Moina Bergson Mathers

Lila Moore

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MOINA BERGSON MATHERS TIMELINE

1865 (February 28):  Mina Bergson was born in Geneva, Switzerland.

1867:  The Bergsons moved to Paris in 1867.

1873:  The Bergsons settled permanently in London in 1873.

1880:  Mina Bergson began attending the Slade School of Art.

1882:  Annie Horniman and Mina Bergson met and began a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives.

1883:  Exceptionally talented in drawing, Mina Bergson was awarded a scholarship from the Slade School of Art. During the course of her studies, she received four certificates of merit for her drawing.

1886:  Mina Bergson received a certificate of completion from the Slade.

1886–1887:  Mina Bergson left her family home and moved to shared rooms at 17 Fitzroy Street with her painter friend, Beatrice Offor.

1887:  Whilst independently studying and drawing ancient Egyptian art at the British Museum, Mina Bergson met her future husband Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers.

1888:  Mina Bergson was the first initiate in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was chartered in the same year by MacGregor Mathers, William R. Woodman, and William W. Westcott. She was attributed with the magical name and motto: Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum, which in Latin means “footsteps don’t go backwards.” Isis-Urania, the first and main temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was charted in the same year.

1890 (June 16):  Mina Bergson married Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. She changed her name to Moina and since then was known as Moina Bergson Mathers. The couple lived at Stent Lodge on Annie Horniman’s estate in Forest Hill, London. They conducted their metaphysical studies with other members of the Golden Dawn at that property.

1891–1892:  Following instructions from the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn with whom MacGregor Mathers metaphysically communicated in 1891, the couple moved to live in Paris on a permanent basis.

1892–1893:  Moina and MacGregor Mathers developed a method of magical practice, rituals and techniques invoking deities and spirits.

1893–1894:  Moina and MacGregor Mathers established the Ahathoor temple in their home in Paris, which was decorated with a series of oil-painted collages of ancient Egyptian deities created by Moina Mathers. The temple was consecrated by Annie Horniman in 1894.

1898:  The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage translated by MacGregor Mathers was published with a frontispiece by Moina Mathers. During that year, Moina Mathers translated Fiona Macleod’s poem Ulad into French and produced a colorful illustration for the French translation of La Tristesse d’Ulad.

1890s:  Moina Mathers’ oil-painting of her husband’s portrait was completed in France possibly in the mid-1890s. Throughout the decade, the couple wrote and performed ceremonies based on Egyptian models and promoted the Isis Movement.

1899–1900:  Moina and MacGregor Mathers performed the Rites of Isis both in secret locales and in the fashionable Théâtre La Bodinière in Paris. During these public performances, Moina Mathers invoked Isis in her role as High Priestess.

1900:  Two different articles on the Rites of Isis were published in France and the United States, along with statements by Moina Mathers, featuring portrait photographs of Moina Mathers as Priestess Anari and MacGregor Mathers as Hierophant Rameses.

1914:  At the outbreak of World War I, the Matherses turned their house into a recruitment center for the enrollment of British and Americans in France for the war service and provided training in first-aid.

1918 (November 5):  MacGregor Mathers died in Paris.

1919:  Moina Mathers returned to London and established the Alpha et Omega Lodge with the aim of continuing the teachings of the Golden Dawn. She served as the Alpha et Omega’s Imperatrix until the end of her life.

1926:  Moina Mathers wrote the preface for the second edition of The Kabbalah Unveiled by MacGregor Mathers.

1928 (July 25):  Moina Mathers died in London.

BIOGRAPHY

Moina Bergson Mathers (1865–1928) was the first female initiate of the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn, which was co-founded in 1888 in London by her husband Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers. Moina Mathers developed, wrote, and disseminated unique forms of magical practice aimed at personal development, social change, and the advancement of women. She invested her artistic talents in the production of spirit drawings, ceremonial artifacts, and pioneering public performances termed as the Rites of Isis, which commenced in 1899 in Paris. In her role as a High Priestess in these theatrical events, and in her position as a principal teacher of the Golden Dawn system, she demonstrated, through personal example, the equal partnership of women and men in all matters, sacred and profane. Moreover, she emphasized her belief in women’s inherent sensibility that enables them to excel in the practice of magic, realize ideas, and embody divinity.

