Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn

Cross symbolism in the Golden Dawn

by G.H. Frater S.R.

One of the very first symbols that meets the candidate on a conscious level during his or her admission into the Order of the Golden Dawn (in the Outer) is the Red Cross surmounted over a White Triangle, positioned upon the black double cubical altar. Being blindfolded the candidate places his or her hand upon this highly significant symbol during the obligation of the Neophyte. Some moments later, during the circumambulations and purifications of the candidate, he or she meets this symbol again but now with the Red Cross placed inside the White Triangle as born upon the Banner of the West. In either case this symbolism of the Red Calvary Cross and the White Triangle is emblematic of the Outer Order, or the First Order called the “Golden Dawn”.
I have written a previous essay which deals with the Red Cross symbolism in the traditions of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and the Golden Dawn and have there presented a possible historical and spiritual origin of the Red Calvary Cross surmounting the White Triangle from the German Rosicrucian organization of great import, referred to as the Gold- und Rosenkreutz Orden or the “Order of the Golden Rosicrucians”. However I didn't venture that far regarding the significance of the symbolism contained in the particular Golden Dawn variant of the Red Calvary Cross. It is the purpose of this present essay to delve a little bit deeper into its symbolism, and with an special emphasis on the Christian mythos and its relation to the Osirian drama of the Egyptian mysteries.

Red Calvary Cross and White Triangle

Now to start off with the following analysis this Red Calvary Cross is supposed to be formed out of six squares referring to the number “6”. This is obviously the numerical value of the sixth Sephira called “Tiphareth”. This Sephira, which translates into “Beauty”, is related to the 5°=6° Grade of Adeptus Minor. Thus the Red Calvary Cross of the Outer Order is a clear reference to the Adeptus Minor Grade. The golden border upon the Red Calvary Cross of the Banner of the West enhances this symbolism of Tiphareth, as gold (or yellow) is the colour attributed to the sixth Sephira.

Banner of West

But here in the Outer Order this symbolism referring to the Adeptus Minor Grade and the Sephira of Tiphareth is only implied as it properly doesn’t belong to the knowledge of an Neophyte, nor to an Outer Order member traditionally speaking. However within this symbolism is hidden the forces of that very first Grade of the Second Order or Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. Upon entering that exalted Grade the aspirant is bound upon the Cross of Suffering, which incidentally is painted red. Thus the Red Calvary Cross accompanying the White Triangle is a clear reference to the principles of crucifixion and sacrifice.

This symbolism was however originally only explicitly explained to the Adeptus Minor, already being bound to the Cross of Suffering and obligated – being a member of the Body of Christ. In the Outer Order this was originally never explicitly explained, that is in the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (of 1888) and the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega (of 1909). Here instead (if it was discussed at all) a reference was made – through the Elements of the mystical repast – towards Osiris, the Triumphant and Justified One. This is clearly emphasized in the Hall of Neophytes as the Hierophant wears the Godform of Osiris, seated upon his throne at the East.

Hence only as an Adeptus Minor was the member explicitly taught the deeper symbolism of the Neophyte formula as explained in the book called “Ritual Z-1 – The Enterer of the Threshold”, where he or she thus learned regarding the Red Cross symbolism:
The Red Cross of Tiphareth (to which the Grade of 5-6 is referred) is here placed above the White Triangle, not as dominating it, but as bringing it down and manifesting it unto the Outer Order; as though the Crucified One, having raised the symbol of self-sacrifice, had thus touched and brought into action in matter, the Divine Triad of Light.
All of this perfectly well fits with the overall syncretistic nature of the Golden Dawn traditon where the cult of Osiris (and of Isis and Horus) is seen as a species of prototype or historical antecedent of the Christian mythos. It is only in the Inner Order, or R.R. et A.C., where the Christian symbolism is fully expanded upon. However, the interconnectness between the Osirian and Christian symbolism is never lost at the level of the Inner Order. And this is clearly seen in the Sign of the Grade of Adeptus Minor, the so-called “Analysis of the Key-Word”, or the letters I.N.R.I. (bourn upon the Cross of Christ), which directly hints to the Osirian drama of death and resurrection when being analysed letter wise.

Conversely, in the Outer Order the Osirian symbolism has been clearly christianised beyond recognition where one can be seen as explicit of the other, if one has the eyes to see (that is with the eyes of an Adept). Thus this is again implicitly hinted at. This implicit reference to the Christ in the Outer is at least twofold as I see it, beyond the obvious point being that the Calvary Cross is used as an important symbol of the Golden Dawn in the Outer.

