From the book "Secret  Societies" by David V. Barrett

Before returning to the development of Rosicrucian ideas* and the more recent spread of Rosicrucian and other esoteric societies, a look in some depth at the whole concept of the esoteric would be worthwhile.

The connection, however major or however slight, between secret societies and the esoteric. - or worse, 'the occult' - is enough for many to condemn such societies out of hand. But the word 'occult' simply means 'hidden', and any initiatory society, by definition, keeps some things hidden from outsiders.

It should be stressed at this point that this book is not implying that Freemasonry is an occult society in the usual sense of the term. A number of books have claimed this, and it is hardly surprising that the United Grand Lodge becomes vastly irritated at such accusations, whatever the esoteric beliefs of many early Freemasons, the connections between later Freemasons and various 'occult' groups, or the deeply mystical beliefs of a minority of Freemasons today.1

In its usual sense, though, the word 'occult9 is equated with magic, and worse, with the powers of darkness. It is to be hoped that this chapter will, at least for some, dispel the belief that anything occult, or magic itself, is necessarily evil.


According to SF and popular science author Sir Arthur C. Clarke's 'Third Law9, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.92 As Tom Shippey and Peter Nicholls point out in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction,

This echoes the observation by Roger Bacon (c. 1214-92) 700 years before that 'many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical'; the irony whereby Bacon, a pioneer of experimental science, gained a posthumous reputation for sorcery goes far to confirm Clarke's 'Law', and is at the heart of James Blish's novel of the history of science, 'Doctor Mirabilis' (1964).3

Doctor Mirabilis is the story of Roger Bacon's life. While clearly fiction, it is an excellent exploration of the immense difficulties which confronted a late medieval scholar who had to face suspicion from the Church at every step of the way.

Magic is in the eye of the beholder. As Alice's Humpty Dumpty might have said, it's a word which means whatever the user of the word wants it to mean - and it means many things. It is no coincidence that the same word is used of esoteric religious rituals and of stage conjurors; as was noted earlier (p. 14), a good religious ritual often benefits from skilled showmanship.

There have been many definitions of magic. Most include either trickery or (usually the dark side of) the supernatural.

The following is an attempt to avoid both, and to be morally neutral rather than pejorative:

Magic could be said to be the artistic application of skills unknown or unavailable to other people, usually for a spiritual purpose.

It can be argued that ritual in itself is magical, at least in its effects. Ritual is the set, formalized repetition of certain words, often with certain movements.

In many religions, old and new, certain sounds are sacred; believers chant the names or attributes of God, and bring themselves to a state of enlightenment. In some religions, and in some secret societies, there is a tradition of a lost tongue, perhaps the language of the angels, or the language of Eden, a language in which God and man could once speak to each other, and man could speak of God, and men could speak with each other, without misunderstanding; this partly underlies the myth of the Tower of Babel. It is, indeed, a mythical, Golden Age language. Those who have argued for keeping services in Latin are, perhaps unknowingly, following a version of this belief, this longing. So are those who treat the King James Bible as if it in itself is sacred; it's partly the validation which comes from familiarity and tradition, but it's also partly the beauty of the phrasing, compared to most modern translations; the language contains a power in itself. For some, Hebrew is the sacred tongue; it is significant that all the 'occult' orders which study Cabala teach their members to read and speak certain Hebrew words and phrases. Even in Freemasonry, most of the passwords are Hebrew. Freemasonry also has the tradition of 'the lost word'.4

Often, with sacred sounds and sacred words, the meaning of the word is unimportant compared to the sound of it; this is especially so with mantras used in meditation. The argument over the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book of the Church of England, for instance, illustrates this perfectly; it is a matter of heart versus mind, of 'what feels right' rather than the precise sense of the words. So far as the language of these two books is concerned, one has power; the other hasn't.5 

Those who use ritual magic are very careful over the words they use, and the sounds of the words. Very often, in its transmission over the centuries, the wording of a barely understood ritual has become garbled; the attempts of occultists to repair the damage and restore the original sense and sound often make things worse. Today's Schools of Occult Science take very great care when restoring rituals.

The Roman Catholic Church has long held the position that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on how pure-of-heart the priest is as he performs the ritual, so long as he says the right words; it is the ritual itself which makes the sacrament valid. Article XXVI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (found at the back of the Book of Common Prayer) makes much the same point.

The central ritual of mainstream Christianity is the communion service. The following discussion should be considered in the context of this section; the communion service is a particularly holy ceremony for devout Christians, and no offence to them is in the least intended.

In a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or High Anglican (or Episcopalian) service, the vestments, music, candles, processional, and set forms of prayer and worship all add to the overall effect. In a traditional Eucharist in a traditional church, consider the relative spiritual positions of the celebrant and the congregation, and their relative physical positions. The people are in the nave, separated from the priest and his assistants (including the choir) by the chancel steps or arch, or in older churches by the rood screen. When they come up to receive communion, the people are allowed to come this far, into the chancel, up to the communion rail, where they kneel; on the other side of the rail are the altar, and the priest, and the bread and wine.

Even without considering the mysteries of transubstantiation or consubstantiation, that moment of coming to the rail, after the build-up of both the emotional and the spiritual 'atmosphere' through music and formal prayers, can be very powerful. In convent schools, first communicants have been known to faint at this point. Very few ordinary parishioners would feel 'right' about stepping beyond the rail into the sanctuary (holy place) or presbytery (priest's place). It's sacred; it's as if God is on the other side of the rail.

The words sacred, holy, powerful, and mysteries could as easily be replaced by the words magical and magic.

Physically, the whole ceremony is a ritualized, symbolic enactment of the separation of man from God, of man being able to come thus far and no further - and then of God reaching across to man through the bread and wine in the hands of the priest.

Without going too far into the complexities of the different attitudes and beliefs about the Mass, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, or the Breaking of Bread, whether one accepts the Real Presence, or the symbolic presence, or the commemoration and remembrance, the moment itself can clearly be viewed as the magical climax of a religious ritual. The 'higher' the ritual, the more magical, mysterious, mystical is the moment. Through this ritual, the priest has brought God into the presence of the people. (Anthropologically, of course, the symbolical ritual eating of the body of the God to partake of his power, long pre-dates Christianity.)

This interpretation is being worded in this way quite deliberately in order to make a point. Christians of all persuasions may well recoil from it; it is not my intention to give offence to those with deeply held beliefs. Others have made the same point in the past, often far more strongly; one has only to read extreme Protestants of the last few hundred years inveighing against 'popery' to realize that this was precisely the interpretation they were placing on it, and part of the reason they hated the Roman Catholic Church so much.

Indeed, the separation of Protestantism from Catholicism can be seen in terms of separating faith from religion, or religion from magic. This whole argument, it must be stressed, is a matter of interpretation and perception, not a bald statement of fact.

Ritual, then, can be viewed as a form of magic. Ritual and elaborate ceremonial play a large role in secret societies. This could be one reason for the antagonism of organized religions to secret societies: for the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, because secret societies are appropriating 'techniques' which they see as rightfully theirs; and for the Protestant Churches, because ritual implies magic, and magic is 'by definition' evil.

Usually when Christians use the word 'magic', they give it a pejorative meaning. But an examination of the Old Testament - and even of the New Testament - actually reveals very little difference between magic and miracles. What is magic when performed by an idol-worshipping Pagan is a miracle when performed by a Jewish prophet or a Christian apostle. (Religious polemic rarely bothers to be fair; Pagans no more worship idols than Christians worship the cross on an altar.) The same principle applies to war and to religion: if the enemy do the same thing we do, then call it by another name to make it sound bad. The visitor from Mars would see little difference between an incantation and a prayer.

As for the evil power of magic: for those who believe in it magic is undoubtedly powerful, but there is no reason why power should equate with evil. Electrical power is part of the essential infrastructure of modern life; yet if it is used carelessly or maliciously, it can kill. The same applies to the motor car. For a chef, a wood-carver or someone living out of doors, strong sharp knives are essential. In the hands of a thug they are lethal weapons.

There is no doubt that of those who have practised magic through the ages, including today, there have always been some who have abused its power. That no more makes magic itself evil than thousands of drunken drivers make motor cars evil. In fact, practitioners of magic would argue that its main purpose is healing and regeneration - physical, spiritual and moral - and hence it is considerably more beneficial than the motor car, with its daily contributions to pollution, stress, injuries and violent death.

Mainstream Christianity through the centuries has regarded magic in three quite different ways. At times it has said that magic is all tricks and delusions: effectively stage-magic used by unscrupulous religious charlatans with a taste for power over others. There have undoubtedly been some examples of that; Helena P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophy Movement, is known to have used tricks in her seances. The first approach, then, is that magic does not exist.

The problem with this stance - which has probably been the main view for the last two hundred years or so, until the rise of Fundamentalism - is that it flies in the face of the evidence. However magic be explained (and there are plenty of thoroughly good psychological explanations which don't involve the supernatural at all), few who have really thought about it would dismiss it out of hand as non-existent. The second approach, then, which has been the practice if not the formal policy of the Church for centuries, is that magic does exist, but that one needs to be very careful to distinguish between natural magic and sorcerous magic, or perhaps between the permissible Christian study of magic, and the forbidden practice of it; James Blish's novel shows Roger Bacon treading this tightrope. Sometimes it has depended on who is using it, and for what purpose. A fair number of monks and priests over the centuries have practised alchemy; while if astrology is counted as part of the occult, then quite a few popes have dabbled in occult matters.

The third approach is a natural consequence of poor logic applied to the exclusivist beliefs of Christianity. If magical power is real, and if it doesn't come from God - which, as its users clearly have beliefs which are not orthodox Christian, must be taken as a given - then the only place such power can come from is the Devil.

