Thursday, May 5, 2011

Critical Book Review of Nick Farrell's "Mathers Last Secret" by GH Frater Sincerus Renatus

by guest blogger GH Frater  Sincerus Renatus
(Introduced, abridged and expanded by David Griffin)
GH Frater "Spock" Renatus
The following book review is a critical, scholarly analysis of Nick Farrell’s commentaries found in his new book, Mathers Last Secret, which Mr. Farrell has appended to the Rituals and some other papers belonging to the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega (A∴O∴), founded and headed by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.

Nick Farrell today leads a Golden Dawn style order of his own creation, called the Magical Order of Aurora Aureae. As a Golden Dawn leader, Mr. Farrell has been criticized from certain quarters about the logical inconsistency (if not outright hypocrisy) of leading a Golden Dawn order, yet publishing secret Golden Dawn documents in violation of traditional Golden Dawn oaths.

Nick Farrell
Such criticism of Mr. Farrell has not been limited to voices from the Golden Dawn community either. Renowned ritual magician, Pagan author, and traditional witch, Frater Barabbas Tireseus, has made clear in an excellent article on his Talking About Ritual Magick blog, that Mr. Farrell's relationship to the Golden Dawn is that of a historical reconstructionist, attempting to reconstruct what Mr. Farrell essentially believes to be a dead order. Frater Barrabbas concludes that, since Mr. Farrell does not believe in certain basic tenets of the Golden Dawn (Secret Chiefs, traditional vows of secrecy with attendant respect for unpublished documents, etc.) Mr. Farrell's reconstruction attempt can amount to little more than a headless Frankenstein's monster; a reanimated, yet incomplete corpse, which is something very different than the numerous, highly successful reconstructions of ancient Pagan traditions reanimated in today's Neo-Pagan community.

Let us examine Mr. Farrell’s attempted distinction between the Golden Dawn as a “Magical Order” vs. as a “Masonic Order”. Farrell argues that the original (pre-schism) Golden Dawn worked under a “Masonic phase”, lacking any true magical current. According to Farrell, this "current" manifested only following the schism, first when the Stella Matutina was created by R.W. Felkin in 1903 and then later with the creation of the Fraternity of the Inner Light in the 1920’s by Dion Fortune.

It should be noted that Mr. Farrell's newly invented distinction between "masonic" vs. "magical" Golden Dawn orders, amounts to trying to dismiss as "merely masonic" all orders in today's Golden Dawn community, except those that descend from Felkin's Stella Matutina or its offshoots, like the OTR. One could, however, just as well argue that, since the Stella Matutina was born of schism, and since Felkin never established contact with Mathers' Secret Chiefs, that it was the Stella Matutina that had no magical current. I state this only to point out the self-serving nature, logical fallacy, and political sniping underlying Mr. Farrell's newly invented distinction.

The A∴O∴, Farrell argues, continued with Farrell's imaginary “masonic phase” and only later, following the death of Mathers, became truly “magical”. This Mr. Farrell attempts to justify by arguing that neither W.W. Westcott (the co-founder of the G∴D∴) nor Mathers were properly initiated into the Golden Dawn; to fully understand the system one must be initiated through its Grades properly and in full ritual. But contrary to Mathers, Farrell argues, Mathers wife Moina was initiated, as well as John William Brodie-Innes, who jointly took over the helm of the A∴O∴ and thus made the “magical” for the first time in its history according to Farrell's definition. As Felkin had been initiated into the Golden Dawn in full form, his organization, the S.M., immediately became “magical” according to Mr. Farrell's untraditional yet admittedly colorful and fanciful definition.

