The three founders, Dr. William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers were Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.), an appendant body to Freemasonry. Westcott, also a member of the Theosophical Society, appears to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn. The name was taken from the Fama Fraternitatis, a Rosicrucian manifesto from 1614, and in particular, inspired by the following sentence
- Howbeit we know after a time there will now be a general reformation, both of divine and humane things, according to our desire and the expectation of others; for it is fitting, that before the rising of the Sun there should appear and break forth Aurora, or some clearness, or divine light in the sky.
The Golden Dawn system is based on an initiated hierarchal order similar to that of a Masonic Lodge, however women were admitted on an equal basis with men. The "Golden Dawn" is properly only the first or "outer" of three Orders, although all three are often collectively described as the "Golden Dawn". The First Order taught esoteric philosophy based on the Hermetic Qabalah and personal development through study and awareness of the four Classical Elements. They also taught the basics of astrology, tarot, and geomancy. The Second or "Inner" Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (the Ruby Rose and Cross of Gold), taught magic proper, including scrying, astral travel, and Alchemy. The fabled Third Order was that of the "Secret Chiefs", who were said to be great adepts no longer in incarnate form, but who directed the activities of the lower two orders by spirit communication with the Chiefs of the Second Order.
The A∴A∴ (Latin: Argenteum Astrum or Greek: Άστρον Αργόν, "Astron Argon", both literally; "Silver star", alternately, Latin: Arcanum Arcanorum, "secret of secrets," or Hebrew: Arikh Anpin, "vast countenance" or Kether) is a magical order created by Aleister Crowley in 1907 after leaving the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It is a Thelemic magical fraternity, the goals of which are the pursuit of light and knowledge. Heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley, the holy book of the order is Liber AL vel Legis (in English, The Book of the Law). Its motto is: "The method of science, the aim of religion." While the A∴A∴ was not part of Ordo Templi Orientis, the O.T.O. did consider the A∴A∴ to be a close ally.
Various lineages of the A∴A∴ survive today that can be traced back to the founders Aleister Crowley and George Cecil Jones. One such lineage is that founded by actress Jane Wolfe (known as Soror Estai). Other lineages run through pupils of Marcelo Ramos Motta, a student of Karl Germer, who studied under Aleister Crowley. The secrecy, however, makes it difficult to say that any particular lineage is the true descendant of the original society.
The Golden Dawn as system and book has been the most intensively used source for modern western occult and magical writing. As a book it is both a text and an encyclopedia. Influences on Golden Dawn concepts and work include: Christian mysticism, Qabalah, Hermeticism, the religion of Ancient Egypt, Theurgy, Freemasonry, Alchemy, Theosophy, Eliphas Levi, Papus, Enochian magic, and Renaissance grimoires.