There is quite a dust-up going on in the Golden Dawn community, and I am not particularly interested in getting too deep into it. However, the source of the controversy is the latest book that Nick Farrell has writen about one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, S. L. MacGregor Mathers. I will admit that Mathers was quite a controversial figure in his time, and like all human beings, he had great virtues and terrible failings. Like most founders of occult organizations, he was a complex man who is now both honored and maligned by modern posterity.
Ever since Ellic Howe’s book “Magicians of the Golden Dawn” and Francis King’s book “Ritual Magic in England,” it has been fashionable to paint Mathers as a sociopath and to declare that the Golden Dawn was based on deception and ruled by tyranny. Of course, my favorite book about the Golden Dawn’s history is still the one penned by Ithell Colquhoun, entitled “Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn.” I truly wish that this book was republished in a paper back, since it is one of the few books that deals with the various personalities of the Golden Dawn and its various offshoot orders in a fair and compassionate manner. I am lucky that I own a copy of this book, and it’s one of my treasures.
Ms. Colquhoun wrote her book in manner that she did because she was an occultist and a one time member of the order. Ellic Howe and Francis King were never members of the Golden Dawn, and in fact, Mr. Howe was a historian with little compassion or actual sympathy for the order or its various members. Francis King’s relationship with occultism was very complex. While he managed to write and publish some excellent occult books, he also delighted in reporting on the most salacious and scandalous aspects of the modern occult movement. To this day, I don’t really know if Mr. King ever belonged to any occult organization, so if he wasn’t very sympathetic to the various founders of western occultism, it shouldn’t be too surprising.
Therefore, if someone is a member of an occult organization, you would think that they would be sympathetic to their subject matter if they happened to write a history of their order. However, the latest writer attempting to write the history of the Golden Dawn, and to make a name for himself as both the cutting edge historian and insightful occultist, is Nick Farrell. In his latest book, “King Over the Water,” he has sought to enlighten the public about Mathers and his various failings while attempting to exonerate the order and its teachings. This is quite a balancing act, to be sure. To quote the advertising on this book as it is marketed in Amazon dot com:
“In King Over the Water, Golden Dawn magician Nick Farrell paints a picture of the founders of the Golden Dawn becoming out of their depth as the Order began to create magicians. Rather than painting Mathers as an eccentric genius, Farrell sees him as an autocratic fantasist. He sees Mathers struggling to keep up as his students rapidly became better than him at the system he created, and shows how he was unable to raise his game to help the Order develop further. ”
You can read over this advertisement and it becomes pretty obvious that the book seeks to show Mathers in a particularly bad light. Instead of giving him credit for having founded the order and written most of its lore, he instead seeks to show that the lore stands above and beyond Mathers, who wasn’t apparently up to the job of building a comprehensive system of magickal occultism. I had judged this book to be just another a “hatchet job” on Mathers, so I haven’t bothered to purchase this book yet, but maybe I will so I can at least do a modest job of critiquing it. I am not an expert when it comes to the history of the Golden Dawn and its various affiliates, but I know the basic history.
The Golden Dawn was founded around 116 years ago, so attempting to investigate the intentions and motives of its founder ends up being nothing more than a guessing game. There are historical records to be certain, but the individuals are now long dead, and their life stories are fragmentary at best, or in the case of Mathers, there are still a lot of mysteries. I believe that it would be better to honor the founders of the Golden Dawn for their unwitting contribution to western occultism and the practice of magick rather than attempting to reveal them as failed human beings. After all, we all have virtues and flaws, and we all accomplish some things and fail to accomplish others in our all too brief of a lifespan.
However, one thing that Nick Farrell did write up in his book that has particularly offended the active organization and honored initiates of the Alpha et Omega is an ambiguous line that he wrote in his book. David Griffin has quoted that part of the book which he found quite offensive, taking some sentences that were actually in two paragraphs and putting them together. However, after examining the actual two paragraphs, I still believe that David presented the basic idea of what was being said. The wording is very ambiguous, and of course, no names are named, so it’s up to the reader to determine the actual meaning implied.
Whenever an author uses such phrases it’s because he or she doesn’t want to get sued for libel, or at least create a greater controversy. David and his colleagues at the one and only Alpha et Omega operating in the world (as far as I know) have taken this to mean that Nick is calling their organization a “cult.” Here is a paraphrase of the what was said in Nick’s book, and what has gotten the A+O crowd royally pissed off.
