The Incredible Truth About S.L. MacGregor Mathers
By: Robert Zink
To write a biography of Samuel Liddel "MacGregor" Mathers seems an almost impossible task. S.L. MacGregor Mathers was a master of concealment in true Rosicrucian style. Unlike many of his students and contemporaries, Mathers and his wife, Moina, chose to live a quiet, hermetically sealed life, applying the bulk of their energy and talents to the "Great Work" (spiritual union with the Divine) rather than waste precious time making headlines. This biography will not attempt to cover every aspect of Mathers' life. We will attempt to dispel some fabricated information and to cover some highlights of his magical life.
S.L. MacGregor Mathers was born in 1854, at 11 De Belevoir Place, in London. Early in life, he developed interests in boxing as well as military strategies. Later in life he would write a book on the latter. In 1877, Mathers was initiated into Masonry. While to an American this might indicate an occult interest, to a person living in London at that time, it was the proper thing to do. Even today, Masonry is as common in London as corn in Iowa.
S.L. MacGregor Mathers was initiated at Bournemouth into the Lodge of Hengest No. 195. He was sponsored by a E.L.V. Rebbeck, a well-known real estate agent. Mathers progressed through Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and finally to Master Mason. This he accomplished in less than 18 months. However, by 1882 Mathers had resigned from the Lodge. One can only wonder as to why. In any event it seems he had more important work to apply his energies to, but that important work would not rise from the horizon for several years. That work, of course, was the formal creation of the English/American Order called the Golden Dawn.
S.L. MacGregor Mathers was soon introduced to Dr. Wynn Westcott and Dr. William Woodman (both high-ranking Masons). History dictates that it was Westcott and Woodman who introduced Mathers to the "Societas Rosicruciana in Angelia." The SRIA was and is a Rosicrucian Society, open only to Master Masons (Do not confuse S.R.I.A. in London with the current S.R.I.A. in America). During this time period, Mathers also became good friends with one Fredrick Hockley. Hockley was a metallurgist, alchemist, and avid crystal gazer. No doubt S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Hockley did some work together and that Hockley had a early influence on Mathers and his teachings as they relate to scrying in the Spirit Vision (Mathers would later perfect scrying: Traveling in the Spirit Vision with the use of specific symbols and flashing colors, etc.) Upon admission into the S.R.I.A. Mathers took the motto, "S Rioghail Mo Dhream (S.R.M.D.) (Royal is my Race). While some historians believed this Motto to be a statement about Mathers' Highlander ancestory (this is the motto of the MacGregor Clan), it is clear to the initiated that the depth of meaning of this motto is of one who may have already been initiated into the Advanced Mysteries. The Royal Race being the handful of truth seekers dedicated to the Spiritual evaluation of humankind. The Royal Race is that thin line of initiated Masters who have kept the Mysteries alive throughout all antiquity.
Mathers also took up a bit of soldiering. He joined the First Hamshire Infantry Volunteers. He translated a military manual from French into English. It must be noted at this point that S.L. MacGregor Mathers earned a living with a variety of jobs. Occultism was his life and money was a necessary evil for survival. It does not seem to be the main focus of his life. Therefore, I will not cover in this biography the various jobs that Mathers had.
With the help of Dr. William Wynn Westcott, Mathers made the first English translation of Knorr Von Rosenroth's Kabbalah Denudata. It was at this time in his life that S.L. MacGregor Mathers also formed a pathway to the hidden Secret Chiefs of the Third Order, or should we say, they opened up a pathway to him. He knew his destiny even four or five years before the formation of the Golden Dawn was to teach serious students and carry forth the Order into Britain and eventually America. Because of this "call" he devoted his time to writing, researching and study. He lived as poor as a Church mouse and often went days without eating. Yet, even in a weakened state physically, he could earn a few shillings as a boxer or some other kind of work.
By 1887, the Kabbalah Denudata was finished and a greater Work Mathers was to begin: the work of building a Fraternity of those who were hungry for Hidden Knowledge, to be called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Even at this early stage, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, no doubt had a vision that the Golden Dawn would one day be an international fraternity available to all those who were serious about learning the Mysteries.
It was in late 1886 or 1887 that Mathers was handed the Cipher Manuscript to translate. The code was simple. The code of the Cipher Manuscript was from a 15th century code originated by the Abbott Trithemius. History records that it was Westcott who commissioned Mathers to translate the code and to use it as a skeleton for what would later be known as the Outer Order Initiations of the Golden Dawn. Some historians now believe that S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Westcott were already initiated into the Rosicrucian Mysteries and that the Ciphers were a method of protecting their own personal oath of secrecy. (For more information on the Cipher Mss. please read, The Truth About the Cipher Mss.)
