How Rosicrucian is the Golden Dawn? A review of a review


I have to confess I get nervous, a kind of ‘contact embarrassment’ whenever someone says they are a Rosicrucian. I was brought up by kind and decent folk, unassuming and unpretentious and this seems to have influenced by spiritual life somewhat: when the Fama says to ‘profess nothing’ save to heal the sick gratis, I think it means just that. Tradition tells us one simply does not declare oneself a Rosicrucian. It’s like Maggie Thatcher’s wisdom: ‘if you have to tell someone you’re a lady, you’re not’.

I guess a good response for those who wander up to us at parties declaring they are ‘a Rosicrucian’ would be to imitate novelist Maya Angelou’s retort when confronted with folk who proudly declared they were Christians: ‘what, already?’ 🙂

So when a blog, for all the right reasons I am sure, seeks to review modern Rosicrucian Orders and give them a score for various ‘Rosicrucian’ qualities, it does make me wonder a little. However, Sam Robinson has done just this and today produced his latest review, this time on ‘the Golden Dawn’. Knowing a bit about this myself, I thought I’d give the review its own little review 🙂

Firstly, Sam needs congratulations – or perhaps pity – for attempting this task at all. The modern set of groups, practices, communities, websites and ideas that are ‘the Golden Dawn’ in 2016 is extremely diverse. I wouldn’t touch a review of ANY aspect of the GD across such an assorted (and often at odds) set of misfits with a barge pole. So here’s to Sam! And to his many caveats he requires to discuss such a diverse cluster of spiritual odds and sods.

Sam, after much placating of expected dummy spitting by some people, starts by an assertion that the GD is Rosicrucian, despite what other Rosicrucians may say. By this he means the inner order of the GD, the Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis, (RR et AC). So far so good, though of course the published text of one redaction of the initiation into this inner order specifically forbids initiates from telling folk they are in fact, Rosicrucians. Hmmm.

Of this Sam writes: “The RR et AC does not belong to the Golden Dawn. It belongs to the greater Rosicrucian current.” It is hard to argue with that, since the GD was specifically created to be the Outer Order of the Inner and is dependent upon the Inner for its existence. Nothing can, by definition ‘belong’ to the GD at all, at all 🙂

I assume what Sam is getting at here is that the RR et AC is a manifestation of the Rosicrucian tradition(s). This may not be obvious now with all sorts of modern GD (outer) manifestations, but the inner retains links to that tradition that cannot be discarded (and still practice the GD effectively in the Outer). No matter how Thelemic one is or how problematic one many find exoteric Christianity.

Sam’s review succeeds or fails on his separation of the GD into the “… ‘public Golden Dawn’ vs. the esoteric and still hidden Golden Dawn Orders.” This will piss many folk off, but I think is one of the greatest aspects of his review and something I respect. Why will it annoy some folk? Sam answers beautifully:

The very idea of still hidden Golden Dawn Orders is considered blaspheme [sic] in some Public G.D circles, so certain as they are that their branches are the only ones with any lineage to claim. So much so that now a militant behavior towards other lineages has become a norm, as is shooting down any ‘challengers’ to a monopoly they imagine they have.

copy-of-pastoslid1Naturally of course, since these ‘still hidden’ GD Orders cannot be scrutinized no verifiable evidence can be forthcoming. The quotations and ideas attributed to these esoteric GD groups could have been written by Sam himself over his morning waffles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, a keen observer and practitioner of the GD/RR et AC will have noticed certain themes and ideas present in the original manifestations (via documented evidence) that are now missing or downplayed in many modern Orders. Extrapolating from these facts can give us an understanding of what a more traditional ‘hidden’ Order’s views may be. That these fit perfectly with the ideas Sam presents as being from two traditional Rosicrucian GD folk is interesting to say the least.

Sam summarizes the themes often missing in the modern GD nicely: “They [the modern Orders] tend to down-play the original Rosicrucian-Christian elements.”  And “At times they offer an approach which is often at odds with the actual G.D documents.” Ouch.

He continues: “The Esoteric G.D as a hidden stream remains more active in its Rosicrucian approaches”. Something I have found also. He explores this Rosicrucian approach as one of the distinguishing factors that separate the public GD and the esoteric, with the public being more focused on the magical and the esoteric on the Rosicrucian.


Sam does a quick review of the historical origins of the GD: “The story of the ‘discovery of the [Cipher] manuscripts’ led to their alleged contact with Anna Sprengel”. Me rusty brain tells me it was only later when Dr Felkin started his own search that the mythic Fraulein Sprengel acquired the first name ‘Anna’.

Sam now gives us a juicy carrot:

Recent information has surfaced detailing events leading up to the founding of the SRIA. Essentially English masons did a tour of German and Belgian lodges and encountered spectacular rites (amongst the rites drawn from, shock horror to English masons, was the Egyptian Rite of Misraim). The excursion left them with a sense of purpose; that the English should also have such a Rosicrucian branch.

Well, roger me rigid and call me Toby! Obviously we have to ask WHAT ‘Recent information’ and surfacing from WHERE via WHO? This is all rather occult Boys Own Adventure stuff, but I for one would like some proper sources here 🙂

The lack of understanding of, or willingness to accept, the Christocentric aspects of the inner order of the modern GD manifestations is mentioned by Sam. He says it ‘does influence their Christosophia score’. This lack is something that we have long argued here on MOTO. Such an approach does not require an Inner Order GD member to become a confessional Christian, but they do need a rich and deep engagement with the Christian method of the Rosicrucian tradition. Authorities like R.A. Gilbert maintain Rosicrucianism needs to be approached from a Christian Trinitarian framework else it ceases to be Rosicrucianism.