Mina Bergson [Image at right] was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1865. Her father was the composer and pianist Michel Gabriel Bergson (1820–1898), a cosmopolitan in lifestyle, and the son of a prominent Hasidic Polish family. Her mother, Katherine Levinson, was the daughter of a Jewish Yorkshire doctor. Michel Bergson’s grandmother, Temerl (from Tamar in Hebrew) Sonnenberg-Bergson (d. 1830), was a famous patroness of the Hasidic movement in Poland. Temerl became a legendary figure as the heroine of a number of Hasidic tales in which she is praised but also opposed as a woman “outside her natural order” who took the masculine role of tzadik (a righteous man) against the Hasidic norms of Lurianic Kabbalah (Kauffman 2016). Interestingly, Mina seemed to share with her third-degree great grandmother the sense of deep devotion to spiritual practices, which although radically different, are rooted in the Kabbalah’s mystical traditions. Mina had six siblings; amongst them was her eldest brother, the noted philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941), the first Jew to be awarded a Nobel Prize (1927). The latter described their mother as highly intelligent and possessing a profound sense of religiosity; a woman admired for her “goodness, devotion and serenity” (Greenberg 1976:620). Whilst Mina was still an infant, her father held the position of a director of piano instruction in Geneva Conservatory of Music. He was forced to resign after a short period of work in 1867, however, and it remained unclear whether it was his “Jewishness” or temperamental character that contributed to his dismissal. The family moved to Paris where Michel Bergson was unable to secure employment, hence, the Bergsons settled in London. There, he gave private piano lessons for many years, allowing the family to maintain a household in moderate poverty. Henri Bergson was the only member of the family to remain in Paris and enter subsidized education that was secured by Geneva’s Chief Rabbi, Joseph Wertheimer (1833–1908), who recognized the child’s genius (Greenberg 1976:621–22).

Despite her family’s modest circumstances, Mina grew up in an intellectual, culturally enlightened and relatively liberal domestic environment. As with Henri and her other brothers Joseph, who became a medical doctor, and Philip, who became a writer and actor, Mina’s talents were encouraged. Based on her exceptional creative gifts, Mina was admitted to the Slade School of Art in 1880. Since its inception in 1871, The Slade offered female students education on equal terms as male students and encouraged the former through scholarships. Mina was awarded a scholarship from The Slade in 1883 and received four certificates for her drawings (Colquhoun 1975:49). She received her certificate of completion from The Slade in 1886. In The Slade, Mina met Annie Horniman (1860–1937) and the two young women started a friendship and vocational collaboration that lasted for the rest of their lives. Mina’s portrait drawing of her mother, [Image at right] produced during her studies, implies the tender relationship between mother and daughter, and the latter’s sensitive awareness of her mother’s reflective personality (Greer 1995:43).

The completion of her studies marked Mina’s bold determination to become independent from her parents and forge a professional career in the arts. She moved to a shared studio at 17 Fitzroy Street in central London with a fellow artist, Beatrice Offor, who became known for her contemplative painted portraits of women as mythic personae, priestesses, witches, artists and more. Fascinated by ancient Egyptian art, Mina frequently visited the British Museum to explore and draw. On one of these occasions, she met her future husband Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers (1854–1918) in 1887. The couple became inseparable, and their spiritual partnership originally manifested in 1888 when Mina became the first initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was chartered in the same year by MacGregor Mathers, William R.Woodman (1828–1891), and William W. Westcott (1848–1925). Mina illustrated the charter document with drawings of the four mythic beings of the Lord of the Universe: the angel, the bull, the lion, and the eagle (Greer 1995:56). [Image at right] She was assigned the magical name and motto: Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum, a Latin expression which means “footsteps don’t go backwards.” The couple officially married on 16 June 1890 and, along with her new marital status, Mina and her husband changed her name to Moina.

The two moved to live at Stent Lodge on Annie Horniman’s family estate in Forest Hill, London. At that time, MacGregor Mathers had a job in the library of Horniman’s museum near their small abode. During the first year of their marriage, the house was utilized as a hub for metaphysical and magical practice and research, which involved experimental sessions and were conducted together with other members of the Golden Dawn. Moina Mathers invested her creative talents in the development of a system of magical practice, rituals, and elaborated skrying techniques (looking into an object to receive visions and knowledge) in which she excelled. Moina Mathers explained skrying as a contemplation on a symbol, perceiving it as a mirror that reflects scenes and various visions that are impressed on the skryer’s mind. The skryer’s body and mind remain in the physical reality and observing the reflected knowledge (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI). Unlike a seer who is the passive receiver of visions, the skryer has the capacity to understand and decipher the received information (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI).

The Mathers couple gathered and led an enthusiastic circle of creative personalities, in particular women, who contributed to the evolution of their ideas and magical practice. Most notable were Florence Farr (1860–1917), Annie Horniman, Maud Gonne (1866–1953), William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), and others. Following instructions from the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn with whom MacGregor Mathers metaphysically communicated in 1891, the couple moved to live in Paris (Colquhoun 1975).

In Paris, where Moina and MacGregor Mathers were forced to move repeatedly, mostly due to the lack of funds, they established the Ahathoor temple in 1893. The home-based temple of Ahathoor was decorated by Moina with innovative oil-painted collages of Egyptian gods (Colquhoun 1975:44–45). The temple was consecrated by Annie Horniman in 1894. At the Ahathoor temple, Moina Mathers held the position of Praemonstratrix, the principal teacher of the Golden Dawn system, who also had the authority to assign others to teach (Bogdan 2008:252). The Matherses’ livelihood was greatly dependent on allowances from Annie Horniman, an arrangement that was considered temporary (Greer 1995:114–15). Horniman, indeed, terminated financial support for the Matherses in 1896 after she was expelled from the Golden Dawn by MacGregor Mathers due to her disobedience. Her close friendship with, and support of, Moina Mathers, however, survived and continued after MacGregor Mathers’ death (Greer 1995:349).