It was Westcott, Mathers and Woodman who would comprise the first governing body of the newly formed Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. These three were well acquainted with working together as they were also the governing trust of the S.R.I.A. with Westcott as Supreme Magus. I might diverge for a moment by stating that many occultists are amazed at the movement, the poetic workings and the effectiveness of the G.D. initiations compiled and written by Mathers. Few could read his other works and then read his initiations and not agree that he was inspired from the invisible. Even William Butler Yeats was not beyond borrowing images from the rituals that Mathers composed.
The task now was to enlist serious students into the new Order. S.L. MacGregor Mathers was heavily influenced by a Dr. Anna Kingsford and her associate, Edward Maitland. They were the founders of the Hermetic Society and very close friends with Mathers. He picked up a lot of his beliefs from Anna Kingsford and insisted that one of those beliefs be incorporated into the G.D. That belief was that women should be allowed within the Order, on a completely equal basis with men. Mathers was insistent on this point and until Westcott and Woodman agreed, he would not proceed. All were in agreement with Mathers and women were allowed into the Order on an equal basis with men. S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the new Order were about to make history that would change the occult world forever.
Thus, in 1887 much happened of great importance in the life of Samuel Liddel "MacGregor" Matthers: 1) He completed his first literary work, The Kaballa Denudata, 2) He helped to create the Golden Dawn, 3) He met his future wife Mina Bergson for the first time at the British Museum. She was an artist, a graduate of the Slade Art School and was at the Museum studying Egyptian art. From there they had a short engagement and were married. Mina, who by then had adopted the name Moina, became an important, life-long partner of MacGregor and she was one of the most influential and knowledgeable in G.D. studies. After his death, years later, it would be Moina Mathers who would carry the Banner and keep the true Order alive.
After the Order had been in operation for a time, S.L. MacGregor Mathers realized the need for a "second" or "inner" Order. While on the outside it may have looked like an addition to the Outer Order, in fact there had always been a Second or Inner Order and under the direction of Mathers it was open for Members of the Golden Dawn. Together with Moina, and under the direction of Third Order contacts, the Second Order was formulated.
If I may divert for a moment again, hindsite illustrates that perhaps one of the gravest mistakes S.L. MacGregor Mathers made in the governance of the Second Order was the admission of unworthy candidates. The inflation of the ego is large enough as a person rises through the Outer Order grades, if that person isn't aged enough like a fine wine and allowed to advance too soon into Second Order work, the results can be disasterous. The ego is now completely unchecked and feeding off a current much stronger than was available in the Outer Order. Behavior such as rumor mongering, schisming and self-grandizing are the result. This is partially what would befall the Second Order of the G.D. at the turn of the century when the Order would go through a disasterous revolt by Adepts who probably should have never reached the Second Order.
Around 1890-91 Mathers and his wife moved to Paris. He had established the Inner Order and felt he was being called to Paris by the Secret Chiefs. In Paris, initially, S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Moina lived in extreme poverty. His main source of income was a Annie Horniman who was living in London, a friend of Moina's, and a member of the Order. It was two years after moving to Paris that Mathers established a working Temple in Paris. The Temple was called Ahathoor. While in Paris, Mathers was still Chief in charge of the Second Order. He enjoyed temporary success when he created with his wife the "Rites of Isis". These were public rites that seemed to earn him some acclaim. His main task and goal, however, was to bring forth more information for the Order, to build a strong circulation for the higher grades.
While living in Paris, there is much speculation that Mathers also visited Egypt, Germany and America. While no definitive evidence proves to the sceptical that he made these visits, the reasons and motivations would seem obvious. In Egypt he could continue his research into the Ancient Mysteries. In Germany he could meet and report to fellow Brethren on the progress and state of the Order. In the United States he would conduct necessary initiations and advancements, provide additional teachings and, in general, provide the necessary foundation for the continued growth of the Order in America. S.L. MacGregor Mathers also made frequent trips back to London to deal with Order business.
One of his more painful duties was the suspension of Annie Horniman in 1896. Horniman was one of the richest women in England. She was a benefactor to S.L. MacGregor Mathers, which thus allowed him to continue his work and research for the Order. Nevertheless, unswayed by his personal needs and realizing that to dismiss her from the Order would cause him great financial hardship, he proceeded without hesitation. She was dismissed for meddling and mischief-making in Order affairs; not an uncommon problem that must be dealt with by any good Order Chief.
