The Golden Dawn system of instruction for its students is a very impressive Victorian creation. Founded in the late 1800s, it came into being in a different age and I think it’s useful to remember that. The first temple (Isis-Urania) was started in London 1888 and only eight years later included over 100 individual members. Throughout the 1890s, other temples appeared in Weston-super-Mare, Bradford, Edinburgh and Paris. Both male and female members were welcome and included well-known artists and poets, writers, scientists, aristocrats, Freemasons, theosophists, government officials, a coroner, spiritualists, Rosicrucians and well-educated individuals from many walks of life. The learning they offered was a graded, hierarchical course of self-development involving the study of astrology and tarot, the basics of alchemical symbolism, qabalah, geomancy, a bit of ritual, Rosicrucian mysticism and (eventually) more. To be a member and progress on that path of development required time, dedication and commitment.
In terms of the uses of colour, the dedication required can be seen in the structure of the first five grades, each of which had to be completed before onto the next. These five grades were primarily theoretical and for what they called The Outer Order. Entry into the Inner Order (called the “Order of the Rose of Ruby and the Cross of Gold”) required an invitation to partake in the 5=6 ritual to achieve the Adeptus Minor grade. It was only near the end of that ritual, following deep questions, tests, trials and serious vows of secrecy, that the candidate was shown the Minitum Mundum sive Fundamentum Colouris (the Small Universe or Foundation of Colour), i.e., the diagram of the Tree with the Sephiroth coloured in Briatic, “feminine, passive” Queen Scale and the Paths in the “masculine, active King Scale “It thus represents the forces of Atziluth in the Paths uniting the Sephiroth as reflected in the Briatic World.” “See that thou reveal it not to the profane,” candidates were told, “for many and great are its mysteries.” (Please see Resources at the bottom of this page for links to more detailed information on the history and rituals of the Golden Dawn).
Elemental and Planetary Colour
Staying with the colour theme of this site, some information from the 5=6 ritual was shared on the Briah page about the derivation of ‘reflected’ colours in the Briatic World. In the same ritual, the Chief Adept also explains to the candidate: “…the colours of the 22 Paths are derived from and find their roots in those of the First Reflected Triad of the Sephiroth [Red, Blue and Golden Yellow], the Three Supernals not otherwise entering into their composition, and thus are their positive colours found.
“[So on the Paths], Unto the Air is ascribed the Yellow colour of Tiphareth. Unto the Water is ascribed the Blue Colour of Chesed. Unto the Fire is ascribed the Red Colour of Geburah. The Colours are to be found in Malkuth.
“Those of the Planets are in the Rainbow scale; thus: Saturn -Indigo; Jupiter – Violet; Mars – Red; Sol – Orange; Mercury -Yellow; Venus – Green; Luna – Blue.
“Unto the Signs of the Zodiac are ascribed the following: Aries – Scarlet; Taurus – Red-Orange; Gemini – Orange; Cancer – Amber; Leo – Greenish-Yellow; Virgo – Yellowish-Green; Libra – Emerald; Scorpio – Greenish-Blue; Sagittarius – Blue; Capricornus – Indigo; Aquarius – Purple; Pisces – Crimson.“
These all can be seen quite clearly if the symbols are overlaid on a colour wheel showing Primary, Secondary and Tertiary colours. Hebrew letters on a colour wheel specific to the Golden Dawn, as shown at the top of the page, show the Mother letters and elemental attributions associated with the Primary colours: Yellow for Air (Aleph), Blue for Water (Mem) and Red for Fire (Shin).
Inception of the Golden Dawn Scales?