“By the end of the 20th Century this availability of [Golden Dawn] information enabled various reenactment groups to be established. Some of these groups are sound... Unfortunately, other groups border on religious or political cults, typically centered on a single leader.... Typically such groups claim a link to that section of the Golden Dawn Order known as the Alpha et Omega or AO.”
I don’t know about you, but if someone wrote something like that about my organization, even if it was couched in ambiguity, I would be quite upset. Nick has denied that he was singling out David’s organization, and has said that he was referring to the recently fallen GD patriarch, Bob Zink and his group. Whatever Nick Farrell’s intention when he wrote these two paragraphs, the interpretation is wholly in the provenance of the reader, since he elected to use innuendo instead of clearly stating his meaning. If the A+O organization is upset at what Nick wrote, then they are fully justified, in my opinion.
As a writer, I am responsible for how people interpret my words, regardless of my intentions. I might say something that I consider innocuous in one of my blog articles or in one of my books, but if a group of people find it offensive, then I am responsible for their umbrage. I can ignore it, or attempt to explain my meaning, or just wade into the conflict and call my detractors names and start a flame-war. The sensible thing to do is to apologize and to write a retraction. I had to do that act of humble contrition on more than one occasion when I wrote something which was erroneous or managed to anger some of my readers. This can happen to any writer, and whether one’s intention was pure and the offending writing was an honest mistake, it doesn’t really matter. You wrote it and so therefore, you own it. It’s just a fact of life that anyone who seeks to be a writer has to deal with this kind of public backlash at some point in their career. The best advice is to be compassionate and seek to amend the wrong if possible.
However, instead of attempting to mitigate the anger that some in the Golden Dawn community felt about what Nick Farrell had written, he has steadfastly refused to take any responsibility, and in fact has resorted to calling his detractors “Brown Shirts,” as if to say that they represent some kind of fascist wing of the Golden Dawn community. That was like throwing gasoline on a brush fire, and it only made things a lot worse. Not only did Mr. Farrell write a hatchet job book on Mathers, but he also insulted some of the members of an operating second order faction. Why anyone would do this is beyond my comprehension. The notoriety will undoubtedly sell more books than what might have happened without the controversy, but the legacy that Nick Farrell is leaving to the rest of us is anything but positive and constructive.
Of course, to deal with this issue, David Griffin has decided to engage in some melodrama and a bit of tongue in cheek, talking about a Godfather-like conspiracy operating behind the scenes. (The only real conspiracy is hubris, personal vanity and egotism.) Some months ago David was comparing Farrell and Zelewski to the Star Trek Borg, which I might add was a humorous way of dealing with individuals who had caused him no small outrage. I guess making fun of your adversaries is better than trying to somehow silence them. If the propaganda against David was correct, then we could expect a mafia style assassination of his detractors, but of course, that won’t really happen. (We won’t get a blog article telling us that Nick Farrell sleeps with the fishes.) What has really happened is a number of adepts in the A+O are quite upset at their treatment by Farrell and company. They are outraged by the slander and the constant attacks against their organization. They aren’t guilty of starting any of these altercations, but they are quite zealous in defending themselves. Who can blame them for that?
As for myself, I am watching this all happen on the internet through the venue of various Yahoo groups and blog articles. There are those who are defending Mr. Farrell and showing their disdain and disklike for David Griffin and his associates, while others are defending their right to practice their lore in peace and goodwill.
All of this is very simple to sort out. The A+O has declared that it is in contact with the same group of secret chiefs that Mathers was originally in contact with. Having met the gate-keepers of this clandestine organization, I can say for a fact that I believe that their claim is legitimate. That really shouldn’t matter to any other faction of the Golden Dawn. They can seek out a connection to this group, or find their own connections, or use the various available inner plane contacts to develop their own lore. There isn’t any need to defame the A+O for making this claim, and there is plenty of room in the world for more than one faction of the Golden Dawn to peacefully coexist.
Still, in order for there to be peace in the Golden Dawn community, various individuals need to refrain from writing and publishing negative broadsides about other factions in the overall organization - or for that matter, writing hatchet jobs on the founders. Until that happens, then it seems obvious that there will be a lot of friction and occasional flame-war flare-ups.
I find this overall state of the Golden Dawn community very sad and disheartening. Instead of engaging in a war of words, I think that it would be better to teach the public (and other magicians, such as myself) about the benefits and social obligations of being an initiate and adept of the Golden Dawn. In time, even this latest flame-war will die down, but I hope it does end soon. Maybe if Mr. Farrell would apologize for what he wrote about the A+O (regardless of his intentions), that would be a good place to start, in my opinion.