Ideas Revisited: Slander as Tool of Ostracism, Golden Dawn Style

Earlier we talked about how occult groups self-identify with malefic  labels to define themselves a a community. This was an inversion of the sociological idea that  accusations of sacrifice and cannibalism are used to demonize “the other” in society. While it’s true occult groups gain untoward reputations at the hands of mainstream religious thought, we explored how they use these otherwise slanderous accusations to define themselves and protect their practices.

But occult groups also use the ‘traditional’ tactic of extreme demonization amongst each other. Case in point: the Golden Dawn, whose struggle to gain followers at the order’s onset, led to just such accusations being levied against rival magical groups in a bid to sway public opinion!

R.A. Gilbert tells the story of such an instance in his book The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians. He relates how the Golden Dawn initially posited itself within the realm of Rosicrucianism and strategically marginalized all other groups professing to provide similar spiritual insight. The claim laid out by the GD was simple: The other orders were frauds. They did not possess the “ancient and secret knowledge” handed down by the high-ranking adepts known as the secret chiefs. The Golden Dawn, however, did possess this knowledge. And they were ready to share it.

Way to go, fake magician. You just summoned Buer. Whatcha gonna do now?

Surely such mystery (secret chiefs! ancient knowledge!) would be enough to sway potential converts. But the accusations went further.

S.L. Mathers, one of the order’s founders went as far as to suggest that, without this sublime knowledge, the other orders could, at best, teach nothing. At worst, it would lead the student into “Goetic practices” where the unsuspecting magician would enter a world populated by demons—a world which, without the proper knowledge, the student would be unlikely to return.

Surely such tremulous warnings would be enough to give the Golden Dawn sole monopoly of British occultism. But the accusations went even further!


Enter T.H. Pattinson and Wynn Wescott, two early members of the Golden Dawn. In a charade that would rival today’s political maneuverings, they staged a campaign to denounce the competing Rosicrucian order known as Dew and the Light. By making spurious, slanderous and anonymous claims in Lucifer, an occult publication put out by the Theosophical Society, they managed to discredit the work of this contemporary English order.  Here’s an excerpt:

“They profess to be in the possession of much knowledge which they cannot give to the student, until he has attained their state, and this knowledge is copied form books, which they either possess, or borrow or steal, and when they descend to originality it is simply one mass of error and nonsense.”

According to Gilbert, the accuser then goes on to say, “the members boast that they sacrifice kids and have already sacrificed two.”

Strong stuff! Not only is this order accused of being ignorant, but if their ignorance isn’t appalling enough, they sacrifice children! Who can endorse that sort of behaviour?

Turns out, no one. Two years later the Golden Dawn was the preeminent Rosicrucian order in England. The others had fallen by the wayside. Including the Dew and the Light.