William Wynn Westcott and the Esoteric School of Masonic Research



(19 February 1987)



In 1931, ON THE occasion of his Installation as W. M. of this Lodge, Bro W. J. Williams gave as his Inaugural Address an account of The Contributions of Former Members, outlining the work of twenty-two members of the Lodge.  Three years later Bro. W. J. Songhurst chose as the subject of his Inaugural Address, Publications of the Lodge and its Founders. Before he delivered the Address he sent a copy to his friend, and predecessor as W. M., David Flather, asking for an informed opinion. Flather made the following suggestion:

In addition to your references to the work of the Founders & others – would it not be useful – especially having in mind the need to encourage workers of today, to make reference to some of the more recent (deceased) Brethren who have carried on the work so splendidly initiated by the Founders – as for example, Watson, Thorp, Tuckett, Wonnacott, Hextall, Daynes &c.[1]


The suggestion was not taken up, but it is instructive to note that neither in Flather’s letter nor in the two Inaugural Addresses is there any mention of one of the earliest joining members, one who maintained a prodigious literary output throughout his masonic career and who read six papers before the Lodge.

That member was Dr. William Wynn Westcott, the omission of whose name from the list of distinguished masonic researchers seems, on the surface, decidedly odd. There is, however, a simple explanation. By 1931 the majority of masonic historians had come to look upon Westcott, and the school of research that he represented, as lying beyond the pale of accepted and acceptable masonic scholarship. To determine whether or not this dismissive view of Westcott and all his works – a view which still prevails – is justified, we must examine not only Westcott’s career but also his beliefs and aims, and their effect upon others.

 Westcott: The Man

Westcott was effectively born to medicine. His father, Dr. Peter Westcott, had a practice at Oundle in Northamptonshire, but moved to Leamington Spa where William, an only child, was born on 17 December, 1848. His early life can be summarised in his own words, for in 1875 he applied for admission to an un-named ‘Mystic Order’ (possibly the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia), and was asked to state ‘all you care to reveal of your past life’. He wrote:[2]

I hardly know anything of interest to reveal. Both parents died before I was ten years old & I was left to the care of my half uncle, an elderly Bachelor Surgeon, to whose practice I have succeeded.


Westcott’s description of his education was brief.

Educated at Grammar School, Kingston-on-Thames and University College London. Languages – English, French and have some knowledge of Latin & Greek. Diplomas are Lic[entiate of the] Soc[iety of] Apothecaries, Member of College of Surgeons, England, and Degree, Bachelor of Medicine of University of London


Richard Westcott Martyn, the half-uncle, was in practice at Martock in Somerset, where his nephew joined him after obtaining his M.B. Degree, in November 1871, and soon became a prominent citizen.

Within a year of my beginning practice in this country town, I was appointed a Manager of the National Schools, & Representative at Diocesan Conferences – also Manager of our Fire Brigade &cet, shewing that I take an interest in the public good of my town. In medical practice I have no mishap.

Later, he was appointed, successively, Factory Surgeon, Public Vaccinator and Medical Officer of Health; and, as an early recognition of his administrative skill, Quartermaster to a Battalion of Volunteers. As to his social life and attitudes, he was, he said:

A conservative Liberal in politics, and in social life giving less appreciation to Birth than many others; believing that Education, Morality and culture give as high standing as the accidental advantage of Birth or fortune.... I am a Member of the Church of England. As to amusements I prefer scientific ones such as Chess; or Billiards which I play a little. And when I say that I abhor betting, sensuality & excess in liquor, I think I have mentioned all that may be necessary,


He did not, apparently, think it necessary to point out that he was a family man – he had married Elizabeth Burnett on 18 February, 1873 – with a son and a daughter. A third child was born in 1877 and it may have been the demands of an increasing family that led Westcott to move to London in 1879. Here he ‘went into retirement at Hendon for two years, which were entirely devoted to the study of the Kabalistic philosophy, the works of the Hermetic writers, and the remains of the Alchymists and Rosicrucians’. (Obituary in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 38, 1925, p. 224).

On emerging from this ‘retirement’ – during which a third daughter was born[3], a reflection perhaps of the fact that the Kabalistic philosophy includes a ‘mystery of sex’ – Westcott worked with W. H. Martindale on The extra Pharmacopoeia of Unofficial Drugs (11th edition, 1883) and was appointed, in 1881, to the post of Deputy Coroner for Central Middlesex and Central London.

Westcott was a dedicated physician and public servant: in 1885 he produced an important study of suicide (A Social Science Treatise: Suicide, H. K. Lewis, 1885); he took his Diploma in Public Health in 1892, and in May 1894 he was appointed Coroner for North-East London, a post he retained until his retirement in 1918. His private life, however, was beset by tragedy. In the course of one year, 1906 to 1907, both of his sons died, and in 1918 his second daughter committed suicide. Following this tragic death Westcott wrote to his friend F. L. Gardner[4] ‘We are thinking of emigrating to Natal in the Autumn for good and all, as we now have no relatives in England & over there we should have Lilian Gee [his daughter] & her husband and their two children’ (Letter of 2 February 1919). He sailed for South Africa on 20 March 1920, but he does not seem to have been happy in his retirement, overshadowed as it was by the deaths of his wife (in August, 1921) and daughter (in February 1924). Westcott himself died of Bright’s disease, from which he had suffered for some years, on 30 July 1925. Writing to Gardner shortly afterwards, Westcott’s surviving daughter, Ida, described his burial at Stamford Hill Cemetery, Durban: ‘The Masons gave him a grand Masonic funeral with full honours & he lies in a lovely sunny spot facing the sea’. (Letter of 3 August 1925).

 Westcott's Masonic Career

South African masons were not alone in honouring Westcott. The Freemason praised him as ‘no mere dilletantist, but a thorough and judicious investigator’ (Issue of 8 August 1925, p. 87), while the obituary in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum – anonymous but almost certainly written by W. J. Songhurst – described him as ‘an active mason and a disseminator of light’ and added, in somewhat grandiloquent manner, ‘The figure of this great Mason has been so long a pattern for imitation to so many of us that his departure may be likened to the sudden vanishing of a bright star from the firmament’. (p. 225) Westcott himself would doubtless have been more modest, but his masonic career was certainly a long one.

William Wynn Westcott was initiated in the Parrett and Axe Lodge, No. 814 at Crewkerne, on 24 October 1871, becoming Master of the Lodge in 1877. He later joined Brotherly Love Lodge No. 329 at Yeovil and was exalted in its associated Royal Arch Chapter on 3 April 1873. Early in his masonic career, probably at Yeovil, Westcott met F. G. Irwin – whom A. E. Waite described as ‘a zealous and amiable Mason with a passion for Rites and an ambition to add to their number[5]’ – and at Irwin’s instigation was advanced in the William de Irwin Mark Lodge, No. 162 at Yeovil, and entered the Ancient R Accepted Rite, being Perfected in the Alfred Chapter No. 13, at Taunton. It would serve no useful purpose to list here Westcott’s other affiliations among the more orthodox additional Degrees (the details are given in Appendix A), but the more exotic byways ‘beyond the Craft’ are another matter. Westcott was as enthusiastic as Irwin over these, for he enjoyed working the rituals – he had told Irwin, in 1875, that ‘as a Freemason I prefer the ceremonies and try to limit the banquetting’ – and his activities within these Orders and Rites shed no little light on his attitude towards Freemasonry in general.