Like most either/or arguments this one falls at the first post, by its various pre-assumptions, including that such power can only come from God or from the Devil, and its definition of what is acceptable Christian belief - the latter raising the common and invidious assumption that 'if we are right, you must be wrong'.

It is this attitude which led to several centuries of killing witches and heretics, and which today leads to a person who has a natural healing ability being branded a Satanist because he or she doesn't use the Trinitarian formula when taking away someone's headache. Regarding the extreme Protestant position around 1600, historian Robin Briggs points out, 'It was actually better to die a pious death than to obtain healing by magic' - as he adds wryly, 'a position more notable for its logic than its persuasiveness.'6

Today it is handy for upholders of orthodoxy to lump all esoteric beliefs together as either 'occult' or 'New Age', condemning them all as the Devil's deceptions. A common sign of those so 'deceived' is their use of Tarot cards.

Tarot: history, design, symbolism

Secret societies, schools of occult science, movements and individuals studying magic: all lay a great emphasis on symbolism. By far the most widespread and well-known esoteric symbolism is that found in Tarot; millions of people around the world are familiar with it. It is significant that many esoteric movements use Tarot, and that several have designed their own Tarot pack to express pictorially their own particular teachings.

Today there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different Tarot packs available. Many of them derive, in one way or another, from either the Rider-Waite Tarot (1910) or the somewhat older Marseille Tarot (c. 1700). Most of the symbolic meanings of the cards, so painstakingly learned by thousands of people using Tarot for divination today, go back only a century.

Tarot is much older than that, but nowhere near as old as some authorities would have us believe. Its origin in early China or ancient Egypt may safely be dismissed as fantasy. As esoteric authority Fred Gettings says so succinctly, 'Any history of the Tarot cards can be little other than an extended commentary on human credulity, duplicity, inventiveness, ignorance and superstition.'7

There is some disagreement between authorities as to whether today's playing cards developed out of Tarot, or vice versa. It is likely, however, that the idea of playing games with cards came to Western Europe from the Islamic world in the early- to mid-fourteenth century, some decades after the Crusades were over.

We often know about heresies from the attacks written against them; the first we hear of playing cards is in edicts forbidding their being played with - in Berne in 1367 and Florence in 1376. If they were widespread and popular enough to be banned in 1367, they must have been around for some years before that.

In 1392 King Charles VI of France paid 56 sous to Jacquemin Gringonneur for three packs of cards, hand-painted and gilded, but it is not known whether these were Tarot cards. One of the earliest Tarot packs still surviving, and the one most complete (only four cards are missing) was made for the ruling Visconti-Sforza family in Milan, around 1450.

Early packs are sometimes known by the name of their presumed artist (e.g. Bembo), sometimes by the family they were made for (Visconti-Sforza), sometimes by the name of a later owner (Brambilla), and sometimes by the university museum which now holds them (Cary-Yale).

The order of the trumps (now known as the Major Arcana) quite often varied between these early packs. In Italy, three different styles and orders developed, in Ferrara, Milan and Bologna. The well-known Tarot de Marseille is descended from the Milanese version of the early Tarot packs. In Florence in the early sixteenth century the Papess was dropped, and twenty additional picture cards joined the pack, illustrating the twelve signs of the zodiac, the four elements, and the four virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Prudence (in addition to Temperance, Fortitude and Justice); such packs became known as minchiate. At different times in different countries, some cards have been redesigned and renamed for political or religious reasons: one pack has both seated and standing Emperors and Popes; others replaced the Pope and Papess with Jupiter and Juno.

Although all these were recognizable as Tarot packs, and usually had more similarities with each other than differences, it should be kept in mind that the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana were not absolutely fixed as we know them today through Waite and others.

Initially Tarot cards were only for the nobility; they were essentially beautiful miniature works of art. Printing changed that. From woodcuts, the outline designs could be printed in sheets; some would still be hand-coloured, but usually they were coloured, a sheet at a time, through cut-out masks. Compared with modern printed cards they were crude. Compared with the beautifully executed cards made for the nobility they were crude. But they were cheap, they were affordable by people somewhat lower down the social scale, and they caught on rapidly - as a card game. There is no evidence that they were ever used for divination, for predicting the future.

That changed, with Antoine Court de Gebelin in 1781. He was a member of a short-lived reform movement within French Freemasonry, the Rite of the Philalethes, which had interests in, among other things, alchemy, Swedenborgianism, magic, chivalry and the esoteric Christian tradition, and which had been strongly influenced by Baron von Hund's Strict Observance Rite (see pp. 113-14). In volume 8 of his Le Monde Primitif - which Tarot writer Brian Innes describes as a 'vast pot-pourri of uninformed speculation on the survival of ancient myths, symbols and fragments of primitive tongues',8 an opinion shared by most authorities - Court de Gebelin launches into a flight of fancy about Tarot being an ancient Egyptian work, miraculously preserved, and containing in symbolic form all the wisdom of the ancients.

His ideas, unsubstantiated as they were, were picked up by others. A Paris wigmaker, Alliette, turned to fortune-telling, reversed his name, arid as Etteilla in 1783 built a shaky edifice on Court de Gebelin's unsteady foundations: Tarot was actually the Book of Thoth, planned by Hermes Trismegistus; it had taken 17 mages four years to create it. He also noted that there were 22 cards, and 22 paths between the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Etteilla backed up his theory with his own design of Tarot cards, and the bandwagon was rolling.

Next came Eliphas Levi, the pseudonym of Alphonse Louis Constant, who in 1855 and 1856 published Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. Each of these writers sought to outdo his predecessor; 'the marvellous Book of the Tarot', according to Levi, is:

of all books the most primitive, the key of prophecies and dogmas, in a word, the inspiration of inspired works, a fact that has remained unperceived, not only by the science of Court de Gebelin but by the extraordinary intuitions of Etteilla or Alliette.9

Levi drew precise correspondences between the cards, the paths of the Sephiroth, and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. His ideas lie behind the symbolism of the Tarot pack designed by Oswald Wirth in 1889, which is otherwise based on the Marseille Tarot.

After Levi came the physician Gerard Encausse, whose Tarot of the Bohemians was published in 1896 under the pseudonym Papus. He also builds on the work of his predecessors, though he says The Tarot of Etteilla is of no symbolic value, it is a bad mutilation of the real Tarot.'10 Papus, though highly influential in the development of the occult significance of Tarot, cannot wholly be trusted; he describes Court de Gebelin as 'an illustrious scholar, who discovered the Egyptian origin of the Tarot'.11 Looking at the symbols on the cards, Papus says, They at once prove that the Tarot of Marseille is really the exact representation of the primitive Egyptian Tarot, slightly altered to the epoch denoted by the costumes.'12

The late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fascination with Egyptology has a lot to answer for.

So far most of the esoteric 'authorities' on Tarot have been French; attention now turns to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (see p. 211), and its leader, Samuel Liddell 'MacGregor' Mathers, of whom Papus is fairly dismissive: 'Mathers, an English author, has recently published a short account of the Tarot, which contains nothing very original... It is chiefly written as an aid to fortune-telling by cards.'13 

Mathers's wife Moina drew a Tarot pack under his instruction; members of the HOGD made their own copies of this, from which several of the esoteric packs of the twentieth century have derived. The best-known is the Rider-Waite pack, painted by Pamela Colman Smith to the instructions of Arthur Edward Waite, and initially published by Rider in 1910. Waite, an intelligent man who should perhaps have known better, based both the esoteric elements of his designs, and the divinatory meanings, on the HOGD's development of the pseudo-Cabalistic interpretations which had developed during the previous century.

Although the Rider-Waite pack is not well drawn, and is very crudely coloured, it became the most popular pack of the twentieth century; this is largely because it was the first modern pack to be widely available in the UK and North America, but also because it had picture cards for the Minor Arcana, rather than simply numbers of Cups, Coins, Staves or Swords, as in the pip cards of normal playing-card packs. Most new packs, consciously or unconsciously, take elements of their design, and their divinatory meanings, almost direct from Waite. Whatever its merits and demerits, it has become the standard.14

The HOGD caused confusion to all later users of Tarot by swapping the order of two cards, Justice (originally 8) and Fortitude (11) to 11 and 8. This was to make the cards fit better into their Cabalistic interpretation. As has been noted, the very earliest packs had the Trumps in slightly different orders; either the order was unimportant, or it could be varied to suit the need. Yet generations of Tarot users have learned the order (whether pre- or post-HOGD) as gospel.

A former member of the HOGD, the self-styled 'Beast' Aleister Crowley, designed a radically different esoteric Tarot, strangely and stunningly painted by Lady Frieda Harris and exhibited in 1942, though not published as a pack until 1969. Crowley added yet more reinforcement to Court de Gebelin's Egyptian idea by calling his pack the Book of Thoth.

There are many more Tarot packs, many of them mythological in basis, and a fair number carrying within their designs Cabalistic, alchemical and astrological symbols. One, instead of pictorial representation, shows only the Sephirothic paths of the Tree of Life. No one today claims to be 'recovering' the original designs, though several claim to be returning to the lost truths of what Tarot was originally about. Most, however, are content to use the Tarot archetypes, while adapting their symbolical representation to whatever milieu concerns them.

That, briefly, is the history of Tarot, since the cards first appeared.

Although, once cheap printed cards became available, Tarot or tarocci was quite definitely a card game - probably very similar to the jeu de Tarot still available in France today - it seems unlikely that the earlier hand-painted cards would have been used in such a way by the nobility of Italy. For one thing, they were expensive little works of art, not only hand-painted, but illuminated with gold and silver. For another, they were too large to be used in a card game: 7 by 3.5 inches (about 180 by 90 mm). So what was their original purpose? Where did the idea for the cards, and for their designs, come from?

