William Wynn Westcott

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William Wynn Westcott

William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925) was an English Rosicrucian and Theosophist best known as a founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was an offshoot of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.

Early years and education

William Wynn Westcott was born in Leamington, Warkwickshire, England on December 17, 1848. "Dr. Westcott's parents died when he was 10 years old and he was adopted by his uncle who, like his father, was a medical doctor. Dr. Westcott attended Kingston Grammar School at Kingston-upon-Thames, and graduated from University College, London with a Bachelor in Medicine. He soon went into medical practice with his uncle in Soberest.[1]

Professional career

Dr. Westcott accepted a position as Coroner in London, and worked in that capacity from 1880 to 1910. He probably conducted more than ten thousand inquests during this period. He published a massive work about pharmacology in The Extra Pharmacopoeia of Martindale and Westcott, written with William Martindale, and also wrote monographs about suicide and alcoholism.


Westcott joined the Masonic Lodge at Crewkerne, England, in 1875. His tutor in freemasonry was Dr. W. R. Woodman.[2] Dr. Westcott joined the Research Lodge Quatuor Coronati and in 1893 became Worshipful Master.[3]


Westcott was very active in Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA):

Sometime between 1865 and 1878 he was admitted to Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.) which was open only to high-grade Freemasons. Dr. Westcott became Magus of S.R.I.A. in 1890.[4]

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The SRIA did not, however, provide an adequate outlet for the interests of three of its IVth degree initiates who were part of its governing triad.[5] Dr. Westcott, S. L. MacGregor Mathers, and William Robert Woodman formed the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1881. Like Westcott, MacGregor Mathers was a member of the Theosophical Society. The three men particularly wanted to expand their studies in Kabbalah, occultism, alchemy, and ceremonial magic.

Westcott decoded old documents, Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts, which laid out five masonic initiations. MacGregor Mathers rewrote the rituals, and ultimately they decided upon ten levels of initiation corresponding to the ten sephiroth of the Kabbalah. The training of the members fell to Westcott and MacGregor Mathers, since Rev. Woodman died in 1891. "They taught Qabalah, Alchemy, Astrology, Geomantic and Tarot Divination, Tattwa Vision and the Pentagram Ritual. Much of the background material for these teachings came from Dr. Westcott; his occult and metaphysical library was unrivaled in his day."[6]

By 1896 the Golden dawn was having many internal problems. And around this time Dr. Westcott was requested by political authorities to cease his occult activities with the Golden Dawn. The Order was achieving a notoriety with the press, and it was not seen fit for a Coroner of the Crown to be made shame of in such a way. Someone had sent a letter to Westcott's superiors to engineer their discoveries. Although Dr. Westcott ceased all outward activities with the Golden Dawn, he was still very much involved with its functioning, through either the Masonic or the S.R.I.A.. channels. Later in 1900 (once the furor has stopped) Dr. Westcott again joined the Golden Dawn in the rival Isis-Urania of the Stella Matutina and became its Praemonstrator.[7]

Connections to Theosophical Society

Dr. Westcott joined the Theosophical Society on December 3, 1889, according to the membership ledger of the Theosophical Society in England.[8][9]

Westcott was soon admitted to the nucleus of the Theosophical Society, the Esoteric Section, and became close friends with Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland who were proponents of Christian Esotercism. When the members of the Esoteric Section broke away from the Theosophical Society, they formed the Hermetic Society in 1884, and Westcott was invited to join as an honorary member.[10]

He was also invited to join Blavatsky's Inner Group:

He was thus faced with the eternal questions of discernment: principles or personalities; philosophy or phenomena; occult study or occult practice. Blavatsky allowed an alliance of sorts between the C.D. and her Inner Group, hoping some of the ethics would rub off... to no avail, and the connection was severed.[11]

He wrote of his relationship with Madame Blavatsky:

The late Madame Blavatsky, my esteemed teacher of Theosophy, and my personal friend, at whose suggestion a friendly alliance between the Hermetic Order of the G.D. and the Inner Group of Theosophic students was made, expressed to me her recognition of the value of the "Sepher Yetzirah" as a mystical treatise on cosmic origin, and her approval of my work in its translation, and of my notes and explanations.[12]

Westcott became an important contributor to H. P. Blavatsky's journal Lucifer, and his definitions of terms were extensively used in her posthumously published work The Theosophical Glossary. The ten volumes of his Collectanea Hermetica were all published by Theosophical publishing houses in London and New York.