He joined the Rite of Swedenborg, presumably encouraged by Irwin, soon after the granting of its first English Charter in July, 1876. This Rite had no connection with Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) the Swedish visionary, having been founded in the U.S.A. in 1859 and then exported to Canada, from where the English Charter of 1876 was issued – to John Yarker, Samuel Petty Leather and F. G. Irwin. In January, 1877 Westcott wrote to Benjamin Cox, Irwin’s close friend and ‘Provincial Grand Secretary, pro. tem.’ of the Rite, to thank him ‘for the news in regard to my post’, and to advise him that ‘I think Bro. Woodford will help us willingly’. (Letter of 30 January, 1877). The post was that of Senior Warden designate in Emmanuel Lodge and Temple No. 1 of the Swedenborgian Rite, at Weston-super-Mare, and Westcott was due to take office on 30 May. The whole affair seems to have been organised rather hastily, for at the May meeting (according to the Summons) Dr. F. H. Woodford was not only to be initiated (into the Swedenborgian Rite, that is; he was already a Master Mason) but to take office as Junior Warden. There was thus some urgency to Westcott’s request in his January letter: ‘Where can I get hold of a Ritual of Sweden. – Irwin had lent his when I asked him’.

It is doubtful whether many meetings of Emmanuel Lodge were held at Weston-super-Mare, for the Rite made virtually no progress and was clearly moribund by 1886 when Westcott (then in London) wrote to Irwin to say that ‘Yarker and I are now trying to revive Swedenborg Rite, would you care to assist again?’ (Letter of 2 September 1886). The attempted revival failed, but Westcott persisted, attained the ranks of Grand Senior Warden and Supreme Grand Secretary and in 1902 recruited both A. E. Waite and Theodor Reuss to the Rite[6].  He admitted to Reuss that he ‘liked the rituals & took office as it was offered, but I was not behind the scenes when it was introduced, & know no more than I first told you – when I said it was never popular here’. (Letter of 27 June 1902). In a postscript to the same letter he added:

My private opinion is that an American wrote it about 1870 & founded it in Canada – but I have no proof of this. It is a good Ritual whoever wrote it & I am glad to have it, but I don’t guarantee any history of it. You must take it for what it is worth & its 25 years known history in England.


He may have liked the rituals but he recognised that they were unwieldy and warned Waite of their ‘prohibitive length’ when the latter borrowed a copy for transcription. Referring to the loan in his private diary, Waite used the occasion to comment on Westcott:

He is a man whom you may ask by chance concerning some almost nameless Rite and it proves very shortly that he is either its British custodian or the holder of some high if inoperative office therein[7].


To some extent this comment was just, but Westcott did not succeed in every Rite that he joined. In 1878 he complained to Irwin:

The Rite of Apex received my fee & I have never had anything from it, but 2 little pamphlets. I have seen in The Freemason that there have been meetings, but I have never been informed of them: so that I feel rather inclined to resign any share in the very dead alive Order[8].


Even though disillusioned he does not seem to have resigned, for in 1886, when writing to him about the Swedenborg Rite, he asked Irwin:

How about the Apex, and Sat Bhai, I was made a Courier, and never had any communication from the order offered to me since. Mrs. Mackenzie tells me there is a fine Ritual, but I have never seen it. I should be much obliged if you would give me some information on these matters. Mrs. Mackenzie also in an oracular manner, said she knew why I had been passed over, but decline to tell. Can you solve the Mystery?, when you have leisure. (Letter of 2 September 1886).


The most probable reason for Westcott having been ‘passed over’ is that the Order, in its original form, had become moribund; if Irwin ever offered a more sinister explanation it has not survived.

Westcott was more successful with the Royal Order of Knights of Eri and Red Branch Knights of Ulster, to which he was admitted in 1880 by Irwin, who had apparently acquired rhe Order in 1858 from an American sea-captain. Its early history is recorded briefly in Westcott’s manuscript ‘Notes’ on the Order[9].

1858. F. G, Irwin, W. M. of the Inhabitants Lodge, 153, Gibraltar recd. Kthood. & Ritual from James O’Donnell. He admitted no-one' until 1872 & then altogether Chas. Scott of Omagh; John Yarker; McLeod Moore; G. C. Longley, J. K. Fletcher, V(incent) Bird, Ben. Cox, H. F. Irwin [his son]. 1880. Westcott.


Elsewhere, in an undated note to David Flather, Westcott refers to Irwin’s work on the ritual ot the Order. Irwin, he said, also:

produced the Ritual I had & Yarker had & which our Freemasons’ Hall now has in 4 little mss. vols. in Irwin’s handwriting – but there is no copy in O’Donnell’s writing & so far as I know there never was.


By 1886 the Order was in Yarker’s hands and he sent Westcott ‘a Warrant to hold meetirigs and admit Knights and Commanders’. Yarker, however, lost interest in the Order and in 1898 he ‘offered Westcott the chiefship which Westcott declined’ (as, in the following year, did the Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees to whom he had also offered it).

The Order then remained largely inactive until 1917 when Westcott was asked by Frederick Schnitger of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to revive and reorganise it. Westcott responded enthusiastically, drafting a new Constitution, revising the ritual and emphasising his own seniority: in a letter to Flather he stated bluntly ‘anyhow, no one can dispute my supremacy’ (Letter of 9 April 1917). No-one did and by 1919 Westcott was both Senior Knight Grand Cross of Eri and Grand Master of the Order. But Westcott was no mere hunter of Degrees: his correspondence with Schnitger over the reorganisation of the Order shows both his pragmatism and his scepticism about the ‘traditional’ history. In 1919, in the course of writing about ancient Irish history, he told Schnitger:

No one thinks of disputing your learning, but we have to think of practical policy and the means to gain approval and success of the Order as a living Knighthood of today. (Letter of 8 September 1919).


This was a diplomatic way of telling Schnitger to be less fanciful. In a previous letter Westcott had complained that:

the whole affair is too much hampered by crosses, jewels, sashes etc. – all expensive and useless. A Kt. should only have to purchase a single special cross. (Letter of 7 September 1919).


Which point was duly taken, for a tri-coloured sash & a ‘single special cross’ today constitute the regalia worn by ordinary members of the Order. (According to Keith Jackson, Beyond the Craft, 1980, ‘The jewel of the order is a gilt metal Celtic cross in red enamel, encircled by a ‘rayed’ band in green enamel’ (p. 83)).

 The Rosicrucian Mason

Westcott’s enthusiasm for the Order of Eri stemmed in large part from the fact of its members being drawn from the ranks of another body which was to become the centre of his entire masonic career; the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.

Soon after his admission to the Rite of Swedenborg Westcott wrote to Irwin to ask ‘will you let me know, where there is a meeting of the Rosicrucian Soc. in this county, no hurry.’ (Letter of 26 December 1876). Irwin evidently took him at his word and Westcott heard no more of the Rosicrucians until January 1880, when he wrote to Irwin from Hendon with the request; ‘Would you give me a letter of introduction to Bro. Levander, or Woodman. I want to join the Rosicrucians, in London?’ (Letter of 7 January 1880).