Who, then, came up with this logical but complex method choosing colour scales and attributing them to the Sephiroth and the Paths? It clearly isn’t a ‘traditional’ Kabbalistic system as handed down via, say, Moses Cordovero. Rather it seems to have been created or perhaps received specifically for Golden Dawn Teachings. Pat Zalewski, a Golden Dawn scholar and author writes: “One of the most intriguing set of teachings within the Golden Dawn was the application and use of the Four Color Scales as placed on the Four Trees of Life. Without any understanding of both the theory of these scales and how they are used in practical magic, one cannot expect to make much progress as a magician in the Golden Dawn system. The symbolic importance of the color lies behind virtually every aspect of the work undertaken in both the First and Second Orders. When Mathers created this color system he rook it from 22 systems of color theory with no two colors being exactly identical, sometimes the separation between colors being only a slight shade lighter or darker. This subject was indeed one of the most complex among the Order’s teachings and due to the difficulty of painting the colors correctly many adopted their own set of scales….” (Kabbalah of the Golden Dawn, 1993).
That statement suggests that Samuel Liddel (MacGregor) Mathers, the apparent author of the 5=6 ritual, also came up with the colour scales. That may well be so, but I’ve read elsewhere that, given her artistic ability and close involvement, his wife Moina Mathers may have developed the first full set of colours based on her husband’s inspirations. Zalewski notes that others also created versions of the scales, one of these being Florence Farr who made another set that ended up finding its way to the Whare Ra temple founded by Robert Felkin in New Zealand.
Given that each student was expected to make their own copy of a local version of the Minitum Mundum following their Adeptus Minor initiation it’s no wonder that variations would arise. In a discussion about Tarot (GD desks were also was encouraged to use the Colour Scales), Gareth Knight writes that they “are based on clairvoyant investigation, but experience shows them to vary somewhat from person to person. Crowley did much original research on these lines when designing his pack and Lady Harris went to immense pains to reproduce the astral colour accurately…. It must be said, however, that it is a virtually impossible task, for many astral colours have no correspondence in physical pigment — the closes approximation being in coloured light, and a stained glass Tarot would be impracticable to produce or use.” (Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, II, 62, p. 226).
A Child of the Children of the Forces
Is it an impossible task? Perhaps. Is it pointless? Personally I don’t think so. To even begin to get some sense of where the Golden Dawn colour scales came from took me a long time. I am a student of SOL not the Golden Dawn and had never looked deeply into the original Golden Dawn system or documents. When I did, some things seemed self-evident but others made no sense whatsoever. I suspect that’s mostly to do with my own limitations. Eventually, the Golden Dawn material brought home to me that all of this seemingly mind-oriented, Hod-like Victorian classification of information about colour (and everything else) must also incorporate the balance of Beauty in Netzach and the imagery of Yesod before being rooted in our visual perceptions in Malkuth. And that 120 years ago, the Key to Understanding of the Colours wasn’t given to a Golden Dawn student until they approached Tiphareth – the Heart – via the Adeptus Minor initiation.
There is much more to find on the Path of the Rainbow, but you must sift it out yourself for it to be of value. As the Adeptus Minor ritual says of the Foundation of Colour: “…Treasure it in thy heart, and mark it well, seeing that herein is the Key of Nature. … Colours are Forces, the Signatures of the Forces; and the Child of the Children of the Forces art thou. And therefore, about the Throne of the Mighty One is a Rainbow of Glory, and at [Their] Feet is the Crystal Sea. But there are many other attributions of colour also, seeing that the respective rays meet and blend with each other.”
Resources: Golden Dawn Colour Scales
As noted throughout this site, the key texts that provide the most information on the subject at hand are the 5=6 Adeptus Minor initiation ritual and the Hodos Chameleonis, The Book of the Path of the Chameleon. It appears there is more than one version of each available. The version of the Hodos Chameleonis published as “Concerning the Tree of Life” by Dr. Israel Regardie in his huge Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (1937) or as part of the Fifth Knowledge Lecture in the Llewellen edition, is perhaps the most commonly available. That is also the case with information on much of the rest of the Golden Dawn system. (I recently discovered that you can purchase the most recent edition of this huge tome via Walmart!? or Amazon).
