sword of wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and ‘the golden dawn’Following the discovery of the so-called cipher manuscript in 1887, a number of freemasons with occult interests invited a young occultist, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, to expand the material in the manuscript into rituals and ceremonies that could be performed. A Temple - the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – was established for this purpose. In a short time, the Order became one of the greatest and most comprehensive repositories of magical knowledge in modern Europe. In a sort of hermetic collage, Mathers produced in the Golden Dawn, an Order that was extraordinarily eclectic, embracing Christian mysticism, Eastern religions, Paganism, Western magical traditions and the myths of ancient Egypt. It is a monument to syncretism; an attempt to make a harmonious whole out of fragments, each of which contains within it hidden aspects of a greater truth. Colquhoun’s book defies easy categorisation. Ostensibly it is a biography of Mathers, but a work limited in scope to biography alone would have been very short as so little is known about him. It is interesting that a man living in the comparatively recent past and who made such an impact on modern occultism should have left so few personal traces. The book includes a detailed history of the Golden Dawn and contains membership lists of the various temples that were affiliated to the Order and its offshoots. It is a work of considerable scholarship and historical reconstruction, yet it also has room for many personal asides about her art as well as a long section of autobiography in which she describes some of her own contacts with occult orders and with the personalities she encountered. She is discrete about some matters, but uninhibited about others. The final section of the book summarizes some of the important elements of Golden Dawn teaching. These include what she terms Magia, Enochiana, Alchemia and Tantra. They reveal the depth and breadth of her knowledge of the esoteric traditions of both East and West.Although some of her facts have been questioned, Colquhoun’s book remains of value to historians whose interest in the Golden Dawn lie in it as a social phenomenon, to devotees of ceremonial magical who seek enlightenment through its rituals and teachings and to those whose main concern lies with the historical figures who, at one time or another, were initiated into the Order. These include W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, Annie Horniman, Allan Bennett and Florence Farr. A learned, but eccentric, writer, the fact that Colquhoun places great reliance on insight, intuition and presentiment will irritate those scientific readers who value evidence and objectivity. She is, however, to be judged within her own frame of reference. Hers is not the world of the peer-reviewed scientific paper but of gnosis and the magical Grimoire. She is reporting on subjective truth, not making contributions to an academic body of knowledge.