On this occasion the reply was evidently swift. Westcott was admitted as a Zelator in the Society’s Metropolitan College on 15 April 1880, and he entered the Second Order on 12 December 1881. As might be expected of one who had newly emerged from two years of esoteric retirement, he threw himself wholeheartedly into Rosicrucianism, and his energy was rewarded in 1883 by his election as Secretary General of the Society. But what was the Rosicrucianism that he now espoused?

         The Society’s aims were then, as they are substantially now; to afford mutual aid and encouragement in working out the great problems of Life, and in discovering the Secrets of Nature; to facilitate the study of the system of Philosophy founded upon the Kabalah and the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus, which was inculcated by the original Fratres Rosae Crucis, of Germany, A.D, 1450; and to investigate the meaning and symbolism of all that now remains of the wisdom, art and literature of the ancient world. (Westcott, History of the S.R.I.A., 1900, p. 6).


At the time of Westcott’s admission The Rules and Ordinances of the Rosicrucian Society of England stated:

No aspirant shall be admitted into the Society unless he be a Master Mas6n, and of good moral character, truthful, faithful, and intelligent. He must be a man of good abilities, so as to be capable of understanding the revelations of philosophy and science; possessing a mind free from prejudice and anxious for instruction. He must be a believer in the fundamental principles of the Christian doctrine, a true philanthropist, and a loyal subject. (Rule No. VII. Quoted in The Rosicrucian, No. 1, July 1868, p. 7).


Under all of which conditions Westcott was well qualified – save that he probably anticipated giving instruction rather than receiving it.

Historically, the Society claimed no direct connection with the Rosicrucian Manifestos of the early Seventeenth Century. It had been ‘reconstituted’ on 31 December 1866, on which date the first members – W. J. Hughan and Robert Wentworth Little – were admitted to the Rosicrucian Society in Scotia, itself deriving from an English body that had apparently been active during the 1850s. The first meeting of the ‘reconstituted’ Society was not held, however, until June 1867.

The legendary history of the Society is rather different. It was set out fully by Westcott in his official History, in which he states:

Our records include a letter from the Rev. T. F. Ravenshaw, Grand Chaplain of England, one of the earliest fratres of the Society, confirming much of the historic information which the author received from Dr. Woodman, Woodforde, Mackenzie and Irwin. (p. 7, my italics).


The letter appears to show that Little had derived his Rosicrucian initiation from W. H. White, Grand Secretary from 1810 to 1857, who in turn had derived it from ‘a certain Venetian ambassador to England in the last century’. From a careful reading of the letter it is, however, quite clear that it refers only to the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine. Hut mysterious continental initiation makes for a better tale than simple admission north of the border, and the legend persisted.

One should not, however, blame Westcott too much for its perpetuation. He was loyal to the memory of his informants and saw no reason not to trust them. Nonetheless, the taking of doubtful history upon trust was to be, as we shall see, the cause of great distress to Westcott. 

In 1884 Westcott wrote enthusiastically in answer to an enquiry about the Society:

The Soc. Ros. in Anglia is a successor of the Ros. fraternities of some centuries back. Our Ritual is developed from theirs, and from extant MSS. such as the ‘Geheime figuren der Rosenkreuzer’ of which Freemasons Hall has a copy: several members have also very old & valuable Rosic. treatises.  The Rosicrucians of Bulwer Lytton are fanciful and impossible people – Our type is more Valentine Andrea, Basil Valentine, Jacob Behmen.... Like many modern forms of old Societies we have great difficult in not getting spoiled by members who join without real desire to study the occult[10].

Westcott was clearly anxious to see occult study promoted within the Society: he founded the High Council Library in 1889 and encouraged the practice of reading learned papers at meetings. Most of these papers – including the forty-eight that he delivered himself – were printed in the Transactions of the Metropolitan College from 1885 onwards, but they were the work of all too few of the members. 1889 was also the year of Westcott’s Installation as Celebrant of Metropolitan College, and he urged the members ‘to come forward and offer this very year, essays on Rosicrucian subjects’. He also reminded them that the Masonic character of the Society:

was a new principle engrafted in the design of older societies of the same name. This should not be forgotten, in proposing new members, and in carrying on our work; there is an ample supply of the so-called High Grades for such who desire only an ornamental membership.


And he added, to prevent new and potential members from becoming alarmed at the spectre of obscurantism:

on the other hand we recognize that fratres reading essays before us should equally avoid the abstruse and ultra-mystic tone and subjects fitted only for such as have devoted a large share of a life to such researches. (Transactions of the Metropolitan College, 1889, p. 3).


He then followed this somewhat minatory address in appropriate manner, by delivering a lecture on The Basilisk or Cockatrice.

Nor did he neglect organisation. The efficient running of the Society during his years as Secretary General – which culminated in the founding of a new College at Newcastle in 1890 – coupled with his great learning in esoteric subjects, led to his unanimous election as Supreme Magus on the death of Dr. Woodman in 1891.

Westcott remained Supreme Magus of the Society until his death, but his thirty-four years in office were not without problems. In 1896 he was horrified to learn that he was being presented as ‘the actual chief of the English Luciferians’ in a French anti-masonic monthly publication, Memoires d’une Ex-Palladiste, allegedly written by one ‘Miss Diana Vaughan’. In reality it was the work of a French anti-clerical author, Gabriel Jogand-Pages – better known under his pseudonym of ‘Leo Taxil’, who had invented the allegedly satanic Order of the Palladium with a view to ridiculing the Roman Catholic anti-masonic movement. According to the Memoires, Westcott was ‘the actual custodian of the diabolical rituals of Nick Stone; it is he who is the Supreme Magus of the Socinian Rose-Cross for England’, and ‘Diana Vaughan’ further claimed to have copied all the grade rituals of the S.R.I.A. at Westcott’s home, 396 Camden Road. (Memoires, No. 5, November, 1895, p. 141, and No. 8, February, 1896, p. 247. I have quoted from the English translation in A. E. Waite, Devil-Worship in France, 1896, pp. 279 – 280).

Fortunately for his peace of mind, this ‘gross libel which is at the same time an abominable and cruel falsehood’ (Waite, op. cit., p. 280) was fully exposed for the nonsense it was in A. E. Waite’s Devil Worship in France (1896), to which title Westcott drew the attention of the Society when he:

recommended that the fratres should take no notice of these malicious attacks, and advised every member to refrain from sending any communications to the public journals in regard to these absurd allegations. (Transactions of the Metropolitan College, 1896/97, p. 5).


Westcott disliked publicity, especially if it was likely to cause problems with the masonic authorities – as he made clear to Theodor Reuss after giving him permission to establish a Societas Rosicruciana in Germania early in 1902. Reuss had offered his Illuminati Rite to Westcott, possibly as a quid pro quo, but Westcott told him:

I could not work it here – as a whole, as it stands – chiefly because of the Rose degree – it does not touch my Rosic. Ritual – but large parts of it are nearly word for word with the 18th grade of the Ancient and Accepted Rite – called ‘Prince of Rose Croix’ – This is the most aristocratic and richest body of masons in England. It has 33 grades and I am a 30th. I dare not work your Rose Ritual, because it trespasses so much – I should be sent to Coventry in London. (Letter of 16 October 1902).


