In 1888, three Qabalists, Freemasons, and Rosicrucians founded the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, to carry out the work that was abandoned by the Theosophical Society. These founders of the Golden Dawn intended that the Order should serve as the guardian of the Western Esoteric Tradition; keeping its knowledge intact, while at the same time preparing and teaching those individuals called to the initiatory path of the mysteries.
The primary creator of the Golden Dawn was Dr. William Wynn Westcott. A London coroner who was interested in occultism, Westcott was a Master Mason and Secretary General of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia or the Rosicrucian Society in England (also called the SRIA). Westcott, along with two others founded the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888. However, the Golden Dawn was definitely Westcott’s brainchild.
Westcott’s colleagues in this endeavor were Dr. William Robert Woodman and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Dr. Woodman was a retired physician and a leading member of the SRIA. Along with Mathers, Woodman was asked by Westcott to become one of the leaders of his new Order in 1887. Woodman was an excellent Qabalist who had probably had a leading role in developing in the Qabalistic studies of the Golden Dawn. However, he died in 1891, before the Order was fully developed.
The true magician of the Golden Dawn, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, was an accomplished ritualist. Of the three founding members of the Order, Mathers was the one most responsible for making the Golden Dawn a truly magical and initiatory Order.
The Golden Dawn system of magic is not a religion, although religious imagery and spiritual concepts play an important role in its work. The Golden Dawn was designed by its founders to be an Hermetic Society dedicated to the philosophical, spiritual, and psychic evolution of humanity. It was also designed to be a school and a repository of knowledge, where students learned the principles of occult science and the various elements of western philosophy and magic. Tolerance for all religious beliefs was stressed, and symbolism used within the Golden Dawn came from a variety of religious sources. Today, people from many diverse religious paths consider themselves practicing Golden Dawn magicians, including Neopagans, Gnostics, Jews, and Christians.
The Golden Dawn system of magick is designed to teach its students both abstract esoteric concepts as well as the more practical applications of ceremonial magick, Egyptian, Judeo-Christian, Greek, Gnostic, Rosicrucian, and Masonic elements can all be found within the teachings of the Golden Dawn. The curriculum includes the study of Qabalah, astrology, divination, inner alchemy, Egyptian magick, scrying, and Enochian magick.