A fascinating turn of events in my research on the women of the Golden Dawn

“We know that attention acts as a lightning rod. Merely by concentrating on something one causes endless analogies to collect around it, even penetrate the boundaries of the subject itself: an experience that we call coincidence, serendipity – the terminology is extensive.”    Julio Cortázar (1914-1984)

Do you often experience moments in which connections that you would never have thought possible (or though about at all) suddenly materialize? Ever since I began my research into the various forms of modern forms of Western Paganism(s) and Feminist Spirituality I’ve experienced my fair share of these kinds of coincidences (or ‘coincidences’?), but these would have to be subject of another post. Here I wish to share with you a most recent and exciting one…

Past readers of this blog know that my ongoing PhD research focuses on women’s involvement in British magical and Pagan groups, c. 1888 – c. 1988.  An important part of the first chapter of my dissertation will be devoted to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which influences Western occultism to this day, and was the first occult society in late Victorian Britain to include women in its ranks. Some of these women – specifically Moina Mathers (1865-1928), Annie Horniman (1860-1937) and Florence Farr (1860-1917) – rose to prominent positions within the Order.

In addition to her membership in the Golden Dawn, Florence Farr was a gifted actress, and a feminist. In one of several archival research trips in the UK, I photographed some letters sent to Florence Farr from several noted individuals, such as Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) – a key member of the Order – and George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), who based many of his writings on ‘The New Woman’ on Farr – his one-time mistress.

But alas, most of the letters where handwritten, and the cursive writing was mostly illegible to me. Israelis write in Hebrew letters, which – even when written in cursive – are much more square shaped and less ‘flowing’ than English letters – and we never learn to write or read in cursive writing during English lessons at school. I therefore needed to find someone local who was raised – or at least spent a significant amount of years – in an English-speaking country, and – almost as important – would be willing to do the transcribing of the letters for free.

Initially I contacted one of my wife’s best friends, who lived for many years in the United States with her family. She happily helped with one fragment of a letter, and so became a ‘victim of her own success’ when I sent her 6 more letters for transcribing. Being a good sport and genuinely interested in my research, she agreed without hesitation, but as the weeks went by it became clear that her newborn baby girl and an approaching relocation to America where making it impossible for her to work on the letters anytime soon.

I therefore decided to approach Nuri McBride, the lovely fiancée of another one of my wife’s close friend, who was born and raised in the United States. She of course was happy to help, and provided me with synopsis of all the letters I sent to her, but her replying email took me by complete surprise when I read these lines: “So funny story about Farr, she was a very good friend of W.B Yeats. Yeats was in love with my great great grandmother Maud Gonne McBride, who was his muse as well as a political radical, Irish freedom fighter, feminist and also a member of the Golden Dawn. Which Yeats got her involved in. Yeats asked Maud to marry him several times and she turned him down, then he asked her daughter who also turned the guy down. Maud went on to marry my great great grandfather whom Yeats hated, accused of all sorts of things and even after he was executed for his involvement in the Easter Uprising, wrote mean poems about him. Apparently, Maud and Florence didn’t care for each because of this whole affair.”

Wow! I was of course aware of Maud Gonne’s brief involvement in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but could you imagine the odds of me looking for someone to transcribe some Florence Farr letters for me, and finding out that that same person is actually descended from Maud Gonne, Farr’s fellow initiate at the Order? And in this part of the world, no less? Furthermore, according to Nuri, the family keeps an archive which may indeed contain some unpublished letters and other materials belonging to Maud. So who knows… if all goes well, maybe if the future I’ll be able to publish a book containing an annotated version of these materials, thereby contributing to our knowledge of Gonne life !

Just one day before I got the reply from Nuri, I finished reading Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley: A Correspondence. This volume presents the annotated letter correspondence between the famous occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and David Curwen (1893-1984), with a Forward by Curwen’s grandson and a scholarly Introduction by Dr. Henrik Bogdan of the University of Gothenburg. Everything is falling into place…

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