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The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical order which flourished in England at the turn of the century, is one of the most influential organizations in recent history to have had an effect on western magical beliefs and practices. Much of its ritual has been published in readily-accessible form; yet there still remain many vagaries and uncertainties about the Order, not least with regard to its members. 

Most accounts focus primarily on the principal figures who played a role in its founding and turbulent history, S. L. Mathers, Wynn Westcott, W. B. Yeats, A. E. Waite and Aleister Crowley. Of these men and their machinations in the sometimes bitter power-play which constituted so great a part of the Order’s history, so much has been written elsewhere that it would be pointless to discuss it in detail here.

Instead, I want to try to clarify the possible connections of various writers of weird fiction whose names have been linked at one time or another with the Order of the Golden Dawn. Some of these indubitably were members of the Order; for others there is some evidence to suggest links, but no conclusive proof; and for several writers whose names have been put forward, there is little or no evidence at all.

The work which gives the longest list of names of horror writers supposedly connected with the Golden Dawn is Les Daniels’ book Living in Fear.1 His chapter 5 "The Golden Dawn: A Secret Society", appears at first sight to be a substantial discussion of horror writers ‘enlightened’ by the Golden Dawn.

According to Daniels, among these "are the distinguished Irish poet William Butler Yeats, as well as such important tellers of terror tales as Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. To these can be added, with varying degrees of certainty, the names of such writers as Sax Rohmer, Lord Dunsany, G. K. Chesterton, H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, and even, according to one source, Bram Stoker. A list like this suggests that nearly every British author of the uncanny in this generation was initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn".2

However, Daniels gives little evidence to support the inclusion of these particular writers in his list. He proceeds to discuss the history of the Order, and then to discuss the work of each writer, all under the vague assumption that the writers are either members of the Order or had some significant contact with it. His implication is that the Golden Dawn was a major motivating force behind a particularly productive period in horror fiction, the rituals of the Order being filtered into the public consciousness through the medium of fiction.

Another writer, Philip Shreffler, in his H. P. Lovecraft Companion includes Yeats, Blackwood, Machen, Rohmer, Stoker; and adds another candidate, Robert Louis Stevenson.

In the course of his discussion, Shreffler suggests there "is a kind of peripheral connection between Lovecraft and the Golden Dawn in that several of his favourite weird fiction writers belonged to it".3 That this connection is indeed only peripheral has been dealt with in my earlier article "Lovecraft As ‘Occultist’".4 Let us examine the available evidence for the writers mentioned by Daniels and Shreffler being connected with the Order of the Golden Dawn.

W. B. YEATS (1865- 1939)

Yeats is a special case. Daniels makes the point that among all those literary figures "it is somewhat surprising that…the one least associated with the bizarre should have been the least reticent about his occult experiences".5 Considering that he worked almost entirely in verse, it is debatable whether he can be considered a horror writer, but certainly the occult nature of his work and the overtly dark vision that inspired it qualify him to be considered part of the genre. His part in the founding of the Golden Dawn is well-known and so well-documented as to require no extensive coverage here. For the full story, Ellic Howe’s seminal work The Magicians of the Golden Dawn6 can and should be consulted. From R. A. Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Companion we can note a few essential facts more briefly - Yeats joined the Order in 1890 and used the motto ‘Demon est Deus Inverus’.

By May 1891 he had reached the grade of 4o=7o (Philosophus) and by January 1893 the grade of 5o=6o (Adeptus Minor). He served as one of the seven Adepti Litterati, teaching lower members of the Order in Mystical Philosophy. In fact he headed the Order for some time, until his resignation in 1905.7 Yeats, as well as being a conspicuously successful writer, played a fundamental role in the running of the Golden Dawn throughout the major period in which it was operational.