There are many theories. The name Tarot is the French version of the Italian tarocco, plural tarocci, which was first recorded in 1516; its etymology is uncertain. Before that, the cards were known as trionfi, or triumphs, from which comes the English word 'trumps'. There is evidence that a card game called Triotnphe was played in France in 1482.

Many of the original images bear a resemblance to characters and themes in the Triumphs of Petrarch, a series of poems written between 1340 and 1374: the Triumph of Love, the Triumph of Chastity, then of Death, of Fame, of Time and of Eternity. The poems became very popular for their spiritual and moral teaching over the next century or so, and were often illustrated with paintings, woodcuts and engravings; some of these are similar to some of the early Tarot cards. It is well within the realms of possibility that the original Tarot packs (trionfi) were nothing more nor less than a means of illustrating Petrarch's Triumphs. (Although this theory was first propounded by Gertrude Moakley as far back as 1956, it is still unknown by most Tarot users, and even most writers on Tarot. Historically it is very plausible, but just not esoteric enough for most people with an interest in Tarot.)

Before a further suggestion, a brief aside.

In Chapter 2 the importance was noted of the Art of Memory, or Theatre of Memory, to medieval scholars and the Hermetic Philosophers. The Art of Memory is not just filing knowledge away in the right place; it is also the retrieval and linking of different data; today's computerized hypertext is really just a new version of the same principle. Ramon Lull's Art enabled him to link the Attributes of God with the stars and planets and their influences, the elements and humours and much else, all through a classification system based on a letter-notation.

People also used mnemonic devices, often based on word-play and images, to aid memory. One of the best-known is the fish, initially a far more common symbol of Christianity than was the cross; the Greek ichthus (fish) stood for Iesous CHristos, THeou Uios, Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour), and probably referred also to Jesus' words, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men' (Matthew 4:19); today's esotericists also see a reference to the new Age of Pisces (the fish), now being superseded by the Age of Aquarius.

In the Middle Ages such visual symbols were more familiar to most people than they are today; they were a form of visual shorthand. Instead of a name-sign, shops would display a symbol of their trade, such as a bristly pig outside a brush-makers; probably the last to survive to the present day was the striped barber's pole, though the stylized 'M' of a certain fast-food chain has become a universal symbol.

What applied to trade also applied to more abstract concepts. Medieval morality plays abounded with stock figures who were instantly recognizable archetypes; in today's more 'sophisticated' society the nearest equivalents are the characters in pantomimes, and the cliche of white and black hats for the goodies and baddies in hack Westerns.

It should be remembered also that the majority of the medieval population was illiterate or, at best, semi-literate. The frequent depiction of Bible stories in stained-glass windows has been called 'sermons in glass'. When church services - and the Bible - were in Latin, which only the educated spoke and understood, a visual reminder was useful for the common people. (In passing, one of the 'crimes' of the Cathars was their translation of parts of the Bible into the vernacular.)

Returning, then, to Tarot, could its original purpose have been much the same as that of a series of stained-glass windows? The Fool is the unnumbered card; in some packs he is at the beginning; in others at the end. In his journey through life he has to take account of both civil and religious authority; he needs to have certain inner capabilities, or virtues; he will be tempted, and have to withstand temptation; he will have to make difficult choices; he will have to keep all the various tensions of his life in balance; he will have to cope with sudden, unexpected, apparently calamitous setbacks; he will have to seek wisdom if he is to dispense wisdom. But if he keeps his heart pure and his eye set firmly on the Heavenly City, he will reach there in the end. All of this, and much more, can be found in the pictures on Tarot cards.

The idea is not unique to Tarot. Around 1470 the Ars Memorandi, a block print, showed the four gospels in pictorial form, with each image containing small emblems which were mnemonic devices for incidents or stories in the gospels.

Tarot is a pictorial allegory. The images would have been familiar to a late-medieval, early-Renaissance audience, steeped not only in Christian symbolism but also in the Greek and Roman mythology of the classics. Whether they originated with Petrarch's Triumphs or not, it is quite possible that the pictures could have been used to tell more than one story; if each card was indeed an aide-memoire, it would contain within it many resonances which would connect up in different ways with those of other cards. More than one play can be performed by the Theatre of Memory.

Another look taken at Tarot later on in the book will suggest a further possible concept behind it.

The publishing of esoteric knowledge

Before examining the growth of modern Rosicrucian Orders it may be useful to take a quick glance at some of the significant texts in the Rosicrucian and related esoteric fields.

In Chapter 2 a number of works were mentioned. The Corpus Hermeticum was translated into Latin in 1471; Francesco Giorgi and Henry Cornelius Agrippa were just two of many Renaissance writers who pursued Hermetic Philosophy. As mentioned above on p. 185, Antoine Court de Gebelin published his Le Monde Primitif in 1781, filiphas Levi published Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie in 1855 and 1856, and Papus published his Tarot of the Bohemians in 1896.

Before Levi and Papus, however, came two British books, the second one with quite a curious history. In 1801 Francis Barrett published The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencier; being a complete system of Occult Philosophy. It gathered together for the first time in the English language many extracts from magical grimoires and the teachings of the Hermetic Philosophers on astrology, alchemy and other esoteric subjects. Its detailed title page began:

Containing the Ancient and Modern Practice of the Cabaliftic Art, Natural and Celeftial Magic, 6cc; fhewing the wonderful Effects that may be performed by a knowledge of the Celeftial Influences, the Occult Properties of Metals, Herbs and Stones ….15

The second book was A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery by Mary Anne Atwood (nee South). This was the result of many years' study into the whole wide-ranging subject area by her father Thomas South and herself, and is an extremely impressive compilation of esoteric thought from ancient times up to their own day.16 Atwood published her book in 1850, then changed her mind, apparently persuaded by her father that such knowledge should not after all be in the public domain. She recovered and destroyed as many copies as possible, and the book effectively vanished for over half a century; not appearing again until 1918. (Lindsay Clarke makes use of this story as the basis of his award-winning novel The Chymical Wedding (Jonathan Cape 1989).)

The twentieth century saw a number of books published whose contents would have horrified those who guarded the secrets in previous years. A.E. Waite's Book of Ceremonial Magic came out in 1911; Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice was published in 1929; and Israel Regardie revealed the entire Golden Dawn ritual in a series of books between 1937 and 1940. In 1957 the Sufi esotericist Idries Shah published The Secret Lore of Magic, containing many of the most famous (or infamous) magical grimoires including The Key of Solomon', which had been prohibited by the Inquisition.

But in the late nineteenth century the main influence on nascent esoteric groups, for better or for worse, was still Eliphas Levi.

Modern Rosicrucian Orders

The best-known Rosicrucian Orders today are based in the USA; indeed, reading their literature, one could almost be forgiven for thinking that Rosicrucianism is an invention peculiar to the United States; it is so tied in (at least from their claims) with US history - which is so dear to Americans - and with the Great Ideals of the Constitution and Independence and Freedom and the American Dream. Half the great heroes of American history seem to have been either Rosicrucians or Freemasons, which might or might not have come to much the same thing at the time. Middle-class, educated, movers and shakers of society: for Americans more than anyone else, it seems, there is an urge to belong to societies. Furthermore, it has to be known that they belong, and that they are high in the hierarchy (social status); but not what they believe and do (secrecy).

Perhaps it is because their history is so short, and because they have no royalty, nobles and knights, and no idealized and romanticized medieval past, that so many Americans delight in pageantry, costumes, ranks, and insignia of office. This is a sweeping generalization, of course, but there is surely an element of truth in it.

Because the main language of North America today is English, it is easy to forget that white Americans came from all over Europe: there were Scots and Irish, Dutch and Germans, French, Italians, Scandinavians, and others, including Jews from several central European countries. Many were free-thinkers of one sort or another; their religious, political or other ideological beliefs did not fit in within their own lands. They took their independent beliefs with them to the New World.

This is an idealized image, but again it must contain some truth.

Most esoteric societies claim a continuity with the past, a heredity or ancestry, rather than just a continuity of ideas. The oldest Rosicrucian Order in the USA is the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, based in Quakertown, Pennsylvania under the corporate name of the Beverly Hall Corporation. By using the names Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, Fraternity of the Rosicrucians, or Rosicrucian Fraternity of itself, the FRC is making the claim to be the legitimate Rosicrucian Order in the USA.

'All authority is invested in the Supreme Grand Master and his Council of Three and but one such Council can legitimately exist in a country. Such are the Ancient Landmarks of the Fraternity. The Order retains its original name: The Fraternitas Rosae Crucis/ In the same paragraph on 'Authority and Legitimacy' is found, 'It is required that the Neophyte be regularly enrolled in an Organisation having received its authority from a source which is a direct continuation of the original exoteric body.' Earlier in the same leaflet the FRC say, 'The Fraternity has continued in America without interruption since prior to 1773.'17

According to the FRC the Council of Three in 1774 consisted of Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer and Thomas Paine; during the American Civil War its members were Paschal Beverly Randolph, General Ethan Allen Hitchcock and President Abraham Lincoln. Hitchcock was apparently a member of the Grand Lodge of France and, through his intercession, 'In 1856, Paschal Beverly Randolph received authority from the Grand Dome of France to establish a Grand Lodge ... In 1874, Freeman B. Dowd became the Supreme Grand Master of the Supreme Grand Lodge of the Rosicrucians in America.' He was succeeded in 1905 by Reuben Swinburne Clymer, who later became 'Supreme Grand Master for both North and South America as well as for all of Europe'. These were not all of Clymer's titles.

