Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 1, Autumnal Equinox 2001
The Influence of Egypt on the Modern Western Mystery Tradition:
Egypt. No other name in the Western Mystery Tradition invokes such respect, such mystery. The Black Land on the Nile. The place that most practioners of the High Arts will tell you that those same arts originated. Why this fascination with the land of Egypt? In the Modern Era, Egypt has been the source for inspirations for the occult world since Napoleon's expedition there at the close of the 18th Century.
There were several ancient schools of magick in Ancient Egypt. Everyone from Moses to Pythagoras was supposed to have been trained there in the magickal arts. Even the magnificent Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos was supposedly found, cradled on the chest of Hermes, in an Egyptian tomb by Alexander the Great. This diminutive text of twelve brief statements is, along with the other Trismegistic literature, completely compatible with the Alchemical and Hermetic Traditions. Hermeticism, as we know, was the meeting of the ancient Hellenic and Egyptian cultures in the centuries at the beginning of the Common Era, and inspired by a god born from the merger of these two cultures, Hermes Trismegistos. Throughout the first three centuries of the Common Era Hermetic thought and philosophy was at its height.
The influence of Egypt on the Western Mystery Tradition continued through the various minor schools of the Kabbalah well into the 16th Century in Egypt. There were numerous schools in Alexandria and Cairo. The most famous product of these later schools of the Kabbalah was Rabbi Isaac Luria, commonly known as the Ari (an acronym standing for Elohi Rabbi Isaac, the Godly Rabbi Isaac). It is from these later schools of the Kabbalah that originate several of the most important surviving commentaries of not only Kabbalistic writing, but also the Talmud and Torah.
Inspired by these great resources, in the 19th Century several groups of European magicians and esoteric students again began to look to Egypt. There were several Fringe Masonic groups that looked more at the Egyptian Mysteries, including the Universal Rite of Co-Masonry in France and the various occult orders that sprang up in England near the close of that century. The most well know of these orders was of course the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but there was another earlier order that had just as much influence on what would become the modern Western Mystery Traditions. That order was the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, which helped influence the later Golden Dawn and in the United States, the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.).
Seal of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor
History of the Order
It is in the occult atmosphere of 1870's England that three men formed an influential magical order that included practical magical work. The extremely important history of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, or Luxor also known simply as the "H.B. of L." had been nearly forgotten by modern occultists after the turn of the twentieth century, especially in the wake of the "second occult revival" in the 1960s and '70s. This is when Jocelyn Godwin and others began working on their book detailing the history of the order.
The order was very similar to the later Golden Dawn in that it had both an Outer Order or Circle and an Inner Circle. The function of this "Outer Circle" of the H. B. of L. was to offer a correspondence course on practical occultism, which set it apart from the Theosophical Society. Its curriculum included a number of selections from the writings of Hargrave Jennings and Paschal Beverly Randolph. Hargrave Jennings was a prominate Rosicrucian in Europe who wrote The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries, in 1870, one of he most influential books on the Rosicrucians to have been written at that time. It is known that Jennings was initiated into a Rosicrucian Order around 1860, possibly by Kenneth R. H. McKenzie, a famous Mason and occultist of the time. Randolph was free African-American sex magician and Spiritualist of the mid-19th Century. Randolph traveled throughout the United States lecturing on such subjects as Abolition, and as a Spiritualist. He also traveled throughout England, Europe, and the Near East, including Egypt, studying both Hermetism and Rosicrucianism. It appears that Hargrave Jennings initiated Randolph into the Rosicrucians while Randolph was in Europe. In about 1860 he originated a magickal order known as the Brotherhood of Eulis. He later reformed the group in 1874, the year before his death, as the Triplicate Order Rosicruciae, Pythianae, and Eluis.
"In 1870 (and not in 1884, as the Theosophists claimed), an adept of calm, of the ever-existing ancient Order of the H. B. of L., after having received the consent of his fellow-initiates, decided to choose in Great Britain a neophyte who would answer his designs. He landed in Great Britain in 1873. There he discovered a neophyte who satisfied his requirements and he gradually instructed him. Later, the actual neophyte received permission to establish the Exterior Circle of the H. B. of L."