ARTHUR MACHEN (1863-1947)

Machen’s involvement with the Order is also indisputable insofar as he is known positively to have been a member. What remains unclear is the exact extent of his involve-
ment. Machen (who took the name ‘Frater Avallaunius’), joined the Order around 1900 and is known to have been present at the Second Convocation of the Order in April 1904.8

According to Gilbert, Machen’s actual date of entry into the Order was 21 November 1899 and he was "the last member to sign under the old obligation".9 By the Second Convocation he had reached the degree of 3 o = 8 o (Practicus)10 and apparently his wofe Dorothie Purefoy Machen (Order motto ‘Pura Fides’) applied for membership on 16 September 1904, though whether she was admitted to membership is unclear.

Machen’s involvement with the Order is probably the best-known of all the writers linked with the occult group. It is mentioned by Pauwels and Bergier in The Morning of the Magicians,11 although their interpretation is far too suggestive given the sketchy nature of the surviving records. Part Two, Chapter Three of their popular and influential but infuriatingly unreliable book dwells at length on Machen’s visionary and mystical style of writing and the extent to which this was probably due to his involvement with the Golden Dawn. It is impossible to argue that Machen was not a mystic; for unlike Lovecraft, who did not espouse occult theory though his fiction draws heavily on occult lore, Machen did believe in unseen powers and spent his entire life and all his artistic energies in pursuit of them. It is tempting, therefore, to conclude (as many have done) that his fiction was an attempt to set them down or to reveal to the public, mysteries he was privileged to behold.

However, there is every indication that Machen regarded his involvement with the Order rather lightly, and even that he had some contempt for the other prominent members of the group. This opinion is held by the main researchers of the Golden Dawn’s history.

Gilbert says "Arthur Machen was little influenced by the Order. His stories of spiritual horror were more concerned with the perversion of spiritual alchemy than with magic and were mostly written before he entered the Order. It is more probably that his awareness of a supernatural realm interpenetrating our world, often with malevolent intent, drew him into the Golden Dawn rather than that his membership of the Order helped to develop these ideas within him."12

Machen’s lighthearted attitude towards the Order can be seen in his collaboration with A. E. Waite on a work called The House of the Hidden Light (privately printed in 1904, annoted edition by R. A. Gilbert forthcoming) which Gilbert refers to as ‘a mock-serious correspondence relating to an Occult Order’.13

According to the Machen scholar Wesley Sweetser, this work is one of several which Machen write in a spirit of hoax. Sweetser says "During the 1920’s when the temper was one of wild enthusiasms, Machen caught on among the occultists…Machen was careful not to offend this body of readers…acting the role of the adept while secretly treating the whole matter as a delightful game. In fact, his works are studded with occult references that he picked up in the cataloguing trade…"14

For Machen to reach the fourth grade of the Order, that of Practicus, it was evidently necessary for him to pass through the same involved rituals that other adepts would have experienced, and to absorb a certain amount of prescribed occult knowledge. Yet Ellic Howe’s authoritative work on the history of the Order refers to Machen only briefly - "he was 3o=8o and hence a relatively unimportant member of the Order in 1900".15

The most compelling proof that Machen was involved in the Golden Dawn comes from his second autobiographical volume Things Near and Far (1925). Yet this passage also contains material indicating that Machen held a rather poor opinion of the Order. "I must confess that it did me a great deal of good - for the time. To stand waiting at a closed door in breathless expectation, to see it open suddenly and disclose two figures clothed in a habit that I never thought to see worn by the living, to catch for a moment the vision of a cloud of incense smoke and certain dim lights glimmering in it before the bandage was put over the eyes and the arm felt a firm grasp upon it that led the hesitating footsteps into the unknown darkness; all this was strange and admirable indeed; and strange it was to think that within a foot or two of those closely curtained windows the common life of London moved on the common pavement…"

"But as for anything vital in the secret order, for anything that mattered two straws to any reasonable being, there was nothing of it, and less than nothing. Among the members there were, indeed, persons of very high attainments, who, in my opinion, ought to have known better after a year’s membership or less; but the society as a society was pure foolishness concerned with impotent and imbecile Abracadabras. It knew nothing whatever about anything and concealed the fact under an impressive ritual and a sonorous phraseology. It has no wisdom, even of the inferior or lower kind, in its leadership; it exercised no real scrutiny into the characters of those whom it admitted".16