According to Farrell, "Magical" orders are created only through the continuous use of God-Forms, not merely through the performance of ritual. Take away the God-Forms from a rite and it becomes “Freemasonic”; an empty shell or vessel. This is clearly an oversimplification, which underscores that Mr. Farrell's understanding of magical egregores derives from an incomplete understanding of the Golden Dawn. There exist numerous other ways that magical egregores are created and sustained, that remain preserved as oath bound information in the Alpha et Omega, beyond the mere visualization of God Forms in ritual. As an outsider and an uninitiate, however, Mr. Farrell of course remains ignorant of these advanced methods. Mr. Farrell has therefore been forced to rely exclusively on the beginner's technique of using of God Forms in Farrell's attempt to create an egregore for his Magical Order of Aurora Aureae.

Mr. Farrell's argument that Mathers and Westcott were not initiates of the Golden Dawn, does not hold water when it comes to creating a magical egregore or current. It was Mathers himself who brought Mr. Farrell's precious God-Forms into the Golden Dawn, already in 1892, which Farrell also acknowledges. Thus it is all the more peculiar that Farrell does not consider neither the original G∴D∴nor the A∴O∴ as “magical” orders, which they truly were, even according to Mr. Farrtell's fanciful "God Form" standard.

Moreover, Mr. Farrell in reality has no historical knowledge of what Hermetic and Rosicrucian initiations Mathers or Westcott actually received, within or without the Golden Dawn. Farrell's hypothesis amounts therefore to mere speculation.

The Golden Dawn is manifestation of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian traditions and thus, at least according to traditional rather than fanciful definitions, the Golden Dawn's current is clearly a magical one. Magical use of ritual certainly did not originate with the Golden Dawn. Both Mathers and Westcott were Adepts of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian traditions long before the creation of the Golden Dawn in 1888, and participated in other rites after that as well. They would not have received the mission and mandate to create the Golden Dawn without this historical reality. Both Mathers and Westcott were members of Kenneth Mackenzie’s group “The Society of Eight” or Fratres Lucis. The Cypher Mss. most likely derived from this society. We do not know if these rituals (as contained in the Cypher Mss.) or early versions of them were not practiced before 1888 and if Westcott and Mathers had not experienced them before the creation of the Golden Dawn. In this context, it is highly significant that the Isis-Urania temple founded by Wescott, Mathers, and Woodman in 1888 was numbered "3", temple number 1 being that of MacKenzie in "The Society of Eight" and number 2 being Hermanoubis Temple of the same, in Bristol under F.G. Irwin.

Thus we see just how conjectural Mr. Farrell's hypothesis actually is regarding the initiations of Mathers and Wescott. It is, in fact, Nick Farrell's propensity to present his own highly speculative opinions as though they were established historical facts, which is the fatal flaw in the scholarship underlying  Mathers Last Secret.

This is a great tragedy, as the book might otherwise have been extremely valuable. As it stands, however, the book has been reduced to just one more minor variant in a seemingly endless series of rehash Golden Dawn compendia. Mr. Farrell's failure to properly identify his personal theories for what they are, but instead misleadingly giving them a false veneer of established historical fact, has rendered historically worthless what otherwise might have been a valuable contribution to the published Golden Dawn literature.

Let us examine Mr. Farell's argument from yet another point of view. Let us assume that Mathers and Wescott indeed were not regular initiates of the Golden Dawn. Does this mean that the Golden Dawn itself was not a magical order, as Farrell argues? I certainly do not believe so, and this would clearly not be the case according to traditional Golden Dawn standards either. In fact, Mr. Farrell's entire hypothesis stands or falls on his personal and fanciful definition of what a "magical" order is. I could as well invent my own equally fanciful and untraditional definition, then use it to prove that Disneyland is a "magical order"!

In any event, Mathers was the creator of the particular form of Golden Dawn rituals that we know of today, faithfully using the Cypher Mss. provided by MacKenzie through Westcott as reference. I consider there exists a magical relationship between the “creator” and the “created” also at a mundane level. Thus, I consider Mathers intuitively understood Golden Dawn ritual as no one else in his lifetime, due of this rapport. Mr. Farrell, like Pat Zalewksi and others  in Farrell's "Felkin/Stella Matutina camp" within the Golden Dawn community, believes that Mathers was guided by some unconscious genius (greater than himself) when he wrote up the rituals and materials, which, according the this camp, “explains” why Mathers later “couldn’t” understand them.

