To London yesterday, where I assumed human form and attended a strictly-invite only exhibition of artefacts from the original Golden Dawn, dating right from the founding of the Isis-Urania temple and even before.
The place: the Grand Officers’ Robing Room at the United Grand Lodge of England, Great Queen Street. The exhibition was a selection of materials kept in the archives of the Library & Museum of Freemasonry. Although this material has been available for inspection for some time – as I first reported in the post Golden Dawn Manuscripts and Where To Find Them – this was the first time that an actual exhibition had been organised of them. This was quite an event to see so much on display in one place all at once, as usually one can only view each individual piece one at a time. That this came about was mainly thanks to a series of negotiations between Susan Snell, the head archivist, and one of my contacts in the “Illuminati.”
There was room for fifty people (all seats were taken). As I surveyed the attendees I noted that there were large contingents from two supposedly rival GD orders! I say “supposedly” but this did not stop us going down the pub together later that evening. The actual exhibition was preceded by a talk about the Golden Dawn collections: however it was purely given from a scholarly and archival point of view. That is to say, the speakers were completely expert about how researchers would be able to use the collections to conduct further research into the GD, although they knew nothing of the magic of the GD itself. In that respect, those experts were in the audience listening to them.
The GD material at Great Queen Street has provenance from two main sources. Firstly, there was a collection which was acquired in 1920: secondly, there was another large collection acquired from a private source in 2008. The staff didn’t actually say who this private source was, although given that a lot of the items on display previously featured prominently in Bob Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order, it doesn’t take the world’s greatest magician to have a guess.
None of the material was secret per se, as it has all been written about extensively before. However, it was a great pleasure to appreciate the exquisite draughtsmanship and care which the original members of the GD had taken in creating their bits and pieces.
My favourite exhibit was the complete membership roll of the Isis-Urania Temple. It literally was a gigantic (A0) roll, with the name and motto of each member who had passed through its doors, right up until the last initiate who entered in 1910 (the temple was closed two years later). It was great fun picking out the names of all the famous people of whom I had heard. I noticed that a large number of names had been struck through with a line. Some people standing nearby were wondering why those particular names were struck through so I took a closer look and realised: they were the names of all the people who had sided with Mathers at the time of the 1900 schism. Except for Aleister Crowley – whose name was crossed out three times.