English Blood, Irish Heart
1913 Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Ancient and Honourable Order of the Golden Dawn, Ireland
The Golden Dawn
The Order of the Golden Dawn is a an esoteric society and fraternity, “whose professed object and end is the practical study of Occult Science.”
The Golden Dawn in History
The Order was founded in 1888 by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, William Wynn Westcott, and William Robert Woodman. It draws from many ancient traditions, incorporating them into a unified system of occult study and practice.
Robert Wentworth Little, a Mason, founded the study group Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), or Rosicrucian Society of England, in or soon after 1865 (the society’s official website gives the date as 1 June 1867). This occurred at the same time that interest in the occult began to see a major resurgence in Britain, and more than two decades before the Golden Dawn itself was founded by the SRIA members Woodman (who had replaced Little as the Supreme Magus of the SRIA), the coroner Westcott, and his protégé Mathers (Fig. 1). In partial accord with the aims of positivist science, technological innovation, and new political movements such as Fabianism, the Order’s self-defined purpose was to enhance individuals’ engagement with the otherworldly realm through natural magic. It operated with logic akin to that of early psychology, and its aim of spiritual development even echoes, as Alison Butler points out, the popular Victorian doctrine of self-improvement (1). From its inception onward, the Order included people from a range of professions; among its members were actors, artists, clergymen, doctors, political activists, writers, and others. The membership was predominantly middle class or, in the words of member and Irish activist Maude Gonne, the “very essence of middle-class dullness” (248).
The Golden Dawn in Ireland
The Golden Dawn has had a long history in Ireland, including many original Irish members such as poet W.B. Yeats, Maud Gonne and George Pollexfen.
Scholars have proposed that not only Marsh but many of the authors I have mentioned were affiliated not only with the occult but with the Golden Dawn specifically. Yeats, Farr, and Nesbit were, indeed, members. As was Machen but, while he acknowledged his membership (Things 149-50), his attitude toward the Order was ambivalent at best. Although invested in the occult throughout his adult life, Machen more than once noted that he did not hold the Golden Dawn in high regard. Once, in a letter, he referred jokingly to an upcoming ceremony as “Tea & Equinox” (Selected Letters 43).
Wilde’s wife Constance was briefly a member, moving quickly through the ranks (Owen 62-63), and she quite probably shared some of her secret knowledge with her husband (Moyle 173-75). Wilde himself may have had his palm read by Mathers (Weintraub 33), whose obsession with Celtic culture would have made him all the more interested in the Anglo-Irish author. Sharp became a member (Blamires 13), probably through Yeats, who was drawn to Sharp’s Celtic neo-paganism and had discussed the Order with him. Moina Mathers described Sharp as “‘a very remarkable being . . . in every respect, & so strangely psychic’” (qtd. in Greer 226).
Stoker, meanwhile, was a close friend of the horror writer John William Brodie-Innes, with whom he discussed occultism (Leatherdale 81). The latter was an influential member of the Golden Dawn, being in charge of the Edinburgh temple and intended by Mathers to be his successor as the Order’s leader. It has been claimed that Stoker was also a member (Picknett and Prince 176), although this has not been proven.