This makes no sense, however. Why should Mathers not be able access this genius consciously, even if this odd notion were actually the case? Why could Mathers not have been governed equally intuitively by this spirit of genius during performance of these same rituals, thus gaining deeper understanding as the practical work progressed? Add to this, 30 years regularly performing and attending these rituals - and you find solid ground for understanding the underlying magical mechanics of the rituals themselves.

Farrell's argument that the Stella Matutina was the first "magical" Golden Dawn order is, in my opinion, but politically motivated poppycock. Golden Dawn style God-Form magic was practiced regularly in the Golden Dawn from 1892 and onwards, and later in both the A∴O∴ and the Stella Matutina. This clearly contributes to the magical power of the rituals, but it is certainly not the only factor. There are other elements embedded in the rituals as well, alchemical processes and sacred geometry, for example, that although presented only symbolically, nonetheless have a powerful, unconscious effect on the candidate. Of course Mr. Farrell and Mr. Zalewski, like all others in the "Felkin/Stella Matutina camp" in today's Golden Dawn community, have no understanding of the magical dynamics of how these powerful elements operate in A∴O∴ ritual, as this information until today remains unprofaned, oath bound information of the A∴O∴. 

Thus, the second fatal flaw in the book, Mathers Last Secret, becomes apparent. Mr. Farrell is publishing and commenting on proprietary rituals and other A∴O∴ material, which as an outsider and an uninitiate, Mr. Farrell is not in a position to properly comment upon in any informed sense - nor even to fully understand - because Mr. Farrell is not privy to oath bound information available only to initiates of the A∴O∴

One may indeed, however, argue that there exists different forms of God-Form magic, and that one method may be considered by some as more effective than another. Mr. Farrell glorifies the practices derived from Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light, that Farrell learned from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki's the Servants of the Light (S.O.L.).

I have personally been fortunate enough to know a high initiate and personal friend of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki who taught me her techniques of creating an “Inner Temple”. Thus I am well aware what Mr. Farrell means. I have, moreover, also studied Ashcroft-Nowicki’s book The Shining Paths, which teaches her peculiar astral working she calls as “Path-Working”. I personally like Fortune’s approach to astral work, but still this is not an actual part of the Golden Dawn Tradition; it’s a part of the Dion Fortune tradition, not the Golden Dawn. Although it may be used splendidly by the latter, it still cannot be used as a measuring stick for judging the efficiency of Golden Dawn “magical” ritual.

Note: I respectfully disagree with GH Frater SR regarding the spiritual value of the sort of "Pathworking" contained in Dolores Ashcroft-Novicki's book, The Sining Paths. These sorts of "guided fantasy recipes", in my opinion, are spiritually worthless. They are completely devoid of the spontaneous and rich visionary experience derived from the Golden Dawn's "Skrying in the Spirit Vision." Even such visions must be carefully tested by traditional, Golden Dawn means, since the "lower astral" remains the realm of illusion, as countless, worthless, New Age, "channelled" books bear witness to.

For me, it is the height of folly, when it comes to a Hermetic and Rosicrucian tradition like the Golden Dawn, if one takes the sort of ready made "recipes" for visionary experience contained in The Shining Paths, and tries to apply them to the Golden Dawn. It is particularly absurd to call such ready made recipes for visionary experience "Self-Initiation." I guess one can create whatever fanciful definitions of "initiation" that one likes, but clearly New Age style "pathworking recipes" have nothing at all to do with traditional Golden Dawn initiation.