In this regard Sam briefly mentions the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, but while initially describing it as a ‘Christian branch’ of the GD, he quickly makes an important distinction: the FRC searches for Grace not magical power which kinda puts it outside the orbit of the GD, at least the modern GD. He also talks about the order and movement often known as Whare Ra in New Zealand:

Whare Ra in New Zealand was one of the longest going G.D currents and certainly it was Christian and had a more faith based approach. In fact most of its members saw attending the G.D as a way to enhance their Catholic beliefs. Still it was not the Christianity of the manifestos.

whareravault100001I think is pretty much on the ball, though from memory the members were largely Anglican not Catholic. Tony Fuller in his excellent doctoral thesis refers to Stella Matutina documents that clearly position the Order as a manifestation and continuation of the Christian revelation through the historical Incarnation. There is no equivocation there.

Christian or wot?

Sam refers to the function and power of Christian symbols within the Inner Order initiation ceremonies and papers. These certainly are clearly drawn from the Christian myths and texts. However, he says that “after initiation into the RR et AC all the Christ symbolism stops dead in its tracks.”

I am really not clear if this is the case at all. Certainly it is in many, if not most modern (public) GD Orders, but not within the Rosicrucianism based Orders he describes as esoteric. The difference is quite stark: I have corresponded with modern adepts who cheerfully confess they have NEVER read the Manifestos and with adepts who know the Manifestos intimately and in parts verbatim. It is the same with the supporting scripture and Christian traditions that underpin the Manifestos.

I agree fully with Sam when he writes of the modern/public GD: “… most G.D leaders mention the [Rosicrucian] current as being ‘just a layer of symbolism to the ritual’ and worse I’ve heard a major G.D authority say ‘there is nothing to the Rosicrucian symbolism.’ Instead the focus is on the magical approach rather than the Rosicrucian one … This is one of the examples of the public G.D being guilty of ignoring its own teachings and papers.”

The same applies to the modern interpretation of the Christian emphasis within the Manifestos and the Inner Order. For example, Pat Zalewski gives a good example of the modern utilitarian approach to the mystical Christianity within the Inner Order when he writes:  “[Christ’s] Name evokes a powerful current or force that fills us with the receptive principle, something akin to the Yin of Chinese metaphysics.” This is a very different approach to his antecedents in Whare Ra.

Sam proceeds to speculate that the ‘Christosophic’ score of the GD would be increased by changing the ritual (presumably the published Adeptus Minor ceremony) by including “… the 11 Apostles, a spear and crown of thorns could be added to the ritual, and the candidate would circulate the temple one time carrying a cross over their shoulders. Furthermore the forty days of the desert of Christ should actually be something the candidate has to undergo, following a period of mystical work before the Rosicrucian degree.”

Personally, I am unsure on all this, as the inner symbolism and mystery of all these elements, apart from the 11 not 12 Apostles, is already within parts of the ceremony or lead-up to the ceremony. At least they are in those Orders that work the inner workings fully within a Christocentric approach. Likewise I personally have a very different appreciation of a section of the Third Point in the Adeptus Minor ceremony quoted by Sam, where the Chief Adept speaks from inside the Pastos:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.  I am the purified.  I have passed through the Gates of Darkness into Light.  I have fought upon earth for Good.  I have finished my Work.  I have entered into the Invisible.  I am the Sun in his rising.  I have passed through the hour of cloud and of night.  I am Amoun, the Concealed One, the Opener of the Day.  I am Osiris Onophris, the Justified One.  I am the Lord of Life triumphant over Death.  There is no part of me which is not of the Gods.  I am the Preparer of the Pathway, the Rescuer unto the Light; Out of the Darkness, let that Light arise.

Sam describes this as “Hermetic Christianity, but it is also quite dry and distances the initiate from Christ.” I am not sure I know anyone personally who experienced this as ‘dry’. Certainly it could be said to be ‘distant’ from a mystical appreciation of Christ as a sole deity, but this is not the point of this part of the ceremony. The Chief Adept speaks as our father in Christ, AND as Amoun AND as the Justified Osiris, producing a fusion which allows connection to the Mystery behind all forms and thence a gateway to the eternal verities. He correctly explores these different approaches by writing:

A contrast arises here, in that one objectifies Christ as an ideal we may become, while the other does the same, but also worships Christ adoringly through the same process.

I am sure that Sam would agree though that more than a few historical and contemporary GD folk do worship and adore Christ, even if this is not the case for those most visible in the public square. However Sam is correct in his critique of the GD/RR et AC’s approach to both Christian theology and scripture as functional and subservient to technical processes of adept manipulation of the various aspects of the self to produce transformation. This is opposed to the traditional Christian understanding of Redemption through the action of Christ not by our own effort. This dual aspect, using traditional Christian-Rosicrucian imagery within a magical context that is counter to traditional Christian theology is the nub of the problem the GD faced and still faces. It is succinctly put by Professor Ronald Hutton:

It was far from obvious, in the performance of the Qabbalistic Cross, whether the kingdom, the power, and the glory belonged to God or were being promised to the human carrying out the ritual.

As Hutton goes on to say, the ambiguity made the GD attractive to people with a range of beliefs and approaches. However, it has also produced the state of play, ably noted by Sam, where the GD can become a tabula rasa for any modern magician to foist their own spiritual views upon.

Sam’s review of the GD approach to traditional ‘Gnosticism’ seems pretty spot on, as far as I can tell, so I won’t comment on that. Instead I will finish with a quote from the review that makes total sense to me. Thank you Sam for this review and your comments, it was informative and delightful.

I would have to say the majority of ‘traditional’ Public G.D Orders are not very Christian. They too tend to play down the role Christ has within their R.C Inner Order.

In many ways Public Golden Dawn has taken a step downhill in this regard. Not only do they ignore the Christ mysticism already outlined in the documents but Christ has become a total stranger. It is almost as if modern Golden Dawn has attracted a bunch of youths who grew up hating their parent’s religion.

Had Golden Dawn remained secret I imagine things would be very different today.

Amen to that. 🙂



Dangers of the Golden Dawn (well all magic, really)

This is sort of a follow up to my post from several years back, Nine Dangers of the Golden Dawn. So you just have to go and have a look there too  🙂

I have been having a spot of conversation with a new friend who knows a lot about all sorts of things, including the Golden Dawn. Getting on a bit, he has studied these things for a mere five decades and contacted several surviving Orders and members in the UK back in the day. He recounts something I have heard before: post WWII, the Order was left to die by its members. That is, they stopped magical working, stopped trying to induct new memberships and let the dust pile up on once glorious temple rooms.