In 1907 he was chosen Supreme Grand Master of the Aith Priesthood by authority of the Council of Three. Later he became Exalted Grand Master of the Illuminatae Americanae; Supreme Grand Master of the Order, Temple, Brotherhood and Fraternity of Rosicrucians (of the Western World), and Hierarch of Imperial Eulis; Member of UOrdre du Lis and Order of the Rose; Supreme Grand Master La Federation Universelle des Ordres, Societes et Fraternites des Inities, i.e. Confederation or Fraternity of Initiates of the World.

Clymer's importance came from the fact that 'Originally there were a number of authentic Occult Fraternities in America. As the Grand Masters of these Fraternities passed on, they delegated their authority to Dr R. Swinburne Clymer; thus, over a period of years, all Occult Fraternities were merged into a single organisation and under a single Supreme Grand Master'18 - emphasizing again the FRC's claim to be the only legitimate Rosicrucian Order in the USA.

For the FRC, as for all Rosicrucian and indeed nearly all esoteric organizations, their authority stems from their pedigree. Stripping the above down to its basics, and putting to one side the supposed eighteenth-century history, Randolph founded the FRC in 1858, and it was small and slow-growing until Clymer took it over in 1905, eight years after joining it. But where did Randolph's own authority come from? He had apparently been initiated into several different Orders in Europe. The Supreme Grand Master of the Conclave which made him Supreme Master for the Western World in 1858 was Eliphas Levi, the French occultist, former trainee priest and somewhat uncertain scholar who wrote some extremely influential books on magic, and contributed to the esoteric interpretation of Tarot.

It was a link to European esoteric organizations; but a certain amount of doubt can be cast on those organizations themselves. The same can be said of the origins of the other major US Rosicrucian Orders.

The Rosicrucian Fellowship was founded in 1907 by Max Heindel (1865-1919), born Carl Louis von Grasshoff to a German father and Danish mother, who in his teens went to Glasgow to study engineering in the shipyards. Moving to the USA, he joined the Theosophical Society in Los Angeles. In 1907 he travelled to Germany, where he had a mystical experience, was tested by an etheric Elder Brother of the Rosicrucian Order, was found fit to be the recipient of esoteric teachings, and was 'given instructions as to how to reach the Temple of the Rose Cross, which was near the border between Bohemia and Germany.' There he was given the teachings which formed his book, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, published in 1909. Heindel met Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, in Germany; it is generally thought that his teachings incorporate many of Steiner's, though Marie-Jose Clerc, President of the Rosicrucian Fellowship, disagrees.

We are not at all a blend of any other movements ... Yes, Max Heindel was originally involved inTheosophy; yes, he met Rudolf Steiner, but was not at all influenced by him as the Teaching given in the Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception was given to Max Heindel by the Brothers of the Rosicrucian Order, in Germany.

Heindel's widow explains in more detail:

The Rosicrucian Fellowship, founded by Max Heindel under the direct guidance of the Elder Brothers of the Order, is the authorised representative for the present period of the ancient Rosicrucian Order, of which Christian Rose Cross, or Christian Rosenkreuz is the Head. This Order is not a mundane organisation, but has its Temple and Headquarters on the etheric plane. It authorised the formation of the Fellowship by Max Heindel for the purpose of carrying the Western Wisdom Teachings to the Western people. In earlier ages the Order carried on its work through various secret societies in Europe and elsewhere; but the growth and advancement of the people of the United States have in recent years reached such a point that the Order deemed it advisable to establish an exoteric center here for the extension of its work. The Rosicrucian Fellowship is its latest manifestation in physical form, putting out the most up-to-date version of the Rosicrueian Teachings, in twentieth-century scientific terms, which are at the same time simple and devoid of technical abstractions. The particular work of the Fellowship... is to disseminate the esoteric doctrines of the Christian religion, since the Rosicrueian Philosophy is an esoteric Christian philosophy. It is destined to become the universal religion of the world, because the Christ is to have charge of human evolution during the present Great Sidereal Year of approximately 25,000 years.19

Like the original Rosicrucians, but unlike some of the other present-day Rosicrueian Orders which specify the amount of the monthly 'freewill' offering, the Rosicrueian Fellowship makes no charge for its work. It has correspondence courses in Philosophy, Bible and Astrology; 'we consider Astrology as a part of Christianity . . . because we consider the 12 Constellations as the 12 Divine Hierarchies of the Bible', says Clerc. Its healing work 'is an important part of our work and carried on through the Invisible Helpers'. These are members of the Fellowship working while they sleep at night, under the guidance of the Elder Brothers.

The Rosicrueian Fellowship currently has 7,000-8,000 members; 'our requirements are rather high', says Clerc.20

The Societas Rosicruciana in America (SRIA) was founded in 1909 by some members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, founded in 1880 as an American branch of the Scottish branch of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia - which is commonly known as the Soc Ros, and is an Order open only to Master Masons (see p. 206). The SRIA wanted to open up its esoteric teachings to non-Masons. The main influence on the SRIA was one of its founder members, George Wilmslow Plummer (1876-1944), who led it further in the direction of esoteric Christianity. Both he, and later his widow 'Mother Serena' (1894-1989), were consecrated bishops by heterodox archbishops, founding their own Holy Orthodox Church in America.

The SRIA, also known as the Society of Rosicrucians, Inc, and the Rosicrucian Society of America, 'is a lineal descendant and, in America, the branch of the Society first formulated by Christian Rosenkreuz, the esoteric pseudonym of a spiritual Leader and Adept who was born 1378 ce and died in 1484.'21 It claims to be 'in most complete harmony with all legitimate mystical schools and orders', but it is fairly unusual in its attitude to 'competing' American Rosicrucian and other esoteric bodies.

While there are many organizations in our land which in varying degrees are similar to ours, there are some others with which we have nothing in common. In stating what this Society strives to avoid we are being quite definite that we do not condemn, attack, nor countenance the attacking of any other organization, for we know that insofar as it is dedicated to some Ideal, every organization serves some useful purpose, even though not the best one.22

Most outsiders encountering Rosicrucianism today first come across AMORC, the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, sometimes known simply as the Rosicrucian Order. Unlike most of the other Rosicrucian Orders, which require one to search them out, AMORC advertises openly and widely in magazines and newspapers.

In its promotional literature AMORC skates over its immediate history:

Since the 17th century there has been a consistent existence and perpetuation of the Rosicrucian Order. However its structure has often been elusive because in past centuries various conditions and persecutions necessitated that limited public awareness of the Order be maintained …. Today the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, is a thriving non-profit, educational, cultural, and fraternal organization consisting of thousands of men and women in over 100 countries throughout the world.23

AMORC is thought to have around a quarter of a million members today.

AMORC was founded by Harvey Spencer Lewis in 1915 in New York. The reason for it keeping quiet about its pedigree is probably that it received its authority not from a Rosicrucian order as such, but from the German branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis; the British branch of OTO was headed by Aleister Crowley, whose personal reputation is hardly pure and spiritual. It is fair to mention, though, that the German branch split away from Crowley's organization in 1916, which was when it authorized Lewis to head a lodge.

H. Spencer Lewis and AMORC were roundly attacked by R. Swinburne Clymer of Fraternitas Rosae Cruets, who took Lewis to court in 1928. The bitterness between the two groups is still very much alive. According to Dr Gerald E. Poesnecker, Supreme Grand Master of FRC,

To make a short synopsis of the Rosicrucian Fraternity in America, one could simply say that the AMORC group for their own purposes attempted to usurp the name Rosicrucian, and Dr Clymer for the FRC sued in a civil lawsuit. After an appeal, the final Court decision was that the name Rosicrucian was public domain and could be used by anyone.24

Lewis accused Clymer of being a fraud, while Clymer, having in mind AMORC's origins with the OTO, attacked 'the boastful pilfering Imperator with his black-magic, sex-magick connections'.25 The row apparently also involved the Rosicrucian Fellowship.

Poesnecker continues:

As far as the difference between the FRC and the AMORC is concerned, one cannot understand its difference unless one is able to understand the nature of the true Initiate Schools. The concept of Soul Growth and Soul Illumination is absolutely vital to all true Arcane Societies and something completely foreign to groups such as AMORC, The Golden Dawn, etc.

AMORC, meanwhile, say on the back of their introductory leaflet, 'The ancient names and symbols of the Rosicrucian Order are registered and protected by the United States Patent Office exclusively in the name of AMORC AMORC today appears to have distanced itself completely from any tinge of dubious magical practices; its courses offer a mixture of historical teachings on esoteric religion, and self-improvement.

These are just four of the Rosicrucian Orders based in the USA, with greater or lesser influence around the world. Each claims to be the true successor to the original Rosicrucians, and the only valid holder of the name in the USA. According to A.E. Waite, the claims of all the American Rosicrucian organizations to any sort of legitimacy whatsoever are fallacious; to adapt Henry Ford's dictum, their history is bunk.

Speaking of Paschal Beverly Randolph, Waite says,

I have worked through such of his volumes as are available here in England, from so-called Rosicrucian dream-books to declamatory sex-reveries, and have concluded that, mountebank as he was, he believed in all his rant and was not lying consciously when this stuff of sorry dreams was put forward unfailingly as the wisdom of the Rosy Cross. This is how it loomed in his mind and this is what it was in dream, for it was a thing of his own making.

As for Heindel and the much-titled Clymer, Waite dismisses them in a single paragraph:

It would serve no useful purpose to enlarge upon later foundations, like that of Dr R. Swinburne Clymer, who seems to have assumed the mantle laid down by Randolph, or Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Fellowship of California. They represent individual enterprises which have no roots in the past.

