Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Victorian Occult Revival in West Yorkshire

Forming a sad, decaying conurbation on the eastern fringe of the South Pennines, today Bradford and the neighbouring town of Keighley scarcely seem the most obvious setting for occult drama. Yet in the 19th Century they were engines of the Industrial Revolution, prosperous municipalities brimming with an emergent middle class. As such, the region became arguably the most important locus of the Victorian occult revival outside London and whilst the city’s esoteric tradition is often overlooked, it represents a significant thread in both the social history of West Yorkshire and the development of occultism in Britain generally.

We will begin this tale of conflict and transformation with the foundation of a society, variously referred to as The Dew and the Light, the Ros. Crux Fraters or the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley, in 1870 by local man, David Lund. Lund was a typical product of the Victorian middle-class. A self-taught mechanic who co-owned a small engineering business with his brother Thomas at Albert Foundry, he held a degree in Political Economy thanks to the Oxford University Extension Scheme and was politically active as a member of the Keighley Foreign Affairs Committee.

Lund also had a long-standing interest in astrology and earned a supplemental income casting horoscopes, including some for the Liberal MP for Oakworth and Keighley at the time, Sir Isaac Holden. Doubtless such pursuits led him towards Rosicrucianism, an esoteric doctrine developed in early 17th Century Germany and regarded as widely influential, not only in European history of ideas, but as the basis of Freemasonry in Britain and most subsequent orders in the Western Hermetic Tradition.

Despite many of the philosophies which developed from it eventually mutating into neo-paganism in the Twentieth Century, Rosicrucianism itself was a firmly Christian theology, rooted in the Protestant Reformation and German Lutheranism. However, Rosicrucian orders were initiatory and hierarchical, seeking higher knowledge and a “universal reformation of mankind”. Influenced by Gnosticism and the symbolic, transformative aspects of alchemy, their rituals tended towards theurgy, aiming to achieve self-perfection and ultimately, union with the divine.

In the 1880s, the Dew and the Light produced a handwritten folio newsletter entitled Lamp of Thoth promising to reveal “mysteries of the great unknown” (Thoth was an Egyptian god of knowledge), the editorship of which was attributed only to a mysterious figure known as “Zanoni”. Surviving copies suggest the beliefs of the order were entirely consistent with Rosicrucian doctrine and the editor highly knowledgeable in this field. Such content belies the later charges of plagiarism and black magic which were levelled at the society by its rivals.

One local historian, Marie Campbell, speculates that the group may also have had what might now be described as a psychogeographical bent. She suggests that Daniel Murgatroyd, scion of the local landowning family who constructed East Riddlesden Hall, was once a member of the organisation. He was known to possess a “spell book” attributed to Sir Henry Clifford, the Second Earl of Cumberland, who occupied Skipton Castle and Barden Tower in the 16th Century and is remembered for practicing alchemy with the assistance of the monks at nearby Bolton Abbey.

Campbell refers to a title page, whether of Lamp of Thoth or otherwise is not made clear, headed “The Lands of the Dragon”, which depicts the symbol of a triangle inside a circle (a common alchemical motif) forming a map with Skipton, Keighley, Ilkley, Bingley, Baildon and Bolton Abbey as cardinal points in the circle, which would place the prehistoric sacred landscape of Rombalds Moor within the triangle. Campbell associates this chart with both Sir Henry Clifford and the Rosicrucian Fathers, but aside from the unproven Murgatroyd connection, there is little justification to suggest Clifford's acquaintance with it.

The Society of the Dew and the Light must presumably have operated in Keighley without drawing any undue attention for the best part of two decades, from bases at 14 Parkwood Street prior to its demolition in 1881 and subsequently Lund’s home addresses, 190 Spring Gardens Lane and Fern Cottage on Highfield Lane. However, in the late 1880s, Lund and his organisation found themselves under attack on two fronts, attracting opposition from both the pious local authorities and rival camps in the Western Hermetic Tradition itself.