Westcott’s tendency to anxiety was noticeable to others. A. E. Waite described him in his diary as ‘a nervous kindly heart’ (Entry of 2 January 1903) but Westcott could act decisively when required to do so. In 1917, faced with unseemly feuding in the Society, Westcott relieved his intemperate Secretary-General, Arthur Cadbury-Jones, of his post and expelled him from the Society. It was undoubtedly the wisest – indeed the only – course of action he could have taken, but it resulted in a vitriolic attack from Cadbury-Jones in the form of a printed, circular Message from the late Secretary-General to the Members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Following his own advice of twenty years before, Westcott chose to ignore it.

Westcott Among the Magicians 

Although in 1903 he had looked on Westcott with affection, A. E. Waite was later to describe him as ‘a dull owl, hooting dolefully among cypresses over tombs of false adepts’ (Shadows of Life and Thought, 1938, p. 124) – a somewhat unkind reference to the occult enthusiasms that Westcott never attempted to hide. In his regular entry in Who’s Who he listed his recreations as ‘Freemasonry; study of Egyptian and Hebrew Antiquities; authority on medieval Rosicrucian, magical and alchemical books’. He appears to have been both unable and unwilling to discriminate clearly between his masonic and his occult activities. His general attitude to things esoteric is expressed in the ‘Address of Welcome’ that he gave at the Jubilee Festival of the S.R.I.A. in 1919. ‘The purpose of this revival of Rosicrucianism in this country was’, he said

to provide for Freemasons a means of instruction in the more recondite meaning and the symbolism of the rituals of Masonic Orders, of the myths of ancient nations, and of the Sacred Mysteries of the past. It was also intended, by mutual efforts, to throw light upon the mystic ideas which lie at the bases of ancient art, sculpture and architecture, as well as to give information regarding the curious theosophic and philosophic systems which have flourished in past times. I refer especially to the Kabalah of the Hebrew Rabbis, to the legendary lore of the Egyptian Pharaohs and the tenets of t.he Gnostics of the early Christian centuries. Lastly, there was the intention to investigate the possibility of increasing the power of intuition and of extending the present human faculties, especially of sight and hearing, with a view of gaining increased powers to be used for benevolent ends. Pubilc Festival of the Society and Metropolitan College, 1919, p. 8).


All of this could apply equally to Westcott’s occult pursuits.

Even in his Martock days occultism had fascinated him, for he had told Irwin:

With regard to Occult Science – I desire knowledge & I am always pleased to obtain information. I know that what is called Mesmerism, is a fact to some extent, & on a few persons I have been able to obtain effects myself; and I believe that when freed from imposture, valuable effects may be produced by it. (Note of 7 March 1875).


Some of the knowledge he desired was acquired, no doubt, during his two year ‘retirement’ at Hendon, but exactly what he studied in 1879 and 1880 is not known. A note of 1895 in John Yarker’s hand (now in The Yarker Library at Maida Vale) refers to ‘the English version of the Order of (Le Philosophe Inconnu) Louis Claude St. Martin in Three Grades ‘Ethical’ Translated by W. W. Westcott 1880/1893 from mss. of 1778’. The note adds that ‘Dr. W. W. Westcott, a member of the Three Grades of the ethical Order of St. Martin, has permission to give them, without fee to anyone he deems suitable’. This is clearly a reference to L’Ordre Martiniste, which was founded in 1884 by the French occultist Papus (Dr. Gerard Encausse) and the rituals of which were produced between 1887 and 1890. If Westcott was translating Martinist texts in 1880 they were unlikely to have been rituals.

It is more probable that he spent not a little of his time at Hendon making the exquisite pen facsimile of The Isiac Tablet of Cardinal Bembo that forms the frontispiece to his book of the same name, issued in 1887. There he says of it:

Many years have now passed away since the author made a labour of love of the drawing of the Tablet from which the photogravure in this volume was taken.... The photogravure... is of course much smaller than the original, which is approximately 50 ins. in length and 30 ins. in breadth. (p. 1).


Unfortunately, the original drawing – which was a remarkable achievement – has since disappeared.

By 1886 Westcott’s unorthodox beliefs had led him to the Hermetic Society, which had been founded in 1884 by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland with the principal aim of studying ‘The Greek Mysteries and the Hermetic Gnosis and its allied schools, the Kabalistic, Pythagorean, Platonic and Alexandrian'[11]. Westcott delivered one paper, on The Sepher Yetzirah, A Rabbinical Treatise on Creation, before the Society fell into abeyance in 1887 when Mrs. Kingsford became seriously ill. He then joined the Theosophical Society, a body founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott and which is still active today. Ostensibly, the purpose of the Theosophical Society was ‘The Study of occult Science, the formation of a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood and the revival of Oriental literature and philosophy’, but in effect it existed to propagate the curious amalgam of Western occultism and pseudo-Buddhist philosophy that Madame Blavatsky claimed to have received from superhuman ‘Mahatmas’.

Westcott also joined the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, an inner group whose members were pledged ‘to preserve inviolable secrecy’ Concerning the ‘Secret Teachings’ they received. The secrecy undoubtedly appealed to Westcott and he played an active role in the affairs of the Esoteric Section – although the all-male Ananda Lodge that he founded in 1893 survived for only two years[12].

But all this was on the periphery of Westcott’s occult world. At its centre lay a more private and far more significant creation of his own: The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A detailed account of this remarkable Order is outside the scope of this paper, as it was neither a masonic nor a quasi-masonic body, being androgynous and demanding no masonic qualification from its members; but the vexed question of its origins must be considered, for it is essential to an understanding of both Westcott the man and Westcott the historian.

On the surface the ‘official’ story of the founding of the Golden Dawn was straightforward[13]. In 1887 Westcott acquired from the Revd. A. F. A. Woodford a manuscript in cipher that proved, on translation, to be a series of initiatory rituals in outline.  Westcott then asked his friend  S. L. MacGregor Mathers – who was, like Westcott, already a prominent member of the S.R.I.A. – to expand the rituals into workable form. While Mathers did this Westcott wrote to a Fraulein Anna Sprengel, a German adept whose name, address and Rosicrucian motto (Sapiens Dominabitur Astris) he had found among the sheets of cipher manuscript. She at once replied and authorised Westcott to found an English branch of the occult Order to which she belonged. As the Order required three Chiefs, Westcott and Mathers brought in Dr. W. R. Woodman, the Supreme Magus of the S.R.I.A., and in February 1888 the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was launched upon the world, using the five rituals that Mathers had completed.

Although neither the Order nor its rituals were masonic, most of its earliest recruits were freemasons: members of the S.R.I.A. who were already predisposed to believe in the existence of secret Rosicrucian societies in Europe – as, perhaps, was Albert Pike whom Westcott invited to join at the outset. The affiliation of the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A.) to his Order would have been a most distinguished feather in Westcott’s occult cap, but Pike declined the invitation.

I have read with interest what you say in regard to your Order of ‘The Golden Dawn’; but I am too old now, and too much engaged in translating the Hymns of the Rig Veda, to have any time to devote to the studies which your Order pursues. (Letter of 26 March 1888, now in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England).


The ‘studies’ included Kabalistic symbolism, astrology, alchemy and other forms of divination, some of which were used by Westcott himself. In 1894 he consulted the Tarot cards to determine whether or not he would obtain the post of Coroner for North-East London; the cards indicated, correctly, that he would – but it seems most unlikely that he ran any real risk of being turned down by the Selective Committee of the County Council. (Westcott’s account of his ‘Coroner Divination’ is among his private papers).

