Sapientia Sapienti Dono Data, “Wisdom is a gift given to the Wise”, was Florence Farr’s motto when she was initiated into the Isis-Urania Temple of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. She dedicated herself to becoming worthy of her motto by being much more than a Magician summoning the Divine to attain Wisdom, but actually making of her physical self a sanctuary, a Temple to receive the Wisdom of the Gods. To her, Wisdom is a gift
not to be wasted, but used in Magic to gain supremacy over the elements, in essence one’s physical self, and therefore the manifested world. She saw wisdom as the Serpent, tempting one to experience the dualities of life. Unity of being is the refining and reconciling of duality. Magical Will through desire, intuition, and cleansed of material illusion gives one a clear perspective and the Wisdom of the Past, Present and Future.
Florence Farr was born on July 7, 1860, a Cancer with her Sun in the 12th house which indicates a person naturally gifted with psychic abilities and drawn to the Occult Sciences. Her father, a doctor and one of England’s first hygienists, was a personal friend of Florence Nightingale and he named his youngest daughter for her. One of Florence’s earliest friends was May Morris, the daughter of Jane Morris, the Famous Pre-Raphaelite model. At 19, Florence, along with May and their friends, posed for Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ Pre-Raphaelite painting, “The Golden Stairs” which is still exhibited to this day in London’s Tate Gallery.
Florence attended Queen’s College, the first woman’s college in England. Graduating, she took a teaching position, but soon lost interest. With her beautiful speaking voice, her aspirations then turned to the stage. She enjoyed modest success, but within two years she married a fellow actor Edward Emery. Once married, he treated her like a child demanding she stay at home. This was the most boring period of her life, making her detest the restrictions of Victorian marriage life. Within a few years, they separated and Emery left for America. They never met again, and she never remarried.
It was 1890 when Florence moved in with her sister at Bedford Park, a Bohemian center for intellectuals and artistic free-thinkers, discussing and writing about Art and Politics with women on equal standing with men. It was here, under a full moon, that John Todhunter (a future member of the Golden Dawn) put on his play, “A Sicilian Idyll” with Florence as the Priestess Amaryllis, who invokes the Moon Goddess Selene to destroy her faithless lover. Both George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats were in attendance, and both fell in love with her starling beauty, large expressive eyes, crescent eyebrows, and luminous smile.
G. B. Shaw (just like his Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion” or better known as the musical “My Fair Lady”) wanted to mold her into his vision of the ” Modern Woman” and have her become the great actress for his plays. To Yeats, she was a Poetic Muse, for only her resonate voice was capable of reciting his poetry. But she proved a reluctant Muse, for she would not be dominated by any man again. In fact, it was Florence, with Annie Horniman’s financial aid, that gave both writers their first opportunity to produce stage plays. Naturally, they both wrote the leading parts for Florence.
The three would continue their affairs, friendships and artistic endeavors. In Yeats’ play, “The Countess Cathleen,” he had Florence portrays Aleel, a minstrel possessing the “sight” to peer into the Spirit world. She sang her lines in verse, while playing her Psaltery, a hand harp much like King David’s. Shaw wrote “Arms And The Man” where Florence as the vivacious maid servant, Louka, steals the hero from play’s female lead. Florence was becoming a successful actress on her own, being the first actress in England to act in Ibsen plays. But like teaching, once she joined the Golden Dawn, she lost interest in becoming the great actress Shaw and Yeats envisioned.
Shaw really detested her “irrational interest” in Magic and mocked her and Egyptology in his play Caesar And Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s character (evidently inspired by Florence) calls herself a “modern woman”, then while strumming a Psaltery Shaw has her say , “When I was foolish, I did what I liked. Now that Caesar (A male and “God” no less) has made me Wise, I do what must be done and have no time to tend to myself. This is not happiness, but it is greatest.” He thought her Golden Dawn work was all pomposity.
Shaw jealously claims that Florence had over a dozen lovers in 1894. Florence was rather secretive about her loves. It is obvious from Aleister Crowley’s writings that he was also very much enamored of Florence. Whether or not they had an affair has been endlessly speculated. For his vision of Hypatia Gay in “At the Fork of the Road” or Soror Cybele in “Moonchild”, she was definitely his ideal of a Magical High Priestess, but unfortunately he would never encounter her like again.
Link to the Golden Dawn
Florence joined the Golden Dawn in July 1890, just past her 30th Birthday, as its 88th member. She quickly progress through the grades, and on the Winter Solstice of 1891 was the second member to be initiated through the 5=6 Ritual, a powerful night to experience death and rebirth. The following year, she was elevated to Praemonstratrix of the Order where she refined the working of the Golden Dawn’s rituals. W. B. Yeats stated that no one could evoke in rituals the kind of shivers that Florence did by her resonant and commanding voice.
She focused her work on Egyptology at the British Museum with Sir E. Wallis Budge, and the Alchemy of Thomas Vaughn with Rev. William Ayton. She was quite adept at the Enochian system and the I Ching. But it was Skrying in the Spirit Vision that was her forte, especially when skyring in the Golden Dawn’s Vault. It was through her skrying that Florence contacted an Ancient Egyptian Priestess of the Temple of Amon-at-Thebes, named NEM KHEFT KA. Mathers verified this entity as a secret chief, encouraging Florence to do further skrying to acquire the arcane rites of this ancient Mystic Order. This led to the famous invocation of Taphthartharath to physical appearance with fellow Adept Allen Bennett. While a Golden Dawn Magician invokes the Divine forces with his Will and magical weapons, Florence, on the other hand, made of herself the conduit to actually become Thoth, then as Thoth invoked the mercurial spirit. This is highly dangerous and without proper banishings can lead to obsession.