Of Societas Rosicruciana in America Wake is a little less damning:

So far as I am acquainted with its activities, the work undertaken is done in an earnest spirit; it has gradually rectified its Latin - at least to a certain point - and is an exponent of esoteric Christianity, as this is understood by its leading spirit. But it has obviously no tradition, no claim on the past and no knowledge thereof. The Transactions ... are amazing reading from the standpoint of things put forward under the denomination of the Rosy Cross.26

AMORC had presumably not come to Waite's attention by the time he wrote of the others.

Must we then dismiss all the current Rosicrucian organizations as fraudulent or flawed? From a British viewpoint, the American obsession with building corporations, with setting up publishing companies and mail-order correspondence schools, with registering names and symbols as trademarks, and with litigation, are a far cry from the spiritual ideals of the early Rosicrucians. But the point surely is that, brash and businesslike as they may appear to Europeans, these Orders are distinctively American, and are, in one way or another, passing on some version of the Rosicrucian teachings to the American people. A more legitimate complaint might be that they are then re-exporting this highly Americanized version of Rosicrucianism back to its place of origin, Europe.

Europe has its own Rosicrucian Orders, of which the best known are the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Lectorium Rosicrucianum.

As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the Societas Rosicrucianh in America (SRIA) started as an American equivalent of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (Soc Ros), but with the expressed aim of opening up the teachings to non-Masons. It is likely that each has drifted away from its origins, and in different directions.

The Soc Ros is often seen as a 'side degree' of Freemasonry in England and Scotland, though the Masonic scholar John Hamill, himself a member, says they would argue very strongly that they weren't.27 However, the Soc Ros is listed among all the other side degrees in Keith B. Jackson's handbook of Masonic Orders, Beyond the Craft. Like many of the side degrees it is a specifically Christian Order not open to members of other faiths, which is against the ethos of the basic Craft. It is an arguable point whether it should be seen as a specialist branch of Freemasonry, or as a quite separate body which happens only to be open to Master Masons.

The SRIA openly calls itself a Rosicrucian Order. So, for that matter, does its parent body, the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis (SRICF), which is basically the American branch of Soc Ros, and which is also only open to Masons; the SRICF used to have a magazine entitled Rosicrucian Fama. The English title of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia is given in Jackson's Beyond the Craft as The Rosicrucian Society of Freemasons.

It seems fair to assume that Soc Ros is a Rosicrucian Order.

Soc Ros was founded in 1866 by two Freemasons, one of whom claimed to have learned ancient secrets from some German Rosicrucians, and the other to have discovered some ancient rituals in the Grand Lodge archives in the vaults of Freemasons' Hall. 'It's a good story', laughs Hamill, accepting it as yet another foundation myth.

Its Ordinances say of its members that 'it is expected that they will be of sufficient ability to appreciate the studies of the Society, which consider the revelation of philosophy, science and thepsophy', which definitely sounds more Rosicrucian than Masonic. Unless, as is quite possible, these two Masons were simply creating out of whole cloth another group of invented grades and rituals with yet another impressive name, it could be that they were going full circle: attempting to restore to Freemasonry certain esoteric religious elements which had become lost, corrupted or downplayed over the years.

In this they would have been following the example of the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross, (see p. 126), a German Order which in 1777 published a form of revised constitution, part of which read,

Masonry hasdeteriorated on its own part and has passed almost beyond recognition, being profaned and adulterated by so many idle and useless additamenta ... That all this notwithstanding it remains the preparatory school of the Rosy Cross and from this source only can the Order itself be recruited.28

If they existed at all, the 'German Rosicrucians' of Soc Ros's founders were quite possibly descendants of this Brotherhood.29

Craft Freemasonry has Lodges; the Holy Royal Arch has Chapters; Soc Ros has Colleges, of which there are currently 58 around the world, around three-quarters of these in Britain. It is very much a scholarly Order; its members are encouraged 'to produce papers and deliver lectures as a vital part of College work'.30

'They would argue very strongly that they are not there just to provide another set of rituals and another set of regalia for the gong-collectors,' says Hamill. 'They have a very definite purpose which is the investigation of intellectual and esoteric and religious ideas. People who are of a mystical bent would gravitate to the Soc Ros.'

More than solely mystical, perhaps. The original objects of the Soc Ros were 'to afford mutual aid and encouragement in working out the great problems of Life, and in discovering the secrets of nature; to facilitate the study of the systems of philosophy founded upon the Kaballah and the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus'.31

The Lectorium Kosicrucianum is based in the Netherlands but has branches throughout Europe, and also in New York and California. Lectorium Kosicrucianum, also known as the International School of the Golden Rosycross, was founded as the Rozekruisers Genootschap (Rosicrucian Fellowship) in 1924 by two brothers, Z.W. Leene (1892-1936) and J. Leene (1896-1968); the latter wrote numerous books on Rosicrucianism under the name J. van Rijckenborgh. For some years it was linked with Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Fellowship, but split away in 1935, giving less emphasis to the cosmic teachings of Heindel, and moving to a strongly Gnostic interpretation of Christianity. As with many of the movements examined in Chapter 1, Lectorium Rosicrucianum teaches the immanence of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven or, in its words, 'the divine nature-order'.

The human heart contains a last remnant of this divine nature-order. This remnant, this spirit-spark-atom, also called Divine Spark or Rose of the Heart, calls up in many people a vague memory, called pre-memory, from which emanated a continuous inner drive to seek out the original state of being 'with the Father', the state of being immortally at one with God.32

Unlike most of the other Rosicrucian Orders, Lectorium Rosicrucianum does not appear to claim a pedigree going back to the early seventeenth century; it says it was formed 'in order to promote the world-wide dissemination of the Gnostic universal teachings: the living spiritual core in the original revelations of all the great world religions and mystery schools'.33 

Among these is the belief, common to many of the early Gnostics, the Manichaeans and the Cathars, that the material world is one of 'imperfection, darkness and evil'. But this belief is not gloomy and pessimistic. 'It is exactly the other way round. The Gnosis taught and demonstrated the path of liberation. It reminded man of his origin and showed him the way back. And the Gnostic teachers exemplified this path for their pupils by their own lives ...'34

This emphasis on purity of living, on morality, on setting an example, of being a light burning in this world of darkness, is found in all the Rosicrucian Orders, in the mystery schools, and also, in slightly different words, in Freemasonry. Part of the purpose of such movements, as will be shown in the final chapter, is that the individual spiritual reawakening will lead to a better life, which will lead to a general improvement of society.

Such was the aim of the first Rosicrucians; it is likely that it was also the aim of the Cathars.

There is one further European Rosicrucian Order which should be mentioned, for its influence on other Orders. This is the Kabbalistic Order of the Rosy Cross, which was founded in 1888 by two followers of filiphas Levi's teachings, the Marquis Stanislas de Guaita and Josephin Peladan; its aim was to restore the esoteric spiritual element which had been at the heart of Freemasonry, but which had become almost completely buried beneath manufactured rituals. Unsurprisingly it concentrated on study of Levi's interpretation of Cabala and Tarot, and of other ancient wisdom systems. Certainly at one stage, in contrast to that of the earliest Rosicrucian Orders, its membership was exclusively Roman Catholic; Levi himself had trained for the Catholic priesthood at Saint-Sulpice, and had in fact been ordained a deacon, but was expelled from the seminary before becoming a full priest, for speaking too openly about his heterodox beliefs.

One of the Order's members was Gerard Encausse, who later achieved fame as Papus, a writer on Tarot and the occult. Papus's The Tarot of the Bohemians used cards designed by Oswald Wirth, a close friend and student of the Marquis de Guaita. Papus later joined the Golden Dawn temple in Paris.

Internal disputes soon split the Order; one offshoot, the Order of the Catholic Rose-Croix of the Temple and the Grail, was founded by Peladan in 1890. H. Spencer Lewis, the founder of AMORC, was at one time a member of Peladan's Order, and undoubtedly borrowed much of its teachings. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as will now be seen, also leaned heavily (usually without attribution) on Levi's teachings. It should be remembered that Paschal Beverly Randolph, founder of the American Fratemitas Rosae Cruets, also allegedly received his authority from Levi.

Peladan was also the 'custodian' of the moribund Order of the Temple, founded in 1805 by Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat. This was to re-emerge nearly two centuries after its founding, via several other Orders, as the Order of the Solar Temple.

Pierre Plantard, founder of the Priory of Sion (see pp. 119-20) claimed to have known Georges Monti, who had been Peladan's secretary. Although this is possible, it should be noted that Monti died in 1936, when Plantard was only 16 years old; assertions that there are links between Peladan's various Orders and the Priory of Sion should be treated with some scepticism.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The best-known occult society of the last century or so, and one of the most influential despite its short life, was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD). For those who require an actual organizational lineage rather than just one of ideas and ideals, the HOGD offers plenty of direct offspring, though the legitimacy of its own parentage is more than questionable.

Among non-esotericists the HOGD tends to have a bad reputation, mainly because one of its best known members was Aleister Crowley, who from all accounts was a power-hungry self-publicising individual who delighted in shocking people with not just his acceptance of, but his pride in his own 'wickedness'.

It is not the function of this book to attempt to rehabilitate Crowley's name. He was almost certainly all the things said against him, and more, and hardly a shining example of esoteric beliefs or morality. It should be mentioned, however, that a number of experienced and respected esotericists say that, whatever his character, Crowley's understanding of the occult should not be dismissed.

It should also be pointed out that much of Crowley's reputation arose after he had left the HOGD, and that in fact he was only a member of it for a year before being expelled, along with its one remaining founder.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded by Dr William Wynn Westcott, a London coroner, Dr William Robert Woodman, a retired physician, and Samuel Liddell 'MacGregor' Mathers, of no fixed occupation. All three were Freemasons, and all three were leading members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, the Soc Ros; Woodman and Westcott were successive Supreme Magi.