Even the well-researched works on the Order such as Gilbert’s and Howe’s, though they quote Machen’s account of the Order’s fraudulent beginnings in a mythical story derived from Bulwer Lytton’s novel Zanoni17 do not reproduce the comments made in the passage quoted above. Howe does admit that Things Near and Far reveals that ‘to many members the Outer Order gave little enough anyway; Arthur Machen’s experience of it was not entirely untypical’.18

Machen’s concluding remarks on the Golden Dawn are worth quoting again: "I must say that I did not seek the Order merely in quest of odd entertainment. As I have stated in the chapter before this, I had experienced strange things - they still appear to me strange - of body, mind and spirit, and I supposed that the Order, dimly heard of, might give me some light and guidance and leading on these matters. But, as I have noted, I was mistaken; the Twilight Star shed no ray of any kind on my path."19

It is clear from these remarks that though Machen’s involvement with the Golden Dawn is proven, its influence on him in terms of his horror fiction was incidental and virtually negligible. The only references to the Golden Dawn in Reynolds and Charlton’s biography of Machen bear out that "Machen always deals rather frivolously with the Golden Dawn" and although he was briefly elated by joining the Order, "as 1900 advanced, however this elation wore off, and no occult secrets that the Golden Dawn possessed were capable of restoring it. Instead its meetings took on a phantasmagorical texture, which only augmented his feeling of insecurity."20


Algernon Blackwood is another writer whose membership of the Golden Dawn is a matter of record. Like Machen, he was by nature a mystic, and this is reflected in almost all his writings, macabre and otherwise.

We know that Blackwood joined the Order in 1900 and adopted the motto ‘Umbra Fugat Veritas’ ("truth flees from the shadows"). Like Machen, he was present at the Order’s Second Convocation in April 1904,21 by which time he had reached the grade of 4o=7o (Philosophus). By July 1915 he had reached the Inner Order grade of 5o=6o (Adeptus Minor) - this was in A. E. Waite’s Independent and Rectified Order, since Blackwood had followed Waite when the original Order had split.22

We are desperately short of detailed information on Blackwood’s involvement with the Order. He was evidently devoted to it over a lengthy period (at least 10 years) and was the only writer of those we are discussing to reach the Inner Order. Gilbert considers that "the only certain case of the ideas and practices of the Golden Dawn moulding the whole work of an author is that of Algernon Blackwood".23 (That there is no mention at all of his involvement in Blackwood’s autobiography Episodes Before Thirty24 is not surprising, since it covers only the years before he joined the Order; it may be hoped that Michael Ashley, in his forthcoming biography of Blackwood can throw more light on Blackwood’s Golden Dawn years).

Yet Ellic Howe considers the influence of the order on Blackwood, and his on the Order, relatively unimportant: "Neither Arthur Machen ("Avallaunius", I-U 21 Nov 1899) nor Algernon Blackwood ("Umbram Fugat Veritas", I-U 30 Oct 1900) was ever very prominent in the Golden Dawn and both joined when the Order’s most interesting period belonged to the past".25

Perhaps more so than Machen, Blackwood was a believer in occultism, and his stories can confidently be said to be based on firsthand experiences including rites that he had witnessed. His character John Silence, an occult physician/detective, though having many qualities similar to Blackwood himself, we know to be based on a real-life member of the Golden Dawn other than Blackwood, known only by the initials M.L.W., from the dedication to Blackwood’s first John Silence novel. Like Machen, Blackwood was renowned for his fiction before he joined the order - but unlike Machen, who found the order disappointing, it seems that Blackwood was inspired by his experiences and that these bore fruit in his later stories.