Examining Pat Zalewski’s ritual commentaries, Zalewski also places a great emphasis on God-Form magic, but not at all of the Dion Fortune variety. One does not visualize a lofty space wherein the Hall of Maat and its attending God-Forms are supposed to be created. What Mr. Zalewski teaches is a more energetic approach creating astral shells in the
physical space which brings the Hall of Maat down to the physical.

Mr. Farrell, on the other hand, holds that the S.M. developed and perfected a “magical” approach to Golden Dawn ritual. But we must keep in mind that Farrell doesn’t come to this conclusion based purely on study of S.M. ritual papers, as he does with the A∴O∴. He bases his opinion of the S.M. from experience as a lower degree initiate of the Order of the Table Round (O.T.R.), a side order of the New Zeeland version of the Stella Matutina (Whare Ra), in the late 1980’s.

Mr. Farrell, as an uninitiate, is in no position to likewise properly evaluate the A∴O∴, solely based on what he may have read from incomplete published and archival sources. As an uninitiate, without access to the oath bound information available only to A∴O∴ initiates, Mr. Farrell's uninformed and apparently politically motivated judgements should be taken not with pinches, but with buckets of salt!

I have no personal experience of the Whare Ra so I can only judge its magical ritual efficiency from reading its published rituals and S.M. documents available in A∴O∴ archives, as does Mr. Farrell attempt vis-à-vis the Alpha et Omega. And honestly, how could anyone have dreamt that the Whare Ra practiced that form of advanced magic as described by Mr. Zalewski, merely from reading the original S.M. rituals? Not me anyway. So I ask, how can Mr. Farrell form his severe judgment of the “magical” ritual efficacy of the A∴O∴ based solely upon documents he copied from a museum?

Besides, we do not know that the Whare Ra actually practiced what Mr. Zalewski has tried to make us believe all these years. Other sources inform us that whatever Zalewski has described in his ritual commentaries is only representative of the O.T.R., mixed up with personal creations of Mr. Zalewski himself.

Sadly, given Pat Zalewski's long and well documented history of misattributing his personal inventions to others, including to Whare Ra and to MacGregor Mathers, it is in my opinion that Pat Zalewksi likely made these things up out of whole cloth himself. I am not nearly as generous towards the claims of Pat Zalewski as is GH Frater SR, because over the decades I have personally witnessed Mr. Zalewski, time after time in his published writings, misattribute the source of the things he writes about. 

Pat Zalewksi's books, including his Ritual Commentaries, are nonetheless extremely valuable contributions to the published Golden Dawn literature. This does not mean, however, that Mr. Zalewski should at all be trusted when it comes to his attribution of the sources of his ideas. On the contrary, readers should best assume that Mr. Zalewksi is making everything up himself, except where  his attributions to other sources can be concretely verified in primary source documents.

Mr. Zalewski reports that Whare Ra used an entirely different and dull set of God-Forms in the Elemental Grades, compared to the ones that Zalewski has suggested as being derived from Moina Mathers and the A∴O∴. So, rather than saying that Mr. Farrell bases his experience on the actual Whare Ra, he actually bases his experience from the Order of the Table Round, which, I suspect, in turn relies heavily on the developments made by Jack Taylor, who was its Chief during the early 1980’s.

I suspect that the actual “magical” ritual practice did not differ substantially between the Stella Matutina and the A∴O∴, at least not during the life times of Felkin and Mathers. Mr. Farrell, in fact, has not provided even one single shred of evidence to back up his odd claim that the A∴O∴ ever discontinued the regular use of God-Forms in ritual. Once again, Nick Farrell's personal conjecture is unveiled masquerading as historical fact. I can find no rational explanation for this, other than thinly-veiled Golden Dawn politicking - an attempt to disparage Golden Dawn orders that descend from S.L. MacGregor Mathers Alpha et Omega instead of from the published material deriving from the Stella Matutina or its OTR offshoot. 

