Women of the Golden Dawn
By prominent tarot author Mary K. Greer, this book delves into the lives and stories of the women who founded and nurtured the occult group, the Order of the Golden Dawn.
By Mary K. Greer
Book - 490 pages - Published by Inner Traditions
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
This is one of those books that sneaks up on you. Every so often on one of my Tarot e-lists this book would be mentioned in passing. After hearing about it several times, the thought began to stay with me that this might be a book worth reading. The day finally came when the book was in my mailbox. I was incredibly excited - it was here ... now I was going to see for myself what everyone had been talking about!
The physical book itself has a commanding presence - 490 pages, replete with charts, extensive footnotes, wonderful graphics and a cover that one cannot takes ones eyes off of - a wonderful rendition of "A Masque of the Four Seasons" by Walter Crane.
"Women of the Golden Dawn" tells the story of the men and women that founded and nurtured the original Golden Dawn society (a society of an occult nature, and the "parent" to the influential Rider/Waite Tarot deck). The focus is on the women: Florence Farr, Maud Gonne, Annie Horniman and Moina Bergson Mathers. This is their story - a story of four women growing up within the strictures of Victorian society - how they were able to live outside the bounds of convention, how they were drawn into the world of high magick, and how t hey were able to use that world to help them focus on accomplishing what they did in the physical world.
The very strength that "makes" this book almost had me putting it down before I ever really got into it. The first few pages (right up until the storyline really begins) were so focused on timelines and the psychological nature of the four women that I was sorely tempted to leave the rest unread. I was not about to read close to 500 pages on the psychological nature of anybody!
Fortunately for me, when I had just about had enough the story began. It is written in a very interesting manner - using the connotations of spring, summer, fall and winter as dividing periods in the all too human lives of these women. What I "thought" was holding me back in the beginning was actually the strength of this book - intense research and the wish to present this "story" in a coherent manner.
Once I began the "story", I could not put it down! People that had been names in a history book to me started to become "real people"! They had personal family histories, marriages, divorces, children, causes - all of the stuff that life is really all about. Behind all of this - the driving force in their lives, was an intense interest in studying (and most importantly, living) the principles of high magick that became the Golden Dawn magickal system.
This book IS magick - we feel their joy, we feel their pain, we feel their sorrow. We cheer them on, we encourage them to make "different" decisions in their lives. For the duration of the time spent reading this book, we live in a different world - their world. For many of us, their world - and the body of work that they left behind, is actually the basis for our world. I studied Rosicruciansim from the time I was in my late teens. I studied astrology, Tarot, and the magickal arts. Like these women - it was not an esoteric pastime - it became how I lived my life. Complete with the corollary that I was always well aware that the world that I walked in was not part of the conventional world.
Through these women, we get to know the men of these times: S. L. MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, to name a few. We see the egos involved, and we get to know them in a far different manner than if we were to research them directly.
Throughout the book, Mary Greer includes wonderful insights into the psychological makeup of all of the cast of characters - the why behind their decisions and actions. She goes one step farther and includes the art of astrology, through the use of individual birth charts for each of the women and the men in their lives and through referencing their charts for specific events in their lives.
These women were involved in the transformative world of Magicians, yes, but they were also active in Irish politics, in establishing theaters, in the creative worlds of poetry and music, and in women's rights in general. Maude Gonne throughout her life was passionate about Irish freedom; Moina Mathers an artist with a great deal of ability that she set aside to act as a partner to her husband in birthing and nurturing the Golden Dawn Society; Florence Farr was an English actress of considerable ability who held high office and had a great deal to say about the Golden Dawn policies; Annie Horniman co-founded the Abbey Theater, was active in Golden Dawn politics and was a source of financial largess for the Mathers and others.
Throughout the book Mary Greer has included pictures of the men and women at various stages in their lives, graphics showing the systems being referred to, illustrations from different Tarot decks and representations from Moina Mathers art work.
We are also privy to the actual work being done, such as an Enochian skrying session done by S. L. Mathers and W. B. Yeats with Moina Mathers doing the actual skrying. We experience the work of W. B. Yeats and Maud Gonne on the astral plane as they create their Celtic Mysteries. We get to read about Tarot work done by these women - and see how they interpreted the cards. We get to experience some of the wonderful world of ritual that these men and women lived. And .. we get to see how ego's and political intrigue brought about the downfall of the original Golden Dawn Society.
Reading this book is to experience the lives of these men and women, to become one with them. Exceeding well researched and presented, with extensive footnotes, this book that I almost put down is a keeper. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in High Magick, the Wisdom Traditions, the Golden Dawn itself, Tarot and women's history. If at first you find it hard going - put it down - you will find a time in the future when this book will have a place in your life!
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.