The above quote refers to the adept Max Theon who at that time was just twenty-two years old, and that the disciple is presumably Peter Davidson, a Scottish philosopher. In London, Theon was the Grand Master of the Exterior Circle of the Hermetic Order of Luxor, while Davidson was the visible head of the Order. Max Theon, whose real name may be Louis Maximilian-Brimstien, was born in Poland in 1848. He traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East. It was in Cairo, Egypt that Theon became the student of Paulos Metamon, a Coptic magician that later was to influence H. P. Blavatsky. In certain circles, Theon was thought to have been the son of 'the old Copt'. Thomas Burgoyne (aka Thomas Dalton) joined these two men in 1883 to help run the Order. Burgoyne would later go on to write a book, Light of Egypt, which set out the basic teachings of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. These men were the heirs to the already established traditions and influences, which go back to the Rosicrucian-Masonic movements and ideals of the 18th Century.
" a parallel tradition running through the eighteenth century Fratres Lucis and Asiatic Brethren on the one hand, and Cagliostro's Egyptian Rite (androgynous) Freemasonry on the other. These fuse with primordial Egyptian traditions during the Napoleonic conquests in Egypt, passed on to Metamon, Theon, Levi, Randolph, Davidson and other nineteenth century luminaries, down to Papus, Reuss, Kellner and, eventually, Aleister Crowley and his successors and heirs within OTO."
These ideals can be seen in the Charter of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, which echo the ideals of the earlier Rosicrucian and Masonic ideals of the previous century. The charter of the Ancient and Noble Order of H. B. of L., which was signed: "M. Theon, Grand Master pro temp of the Exterior Circle," contains high principles and important information.
"We recognize the eternal existence of the Great Cause of Light, the invisible center whose vibrating soul, gloriously radiant, is the living breath, the vital principle of all that exists and will ever exist. It is from this divine summit that goes forth the invisible Power which binds the vast universe in an harmonious whole."
As can be seen from the above ideals, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was showing that those in the order had no only high and noble ideals, but that at least, one member had more than some passing familiarity with the works of such people as Thomas Vaughan, Roger Bacon, and many others whom appear to have Rosicrucian knowledge. Also, this can be seen in the various Masonic papers and rituals that have survived from some of the Fringe Masonic Lodges of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
It was remarkable for me to learn that the eighteenth century Brothers of Light, and for that matter the Initiated Brothers of Asia, are direct antecedents of OTO. I have at hand some of their rituals. It is almost certainly correct that there are enough similarities in publicly available literature to link these bodies, both directly and through intervening manifestations such as the Theon-Davidson H. B. of L. of the nineteenth century. For example, induction into the eighteenth century Fraters Lucis includes this from the Chief Priest to the acolyte as he anoints him with the Sacred Chrism: "Let him that hath an ear, let him hear with what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving that he receiveth it."
The influence on the Order of the Rosicrucians and Masons can also be seen in the format of the initiation rituals that were used within the Order. They used the same basic initiatory rituals that were being used throughout Europe by the various "mainstream" Rosicrucian and Masonic orders of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. These consisted of a grade system of degrees that had been the accepted manner of advancement within the lodge systems of both the Rosicrucians and Masons. Davidson and Theon used the more Continental Rosicrucian grade system as a basis for the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor's system. We are all now familiar with this grade system, that is been made public by several sources, which include Israel Regardie, Paul Foster Case, Aleister Crowley, and others that have been, in their own right influential in the modern Western Mystery Traditions. The grade system presented was nearly identical to what would later become the one that became popular in the hermetic community through the propagation of the grade material of the later Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn of Woodman, Westcott, and Mathers. The major differences are that while the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor does have a neophyte Initiation, it lacks the poetic nature of the Neophyte Initiation of the Golden Dawn. This is most likely due to the fact that the three founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were themselves high-ranking Masons and members of the Societas Rosicrucianis in Anglia. Over all these three men had more practical experience with lodge ritual from these two groups to draw upon than Max Theon or Peter Davidson. Also, the highest degree, the Master appears to correspond to the Adeptus Minor grade of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor did have a series of initiatory ceremonies for its members and those being the traditional Neophyte, Theoricus, Practicus, Philosophus, and Master, which corresponded to the Adeptus Minor grade within the Rosicrucians and the later Golden Dawn. These grade initiations had a more Egyptian feel to them to correspond to the Outer Circle's name, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. The use of various Egyptian symbologies helped to create the illusion and mystique of Egypt. Though the Brotherhood did not have a Portal Grade that the Golden Dawn later utilized to bring the Outer and Inner Orders together, it did manage to bring its members up to the Master (Adeptus) grade.