It is sad to witness, based on the evidence presented in this review of Nick Farrell's Mathers Last Secret, how the decades old Golden Dawn internet flame war has now spread to politically motivated, editorial sniping in yellow-journalistic, Golden Dawn book publishing.

I wonder - Does anyone even take this book seriously!?!


  1. I have reservations about the book as well and stopped penciling in comments by p.137.

    I found extensive hyperbole and grandiose speculations being used to build logically flawed arguments to justify what Mr. Farrell deems "right" or "correct."

    Reading the commentary on the 0=0 was enough to make me stop reading the book (esp., pp 69-76 which was riddled with problems); but I continued out of respect for the author's experience, and hoped the tone would change.

    I stopped critiquing by p.137 (e.g., the last 2 paragraphs on p.136 are very caustic and condescending) and finished reading the book in a perfunctory manner for whatever it was worth.

    The writer launched more of a character assassination than a "secret" about Mathers (as the book title suggests), with dismissive, biased commentary that demonstrated a lack of scholarship worthy to be called research.

    I guess the irony resides with Mr. Farrell's insight and comment on p.75 that " can learn a lot about a person's psyche by probing their creative writings." So be it!

  2. Bravo, Mr. Griffin! I do so enjoy your persuasive writing style, and that of Frater SR, as well. You are both true wordslingers.

  3. SR said:

    "I know that I have provoked some emotions in the past in my various posts inspired by Mr. Zalewski's writings and also quite recently in my rebuttal to Nick Farrell. I stand by what I have said in that essay and will publish more to this effect. But that doesn't mean that we cannot discuss these topics in a fraternal and civil manner. My essays re Mr. Farrell's analysis of the A.O. and MacGregor Mathers are NOT an attack on Mr. Farrell's person. Nor is anything that I have written in rebuttal to Mr. Zalewski. I do, however, question Mr. Farrell's scholarship in this particular matter and stand by this. I will continue to do so but in a civil (and hopefully fraternal) manner."

    My response is: you can shove it where the sun doesn't shine and keep it there. I am not interested in discussing anything with you, and neither do more than a few other people on this blog. I am not interested in reading any rebuttal either. Your past remarks stand for themselves, and will not be forgotten by myself and many others. You have made a mockery of the fraternal bond of R+C-ism, and brought disrespect on the name of the GD. You have made your bed, and you can bloody well lie in it. People want to help and support each other, regardless of what organization they belong to, something of which I have seen precious little in your past posts and blog. This little discourse of yours, merged with an act of contrition, cuts no ice with us, as we have seen it all before and the return to the same old attitude that we have learned to expect from you.


  4. Hi Pat,

    Welcome to the Golden Dawn blog!

    I can hear that you feel very passionate about this and honor and welcome your passion. I respectfully suggest, however, that there is no need for name calling.

    We do not need to agree about everything. In fact, you and I do NOT agree about everything. You are well aware, for example, that I no longer believe anything at all that you ascribe as coming from Whare Ra or from Mathers - unless, of course, I can verify your claims of origin for myself in primary source documents.

    This, Pat, is because you have been caught fibbing about your sources in your books and on your forum far too often for me to trust you about what you ascribe to Mathers or Whare Ra any longer.

    Despite this, your Ritual Commentaries book nonetheless is an extremely valuable contribution to the modern Golden Dawn literature, even if it turns our to be almost entirely your own modern invention rather than coming from the sources you ascribe the material to.

    Likewise, I personally find your work with God Forms and energy patterns in ritual a fascinating and valuable contribution to the modern Golden Dawn community. I do not, however, believe your claim that these things come either from Mathers or from Whare Ra, unless, of course, you can show me where you took these things from traditional GD, SM, or AO documents.

    Again, there is no need for us to agree about everything. In fact, it is the differences between us themselves that make our Golden Dawn community so rich and diverse today. This diversity is one of the best things about our community.