In 1897 Moina Mathers invested her artistic talent to produce a frontispiece for MacGregor Mathers’ translated text, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. [Image at right] Termed as spirit drawing, MacGregor Mathers warned Gardener, the book’s publisher, to guard carefully both the artwork and the manuscript, highlighting that in the drawing, the casket presented by the head of the lower triangle of demons, was altered by “no mortal hand” (Howe 1985:180). A year later in 1898, Moina Mathers was inspired by Fiona Macleod’s poem Ulad, which she translated to French and created a colorful illustrative drawing for the French translation of La Tristesse d’Ulad (Greer 1995:206). [Image at right] These were the few occasions, outside her full-time occult vocation, that allowed Moina Mathers to practice as a fine artist, and to which could be added the oil-painting of her husband’s portrait, currently on permanent display at the Atlantis Bookshop in London.

According to Moina Mathers, the goddess Isis appeared in her dream and authorized her to perform the Rites of Isis in public (Denisoff 2014:7). From 1899, Moina and MacGregor Mathers set in motion the Isis Movement through ritualistic dramatic performances that were occasionally held in secret locations in Paris and publicly at the Théâtre La Bodinière, then in vogue. In these popular immersive events, in which the audience was invited to participate, the couple performed as quasi-ancient Egyptian priest and priestess, invoking the primordial essence of Isis (Denisoff 2014:5–8). It was a radical transition from their position as founding leaders of a strictly secretive order to the staging of their feminized form of ritual-magic in the public and cultural domain of the modern world. The Golden Dawn, thus, coincided with the dawn of the twentieth century, presenting in public a spiritual ceremony of ritual-magic devoted to feminine divinity, and which was presided over equally by a woman and a man.

In 1900 Moina and MacGregor Mathers were expelled from the Golden Dawn by members and leaders of the order’s sub-groups and temples. Despite a series of schisms, mainly due to resistance to MacGregor Mathers’ mode of leadership and various attempts to exploit his teachings, informal communications and collaborations continued between the Matherses and the inner-circle of veteran members and allies of the Golden Dawn for many years. Nevertheless, the Golden Dawn in its original form and its leadership by the Matherses came to an end in 1909 after twelve years of operation. It provided the foundations for subsequent occult schools and movements such as the Society of Inner Light of Dion Fortune (1890–1946), Thelema of Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), and more (Hutton 1999:81, 181).

At the outbreak of World War I, MacGregor and Moina Mathers turned their residence into a recruitment center for the enrollment and training of several hundred British and Americans in France for the war service. The couple also provided the soldier-recruits training in first aid. MacGregor Mathers conceived himself as a spiritual warrior and born commander (Greer 1995:50, 52). His second magical name was: “God as my Guide, the Sword as my Companion” (Greer 1995:56). Both he and Moina believed that a planetary change was looming through unavoidable global wars and the secretive magical workings of occult adepts (Greer 1995:142; M. Mathers Flying Roll XXI). During the war, they were probably eager to serve humanity as role-models, not with their occult teachings nor with preaching, but through enlightened actions in the physical world. Their wartime enterprise and ideological stance seem to reflect the occult philosophy expressed by Moina Mathers in a lecture given on September 24, 1893 (King 1987:258) and in Flying Roll XXI titled “Know Thyself.” “Flying Rolls” were texts written by adepts of the Golden Dawn and include documentation of ceremonies, knowledge concerning the order’s principles and practical guidelines for students’ experimentations with the order’s ceremonies. The texts were considered secret and only initiates, that is, members of the Golden Dawn, could borrow them and make copies by hand (Bogdan 2008:253).

MacGregor Mathers died of influenza on 5 November 1918, six days before the end of the war. Both MacGregor and Moina Mathers lived to witness the victory of the 1918 Suffrage Act in Great Britain and Ireland, which they regarded as foretelling the planetary paradigm shift that they anticipated.

In 1919 Moina Mathers settled back in London where she established the Alpha et Omega Temple together with J. W. Brodie-Innes (1848–1923), who was firmly loyal to MacGregor Mathers and served as the Imperator of Amen Ra Temple of the Golden Dawn (Gilbert 1983). Moina Mathers was welcomed by family members and supported morally and financially by trustworthy friends and followers of the Golden Dawn, especially Annie Horniman and Mrs. Weir (Isabel Morgan-Boyd), who was Moina Mathers’ successor at the Alpha et Omega Temple (Greer 1995:349, 357). In her later years, Moina Mathers’ authority was critically scrutinized by a new generation of ambitious members. These leading occultists nevertheless expounded their teaching on the basis of knowledge and practice derived from the Matherses’ Golden Dawn teachings and publications, e.g., Dion Fortune and Paul Foster Case (1884–1954) (Greer 1995:351; Colquhoun 1975:58).

Moina Mathers remained active in her explorations of the occult, and in 1920 joined, along with adepts of the Golden Dawn Annie Horniman and Helen Rand, the London-based Quest Society, founded by G. R. S. Mead (1863–1933) (Greer 1995:349), who had studied with Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891), author of Isis Unveiled (1877), and had been active in the Theosophical Society until he resigned in 1909. Moina Mathers’ presence in the Quest Society was presumably well received (Colquhoun 1975:58) and amplified by her being the sister of Henri Bergson, whose philosophy of the mind, intuition, reason and duration had a remarkable impact on its members and their discussions (Mead 1912–1913:175–76, 788–93).

