One of the now long standing “myths” or “tentative facts” that has been prevalent is the assumption that the Golden Dawn is based upon a forgery – that it basically is a hoax. This was the central idea behind Ellic Howe’s now classical but highly biased book on the history of the Golden Dawn, The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. Since the publication of this book in 1972 it has been commonly held in the Golden Dawn community, me included, that William Wynn Westcott, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, forged the correspondence with a supposed German Adept, referred to by Westcott as either “Fräulein Sprengel” or by her motto ‘Sapiens Dominabitur Astris’ (abbreviated as S.D.A.).
In these letters claimed by Westcott to have been written by Fräulein Sprengel, which have survived to this day in the Gerald Yorke collection, she claims to be a member and Chief Adept of the German Lodge Licht, Leben, Liebe. Although it is never mentioned in the Sprengel correspondence, Ithell Colquhoun in her book Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and “The Golden Dawn” attaches the city of Nuremberg to the Licht, Leben und Liebe Temple No. 1. This German Rosicrucian circle was held in the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to be the “Mother Temple” of the Golden Dawn tradition, giving Westcott the authority to operate its Grades up to and including the Adeptus Major 6°=5° Grade, and even conferring him, Dr. William Robert Woodman and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers the rank of Adeptus Exemptus 7°=4° Grade. Even the early charter of the Isis-Urania Temple No. 3 was signed by S.D.A. in 1888 (see top image), or rather Westcott wrote in hear stead as she couldn’t be present for the consecration ceremony. From reading Sprengels letters she apparently was acting on her own initiative in corresponding with Westcott, against the advice of her fellow Chiefs of the Licht, Leben und Liebe Temple, who closed all communication with Westcott after the death of Spregel in 1890.
Westcott started his correspondence with Sprengel after finding a note attached to the Cypher MSS., both believed to be genuine documents today (i.e. not made by Westcott himself) and written in the cipher alphabet of Johann Trithemius. This note has an contact address to a Fräulein Sprengel in Stuttgart, Germany. It also identified her by her motto and that she held the rank of 7°=4°. According to Howe, if Westcott didn’t invent the identity of S.D.A. entirely by his own accord, what at least must have happened is that he wrote to Sprengel but didn’t receive an answer and started to forge the correspondence instead. According to Howe, being a Freemason Westcott placed much value in receiving genuine charters and authorizations so as to convince the initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn their fraternity being a genuine Hermetic Order based on continental Rosicrucian sources.
Ellic Howe bases his conclusion mainly, if not solely, on the premise that the letters “written” by Sprengel couldn’t had been written by a German as they contain curious spellings and odd uses of the German language, concluding that the author (who according to a graphological analysis couldn’t have been Westcott) must have been an Englishman posing as a German. Therefore they must have been a forgery, according to Howe. Ellic Howe invokes the “authority” of one Herr Oskar R. Schlag of Zürich, Switzerland, who according to Howe is “an eminent graphological and suspect documents specialist,” to prove his thesis. But recently new discoveries has been unearthed regarding the contents of these letters which I would like to bring to the attention of my readers.
Greatly Honoured Frater Lux Ex Septentrionis (David John Griffin) wrote a rather interesting blogpost yesterday over at the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Blog which addresses the alleged forgery of the letters from Fräulein Sprengel. It seems as Ellic Howe’s assumption was premeditated, as we read G.H. Fra. L.E.S. words:
Ellic Howe, who did not like the Golden Dawn, introduces into his study of the Golden Dawn the…sensationalistic speculation that the letters written from “Fraulein Sprengel” to Golden Dawn co-founder were “forged by Wescott.” To support this sensationalistic claim, Howe cited a Swiss named “Oskar Schlag,” in whose “expert” opinion the letters were written by an English speaker.In an attached addendum G.H. Fra. L.E.S. concludes, again using Dr. Word as a source:
Golden Dawn historian, R.A. Gilbert, who, like Howe, is hostile towards the Golden Dawn, repeats Howe’s assertions as though they were established historical facts. This has led to a whole generation of magicians today believing that “the Golden Dawn is based on a forgery.”
Dr. Robert Word of the August Order of the Mystic Rose brought this problem to my attention several years ago, after showing the Sprengel letters to a native German speaker who disputed Howe’s and Schlag’s claims. This aroused my curiosity as a professional linguist with a degree in Germanic languages. I therefore examined the Sprengel letters myself, which I confirm are written in Suterlin German script consistent with the Suterlin German script prevalent at the end of the 19th Century.
Moreover, I find nothing whatsoever that in any way indicates that the Sprengel letters were not written by a native German speaker. We must therefore conclude that Ellic Howe and Robert Gilbert’s assertions that the Golden Dawn was based on a forgery are unsupported by any historical facts.
Florence Farr headed a Second Order committee that investigated allegations of forgery. In regard to the Sprengel-Wescott letters, the committee found no forgery. This did not prevent 70 years later, however, Ellic Howe and Oskar Schlag (the head of a Swiss occult order) attacking the Golden Dawn with renewed, Tabloid-like allegations of forgery.This is really interesting information, especially coming from Dr. Word who I sincerely respect both as a scholar and as an initiate. But then there is the letter dated 1900, 16 February, written by S. L. MacGregor Mathers to Florence Farr, the then Chief Adept in Anglia, heading the Isis-Urania Temple No. 3 in London, in response to her asking for her resignation and the closure of the Temple. This letter states in part:
Now with regard to the Second Order, it would be with the very greatest regret, both from my personal regard for you as well as the occult standpoint, that I should receive your resignation as my Representative in the Second Order in London; but I cannot let you form a combination to make a schism therein with the idea of working secretly or avowedly under Sapere Aude [Westcott] under the mistaken impression that he received an Epitome of the Second Order work from G. H. Soror Dominabitur Astris. For this forces me to tell you plainly (and understand me well, I can prove to the hilt every word I say here, and more) and were I confronted with S.A. I would say the same, though for the sake of the Order, and for the circumstances that it would mean so deadly a blow to S.A.’s reputation, I entreat you to keep this secret from the / Order for the present, at least, though you are at perfect liberty to show him this if you think fit, after mature consideration.It obviously seems that MacGregor Mathers is referring to Westcott’s written correspondence with Fräulein Sprengel in his last paragraph. What we must ask us now, as there is no documented evidence any more based upon the letters themselves allegedly being written by Fräulein Sprengel that they are any forgeries, why Mathers wrote as he did? Did he honestly believe they were forgeries or did he just say so being motivated by his fear of being overthrown by Westcott as the Chief Adept of the Order?