R.A. Gilbert in his ‘Golden Dawn Scrapbook’ writes about the aged adepts who could bring about a renaissance of the Order if they choose – but they choose not. And Nick Farrell recounts how the Inner Plane contacts of the AO ordered the shutting down of the Order around and post WWII (of course, Whare Ra only suffered this fate as late as 1978).

If we are practicing the Golden Dawn (and really any magic coming from it or inspired by it), we have to take a good hard look at these facts. We cannot ignore them – they are pretty telling. If the GD offers a superlative magical system for spiritual development for the modern era, why was it rejected by its own adepts and Inner Plane contacts?

Now, the Inner Plane contacts directive we can, if we like to do these things, more easily write off by invoking ‘corruption of the contact’ or ‘subconscious influence from the medium’. And I am sure folk did just that. However, the real, physical actions and choices of senior adepts is another matter.

When we look at these things two main answers to the question, ‘why?’ come to mind:

  • The Golden Dawn was fine – even brilliant – in its day, but the day has passed. It was and is time to let go and let other things arise.
  • The Golden Dawn was a great experiment – but ultimately it did not work; the Inner Contacts and the Adepts recognised this and let it die.

We can also assume we in 2014 know more about all of this than those Adepts between the 1940s and 1970s and say, ‘they were wrong (or only partly right) … the purpose of the closure of the AO and other temples was actually to let the egregore and magic be open to the thousands of others who could now access it via published works (and now, the Net)’.

All well and good. We ‘makes our choices’, as they say.

Personally, I wonder if the reason for the critiquing and closing of the various Orders and temples had resonance with the concerns I raised in my previous post, Nine Dangers of the Golden Dawn? If I were reframing those dangers, I would today highlight one above all – the self.

Whereas in the original post I cautioned about ‘ego inflation’, I think such a bold term is likely to make folk reject that it has anything to do with them. Today I’d rather caution that the Golden Dawn, and all magic, can lead us to a situation where we place ourselves, our will, at the centre rather than the One. To quote myself 🙂

So modern 21st century magic should be about moving the mage from the centre of the circle, controlling all the forces he invokes (which is like, so medieval) to an awareness that at the centre we are interdependent on the entire circle of life, on the One and the universe that forms around us.

The magic circle should really be a place where we stand knowing ourselves as the centre of God’s love and attention (like all beings), the will of the One moving through us.

Instead magic can easily fool us into believing, that when we stand at the centre of the circle, we are actually the centre of the universe and can control the forces and beings we invoke – which is of course classic magic and, IMHO, a sure path to nowhere. Equally however, we may argue along with Canon Anthony Duncan (in Gareth Knight’s brilliant, ‘Christ and Qabalah’), that as soon as the One is at the centre, magic ceases to be magic at all.

Now this is a subtle thing, really a matter of approach rather than outward actions or choices of magic and rituals. The same ritual can be used and approached in different ways, as Professor Ronald Hutton writes of the Qabalistic Cross:

‘It was far from obvious, in the performance of the Qabbalistic Cross, whether the kingdom, the power, and the glory belonged to God or were being promised to the human carrying out the ritual.

It then becomes crucial that, to use Buddhist terminology, the ‘right view’, the right understanding of the universe is inculcated or already within the student from the very start, as I describe in this post, Magic – what is it good for?

This however requires theory and theology rather than praxis, something most magical students want to avoid like a marginal-seat politician before an election. It is for this reason – to ensure and promote the ‘right view’ – I think the GD insisted on a belief in a Supreme Being and interest in the Christian traditions – as the right view comes from both. It is for this reason I always try and foster a religious attitude, if not practice, in any students I have. These things are crucial.

More distinct ego distortions in the Golden Dawn occur not only because of outward things, like the titles and grades, but also inner difficulties. These mainly centre on the incredible potency and strength of the magic of the Golden Dawn being used at incorrect times. Though this is often said, I sometimes think most people somehow do not think it applies to them personally:


Magic was only practiced in the Inner Order, the RR et AC, after the student had completed seven initiations, much preparation and been linked to currents of transformation, the Rosicrucian tradition and their own Genius. If we practice magic too early in our spiritual development, distortion can EASILY occur.

Finally, I will lift from a previous ‘dangers’ post, as it is still very apposite.


All esoteric paths and systems are worthless in themselves, the GD included. They can only point us to the One, and at worse they lock us, often unconsciously, into a system of practice that feels good but ultimately produces no transformation. Most esoteric paths, the GD included, are predicated on a two value premise and a ‘promise’ to move between the two: ourselves now, ourselves later (enlightened, transformed, healed, more in tune etc.) and the practices/initiations that move us between the two.

The danger in such a view is that it can become a closed loop. The person I ‘am’ now can never be the person I foresee at the ‘end’ of the process, since my definitions have already separated the ‘I’ now and ‘I’ desired. The gap between the two, while impossible for ‘me’ to bridge, is the spiritual practice and while I engage in that I have the sense of moving forward. Of course ‘I’ can never actually reach the goal, but simply having this mental structure and doing some practice I will experience the sense of moving ahead.

Any tradition that has a well developed ‘path’ between the two ‘I’s will naturally draw people, as we all like to see how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. The Golden Dawn thus is very attractive with its clearly mapped out path of transformation and rituals/practices at each stage of the way. Ultimately of course, most GD people (like most esoteric students) don’t really transform in any deep way at all – as amply demonstrated by the lives of both historical and contemporary GD magicians. As Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault says:

…it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.

What makes an esoteric path effective, what makes it actually able to lead us to the One is death and resurrection. The ‘I’ now cannot become the ‘I’ we desire, so we must die. Effective esoteric paths shake us all the time; they invite us to die continually and completely. It is up us to choose death or not. However, even the ‘death and rebirth’ instigated by the highly developed Golden Dawn initiations, like the Adeptus Minor, is becoming part and parcel of the intellectual and lower self framework of magicians. If this happens, then death becomes just another magical experience and therefore we block to death as it truly is.