The traditional series of Masonic initiations is on a Three Degree system, these being Apprentice, Fellow-Craft, and Master. Peter Davidson was an experienced Mason, and seems to have chosen the name Master for the highest obtainable grade within the Hermetic Brotherhood from this well-established system of grade work. By trying to blend the two systems, the Masonic and the Rosicrucian, Max Theon and Peter Davidson were the forerunners of the magickal Order that would supercede them, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
There was much practical work within each grade of the Hermetic Brotherhood that consisted of the most basic of magickal training. This is in the form of some astral skrying work in the later grades and some basic divinatory work; astrology, basic alchemy, talismanic magick and Kabbalah work in the lower grades. Some of the techniques are from the various works of Eliphas Levi on the nature of magick and the history of magick. Other ritual work was of a sexual nature and dealt with what would later be called Western Sex Magick. This sex magick work found its basis in the works of Paschal Beverly Randolph and in a couple of cases was taken directly from Randolph's work, Eulis! The History of Love: Its Wondrous Magic, Chemistry Laws, Modes, and Rational; Being the Third Revelation of Soul and Sex, also Reply to "Why Is Man Immortal?" the Solution to the Darwin Problem, an Entirely New Theory which was published in 1874. Randolph used information that he had published earlier for this later work. It is these earlier pamphlets and then the book itself that helped both Max Theon and Peter Davidson in adding this material to the Outer Circle of the Order's curriculum of study.
The Order even influenced The Theosophical Society. In 1875, Madame Blavatsky claimed to be in communication with an Egyptian Lodge, called the Brotherhood of Luxor, which was composed of Adepts or Brothers that were masters of occult lore. This was through Paulos Metamon whom had influenced Blavatsky in the 1840s. Blavatsky even got Olcott, one of the members of the Theosophical Society to believe that the members of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor had taken him as a student. This is seen in the next quote concerning Blavatsky's involvement with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
"In 1875 Mme. B. had claimed to be in communication with an Egyptian Lodge, called the Brotherhood of Luxor, composed of "Adepts" or "Brothers"; Masters in magical lore, and she also caused Olcott to believe that one or more of these "Brothers" had accepted him as a pupil, and that certain communications to him purporting to come from them, and received by the Colonel through her, were the veritable productions of these "Adepts." Olcott asserts that one of them once visited him in his room in a materialized astral form, and as proof of his objectivity left with him his headcovering, which the Colonel retains to this day."
There is some indication that Blavatsky actually drew her inspiration of the doctrine of Masters from the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. How much of this is line of thought is genuine and how much is slander is unknown. Madame Blavatsky was against teaching practical occultism, except for the short-lived Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. She considered practical occultism and magick to be too dangerous. In any event, Madame Blavatsky grew disenchanted with the Order and accused them of swindling money from the gullible in 1887. This is probably over her views that practical occultism was too dangerous to teach. She goes so far as to warn members of the Theosophical Society of Paschal Beverly Randolph and other love-philter sellers.
The formative years of the founding of the Ordo Templi Orientis, the O.T.O., were between 1894-1904. It was in these years that such persons as Davidson, Papus, and Theodor Reuss were acquainted. Papus, who was also a member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, called Davidson, "one of the wisest of Western adepts, my Practical Master." Davidson was Papus' representative of the Martinist Order in the Georgia Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor colony during the "American Period" of the Order. Both Papus and Reuss were formally and personally associated at the time of the formation of the O.T.O. It shows that the same people were in the same places at the same time with associations with each other to aid in a continuous stream of ideals. These ideals appear to run from one secret society to the next in near seamless fashion. As a matter of fact, these ideals have a certain continuity that begins with the Fratres Lucis in the late 18th Century and continue through Randolph, Davidson, Papus, Reuss, Crowley, and his successors to the Ordo Templi Orientis. The theme of sex magick was definitely continued from Randolph through Crowley into the O.T.O., and the connecting thread is through Davidson and his Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
Ritual Work of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor
The Outer Circle relied upon a system of initiatory ceremonies that drew heavily on the Rosicrucian and Masonic initiations of the last part of the 18th and the early 19th Centuries. Max Theon and Peter Davidson put a more Egyptian flare in these ceremonies. This use of Egyptian symbolism helped to create an atmosphere that drew from the ancient land of Egypt. The name of the Order began this by using the word Luxor, the Egyptian for the city of Thebes, the former capital of the land. The lay out of these initiation ceremonies is very near to what they are modeled after, the initiation ceremonies of the more established Rosicrucian and Masonic Orders in Europe. These ceremonies do not need to be discussed nearly as much as the personal work that the Order was having its members perform.