A couple of years before her death on July 25, 1928, Moina Mathers wrote the preface for the second edition of MacGregor Mathers’ The Kabbalah Unveiled, published in 1926. She highlighted her husband’s support of the advancement of women, and during her last days was probably encouraged by the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, which granted equal voting rights to women and men at the age of twenty-one. The Surrealist artist and visionary Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) wrote that Moina Mathers’ remaining Golden Dawn papers, paintings, and ritualistic furniture were entrusted to the keeping of Mrs. Weir. However, during World War II, they were destroyed by fire upon instructions, and illogical reasoning, allegedly from the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn (Colquhoun 1975:49).

Esotericist scholar Gerard Heym stated that Moina Mathers was “the greatest clairvoyant of the century” (Colquhoun 1975:59). William Butler Yeats dedicated the 1925 first edition of his book Vision to Vestigia, Moina Mathers’ magical name. He acknowledged that perhaps the book could not have been written without the meetings of a group of young people in London and Paris, to which she and he belonged, more than half a century earlier. Moina Mathers was imprinted in his memory so profoundly that although he had not seen her for thirty years, he wrote: “You with your beauty and your learning and your mysterious gifts were held by all in affection . . .” (Yeats 1925/2008:Iiii). Colquhoun concluded her book on MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn (Colquhoun 1975:299) with a poetic description of Moina Mathers as a visionary artist who discovered collage before the artist Max Ernst (1891–1976), and applied it to her ritualistic Egyptian designs.

TEACHINGS/DOCTRINES

Moina Mathers promulgated her teachings as an integral part of the Golden Dawn’s philosophy. Her feminist stance regarding the equality of women and men in spiritual, pragmatic and social affairs was supported by the order’s overarching feminist code of practice. From the outset, her husband implemented the feminist ideology of Dr. Anna Kingsford (1846–1888), which is explicated in her writings on women’s rights and female suffrage, e.g., An Essay on the Admission of Women to the Parliamentary Franchise (1868). Kingsford qualified as a medical doctor in Paris and became the president of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1883 before co-founding the Hermetic Society in 1885 with her spiritual partner Edward Maitland (1824–1897). MacGregor Mathers met Kingsford in 1886 and was enlisted by her as a member of the Hermetic Society. Profoundly affected by her teachings, he became a dedicated feminist and a vegetarian (Greer 1995:47, 52–56). The Golden Dawn’s decree explicitly states:

For the purpose of the study of Occult Science, and the further investigation of the Mysteries of Life and Death, and our Environment, permission has been granted to the Secret Chiefs of the R.C. to certain Fraters learned in the Occult Sciences, (and who are also members of the Soc. Ros. In Ang.) to work the Esoteric Order of the G.D. in the Outer; to hold meetings thereof for the Study and to initiate any approved persons Male or Female, who will enter in an Undertaking to maintain strict secrecy regarding all that concerns it. Belief in One God necessary. No other restrictions (Gilbert 1997:21).

The underlying policy of equal status of women and men was a historic maneuver that served to transform the dominant western male-led occult traditions (Christhof 2014:154, 156). Initiation entailed a unique sensibility of the self together with an open-minded worldview that Moina Mathers explained in her written lecture to new initiates entitled “Know Thyself” (Flying Roll XXI). She described initiation as a gradual process of self-development wherein the individual is perceived as a microcosm through which the divine macrocosm can be reflected. Knowledge of the self is required for the attainment of human and spiritual consciousness. For this purpose, the blueprint of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life is provided, (Image at right) and upon and throughout the paths of its ten Sephiroth, initiation could transpire. The Sephiroth were perceived by Moina Mathers as “higher prototypes” that reflect the macrocosm. Divided into two main pillars of feminine Sephiroth (Bina, Geburah, and Hod), and masculine Sephiroth (Chochma, Chesed, and Netzach), the Tree of Life demonstrates the macrocosm as a dynamic creation consisting of feminine and masculine aspects. On the middle pillar, the axis that connects the crudest state of matter and the most exalted state of spirit supports the Sephiroth (Malkut, Yesod, Tipheret, and Kether) that further mediate and equalize the feminine and masculine forces and attributes.

A Golden Dawn initiate was required to progress up the Tree of Life whilst initiation took place via the Sephiroth and their interactions. Although, all members underwent the Tree of Life initiation, Moina Mathers clarified that each initiate was a unique individual and, therefore, each initiation would naturally assume the particular qualities of her or his physical, mental, astrological, and spiritual characteristics. Despite the complex and mentally demanding operation involved in gradual initiation, she stressed that the initiate should not retreat from mundane life but maintain all occupational, social, business, and family engagements. Furthermore, she explained initiation not as egoistic practice with a focus on the perfection of the individual self, but as rooted in the aim of the order and its teachings, that is “the Regeneration of the Race of the Planet” (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXI).