This is a danger of having esoteric paths made exoteric and then taught by people who have not died, who are still in the two value mindset I mentioned above and do not know it. The Golden Dawn suffers from this considerably, and Vajrayāna Buddhism is beginning to suffer the same fate in the west.

Repeating the bleedin’ obvious: our modern western society and therefore all of us are afraid of death. We hate it, we fear it, we deny it, and we handle it incredibly badly. Death though is the key to the esoteric, and as anyone who has experienced esoteric death will tell you, it is no metaphor. To quote that greatest of Priestesses, Dion Fortune: “There are two deaths; the death of the body and the death of initiation. And of the two, the death of the body is the lesser”.

We need to die. And to be reborn. And now I’m sounding all Christian again. Oh, well 🙂 THANKS.

A Very British Witchcraft – and some Aussie corrections

Another post linking to a video. What is the net coming to? 🙂

This time it’s a wonderful recently aired documentary on Gerald Gardner and the development of Wicca featuring my favourite historian, Ronald Hutton. The video is very well made, lots of nice images and lovely people being interviewed. Professor Hutton obviously had a good time making it. Overall, a jolly good show, wot? 🙂

However, there were a few points that made me scratch me noggin’. Especially since this is coming from the pre-eminent historian on modern Wicca. Since I am, at least in part, an annoying swot-know-it-all, I can’t keep mum on these… so here they are 🙂

9:41  Hutton, when referring to Gardner’s putative initiation in September 1939, says: “From that night until his death, nearly 30 years later, Gerald Gardner devoted his life to Witchcraft.” Er … maybe. There is no evidence Gardner did very much at all on the Wiccan front until ten years later in 1949, or at least after his meeting with Crowley in 1947 (1). I think we can say this from the early 50’s for sure, , but not before 🙂

12:43  Hutton talks about a ‘large group of Freemasons based nearby’ Highcliffe. Pedantic, I know but they were Co-Masons (2). Still, I suppose ‘Freemason’ could have been used in a generic sense for the Channel 4 audience? 🙂

13:45  This is the one that really made me splutter. Hutton says, “In Britain there is a long tradition of useful Witchcraft dating back to the Middle Ages. Known as the cunning folk these Witches would cast spells to heal the sick or bring good luck”.

Ye gods and little fishes! Where did this come from? Hutton, Owen Davies (and others) have been very clear in the past – cunning folk were mostly religiously (heterodox) Christian (3). They fought against bewitchment and it seems most would have been appalled to be called witches. Hutton himself describes cunning craft as the ‘least relevant’ of the influences on Wicca he examined (4). But there’s more – Hutton goes on to say, “Research has shown that Gerald essentially used these spells in his own new Forest rituals”. What? The bases for the Wiccan rituals have been shown to be mostly Crowley and a few other key sources, none of them spells from traditional cunning folk. Weird.

22:05  Hutton says that in 1951, at the time of the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, Wicca was developing into ‘a fully fledged religious system’. Yes, well it all depends on your view I guess. Some folk think Wicca only really began the previous year with the initiation of Barbara Vickers by Gardner – his first initiation. In 1951 it was, as far as I can make out, still all pretty nascent. (5)

25:45   When discussing how Gardner created his new religion of Wicca, Hutton says, “He [Gardner] borrowed heavily from both English folklore Witchcraft and modern shamanic magic for his spells and rituals.” If by “English folklore Witchcraft” he means what was found in Margaret Murray and a few others sources, yes, but not from any ‘witches’ themselves. And what, in 1950s England, was “modern shamanic magic”? The shaman craze was 30 years away, unless for some reason Hutton is using this term to refer to ceremonial magic like the OTO and the GD. But that is pretty strange considering arguments in his excellent Shamans – Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination (6).

So, yes, a good little doco, but one that reinforces some half truths still believed by the modern Wiccan and Pagan communities. Thanks 🙂


(1) See my summary here:

(2) Heselton, Philip, Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner. Vol 1: Into the Witch Cult. (Loughborough, Leicestershire:  Thoth Publications. 2012) and Heselton, Philip, Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner. Vol 2: From Witch Cult to  Wicca. (Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications. 2012).

(3) Davies, Owen (2007). Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History. Hambledon Continuum.

(4) Hutton, Ronald (1999),The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1999), chapter 5.

(5) Clifton, Chas, Mouse’s Way: Philip Heselton’s Biographies of Gerald Gardner.

(6) Hutton, Ronald, (2007) Shamans – Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination. London, Continuum

A few things…

Fundraising for Poverty

Next week I will be living on a strange diet of cheap foodstuffs as I participate in ‘Live Below the Line’. Basically I eat for $2 a day (AUD), experience a brief window into poverty and raise money via donations for those who are REALLY experiencing it. You can find out all about it here and donate towards my program here:

I’ve had a really great response from magical and Pagan folk so far, which makes me smile like a loony. THANKS – and please spread the word.

Repeat of Seasonal Rant

One of my old ‘Pagany’ friends posted a nice little thing on Facebook recently. It was all about the descent of Australia “into winter” and how it “is” really Samhain here (the whole of Australia) not Beltain. Listen to this wisdom:

In the Southern Hemisphere the celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-wen) is officially on April 30. However the actual celestial moment of Samhain is on Sunday May 5 and corresponds with a balsamic moon, which is the equivalent energy. The reason these dates are different is the first is the traditional day, the day decided long ago by our ancestors and the second date is the actual time when the Earth and Sun line up to create the moment within such sundials as Stone Henge, and its different because the earth and the sun and everything else in our galaxy hasn’t moved in a consistently predictable way.

I am not going to even go into funny moons and the “equivalent” energy to ancient Celtic festivals, but as I have said before (and will keep saying), none of these concepts apply to the whole of Australia (and perhaps not anywhere in Oz). Samhain and Beltaine are Celtic in origin, and we have no prehistoric “sun-dials” like Stonehenge . The Eight Sabbat cycle does not neatly switch. Even the concept of “winter” is alien to much of this land, and most of the traditional European motifs and myths concerning winter do not relate to our cold time at all. We (antipodean Pagans) have to keep reiterating this as the awareness of the unique and wonderful songs and seasons of our land, where we actually live, is still to be heard by many folk.