Lund’s troubles began in June 1887 with the first of several prosecutions related to his astrological services. It is uncertain why his activities provoked quite such ire from the authorities, especially as other astrologers advertised in the local press and practiced without hindrance in neighbouring towns. However, they were clearly willing to go to great lengths to indict Lund, as their first move against him would now be regarded as entrapment, with the police superintendent commissioning a horoscope under the false name, John Feather. Bizarrely, Lund was charged under the Vagrancy Act and fined £3 plus costs.

Lund and his society found themselves under further scrutiny, this time from fellow travellers, when a letter appeared in an 1889 edition of Lucifer, the journal of the Theosophical Society. Signed “One who has been duped” it protested, “They profess to be in the possession of much knowledge which they cannot give to the student, until he has attained to their state, and this knowledge is copied from books, which they either possess, or borrow or steal, and when they descend to originality it is simply one mass of error and nonsense.” The anonymous “dupe” also accused Lund and his followers of sacrificing goats and consorting with elementals.

It was followed by a letter from Dr. Wynn Westcott, distancing the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn from the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley. Whilst Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia was a well-known name at the time, having been founded in 1865, this was the first time the title of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had appeared in the public domain. It had only been founded that year by Westcott and Samuel MacGregor Mathers, originally as an offshoot of the SRIA, which unlike its parent organisation would permit non-Christians, non-Freemasons and women to be members.

Lund replied to defend his organisation, but the correspondence rapidly degenerated into a slanging match between Lund, Westcott, Mathers and the “One who has been duped”. The London adepts were given succour by an editorial in Lucifer by the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky herself in which she refers to Yorkshire as “overrun by fraudulent astrologers and fortune tellers who pretend to be Theosophists… (and) swindle a higher class of credulous patrons”. This was surely aimed at Lund, who had once been a member of the Theosophical Society and who had been so recently prosecuted.

Surviving issues of Lamp of Thoth have impressed modern occultists with their learning and so it must be concluded that the accusations brought against the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley were a naked attempt to discredit the society and promote the newly established Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in its stead. It was a successful ruse, for whilst the slanders may have been unfounded, they clearly took their toll on either Lund’s enthusiasm or the society’s membership, as Lamp of Thoth ceased publication around the same time.

Needless to say, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with its compelling synthesis of Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, Enochian magic, alchemy and mysticism, went on to become one of the most significant forces in the Victorian occult revival, wielding an influence on culture and alternative spirituality which persisted through the Twentieth Century. Its membership at one time or another included such illustrious figures as W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, Algernon Blackwood, A.E. Waite, Arthur Machen, Maud Gonne, Florence Farr, Evelyn Underhill, William Sharp and Allan Bennett.

On 10th June 1888, the Order appointed Baildon watchmaker T.H. Pattinson, under his occult name of the Very Honoured Frater Vota Vita Mea, as Provincial Hierophant of Yorkshire Members and charged him to seek out potential members in the region. Pattinson was similarly a Freemason and member of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, having joined that order in Halifax on 16th November 1887. His demonstrable esoteric interests suggest that he may also have been a member of the Society of the Dew and Light and there has even been speculation that Pattinson was the true identity of the mysterious “One who has been duped” in the Lucifer correspondence.

Pattinson had greatly impressed many of the London adepts. Some years earlier, Reverend William Ayton, a noted authority on alchemy who was to become one of the first initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had commented following a meeting with the watchmaker "From what I then saw of the strong proclivities of Yorkshiremen for Occultism, I had the greatest desire to organise a Lodge somewhere in this neighbourhood for the carrying on the study of it." He would later describe Pattinson and other members of the Yorkshire SRIA lodge as "men who really know something."

