History is a funny thing and there has been a tendency amongst modern magicians to make some unlikely characters heroes (or gods) within the Golden Dawn. While there some real examples of great Golden Dawn magicians –Wynn Westcott, Samual Mathers, Florence Farr, Dr Robert Felkin, Mrs Felkin, John Brodie-Innes and W.B. Yeats. But a cast of Riff-Raff has been headed to magical-god status without actually earning the title. Some might have earned it later in their life but their Golden Dawn years were a magical embarrisment. Here are my top five of the most over-rated Golden Dawn magicians
1. Aleister Crowley: Crowley might have been a good magician later in his life, but the young arrogant toe-rag who showed up on the doors of the Golden Dawn early in his life was not that creature. Crowley carried on through the outer order under the protection of the much admired Allan Bennett (see number five). Feeling that much of this occult teaching was beneath him (a position he later recanted) he reached 4=7 and found that the powers that be did not want him in the second order at least at the moment. There was scandal brewing after a club which Crowley was connected was raided and the GD did not want to draw any attention to itself. Ego miffed at the rejection, he took advantage of the bad feeling against Samuel Mathers to grade hunt. He was given a nominal 5-6 by Mathers and was told to take over the vault and conduct an inquisition. Only an ego like Crowley could have believed that he was ever going be that important. After the dust settled Crowley left the AO having not done hardly any 5=6 work at all. He relied on papers he obtained from Bennett for the rest of his life, often presenting his knowledge of them as his own genius. However as far as the GD was concerned he only obtained a 4=7 and no training.
2. Israel Regardie: The Harry Potter look-alike founder of the modern Golden Dawn only attended a handful of Golden Dawn rituals in his life and most of them were his own initiations. After he published the Golden Dawn he focused on his Therapy business and really did nothing until the 1960s when the Golden Dawn books were rediscovered. Even then he initiated only a handful of people. He only ever claimed the ZAM grade and is responsible for the demagicificant of the Golden Dawn system by explaining it all psychologically.His ignorance of the Golden Dawn system was shown by his mistaken belief that the elemental grades where pointless and could be replaced by his watch-tower and middle pillar rituals. He did know his stuff but it was all in his head. He was much better on alchemy and other things than he ever was in the Golden Dawn. That has not stopped him being a Golden Dawn saint, even though he wrote his iconic Golden Dawn book for all the wrong reasons (justifying it later). Much of the rubbish crept into the modern Golden Dawn can be sourced to Israel Regardie being treated as an authority on a system which was peripheral to his life.
3. Maud Gonne: Although an important historical character, Gonne’s involvement in the Golden Dawn was minor. Famous for being Yeats’s unrequited love her interest in magic was mostly focused on an unhealthy attempt bring her dead child back to life (in one case shagging on the dead baby’s coffin with her ex-husband). Yeats was so obsessed with her he mistook her interest in magic and reincarnation for a general interest in things he did, rather than a rather obsessive and depressing attempt to stand up her dead kid (this obsession was so bad that she ignored her living child while keeping her dead child’s booties around her like a talisman. Yeats knew of all this and wrote one of his worst poems about the dead kid he no doubt cared very little about in a desperate attempt to attract Gonne’s interest. Gonne was only briefly involved in the Golden Dawn so it is not clear why anyone associates her with the Golden Dawn at all, she was not really one of the great Women of the Golden Dawn, nor one of the great movers and shakers (a role taken by Florence Farr and Annie Hornieman) . Her fame within the GD was because of her association with Yeats which is one of the weakest positions for a feminist icon to be in. Farr was also associated with Yeats but she was one of the finest magicians the Golden Dawn created.
4. Mina Mathers: Although it is not really her fault, the modern world has tended to make Mina Mathers a feminist icon based on a photo which made her look rather modern. People have assumed therefore that she was the power behind Samuel Mathers when there is very little to support the theory. Samuel appeared to do what ever he liked and carry his somewhat weak-willed wife with him. She was completely subservient to her husband in every way but one. She was alarmingly repressed sexually and would not consummate the marriage – regarding sex as dirty.
She was a talented artist, but there is nothing to suggest that she was a great ritual magician or teacher. In later life she was regarded by Dion Fortune as particularly bad. One area where we have some indication of her magical ability was her pathworkings which are not bad, but have a tendency towards cliché. Either way we are not talking about a significant magician here. That has not stopped her myth developing to the point she is supposed to have designed the colours in the vault (that was Mathers with some input from Westcott) and channelled all the second order materail (that was Mathers). Other than the fact she was there, we have very little indication of Mina’s involvement in the GD other than as a constant support to her husband.
When that support was removed, when her husband died, she became increasingly unstable and autocratic. Some of her neurosis which had remained hidden to the rest of the world became more obvious. It was rumoured that her death at a young age was from an eating disorder. But even if this was untrue she was an example of somone who did not tackle their issues until it was too late.
5. Allan Bennett: Wereit were not for his friendship with Crowley, history would know Allan Bennett for his work as a Buddhist Missionary and a key element in bringing that religion to the United Kingdom. Earlier in his life he was significantly interested in magic and was an enthusiastic member of the Golden Dawn and respected by many (including Felkin). But his main salesman was Crowley who might have overegged Bennett’s reputation as a significant magician.
There are two Golden Dawn ritual’s we have of Bennett’s – getting a Spirit of Mercury to physical manifestation and another talisman ritual against obsession. Having performed them (several times) it is a wonder he had the reputation he did. The rituals are clunky and seem to ignore the Golden Dawn teachings. Farr corrected one of the (which miffed Crowley) because it was so badly wired that would have driven the magician (herself) insane. This is not decrying Bennett, he really was a Buddhist saint but he was not a magician and his heart really was not in the Golden Dawn.