Links of Interest

I was tantalized by a recent Wild Hunt post which mentioned the current research of one of my favourite academics, Ronald Hutton. His research will not be published for a few more years, but early information includes:

  • It appears that more men than women were killed in several areas;
  • Most victims were not burned alive, but after execution by another means, such as strangulation or beheading, to dispose of a body deemed unworthy of a Christian burial;
  • Where there was strong centralized government, there were fewer executions of witches: the body counts soared wherever a heavily localized system of justice effectively put the accusers in charge of the trials. Small German states were one example of this latter situation, Scotland another.
  • Areas of Celt cultural influence had far less witch trials;
  • Professional inquisitors made very little money from witch trials.

Makes one think, hey? And there is a nice little interview with the good Prof over at the Cherry Hill Seminary website. 🙂

greenmanlogofinal-greenAnd while in a Pagan mood, coming soon is the Green Man Quarterly, a “new project based in Melbourne, Australia that aims to present an in depth exploration of Pagan, Witchcraft and Occult issues.” This is one of the most exciting developments in Australian Pagan publishing for a long time. I know that the editorial team will produce a fine magazine filled with in-depth and quality material. It already has some great contributors. You can subscribe here:

And speaking of Green Men, check out the latest Sulis Manoeuvre post by Rebsie Fairholm: “Shurdington Green Man” Rebsie has perhaps the finest advice on the complex figure of the Green Man ever written:

Reducing him to a “fertility” figure is also doing him a bit of a disservice, as he’s more than just the face of Beltane bonking.

Indeed. THANKS 🙂

Response to Ronald Hutton – Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism

pageHeaderTitleImageThe latest Pomegranate is out. Of particular note is an article, kindly provided free, by Prof Ronald Hutton, ‘Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History’. This is really very good and looks at the current controversy between two broad ways of interpreting Pagan history, particularly that concerning modern religious Witchcraft.

One of the strengths of Hutton’s writing is his ability to summarise and present academic viewpoints and arguments without resorting to academic jargon or elitism. On a personal level this article is very relevant in that it discusses the difference in the acceptance of the revision of Pagan history by Pagans in the UK and those in the former colonies, like Australia. I have some personal history of the latter and wish to talk to a few points made by Hutton. But first some context.

The revisionist history discussed by Hutton concerns the collapse of the older view that modern Pagan Witchcraft was a continuation in terms of lineage and practice of a hidden Pagan magical-religion from the medieval period or older. To quote Gerald Gardner:

[the witch] is a descendant of a line of priests and priestesses of an old and probably Stone Age religion, who have been initiated in a certain way (received into the circle) and become the recipients of certain ancient learning. (1)

Ronald Hutton

An important point, made clear by Hutton in this latest article is that the history first accepted and promulgated by modern Pagans was a product of the academy. It was never a product of oral or other history from within the Pagan community itself.  This older history found its most influential and popular expression in the works of Margaret Murray (2). These were incorporated into the Wiccan foundation myth by Gardner and others from the 1950s onward.

The academy, however, is never static and resists codification of history as ‘fact’, much less religious fact and new research promoted a new history, called the ‘revisionist’ view in Hutton’s article. However, as the academy’s consensus of pagan history shifted it did not automatically affect a parallel shift in the Pagan community. This is because for several generations of Pagans this history was presented as originating within the community, not the academy. Hence it became ‘natural’ and ‘real’. The still circulating stories of Wicca being passed via centuries old family traditions serve to reinforce this sense of a real and shared Pagan history.

This in essence is the source of the conflict between the revisionist history and the counter-revisionists, who seek first and foremost to deny the revisionist view. Often this seems to stem from a mistaken view that the revisionist history has an agenda to ‘destroy’ or lessen the validity of the Craft as a genuine religious expression. As I have discussed previously, this is very strange to me, as the new history is even more awe inspiring and full of divine inspiration than the older myth. To cut and paste from meself 🙂

The real history of Wicca then is just as deep and just as powerful as the mythic history. The eternal mystery, the unknowable and the unnameable became revealed in a new religious expression, slowly at first but from the 1960s on with increasing speed as a viable and engaging religion. As I recount in this post I experienced this truth viscerally and deeply when I first read Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, becoming aware that Wicca was a true and bone fide religion of the modern era. I don’t know about you, but I find this gob-smacking and awesomely exciting. A real religion, a real revelation of Mystery born within the byways of 20thcentury Bournemouth, not on a distant and ancient tree or desert rock somewhere out of bounds, but within our own time and culture. To me this is more exciting than any secret Witch cult hidden throughout the ages. (3)

On a personal front, I was initiated into Wicca in the mid-1980s after first studying western esoteric and magical traditions. I had the advantage and blessing of studying a minor in religious studies and so was exposed to as much current research on Paganism as I chose to hunt up (it was not in our curriculum).

It was clear to me back then that the Wiccan liturgy was comprised largely of western magical material and works from Aleister Crowley. There is nothing new in this, but when I started to share my views and the limited research I had done (mainly on the Wiccan use of the material from the Key of Solomon the King), I ran into problems. The current Wiccan hierarchy in Perth refused to accept what to my mind was obvious and attacked my tentative articles on the subject and myself with vigour. This reached a zenith (or nadir depending on your viewpoint) after my positive review and recommendation of Aidan Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic in 1991. After a few more years of trying to share my findings and some summaries of the current British research, I gave up.