SAX ROHMER (1883-1959)

Mike Ashley mentions in Who’s Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction that Rohmer "became a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn".27 The earliest reference to Rohmer as a member I can trace is in Morning of the Magicians.28 Ellic Howe considers that in alluding to Rohmer in such a context, the authors were "adding to the G.D. mythology".29

Gilbert also points out that the claim for Rohmer’s membership is made in Humphrey Carpenter’s book The Inklings - "for which claim there is not the slightest evidence".30 The rituals of the Golden Dawn were largely indebted to Egyptian mythology, an area which interested Rohmer greatly as evidenced by his lifelong passion for it, and such novels as his The Brood of the Witch Queen; yet, this is not much to go on. His non-fiction study of the occult, The Romance of Sorcery31 does not provide any auto-biographical details; indeed, it makes no mention of the Order at all. Yet the rumor persists.

Peter Haining contends in The Magicians 32 that the Golden Dawn was but one of the several esoteric societies of which Rohmer was a member. The one full-length biography of Rohmer says "Sax became a member of certain occult societies. One of these was The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn…Another member, ultimately disowned, was the notorious Aleister Crowley, whom Sax knew and disliked".

"Some of the things that Sax learned in these occult societies probably found their way into the stories, and here, obviously, is the source from which he obtained the idea of a secret brotherhood holding arcane knowledge, which he has used in such books as The Bat Flies Low.

What specific things he may have learned is impossible to say. It is certain that he did a great deal of research and some practical experiment in this shadowy field, and never wholly ceased from doing so, but he found it impossible to keep up the strictly ascetic life said to be necessary to an ‘adept’.

Ultimately, he left the societies, but kept their secrets faithfully. He never spoke of his memberships even to Elizabeth and it was not until after his death his connection with these societies became known."33

There is a conflict here between what the historians of the Order tell us, and what the biographer of Rohmer has to say. Unless more evidence is brought to light, it may be difficult to decide whether or not Rohmer was really involved with the Golden Dawn.

BRAM STOKER (1847-1912)

Stoker, the author of Dracula, has frequently been suggested as a member of the Golden Dawn, but there appears to be little hard evidence for this. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural has this to say, in its entry on J. W. Brodie-Innes: "he was an adept in the Golden Dawn and, as such, may have initiated Stoker himself…It is more probable, however, that their friendship was the only connection between the two".34

Brodie-Innes, the author of the horror/occult novel The Devil’s Mistress (republished in the seventies in Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult series) was a very active member of the Golden Dawn, being in charge of a temple at Edinburgh. (Again, for detailed information on this, Ellic Howe’s book is the essential source). Gilbert agrees with Howe: "Stoker (despite popular claims to the contrary) was never a member, but he was a friend of Brodie-Innes and they did discuss their mutual interest in the dark side of occultism".35 In view of the fact that no reference to the Golden Dawn can be found in Stoker’s biographies, it seems that he never actually joined the Order or had any significant involvement with it. A recent book on the Dracula myth supports this view (based primarily on Gilbert’s view): "It has even been claimed that Stoker was a member of the occult Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose ranks included W. B. Yeats. In fact, there is no evidence for this whatsoever, though Stoker was an acquaintance of J. W. Brodie-Innes who invited him on at least one occasion to a gathering of the "Sette of Odd Volumes" (a bibliographical society) which discussed occult ideas".36 It might be noted that the origin of the rumor that Stoker was a Golden Dawn member lies once again with Pauwels & Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. Yet if we can disqualify Stoker as a candidate, J. W. Brodie-Innes certainly qualifies as a horror writer member of the Order. He joined in August 1890 and reached the grade of 5o=6o.


These writers suggested by Daniels and Shreffler as Golden Dawn Members seem to have had no connection at all with the Order. Certainly there is no record of their names in the membership lists, and their biographies contain no mention of the Order. Mundy was a member of the Theosophical Society in the 1920’s, so perhaps some confusion has arisen from his general interest in mystical matters. Stevenson, though, was in Samoa during the period of the Order’s most intense activity, and in any case seems an unlikely candidate. Although the possibility of new evidence arising cannot be discounted, it appears more likely that Daniels and Shreffler were using guesswork plain and simple when they put forward the names of these writers as ‘Golden-Dawn-enlightened’.