Soc Ros had claimed to be based on some old Rosicrucian manuscripts supposedly found in the archives of Freemasons' Hall, and on some secret teachings from a German Rosicrucian. Westcott claimed to have come across some further papers, this time sent to him by an elderly clergyman in 1887; they were enciphered, but when rendered into plain text revealed the bare details of five rituals of an occult society called Golden Dawn. In a move reminiscent of the birth of the immediate-post-Manifesto Rosicrucians some 270 years earlier, Westcott decided to form such a society in Britain. It was necessary to have a triumvirate at the top (as with the Council of Three of the American Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, described on p. 197); he recruited Woodman, then Supreme Magus of Soc Ros, and Mathers, asking the latter to write some detailed rituals based on the fragments in the manuscript.

It has been seen, and will be seen again, how important it was for Rosicrucian and other esoteric Orders to have a lineage, to give them authority. Westcott invented a German Order called the Goldene Dammerung (Golden Dawn) and its leader, a certain Fraulein Sprengel, and had letters forged from her granting authority to form a British Order. Mathers, meanwhile, was formulating detailed rituals. The degrees of the Order of the Golden Dawn bore a marked similarity to those of Soc Ros.


Soc Ros 

First Order

I Zelator

II Theoricus

III  Practicus

IV  Philosophus

Second Order

V Adeptus Minor

VI Adeptus Major

VII Adeptus Exemptus

Third Order

VIII Magister Templi

IX Magus

Golden Dawn

Outer Order

0°=0° Neophyte 

1°=10° Zelator 

2°=9° Theoricus 

3°=8° Practicus 

4°=7° Philosophus

Second Order

5°=6° Adeptus Minor 

6°=5° Adeptus Major 

7°=4° Adeptus Exemptus

Third Order

8°=3° Magister 

9°=2° Magus 

10°=1° Ipsissimus

In fact, the Soc Ros, like several other Rosicrucian Orders, had themselves borrowed this system of degrees from the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross, the late eighteenth-century German Order mentioned on p. 126. (There is today some disagreement about whether the grade 10°=1° Ipsissimus was part of the original HOGD structure or not, though Israel Regardie mentions it in his book of Golden Dawn teachings.)

Most of the early members of the HOGD were recruited from Soc Ros; all of these, therefore, were Master Masons. Initially all members of the HOGD were only in the Outer Order, except the three Chiefs, who were Adeptus Minor, and who were supposedly subject to three Secret Chiefs who were Adeptus Exemptus; in fact these latter were Woodman, Mathers (who had, of course, devised the rituals and the examinations), and Fraulein Sprengel (i.e. Westcott). The Third Order were not of this world; they were from the Astral Plane, possibly equivalent to the Great White Brotherhood of the Theosophists,35 or the Elder Brothers of the Rosicrucian Fellowship - or even, perhaps, the concept of Baron von Hund's Unknown Superiors.

From one viewpoint, the creation of the HOGD was entirely spurious. The lineage was a fake, and Mathers's rituals were largely blue-sky creations. (Whether the Soc Ros was similarly created out of whole cloth is less certain; there apparently could be an element of truth in its foundation myth.)

From another point of view, though, certainly as the HOGD developed, it was as sound and as valid as any esoteric organization, and more so than many. Whether it was in any way a true successor to the 'genuine' Rosicrucian Orders must be debatable, but it certainly claimed to be in direct descent from the traditions of Christian Rosenkreuz. Its members included Freemasons^ Rosicrucians, Theosophists, and people well-versed in occult history, rituals and philosophy, in Egyptology, in mythology, in alchemy and astrology, in Cabala and Tarot and numerology and much else. All of these were drawn together in the HOGD. It was not simply a club for esoteric dilettantes who liked dressing up and going through odd rituals; it took its subject matter seriously. The HOGD teachings have now been published,36 and reveal, among many other things, that members had to work hard to pass from grade to grade.

One of the main initiatory rituals of the HOGD's Second Order took place in a seven-sided vault based on that in which Christian Rosenkreuz's uncorrupted body is supposed to have been found; the resurrection symbolism is also closely linked to that of the 'raising' of a Master Mason, whose initiation also involves the representation of a grave. The initiatory rituals were not simply theatre, as many describe those of Freemasonry; 'properly performed, [they] could act as a powerful stimulus to the active imagination and spiritual aspiration of the candidate'.37

The HOGD based much of its teachings about Cabala, Tarot and the theory of ritual magic on the writings of Eliphas Levi (1810-75). Unlike Levi, who appears to have been more of a theorist rather than a practitioner of magic, the HOGD developed a complex working system of ritual magic. This was based on Levi's three laws of magic - the force of the will, the astral medium, and the theory of correspondences - with the addition of a fourth factor, directed imagination. Most ritual magic practised in the West today stems directly from HOGD theory and practice.

Both Mathers, within the HOGD, and Crowley, after leaving it, developed correspondences way beyond Levi's ideas. Each Hebrew letter (and hence number, as letters were also used for numerals) had its own meaning, just as the Norse runes do; the 22 letters were each associated with a path between the Sephiroth of the Cabalistic Tree of Life; there were further correspondences with the astrological planets, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the four elements; with the Major Arcana of Tarot; with notes of the musical scale; with colours; with Hindu gods; with Roman gods; with animals, real and imaginary; with plants, real and imaginary; with precious stones; with magical weapons; with perfumes; with the Greek alphabet; with geometrical shapes; with metals; with parts of the body; and with much else besides. The tables of 'a few of the principal correspondences' take up 21 pages in Appendix V of Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice. If an adept wished to invoke a particular spirit or its essence for a particular magical working, he or she would go through the tables of correspondences and select the relevant plants, precious stones, colours for cloths or candles, scents for incense, and so on, to use in the ritual.

Correspondences are a complex extension of the idea of sympathetic magic: if two things are similar, or connected in some way, then one can be used to influence the other - or, in a more psychological explanation, to help the practitioner to focus his or her mind more clearly.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn flourished for a few years, setting up Temples in Weston-super-Mare, Bradford and Edinburgh, in addition to the original Isis-Urania Temple in London. Famous members over the next decade included the poet W.B. Yeats, the supernatural writers Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, the esoteric historian A.E. Waite, the tea heiress Annie Horniman, and the West End actress (and mistress of among others, George Bernard Shaw) Florence Farr; unlike the Soc Ros which gave birth to it, the HOGD was open to both men and women. At its height it had over 300 members, more than a third of them women.

The real activity now was in the Second Order, which around 1891 was renamed the Or do Rosae Rubreae etAureae Crucis (RR etAC)- in English, the Order of the Rose of Ruby and Cross of Gold. Mathers wrote rituals for it, and suitable members of the Outer Order were invited to take examinations and be initiated into it; the remainder were kept ignorant even of its existence.

The name of the Second Order is clearly taken from the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross; Westcott, Woodman and Mathers, as senior members of Soc Ros, would have been well acquainted with the history of Rosicrucian societies. It is thought unlikely that there was any actual connection between the HOGD and the eighteenth-century German Order.

Then everything began to fall apart. There were several reasons, one of which was the personalities - and personality clashes - of its leaders. Woodman died in 1891, and Mathers assurned more and more control. Mathers had moved to France, but almost his sole source of income was the generosity of Annie Horniman, one of the leading lights of the HOGD; eventually she grew tired of Mathers's imperious nature, and cut off her funding in 1896. In response, Mathers expelled her from the HOGD. Although still exercising autocratic control over it, Mathers devoted less and less time to the HOGD; instead he devoted much of his attention to, of all things, a revived Jacobite cause: a small group planning to restore the House of Stuart to the Scottish throne (compare the Chevalier Ramsay as discussed on p. 112).

It was generally believed that in 1897 the civil authorities in London (possibly tipped off by Mathers) discovered that Westcott was involved in an occult society, and told him that this was not suitable behaviour for a senior coroner; Westcott resigned his position in the HOGD. It is possible, however, that Mathers had simply threatened Westcott with exposure of the truth about Fraulein Sprengel. Westcott's place as leader of the HOGD in England was taken by Florence Farr, who was an incompetent administrator; the detailed examination system fell into disarray, and individual members of the HOGD began to perform unauthorized and unsupervised magical experiments.

Worse was to come. A young man, Aleister Crowley {1875-1947), joined the HOGD in November 1898. A year later he had passed through all the stages of the Outer Order, and demanded initiation in the Second Order. Florence Farr and other senior members did not believe he was a suitable person, and refused him admittance to the Order. Crowley went to Mathers in Paris; Mathers initiated him and sent him back to London, apparently to wrest control of the whole HOGD from Farr and her colleagues. At about the same time Mathers revealed to the HOGD that the Fraulein Sprengel letters were fakes.

In the ensuing uproar; the London Temple expelled not just Crowley but Mathers - the last of the original founders -himself. Annie Horniman returned, and discovered the mess that Florence Farr had let everything drift into. W.B. Yeats took over the leadership of the Outer Order for a year.

Having stuck his neck out for Crowley - and lost his Order at least in part because of him - Mathers later fell out with him, and the two fought a vicious magical war for some time.

The HOGD split into several factions. Retaining the old Isis-Urania Temple and the old name (but changing Hermetic to Holy), A.E. Waite changed the emphasis of the HOGD from ritual magic to mystical Christianity. Those interested in continuing the HOGD's work in ritual magic formed a new Order, Stella Matutina (the Order of the Morning Star). A few who stuck with Mathers formed the Alpha et Omega Temple; Mathers, however, stayed in Paris until his death in 1918.

