Francis King and the Hermanubis Golden Dawn fantasy
Francis King and the Hermanubis Golden Dawn fantasy

Francis King and the Hermanubis Golden Dawn fantasy

In the 1970s, the occult writer Francis King (10 January 1934 – 8 November 1994) hit on a wizard wheeze which would have been impossible 20 years later and still has ramifications today.

Despite having yet to experience running an occult order, he wanted to create a British supergroup featuring all the big names on the magic scene as its members. Of course, he would be in charge.

The order’s structure was to feature a correspondence course to teach the basics before initiating those who passed into a proper Temple. It is possible that King thought that the “names” he wanted to attract would run their own groups based on the teaching and format he gave them.

His problem was that while he was a known occult writer and researcher, King had no pull with the Wiccans and Dion Fortune-influenced groups which dominated the occult scene. He tried to capitalise on his knowledge of the Golden Dawn as a tool to draw them together under his umbrella and made the temple structure he was building into a Golden Dawn.

Choosing the Golden Dawn was logical. He had written some Golden Dawn books, had a long correspondence history with Israel Regardie and had access to some authentic papers. But King had another issue which would cause similar problems for those trying to establish Golden Dawn groups in the 1980s and later. The Golden Dawn structure forbade him from forming one without lineage or the nod of a chief.

He resolved this problem by inventing his lineage and creating a fictitious temple called Hermanubis, which he claimed was based in Bristol.

Apparently, this Stella Matutina Temple continued after the main temple shut and provided him with the authority before it disappeared without a trace.

King managed to convince others of the temple’s existence. Ithell Colquhoun listed the temple in her biography of Mathers Sword of Wisdom.  

King pitched his group as the heir to the true unpublished secrets of the Golden Dawn, which Israel Regardie did not know. Some ideas leaked into his book Techniques of High Magic and outlined what he hoped to sell as this secret wisdom. This included swapping the elemental weapons so that the wand (rather than the dagger) would represent air and the sword (rather than the wand) would represent fire. I have seen this attribution in the Servants of the Light, and I am told the same applies to Wicca and Inner Light which King was a member. It was never secret teaching in any actual Golden Dawn temple, and I suspect it was to make Golden Dawn teaching more palatable to those who were not familiar with it.

King put the work in. The short correspondence course was established and took on students. Mike Magee published this course in the Hermetic Tablet.

King made all the equipment for his temple and called on a few friends to attend the inaugural meeting of the restored Hermanubis, and while no rituals were performed, photographs of the event were taken. These photographs were later used in King’s picture book Magic.

But like all good plans, it failed totally. When those who had completed the correspondence course finished, they found no lodge to join. One student kept writing and never received a reply.

It is unclear why King decided not to press ahead with his cunning plan. In the days before the internet, it was not as if he would ever be rumbled. What is more likely is that he could not sell the concept as a supergroup to other orders. Running esoteric groups is like herding cats, but setting up an esoteric supergroup is like trying to organise a flock of chickens with their heads cut off.

In hindsight, it would have been better to fail. King’s group was formed long before the rediscovery of Whare Ra, the unearthing of a ton of golden dawn manuscripts and some heavy work from different groups working the system. Had King’s group been operational in the 1990s, he would have faced an angry mob of members armed with pitchforks cross he had taken them for a ride for 20 years.

Tony Fuller has pointed out that before his death King backed down on the Hermanubis fantasy. In his 1989 revision of “Ritual Magic In England” (also published as “Modern Ritual Magic”) King states: “I am now satisfied that the modern Bristol Temple in this chapter had no connection with either the original Golden Dawn or the Cromlech Temple.”

It must have been very easy for him to prove it to himself.

However, the legacy of the group still remains. I am still contacted by those asking me when Hermanubis closed and if it had any modern offshoots. During the Golden Dawn wars, one American claimed that Hermanubis existed and had lineage from it (this was not one of the usual suspects). Another thing you find are those who insist that the Golden Dawn did have such a thing as an Air Wand and a Fire Sword. These missteps are down to Francis King’s attempts to start a Golden Dawn order by making up a temple called Hermanubis without ever being a member of the Golden Dawn.