Meanwhile, A.E. Waite felt that Pattinson was not "one who made up spectacles" and evidence of this cautious, sober approach can be seen in a letter Pattinson wrote to Westcott on 20th June 1888, entreating him not to accept candidates for the Order too readily, citing an astral vision from the "Crowned One" in support. This advice was readily accepted and Mathers transcribed Pattinson's purported vision, adding embellishments of his own. It was subsequently the Order's policy to refuse all initial requests for membership and advise an applicant to try again in six months time, in an attempt to deter dabblers and dilettantes.

The Bradford Horus Temple was subsequently established on 10th October 1888 in rooms at the now-demolished Alexandra Hotel in Great Horton Road (the manager of which, Carlos Faro was a member) and consecrated by Mathers himself on 19th October. Pattinson was appointed as Imperator, with F.D. Harrison and J. Leech Atherson as Praemonstrator and Sub-Praemonstrator, a tripartite division of responsibility which obtained for each Golden Dawn temple, borrowed from the structure of Masonic lodges.

However, whilst his erstwhile competitors flourished, further trouble was in store for David Lund. In May 1890 he was once again convicted for the practice of astrology, this time on charges of purporting to be a fortune teller and deceiving Her Majesty’s subjects. It is said that the police were forced to consult a local antiquarian society to ascertain legislation under which he could be prosecuted. Two of Lund’s clients, Lily Wrigley and Annie Stott testified against him and despite receiving support from the Keighley Herald, he was sentenced to spend a month in the notorious Armley Jail near Leeds.

Lund was apparently the first Theosophist to be incarcerated at Armley, which attracted a great deal of interest from the prison chaplain. However, the astrologer would later remark that as a tee-total vegetarian, he did not find his tenure there especially arduous. Following his release, he returned to his single-storey residence at Fern Cottage and lived a solitary, hermitic existence whilst continuing to practice astrology until his death in January 1903 at the age of 63.

Meanwhile in Bradford, as the occult revival progressed through the 1890s, the adepts of the Horus Temple were not immune from factionalism and infighting of their own. This situation was not uncommon in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at large, which despite aiming at higher modes of being apparently could not escape the petty politics of the human sphere and was frequently riven by internecine squabbles, a tendency that would ultimately prove its undoing.

In 1892, a quarrel broke out between Pattinson and other members of the Horus Temple, including one the three chiefs, Francis Harrison, who were seeking to introduce a Theosophical element into the rituals. Annie Horniman, a renowned London theatre manager and Sub-Praemonstratrix of the capital’s Iris Urania Temple (not to mention Mathers’ primary financier in this period), was sent to Bradford on Septmber 25th of that year to rebuke them. Her intervention led to the suspension of Harrison, along with the resignation of two members by the names of Oliver and Florence Firth.

The report Horniman submitted to Mathers giving an account of the meeting suggests that it had rapidly descended into farce. Whilst Oliver Firth may have been described by Colonel Henry Olcott, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, as "that joyous-hearted, keen-brained friend", he was clearly not the most diplomatic of individuals. Horniman complained that "Instead of expressing penitence (Firth) gloried in doing as he felt inclined in the Temple, and said he would laugh there if he chose, even if turned out for so doing... Such a speech is bad enough in itself, but being made before Neophytes and other low grade Fratres and Sorores is destructive to their discipline."

Specific transgressions by Firth mentioned by Horniman included referring to astrology as "mere divination", showing "a rebellious wish to pick and choose his subjects of study", refusing to wear "the sash of his grade in the Temple because of its similarity to Freemasonry" and "speaking disrespectfully of our ceremonies". Moreover, "when requested by the Hierophant to act as auditor he refused rudely and disrespectfully and sitting down suddenly he exclaimed 'I shan't!'" A recently admitted neophyte had also complained of a "want of reverence on the part of some of the spectators at his Initiation" and "said how it lost in solemnity".

Meanwhile, F.D. Harrison, despite being one of the founding members of the Horus Temple, was similarly insubordinate. He "sat in a lower place than his 3=8 grade allows and was source of or a party to an unquietness during the 0=0 ceremony," "referred in a most disrespectful way to both communications read that day in open Temple" and spoke "as if the Ceremonies were only foolish mummeries in his eyes". Perhaps most revealing in terms of the light it throws on the attitudes of the "Yorkshire Chelas" is Harrison's reference to the expulsion of Theresa Jane O'Connell following a dispute with Mina Mathers as "a mere squabble between two women".

