Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Magical Mason: Forgotten Hermetic Writings of William Wynn Westcott

The Magical Mason: Forgotten Hermetic Writings of William Wynn Westcott, Physician and Magus
by R. A. Gilbert (Editor)

There are a number of reasons, I suspect, why the book I am commenting on here is not much commented upon in Masonic circles even though it has been around for over three decades. I am well aware that perhaps the only group more prickly than the Freemasons are those involved with the Golden Dawn. Mainstream Masons consider William Wynn Westcott apostate for having founded the Golden Dawn, and the contemporary Golden Dawn community, or at least segments of them, are similarly disenchanted with R. A. Gilbert.

That being said, I am affiliated with neither and hence am happy to speak my mind. Since William Wynn Westcott had a long and respectable Masonic career before he founded the Golden Dawn, and wrote some valuable material on Freemasonry he should be read by Freemasons, even if they claim to dislike Esoteric Hermetic Orders other than Freemasonry. Apart from that, Masons have professional reasons for wanting to have a solid knowledge of the Golden Dawn; for whether they like it or not, it was born from Freemasonry and its history is therefore part of Masonic history. Beyond some interesting material about Rosicrucianism, Kabbala, the Golden Dawn and the SRIA, this collection includes three essays on esoteric topics related to Freemasonry.

William Wynn Westcott
Concerning this book, the editor notes:

Of all the actors in the bizarre pageant of the Occult Revival, William Wynn Westcott was the most unlikely: cautious, fearful and altogether too respectable, he yet created its most exotic structure, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The task of controlling the Order proved, however, to be far beyond the abilities of this timorous scholar, and it slipped from his grasp to fall into the hands of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, the magical genius who raised it to its greatest glory. But the Order needed Westcott, for he was its true Rosicrucian: the physician and mystic who sought all his life for Hermetic Wisdom, and, having found it, gave it freely to his fellow initiates, inspiring them to follow, and sometimes to surpass him in their occult studies. In the unknown world of Rosicrucians and magicians, Westcott was a Supreme Magus, an Adept who served Hidden Masters, but of this secret life the outside world knew nothing. 

Westcott was born at Leamington, Warwickshire, in 1848 and was effectively born into medicine, for both his father - who died when the young Westcott was nine years old - and his uncle were surgeons. He studied medicine at University College Hospital and after qualifying in 1871 he joined his uncle's practice at Martock in Somerset. In the same year he became a Freemason and commenced his long and solid Masonic career, but he did not begin his occult studies until 1879 when he 'went into a life of retirement at Hendon, for two years, studying the Kabbalah, the Hermetic writings, and the works of Alchymists and Rosicrucians'.

R.A. Gilbert
This 'retirement' was neither purely magical nor unproductive, for early in 1880 he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, translated into English the 'Ethical' grade of the spurious 'Order of (Le Philosophe Inconnues) Louis Claude St Martin'[sic] and 1902.

For forty years Westcott poured out a never-ending stream of books and papers on hermetic subjects, translations and editions of alchemical and kabalistic classics, textbooks in his professional field, and learned notes for Masonic journals. Many of his books are still in print, but the papers have been forgotten, buried in obscure and often privately printed journals. T o understand the Golden Dawn, one must read what its creators wrote - not for the world at large but for the benefit of their fellow initiates. The papers in this anthology are just that, fugitive pieces and unpublished manuscripts written for the aspiring adepts whom Westcott sought to serve. 'I am likely to be, like the wheat, ground between the upper and lower millstones', he once wrote." And so he was, but his writings are, for all their odd conceits, perfectly fit for our consumption. 

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