First we have the Mystical Repast or Magical Eucharist. The bread and wine of the Christian communion is here expanded upon and two more symbols are added, viz. the Mystical Rose and the Red Lamp. Together these are placed around the Red Calvary Cross to enchance the cross symbolism. The “Ritual Z-1” reads:
Around the Cross are the Symbols of the Four Letters of the Name YHVH – the Shin of Yeheshuah being only implied and not expressed in the Outer Order. At the East is the Mystical Rose, allied by its scent to the Element of Air. At the South is the Red Lamp, allied by its Flame with the Element of Fire. At the West is the Cup of Wine, allied by its fluid form to the Element of Water. At the North are Bread and Salt, allied by their substance to the Element of Earth. The Elements are placed upon the Altar according to the Winds.
This note about the Hebrew letter “Shin” only being implied and not explicitly expressed is a reference to the esoteric and Christian Qabalistic interpretation of the lost word or name, the Tetragrammaton being evolved into the Pentagrammaton or YHShVH, Yeheshuah. This is in fact the esoteric spelling of the name “Jesus”. But again being presented here in the Outer Order it is only implicitly expressed as the YHVH, or Jehovah. But the main point that I am making here is that a species of Eucharist or Holy Communion is being used as an integrated part of the Neophyte formula, clearly being in close affinity to the church practice of the traditional orthodox Christian communion.

But in the Outer Order it is referred to as the communion of the Body of Osiris, not of the Christ. Or rather as it is explained to the Outer Order initiates – the mystical repast of the Elements, of the Tetragrammaton. However, the Adept being fully aware of the interchanged nature of the Osirian and Christian symbolism, as expressed in the Adeptus Minor Grade, knows that it is an expression of the spiritual principle of the death and ressurection of the Son of Man – the formula of the dying God. Having been thus crucified himself or herself upon the Cross of Suffering he or she is able to take the fullest advantage of the implicit nature of the Eucharist; for the Adept it is a communion of the body of the Christos and a remembrance of the suffering upon the Cross.

This is again confirmed in the ritual commentary upon the Zelator Grade called The Complete Explanation of the 1=10 Grade of Zelator, written by S.L. MacGregor Mathers as an companion to the Rituals Z-1 and Z-3, where he explains thus:
Seing in this Grade only, the Sephira of Malkuth is shown, the emblems of the Rose, the Red Lamp, and the Bread and Salt, emblems of the sacrifice of Osiris Onophris, are not openly displayed, yet they are, as it were, hidden, and implied in the arms of the Red Cross which is now placed within the White Triangle of the Three Supernals, as though the Crucified one, not only brought down and manifested into the Outer Order this sacred sublime symbol, but Himself placed therein the Symbol of Self Sacrifice, showing that thus only can the Divine Triad of Light be brought into action in Matter.
Notice here again the reference to the “Crucified One”. I find this as a clear reference to the Christos, the very epitome of self-sacrifice and crucifixion. Some authors have even been bold to suggest that this also can be a reference towards the view (apparently being held popular in the 19th Century) of Osiris and Horus being “crucified”, i.e. sacrificed to be able to reach the status of godhead. This may of course be true. But again this only shows the syncretistic nature of the Golden Dawn tradition where, as I have explained above, the mythos of the Christ and that of Osiris (and Horus) was used interchanged and simultaneously toghether.