In 1897, Dr. William Wynn Westcott withdrew from the Order. Aleister Crowley had insinuated that S.L. MacGregor Mathers caused Westcott's withdrawal. This is an absolute bogus allegation. It was obvious that there was a relationship strain between Mathers and many of the British Adepti, which would indicate that he would have needed the support of Westcott. Also, it is obvious that the relationship between Mathers and Westcott was not strained as many would have us believe, for Westcott continued to sign grade advancements and important Order documents long after his public withdrawal. In addition, there is at least one instance where Mathers borrowed money from him. This whole fabrication was launched by Crowley to portray S.L. MacGregor Mathers as a jealous, ambitious person. Crowley had his motives, not the least of which were self-seeking and his own personal ambition. However, that would come some years later, long after the revolt of 1900.
The turn of the century brought about hard and difficult times for S.L. MacGregor Mathers. A schism at the Isis-Urania's Second Order began. While there are various excuses for the schism, these were never valid reasons. One of the accusations launched and often recited by those who favored the revolt was that Mathers was an autocratic ruler. Nothing could be farther from the truth. An autocratic ruler does not empower others with high position and standing as Mathers did. An autocratic ruler wants a hands-on decision in everything. Mathers, on the other hand, moved to Paris and provided guidance to his Adepts in London, but empowered them with the leadership. It was only after constant abuses of power and a lack of general respect for the tradition, the Order, and the Chief of that Order, that Mathers wrote his famous manifesto.
In any event, the animals were now running the zoo, and in gratitude for 15 years of dedication to their learning (virtually all Order teachings came through Mathers), they broke away and began their own current and Order. Incidentally, it is from this current and Order that years later Israel Regardie would come, not from Mathers. We will not illucidate any more on the schism other than that it really should be the subject of a separate article.
It was shortly after the rebellion that another problem presented itself. We will refer to it as the Horos scenario. The Horos' were con people; Mr. And Mrs. Theo Horos. This couple had carved out a living for a number of years as "confidence frauds with an occult slant." The Horos' had apparently developed some kind of confidence with one of the American Temples and had either acquired or forged some order credentials. Based on these credentials and a mesmeric personality, the Horos' were able to con Mathers out of Order documents. At this time S.L. MacGregor Mathers was still living in Paris and when Mathers relayed that he had been conned, the Horos conveniently disappeared and moved to London. In December of 1901, a case of rape was brought to court in London against the Horos'. The newspapers soon filled their pages with articles on the Horos and the G.D. (The G.D. was dragged into the scandal because the Horos were masquerading as the G.D.). It was because of this scandal that the rebellion Temple changed their name to the Stella Matutina and the Golden Dawn under Mathers became known as the Alpha et. Omega.
In 1903, Aleister Crowley, who was now of the belief that he was the "Golden Child", so to speak, and the new Chief of the Order, defected from Mathers. It would be years later, in 1910, that Crowley would break his Adept oath and publish extracts from the G.D. rituals and teachings in his twice yearly publication called The Equinox. Around this time, Mathers returned to London and remained there for about two years. We are not certain if Moina was with him at this time. The primary reason for his return to London was research. However, he still had some loyal Adepti in London.
In 1912, Mathers returned to Paris. He would research and later provide a suitable translation of the Grimoire of Armadel. S.L. MacGregor Mathers was also responsible for the Greater Key of Solomon, perhaps the more important document in Ceremonial magic. In his later life, it is rumored that Mathers and his wife attended a Catholic Church. If they converted, there is no record of such. One must realize that, besides Anna Kingsford in his earlier life, Mathers was without question influenced by the writings and works of Eliphas Levi. Thus, it is possible that Mathers may have enjoyed the occult symbolism of the Mass, and the interchangeability of Isis with Mary, Queen of Heaven.
In any event, World War I came and S.L. MacGregor Mathers lived just long enough to see the victory of the Allies in the Autumn of 1918. From here, on things become a bit cloudy. We are told that Mathers died in his apartment in the Rue Rivera on November 20, 1918. We are later told by Dion Fortune that Moina informed her he had died of the influenza epidemic, yet we have never been able to dig up (pardon the pun) any death records of Mathers, nor is there any grave. While Moina possessed a death certificate, there are no court records. While I am not trying to prove a point, I am pointing out that there are many unanswered questions regarding Mathers' death. It is interesting to note that his death date of November 20, 1918 equals 32, the number of paths on the Tree of Life. 3 + 2 = 5, the points of the perfected man completely ruled by the Higher Self (Spirit).
In conclusion, S.L. MacGregor Mathers was a special human being who brought forth a sense of dedication and hard work to the Mysteries. He believed in the human potential and the ability of a human being to rise beyond and eventually "become more than human."