Nick Farrell’s The King Over The Water includes a chapter (p.191) reproducing “Ritual W’: Minitum Mundum, The Small Universe, Foundation of Colour; 1st Section of the Liber Hodos Chameleionis” followed by an interesting commentary on colour in the Golden Dawn tradition. Although I’ve not yet seen it myself, another of his books (Beyond the Sun : The History, Teachings and Rituals of the Last Golden Dawn Temple) contains the Whare Ra 6=5 ritual and related material. Other copies are available with a bit of research.
Lelandra’s Tree of Life Colours is very informative site, showing squares of hex-coded, named colour from the SOL site side by side in King, Queen, Prince and Princess Scale. All the Path colours are presented the same way, including the ‘to’ and ‘from’ Sephira for each. Lelandra’s approach is via Tarot as well, but her open researcher’s perspective is really helpful. She also points to other useful resources, including Bill Heidrick’s writing on colour theory. Thank you Lelandra.
Lecture on the Four Scales of Colour from the Whare Ra Papers as presented in the Hermetic Library is one of my favourite documents on the subject. In addition to poetically discussing the colour scales (as quoted elsewhere in this site), the author also compares the King Scale to the Major Scale of Sound, the Queen Scale to the Minor and Prince to the Chromatic. The Hermetic Library, although full of ads, also shares an interesting Syllabus 6=5 that also addresses colour and I appreciate their efforts to make these documents available to the average researcher.
A blog post from Gyllene Gryningen called “On the generation of the three colour wheels of the King Scale” provides a good overview of the GD colour system with some additional commentary, especially regarding ‘Ritual E — The Rose Cross’ and the importance of getting the colours right.
Grade Placement & the Minutum Mundum: Interesting discussion of the use and placement of the flashing colours on the Tree in relation to Golden Dawn Colour Scales and Golden Dawn Grading System in a well written and organised blog.
Resources: Golden Dawn History and Practice
Given that the Golden Dawn was established over 130 years ago and has developed and branched into a fair few organisations since, there is a great deal of information available about it from booksellers, libraries and of course on the web. This is pretty impressive when it started out as a secret organisation. A look on the web also will show you that some sites aligning themselves with Golden Dawn traditions don’t agree with each other and interpret material in different ways. However, should you wish to find out more that is not specifically focused on colour, here are a couple of the many resources that have been helpful to me.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has an excellent website. It includes a detailed article on the History of the Golden Dawn by Chic & S Tabatha Cicero, a historical timeline, biographies, archives, contemporary papers and links to a wide range of other Hermetic and Masonic organisations as well as sources of information on the ancient world, esoteric Christianity and much more. This would be a useful starting point for anyone.
A wide range of ‘Resources for the Study & Practice of the Hermetic Qabalistic Theurgy of the Golden Dawn’ is available from The Hermetic Fellowship website. Although not updated recently, it provides a good sense of the breadth of books, groups and other resources available.
Along with posts on a variety of interesting topics, Nick Farrell’s Blog includes a “Basic Golden Dawn Reading List,” that will keep you learning for a good long time. Additionally, Mr Farrell researches and writes about Golden Dawn-related topics (I especially enjoyed The King Over the Water). He and is wife founded The Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea, ‘a modern expression of the Golden Dawn tradition’ which has its own website and there are posts about a variety of related topics.
A great deal of information has been put together in an accessible way in the Wikiversity site called Social Victorians/Golden Dawn. Especially interesting are the links to a list of all the members as well as a list of less well-known member of the Golden Dawn. Related organisations, Temples, a timeline of Notable Events, a list of rituals and document and works sited provide a good reference point for someone just seeing this information for the first time.
This is, of course, by no means all the available material — or perhaps even a fair representation of what is out there. However, I have learned from the sources above and share them as starting points. Suggestions of additional essential and reliable resources for Golden Dawn teachings in this area are very welcome.