Moina Mathers developed her teachings on the basis of MacGregor Mathers’ The Kabbalah Unveiled, first published in 1887. The Kabbalistic context as initially expounded and interpreted by MacGregor and Moina Mathers as well as by other core members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, provided the foundation for all initiation procedures. In this context, both women and men had to develop an awareness of the feminine and masculine aspects of the microcosm in their own personalities and within the macrocosm of the divinely originated worlds of the Tree of Life. Accordingly, they were perceived as embodying the feminine and masculine attributes of the macrocosm, which in turn provided the spiritual rationale for their equality and mutuality.

Moina Mathers disapproved of preaching the Golden Dawn’s teachings to people outside the order, and demanded an oath of secrecy from initiated members. She advised initiates to utilize the Great Work for the perfection of their personal traits and vocational goals whilst putting them into practice in the world of Assiah, the Kabbalistic term for the physical reality of manifested existence. She proclaimed that initiates could gradually attain a more than human capacity through contacts with the angelic and divine planes of Yetzirah, Briah, and Atziluth, which would bestow illumination regarding matters, decisions, and actions in the physical world. Illuminated adepts, who had risen beyond the degree of the First Outer Order to the higher degree of the Second Inner Order, would inspire and affect the people they came in contact with through their personal example, moral decisions, and actions. Training involved for the First Outer Order comprised five grades in foundational knowledge of Hebrew, Greco-Egyptian, Medieval, and modern esoteric traditions (Hutton 1999:77).

Moina Mathers’ teachings aimed to disseminate Kabbalistic sensibility that emphasizes the fullest realization of the individual self in actuality. Christ, in this Jewish and Christian doctrine, is the prototype of the Perfect Man, the Higher Self or Angelic Self, also referred to as the Holy Guardian Angel. This perfected being is located on the Tree of Life beneath Kether, the Crown of the endless light of God, on Tipheret. Knowing the self entails obligation to the spiritual, social, and planetary aspects of life. Moreover, she claimed that women are naturally suited to become magicians, and her view was indeed implemented in the Golden Dawn’s branches where women held leading positions and supervised men on organizational and spiritual matters. Isis, and the ancient Egyptian pantheon, added to the construct of the Sephiroth that amplified the feminine dimensions of divinity and enhanced the sense of equality between gods and goddess, men and women. Supported by a syncretic, proto-feminist, and holistic Tree of Life, Moina Mathers was able to engage with the ideology of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, reflecting the social macrocosm as well as subtly inspiring social transformation (Bogdan 2008:262). She clearly regarded the Golden Dawn as a hub for a spiritual and cultural elite, addressing the initiates as persons holding powerful positions in government, law, philanthropy, and the arts.

In “Know Thyself” (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXI), she depicted the initiate as a judge, and a ruler of a nation, who would balance within the microcosm of his or her self the Tree of Life’s poles of severity and mercy and as a result, could tackle the affairs of the world with a sense of reasonable compassion. In her teachings and practices, Moina Mathers addressed the importance of balancing intuition and reason in all matters. The teachings, she asserted, cannot be forced on others and would be received only by those who are ready to receive them—not from an angel or God but through contacts with adepts as ordinary mortals in the real world. William Butler Yeats wrote that unlike ordinary students of religion and philosophy, initiated members did not believe in the discovery of truth but that truth could be gained through revelation. The teachings of the Golden Dawn involved the preparations required for revelation to occur spontaneously (Yeats 1925:Iiv).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

Since Moina Mathers was the first female initiate of the Golden Dawn, from its inception she contributed to the evolution of unique forms of magical practice. In particular, she utilized her artistic talent for the development of intuitive practices namely skrying, astral projection, and travelling in the spirit vision, which she described in the Flying Rolls. The order compiled thirty-six undated essays dubbed “Flying Rolls,” which were circulated among members in the pre-1900 Golden Dawn (King 1987:43). Four were written by Moina Mathers: “Know Thyself” (XXI), “Tattwa Visions” (XXIII), “Correspondence between the Enochian and Ethiopic Alphabets” (XXXI), and “On Skrying and Travelling in the Spirit Vision” (XXXVI). The first available version of the latter was dated October 1897 (King 1987:260). In it, she wrote that skrying and astral projection are complementary and can be studied together. Skrying involves contemplation on a symbol that triggers ideas and visions. These are revealed by the symbol that functions similarly to a mirror that reflects nearby scenes. The contemplator’s awareness that observes the reflected visions remains in the physical body and its reality. In the next stage, termed “astral projection,” the contemplator passes through the symbol by projecting her or his awareness into the reflected scenes, examining them in detail from within (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI). Astral travel, also termed “travelling in the spirit vision,” enables one to explore these scenes in three dimensions, not as a picture, but as a world in which one can act and which one can inspect from above by a bird’s eye view (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI). Moina Mathers explained that these practices require both intuition and reason. They begin with intuitive thought-pictures that are impressed upon the brain as inspiration. However, one has to apply reasonable thought to understand and decipher the meanings of the mental images that emerge in the processes of skrying and astral projection/travelling in the spirit vision (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI). The purpose of skrying, astral projection and travel was to retrieve knowledge from the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, and form various symbols, divine entities, and astral domains.