Hutton in this article writes that

Parts of North America and Australasia, where Pagan witchcraft has gained significant numbers of adherents more recently than in Britain, seem still to be engaged in that initial turmoil of identity formation and community-building: a kind of Wild West of current Paganism. They reproduce many of the tensions that their British cousins knew in earlier times, and with them, perhaps, a freshness, vigour, and excitement that British Paganism has lost as the price of settling down. (4)

This was very true and Perth back in the late 1980s and perhaps still is. Either way, the Wiccan community back then was not willing to accept the information I was naively offering. So I gave up and for wider variety of reasons, our Coven retreated into the background away from the mainstream Wiccan community. The 2001 publication of Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon (5) was both a joy and a relief for me. Here was an accessible work that gave a new and solid Wiccan history, providing copious new material and making sense of the many anomalies in the standard Wiccan history I had found and proving many of the intuitions I had regarding the actual formation of Wicca. The years following its release were however my most intense years of parenting and working for the Golden Dawn Order in Perth, so I had little inclination to put more on my plate and assess the impact of the book on Perth Wicca.

It is only recently I have re-established contact with the Wiccan community in any sustained and meaningful way. Since then I have found a mixed situation; Hutton’s Triumph has been read by  only a few Wiccans and appears to be on precious few Coven’s essential reading lists. Some of the newer Pagans and Wiccans, notably those with higher educational backgrounds, have accepted and embraced the revisionist viewpoints. Others maintain the traditional view and myths strongly while most I feel straddle a little of both worlds.

Of the former type, Perth blogger ‘Mitzy Gaynor‘ (6) is the most vocal and well researched, presenting current revisionist thought and ideas with aplomb and candour – as well as defending my own efforts from scurrilous attack by international bloggers who epitomise what Hutton describes as: “…a very testosterone-rich language of swagger and taunt.” (7)

That such attacks have come from outside Perth is interesting. In the ’80s my views and work in Perth prompted actual curses by some of the more volatile Wiccans; today there is nothing from Perth and but an insignificant peppering of defamation and online curses from US based Pagan fundamentalists. This indicates a wonderful growth in Perth (and Australian) Paganism and is very exciting. In fact, in general, my re-connection with Australian Wicca has been as wonderful as the people I have (re)met.

The traditional myth of Wiccan foundations is, not surprisingly, still held strongly by a few senior Wiccans who I have had the pleasure to interview recently for ‘Perth Pagan Oral History Project’. None of those I spoke to had read Hutton or similar works, nor did they seem very inclined to.

The majority of Wiccans in Perth, as I mentioned above, live in both worlds. They are happy to accept Gerald Gardner was the genesis of modern Wicca in some sense, but maintain a belief in a pre-existing religious Witch tradition from which he drew. Often this putative pre-Gardnerian Witch tradition is conflated with cunning craft, charmer, or herbal traditions which historically were not religiously Pagan. The importance of this sense of identity with a Witch past before Gardner for Perth (and from social media examples, for other Australian Wiccans) has been illustrated for me recently.

In September last year I was kindly invited to lecture at an annual Perth Wiccan-Pagan gathering about my recent book. I chose a slightly different tack and lectured instead on the influence of the Golden Dawn on Wicca. As part of the lecture I presented the revisionist viewpoint, drawing heavily on Hutton, Davies, Wilby and other writers. During the course of the day, after the lecture, three Priestesses approached me privately to thank me for the lecture and also to point out that what they practiced was not created by Gardner. One Priestess asserted the traditional story that her Craft was actually passed on by her mother and grandmother. She declined to be interviewed about this lineage, so nothing could be verified.

The other two Priestesses told me they had been trained in a tradition that existed prior to Gardner. This was curious as the Craft I knew they practiced (and confirmed again on the day) bore all the broad hallmarks of Gardnerian based Wicca. In the following weeks, upon invitation to present me with their lineages, these two Priestesses kindly did some research and realised their actual lineage stemmed not from a pre-Gardnerian tradition at all, but from an Alexandrian root. The lack of self-reflexivity up to the point I asked them to examine their lineage to a few generations back seemed to be connected with a desire for identification with an older, ‘traditional’ Craft to counter the revisionist history they had peripherally been aware of.

This tendency to identity with the concept of the ‘traditional Witch’ is also evident within the new Perth Pagan e-Magazine, ‘Pagan Pens‘ (8). Firstly, there is an article by myself addressing the mistaken identification by Wiccans themselves of modern Wiccans with mythic and fairy tale witches, Given a misleading subtitle by the editors, The Evil Witch and the Good Wiccan makes a case that the word ‘witch’ still refers in the mainstream to mythic, malefic beings and Wiccans should not be upset when modern storytellers draw on older stories of evil witches, since they are not talking about Wiccans, The two are separate beasts. Hutton in his recent article asserts a similar view regarding:

…the visceral fear and hatred the word “witch” still inspires in many of the British, and the deep roots of this response: the more traditional the cultural background of the people concerned, the stronger the reaction tends to be. (9)

In the same issue of Pagan Pens, Tree Foster presented an article on the besom or broom, an item and icon traditionally associated with witches, though not featuring among the eight Working Tools in Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca. It is a nice article, presenting secondary research describing the mythic and traditional associations of brooms with witchcraft. During the course of the article the author changes her voice and writes:

According to records, we [witches] could ride up the chimney on our besoms to our sabbats. Men would use a pitchfork, another everyday item. We could also sail in sieves to sink ships.

This may be simply flippant or it may, in a Pagan magazine marketed largely towards Wiccans, by the use of ‘we’ show an identification of Wicca with mythic witchcraft. This is very interesting and again may point to the need to connect Wicca with something older and more valid than the Gardnerian (re)creation. In my review of the (Australian) Pagan Awareness Network’s Paganism & Christianity I noted the same tendency by author Gavin Rees, something that was not reflected upon by members of PAN itself. (10)

Hutton also touches upon something noted in other religions: colonial and post-colonial adherents tend to practice more voraciously and sometimes with more fundamentalist tendencies than the faithful in the religion’s mother country. Anecdotally  this is something I and associates have noted in Perth for the past thirty years, though it has lessened a lot recently. Certainly there are still those Covens and Wiccans who consciously choose to follow the English ‘Wheel of the Year’, celebrating midwinter in our summer, and partake of traditional English customs and games as part of the celebration. Most groups however have now reversed the Wheel and a few are seeking to establish a genuine Australian land based system.

