Friday, July 11, 2008
Samuel Liddell was born on January 8 or January 11, 1854 in Hackney, London, England. His father, William M. Mathers, died while Samuel Liddell was still a boy. His mother, whose maiden name was Collins, died in 1885. He attended Bedford Grammar School, subsequently working in Bournemouth, Dorset, as a clerk, before moving to London following the death of his mother.
His wife was Moina Mathers (née Mina Bergson), sister of the philosopher Henri Bergson.
Mathers was introduced to Freemasonry by a neighbour, alchemist Frederick Holland, and was initiated into Hengist Lodge No 195 on October 4, 1877. He was raised as a Master Mason on January 30, 1878 and in 1882, the same year he demitted from Masonry, he was admitted to the Metropolitan College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia as well as a number of fringe Masonic degrees. Working hard both for and in the SRIA he was awarded an honorary 8th Degree in 1886. He became Celebrant of Metropolitan College in 1891 and was appointed as Junior Substitute Magus of the SRIA in 1892, in which capacity he served until 1900. He left the order in 1903, having failed to repay money which he had borrowed.
Upon the death of William Robert Woodman in 1891, Mathers assumed leadership of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After a schism in 1900, Mathers formed a group called Alpha et Omega.
Mathers apparently knew how to read and translate a number of languages, including English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic and Coptic. His translations of such books as The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, The Kabbalah Unveiled, The Key of Solomon The King and The Lesser Key of Solomon, while probably justly criticized with respect to quality, were responsible for making what had been obscure and inaccessible material widely available to the non-academic English speaking world. They have had considerable influence on the development of occult and esoteric thought since their publication.
In addition to many supporters, he had many enemies and critics. One of his most notable enemies was one time friend and pupil Aleister Crowley, who portrayed Mathers as a villain named SRMD in his 1929 novel Moonchild. According to Crowley's memoirs The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Mathers was in the habit of playing ostensible chess matches against various pagan gods. Mathers would set up the chessboard and seat himself behind the white pieces, with an empty chair opposite him. After making a move for himself, Mathers would then shade his eyes and peer towards the empty chair, waiting for his opponent to signal a move. Mathers would then move a black piece accordingly, then make his next move as white, and so forth. Crowley did not record who won.
Mathers died on November 5 or November 20, 1918. The manner of his death is unknown; his death certificate lists no cause of death. Violet Firth (Dion Fortune) claimed his death was the result of the Spanish influenza of 1918. As few facts are known about Mathers's private life, verification of such claims is difficult.
S.L. "MacGregor" Mathers was one of the most important, and certainly the most-misunderstood, occult figures of the late nineteenth century. He was a major figure in the founding of the Order of the Golden Dawn, wrote its rituals and eventually became its head. In an interesting parallel to Mme Blavatsky, who he met prior to the founding of the Golden Dawn, he claimed to have derived many of the teachings from a group of superhuman adepts, the Secret Chiefs. He was an eccentric and brilliant scholar, unemployed and unemployable, the ideal person to be head of a magical order. His magical names were Deo Duce Comite Ferro ("With God as My Leader and the Sword as My Companion") and 'S Rioghail Mo Dhream (Gaelic for "Royal is My Race"), which reflect his authoritarian, military and Jacobite inclinations. At the same time he was also a vegetarian, probably a vegan, and an anti-vivisectonist. He campaigned for women's rights. He married Mina, or Moina, Bergson, sister of Henri Bergson, the philosopher, whom Mathers attempted, unsuccessfully, to convert to a belief in magic. From 1894 on, the couple lived in Paris, where they founded an Ahathoor Temple and celebrated 'Egyptian Masses' with much stately ceremonial in honour of the goddess Isis, whose religion he attempted to revive.
Mathers added "MacGregor" to his name in the belief that he was descended from the Scots clan, styled himself Comte de Glenstrae, and was imbued with Jacobite ardour for the restoration of the House of Stuart to the British throne. According to some of his contemporaries, he was the reincarnation of James IV, the wizard King of Scots. He used to ride a bicycle through the Paris of the 1890s in full Highland dress. Mathers's over-bearing ego were too much for the other members of the Golden Dawn and he was expelled in 1900. He was the magical patron of Aleister Crowley, who, following the break with Golden Dawn members, he saw as his magical heir. But the two men later quarrelled (after Crowley puplished tracts of Golden Dawn material in his own magazine, The Equinox), and even conducted an occult battle against each other. A lot of the negative perception of Mathers is due to Crowley's ostentatious record of things.
There is no substance to Dion Fortune's allegation (since repeated by many others) that Mathers died of the influenza epidemic sweeping Europe just after the end of the Great War.
Mathers literary output involved translations of several important occult texts. These included an English translation of the Key of Solomon, the most famous of the grimoires ("Grammars") or textbooks of European ritual magic; part of Knorr von Rosenroth's Kabbalah Denodata as The Kabbalah Unveiled, together with notes and commentary, which was to become the seminal work for Western occult Kabbalistic studies; and a translation of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, perhaps the most significant of all the ancient grimores. But his greatest contribution lay in his central role in the establishment of an occult current of ceremonial magic - the Golden Dawn tradition - that has become the wellspring for all western occultism ever since.