Other would-be occultists were more enthusiastic than Pike, and the Order grew rapidly.  By 1896 there were five Temples and over three hundred members, together with a flourishing Inner, or Second Order, the Rosae Rubeae ec Aureae Crucis, which engaged in magical practices and worked an initiation ritual based on the myth of Christian Rosenkreuz. But for Westcott success was to be short-lived.

In March 1897 Westcott was obliged to resign from all his offices in both the Golden Dawn and the R.R. et A.C., having, as he told Gardner: 

recd. an intimation that it had somehow become known to the State officers that I was a prominent official of a Society in which I had been foolishly posturing as one possessed of magical powers – and that if this became more public it would not do for a Coroner to the Crown to be made shame of in such a mad way. So I had no alternative – I can’t think who it [is] that persecutes me – someone must talk

It was not an entirely new experience, however, for he continued:

I had a similar intimation in 1889 about the T.S. and my support of Madame Blav. [atsky] at Avenue Road and then I had to cease lecturing there on Thursdays – I was then Vice Pres. of Blav [atsky] Lodge. It looks as if some one was trying to get me out of G.D. office – eh? (Letter of 17 March 1897).

The official pressure was described more picturesquely by Aleister Crowley who later wrote that Westcott ‘was paid to sit on corpses, not to raise them’. Later still he turned this bon mot into a scurrilous claim that Westcott ‘based all his magical operations upon dead bodies, or detached portions of the same’, and that his house was ‘a Home for Lost Mummies’. The latter claim, curiously enough, had a basis of truth, for Westcott did keep a mummified hand among his papers – but as a curio and not as an aid to necromancy[14]. The ‘someone’, however, was not Crowley, who was not a member of the Golden Dawn in 1897, but Mathers, who, having driven Westcott from office, then proceeded to brand him as a forger and a liar.

In February 1900, at the culmination of a series of internecine feuds, Mathers wrote to Florence Farr, who was a senior member of the Order, accusing Westcott of forgery: 

He has NEVER been at any time either in personal or in written communication with the Secret Chiefs of the Order, he having either himself forged or procured to be forged the professed correspondence between him and them, and my tongue having been tied all these years by a previous Oath of Secrecy to him, demanded by him, from me, before showing me what he had either done or caused to be done or both. (Printed in Howe, The Magicians of the Golden Dazon, p. 210).


Westcott must have suspected that some such charge would be forthcoming, for he had in 1898 obtained a statement from Albert Essinger, a director of Westcott’s ‘Sanitary Wood Wool Co. Ltd.’, to the effect that he had ‘translated German letters, and wrote letters in German for him to correspondents in Germany at his dictation’. (Howe, op. cit., p. 196). However, when W. B. Yeats – who was one of the members of the Investigating Committee set up to examine the charge – asked him for his comments, Westcott did not produce this statement and wrote instead to say:

Speaking legally I find I cannot prove the details of the origin of the knowledge and history of the G.D., so I should not be just nor wise to bias your opinion of them. (Howe, op. cit., p. 213).


This was scarcely the response of a wholly innocent man, and there is little doubt that the conclusion drawn by Bro. Howe from his careful analysis of the documents – that the original letters were faked by Westcott – is the correct one.

Nor is this all. On the question of Westcott’s honesty there is other, even more damning, evidence. In 1910 Aleister Crowley began to publish the history and rituals of the Golden Dawn in his journal, The Equinox, and Mathers immediately attempted – without success – to prevent their publication. But he needed money for the legal action and he appealed to Westcott for financial help. This gave Westcott a golden opportunity to clear his name. He wrote to Cadbury-Jones, who was acting as the go-between, and named his price: 

If he [Mathers] wants a gift of money from me – he must write his withdrawal of the charge of forgery: He ought to write two – one a private letter to me dated 1901 Dec. or early 1902 – and a confirmation referring to the present row – dated later. I send you copies of what I should require – I am not going to give him money for nothing.


He enclosed three draft letters ‘of what I propose to pay for’ and added. ‘Don’t let him see the pages in my handwriting’. All three constituted complete retractions of the charges made and abject apologies for having made them. A second letter on the matter ends with the words, ‘If he will do all I want I will give him a five pound note: don’t let it look like bribery’. In neither letter does Westcott offer the slightest evidence to refute the original charges. Not surprisingly, Mathers did not accept the offer. (Letters of 27 and (29) March 1910; the letters and enclosed drafts are among Westcott’s private papers).

Westcott, then, would seem to be a man quite capable of manipulating documentary evidence to serve his own ends. His historical accounts of the origins of both the Golden Dawn and the S.R.I.A. are at best unreliable, and at worst dishonest. But should we condemn him utterly as a masonic historian? I do not think so. 

Westcott the Historian 

Like many occultists, Westcott was a curious mixture of credulity and real scholarship.  In his eager desire to prove the historical reality of Rosicrucian Adepts, he emulated Henry V in that his ‘wish was father to that thought’. (vide Henry IV, Pt. 2: IV: 93) He wished there to have been Rosicrucians in England in the early Nineteenth century, and so there were Rosicrucians. (See, for example, his paper Rosicrucians, their History and Aims, in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 7 (1894) pp. 36 – 47). For evidence he substituted dogmatic statements, reserving objective criticism for the history of other Orders to which he was less passionately committed. 

Thus in 1919 Westcott wrote to David Flather about the Fratres Lucis, and commented on Irwin’s manuscript ritual: 

It is all words – words – no information – no hints for study – I think he wrote it himself upon the old name – it did not read like a translation from the Italian. (Letter of 19 August 1919. The Order was allegedly based in Florence).


Clearly Westcott recognised both the value of primary sources and the need for textual criticism. In 1902 he suggested to Reuss that ‘there must be a lot of Rosic. mss. lying hid in your country’, and urged him to ‘make every effort to find some’, (Letter of 26 August 1902), and in the same year he impressed upon Gardner the need for careful analysis of the printed works he was examining for possible inclusion in the Bibliotheca Rosicruciana. Westcott advised Gardner, ‘Please do not put in the “Higgins” story, if you do not agree with my reasoning on it’ – a reference to Westcott’s contention that the ‘Rose Cross’ in Godfrey Higgins’s work Anacalypsis (1833 – 36) was a Rosicrucian Society. It is clear from the context that Higgins was referring to the Rose Croix Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, but Gardner accepted Westcott’s argument and the book was duly listed. (See Westcott’s letters of 14 and 17 December 1902, and 13 February 1903). Westcott also provided an Introduction for the book, which appeared as Volume I of Gardner’s Catalogue Raisonne of works on the Occult Sciences (1903), and suggested to the Secretary of the Metropolitan College that he ‘produce it & show it at all meetings & to all new Fratres, so that they may know how large a literature the Rosicrucian Philosophy has given rise to.’ (Inscribed in a copy in my possession).


Against his bibliographical rectitude must be set the clear evidence of Westcott’s chicanery in the manufacture of a false history for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. But that was rather an instance of the pernicious doctrine of the end justifying the means: Westcott’s esoteric beliefs were sincerely held, and if the foisting of a spurious antiquity on to his new-born vehicle for disseminating occult wisdom would ensure its survival and success, then well and good – within the confines of the Order. If the outside world heard of his skill at forgery it would tend to look askance at his impartiality in the sifting of evidence in a Coroner’s Court, and it was, I believe, an urgent desire to maintain his good name rather than cold-blooded.dishonesty that lay bebind Westcott’s attempts to suborn Mathers.