In Flying Roll XXIII, entitled “Tattwa Visions,” Moina Mathers described the vivid visions that she experienced through a “Tattwa”-based technique of skrying in the spirit vision. MacGregor Mathers incorporated the Tattwas (Sanskrit, tattva) in the teachings of the Golden Dawn based on the writings of Rama Prasad, an Indian Theosophist whose widely circulated book, The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattvas (1897), also known as Nature’s Finer Forces, was published by the Theosophical Publishing Society in London. It initially appeared as a series of articles from 1887 to 1889 in The Theosophist. The Tattwa Cards, utilized by Moina Mathers and members of the Golden Dawn, were imprinted with the Tattwas’ colorful, visual symbolism as demonstrated by Prasad. Prasad’s Tattwa system, derived from the Indian philosophy known as Samkhya, was divided into five elements, each with a unique color and shape, which was marked on the cards, as follows: Ether or spirit (Akasha, black/indigo, egg), Air (Vayu, sky-blue, disc/circle), Fire (Tejas, red, equilateral triangle), Water (Apas, silver, crescent), Earth (Prithivi, yellow, square/cube) (Godwin 2017:466). Helena P. Blavatsky acknowledged the scholarly merit of Prasad’s translation of an ancient Sanskrit text on the Tattwas, but cautioned that in his doctrine of Nature’s Finer Forces he treated only five Tattwas instead of the seven in esoteric teachings. She also warned that putting his ideas into practice could lead to harmful black magic (Blavatsky 1890:604). The Matherses were most probably aware of Blavatsky’s views, however, they responded creatively to the colorful symbolism of Prasad’s system as expressed by Moina Mathers’ descriptions of the Tattwa-inspired landscapes and entities which she encountered in her astral travel (Flying Roll XXIII). Moreover, Moina Mathers’ descriptions integrated Prasad’s notion of the Tattwa system and its symbolism within a Kabbalistic framework of the Tree of Life, thereby innovatively mixing western and eastern principles. Being an artist, Moina Mathers compared the techniques of skrying, which involve building an image on the basis of an imaginative thought vision, to the work of an artist. She wrote:

Imagination (eidolon) means the faculty of building an Image. The imagination of the artist must lie in the power, which he possesses more or less in proportion to his sincerity, and his intuition, of perceiving forces in the Macrocosm, and allying or attuning himself thereto, his talents naturally and his artificial training permitting him to formulate images which shall express those forces (M. Mathers Flying Roll XXXVI).

The goddess Isis was central to the Golden Dawn’s ideology of a feminine divinity that assumed the image of the “‘world-soul”’ and symbolized the “Genius of the Order” (Hutton 1999: 79). [Image at right] Moina Mathers was instrumental in expressing this powerful vision of the feminine through her public performances of the Rites of Isis. The couple aspired to develop a community in Paris, which they called the “Isis Movement,” through ritualistic dramatic performances that were occasionally held in secret or public locations in the city (Denisoff 2014: 6). An article from 1900 describes the public performance as sensually immersive and theatrical within a hazy atmosphere soaked in lights, colors, and perfumed scents. Men and women worshippers, dressed in neo-Greek colorful robes, tossed flowers and grain on an altar, called the name of Isis, after which Osiris was resurrected in dark and frightening shadows (Denisoff 2014:6). A contemporary account describes a similar performance, though this time it was held in the fashionable Théâtre La Bodinière (Lees 1900).

According to Moina Mathers, public rites commenced in 1899 after she was authorized to give public performances by the Goddess Isis who appeared to her in a dream. A figure of Isis was placed center-stage, flanked by other gods and goddesses, and on the altar a green lamp was burning. MacGregor Mathers performed Hierophant Rameses and Moina Mathers performed High Priestess Anari, invoking Isis “in penetrating and passionate tones.” [Image at right] It was followed by the “dance of the four elements” performed by a Parisian lady (Lees 1900:84). Extraordinarily, it was Moina Mathers who mediated Isis in the flesh. During the performances, she was the living nexus of the goddess, linking the enthusiastic audience with the feminine force via her visceral and spiritual presence. The performance was highly artistic, and Moina Mathers actually invested her artistic talent by designing and developing characters, sets, props, and costumes (Denisoff 2014:5). In this setting, Moina Mathers performed her magician persona authentically and was equal to her male magical counterpart. From this perspective, the marriage of Moina and MacGregor Mathers provided a model of the balance of power between the sexes in the magical and spiritual teachings that they formed together.

The public aspect of the Ceremony of Isis departed from the tradition of a secret order and rite into an open socio-cultural entertaining engagement with pagan-inspired and occult phenomena (Denisoff 2014:4–5). It seems that the Rites of Isis were not an attempt to restore or revive the rituals of ancient Egypt in an accurate manner, but were invocations of Isis, reaching to her most exalted form, going back in time to her origins (Denisoff 2014:8). Aesthetically, Moina Mathers’ performance was the manifestation of her magical identity as relating to the goddess and probably amongst the very first public performances of a modern form of ritual-magic. As such, the Matherses’ public performances of the Rites of Isis in Paris were blurring the boundaries between occult ritual and public theater, an approach that was recognized by Golden Dawn members, and elaborated theatrically also by Florence Farr (1860–1917) and Olivia Shakespear (1863–1938) (Denisoff 2014:5).