Aleister Crowley

Crowley (born Edward Alexander Crowley) went off to form the Order of the Silver Star, or Argenteum Astrum (A.-. A.-.), based on the hidden Third Order of the HOGD, in 1907. (The standard convention of Masonic and occult societies of the time was to use three dots between initials; for convenience this convention is not being followed in this book.) Over the next few years he published many of the secrets of the HOGD in his Order's magazine The Equinox. Crowley was obsessed with power and with sex; he must have been delighted in 1912 to be invited to head the British branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), the Order of the Temple in the East. This gave him the title 'Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, lona and All the Britains in the Sanctuary of the Gnosis'.

The OTO had been founded c. 1906 by two German Freemasons who had connections with both the Rite of Memphis and Misraim (founded by a very influential but somewhat eccentric Freemason, John Yarker) and the German branch of the Theosophical Society. Probably picking up on ideas of Paschal Beverly Randolph, who had in turn picked up teachings from Levi and others, they believed that the hidden secret at the heart of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry was sex-magick. (By the time R. Swinburne Clymer took over the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis the emphasis on Tantrism, or sex-magick, had been dropped.) As has already been noted on p. 203, H. Spencer Lewis's AMORC owes its origins to the OTO; this later gave ammunition to Clymer when the two men and their organizations fell out in court. Like the FRC, Lewis dropped sex-magick from his movement's teachings; AMORC today prefers to forget its early connection with the OTO.

It is commonly assumed that Crowley later became head of the entire OTO; this is not in fact the case, though at a conference in Germany in 1925 he claimed authority over the whole German Rosicrucian movement - a claim that was rejected by the leaders of the various German Orders. Some of them did, however, accept his authority as a high adept, and published translations of some of his works. Even this was too much for others, and German Rosicrucianism split into pro-and anti-Crowley factions.

In 1920 Crowley founded the Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu in Sicily. He took the name and the idea from Chapter 57 of the first book of Francois Rabelais' wonderfully scurrilous satire The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, first published in 1532. This also provided his famous dictum, -Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law', which (probably largely because of Crowley's own licentious behaviour) is taken by most critics to be a recipe for licence. In fact, Rabelais had intended it to mean that those whose will was in line with God's will would naturally perform only virtuous actions, so no other Law was necessary. St Augustine had said much the same. Today's Thelemites always stress the second part of die saying: 'Love is the Law, Love under Will'. Crowley believed that the Thelemic Age would take over from the Christian Age. Partly because of his strict upbringing by Plymouth Brethren parents, he was vehemently opposed to Christianity; in this, as well as in much else, he was at variance with the great majority of the esotericists covered in this book.

After various scandals, in 1923 Crowley was thrown out of Sicily. Although he wrote pro-German propaganda during the First World War, when he was living in the USA, Crowley was somehow later involved in the seedier side of espionage for MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. Through his membership and leadership of various esoteric societies, and through his intelligence work, Crowley had many influential connections, including his brother-in-law Gerald Kelly, who was later President of the Royal Academy, the MP Tom Driberg, and writers Dennis Wheatley and Ian Fleming, in addition to those he knew through his brief membership of the HOGD.

In a curious aside, Crowley was a significant influence on L. Ron Hubbard, creator of the psychoanalytic system of Dianetics and founder of the controversial Church of Scientology. In 1945 Hubbard stayed for some time at the home of Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist and a senior member of the Los Angeles OTO. In a letter to Crowley, Parsons said that Hubbard was 'the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles'.38 Parsons and Hubbard are said to have worked major sex-magick rituals with a 'scarlet woman' in an attempt to conceive a 'moonchild' - the antithesis of Christ - as first proposed by Crowley in his Book of the Law (1904) and fictionalized in his novel Moonchild (1929).

This account is challenged by the Church of Scientology, which claims that Hubbard was working as an undercover detective investigating black magic. However, several years after Crowley's death, in a lecture in Philadelphia in 1952, Hubbard described Crowley's writings as 'a trifle wild in spots but is a fascinating work in itself', and referred to Crowley himself as 'my very good friend'.39

Born in 1875, the year of Eliphas Levi's death, Crowley believed he was a reincarnation of Levi - and also of Cagliostro, John Dee's sidekick Edward Kelley, and the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. In his occult career he went as high as it is possible to go: in 1916 he was self-initiated to the grade of Magus, and in 1921 to the supreme level of Ipsissimus. Crowley celebrated excess, in sex, drink and drugs, and delighted in the media appellation 'the wickedest man in the world'. It did him little good; he died, in poverty and with few real friends, in 1947, leaving his unpleasant reputation as 'the Great Beast 666y behind him.

Modern Mystery Schools

Sometimes known as Schools of Occult Science, most modern Mystery Schools can trace their origins, by one route or another, to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which, as has been seen, saw itself as the Rosicrucian Order of its day.

It could be said, with some justification, that A.E. Waite hijacked the HOGD, and that the HOGD's true successor was actually Stella Matutina, which continued until the mid-1930s. W.B. Yeats stayed with Stella Matutina until the early 1920s; other well-known names involved in the group included Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie and Constance Wilde, wife of Oscar Wilde. The teachings, rites and ceremonies of the Golden Dawn, as revealed by Israel Regardie between 1937 and 1940, were actually the teachings, rites and ceremonies of Stella Matutina, and it is from Stella Matutina, rather, than from Waite's version of the HOGD, that most of today's esoteric societies have grown.40 Waite's HOGD faded out in 1914; in 1916 he founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross which, although it never had a large membership, included the mystical writer Evelyn Underhill and, for ten years, the esoteric novelist Charles Williams.

In 1922 Dion Fortune (born Violet Mary Firth, 1891-1946), inspired by Stella Matutina, founded the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. After a disagreement with Mathers's widow, she renamed this the Fraternity of the Inner Light, and set it up as a separate order in 1928; it later became the Society of the Inner Light.

The Society of the Inner Light today bases its teachings mainly on Dion Fortune's books The Mystical Qabalah and Cosmic Doctrine, and also recommends her Esoteric Orders and their Work, The Training and Work of an Initiate, Practical Occultism in Daily Life, and Sane Occultism. It lays most emphasis on the Cabala, the Bible, and the mythology of the British Isles. From its publicly available literature, it seems to have three main differences from most other esoteric schools: it doesn't appear to study Tarot; it specifically will not allow gay, lesbian or bisexual members; and it lays an exceptional emphasis on members being

Raised with experience in the British tradition; i.e. fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and folk stories; full knowledge of the legends and myths of our history i.e. heroes; Alfred, Arthur, Drake, Nelson, saints and sages; George, David, Patrick, Shakespeare, at al.; Power centres; Iona, Glastonbury, St. Albans, Canterbury and Walsingham.41

This emphasis on 'Britishness' might have some connection with the claims of the then Fraternity of the Inner Light to have worked on the spiritual/psychic plane in 1940 to protect Britain against German invasion.

At least two other esoteric societies have sprung from the Society of the Inner Light. The Servants of the Light was established in 1972 in Jersey by former Society of the Inner Light member W.E. Butler (1898-1978), as a 'school of occult science'. Although its deepest teachings are still secret, both Butler and its present director Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki have published several books about ritual magic, and the latter has designed an esoteric Tarot pack, based on Servants of the Light teachings and highlighting many of the Golden Dawn traditions which have been muddied in various other packs. The more recent London Group was also founded by a former member of the Society of the Inner Light. Yet another former member has written several very sound books on both the history of magic, and the spiritual quest, under the name of Gareth Knight; he has also designed a Tarot pack.

Those are all British-based societies. In the USA, Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) is an esoteric society founded in the early 1920s by a former member of the Chicago branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Paul Foster Case (1884-1954), who is widely accepted as one of the most thoughtful authorities on both Tarot and Cabala. Like most modern esoteric schools, BOTA stresses that, although it is openly offering teaching which was formerly restricted to a few, it is not a quick and easy path: 'your sincerity, your desire, and your willingness to work will be the sole measure of your accomplishment... For you to be successful in our Work, your personal goals must correspond to those of the Order: personal enlightenment, self-transmutation, and service to Life.'42

BOTA aims to help seekers gain 'a higher state of conscious awareness' through study of Cabala, Tarot, spiritual Alchemy and esoteric Astrology; it stresses that it doesn't mean their common trivialized expressions: 'these Hermetic arts and sciences are by no means deluded imaginings or ignorant superstitions that some persons suppose them to be.' For associate members, this is by correspondence course; there is a more advanced ritual group called a Pronaos into which members might qualify to be initiated 'after completing certain lessons and demonstrating harmonious fraternal qualities'.

BOTA's introductory booklet ends with a statement which shows the heredity of Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism and the HOGD: 'The way to illumination now stands open before you. Look well within yourself and may the Light of Divine Understanding guide you. L.V.X.' The Order of the Golden Dawn, following the early seventeenth-century Rosicrucians, used 'L.V.X.' to represent Lux, the divine light; it was believed significant that the three letters can all be found within the shape of the Cross.

Most of these groups emphasize the value of study - of Cabala, of Tarot, of the Grail romances, of the teachings of esoteric authorities through the ages - and, like the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, emphasize in one way or another the recognition (gnosis) of God within, and the mystical union of man and God.

Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society, an offshoot of the Theosophical movement founded in 1913, is another approach to the same idea, but with a greater emphasis than most present-day esoteric societies on linking science and religion; in this, Steiner was probably closer to the original Rosicrucians. Steiner was a member for a while of the Rite of Memphis and Misraim, and might also briefly have been a member of the German OTO.

It is thought that Steiner took the name Anthroposophy from the title of a book by the Rosicrucian Thomas Vaughan, Anthroposophia Teomagica, published in 1650. Vaughan, twin brother of the metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, had been a priest and a scholar of medicine and alchemy.