The material that was used by the Outer Circle of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was rather interesting. Much of this ritual work and philosophy can be seen in Thomas H. Burgoyne's book, The Light of Egypt, that he wrote after the breakup of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. The majority of this book concerns astrology, but there are also chapters that cover Symbolism, Alchemy (organic), Alchemy (occult), (these two are from Burgoyne), Talismans, Ceremonial Magic, Magic Wands, The Tablets of Aeth, which is in three parts, and Penetralia. I think that it is interesting to note that Burgoyne starts his book with several chapters devoted to astrology, which had become more popular by 1900 when The Light of Egypt was first published. This gets the student into studying what has become one of the basics of any magickal Order since that time. Included in these chapters on astrology are two rather fascinating chapters on Astro-Theology, and Astro-Mythology. The chapter on Astro-Theology gives subchapters on The Creation of the World and The Scheme of Redemption.
This sacred Bible is the great Astral Bible of the skies; its chapters are the twelve great signs, its pages are the innumerable glittering constellations of the heavenly vault, and its characters are the personified ideals of the radiant Sun, the silvery moon, and the shining planets, of our solar sphere.
This is an interesting way to look at the heavens and astrology as a whole, though Burgoyne does hit upon the one Great Truth in his axiom, "One truth, one life, one principle, and one word". He also discusses how the four great chapters of this celestial book can give insight into the Divine nature. This is something that all magicians have been seeking from the beginning. Much of this can be seen in Burgoyne's chapter of the Creation.
THE CREATION OF THE WORLD
The simple story of creation begins at midnight, when the Sun has reached the lowest point in the arc -- Capricorn. All Nature then is in a state of coma in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter time, solar light and heat are at their lowest ebb; and the various appearances of motion, etc., are the Sun's passage from Capricorn to Pisces, 60o, and from Pisces to Aries, 30o, making 90o, or one quadrant of the circle. Then begin in real earnest the creative powers, it is spring time. The six days are the six signs of the northern arc, beginning with the disruptive fires of Aries. Then, in their order, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo; then Libra, the seventh day and the seventh sign, whose first point is opposite Aries and is the opposite point of the sphere, the point of equilibrium, equal day and equal night, it is autumn. It is the sixth sign from Aries, the first creative action, and so the sixth day following the fiery force, wherein God created the bi-sexual man. See Genesis, 1:5-27: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them."
Thomas H. Burgoyne goes on to discuss Symbolism. This is really a discourse on "The Law of Correspondence". The Law of Correspondence is how Nature uses symbolism to convey the Divine message to those that are willing to look and listen for it. He goes on to explain that this law is one of the special truths that all students must learn, and that it is really expressed in the Hermetic axiom, "As it is below, so it is above; as on the earth, so in the sky." Also, he states that the Solomonic Seal, the hexagram, is one of those symbols that express this Hermetic law.
The two chapters on Alchemy, organic and occult, refer to the two schools of thought concerning this most ancient of the Hermetic Arts. Burgoyne gives a brief history of alchemy and where the word comes from. Again the Egyptian roots of the word are stressed in his writing. His definition of Alchemy (organic) makes it clearly Practical Alchemy. That is the art of physically creating the Philosopher's Stone through physical methods. The definition of Alchemy (occult) refers to what we now call Spiritual or Inner Alchemy. The art of changing Lead into Gold as it refers to the soul. In other words, accomplishing the Great Work of reuniting our Lower Soul with the Divine.
The chapter on Talismans is basic reiteration of material from Levi on the basics of what a talisman is, and how it works. Burgoyne tells the student that they must know what it is that they wish to accomplish with a talisman, what metals to use, and that there are certain sigils to place on the correct metals. This is the sort of work that the student must undertake to fully understand practical magick, and has been discussed at length by such people as Agrippa, Levi, Crowley, and Regardie.
Ceremonial Magic is the next important chapter that he covers for the student. Again, much of the material is a condensed version of the work of Levi, but there are a couple of important points. First, Burgoyne quotes Bulwer Lytton, a prominate occultist of the time, "the loving throb of one great human heart will baffle more fiends than all the magicians' lore." He explains this though in this manner, "So it is with the sacred ritual. One single aspirational thought, clearly defined, outweighs all the priestly trappings that the world has ever seen." This is a thought that has spread throughout the Hermetic world and the occult world community at large, and sees much use. Burgoyne continues this line of thought in his next chapter, which is on the Magic Wand. He quote several sources as to what dimensions, type of wood, etc., that the wand should be made. Finally, he instructs the student to use that which is most comfortable for him.
The most important part of this remarkable book is concerning the Tablets of Aeth. This part and the last chapter of the book, Penetralia, deal with some of the magick that was practiced by the Hermetic Brotherhood.
