Who was Fräulein Sprengel? New evidence on the origin of the Golden Dawn, or: “Vale Soror! Ave Frater!”

"Sapiens Dominabitur Astris". From 17th century emblem, by George Wither, A collection of emblemes.

In the history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the supremely most influential esoteric and magical orders in modern occultism, the question of origins has been a matter of much dispute. This is, of course, a common story for esoteric orders, or even for religious movements more broadly. If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that their founders and their followers will tend to invent mythologies, lineages, and exotic provenances to bolster their group’s sense of importance.

In the case of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1887 by a group of London based high degree Freemasons and occultists, the emic historiography has centred upon a claim to Rosicrucian lineage. The direct link was a mysterious Fräulein Sprengel of Stuttgart, also known under her magical motto Sapiens Dominabitur Astris (“the wise will rule the stars”). The evidence for this lineage was a letter communication between Sprengel and the G.D. co-founder, coroner William Wynn Westcott, which ostensibly ensued after Westcott found her address on a sheet of paper tucked together with the mysterious “cipher manuscript” on which the G.D. rituals would later be based (for the uninitiated: there’s a brief overview of the controversy around them on Wikipedia). The notorious “Sprengel letters” that ensued, and the possible background of the order have been discussed for decades by scholars such as Elic Howe and Robert A. Gilbert – the general consensus being that the letters were forged and Sprengel a fiction. In the latest issue of Aries, Christopher McIntosh publishes brand new evidence in this mystery, evidence which has been there all along but curiously overlooked by all previous investigators.

The discovery is surprising, and makes an already confusing story even more so.

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Aries 11.2 – new articles and book reviews in the field of esotericism

The autumn edition of Aries has just been released. This issue’s research articles deal with topics as diverse as “New Age Christianity” in Italy (Francesco Baroni), 19th century physics as context for occultism (yours truly), a report on a 15th century Christian text on magic (Damaris Gehr), and an article on Max Théon, Sri Aurobindo and “the Mother” (Peter Heehs). Perhaps the most interesting to many readers of Heterodoxology will be Christopher McIntosh’s short article, which announces a surprising discovery concerning the enigmatic “Fräulein Sprengel” and the origins of the Golden Dawn.

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