 Quatuor Coronati Lodge and the Esoteric School of Masonic Research

In the field of masonic research proper Westcott’s contribution seems relatively slight, but his aim was invariably to try to influence others in their approach to masonic research, rather than to attempt to achieve personal fame as a masonic scholar.


He was admitted as the 8th joining member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge on 2 December 1886, and read his first paper, The Religion of Freemasonry illuminated by the Kabbalah, to the Lodge on 8 September 1887. In this paper Westcott stressed the Deism of the Craft and attempted to demonstrate the Kabalistic nature of the symbolism of the Three Degrees, emphasising the feminine nature of the Second Degree. His audience was largely unsympathetic: R. F. Gould ‘took exception to the main argument’, Speth argued that Westcott had ‘failed to show that the [Second] Degree in itself was ancient’, and Woodford – who might have been expected to support Westcott – ‘could not agree, he felt honestly bound to say, either with Bro. Westcott’s premises or conclusions’. (AQC 1 (1888, pp. 55 – 59).


Despite this unpromising start, Westcott contributed a number of brief notes to the Transactions and read five other papers between 1893, when he was installed as Master of the lodge, and 1916. He used the occasion of his Inaugural Address to argue forcefully for a wider view of masonic research:

My only personal feeling is that a very hard and fast adherence to history, and a tendency to slur over the ‘hidden mysteries of nature and science’, which we are pledged to study, might possibly, if the policy became extreme, be worthy of criticism if not of condemnation, from a Masonic point of view. 

This he wished to avoid, desiring instead: 

to encourage among you the tendency to greater study of symbolism and the analogies between each Masonic point and similar references in other Arcane societies and institutions.


And to influence the members of the Lodge: 

in the direction of drawing your attention to the mystical rather than material; to the allegorical rather than the historic aspect; and I claim that in so doing I shall be adhering closer to the spirit as well as letter of your ancient ritual than those erudity, whom I am indeed proud to own as teachers and associates, but from whom I feel some distinction of opinion. (AQC 6 (1893), p. 204).


In this self-imposed task he failed, for the majority of the members remained firmly within the ‘authentic’ camp. 

Westcott returned to his attack upon the ‘authentic’ school in his paper on Rosicrucians, their History and Aims, which he read later in his year of office. He told the members:


You have no proofs to give me of the exact years in which the principal philosophic and mystical allusions became embedded in the Masonic ritual, but there are many of you who believe the Ritual of Speculative Masonry formed a concrete whole in 1717, your grand landmark of the Order. I contend then that Ashmole and Vaughan possessed just such ancient lore as is found suggested in Masonic Ritual, that they did enter our Society, and that if it were not they who designed the ritual of Speculative Masonry in its present form with its quaint Kabalistic and Egyptian allusions, the fact is more amazing than the suggestion that they did so design it. (AQC 7 (1894),


In this one paragraph he epitomises the approach of the Esoteric School, his contention being that in the absence of documentary evidence it is quite legitimate to draw historical conclusions from a textual analysis of masonic ritual. If a symbol is present both in the Kabalah and in masonry, ergo there is a necessary connection between the two, and the earliest Speculative masons must also have been kabalists.


Such an approach to masonic research may be both inadequate and unwise, but it is not quite so foolish as the ‘apparent inability to distinguish between historical fact and legend’ that Bro. Hamill has said characterises the Esoteric School. (John Hamill, T'he Craft, (1986), p. 22). Distinguishing the various approaches to masonic history, Bro. Hamill defines the ‘authentic’ school as that ‘in which theory is built upon or developed, out of verifiable facts and documentation’, whereas non-authentic approaches are those ‘in which attempts are made to place Freemasonry in the context of the Mystery tradition by a correlation of the teachings, allegory, and symbolism of the Craft with those of the various esoteric traditions’ (p. 15). Bro. Hamill then subdivides the non-authentic approach into four schools: the esoteric, the mystical, the symbolist and the romantic, but with the exception of the last – which is characterised by its blind belief in the unchanging nature of masonic ritual from time immemorial – it is not always possible to distinguish clearly between these schools.


Certainly, Bro. Hamill’s strictures on the Esoteric School cannot be applied in their entirety to Westcott. 'I he followers of the esoteric approach, in Bro. Hamill’s words:


take the principles, rituals, forms, symbols, and language of Freemasonry, trace similarities in other groups (ignoring the fact that the principles and many of the symbols are universal and not peculiar to Freemasonry), and assume that these similarities are not fortuitous but deliberate and are therefore evidence of a linked tradition. 1 hey place great emphasis on the additional degrees, investing them with a spurious antiquity, and read a great deal more into their esoteric content and symbolism than was ever intended.

Viewing Freemasonry in all its diverse branches as a coherent initiatory rite, which it is not, the esoteric school compares it with other initiatory rites, finds similarities, actual or imposed, and assumes an intercommunication. (pp. 22 – 23).


This was undoubtedly true of some – John Yarker, for example, certainly fits this

description, as does Kenneth Mackenzie – but Westcott was more rational: he was extremely sceptical of the alleged antiquity of the additional degrees and although he looked upon freemasonry as part of an initiatory tradition, he specifically denied that it had any connection with the ancient Mystery religions which were the subjects of the last two papers read in this Lodge (Freemasonry and its relation to the Essenes, AQC 28 (1915), pp.67 – 79; The Resemblances of Freemasonry to the cult of Mithra, AQC 29 (1916), pp.336 – 347). His approach was rather the treatment of legend, in the absence of historical fact, as being an adequate substitute for such fact. 

By the time of these final papers, however, such support as there had been for Westcott’s approach was fading. Of his fellow ‘esoterics’, Irwin had died long before, in 1893, and Yarker more recently, in 1913; those competent scholars who were active both in Quatuor Coronati Lodge and in the S.R.I.A. – W. J. Songhurst, David Flather and W. Wonnacott – strictly segregated their esoteric papers from their masonic researches, and other masonic scholars remained unconvinced that the problems of masonic history could be resolved by any non-authentic approach. After 1916 the work of the Esoteric School is

noticeable by its absence from the pages of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Having failed to gain any sympathy from the ‘authentics’ for his aims and methods, Westcott wrote nothing further on masonic history and the papers he produced during his last years – all on esoteric

subjects – were printed where he hoped some, at least, of his readers would be encouraged to emulate his efforts: in the pages of the Transactians of the Metropolitan College. 

By 1920, when he left England to settle in South Africa, Westcott had become somewhat disenchanted with Freemasonry in general, and he certainly no longer believed (if he ever had done) that his Rosicrucian colleagues were correct in seeing the award of Grand Lodge Honours in 1902 as a recognition of his work as an occultist. At the time Ralph Palmer-Thomas, of the Metropolitan College, wrote in his letter of congratulation: 

Please accept my hearty congratulations on the Grand Lodge rank that I hear you have received. Not only is one pleased to find that it has been offered to you personally; but it is very satisfactory to find that the value of the work of an occultist like yourself for Freemasonry is recognised. (letter of 13 June 1902. Westcott papers).


