Magic and Mundane; the negotiation of the female self within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
The Golden Dawn is a site for new discourses of male/female relations in wider Victorian society. Scholars have been unable to reconcile magical women as social and cultural contributors because they did not conform to conventional Victorian social norms. The marital status and sexual relations of these women were and remain contentious in the extant literature, reinforcing occultism as ‘other’ which this paper seeks to challenge and redress.
Women in Theosophy and Spiritualism provide background and context. An overview of the Golden Dawn, their rituals, training, use of Kabbalah and interpretations of femininity and womanhood will be described.
Three leading Adepts are case studies; Annie Horniman, Florence Farr and Moina Mathers. For these women their magical selves had more personal significance than their marital status. In these women, concepts of ‘The High Priestess’, ‘the Divine Feminine’ and the ‘Scarlet Woman’ may be perceived. Expanding on the work of Mary K. Greer, this paper will prove that marital status, financial independence and sexuality impacted on these women’s magical and mundane experiences in negative and positive ways.
I will discuss biographical surveys of each woman, including marital and social status at the point of initiation, with comments about other female Adepts as comparison. ‘Conventionally’ married female members will be mentioned because these women met their spouses in the Order. What these unions suggest about G.D./occult relationships will be described.
Attitudes towards gender and sexuality in the wider Golden Dawn population will be explored using the events of 1896; inappropriate sexual behaviour of Order member Edward Berridge provoked Annie Horniman’s resignation. A petition was subsequently organised by Adepts demanding her reinstatement. The reaction of the Order’s Chiefs, including Moina Mathers will be included, and a survey of Florence Farr’s leadership of the London Temple will reveal that these women were in complete control. These circumstances challenge wider notions of female power in Victorian England, therefore, how these women threatened, disrupted and confronted constraining social conventions will conclude this discussion.
I am a second year PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter examining the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, its relationship to the Western Esoteric Tradition, its impact on gender discourses, modernism, literature, medicine and social activism in order to establish the significant social and cultural legacies of members of the Golden Dawn that are evident to the present day. As such, I am placing a particular emphasis on the personal biographies of the members, and this had led to the creation of a database of membership which is being used to construct their lived and magical experiences.
Before undertaking my PhD studies, I completed an Undergraduate Dissertation on esoteric Freemasonry and an MPhil on English Rosicrucianism at the University of Bristol. My research was always guided towards completion of my PhD which is a revisionist history of the Golden Dawn.
Before returning to University as a mature student, I trained as an actor, and so I have toured, performed and broadcast throughout my earlier career. I am also an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, which allows me to teach and lecture to adults in various Higher Education environments. In the future, I intend to continue to teach, lecture and write post-PhD.