My recent interviews and research with Wiccan elders show a very different situation in the 1970s through early 90s. During this period many Perth Wiccans travelled to England to consciously gain Wiccan legitimacy, resources and texts. The connection with the ‘old country’ was then, and perhaps now still is, for some British migrant Witches, intimately part of practicing a religion and Craft felt to be entwined within ‘ye olde England’. An anecdote may serve here.

Ye Olde England?

I once talked with a non-aligned Pagan priestess, without any conscious Wicca connections, save when a young woman. She described being drawn to Wicca because of its heavy Goddess emphasis and went so far as to visit a couple who ran a traditional Wiccan coven. Nervous and full of trepidation from cultural associations of witchcraft with evil, she steeled herself for the visit, which went very well. In the end though, she decided not to join their (or any coven), not because of any possible diabolical connection, but because the couple, their home and interests reminded her too much of her maternal grandparents who were always looking toward ‘the old country’. There were even the classic three flying ducks on the wall in the room where she was served a typical English tea, surrounded by English watercolours and imported newspapers.

This valorisation of England as the mother country of Wicca was not solely based on the authority of Wiccan leaders found there. A personal friend of mine had in the late 1980s travelled to California and was trained and initiated by Starhawk, one of the most influential of feminist Witches. His training and initiation however was disregarded and ignored here in Perth, because as he declared in frustration one day: “They [the local Wiccans] think it’s more important to have a copy of the same old Book of Shadows if it was once owned by someone who once got drunk with Alex Sanders!”

In his final paragraphs, Hutton writes about the possible need for Pagan practitioners in former colonial countries, such as Australia, to ‘look under our nose’ for research opportunities and to ‘look more deeply into their own local history as well.’ This is exactly what we have engaged upon, when reconnecting with the Wiccan community several months back I found little knowledge of the foundation years within the hearts and minds of many contemporary Witches. Further, many elderly (and possibly soon to die) elders existed whose rich treasures and wisdom was locked away in their minds, ignored and unrecorded. The Perth Pagan Oral History Project hopes to address this problem and is progressing nicely.

The universal support and encouragement I have received for the project shows the depth and maturity of the Perth Wiccan community – even though we are in one of the most remote cities, 9000 miles away from England, practicing afar the only religion that country has given to the world.



(1) Gardner, Gerald, Witchcraft Today, n.p. Online: Retrieved 20-1-13.

(2) Murray, Margaret The Witch Cult of Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921). and Murray, Margaret (1931). The God of the Witches. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921).


(4) Hutton, Ronald. “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies [Online], 13. 13 Dec 2012, p.253.

(5)  Hutton, Ronald, The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1999).

(6) Anonymous Hate Blog,

(7) Hutton, Ronald. “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies [Online], 13. 13 Dec 2012, p.251.

(8) Pagan Pens,Summer Solstice, 2012.

(9) Hutton, Ronald. “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies [Online], 13. 13 Dec 2012, p.236.


Quick note on magic and the view of the past

Just a quick note to re-state and amplify something I have mentioned before on MOTO, and obliquely touched upon in the last post. Let’s start with David Lodge’s witty novel, Small World. In this novel set in and around academia, a young Irish PhD graduate is having a hard time getting his thesis concerning the influence of Shakespeare on the work of Eliot published. Getting drunk at a party he mistakenly switches the subjects around and declares his thesis actually concerns the influence of Eliot on Shakespeare. Suddenly he finds he has the attention of a well known publisher. Warming to his newly invented subject he declares:

We can’t avoid reading Shakespeare through the lens of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. I mean, who can read Hamlet today without thinking of ‘Prufrock’? Who can hear the speeches of Ferdinand in The Tempest without being reminded of ‘The Fire Sermon’ section of the Waste Land?

An interesting point. Similarly, we in the modern west simply cannot read and understand ancient cultures without the filter of our own culture, our own world view. The way ancient and pre-modern folk understood the world is very different to the way we understand it. It is therefore very, very easy to misunderstand the remains of ancient writings and cultures. We think they mean one thing, but we cannot know and must always be aware of our own influence.

We cannot easily escape our culture and the paradigm with live in, no matter how much we try. A clear example of this is Christianity. Even though its hold upon the intellectual and social world has lessened a lot in the last hundred years, the basics of Christianity are still infused within most people, even in secular cultures. My son has never attended church, never read Christian texts, yet he knows about God, Christ, Heaven, Hell etc. Jokes abound on popular TV shows and the internet that use this common knowledge and world view.

In the European past, when modern (i.e. post Medieval) magic developed Christianity was the filter through which all other religions and spiritual systems were viewed. It so infused the lives, language, outlook and social interactions of everyone from serf to Queen, they had little choice. So all the recently discovered texts and remnants of ancient ‘mysteries’ were viewed, consciously or unconsciously through a Christian based lens. And sometimes this was very conscious. Look at the origins of the Hermetic Qabalah, with Mirandola and others wanting to use it to prove the existence of the Trinity and supremacy of Christianity. Naughty boys. 🙂

Christianity is just one aspect of the modern cultural set we live in. Other common assumptions and aspects of our worldview abound. To understand, even intellectually, the difference between us and pre-modern, let alone ancient folk, we need a lot of careful thought. Drawing on suggestions from Gareth Knight in some of his books, I recommend careful reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image as a starting point to ‘un-do’ our assumptions and read the past differently.

Now magicians and other modern spiritual folk generally show appalling lack of acumen in this regard, often overlaying current ideas and trends over ancient texts and artefacts. A good example of this is given in Pagan scholar Caroline Tully’s work on magical views of ancient Egypt ( from chapter 3, Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon). Discussing McGregor Mathers, co-founder of the Golden Dawn, and his work setting up ‘the Rites of Isis’ in Paris, Caroline writes:

It was this kind of not-quite-right approach to ancient Egyptian religion that characterised the Mathers’ reconstruction of the Egyptian Mysteries. Undoubtedly inspired by Herodotus’ application of the Greek term ‘mysteries’ to Egyptian religion (Histories. 2.171), Diodorus’ erroneous claim of an Egyptian origin for the Greek Mysteries of Eleusis when in fact it was the other way around (Lib. 1.29.2,4; Martin 1987: 78), Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (11.21–6), and Plutarch’s mention of Isis and Osiris initiations and mystic rites (De Iside. 2, 25, 28), the main problem with the Mathers’ attempt at creating this initiatory system was that there were no Egyptian Mysteries to begin with.