The Cross & Triangle according to the Zelator Grade

In the Stella Matutina, the later derivation of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, this was more clearly or explicitly expressed even on a Outer Order level, clearly a sign of the Anglican clergy present in that Order. Thus in the later Stella Matutina version of the Neophyte Ritual the candidate is told that:
On the Altar is a White Triangle to be the Image of that Immortal Light, that Triune Light, which moved in Darkness and formed the World of Darkness and out of Darkness. […] The Red Cross above the White Triangle, is an Image of Him Who was unfolded in the Light.
This is in apparent contrast to the original line in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was continued with the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega, namely:
The White Triangle is the Symbol of the Divine Light and Creative Spirit Which formed the Universe in Darkness, and it therefore represents Light dawning in Darkness. The Red Calvary Cross which surmounts it symbolizes Life.
It is easy to interpret this poetic imagery of the godly person or “Him Who was unfolded in the Light”, in the former example, as a reference to Christ. But in my opinion not only the attribution to “Light” in the former example but also to “Life” in the latter may show forth a reference to the Christos, as he according to the Gospel of John is heard by his followers to be referring himself to the “Life”! Thus in John we may read these two lines (with my emphasis):
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26)
It is easy to see the similarities between these two quotes from the Gospel of John. The Anglican members of the Stella Matutina clearly saw this. This last line from John also takes us to my second point of the Christian symbolism and mythos being implicitly expressed through the Osirian mythos. Let me quote this wonderful prayer cited in the “Ritual Z-1”:
For Osiris on-Nophris who is found perfect before the Gods, hath said: These are the Elements of my Body, Perfected through Suffering, Glorified through Trial. For the scent of the Dying Rose is as the repressed Sigh of my suffering: And the flame-red Fire as the Energy of mine Undaunted Will: And the Cup of Wine is the pouring out of the Blood of my Heart, Sacrificed unto Regeneration, unto the Newer Life: And the Bread and Salt are as the Foundations of my Body, Which I destroy in order that they may be renewed. For I am Osiris Triumphant, even Osiris on-Nophris, the Justified One: I am He who is clothed with the Body of Flesh, Yet in whom is the Spirit of the Great Gods: I am The Lord of Life, triumphant over Death. He who partaketh with me shall arise with me. I am the Manifestor in Matter of Those Whose Abode is the Invisible: I am purified: I stand upon the Universe: I am its Reconciler with the Eternal Gods: I am the Perfector of Matter: And without me, the Universe is not.
Let me further emphazise this line: “I am The Lord of Life, triumphant over Death. He who partaketh with me shall arise with me”. This in my opinion is a clear reference to the Christ and the above and latter quote from John. This again alludes to the often interchanged quality of Osiris and Christ within the Golden Dawn tradition.

However there are also astrological references to the Cross and Triangle symbolism, as expressed in the Adeptus Minor Paper called “Ritual O – Astronomical Tarot”. In this paper the Cross is related to a Zodiacal Sign and the Triangle to the three Decans of that Sign.

The Astronomical Cross & Triangle

Thus, the symbol the Golden Dawn in the Outer is twelve times repeated through the Zodiacal belt. But here again we may see a subtle reference to the Christian mythos as the Twelve Signs often are interpreted as representing the 12 apostles in Esoteric Christianity, while the Sun travelling across the belt is seen as the redeeming Christ or Tiphareth, or as it is put in the “Ritual O”:
The central Rising Sun will represent the hidden influence of Tiphareth in the centre of the Sphere…rising above the waters of Space (the ethereal expanse of the Sky called by the Egyptians “The Waters of Nu which are parents of the Gods,” The Shoreless Ocean of Space.)

But in the Golden Dawn initiation, the Cross surmounting the Triangle is preferably represented by a Calvary Cross of 6 Squares, as still more allied to Tiphareth.
This symbolism of the sun rising from the waters within the Triangle surmounted by the Cross clearly bears strong Rosicrucian connotations and is reminiscent of that famous line from the Fama Fraternitatis of 1614:
Howbeit we know after a time there will now be a general reformation, both of divine and humane things, according to our desire, and the expectation of others: for it is fitting, that before the rising of the Sun, there should appear and break forth Aurora, or some clearness, or divine light in the sky…
This brings us to the conclusion of my short little essay upon the Cross symbolism in the Golden Dawn; we mustn’t forget that the Golden Dawn is a Rosicrucian tradition and has its true origin there. As such it is innately of a “Christian” nature as Rosicrucianism originally and generally represented (and in my opinion still today does represent) a species of Esoteric Christianity, something which is evidenced throughout the early Rosicrucian manifestos and publications. Even that great forebearer of the Golden Dawn, the Gold- und Rosenkreutz Orden, was of an innately Christian nature and required a previous membership in typically Christian Masonic Rites, such as the Swedish System and the Scottish Rite.

Another British sucessor of the Gold- und Rosenkreutz, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.), required a Christian Trinitarian faith. The S.R.I.A. had an direct influence upon the Golden Dawn, as can be seen in its Three Order structure and such offices as “Chief Adept”, and in some of the implements being used, etc. For a more thorough analysis of the Golden Dawn and S.R.I.A. connection, may I please refer the reader to the following essay. Furthermore the founding members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, i.e. S.L. MacGregor Mathers, William Robert Woodman, and William Wynn Westcott, were all initiates of the S.R.I.A., Westcott eventually becoming its Supreme Magus (or highest ranking Chief).

