Magical, Mystical & Masonic Life
At least two of the Golden Dawn's original founding members were members of Mme. Blavatsky's Theosophical Society- Dr. Westcott and S. L. MacGregor Mathers. It is unclear if Dr. Woodman was a member. In the book, "The Magical Revival", Mr. Kenneth Grant asserts that "...The Golden Dawn was the inner Mystery School of the Order that formulated itself in the outer world as the Theosophical Society." The Theosophical Society antedated the Golden Dawn by six years. Westcott was soon admitted to the nucleus of the Theosophical Society, the Esoteric Section, and became close friends with Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland who were proponents of Christian Esotercism. When the members of the Esoteric Section broke away from the Theosophical Society, they formed the Hermetic Society in 1884, and Westcott was invited to join as an honorary member.
The Golden Dawn
The Rev. A.F.A. Woodford found the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts in a cupboard where Kenneth Mackenzie (a leading Masonic figure of his time) had stored them. Rev. Woodford showed the manuscripts to Dr. Westcott, due to Westcott's reputation as a scholar of ancient lore. The cipher used in the Golden Dawn manuscripts was similar to one used in the 15th century by Abbott Trithemius to encode some of his writings. This cipher was already known to Westcott when he received the documents from Woodford since he possessed a copy of Trithemius' works on the cipher. Westcott was fully conversant with Masonic rituals, and immediately realized that the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts were a series of five summarized grade initiations. He commissioned S.L. MacGregor Mathers to re-write the rituals into a workable shape. He chose Mathers due to the latter's reputation as a translator of occult texts and his particular experience and erudition with occult lore and the fact that Mathers was both a Masonic Brother and a co-leader of S.R.I.A. Westcott, Woodman, and Mathers were all IVth degree initiates of the S.R.I.A., and thus formed its governing triad. It is little wonder that the first governing triad of the Golden Dawn were these self-same individuals! Superficially the Golden Dawn represented a deepening extension of S.R.I.A.. with its emphasis on Ritual Magic, Alchemy, and the Qabalah.
Dr. Westcott was very influential in the formation and working of the Golden Dawn. He was responsible for running the Golden Dawn in its early years. He was Praemonstrator of the Isis-Urania Temple in London and was the order's organizing genius. His duties included being "recorder of minutes," superintendent of the 5=6 admission, corresponding secretary and treasurer, not to mention the order's Chief Adept in Anglia from 1896 until the scism. Many manuscripts exist to this date written by his hand, which are principal instruction documents for the Golden Dawn and its Second Order. This multiplicity of functions and offices, in addition to his duties as Coroner, must have filled his every minute.
Both Dr. Westcott and Mathers (Dr. Woodman died very early on in the Golden Dawn's history) were both honest, hermetic scholars, and the teaching of their members fell on their shoulders. They taught Qabalah, Alchemy, Astrology, Geomantic and Tarot Divination, Tattwa Vision and the Pentagram Ritual. Much of the background material for these teachings came from Dr. Westcott; his occult and metaphysical library was unrivaled in his day, and was the library of the S.R.I.A.. The grade structure of the Golden Dawn paralleled that of the S.R.I.A., with the exception of the highest degree of Ipsissimus, which was called Jesus in the S.R.I.A..
Another, seemingly unexplored affinity between Westcott and Mathers, is speculated as the anti-vivisection movement in England at the time they were together. There are brief glimpses of this through Westcott, who after all, was a medical doctor and a coroner and who must have participated in his own share of "animal studies'. However, when the esoteric or occult or magical were involved, Westcott seems to have sided directly with Mathers. For example, in Westcott's publication of the Eleusian Mysteries, he refers only the sacrifice of plants and Herb's and perfumes, and omits any reference to the animal sacrifices known associated with the rites. A careful reading of many of Westcott's papers conveys this tenor toward occult studies.
Dr. Westcott stressed the essential nature of having ten grades, for they represent the ten Sephiroth of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. In the Golden Dawn document entitled "Historical Lecture, by VH. Frater Sapere Aude, Praemonstrator of Isis-Urania Temple', Westcott states: "The S.R.I.A. and its branches in the several countries, and the Golden Dawn Order both descended from the same parents and predecessors; the one developed into a masculine and Masonic system; the other remaining the ancient and more extended basis of the admission of all bona-fide students: rich or poor and without regard to sex, may alike go on and prosper without interfering with the tranquillity of the other and can lead true and patient students who can Will - Dare - Learn - and Be Silent to the Summon Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness."
By 1896 the Golden dawn was having many internal problems. And around this time Dr. Westcott was requested by political authorities to cease his occult activities with the Golden Dawn. The Order was achieving a notoriety with the press, and it was not seen fit for a Coroner of the Crown to be made shame of in such a way. Someone had sent a letter to Westcott's superiors to engineer their discoveries. Although Dr. Westcott ceased all outward activities with the Golden Dawn, he was still very much involved with its functioning, through either the Masonic or the S.R.I.A.. channels. Later in 1900 (once the furor has stopped) Dr. Westcott again joined the Golden Dawn in the rival Isis-Urania of the Stella Matutina and became its Praemonstrator. Dr. Westcott never at once sided against Mathers during this entire affair. Neither did he claim or disclaim the proof or lack of the same for the existence of the Secret Chiefs of the Third Order.