Later years

Dr. Westcott went to live with his daughter and son-in-law at Durban in the Republic of South Africa in 1918. He worked on behalf of the Theosophical Society in that country, after becoming a member on October 23, 1921.[13] He was occupied with his Theosophical studies and writings, and also continued with Rosicrucian and Masonic work. He died in Durban in July of 1925.[14][15]


Westcott was a prolific and influential writer. Some of his works were translated into German, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Turkish, Hungarian, etc., and are still being reprinted.

Articles in Theosophical journals

Westcott was a contributor to H. P. Blavatsky's journal Lucifer. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 53 articles by or about Westcott.

Rosicrucian pamphlets

  • Rosicrucian Thoughts on the Ever-burning Lamps of the Ancients. London: G. Kenning, 1885. 10 pages.
  • History of the Rosicrucian Societies in Anglia. London: Privately printed, 1900. 32 pages.
  • Ordinances of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, or The Rosicrucian Society of Freemasons. London: Hall & Lovitt, 1905. 16 pages.
  • Time and Space. [London], 1908. 8 pages. Society of Rosicrucians in Anglia.
  • An Essay on the Ancient Mysteries. London, 1909. Society of Rosicrucians in Anglia series.
  • The Rosicrucians: past and present, at home and abroad. [Place of publication not identified]: Privately Printed, 1900-1917?
  • The Rosicrucian Society of England: a glance at the progress of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, during the last fifty years. [Place of publication not identified] : Privately printed, 1915. 7 pages.
Collectanea Hermetica

Collectanea Hermetica

The Collectanea Hermetica was a series of hermetic works written, translated, or edited by members of the Golden Dawn. Westcott published ten volumes between 1893-1896, working with Florence Farr, Percy Bullock, and E W. Coleman. It is still being published in new scholarly editions.

  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. I - Hermetic Arcanum of Penes Nos Unda Tagi. 1893. Preface and notes by Sapere Aude (Westcott).
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. II - The Pymander of Hermes or The Divine Pymander. London; New York: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1894. Preface by the editor.
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. III - A Short Enquiry Concerning the Hermetic Art by A Lover of Philalethes. London: Theosophical Publishing Society; New York: The "Path", 1894. Preface by Non Omnis Moriar (Westcott). Introduction to Alchemy and Notes by S.S.D.D. (Florence Farr). Available at Wellcome Library.
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. IV - Aesch Mezareph, or, Purifying Fire: a Chymico-Kabalistic Treatise Collected from the Kabala Denudata of Knorr von Rosenroth. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1894. Translated by a Lover of Philalethes, 1714. Preface, notes and explanations by Sapere Aude (Westcott). Westcott was responsible for French, German, and English editions.
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. V - Somnium Scipionis. London, New York: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1894. The vision of Scipio by Marcus Tullius Cicero. Translated into English with essays "The Vision of Scipio Considered as a Fragment of the Mysteries" by L.O. (Percy Bullock), "The Golden Verses of Pythagoras," by A.E.A. (E W. Coleman), and "The Symbols of Pythagoras," by S.A. (Westcott).
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. VI - The Chaldaean Oracles of Zoroaster. London: Theosophical Pub. Society, 1895. Based on a translation by Thomas Taylor. Edited and revised by Sapere Aude (Westcott), with an introduction by L.O. (Percy Bullock).
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. VII - Euphrates, or, The Waters of the East: 1655. London ; Benares: Theosophical Publishing Society and Madras, India: "The Theosophist" Office, 1896. With a commentary by S.S.D.D. (Florence Farr). Originally published under Thomas Vaughan's pen name, Eugenius Philalethes, in 1655.
  • Collectanea Hermetica Vol. VIII - Egyptian Magic. 1896. By S.S.D.D. (Florence Farr).
  • Collectanea Hermetica's Vol. IX - Numbers: Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtue, being a résumé of the views of the Kabbalists, Pythagoreans, adepts of India, Chaldean Magi and mediæval magicians. London, Theosophical Pub. Society, 1890. 52 pages. Written by Westcott. Available at Hathitrust. The 1902 second edition became the Collectanea Hermetica's Vol. IX.
  • Collectanea Hermetica's Vol. X - Sepher Yetzirah: the Book of Formation, and the Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom. Bath [England]: R.H. Fryar, 1887. Second edition became the Collectanea Hermetica's Vol. X: London: Theosophical Publishing Society and New York: "The Path": 1893. Translated from the Hebrew by W. W. Westcott. Available at Hathitrust and Google Books.