He was NEVER been at any time either in personal or written communication with the Secret Chiefs of the (third) Order, he having himself forged or procured to be forged the professed correspondence between him and them, and my tongue having been tied all these years by a previous Oath of Secrecy to him, demanded by him, from me, before showing me what he had done, or caused to be done, or both. You must comprehend from what little I say here the extreme gravity of such a matter, and again I ask you, for both his sake and that of the Order, not to force me to go further into the subject.
It is clear that Westcott during the inception of the Isis-Urania Temple No. 3 placed the highest authority upon himself using this correspondence with S.D.A. After MacGregor Mathers claimed he had received his own link to the Third Order in Paris, in 1892, through the Secret Chief ‘Lux E Tenebris’, Westcott suddenly found himself standing in the shadow of MacGregor Mathers. Although it seems that Westcott was content with his new role it is likely that MacGregor Mathers never felt secure and feared that Westcott somehow would reclaim his former position, especially with them two living on both sides of the British Channel.
Thus all we can do unfortunately is to speculate regarding this highly dynamic and intricate phase of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, just prior to the great schism by the London Adepti. But it is seems that either Westcott or MacGregor Mathers lied about the authenticity of the Sprengel letters. The question is who? Now with this new facts coming to our attention, the case speaks for Westcott being the one who was honest. But frankly I cannot decide as both had reasons for either lying or speaking the truth in this matter. When Westcott was confronted by the London Adepti he asserted that he was telling the truth in the first place but at the same time was very reluctant to defend his case referring to his witnesses all being dead.
But there are some other points which needs to be addressed in this context. Frater Olen Rush has recently shown us through his scholarly research that there actually was a Lodge in Germany which had the name “Loge der Licht, Liebe, und Leben” attached to it. According to Die Bauhütte: Zeitschrift für deutsche Freimaurerei or “The Lodge: Journal of German Freemasonry”, Volume 10, 1867, there is one Brother Carl Fr Mayer, a member of the lodge “Light, Love, Life”, who make a report about a Lodge called “Lebanon” and other bodies in the town Erlanger in Bavaria, within 10 miles of Nuremberg. Frater Olen gives us yet another reference in the Allgemeines Handbuch der Freimaurerei or “General Manual of Freemasonry”, Volume 1, 1900, where one Frederick Mossdorf writes:
Leutbecher, John, schoolmaster, born 2nd March 1801 in Weimar in Wohlmuthausen Chen, died 30th June 1878 in Erlangen, […] was received into the freemasonic Lodge of the Three Cedars of Lebanon in Erlangen. […] L[eutbecher] founded in 1864 in Erlangen (qv), the Lodge Licht, Liebe, und Leben, but because it was not recognized due to substantial deviations from the general rituals, it was only received after 1874.Thus, as Fr. Olen has pointed out, there did exist a Lodge with bore the same name as the “Mother Temple” of the Golden Dawn in the town of Erlangen, very close to Nuremberg which is reminecent of the Fräulein Sprengel Lodge of Licht, Leben, Liebe. Is this a coincidence? And what about the fact that freemasons regarded the Lodge operating with rituals that “deviated substantially” from the general rituals? This suggests that it wasn’t a regular freemasonic Lodge at all. Was it Rosicrucian or Hermetic perhaps? Was one of its deviations that it made allowance for women to be members, at least for a time? Becoming “received” in 1874 into the fold of freemasonry suggests it was an all male operation by then.
Furthermore, his quoted letter aside, it is also clear from reading the “Horus couple affair” that MacGregor Mathers actually believed that there existed a Fräulein Sprengel. I also found a reference on the Internet that Moina Mathers had told W.B. Yeats in 1926 that S.D.A. was an American, not a German. This may though have been a reference to Mrs. Horos who came from America to visit the Mathers couple in Paris, with her husband, and staying there in early 1900 after having convinced MacGregor Mathers that she was Fräulein Sprengel. This happened while he was writing his letter to Florence Farr, where he ended the letter by stating:
I may further remark that ‘Sapiens dominabitur astris’ is now in Paris and aiding med with the Isis movement.Aleister Crowley later corroborated this statement in The Equinox, where he recalled that MacGregor Mathers believed that Fräulein Sprengel had lived but died, as suggested by Westcott, only to surprisingly find her being alive through the Horos woman. Thus I don’t believe it was a mere chance that MacGregor Mathers wrote his letter to Florence Farr when Mrs. Horos was staying with her husband at his house. If she was the real S.D.A., and from American descent, surely Westcotts German Sprengel couldn’t had been real in the minds of S.L. MacGregor Mathers and his wife Moina; the opinions of Westcott and MacGregor Mathers were mutually exclusive.
Perhaps both Westcott and MacGregor Mathers were being honest? Be there as it may, but I sense that the last and final chapter has not yet been written on the history of Fräulein Sprengel or Soror S.D.A., and of the mysterious German “Mother Temple”.