The Horus Temple members were far from happy with Horniman's intervention, particularly resenting interference from a female. Although women were permitted in the Golden Dawn, due to Mathers’ belief in their mediumistic abilities, the Bradford members' background in the male-only environment of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry seems to have left them uncomfortable with women performing any substantive role. Pattinson's own wife may have been the first female member of the Horus Temple but she never rose beyond the lowly grade of Zelator, suggesting that her participation was merely the result of taking an interest in her husbands activities and that neither party was unduly committed to the arrangement.

Their distinctly unenlightened attitude in matters of gender politics has led one commentator to dismiss the Horus Temple as "good old boys" and it is a far cry from the progressive outlook of the London temple. Yet despite the attitude demonstrated by Harrison above, he went on to be influential in the determinedly unisex Order of Universal Co-Freemasonry in Great Britain, founded by Annie Besant, Madame Blavatsky's successor as President of the Theosophical Society, in 1902. By contrast, Pattinson would only retreat further back into male-chauvinism, as his subsequent career attests.

The expulsion of Harrison left a gap in the Horus Temple’s ruling triumvirate, and his authority undermined, Pattinson decided to temporarily stand down from his principle role. This forced Dr. Wynn Westcott to adopt the position of Imperator and on November 2nd he circulated a letter to Bradford members informing them of his decision to “take charge of the Temple until it has once more its Three Chiefs”. Members were summoned to attend a meeting on November 13th at which he further explained the reasons for what the Bradford adepts clearly regarded as interference and apparently delivered a "stirring address".

However, the strife continued, with some members reported as still being in contact with Harrison and Firth, causing Mathers himself to travel to Bradford from his new home in Paris in March 1893 in an attempt to mediate. He threatened the Temple with suspension if members did not cease communicating details of their activities to the expelled individuals. However, he also tried to emphasise that members of the Golden Dawn and Theosophical Society should not regard themselves as being in conflict and went on to reaffirm the "solemnity to be observed in the Ceremonies" and "the humility and self-denial necessary in every true occultist."

The doctrinal differences which instigated this controversy seem remarkably involved. After all, whilst Pattinson may have been opposed to Theosophical ideas infiltrating the Rosicrucian ethos of the Golden Dawn, he was clearly not entirely averse to that philosophy in general as he is recorded as one of the first members of the Bradford Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1891 and attended the funeral of Madame Blavatsky in May of the same year. Nor does he appear to have had any issue with Eastern doctrine influencing the Western Hermetic tradition, as illustrated by his later interests.

In Spring 1897, Dr. Wynn Westcott was forced to resign from his role as Chief Adept in Anglia under pressure from within the English political establishment which regarded such high-profile association with occultism as inappropriate for a Crown Coroner. His successor was the formidable Florence Farr, an actress and close ally of W.B. Yeats, who had already held the position of Praemonstratrix of the Isis-Urania Temple for some while. With Mathers still firmly ensconced in Paris, she was now essentially responsible the day-to-day running of the Golden Dawn.

However, her ascension was not universally accepted. Farr was rather severe in her authority and uncompromising when it came to the minutiae of ceremony and in 1897 she harshly reprimanded a member by the name of Frederick Leigh Gardner for his inappropriate attitude towards the Order’s hierarchy and ritual. Gardner wrote to Mathers to complain, but despite Gardner’s financial influence he refused to undermine Farr’s position and instead, suggested that Gardner transfer from the Isis-Urania Temple to the Horus Temple as a corresponding member.