It was a point of view shared by other masonic Rosicrucians. At a meeting of Metropolitan College in July 1902, Dr. Brindley-Jones seconded a proposal for a vote of congratulation to Westcott and said that, ‘this honour not only recognised the distinguished services of the M.W. Supreme Magus to Freemasonry, but added new lustre to the Society’. (Transactions, 1902, p. 6). Outside esoteric circles, however, the event passed unremarked. 

Westcott yet continued to stress the need for masonic research – even if for reasons rather different than those of members of the authentic school. In his Preface to Gardner’s Catalogue of Lodge Histories, 1912 (Volume 3 of the Catalogue Raisonne), Westcott stated: 

The Masonic interest in these works depends greatly upon the antiquity of the Consecration of the Lodge referred to: the Minutes of the early years of our oldest Lodges contain many details of great interest, in regard to procedure, mode of constitution, the working of the several degrees and the powers of the Worshipful Master, and his Officers and of customs now long since abandoned. (p. v).


That the names and occupations of the members themselves might be significant did not occur to him.  He also hoped to encourage masonic research in South Africa. Soon after his arrival at Durban, he wrote to Gardner to tell him: 

The Masons make much of me here. I am always the guest of honour 8r I have read two lectures here & have an invite to Pietermaritzburg to Lecture there. (Letter of 5 December 1920).


But his enthusiasm did not last. In August, 1922 he complained to Gardner: 

They [the Theosophists] are the only literary people I find here, for the Freemasons are only ritual workers and will not listen to Masonic History etc. (Letter of 6 August 1922).


Westcott wrote regularly to Gardner until his final illness in July, 1925, but he never again referred to Freemasonry: the champion of the Esoteric School had retired from the lists. 

The Esoteric School After Westcott’s Death 

It should here be emphasised that the term ‘Esoteric School’ is of recent usage and that the style of research to which it refers was never formalised into a coherent body with identifiable members. With Westcott’s death, masonic research lost the one man whose influence might have led to the development of a distinct, reputable ‘esoteric school’ whose work could have complemented that of the authentic school. His criticisms might also have kept the wilder proponents of the ‘esoteric’ approach within the bounds of reason. After his death there was no-one of sufficient scholarly, or even pseudo-scholarly, stature to take his place. 

Within the S.R.I.A. a number of real scholars did emerge, but they kept their esoteric speculations quite distinct from their forays into masonic history proper, and they made no attempt to relate their historical researches into the more obscur'e byways of Freemasonry to the comparative study of the transmission of traditions by means of textual analysis – a key element in the approach that Westcott had encouraged[15].

During the last fifteen years curiosity about the many odd characters who figure in the development of ‘Fringe Masonry’ in the Victorian era has grown rapidly, but there has been little attempt to consider their motives or to bring the tools of reputable scholarship to the study of their enthusiasms. Many of their interests, it is true, lie outside the province of the masonic student, but the study of the transmission of esoteric ideas and traditions is, as Bro. Hamill has pointed out (op. cit., p. 22), a valid line of research – albeit one that has been sadly neglected.

The reason for this neglect is, perhaps, an understandable wish on the part of the authentic school to distance itself from the more lunatic pronouncements on masonic history and traditions that have been made by representatives of the ‘esoteric school’. By the 1920s, papers reflecting the ‘esoteric’ approach had virtually disappeared from the Proceedings and Transactions of Study Circles and Research Lodges[16], all of which were anxious to retain the academic respectability that the work of the authentic school had given to masonic research. Indeed, Westcott himself had recognised this; in his Inaugural Address of 1893 he had agreed that:

to the cultured Literati of the country our deep historic researches give us a standing of reality and solidity; characteristics which Masonic writers, of course, failed to attain up to the Quatuor Coronati times. (AQC 6 (1893) p. 204). 

But if the work of the Esoteric School was denied access to masonic research

publications, it faced no such restriction in the outside world. During the inter-war period books based upon the esoteric approach appeared in profusion, their authors (e.g. F. de P. Castells, J. S. M. Ward and Dudley Wright) making claims and drawing conclusions that would have been far less extravagant and outlandish had their authors previously received the benefit of reasoned debate and scholarly criticism of their theories within the confines of this, or any other, research Lodge. They were, it is true, often severely criticised in scholarly . masonic reviews, but such criticism could not hope to alter the texts and it did not affect sales: for example, some nine thousand sets of A. E. Waite’s New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry were sold between 1921 and 1937, despite its wealth of factual errors and its many other shortcomings. 

Perhaps none of this would matter were it not for its effect upon the public perception of Freemasonry. The books of Castells, Ward, Wright, Waite and others were widely read both within and without the Craft – and seized upon by the opponents of Freemasonry as authoritative, if not official, pronouncements on the tenets of the Craft. In both of his attacks upon Freemasonry, Darkness Visible, 1952, and Christian by Degrees, 1954, the Revd. Walton Hannah made extensive use of the work of Castells and Ward (and, to a lesser extent, that of Waite) to support his thesis that Freemasonry is inimical to Christianity; a thesis that has gained much popular credence, however erroneous it may be. More recently, Hannah’s work has been utilised in that most mendacious of anti-masonic works, Stephen Knight’s The Brotherhood (1983). 

Such attacks would be far more difficult to make and to sustain were there not so many irrational books on masonry available, written by Freemasons themselves. If, in the past, the authentic school had been a little less concerned with what it perceived as its academic purity, and had absorbed and tempered with reason the work of the Esoteric School – as Westcott would have wished – masonic research may well have benefited from the stimulus of what I may, perhaps, be permitted to call more adventurous scholarship, and the Craft in general would, in all probability, have been preserved from some of the unjustified taunts of it’s opponents – taunts that might well be described as self-inflicted wounds. 


My thanks are due to the Board of General Purposes for permitting me to examine and to quote from material in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England, and I must espicially thank Bro. J. M. Hamill, the Librarian and Curator, for his constant help and his many kindnesses. To Bro. Alan Davies (Supreme Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia) I am indebted for permission to quote from manuscript material in the High Council Library, and my thanks are also due to Bro. Andrew Stephenson for his invaluable help in charting Westcott’s career in the S.R.I.A. My debt to Bro. Ellic Howe is immense, for without his encouragement and the stimulus of his pioneering work in the field of ‘Fringe Masonry’, this paper would not have been written. 

I must also thank the staff of the Warburg Institute for their assistance and for their unfailing courtesy.



Such of the manuscript material relating to Westcott’s involvement with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is preserved in archives which, because of their custodians’ desire for privacy, are not accessible to the public. These archives are described by Bro. Howe in his Preface to The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. Where I have quoted from documents printed by Bro. Howe I have cited his study, but unpublished documents are cited as being in the ‘Westcott Papers’ – all of which their custodian has permitted me to examine.

Supplementary Note

Since this paper was delivered further information about Westcott’s early life and career has come to light that throws considerable doubt upon his own account of his life up to 1880. It is hoped that a resume of this information can be published in a later volume of AQC, together with a brief consideration of its significance in assessing both Westcott’s personality and his later activities.


