16 July 2007

Charles Williams & the Order of the Golden Dawn

This is the second installment in a series:
The Order of the Golden Dawn
Personality & Influence
Writing Style

Since our dear friend CW was a Rosicrucian or a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn for at least a few years, maybe longer, I decided I need to do a little research on what that society was. The following information is garnered and edited from several different websites, listed at the end of a Wikipedia article. I would be grateful for any additional information and/or corrections.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a magical order of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, practicing a form of theurgy and spiritual development. It was probably the single greatest influence on twentieth century western occultism. This organization promotes the teachings of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical fraternity founded in London in 1888 by Dr. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.

It was based in part on an elusive set of cipher documents. The Golden Dawn is based on the Secret Doctrine which was taught to the initiates of the priesthood in the temples of the past, which formed the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, etc. This arcane science was the original fount from which have sprung all the various exoteric religions of the ages and in which the Founders of those religions were well versed. Concepts of magic and ritual that became core elements of many other traditions, including Wicca, Thelema and other forms of magical spirituality popular today, are drawn from the Golden Dawn tradition. The stated goal of the corporation is educational, spiritual, and philosophical. In the Ancient Mysteries the knowledge of the Lord of the Universe, the knowledge of Man and his relation thereto, as well as the sub- and super-human beings, the unseen laws operating in both the Macrocosm and the Microcosm were made practical by the detailed knowledge of how to develop the latent powers in man and how to control, dominate and operate non-human beings and forces. The Initiate of the Mysteries was therefore not only a sage but a powerful magician who could at will bring to pass seeming miracles. By reason of their wisdom and power they became great spiritual beings transcending the human stage of evolution, and achieving that alchemical transmutation of the base metal of the lower and material nature into the pure gold of the spiritual, and fixing this by the influx of the divine spirit itself, becoming Christoi—possessors of the Stone of the Wise, the Elixir of Life, the Summum Bonum. Initiation into the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn is the mystical doorway to deep esoteric knowledge and the power of the magi of light.

The Magical Order of the Golden Dawn is an initiatic order descended from the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn established in 1888. The Order is a non-denominational spiritual order and aspirants are encouraged to use their own spiritual path as part of their rituals and meditations. The Magical Order teaches candidates how to contact and work with both their Guardian Angels and Spirit Guides. There are five levels? manifestations? persons? of The Creator:
1. The Creator of All That Is (Spirit)
2. The Creator Incarnate in Your Mind (Air)
3. The "Father" aspect of the Creator (Fire)
4. The "Mother" aspect of the Creator (Water)
5. The Creator Incarnate in your Body (Earth)
While some Golden Dawn traditions believe there is one and only one name for each aspect of deity, experience teaches us that any name you choose will work just as effectively as any other name. Your intention is far more important that the name you assign to the Divine. But you may certainly memorize the Aramaic, Buddhist, Christian, Druidic, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Norse, Pagan, Wicca or any other Divine names of your choice.

So how could CW, a good Anglican, be a member of this quasi-occult organization?

Members of the Golden Dawn have a profound respect for Christianity, and are in no sense hostile to the Roman Catholic Church, nor yet to the other forms of Christian belief, provided that on the more Unitarian side they do not too far gravitate towards Atheism. They especially consider that the Roman Catholic Church has resolutely preserved in its Ceremonies the August Symbols of the Divine Wisdom. The ancient Rosicrucians had to be Christians, unlike modern occultists, who have a rather disturbed relationship with the figure of Jesus Christ. The modern occultist identifies him with a highly illuminated Man or a metaphorical Force or divine essence that is totally abstracted from the Person called Jesus of Nazareth.

Related terms:
[caveat lector: I have not read all these website; proceed at your own risk]

The Western Esoteric Tradition
The August Order of the Mystic Rose
Tarot (relevant for The Greater Trumps
Temple of Isis Holy Mother (Greater Trumpsagain)


Rosie Perera said...

I knew someone who became a Rosicrician. She was a French young woman who came for a homestay for a few weeks to our house to improve her English. We kept up a friendship with her over the years, and I went to visit her in France when I was an exchange student over in Belgium. By then she was becoming involved in the Rosicrucians and tried to talk to me a little about it, but I was quite defensive. Later she told my mother that she didn't think she had a chance to convert me or my brother, because we were too solid in our Christianity (ironic!) but that she thought Jane might be more malleable. In any event, she didn't convert any of us and soon grew so involved in this cult that she stopped any communication with our family, never responded to Christmas cards, etc. I finally stopped trying to stay in touch.

It is quite disturbing to find out that CW was involved in this as well, though I suppose it doesn't surprise me given the weirdness of his writing. What is interesting though, is that he was capable of maintaining relationships with people on the outside, and in fact strong Christians. I wonder how that could have been? Maybe he wasn't as deeply into it as some people were. Maybe he was too smart to be taken in and told to cut off ties with unbelievers. Or maybe our French friend was just unusually gullible and allowed herself to be brainwashed by the organization. Maybe there are people who think we've joined some sort of a cult when we became Christians!

Iambic Admonit said...

I agree with you that it's rather disturbing to consider CW's involvement in this magical, occult group. I do not know how he reconciled it with his Christianity. There seems to be a parallel in his affair with Phyllis Jones and his commitment to his marriage with Florence. He seems to have thought that since he & Phyllis never had sex, it was OK for him to be passionately in love with her and use his idea of her as his connection with God, his way to enlightenment, etc. Not exactly orthodox!

Steve Hayes said...

I;m not sure that he was a member of that Order of the Golden Dawn. There seems to be some doubt about it.

But I've recently discovered an interesting word, "egregore", that seems to have originated with the Rosicrucians, but which also may throw some light on some Christian ideas.

Anonymous said...

Williams was actually not a member of the Golden Dawn but a more Christian oriented "offshoot" called the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. This organisaton, founded by A. E. Waite, was more focussed on mystical aspects than on magic (like the Golden Dawn). It might be difficult to compare this order to any Rosicrucian groups of today. I'm certain however that Williams wasn't a "sectarian" - on the contrary, he was always eager to listen to / understand other viewpoints. His interest in the occult nevertheless stems from his involvement in this group.

Iambic Admonit said...

Dear Anonymous:
Yes, you are exactly right. I have learned a lot about CW since I wrote that post, what, five years ago? I think I'll write an updated one now, thanks to your prompting. And I'd love to know who you are -- always eager to communicate with other CW scholars. If you don't want to post your identity here, would you consider emailing me? iambic dot admonit at gmail dot com.