Florence was a rather prolific writer, especially on esoteric subjects. She wrote two novels based on her life experiences, and several articles for the Occult Review, the Theosophical Review and The New Age. Her book Music of Speech is about her and Yeats’ approach of applying musical notes to poetry for recitals, an art she no doubt applied to her Magical work. For the Golden Dawn she wrote several of the Flying Rolls from Will Power and Hermetic Love, to Traveling in the Spirit Vision. For Westcott’s Collectanea Hermetica, she commented on A Short Inquiry Concerning the Hermetic Art, and Euphrates Or The Waters of The East, both Alchemical Texts. She boldly states that these are not texts about the transmution of metals, but a philosophy of Nature as a guide to attain perfection of the mind and body and achieve adeptship. In Euphrates, she links the 4th River of Eden to Yesod and to the Egyptian principle of Khaibit – the aura or perfume of a person. By distilling this essence of Self through Alchemy, it can regenerate matter and Spirit to unite the Human Will with the Universal Will, microcosm with the macrocosm. Her The Way of Wisdom: Being an Investigation of the Meaning of the Letters of the Hebrew Alphabet Considered as a Remnant of Chaldean Wisdom, is exactly that but also relates the Hebrew Letters to Buddhist and Theosophical concepts.
Also written for the Collectanea Hermetica, but quite able to stand on its own, is Egyptian Magic. Based on Egyptian Texts she studied at the British Museum, Florence showed the parallels between Egyptian Magic and the Hermetic, Kabbalistic, Alchemical and Rosicrucian Works. She used the Egyptian texts to serve as models for ritual invocations of Godforms and Symbols to awaken and cultivate the dormant faculties of human nature so one can become Osirus, the Perfected One.
As Praemonstratrix, her duties were to teach and instruct the Outer Order. With the Order rapidly expanding, she began easing up on the grade advancement examinations by changing them from written to oral. She felt Magical understanding was more important than memorization. Furthermore, she was impatient to advance gifted students, so that as Adepts they could join her personal inner Order group called “The Sphere” which was specializing in skrying work such as projecting the Tree of Life over the City of London. Changing the Order’s testing system was a recipe for disaster, for what made the Golden Dawn Magical system so potent was its disciplined, formalized training upward through the elemental grades. For if a firm foundation is not built, the house will crumble.
When Westcott resigned in 1897, Florence Farr became the Chief Adept in Anglia of the Golden Dawn. Instead of developing her Magical base, she was thrust into Order intrigues, such as dealing with F.L. Gardner’s grandiose posturing, the expulsion of her friend Annie Horniman, and Mathers’ manifesto. And despite his magical talent and enthusiasm, she denied Aleister Crowley his 5=6 advancement for “sex-intemperance” which opened a further riff between Mathers and the London Temple. Then came the Horos Scandal, and Florence was driven to resign.
Mathers rejected her resignation, but in the same letter stated that Westcott has forged the Fraulein Sprengel correspondence (but not the Cipher Manuscripts which are the basis for the Order initatory rituals). Was it Mathers’ way to test her loyalty and oath of silence, or was his intent was to keep her from resigning as Chief Adept of the London Temple?
Unfortunately, Florence assumed the worse. Was the Order was based on fraud? She formed a committee of Adepts to investigate. Westcott denied Mathers’ claim, promising to produce the Sprengel letters, but strangely never did. From Paris, Mathers annulled the committee. Then Crowley, claiming Mathers’ authority, made his infamous attempt to seize the Vault at 36 Blythe Road. This was the last straw, and the committee expelled Mathers. They then attempted to frame a new constitution for the Order wherein all Second Order examinations and teachings were eliminated, and anyone could be initiated to 5=6 Grade without going through the Outer Order.
This really opened the floodgate of egos, and like peas going their separate ways through a sieve, each rebel adept demanding his own divergent direction for the Order to go. Florence was finding it impossible to deal with the pretty bickering and personal attacks within her beloved Order, for even Yeats sided against her for fear of losing Annie Horniman’s financial support for the Abbey Theater. Florence must have realized that all this chaos began with her act of revealing private information in Mathers’ letter. It was not the Magical current that was breaking up the Golden Dawn, but politics. So in January of 1902, Florence severed all her ties to what was left of the Golden Dawn.
As a last Magical work, Florence, with Olivia Shakespear, wrote and produce two Egyptian plays, The Beloved of Hathor, and Shrine of the Golden Hawk. No doubt modeled on Mathers’ Rites of Isis, these plays take place in ancient Egypt. The first deals with the eternal battle between earthly love and spiritual wisdom, and finding reconciliation between them. The second play portrays a magical act of creating a Talisman of Heru, wherein the Seeker, portrayed by Florence, becomes the actual living Talisman, so as to recieve the gift of Wisdom from the Wise Heru.
Florence Beatrice Farr 1860 – 1917
In the following years, Florence continued her acting career. She even toured America in 1907, doing poetry recitals with her psaltery. Both Yeats and Shaw believed she could have achieved greatness, but by 1912, her acting career was fading, her lovers were married to others, and her beloved Golden Dawn was in shambles. Returning to her original avocation, she took a teaching position in Ceylon where none could witness her beauty fade. Within a few years she was diagnosis with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She wrote to Yeats about it, making an illustration of her self with a fern-like scar. Yeats wept uncontrollably on reading the letter for he knew her time had come. Two months later she passed away, all alone in a Colombo hospital. As was the Hindu custom, she was cremated and her ashes scattered in a sacred river.