    There is plenty of room in our Golden Dawn community for your highly intellectual approach to the Golden Dawn's Second Order curriculum (RR et AC). I am certain that this highly mental approach is fascinating for many students, especially those who are extremely intellectually oriented. I say this in reference to your Second Order curriculum, which includes mostly studying the rituals of the outer order, looking for hidden meaning, energy patterns in the rituals, etc.

    (continued below)

  5. (continued)

    My own approach to the Golden Dawn's Second Order work is vastly different from yours. In the Alpha et Omega, our Second Order (the RR+AC) is a preparatory school for our Third Order, where we teach the highest mysteries of Hermetic Internal Alchemy.

    Therefore, our approach to the Second Order (RR+AC) is not at all an intellectual one as is yours. On the contrary, our Second Order Adepts practice advanced Hermetic and Rosicrucian magick as well as Hermetic and Rosicrucian alchemy. You see, our Second Order is neither a symbolical nor an intellectual order. Our Second Order is instead a magical and alchemical one. After all, it is magick and alchemy that have been the primary occupations of the real Rosicrucians already since the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis.

    Again, even though your approach to Second Order work is certainly not my own personal cup of tea, I nonetheless embrace your right to take your own Second Order in any direction you choose.

    The Alpha et Omega, however, will always remain a TRADITIONALIST order. We will therefore continue to practice advanced Hermetic and Rosicrucian magick and alchemy in our Second Order, rather than merely write essays about hidden meanings of the Outer Order rituals.

    One final piece of advice, Pat, however. GH Frater Sincerus Renatus is a highly respected blogger. In fact, he has, in my opinion, single-handedly raised the level of scholarly debate in the Golden Dawn community to a higher level than we as a community have known for a very long time.

    For you to storm in here on the Blogoshpere and tell him to "shove it where the sun doesn't shine" reflects very badly on you yourself, Pat. It creates a false impression of you as a vulgar ruffian more interested in starting a flame war than an Adept interested in fraternal and scholarly discussion about the Golden Dawn.

    I have known you now for decades, Pat, and I know you to be a sincere, even if somewhat overly passionate Adept, so I am not at all offended by this from you. Perhaps you should bear in mind, however, that not all readers here on the Blogosphere know you as well as I do. I for one do not want them to get the wrong impression of you, because I know for certain that you have valuable things to contribute to the Golden Dawn scholarly discussion.

    David Griffin

  6. Mr Griffin might I enquire as to why throughout your "scholarly" posts and responses you focus in on what you perceive each of these two authors to have accomplished or not within their own traditions? I'm sorry but whether debating or essay writing I have always been trained to stay on-topic and you don't seem very capable of that since every point (no matter how valid it may be to the discourse) is countermanded by what I can't help but feel are veiled attacks aimed to provoke people. Then the minute one responds you chastise them.

    I'm sorry Mr Griffin but on the side-subject of appropriateness I think you're equally lacking in decorum. I would like to reassert I don't know you beyond what I've read in the blog here so I don't judge you as a person only the manner that this "scholarly" discourse as been presented to the blogosphere and G:.D:. community at large.

    Perhaps taking some time to coalesce and a change of presenation is in order for you're criticisms of these two books? Might I suggest writing your own Ritual Commentaries of the Early A:.O:.

    "I don't write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me."
    — Michel Foucault

    I hope this response finds yourself and SR well but I strongly suggest a moment on introspection.

    In LVX,

  7. Just a quick point with regard to the idea that Mathers et al not being an initiate and thus not being a true Golden Dawn magician; Jesus wasn't a Christian, he was a Jew, does that mean that the apostles were to be looked at as superior to Christ? If he and Wescott, etc. produced this material out of full cloth and there was nothing special about these men then why is Farrell suggesting that we should adhere to the Golden Dawn system of magical initiation in the first place?

  8. @ Níall MacSiúrtáin

    Our missions are peaceful...not for conquest. When we do battle, it is only because we have no choice.

    James T. Kirk in 'The Squire of the Gothos'


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