The Rosicrucians were a myth written into reality. In a sense they were an early example of what contemporary writer and magician Grant Morrison terms a “hyper-sigil.” By crafting a narrative that would attract the imaginations of certain people, a new social reality can be made.
As John Dee was spending his last days at Mortlake amongst his looted library and estate his ideas were finding a new outlet on the Continent of Europe. Beginning in 1607 CE a series of pamphlets were circulated detailing the story of one Christian Rosenkreuz who was said to have created a society to the collection and preservation of the esoteric wisdom of the ancients and which was revealing this information now. Rosenkreuz’ story would have him traveling to the east to learn the Ancient Wisdom traditions preserved there. He would bring these traditions back to Europe and would found his Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross to disseminate this wisdom.
Dee’s influence upon these documents can be seen in the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. The invitation for the allegorical wedding of this manifesto is marked with Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. It is likely that his influence had come from Heinrich Khunrath (1560 CE – 1605 CE), an admirer of Dee’s work and a writer on the topic of Alchemy. Another influence upon the emergence of the group had been Rudolf II (1552 CE– 1612 CE) the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled from Prague and had collected many of the best thinkers of the day from a wide variety of fields to his court and who has a firm devote to the development of Alchemy.
On the Continent Rosicrucianism was most closely associated with Germany and with opposition to the Roman Catholic Church in alliance with Lutheranism. It would also come to cohabitant with Speculative Freemasonry, a fraternal system derived in part from the Stone Masons of Medieval Europe. Because of the secrecy that such fraternal systems allowed Freemasonry and groups modeled on Freemasonry would flourish as would claims to Rosicrucian wisdom throughout the 17th Century.
In the beginning of the 18th Century a lineage of particular importance began in Germany. With a claimed date of founding in 1710 CE (though it is suggested that 1750 CE was more likely) the Orden des Gold- und Rosenkreutz (Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross) was founded in Germany by Hermann Fichtuld. The group was open to Master Masons and focused its work upon Alchemy. The group used a tired degree or grade system like most Masonic inspired groups, with the format for this group being: Juniores, Theoreticus, Oracticus, Philosophus, Minor, Major, Adeptus, Magestus , Magus. Here we see the reason for our detour over the last few posts, as we find at the top of this structure a Magus Degree taking its name from the Zoroastrian tradition.
Not much is available regarding the practical Work of the Orden des Gold- und Rosenkreutz though its structural titles would lay a foundation for other groups. The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.), a British Rosicrucian group founded in 1865 CE would use it as the basis for their own structure. Similarly open to Master Masons its Degree system was spread across three “Orders”:
Grade I - Zelator
Grade II - Theoricus
Grade III - Practicus
Grade IV - Philosophus
Grade V - Adeptus Minor
Grade VI - Adeptus Major
Grade VII - Adeptus Exemptus
Grade VIII - Magister
Grade IX - Magus
Within the S.R.I.A. was Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie (1833 CE– 1886 CE). In his youth he had traveled to Vienna to act as a tutor and may have been exposed to ideas from the Asiatic Brethren, a group of Frankish Kabbalists. A linguist and translator by profession he would work in the office of Benjamin Disraeli when Disraeli was still a publisher. Mackenzie made a name for himself mainly through translations of and writing on the Classics, but in his spare time he became interested in Rosicrucianism and the Occult.
In 1854 he had met Paschal Beverly Randolph, (1825 CE – 1875 CE), an American who had founded the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis in 1858. In 1861 CE Mackenzie traveled to France where it is thought that he made contact with Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant). When Robert Wentworth Little discovered some German rituals which he believed to be of Rosicrucian origin he recruited Mackenzie to help with the translation. This material would be used to found the S.R.I.A.
When Mackenzie died in 1886 CE a manuscript was found among his papers in code. It would come into the possession of William Wynn Westcott (1848 CE– 1925 CE), a coroner and leading member of the S.R.I.A. Westcott would recruit Samuel Liddell Mathers (1854 CE – 1918 CE) o decipher the text. Mathers discovered that the text contained the outline for a magical Order based upon the symbolism of the Four Elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Air with images drawn from the Kabbalah and Egyptian myth. Westcott and Mathers, along with Robert Wentworth Little who was then Grand Magus of the S.R.I.A., would use this document to found the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn using a Degree System based on the S.R.I.A. in 1888 CE. As with the S.R.I.A. it would be spread across three Order:
Adeptus Minor 5=6
Adeptus Major 6=5
Adeptus Exemptus 7=4
Magister Templi 8=3
Westcott and Mathers claimed that the Cipher manuscript originated within a German Rosicrucian group that had attempted, and failed, to create a Lodge in England some decades before. They contacted this group via a representative, one Anna Sprengel, who does not appear to have gone through the formality of actually existing. As the manuscript itself appears to be in Mackenzie’s hand it seem more likely that it was the plan for an unfulfilled Order of his design to be created within the S.R.I.A.
The First Order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn focused primarily upon a Kabbalistic approach to Magic for its lessons and Dramatic Rituals of the Freemasonic style for its Initiation Rites. Like much of the Rosicrucian Kabbalah there seems to be a trace of Frankish, and there for Sabbatean, elements to this, including the free pronunciation of the Tetragramaton. In a radical departure from Freemasonry and the S.R.I.A. the Golden Dawn was open to female applicants and as such did not demand that its members be Masons.
The Second Order, for those who had completed the Kabbalistic Training of the First Order focused instead largely upon practical magic and upon the Enochian Materials of John Dee, which Mathers had elaborated upon greatly from Dee’s original accounts. Into this mix Mathers was fold the newly discovered wisdom of the Egyptians being translated thanks to the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 CE, and the practical Hermetic magic of Late Antiquity restored by the discovery of the Greek Magical Papyi in 1827 by Giovanni Anastasi (1780 CE –1860 CE).
No materials associated with the Third Order exists, and it is widely believed that this Order was more theoretical with little administrative function beyond potential Temple Roles in the Order’s Rituals. The titles for this Order however will prove to be important. The most novel addition to the Degrees by the Golden Dawn was the addition of “Ipsissimus.” This is a Latin word meaning “My Very-most Self” that likely entered their design via Friedrick Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human published in 1878 CE.
Between these two Orders the great streams of thought we have been discussing would come together. An authentic connection to the magical traditions of the Hermetica would be established. The Apocalypticism embodied in the Works of John Dee would be explored and expanded. The Messianic Kabbalah would be integrated as a foundation of the Order’s Work, a quirk enabled by a policy of Philosemiticism under Oliver Cromwell after the Civil war (If you are going to be the New Jerusalem you are going to need Jews).
Although many people think of the Golden Dawn as having been a group of “old mustaches” due to its founders its actual popularity was largely with the literary and theatrical scene in England, with its early membership being mostly in their 20s. Early on much of the operations of the grop would pass from its founding triad to Mathers’ wife Moina (Bergson) Mathers (865 CE – 1928 CE) and then to Florence Farr (1860 CE – 1917 CE) when the Mathers would move to Paris and appointed her Chief Adept in Anglia circa 1987 CE.
Although not nearly as well known as other members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn it is Florence Farr whose Work this series on Aeons truly pivots upon. She wold provide a Key for a much more well known member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who once saw himself as her suitor, Edward Alexander “Aleister” Crowley (1875 CE– 1947 CE).