Medical and social sciences

  • A Therapeutic Index of Diseases & Symptoms. [London], 1884.
  • Suicide: Its History, Literature, Jurisprudence, Causation, and Prevention. London: Lewis, 1885. 191 pages. Available at Hathitrust and Wellcome Library.
  • The Extra Pharmacopoeia of Martindale and Westcott. London : Pharmaceutical Press, 1883-1935; published serially. Coauthor William Martindale. London: H. K. Lewis, 1910 for 14th edition. At least 20 editions. Digital versions are at Wellcome Library, Wellcome Library (1904 11th ed.), Hathitrust (1912 15th ed.), Internet Archive (1910 14th ed.), and Hathitrust (1910 14th ed.).
  • Twelve years' Experiences of a London Coroner. London: Bailliere, Tindall and Cox, 1907. 18 pages. Available at Wellcome Library.
  • Salvarsan or 606, dioxy-diamino-arseno-benzol; its chemistry, pharmacy, and therapeutics. London: Lewis, 1911. 77 pages. Written with William Martindale.

Other occult topics

  • The Isiac Tablet of Cardinal Bembo: its History and Occult Significance. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1887.
  • An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah. New York: Allied Publications, 1888. 72 pages. Illlustrations by the author. Several later publishers and Spanish translation.
  • Alchemical hieroglyphics, which were caused to be painted upon an arch in St. Innocents Church yard in Paris. 1890.
  • The science of alchymy: spiritual and material. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1893. Written under pseudonym Sapere Aude.
  • Christian Rosenkreuz and the Rosicurians [and] The Platonic philosopher's creed. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1894. Available at Hathitrust.
  • The magical ritual of the sanctum regnum interpreted by the Tarot trumps. London : Redway, 1896. Translated from the MSS. of Éliphas Lévi; edited by William Wynn Westcott. Limited digital versions at Hathitrust and Google Books.
  • A catalogue raisonné of works on the occult sciences. London: Privately Printed, 1911. Coauthor F. Leigh Gardner. Three volumes. V.1. Rosicrucian books. v.2. Astrological books). v.3. Freemasonry, a catalogue of lodge histories (England). Available at Hathitrust, Internet Archive, and other sources.
  • Data of the history of the Rosicrucians. London, J.M. Watkins, 1916.
  • The Origin of the Rosicrucians and Freemasons.
  • History of astrology. Article printed in Gardner, Frederick Leigh. Bibliotheca astrologica: a catalog of astrological publications of the 15th through the 19th centuries.
  • A Magus Among the Adepts. Essays and Addresses. Teitan Press, 2012. Edited, and with new biographical introduction by R. A. Gilbert. A new collection of thirty fugitive and unpublished papers, including three addresses to members of the Golden Dawn; writings on alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and magic; thirteen papers on symbolism, divination, Kabbalah, the Mysteries and Freemasonry; correspondence concerning Mathers and Crowley; and two essays on his professional career as a coroner.