Gardner evidently found a sympathetic reception from the Horus Temple and in a letter to him dated 16th February 1898, Pattinson states “All the Horus fellows agree that they could not conform in any way to such treatment or pander to its dogmatic control… No petticoat government will do for us…” Pattinson subsequently wrote to Mathers in Paris petitioning him to assume direct control of the Horus Temple and so release them from Farr’s control, insisting that “common sense and good fellowship” were held in higher esteem by Bradford members than ceremonial hierarchies. Pattinson records that Mathers "seems to regard it as a compliment".

Yet although Pattinson clearly believed him to be a better option than Florence Farr, he does not seem to have been especially enamoured of Mathers either and wrote to Gardner "You have no need to fear Mathers getting the top end of the Horus Temple chaps". This attitude may be partly explained as loyalty to Dr. Wynn Westcott, whose friendship with Pattinson preceded the Golden Dawn. When, in February 1900, an increasingly paranoid Mathers accused Wescott of having forged the Anna Sprengel letters upon which the Golden Dawn was founded, Pattinson sympathies clearly lay with Westcott.

Following Mathers' accusations, Westcott sought affidavits affirming his good character and Pattinson complied, writing "I consider Mr. Mathers' mental state to be a peculiar one because he now claims the name of MacGregor to which he was not born and also considers himself to be... Jacobite nobility to which he never hinted any claim during the years when I saw most of him... On the other hand, Dr. Westcott always was and still is, a clear headed man of business and an earnest literary student, of whose character no suspicion has ever been raised in the presence of myself or of my associates, except by this Mr. Mathers aforesaid."

However, by the end of 1900, there were clearly rumblings of discontent in the Horus ranks, the temple acting as a microcosm of the wider disquiet in the Order. In a letter dated October 6th of that year, the three chiefs of the Horus Temple circulated a letter to members explaining how efforts to "take a room in Bradford to be used as a head centre for the development of such occult projects... especially for the promotion of advanced study" were thwarted by an "undercurrent... not in accordance with that harmonious and confident zeal which has been so characteristic of the Horus brotherhood in the past."

Whilst the Horus Temple endured until at least 1902, briefly surviving the 1900 schism which marked the end of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as a movement of any consequence, the uncertainty during this period clearly left Pattinson further disillusioned. In its stead, he began to transfer his enthusiasm to a Higher Degree of Freemasonry which styled itself the August Order of Light, Otherwise Called the Mysteries of Perfection of Sikha (Apex) and of the Ekata (Unity).

The Order had been founded in 1881 by Dr. Maurice Vidal Portman, one-time governor of the Anderman Islands. It was rooted in Hindu mysticism and the Royal Oriental Order of Sat B’hai, the only other Eastern influenced philosophy in Freemasonry, and which slightly predated Portman’s teaching. Such “Orders Beyond the Craft” were only open to master masons and thus inevitably, women were excluded from membership. Pattinson’s interest represents a retrenchment into his Masonic roots and given the Eastern character of the order, it seems to corroborate the notion that Orientalism was not the aspect of Theosophy to which he had objected in 1892.

Dr. Portman retired from Freemasonry in 1900 through dissatisfaction with many of its strictures and passed control of the August Order of Light to Pattinson. Pattinson and Dr. B.E.J. Edwards, Praemostrator of the Horus Temple, revised the rituals and with themselves as Arch-Presidents of the Order or “Guardians of the Light”, established the Garuda Temple in Bradford in the cellar rooms of a pub at 81 Kings Parade in 1902. Sixteen members of the former Horus Temple were in attendance at the inaugural meeting.

As an offshoot of the more stable Freemasons, the August Order of Light persisted for a much longer period than the Golden Dawn and indeed, it still exists today. However, its most active phase appears to have been during the early part of the Twentieth Century when its membership stood at around fifty. One of the Guardians of Light during this period was Sir John Arthur Godwin, who between 1906 and 1907 was the first Mayor of the newly incorporated City of Bradford, whilst a Memorial Book published in 1924 upon the death of Dr. B.E.J. Edwards counted Rudyard Kipling amongst its subscribers.