This is from the forward to the chapters on the Tablets of Aeth, and it is clear that Burgoyne wished to give something to his fellow members of the now defunct Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. He explains that the Tablets of Aeth are the keys to unlock the hidden mysteries of the Divine, and that through them adepthood can be better understood. The first application of these tablets is similar to the use of the tarot, and Burgoyne says as much.
Make a circle of the tablets, as you would with a pack of Tarot cards, beginning with No. 1, , on the eastern horizon, and proceeding in the exact opposite order from a figure of the heavens -- No. 2, , being on the Twelfth House, No. 3, , on the Eleventh, and on the M. C. of the figure, as in the Astro-Masonic chart, given in the second part of "The Light of Egypt," Vol. I, and so proceed with the rest of the twelve tablets of the stars. This figure will represent the potentialities of the macrocosm, the starry signs symbolizing the possibilities of things past or to be, and the rulers the active executors thereof. Study the figure in all its aspects as such, first singly, tablet by tablet, then as a whole -- the cosmos. Next, place the ruler of any given tablet at the side of the Mansion, and try to penetrate its various meanings, powers and possibilities. Then proceed the same with a trine and a square, and, last, with all the rulers, in the order of their celestial lordship of the signs, each in his appointed place, as a whole Arcana.
The rest of the chapters devoted to the Tablets of Aeth go on to describe each of the Tablets, Twelve for the Zodiac and Ten for the Planets. By the description of each of these Tablets, it is clear that the Hermetic Brotherhood used its own tarot to do various divinations, skrying work, and meditation.
The last part of the book is the Penetralia. This is the Veil of Isis, the Secret of the Soul, and how to pierce that Veil to get into the Mysteries. Burgoyne discusses how, now at the end of his life, he hopes to leave something of himself and his knowledge with the rest of the world. This book does give some insight into the various types of ritual magick that the Order practiced, both in the Outer Circle and the Inner, but it does not go into detail of exactly how the Order utilized their ritual work. I can only guess at how their rituals were worked, but I would think that judging from the influences on Burgoyne, Davidson, and Max Theon, that what ritual was worked by the Outer Circle was of a formula similar to their initiatory ceremonies with a great deal of Rosicrucian and Masonic flavor, not to mention some Egyptian motif and symbology.
My brother, we have done; and, in closing, have only to add that, not until the speculating philosophy of earthly schools blends with the Science of the Spheres in the full and perfect fruition of the wisdom of the ages, will Man know and reverence his Creator, and, in the silent Penetralia of his inmost being, respond, in unison with that Angelic Anthem of Life: "We Praise Thee, O God!"
We can see that the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was one of the most influential magickal orders of its time. It was one of the first to offer a course of Practical Occultism or Magick to its members. Had the Order not gotten into trouble in 1887, there very well might not have been a need for Woodman, Westcott, and Mathers to form the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888. Again, these three men, all of whom were high-ranking Masons and members of the Rosicrucians in England, held many of the ideals that Davidson and Theon had for their Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. Both Orders allowed women to join, something that was unheard of in the late 19th Century due to the moral values of Victorian England. The fall of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, due to Blavatsky's criticism in 1887, may have led other members of the Theosophical Society to want more, especially after the failure of the short-lived Esoteric Section of that Society. Westcott, who was a member of the Theosophical Society, and who wanted practical magick, would have been one of those whom would be looking for something to replace the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor with a "better" system of teaching and studies. The influence of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn can be seen in that both Orders wanted a course of practical occultism for their members and that both orders initiatory rituals and ceremonies were of a Masonic type. Both drew upon the mysterious land of Egypt for their inspiration in many of their ceremonies.
Theodor Reuss and the Ordo Templi Orientis also continued some of the work of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, especially the practical course of study in occultism and magick, and in the area of sex magick. Aleister Crowley continued this work once he became the head of the O.T.O. It also appears that he used some of the teachings of the Hermetic Brotherhood in his Order the Argenteum Astrum, the A.A., in 1903.
For seventeen years, 1870-1887, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor influenced many of who would become the leading voices in occultism in the late 19th Century, people like Max Theon, Peter Davidson, Papus, Madame Blavatsky, Theodor Reuss, and Aleister Crowley. These people in turn through those that they influenced helped to continue the work of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor through the 20th Century and to the present day. Much of this work is the work of the Hermetic Traditions that originate in that land on the river Nile known as Egypt.
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 For most purposes in this context, "light" (from the Middle English; leoht or liht), and Luxor (Egyptian Thebes, but in practice is an obvious reference to Latin lux, or "light"), and Lucis (again Latin for "light") are all variations of the same concept of illumination.