Published lectures

  • "Divination and its history: a lecture." [London]: Privately printed, 1900s.
  • "An Address on the Coroner and his Relations with the Medical Practitioner and Death Certification: Delivered at a Meeting of the North London District of the Metropolitan Counties Branch of the British Medical Association." Available at PubMedCentral.
  • "The Serpent Myth: a lecture read before the Bradford lodge of the Order of Light, 1906." London, Women's Printing Society, Ltd., 1906.
  • "The star lore of the Bible; A paper read before the Metropolitan College, on January 11th, 1912." [London], 1912. 14 pages. Society of Rosicrucians in Anglia.
  • "Knots as symbols: a paper read before the Metropolitain College, on January 24th, 1915." [London?]: Privately printed, 1915.
  • "A Lecture To Inquirers Into Theosophy And Practical Occultism."

Other articles and pamphlets

  • "Commentary on the Ten Sephiroth." 1887. 4 pages.
  • "A Glance at the Three First Races of Mankind." Theosophical Siftings 4.18 (1892), 3. Available at Canadian Theosophical Association. Author given as Sapere Aude.
  • "Death." Theosophical Siftings 6.5 (1894), 3. Available at Canadian Theosophical Association. Author given as Sapere Aude.
  • "Some Anomalies in the Biblical Views of the Constitution of Man, etc." Theosophical Siftings 5.16 (1894), 3. Available at Canadian Theosophical Association. Author given as Sapere Aude.
  • "Christian Rosenkreuz and the Rosicrucians." Theosophical Siftings 6.15 (1894), 1. Available at Canadian Theosophical Association.
  • "Reincarnation: an Essay." Privately printed. 1905. Written by A. Cadbury Jones; edited by William Wynn Westcott.
  • "The religion, philosophy and occult science of China." [London], 1911. 10 pages.
  • "Freemasonry and its Relation to the Essenes." 1915. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge vol. xxviii, 1915, pp. 67-79.
  • "The Mandrake." Available at NCBI.
  • "The Overlaying of Infants." Available at PubMedCentral.
  • Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation and additional notes from H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1995. Secret Doctrine Reference Series. The author wrote, "The substance of this little volume was read as a Lecture before the Hermetic Society of London in the summer of 1886, Dr. Anna Kingsford, President, in the chair."[16]

Additional resources

  • Gilbert, R. A The Magical Mason: Forgotten Hermetic Writings of William Wyn Westcott, Physician and Magus. Wellingborough: Aquarian, 1983. Roots of the golden dawn series. 318 pages.
  • Küntz Darcy. Sent from the Second Order: the Collected Letters of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Letters of S. L MacGragor Mathers and W. W. Westcott. Austin, TX : Golden Dawn Trust, 2005. 120 pages.
  • Küntz Darcy. The Serpent Myth. Edmonds, WA: Holmes Pub. Group, 1996. Golden Dawn studies series 9.
  • Maber, Roy. Man of Mystery-Medicine-Magic, Founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn 1888-1914. [Place of publication not identified] : P.P, 1991.
  • Poll, Michael R. Collected Rosicrucian thought. Lafayette, La. : Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2007. 160 pages.


  1. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  2. William Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1995: ii. Biographical sketch "William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925)" provided by publisher.
  3. "List of Past Masters" at Quatuorcoronati.com.
  4. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  5. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  6. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  7. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  8. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 1, entry 4854 (website file: 1B/51).
  9. Debbie Elliott email to Janet Kerschner. March 24, 2017. Debbie had been transcribing the membership ledgers at the TSE.
  10. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  11. William Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation, ii.
  12. William Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation, 9.
  13. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 8, entry 91140 (website file: 8B/60).
  14. "Biography of Dr. William Wynn Westcott" at Golden-Dawn.org.
  15. William Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation, ii.
  16. William Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation, 8-9.