In 1939, the Order leased the two upper floors of a building at 52 Godwin Street, as they required a location in which they could install electric lighting. The lower storey was employed as a “clubhouse”, whilst the windowless attic room was decorated as a temple, by millworkers supplied by the Shipley industrialist Henry Williamson. Recollections from long-term member Andrew Stephenson and sign-writer Harry Fryer, who was employed to retouch the temple murals in the 1950s, indicate the room possessed a throne and ornate pillars, whilst representations of Egyptian deities and occult symbols adorned the walls and carpet.

During the late 1960s, Bradford City Council discussed plans for the complete redevelopment of the city centre and began to issue compulsory purchase orders to many buildings in the district. Faced with eviction and a dwindling, aging membership, the August Order of Light decided to abandon their Godwin Street premises and in 1971 established two new temples in London and York (the latter of which would subsequently move to Halifax), finally bringing to a close the continuity of occult tradition in Bradford.

In a curious postscript, the Godwin Street temple was uncovered in October 1983 by new owners Cindy and Salvo Illardi, who had converted the building into Gobbles restaurant. Whilst renovating the attic room, they revealed old wall-paintings depicting Horus and the sun setting over the sea, along with a ceremonial oath inscribed above the doorway. The discovery caused a certain sensation in the local press, and despite it only being twelve years since the temple had been abandoned, the work was heralded as belonging to the original Golden Dawn Horus Temple. There was even talk of preserving it as an occult museum.

However, the truth finally emerged when Harry Fryer and his colleague Malcolm Brook contacted the newspapers to reveal that they had worked on the temple during the 1950s. The initial identification of the site as the Horus Temple appears to have come from Chris Bray, proprietor of the Leeds-based occult supply shop Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Bray was also responsible for publishing an occult journal at the time which borrowed its name from David Lund’s Lamp of Thoth and reprinted some of the original articles, alongside more modern treatises on ritual and chaos magick, bringing West Yorkshire’s esoteric history full circle.

Blavatsky, H.P. (Ed.) "
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Vol. IV (March to August 1889)"
Bradford Star, 3rd November 1983, "Temple of mystery"
Bradford Star, 10th November 1983, "Temple find just magic"
Bradford Star, 17th November 1983, "Temple is no mystery"
Bradford Star, 24th November 1983, "Signwriter's brush with Horus horror"
Campbell, Marie "Curious Tales of Old West Yorkshire" (1999)
Campbell, Marie "Strange World of the Brontes" (2001)
Gilbert, R.A. "Revelations of the Golden Dawn" (1997)
Greer, Mary "Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses" (1996)
Greer, Mary & Kuntz, Darcy "The Chronology of the Golden Dawn" (1999)
Haigh, Mike "Esoteric Keighley" (19??)
Hanson, Malcolm "Keighley's Darkest Secrets" (2009)
Howe, Ellic (Ed.) "Magicians of the Golden Dawn: Documentary History of a Magical Order" (1978)
Howe, Ellic (Ed.) "The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: Letters of the Rev. William Ayton" (1985)
Lofthouse, Jessica "North Country Folklore" (1976)
Owen, Alex "The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism & the Culture of the Modern" (2004)
Stephenson, Andrew B. "The History and Work of the August Order of Light" (1992)
Telegraph & Argus, 12th November 1983, "That occult tale is bunkum"


Anonymous said...

Hello, I am trying to find information on Daniel Murgatroyd and his later descendant "David"- you have mentioned a work by Marie Campbell that mentioned Daniel- do you happen to remember the title to this work?

Anonymous said...

The August order of Light continues to thos day in Halifax, London, Melbourne and Adelaide. New Temples are planned for the USA in 2013 and India 2015. Membership is over 100 and its members include some of the the most prominent esoteric Masons. The Halifax Temple was refurbished and rededicated in 2011. See

Kai Roberts said...

Thanks for your comment on the August Order of Light. I don't suppose it's any use asking if the Order has an historical archives and if they might allow non-members to consult them for academic purposes?