The Golden Rose Cross

Granted, the Rosicrucian mythos is fully explicit only in the Second Order, or the R.R. et A.C. But it is on the other hand implicitly hinted at by the very name “Golden Dawn” which is a clear reference to the “Aurora” mentioned in the Fama. As well as the Christian mythos is implicitly hinted at in the Outer, so is the Rosicrucian symbolism of the Golden Dawn. But the entire Outer Order process is one long preparation for entering into the Esoteric Christian teachings of the Rosicrucian Order of the Red Rose and Golden Cross. Thus is the entire Outer Order steeped in both the Esoteric Christian and the Rosicrucian current of the R.R. et A.C., for how could it otherwise prepare the aspirant to his or her fullest potential?

In reference to the words “esoteric” in relation to Christianity, I here must stress the fact that Adepts in the Golden Dawn nurture a wholly esoteric view upon the mythos of Christ, which is closely allied in nature to the view as held by the old Gnostic Christianity, as for example promulgated by Valentinos of the 2nd Century. Here we are referring to a spiritual type of Christ, not the actual man Jesus (if there ever existed one). In the Golden Dawn tradition it is called the “Christ Force”, and is the birthright of humanity and belongs to each and everyone of us. This is the force that redeems us from inside, and to paraphrase Meister Eckehart is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the soul of man. Thus to become a Christ, or anoited King, is analogical to the Egyptian concept of becoming an Osirian. This is a man who has put the Shin in his Tetragrammaton, i.e. who has taken the Materia Prima of his body and transformed it into the pure Gold of Tiphareth. This is a man who only knows the Will of his “Father”. This is the one who has become a New Adam to restore the fallen Eden into its former state and become the future ruler of the World armed with an Iron Rod. This is the outcome of the Lurianic concept of Tikkun ha-Olam, the Restoration of the World (or Body).

So in conclusion the Golden Dawn in the Outer cannot be viewed upon as a truly separate or isolated existence towards the Rosicrucian Inner Order. That’s why the Adepts will see the Outer Order rituals in a completely different light as compared to the Outer Order member, who only sees explicit Egyptian and Hebrew references throughout the Grades and curriculum. Only will he or she see the implicit significance of the deeper meanings of the symbolism of the Outer Order when becoming an Adept.

That’s why S.L. MacGregor Mathers was able to change the name “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” into the “Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega” as he of course was fully aware of the strong Rosicrucian undercurrents already present within the Outer Order ceremonies, being their original author. Since the Reformation anno 1999 we in the current manifestation of the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega has shown this in explicit terms by putting the Golden Rose upon the Red Cross surmounting the White Triagle, to show that we recognize the entire Golden Dawn as a manifestation of the Rosicrucian current. This emblem of the Golden Rose and Red Cross furthermore enhances the symbolism of Tiphareth implicit in the Red Calvary Cross, clearly stating that the Outer cannot exist without the Inner; the Outer is dependent upon the Inner and receives a holy dispensation therefrom for its very existance.

© Tomas Stacewicz

We fully acknowledge that the Outer Order Ceremonies of the Golden Dawn are but symbolical representations of operative principles contained in the Inner Order of the R.R. et A.C. In this they only can be implicit in their symbolism regarding the true nature of the Inner Order mysteries. But furthermore, as Lesser Mysteries they are charged or steeped with implicit references not only towards the Greater Mysteries of the Second Order but also towards the truly Great Mysteries belonging to the Third Order and of Hermetic Alchemy. Thus within such ceremonies as that of the Neophyte lays concealed hidden references to the Hermetic Inner Alchemy stemming from the old dynasties of Egypt. And again, becoming an Alchemical Master of the Third Order, the initiate will never again see any Outer Order ritual in the same light as he or she did as an Adept of the Second Order.

Thus the further one advances as a student in the System of Golden Dawn Magic and Rosicrucian Theurgy and Hermetic Alchemy, the more proper is one able to rightly evaluate the true significance of all the symbology as contained in the Outer Order Ceremonies of the Golden Dawn. But not until reaching that final pinnacle of the Ipsissimus Grade! But even though the Neophyte isn’t able to see all the richness of the Symbolism of his Grade, this fact alone cannot reduce the Neophyte formula into but an modern masonic style expression of Egyptian Religion and the Osirian cult, mixed with the ancient wisdom of the Hebrews. To paraphrase Jesus, only for the ardent student who is equipped with ears to hear and eyes to see will the full flowering of the Neophyte formula become apparent. For everyone else it will remain as a book sealed with seven seals.