LEADERSHIP

Moina Mathers held the position of Praemonstratrix in the Golden Dawn’s Ahathoor temple, which was located in her home in Paris and decorated by her with a series of oil-painted collages of Egyptian gods. She was officially the principal teacher and had the authority to assign others to teach (Bogdan 2008:254–55). On a personal level, Ahathoor temple probably provided Moina Mathers with a spiritual sanctuary during trying periods of adversity and scarcity. On a universal level, it provided a model for female leadership and authority in modern occult teachings and organizations.

Named in honor of feminine divinities, Isis-Urania Temple in London was established in 1888 and was the first and main temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Hutton 1999:79). MacGregor Mathers’ sole leadership of the Golden Dawn’s branches, including their temples, lasted for twelve years. In April 1900 the Matherses were expelled from the Golden Dawn by, until then, their closest and most loyal friends, allies and members. A number of issues constantly disrupted the unity of the order as more members joined its ranks, such as conflicts relating to religious matters, especially clashes between Christian, pagan, and polytheistic worldviews (Hutton 1999:79-81). In 1900 MacGregor Mathers declared the notion of the “Eternal Gods,” and, combined with the performative Rites of Isis, the Matherses’ language, as well as that of sub-groups of the Golden Dawn in London, became rather polytheistic, a trend disputed by members loyal to Christianity (Hutton 1999:81). Most important, the expansion of the order into new lodges and temples in various geographic locations triggered conflicts regarding leadership and the management of the lodges’ affairs and members. Additionally, MacGregor Mathers’ autocratic leadership style, his demand for absolute obedience, along with disagreements within his inner circle concerning character judgment of various destructive individuals, all contributed to issues in navigating his visionary enterprise. But Moina Mathers remained loyal to her husband and defended his character, behavior, and decisions long after his death (Colquhoun 1975:94–95).

Moina Mathers’ ritual and teaching authority was based on her skrying and seership methods which she developed and implemented within the Golden Dawn’s Kabbalistic framework of the Tree of Life. Her access to divine sources of wisdom and hidden knowledge through skrying and travelling in the spirit vision reinforced her authority in magical matters. In addition, she disseminated her ideas of the woman as an inborn magician, and associated her unique magical faculty and sympathy with the energies of nature with her female gender (Lee 1900), a factor that amplified her skilled ritual authority. In the four Flying Rolls that she wrote as instructional texts, she stated her occult theoretical concepts and detailed the methods with which to put them into practice (Bogdan 2008: 255). Her skrying experience and ritualistic methodology, which substantiated her leadership and teachings, became central to the Golden Dawn’s doctrine as means of obtaining insight and evolving the individual self as well as a mode of revelatory learning and ceremonial practice.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

Throughout the period of 1900 to 1919, the Golden Dawn underwent a number of schisms. The Isis-Urania Temple remained faithful to Christian principles. The Stella Matutina organization of Robert William Felkin (1853–1926), and initially John William Brodie-Innes (1848–1923), was devoted to astral contacts with Sun Masters and astral guides (Hutton 1999:81; Colquhoun 1975:32, 150). In the 1920s Stella Matutina was led by Christina M. Stoddart who defended Christian principles (Greer 1995:277, 433). The A∴A∴ of Aleister Crowley assumed pagan characteristics (Hutton 1999:81). The Alpha et Omega Lodge was founded in 1919 and led by Moina Mathers and J. W. Brodie-Innes. The Alpha et Omega Lodge maintained the core principles of the original Golden Dawn’s teachings that Moina Mathers faithfully protected. Despite daunting criticism of her leadership by a new generation of students and occultists, in particular, Dion Fortune (Colquhoun 1975:58; Greer 1995:350, 355–57), Moina Mathers refused to compromise her stern methodologies, demanding secrecy especially in matters relating to sex theory, love and marriage. Overall, she faithfully guarded the integrity of her teachings (Colquhoun 1975:294; Greer 1995:355–57).

Moina Mathers faced the challenges of the modern era not only as a young woman artist performing public rites in Paris but also, more than two decades later, in her introduction to the second edition of MacGregor Mathers’ The Kabbalah Unveiled in 1926. In her preface she credited a paradigm shift that had occurred since the first publication in 1887 as the result of the twentieth century’s scientific discoveries. She noted the gigantic strides made by science along with the tremendous progress made in occult philosophy, thus concluding that changes in the evolution of the planet were pending. As new relations between science and spirituality developed in the twentieth century, she wrote: “Material science would appear to be spiritualizing itself and occult science to be materializing itself” (M. Mathers 1926:viii). According to Moina Mathers, occult science answered the plight of humanity to understand its existence through continuing and evolving interaction with science, philosophy, and the arts. It was a unifying trend that found the universal in the local, and the light of divinity in the invisible and insensible particles of matter. The call to know thyself required ritual, ceremony, and study, together with a process of internal purification and dedication to the vision of the higher-self. Although those teachings of the Golden Dawn remained intact, Moina Mathers saw the challenges in the quest of the modern individual, woman and man, whom she believed would be mediating an evolving scientific world of new discoveries.

