Order also belonged to other esoteric groups, such as the Theosophical Society. Many were Masons. They were intelligent, creative, and otherwise normal people who had a great thirst for spiritual knowledge. They sought to understand the hidden mechanics of the universe through the study of magic. In short, they were not unlike today’s practitioners of Golden Dawn magic.

The goal of the Golden Dawn has always been the continued preservation of the magical tradition. It is the teaching of new initiates, and their continued spiritual growth. This spiritual endeavor has been referred to as the "search for the Quintessence, the Stone of the Philosophers, True Wisdom, Perfect Happiness, the Summum Bonum," It is "the Completion of the Great Work." The number of people who are studying the Golden Dawn’s system of magic in this day and age is steadily increasing.

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