Appendix A Appendix B Discussion
Masonic Affiliations Westcott Bibliography  

[1] Letter of 27 September 1934, in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England. There is no mention either, by Williams, Flather or Songhurst, of F. G. Irwin – a somewhat less surprising omission – but William Simpson, who can in no sense be considered as being of the authentic school, is praised by W. J. Williams.  Perhaps his fame as an artist rendered it difficult to ignore him

[2] This biographical note accompanies a letter to Irwin of 7 March 1875. All the correspondence with Irwin is in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England. Other biographical sources for Westcott are AQC 6 (1893) pp. 205 – 207 (Notes following his Inaugural Address); AQC 38 (1925) pp. 224 – 226 (Obituary); and William Wynn Westcott. A Memoir, by George Norman, in Quarterly Notes of the Metropolitan Study Group, S.R.I.A. No. 14, September, 1925 pp. 2 – 6. In all quotations from Westcott’s letters I have retained his idiosyncrasies of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

[3] Information on Westcott’s family is contained in his Bible, now in the High Council Library of the S.R.I.A.

In 1905 Westcott carried out genealogical research into his wife’s family, but not, apparently, into his own. The

five children of his marriage were:

Edmund William

Born 1874, died 1907 after six years of illness following the amputation of a leg in 1901

Ida Grace

Born 1875. She was the only child to survive Westcott.

Elsie Bridget

Born 1877. On 18 October 189S she married Fergus Hamel who was admitted to the S.R.I.A. on 8 January 1903, presumably at his father-in-law’s instigation. In 1918 Elsie Hamel committed suicide

Lilian Margaret

Born 1880. In September 1902 she married Albert Frederick Gee, an official of the Natal State Railways, whom Westcott also encouraged to join the S.R.I.A. He was admitted on 9 October 1902.

During their retirement in South Africa Westcott and his wife lived with the Gees at Durban. Lilian Gee died on 13 February 1924

George Wynn

Born 1883. He began a promising medical career but died suddenly in 1906


[4] Frederick Leigh Gardner (1857 – 1930) was, successively, a stockbroker and antiquarian bookseller. A keen spiritualist and theosophist, he was initiated in Montefiore Lodge No. 1017 in October 1886. He was closely associated with Westcott in both the S.R.I.A., to whose Bristol College he was admitted in April 1894, and the Golden Dawn, which he joined in March of the same year. His papers, which include his extensive correspondence with Westcott, are in the Yorks Collection, which is housed at the Warburg Institute

[5] Francis George Irwin (1828 – 1893) enlisted in the Royal Sappers and Miners on 8 November 1842, remaining in the army for the rest of his life (from 1866 he was Adjutant of the 1st Gloucestershire Engineer Volunteer Corps at Bristol). He was initiated in Gibraltar Lodge No. 325, Irish Constitution, on 3 June 1857 and subsequently

joined every masonic and quasi-masonic body that he was able to discover or invent. Full details of his life and masonic career are given in Bro. Howe’s paper ‘Fringe Masonry in England 1870-85’ (AQC 85 (1872) pp. 242 – Z95). Westcott seems always to have been on friendly terms with him and I cannot agree with the unsubstantiated claim (quoted in Howe, op. cit., p. 261) that ‘Hockley, Mackenzie and Irwin all disliked and mistrusted [Westcott]’.

[6] Theodor Reuss (1855 – 1923) was a German adventurer whose multifarious activities have been chronicled by Bro. Ellie Howe and Prof. Helmut Moller in their paper Theodor Reuss: Irregular Freemasonry in Germany, 1900 – 23 (AQC 91 (1978) pp. 28 – 46). He visited Westcott in 1901 but seems already to have met him in Theosophical circles during the 1890s.  For A. E. Waite (1857 – 1942), see R. A. Gilbert, The One Deep Student, a Life of Arthur Edzvard Waite. WELLINGBOROUGH, 1987.  Westcott’s letters to Reuss are reproduced in facsimile in Queenborough, Occult Theocrasy, 1933, comprising section 3 of Appendix IV

[7] Waite, Annus Mirabilis Redivivus, manuscript diary of 1902 – 03. The relevant entry is for 10 October.  Waite had entered the Swedenborgian Rite on 30 August 1902, being initiated in Hermes Lodge and Temple No.8 (London). Among the ‘nameless rites’ in which Westcott was active, were such esoteric bodies as the Order of Light and the Order of Ishmael. The number could doubtless be multiplied

[8] The Royal Oriental Order of Sikha (Apex) and the Sat B’hai was the creation of Capt. J. H. Lawrence-Archer and began its activities in 1871. The rituals were largely the work of K. R. H. Mackenzie, and John Yarker was also closely involved with the Order. Its somewhat farcical history is described in Bro. Howe’s paper (op. cit.), pp. 266 – 271

[9] Westcott’s correspondence and notes relating to the Order of Eri are in the High Council Library of the S.R.I.A.

[10] This letter, of 15 December 1884, is addressed to an un-named correspondent, or a non-mason possibly A. E. Waite (it was found among papers that had at one time belonged to him). If the recipient was Waite it raises the possibility that the Rules and Ordinances of the S.R.I.A., that Waite printed in his Real History of the Rosicrucians

(1887), had been sent to him by Westcott – which would explain the rather restrained manner in which Westcott approached Waite for an apology for his breach of copyright. The letter is now in my possession.

[11] Anna Bonus Kingsford (1846 – 1888) and Edward Maitland (1824-1897) were the propagators of a variety of Christianity that they styled 'The New Gospel of Interpretation’ and which was expounded in their book The Perfect Way (1882). The Hermetic Society arose from their dissatisfaction with the oriental bias of the Theosophical Society. Westcott’s paper was delivered on 29 July 1886.

[12] H. P. Blavatsky tends to be viewed in black and white: depending on one’s viewpoint she was either a Prophet of the New Age, or a charlatan and adventuress. She was born at Ekaterinoslav, in Russia, in 1831 and died at London in 1891. Her principal works, Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888) are still in print. For an account of Westcott’s involvement with the Esoteric Section, see my paper on The Esoteric Section

and the Golden Dawn (Theosophical History Centre, 1987).

[13] The standard work on the history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn (1972; re-issued 1985). For details of the structure, administration and membership of the Order see my Golden Dawn Companion (1986). The rituals of the Order are printed in Regardie, The Complete Golden Damn System of Magic (1984).

[14] The earlier reference is found in Leo Vincey (i.e. Aleister Crowley), The Rosicrucian Scandal (1913). It is quoted in Howe, op. cit., p. 167. The charge of necromancy is foisted by Crowley upon ‘Dr. Vesquit’ – his name for Westcott – in his novel, Moonchild (1929; Annotated edition, 1969). See p. 161 of the later edition. The mummified hand, together with pieces of a painted mummy-case, are still among Westcott’s papers.

[15] Among the more scholarly studies are B. Telepneff, Rosicrucians in Russia (Transactions of the Metropolitan College, 1924, pp. 25 – 41) and G. P. G. Hills, General Rainsford and his Rosicrucian Studies (Transactions, 1922, pp. 7 – 29). Both Telepneff and Hills contributed to AQC. Most impressive of all the Rosicrucian scholars was Col. H. C. Bruce Wilson, whose Early History of the S.R.IA. (1937 – 1944) is a model of careful scholarship

[16] For example, in Volume I of the Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research, appears a paper by F. W. Brocklebank, on Rosicrucianism and its connection with Freemasonry which certainly takes an ‘esoteric’ approach. Only one later paper, Covey-Crump, The Craft and the Kabbalah, (Vol. 8, 1918) can be said to take a similar stance. In the Transactions of the Leicester Lodge of Research, No. 2429, only one paper appears to fall into the esoteric category (W. H. Riley, Freemasonry and the Signs of the Zodiac, 1939).