SIGNIFICANCE TO THE STUDY OF WOMEN IN RELIGIONS 

In her pioneering demonstration of female leadership, statements on the advancement of women, and public rites based on female divinity, Moina Mathers expressed the complexities of her religious and cultural agency. At the dawn of the twentieth century, she understood the impact, and the historical relevance, of modern media and culture, and took advantage of the opportunity to state and disseminate the Golden Dawn’s progressive worldview concerning women and feminine divinity. For example, she made the most of her interview with the journalist Frederic Lee on the Rites of Isis in 1900 by giving a comprehensible proto-feminist explanation on the gender of God as half female and half male, and on women’s natural capacity for magic (Greer 1995:227–28). Her intention was not only to express the feminine aspect of God in the rites but to emphasize the woman in a human form, taking part equal to that of man in the ceremonial practice of magic (Bogdan 2008:258).

The Golden Dawn’s radical agenda that integrated women and men as equals and interlinked personal development and transformation with social change (Bogdan 2008:261) provided a flexible framework for alternative approaches to female leadership to emerge. In support of this gender equality, the Golden Dawn manifested in its philosophy, artworks, and rituals female and male divinities, notably Isis, which Moina Mathers embodied in the Rites of Isis performances in Paris. Moina Mathers was regarded as having access to unseen sources of spiritual wisdom through her divination practices, including skrying and astral travel, and her teaching authority was acknowledged in Golden Dawn circles. In “Know Thyself ” Moina Mathers stressed the importance of personal experience involving self-development and advocated a mode of social leadership, not through preaching or teaching in a conventional sense, but through personal example in the ordinary affairs of life and culture (Flying Roll XXI).

Her perception of personal practice corresponds with the significance of divine immanence that pervades marginal religions in patriarchal societies in which women exercise leadership, relying on direct inner experience. Immanence has become associated with feminist theologies that relate immanence to a goddess as well as to the interconnectedness of people and communities (Wessinger 1993:14). Moina Mathers’ Kabbalistic view of inner spiritual development in the angelic realm of Yetzirah that is reflected in the actual deeds in the material world of Assiah (Flying Roll XXI) is based on the same sensibility of spiritual immanence that allows each person, woman or man, to manifest the knowledge experienced inwardly through relationships with other people and through their agency in the material environment at large. The visceral embodiment of the goddess, and the interrelations of body and spirit that characterize contemporary feminist experience of immanence in various alternative religious movements such as Wicca (Wessinger 1993:14), were already present in Moina Mathers’ performances of the Rites of Isis between 1899 and 1900. She utilized the theatrical events as a platform to express a radical view of the female body as the manifestation of divine femininity and for the purpose of invoking a vision of woman as priestess who is equal to the male priest in all matters, sacred and profane. In addition, the Rites of Isis generated the ideology of immanence through the audience’s immersion and apparently passionate participation in the experience (Denisoff 2014:6).

The final published statement by Moina Mathers can be found in the preface to her husband’s second edition of The Kabbalah Unveiled (1926). It reflects her worldview that was informed by the scientific and technological discoveries of the twentieth century. She reaffirmed MacGregor Mathers’ commitment to the advancement of women as a core principle of his teachings. Moreover, she presented the dynamic nature of modern occult science in continuous evolution and modification in relation to developments that influence humanity and the planet. She positioned occult science, which operates through formulas and ceremonies, as a “Synthetical Ideal” (M. Mathers 1926/2017:viii) that answers humanity’s existential problems within a dynamic cultural structure made of art, philosophy, science, and religion. She compared these dynamics to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life’s highest and lowest Sephiroth where Heaven (Kether) can be found on Earth (Malkut) and the latter can be found in the former. Thus, occult science and physical science, matter and spirit, may, by applying the mystical-magical Kabbalistic scheme, complement one another. Considering the achievements of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its influence on the integration of women in western occult traditions (Bogdan 2008:245), Moina Mathers’ ideas and body of work inform queries concerning women in the role of religious leaders. In addition, her acknowledgment of the function of artistic sensibility in ceremonial and magical practices and her later interest in science are significant to the study of women’s innovative involvement in the intersection of new religions, science, and the arts.

IMAGES

Image #1: Moina MacGregor Mathers in 1895.
Image #2: Katherine Bergson’s portrait drawn by her daughter Mina Bergson.
Image #3. The Golden Dawn charter illustrated by Mina Bergson in 1888.
Image #4: Moina Mathers’ spirit drawing for The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, 1897.
Image # 5: Moina Mathers’ drawing for La Tristesse d’Ulad for the French translation of La Tristesse di’Ulad by Fiona Macleod, 1898.
Image #6: Kabbalistic Tree of Life with ten sephiroth. This version appears as a diagram in R. Moses Cordovero’s Pardes Rimonim. See at Hermetic Kabbalah, http://www.digital-brilliance.com/themes/tol.php.
Image# 7: Moina Mathers as the High Priestess Anari from the Rites of Isis in Paris, 1900.
Image #8: MacGregor Mathers as the Hierophant Rameses from the Rites of Isis in Paris, 1900.

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Publication Date:
25 August 2019

 

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