While Theosophy is largely Eastern-orientated, Anthroposophy is closer to esoteric Christianity; its study:groups were popular for many years among intellectual, free-thinking clergy, and its spiritual ideas still have an influence in esoteric Christian circles. To most people, however, through its Waldorf Schools it is known more for its reforming ideas in education, particularly of mentally and physically handicapped children. In this, too, it holds to the original Rosicrucian ideal of benefiting humanity at large; it is perhaps achieving this more than most of the other Esoteric movements put together.

Steiner also, as has been seen, influenced Max HeindePs Rosicrucian Fellowship. It is an occult principle that everything is connected to everything else; this is certainly the case with esoteric societies.

Aleister Crowley's development of the HOGD and Ordo Templi Orientis teachings has also spawned a number of successors, including the deliberately misspelled Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth, or TOPY, which has branches in England, Germany, Sweden and the USA. Such groups often teach and practise Thelemic Magick - basically sex-magick - and for obvious reasons keep themselves fairly well hidden. According to esoteric authority Richard Cavendish, the 'k' in Crowley's spelling of Magick stands for kteis, Greek for the female genitals.43

Other groups with links to the Crowley an side of the esoteric include the Nu-Isis Lodge, the Order of Maat, the Knights of the Solar Cross and the International Order of Chivalry, Solar Tradition; the last of which, under the name Order of the Solar Temple, came into prominence in 1994 and 1995 when large numbers of its members committed mass suicide and/or were murdered by its leaders.

This book throughout has shown the close connection between secret societies and esoteric religion. There is also a lot of overlap between small secretive societies and small alternative religious movements, often known as sects or cults, especially some of those with a New Age emphasis. To outsiders their beliefs sometimes seem literally incredible, but it has long been observed that people will believe anything if it's marketed in the right way. Some of the stranger movements involve magic, some sex, some drugs. The more outlandish the beliefs, and the more demanding the guru-figure, the more strongly, it seems, the members commit themselves to the movement. Cynics see them all simply as a means of exerting power and making a lot of money.

As a deliberate exercise to test people's gullibility, in 1969 an Indian journalist placed an advertisement in the Village Voice in Greenwich Village, setting himself up as a guru; he was astonished, and a little frightened, at how quickly he gathered disciples.44 A little more mischievously, the authors of a 1965 book on the supernatural, intrigued and amused at the weird beliefs of some of the movements they had examined, mentioned in passing

the Free Union for Creative Karma, of Los Angeles, which holds as a basic tenet the 'enabling' quality of sensuality freed from outer restraint but disciplined from within - a quality that can apparently release man from the karmic wheel of action/ reaction.

They were more than a little bemused to discover some years later, when one of them visited Los Angeles, that the cult they had invented as a joke in their book now actually existed.45

The 'dawning of the Age of Aquarius' was under way long before the musical Hair! brought it to a wider attention. Whether in a 'secret society' or in some form of guru, seekers will always find their seers; today the difficulty is that of choosing among them. America especially proliferates in mail-order enlightenment. Some, including most of the Rosicrucian societies and Golden Dawn offshoots, have an esoteric pedigree; others are individual people wanting to share their personal vision.

The secret knowledge, the hidden teachings, the revelation now published for the benefit of the world, is not identical in every case. The teachings themselves might be different, or the way of approaching them, or the language used to describe them. Some emphasize ritual, others quiet contemplation, others a more intellectual approach. But all, in one way or another, teach a path to gnosis: not just knowledge, but recognition, realization, acceptance, understanding, the apprehension of the divine.

A brief mention of two quite different examples of organizations founded on 'one man's teachings' will suffice to illustrate this. The first is British, the second American.

The Realization System describes itself as 'practical psychology', and is very much in the mould of personal development or self-help courses - what Norman Vincent Peale called the power of positive thinking. Indeed, its publisher says, 'We are a mail-order company specializing in the sale of semi-educational, self-improvement books and courses on a range of subjects';46 these include effective speaking, rapid reading, and so on. As an organization it is only very peripherally connected to the subject of this book, but the connection is valid.

The author of the Realization System was Daniel A. Simmons, a member of the Society for Psychical Research at the same time as was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The introduction to the course speaks of 'a new conception of the human mind and of the relation of its deeper phases to the Creative Intelligence and a new and better conception of its marvellous hidden powers'; it describes its teachings as 'the liberating truth'; 'the teachings of the System come like a blaze of all-illuminating light, revealing the open gate to the Realm of Realization'.47

Although the course as a whole is couched largely in psychological rather than spiritual terms, the similarity to the spiritual enlightenment of gnosis is unmistakable.

The Fellowship Press in Indiana, USA, existed to publish 'the books of one person only, William Dudley Pelley. There is no church, nor do we sponsor organised study groups, although we are pleased to supply books for those that do. While the books we publish are metaphysical and philosophical, which Mr Pelley called collectively "Soulcraft", we are not concerned with any kind of ritual or occult practices.'48

But the booklets and fliers from the Fellowship Press show the similarity to other esoteric teachings:

'Religion' and 'Science', in short, are beginning to be recognized as parts of the same Truth, of the same Reality, as indeed they must be. The books ... are not attempting to supplant Christian teachings. They are instead trying to separate out of them the superstitious dogma accumulated over the centuries, and make clear many of the allegories and enigmas of ancient scripture. Over all, they present a working philosophy of what Life is all about, why you are in it, what the purposes are behind adversity, what goals you are achieving, and can achieve, or which you have not yet dared to dream ...

As Christ Jesus was divine, so are all men divine in Original Essence, gaining to Holy Stature by illuminations of Wisdom acquired of material experience.

Again, the comparisons are unmistakable.

The Soulcraft Scripts fill twelve large volumes at $20 each. The flier for Excerpts from the Soulcraft Scripts, four smaller volumes at $28 for the set, reads, If your time is limited, you need this shorter road to the Ancient Wisdom!'

The older adepts might have disapproved, but they weren't living in present-day America.

Esoteric Tarot

In recent years a large number of Tarot packs have come Out of some of these esoteric movements.

How close to Golden Dawn teachings are the various packs which have appeared from former members? For example, Case and Waite both show the Lovers card as a naked woman and man standing beneath an angel with outstretched arms. The traditional Marseille design shows a man standing between two women; it symbolizes the hard choice between sensuality and spirituality, rather than the romantic love now usually associated with this card.

The original Golden Dawn Lovers card, as described in the HOGD teachings published by Regardie, is quite different again: it shows a scene from Greek mythology. 'Andromeda is shown manacled to a rock, the dragon rising from the waters at her feet. Perseus is depicted flying through the air to her assistance, with unsheathed sword.'49 Not only the picture, but the meaning is quite different. The dragon represents fear, and the waters stagnation; Perseus's sword is 'striking off the fetters of habit and materialism'. The descriptions of several of the other cards - in particular, the Fool and the Wheel of Fortune - are also substantially different from those of Waite and Case. These designs, as described, can be seen in the Golden Dawn Tarot, created by Robert Wang, and based on Regardie's own hand-drawn pack.

The usual theory for the discrepancy is that Waite and Case were both continuing to conceal some of the deeper Golden Dawn secrets; a more prosaic explanation could be that Regardie's book describes the Stella Matutina designs, and that these might actually have been different from Moina Mathers's original Golden Dawn designs, remembering that Waite was a member of the original HOGD, not, as Regardie was, of Stella Matutina. An alternative explanation is that Waite's later; more mystical version of the HOGD might have changed some of the designs from Mathers's more magic-orientated original.

Everybody borrowed from everybody else; everybody disagreed with everybody else; thus were the present-day symbolic interpretations of Tarot cards formulated.

Aleister Crowley was also, if only briefly, a member of the original HOGD; his dismissal from it was one of the causes of its fragmentation. His Thoth Tarot (painted to his direction by Lady Frieda Harris), quite apart from renaming many of the cards, is radically different from any of the other HOGD-inspired packs; his esoteric ideas had moved on considerably from those of the HOGD.

The designs of Le Tarot Symbolique Magonnique, the Masonic Symbolic Tarot, are also very different in many ways, though more readily recognizable than Crowley's. Unusually the designer and the artist are the same person, Jean Beauchard; he has incorporated many aspects not just of Freemasonry but of Cabala into his designs, which have a strongly geometric basis. According to Beauchard, in a rather awkward translation,

Tarot and Freemasonry carry similar traditional thought and participate as well in the evolution of the spirit of humanity of which they are amongst the driving motors. Their end thought actually is identical: Freemasonry, a philosophical school in its intrinsic nature, has as its goal the research and the comprehension of the individual himself and of his relationship with the Universe . . . The Tarot, as far as it is concerned, is primarily a revealer and a means of investigation. The reflection which the Tarot proposes by the aid of the signs and their possible associations, brings the keys to the individual for the understanding of his proper self.50

The Masonic Tarot Lover card (not Lovers, as in most packs) strongly emphasizes the idea of choice between the sensual and the spiritual, the mundane and the esoteric.

The Servants of the Light (SOL) Tarot, although in some cards showing boldly drawn reinterpretations of the designs, is generally much closer to Waite and Case than it is to the Regardie/Golden Dawn version; where there are differences between Waite and Case, it- follows Case.

(Interestingly, although the Lovers card in this pack, as in Crowley's pack, is closer to Waite and Case than it is to either Regardie or the Marseille, the interpretation of the card in both SOL and Crowley stresses another concept, openness to inspiration.)

The SOL pack was painted by two different artists to designs by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, director of Servants of the Light, which was founded by W.E. Butler, a former member of the Society of the Inner Light, which had been founded by Dion Fortune, a former member of Stella Matutina, which was a continuation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Recent paths of esoteric succession are at least well-documented.

The topic of Tarot will be taken up once more at the end of this book, to suggest that its development might be even more closely linked to the continuance of esoteric thought than is normally realized.