Well, this is kinda awkward considering the number of historical and modern groups and individuals who have lineage and past lives going back to these non-existent “Egyptian Mysteries”. There are plenty of people even here in Perth who are still, despite now centuries of accurate scholarship and literature, overlaying the mythic Egypt atop the historical Egypt. And in doing so they represent the ancient Egyptians having a distinctly modern and western mindset.

Egypt and its Gods are of course is very important to the Golden Dawn. Or are they? As Aaron Leitch correctly explained on Nick Farrell’s blog recently, “there are NO Egyptian Gods in the Golden Dawn.” Really there are only modern interpretations and adaptations of Graceo-Coptic Gods. And some of those adaptations were based on Mathers’ personal assumptions and mindset of what Egypt was. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

Caroline goes on to explain some of where Mathers’ view of the mystery of Egypt originated:

While there certainly were Graeco-Roman mysteries of the Hellenised Isis, the idea that there were ancient Egyptian ‘mysteries’ originated with Greeks like Herodotus misunderstanding the Egyptian cult of Osiris at Abydos and interpreting it as ‘mysteric’ because it was carried out by specially consecrated priesthood, unlike the part-time priests of Greece (Burkert 1987: 39–40; Lefkowitz 1997: 93). While access to the inner recesses of the Egyptian temple was limited to the priesthood, festivals were open to the public, not restricted to groups of initiates (Morenz 1973: 89–90).

This Egyptian example is very appropriate, since Egypt has been and continues to be such a convenient foil for so much modern magical theory and interest. As Caroline  shows the idea of mystery teachings and schools has been back-dated to Egypt. So too has Qabalah, Tarot, Lodge work, UFOs, sex magic and many other things. I am not saying here we must follow blindly the historians and academics, just that we should try and be aware of how easy it is for us to accept and view things that are not there because our current set of knowledge and way of making sense of the world says it should be there.

Beats the pub? 🙂

Another, localised example is provided by Professor Ronald Hutton in his wonderful Triumph of the Moon. There was a perceived very old custom in some rural coastal towns of England, consisting of lightning a bonfire on or near the Winter Solstice with ‘Viking’ overtones and themes. Everyone local assumed it was a Pagan remnant from centuries ago, before the final Christianisation of England. However, some simple research revealed that the custom was started only in the late 19th century by the Temperance Union in an effort to attract men away from their bouts of Christmas drinking.

A mindset which included the concept of Pagan remnants and origins, a few pagan motifs and a nice burn up produced a ‘reality’ that had to be true. Bonfires with Viking stuff in the country at Solstice – just has to be Pagan. Right? Right. And obviously there were Egyptian Mysteries. Right?

Misinformation, the Internet and the Golden Dawn

Well, I guess the truth is out there – the Internet has spoken. I have to come clean.

Click to enlarge

Yes, it’s true – I ‘fit with’ Nick Farrell, which means, yes, those trolls on Amazon trashing Nick’s book were obviously right – I simply parrot him. However, even more outstanding, the Internet has revealed a true image of me, and yes, I have to admit it – I AM PROFESSOR RONALD HUTTON. 🙂

Don’t you love the Internet?

Wiser folk than I have commented on the way the Internet screw things up. And on how it is wonderful fodder for the paranoid mind – both to be deceived and to deceive others. Now, while I would love to have the intelligence, acumen, access to primary resources and academic credentials of Prof Hutton, this misidentification is the result of a robot. Other more nefarious and conscious cases of misidentify have recently taken place in the Golden Dawn community. I am talking of David Griffin’s recent post claiming Nick Farrell is secret mole for Fundamentalist Christianity intent on destroying the Golden Dawn from within. Gosh. Wow. Jeepers. Pass the ginger beer.

On MOTO I have always tried to be polite and balanced, even when to paraphrase Mr Crowley, “contemplating the idiocy of these louts”. In fact Pat Zalewski, when commenting on the newly published By Names and Images, paid me a nice compliment when he said, “I have never known the man to blow his cool online.” However, this latest round of weirdness has got me on edge.

Of course, the standard advice from most folk is simply to ignore the likes of David Griffin, and eventually they’ll go away. Maybe so, maybe no. With his latest few missives David has shown himself to be a few olives short of a pizza. So, maybe we should not react too vigorously to his paranoia?

However, in the meantime the Golden Dawn looks likes it’s run by clowns having a bad acid trip. I don’t like that. I don’t like the fact that I have to warn people away from the Internet when they want to know about the Golden Dawn. I think there needs to be a counter balance for the ridiculous things out there, not just those by David. A countering of misinformation with information. I think this needs to be done on several forums by the whole community, calmly and sensibly without personal rancour and attacks. Hopefully then those approaching the GD and magic online will see the real and the silly, and make up their own minds.

With regards to David’s assertion that Nick Farrell is a secret fundie mole, I immediately thought of an episode of Seinfeld where the owner of a cobblers shop (‘mom and pop’) disappear overnight with a bunch of Jerry’s shoes. Kramer, ever the paranoid, thinks this was their plan all along.  Elaine responds:

So. Mom and Pop’s plan was to move into the neighborhood…establish trust…for 48 years. And then, run off with Jerry’s sneakers.

So. Nick’s plan was to move to England, train for decades, research and write several books, start an international magical Order. And then tell us we’re all going to burn in hell.

See how stupid it is? Why a spiritual leader would think or suggest something like this is beyond me (Morgan has a go at analysis on his blog). Whatever the reason, it can’t be good – for him, his Order or the Golden Dawn as a whole.

PS: the image came from a search by my son, Googling his now-author father. 🙂