Yeats’ involvement with the Golden Dawn and its profound and lasting connection with his literary output has been adequately chronicled in existing memoirs of the Order. It can be said with certainty that Machen and Blackwood were involved with the Golden Dawn, though the extent of their involvement needs clarification; the probability is that for Machen his membership was no more than a brief fling with organized occultism, whereas for Blackwood it may well have satisifed his yearnings for companionship with a group of like-minded mystics.

The case of Sax Rohmer is more problematical still, and needs further research in order to determine why, if he was a member, his name does not appear in the Order’s own membership records.

We can safely say that if any of the other weird fiction whose names have been put forward WERE involved with the Golden Dawn, there is no evidence of it in the authoritative histories of the Order thus far.


  1. Daniels, Les. Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975. London: Paladin, 1977 (as Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media, slightly revised), All Page references are to the Paladin edition.
  2. Ibid, pp 86-87
  3. Shreffler, Philip. The H. P. Lovecraft Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977, Appendix 1: "The Order of the Golden Dawn", p 178
  4. Shadowplay #9,#10,#11,#12
  5. Daniels, p87
  6. Howe, Ellis. The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical order 1887-1923. London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1972. Wellingborough, Northants.: Aquarian Press 1985. All page references are to the Aquarian Press edition.
  7. Gilbert, R. A. The Golden Dawn Companion: A Guide to the History, Structure and Workings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Wellingborough, Northants: Aquarian Press, 1986. pp 4,78,144. Hereafter abbreviated as GDC
  8. Gilbert, R. A. The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians. Wellingborough, Northants: Aquarian Press, 1983. Hereafter abbreviated as GD:TOM
  9. Gilbert, GDC, p96
  10. Ibid, p160
  11. Pauwels, Louis and Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (Trans. from French by Rollo Myers). New York: Avon Books, October 1968 pp 207-214 (first published in French 1960 and in English 1963).
  12. Gilbert, GD:TOM, p87-88
  13. Gilbert, GDC, p190
  14. Sweetser, Wesley D. Arthur Machen, New York: Twayne, 1964, p 56
  15. Howe, p285
  16. Machen, Arthur. Things Near and Far (Caerleon Edition of the Works of Arthur Machen Volume 9) London: Martin Secker, 1923, p 149-150
  17. For a full discussion of the influence of Zanoni: (published 1842) on the Rosicrucian brotherhoods, see Robert Lee Wolff’s Strange Stories: Explorations in Victorian Fiction - The Occult and the Neurotic (Boston: Gambit, Inc 1971)
  18. Gilbert, GD:TOM p35
  19. Machen, pp 152-53
  20. Reynolds, Aidan and William Charlton, Arthur Machen: A Short Account of his Life and Work. London: John Baker/Richards Press, 1973 pp 78-79
  21. Gilbert, GD:TOM, pp71,82
  22. Gilbert, GDC, p 161
  23. Gilbert, GD:TOM p 88
  24. Blackwood, Algernon Episodes Before Thirty. London: Macmillan, 1923. The book does however contain a brief account of an acquaintance of Blackwood’s who (almost libellously) credited him with powers of Black Magic (see pp 77-78)
  25. Howe, p52
  26. Gilbert, GD:TOM p 82
  27. Ashley, Mike. Who’s Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977, p 155
  28. Pauwels & Bergier, p 214
  29. Howe, p 285
  30. Gilbert, GDC, p.ix.
  31. Rohmer, Sax. The Romance of Sorcery. New York: paperback Library, Feb 1970.
  32. Haining, Peter (ed). The Magicians. London: Peter Owen, 1972. Pan Books, 1975, p 159
  33. Van Ash, Cay & Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, Master of Villainy: A Biography of Sax Rohmer. London: Tom Stacey, 1972, pp 29-30
  34. Sullivan, Jack (ed) The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. New York: Penguin Viking Inc, 1986. p 55
  35. Gilbert, GDC, p 81
  36. Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula: The Novel and the Legend: A Study of Bram Stoker’s Gothic Masterpiece. Wallingborough, Northants: Aquarian Press, 1985, p 81
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