The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order

The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order

By R. A. Gilbert
York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1997, Hardback, paperback, 200 pages.

This is not a book for someone looking for a glorification of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. As the author says in the introduction, he seems to concentrate on the follies and misdeeds of the members because that is what the story of the Order largely involves. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting and informative book, full of insight and information about the principal actors: the men William Wynn Wescott, Samuel Mathers, and William Woodman; and the women Mina Mathers, Annie Horniman, and Florence Farr. Woven into the fabric of the story are also such monumental figures as William Butler Yeats, A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley, and Paul F. Case. A very interesting chapter about the ritual of the order is also included. There is some slight mention of connections with the Theosophical Society. The work is lavishly illustrated with photographs, copies of significant letters, and diagrams.

The construction of the book is curious, for it is neither a chronological history nor a doctrinal analysis. It is, as the title says, "a scrapbook." Each chapter stands more or less on its own and deals with one topic or incident or group of persons, though the whole tale is interwoven and complex. As a result, the neophyte reader may find some passages difficult to follow. At other times the text seems to go over the same territory once again. Nevertheless, when one finishes the book, one has a sense of the whole and feels well introduced to one of the great occult movements of the modern world. Despite the chicanery and sometimes outright dishonesty involved, it would appear that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and that, after all, there may be much to learn from both the accomplishments and misdeeds of this late Victorian and early twentieth-century movement.


January/February 2001